I somehow stumbled into an article for The Nation by Rainey Reitman entitled Access Blocked to Bradley Manning’s Hearing. To make a long story short, in a Twitter exchange today with Ms. Reitman and Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake (who has done yeoman’s work covering the Manning hearing), I questioned some of the statements and inferences made in Ms. Reitman’s report. She challenged me to write on the subject, so here I am.
First, Ms. Reitman glibly offered to let me use her work as “foundation” to work off of. Quite frankly, not only was my point not originally to particularly go further; my point, in fact, was that her foundation was deeply and materially flawed.
Reitman starts off with this statement:
The WikiLeaks saga is centered on issues of government transparency and accountability, but the public is being strategically denied access to the Manning hearing, one of the most important court cases in our lifetime.
While the “WikiLeaks saga” is indeed centered on transparency and accountability for many of us, that simply is not the case in regard to the US Military prosecution of Pvt. Bradley Manning. The second you make that statement about the UCMJ criminal prosecution of Manning, you have stepped off the tracks of reality and credibility in court reportage and analysis. The scope of Manning’s Article 32 hearing was/is were the crimes detailed in the charging document committed and is there reason to believe Manning committed them. Additionally, in an Article 32 hearing, distinct from a civilian preliminary hearing, there is limited opportunity for personal mitigating information to be adduced in order to argue for the Investigating Officer to recommend non-judicial punishment as opposed to court martial trial. That is it. There is no concern or consideration of “transparency and accountability”, within the ambit suggested by Ms. Reitman, in the least.
Calling the Manning Article 32 hearing “one of the most important court cases in our lifetime” is far beyond hyperbole. First off, it is, for all the breathless hype, a relatively straight forward probable cause determination legally and, to the particular military court jurisdiction it is proceeding under, it is nothing more than that. The burden of proof is light, and the issues narrow and confined to that which is described above. The grand hopes, dreams and principles of the Manning and WikiLeaks acolytes simply do not fit into this equation no matter how much they may want them to. Frankly, it would be a great thing to get those issues aired in this country; but this military UCMJ proceeding is not, and will not be, the forum where that happens.
Moving on, Reitman raises the specter of “the death penalty” for Manning. While the death penalty remains a technical possibility under one of the charges, the prosecution has repeatedly stated it will not be sought and, after all the statements on the record in that regard, there is simply no reason to embellish otherwise. Reitman next states:
This case will show much about the United States’s tolerance for whistleblowers who show the country in an unflattering light.
No, it most certainly will not. In fact, the Manning criminal military prosecution has nothing whatsoever to do with “whistleblowers”. Despite the loose and wild eyed use of the term “whistleblower” in popular culture, not to mention by supporters of Bradley Manning, the concept Continue reading
While a number of media outlets have reported one line–“The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values”–from PJ Crowley’s resignation statement, I wanted to remark on a few things in the larger statement.
The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law. My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.
Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the Department of State.
I am enormously grateful to President Obama and Secretary Clinton for the high honor of once again serving the American people. I leave with great admiration and affection for my State colleagues, who promote our national interest both on the front lines and in the quiet corners of the world. It was a privilege to help communicate their many and vital contributions to our national security. And I leave with deep respect for the journalists who report on foreign policy and global developments every day, in many cases under dangerous conditions and subject to serious threats. Their efforts help make governments more responsible, accountable and transparent. [my emphasis]
Note, first of all, the sentence, “Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility.” That has been interpreted as a reaffirmation of Crowley’s statement that DOD’s treatment of Manning is “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid.” But there’s actually some ambiguity to the statement: the antecedent of “for which” could be “remarks,” as has been interpreted, but it also could be “impact.” Given that Crowley has spent years crafting public statements in which any ambiguity would lead to international incident, I suspect the ambiguity, in a written statement issued during a time of heightened attention, is intentional.
If so, this is Crowley making it clear he intended all this to blow up (remember, too, the participants in the MIT session at which Crowley first made his remarks double checked that his statements were on the record before they posted them).
And he tells us that his intent was to raise attention to the impact that certain actions of our national security agencies have on our international standing.
While I hope Crowley has an opportunity to explain precisely which actions he had in mind–aside from Manning’s treatment, of course–I wanted to point to a CAP paper Crowley wrote in 2008, linked by Rortybomb. The paper as a whole is a sound strategy for counter-terrorism (I’m particularly fond of Crowley’s focus on building resilience at home). As Rortybomb points out, Crowley argues that part of the fight against terrorism must be about remaining on the right side of history.
