Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, June 8, 2016 8:28 pm

Odds and ends for June 8

The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives was set up to “investigate” claims that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue for profit, despite the fact that four federal and a dozen state investigations have found that PP did no such thing and despite the fact that the video fraudsters who raised those allegations have themselves been indicted. Now that committee has just — oops! — “accidentally” released information on several researchers and Planned Parenthood clinic staffers. This, of course, has happened in an era in which people working in any way with the abortion-rights movement are being threatened and even killed. Accident, my bony ass; this was a deliberate move by the committee chair, U.S. Rep. Marcia Blackburn, R-Tenn., to endanger and thereby intimidate people involved with Planned Parenthood. No, really; there is no other logical interpretation of her behavior. A House of Representatives with any ethics would expel anyone who willingly placed another human being in such danger, but that’s not the House of Representatives we have.

Former CIA agent Sabrina de Sousa has lost a court fight and will be extradited from Portugal to Italy to serve a four-year sentence for having taken part in the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” kidnapping/torture program there. A number of legalities aren’t clear to me on this. But from a standpoint of responsibility, if not legality, if de Sousa is being held legally accountable, so must everyone above her in the chain of command who was involved. Otherwise, there’s no point.

Apparently sedition is the new right-wing hobby. A bunch of Utah yahoos is trying to prevent President Obama from designating historic, federally owned land, Bear Ears, as a national monument, which he has a perfect legal right to do. Naturally, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republicans from that benighted state, are giving aid and comfort to those who would violate the law. I almost hope these yahoos do push this. This president showed at Malheur that he is not inclined to dance with seditionists, and the country approved of his actions by a wide margin. If a few traitors get shot behind it, I’ll sleep just fine, and if Hatch and Chaffetz get charged with giving aid and comfort to the enemy, so much the better. My government has been kissing seditious white ass for way too long.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014 5:59 pm

The Senate torture report

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. (You can download it here.) Here are five things you need to know as you read it.

1) “We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.” — Gen. Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Army (ret.), April 20, 2009

2) “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” — Gen. Antonio Taguba, U.S. Army (ret.), June 18, 2008

3) The “report” being released today is merely a heavily redacted, 600-page executive summary. The full report runs to about 6,000 pages.

4) In the words of The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin, “Many of the same news organizations you are trusting today to accurately inform you about the torture report were either naive or knowing dupes in a CIA misinformation campaign orchestrated by top CIA officials, that included leaks of information that was amazingly enough both classified and inaccurate at the same time.” So you’ll want to be very, very cautious about accepting any news report that seeks to minimize or defend the torture program.

 5) Some additional background from Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:

One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world – at Bagram (includingduring the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate reportconcluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.

American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.

I expect that even the edited, redacted document we now have will confirm a lot of ugly things we already knew and tell us about even more ugly things we hadn’t known. But the truth needs to be made public so that we at least will know what the U.S. government has done in our name, whether or not the individuals responsible are ever brought to justice.

I understand that many Americans had, and have today, no problem with our torturing people. That doesn’t make it any more effective. And it doesn’t make it any more right.

I’ve been raising questions and raising hell about this issue for more than a decade, ever since the possibility that we were torturing first reared its ugly head months before the news broke about Abu Ghraib. And while there are a lot of issues with many shades of gray, this one, to me, is black and white. Despite quite a bit of criticism here and elsewhere online, I’ve not lost a minute’s sleep on this position, because whatever else happens, I don’t ever have to worry about my kids or grandkids asking me, “Why are people calling you a good German?”

 

Sunday, August 3, 2014 3:49 pm

Well, on torture, Obama is now officially As Bad As Bush

Jesus wept:

Even before I came into office, I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And, you know, it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. A lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots, but having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects.

A mid-level Bush functionary? No. That’s the current president of the United States, a man who, just weeks into his presidency, described waterboarding as torture.

What a craven, morally bankrupt speech. From the incongruous use of “folks” to describe people against whom the United States of America committed violations of U.S. and international law, to the point of death in dozens of instances, to the condescending notion that in the immediate wake of 9/11 we were all so deathly terrified that we would have thrown any and all moral and constitutional principles aside for the sake of a false assurance of safety, this is a morally toxic pile of bullshit. And it’s even more offensive, coming as it does from the same president who told graduating West Point cadets in 2010:

A fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America’s support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values above all by living them — through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it’s hard; even when we’re being attacked; even when we’re in the midst of war.

Now, however, we get, “But we were SKEERED!” and “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious.” These comments are the ashes of our last remaining hope that this president, twice elected against one addled former war hero and one stone-cold sociopath, might, in his grappling with perhaps the most difficult ethical quandary a U.S. president has faced since Hiroshima, finally lead us down the path of righteousness. The reason he doesn’t want to look back is that his view in that direction is objectively wrong. Some of us — many of us, in fact — were saying AT THE TIME that it was important to preserve our humane values, such as they were, while pursuing the 9/11 perps, even as we feared that the crew in power was about the last group in the country likely to do that. We were right then; we are right now.

