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TBR News May 20, 2013

May 20 2013


The Voice of the White House


             Washington, D.C., May 19, 2013: “Ryan Fogle, 29, has been officially expelled from Russia, persona non gratia, because he was apprehended in what was obviously a rigged operation. The quiet word inside the Beltway is that there are elements inside the CIA who hate the Russians and will do everything they can to prevent rapprochement with that country. Fogle, a very intelligent and competent analyist, was seconded to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as a minor diplomat and then sent out with all kinds of silly “evidence” to “recruit” a Russian intelligence agent. And somehow, the Russians were tipped off about poor Fogle who was seized with all of his childish evidence. The Russians enjoyed all of this tomfoolery vastly; Fogle was well photographed and then expelled from Russia. It will take some time to see if the CIA’s ploy will work but it probably will not. That agency is known to sacrifice its agents if policy requires it.”


FSB: CIA crossed ‘red line’ with agent Fogle


May 17, 2013

RT News


            The CIA has crossed a certain ‘red line’ in professional ethics of intelligence as American spy Ryan Fogle attempted to recruit a Russian agent, an FSB operative told RT.


“In case with Fogle, the CIA crossed the red line and we had no choice but to react observing official procedures,” a representative of the Russian Security Service, the FSB, said in an interview with RT.


The spy story broke earlier this week after it was made public that Fogle – who had worked under the guise of a third secretary at the US Embassy in Moscow – was detained after being caught red-handed trying to recruit a Russian intelligence officer for the CIA. Following the incident he was expelled from Russia.


As early as by autumn 2011, the FSB was aware that the CIA was pursuing a goal to get an informer within the Russian special services, the agent told RT.


“Those were not one-off events, which caused our concern,” the operative pointed out. “Therefore, we decided to warn our American colleagues and ask them to stop these activities.”


At a time, the FSB did not make public any information they knew about the CIA operations in Moscow, but held a meeting with the head of their station’s chief in Moscow

“We hoped our American colleagues would hear us, given that we also presented to them precise information about CIA officers making recruitment attempts in Moscow and who exactly was doing that,” the source added.


In particular, back then, the FSB named such American agents as Benjamin Dillon, third secretary of the American Embassy in Moscow. Last year, “Dillon got into the same story as Fogle” and was expelled from Russia in January, the source said. 


“Hoping that the CIA would make necessary conclusions from the incident, we did not make that case public,” he said. Apparently, the Americans did not appreciate the FSB’s “correct attitude towards professional ethics.”


The FSB was aware that Ryan Fogle worked for the CIA since his arrival in Moscow in April 2011. Russian intelligence, “keeps an eye on” representatives of all foreign special services and the American intelligence agency is no exception to the rule, the source noted.


“The point of such an approach is to terminate all possible actions by foreign intelligence that could pose a threat to Russia’s security,” the operative said. “This, certainly, does not refer to diplomats who do their duties on behalf of the US State Department.”


            The CIA did not respond to two warnings from Russia, while the desire to wriggle through agents into the Russian special services “remained very high .”


Before the case with Fogle, there were three similar cases with CIA officers, the FSB agent said. While Fogle and Dillon were expelled from Russia, others left the country voluntarily. 


The FSB believes that following the latest spy scandal the Americans “will draw right conclusions .” The source pointed out that the US and Russian special services cooperate very closely in countering terrorism and exchange information on the matter.


“I’m confident that the incident [with Fogle] will not affect the development of cooperation in that area ,” the source stated. “However, the confrontation between intelligence and counter-intelligence will always remain in place .”


The FSB also shared with RT a record of a phone conversation between Dillon and an unnamed Russian person, where the alleged CIA agent discusses a possible “job” with the Russian man.


 As early as by autumn 2011, the FSB was aware that the CIA was pursuing a goal to get an informer within the Russian special services, the agent told RT.


 “Those were not one-off events, which caused our concern,” the operative pointed out. “Therefore, we decided to warn our American colleagues and ask them to stop these activities.”


 At a time, the FSB did not make public any information they knew about the CIA operations in Moscow, but held a meeting with the head of their station’s chief in Moscow, Stephen Holmes.


 “We hoped our American colleagues would hear us, given that we also presented to them precise information about CIA officers making recruitment attempts in Moscow and who exactly was doing that,” the source added.


 In particular, back then, the FSB named such American agents as Benjamin Dillon, third secretary of the American Embassy in Moscow. Last year, “Dillon got into the same story as Fogle” and was expelled from Russia in January, the source said.


 “Hoping that the CIA would make necessary conclusions from the incident, we did not make that case public,” he said. Apparently, the Americans did not appreciate the FSB’s “correct attitude towards professional ethics.”


 The FSB was aware that Ryan Fogle worked for the CIA since his arrival in Moscow in April 2011. Russian intelligence, “keeps an eye on” representatives of all foreign special services and the American intelligence agency is no exception to the rule, the source noted.


 “The point of such an approach is to terminate all possible actions by foreign intelligence that could pose a threat to Russia’s security,” the operative said. “This, certainly, does not refer to diplomats who do their duties on behalf of the US State Department.”




Concerns Arise on U.S. Effort to Allow Internet ‘Wiretaps’


May 16, 2013

by Somini Sengupta 

New York Times


Surveillance can be a tricky affair in the Internet age.


A federal law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act allows law enforcement officials to tap a traditional phone, as long as they get approval from a judge. But if communication is through voice over Internet Protocol technology — Skype, for instance — it’s not as simple.


