At the end of last week, I joked a little about privacy and civil liberties advocates having had the “best week ever”. It was indeed a very good week, but only relatively compared to the near constant assault on the same by the government. But the con is being put back in ICon by the Administration and its mouthpieces.
As I noted in the same post, Obama himself has already thrown cold water on the promise of his NSA Review Board report. Contrary to some, I saw quite a few positives in the report and thought it much stronger than I ever expected. Still, that certainly does not mean it was, or is, the particularly strong reform that is needed. And even the measures and discussion it did contain are worthless without sincerity and dedication to buy into them by the intelligence community and the administration. But if Obama on Friday was the harbinger of the walkback and whitewash of real reform, the foot soldiers are taking the field now to prove the point.
Sunday morning brought out former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell on CBS Face the Nation to say this:
I think that is a perception that’s somehow out there. It is not focused on any single American. It is not reading the content of your phone calls or my phone calls or anybody else’s phone calls. It is focused on this metadata for one purpose only and that is to make sure that foreign terrorists aren’t in contact with anybody in the United States.
Morrell also stated that there was “no abuse” by the NSA and that Ed Snowden was a “criminal” who has shirked his duties as a “patriot” by running. Now Mike Morrell is not just some voice out in the intelligence community, he was one of the supposedly hallowed voices that Barack Obama chose to consider “reform”.
Which ought to tell you quite a bit about what Barack Obama really thinks about true reform and your privacy interests. Not much. In fact, Morrell suggested (and Obama almost certainly agrees) that the collection dragnet should be expanded from telephony to also include email. Not exactly the kind of “reform” we had in mind.
Then, Sunday night 60 Minutes showed that fluffing the security state is not just a vice, but an ingrained habit for them. Hot on the heels of their John Miller blowjob on the NSA, last night 60 Minutes opened with a completely hagiographic puff piece on and with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. There was absolutely no news whatsoever in the segment, it was entirely a forum for Rice and her “interviewer”, Lesley Stahl, to spew unsupported allegations about Edward Snowden (He “has 1.5 million documents!”), lie about how the DOJ has interacted with the court system regarding the government surveillance programs (the only false statements have been “inadvertent”) and rehab her image from the Benghazi!! debacle. That was really it. Not exactly the hard hitting journalism you would hope for on the heels of a federal judge declaring a piece of the heart of the surveillance state unconstitutional.
Oh, yes, Susan Rice also proudly proclaimed herself “a pragmatist like Henry Kissinger which, as Tim Shorrock correctly pointed out, is not exactly reassuring from the administration of a Democratic President interested in civil liberties, privacy and the rule of law.
So, the whitewashing of surveillance dragnet reform is in full swing, let the giddiness of last week give way to the understanding that Barack Obama, and the Intelligence Community, have no intention whatsoever of “reforming”. In fact, they will use the illusion of “reform” to expand their authorities and power. Jonathan Turley noted:
Obama stacked the task force on NSA surveillance with hawks to guarantee the preservation of the program.
Not just preserve, but to give the false, nee fraudulent, patina of Obama Administration concern for the privacy and civil liberties concerns of the American citizenry when, in fact, the Administration has none. It is yet another con.
Or, as Glenn Greenwald noted:
The key to the WH panel: its stated purpose was to re-establish public confidence in NSA – NOT reform it.
There may be some moving of the pea beneath the shells, but there will be no meaningful reform from the administration of Barack Obama. The vehicle for reform, if there is to be one at all, will have to come from the Article III federal courts. for an overview of the path of Judge Leon’s decision in Klayman through the DC circuit, see this piece by NLJ’s Zoe Tillman.
Lastly, to give just a little hope after the above distressing content, I recommend a read of this excellent article by Adam Serwer at MSNBC on the cagy pump priming for surveillance reform Justice Sotomayor has done at the Supreme Court:
If Edward Snowden gave federal courts the means to declare the National Security Agency’s data-gathering unconstitutional, Sonia Sotomayor showed them how.
It was Sotomayor’s lonely concurrence in U.S. v Jones, a case involving warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car, that the George W. Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon relied on when he ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional last week. It was that same concurrence the White House appointed review board on surveillance policy cited when it concluded government surveillance should be scaled back.
“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” Sotomayor wrote in 2012. “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”
Give the entire article a read, Adam is spot on. If there is to be reform on the surveillance dragnet, it will almost certainly have to be the handiwork of the courts, and Justice Sotomayor planted the seed. The constant barrage of truth and facts coming from the Snowden materials, what Jay Rosen rightfully terms “The Snowden Effect” is providing the food for Sotomayor’s seed to flower. Hopefully.
