TBR News April 28, 2016

Apr 28 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. April 28, 2016: “Having failed of their object in the Ukraine, the CIA persuaded the Turks to shoot down a Russian plane because the aerial attacks had disrupted and ruined the heavy flow of IS-captured Syrian oil to Turkey and onwards to the US. Also, since the CIA was arming and training the Saudi-based IS people, the aerial attacks were killing their agents. They assured Ankara that if they attacked the Russians, NATO would come to their rescue and Turkey would triumph over an old enemy, and a destroyed of the sacred oil. As usual with CIA plans, the plan did not work and Russian sanctions on Turkey have done terrible damage to the Turkish economy. What will the CIA come up with next? No doubt their top echelon of planners is meeting even as I write in their secret headquarters in one of the back wards of St. Elisabeths’ Fun House.”


Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.           After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversations with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt:


Conversation No. 19

Date: Thursday, June 27, 1996

Commenced: 9:30 AM CST

Concluded: 9:45 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert.

RTC: And to you, Gregory.

GD: Do you have some time now or could I get back to you later?

RTC: Now is just fine. What’s on your mind?

GD: You had been speaking of the overall CIA organizational control in certain domestic areas. I’ve been making rough notes and I would like to get a bit more from you.

RTC: I don’t mind discussing these matters with you, Gregory, but I must ask you to be very, very careful about whom you discuss these things with. Do not, I beg you, ever tell Tom Kimmel about what you and I discuss. He would run to his superiors so fast he would make Jesse Owens look like a paraplegic.

GD: No, no, I wouldn’t even consider that. I know about him. My assurances on all of this. You see, sometime, I might like to upgrade the Müller books and since he worked for you in D.C., some detailed background might be in order. If I put in enough detail, it would shock the brass there into comparative silence. They wouldn’t have to get their paid rats to squeal about me being a fraud or worse.

RTC: OK. Just so we understand each other. These pissheads keep calling me to warn me about how horrible you are and I really don’t want to keep hanging up on them.

GD: Can they make trouble for you, Robert? If so…

RTC: No, retired old crock as I am, I could wipe them out with one phone call and they know it. While we’re on the subject, I have made it very clear that if they overtly go after you, they will have me to answer to.

GD: Thanks for the support. I must tell you that I always wear a bulletproof vest but on my back. That’s where I need it, believe me.

RTC: (Laughter) Ah, well, Gregory, welcome to the club. Now what were you interested in discussing?

GD: All right. Fine. Here we go. We have spoken…or rather you have…about the size and complexity of the CIA. From its humble beginnings as a sort of digest of foreign intelligence for the President. And now, it’s huge. And you discussed the press and business and so on. How great is the overall power or control and how obvious is is? Do you have agents in the local Post Office for instance?

RTC: No, not that finely tuned. As you said, we started out small and ended up big. That’s the way of bureaucracies. Expand or die. Old Hoover hated us and tried his best to take us over but he failed. There were more of us that there were of him and while initially we dealt only with foreign matters, as a matter of pure survival, we turned our eyes and attention to the domestic market. Hoover was in a constant attack mode, whispering, rumor spreading, attempts at internal spying on us, aggravated turf wars and so on.  We not only had to get around him, and did so by being more than useful to the President and also, note this Gregory, by expanding and getting more power. These things have a life of their own but with increasing power comes increasing omnipotence. Eventually, we did an end run on Hoover, although we continued to work with him but very gingerly, and then we moved with caution into the domestic business and political field. For both security and, I might add, profit. I was in charge of business contacts as it were and often a CEO would come to me complaining that this or that country was interfering with their business. Could I help? Of course I would try and if the interference was bad enough, we would try to help our friend by replacing the troublemaking government or president, or king, involved. We justified this by telling the President or his top people that the target country, or president or king was a current serious threat to the security of the United States. In order to support our thesis, we went to one of our wholly-owned think tanks like the RAND people and have them prepare a supportive paper on order. This I would look at and make suitable changes if needed and forward it to our man, or men as it were, on the staff of the New York Times followed by a personal call to the publisher or senior editor and hey presto, the very next day a wonderful story would be on the front page of that influential paper.

GD: Above the fold?

RTC: Yes, above the fold. On the upper right. And the president and his people would see this just before we paid him a solemn visit with our RAND evaluation added to our own. It never failed and pretty soon, the public would learn that the Shah of Iran was running away or that this or that tinhorn dictator like Trujillo got snuffed by what we liked to call ‘dissident internal elements.’

GD: I knew about Guatemala from my uncle. The family had connections with Grace and United Fruit…

RTC: Well, you know what I mean. You know, this usually works but in one case, it did not. We were asked by our mob friends to get rid of Battista in Cuba who was shaking them down more than usual so we were happy to oblige fellow workers in the vineyard of the Lord. Unfortunately, one of our people put Fidel Castro forward as a brilliant reformer and out went Battista and in went Fidel. Of course we do not talk about that.

GD: What happened to the careless agent?

RTC: We don’t talk about that, either.

GD: Robert, have you heard about the joys of finely ground glass? I mean ground in a pestle until it’s like face powder, not gravel.

RTC: Oh, yes, indeed I have. It destroys someone careless enough to eat something the stuff is mixed into. But it takes quite a bit of time before the arteries give way. I don’t recommend it for emergency situations. Still, shooting someone is so public. Better the heart attack, don’t you think?

GD: Yes. A French medical fellow originally developed the drug and Müller got it. Gave it to the CIA. He said it worked better than chucking inconvenient people out of the window. Heini was, all in all, a very considerate person. He used to be concerned, he once told me, about the people and vehicles that might be down below. Someone rapidly descending from ten floors up would do terrible damage to a casual pedestrian, not to mention the damage they could do to a parked car. No, once he got in with your people there, I notice defenestrating seemed to stop and the heart attack surged forward. Harry Dexter White is a case in point.

RTC: Ah, my yes, old Harry. Got him before he was up for sentencing and decided to talk. Although perhaps Stalin had a hand in that, don’t you think? Qui Bono, Gregory?

GD: A good point.