What prompted these remarks was the report by the CIA inspector general that, contrary to all previous assurances, the CIA had, in fact, hacked the computers of congressional staffers tasked with overseeing the CIA. Yet this president, who should be firing John Brennan and referring his case to the Justice Department’s criminal division, instead is defending him and his agency, not only against the current crimes (the CIA is barred by law from domestic operations, in addition to laws banning hacking without a warrant) but also against its previous war crimes. By the way, Brennan played a role in those, too; Obama never should have nominated him in the first place.

Torture is never right. Not ever. It is illegal, immoral, and ineffective. We waterboarded people? Dear God, so did Japanese military leaders during WWII, and you know what we call them now? Executed war criminals.

This president needs to get rid of John Brennan today. (And if he won’t and the House is really hot to impeach somebody, they could do a lot worse than to start with Brennan.) And despite having saddled himself with the worst attorney general since John Mitchell, he needs to direct that AG to open a criminal investigation of torture, focused not on the Lynndie Englands of the world but on those who gave the orders. We are bound by U.S. and international law to do so, and if the law means anything anymore — an open question, I admit — then we have no other choice.

“Looking forward, not back,” this president’s mantra, hasn’t worked. And looking forward won’t work until we look back, in anger and sorrow, come to terms with what we did, and make at least some sincere effort toward atoning for it. Following the laws to which we as a country were willing signatories is the bare minimum, but right now I’d settle even for that. Otherwise, this stuff will only happen again, and next time it will be worse, because, as history teaches us, the next time is always worse.

Monday, April 14, 2014 12:09 am

Is we is or is we ain’t a nation under the rule of law?

I think we ain’t, but it looks like we’ll know soon enough, because the leak even I could see coming is here:

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

So, in plain English:

  • The CIA tortured people — some of whom died of it, remember — in violation not only of international and U.S. law but also in violation of the flimsy, themselves-illegal guidelines set up by the Justice Department.
  • The CIA lied to the White House and Congress, obstructing their oversight, which is duly required by Constitution and statute.
  • The CIA lied to its own inspector general.

So CIA personnel ordered and committed hanging offenses and lied to everybody about it. That’s the bottom line, folks. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Let’s be very clear about what needs to happen here:

  • The people who actually carried out the crimes must be charged and tried, but so must the people who ordered them and the people who lied about them.
  • If anyone carried out or ordered torture that resulted in death, that individual is subject to the death penalty. As a tough-on-crime conservative, I can sleep soundly knowing that.
  • If anyone used the classification process to try to hide evidence of a crime, he should be criminally prosecuted for that offense.
  • If anyone then or now in a Senate-confirmable position carried out or ordered a crime, he should be impeached and convicted, thereby to revoke his pension and any other benefits of having served in the federal government.

If these things do not happen, then we are not a nation under the rule of law, plain and simple. I wish I could say that we are, but experience suggests that nothing will happen.

So let’s do ourselves a favor. Let’s put paid, once and for all, to this notion of American exceptionalism. We are not special. We are not a shining city on a hill. We are not a Christian nation in any way that Christ Himself would recognize. We are not even, to judge by both legal standards and OECD measures for quality of life, a particularly good example.

It is tempting to say that we are governed by a parliament of whores, but to do so would insult whores, who generally are not nearly as hypocritical about what they do as our leaders are. We are a plutocracy, an oligarchy, an outlaw nation, and the only differences between our genocide and that of the Nazis is that ours was less recent and less efficient. Indeed, it was ironic for me to read tonight on Facebook about my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman honoring the congressional service of my friend Howard Coble, when Coble, a former federal prosecutor, did nothing to stop precisely the kind of behavior on the part of Americans that got Nazis hanged at Nuremberg.

I’d love to be proved wrong on this. I really, really would. But if it hasn’t happened by now, it ain’t gonna. And Americans need to understand that and to plan their futures accordingly.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 6:49 pm

“NSA itself had enough information to prevent 9/11, but chose to sit on it …”

This open memo to President Obama, written in part by former high-ranking employees of the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, claims that the NSA could have prevented 9/11, claims that the NSA could have taken economic and effective action after 9/11 to prevent future attacks but chose expensive, ineffective, and constitutionally damaging approaches instead, and even accuses former director Michael Hayden of corruption. It’s fairly long, but it’s simple to understand and it comports with the facts as we know them today. Some key excerpts:

From the executive summary:

The sadder reality, Mr. President, is that NSA itself had enough information to prevent 9/11, but chose to sit on it rather than share it with the FBI or CIA. We know; we were there. We were witness to the many bureaucratic indignities that made NSA at least as culpable for pre-9/11 failures as are other U.S. intelligence agencies.