That conversation doesn’t pass through a central hub controlled by the service provider. It is encrypted — to varying degrees of protection — as it travels through the Internet, from the caller’s end to the recipient’s.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation has made it clear it wants to intercept Internet audio and video chats. And that, according to a new report being released Friday by a group of technologists, could pose “serious security risks” to ordinary Internet users, giving thieves and even foreign agents a way to listen in on Americans’ conversations, undetected.


The 20 computer experts and cryptographers who drafted the report say the only way that companies can meet wiretap orders is to re-engineer the way their systems are built at the endpoints, either in the software or in users’ devices, in effect creating a valuable listening station for repressive governments as well as for ordinary thieves and blackmailers.


“It’s a single point in the system through which all of the content can be collected if they can manage to activate it,” said Edward W. Felten, a computer science professor at Princeton and one of the authors of the report, released by the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group in Washington.


“That’s a security vulnerability waiting to happen, as if we needed more,” he said.


The report comes as federal officials say they are close to reaching consensus on the F.B.I.’s longstanding demand to be able to intercept Internet communications. Companies that say they were unable to modify their operations to comply with the new wiretap orders would be subject to a fine, according to the plan. The White House has yet to review it.


Neither the F.B.I. nor White House officials have provided technical details of how the Web service providers would comply.


Law enforcement officials regularly seek information from Web companies about the communications of their users, from e-mail messages to social network posts and chats.


Microsoft, which owns Skype, reported receiving 4,713 requests in 2012 from law enforcement, which covered just over 15,000 Skype accounts; the company said it released only “noncontent data, such as a Skype ID, name, e-mail account, billing information and call detail records” if an account is connected to a telephone number.


Skype is a Luxembourg company, even after its acquisition by Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash. United States wiretap law does not apply to the company.


Along with Mr. Felten, who served as a technologist with the Federal Trade Commission until recently, the report’s authors include the cryptographer Bruce Schneier and Phil Zimmermann, who created what has become the most widely used software to keep e-mails private.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


Correction: May 18, 2013


            An article on Friday about a report criticizing the F.B.I.’s proposal to intercept Internet chats described the report’s authors incorrectly and misspelled the surname of one of them. The authors included 20 computer experts and cryptographers, not a dozen lawyers and cryptographers, and one of the authors is Phil Zimmermann, not Zimmerman. The article also erroneously included one person among the authors. Peter Swire, a former White House privacy lawyer, did not participate in the writing of the report.



Unmoved by Israel, Russia will send top air-defense system to Assad

May 16, 2013

Times of Israel


Undeterred by pleas and warnings from Israel, Russia made clear on Thursday that it will go ahead with its planned delivery of a highly sophisticated air-defense system to Syria’s President Bashar Assad.

            Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in an emergency face-to-face meeting on Tuesday that Moscow’s sale of the S-300 missile defense system to Assad could push the Middle East into war.

            But Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, evidently unmoved by the dramatic Israeli warning, declared on Thursday that while Moscow was “not signing any new deals,” it would honor existing contracts with Syria, including for the air-defense systems. “We’ve already carried out some of the deal,” Lavrov said, “and we will carry the rest of it out in full.”

            A failure to honor signed contracts, Lavrov added in a television interview, would “harm the credibility” of Russia in other arms-sales contracts.

             Lavrov’s statements indicated that Netanyahu’s mission to Russia — he flew to meet Putin, immediately after his return from China, for emergency talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi — had failed. In their talks, Netanyahu reportedly told the Russian president that the S-300 had no relevance to Assad’s civil-war battles against rebel groups, and implored Moscow not to deliver the systems, Channel 2 reported.

            He said that if acquired by Assad, the S-300 — a state-of-the-art system that can intercept fighter jets and cruise missiles — “is likely to draw us into a response, and could send the region deteriorating into war,” the Channel 2 report said.

            On Thursday night, in response to Lavrov’s statements, Israeli officials were quoted by Channel 2 as saying that Jerusalem preferred not to describe Netanyahu’s mission as a failure, but acknowledged that Israel’s “situation would have been far better” if Putin had agreed to cancel the delivery. An Israeli source was quoted as saying that Netanyahu had told Putin the S-300s represent a weapons system that “shatters Israel’s qualitative edge,” presumably since it would greatly constrain the Israeli air force’s freedom of movement above Syria and neighboring Lebanon.

            The Israeli source was also quoted as saying that Israel would “firmly oppose” the transfer of S-300s to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

            Twice this month, Israel carried out air attacks in the Damascus area to blow up Fateh-110 ground-to-ground missile consignments en route to Hezbollah via Syria from Iran.

            Lavrov said recently that the S-300s were to help Syria defend itself against air attacks. Israel suspects that Russia will deliver to Assad six S-300 missile batteries, as well as 144 missiles, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

            At their brief joint press conference Tuesday, it was clear that Netanyahu and Putin had not reached agreement on how to grapple with the Syrian crisis.

            The Russian president said that the only way to resolve the crisis was via “the soonest end to armed conflict and the beginning of political settlement.”

            He added: “At this sensitive moment, it’s particularly important to avoid any action that could destabilize the situation.”

             Netanyahu, however, said that the volatile situation in the Middle East requires action to improve security. “The region around us is very unstable and explosive, and therefore I am glad for the opportunity to examine together new ways to stabilize the area and bring security and stability to the area,” he said. The prime minister’s bottom line was that “Israel will do whatever it takes to defend its citizens.”

