Archive for the ‘National Security’ Category

Can intelligence agencies overturn the election?

January 12, 2017

The following is by Lambert Strether on the Naked Capitalism web log.

Since November 8 we’ve had four crises of legitimacy of escalating intensity, each one pointing to a change in the Constitutional order.

  • First, we had Stein’s recount effort, justified in part by a(n unproven) theory that “Russian hacking” had affected the vote tallies.  (Recall that 50% of Clinton voters believe this, although no evidence has ever been produced for it, it’s technically infeasible at scale, and statistically improbable.)  Since the “Russian hacking” theory was derived from intelligence not shown to the public, the change to the Constitutional order would be that the Intelligence Community (IC) would gain a veto over the legitimacy of a President during a transfer of power; veto power that would be completely unaccountable, since IC sources and methods would not be disclosed.
  • Second, we had the (hilariously backfired) campaign to have “faithless electors” appoint somebody other than Trump to be President.  Here again, the change in the Constitutional order was exactly the same, as (Clintonite) electors clamored to be briefed by the IC on material that would not be shown to the public, giving the IC veto power over the appointment of a President after the vote tallies had been certified.
  • office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaThird, we had the IC’s JAR report, which in essence accused the President-elect of treason (a capital offense).  Here again the publicly available evidence of that quite sloppy report has been shredded, so in essence we have an argument from IC authority that secret evidence they control disqualifies the President elect, so the change in the Constitutional order is the same.
  • Fourth, we have the “Golden Showers” report, which again is an argument from IC authority, and so again gives the IC veto power over a President appointed by the Electoral College. 

Needless to say, once we give the IC veto power over a President before the vote is tallied, and before the electoral college votes, and after the electoral college votes but before the oath of office and the Inaugural, we’re never going to be able to take it back.

This is a crossing the Rubicon moment.  Now, you can say this is unique, not normal, an exceptional case, but “sovereign is he who decides on the exception” (Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmidt).  And who then is the sovereign?  The IC.  Is that what liberals want?

Source: naked capitalism

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The unclassified report on Russian hacking

January 7, 2017

The unclassified CIA-FBI-NSA report asserts that they have “high confidence” that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign in order to elect Donald Trump.

office_of_the_director_of_national_intelligence_seal_usaPossible motives are retaliation for the Panama Papers leaks, the reports on Russian doping of Olympic athletes, and activities of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy in Russia.

But the report presents no actual evidence that this happened.   All it says is that Vladimir Putin hoped Donald Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton, which is plainly true, and that this is the sort of thing that Putin would do, which might well be true.  Most of the report is devoted to analysis of anti-Clinton reporting by RT News, a Russian-funded TV news broadcaster.

It’s possible that the conclusion is true, but the report does not consider alternative explanations, such as leaks by a disgruntled DNC employee.   It does not describe the scope of the investigation—for example, whether the FBI had access to the DNC e-mails, or relied on the word of the DNC contractor, or whether it used NSA signal intelligence.

Maybe the classified version of the report does answer the unanswered questions.   I look forward with great interest to the congressional investigation.

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Did the DNC leaks really affect the election?

December 17, 2016

I have learned throughout my long life never to say that some powerful person or institution could not have done a certain thing because doing would have been idiotic.

150px-fsbBut it certainly would have been idiotic for Russian intelligence agents to think they could influence the 2016 election by leaking e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief.

And while that isn’t proof that they weren’t the leakers, it is a reason to reserve judgment.

The Clinton campaign leaks had little or no effect on the election outcome.  All they did was to confirm what some of us already thought about how the DNC was tied in with the Clinton primary election campaign, and Clinton was tied in with her rich donor friends.  If I had been pro-Clinton, this would not have been new information that would have changed my mind.

Within my circle of friends, I don’t know anybody who cared much about the Clinton campaign leaks.  On the other hand, everybody I know who ever handled classified information was upset by the FBI reports on Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.

The CIA statements of about possible Russian involvement in the Clinton campaign leaks have had much greater impact on American public opinion than the leaks themselves ever did.

Where is the National Security Agency in all this?  All this is in the NSA area of expertise.  The NSA would have better information than the FBI or CIA.

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The CIA and FBI in the 2016 election

December 15, 2016

During the election campaign, FBI statements about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information hurt her and helped Donald Trump.

CIA statements about alleged Russian hacking of Clinton campaign e-mails hurt Trump and helped Clinton.  As it turns out, the FBI counter-intelligence service is not convinced that it was the Russians who hacked the Clinton campaign.

cia-logoAnd, in fact, Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and human rights activist close to Julian Assange, claims to have personal knowledge that the Clinton campaign leaks came from a disgruntled Democratic campaign staffer.