From the section “Clapper and Alexander”:

Surely you have asked National Intelligence Director James Clapper flat-out why, in formal testimony to the Senate on March 12, 2013 he answered “No, Sir” to Senator Ron Wyden’s question, “Does the NSA collect any type of data on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Surely you know that Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein persists in covering for Clapper, telling ABC three months after Clapper’s falsehood that “there is no more direct or honest person than Jim Clapper.” And now Director Clapper’s lawyer, Mr. Litt, is trying to convince readers of the New York Times that Clapper did not lie.

Surely you intuit that something is askew when NSA Director Keith Alexander testifies to Congress that NSA’s bulk collection has “thwarted” 54 terrorist plots and later, under questioning, is forced to reduce that number to one, which cannot itself withstand close scrutiny. And surely you understand why former NSA Director and CIA Director Michael Hayden protests too much and too often on Fox News and CNN, and why he and House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers publicly suggest that whistleblower Edward Snowden be put on your Kill List.

Does a blind loyalty prevail in your White House to the point where, 40 years after Watergate, there is not a single John Dean to warn you of a “cancer on the presidency?” Have none of your lawyers reminded you that “electronic surveillance of private citizens … subversive of constitutional government” was one of the three Articles of Impeachment against President Richard Nixon approved by a bipartisan 28 to 10 vote of the House Judiciary Committee on July 27, 1974? …

We are ready – if you are – for an honest conversation. That NSA’s bulk collection is more hindrance than help in preventing terrorist attacks should be clear by now despite the false claims and dissembling.

From the section “Fourth Amendment-Compliant Technology That Worked”:

No one currently working for NSA Director Alexander is likely to tell you this, so please hear it from us. In the years before 9/11, a group of NSA mathematicians and computer technology experts led by Binney, Loomis, and Wiebe devised a process called THINTHREAD for collection and rapid analysis of billions of electronic records relating to targets of intelligence interest, with automatic encryption of information about U.S. persons, per the standard of FISA and the Fourth Amendment.

Data on U.S. citizens could be decrypted only if a judge approved it after a finding that there was probable cause to believe that the target was connected with terrorism or other crimes. It was also considerably cheaper, easier, and more secure to store such data in encrypted format rather than allow that raw information to remain vulnerable to unauthorized parties in unencrypted form, as NSA chose to do. A fuller understanding of THINTHREAD’s capabilities is necessary to appreciate the implications of what came next.

THINTHREAD, you see, was a fundamental beginning to breaking the endemic problem of stovepipes – that is, standalone collection systems with standalone databases. There was such a maze of databases, with special security compartmentation, that it was impossible for an analyst to “see” more than a few pages, so to speak, about a target, much less a whole chapter, let alone the whole available book. Information was fragmented by design, in order to placate functionaries blindly placing tight security above virtually all other considerations – even, in this case, the analyst’s need to know.

Thus, THINTHREAD was developed precisely to unite data associated with terrorists/criminals from all databases. An analyst was able to do one simple query on participants on a targeted activity and get access to all related content – be it from computer, phone, or pager.

From the section “Some Programs Don’t Cost Enough”:

In 2000, as THINTHREAD was beginning to show promise, the head of the NSA Transformation Office (NTO) asked the creators of THINTHREAD (Loomis, Binney, and Wiebe) what they could do with $1.2 billion. We told him that, with that amount of funding, we could upgrade every one of our field installations that had access to foreign Internet sources, as well as upgrade collection equipment to access greater bandwidths available on fiber. But for the equipment, maintenance, and other costs for THINTHREAD, we only needed about $300 million.

Director Hayden reacted swiftly on learning of this. He removed the NTO chief, replacing him with a senior vice president of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), which became one of the leading contractors for a replacement project called TRAILBLAZER. TRAILBLAZER was originally budgeted for $3.8 billion, but after burning away most of that money, it had to be jettisoned in 2006.

No functioning components had been produced, much less delivered; Gen. Hayden had been forced to confess to the Senate Intelligence Committee that TRAILBLAZER was vastly over budget as well as well behind schedule. And our (Binney/Loomis/Wiebe) complaint to the Department of Defense Inspector General had generated a highly critical report on TRAILBLAZER, which was also a factor in its termination. SAIC, though, continued to serve as one of NSA’s major prime development contractors and remains so to this day.

Hayden had announced TRAILBLAZER to great fanfare in the spring of 2000, as he began to show more preference for opening the door wider to the private sector. A year before, NSA’s New Enterprise Team, which included some of the undersigned, had begun to learn of contractor complaints over getting only maintenance contracts, while the most interesting work was being conducted in-house.