Most of the world now believes, fairly or not, that America is on the wrong side of history. While the Bush administration acknowledged the vital importance of winning hearts and minds in its revised 2006 counterterrorism strategy, too often since 2001, U.S. policies have neither matched our values, nor what we preach to the rest of the world. We are perceived, accurately or not, as operating secret and illegal prisons, condoning torture, denying legal rights, propping up autocratic regimes, and subverting fair elections.
As a follow up to yesterday afternoon’s decision in the WikiLeaks grand jury subpoena case, it is, shall we say, interesting that the New York Times today comes out with and editorial slamming democracies that use secret evidence and maneuvers to prosecute journalists.
The editorial is titled No Way to Run a Democracy and it doesn’t spend one word of it on the rabid use of just those tactics in relation to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange (See here and here). Nor has there been any comparable outrage over the US actions against WikiLeaks journalists in any other NYT effort and/or article.
Now, make no mistake, the plight of investigative journalists in Turkey under threat from the administration of Prime Minister Erdogan is extremely troubling, and it is commendable that the Gray Lady has called it out. But it does make you wonder where the same outrage is in relation to the First Amendment eviscerating effort of the US Department of Justice toward WikiLeaks and Assange. An investigation which could, and if it is taken to its logical conclusion, should involve the Times itself.
Maybe it is because Bill Keller reached some agreement with the DOJ not to trash them in return for DOJ laying off the NYT during one of his endless tete a tetes with them over quashing news reporting, maybe Keller and the Times are fearful that they don’t have some kind of secret agreement with the DOJ, maybe it is the product of the merging of the media and government in the US, or maybe it is because of Keller’s irrational and unprofessional extreme dislike of, and contempt for, the “dirty” Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
Whatever the reason, the stridence against the Erdogan government actions contrasted with the silence toward the domestic Obama government actions is telling.
In a 21 page opinion, US Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan of the Eastern District of Virginia District Court has just granted the United States Department of Justice subpoena demand for records in the WikiLeaks investigation.
Three people associated with WikiLeaks – Jacob Appelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp – had petitioned the court to vacate the subpoena and to unseal the court pleadings. The court held:
For the foregoing reasons, petitioners’ Motion to Vacate is DENIED. Petitioners’ Motion to Unseal is DENIED as to docket 10- gj-3793, and GRANTED as to the 1:11-dm-00003 docket, with the exception of the government attorney’s email address in Twitter’s Motion for Clarification (Dkt. 24), which shall be redacted. Petitioners’ request for public docketing of the material within 10-gj-3793 shall be taken under consideration. An Order shall follow.
The three WikiLeaks individuals had argued the subpoena violated constitutional protections for free speech and association; the court disagreed. Appelbaum, Gonggrijp and Jonsdottir have already stated they will appeal.
You can read the full opinion here. I will be updating the post as I read the decision.
In December of last year, the US government, upon ex parte motion, moved the EDVA Court to enter a sealed Order (“Twitter Order”) pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) of the Stored Communications Act, which governs government access to customer records stored by a service provider. The Twitter Order, which was unsealed on January 5, 2010, at the request of Twitter, required Twitter to turn Continue reading
Wikileaks has posted the presentation three security companies–Palantir, HBGary Federal, and Berico Technologies–made to Bank of America, proposing to help it respond to Wikileaks.
In addition to the degree to which the proposal emphasizes the national security ties and military background of the employees of the company (particularly Berico), the presentation fleshes out what the companies proposed. Under potential proactive tactics, it lists:
Of particularly interest, they describe HBGary Federal’s abilities to conduct INFOOPS, including “influence operations” and “social media exploitation.”
In other words, in addition to proposing to conduct cyber attacks on Wikileaks’ European-based infrastructure (complete with a picture of WL’s bomb shelter-housed servers), the proposal appears to recommend that these companies be paid to troll social media, like Twitter, to not only “identify risky behavior of employees” but also, presumably, “push the radical and reckless nature of wikileaks activities.” You know–the kind of trolling we often see targeted at Glenn (and in recent days targeted against David House, who was also listed in this presentation).