            Russia has continued to ship weapons to Syria, despite the civil war there, but while it has reportedly delivered less-sophisticated air-defense systems, it refrained from providing Damascus with the S-300s, which have a range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles), and the capability to track down and strike multiple targets simultaneously with lethal efficiency.

            The weapon would mean a quantum leap in Syria’s air defense capability, including against neighboring countries.

            Israel reportedly attacked suspected shipments of advanced Iranian weaponry — the Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missile — in Syria with back-to-back airstrikes this month. Israeli officials signaled there would be more attacks unless Syria refrains from trying to deliver such “game-changing” missiles to Hezbollah. Hezbollah said weapons shipments won’t cease.

            On Wednesday, Israel reportedly warned Assad that further attacks were being considered, and that it would “bring down” his regime if he retaliated.

            On Monday, Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau accused Russia of destabilizing the Middle East by selling weapons to Assad’s regime. “Anyone who provides weaponry to terror organizations is siding with terror,” Landau said. 




The Biggest Obama Scandals Are Proven and Ignored


There is clear evidence that he has broken the law on multiple occasions. And not even Republicans seem to care.


May 17 2013,

by Conor Friedersdorf  The Atlantic


Prompted by Peggy Noonan’s claim in The Wall Street Journal that “we are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate,” Andrew Sullivan steps forward to defend Pres. Obama’s honor. “Can she actually believe this?,” he asks incredulously. “Has this president broken the law, lied under oath, or authorized war crimes? Has he traded arms for hostages with Iran? Has he knowingly sent his cabinet out to tell lies about his sex life? Has he sat by idly as an American city was destroyed by a hurricane? Has he started a war with no planning for an occupation? Has he started a war based on a lie, and destroyed the US’ credibility and moral standing while he was at it, leaving nothing but a smoldering and now rekindled civil sectarian war?”


An Obama critic, having overplayed her hand, gave Sullivan an opening to respond with what amounts to, “It isn’t as bad as Watergate, nor as bad as George W. Bush.” Let’s concede those points. I don’t much care what Obama’s Republican critics say about him. The scandals they’re presently touting, bad as two of them are, aren’t even the worst of Team Obama’s transgressions.


I have a stronger critique. Sullivan hasn’t internalized the worst of what Obama’s done, because his notion of scandal is implicitly constrained by whatever a president’s partisan opponents tout as scandalous. If they criticize Obama wrongly, he defends Obama proportionately.


To see what he’s forgotten as a result, let’s run once more through the first questions in Sullivan’s latest Obama apologia.


Has this president broken the law, lied under oath, or authorized war crimes?


Yes, President Obama has broken the law on multiple occasions. Despite clearly stating, in a 2008 questionnaire, that  the commander-in-chief is not lawfully empowered to ignore treaties duly ratified by the Senate, Obama has willfully failed to enforce the torture treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and duly ratified by the Senate, that compels him to investigate and prosecute torture. As Sullivan put it earlier this year, “what Obama and Holder have done (or rather not done) is illegal.”


Obama also violated the War Powers Resolution, a law he has specifically proclaimed to be Constitutionally valid, when committing U.S. troops to Libya without Congressional approval.  Or as Sullivan put it in 2011, “I’m with Conor. The war in Libya becomes illegal from now on. And the imperial presidency grows even more powerful.”


On the subject of war crimes, Sullivan wrote that “Obama and attorney-general Eric Holder have decided to remain in breach of the Geneva Conventions and be complicit themselves in covering up the war crimes of their predecessors – which means, of course, that those of us who fought for Obama’s election precisely because we wanted a return to the rule of law were conned.” In a separate entry, he went so far as to say that Obama is “a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more.” That seems rather farther than Noonan went in her column.


Obama has not, as Sullivan points out, traded arms for hostages with Iran, or started a war with no planning for the inevitable occupation that would follow. But there are different questions that could be asked about Obama that would perhaps be more relevant to his behavior.


  • Has he ordered the assassination of any American citizens in secret without due process? Did he kill any of their teenage kids without ever explaining how or why that happened? 


  • Has he refused to reveal even the legal reasoning he used to conclude his targeted killing program is lawful?


  • Has he waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers?


  • Has he spied on millions of innocent Americans without a warrant or probable cause?


  • Does he automatically count dead military-aged males killed by U.S. drones as “militants”?


  • Did he “sign a bill that enshrines in law the previously merely alleged executive power of indefinite detention without trial of terror suspects”?


There is more, as Sullivan knows, and it all amounts to a scandalous presidency, even if it happens that few Republicans care about the most scandalous behavior, and have instead spent almost a year* now obsessing about Benghazi. The IRS scandal and Department of Justice leak-investigation excesses are worrisome, but the biggest scandals definitely go all the way to the top, and are still largely ignored even by commentators who have acknowledged that they’re happening. Sullivan has noted the stories as they broke, and seemed, for fleeting moments, to confront their gravity, noting the violation of very serious laws, and even once stating that Obama deserves to be prosecuted! Yet in response to Noonan, he writes, “So far as I can tell, this president has done nothing illegal, unethical or even wrong.” How inexplicably they forget.


And Sullivan is hardly alone. At the New York Times, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, and beyond, exceptional journalists take great care to document alarming abuses against the rule of law, the separation of powers, transparency, and human rights perpetrated by the Obama Administration. On a given subject, the coverage leaves me awed and proud to be part of the same profession. But when it comes time for synthesis, bad heuristics take over. Confronted with the opportunism and absurdity of the GOP, Obama’s sins are forgiven, as if he should be graded on a curve. His sins are forgotten, as if “this president has done nothing illegal, unethical or even wrong.”


