Bibi Netanyahu

Why Tell the Israeli Spying Story Now?

“Intelligence professionals have a saying: There are no friendly intelligence services,” the WSJ describes former House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers saying, on the record. While there’s no way of telling — particularly not with WSJ’s described “more than two dozen current and former U.S. intelligence and administration officials” sources behind it’s blockbuster story on US spying on Bibi Netanyahu and other Israelis, Rogers is a likely candidate for some of the other statements attributed to “former US officials,” a moniker that can include agency officials, consultants, and members of Congress.

Which is awfully funny, given that two of the people squealing most loudly in response to the story are Rogers’ immediate predecessor, Crazy Pete Hoekstra, who called it a “Maybe unprecedented abuse of power,” and successor, Devin Nunes, who has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story.

It is the height of hypocrisy for these men, who have been privy to and by their silence have assented to this and, in Crazy Pete’s case, far worse patently illegal spying, to wail about a story that shows the Administration abiding by NSA minimization procedures they’ve both celebrated as more than adequate to protect US person privacy. If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored, presumably EO 12333 tap placed on Bibi, not to mention OmniCISA, which can be targeted at Americans and will have even fewer protections for US persons.

The immediate attempt by a bunch of surveillance maximalists to turn compliant spying into a big scandal raises the question of why this story is coming out now, not incidentally just after Iran turned over its uranium stockpile over to Russia and in the process achieved another big step of the Iran deal.

I’m not in any way meaning to slight the WSJ reporting. Indeed, the story seems to show a breadth of sources that reflect a broad range of interests, and as such is not — as would otherwise be possible — Mike Rogers attempting to leak something to the WSJ so his fellow Republicans can make a stink about things.

This story includes “current and former U.S. officials” providing a list of leaders they claim were detasked from spying in 2014 — François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and other NATO leaders — and those they claim were not — along with Bibi Netanyahu, Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Of course, like James Clapper’s claim that Edward Snowden’s leaks forced the NSA to shut down its full take spying on Afghanistan, this “confirmation” may instead have been an effort to cover for collection that has since been restarted, especially given the story’s even more revealing explanation that, “Instead of removing the [surveillance] implants, Mr. Obama decided to shut off the NSA’s monitoring of phone numbers and email addresses of certain allied leaders—a move that could be reversed by the president or his successor.” Obama did not eliminate the infrastructure that allows him to request surveillance (in actually, monitoring of surveillance going on in any case) to be turned on like a switch, and this WSJ article just conveyed that detail to Hollande and Merkel.

So the story could serve as disinformation to cover up restarted surveillance, and it could serve as a cue for the bogus, unbelievably hypocritical political scandal that Crazy Pete and Nunes appear to want to make it.

But I’m just as interested in the dick-waving in the story.

Some of the most interesting details in the story — once you get beyond the wailing of people like Crazy Pete and Devin Nunes probably swept up in intercepts described in the story — pertain to what NSA did and did not learn about Bibi’s efforts, largely executed through Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, to thwart the Iran deal. A key detail here is that while (it is implied) NSA destroyed most or all of the intercepts involving members of Congress directly with Bibi, they passed on (with US person identities masked) the reports back through foreign ministry channels of discussions with or on behalf of Bibi.

The NSA has leeway to collect and disseminate intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers if, for example, foreign ambassadors send messages to their foreign ministries that recount their private meetings or phone calls with members of Congress, current and former officials said.

“Either way, we got the same information,” a former official said, citing detailed reports prepared by the Israelis after exchanges with lawmakers.

In other words, NSA might not pass on the intercepts of calls members of Congress had with Bibi directly, but they would pass on the reports that Dermer or Bibi’s aides would summarize of such discussions. And according to “a former official” (curiously not described as high ranking) by passing on the reports of such conversations, “we got the same information.”

Usually, but not always, according to the story.

It describes that “Obama administration officials” (which may but probably doesn’t include intelligence officials) didn’t learn about John Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress ahead of time, even though Boehner extended that invite through Dermer.

On Jan. 8, John Boehner, then the Republican House Speaker, and incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed on a plan. They would invite Mr. Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. A day later, Mr. Boehner called Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, to get Mr. Netanyahu’s agreement.

Despite NSA surveillance, Obama administration officials said they were caught off guard when Mr. Boehner announced the invitation on Jan. 21.

According to the description of the article, this call should have been fair game to be shared with the White House as a report through the foreign ministry, but either wasn’t reported through normal channels on the Israeli side or NSA didn’t pass it along.

But, according to the story, the White House did get many of the details about Dermer’s attempt to scotch the Iran deal.

The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.

[snip]

A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”

Let me interject and note that, if the people squealing about these intercepts weren’t such raging hypocrites, I might be very concerned about this.

Consider the Jane Harman case. In 2009 it got reported that NSA and FBI collected conversations Jane Harman had (probably on an individual FISA wiretap) with AIPAC suspects in which Harman allegedly agreed to help squelch the criminal investigation into the organization in exchange for help getting the Chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The position, not incidentally, that all the people (save Mike Rogers, who seems to have had no problem with them) squealing about these intercepts have held or currently hold. At least according to 2009 reports on this, lawyers in then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ DOJ considered criminal charges against Harman, but chose not to pursue them, because Gonzales — who had criminally, personally authorized the Stellar Wind program in March 2004 — needed Harman’s support in advance of NYT breaking the Stellar Wind story at the end of 2005. That suggests (if these stories are to be believed) Gonzales used Harman’s purported criminal exposure to get protection against his own.