Yesterday evening, reports appeared in both the New York Times and Khaama Press in Afghanistan that the final hurdle for the Bilateral Security Agreement had been cleared and that US President Barack Obama would sign a letter to be read at the loya jirga. The letter would note that the US has made mistakes in its war efforts in Afghanistan. Further, the letter would convey an apology along with a pledge to avoid repeating the mistakes in which innocent Afghan citizens suffered.
But for the endless war faction within the US military and government, an apology just won’t do (even if there was one to Pakistan that finally reopened the supply routes after the US killed 24 Pakistani border troops). National Security Advisor Susan Rice immediately got time with Wolf Blitzer on CNN to nip the idea of an apology in the bud:
“No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on CNN’s “Situation Room.”
“Quite the contrary, we have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al Qaeda. So that (letter of apology) is not on the table.”
Rice said she has seen news reports but has no idea where they are coming from, describing the claims as a “complete misunderstanding of what the situation is.”
Here’s the video:
I’m surprised she didn’t go all the way to insisting on an apology from Afghanistan for being ungrateful for all the freedom we’ve unleashed on them.
The Times version of the story has been through a number of changes. Note that the url retains the early headline for the story “Key Issue Said to be Resolved in US-Afghan Security Talks”. The story now reflects the push-back from Rice, but it also shows that diplomats are focusing on a letter anyway (but of course now can’t call it an apology):
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss continuing negotiations, was more noncommittal, saying that a letter acknowledging past issues like civilian casualties was a possibility being weighed. “We will consider his request for reassurances, including the option of a letter from the administration stating our position,” the official said.
Under the Afghan description, in return for the letter, Mr. Karzai would then accept wording that allowed American Special Operations raids to search and detain militants within Afghan homes, but only under “extraordinary circumstances” to save the lives of American soldiers. That would seem to greatly hamper the American intent behind those operations, which commanders have said are critical to taking the fight directly to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Before I lay out the chronology of the road to war against Syria, check out the language National Security Advisor Susan Rice used to blow off the UN investigation.
Ms. Rice sent the email to Ms. Power and others, officials said. “The investigation is…too late, and will actually tell us what we already know: CW was used,”
While the WSJ quotes Rice claiming to know who actually used the chemical weapons in the next line, ultimately it comes down to this:
“CW was used.”
Jay Carney today also used the passive voice in dismissing the UN investigation.
So the work of that team is redundant, you might say, because it is clearly established already that chemical weapons have been used on a significant scale.
The fucking passive voice.
But before we got to that point consider what happened. First (according to WSJ’s Arab diplomats) the always trustworthy Israelis caught someone moving CW into place.
One crucial piece of the emerging case came from Israeli spy services, which provided the Central Intelligence Agency with intelligence from inside an elite special Syrian unit that oversees Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons, Arab diplomats said. The intelligence, which the CIA was able to verify, showed that certain types of chemical weapons were moved in advance to the same Damascus suburbs where the attack allegedly took place a week ago, Arab diplomats said.
Then after the attack, according to Foreign Policy, US spooks overheard a Syrian Defense official “demanding answers” from an officer in the chemical weapons unit from which the CW would have been used.
Last Monday [sic], in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned.
FP goes on to point out a lot of the important things we don’t know, such as why and on whose authority, even while laying out the case that CW was used. (Though here are some doubts about whether it was really sarin.)
Meanwhile, according to Gareth Porter, it took until Saturday for the UN to request access to the attack site. Syria granted that access Sunday. At which point John Kerry attempted to personally intervene to stop the investigation.
After the deal was announced on Sunday, however, Kerry pushed Ban in a phone call to call off the investigation completely.
The Wall Street Journal reported the pressure on Ban without mentioning Kerry by name. It said unnamed “U.S. officials” had told the secretary-general that it was “no longer safe for the inspectors to remain in Syria and that their mission was pointless.”
But Ban, who has generally been regarded as a pliable instrument of U.S. policy, refused to withdraw the U.N. team and instead “stood firm on principle”, the Journal reported. He was said to have ordered the U.N. inspectors to “continue their work”.
Meanwhile, the Administration also seems to be delaying the release of its own intelligence report, after promising it would already be out.
Q And there’s a lot of speculation that this intelligence report that presumably would link Assad directly to the chemical weapons attack might be released today. Can you give us an update on the timing?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say is that yesterday I made clear that the intelligence community is working on an assessment and that once we had that assessment we would provide information to the public about it in the coming days. And that remains true. I think that that’s speculation that it would come today rather than some other day. But it will come and I think you can expect it this week.
Do you get the feeling there are some holes in the intelligence report? Such as, if this was ordered by someone in Assad’s chain of command, why a Defense Ministry official would be making “panicked calls” about the strike?
