Yesterday, WSJ caused a stink by reporting that the Obama Administration was pissed because Israel had shared intelligence it gathered about the Iran negotiations and shared it with Congress.
Soon after the U.S. and other major powers entered negotiations last year to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, senior White House officials learned Israel was spying on the closed-door talks.
The spying operation was part of a broader campaign by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to penetrate the negotiations and then help build a case against the emerging terms of the deal, current and former U.S. officials said. In addition to eavesdropping, Israel acquired information from confidential U.S. briefings, informants and diplomatic contacts in Europe, the officials said.
The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said.
“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.
The story is not new. Earlier in the month, there were complaints in the conservative press the US had cut intelligence sharing with Israel because of its cherry picking of intelligence. And Bibi himself got caught trying to withhold an intelligence briefing from Senators on a codel.
Obviously, I’m not the least bit sympathetic to Bibi’s disinformation campaign.
But the Administration has brought this on itself. As I noted last year, the Committees have had to go begging for the intelligence they need to do their job (in this case, to craft an AUMF to fight ISIL).
As I noted in my Salon piece last week, former Associate Counsel to the White House Andy Wright noted, and today Jack Goldsmith and Marty Lederman note, Tom Udall suggested before Congress funds overt training of Syrian opposition groups, maybe they should learn details about how the covert funding of Syrian opposition groups worked out.
Everybody’s well aware there’s been a covert operation, operating in the region to train forces, moderate forces, to go into Syria and to be out there, that we’ve been doing this the last two years. And probably the most true measure of the effectiveness of moderate forces would be, what has been the effectiveness over that last two years of this covert operation, of training 2,000 to 3,000 of these moderates? Are they a growing force? Have they gained ground? How effective are they? What can you tell us about this effort that’s gone on, and has it been a part of the success that you see that you’re presenting this new plan on?
Kerry, who had been sitting right next to Hagel when the Defense Secretary confirmed this covert op a year ago, said he couldn’t provide any details.
I know it’s been written about, in the public domain that there is, quote, a covert operation. But I can’t confirm, deny, whatever.
(At the end of the hearing he suggested he has been pushing to share more information, and that he might be able to arrange for the Chair and Ranking Member to be briefed.)
Shortly thereafter, SFRC Bob Menendez confirmed that his committee was being asked to legislate about a war with no details about the covert op that had laid the groundwork for — and created the urgency behind — that war.
To the core question that you raise, this is a problem that both the Administration, as well as the Senate leadership must be willing to deal with. Because when it comes to questions of being briefed on covert operations this committee does not have access to that information. Yet it is charged with a responsibility of determining whether or not the people of the United States should — through their Representatives — support an Authorization for the Use of Military Force. It is unfathomable to me to understand how this committee is going to get to those conclusions without understanding all of the elements of military engagement both overtly and covertly. … I’ll call it, for lack of a better term, a procedural hurdle we’re going to have to overcome if we want the information to make an informed judgment and get members on board.
That’s only going to increase the thirst for intelligence wherever members of Congress can get it (though interestingly, Bob Corker, currently the Senate Foreign Relations Chair, says he hasn’t been getting Bibi’s special briefings).
Information may be power, and the Obama Administration may like hoarding that power. But the vacuum that it leaves can itself exert a lot of power.
Update: I hadn’t seen this Yahoo interview with Bob Corker. But he complains that he’s not getting intelligence. Instead, they bring Senators to a SCIF so we citizens can’t hear the questions.
Yahoo News: A bombshell Wall Street Journal story says the Israelis penetrated the Iranian talks and shared the information with Congress. Are you in a position to confirm any of that? And if the Israelis did what the Journal says they did, did they act appropriately?
Bob Corker: I have never found them actually to be sharing anything different than was in public sources. As I met with Netanyahu the last time, he said, ”You know, all this is Google-able — Yahoo-able!” For what it’s worth, I get more information about what’s happening from foreign ministers than I do from anyone. Not from Israel — foreign ministers that are part of the negotiating teams.
The White House is upset that foreign governments may be giving information to senators because they’re not? Every time they meet with us and give us information down in the classified SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) — they really do that so that none of you can hear questions that are asked — I never learn anything that I haven’t read about on Yahoo or New York Times or some other place.
The usual suspects are up in arms that President Obama neither attended nor sent a representative to Paris’ unity rally yesterday.