Yes. He has.


Washington gets explicit: its ‘war on terror’ is permanent


Senior Obama officials tell the US Senate: the ‘war’, in limitless form, will continue for ‘at least’ another decade – or two


May 17, 2013

by Glenn Greenwald



Last October, senior Obama officials anonymously unveiled to the Washington Post their newly minted “disposition matrix”, a complex computer system that will be used to determine how a terrorist suspect will be “disposed of”: indefinite detention, prosecution in a real court, assassination-by-CIA-drones, etc. Their rationale for why this was needed now, a full 12 years after the 9/11 attack:


Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaida continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight. . . . That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism.”


On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on whether the statutory basis for this “war” – the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) – should be revised (meaning: expanded). This is how Wired’s Spencer Ackerman (soon to be the Guardian US’s national security editor) described the most significant exchange:


“Asked at a Senate hearing today how long the war on terrorism will last, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, answered, ‘At least 10 to 20 years.’ . . . A spokeswoman, Army Col. Anne Edgecomb, clarified that Sheehan meant the conflict is likely to last 10 to 20 more years from today – atop the 12 years that the conflict has already lasted. Welcome to America’s Thirty Years War.”


That the Obama administration is now repeatedly declaring that the “war on terror” will last at least another decade (or two) is vastly more significant than all three of this week’s big media controversies (Benghazi, IRS, and AP/DOJ) combined. The military historian Andrew Bacevich has spent years warning that US policy planners have adopted an explicit doctrine of “endless war”. Obama officials, despite repeatedly boasting that they have delivered permanently crippling blows to al-Qaida, are now, as clearly as the English language permits, openly declaring this to be so.


It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation. This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: it is precisely this endless war – justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism – that is the single greatest cause of that threat.


In January, former Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson delivered a highly-touted speech suggesting that the war on terror will eventually end; he advocated that outcome, arguing:


‘War’ must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs. We must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the ‘new normal.'”


            In response, I wrote that the “war on terror” cannot and will not end on its own for two reasons: (1) it is designed by its very terms to be permanent, incapable of ending, since the war itself ironically ensures that there will never come a time when people stop wanting to bring violence back to the US (the operational definition of “terrorism”), and (2) the nation’s most powerful political and economic factions reap a bonanza of benefits from its continuation. Whatever else is true, it is now beyond doubt that ending this war is the last thing on the mind of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner and those who work at the highest levels of his administration. Is there any way they can make that clearer beyond declaring that it will continue for “at least” another 10-20 years?


The genius of America’s endless war machine is that, learning from the unplesantness of the Vietnam war protests, it has rendered the costs of war largely invisible. That is accomplished by heaping all of the fighting burden on a tiny and mostly economically marginalized faction of the population, by using sterile, mechanized instruments to deliver the violence, and by suppressing any real discussion in establishment media circles of America’s innocent victims and the worldwide anti-American rage that generates.


Though rarely visible, the costs are nonetheless gargantuan. Just in financial terms, as Americans are told they must sacrifice Social Security and Medicare benefits and place their children in a crumbling educational system, the Pentagon remains the world’s largest employer and continues to militarily outspend the rest of the world by a significant margin. The mythology of the Reagan presidency is that he induced the collapse of the Soviet Union by luring it into unsustainable military spending and wars: should there come a point when we think about applying that lesson to ourselves?


Then there are the threats to Americans’ security. Having their government spend decades proudly touting itself as “A Nation at War” and bringing horrific violence to the world is certain to prompt more and more people to want to attack Americans, as the US government itself claims took place just recently in Boston (and as clearly took place multiple other times over the last several years).


And then there’s the most intangible yet most significant cost: each year of endless war that passes further normalizes the endless rights erosions justified in its name. The second term of the Bush administration and first five years of the Obama presidency have been devoted to codifying and institutionalizing the vast and unchecked powers that are typically vested in leaders in the name of war. Those powers of secrecy, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and due-process-free assassination are not going anywhere. They are now permanent fixtures not only in the US political system but, worse, in American political culture.


Each year that passes, millions of young Americans come of age having spent their entire lives, literally, with these powers and this climate fixed in place: to them, there is nothing radical or aberrational about any of it. The post-9/11 era is all they have been trained to know. That is how a state of permanent war not only devastates its foreign targets but also degrades the population of the nation that prosecutes it.


This war will end only once Americans realize the vast and multi-faceted costs they are bearing so that the nation’s political elites can be empowered and its oligarchs can further prosper. But Washington clearly has no fear that such realizations are imminent. They are moving in the other direction: aggressively planning how to further entrench and expand this war.


One might think that if there is to be a debate over the 12-year-old AUMF, it would be about repealing it. Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who heroically cast the only vote against it when it was originally enacted by presciently warning of how abused it would be, has been advocating its repeal for some time now in favor of using reasonable security measures to defend against such threats and standard law enforcement measures to punish them (which have proven far more effective than military solutions). But just as happened in 2001, neither she nor her warnings are deemed sufficiently Serious even to consider, let alone embrace.


