Announcing National Use Zazi to Gain New Surveillance Powers Day!

The last line of this article on how the Najibullah Zazi arrest was a victory for the Obama Administration’s approach to terrorism boasts that the Administration didn’t have a John Ashcroft-style press conference on the day of the arrest.

With Zazi’s arrest, administration officials said they had a renewed sense of confidence that they could approach security threats in a new way. "The system probably worked the way it did before, but we made a conscious decision not to have a big press conference" about Zazi’s arrest, a senior official said. 

Which is pretty hysterical, coming as it does in one article of several that are obviously similarly seeded, boasting of Obama’s new approach to terrorism. There are several aspects to this apparent PR blitz. Articles providing details (though none as detailed as the NPR story over the weekend) explaining how the CIA learned of Zazi and shared info with the FBI. Articles discussing the address by Eric Holder, Janet Napolitano, and Robert Mueller yesterday, lauding information sharing. All of which will lead into coverage of Obama’s address to the National Counter-Terrorism Center, scheduled for today at 11:40.

We didn’t have a press conference when we arrested Zazi, the WaPo’s source (who could be Rahm or John Brennan) seems to be saying, but we’re sure as hell going to have a media blitz about it when it serves our purposes.

What’s especially nice about this WaPo piece, though, is it makes the goal of the media blitz explicit, tying it to the discussion of the PATRIOT Act.

At the same time, the Obama administration is pressing Congress to move swiftly to reauthorize three provisions of the USA Patriot Act set to expire in late December. They include the use of "roving wiretaps" to track movement, e-mail and phone communications, a tool that federal officials used in the weeks leading up to Zazi’s arrest.

With the apprehension of Zazi, as well as several other covert operations at home and abroad, the Obama administration is increasingly confident that it has struck a balance between protecting civil liberties, honoring international law and safeguarding the country.

Note, however, that the WaPo focuses on one of the least controversial of the practices, roving wiretaps. It does not discuss how the Administration wants to lower the legal standard for allowing FBI agents to get business records and things like medical records on people who may have no tie to terrorism. It does not talk about National Security Letters, which let the FBI get certain records with no court review. And it does not discuss how the Administration is using more and more data mining of US persons.

In other words, it boasts of Obama’s approach to terrorism without actually revealing what it is, without even providing the level of detail Dina Temple-Raston provided over the weekend. 

So the PR blitz serves the same purpose as John Ashcroft’s circus-like pressers did: to wow citizens that our national security team has prevented an act of terrorism. But to offer that–rather than an honest discussion of what that means for civil liberties–as the sole discourse on terrorism.

Don’t get me wrong: the men and women who tracked down Zazi deserve some public kudos. But that shouldn’t be tied to a political campaign designed to further curtail civil liberties.

19 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    That constitution is sure an inconvienent thing, ain’t it?

    I’m just not buying the premise at all. I firmly believe we can fight terrorism within the boundries we currently have. I simply don’t believe that getting a warrant is that time consuming or is risky to national security or intelligence methods. The Brits seem to have no probelms getting convictions, as long WE stay out of the way.

    Boxturtle (Heck, we can’t even try the folks we’ve locked up in Gitmo!)

  2. NorskeFlamethrower says:


    Citizen emptywheel and the Firepup Freedom Fighters:

    We’re done in this country. We have a President who really thinks he can finesse the corporate oligarchy and out politic the military and keep manipulatin’ the mass of people who believed his young, lyin’ ass in November last.

    The only thing we can hope for is that the rest of the world gets scared enough to quaranteen our sorry asses.


  3. Waccamaw says:

    CNN was running a piece this morning about facial/mannerisms technology courtesy of good ol’ homeland security that can supposedly be used to “prejudge” (my word) the intentions of the people on whom it’s being used…. such as at airport security.

    Gee! why don’t I feel all warm and fuzzy about the infallibility of stuff like this?

    • BoxTurtle says:

      It ain’t infallable…but it sure works well enough. The problems occur when you have people impute thoughts or motives to the raw mannerisms. You can tell a person is nervious, but you can’t tell why.

      So it’s just one more scan at an airport. You add it in to the profile you form of everybody who enters the property. Look nervious and pay cash for your ticket and you’ll be interviewed for sure.

      Boxturtle (Technology good. People bad)

  4. alan1tx says:

    I just see it as another tool, like the x-ray machine and metal detector and security guard. None of them is infallible, but adding another – unintrusive – layer of protection couldn’t hurt.

    • Twain says:

      It’s not so much the machine itself. It’s that someone totally unqualified is going to decide that you look nervous, cranky, scared, etc. I always look like that when I fly and am hardly a risk. And if they decide you look odd in any way, what will they do about it? How can you prove you aren’t nervous????

  5. Arbusto says:

    This case seems to point out that the CIA doing their job (offshore intel), passed information to other agencies that did their job. The FISA court approved and issued wiretaps, maybe even breaking and entering (B&E), doing their job. No need for the FBI, NSA, etc. to go on a wiretap, B&E frenzy without probable cause just because they could or as Kyl and DiFink think they should with impunity, Constitution be damned.

  6. Jeff Kaye says:


    I remain quite sceptical regarding almost every aspect of this case.

    There’s this from the NPR story:

    Officials say FBI agents in Denver and New York had been tracking Zazi for some time — and experts analyzing the case say the way law enforcement gathered evidence against Zazi and possible co-conspirators may be a textbook case of how to conduct a terrorism investigation.