But I wonder whether the US was not invited?
Ha’aretz has a report on how Bibi Netanyahu was not invited — but decided to show anyway, once his political rivals decided to attend. So Francois Hollande invited
French President Francois Hollande conveyed a message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend asking him not to come to Paris to take part in the march against terror on Sunday, according to an Israeli source who was privy to the contacts between the Elysees Palace and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. The fact that this message had been conveyed was first reported by Channel 2.
After the French government began to send invitations to world leaders to participate in the rally against terror, Hollande’s national security adviser, Jacques Audibert, contacted his Israeli counterpart, Yossi Cohen, and said that Hollande would prefer that Netanyahu not attend, the source said.
Audibert explained that Hollande wanted the event to focus on demonstrating solidarity with France, and to avoid anything liable to divert attention to other controversial issues, like Jewish-Muslim relations or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Audibert said that Hollande hoped that Netanyahu would understand the difficulties his arrival might pose and would announce that he would not be attending.
However, on Saturday night, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett announced their intention to go to Paris and take part in the march and meet with the Jewish community. When Netanyahu heard they were going, he informed the French he would be attending the march after all.
According to the source, when Cohen informed Audibert that Netanyahu would be attending the event after all, Audibert angrily told Cohen that the prime minister’s conduct would have an adverse effect on ties between the two countries as long as Hollande was president of France and Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel.
Audibert made it clear that in light of Netanyahu’s intention to arrive, an invitation would also be extended to Abbas. And indeed, several hours after Abbas announced that he would not be traveling to Paris, his office issued a statement stating that he would in fact be at the march.
Meanwhile, Andrea Mitchell tweeted,
Official tells me POTUS/VP weren’t invited to Paris + security for them wld have been disruptive – so U.S.signaled France not to invite?
People don’t seem to get this, but the same reason (aside from security) why Bibi would be an unwelcome symbol would also make the US an unwelcome symbol. While Bibi is violently occupying Palestinian lands, the US is only just pulling out of Afghanistan, is reentering Iraq, and continues to drone strike in Sanaa. Moreover, Sharif Kouachi tried to travel to Iraq in 2005 in response to the war and, more specifically, Abu Ghraib. He and his brother did succeed in traveling to Yemen in 2011, and received some training, at a time when AQAP considered the US a key source of grievance. It wasn’t so much that these guys started radical and got worse after our multiple wars against Islamic countries; on the contrary, the US was, to a significant extent, the grievance.
That doesn’t excuse murder. But if Hollande was trying to eliminate the symbols of aggression against Muslims, then asking Obama to stay away would be of a piece with asking Bibi to stay away, even if Obama (and the US) is far less aggressive about dehumanizing Muslims.
Even more than Dianne Feinstein’s so-called reversal on the NSA, I’m intrigued by John McCain’s.
“We have always eavesdropped on people around the world. But the advance of technology has given us enormous capabilities, and I think you might make an argument that some of this capability has been very offensive both to us and to our allies,” McCain said. “Eavesdropping on someone’s private cellphone obviously is something that is offensive to the chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.”
“I think it may even call for a select committee, perhaps even bicameral, when you look at the damage that this has done to our relationship with some of our closest friends and allies,” said McCain, who was the unsuccessful GOP presidential nominee pitted against Obama in 2008. Still, McCain noted that foreign governments are not “innocent” because they also have spied on the U.S. government.
In the past, McCain hasn’t been uncritical in his comments on NSA, but he has used it to fearmonger about terrorists. More tellingly, he favors NSA taking the lead in Internet monitoring for domestic cybersecurity, effectively advocating for domestic spying. And yet now he’s squeamish because we’re wiretapping leaders of other countries?
Sure, it may be he’s just latching onto an issue to attack Obama on. Though who needs a new one given that 60 Minutes has resuscitated the old one?
Of course, McCain is the kind of guy who likes to freelance on foreign policy issues, frequently to pressure Obama from the right. And I can’t help but note that Bibi Netanyahu and Obama spoke today for no apparent reason aside from “regular consultations.”
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke by phone today as part of their regular consultations. The two leaders discussed recent developments related to Iran, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and other regional issues. The two leaders agreed to continue their close coordination on a range of security issues.
