Now the Spooks Are Leaking Criticism of Obama’s Sole Use of the “Red Phone”

NBC, which seems to be sharing the role of spook leak central with WaPo, has upped the ante on previous leaks. Last night, it revealed that on October 31, Obama used the “Red Phone” (which is in reality an email system) designed to avert disasters with Russia for the first time in his Administration to warn Vladimir Putin not to fuck with our election process.

A month later, the U.S. used the vestige of an old Cold War communications system — the so-called “Red Phone” that connects Moscow to Washington — to reinforce Obama’s September warning that the U.S. would consider any interference on Election Day a grave matter.

This time Obama used the phrase “armed conflict.”

The reason we’re getting this leak seems fairly clear. Not only are Democrats peeved that Obama didn’t manage to recall or suppress documents already leaked to WikiLeaks, but one “senior intelligence official” is angry that Obama laid down no bright line.

A senior intelligence official told NBC News the message ultimately sent to the Russians was “muddled” — with no bright line laid down and no clear warning given about the consequences. The Russian response, said the official, was non-committal.

I’m pretty favorable to leaks (though not their use to preempt deliberative assessment of intelligence). They serve an important check on government, even on the President.

But it alarms me that someone decided it was a good idea to go leak criticisms of a Red Phone exchange. It would seem that such an instrument depends on some foundation of trust that, no matter how bad things have gotten, two leaders of nuclear armed states can speak frankly and directly.

Without that conversation being broadcast to the entire world via leaks.

It would seem such a leak might lead Putin to take such exchanges less seriously in the future knowing that the spooks reviewing the exchange don’t take the gravity of it all that seriously.

Ah well. Good things these spooks are so successfully combatting the inappropriate leak of information by leaking more information.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. Garrett says:

    On Oct. 11, Josh Earnest had said, “we obviously will ensure that a U.S. response is proportional,” and spoke of our capabilities to carry out offensive operations in other countries.

    If you use the law of armed conflict phrase “proportionate response,” you might as well have said “armed conflict,” to me.

     

  2. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    Way more fearful of the CIA than Putin. We know they wanted/expected Hillary to win, but what do they think they’re accomplishing by doing this?

    • Karl Kolchak says:

      Any liberal who trusts the CIA about anything should have their head examined.  Have we really forgotten what an anti-democratic institution it is?

  3. bevin says:

    The still, small voice of reason today is Dave Lindorff’s:

    “The incredible group-think that has seen the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, President Obama, the Clinton campaign and most of the corporate media braying that Vladimir Putin scandalously upended American democracy and threw the election to his favored candidate Donald Trump is based on a ludicrous premise. That premise: that the election went Trump’s way because several tens of thousands of voters in a few states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — switched away from Clinton to Trump because of an alleged (and factually unproven) Russian “hack” of Democratic National Committee and of Hillary campaign chair John Podesta’s emails….

    “…Hillary Clinton didn’t lose Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and most importantly Florida because a small percentage of voters switched from her to Trump in those states. She lost those states because millions of Sanders voters nationally, and hundreds of thousands of Democrats and independent progressives in those key states decided not to vote for her because they were disgusted by both her and the Democratic Party.”
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/20/it-wasnt-the-russians hillary-lost-because-she-blew-off-sanders-and-his-voters/

    • GKJames says:

      Agreed as to the lack of effect of whatever the Russians may have done. (As for the explanation for Clinton’s defeat, count me among those who see the reasoning of Sanders supporters and other Democrats to be the epitome of brain-dead.) What’s interesting about the leak game — aside from providing yet more evidence that Washington really is one big junior high school — is Obama’s woeful refusal to hold to account the people in the IC who (purportedly) work for him. Far easier to go after journalists, I guess, than to tell someone like Brennan, You are toast, my friend.

    • bell says:

      there is a complete refusal from anyone entertaining this ‘russia tipped it for trump” crowd to categorize hillarys loss as a result of what a poor choice many americans thought she was!!! i think the reason for this is most folks commenting are strongly polarized along political lines.. being a canuck, i have a bit of independence with regard the american election… i think the intelligence of ordinary americans to vote for an alternative to hillary is being ignored as it doesn’t serve the borgs agenda which is to continue to demonize russia/trump… that can only work on folks who are fooled very easily..

  4. Avattoir says:

    Ms Wheeler, sorry for this OT request, but …

    Can I interest you in doing, or asking bmaz to do, a post on the sufficiency of the supporting materials to the government’s application for access to the contents of the Abedin-Weiner laptop?

    I’m intrigued because it’s my first reaction to those supporting materials that they in essence amount to actual evidence of an abuse of government authority. Based on all my experience and reading, there appears to be such a basic and fundamental ethical problem with the application itself that it could found not merely impeachment proceedings against Director Comey, but could as well support disciplinary proceedings by either or both the federal district court and whichever other licensing agencies permit those involved in that application to practice law.

    • bmaz says:

      I’d love to. Not sure there is yet a basis. I was pretty excited to see the affi on the search warrant, and it was cut and paste junk. The ONLY thing of interest I saw was that the affiant characterized id as a “criminal investigation” as of  the moment rather than a preliminary.

      And, honestly, I am not sure I believe that, but maybe. The wording was notable at least. Dissection of the rest seems repetitive, it is exactly what we all, who have been watching this have already understood. I am pretty sure you found nothing particularly exciting in the SW Affi release. If I am wrong, and I may well be, would love to hear your thoughts.