(Concluded at 10:01 AM CST)




U.S. high school seniors slip in math and show no improvement in reading

April 27, 2016

by Emma Brown

The Washington Post

The nation’s high school seniors have shown no improvement in reading achievement and their math performance has slipped since 2013, according to the results of a test administered by the federal government last year.

The results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also show a longer-term stagnation in 12th-grade performance in U.S. public and private schools: Scores on the 2015 reading test have dropped five points since 1992, the earliest year with comparable scores, and are unchanged in math during the past decade.

“These numbers are not going the way we want,” said William J. Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, an independent panel established by Congress to oversee NAEP policy. “We have to redouble our efforts to prepare our students.”

The sobering news, released Wednesday, comes at the same time the nation is celebrating its highest-ever graduation rate, raising questions about whether a diploma is a meaningful measure of achievement.

Eighty-two percent of high school seniors graduated on time in 2014, but the 2015 test results suggest that just 37 percent of seniors are academically prepared for college course­work in math and reading — meaning many seniors would have to take remedial classes if going on to college.

“The governing board is pleased that graduation rates are increasing across the country, but at the same time not pleased that we’re not making the academic progress that we need to so there’s greater preparedness for post-secondary, for work, for military participation,” Bushaw said.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. did not immediately comment.

Also known as the Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP is widely regarded as the most consistent measure of U.S. student achievement over time. Since the 1990s, it has been administered every two years to students in the fourth and eighth grades, and less frequently to high school students.

In 2015, average math performance among seniors slipped two points, to 152 on a 300-point scale. On the reading test, seniors posted an average score of 287 on a 500-point scale, which was not statistically different from 2013.

Results for fourth- and eighth-graders on the 2015 tests were announced in October. Like high school seniors, the younger students demonstrated lower performance in math compared with 2013. Reading performance dropped for eighth-graders and was flat for fourth-graders.

The stagnation comes after a turbulent period in public education. Most states adopted sweeping educational policy ­changes, including teacher evaluations tied to test scores and Common Core academic standards that have changed what and how students learn in the classroom.

Last year, then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan defended those policies, saying that substantial reforms in schools often lead to a temporary drop in test scores while teachers and students adjust.

“Big change never happens overnight,” Duncan said. “I’m confident that over the next decade, if we stay committed to this change, we will see historic improvements.”

At all grade levels and in all subjects, there remain yawning racial achievement gaps. Those gaps did not narrow in 2015 among high school seniors, according to the test results.

In math, for example, 47 percent of Asian students and 32 percent of white students scored proficient or above, compared with 7 percent of black students and 12 percent of Hispanic students.

There was a widening of one achievement gap, between the highest performers, whose scores put them in the 90th percentile nationwide, and the lowest performers, at the 10th and 25th percentile.

In reading, the scores of top students improved in 2015 while the scores of low-performing students declined. Low-performing students posted a similar decline in math, while top students were unchanged.

“The students at the lower end are getting worse,” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which is responsible for administering the NAEP. “That’s something we need to think about.”


Start preparing for Donald Trump to become the Republican nominee

His strong performance in the Northeast primaries has put Donald Trump back on track to win the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. Absent any major developments, it could be difficult to stop him.

April 27, 2016


After winning big in his home state of New York last week, Donald Trump’s clean sweep of all five states in the Northeastern United States on Tuesday further cemented his frontrunner position in the Republican presidential race.

And while Trump’s boastful designation of himself as the “presumptive nominee” and “champ” after his Northeastern victory is premature, he does have a point. His strong showing in recent contests has made his path towards clinching the necessary delegate votes to win the nomination outright in the remaining primaries less difficult and more likely than just a few weeks ago.

A sign that Trump himself already has his eyes on the general election is the fact that he will give a foreign policy speech at the historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Wednesday, just one day after his primary victory.

Trump’s momentum

“Trump marches on and looks unstoppable even though he might still be unable to get the 1,237 delegates needed to win,” said Steffen Schmidt, a US elections expert at Iowa State University. “He gets delegates, but much more important is the momentum.”

With his thumping of party rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich in both the New York and the Northeast primaries, Trump’s prospects of reaching the necessary delegate count ahead of the nomination convention this summer have clearly improved.

But even if Trump falls short of that magic number 1,237 it could soon become nearly impossible to hand the Republican nomination to anyone else, said Iwan Morgan, professor of US studies at University College London. “It is going to be very difficult even if he were not to get the correct delegate count for the party establishment to pull, let’s call it an anti-democratic coup against the clear choice of most Republican primary voters.”

National candidate

After having shown strength in the North and Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and the South, Trump can now legitimately claim to be a national rather than a regional candidate, noted Morgan. “Ted Cruz always had that against him.”

Trump has so far won 27 contests, compared to 10 for Cruz and one for Kasich.

“Cruz and Kasich look weak and that’s very bad this season,” said Schmidt. Unless the newly formed Cruz-Kasich alliance can rack up some wins soon to improve their record starting with the Indiana primary next week, they have no claim to deny Trump the nomination even if he misses the required delegate tally.

Legitimacy problem

“Quite obviously neither Cruz nor Kasich would have the legitimacy to be foisted on the party in place of Trump,” said Morgan. “If you have a way to choose your party’s nominee and you do your best to subvert that I think that would create a civil war within the Republican Party whose principal outcome would be to ensure a Democratic victory.”

The Democratic presidential race, meanwhile, is pretty much a done deal with Hillary Clinton winning four out of five states in Tuesday’s primary. “Clinton continues to seem inevitable,” said Schmidt.


Former Tax Lobbyists Are Writing the Rules on Tax Dodging

April 27, 2016

by Lee Fang

The Intercept

The secret tax-dodging strategies of the global elite in China, Russia, Brazil, the U.K., and beyond were exposed in speculator fashion by the recent Panama Papers investigation, fueling a worldwide demand for a crackdown on tax avoidance.

But there is little appetite in Congress for taking on powerful tax dodgers in the U.S., where the practice has become commonplace.

A request for comment about the Panama Papers to the two congressional committees charged with tax policy — House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee — was ignored.