In addition, the presentation proposes to create a concern over the security of the infrastructure. Interestingly, when additional newspapers in Europe got copies of the State cables (including Aftenposten), some people speculated that the files had come from a hack of Wikileaks servers. (Note how the slide above notes the disgruntled WL volunteers.)
That doesn’t mean we’re seeing this campaign in process. After all, Glenn has a ton of enemies on Twitter. And if the intent behind leaking additional copies of the cables was to suggest WL’s infrastructure had been hacked, that perception has largely dissipated as more and more newspapers get copies.
One final note: according to Tech Herald, the law firm pitching these firms, Hunton and Williams, was itself recommended to BoA by DOJ. As the presentation makes clear, these are significant government contractors. (Remember, we’re getting these documents because Anonymous hacked HBGary Federal, which was offering what it had collected to DOJ.) To what extent is what we’re seeing just an extension of what our own government is trying to combat Wikileaks?
Back in 2008, David Rose had a fairly explosive article on Condi Rice and Elliot Abrams’ incompetent meddling in Gaza, which he compared to Iran-Contra. Here’s how I summarized its revelations at the time:
The story explains how the Administration pushed an election for the Palestinians, not seeing what every sane observer saw–that Hamas would win. Immediately after the election, Condi started pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve Parliament. When he refused, the Administration started backing the Fatah strongman, Mohammad Dahlan, in hopes that he could strengthen Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s security organizations–which had been devastated by Israel during the intifada–sufficiently to overcome Hamas. This set off a civil war between Fatah and Hamas. To end the bloodshed, Saudi’s King Abdullah brokered a national unity government, without warning the US he would do so. In response to Abdullah’s unity government plan, the State Department developed its own $1.27 billion plan, what Hamas considered “a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup.” The US handed that plan to Abbas and had him adopt it as if it were his own. Hamas responded by taking over Gaza and capturing the Egyptian weapons intended to strengthen Fatah.
Central to the whole story is how the State Department could have been so stupid as not to see that Hamas would win a democratic election in Gaza in 2006.
Elections for the Palestinian parliament, known officially as the Legislative Council, were originally set for July 2005, but later postponed by Abbas until January 2006.Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that Fatah still wasn’t ready for elections in January. Decades of self-preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.
“Everyone was against the elections,” Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. “Bush decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, ‘The president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?”
The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.
Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there was no contingency plan to deal with it. “I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” Condoleezza Rice told reporters. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing.”
“Everyone blamed everyone else,” says an official with the Department of Defense. “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the fuck recommended this?’”
But a Wikileaks cable released by Aftenposten may explain why State was taken by surprised.
They may have thought the election itself wouldn’t happen.
The government has admitted to MSNBC that the Brig Commander at Quantico improperly put Bradley Manning on suicide watch last week.
The officials told NBC News, however, that a U.S. Marine commander did violate procedure when he placed Manning on “suicide watch” last week.
Military officials said Brig Commander James Averhart did not have the authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week, and that only medical personnel are allowed to make that call.
The official said that after Manning had allegedly failed to follow orders from his Marine guards. Averhart declared Manning a “suicide risk.” Manning was then placed on suicide watch, which meant he was confined to his cell, stripped of most of his clothing and deprived of his reading glasses — anything that Manning could use to harm himself. At the urging of U.S. Army lawyers, Averhart lifted the suicide watch.
So Manning allegedly fails to follow an order and the Brig Commander decides he loses his glasses and is stripped of his clothing?
Remember, Manning has not been convicted of anything yet.
The rest of the article describes that the government has been unable to link Manning to Julian Assange. Maybe that’s why they took his glasses away.
Update: This certainly puts the events from Quantico yesterday in a different light. According to MSNBC, government lawyers realized last week Manning had been improperly treated. By preventing David House from visiting Manning yesterday, they made sure that he wouldn’t have confirmation of that from Manning directly. But since Jane and David’s comments said they’d be back next week, DOD realized they’d need to ‘fess up themselves.
Mark Hosenball reports that aside from some pockets of short-term damage, the impact of the Wikileaks leak of diplomatic cables has been embarrassing, but not damaging.
Internal U.S. government reviews have determined that a mass leak of diplomatic cables caused only limited damage to U.S. interests abroad, despite the Obama administration’s public statements to the contrary.
A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.
“I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster,” the official said.
But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.
