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William Barr Absolved Trump of Obstruction without Having the Faintest Clue What He Obstructed

Bill Barr just finished testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It was remarkable.

Among the opinions the Attorney General espoused are that:

  • You only need to call the FBI when being offered campaign assistance by a foreign intelligence service, not a foreigner
  • It’s okay to lie about the many dangles hostile foreign countries make to a political campaign, including if you accepted those dangles
  • Because Trump was being falsely accused (it’s not clear of what, because the report doesn’t address the most aggressive accusation, and many other accusations against Trump and his campaign are born out by the Mueller Report), it’s okay that he sought to undermine it through illegal means
  • It’s okay for the President to order the White House Counsel to lie, even about an ongoing investigation
  • It’s okay to fire the FBI Director for refusing to confirm or deny an ongoing investigation, which is DOJ policy not to do
  • It’s okay for the Attorney General to call lawfully predicated DOJ investigative techniques “spying” because Fox News does
  • Public statements — including threatening someone’s family — cannot be subornation of perjury
  • You can exhaust investigative options in a case having only obtained contemptuous responses covering just a third of the investigation from the key subject of it

The Attorney General also got himself in significant trouble with his answers to a question from Charlie Crist about whether he knew why Mueller’s team was concerned about press reports. His first answer was that he didn’t know about the team’s concerns because he only spoke with Mueller. But he later described, in the phone call he had with Mueller, that Mueller discussed his team’s concerns. Worse still, when called on the fact that the letter — as opposed to Barr’s potentially suspect representation of the call — didn’t mention the press response, he suggested Mueller’s letter was “snitty” and so probably written by a staffer, meaning he assumed that the letter itself was actually from a staffer.

But that’s not the most amazing thing.

The most amazing thing is that, when Cory Booker asked Barr if he thought it was right to share polling data with Russians — noting that had Trump done so with a Super PAC, rather than a hostile foreign country, it would be illegal — Barr appeared to have no clue that Paul Manafort had done so. He even asked whom Manafort shared the data with, apparently not knowing he shared it with a guy that Rick Gates said he believes is a Russian spy.

That’s remarkable, because he basically agreed with Ben Sasse that Deripaska — with whom Manafort was sharing this campaign data — was a “bottom-feeding scum-sucker.”

So the Attorney General absolved the President of obstruction without having the faintest clue what actions the investigation of which Trump successfully obstructed by floating a pardon to Manafort.

There may be an explanation for this fairly shocking admission on Barr’s part. He also admitted that he and Rod Rosenstein started making the decision on obstruction before they read the report. Indeed, several times during the hearing, it seemed he still has not read the report, as he was unfamiliar with allegations in it.

In short, the Attorney General said it was okay for Trump to obstruct this investigation because (he claims) Trump was falsely accused, without being aware that the report showed that several of the key allegations against Trump — including that his campaign manager coordinated with Russians, including one Barr agrees is a bottom-feeding scum-sucker” with ties to Russian intelligence — were actually true.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans Have No Excuse for Not Doing Something about White Supremacist Violence

Last I checked, the following Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have criticized white supremacists, violence, and/or Trump’s appeasement of the former in Charlotteville.

Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair:

What ” WhiteNatjonalist” are doing in Charlottesville is homegrown terrorism that can’t be tolerated anymore that what Any extremist does

Orrin Hatch, President pro tempore:

We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home

Their tiki torches may be fueled by citronella but their ideas are fueled by hate, & have no place in civil society.

Lindsey Graham, Chair of Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism:

The South Carolina Republican called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go to Virginia and “personally handle domestic terrorism investigations” and alleged civil rights abuses by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis “who took this young woman’s life.”

Graham was referring to Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed when a car ran into a group of counter-protesters Saturday in Charlottesville where white supremacists and neo-Nazis were holding a “Unite the Right” rally. Many more were injured.

Graham additionally proposed the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security form a task force on the threat of white supremacist groups and report back to Congress with potential solutions for cracking down on them.

“This is an opportunity for the Trump administration to come down like a hammer on white supremacists,” Graham said during a news conference in his Columbia office. “And I hope they do.”

John Cornyn, Chair of Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration and Senate Majority Whip:

No place for the bigotry & hate-filled violence in . These actions should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

And (update, from August 17):

We’ve all been shocked that the unhealed wounds of the nation’s racial divide flared up in such a surprising and disturbing way,” Cornyn said in a Chronicle interview. “I think the president had an opportunity to send a message that would unite America behind our common resolve to heal those wounds and unite our country, and unfortunately I don’t think he did that.”