While there has been no public report that we tapped Bibi, and while I’m sure the Israelis take his security very seriously, he’s precisely the kind of frenemy I could see the government prioritizing. And while I’m sure Germany spies on us (ineffectively), McCain knows that Israel spies on (and hacks) us extensively, making it a more apt reference as a country that is itself not “innocent.”
Just a gut feel: when the Section 215 database got revealed, a wide range of Senators were up in arms until, in secret briefings, they all of a sudden learned something that calmed their nerves (I strongly believe NSA strips congressional numbers from the Section 215 database on intake). And I think it not outside the realm of possibility that McCain has shown newfound concern about NSA upon learning one of his interlocutors might be targeted as well.
When I heard this line from Obama’s counterterrorism speech last week,
We are actively working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians — because it is right and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region. And we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship — because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with people’s hopes, and not simply their fears. [my emphasis]
My immediate thought was,
“modernize economies.” Because neoliberalism is a failsafe bulwark against terror.
Sunday, John Kerry rolled out that plan in Amman — in the form of $4 billion in private donations led by Tony (!) Blair (!).
I have asked Quartet Representative Tony Blair and many business leaders to join together. And Prime Minister Blair is shaping what I believe could be a groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, but also, significantly, transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.
It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo, more than 20 years ago now.
To achieve that, these leaders have brought together a group of business experts, who have donated their time, who have come from around the world over the course of the last six weeks to make this project real and tangible and formidable – as we say, shovel-ready. They have come from all over the world because they believe in peace, and because they believe prosperity is both a promise and a product of peace.
This group includes leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations, I’m pleased to say. It includes renowned investors and some of the most brilliant business analysts out there – and some of the most committed.
The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment.
The preliminary results already reported to me by Prime Minister Blair and by the folks working with him are stunning: These experts believe that we can increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 50 percent over three years. Their most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by nearly two-thirds – to 8 percent, down from 21 percent today – and to increase the median annual wage along with it, by as much as 40 percent.
These experts hope that with their plan in full force, agriculture can either double or triple. Tourism can triple. Home construction can produce up to 100,000 jobs over the next three years, and many of them would be energy efficient.
Ultimately, as the investment climate in the West Bank and Gaza improves, so will the potential for a financial self-sufficient Palestinian Authority that will not have to rely as much on foreign aid. So just think, my friends – we are talking about a place with just over 4 million people in a small geographic area. When you’re talking about $4 billion or more and this kind of economic effort, you are talking about something that is absolutely achievable.
Aside from all the obvious problems with this plan — such as the stranglehold Israel has on Palestine’s “borders” and the prior expropriation of good farmland, aside from the fact that Israel and its booming economy gets something like four times more aid per capita as the Palestinians (though Israel’s aid gets recycled back into war toys), aside from the fact that investment in Palestinian territories isn’t going to make Bibi Netanyahu any more willing to negotiate in good faith, there’s the underlying assumption that throwing a bunch of “investment” money (Stephen Walt calls it a bribe) and “modernizing” an economy will fix things. Granted, increasing employment in the territories is an improvement over what exists today, but is a Tony Blair style economy really going to help? Continue reading
Two Iranian Su-25 fighter jets fired on an unarmed U.S. Air Force Predator drone in the Persian Gulf last week, CNN has learned.
[snip]The drone’s still and video cameras captured the incident showing two SU-25s approaching the Predator and firing its onboard guns.
The Iranian pilots continued to fire shots that went beneath the Predator but were never successful in hitting it, according to the officials.
After a month straight of unauthorized leaks pertaining the Benghazi without a peep in response from anyone in the Administration, DOD’s Press Secretary has already labeled this story an unauthorized leak.
This comes less than 10 days after a report–which both sides dispute–of planned (or potentially started) bilateral discussions between Iran and the US. (Not to mention the stories that Bibi tried to provoke an Iranian attack at some censored time in 2010.)
The warning shots over disputed territory is, of course, a non-story that CNN’s unauthorized leakers are trying to turn into one.
And that, it seems, is the desperation with which some people are trying to prevent peace from breaking out.
A bizarre little October Surprise just happened–and then un-happened.
The NYT released a blockbuster story–bylined by current White House and former diplomatic correspondents Helene Cooper and Mark Landler, with a “David Sanger contributed reporting” hidden at the bottom–claiming Iran had agreed to one-on-one negotiations to take place–at Iran’s insistence–after the election.
The United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.