Instead, the Washington AUMF “debate” recognizes only two positions: (1) Congress should codify expanded powers for the administration to fight a wider war beyond what the 2001 AUMF provides (that’s the argument recently made by the supreme war-cheerleaders-from-a-safe-distance at the Washington Post editorial page and their favorite war-justifying think tank theorists, and the one being made by many Senators from both parties), or (2) the administration does not need any expanded authority because it is already free to wage a global war with very few limits under the warped “interpretation” of the AUMF which both the Bush and Obama DOJs have successfully persuaded courts to accept (that’s the Obama administration’s position). In other words, the shared premise is that the US government must continue to wage unlimited, permanent war, and the only debate is whether that should happen under a new law or the old one.


Just to convey a sense for how degraded is this Washington “debate”: Obama officials at yesterday’s Senate hearing repeatedly insisted that this “war” is already one without geographical limits and without any real conceptual constraints. The AUMF’s war power, they said, “stretches from Boston to the [tribal areas of Pakistan]” and can be used “anywhere around the world, including inside Syria, where the rebel Nusra Front recently allied itself with al-Qaida’s Iraq affiliate, or even what Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called ‘boots on the ground in Congo'”. The acting general counsel of the Pentagon said it even “authorized war against al-Qaida’s associated forces in Mali, Libya and Syria”. Newly elected independent Sen. Angus King of Maine said after listening to how the Obama administration interprets its war powers under the AUMF:


This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I’ve been to since I’ve been here. You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution today.”


 Former Bush DOJ official Jack Goldsmith, who testified at the hearing, summarized what was said after it was over: Obama officials argued that “they had domestic authority to use force in Mali, Syria, Libya, and Congo, against Islamist terrorist threats there”; that “they were actively considering emerging threats and stated that it was possible they would need to return to Congress for new authorities against those threats but did not at present need new authorities”; that “the conflict authorized by the AUMF was not nearly over”; and that “several members of the Committee were surprised by the breadth of DOD’s interpretation of the AUMF.” Conveying the dark irony of America’s war machine, seemingly lifted right out of the Cold War era film Dr. Strangelove, Goldsmith added:


Amazingly, there is a very large question even in the Armed Services Committee about who the United States is at war against and where, and how those determinations are made.”


Nobody really even knows with whom the US is at war, or where. Everyone just knows that it is vital that it continue in unlimited form indefinitely.


In response to that, the only real movement in Congress is to think about how to enact a new law to expand the authorization even further. But it’s a worthless and illusory debate, affecting nothing other than the pretexts and symbols used to justify what will, in all cases, be a permanent and limitless war. The Washington AUMF debate is about nothing other than whether more fig leafs are needed to make it all pretty and legal.


The Obama administration already claims the power to wage endless and boundless war, in virtually total secrecy, and without a single meaningful check or constraint. No institution with any power disputes this. To the contrary, the only ones which exert real influence – Congress, the courts, the establishment media, the plutocratic class – clearly favor its continuation and only think about how further to enable it. That will continue unless and until Americans begin to realize just what a mammoth price they’re paying for this ongoing splurge of war spending and endless aggression.


Related matters


Although I’m no fan of mindless partisan hackery, one must acknowledge, if one is to be honest, that sometimes it produces high comedy of the type few other afflictions are capable of producing.


On a related note: when Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about the DOJ’s subpoeans for AP’s phone records – purportedly issued in order to find the source for AP’s story about a successfully thwarted terror attack from Yemen – he made this claim about the leak they were investigating: “if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks that I have ever seen.” But yesterday, the Washington Post reported that CIA officials gave the go-ahead to AP to report the story, based in part on the fact that the administration itself planned to make a formal announcement boasting of their success in thwarting the plot. Meanwhile, the invaluable Marcy Wheeler today makes a strong case that the Obama administration engaged in a fear-mongering campaign over this plot that they knew at the time was false – all for the purpose of justifying the president’s newly announced “signature drone strikes” in Yemen.


The key lesson from all of this should have been learned long ago: nothing is less reliable than unchecked claims from political officials that their secret conduct is justified by National Security Threats and the desire to Keep Us Safe.



The Obama Administration’s Propensity for Chilling News Sources


May 17, 2013

by Kevin Gosztola

The Dissenter


During a press briefing on Tuesday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney mechanically repeated a line when asked about the Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’ phone records, suggesting President Barack Obama supports a “balance” between freedom of the press and national security


“The president feels strongly that we need a—the press to be able to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism, and you saw, when he was a senator, the president co-sponsor legislation that would have provided further protections for journalists in this regard,” Carney said. “And he is also mindful of the need for secret and classified information to remain secret and classified in order to protect our national security interests. So there are — there is a careful balance here that must be attained.”


Challenged on whether the administration had actually managed to strike such a balance, a reporter asked, “This administration in the last four years has prosecuted twice as many leakers as every previous administration combined. How does that reflect balance?”


It is hard to imagine a robot giving a much different answer. Carney repeated what he had said, “The president is committed to the press’s ability to pursue information, to defending the First Amendment. He is also, as a citizen and as commander-in-chief, committed to the proposition that we cannot allow classified information to be — that can do harm to our national security interests or to endanger individuals to be — to be leaked. And that is a balance that has to be struck.”


The reporter stated, “But the record of the last four years does not suggest balance.” Carney reacted, “That’s your opinion.”


“No. It’s twice as many prosecutions as all previous administrations combined. That’s not even close,” the reporter replied.


“Well, I — I understand that there — you know, that there are ongoing investigations that preceded this administration,” Carney stated, as if the administration did not have the capacity to quash or abandon those investigations when they took power. The programmed flak for the White House then repeated his line about balance, and also said, “You’re not going to hear him say that it’s OK for the nation’s secrets to be freely reported when that information can endanger our national security and do harm to individuals and endanger individuals.”