President Obama wants the “intelligence community” to produce a report on whether Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in U.S. elections going back to 2008.  And he wants the report done before Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, which seems like an impossible deadline to produce anything more than informed—or uniformed—opinion.

Meanwhile Democrats who are trying to change the Electoral College vote want the electors to be briefed by the CIA on alleged Russian inference.

I have no evidence that the disagreements between the FBI and CIA are any more than an honest difference of opinion.   Even if that is so, I don’t like the idea of presidential candidates being vetted by the CIA.

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Russian cyber-warriors and the U.S. election

June 17, 2016

The Democratic National Committee charges that Russian hackers penetrated its files on Trump opposition research.   Some people also speculate that Hillary Clinton’s e-mails have been hacked.

If Vladimir Putin—I emphasize if—is intervening in the U.S. election on behalf of Donald Trump, this could backfire not only against Trump, but in a dangerous way against Putin and Russia.

Vladimir PutinPutin and Trump have repeatedly praised each other.  Trump advocates better relations with Russia (which I agree with) while  Clinton has compared Putin to Hitler, which is the worst thing you can say about a Russian leader.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s main campaign adviser, managed the comeback of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovitch as President of Ukraine in 2010.   A Hillary Clinton protege, Victoria Nuland, helped engineer the overthrow of Yanukovich in 2014.  A leaked phone conversation in which she discussed strategy may well have come from Russian intelligence services.

So you have an American election aligned with factions in a conflict in a foreign country.  This is not good.

It is true that Russians, Chinese and other foreign hackers are attacking U.S. computer systems all the time, and that the CIA and NSA hack foreign systems.  It is true that U.S. intelligence agencies have been interfering in foreign elections for decades.  And it is true that foreign lobbyists actively try to influence American policy.

But this would be the first time a foreign intelligence service was caught intervening on behalf of a presidential candidate in an American national election.

We don’t know the full story yet.  Maybe this is less sinister than it seems.   But maybe Putin sees electing Trump as a way of crippling the United States without a nuclear strike.  Or maybe somebody is playing some sort of double game.  We’ll see how it plays out.

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What it would take to rein in the Deep State

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LMike Lofgren’s new book, The Deep State, describes the interlocking  U.S. military-industrial complex, financial oligarchy and police state which is not subject to either the rule of law or democratic control.   The particulars of his description are available in the previous two posts and in the linked articles.

Here’s what I think needs to be done in order to rein in the Deep State.

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authoritarianism9fd18cCongress should exercise the power of the purse to prevent the President from committing acts of war on his or her own initiative.  President Obama has stated that he considers himself free to attack foreign countries by means of bombing from the air, killer drones and Special Operations because these things are not war.  It is only war when large numbers of American ground troops are involved.

Refusing to levy taxes is the historic method used by parliaments and national assemblies to force absolute monarchs to cease aggressive wars and submit to the rule of law.  The U.S. precedent is the Case-Church Amendment of 1973 forced a cutoff of funds for military operations in Vietnam after August 15 of that year, and brought the Vietnam Conflict to an end.

Congress should pass a resolution ending funding for military operations and military aid and subsidies in the Middle East after a specific deadline, except for what is specifically authorized by Congress.

And if the executive refused to comply with that resolution?  The Constitutional remedy for this is impeachment.

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Congress should pass a law allowing prosecuted whistle-blowers to be acquitted if they can show that the information they revealed was kept secret in order to cover up lawbreaking, incompetence or failure, to limit business competition, or to suppress information that is not related to national security.

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Why I trust the ayatollahs on nuclear weapons

January 7, 2016
Ayatollah Khameini

Ayatollah Khameini

The Ayatollah Seyyid Hosseini Khameini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, said that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons because this is contrary to Islamic teachings.

I believe him.  The reason that I believe him is that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used chemical weapons, including mustard gas and nerve gas, in his 1980-1988 war against Iran, and Iran never developed or used poison gas of its own.

The then Ayatollah Ruhbollah Khomeini ruled that use of chemical weapons, and also nuclear weapons were contrary to Islamic law.  Instead Iran defended itself against the invaders by sacrificing its young men in human wave attacks.

When I consider the history of how the United States developed and used atomic weapons, and our “balance of terror” strategy during the cold war, I cannot imagine my government behaving with such restraint under such circumstances.  In fact, if I were an Iranian leader today, threatened with attack by war hawks in the USA and Israel, I would want nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

I think Iran’s ayatollahs have earned the right to be believed on this issue.