That fall, an NSA Red Team predicted that TRAILBLAZER would fail unless major changes were made to the program. Hayden, however, ignored the Red Team report, and none of the Red Team recommendations saw the light of day.

This particularly unconscionable (Hayden-SAIC-Congress) corruption is a case study in how the drive for big money and the power can squander big taxpayer bucks, chip away at our constitutional protections – and, more important, as we shall explain below – play a crucial role in the worst intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor – 9/11.

And there’s more:

“[Among data collected by THINTHREAD was] where I found the pre- and post-9/11 intelligence from NSA monitoring of some of the hijackers as they planned the attacks of 9/11 had not been shared outside NSA [writes former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake]. This includes critical pre-9/11 intelligence on al-Qaeda, even though it had been worked on by NSA analysts. I learned, for example, that in early 2001 NSA had produced a critical long-term analytic report unraveling the entire heart of al-Qaeda and associated movements. That report also was not disseminated outside of NSA.

“Make no mistake. That data and the analytic report could have, should have prevented 9/11.

“Top NSA management knew that. They knew that I knew that. I was immediately shut down. In spring 2002, the remnants of THINTHREAD were unceremoniously put on the shelf in NSA’s ‘Indiana Jones’ data warehouse, never to be seen again. …

“In December 2001, Senator Saxby Chambliss, chair of a House Subcommittee on Homeland Security announced a preliminary investigation into 9/11.  At a SIGINT Leadership Team meeting in February 2002, SIGINT chief Maureen Baginski directed me to lead a NSA Statement-for-the-Record effort for a closed-door hearing scheduled by Sen. Chambliss for early March to discuss what NSA knew about the 9/11 hijackers and their plotting before 9/11.

“As indicated above, the highly embarrassing answer was that NSA knew a great deal, but had not shared what it knew outside of NSA.

“After a couple of weeks Baginski rejected my draft team Statement for the Record report and removed me from the task. When I asked her why, she said there was a ‘data integrity problem’ (not further explained) with my draft Statement for the Record. I had come upon additional damaging revelations. For example, NSA had the content of telephone calls between AA-77 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar in San Diego, CA, and the known al-Qaeda safe house switchboard in Yemen well before 9/11, and had not disseminated that information beyond NSA.

“In short, when confronted with the prospect of fessing up, NSA chose instead to obstruct the 9/11 congressional investigation, play dumb, and keep the truth buried, including the fact that it knew about all inbound and outbound calls to the safe house switchboard in Yemen. NSA’s senior leaders took me off the task because they realized – belatedly, for some reason – that I would not take part in covering up the truth about how much NSA knew but did not share.

“When the 9/11 Commission hearings began, Director Hayden chortled at executive staff meetings over the fact that the FBI and CIA were feeling the heat for not having prevented 9/11. This was particularly difficult for me to sit through, for I was aware that NSA had been able to cover up its own culpability by keeping investigators, committees, and commissions away from the truth,” [Blake writes].

Seriously, go read the whole thing, which prompted this response from blogger Alex Marthews (yes, that’s how he spells it), who is involved in a Massachusetts campaign to “protect digital data from warrantless government surveillance.” After summarizing the facts asserted in the letter, he eloquently concludes:

You know that on this blog I tend not to use the swears. This time, I do use the swears:
I am [expletive] pissed off. What a [expletive]. What a gargantuan, despicable, offensive [expletive].These clowns gleefully threw the Constitution on the fire, and gave us NOTHING in return. We’re not safer. We’re certainly not richer. We have lost so much, so that a few people could become extremely rich and powerful, and our corrupt system is now incapable of holding them personally to account. Yet still they yammer on, clamoring for more funding for an NSA that doesn’t work, a TSA that doesn’t work, an FBI that chases imaginary plots instead of focusing on locking up actual criminals. They have played on our fears to make us exchange realistic risk assessment for a meaningless, nightmarish pantomime where we, the American people and indeed the people of the whole world, have to accept the loss of every freedom we hold dear in order to “do whatever it takes” to “catch the bad guys.”

I’m sick of it. Aren’t you sick of it? I am goddamn heart-sick of it.

It’s been more than thirteen years since my fiancee and I went out and bought our first TV and brought it home and watched stunned as the towers burned.

Thirteen years of watching the victims of 9/11 being used to justify horror after horror. Mass roundups of Muslims. Torture. Detention, even of US citizens, without trial, and now assassinations too. War in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, now apparently drone warfare [expletive] everywhere, and a constant stream of broken people being dropped back here like flotsam and told to get on with their chewed-up lives.

“If this was the day after 9/11,” says that bloviating [expletive] John McCain, “we wouldn’t even be talking about these [surveillance] programs.” I bet not. We were too busy putting up flags, grieving, and praying that we and those we loved wouldn’t be next. But grief, as we all know, has stages, and that state of mind doesn’t last thirteen years.