“Do you think a fair analysis of this administration’s actions reflect the views you’ve just described?” the reporter asked.


The wily response he gave was, “I believe that the president supports balance and — and that he has made that clear, both as president and within his administration. You know, I — I cannot comment on the specific case, but I can tell you what the president believes in, what his actions have been in the past.” He could talk about Senator Obama, not President Barack Obama, because when he was a senator, he was not a commander-in-chief, someone who would find the compulsion to serve the national security state impossible to resist.


The Obama administration has not maintained any kind of a reasonable balance. The framing by the administration, where it is suggested that freedom must be balanced against national security interests, is not only a false choice but also a tension sustained to give the administration cover as it expands and claims new powers.


In exhibiting a disdain for the free flow of information, the administration has targeted a record number of alleged leakers or whistleblowers. It prosecuted former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who is now serving a 30-month jail sentence for providing the name of someone involved in the CIA’s rendition, detention & interrogation (RDI) program to a reporter. It pursued former NSA employee Thomas Drake, who provided details on fraud, waste, abuse and illegality to a Baltimore Sun reporter. It put former FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz in prison for twenty months for providing a “blogger” documents on a possible Israeli strike on Iran.


The administration investigated and prosecuted former State Department arms expert Stephen Kim for sharing information with Fox News reporter James Rosen on how North Korea might respond to criticism of its nuclear program. It has pursued an innovative and relentless prosecution against Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has confessed to disclosing classified and over-classified information to WikiLeaks. It continued an investigation into Justice Department lawyer, Thomas Tamm, who provided details on warrantless wiretapping under President George W. Bush’s administration to Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times, until finally dropping the case in 2011. And, it has prosecuted former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who was charged with providing information with New York Times reporter James Risen on an operation that might have led to Iran getting information on how to build a nuclear bomb.


The Justice Department under Obama has also targeted Risen in the Sterling case, arguing he does not have a right to claim reporters’ privilege and must divulge not only his sources of classified information but also for information “neither confidential or privileged.” According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), Risen has “faced three subpoenas in three years and has successfully invoked the First Amendment-based reporter’s privilege to refuse to testify at both the grand jury and trial stages of the federal prosecution.” Yet, the Justice Department has insisted on continuing its pursuit against him and, after argument before a federal appeals court in May 2012, Risen is awaiting a decision on whether he will have to reveal confidential sources and other information he managed to obtain while engaged in news reporting.


Drake, Kim, Kiriakou, Leibowitz, Manning and Sterling were each indicted under the Espionage Act—a World War I-era law intended to go after spies  and not government employees who leak information.


“Any time you prosecute someone for leaking it’s going to chill news sources and that investigation was launched to find the people who leaked,” former senior advisor to Obama, David Axelrod, acknowledged on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on May 15. That is exactly what has happened in each of these cases.



Such zealous pursuits of alleged leakers or whistleblowers has not been solely responsible for creating a climate that chills national security journalism. As the AP reported this year, though the “Obama administration answered more requests from the public to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act last year,” more than ever it is now citing “legal exceptions to censor or withhold the material” in order to “protect national security and internal deliberations.” It cited “national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times—a jump from over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama’s first year in office.”


The Obama administration has presided over a Justice Department that has empaneled a secret grand jury to investigate the media organization, WikiLeaks, for publishing classified information. It has subpoenaed personal data from the email and social media accounts of individuals linked to the organization, who worked on the release of the “Collateral Murder” video that showed a 2007 Apache helicopter attack that killed two Reuters employees and a “Good Samaritan,” who pulled up in a van to help the wounded employees.


The administration passed a Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that did not extend to national security whistleblowers. When Obama issued a directive to extend “whistleblower protections to the intelligence and national security communities,” it was toothless, with no legal enforcement mechanism that could meaningfully protect an individual from government retaliation.


A proposed federal media shield law the administration negotiated in 2009 died in Congress but not before a national security exception was carved into it to reduce the scope of protection for reporters. (Legislation has been reintroduced and will likely have this broad exception in it again.)


Recently, as former State Department employee Peter van Buren, who was forced out of the State Department for publishing a book on the corrupt “reconstruction” of Iraq, highlighted, the administration is seeking to expand the definition of “national security worker” to include “thousands of additional federal employees,” who do not even hold security clearances. Obama, in an effort that would limit the rights of workers, is “functionally moving to shrink the pool of potential whistleblowers.”


Van Buren also calls attention to the case of a federal air marshal, Robert MacLean, who went on TV in disguise in 2004 and criticized the “TSA dress code and its special boarding policies, which he believed allowed marshals to be easily identified by other passengers.” The government retroactively classified a message that was unclassified so they could fire and prosecute him.


“What happens with MacLean’s case potentially affects every future whistleblower,” Van Buren argued. “If the mere presence of a pseudo-classification on an item, even applied retroactively, negates whistleblower protections, it means dark days ahead for the right of the citizenry to know what the government is doing (or how it’s misbehaving) in its name. If so, no act of whistleblowing could be considered protected, since all the government would have to do to unprotect it is classify whatever was disclosed retroactively and wash its hands of the miscreant. Federal employees, not a risk-taking bunch to begin with, will react accordingly.”


Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department refuse to inform the Times about whether they have been targeted like the AP, since they published information on Stuxnet. Plus, Holder is “not sure” how many times he has signed off on the seizure of journalists’ records, which is not all that comforting to say the least.


