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The Short-Comings of Pre-Crime Intelligence

The Sunday Express has a report that I consider one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date that Assad’s military was definitely behind the CW strike last week. (John Kerry is on TV citing forensic evidence, but he also said the evidence comes from someone besides the UN, which gives me pause, particularly given the way the Administration has clearly played with casualty numbers.)

According to intercepts collected at Troodos, UK’s listening post on Cyprus, the commander of the artillery unit that launched the attack balked at an order to release the CW at first, but then complied under threat of death.

Last night the senior RAF officer said: “The commander of the artillery battery told the regional commander that he would not comply and there was a heated exchange. He was told in direct language that unless the order was carried out, he would be shot. A total of 27 chemical artillery shells were then fired at the suburb in a 14-minute period.”

The conversation was monitored and recorded by British officers based at the remote mountain-top RAF Troodos Signals Intelligence listening post in Cyprus and within minutes details of the conversation had been relayed to GCHQ, Whitehall and the Pentagon.

But I’m interested in the timing of this leak.

Details of this intelligence don’t show up explicitly in the British case for war, though there are claims in it that might reflect it.

There is some intelligence to suggest regime culpability in this attack.

[snip]

There is no obvious political or military trigger for regime use of CW on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence in Syria of the UN investigation team. Permission to authorise CW has probably been delegated by President Asad to senior regime commanders, such as [*], but any deliberate change in the scale and nature of use would require his authorisation.

However, the uncertainty as to whom Assad had delegated CW launch authority seems wholly incompatible with Whitehall having this intelligence. If they had this intercept, they would seemingly know fairly precisely the chain-of-command in question.

Nor does the intercept appear explicitly in the US case. Though again, there are claims that might reflect the intelligence.

We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. Read more

The Case to Congress

As you’ve no doubt heard, President Obama gave a statement today in which he said he had decided to strike Syria. But then said he plans to have Congress approve the strike.

Here’s how the Administration plans to sell this to Congress:

And they detailed the coming campaign to get Congress on board:

  • Hammer home the potential threat to staunch ally Israel’s security
  • Provide detailed intelligence about the alleged attack
  • Underline that the United States ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, and make a case that American legitimacy — not just his own — is at stake.
  • Make the argument that failure to act could lead, one day, to terrorists acquiring chemical weapons from regimes like Assad’s — and turning them on America.

Item One: Assad’s alleged decision to use Chemical Weapons that he originally obtained to deter Israel against rebels presents “a potential threat to staunch ally Israel’s security.”

In recent months, Israel has successfully struck at Syria twice, and Syria didn’t even try to retaliate. Why does the US have to take a stand for the norm against using CW, when the Israelis are perfectly capable of doing so. I get that Israel can never be viewed as a neutral party with Syria, they do have unrivaled ability to stand against the use of gas against civilians.

Item Three: The US ratified the Chemical Weapons Treaty. But Syria did not. In the same way that Israel didn’t sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Why do we expect Syria to abide by the former when we don’t require Israel to abide by the latter?

Item Four: A strike on Assad is likely to strengthen the Syrian rebels. Who are made up, increasingly, of a bunch of extremists with ties to al Qaeda. If we make it easier for the rebels to replace Assad, doesn’t that actually raise the likelihood terrorists will get Assad’s CW?

I’m glad the Administration has decided to go to Congress. But their argument is just as weak as it was.

Operation Ballsack Labor Day Football Trash Talk

Hello. Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me.

I am not sure how well the Trash Talk Machine is greased after such egregious neglect. But, we can only do what we do, and carry on. And those skilz have NOT been forgotten jack. So saddle up cowboys and cowgirls.

You would think being a blogger is an easy, Cheetos filled, lifestyle. Not the case. It is hard work, hard work I tell ya. I have suffered the indignation of Marcy and Jim yammering about wanting “trash this” and “trash that”. Weeeeelllllll that is so much SPAM! So, as I said earlier, it’s not easy, you know. I get no respect!

To make a quick comment on the title of this 2013 football season opening trash, shit is truly fucked up and bullshit. We have Mr. Constitutional Nobel Scholar President agitating to make unilateral bizarrely unnecessary war on Syria….apparently because he screwed up and drew a moronic “red line” in the sand and now has to prove he actually has bolas, in addition to stupidity and hubris. The man who when seeking votes to be elected in 2007-2008 claimed war without Congressional assent was wrong, and whose Vice-Predident called such unsanctioned war bullshittery and an “impeachable offense”, now insists without the UN, without the Brits, and with a coalition of effectively one (one who were previously described as “cheese eating surrender monkeys” not that long ago in American lore). But that is where we are now. Which is why the best name for this clusterfuck is “Operation Ballsack“. Yes, it is all about Obama’s balls, and his desperate need to prove he actually has a primordial pair.