“The victims of 9/11 would have wanted us to do whatever it takes.” No, they [expletive] wouldn’t. Do you think we’re all scared six-year-olds hiding underneath our stairwells, waiting for Big Daddy NSA to tell us that everything’s OK and we can come out now?

[Expletive] that. You like us just where we are, cowering every time you say Boo, and you have no incentive to stop us until we tell you the game is over.

You’re the six-year-olds here, standing there with the Constitution on a skewer over an open flame and hollering, “9/11 MADE ME DO IT.”

Just quit it. We’re sick of it. We’re not going to freak out any more over a few seventh-century-loving lunatics. We have seen the real danger to our way of life, and it’s you, and people like you.

I’ve been raising hell about warrantless government surveillance of U.S. citizens for about a decade — ever since news of it belatedly came out. For most of that time it has been like pissing into a hurricane. Now, finally, whatever you think of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, they have put this stuff out where it can’t be ignored anymore, and some of the most senior former members of the intelligence committee — no doubt acting from both selfish and unselfish motives; whistleblowers tend to do that — are challenging/begging the people in charge to start returning us to the appropriate status for a constitutionally established democratic republic.

I have no confidence that will happen under the incumbent president — or under the obvious candidates to succeed him. But it needs to happen, and we need to raise hell about it until it does.

Friday, December 13, 2013 9:51 pm

An idle question

On what other issues besides this has the Iranian government been telling the truth while the U.S. government has been lying?

Friday, October 25, 2013 9:32 pm

National Insecurity; or, Would-be anonymous-source and former superspy Michael Hayden gets outed like a 6-year-old

Filed under: I want my country back.,Journalism — Lex @ 9:32 pm
Tags: , , , ,

So perhaps you have heard by now that former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden was on the train a coupla days ago and was talking to a reporter, criticizing the administration and insisting on being identified only as a “former senior administration official.” On an insecure line. In a passenger car (and here’s my favorite detail: it wasn’t even the “quiet” car, so he had to be speaking pretty loudly). On public transportation. And sitting within earshot of Hayden was a guy named Tom Mattzie, who 1) used to work with MoveOn.org and 2) has a Twitter account. And Mattzie live-tweeted about what he was hearing right there in public. (I particularly liked the line, “No rendition yet.”)

This incident addresses at least two of my long-running concerns — domestic wiretapping and sycophantic journalism.

It’s a delicious irony for Hayden, the architect of the fact that the fact that you’re reading this is known to the government, to be overheard and outed. But that surveillance is a serious — yea, unconstitutional — problem that no one in a position of responsibility in either party seems interested in solving.

And then there’s the part where DC journalists routinely grant anonymity to current and former government officials as a professional courtesy, rather than only in extreme circumstances, such as to protect whistleblowers. (Thoughtful essay here on this subject by an active-duty Army officer who has been on both sides of that particular arrangement — or, to be precise, refused to be.) As Charlie Pierce writes:

This episode also has the salubrious effect of rendering a mockery all those chin-stroking, thumb-sucking pieces by serious Washington journalists about how horrible it is that scurvy knaves who can’t get good tables at the Palm, or invites to Ben ‘n Sally’s, keep publishing Our National Secrets without regard to the opinions of the brave, but sadly all-too-human and error-prone, heroes of our intelligence community. Michael Hayden spent a lot of time slagging Edward Snowden — and once made a funny-ha-ha about putting Snowden on a “kill list” — and now he gets caught, gossiping like a high-school cheerleader on an open phone line on a public train. They serve very tasty ironies in the Club Car, I’m thinking.

Edward Snowden is one messed-up human being, but he has served the useful purpose of reminding us of, and prodding us hard to discuss, Problem One mentioned above. The same journalists taking Michael Hayden’s not-for-attribution phone calls ought to be reporting instead on the ongoing constitutional train wreck Hayden oversaw and which continues to rob us of our freedom. And Hayden ought to be in a cell.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 9:55 pm

On Freedom of Information Act requests to the CIA regarding the extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizens

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 9:55 pm
Tags:

Shorter CIA: We’re not allowed to be involved in anything domestic, so our records aren’t configured in any way that would allow us to respond to your request.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 12:00 am

Odds and ends for 2/2

Punxsutawney Phil weighs in on this whole Groundhog Day thing. Spoiler: He is, profanely, obscenely, NSFW-ly not a fan.

Bestest snow in a decade: The night we moved into our current house in January 2000, we got what likely will be a strong contender for snowstorm of the century. This past weekend’s storm, which dumped better than 6″ on us and close to a foot not far north of here, was almost as good. Got to go sledding and have a snowball fight with the kids — they killed me. Enjoyed Cajun crab-corn chowder and other good eats with good friends. Settled into a warm armchair Sunday night with a great novel and some Nattie Greene’s Red Nose winter ale. Ahhhhh.