Some of the above may seem disconnected from freedom of the press, however, it all has profound implications for news media, as this shrinks the pool of possible sources for journalists. Government employees get the message that they have no free speech rights while working in government and, if they dare to test the government, they will fired and the Justice Department will craft a criminal case. Fostering such a culture among employees is effective in deterring an employee from returning the calls or emails of reporters, who actually seek the truth and do not simply settle for official talking points from government spokespeople.


Confidential news sources are how the public has found out about warrantless wiretapping, torture tactics used against detainees, CIA secret prisons, abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib, plans the government had for a “neutron bomb” under President Jimmy Carter and, initially, the Pentagon Papers were provided by a confidential source.


Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who uncovered details on CIA secret prisons, has said, because “the US government has made secret nearly every aspect of its counterterrorism program, it would have been impossible to report on the basic contours of [the government’s] decisions, operations and programs without the help of confidential sources.” But, this is exactly the kind of information the Obama administration wishes to suppress, as evidenced by its sanctioning of leaks investigations into the publishing of information on the secret “kill list,” cyber warfare against Iran (Stuxnet) and the CIA underwear bomb plot sting operation in Yemen.


There simply is no way to take claims by this administration that it has “balanced” the ability of reporters to engage in “unfettered” investigative journalism with national security interests seriously. Every decision or policy has favored so-called national security over the First Amendment. And, only someone with a stake in defending this president’s reputation from critics would think differently.



Obama’s trust-in-government deficit


May 18, 2013

by Dan Balz,

The Washington Post


Whatever else happens as a result of the multiple controversies that have engulfed the administration, one thing is clear: President Obama has failed to meet one of the most important goals he set out when he was first elected, which was to demonstrate that activist government could also be smart government.


Six weeks after winning the presidency in 2008, Obama reflected on the meaning of the election. He was reluctant to claim, as some others were, that his victory marked the beginning of an era in which Americans would embrace bigger government. Suspicion of command-and-control, top-down government, he said, was “a lasting legacy” of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.


So rather than portraying his first election as the end of a long period of conservative ascendancy, Obama called it “a correction to the correction.” As he put it then: “I think what you saw in this election was people saying: ‘Yes, we don’t want some big, bureaucratic, ever-expanding state. On the other hand, we don’t want a state that’s dysfunctional, that doesn’t believe in its mission, that can’t carry out some of the basic functions of government and provide service to people and be there when they’re hurting.’ ”


He then described what that meant for the government he was beginning to assemble. “What we don’t know yet is whether my administration and this next generation of leadership is going to be able to hew to a new, more pragmatic approach that is less interested in whether we have big government or small government [but is] more interested in whether we have a smart, effective government.”


What has happened since Obama laid down that challenge for his administration? More Americans favor smaller government over bigger government than when he was first elected, according to exit polls from last November. Public confidence in the federal government is as low as it has ever been, according to a Pew Research Center survey released this spring.


This weekend, four of the government’s most important agencies are beset by political controversy, management breakdowns or both: State (what happened in Benghazi, Libya), Treasury (targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service), Justice (leak-related investigation of the Association Press) and Defense (rising numbers of sexual assaults).


Add to that the questions about Health and Human Services and its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it is little wonder confidence has eroded.


Enough blame to share


There are many reasons for the public’s diminished confidence in the federal government, reflecting general disapproval with the way Washington has worked during the Obama years. The president’s advisers blame Republicans for much of the gridlock and partisan infighting, and they are quick to note that Obama’s approval ratings are far higher than those of the Republicans.


Republicans do bear a considerable share of the responsibility for overall attitudes about Washington and government. Their dismal ratings are a measure of public dissatisfaction with the party generally and with House Republican efforts to thwart the president.


But Obama bears a particular responsibility for failing to do what he said he had to do, which was to convince the public that he could make the part of government that he directly controls — the executive branch — smarter, more effective and more deserving of trust.


Early in his presidency, Obama convened a meeting with a group of historians. The topic he put on the table was: What does it take to be a transformational president? Obama’s ambition to be such a figure could be seen in his first-term agenda, which included a major economic stimulus package, a bailout of the auto industry, a major financial regulatory reform package and, biggest of all, the law that is transforming the nation’s health-care industry.


But public skepticism about government put an extra burden on Obama, as it has on all activist Democratic politicians over the past three decades. To do what he wanted to do through government required building greater confidence in government. Long before the current controversies materialized, he had not been able to do that.


Defenders of his stimulus package say it prevented another depression and helped initiate a turnaround in the economy. But as the recovery sputtered and calls grew for additional stimulus, Obama did not have the political support to launch another round of government intervention because of criticisms that he had already added enormously to the deficit.


Most controversial has been his health-care initiative. Throughout the long battle to enact and then begin to implement the law, Obama’s White House has been unable to win broad public support for it, even though individual pieces are popular. Obama is still fighting to overcome distrust of government as he proceeds with the most complex change in social welfare policy since the 1960s.


Now the president is dealing with unexpected problems, each of which threatens to make the trust-in-government deficit even bigger.


Damaged, but how much?


The most corrosive of the controversies is what happened at the IRS, which singled out tea party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status. That Obama knew nothing about it does little to quell concerns that one of the most-feared units in government was operating out of control.


The multiple failures at the IRS speak of an agency that, at worst, was politically motivated in going after opponents of the president’s agenda and that, at best, showed terrible judgment, lacked vigorous oversight by its managers and misled members of Congress about what was happening.