The reluctance by congressional leaders to tackle tax dodging is nothing new, especially given that some of the largest companies paying little to no federal taxes are among the biggest campaign contributors in the country. But there’s another reason to remain skeptical that Congress will move aggressively on tax avoidance: Former tax lobbyists now run the tax-writing committees.

We researched the backgrounds of the people who manage the day-to-day operations of both committees and found that a number of lobbyists who represented world-class tax avoiders now occupy top positions as committee staff. Many have stints in and out of government and the lobbying profession, a phenomenon known as the “reverse revolving door.” In other words, the lobbyists that help special interest groups and wealthy individuals minimize their tax bills are not only everywhere on K Street, they’re literally managing the bodies that create tax law:

  • Barbara Angus, the chief tax counsel of the House Ways and Means Committee, became a staff member in January of this year after leaving her position as a lobbyist with Ernst & Young. Angus, registration documents show, previously helped lobby lawmakers on tax policy on behalf of clients such as General Electric, HSBC, and Microsoft, among other clients.
  • Mark Warren, a tax counsel for the tax policy subcommittee of Ways and Means, is a former lobbyist for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group that includes Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Walgreens, and Unilever. Warren, who joined the committee in November of last year, previously lobbied on a range of tax policies, including tax credits and “tax relief.”
  • Mike Evans became chief counsel for the Senate Finance Committee in 2014 after leaving his job as a lobbyist for K&L Gates, where he lobbied on tax policy for JP Morgan, Peabody Energy, Brown-Forman, BNSF Railway, and other corporate clients.
  • Eric Oman, the senior policy adviser for tax and accounting at the Senate Finance Committee, previously worked for Ernst & Young’s lobbying office, representing clients on tax policy.

A request for comment about the role of former lobbyists now working as staffers was also ignored by the committees.

Wealthy individuals and corporations routinely squirrel away vast sums of money in jurisdictions like Delaware or Wyoming to avoid taxation, a major factor in the current state of affairs that allows those at the top of the economic pyramid to pay an effective tax rate that is often lower than the middle class. Verizon, Boeing, and General Electric, to name a few, paid no federal income taxes in recent years, despite earning a hefty profit margin. The Tax Justice Network ranks the U.S. as the third most problematic tax haven country, a ranking even worse than Panama.


UK support for EU membership eases despite Obama’s backing: poll

April 26, 2016

by Guy Faulconbridge and Elizabeth Piper


British support for staying in the European Union has fallen by two percentage points to 51 percent according to a poll, a decline that may suggest U.S. President Barack Obama’s words in favor of UK membership had yet to have an impact.

Support for leaving the 28-member bloc in a referendum has increased by 2 percentage points to 43 percent in the past week, little changed from figures published on April 19, according to the ORB poll of 800 people for The Daily Telegraph newspaper on Tuesday.

Several agencies and David Cameron’s advisers are polling voters almost continuously on their plans for a referendum on June 23 on EU membership, a vote that will determine the prime minister’s future and that of the country in world affairs.

But some have cast doubt on the results of the research, after the polling industry suffered a blow to its credibility last year when it failed to predict the Conservative Party’s outright victory in a general election.

Lynton Crosby, an election strategist who helped Cameron win last May’s election, said the Telegraph’s poll showed “not much has changed over the past week” despite Obama on Friday urging Britons to remain in the bloc.

“The effect of the president’s visit may not yet be felt in the numbers as sometimes it takes a while for factors to wash through. Also, people may not take much notice of what an outsider has to say,” he wrote in The Telegraph.

While on a visit to London, Obama said Britain would be at “the back of the queue” for a trade deal with the United States if it voted to leave the EU, a warning that sparked anger amongst those campaigning to leave the EU.

Crosby said the “In” campaign was at risk of “voter complacency” — almost three fifths of voters polled said they believed those campaigning to stay in the EU will win and may not then feel it necessary to turn out to vote.

“Who is leading at this stage may be indicative of what is yet to come, but the road ahead remains fraught,” Crosby said.

“I wouldn’t be hanging out the victory bunting just yet. The marathon has barely begun.”

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Estelle Shirbon and Raissa Kasolowsky)


Luxembourg Puts Journalist and Whistleblowers On Trial for Ruining Its “Magical Fairyland” of Tax Avoidance

April 27, 2016

by Jon Schwartz

The Intercept

Luxembourg is trying to throw two French whistleblowers and a journalist in prison for their role in the “LuxLeaks” exposé that revealed the tiny country’s outsized role in enabling corporate tax avoidance.

The trial of Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, two former employees of the international accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and journalist Edouard Perrin began Tuesday.

Deltour and Halet were charged in connection with theft of PwC documents. Perrin is charged as an accomplice for steering Halet toward documents that he considered of particular interest.

Perrin, a reporter with Premières Lignes Television in Paris, produced the first LuxLeaks reporting. PwC documents were later obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and, together with records from other accounting giants, formed the basis for the 2014 “LuxLeaks” series involving over 80 journalists across the world.

Among the many prominent supporters of the defendants, France’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin told the French parliament Tuesday that Deltour was “defending the general interest” and that he “would like to offer him all our solidarity.” Almost 175,000 people have signed a petition in support of Deltour.

The European Federation of Journalists has demanded that Luxembourg drop the charges against Perrin. EFJ general secretary Ricardo Gutierrez called Perrin’s prosecution “shameful,” saying that Luxembourg “is going after a journalist who has acted entirely in the public interest.” Reporters Without Borders criticized Luxembourg for being “more concerned about deterring investigative journalism than protecting the public’s right to information.”

So why has Luxembourg’s behavior been so ferocious?

The answer can be found, appropriately enough, in a publication of PricewaterhouseCoopers itself.

According to PwC’s January 25, 2016 “Global Regulatory Briefing,” its international client base now faces “new far reaching developments” on matters including “corporate governance and tax.” Among these are “various initiatives aiming to adapt the EU’s tax laws in the aftermath of Luxleaks” and “the release of the OCED/G20 Base Erosion and Profits Shifting (BEPS) Project.”