Bad news, worse news for banking: The current commercial real-estate bubble could take down the banking system when it pops. And CRE ain’t the only potentially lethal problem out there. I’ll say one good thing about the free-marketeers: They can certainly f\/(% up a banking system.

Goldman Sachs to tell THE president to get bent, pay ITS president a $100 million bonus: Someone explain to me again why we don’t want to punish the banksters.

More insider trading that the SEC somehow manages to overlook.

While Jim Bunning does the taxpayers a few favors on his way out the door, Chris Dodd is throwing Molotov cocktails: Dodd, along with Richard Shelby and Paul Kanjorski, has pretty much killed the proposed ban on proprietary trading by banks. Because the one thing we desperately needed was even more taxpayer money at risk. Or has he? Goldman Sachs’ stock price seems to think Dodd hasn’t killed it after all.

Has prop trading really killed even one bank? Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker asked that question today. The answer is yes: Merrill Lynch, which the Fed bribed Bank of America to take over. (That transaction itself has raised all manner of, for BAC officers/directors, ugly questions about what stockholders were and weren’t told about the ML takeover.)

The Fed: One big counterfeiter, basically. Which, honestly, is sort of what I had thought, except that I figured there were important distinctions that were eluding me on account of I’ve got the economic skillz of a cinder block. Turns out I was more right than I knew, which does NOT make me feel as good as you’d think.

Not that what people want actually matters, but health-care reform with a public option is more popular even among Republicans in swing districts than the current Senate bill, which lacks one. And to no one’s surprise, although at least 51 Democratic Senators are on record as supporting a public option, now that reconciliation (i.e., simple majority vote) could make it happen, some of those “backers” are backpedaling, lest they upset their corporate overlords.

As is often the case, The New York Times’ David Brooks is guilty of slopping thinking. Matt Taibbi dopeslaps him back in the direction of reality and, in the process, puts in a shout-out for factual journalism over the false equivalence of “objective” journalism.

If you believe this, 26 states, including North Carolina, are insolvent. I don’t know whether to believe it or not, but, lord, it wouldn’t surprise me at this point.

I suppose it’s possible that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” will disrupt some military units … which is what desegregation opponents in the military warned Harry Truman 60 years ago. And as the fictitious Chairman of the Joint Chiefs on “The West Wing” observed, “You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it.” More to the point, so, basically, did all the senior witnesses who testified before Congress on the matter today.

Why the hell isn’t someone under indictment for this?: The CIA is allowing some of its personnel to moonlight for private, for-profit corporations. This isn’t bad only because it divides CIA staffers’ focus/attention, although that division is, indeed, a bad thing; it’s bad because it gives certain corporations access to government secrets they’re not entitled to have.

Why, it’s almost as if someone’s looking out for the taxpayers’ interests: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has fired the head of the $350 billion F-35 program because of cost overruns and performance issues. He also has withheld hundreds of millions in payments to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor on the fighter jet. There’s gotta be a catch; I just haven’t figured out yet what it is.

I personally think Khalid Sheikh Muhammad should be tried in New York City, and I think people who think otherwise for any reason other than the cost of security are incontinent. And here’s what I would call a conservative argument in favor of trying KSM in, if not in New York City proper, at least in a civilian federal court elsewhere within the Southern Judicial District of New York. And here are some other reasons why letting the White House, Congress and local officials butt into this is a bad idea.

Colorado Springs tries an interesting social experiment: Rather than raise taxes, the city is letting a third of its streetlights go dark, letting dozens of police and firefighter positions go unfilled, not paving any streets and cutting all kinds of other services. I am sincerely interested in seeing what happens with this.

The NFL may well be the most popular sports operation in America, but they still desperately need competent public-relations counsel.

As do Senate Democrats, who spent the weekend schmoozing with bank lobbyists in Miami. No way that could go wrong for the taxpayer.

Supposedly we now have a study that says abstinence-only sex education works: Except for the part where the program studied — which might, in fact, work, although I’d say more study is needed — was not, in several important ways, abstinence-only. More details here. This isn’t just apples to oranges, it’s apples to mountain oysters.

As does Sarah Palin, whose PAC spent more money in the last half of 2009 on copies of her book than it did in contributions to other political candidates, ostensibly the PAC’s primary purpose. For those of you following along at home, this is a way of funneling political contributions to her PAC straight into her own pockets.

Question of the day, from Eli: “… if only one political party’s base gets to be taken seriously, does it really have to be the one that parades around with pictures of the President Of The United States dressed as a witch doctor?”

What could possibly go wrong? A Michigan man with a sled tried to fashion a rocket pack out of an old car muffler, gasoline and gunpowder. Police say he had been … wait for it … drinking. (h/t: Nance)

Saturday, January 9, 2010 11:07 pm

Odds and ends for 1/9

Roger Ailes: drama queen. Dude, the Islamicist terrorists of the world are not out to get you because the Islamcist terrorists of the world, by and large, have no freakin’ idea who you are.