There is much about the Justice Department’s leak investigation that isn’t known and may not be known, given that it involves national security issues and classified information. But on its face, the collection of telephone records from the Associated Press appears to be so broad that it cannot easily be explained. Because the president, rightly, cannot interfere, he is left mostly helpless in the face of this controversy.


The argument over what happened in Benghazi last Sept. 11 is mired in politics and probably will continue to be. Obama sees the investigation led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as a politically inspired sideshow. Republicans see the administration’s response as a political coverup designed to protect the president and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.


Putting aside the controversy over what happened to the administration’s original talking points as they evolved amid bureaucratic wrangling, what actually happened in Benghazi was a breakdown in security that reflected badly on the administration. Wherever the congressional investigation leads, the findings of the State Department’s internal investigation, which cited “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies,” stand as harsh criticism of what happened on Obama’s and Clinton’s watch.


The full political impact of what is unfolding now may not be clear until closer to the 2014 elections. Obama has been damaged, but how much? Republicans are on the offensive but risk overplaying their hand out of deep dislike for this president. But no matter how the electoral politics turn out, Obama’s goal of creating confidence in bigger government has taken a big hit.





AP boss condemns US government for ‘unconstitutional’ phone seizures


Gary Pruitt tells CBS Justice Department grab sends message that ‘if you talk to the press, we are going to go after you’


May 19, 2013

by Dominic Rushe in New York




The Obama administration‘s decision to seize phone records from the Associated Press was “unconstitutional” and sends a message that “if you talk to the press, we are going to go after you”, the news agency’s boss Gary Pruitt said Sunday.


AP revealed last week that the Justice Department had obtained two months’ worth of phone records of calls made by reporters and editors without informing the organisation in advance. The move was an apparent effort by US officials to identify the source of a story about the CIA foiling an alleged terrorist plot by an al Qaida terrorist affiliate in Yemen.


News of the seizure has caused a political firestorm and comes amid a widening scandal into the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party groups over their tax exemptions and the White House’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack last year.


Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, Pruitt, AP’s president and chief executive officer, said the government’s seizure of the phone records was “unconstitutional” and was already clearly harming the press’s ability to do its job.


“We don’t question their right to conduct these sort of investigations. We just think they went about it the wrong way. So sweeping, so secretly, so abusively and harassingly and over-broad that it constitutes, that it is, an unconstitutional act,” he said.


“We are already seeing some impact. Already officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of newsgathering are already saying to us that they are a little reluctant to talk to us. They fear that they will be monitored by the government. We are already seeing that. It’s not hypothetical,” said Pruitt.


The government investigation was seemingly triggered by an AP exclusive about a joint US-Saudi spy operation that had foiled a plot involving an improved version of the “underwear” bomb that failed to detonate properly on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009. AP agreed to delay publication after officials cited national security concerns.


Pruitt said he would normally expect dialogue with government officials ahead of any decision to ask for or demand records relating to the news organisation’s activities. Those requests would usually be subject to negotiation and if an agreement could not be reached, they would be put before a judge, he said.


In this case, the Justice Department has claimed it made every reasonable effort to obtain the information through alternative means, as is required by law. “Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws,” it said in a statement.


Pruitt said he had not received any explanation as to why AP had not been consulted ahead of the seizure. “I really do not know what their motive is. I know what the message being sent is, it’s that if you talk to the press, we are going to go after you,” he said.


Pruitt said the Justice Department had acted “as judge jury and executioner, in secret”.


If the government restricts the “news gathering apparatus” then “the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know. And that’s not what the framers of constitution had in mind when they wrote the first amendment,” Pruitt said.


The White House has denied knowledge of the Justice Department’s move. It comes as officials face mounting criticism over an IRS investigation into Tea Party groups. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that the IRS controversy demonstrated a “culture of intimidation” by the administration.




Pakistan turns off air-conditioners and tells civil servants to ditch socks


New dress code issued to government employees as country endures blackouts of up 20 hours a day amid 40C temperatures


May 20, 2013



             Islamabad- Pakistan has told its civil servants not to wear socks as the country turns off air-conditioners amid soaring temperatures to deal with chronic power cuts.


The government has turned off all air-conditioning in its offices as the country endures blackouts of up to 20 hours a day in some places.


“There shall be no more use of air-conditioners in public offices till such time that substantial improvement in the energy situation takes place,” a cabinet directive said. As part of a new dress code, moccasins or sandals must be worn without socks.


The power shortages have sparked violent protests and crippled key industries, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs in a country already beset by high unemployment, a failing economy, widespread poverty and a Taliban insurgency.


The “load-shedding” means many families cannot pump water, let alone run air-conditioners, with disastrous knock-on effects on health and domestic life.


Frustration over the power cuts contributed to the former ruling party’s poor showing in the 11 May general election.


Two ministers in charge of water and power explained what could be done to end power cuts in parts of the country enduring temperatures of 40C and above – absolutely nothing, it seems, except raise prices. Ministers Musadiq Malik and Sohail Wajahat Siddiqui “expressed their inability to overcome the crisis”, the Daily Times quoted them as telling a news conference in Lahore on Monday.


“They have termed financial constraints as a major, and incompetence as a minor, hurdle in resolving the issue,” the newspaper said. “Presenting the realistic picture, the ministers announced that they were going to increase the price of electricity and gas for all sectors.”


They gave no details but said the problem would get worse before it got better. About two-thirds of Pakistan’s energy is generated by oil and gas, and there are widespread gas shortages, with cars run on compressed natural gas queuing up for hours overnight to fill their tanks.

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