Here’s what that means for Luxembourg, translated into English:

The LuxLeaks series exposed Luxembourg as a “magical fairyland” for multinational corporations trying to avoid taxes, and now other countries are trying to shut it down.

The government of Luxembourg made sweetheart deals with over 340 multinational corporations that enabled the companies to claim much of their profits had been generated by Luxembourg subsidiaries, which were then taxed at rates as low as 1 percent.

Among the well-known beneficiaries of Luxembourg’s special arrangements were Pepsi, FedEx, IKEA, AIG, Walt Disney, the Carlyle Group, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Procter & Gamble and, via its one-time ownership of Skype, eBay. [Disclosure: Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay and longtime chairman of its board of directors, founded The Intercept’s parent company First Look Media.]

Tax avoidance by U.S.-based multinational corporations alone has been estimated to cost governments approximately $130 billion each year, and tax havens such as Luxembourg are crucial to this process.

They take a slice of the dodged taxes that’s small from the perspective of multinationals but enormous from the perspective of the countries themselves. In 1970, finance accounted for 2 percent of the Luxembourg economy; today it’s over 40 percent.

That’s why Luxembourg is behaving like this: LuxLeaks was a mortal threat to its current cushy way of life. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, representing 34 countries with the world’s preponderance of economic power, had already begun its “Base Erosion and Profits Shifting” project in 2012 to minimize the most egregious forms of corporate tax avoidance. However, the LuxLeaks revelations generated significant, additional momentum for the OECD to go further and faster.

What will happen in the end still remains to be seen. However, according to that PwC Global Regulatory Briefing, Europe “appears intent” on creating an “anti-tax avoidance package” largely “in line with the OECD’s BEPS recommendations.”  There will even, PwC says, be “mandatory consolidation across the EU according to the CCTB and an apportionment based on certain formulas to individual Member States” — a lot of gobbledygook which means Europe may move to a “formulary apportionment” corporate tax system which would make most current tax avoidance schemes there pointless. This in turn would force a whole lot of lawyers, bankers and accountants in Luxembourg to start looking for honest work.


Why US is Concerned About Yielding Its Key Ally to Russia

April 24, 2016


The US is concerned that Russia’s rising authority with the Kurdish units in Syria and Iraq could “upstage a long-standing US alliance with the stateless ethnic group and increase Moscow’s influence in the region”, in addition, it will give Moscow a “permanent lever in Syrian domestic politics and a lever against Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

“The Russian government says it has sent troops to fight alongside Kurdish units in northwestern Syria and is providing weapons to Iraqi Kurds in a tactic that could upstage a long-standing US alliance with the stateless ethnic group and increase Moscow’s influence in the region,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

In Syria, the US relies on Kurdish fighters, an umbrella group, known as the People’s Defense Units, or YPG, as one of its most effective allies in the fight against Daesh (Islamic State), much to the irritation of Turkey, which sees the YPG as a threat for its close ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which it alongside with the US and EU considers a terrorist organization.

A particular US concern is Russia’s demand for the Kurds to participate in the Syrian peace talks, “a move seen as a direct swipe at Ankara.”

“Before Russia’s intervention, the Kurds had no champion and no substantial claim to be part of the peace talks,” the newspaper says.

Russia’s weapons deliveries to Iraqi Kurds to step up its fight against Daesh and help in the eventual battle for Mosul also put Washington ill at ease.

Mark Katz, a professor at George Mason University who focuses on Russian foreign policy affairs, told the newspaper that Moscow’s move “might goad the Americans into stepping up arms supplies to prevent Russia from gaining the upper hand.”

Daily online magazine The Globalist provides its own reasons for the US’s unease. Russia’s cooperation with the Kurds, it says, “gives Moscow three tools in one fell swoop — a permanent lever in Syrian domestic politics, another potential foothold in the Middle East, and a lever against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

“Russia’s desire to undermine Erdogan after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet in November is well known, so the United States should work with Ankara to prevent Rojava (Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) self-declared autonomous region along portions of Syria’s border with Turkey) from becoming the Kremlin’s security client,” it urges.

The situation is even more complicated, The Wall Street Journal says, as “Kurdish fighters’ well-publicized successes against Islamic State, and a perception in the region that Americans haven’t given full-bore support, have given Moscow new reason to boost ties with a group likely to play a strong role in a new Syria.”

“There is no doubt that the Kurdish factors will be one of the most important factors in the Middle East transformation in years to come,“ the newspaper concludes with the words of Fyodor Lukyanov, head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, a Kremlin advisory body.


Every single member of House votes to require warrants to access all emails

April 27, 2016


The House voted 419-0 on a bill requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant to look through Americans’ emails, no matter how old they are. The bill would update a 30-year-old law that doesn’t require a warrant for emails older than 180 days.

The Email Privacy Act, HB 699, closes a loophole in the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows emails to be accessed by law enforcement with only a subpoena to the company storing them – not a warrant – if the stored communication is more than 180 days old.

It was swiftly and unanimously passed on to the Senate, following a unanimous vote by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. The bill garnered a historic 314 co-sponsors, almost three-quarters of the house, with many legislators agreeing that the bill is long overdue.

“Under current law, there are more protections for a letter in a filing cabinet than an email on a server,” said Representative Suzan Delbene (D-Washington) during the 40-minute debate period.

The bill originally had even stronger protections on privacy, requiring law enforcement to notify the person whose electronic communications are being accessed within 10 days. However, to alleviate concerns brought forth by law enforcement organizations, this provision was removed in an amendment added by the House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia). Now notification would be at the discretion of the third-party service storing the email.

Bipartisan support for the potential law exists within the Senate version as well, with Democrats such as Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republicans such as Ted Cruz of Texas co-sponsoring the bill


US election 2016: Trump details ‘America First’ foreign plan

April 27, 2016

BBC News

Donald Trump has detailed his foreign policy in a speech, a day after sweeping to a win in five US primaries.

Mr Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican candidacy in the 2016 presidential race, said he would pursue an “America First” policy.

He called the foreign policy of President Barack Obama’s administration “a complete and total disaster”.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump called himself the Republican “presumptive nominee” after his primary wins.