Ted Cruz, Chair of Subcommittee on the Constitution, who while Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts, had a hearing on the importance of naming Islamic terrorism Islamic terrorism:

It’s tragic and heartbreaking to see hatred and racism once again mar our great Nation with bloodshed. Heidi’s and my prayers are with the loved ones of those killed and injured in the ongoing violence in Charlottesville. The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak their minds peaceably, but violence, brutality, and murder have no place in a civilized society.

The Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are repulsive and evil, and all of us have a moral obligation to speak out against the lies, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred that they propagate. Having watched the horrifying video of the car deliberately crashing into a crowd of protesters, I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute this grotesque act of domestic terrorism.

These bigots want to tear our country apart, but they will fail. America is far better than this. Our Nation was built on fundamental truths, none more central than the proposition ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.’

But,

“One of the things we’re seeing going on is the media and the Democrats are, to the surprise of no one, demagoguing this issue and using it for political advantage,” Cruz said. “So, in the media’s telling, they want to tar and feather any Republican, any conservative, and paint us all as these crazy racist nutbags.”

Jeff Flake, Chair of Subcommittee Privacy, Technology, and the Law):

We can’t accept excuses for white supremacy & acts of domestic terrorism. We must condemn. Period.

Flake, more generally:

Under our Constitution, there simply are not that many people who are in a position to do something about an executive branch in chaos. As the first branch of government (Article I), the Congress was designed expressly to assert itself at just such moments. It is what we talk about when we talk about “checks and balances.” Too often, we observe the unfolding drama along with the rest of the country, passively, all but saying, “Someone should do something!” without seeming to realize that that someone is us. And so, that unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication, and those in positions of leadership bear particular responsibility.

Ben Sasse, Chair of Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts:

“I refuse to accept that mankind is tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism… Unconditional love will have the final word” -MLK

“My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” -Abraham Lincoln

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator with…unalienable Rights”

These people are utterly revolting–and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects “blood & soil” nationalism.

John Kennedy:

Violence and hatred are never the answer.

There are 20 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, 11 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Of the Republicans, eight have made statements at least condemning the violence in Charlottesville, even if Cornyn and Kennedy, among others, are obviously issuing empty condemnations.

If even two of the Republicans who’ve made statements condemning the right wing violence in Charlottesville are serious — or more specifically serious about actions that DOJ must take, as in comments that both Lindsey and Cruz made — then they’ve got the numbers to make it happen.

They’ve got the numbers to force DOJ to refund the Life After Hate program, which white supremacist Seb Gorka’s wife Katherine defunded. They’ve got the numbers to ask Jefferson Beauregard Sessions whether his DOJ will treat this act of terrorism as terrorism. They’ve got the numbers to ask whether FBI ignored warnings of surging white supremacism.

Republicans often complain that there’s nothing they can do about their unmanageable President. This is one case where that’s patently false.

One Takeaway from the Five Takeaways from the Comey Hearing: Election 2016 Continues to Suffocate Oversight

The Senate Judiciary Committee had an oversight hearing with Jim Comey yesterday, which I live-tweeted in great depth. As you can imagine, most of the questions pertained either to Comey’s handing of the Hillary investigation and/or to the investigation into Russian interference in the election. So much so that The Hill, in its “Five Takeaways from Comey’s testimony,” described only things that had to do with the election:

  • Comey isn’t sorry (but he was “mildly nauseous” that his conduct may have affected the outcome)
  • Emotions over the election are still raw
  • Comey explains DOJ dynamic: “I hope someday you’ll understand”
  • The FBI may be investigating internal leaks
  • Trump, Clinton investigations are dominating FBI oversight

The Hill’s description of that third bullet doesn’t even include the “news” from Comey’s statement: that there is some still-classified detail, in addition to Loretta Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton and the intercepted Hillary aide email saying Lynch would make sure nothing happened with the investigation, that led Comey to believe he had to take the lead on the non-indictment in July.

I struggled as we got closer to the end of it with the — a number things had gone on, some of which I can’t talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and declined prosecution without grievous damage to the American people’s confidence in the — in the justice system.

As I said, it is true that most questions pertained to Hillary’s emails or Russia. Still, reports like this, read primarily by people on the Hill, has the effect of self-fulfilling prophecy by obscuring what little real oversight happened. So here’s my list of five pieces of actual oversight that happened.