Charles Murray, shorter: Man, there are a lot of black people in Paris.

Dick Cheney sure looks funny with that second southern orifice, thoughtfully torn for him by Phoenix Woman at Firedoglake.

Because everything else they’ve touched has worked out so well: Blackwater is a contender for the contract to train the Afghan national police force — and wants a cool billion for the job.

Speaking of Afghanistan, we’re out of our depth there from an intelligence standpoint (witness the CIA deaths at Forward Operating Base Chapman), and the general who wrote the report with that conclusion leaked it because apparently his superiors were ignoring him. But the surge will make everything peachy!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 10:27 pm

As others see us

This is stunning, and I’d like to think that it will leave a mark:

MILAN — An Italian court convicted 22 CIA operatives and a U.S. Air Force colonel on kidnapping charges Wednesday in a stern rebuke to the U.S. government’s long-standing practice of covertly seizing terrorism suspects abroad without a warrant.

The guilty verdicts are the only instance in which CIA operatives have faced a criminal trial for the controversial tactic of extraordinary rendition, under which terrorism suspects are abducted in one country and forcibly transported to another.

The CIA began carrying out renditions during the Clinton administration but intensified their frequency under orders from the Bush White House after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The Obama administration said in August that it would continue the practice, but pledged to take steps to ensure that rendition targets are not tortured, either by the CIA or by foreign spy agencies.

In winning the guilty verdicts, Italian prosecutors took a contrary view, saying they were determined to enforce the law in spite of political pressure from Rome and Washington to drop the case.

Yes, I’d like to think that it will leave a mark. However, I know it won’t.

For the U.S. government to do anything other than ignore this ruling would mean it would see itself as obliged to follow the law, and as we all know, that’s just so 9/10. The most the government will do is warn these 22 folks that there are certain other countries they probably ought not visit without armed bodyguards, and let it go at that.

(Memo to wingnuts: seeing the government as obliged to follow the law DOES NOT EQUATE TO “blaming America first.” Not on any logical level. Not anywhere in this dimension or any other I’ve ever frequented.)

Aimai at No More Mr. Nice Blog has a nice little summary of my thoughts on this case:

I’ve just spent several months explaining to my anxious, enraged, Obama supporting parental unit that no one who gets elected to our imperial presidency–neither democrat, nor republican, will ever roll back the tide of illegal and immoral actions that were taken in defense of our imperial way of life. Especially not internationally. But I’d like to see more discussion of this and its implication for our country going forward. Its not, to me, a question of supporting Obama or being disappointed in him. Its just a question of whether our country will ever voluntarily stop raping, torturing, looting, and kidnapping for international gain and advantage. Or whether we will simply, like other once great powers, stop using our privileged position only once we’ve lost the privilege to other, stronger, powers.

And there will be other stronger powers, almost certainly within my remaining lifetime. Right now we’re spending more on our military than the rest of the world combined, and that’s just the part that’s on-budget. It’s almost $700 billion in one year, and we’re sitting here claiming we can’t afford $90 billion a year for the same level of health care pretty much guaranteed to pretty much everyone in pretty much every other Western industrialized country.

The historian Paul Kennedy, in his 1987 book “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” talked about the concept of “imperial overstretch,” the economic havoc that condition causes and the grim prognosis history suggests is in store. To his credit, he cautioned that he was not trying to predict the future; at the same time, his research suggests we must acknowledge that 1) we have become a military imperialist enterprise and that 2) in no other such case in recorded history have things ended well.

UPDATE: From ABC:

One of the 23 Americans convicted today by an Italian court says the United States “broke the law” in the CIA kidnapping of a Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan in 2003.

“And we are paying for the mistakes right now, whoever authorized and approved this,” said former CIA officer Sabrina deSousa in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson.

Former CIA intelligence officer Sabrina deSousa says the US “abandoned and betrayed” her and the others who were put on trial for the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric Abu Omar in Milan in 2003.

DeSousa says the U.S. “abandoned and betrayed” her and the others who were put on trial for the kidnapping. She was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.

Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News that the trial was a disaster for CIA officers like DeSousa on the frontline.

“I think these people have been put out there. They’ve been hung out to dry. They’re taking the fall potentially for a decision that was made by their superiors in our agencies. It’s the wrong place to go.”

Now, here’s a question: How would Americans feel if Italian spies landed on our shores, kidnapped these 23 people and took them to, say, Turkey or Syria for torture? Or just kidnapped them to Italy and put them in prison there? How do you think we would be likely to respond?