There’s one more thing I find at least interesting about the intelligence.
Recall back in December, when the CW scares first started. We had evidence — as the Israelis claim we have no — of Syria pre-positioning weapons. And then Syria lost its Toobz access. I noted at the time that the utter lack of panic about the latter event suggested that we knew precisely why and how the Toobz came down. That detail may mean nothing about today’s events (though at the time it suggested that the source of the intelligence wasn’t SIGINT, because if the US had just lost its intelligence access it would have been panicking). But it seems notable, given the centrality of the “moving chemicals” intelligence again.
There is, to be sure, a great deal of evidence that (as both Rice and Carney said) “CW were used.”
But the Administration seems increasingly squirrelly allowing time to discover the rest of the occasion, which may be why a Syrian officer release CW without having had received an order from his superiors.
WSJ has a tick-tock of how the talking points on Benghazi developed. It confirms two of the things I noted yesterday. The Intelligence Community developed the talking points behind the pseudo-scandal pursuant to a request from Dutch Ruppersberger.
Later on Sept. 13, then-director David Petraeus presented the CIA’s initial findings to the Senate Intelligence Committee. His conclusions mirrored that morning’s intelligence reporting. He said the attack began “spontaneously” following the protest in Cairo over the video. He also discussed the reports of involvement of Ansar al-Sharia and the al Qaeda affiliate and called the assault a terrorist attack.
Mr. Petraeus presented the same findings the next day to the House intelligence panel, whose top Democrat, Maryland Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, requested unclassified talking points for lawmakers to use when speaking about the attack.
And the IC decide to withhold the information about a tie to AQIM in part because they were NSA intercepts.
After rounds of bureaucratic exchanges, the CIA officials seeking to remove al Qaeda won the argument, and officials agreed to retain the umbrella term “extremists” but drop the mention of al Qaeda.
The term represented a hedge the CIA used because the attack’s links to al Qaeda had yet to be confirmed. This argument was that including the name would have required additional wording to indicate uncertainty about the al Qaeda links—language that could have opened additional avenues for misinterpretation.
The information was derived from what was seen as a “tenuous” source—intercepts of phone calls between suspected militants saying that al Qaeda-linked militants took part in the attack. The evidence was deemed by some of the intelligence officials to be inconclusive.
Eliminating references to al Qaeda also would protect sources, some of the officials argued. With so few suspected al Qaeda-affiliated militants taking part in the attacks, officials were concerned that fingering al Qaeda in official information would tip them off that they were being monitored. Continue reading
Republicans are orchestrating yet another mob attack on one of President Obama’s African-American appointees. In this case, 97 House Republicans have signed a letter imploring Obama not to nominate Rice to replace Hillary Clinton. Yet they don’t raise any of the possibly legitimate reasons to oppose Rice’s appointment–her troubling record on Africa, her closeness to Obama.
These 97 Republicans don’t even try to make this look like legitimate opposition. Instead, they rehash a Benghazi attack that hearings last week debunked.
Ambassador Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American people in the Benghazi matter. Her actions plausibly give the U.S. (and rivals) abroad reason to question U.S. commitment and credibility when needed.
They don’t know what the problem with Rice is, this mob of frothing Republicans. But if she’s black, they seem to be saying, she must be either incompetent or deceitful.
This frothing mob includes such leading lights of the racist right as Steve King, Ted Poe, Louie Gohmert, Michelle Bachmann, and Tim Griffin, and such discredited hacks as Scott DesJarlais and Joe Wilson.
While Alan West signed the letter, along with several Latinos, the letter largely pits a bunch of white radicals against a single black woman whom they claim is not credible because she read talking points developed by the CIA.
This is not the act of reasoned legislators. It’s a mob attack. A mob attack, like so many others, targeted blindly at an African-American professional appointed by our nation’s first African-American President.
Between the extensive leaking from the so-called closed hearings on Thursday and Friday (Spencer’s got a good wrap-up here) and the Sunday shows (LAT has a good wrap-up here), we’ve got a little better understanding of the Administration’s current understanding of the Benghazi attack.
That said, I’ve got a different set of questions about what those show than most of the pundits commenting on it.
How strongly did Petraeus initially blame al Qaeda-related attackers?
My first question pertains to an apparent discrepancy, not about the testimony last week, but about Petraeus’ initial testimony shortly after the attack.
We know that in his testimony Friday, Petraeus said he knew fairly quickly that Ansar al-Sharia was behind the attack.