Neither Grassley nor Feinstein understand how FISA back door searches work

While they primarily focused on the import of reauthorizing Section 702 (and pretended that there were no interim options between clean reauthorization and a lapse), SJC Chair Chuck Grassley and SJC Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein both said things that made it clear they didn’t understand how FISA back door searches work.

At one point, in a discussion of the leaks about Mike Flynn’s conversation with Sergey Kislyak, Grassley tried to suggest that only a few people at FBI would have access to the unmasked identity in those intercepts.

There are several senior FBI officials who would’ve had access to the classified information that was leaked, including yourself and the deputy director.

He appeared unaware that as soon as the FBI started focusing on either Kislyak or Flynn, a back door search on the FISA content would return those conversations in unmasked form, which would mean a significant number of FBI Agents (and anyone else on that task force) would have access to the information that was leaked.

Likewise, at one point Feinstein was leading Comey through a discussion of why they needed to have easy back door access to communication content collected without a warrant (so we don’t stovepipe anything, Comey said), she said, “so you are not unmasking the data,” as if data obtained through a back door search would be masked, which genuinely (and rightly) confused Comey.

FEINSTEIN: So you are not masking the data — unmasking the data?

COMEY: I’m not sure what that means in this context.

It’s raw data. It would not be masked. That Feinstein, who has been a chief overseer of this program for the entire time back door searches were permitted doesn’t know this, that she repeatedly led the effort to defeat efforts to close the back door loophole, and that she doesn’t know what it means that this is raw data is unbelievably damning.

Incidentally, as part of the exchange wit Feinstein, Comey said the FISA data sits in a cloud type environment.

Comey claims the government doesn’t need the foreign government certificate except to target spies

Several hours into the hearing, Mike Lee asked some questions about surveillance. In particular, he asked if the targeting certificates for 702 ever targeted someone abroad for purposes unrelated to national security. Comey seemingly listed off the certificates we do have — foreign government, counterterrorism, and counterproliferation, noting that cyber gets worked into other ones.

LEE: Yes. Let’s talk about Section 702, for a minute. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act authorizes the surveillance, the use of U.S. signals surveillance equipment to obtain foreign intelligence information.

The definition includes information that is directly related to national security, but it also includes quote, “information that is relevant to the foreign affairs of the United States,” close quote, regardless of whether that foreign affairs related information is relevant to a national security threat. To your knowledge, has the attorney general or has the DNI ever used Section 702 to target individuals abroad in a situation unrelated to a national security threat?

COMEY: Not that I’m aware of. I think — I could be wrong, but I don’t think so, I think it’s confined to counterterrorism to espionage, to counter proliferation. And — those — those are the buckets. I was going to say cyber but cyber is fits within…

He said they don’t need any FG information except that which targets diplomats and spies.

LEE: Right. So if Section 702 were narrowed to exclude such information, to exclude information that is relevant to foreign affairs, but not relevant to a national security threat, would that mean that the government would be able to obtain the information it needs in order to protect national security?

COMEY: Would seem so logically. I mean to me, the value of 702 is — is exactly that, where the rubber hits the road in the national security context, especially counterterrorism, counter proliferation.

I assume that Comey said this because the FBI doesn’t get all the other FG-collected stuff in raw form and so isn’t as aware that it exists. I assume that CIA and NSA, which presumably use this raw data far more than FBI, will find a way to push back on this claim.

But for now, we have the FBI Director stating that we could limit 702 collection to national security functions, a limitation that was defeated in 2008.

Comey says FBI only needs top level URLs for ECTR searches

In another exchange, Lee asked Comey about the FBI’s continued push to be able to get Electronic Communication Transaction Records. Specifically, he noted that being able to get URLs means being able to find out what someone was reading.

In response, Comey said he thought they could only get the top-level URL.

After some confusion that revealed Comey’s lie about the exclusion of ECTRs from NSLs being just a typo, Comey said FBI did not need any more than the top domain, and Lee answered that the current bill would permit more than that.

LEE: Yes. Based on the legislation that I’ve reviewed, it’s not my recollection that that is the case. Now, what — what I’ve been told is that — it would not necessarily be the policy of the government to use it, to go to that level of granularity. But that the language itself would allow it, is that inconsistent with your understanding?

COMEY: It is and my understanding is we — we’re not looking for that authority.

LEE: You don’t want that authority…

(CROSSTALK)

COMEY: That’s my understanding. What — what we’d like is, the functional equivalent of the dialing information, where you — the address you e-mailed to or the — or the webpage you went to, not where you went within it.