He claimed victories in Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Before the speech, he promised it would not be a “Trump doctrine”, and that he would retain some flexibility to make changes if elected.

Much of his speech focused on what he called the “weakness, confusion and disarray” of the Obama administration, and his hope of reversing it.

Before the audience in Washington, he vowed to “shake the rust off America’s foreign policy”.

On Islamic State

Mr Trump said that, under his administration “their days are numbered – I won’t tell them when, and I won’t tell them how”.

He had previously said he would weaken so-called Islamic State (IS) by cutting off their access to oil, and supported waterboarding and other strong interrogation methods against them. He did not return to these proposals on Wednesday.

“Containing the spread of radical Islam must be a major foreign policy goal of the United States and indeed, the world,” he said on Wednesday, adding that he would work closely with US allies in the Middle East to combat extremism.

On Nato and other powers

New talks would be sought with the United States’ allies in Nato, Mr Trump said, to try and reshape the organisation’s structure and discuss a “rebalancing” of US financing towards it.

Mr Trump said he would also aim to hold talks with Russia to seek common ground, possibly over Islamist extremism.

“Some say the Russians can’t be reasonable,” he said. “I intend to find out.”

China, he said, “respects strength, and by letting them take advantage of us economically like they are doing, we are losing all their respect”. He said he would seek to “fix our relations with China” but did not suggest how.

On US allies “The countries we defend must pay for the cost of this defence,” he said. “If not, the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.”

Speaking to the New York Times last month about the US-Japan relationship, he said: “If we’re attacked, they do not have to come to our defence, if they’re attacked, we have to come totally to their defence. And that is a, that’s a real problem.”


U.S. warns of ‘other’ options if North Korea continues nuclear, missile tests

April 26, 2016

by Jack Kim and Lesley Wroughton


SEOUL/WASHINGTON-The United States warned on Tuesday it would consider “other” options, which could include new sanctions or security steps, if North Korea continued nuclear and ballistic missile testing.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency earlier said North Korea appeared to be preparing a test-launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile, after what the United States described as the “fiery, catastrophic” failure of a launch attempt this month.

It is widely expected to conduct a fifth nuclear test soon, perhaps ahead of a congress of the ruling Workers Party congress in early May.

President Barack Obama said the United States was working on defending itself and its allies against potential threats from North Korea, which he called an “erratic” country with an “irresponsible” leader.

In a CBS interview that aired on Tuesday, Obama said the United States was spending a lot more time positioning its missile development systems to set up a shield “that can at least block the relatively low-level threats,” posed by North Korea.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner urged North Korea to refrain from actions that destabilize the region and said Washington would consider “other” options if Pyongyang continued nuclear and missile testing.

Toner noted that past steps had included sanctions and security measures, but declined to elaborate.

“I think it’s pretty clear that as North Korea continues to make decisions that we believe are counterproductive, that we’ve got to also continually look at what our options are in terms of response,” he told a daily briefing.

Asked what those options were, Toner added: “We don’t want to announce anything before it’s been fully formed and fully vetted.”

North Korea tested its fourth nuclear bomb on Jan. 6 and launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7, prompting a significant tightening in United Nations and U.S. sanctions.It has conducted several missile tests since, including what it said was a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Saturday.

On April 15, North Korea failed to launch what was likely a Musudan, a missile with a range of more than 3,000 km (1,800 miles), meaning that it could, if launched successfully, hit Japan and also, theoretically, the U.S. territory of Guam.

Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean government official as saying there were indications North Korea might try to launch another of the missiles, which is not known to have been successfully flight-tested.

South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun declined to confirm the Yonhap report but said North Korea’s military would likely spend some time trying to fix the problem following the failed launch.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry was quoted on Tuesday as saying that the country needed a “powerful nuclear deterrence” to counter U.S. hostility and threats. It said “nuclear threat and blackmail” would only prompt it to make “drastic progress in bolstering nuclear attack capabilities,” state media said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he could not confirm reports that North Korea appeared to be preparing for another nuclear test. However, he said Washington would continue to “ramp up the pressure,” including working with China, to persuade Pyongyang to curb its nuclear activities.

North Korea, whose lone ally is China, routinely threatens to destroy South Korea and its major ally, the United States. The two Koreas remain technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty.Obama said there “was no easy solution” to the North Korean threat. He said that while the United States “could destroy North Korea with our arsenals,” there would not only be humanitarian costs, but also a potential impact on South Korea.

Experts see North Korea’s Musudan test as part of an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the mainland United States. Obama said it was important to guard against such attacks.

“They are erratic enough, their leader is personally irresponsible enough that we don’t want them getting close” to obtaining such weapons, he said.

The April 15 failure was seen as an embarrassing blow for its leader, Kim Jong Un, who has claimed several advances in weapons technology in recent months.

North Korea said its submarine-launched ballistic missile test on Saturday was a “great success” that provided “one more means for powerful nuclear attack”.

South Korea on Tuesday described the test, which sent a missile travelling about 30 km (18 miles), as a partial success.

Washington and Seoul began talks on possible deployment of a new missile-defence system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), after the latest North Korea nuclear and rocket tests.

(Reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul; Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Susan Heavey, Alana Wise and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Dominic Evans in London; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and James Dalgleish)


The Classified ’28 Pages’: A Diversion From Real US-Saudi Issues

The controversy is a distraction from the real problems that Saudi Arabia’s policies pose to the US and the entire Middle East region

April 27, 2016

by Gareth Porter


The controversy surrounding the infamous “28 pages” on the possible Saudi connection with the terrorists that were excised from the joint Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is at fever pitch. But that controversy is a distraction from the real problems that Saudi Arabia’s policies pose to the United States and the entire Middle East region.

The political pressure to release the 28 pages has been growing for the past couple of years, with resolutions in both houses of Congress urging the president to declassify the information. But now legislation with bipartisan sponsorship has advanced in Congress that would deprive any foreign government of sovereign immunity in regard to responsibility for a terrorist attack on US soil and thus make it possible to sue the Saudi government in court for damages from the 9/11 attacks.