The passing scene – October 16, 2015

October 16, 2015

THE DRONE PAPERS  an eight-part series by The Intercept about the U.S. military’s assassination program, based on a whistle-blower’s secret document.  (Hat tips to Bill Harvey, my expatriate friend Jack, etc.)

droneattackobamaEach week the President of the United States approves a list of death warrants, which are sometimes executed by trained assassins but more usually by flying killer robots.

The United States is at war, we are told, and the targets are our enemies.  But the war has no defined enemy, the battlefield is the whole world, and there is no expectation it will ever end.

Hardly anybody I know thinks this is strange or abnormal.

Snowden: NSA, GCHQ Using Your Phone to Spy on Others (and You) by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The Fog of Intelligence by Tom Englehardt for TomDispatch.

The size and power of intelligence agencies is huge and growing.  Actual intelligence, not so much.

Hillary Clinton’s Take on Banks Won’t Hold Up by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone (Hat tip to Jack, etc.)

Bernie Won All the Focus Groups and Online Polls, So Why Is the Media Saying Hillary Won the Debate? by Adam Johnson for Alternet.

The Final Leaked TPP Text Is All That We Feared by Jeremy Malcolm for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Reality Check: What We Know About TPP Makes It the Worst Trade Deal Ever by Ben Swann for Truth in Media.

Slave Trafficking, the TPP & the 2016 Presidential Contest by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny!

The passing scene – August 8, 2015

August 8, 2015

Republican Assault on Trump May Only Make Him Stronger by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Trump’s Triumph: Billionaire Bloward Exposes Fake Political System by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

How Pathetic: Why Donald Trump May Be the Best Thing Going by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.

The Republican Candidates Agree that the System Is Rigged for the Rich by William K. Black for New Economic Perspectives.

720x405-GettyImages-483208910I still can’t take Donald Trump seriously as a Presidential candidate, but he has said things that need to be said, especially about how he and other billionaires have the power to buy politicians.

Other Republican candidates also point out that the political system is rigged in favor of Wall Street and the large corporations.

Their answer appears to be lower taxes, less regulation and a minimal role for government, on the theory that the less government does, the less it matters whether corporations and wealthy individuals can manipulate government.

My problem with this is that some large corporations have grown so large and powerful that they are the next thing to governments themselves.

Hillary’s Libyan Torturers by Daniel McAdams for The Ron Paul Institute.

hillary-tortureThe achievement of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in foreign affairs was to find a way to find a way to continue the policies of George W. Bush without large numbers of American casualties.

The attack on Libya is an example of this.  The U.S. government supported an attack on a country that did not threaten the United States, based on lies, and reduced it to bloody chaos in which terrorists such as ISIS flourish.

The problem with Bernie Sanders by Joseph Cannon of Cannonfire.

Bernie Sanders is like many democratic socialists of the 1950s and 1960s—a defender of the interests of working people, a defender of civil rights, but also a cold warrior.

He thinks the United States should support Saudi Arabia and Turkey against ISIS, when these two governments are interested only in fighting the enemies of ISIS—Syria for Saudi Arabia and the Kurds for Turkey.   Likewise he favors confrontation of Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, which puts the United States at risk of nuclear war.

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Reflections on Deep State America

July 30, 2015

“Thoreau” on Unqualified Offerings called attention to an article by Philip Giraldi in The American Conservative about a favorite topic of mine—the Deep Statethe hidden government that seems to operate no matter who wins the elections.

Consider for a moment how Washington operates.  There is gridlock in Congress and the legislature opposes nearly everything that the White House supports. 

quibvulturecitizenrydeepstateNevertheless, certain things happen seemingly without any discussion: Banks are bailed out and corporate interests are protected by law.  Huge multi-year defense contracts are approved.  Citizens are assassinated by drones, the public is routinely surveilled, people are imprisoned without being charged, military action against “rogue” regimes is authorized, and whistle-blowers are punished with prison.  The war crimes committed by U.S. troops and contractors on far-flung battlefields, as well as torture and rendition, are rarely investigated and punishment of any kind is rare.

America, the warlike predatory capitalist, might be considered a virtual definition of deep state.

via The American Conservative.

In many countries of Latin America and the Middle East, it is obvious that ultimate power rests with the military, working with an oligarchy of wealth.   Turkey is a good example, Giraldi wrote.  Such an alliance also exists in the United States.

America’s deep state is completely corrupt: it exists to sell out the public interest, and includes both major political parties as well as government officials.

1olPoliticians like the Clintons who leave the White House “broke” and accumulate $100 million in a few years exemplify how it rewards.   A bloated Pentagon churns out hundreds of unneeded flag officers who receive munificent pensions and benefits for the rest of their lives.

And no one is punished, ever. 