Huh? Oh, wait! This was supposed to be football Trash Talk wasn’t it?!?!

Yikes, better get to that then. Last night was a pretty exciting open to the NCAA 2013 schedule. The ‘Ole Ball Coach Spurrier and the ‘Cocks did not seem all that animated, but still clocked a fairly solid NC Tarheel team. Looked like Vady was gonna take a bite off the ‘Ole Miss Rebels, but Ole Miss tailback Jeff Scott let loose with a 75 yard TD romp with 1:07 left, giving the Rebels a 39-35 last minute win. Good stuff. In other news, Lane Kiffen proves the question of why he has not been fired yet is still very salient by coaching a narrow win for Tommy Trojan over the Rainbows. Mighty Troy barely made it over the Rainbows. Yay. If that is all USC has, even the Sun Devils are going to wax them this year (a game I will be attending by the way). also, from Friday night, let me just say that Sparty has some VERY sticky fingered defenders. Look out B1G.

Well, what else is up I wonder? Hmmmm, appears some fella named “Manziel” was suspended half a game for something. Guess it wasn’t anything bad, cause Dez Bryant got suspended a whole season for eating dinner with Neon Deion Sanders. I sign my name on things a lot too. I get paid to do so. Not sure who would sign thousands of items for zip, nuthin, free. Apparently the crack investigators and accountability specialists at the NCAA found no problem though. And you KNOW how sane they are, cause they banned Penn State from all bowls for four years without having any NCAA violation whatsoever present. Ugh.

Alright. Games. Real ones are being played this weekend. Battle manufactured where it should be. Naturally. By a nerd at ESPN instead of that fake Operation Obama Ballsack baloney.

The game of the weekend looks to be Georgia at Clemson. These are two top ten worthy teams, if not potential national championship contenders. Special players abound everywhere on both teams, including Sammy Watkins the super receiver for the Tigers, and Tajh Boyd his quarterback. For the Bulldogs, Aaron Murray may be the best QB in the conference, and that includes Johnny Football. Awesome game to have so early. Alabama hosting Virginia Tech is another unusual one to start off with. The Tide will roll them, but there could be a struggle. should be a way better game than the Tide expected.

Honorable mentions goes to TCU and LSU in neutral Texas, Boise State/Washington and Cal versus Northwestern. Tell us what you have and why!

The one other thing I want to address is the noggins of the NFL. As you may have heard, there was a settlement this week, and it heavily favored the NFL. The craven plantation owners admitted nothing, gave up no liability findings, and gave up a ridiculously cheap total sum as hard settlement. By the time lawyer’s fees and mandatory testing etc. is deducted, it is criminal how little was gotten for a class of at risk humans. Down the road, if these class members live, they and their representatives will be screaming bloody murder. Here is an outrageously great article laying out the factors, and doing so with the tart and sarcastic truth it deserves

This long Labor Day weekend’s music is from the one, the only, Ms. Linda Ronstadt. I have a real affinity for Linda, and haver seen her numerous times including a couple of very special ones. If there has ever been a better pure female vocal talent, I am not sure I have seen it. Pure, and with a range to die for. The singing voice may be silenced, but Linda is rocking on and fighting for the causes she believes in. And they are, and always have been, great, and the right, ones. Oh, also, in case you didn’t notice, she had a backup band on the first video. Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Robert Cray and some other chaps. The second is the band she normally toured with (including Waddy Wachtel – but with Mike Botts on drums instead of Russ Kunkel, who I always saw) and, trust me, they were absolutely killer, and very cool people to boot.

That’s it for now. Let Willis, and one and all, rock this joint. We are Livin In The USA. All things considered, it is still pretty fucking grand. Enjoy the holiday weekend my friends.

Whatever Happened to the Atrocities Prevention Board?

I should be analyzing the Administration’s case for war to punish Bashar al-Assad because someone in his regime allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians. I will do so soon.

But I keep thinking back to the President’s Atrocities Prevention Board.

Back in August 2011, Obama rolled out an effort to figure out how to prevent attacks like the one that occurred on August 21. It was a then-NSC Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights and now UN Ambassador Samantha Power baby, closely in line with the Responsibility to Protect standards an attack on Assad would ultimately serve.