He knew “almost immediately” that Ansar al-Sharia, a loosely connected radical Islamist group, was responsible for the attack, as suggested by multiple sources and video from the scene, said the source. At the same time, a stream of intelligence — including about 20 distinct reports — also emerged indicating that a brewing furor over the anti-Islamic video preceded the attack.
The CIA eventually disproved the reports that film-related protests had anything to do with the attack. But this didn’t happen until after Petraeus’ initial briefings to lawmakers, in which he discussed all the possibilities, the source said.
Petraeus blamed some other unnamed intelligence agency for taking out the reference to Ansar al-Sharia (though the talking points came from CIA).
Petraeus testified that the CIA draft written in response to the raid referred to militant groups Ansar al-Shariah and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb but those names were replaced with the word “extremist” in the final draft, according to a congressional staffer. The staffer said Petraeus testified that he allowed other agencies to alter the talking points as they saw fit without asking for final review, to get them out quickly.
But different lawmakers have differing recollections about what Petraeus originally testified, just days after the attack. Peter King suggested that Petraeus hid the role of terrorists in his September 14 briefing to the House Intelligence Committee.
King said Petraeus had briefed the House committee on Sept. 14 and he does not recall Petraeus being so positive at that time that it was a terrorist attack. “He thought all along that he made it clear there was terrorist involvement,” King said. “That was not my recollection.”
Feinstein, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that the now-former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, had “very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack” in a meeting with lawmakers the day after the attack in Benghazi.
Mind you, those were different briefings–it’s possible just the Gang of Four got briefed on September 12. If that’s the case (and if King is telling the truth), it would mean Petraeus was less forthcoming about terrorist involvement with the full House Committee than with a more select group of lawmakers.
And note this seems to be the reverse of the politics you’d expect. While both DiFi and King vow to get to the bottom of how the talking points were made, King seems to attribute some deceit to Petraeus whereas DiFi seems to believe the suffering Petraeus was forthright–and clear-headed–from the start.
Were we really afraid to let Ansar al-Sharia know we were onto them?
Now consider the excuse Petraeus gave for taking mention of Ansar al-Sharia and AQIM out of the unclassified talking points: we didn’t want the terrorists to know we knew about them.
Testifying out of sight, ex-CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress Friday that classified intelligence showed the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack but the administration withheld the suspected role of al-Qaida affiliates to avoid tipping them off.
I wonder if that’s the entire story.
I’m not saying the Administration deliberately used inaccurate talking points; if they had, then why did Obama name terrorism even before Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows? It’d be a colossal fuckup of a cover-up.
And there are certainly reasons to believe that’s why they withheld this detail. It is true that the conclusions about Ansar al-Sharia and AQIM rely in significant part on–presumably–NSA intercepts of voice communications. Continue reading
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger;
I want to return to something Manssor Arbabsiar’s attorney, Sabrina Shroff, said the other day. “If he is indicted, he will plead not guilty.”
I’ve suggested Shroff may have reason to believe Arbabsiar will get a plea deal before this ever goes to the grand jury. Which would mean no one would ever challenge the government on the many holes in this case [oh hey! that's me at Atlantic.com]: the claimed lack of taped conversations, the explanation why Arbabsiar cooperated, some holes in the government’s money trail (at least as it appears in the complaint), the remarkable coinkydink Arbabsiar just happened to ask a DEA informant to help him kidnap the Saudi Ambassador, and some perhaps incorrect interpretations of existing tape transcripts.
It would be very convenient for the government if this never went to trial.
But think, for a moment, about the government’s actions in this affair. It rolled out a splashy press conference. Joe Biden has declared no options off the table; Susan Rice is “unit[ing] world opinion” against Iran. And if that doesn’t work, Hillary Clinton will make personal calls followed by onsite teams to persuade allies that this whole plot isn’t a bunch of bupkis.
We have rolled out a giant campaign to use this plot to do … something … with Iran.
But it has yet to pass the ham sandwich test.
Our government has had eleven business days now to subject its amended case to the scrutiny of a grand jury, it had two and a half months to subject its original case to the scrutiny of a grand jury, and it hasn’t yet bothered to do so. We’re sharing our case with the rest of the world before we’re subjecting it to the most basic level of oversight enshrined in our Constitution. Instead of using the legal process laid out in our founding document, we’ve gotten the signature of a Magistrate Judge and run off with it to the rest of the world. And while I have no doubt of the competence of Magistrate Judge Michael Dolinger, the judge who signed the complaint in this case, that’s simply not the way our judicial system is supposed to work. Average citizens are supposed to review the work of the government when it makes legal cases, not just Magistrates.
All of which ought to raise real questions why our government has decided to share these details with the rest of the world, but bypassed the step where they’re supposed to share them with its own citizens.