Disgraced former general and CIA Director David Petraeus is now a partner at the KKR private equity firm, even though he knows nothing about financial services.  More recently, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell has become a Senior Counselor at Beacon Global Strategies.  Both are being rewarded for their loyalty to the system and for providing current access to their replacements in government.

What makes the deep state so successful? It wins no matter who is in power, by creating bipartisan-supported money pits within the system. 

Monetizing the completely unnecessary and hideously expensive global war on terror benefits the senior government officials, beltway industries, and financial services that feed off it. 

Because it is essential to keep the money flowing, the deep state persists in promoting policies that make no sense, to include the un-winnable wars currently enjoying marquee status in Iraq/Syria and Afghanistan.

via The American Conservative.

It will take more than a few individuals winning a few elections to root out this system.  It would take a strong and committed mass movement, embracing a majority of the American people, and astute leaders working over a long period of time.

I think it’s unlikely that the United States faces a danger of a military coup as in the movie “Seven Days in May” or in Chile in real life in 1973.  But there are other ways to topple an elected government.  The financial and national security elite have the power to create crises which the public will turn to them, and not the elected politicians, to solve.

The USA can’t expect to always get its way

June 26, 2015

Everybody has met self-centered people who behave as if they are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out their wishes.

If they are sufficiently rich and powerful, they can get away with this for a certain amount of time.  But in the end, they wind up isolated and friendless.

Unfortunately the United States conducts its foreign policy as if we Americans are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out Washington’s wishes.

This is bound to end badly.

Peter Van Buren, who was kicked out of the State Department for writing about the fouled-up U.S. occupation of Iraq, pointed out in an article for TomDispatch how this is playing out in current U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Islamic State (ISIS)

The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims.

is_control_over_time_624_1805The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq.

The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions.

Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria.

The Kurds want an independent homeland.

When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals.

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The risk of war in the South China Sea

May 22, 2015

chinasea-1x-1The Chinese People’s Republic seeks to control the South China Sea.  It is building artificial islands which it will claim as Chinese territory.

Its claims are in conflict with the claims of smaller nations of Southeast Asia, which, so far as I can tell, are equally valid in international law.

The Obama administration is preparing to confront China militarily over these claims.  This is a big mistake.

map_disputed-reefsThe sea routes in the South China Sea are vital to China and not vital to any other nation.   The South China Sea route is the cheapest and most convenient sea route for Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia.  But if worst comes to worst, they could take a longer route.  The Pacific Ocean is a big body of water.

The United States government is currently confronting Russia and China, the only two nations in the world that are beyond the reach of American naval and air power, over matters that the Russian and Chinese governments see as vital to national survival, and which are not vital to the United States.

artificialislandIn the case of Russia, it is the goal of bringing Ukraine into an anti-Russian military alliance and making Crimea a possible base for NATO forces.  In the case of China, it is the goal of U.S. domination of the sea routes to eastern Asia.

I am not an admirer of the Russian or Chinese governments.  They both abuse human rights.  They both believe in their own versions of exceptionalism, believing they have the right to dominate their smaller and weaker neighbors.   An increase in Russian or Chinese power is a bad thing, not a good thing.

But I don’t think trying to roll back the existing Russian or Chinese spheres of influence is worth risking war over, any more than Russia or China would think it worthwhile to risk war over U.S. domination of the Caribbean and Central America.

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Interview of Seymour Hersh on bin Laden killing

May 14, 2015

As I think about it, I can understand why the governments of the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia preferred to permanently silence Osama bin Laden than to question him or put him on trial.  I don’t like this, but I can understand it.

The most damning thing about Seymour Hersh’s article on the killing of Osama bin Laden was how President Obama panicked when a helicopter crashed, and broke the U.S. agreement with Pakistan on the agreed-upon cover story on the bin Laden killing.

I strongly disagree with Barack Obama’s policies and priorities, which I think are very different from what his supporters think they are, but I always thought of him as exceptionally cool and self-controlled.  Apparently not.   Of course revealing sensitive security information for political purposes isn’t new.

The video embedded above is most of an interview of Seymour Hersh by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!  Below is a link to the full interview, with a transcript.

Seymour Hersh Details Explosive Story on Bin Laden Killing & Responds to White House, Media Backlash | Democracy Now  [Hat tip to Mike Connelly]

Below is a link to an interview with Jeffrey Sterling, who either is a brave whistleblower who is going to prison because he revealed corruption and incompetence in the Central Intelligence Agency to investigative reporter James Risen, or a victim of injustice who was convicted on circumstantial evidence.

Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison | Democracy Now

U.S. Mideast policy: Links & comments 12/5/14

December 5, 2014

Malarkey on the Potomac: Five bedrock Washington assumptions that are hot air by Andrew J. Bacevich for TomDispatch (via the Unz Review).

