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Spy v. Spy: Unmasked?

From the very first reports of Raymond Davis’ killing of two Pakistanis and subsequent arrest, the insistence he was just a consular employee was obviously just polite fiction. The Guardian has stopped sustaining that fiction.

Based on interviews in the US and Pakistan, the Guardian can confirm that the 36-year-old former special forces soldier is employed by the CIA. “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official. The revelation may complicate American efforts to free Davis, who insists he was acting in self-defence against a pair of suspected robbers, who were both carrying guns.

[snip]

The Pakistani government is aware of Davis’s CIA status yet has kept quiet in the face of immense American pressure to free him under the Vienna convention. Last week President Barack Obama described Davis as “our diplomat” and dispatched his chief diplomatic troubleshooter, Senator John Kerry, to Islamabad. Kerry returned home empty-handed.

Yet even as Pakistani officials now willingly admit they’ve known all along that Davis is a spook, it’s still unclear to what degree the press is sustaining further fictions.

Consider the ABC report that the two men in the rescue vehicle that attempted to pick Davis up had “slipped out” of the country.

A Pakistani court has demanded the arrest of a second U.S. official in connection with a deadly shootout in Lahore, Pakistan, last month, but that official, as well another American official involved in the incident, have already slipped out of the country and are back on American soil, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.

Which gives the Guardian’s source the opportunity to admit — shockers! — they’ve escaped.

The US refused Pakistani demands to interrogate the two men and on Sunday a senior Pakistani intelligence official said they had left the country. “They have flown the coop, they are already in America,” he said.

FB Ali, at Pat Lang’s blog, reports that these men flew back to the US on John Kerry’s CoDel plane.

The US, concluding that playing the heavy wasn’t achieving much, sent in the ‘good cop’, in the person of Senator Kerry, co-author of the 7.5 billion Pakistan aid bill. He expressed public regret for the deaths, held out the assurance that Davis would be criminally investigated back in the US, and met with the principal Pakistani players. His whirlwind one-day tour didn’t achieve much beyond smuggling out of the country on his plane the three Americans who had been in the backup van (and were being sought by the police and the courts).

Which sort of makes you wonder whether the Pakistanis are so shocked that these men “flew the coop.”

Read more

Pelosi: Members Are Taking Votes … You Don’t Know What You’re Voting On

In his review of the Wikileaks material on Afghanistan, Marc Ambinder notes that John Kerry referred to “serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Will it raise skepticism in Congress? Absolutely. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, said in a statement that “[h]owever illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

As Siun notes, the leak comes just before the House votes on an Afghan supplemental.

But what about the Senate, which voted on Thursday to pass the supplemental? If John Kerry, the Chairman of the SFRC and no slouch on Afghanistan policy, suggests these leaks shed new light on our Afghan policy, does that mean he and the rest of the Senate had enough information to vote to escalate the war in Afghanistan in the first place?

The degree to which Administrations–Republican and Democratic–withhold information and then ask Congress to endorse actions inflected by that information was a central theme of my discussion with Nancy Pelosi (and Jan Schakowsky) on Saturday. In a discussion of the way Administrations limit briefings on important issues to the Gang of Four or Eight, she describes  realizing–after she became Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee–the degree to which other members of Congress were voting on policies they knew nothing about. “When I became Ranking Member I was in a room all the time on this and that … and then members are taking votes and you’re thinking ‘you don’t even know what you’re voting on.'” Schakowsky followed up on Pelosi’s point to note how central that ignorance was when Congress authorized the Iraq War.

Now, Pelosi and other members of the Gang of Four bear some responsibility for perpetuating this system that asks Congress to authorize Executive Branch actions in ignorance.

But as I’ll show in my longer post on Pelosi’s comments, that’s precisely why she’s holding out for GAO oversight of the intelligence community and–more directly on point–expanded briefing beyond the Gang of Four.

I’m not sure there is anything in the new WikiLeaks bunch that would have convinced Congress that we can’t continue to dump money into Afghanistan (I’ll take a look at the WikiLeaks documents once I’m done transcribing this interview). But the lessons of the last week–notably, a reconsideration of the degree to which much of the intelligence community has been privatized and hidden in opaque contracts, as well as the WikiLeaks demonstration that the White House isn’t completely forthcoming about the problems in its war in Afghanistan–all demonstrate the need to give Congress the real oversight ability they lack now.