That development prompted Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to threaten last month to pull out as much as $750 billion in Saudi assets held in the United States. The Obama administration opposes the legislation, warning of “unintended consequences” – specifically that the US government could face lawsuits because of its actions abroad. Analysts of Saudi economic policy, however, do not take al-Jubeir’s threat very seriously since it would simply punish the Saudi economy.

Meanwhile, Obama in an interview with Charlie Rose of CBS News on 16 April, said that his Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is reviewing the 28 pages “to make sure that whatever it is that is released is not gonna compromise some major national security interest of the United States.” Obama said Clapper was nearly finished so the issue might finally come to a head within the next few weeks.

But it is unlikely that the declassification of the redacted 28 pages would add any dramatic new revelation to the story of the Saudis and the hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks. Former Senator Bob Graham, who was head of the Senate side of the joint intelligence committee, has implied that the 28 pages containing incriminating evidence about the hijackers’ links to the Saudi government. But Graham’s smoking gun is more likely to be speculative leads rather than real evidence of Saudi government support for the hijackers.

Past suspicions of an official Saudi role in assisting the hijackers has focused on the two Saudi al-Qaeda operatives, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, who moved to the San Diego area in early February 2000 and were immediately assisted by a Saudi man who was suspected by Saudis in the San Diego area of working for the Saudi intelligence service.

What many have cited as even more suspicious is the fact that $130,000 in certified bank checks were sent to the wife of Omar al Bayoumi, the suspected Saudi intelligence agent, by the wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then the Saudi Ambassador to the United States but and – more than a decade later – head of Saudi intelligence.

But even if those checks were a covert way of supporting an intelligence operative, the broader theory that Bayoumi’s job was to take care of the hijackers does not hold up in light of the information now available. Investigations by the FBI, the CIA and the two major public 9-11 bodies turned up no evidence that Bayoumi provided any financial support to hijackers. On the contrary they showed that Hazmi and Mihdhar were getting money when they needed it through a direct al-Qaeda channel.

On the contrary, the 9/11 Commission learned that the hijackers had left the apartment they had gotten through Bayoumi very soon after moving in, apparently because al-Bayoumi had organized a party in the apartment that was videotaped by one of the participants, and that the al-Qaeda operatives had seemingly not welcomed the attention. Very soon after that, moreover, Mihdhar actually left the United States and didn’t return until mid-2001. And in June 2000, Hazmi moved to Arizona apparently through a network of contacts that al-Qaeda had established in Tucson in the 1990s.

So Bayoumi did not play any role in the plans of Hazmi and Mihdhar, and the efforts to find any other evidence that the Saudi government was knowledgeable about bin Laden’s 9/11 plans have so far turned up nothing. It is unlikely that the leads related to suspicions of Saudi involvement to be found in the 28 pages are completely different from those that have already been widely discussed in the media.

Bayoumi’s relationship with Hazmi and Mihdhar has given rise to speculation about why the CIA failed to inform the FBI about the presence of Mihdhar in the United States until just two weeks before the 9/11 attacks. White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke was outraged that the CIA had known that an al-Qaeda terrorist was on his way to the United States and had kept him in the dark, even though he was supposed to receive every intelligence report on terrorism. He said in a 2009 interview that the only reason he could think that the CIA kept the information to itself was that Cofer Black, the head of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center, was determined to recruit Hazmi and Mihdhar as CIA agents inside al-Qaeda. Clarke speculated that the CIA would have used Saudi intelligence to approach the two al-Qaeda operatives and obviously assumed that Bayoumi was the Saudi agent who made the contact.

But more than a year had passed after the contact between the two al-Qaeda operatives and Bayoumi had been broken off before the CIA contacted the FBI and other agencies to request that Mihdhar be put on a watch list and began its own search for Mihdhar. That delay was obviously not the result of an effort to recruit Mihdhar and Hazmi. The truth is far more shocking: as the 9/11 Commission report makes clear, the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center had not even continued to focus on Mihdhar after first learning about his visa in February 2000.  It had already lost track of him, and had moved on to other issues. Not until a review in August 2001 had revealed its oversight did the CTC do anything about Mihdhar, which is why the hijackers were not tracked down before 11 September.

The Saudi regime certainly played a role in the trail of events that led to 9/11, but there is no need to wait for the declassification of the 28 pages to understand that trail. It has long been well documented that the sociopolitical constituency for bin Laden’s anti-US organization in the kingdom was so large and influential that the government itself was forced to tread with extreme caution on al-Qaeda until the group’s attacks on the Saudi regime began in 2003.

The Clinton administration had learned that Saudi supporters of bin Laden were being allowed to finance his operations through Saudi charities.  The regime systematically denied CIA requests for bin Laden’s birth certificate, passport and banks records. 9/11 Commission investigators learned, moreover, that after bin Laden’s move from Sudan to Afghanistan in May 1996, a delegation of Saudi officials had asked top Taliban leaders to tell bin Laden that if he didn’t attack the regime, the 1994 termination of his Saudi citizenship and freezing of his assets would be rescinded.

The US government has known that Saudi financing of madrassas all over the world has been a major source of jihadist activism. The Saudi regime’s extremist Wahhabi perspective on Shia Islam is the basis for its paranoid stance on the rest of the region and the destabilization of Syria and Yemen. The 28 pages should be released, but at a time when the contradictions between US and Saudi interests are finally beginning to be openly acknowledged, the issue is just another diversion from the real debate on Saudi Arabia that is urgently needed.


‘All occupiers accuse the resistant of terror’: Palestine envoy’s ‘Nazi comparison’ enrages Israel

April 28, 2016


The Palestinian envoy to the UN has defended the rights of his countrymen to resist Israeli occupation, comparing Tel Aviv’s labeling of Palestinians as “terrorists” to the Nazi suppression of Warsaw Ghetto uprising fighters.

The comments were made during a press conference held by Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, which occurred 10 days after he and Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, exchanged heated verbal accusations with regards to the wider definition and condemnation of terror.

During a UN Security Council meeting back on April 18 Danon accused Palestinians of teaching “hatred” in schools and naming streets after “terrorists.” Danon also lashed out against Mansour’s failure to condemn “all” acts of terrorism.