National security officials familiar with the damage assessments being conducted by defense and intelligence agencies told Reuters the reviews so far have shown “pockets” of short-term damage, some of it potentially harmful. Long-term damage to U.S. intelligence and defense operations, however, is unlikely to be serious, they said. [my emphasis]
More important than yet another indication that the Obama Administration has oversold the damage done by Wikileaks is the reason given by Hosenball’s Congressional source as to why they oversold that damage: to bolster legal efforts to shut down Wikileaks’ website.
The Administration lied, says a congressional official, to make it easier to shut down Wikileaks.
Now that’s important for several reasons. First, all this time the government has been pretending that the series of decisions by private corporations to stop doing business with Wikileaks were made by the businesses on their own. Surprise surprise (not!), it seems that the government was affirmatively trying to shut down Wikileaks.
Just as importantly, Hosenball’s story seems to suggest, the government was going to service providers–the same service providers they routinely go to on terrorist investigations–and lying to get them to do the government’s bidding. The government was making claims about the damage of the leak to convince service providers to shut down Wikileaks.
And companies like Amazon, Visa, and PayPal complied.
So, to these companies, now tainted with cooperation in government censorship, was it worth it? Was it worth being branded as a collaborator, knowing you were lied to?
And to Philip Crowley, whom Hosenball quotes talking about “substantial” damage: given your critique of Tunisia’s suppression of social media, and given that we now know you lied in the service of similar repression, do you still want to claim there’s no disjunct between claiming to support free speech while squelching that of Wikileaks?
Five years ago, BabyDoc Duvalier applied for a passport for Haiti, threatening to return in a period leading up to elections. As a series of Wikileaks cables make clear, the US pressed hard–with apparent success–to prevent his return to Haiti. One cable shows the US asking France, on January 11, 2006, whether it could prevent Duvalier from leaving that country. Another shows the US raising concerns about Duvalier with Haiti Prime Minister Latortue that same day, and again on January 16. And the US raised the same concerns with the Dominican Republic, first (as far as we can tell from the cables) on January 11 and then again on February 7, 2006.
Over the course of those conversations, the US government tried the following methods to keep Duvalier from returning to Haiti and disrupting the elections:
All of which raises the question why, if the US prevented Duvalier from returning in 2006, they were either unable or chose not to prevent his return this time?
Interestingly, the Guardian provides some background of these efforts in 2006. But they focus entirely on one cable recording discussions with Dominican Republic (the rest of the cables were made available by Aftenposten, the Norwegian paper that somehow got its own set of cables). This has the effect of making it appear that US objections were equally to Duvalier and Aristide (both are mentioned in the cable, though it is clear Duvalier is the worry). Yet the rest of the cables make it clear that the US was panicked about Duvalier’s return.
So is and was the US as concerned this time around about Duvalier’s disruptive influence? Has it simply lost its influence with the various players (who might just be ready for a stronger influence in Haiti, given that country’s problems)? Or did the US give tacit approval for Duvalier’s return, either explicitly or by not making the same efforts this time around as they made in 2006?
Update: BBC and al-Jazeera report that Ben Ali has left the country and security forces have arrested family members at the airport.
The simultaneous (and related) unfolding of the uprising in Tunisia and the latest Wikileaks events reveals a great deal about our own country’s support for democracy.
If you aren’t already, I recommend you follow @abuaardvark (aka Mark Lynch) so long as this crisis in Tunisia lasts. Not only is Lynch following the up-to-the-minute events closely on Twitter–such as the news that dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali just sacked his government and will hold elections six months from now. But he also has chronicled the strange silence about this popular uprising in the US, particularly among the NeoCons who used democracy promotion as their excuse to launch an illegal war in Iraq.
Barely a month goes by without a Washington Post editorial bemoaning Egypt’s authoritarian retrenchment and criticizing the Obama administration’s alleged failure to promote Arab democracy. But now Tunisia has erupted as the story of the year for Arab reformers. The spiraling protests and the regime’s heavy-handed, but thus far ineffective, repression have captured the imagination of Arab publics, governments, and political analysts. Despite Tunis’s efforts to censor media coverage, images and video have made it out onto social media and up to Al Jazeera and other satellite TV. The “Tunisia scenario” is now the term of art for activist hopes and government fears of political instability and mass protests from Jordan to Egypt to the Gulf.