Sunday, November 1, 2009 10:44 pm

Welcome to Ordinaryville. Population: 300 million

Michael Klare at Salon.com: “No one seems to be saying this out loud — yet — but let’s put it bluntly: less than a year into the 15-year span of “Global Trends 2025,” the days of America’s unquestioned global dominance have come to an end.”

I don’t think we’re there yet. But like the CIA, although probably for different reasons, I think that, as a result of a number of disastrous decisions — both choices made and choices avoided — during the past 35 years, the road there is now one-way.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 6:10 am

Shorter Kit Bond: “Waaaaaaahhhhh! I’m going home!”

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 6:10 am
Tags: , , ,

The Republicans in the Senate Intelligence Committee having taken to their fainting couches because the attorney general is apparently going to at least pretend to, you know, uphold the law and stuff:

Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Friday that they will no longer participate in an investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, arguing that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s decision to reexamine allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA would hobble any inquiry.

The intelligence committee launched a review in March of CIA interrogations of high-value detainees such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who describes himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Senate staffers are poring over hundreds of thousands of classified documents to probe the history and effectiveness of the CIA program, as well as congressional oversight of agency practices.

Last month, Holder appointed a career prosecutor to review allegations of detainee abuse by CIA operatives, but he stressed that neither the review nor any full investigation, should it follow, means that criminal charges are inevitable.

“Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the President to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the Committee’s review,” the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said in a statement. “What current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the Committee’s questions? Indeed, forcing these terror fighters to make this choice is neither fair nor just.”

Kit, I’m a lot less worried about current or former CIA employees gambling their freedom by answering Senate questions than I am about their gambling their freedom by, well, torturing people and all. And here’s a clue: You should be, too, nitwit.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 11:05 pm

Torture investigation: Apparently not so politically radioactive

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable!,I want my country back. — Lex @ 11:05 pm
Tags: ,

Interesting tidbit in a poll otherwise largely devoted to Afghanistan:

According to the poll results, half of the public believes the Justice Department’s appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate interrogation tactics used by the CIA is a good idea. Just 38 percent say it is a bad idea.

Views of this issue divide along party and ideological lines. Democrats and liberals support the appointment, while Republicans and conservatives agree with Former Vice President Cheney and say it was a bad idea.

Moderates and independents are more divided, though both groups tend to agree more with the investigation.

I think there’s some there there, although if I had to bet I’d still be forced to predict that politics will trump the rule of law on this one. Still, a fella can dream …

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 8:53 pm

Investigating torture

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , , , ,

At long last, Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to appoint a prosecutor to determine whether roughly a dozen previously closed cases in which CIA employees or contractors may have broken the law should be reopened.

That’s the good news. But the Washington Post also says:

[Career Justice Department prosecutor John] Durham’s mandate, the sources added, will be relatively narrow: to look at whether there is enough evidence to launch a full-scale criminal investigation of current and former CIA personnel who may have broken the law in their dealings with detainees.

And that’s the bad news. Because we didn’t abuse and torture prisoners, threaten to kill their children and carry out mock executions, in a vacuum. The individuals responsible did what they did because they received direction from the highest levels of government and fraudulent assurances from John Yoo and Henry Bybee that what they were doing didn’t somehow violate U.S. law, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other laws.

(Durham, by the way, is the same guy who’s investigating the disappearance of CIA videotapes of interrogation sessions.)

There was, in other words, a conspiracy that, according to a boatload of information already in the public record, extended all the way up to the President of the United States. And conspiracy to torture is punishable by the same sentence (except for the death penalty in cases in which the victim died) as the crime of torture itself.

Mr. Durham needs to conduct a fair and full investigation, following the evidence where it might lead (including, if need be, the administrations preceding and following George W. Bush’s), letting himself be guided by the fact that no one can be above the law if our country is to survive.

* * *

Relatedly, censored versions have been released of the CIA reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney claimed would prove that torture had been justified because it prevented terrorism. (Those documents are here.) I’ve scanned them, and my immediate reaction is that despite what Cheney claims, they don’t prove anything either way. Oh, they say that the fruits of interrogation in general were certainly helpful, but not all the helpful interrogation involved torture or was in any other way illegal. Perhaps the uncensored versions would shed more light one way or the other. I don’t know.

UPDATE: Although Cheney’s defenders insist the documents imply that torture worked, former Homeland Security adviser Frances Frago Townsend concedes that though that might indeed be the case, the documents — which, remember, Cheney said would prove torture worked — don’t actually say that.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 7:38 am

Lie, world, truth, boots, and the big picture

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 7:38 am
Tags: , ,

Nancy Pelosi is getting the worst of public opinion in the CIA/torture-briefing imbroglio.

FactCheck “fact-checks” Nancy.

Marcy Wheeler fact-checks FactCheck. FTW.

And the media, once again distracted by shiny objects, wanders away from the big picture: We committed torture in violation of U.S. and international law and the people responsible aren’t being held accountable.

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