      • Avattoir says:

        It wouldn’t have occurred to me to use the word “exciting” in this context, but anyway, here’s a few points I’d be interested in exploring on a formal review of this:

        The adherence to the standard form screams out. Fine for smashed car windshield and grabs of CD players, but in this instance, IMO, a big tell.

        When I was a fresh-scrubbed baby attorney working bulk quantities of pedestrian crime cases, predecessors to this form were common as dust. But as the cases I worked increased in complexity and took on unique features or superficial importance or both, the use of standard formatting dropped off, soon becoming so uncommon that the appearance of one in an investigation with any legs at all stood out like a scream.

        This one, if you go fuzzy-eyed and stop thinking, might look almost as if it was hammered out in a panic. Not for one second do I believe that.

        Rather, I think that appearance of haste is studied and the product of artifice, the use of the inappropriately modest standard printed form a bit of Alcindorian chemistry, a conscious attempt to offset the drafters’s self-consciousness about the degree of prior deliberation involved in this ploy.

        By “ploy”, I’m sure I’d have to resort to another language for the right word or a overly explicit metaphor to express precisely how skeptical I am about the accuracy and truthfulness of the freaking IMPRESSION left that FBI agents (or someone they knew) had not already gained access to the laptops contents, before settling on filling in the details of the sting to come.

        The checking-off of the 2 boxes at the beginning of the standard form deserve additional and special attention.  I’ve spent a lot of the last 4 decades on the kinds of so-called ‘inchoate crimes’ where something, usually a lot of somethings, reeks of criminal intent, yet still the notion of whether one or more crimes or prospects of it are involved isn’t clearly established. From the law enforcement POV, that can lead to frustrating visions of a lot more work, all of it the more gruesomely dispiriting to carry out because – per the gallows humor well know to cops and DAs – all you really need to get around that is know your judges, because in the right light sung real purdy ‘seems there’s always some judge on tap guaranteed to respond ever so helpfully to just the right story drawn and marketed with such vivacity that the thing going on almost looks like a hot pursuit. Thus all that extra work becomes so readily avoidable. But if you’re on the leo side and serious about putting together a case that’s not so leaky it’ll bleed out before a verdict, you know the bars also have quite a few defending attorneys with some serious battle experience who come equipped with both skepticism and spidey senses for how such things come together.

        We’re not told (so far) who the applying agent was, but in any event a properly skeptical magistrate judge should, of  course, even in a case way less notorious than this one, even in case which looks utterly routine and forgettable, inquire as to the ‘status’ of the investigation. If such a magistrate judge then were to hear in response, Actually yer magisty, we don’t even know there’s any crime committed here – leave aside the more siren, Truth is, yer warship, our boss has already asserted there’s no crime here – that’s when the magistrate judge is supposed to tell them No and direct the court clerk to enter a note on the matter in order to try to prevent forum shopping.

        Instead, it appears we’re expected to simply accept judge magistrate Fox was born to wolves and ever since has lived in caves secure from human events. I’d be inclined to ask some questions inquiring after the reliability of that impression.

        • bmaz says:

          Cannot disagree with anything you said. Not at all. Does it really swear out PC? Think that is debatable in a more pure world. But given the subject matter, public scrutiny it would entail and the pablum presented, I can’t think of a judge who wouldn’t sign it. Maybe I am being cynical, but I am thinking, and cannot.

          You are exactly right that it looks very much, for  the most part, like an amalgamation of templates and, almost certainly, language from the earlier Clinton server consideration. Almost comically so to some extent.

          But, as you know, that will sell every time. If it was a fair fight with an opposing atty to delve into how shallow it all is, that would be a different thing. Love to have seen some inquiry on how, after having been through the header metadata already, they  did not already suspect, if not know, all the messages were dupes of what they already had.

          There are several timing questions like that which scream out. And, again, where is the mention of fact Abedin was a fully cooperating witness and they never even approached her for either consent or comment. That has bugged me from the first minute of this matter. And, given her prior cooperation level, it is simply dumbfounding. By all accounts I have heard, her attorney, Dunn, is similarly dumbfounded.

          So, I guess, my real review is mostly…meh. Still a LOT of questions, and the warrant and affi did not answer any of them really.

  5. lefty665 says:

    Some of us think the “epitome of brain dead” are those who cling to corrupt, greedy, blindly ambitious, and incompetent Hillary as a more attractive president than Trump.  There was no lesser evil in this race once Hillary and the Dems corruptly rigged the primary process to defeat Sanders. Clinton and Trump are just evil in different ways.

    The “the Russians stole the election” hysteria and crap, including the leaking of presidential communications that are the topic of this thread, are good indicators just how unfit Hillary and her supporters would have been to run the country.  From the looks of Trump so far we haven’t done any better, but no worse.

    Firing Brennan, and a bunch of his cohorts would be a wonderful Christmas present from Obama, but we won’t get it. We’ll have to wait another month to be shed of Brennan.

  6. Teddy says:

    So, is Obama’s use of the “red phone” one of those things the US will do that Americans will know about?  Or is it one of the things the US will do that only the Russians will know about?  Because it seems like regardless of which category Obama assigns to an action, the IC has the last word about whether we Americans hear about it: they’ll leak it if they want to.

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