This exchange should be useful for limiting any ECTR provision gets rushed through to what FBI claims it needs.

The publication of (US) intelligence information counts as intelligence porn and therefore not journalism

Ben Sasse asked Comey about the discussion of indicting Wikileaks. Comey’s first refusal to answer whether DOJ would indict Wikileaks led me to believe they already had.

I don’t want to confirm whether or not there are charges pending. He hasn’t been apprehended because he’s inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

But as part of that discussion, Comey explained that Wikileaks’ publication of loads of classified materials amounted to intelligence porn, which therefore (particularly since Wikileaks didn’t call the IC for comment first, even though they have in the past) meant they weren’t journalism.

COMEY: Yes and again, I want to be careful that I don’t prejudice any future proceeding. It’s an important question, because all of us care deeply about the First Amendment and the ability of a free press, to get information about our work and — and publish it.

To my mind, it crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead just becomes about intelligence porn, frankly. Just pushing out information about sources and methods without regard to interest, without regard to the First Amendment values that normally underlie press reporting.

[snip]

[I]n my view, a huge portion of WikiLeaks’s activities has nothing to do with legitimate newsgathering, informing the public, commenting on important public controversies, but is simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America. And — and — and people sometimes get cynical about journalists.

American journalists do not do that. They will almost always call us before they publish classified information and say, is there anything about this that’s going to put lives in danger, that’s going to jeopardize government people, military people or — or innocent civilians anywhere in the world.

I’ll write about this more at length.

Relatedly (though technically a Russian investigation detail), Comey revealed that the investigation into Trump ties to Russia is being done at Main Justice and EDVA.

COMEY: Yes, well — two sets of prosecutors, the Main Justice the National Security Division and the Eastern District of Virginia U.S. Attorney’s Office.

That makes Dana Boente’s role, first as Acting Attorney General for the Russian investigation and now the Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, all the more interesting, as it means he is the person who can make key approvals related to the investigation.

I don’t have any problem with him being chosen for these acting roles. But I think it supremely unwise to effectively eliminate levels of oversight on these sensitive cases (Russia and Wikileaks) by making the US Attorney already overseeing them also the guys who oversees his own oversight of them.

The US is on its way to becoming the last haven of shell corporations

Okay, technically these were Sheldon Whitehouse and Amy Klobuchar comments about Russia. But as part of a (typically prosecutorial) line of questioning about things related to the Russian investigation, Whitehouse got Comey to acknowledge that as the EU tries to crack down on shell companies, that increasingly leaves the US as the remaining haven for shell companies that can hide who is paying for things like election hacks.

WHITEHOUSE: And lastly, the European Union is moving towards requiring transparency of incorporations so that shell corporations are harder to create. That risks leaving the United States as the last big haven for shell corporations. Is it true that shell corporations are often used as a device for criminal money laundering?

COMEY: Yes.

[snip]

WHITEHOUSE: What do you think the hazards are for the United States with respect to election interference of continuing to maintain a system in which shell corporations — that you never know who’s really behind them are common place?

COMEY: I suppose one risk is it makes it easier for illicit money to make its way into a political environment.

WHITEHOUSE: And that’s not a good thing.

COMEY: I don’t think it is.

And Klobuchar addressed the point specifically as it relates to high end real estate (not mentioning that both Trump and Paul Manafort have been alleged to be involved in such transactions).

There have been recent concerns that organized criminals, including Russians, are using the luxury real estate market to launder money. The Treasury Department has noted a significant rise in the use of shell companies in real estate transactions, because foreign buyers use them as a way to hide their identity and find a safe haven for their money in the U.S. In fact, nearly half of all homes in the U.S. worth at least $5 million are purchased using shell companies.

Does the anonymity associated with the use of shell companies to buy real estate hurt the FBI’s ability to trace the flow of illicit money and fight organized crime? And do you support efforts by the Treasury Department to use its existing authority to require more transparency in these transactions?

COMEY: Yes and yes.

It’s a real problem, and not just because of the way it facilitates election hacks, and it’d be nice if Congress would fix it.

Three Congressional Responses to the OPM Hack

After acknowledging that as more than 20 million people have been affected by the hack of the Office of Personnel Management, OPM head Katherine Archuleta “resigned” today.

In announcing that Office of Budget and Management Deputy Director of Management Beth Cobert would serve as acting Director, Josh Earnest played up her experience at McKinsey Consulting. So we may see the same kind of management claptrap as OPM PR in the coming days that we got from CIA’s reorganization when McKinsey took that project on. Over 20 minutes into his press conference, Earnest also revealed there was 90 day review of the security implications of the hack being led by OMB.