Iranian officials have insisted that the talks wait until after the presidential election, a senior administration official said, telling their American counterparts that they want to know with whom they would be negotiating.
Shortly after the story broke, however, all sorts of other journalists published firm denials from the White House, and the NYT story now includes this denial from Tommy Vietor.
The White House publicly denied the report on Saturday evening. “It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections,” said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman. He added, however, that the administration was open to such talks, and has “said from the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally.”
But note the grammar of the denial: It’s not true that the US and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks after the American elections.
The whole sentence is modified by “after the American elections.” Leaving open the possibility that Iran has agreed to one-on-one negotiations, end of sentence.
And there are hints in the article that that’s what’s going on. First of all, note who’s involved in this.
Among those involved in the deliberations, an official said, are Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, two of her deputies — William J. Burns and Wendy Sherman — and key White House officials, including the national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, and two of his lieutenants, Denis R. McDonough and Gary Samore.
Hillary has about two and a half months left on this job. If she intends to craft a deal–and the deal does seem to originate in her State Department–she’s not about to delay a month before beginning the deal. (Though in the aftermath of the Susan Rice testimony, Donilon has been discussed as a replacement for Hillary.)
Then there’s the admission that the parties have held off on multiparty talks because of the “prospect” of one-on-one talks.
A senior American official said that the prospect of direct talks is why there has not been another meeting of the major-powers group on Iran.
If you’re holding off on another forum, chances are good the agreement–if not the talks themselves–have already begun.
Ten years ago, the Bush Administration was planning the last details of the new product announcement it would roll out in September, a new product announcement that would lead to an expensive, illegal war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
A key part of that product rollout was the manipulation of information asymmetry: the leaking of out-of-context classified information to Judy Miller. After she published it on the front page of the NYT, the warmongers pointed back to it as the complete truth. Yet because the information was classified–because it was illegal for experts to counter the claims made by Judy’s sources–the other side barely came out. It wasn’t until well into the war that enough of the Iraq NIE was declassified to reveal that the warmongers had presented a completely imbalanced picture of Iraq’s WMD program and that dissenters had rightly debunked some of the warmongers claims.
Which is worth remembering as you read this piece from Jeffrey Lewis (of ArmsControlWonk fame). While I think Jim would have issue with some of the claims Lewis makes on technical grounds, but Lewis addresses recent Israeli claims about new intelligence on Iran’s nuke program to argue for reading NIEs and other WMD intelligence with some nuance (you can click through to read his nuanced take, both on the 2007 Iran NIE and the purportedly new piece of intelligence). But one of several reasons why we’re not getting that nuance, Lewis argues, is because Congress and others are cracking down on responsible, nuanced communication.
Unfortunately, the White House’s concerted campaign to criminalize national security discourse has prevented officials from discussing the estimate with journalists, allowing the most alarmist conjecture to dominate public debate.
Among other things, DiFi has proposed curtailing background briefings that could provide the kind of nuanced reading Lewis speculates at here. In addition, DOD has reportedly made a top secret request for staffers to identify whether they’ve spoken with one of the journalists who has covered this issue most closely (for better and worse), David Sanger.
In short, even assuming the leak witch hunts are in good faith, they may well bring us to war just as surely as the leaks to Judy Miller did a decade ago.
Apparently, we haven’t even figured out how to avoid being snookered into war by A1 cutouts.
After visiting his bankster donors in London, Mitt is on his way to visit megadonor Sheldon Adelson’s other country, Israel. Perhaps in a bid to butter up Adelson, Mitt’s staffers put up an Israeli flag on the plane before they remembered he’s running to be President of the United States.
And just as Mitt prepares to suck up to Israel, leak witch hunt targets Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman have a piece cataloging how much Israel spies on us. They describe:
It also reveals that after it gave up its nuke program, the CIA considered Libya a better counter-terrorism partner than Israel.
During the Bush administration, the CIA ranked some of the world’s intelligence agencies in order of their willingness to help in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism. One former U.S. intelligence official who saw the completed list said Israel, which hadn’t been directly targeted in attacks by al-Qaida, fell below Libya, which recently had agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Now, it’s not just Mitt who sucks up to the Israelis. Goldman and Apuzzo note the US has given Israel $60 billion since we nabbed Jonathan Pollard and Obama just released an additional $70 million of military aid.