And while it suffered from some potentially fatal problems (notably, a remarkable selectivity about which atrocities actually counted as such and which should, for expediency, be ignored), it was a thoroughly laudable effort, an attempt to find new tools to prevent the mass killing of civilians.

Here are some things a May update reported have been going on in Syria.

On Syria, the State Department and USAID have deployed experts to support targeted projects that lay the foundation for accountability and a democratic transition that protects the rights of all Syrian people, such as building a cross-sectarian network of civilian activists by training local leaders and activists, including women and minorities.

[snip]

In Syria, the United States has strongly promoted accountability efforts, supporting organizations that are collecting and reviewing evidence to establish criminal responsibility and that are leading efforts to help the organized opposition begin the process of developing Syrian-led accountability mechanisms.

I raise the APB not to declare its failure, but to point to parts of the framework that seem absent from the discussion of how to respond to the Syrian CW attack.

For example, the APB emphasizes multilateral work, with the UN a key player.

Our diplomats will encourage more robust multilateral efforts to prevent and respond to atrocities.  An effective atrocity prevention and response strategy – in which burdens are appropriately shared by other nations  – will require cultivating deeper and broader support among our bilateral partners, as well as international and regional organizations:

[snip]

  • UN System Capacity: The United States will work with the United Nations to strengthen UN capacity for conflict prevention and crisis management, including through preventive diplomacy and mediation, especially when UN missions encounter escalating atrocity threats.
  • Regional Capacity:   The United States will also work with our partners to build the capacity of regionally-based organizations to prevent and respond to atrocities.

Now UN Ambassador Power is not so optimistic about UN’s use here.

Recall: In July Russia blocked nonbinding #UNSC resolution condemning any CW use; last week even blocked press statement against CW attack.

Syrian regime must be held accountable, which #UNSC has refused to do for 2+ years. US considering appropriate response.

In 2011, Power’s Board believed one potential response to a crisis was a civilian surge.

Civilian Surge: State and USAID will increase the ability of the United States Government to “surge” specialized expertise in civilian protection on a rapid response basis in crisis situations.

Whereas here we’re going to surge cruise missiles, nothing more.

Read more

Sources and Methods: A Case for War

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 2.26.03 PMI’m going to do a more detailed discussion of what the Administration just released as its case to unilaterally and illegally start bombing Syria.

For now, I wanted to point out something that stuck out to me. The map the Administration released — purportedly to show that the location of the strikes were logical Syrian government targets — includes a curious caveat.

Note: Reports of chemical attacks originating from some locations may reflect the movement of patients exposed in one neighborhood to field hospitals and medical facilities in the surrounding area. They may also reflect confusion and panic triggered by the ongoing artillery and rocket barrage, and reports of chemical use in other neighborhoods.

It suggests the US government is uncertain whether these sites are all actual attack sites; it may even reveal USG knows some of these locations may not, in fact, be attack locations.

Remember, the UN inspectors, who are not mentioned at all in the government’s case, will ultimately have forensic evidence from these sites.

All that said, consider how the number and location of sites plays in the case itself.

Local social media reports of a chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs began at 2:30 a.m. local time on August 21. Within the next four hours there were thousands of social media reports on this attack from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area. Multiple accounts described chemical-filled rockets impacting opposition-controlled areas.

[snip]

We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack, many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure. The reported symptoms of victims included unconsciousness, foaming from the nose and mouth, constricted pupils, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Several of the videos show what appear to be numerous fatalities with no visible injuries, which is consistent with death from chemical weapons, and inconsistent with death from small-arms, high-explosive munitions or blister agents. At least 12 locations are portrayed in the publicly available videos, and a sampling of those videos confirmed that some were shot at the general times and locations described in the footage.

We assess the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to fabricate all of the videos, physical symptoms verified by medical personnel and NGOs, and other information associated with this chemical attack.

That is, the USG points to the sheer number of social media reports as proof that the attacks really happened, because the Syrian opposition couldn’t have faked them all.

And yet the USG’s own case suggests that those locations may be inaccurate, even though the locations are portrayed in the videos.

One more note: the government points to satellite imagery showing that attacks from regime controlled areas attacked some — but only some — of the areas in which there were reported attacks.

Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred – including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah.

That leaves out 7 of the reported attack sites, and only includes one entirely rebel-controlled site: Kafr Batna (taking the map at its word on who controls what).

For the moment, I mean that as nothing more than an observation.

Cruise Killing on the Passive Voice

Before I lay out the chronology of the road to war against Syria, check out the language National Security Advisor Susan Rice used to blow off the UN investigation.

