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AIPAC and Bibi: The Reckoning

Faced with what will be its biggest legislative defeat ever — the passage of the Iran deal, possibly by upholding Obama’s veto — AIPAC is lashing out, blaming Bibi.

An official from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby in the US, on Thursday blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for harming the opposition to the Iran nuclear deal by insisting on addressing Congress on the issue in March.

“Netanyahu’s speech in Congress made the Iranian issue a partisan one,” the AIPAC official told Israel’s Walla news. “As soon as he insisted on going ahead with this move, which was perceived as a Republican maneuver against the president, we lost a significant part of the Democratic party, without which it was impossible to block the agreement,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

Of course AIPAC has plenty to own in its loss of influence too, in part by backing Bibi’s hard right policies rather than policies that support Israel’s security.

Bibi and AIPAC deserve each other.

But if they want to start taking out each other to avoid taking responsibility for how ridiculously hard right their views have become, I can live with that.

Seven Month Extension of P5+1 Negotiations? We’d Be Lucky With Seven Weeks

I must confess that I repeatedly put off writing this post. Similarly, the P5+1 countries and Iran now have repeatedly put off finalizing a deal that assures the West that Iran’s nuclear program has no chance to quickly move to a nuclear weapon. I had been operating under the assumption that a final deal would be announced at the November 24 deadline. After all, everything seemed aligned to make a deal seem necessary for both sides. Iran’s economy has been reeling under sanctions for years, but Rouhani’s push for “moderation” had silenced hardliners in his country who see any deal as capitulation. How long Rouhani can hold them back, however, seems to be the biggest mystery. Barack Obama has been waging war seemingly all over the planet, so a deal to avoid another one would be a huge accomplishment for him. And with a new Republican majority set to take over the Senate, meddling by Senate hawks is assured.

But no agreement was reached on Monday’s deadline. Even worse, rumblings that at least a “framework” would be announced also proved to be false. In fact, the framework target is now four months away, with another three months built in to iron out the technical details within that framework.

Jeffrey Lewis sees this long timeframe as delusion:

One wonders what the parties are thinking. Is there any reason to believe that this problem will be easier to solve in four months’ time? Is there any reason to think that, in fact, the parties have four months? Allow me to be the bearer of two items of bad news.

First, the 114th Congress will pass new sanctions legislation. This year, the White House held off the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill in the Senate by the narrowest of margins. (The House passing sanctions is a formality at this point.) Proponents had the votes — 60 co-sponsors, including 16 Democrats — but then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let it come to the floor.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t be so accommodating.

/snip/

Second, Iran is continuing research and development on a new generation of centrifuges. A few weeks ago, there was a minor kerfuffle when the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran was test-feeding a new centrifuge under development called the IR-5. The issue was that Iran had not previously fed uranium hexafluoride into that type of machine. The Iranians denied this was a violation. (The definitive answer depends on “technical understandings” in the implementation agreement that the EU will not make public.)

/snip/

With another extension, though, Iran is free to continue its R&D work on new generations of centrifuges — including resuming testing of the IR-5 and eventually the IR-8.
Oh, yes, the IR-8. The IR-5 is a prelude to this much bigger problem. Iran has declared a new centrifuge model called the IR-8 to the IAEA. (One of these bad boys is sitting at the “pilot” enrichment facility, saying, “Feed me, Seymour.”) The IR-8 is about 16 times more capable than the existing centrifuge types installed at the Natanz fuel enrichment plant.

Even the New York Times editorial page sees the situation as desperate, with extremists starting to salivate over the mayhem they can cause: Read more

MEK Purchases 27 US Senate Votes for War With Iran

On Tuesday, I posited that the threat of new sanctions kicking in if a final agreement on nuclear technology is not reached could serve as a strong incentive for Iran to bargain in good faith with the P5+1 group of nations. But then, on Thursday, an actual sanctions bill was introduced. Ali Gharib took the time to read it (he got an advance copy and posted about it Wednesday) and what he found is profoundly disturbing (emphasis added):

The legislation would broaden the scope of the sanctions already imposed against Iran, expanding the restrictions on Iran’s energy sector to include all aspects of its petroleum trade and putting in place measures targeting Iran’s shipping and mining sectors. The bill allows Obama to waive the new sanctions during the current talks by certifying every 30 days that Iran is complying with the Geneva deal and negotiating in good faith on a final agreement, as well as meeting other conditions such as not sponsoring or carrying out acts of terrorism against U.S. targets.

In accordance with goals laid out frequently by hard-liners in Congress and the influential lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the bill sets tough conditions for a final deal, should one be reached with Iranian negotiators. Among those conditions is a provision that only allows Obama to waive new sanctions, even after a final deal has been struck, if that deal bars Iran from enriching any new uranium whatsoever. The bill states Obama may not waive sanctions unless the United States and its allies “reached a final and verifiable agreement or arrangement with Iran that will … dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities.” (Congress could also block Obama’s waivers by passing a “joint resolution of disapproval” against a final deal.)