Happily, in spite of the easy way Archuleta’s firing has served as a proxy for real solutions to the government’s insecurity, at least some in Congress are pushing other “solutions.” Given Congress’ responsibility for failing to fund better IT purchasing, consider agency weaknesses during confirmation, and demand accountability from the intelligence community going back at least to the WikiLeaks leaks, these are worth examining.

Perhaps most predictably, Susan Collins called for passage of cybersecurity legislation.

It is time for Congress to pass a cybersecurity law that will strengthen our defenses and improve critical communication and cooperation between the private sector and government. We must do more to combat these dangerous threats in both government and the private sector.

Of course, nothing in CISA (or any other cybersecurity legislation being debated by Congress) would have done a damn thing to prevent the OPM hack. In other words, Collins’ response is just an example of Congress doing the wrong thing in response to a real need.

Giving corporations immunity is not the answer to most problems facing this country. And those who embrace it as a real solution should be held accountable for the next government hack.

Freshman Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse — both before and after Archuleta’s resignation — has appropriately laid out the implications of this hack (rebutting a comparison repeated by Earnest in his press conference, that this hack compares at all with the Target hack).

OPM’s announcement today gives the impression that these breaches are just like some of the losses by Target or Home Depot that we’ve seen in the news. The analogy is nonsense. This is quite different—this is much scarier than identity theft or ruined credit scores. Government and industry need to understand this and be ready. That’s not going to happen as long as Washington keeps treating this like just another routine PR crisis.

But one of his proposed responses is to turn this example of intelligence collection targeting legitimate targets into an act of war.

Some in the defense and intelligence communities think the attacks on OPM constitute an act of war. The rules of engagement in cyber warfare are still being written. And with them, we need to send a clear message: these types of intrusions will not be tolerated. We must ensure our attackers suffer the full consequences of their actions.

Starting now, government needs to stop the bleeding—every sensitive database in every government agency must be immediately secured or pulled offline. But playing defense is a losing game. Naming and shaming until the news cycle shifts is not enough.

Our government must completely reevaluate its cyber doctrine. We have to deter attacks from ever happening in the first place while also building resiliency.

We’re collecting the same kind of information as China — in methods that are both more efficient (because we have the luxury of being able to take off the Internet) but less so (because we are not, as far as we know, targeting China’s own records of its spooks). If this is an act of war than we gave reason for war well before China got into OPM’s servers.

Meanwhile, veterans Ted Lieu and Steve Russell (who, because they’ve had clearance, probably have been affected) are pushing reforms that will affect the kind of bureaucracy we should have to perform what is a core counterintelligence function.

Congressman Russell’s statement:

“It is bad enough that the dereliction displayed by OPM led to 25 million Americans’ records being compromised, but to continue to deflect responsibility and accountability is sad. In her testimony a few weeks ago, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said that they did not encrypt their files for fear they could be decrypted. This is no excuse for a cyber-breach, and is akin to gross negligence. We have spent over a half a trillion dollars in information technology, and are effectively throwing it all away when we do not protect our assets. OPM has proven they are not up to the task of safeguarding our information, a responsibility that allows for no error. I look forward to working with Congressman Lieu on accountability and reform of this grave problem.”

Congressman Lieu’s statement:

“The failure by the Office of Personnel Management to prevent hackers from stealing security clearance forms containing the most private information of 25 million Americans significantly imperils our national security. Tragically, this cyber breach was likely preventable. The Inspector General identified multiple vulnerabilities in OPM’s security clearance system–year after year–that OPM failed to address. Even now, OPM still does not prioritize cybersecurity. The IG testified just yesterday that OPM ‘has not historically, and still does not, prioritize IT security.’ The IG further testified that there is a ‘high risk’ of failure on a going forward basis at OPM. The security clearance system was previously housed at the Department of Defense. In hindsight, it was a mistake to move the security clearance system to OPM in 2004. We need to correct that mistake. Congressman Steve Russell and I are working on bipartisan legislation to move the security clearance database out of OPM into another agency that has a better grasp of cyber threats. Steve and I have previously submitted SF-86 security clearance forms. We personally understand the national security crisis this cyber breach has caused. Every American affected by the OPM security clearance breach deserves and demands a new way forward in protecting their most private information and advancing the vital security interests of the United States.”