Ms. Rice sent the email to Ms. Power and others, officials said. “The investigation is…too late, and will actually tell us what we already know: CW was used,”

While the WSJ quotes Rice claiming to know who actually used the chemical weapons in the next line, ultimately it comes down to this:

“CW was used.”

Jay Carney today also used the passive voice in dismissing the UN investigation.

So the work of that team is redundant, you might say, because it is clearly established already that chemical weapons have been used on a significant scale.

The fucking passive voice.

But before we got to that point consider what happened. First (according to WSJ’s Arab diplomats) the always trustworthy Israelis caught someone moving CW into place.

One crucial piece of the emerging case came from Israeli spy services, which provided the Central Intelligence Agency with intelligence from inside an elite special Syrian unit that oversees Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons, Arab diplomats said. The intelligence, which the CIA was able to verify, showed that certain types of chemical weapons were moved in advance to the same Damascus suburbs where the attack allegedly took place a week ago, Arab diplomats said.

Then after the attack, according to Foreign Policy, US spooks overheard a Syrian Defense official “demanding answers” from an officer in the chemical weapons unit from which the CW would have been used.

Last Monday [sic], in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned.

FP goes on to point out a lot of the important things we don’t know, such as why and on whose authority, even while laying out the case that CW was used. (Though here are some doubts about whether it was really sarin.)

Meanwhile, according to Gareth Porter, it took until Saturday for the UN to request access to the attack site. Syria granted that access Sunday. At which point John Kerry attempted to personally intervene to stop the investigation.

After the deal was announced on Sunday, however, Kerry pushed Ban in a phone call to call off the investigation completely.

The Wall Street Journal reported the pressure on Ban without mentioning Kerry by name. It said unnamed “U.S. officials” had told the secretary-general that it was “no longer safe for the inspectors to remain in Syria and that their mission was pointless.”

But Ban, who has generally been regarded as a pliable instrument of U.S. policy, refused to withdraw the U.N. team and instead “stood firm on principle”, the Journal reported. He was said to have ordered the U.N. inspectors to “continue their work”.

Meanwhile, the Administration also seems to be delaying the release of its own intelligence report, after promising it would already be out.

Q And there’s a lot of speculation that this intelligence report that presumably would link Assad directly to the chemical weapons attack might be released today. Can you give us an update on the timing?

MR. CARNEY: What I would say is that yesterday I made clear that the intelligence community is working on an assessment and that once we had that assessment we would provide information to the public about it in the coming days. And that remains true. I think that that’s speculation that it would come today rather than some other day. But it will come and I think you can expect it this week.

Do you get the feeling there are some holes in the intelligence report? Such as, if this was ordered by someone in Assad’s chain of command, why a Defense Ministry official would be making “panicked calls” about the strike?

There’s one more thing I find at least interesting about the intelligence.

Recall back in December, when the CW scares first started. We had evidence — as the Israelis claim we have no — of Syria pre-positioning weapons. And then Syria lost its Toobz access. I noted at the time that the utter lack of panic about the latter event suggested that we knew precisely why and how the Toobz came down. That detail may mean nothing about today’s events (though at the time it suggested that the source of the intelligence wasn’t SIGINT, because if the US had just lost its intelligence access it would have been panicking). But it seems notable, given the centrality of the “moving chemicals” intelligence again.

There is, to be sure, a great deal of evidence that (as both Rice and Carney said) “CW were used.”

But the Administration seems increasingly squirrelly allowing time to discover the rest of the occasion, which may be why a Syrian officer release CW without having had received an order from his superiors.

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? Read more

State Department, US Press Hide Important Karzai Statement on Bilateral Security Agreement

Karzai addressing his cabinet. Photo is from the web posting of Karzai's statement on the Bilateral Security Agreement.

Karzai addressing his cabinet. Photo is from the web posting of Karzai’s statement on the Bilateral Security Agreement.

Although there really is only one controlling issue in the quest to sign a new SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) BSA (Bilateral Security Agreement) governing US troops in Afghanistan after official NATO actions conclude at the end of next year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai seems to be taking perverse pleasure in taking sweeping actions and making broad statements that seem to alternately encourage and then discourage those seeking to finalize the agreement. As I explained late last year, the US will keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014 only if they are granted criminal immunity. Without immunity, the US will withdraw fully just as it did in Iraq when immunity was denied there.