The five false assumptions are:

  • The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
  • The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.
  • Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
  • The interests of the United States and Israel align.
  • Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

I strongly recommend reading Bacevich’s whole article.

41 men targeted for U.S. drone strikes, but 1,147 killed by Spencer Ackerman for The Guardian.

A sixth false assumption is that flying killer drones are a safe, precise and effective way to wage war.  In fact, the U.S. government is making enemies at a faster rate than it is killing them off.

Iraq’s 50,000 ‘Ghost Soldiers’ by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent (via the Unz Review)

A seventh false assumption is that the U.S. government can use foreign fighters as proxies for American troops.  Either the foreign fighters have their own aims, which may not be identical with U.S. interests, or they are more interested in collecting pay than fighting.  In Iraq, certain military officers and contractors collect pay for troops that don’t even exist.

U.S. to Use Psych Tests to Vet Syrian Rebels for Moderateness by Peter Van Buren.

This may seem like satire, but it isn’t.

 

Our elected vs our unelected governments

November 6, 2014

The most important political question in the United States is whether our elected government can and will assert its authority over our unelected governments..

The elected government consists of the President, Congress, state governors and legislators and all other parts of government controlled by persons chosen by voters in contested elections.

revolving-doorThe unelected governments are (1) the secret “national security” espionage, covert action, surveillance and police agencies and (2) the Wall Street banks and financiers.  The reasons I call them governments are:

  • Their policies affect the direction of the USA as much as the policies of the elected governments do.
  • They are independent of the authority of the elected government and violate laws with impunity.
  • They exercise more influence and control over the elected government than the elected government does over them.

Wall Street exercises power over economic policy.  It has political power based on campaign contributions to the Democratic and Republican parties and on the revolving door between banks and top government positions.

Our political campaign system makes it virtually impossible to run for national office, or for statewide office in large states, without millions of dollars in campaign contributions.  Unless you are rich yourself, you need money from rich individuals or large corporations.  While big contributors differ among themselves in important ways, they all oppose anything that would diminish their wealth and power.

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Putin’s important speech deserves an answer

November 1, 2014

Vladimir Putin gave an important speech last week calling for respect for international law and strengthening of international institutions, and rejecting the U.S. claim to world leadership.

Putin_Valdaiclub.jpegAddressing the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, he expressed a willingness to co-operate with the United States and the European Union on the basis of equality and recognition of Russia’s legitimate interests.

The speech has largely been ignored in the U.S. press, but it deserves a response by President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.

I do not admire President Putin, nor Putin’s Russia.  When I think of all the ways the United States is going downhill, the world “Putinization” comes to mind.

Russia is a country in which a corrupt government and a corrupt financial oligarchy interlock, the surveillance state is unchecked and independent journalists are persecuted and even killedOpponents of the regime have been murdered.  The United States has a long way to go before we catch up with the authoritarianism and corruption of the Russian Federation.

Having said all that, I also have to say that Putin’s statements and actions, are rooted in reality, which I can’t say that for President Obama nor Secretary of State John Kerry.

In dealing with American statesmen, Putin seems like the only adult in the room.  He is like a Mafia don talking to a juvenile delinquent street gang.

Here are excerpts from Putin’s Oct. 25 speech, followed by links to the full transcript.

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards.

This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests.  If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition. [snip]

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Why it’s hard to know what is going on

October 20, 2014

Number of American journalists, correspondents and broadcast news analysts.

57,600.

Number of Americans with security clearances.

5.1 million.

The GOP contradiction on Iraq and ISIS

September 13, 2014

This comment by Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine seems like a just observation to me.

Republicans seem to universally hold the following two opinions about Iraq and ISIS:

  • President Obama is to blame for the military success of ISIS because he declined to keep a residual force in Iraq after 2011.
  • In the fight against ISIS, we certainly don’t want to send in combat troops.  No no no.

via Kevin Drum | Mother Jones.

 Either you are okay with American troops fighting in Iraq, or you aren’t.  You can’t have it both ways.

Blood and treasure: Links & comments 9/10/14

September 10, 2014

Getting into is easier than getting out of.

Tonight President Obama will outline his policy for dealing with the so-called Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL), the murderous jihadists who have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria.

There are many questions to answer.

Is ISIS is the USA’s top enemy, does that change U.S. policy toward the governments of Syria and Iraq?

Can the U.S. intervene once again in the Middle East without positioning ISIS as the defender of Arab and Muslim freedom from foreign invaders?

Can the United States wage war by means of special operations teams, flying killer robots and arms aid to selected foreign proxies?

I can’t see any good answers to any of these questions, and I doubt if the President can, either.