The Irony of Tora Bora

Picture 160Understand that–for better or worse–the new report released by John Kerry on how Osama bin Laden escaped at Tora Bora is a designed to be a political document. It offers the following “irony” to the chattering classes the weekend before Obama announces his new Afghanistan strategy,

Ironically, one of the guiding principles of the Afghan model was to avoid immersing the United States in a protracted insurgency by sending in too many troops and stirring up anti-American sentiment. In the end, the unwillingness to bend the operational plan to deploy the troops required to take advantage of solid intelligence and unique circumstances to kill or capture bin Laden paved the way for exactly what we had hoped to avoid—a protracted insurgency that has cost more lives than anyone estimates would have been lost in a full-blown assault on Tora Bora. Further, the dangerous contagion of rising violence and instability in Afghanistan has spread to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed ally of the United States which is now wracked by deadly terrorist bombings as it conducts its own costly military campaign against a domestic, Taliban-related insurgency.

The report relies on just a few interviews, but mostly on existing histories (including a Special Ops Command history included as an appendix) and even an extended column from Michael O’Hanlon (also included as an appendix)–not exactly the kind of guy I’m thrilled to see at the center of a taxpayer funded report. I view the report as the logical endpoint of Kerry’s decision to hire journalist Douglas Frantz (whose biography of AQ Khan is cited once) to head investigations.

Which is not to say the research isn’t valid. Rather, that the timing and format of the report seems designed to emphasize the irony, noted above, and other little ironies such as the way our desire to get the corrupt Hamid Karzai installed as leader of Afghanistan affected our willingness to commit troops at Tora Bora.

[Franks’ second-in-command during the war, General Michael DeLong] amplified the reasons for not sending American troops after bin Laden. ‘‘The real reason we didn’t go in with U.S. troops was that we hadn’t had the election yet,’’ he said in the staff interview, a reference to the installation of Hamid Karzai as the interim leader of Afghanistan. ‘‘We didn’t want to have U.S. forces fighting before Karzai was in power. We wanted to create a stable country and that was more important than going after bin Laden at the time.’’

And the conclusion (less well supported by the facts presented in the report) that the same unwillingness to commit troops to Afghanistan in 2001 led to Mullah Omar’s escape.

The same shortage of U.S. troops allowed Mullah Mohammed Omar and other Taliban leaders to escape. A semi-literate leader who fled Kandahar on a motorbike, Mullah Omar has re-emerged at the helm of the Taliban-led insurgency, which has grown more sophisticated and lethal in recent years and now controls swaths of Afghanistan. The Taliban, which is aligned with a loose network of other militant groups and maintains ties to Al Qaeda, has established shadow governments in many of Afghanistan’s provinces and is capable of mounting increasingly complex attacks on American and NATO forces. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who helped develop the Obama administration’s Afghan policy, recently referred to the mullah’s return to power ‘‘one of the most remarkable military comebacks in modern history.’’

All these ironies, delivered just in time to play into the debate that will intensify next week.

We Can’t Afford the MaxTax

The newspapers (and some Senators) have apparently discovered what I pointed out a week ago. The MaxTax is completely unaffordable for the middle class.

Near the top of the list for the panel’s Democrats is worry that health insurance subsidies will not be sufficiently generous nor available to enough people despite the fact that the bill would legally require most people to obtain coverage. Beyond premiums, some Democrats are concerned that Baucus’s proposal would not do enough to protect middle-class families from high healthcare expenses.

"It’s very clear, at this point in the debate, the flashpoint is all about affordability,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “I personally think there’s a lot of heavy lifting left to do on the affordability issue.”

The healthcare bills already approved by three House committees and another Senate committee offer more generous subsidies – but at a higher cost to taxpayers.

“We’re doing our very best to make an insurance requirement as affordable as we possibly can, recognizing that we’re trying to get this bill under $900 billion total,” said Baucus, who has been courting Republican support for his measure in an attempt to guarantee that a healthcare bill can achieve the 60 votes or more needed to avoid a Senate filibuster.

“I’m going to work even harder to address any legitimate affordability concerns. I knew they were there,” Baucus said.

Just as a reminder, here are the numbers I came up with last week–showing that if a middle class family had a significant (but not catastrophic) medical event under MaxTax, it might be left with as little as $7,215 to pay transportation, utilities, school, clothing, and debt.

Here’s a very rough budget for that family making $67,000 (I’m not an accountant, so tell me where my assumptions are wrong).

Federal Taxes (estimate from this page): $8,710 (13% of income)

State Taxes (using MI rates on $30,000 of income): $1,305 (2% of income)

Food (using "low-cost USDA plan" for family of four): $9,060 (13.5% of income)

Home (assume a straight 30% of income): $20,100 (30% of income)

Bad Max Tax: $20,610 (31% of income)

Total: $59,785 (89% of income)

Remainder for all other expenses (including education, clothing, existing debt, transportation, etc.): $7,215 (or 11% of income)

(Note, there was a lot of discussion about the Federal tax figure–including whether it would be lower once you account for writing off these medical costs. Since it’s a CBO number that accounts for that kind of deduction now, Read more

Senator Al Franken!

al_franken_official_senate_portrait.jpg

Makes me smile:

Five years after he put his money behind the Swift Boat ads that helped tank John Kerry’s presidential campaign, Senate Democrats gave T. Boone Pickens a warm welcome at their weekly policy lunch Thursday. 