Perhaps they’ve had nothing to say simply because there has been little coverage of Tunisia in the Western media, and the United States has few interests or leverage in Tunis, making it a marginal issue for U.S. political debate. Tunisia is not generally on the front burner in American thinking about the Middle East. It’s far away from Israel, Iraq, and the Gulf, and plays little role in the headline strategic issues facing the U.S. in the region. Despite being one of the most repressive and authoritarian regimes in the region, Tunisia has generally been seen as a model of economic development and secularism. Its promotion of women’s rights and crushing of Islamist opposition has taken priority in the West over its near-complete censorship of the media and blanket domination of political society. Indeed, the United States has cared so little about Tunisia’s absolute rejection of democracy and world-class censorship that it chose it for the regional office of MEPI, the Bush administration’s signature democracy promotion initiative.
This is understandable, but hardly satisfying. I can understand the hesitation of U.S. officials to take a strong position on the side of either the protesters or the regime at this point, given the strategic complexities and the implications of taking any rhetorical stance. To my ears, at least, the U.S. message has been muddled, with some officials seeming to take the side of the protesters and warning against too-harsh repression and others seeming to avoid taking a stance. For what it’s worth, I told a State Department official in a public forum yesterday that the absence of major U.S. interests in Tunisia and the real prospect of change there make it a good place for the Obama administration to take a principled stand in favor of public freedoms and against repression.
With Lynch’s comments in mind, consider two different versions of the role of Wikileaks in this uprising.
Elizabeth Dickinson has a piece that–perhaps too strongly–calls Wikileaks “a trigger and a tool for political outcry” in Tunisia.
Tunisia’s government doesn’t exactly get a flattering portrayal in the leaked State Department cables. The country’s ruling family is described as “The Family” — a mafia-esque elite who have their hands in every cookie jar in the entire economy. “President Ben Ali is aging, his regime is sclerotic and there is no clear successor,” a June 2009 cable reads. And to this kleptocracy there is no recourse; one June 2008 cable claims: “persistent rumors of corruption, coupled with rising inflation and continued unemployment, have helped to fuel frustration with the GOT [government of Tunisia] and have contributed to recent protests in southwestern Tunisia. With those at the top believed to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the system.”
Of course, Tunisians didn’t need anyone to tell them this. But the details noted in the cables — for example, the fact that the first lady may have made massive profits off a private school — stirred things up. Matters got worse, not better (as surely the government hoped), when WikiLeaks was blocked by the authorities and started seeking out dissidents and activists on social networking sites.
As PayPal and Amazon learned last year, WikiLeaks’ supporters don’t take kindly to being denied access to the Internet. And the hacking network Anonymous launched an operation, OpTunisia, against government sites “as long as the Tunisian government keep acting the way they do,” an Anonymous member told the Financial Times.
Compare that the very weird logic State Department Spokesperson Philip Crowley uses in his speech to a class on media and politics the other day.
No one is a greater advocate for a vibrant independent and responsible press, committed to the promotion of freedom of expression and development of a true global civil society, than the United States. Every day, we express concern about the plight of journalists (or bloggers) around the world who are intimidated, jailed or even killed by governments that are afraid of their people, and afraid of the empowerment that comes with the free flow of information within a civil society.
Most recently, we did so in the context of Tunisia, which has hacked social media accounts while claiming to protect their citizens from the incitement of violence. But in doing so, we feel the government is unduly restricting the ability of its people to peacefully assemble and express their views in order to influence government policies. These are universal principles that we continue to support. And we practice what we preach. Just look at our own country and cable television. We don’t silence dissidents. We make them television news analysts.
Some in the human rights community in this country, and around the world, are questioning our commitment to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and Internet freedom in the aftermath of WikiLeaks. I am constrained in what I can say, both because individual cables remain classified, and the leak is under investigation by the Department of Justice. But let me briefly put this in context and then I will open things up for questions. WikiLeaks is about the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It is not an exercise in Internet freedom. It is about the legitimate investigation of a crime. It is about the need to continue to protect sensitive information while enabling the free flow of public information. [my emphasis]
He sort of wanders back and forth between a discussion of press freedom and an insistence that persecution of Wikileaks is not a violation of that principle through the rest of his speech, at one point drawing a bizarre analogy between Coke’s secret formula and Google’s search algorithms and the US’ diplomatic secrets, as if our diplomatic secrets are the essence of our identity.
Maybe that was his point.
I find Crowley’s statement in the quoted passage interesting for several reasons. Continue reading