Although Gharib ascribes the war mongering aspects of this bill to positions advocated by AIPAC, the work (and funding money) of MEK, which advocates for (in my opinion, violent) regime change in Iran, seems to be just as likely, if not more likely, to be behind this hideous piece of legislation. The chief architect of the bill is Robert Menendez (D-NJ). He lists his cosponsors (Menendez’s original release claimed 26 cosponsors and the news stories linked below also cite 26, but Corey Booker was added to the list this morning while this post was being written. The press release was changed to add Booker to the list without changing the 26 to 27. The press release at the old URL was wiped out so that an empty page is returned. The date of December 19 for the release was also retained.):

The legislation was co-sponsored by twenty-six senators [sic], including: Senators Menendez, Kirk, Schumer, Graham, Cardin, McCain, Casey, Rubio, Coons, Cornyn, Blumenthal, Ayotte, Begich, Corker, Pryor, Collins, Landrieu, Moran, Gillibrand, Roberts, Warner, Johanns, Hagan, Cruz, Donnelly, Blunt and Booker.

Perhaps the only encouraging aspect of this long list of bipartisan backers of war is that back in June of 2012 this group got 44 signatures on a Senate letter calling for all negotiations with Iran to cease unless three conditions were met: Read more

Remember Larry Franklin…

I’m not a fan at all of what Larry Franklin did–leaking documents to help drum up a more hawkish policy on Iran.

But amid the news that John Kiriakou’s lawyer, Plato Cacheris, has docketed a change of plea hearing today at 11, it’s worth reviewing what happened with Franklin. After he was charged, the government put a lot of pressure on Franklin and his family (as they have with Kiriakou) and got him to plead guilty, with Cacheris’ advice. He was given a 10 year sentence.

Then the men he leaked to–Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, with the counsel of Abbe Lowell–started questioning the very premise of the case. First, they prepared to call top officials, including Condi Rice, to demonstrate that they, too, leak classified information all the time. Then, the judge in the case, Thomas Ellis, ruled that they could not be charged for espionage if they didn’t have the intent to harm the US. It was the reverse of that ruling–Leonie Brinkema’s ruling that because Kiriakou was a government employee and therefore intent to harm the US didn’t matter–that led Kiriakou’s lawyers to rush to plead guilty.

But here’s the interesting thing.

After the government’s case against Rosen and Weissman fell apart, the judge then push to re-sentence Franklin. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 10 months of house arrest.

Now, I’m not saying that could happen with Kiriakou. According to Jesselyn Raddack, he will take the plea, and he will serve 2.5 years in prison.

And the cases are not parallel: while top Administration officials leak classified information to the press all the time, only Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby spend their time outing spies (though I still suspect Matt Bissonnette’s identity was confirmed by Pentagon sources).

But the government does continue to give its spooks fairly transparent covers, as was demonstrated when “Stan Dove Boss” got ambushed by cops tied to a drug cartel in Mexico, not to mention the entire CIA annex that militia members seemed well aware of in Benghazi. There was, certainly, the possibility that this case would have demonstrated how cavalierly the CIA had sent its kidnappers and torturers around the world with big expense account. And that, in turn, would demonstrate that the issue is not whether we–or al Qaeda–can learn the identities of the torturers, but whether citizens and journalists can speak of the torturers by name.

In any case, these cases are increasingly about whether or not the government will continue to use clearances and secrecy to set up a two-class society: those whose livelihood depends on complete obedience to the government’s asymmetric use of information, and those outside of that club who are not trusted with the truth about what our country does.

John Kiriakou’s plea deal is not only another victory in the Obama Administration’s cover-up of torture. But it’s also a win for the people who believe the citizens of this democracy are not entitled to know what is being done in their name.

Update: It’s done. Another DOJ win in protecting torturers.

GOP Targets John Brennan and Leon Panetta with Leak Witchhunts

Meanwhile, speaking of leak investigations, the GOP has gone leak investigation happy.

First, Peter King wrote Robert Mueller formally requesting an investigation into the leak about the UndieBomber. He appears to have cleaned up his single-minded focus on reporters who were mean to Ray Kelly, focusing now on the “penetration of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” rather than the initial reporting on the “plot” itself.

I am writing to formally request (a) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation conduct a full inquiry of the widely reported leaks earlier this month of highly classified information regarding penetration of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and (b) that this investigation include the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, federal law enforcement and the White House, including the National Security staff.

Among the severely disturbing implications of these leaks are that (a) the lives of a unique intelligence source and others may have been jeopardized, (b) the operation had to be aborted before its potential was maximized and (c) critical intelligence relationships have been damaged.

The information regarding this intelligence matter was handled in the most restricted manner possible by the Intelligence Community and the White House which means the leak would have to have emanated from a small universe. That makes this leak all the more distressing and is why I so strongly believe that an investigation of a security breach of this magnitude must encompass everyone who had access to this vital information. [my empahsis]

But he seems to ignore the likelihood that foreign sources were the people–in addition to John Brennanwho revealed the plot involved a Saudi-managed infiltrator.