    The AP/Yahoo story says this:

    The CIA learned about Zazi through one of its sources and alerted domestic agencies, including the FBI, intelligence officials said.

    U.S. intelligence organizations first became aware of Zazi in late August, a senior administration official said.

    Getting at the truth will also be made difficult, from the NPR story:

    Prosecutors have already informed Zazi’s lawyer and the judge in the case that much of the evidence they’ll present at trial came from a wiretap. They also said some of the evidence will include classified information — which means the case is likely to be complicated.

    Where one sees the hand of the CIA, one should be mighty reticent about assuming we know anything like the truth. At the entrance to Langley, the motto “Ye shall know the truth and it shall set you free” (from John 8:32) is engraved on the floor…. that’s so people can walk all over it.

    • Leen says:

      “At the entrance to Langeley, the motto “Ye shall know the truth and it shall set you free” (from John 8:32) is engraved on the floor”

      Had no idea.

  7. Leen says:

    ot check this out. The line up of Speakers for this conference looks like part of the most wanted list for starting the unnecessary war in Iran I mean Iraq
    U.S.-Israeli Relations at a Crossroads?
    Challenges to the Special Relationship…..038;id=717

  8. LabDancer says:

    This fits squarely within rationales,

    [a] the prosecution’s filing for detention,

    [b] all the press reports [fat-reduced & the filigree-removed],

    [c] the agenda of the FBI/HS/USG/et al security & law enforcement bureaucracy in pressing for retention of endemic 4th amendment violations like 215s &

    [d] the “1,001 [Arabian] tales” of wheelie-world’s very own Scheherazade, mary.

    [1] US had no lead, no clue, no track, no consciousness whatsoever of Zazi, until Pakistani ISI types shared with USG military or CIA intel types that an American resident had been spotted in attendance at an idiomatically-not-at-all-shocking [in Pakistan] cultural retreat frequented by many among that country’s huge base of enthusiasts for Pray-and-exPlode.

    [2] ISI enticed the hungry beast of USG intel some mouth-watering appetizers, in the form of predictably-intriguing multiple e-mail accounts & messages sent to the same bearing rudimentary designs for converting the mundane into mayhem, together with, significantly, lists of the mundane; no part of which accounts & messages would qualify for use in US courts under business or other records exceptions to the remaining atavism of the ancient pre-revolutionary rule against courts receiving & acting on hearsay in the context of an actual trial on an actual criminal charge, but all of which were either highly malleable & in that were readily adaptable for use in certain US court-supported [or at least court-tolerated] warranting practices under the intricate & well-developed labryinthe’s that exist & function & persist under a no-longer-discernibly-rationale labryinthe precariously fastened as with hardened bat guano to the broadest imaginable conceptions of terms like “cause”, “probable” & “reasonable”; and where not so adaptable, then might be amenable for use under one or more of a number of Congressionally-provided, presidentially-approved complete 4th amendment dodges which, to the extent they perchance yield actual or at least marketable fruit might also to at least some extent might be laundered back into said labryinthe;

    [3] meanwhile young cross-homie Zazi, he of the not-quite-staggering intellect, was pressed with collegial importunings, reinforced by calling on mutual philosophical enthusiasms & even the fact of his bride’s continuing accessibility, to undertake a few yes inconvenient but nonetheless superficially ambiguous tasks, together with assurances that he would not be expected to carry down any nefarious pathway with them, but rather to maintain that blithe obliviousness to any such with which nature & circumstance appears to have blessed him, whilst being none too shy about scattering breadcrumbs during his meanderings;

    [4] leaving withal the impression of one kind of conspiracy, where in reality there is nothing more than anxiety-producing mischief [albeit, a different, & only arguably lesser-god in the panteon of conspiracies].

    Thus one has:

    A. an indictment with no cohorts, &
    B. an apparently compelling, & unarguably timely, demonstration of the ‘need’ for Congress to continue to endorse if not all then a critical selection from the panoply of said 4th amendment dodges.

    Simile: Early on in the post-Vietnam boom in narcotics products, Asian, South American & Central American entrepreneurs desirous of setting up operations to import product into the US, with all the expected & consequent anxiety of great monetary & other risks, & without a lot of local intelligence on the ways of the DEA, border customs & other US law-enforcement-related, struck on two related ideas:

    1. mules [largely ignorant & completely expendable], & then & thereafter

    2. faux-mules [largely ignorant, completely expendable & designed either to expose strong spots & weak spots in the DEA et al net, or to invite said DEA et al on a merry, resource-eating, attention-diverting chase – the better to increase the odds of some other non-faux mules getting through].

    In the arcane of narcotics importation & trafficking, this has long been referred to as a “dry conspiracy” – & both its use in a staggering wide degree of variation has been well-known to US law enforcement for coming on half a century.

    Extrapolation: How difficult would it be to adapt such a tried-true concept to serve the interests of advancing Pakistani-US relations at certain levels?

    Answer: Not so difficult.

    • prostratedragon says:

      LabDancer is making me think I should clean out all those old spam messages that have accumulated in my gmail account.

      (Prolly too late, though.)

  9. x174 says:

    very Bush-Chenyian, indeed. yet, with the likes of McChrystal, Gates and all the other Bush-Cheney-neo-con holdovers embedded in the Obama administration, it’s no real surprise that Obama’s policies, procedures (including methods of promoting security propaganda) and essential actions appear IDENTICAL to those of the dim-witted Darth Vader set.

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