“You pay the families of terrorists,” the Israeli envoy said. “You glorify terrorism. Shame on you for doing that.”

“Shame on you for killing thousands of Palestinian children,” Mansour retorted.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mansour accused Danon of labeling all Palestinians terrorists, drawing parallels with all occupying forces in the history of humankind – and most notoriously to the Nazi regime which tried to destroy all resistance to their rule.

“[Israel’s] representative on the UN Security Council trying to show that all the Palestinian people who have legitimate rights to resist occupation in legitimate ways – he paints them as terrorists,” Mansour said in New York.

“Guess what?” he added. “All colonizers, all occupiers, including those who suppressed the Warsaw [Ghetto] uprising, labeled those who resisted them as terrorists.”

Responding to Mansour’s fresh accusations, Danon stressed that “any comparison between the Nazi regime and the democratic State of Israel is despicable and must be condemned by the international community.”

The Israeli Ambassador accused Palestinians of “continuing to lie to the world and turn to the international community with ridiculous claims instead of focusing their efforts on fighting terror and incitement.”

Replying to charges of Israeli detention of minors, Danon said that some “terrorists” deserved no other treatment.

“When we arrested the sixteen-year-old who killed Dafna Meir, an innocent mother of six, we treated him like the terrorist that he is,” Danon said. “A murderer who belongs in prison for life.”

In the meantime Mansour announced that on May 6 the UN Security Council will have an informal meeting on the protection of civilians in Palestine.

“Our desire is to find any form of protection to protect our people from the brutality of this occupation,” he said.


The Permanent Security State

Presidents come and go, but the national security bureaucracy never leaves.

by Michael J. Glennon


“The national security bureaucracy is a powerful force,” Charlie Savage writes in Power Wars. The influence of this permanent security state, the New York Times reporter shows, is subtle but nonetheless pervasive, and it does not disappear when a new president takes control: A remarkable number of officials held the same or similar jobs under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Key decisions are repeatedly made or influenced by hold-overs and careerists who fight to maintain the status quo. The laws governing their conduct is blurry and elastic, giving them broad power that’s exercised with little accountability. They thrive on secrecy. “The permanent bureaucracy gets nothing from transparency and sees it only in terms of risk,” an administration official tells Savage. Power Wars provides voluminous evidence of that bureaucracy’s reach; a century from now, this will be the first book legal historians pick up when trying to understand the Obama administration’s national security policy. No branch of government turns out to be immune from the influence of the permanent security state.

When it comes to national security matters, the president is more presider than decider. “For all the focus the media and historians tend to put on presidents as individuals—Bush did this, Obama did that—the world and the government are so complicated that a single person cannot pay attention to all of it,” Savage explains. “Presidents set the tone and the priorities, and they usually are the ones who make the very biggest decisions. But the overwhelming majority of what an administration does takes place in the trenches of the executive-branch bureaucracy. Dozens or hundreds of officials whose names are unknown to the public and who rarely show up in history books make decisions every day about matters that most likely will never be brought to the president’s personal attention or that may be discussed only briefly in the Oval Office at a ten-thousand-foot level.”

Examples fill the book. In 2009, Obama, sworn in only days before, was briefed for the first time on the security state’s bulk surveillance programs. Officials assured him that these were not only vital to the nation’s security but entirely legal. It meant nothing to anyone present that the programs were legitimated by a pseudo-court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or that they were barely understood by the intelligence committees—committees the 9/11 Commission had earlier labeled “dysfunctional” and John McCain would later describe as “co-opted.” Obama turned to two of his appointees, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Greg Craig, who were probably still trying to figure out where the men’s rooms were. He asked what they thought, as though they could realistically raise any meaningful concerns. Not surprisingly, they didn’t.

Within the permanent security state, officials have an incentive to push off costs and risks to their successors. The result is a continuing drive for less accountability and fewer checks. Officials are told they need broader power because “blood will be on their hands” if an attack occurs on their watch. We hear this over and over in the book: Who will bear the blame for casualties? Whose hands will end up bloody? But there are, of course, competing risks. There are long-term risks in neutering the courts as independent guardians of freedom. There are long-term risks in secretly compiling watch lists and no-fly lists that can easily be deployed to deprive people of constitutionally protected rights (as with the recent proposal to gut their right to bear arms). There are long-term risks in legitimating torture by allowing torturers to go unpunished. But within the permanent security state, the payoff lies in mitigating short-term risks. The long-term price will be paid on someone else’s watch.

Congress operates under similar incentives, as Power Wars illustrates. No legislator wants to risk electoral defeat because one of the permanent security state’s recommendations was ignored. The bureaucracy’s emphasis on military and intelligence approaches over diplomatic or political solutions saturates the legislative process. Legislators are content to play a ceremonial role and to avoid hard national security decisions.

That’s why Congress could stand by sheepishly as Obama’s lawyers present an argument for the legality of the war against ISIS based on a 14-year-old Authorization to Use Military Force that licensed a different war for a different purpose against a different enemy. (The New York Times rightly labeled the argument “preposterous.”) It’s also why the Senate Intelligence Committee, more interested in hindsight than oversight, could present a report on torture that omits any mention of illegality or personal accountability—not least its own—and makes no recommendations for reform.

The committee identified 9,400 documents relevant to its inquiry, wrote three letters to the White House requesting those documents, got no response—and then simply dropped the request. No subpoena, nothing. The committee took no depositions and conducted no interviews, of the accused or of victims who had asked to testify. Treaty obligations notwithstanding, Obama brought none of the torturers to justice, even those whose barbarous conduct exceeded John Yoo’s extravagant guidelines. The only person to be prosecuted in connection with the torture program, so far as I can tell, is the CIA official who first openly acknowledged it.

Obama’s lawyers, as Savage points out, repeatedly urge the judiciary to steer clear of such matters. And of course it does so. The courts elect to play no role, either before or after a drone strike, in reviewing a decision to kill American citizens deemed to be terrorists overseas—even away from hot battlefields. Judicial friends-of-the-management dismiss case after case on the basis of the state secrets privilege, lack of standing, or the like. It is difficult to identify more than a case or two in which a plaintiff who has suffered even the most grievous injury as the result of Bush-Obama counterterrorism policies has been accorded his day in court, let alone one in which any plaintiff has been awarded a dime in damages.