Recall that Karzai called for all US Special Forces to leave Maidan Wardak province back in late February. Just about three weeks later, he appeared to relent somewhat and it appears that SOF only left one district. On May 9, Karzai surprised everyone by announcing that the US could maintain nine bases in Afghanistan after 2014, apparently catching the US off-guard. In response, the US claimed they want to house troops at Afghan bases, because there is no desire for permanent US bases in Afghanistan.

Lest those negotiating the agreement get too encouraged by the base proposal, though, Karzai has now placed what appears to be a completely impossible precondition on signing the agreement, but citizens in the US would be hard-pressed to know anything about it. At the State Department briefing on May 17, there was an acknowledgement that Karzai had released a statement, but we don’t learn what Karzai actually said from the exchange with a reporter:

Walitz, do you have something?

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: President Karzai’s office issued a brief statement today that he spoke to Secretary Kerry. Do you have any details on the readout, what were the issues they discussed?

MS. PSAKI: I do, I do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MS. PSAKI: So Secretary Kerry spoke this morning with President Karzai. They discussed our joint progress on the bilateral security agreement, border issues, and the status of the ongoing peace process. Secretary Kerry also affirmed that he and President Karzai remain committed to the same strategy and the same goal of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan, responsible for its own security and able to ensure that it can never again be a safe haven for terrorists.

QUESTION: Do you know when this BSA will be signed? What’s the status on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any specific update on that. Again, it’s obviously something that we continue to work on, work very closely on at many levels with the Government of Afghanistan.

So neither Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson, nor the reporter referred to as Walitz bothers to actually mention what Karzai said in his statement that was released. Here is what Karzai’s statement says regarding the bilateral security agreement:

On the bilateral security agreement that the United States is seeking to sign with Afghanistan at the soonest, President Karzai has said to the US Secretary of State that Afghanistan would sign the agreement only if conditions of the Afghan people were accepted and the first precondition is to bring peace and to end war in Afghanistan.

President Karzai clarified to John Kerry, it was impossible for the people of Afghanistan to be pleased with signing of the security agreement whereas violence and war continue in the country.

The President said to the Cabinet meeting that the security agreement if signed without the return of peace, and with continuation of violence and bombings means that the people of Afghanistan would continue to suffer every day from blasts, terrorist attacks and foreign invasions.

President Karzai added, the fundamental precondition of Afghans for the agreement is bringing peace, security and stability to Afghanistan if this is fulfilled, then the Afghan people would agree with signing of the agreement with the United States.

Just wow. Karzai has said he will not sign the agreement while “violence and war” continue in Afghanistan, and neither the “press” nor the Department of State “spokesperson” found it necessary to put that particular tidbit into the public record. I can find no reports on Karzai’s statement in the US press. It has been reported by ToloNews in Afghanistan. It would appear that when the State Department gives its own “readout” on a conversation, it is very important to check other original sources for what really took place in the conversation.

[Brief note on dates: the reporter mentions that Karzai’s office released a brief statement “today” that Karzai had spoken to Kerry. From the records I can find, this press briefing took place at 12:30 pm in Washington on May 17, which would be 9 pm in Kabul on the same day. The statement from Karzai’s office that I quote here is dated May 18, so it is unclear whether Walitz had seen the full Karzai statement at the time the question was posed. I can find no reference to the Karzai-Kerry conversation on the Karzai website that is dated May 17.]

John Kerry Finally Meets a Close Election He Wants to Recount

The other day, Hugo Chavez’ successor Nicolás Maduro beat opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski by 2% of the vote. In the days since, opposition figures have sown violence, claiming vote fraud.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Kerry encouraged a recount.

Mr. Kerry, in comments to a House committee, said, “We think there ought to be a recount.” He added that he had not yet evaluated whether Washington would recognize Mr. Maduro’s victory.

This, in spite of a leaked recording of a close Capriles advisor admitting that this result was a political triumph but an electoral defeat.

This, in spite of the fact that when Bush beat Kerry with precisely the same percentage of the vote in 2004 amid reports of (limited) electoral oddities, Kerry chose not to demand a recount.

On November 2, 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry 50.7 percent to 48.3 percent. Venezuela’s foreign minister immediately (either that night or the day after) recognized the results: “we will hope that in this second mandate we can improve our relations.”

Fast forward nine years, and Nicolás Maduro beats Henrique Capriles with 50.7% of the vote and the US refuses to recognize the result. “Look, we’re just not there yet,” said a State Department spokesman (who now works for—wait for it— John Kerry). “Obviously, we have nearly half the country that had a different view. And so we’ll continue to consult, but we’re not there yet.”