But as Mitt tries to appear less obtuse in Israel than he did in UK, remember that the Israelis are probably stealing our secrets even as he unfurls their flag.
The Internet is abuzz today with Sheldon Adelson’s announcement that he has already donated $10 million to Mitt Romney’s SuperPAC and plans to provide limitless donations to defeat Obama.
Forbes has confirmed that billionaire Sheldon Adelson, along with his wife Miriam, has donated $10 million to the leading Super PAC supporting presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney–and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A well-placed source in the Adelson camp with direct knowledge of the casino billionaire’s thinking says that further donations will be “limitless.”
But the attention is mostly focused on the sheer numbers he’s talking about, not what it suggests that Adelson–who already spent buckets of money to try to defeat Mitt in the primary–has now promised limitless donations to defeat Obama.
This is about Likud trying to decide the American elections.
Adelson doesn’t hide the fact that this donation is about Israel as much as it is Obama’s “socialism.”
Adelson, this source continues, believes that “no price is too high” to protect the U.S. from what he sees as Obama’s “socialization” of America, as well as securing the safety of Israel. He added that Adelson, 78, considers this to be the most important election of his lifetime.
Nor is it surprising he’s doing this. More than he is for any of these American politicians, Adelson is Bibi Netanyahu’s Sugar Daddy. And Obama has been remarkably successful thus far in stymying Bibi’s goal of forcing the US to attack Iran. In addition to the sanctions regime that has brought about negotiations, in recent months, the Administration has leaked both a white paper showing that an Iran attack would do nothing but set off a regional war and news of the bases in Azerbaijan Israel would use if it unilaterally attacked Iran. David Sanger quoted Presidential briefers and Joe Biden–Bibi’s old nemesis–blaming Israel for freeing StuxNet, possibly intentionally. Leon Panetta has, on the record, told the entire world, including Iran, when Israel planned to attack. (I actually thought Panetta’s latest 60 Minutes appearance might have been an attempt to placate Israel.)
It may appear to us that the Administration continues typical American policy of capitulating to Israel. But the Obama Administration has taken surprisingly strong measures to push back against Israel.
And now Sheldon Adelson has promised to use unlimited funds to get rid of President Obama.
As much as the money concerns me, that’s not what I worry about the most. The Israelis have never been shy about running off-the-books operations to influence our policies. Indeed, they played a role in Iran-Contra, the start of which goes back to the last October Surprise plot to make sure a Democrat didn’t get reelected in 1980. And the state of affairs in Israel’s neighborhood (both Syria and Egypt would be excellent candidates, though if I were Turkey I’d be cautious, too) is such that it would be very very very easy to create an October Surprise that would make it a lot harder for Obama to get reelected.
Bibi’s Sugar Daddy just announced the world he will do anything in his power to defeat Obama. You can be sure Bibi feels the same way.
Update: Iran/Israel confusion fixed, h/t vl.
I’m sure that Eric Holder didn’t mean to suggest that the assassination plots purportedly planned by Iran’s Quds Force and Manssor Arbabsiar with the assistance of a DEA informant targeting the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, as well as Israeli and Saudi figures in Argentina, are legal.
But given the debate between the ACLU’s Anthony Romero and Jack Goldsmith over whether assassinations in this country would be legal, I wanted to look at what he did say.
In their debate on WBUR’s On Point, Romero said something to the effect of Holder’s argument for targeted killing would serve as justification for other countries to target their own “terrorists” in our country. Goldsmith objected, saying such assassinations would only be legal in failed states (implicitly, like Yemen and Pakistan) where a state was unable to apprehend such a figure.
That’s not what Holder said. Here’s what he did say:
Over the last three years alone, al Qaeda and its associates have directed several attacks – fortunately, unsuccessful – against us from countries other than Afghanistan. Our government has both a responsibility and a right to protect this nation and its people from such threats.
This does not mean that we can use military force whenever or wherever we want. International legal principles, including respect for another nation’s sovereignty, constrain our ability to act unilaterally. But the use of force in foreign territory would be consistent with these international legal principles if conducted, for example, with the consent of the nation involved – or after a determination that the nation is unable or unwilling to deal effectively with a threat to the United States.
Furthermore, it is entirely lawful – under both United States law and applicable law of war principles – to target specific senior operational leaders of al Qaeda and associated forces. [my emphasis]
Strip this passage of its American exceptionalism, and here’s what it justifies: Continue reading