Nevertheless, it appears clear that Brennan might be included among the targets here.

Meanwhile, Representative Tom Price included an amendment in the 2013 NDAA that mandates an investigation into leaks preventing Israel’s efforts to drag us into an attack on Iran.

A stream of highly sensitive information continues to be leaked to the press–information that includes U.S. and Israeli military and intelligence operational capabilities, as well as classified negotiations between Israel and other countries.

On March 20, The New York Times, citing senior administration officials, reported the conclusions of a classified war simulation conducted by the United States that analyzed an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

On March 28, Foreign Policy magazine, quoting four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers, referred to a report that Israel would be granted access to air bases in Azerbaijan as part of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, a move clearly designed to undercut cooperation between Azerbaijan and Israel.

Further degrading Israel’s ability to defend itself, The Washington Post’s David Ignatius on February 3 reported that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta believes there’s a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May, or June, which reportedly sent Iran’s air defenses on high alert.

The release of this classified information not only puts at risk fragile negotiations between countries but also the very lives of the men and women called upon to carry out this mission. I recently traveled to the Middle East, where we met with senior Israeli officials. Their number one concern was that for the first time in our long relationship, United States was releasing classified operational information and capabilities, willfully putting at risk the lives of Israeli people. [links added to the stories named by Price]

Now, I’d say this amendment wouldn’t make it through the Senate given that it attempts to criminalize leaks supporting US interests, except that it passed by an overwhelming margin in the House and AIPAC has as much sway among the Democrats who set the schedule in the Senate as it does in the House.

But it’s worth noting that it names Panetta explicitly for his blabbing to David Ignatius.

I’ve noted that both Brennan and Panetta might catch some heat for these leaks. But it almost certainly won’t be legal trouble. The latter, at least, certainly served Administration efforts to stave off an Israeli attack. And Obama seems to have protected all the other leaking Brennan as done.

Still, these leak investigations, if they happen, do offer the GOP a way to pressure the Administration during the election season.

I’m frankly opposed to anything that helps Mitt and his wingnut advisors get closer to the White House. Still, I admit a bit of schadenfreude that the Administration will soon be the focus of the kind of witchhunts it has launched against others.

While Obama Urges Caution, Netanyahu, McConnell, IAEA Fan Anti-Iran Rhetoric, Iran Takes Positive Diplomatic Steps

President Obama and his administration have spent the last week trying to point out the extreme downside to an attack by Israel on Iran’s nuclear sites. Unfortunately, Obama’s words of caution are getting little play while Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made appearances before the war-hungry mob at AIPAC to make the case for an attack now. In the meantime, Iran took positive diplomatic steps that are likely to be overlooked, reversing a death-sentence conviction on an accused US spy and committing to an IAEA visit to the disputed Parchin site.

As seen in the video above, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano made public statements associated with his appearance before the Board of Governors.  From his prepared remarks:

As my report on Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran makes clear, the Agency continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.

In January and February, a senior Agency team held two rounds of talks in Tehran with Iranian officials aimed at resolving all outstanding issues in connection with Iran’s nuclear programme. Despite intensive discussions, there was no agreement on a structured approach to resolving these issues. Iran did not grant access to the Parchin site during the visits, as requested by the Agency. Iran provided an initial declaration on the issues listed in the Annex to my November 2011 report, although it did not address the Agency’s concerns in a substantive manner. During the visits, the Agency also submitted questions on Parchin and the possible role of a foreign expert.

Iran’s Ambassador to the UN agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh dismissed Amano’s report as “only a summary of his earlier report“. Today, Soltanieh announced that Iran remains prepared to define the conditions under which IAEA will be allowed access to Parchin: Read more

What Does a House Intelligence Chairmanship Cost?

As a number of you have pointed out, CQ reports that the NSA picked up intercepts of Jane Harman agreeing to lobby DOJ to back off charges on AIPAC’s Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman in exchange for AIPAC’s support of her getting the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Now, there are couple of interesting details about this news.

First, as it happens the AIPAC trial is in a very active stage right now, with both sides submitting schedules in preparation for a May 6 and 7 CIPA hearing that may end up giving the AIPAC defendants access to classified material with which to defend themselves; if the government faces setbacks in that CIPA hearing, I think it likely that the government gives up the case. If I were a law enforcement guy whose case was crumbling, I might gin up some press attention to convince people of the value of the case. 

So I find it interesting that the three sources for this story want to talk about Harman, but not the AIPAC guy on the other end of the call.

The identity of the “suspected Israeli agent” could not be determined with certainty, and officials were extremely skittish about going beyond Harman’s involvement to discuss other aspects of the NSA eavesdropping operation against Israeli targets, which remain highly classified.

I’ll comment on the Gonzales half of this story in a new post.