Pentagon Can’t Pay For Itself Amid Budget Woes, Increased World Conflicts by Paul D. Shinkman for U.S. News and World Report.  (via Rochester Business Journal)

The USA spends a greater part of its national income, by far, than any other country on our military.  Yet a Washington think tank called the Center for Strategic and Budget Analysis says that the Department of Defense cannot carry out all its missions, including protecting Ukraine, fighting the Islamic State and counterbalancing China, within its existing budget.  Either the budget must grow or the missions must shrink.

Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza, Says Report by Ryan Gallagher for The Intercept.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has spent billions of dollars on contractors to support killer drones, surveillance technology and psychological warfare.   The more the U.S. government outsources war-making, the more vested interests there will be in waging war.

U.S. treads on Islamic State minefield by Ehsan Ahrari for Asia Times.

Why Does the U.S. Support Saudi Arabia, Sponsor of Islamic Terrorism? on Washington’s Blog.

Obama strategy to beat Islamic State likely to draw U.S. into years of conflict by Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay for McClatchy newspapers.

Defeating the Islamic State Is Going to be Kind of a Pain by Ryan Faith of Vice News.

To repeat: Getting into is easier than getting out of.

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U.S. power failure in the Middle East

August 14, 2014

ISIS-Iraq-AttackSince the 1950s, I have watched the decline in the United States relationship with the nations of the Middle East.

The U.S. government has grown progressively less inhibited in the use of direct military force in the Middle East, and less concerned with international law and world public opinion.  Despite an expanded military presence in the region, the U.S. government has become progressively less able to influence events there.  Successive U.S. military interventions have been an education to our enemies in how to fight us, and they have learned their lessons well.

Looking at the many U.S. interventions (many of which I thought were a good idea at the time), I don’t see how the USA would have been any worse off if we had left the Middle East alone.

  • During the Eisenhower administration, the U.S. government supplied favored governments with military and other foreign aid, and engineered at least one coup, against the Mohammed Mossadegh government (which was legally elected), but reined in Britain, France and Israel when they attacked Egypt.
  • In the Reagan administration, the United States began committing acts of war against Middle East countries — bombarding villages in Lebanon in retaliation for the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut; bombarding Libya in retaliation for President Qaddafi’s involvement in the terror bombing of an airliner
  • In the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. for the first time invaded and occupied a Middle East country, in order to set up a more acceptable government.  This followed nearly a decade of low-level war—blockade and bombing—under the administration.  The target was Iraq, whose government had never threatened the United States.
  • The Obama administration is talking about intervening in conflicts within Middle Eastern nations, to make sure the side most favorable to the United States wins.  This is a hard choice, because so many of the factions, however much they hate each other, are agreed they don’t want foreign control of their countries.

An evolution also has taken place in the enemies of  the United States.   In each generation, the new leaders are fiercer, more savage and more implacable than the ones that went before.   I think Americans today would be pleased to deal with the likes of Mohammed Mossadegh and Gamel Abdel Nasser, and even Saddam Hussein and Hafiz al-Assad seem moderate and reasonable compared to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

We Americans value freedom of religion and equal rights for women, but Christians and other minorities were persecuted less under Nasser and Saddam, and women enjoyed greater opportunities, than they do in Egypt and Iraq today.

Our enemies, unlike us, have grown more effective.  What our government has been doing with its interventions has been giving our enemies lessons in how to fight us.  They have learned they can’t fight us on the battlefield, on our own terms, as Saddam Hussein tried to do.  Instead they have improved on classic guerrilla tactics, in which the enemy’s strength is used against him.

The Pentagon and the CIA know how to topple governments, overtly and covertly.  But they can’t topple a movement such as ISIS, any more than Israel can topple Hamas, because they are mass movements, not governments.  Kill or capture the leaders, and more leaders emerge to take their place.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is apparent that in terms of the goal of obtaining access to oil, the United States government would have done better to stay out of Middle East conflicts.

The Japanese and Chinese, whose governments have been neutral, are just as free to buy Middle East oil as Americans.

U.S. access to the oil of the Middle East has been threatened only once—during the Arab oil embargo of 1973.   The embargo was in retaliation for U.S. meddling in the Middle East, and was ineffective anyway.  There also was a brief oil shortage in 1979 following the interruption of oil production in Iran following the overthrow of the Shah.

But broadly speaking, the oil-producing countries need to sell oil as badly as the United States and other oil-consuming countries need to buy it.  Not even the anti-American government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela cut off oil sales to the United States, because that would have hurt Venezuelans as much or more than it would have hurt us Americans.   Economic self-interest, in some circumstances, can be a powerful force for good.