Or at least most of them did. 

Kerry skipped the regularly scheduled lunch; his staff said the Massachusetts Democrat “was unable to attend because he had a long scheduled lunch with his interns and pages.” 

Sen. Al Franken managed to make time for the lunch — but then let Pickens have it afterward. 

According to a source, the wealthy oil and gas magnate and author of “The First Billion Is the Hardest” stepped up to introduce himself to Franken in a room just off the Senate Floor after the lunch ended

Franken, who was seated talking to someone else, did not stand when Pickens said hello. Instead, Franken began to berate him about the billionaire’s financing of the Swift Boat ads in 2004.

I’m happy with people who want to partner with Pickens. Fine.

But don’t do it at a party caucus lunch.

Don’t make your former Presidential candidate schedule lunches with his interns and pages!!

Will We Finally See the John Kerry Who Investigated BCCI Again?

Thwarted in his dreams to be Secretary of State–or some cabinet position, any cabinet position–John Kerry is settling in and making some changes at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Kerry has hired Douglas Frantz, the former Los Angeles Times managing editor, to lead the committee’s investigative wing. The committee won’t specify what Frantz, who recently coauthored a book on Pakistani nuclear proliferator A.Q. Khan, plans to investigate. But sources note that he’s currently in Vienna, the seat of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Sources tell The Cable that the pro-Israel lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has encouraged Kerry and other members to probe Iran’s alleged sanctions busting, and how the country might bypass international sanctions to supply its nuclear program.

"For sure folks are strongly supportive of congressional and U.S. efforts to go after trans-shipment issues, often through the UAE, but in other places as well, that the Iranians have been using to bring in dual use items and other things not allowed under the sanctions," a source following the Iran issue said on condition of anonymity. With the recent U.S.-UAE nuclear power deal, "there is increased expectation on the Hill that the UAE will do a better job of cracking down on their country being used by Iran to push their nuclear programs forward and step up their effort to help ensure the economic sanctions aren’t being violated under their noses."

In addition to Frantz’ book on AQ Khan, Frantz wrote A Full Service Bank on an intimately related subject: the BCCI scandal (along with funding terrorism and CIA covert ops, BCCI served as the finance vehicle for AQ Khan’s nuke program). At the same time Frantz was working on that book, a guy named John Kerry was investigating BCCI in the Senate. I’ve always believed that the BCCI investigation–particularly Kerry’s decision not to press Democratic fixer Clark Clifford on his involvement with the bank–was the beginning of John Kerry’s evolution away from the courageous stance he took opposing the Vietnam War and towards the more accommodating, cautious stance that might allow one to someday run for President. For some support in that view, here’s Doug Frantz (with James Ring Adams) writing about his new boss’ decision, in 1988, to go easy on Clifford even though his bank, First American, was really not revealing its role in BCCI.

The Senator did not challenge Clifford. Read more

International Republican Institute Endorses Accuracy of Exit Polls

Congratulations Presidents Kerry and Gore, the State Department‘s-backed [see Redshift’s comment here; title changed accordingly] International Republican Institute has just belatedly declared you both President.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps the IRI has not released its exit poll from the Kenyan election precisely because doing so would suggest exit polls are an accurate measure of election fraud–and all that might imply for recent US electoral politics.

An exit poll carried out on behalf of a U.S. government-backed foundation indicated that Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki suffered a resounding defeat in last month’s disputed election, according to officials with knowledge of the document.

The poll by the Washington-based International Republican Institute — not yet publicly released — further undermines Kibaki’s claims of a narrow re-election victory. The outcome has sparked protests and ethnically driven clashes nationwide, killing hundreds.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga led Kibaki by roughly 8 percentage points in the poll, which surveyed voters as they left polling places during the election Dec. 27, according to one senior Western official who’s seen the data, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. That’s a sharp departure from the results that Kenyan election officials certified, which gave Kibaki a winning margin of 231,728 votes over Odinga, about 3 percentage points.

[snip]

It wasn’t clear why the International Republican Institute — which has conducted opinion polls and observed elections in Kenya since 1992 — isn’t releasing its data. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kenya confirmed that a poll was conducted but referred questions to the institute, where officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

[snip]

The senior Western official, who reviewed partial results of the poll, described them as credible. The survey included a sufficient sample of voters from around the country, and Odinga’s lead was comfortably outside the margin of error, the official said.

"What it tells me is there was an exit poll that had one candidate with a significant lead who, at the end of the day, was not declared the victor. That seems to me to be a little surprising," the official said.

It kind of makes you wonder how many more "credible" exit polls US government agencies are sitting on.