In the realm of war powers, Obama as a candidate suggested that the applicable law is not entirely putty. In a 2007 answer to a question posed by Savage, he famously said: “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Yet four years later he showed no fidelity to that principle, attacking Libya without congressional approval or any threat to the United States. He then lawyer-shopped to dredge up a “legally available” interpretation to sidestep the War Powers Resolution’s 60-day time limit—not the best or most logical or traditional interpretation, and one rejected by the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and the Pentagon’s general counsel and that barely passes the laugh test. (Under it, Savage notes, it wouldn’t constitute “‘hostilities’ for the United States to bomb another country’s armed forces pretty much every day so long as those forces could not shoot back at the Americans and it was a UN-authorized mission.”) But Obama got away with it, Savage suggests, because in the conflict against terrorism, “legal theory is malleable.In matters of national security, the line that separates policy and politics from law has grown blurry.”

The president’s lawyers have done all they can to make the law even more malleable. Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, brushed aside the need to get congressional approval to attack Syria. “It’s easy to get lawyers to do clever wordings, and we could always point to Kosovo,” he tells Savage. Rhodes’ comment brings to mind former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s response to Robin Cook when the British foreign secretary told her that his lawyers had legal concerns about bombing Kosovo. “Get new lawyers,” she replied. Obama got new lawyers, much more clever than the old Bush lawyers with their jejune theory that the president is an elected king who can violate the law with impunity simply by reciting the magic jingle “commander-in-chief.” Throughout Power Wars, Obama’s attorneys come up with more refined and baroque arguments that reach the same result.

Yet the curtain does sometimes get pulled back, as it did in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, when the administration challenged a statute requiring the State Department to designate Israel as the nation of birth of certain Americans born in Jerusalem. The White House’s lawyers cited the infamous inherent powers case, U.S. v. Curtiss-Wright, 10 times, relying on what the Supreme Court described as “unbounded power.” Savage describes the “circular logic” of Bush’s old lawyers: “a president had done certain things based on those theories, and because he had done them, those theories must be true.” Obama’s lawyers’ logic may be less circular, but their conclusions are almost always as tortured.

Some of these lawyers earlier criticized Bush’s national security policies but have later insisted that their criticism was based not on concerns about civil liberties but about the rule of law. They now contend that they weren’t objecting to the substantive Bush policies at issue, such as undifferentiated mass surveillance, but only to the process by which those policies were implemented, including the lack of congressional approval. The real objective of the Obama administration, they assert, has been simply to restore a more lawful process.

Savage himself is sympathetic to this argument, but it has three weaknesses. First, as commonly understood, the concept of “the rule of law” is not that narrow. As most people (though not all legal scholars) use the term, it’s not limited merely to process and procedure but includes at least minimal elements of liberty. Few people would regard a government as upholding the rule of law if it consistently abridged its citizens’ fundamental freedoms but always did so with dotted i’s and crossed t’s. It was fair to believe, when Sen. Obama and his people criticized Bush’s policies, that they shared this broad popular conception of the rule of law as protecting both process and liberty.

Second, many of the Bush policies that Obama and his lawyers earlier criticized, yet have nonetheless continued, are in fact purely procedural. The policies have no substantive dimension; the procedure is the substance. Consider the state secrets privilege, or prosecuting whistleblowers, or resistance to meaningful congressional oversight, or using signing statements to bypass the intent of Congress, or withholding documents under executive privilege, or classifying purely legal analysis. Most Bush critics probably did not regard the interests those policies abridged as mere civil liberties add-ons that are extraneous to the rule of law. They saw them as protected by the rule of law, which they expected President Obama to honor.

Third is the bottom-line question: As a practical matter, just how much bite does Obama’s rule of law actually have? One would think that, if the rule of law means anything, at least on occasion it might prevent public officials from doing something that they would otherwise be inclined to do. What, specifically, has the rule of law prevented the Obama administration from doing?

The astonishingly candid answer was provided by none other than CIA Director John Brennan. Speaking off the cuff in 2011, Brennan said: “I have never found a case that our legal authorities, or legal interpretations that came out from that lawyers group, prevented us from doing something that we thought was in the best interest of the United States to do.”

Could that possibly be right? In 2014, Savage asked Ben Rhodes basically the same question: Could he think of any instance in which the Obama administration had not done something that it wanted to do because the lawyers said that it would be illegal? Rhodes could think of only one example: rejecting the proposed exfiltration of an Iraqi prisoner without the Iraqi government’s consent.

I read Power Wars with this same question in mind. I looked for additional instances in which this “most lawyerly of American presidents” was told categorically that he couldn’t legally do something he wanted to do. Of course, law and politics are intertwined and the potential for political embarrassment can sink a proposal before the lawyers have to do so. And on a handful of occasions Obama’s lawyers did equivocate or drag their feet. But it’s hard to find any instance where his lawyers flatly vetoed a preferred policy option with an unequivocal “no.” In the realm of national security, this administration’s notion of the rule of law looks more often like ex post adornment than ex ante restraint.

Savage suggests that, given the number of lawyers filling jobs in the Obama administration, legal considerations have nonetheless “disciplined” the internal dialogue and nudged policy makers to focus on legal constraints. Perhaps. But let us remember: Richard Nixon, John Dean, John Mitchell, John Erlichman, and Charles Colson all were lawyers. Dean has said that 21 lawyers were involved in Watergate. If the Obama administration is the most heavily lawyered in history, the Nixon administration is a close runner-up. The Watergate tapes don’t seem to reveal an Oval Office dialog disciplined by an unswerving drive to honor the rule of law.

The dynamic is familiar: Lawyers like to make clients happy, and Obama’s lawyers are no exception. Sometimes, however, a lawyer has to be an abominable no-man. Not many spoilsports leap out of the pages of Power Wars. What does leap out is the pervasive influence of a permanent security state that has thrived under Barack Obama.


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