Of course prior to 1991, the U.S. government had a negative as well as a positive goal.  The negative goal was to keep the Soviet Union from gaining control of the governments and resources of the Middle East.  Maybe the Soviets would have gotten bogged down in quagmires of their own without the United States doing anything, and maybe not.  There is no way to know for sure.   I can understand why American policymakers wouldn’t want to stand aside and find out.

U.S. policy today could be interpreted as having the goal of being able to deny the Chinese access to the oil of the Middle East.  I have no evidence that this is the goal, but if the Chinese government thinks otherwise, this would explain why they are building up an ocean-going navy and demanding control of the sea lanes around China.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 8/7/14

August 7, 2014

New Snowden? Leaks indicate more than one hole in American national security community by Ben Mathis-Lilly for Slate.

The Intercept is reporting new information about the National Security Agency that apparently comes from someone still on the inside.   The huge U.S. national security apparatus has too many secrets and too many people with access to those secrets for those secrets to be truly secure.

My guess is that for every Edward Snowden who patriotically tells the American public what their government is doing behind their backs, there are one or more people who really are spies and are selling information to Russia, China or other foreign governments.

The economics of a McDonalds franchise by Cathy O’Neil as Mathbabe.

The terms and conditions under which McDonalds grants restaurant franchises make it impossible for the restaurant owner to pay a living wage and still make a profit.  That’s why it was both just and important that the National Labor Relations Board decided to allow restaurant employees against McDonalds as a joint employer.

While I am disappointed in President Obama’s record overall, I have to say that such a decision would not have been made under a McCain or Romney administration.  Whether the decision will be upheld in the courts is another question.

Flight MH17 – What You’re Not Being Told by SCG News.

There are many unanswered questions about the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukrainian rebel-held territory, and circumstantial evidence that it was a false-flag attack by conspirators.  All I am willing to say is that we the public don’t know the facts, and that the tragedy should not be used as an excuse to start a new cold war with Russia.

Data Mining Your Children by Stephanie Simon for Politico.

Book review: To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Mozorov. (Daniel Brandt)

Facebook’s Gateway Drug by Evgeny Mozorov for the New York Times Book Review (Daniel Brandt)

Technology is a good servant but a fearful master.

 

FBI uses sting operations to make terrorism cases

July 24, 2014

Human Rights Watch reported that many of the high-profile terrorism cases brought by the FBI since Sept. 11, 2001, were sting operations by the FBI itself.

The international human rights organization did not investigate all the cases, but a representative sample revealed a disturbing pattern of the FBI and its informants concocting fake terrorist plots and then recruiting people to join them.

No doubt some of their targets were real terrorists, said Andrea Prasow, Washington director of HRW.  “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would not have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

HRW said the FBI at times has targeted people who were mentally retarded or mentally ill, people who had no previous idea of getting involved in a terrorist plot, and indigent people who were tempted by large sums of money offered for joining the plot.

Of four plots known to have been concocted without FBI involvement, two were carried out—the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the Los Angeles Airport shooting in 2002. The other two were an attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010, and a plot to bomb the New York subways in 2009.

The American public would be better served if the FBI concentrated on actual terrorist plots, instead of generating fake plots to create a statistically impressive record.

§§§

ILLUSION OF JUSTICE, a report by Human Rights Watch.

US Terrorism Prosecutions Often an Illusion, the Human Rights Watch press release.

All But Four of the High Profile Domestic Terrorism Plots in the Last Decade Were Crafted From the Ground Up by the FBI by Tim Cushing for TechDirt.

Government agents ‘directly involved’ in most high-profile US terror plots by Spencer Ackerman for The Guardian.

Blacklisted: the Secret Government Rulebook for Labeling You a Terrorist by Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Deveraux for The Intercept.

A professional diplomat looks at the U.S. record

July 23, 2014
Charles Freeman

Charles Freeman

Ambassador Charles Freeman had a long and distinguished career in government service, including President Richard M. Nixon’s principal interpreter in his 1972 visit to China, service in India, China, Thailand and Saudi Arabia and policy-making positions in the State and Defense departments.

The following is from a speech he gave this month at a conference of the Middle East Policy Council in Washingon, D.C.

Our hammer blows in the Middle East were intended to showcase our power. Instead they convincingly demonstrated its limitations. These interventions worsened – not improved – the region’s stability, politics, and prospects.

Our unmatched military prowess has not enabled us to impose our will in West Asia, in Eastern Europe, or elsewhere.  The record of covert action at solving political problems in all of these regions has been no better.

The question then is: what alternatives to the military hammer and related kinetic instruments of statecraft does the U.S. presidency now have?

Normally, the answer would be the political screwdriver of diplomacy or other non-percussive means of influence, like subsidies and subventions.  But there is a reason the Department of State is the smallest and weakest executive department of our government.