Most interesting of all is something James Clapper just said in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. In response to a question from Richard Blumenthal about whether there had been fraud in the election, Clapper said (my rough transcription):

There may have been some, but it’s unclear whether it was of sufficient magnitude to merit recount. Right now it doesn’t appear to be.

In other words, even the intelligence says, whatever fraud there was, it wasn’t enough to affect the outcome.

At this point, the Administration’s hesitation at recognizing Maduro and Kerry’s support for a recount do nothing but stoke violence.

Which I can only assume is the point.

Ray Davis as a Stand-In for the War between CIA, ISI, and State

In another installment of his book, Mark Mazzetti describes the Ray Davis episode as the signature (pun intended) event that turned Pakistan against the US. Certainly the Davis episode provides a nice hook for a description of the way the US-Pakistani relationship has declined, but it seems Mazzetti presents Davis as being an almost penultimate event of that decline (in this excerpt, he doesn’t get around to describing the 20-some Pakistani soldiers killed by NATO helicopters at the end of 2011).

In his first book excerpt, recall, Mazzetti described how the US killed Nek Muhammad in June 2004 as a quid pro quo with Pakistan for the authority to target al Qaeda figures within Pakistan.

But as Mazzetti explains in this excerpt, our drone strikes in Pakistan didn’t do much good: we didn’t get many high value targets, in part because some of them were seemingly tipped off.

Since the first C.I.A. drone strike in Pakistan in 2004, only a small number of militants on the C.I.A.’s list of “high-value targets” had been killed by drone strikes, and other potential strikes were scuttled at the last minute because of delays in getting Pakistani approval, or because the targets seemed to have been tipped off and had fled.

Then, in 2007, the CIA determined that al Qaeda had reconstituted in the tribal lands of Pakistan. So the CIA’s counterterrorism folks lobbied for escalating the drone war.

[A] highly classified C.I.A. internal memo, dated May 1, 2007, concluded that Al Qaeda was at its most dangerous since 2001 because of the base of operations that militants had established in the tribal areas. That assessment became the cornerstone of a yearlong discussion about the Pakistan problem. Some experts in the State Department warned that expanding the C.I.A. war in Pakistan would further stoke anti-American anger on the streets and could push the country into chaos. But officials inside the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center argued for escalating the drone campaign without the I.S.I.’s blessing.

So after a year of debate, the CIA told General Kayani that they were going to operate unilaterally in Pakistan.

[I]n July 2008, when C.I.A. officers in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, to tell him that President Bush had signed off on a set of secret orders authorizing a new strategy in the drone wars. No longer would the C.I.A. give Pakistan advance warning before launching missiles from Predator or Reaper drones in the tribal areas. From that point on, the C.I.A. officers told Kayani, the C.I.A.’s killing campaign in Pakistan would be a unilateral war.

Side note: Mazzetti’s original story described the initial drone strikes as an agreement between ISI and CIA. Here, Kayani plays a central role, though the rest of this installment affirms the later central role of Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the head of the ISI. I’m interested in whether we played Pakistan’s military off of ISI.

At this point of his story, Mazzetti only describes this as an escalation, followed by a declining relationship with CIA.

So, in July 2008, when the C.I.A.’s director, Michael Hayden, and his deputy, Stephen Kappes, came to the White House to present the agency’s plan to wage a unilateral war in the mountains of Pakistan, it wasn’t a hard sell to a frustrated president. That began the relentless, years-long drone assault on the tribal areas that President Obama continued when he took office. And as the C.I.A.’s relationship with the I.S.I. soured, Langley sent station chiefs out to Islamabad who spent far less time and energy building up good will with Pakistani spies than their predecessors had. From 2008 on, the agency cycled a succession of seasoned case officers through Islamabad, and each left Pakistan more embittered than the last. One of them had to leave the country in haste when his identity was revealed in the Pakistani press. The C.I.A. suspected the leak came from the I.S.I.

Many paragraphs in his story later, he describes signature strikes and the associated “military aged male” standard. Mazzetti doesn’t describe how the two developments both exacerbated the problem. In fact, according to Mazzetti’s NYT colleagues’ reporting from 2008, the decision to use signature strikes actually precedes this change by six months. And as Greg Miller laid out last year, the impetus for the change in both strategies came from “Roger,” the abrasive guy who took over the counterterrorism center in 2006. And Roger’s campaign to make these changes preceded the 2007 report that said al Qaeda was reconstituting itself in the tribal lands.  Read more