Now, Crazy Pete was out of power well before these particular intercepts were described (though may have his own reason to be concerned about what such intercepts revealed), but in the same period, Devin Nunes got himself appointed HPSCI Chair, just like AIPAC was allegedly brokering with Harman. He got himself appointed HPSCI Chair by the guy, Boehner, who invited Bibi to address Congress.

And what were AIPAC and other groups — who allegedly were offering congressional leadership posts back in 2005 — offering lawmakers last year to oppose the Iran deal? “What’s it going to take?” the intercepts apparently recorded.

What were they offering?

This is the reason permitting lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it collects the sausage-making behind legislative stances — but also defensible — because it might disclose untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments of members of Congress. It is a real concern that the Executive is collecting details of Congress’ doings. More protections, both for Members of Congress and for regular schlubs, are needed. But wiretapping the incidentally collected communications with foreign leaders is not only solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, but may sometimes be important to protect the US.

That’s the kind of the thing the White House may have seen outlines of in the reports it got on Darmer’s attempts — though the report indicates that Democratic lawmakers and Israelis who supported the Iranian deal (probably including former Mossad head Efraim Halevy, who was criticizing Bibi and Darmer’s efforts in real time) were sharing details of Darmer’s efforts directly with the White House.

In the final months of the campaign, NSA intercepts yielded few surprises. Officials said the information reaffirmed what they heard directly from lawmakers and Israeli officials opposed to Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign—that the prime minister was focused on building opposition among Democratic lawmakers.

Which brings me to the dick-waving part. Here’s the last line of the WSJ story.

The NSA intercepts, however, revealed one surprise. Mr. Netanyahu and some of his allies voiced confidence they could win enough votes.

Some of this story is likely to be disinformation for our allies, much of this story seems to be warning (both friendly and unfriendly) to those likely implicated by the intercepts. But this just seems like dick-waving, the spook-and-politician equivalent of spiking the football and doing a lewd dance in the end zone. The Israelis surely knew all the monitoring was going on (even if members of Congress may have been stupid about them), especially given the way John Kerry, as laid out in the story, raised concerns about Israeli spying during negotiations. But this line, the final reveal in the story, mocks the Israelis and their American interlocutors for assuming they had enough to offer — “What’s it going to take to get your vote?”– to kill the Iran deal.

This may, in part, be an effort to get those implicated in the intercepts to exercise some more caution. But it also seems to be a victory dance, just as Russia ships away Iran’s uranium stockpiles.

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.

Does Mossad Take Requests?

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.

If Bibi Wasn’t Wanted, Maybe Obama Wasn’t Either?

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.

[snip]

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.

Has John McCain Been Chatting Up Bibi on a Tapped Phone?

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.”

[snip]

“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.

Neoliberalism: A Failsafe Bulwark against Terrorism

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment.

[snip]

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

First a Leak (or Rumor) about Secret Bilateral Peace Talks, Then a Leak about a Drone-Plane Standoff

CNN is reporting that two Iranian jets shot at–but did not hit–a Predator drone flying in what their report says is international airspace (though see Max Fisher and Steve Hynd on the location).

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.

Hint: If Hillary’s Involved with Negotiations, They’ve Started Already

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.

Continue reading

10 Years Later, Information Asymmetry Could Launch Another War

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.

As Mitt Heads to Sheldon Adelson’s Country, CIA Exposes Israel’s Treachery

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:

  • Someone tampering with the CIA station chief’s secure phone on at least two occasions
  • Someone rearranging the food in a CIA officer’s fridge
  • Leaking details from a key Syrian chem and bioweapons scientist working for the US, which led to his disappearance and presumed death

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.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz But hey, this is exactly why the #WHCD is such offensive bullshit to democracy in the US: Press are bought off fools https://t.co/iNF8KgNZXX
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Seriously, not kidding, the only thing more pathetic than #WHCD is the thermonuclear status asinine post coverage on @CNN #EpitomeOfPathetic
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @hi_hat_truth Go fuck yourself asshole
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Honestly, as a lifelong Democrat, I am fucking embarrassed by Obama's ridicule of transparency and emulation of rapist Kobe Bryant mic drop.
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz There are people I consider true friends in #WHCD and I seriously wonder if they think Obama's closing was "funny" or appropriate. #BeHonest
1hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz So, Obama decided perfect coda on his 8 yrs w/the press was to sign off with an homage to a rapist sports figure. Are #WHCD #NerdProm good
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Obama, after eight yrs as most powerful man on face of the earth, parrots a rapist sports figure. Hope and change bitchezz!!
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Obama to the press: "Thanks for being equal partners with me on freedom" The Devil in Hades: "What a fucking joke"
2hreplyretweetfavorite
JimWhiteGNV RT @KevinMKruse: The UC system spent $175,000 trying to remove this picture from the internet, so please, please do NOT retweet this. https…
2hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz DJ Foster is a total Kevin Faulk clone if the Pats will keep+develop him. Seriously, real potential here @emptywheel https://t.co/D0eZzYtElH
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Okay, but let us all hope that Christian goes to the Packers https://t.co/Zq2IwSwTB6
3hreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Good news for Sanchize in Denver! https://t.co/hqi6lbQAv3
3hreplyretweetfavorite
May 2016
S M T W T F S
« Apr    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031