The United States seldom resorts to diplomacy in resolving major differences with other states.  Gladiators trump diplomats anytime in terms of the spectacle they provide.  And, even if they don’t work, coercive measures like sanctions and bombing are much more immediately satisfying emotionally than the long slog of diplomacy.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 6/26/14

June 26, 2014

The World’s Most Important Spectator by David Bromwich for the London Review of Books.  Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

Obama roots for the good cause but often ends up endorsing the acceptable evil on which the political class or the satisfied classes in society have agreed.  He watches the world as its most important spectator.

This is an excellent account not only of President Obama’s second term, but the current American political scene.  Strongly recommended.

Obama’s ‘drone memo’ is finally public.  Now show us the library of secret law by Jameel Jaffer for The Guardian.  Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

 The philosopher Hannah Arendt wrote that one of the defining characteristics of a totalitarian government is that it has secret laws.   The Obama administration claims authority to wage war and issue death warrants based on secret legal rulings.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times forced the administration to release the 41-page legal memo that justified the killing of Anwar al-Alwiki, an anti-American U.S. citizen, in Yemen.   The first 11 pages, listing what al-Alwiki was accused of doing, are blacked out, all the footnotes are blacked out, and many other references throughout the memo also are blacked out.

What this indicates is that there are other secret legal memos claiming who-knows-what powers for the President.   The administration’s lawyers decide what powers President Obama has, and the rest of us are not allowed to know, let alone dispute, what these powers are.

Cross-national intelligence and national democracy by Henry Farrell for Crooked Timber.  Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.

International cooperation between secret intelligence agencies puts them beyond the reach of their national governments.   It may be illegal for the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and General Communications Headquarters to spy on Britons, but there is nothing to prevent the NSA from spying on Britons and the GCHQ from spying on Americans, and passing the information along.

A Secret Plan to Shut Down Social Security Offices and Outsource Its Work by Richard Eskow of Campaign for America’s Future.

Social Security offices, like post offices, are located on prime real estate.   There are big profits to be made by someone if this real estate is sold off at bargain prices.  And also profits to be made in replacing civil servants with contractual on-line services.

I have no way of knowing whether this is what the Social Security administration has in mind, but I do know that shutting down offices will in no way benefit senior citizens.

To the Woman Behind Me in Line at the Grocery Store by Andrea Gardner for The Blog.  Hat tip to Rod Dreher.

Never pass up an opportunity to perform an act of kindness.

Iraq, spies, defense: Links & comment 6/21/14

June 21, 2014

Is Iraq Actually Falling Apart? What Social Science Surveys Show by Mansoor Moaddel for Informed Comment.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Iraqis oppose a breakup of their country, and that they think of themselves as Iraqis first and Sunni and Shia second.   They desire a government that will work for the good of the nation and follow the wishes of the people more than they want a government that follows religious law.  A majority of Iraqi Sunni Arabs, but not of Iraqi Shiite Arabs, believe that religion should be separate from politics.

In other words, most Iraqis want for their country the same things that I want for the USA.  The Iraqis might have a stab at getting it if not for foreign interference.  A majority of Iraqis think of both Americans and Iranians as bad neighbors.

Who has the power to give the Iraqis what they want?  If anyone, it is not Barack Obama.  It is the wise Iraqi leader, the Ayatollah Sistani.   Remember that it was peaceful demonstrations led by Sistani that pressured the American occupation authorities to allow elections in Iraq.

Cross-national intelligence and national democracy on Crooked Timber.

I have written before that multi-national corporations, and the international agencies such as the WTO and IMF, are the closest thing there is to a world government.  But there is another candidate, which is the world’s interlocking intelligence agencies.

My idea of the mission of an intelligence agency is to discover the military secrets of foreign governments.  But in the present day, intelligence agencies co-operate across national borders to spy on their own citizens.  The German BND can’t legally spy on German citizens, but the U.S. NSA can legally do so and share information with the Germans, while the British GCHQ can legally share information about American citizens with the NSA.

The danger of this is that the intelligence agencies have their own political goals, which are not necessarily what the people of their respective countries want, and, so long as they operate behind a veil of absolute secrecy, there is no way of reining them in.

Why Is the Defense Department Buying Weapons With Chinese Parts Instead of US Parts? by Victoria Bruce for TruthOut.

The reason is that many high-tech components depend on “rare earths,” a raw material that China produces and that the United States could produce but doesn’t.  The deeper reason is that the big U.S. military contractors also do business with China, and don’t want to disturb that relationship.

Fukushima’s Ongoing Fallout: an unprecedented radiation disaster by John LaForge for CounterPunch.

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