A number of people online have suggested that seeing Archuleta get ousted (whether she was forced or recognized she had lost Obama’s support) will lead other agency heads to take cybersecurity more seriously. I’m skeptical. In part, because some of the other key agencies — starting with DHS — have far to much work to do before the inevitable will happen and they’ll be hacked. But in part because the other agencies involved have long had impunity in the face of gross cyberintelligence inadequacies. No one at DOD or State got held responsible for Chelsea Manning’s leaks (even though they came 2 years after DOD had prohibited removable media on DOD computers), nor did anyone at DOD get held responsible for Edward Snowden’s leaks (which happened 5 years after the ban on removable media). Neither the President nor Congress has done anything but extend deadlines for these agencies to address CI vulnerabilities.

Perhaps this 90 day review of the NatSec implications of the hack is doing real work (though I worry it’ll produce McKinsey slop).  But this hack should be treated with the kind of seriousness as the 9/11 attack, with the consequent attention on real cybersecurity fixes, not the “do something” effort to give corporations immunity.

Pakistan’s Geo Now Accused of Blasphemy: That Couldn’t Happen Here, Could It?

Just under a month ago, Pakistan’s largest private television news station was engaged in a dispute with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, over charges that the ISI was behind an assassination attempt on one of its anchors. For Geo, those probably seem like the good old days, because now the station is engaged in a controversy that has already caused a proliferation of lawsuits and threatens to erupt into massive vigilante violence against Geo employees and buildings. Reuters describes the threats Geo now faces and how the situation came about:

Pakistan’s biggest television station said it was ramping up security on Tuesday after it became the object of dozens of blasphemy accusations for playing a song during an interview with an actress.

Geo Television is scrubbing logos off its vans and limiting staff movements after receiving scores of threats over allegedly blasphemous content, said channel president Imran Aslam.

“This is a well-orchestrated campaign,” he told Reuters. “This could lead to mob violence.”

/snip/

The cases allege a traditional song was sung about the marriage of Prophet Muhammad’s daughter at the same time a pair of shoes was raised.

Both elements are traditional in a wedding ceremony but the timing was insulting to Islam, dozens of petitioners have alleged. Others allege the song itself was insulting.

Lawsuits arising from the incident are proliferating. The Express Tribune has a partial list of the cases filed recently here.

But the Reuters article points out that under Pakistani law, blasphemy itself is not actually defined clearly:

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan but is not defined by law; anyone who says their religious feelings have been hurt for any reason can file a case.

But it gets even wilder. It turns out that a rival station is now also accused of blasphemy. Why? Because they repeatedly played snippets of the original program carried on Geo. And Reuters points out that blasphemy cases also are dangerous for judges and attorneys, as well:

Advocate Tariq Asad said his suit named the singers and writers of the song, cable operators, television regulators, a national council of clerics and ARY, a rival television station.

ARY repeatedly broadcast clips of the morning show, alleging it was blasphemous, an action that Asad said was blasphemous in itself.

Judges frequently do not want to hear evidence in blasphemy cases because the repetition of evidence could be a crime. Judges acquitting those accused of blasphemy have been attacked; a defense lawyer representing a professor accused of blasphemy was killed this month.

So just repeating the blasphemous material, even as a judge or attorney citing it in court, is a blasphemous act in itself worthy of vigilante action.

But of course, nothing so outrageous could happen here in the US, could it? Sadly, such a ridiculous state of affairs doesn’t seem that far off here. Note that politicians, even leading candidates for the US Senate, now openly state that “Government cannot force citizens to violate their religious beliefs under any circumstances” and even that such stances are not negotiable in any way. But that’s not just a campaign stance. We have companies now going to the Supreme Court to state their right to ignore laws to which they object on religious grounds.

So if both politicians and companies now openly advocate to ignore laws on religious grounds, how far away are we from these same zealots advocating for prison terms or even death sentences for those who offend their religious sensibilities? After all, we have already seen a bit of the vigilantism that goes along with such attitudes.

Update: It turns out that the incident with ISI hadn’t blown over yet. Breaking news from Dawn:

A committee formed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) has suspended the licences of three television channels owned by the Geo TV network.

The committee has also decided that Geo TV offices be immediately sealed.

However, a final decision on the revocation of the licences will be announced following the meeting on May 28, which will also be attended by government representatives.

The committee, which includes members Syed Ismail Shah, Pervez Rathore and Israr Abbasi, was tasked to review the Ministry of Defence’s application filed against Geo TV network for leveling allegations against an intelligence agency of Pakistan.

It will be interesting to see how Geo responds.