Pete Hoekstra

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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.

The “Sitting Next to a Baddie” American Death Authorization Has become the “Sitting in a Baddie Compound”

As Jim laid out, yesterday President Obama admitted that we killed two hostages, including American Warren Weinstein, in a drone operation in the Af-Pak border in January. In that same strike, we killed American citizen Ahmed Faruq, though he was not specifically targeted, Administration sources assure us. We also killed Adam Gadahn in an apparently unrelated strike, though we weren’t targeting him either, Administration sources assure us.

But I want to point to something rather remarkable in the language the Administration used yesterday to discuss this.

For years, the government has used the rationale that if an American is “sitting next to a baddie” then he becomes acceptable collateral damage in a drone strike.

That’s the rationale they gave when they killed Kamal Derwish in 2002: they were not targeting Derwish, they were targeting Abu Ali al-Harethi, but Derwish — far more threatening to the US at that moment because of his presumed role in recruiting Muslims in Lackawanna, NY — just was unlucky enough to be sitting next to him.

That’s the rationale they gave when they first missed Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009, a day before the government decided he had gone operational but at a time when Pete Hoekstra was making his continued existence an embarrassing issue for the Obama Administration. The Administration hadn’t been targeting Awlaki, they explained, they were instead targeting Nasir al-Wuhayshi and some other AQAP leaders, and Awlaki just happened to be present.

That’s the rationale they gave when they killed Samir Khan. He just happened to be sitting in the car when the CIA finally scorched Awlaki.

And that’s the rationale they gave when they killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: They weren’t targeting him, they were targeting Ibrahim al-Banna, though al-Banna turned out not even to be present.

That’s the rationale they gave, years later, when they admitted to killing Jude Kenan Mohammed: he was killed in a signature strike targeting the group he was in as a whole.

Never mind that in a number of these cases — the first Awlaki strike and the one that killed his son — there’s reason to believe they were specifically targeted. Never mind that in the case of Derwish and Khan knowing insiders wink winked that the government knew full well they’d be killing these men too when they struck the other target. The excuse has been — with the exception of the pursuit of Anwar al-Awlaki — that they were targeting another person (another known person, with the exception of the Jude Mohammed strike), and the American just happened to die as collateral damage.

But yesterday, that rationale changed.

Now, the government wasn’t so much targeting a person, but a compound, something that Josh Earnest was quite insistent on in his press conference yesterday.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Let’s start just with some of the facts of what happened, to the extent that you can discuss them.  How many other people were killed in these two strikes, either local civilians or militants?

EARNEST:  Josh, I won’t be able to provide specific numbers on this.  I can tell you that in the specific strike that resulted in the death of Dr. Weinstein and Mr. Lo Porto, there was one other al Qaeda leader who was among those that was killed.  That is the — Ahmed Faruq, the American citizen al Qaeda leader.  This was a strike against an al Qaeda compound, and the result was the death of at least one al Qaeda leader.

I can tell you that the assessment that we have right now does not raise questions about additional civilian loss of life. Again, the reason for that is that the standard that was in place and, to the best of our knowledge, was closely followed by our counterterrorism professionals was to adhere to this near-certainty standard.  And that near-certainty standard applied to two things.

The first is near certainty that this was an al Qaeda compound that was used by al Qaeda leaders; that turned out to be true.  That assessment did turn out to be correct.  The other near-certainty assessment was that no civilians would be harmed if this operation were carried out.  Unfortunately, that was not correct, and the operation led to this tragic, unintended consequence.
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The Pearl-Clutchers Normalizing Inflammatory Dog Whistles


As expected, last night Justin Amash held off a challenge from a corporatist Republican, Brian Ellis (though the margin was closer than polls predicted). What has the local punditry surprised, however, is Amash’s victory speech, where he attacked Ellis and former Congressman Crazy Pete Hoekstra, who endorsed Ellis.

AMASH VICTORY SPEECH: U.S. Rep. Justin Amash’s win over 3rd District GOP primary challenger Brian Ellis wasn’t too surprising, but his victory speech was. Rather than simply celebrate, Amash reportedly refused to answer a concession phone call from Ellis and then unloaded on the businessman, who had run a TV ad calling him “Al Qaeda’s best friend” in Congress. “I ran for office to stop people like you,” Amash said to Ellis, who was not present. He also ripped former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who backed Ellis in a separate commercial. “I’m glad we can hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance,” he said of Hoekstra. (more >>)

I get that you’re supposed to give a happy unity speech after you win (though I personally don’t much care if MI Republicans rip themselves apart, and MI’s Republican Congressmen already broke protocol by offering no support to Amash and in Mike Rogers’ case giving big support for Ellis). But not only is Crazy Pete a disgrace, Ellis did try to gain traction by smearing Amash.

From the coverage, I think Amash was most pissed that Ellis and Hoekstra treated a vote Amash refused to cast to defund Planned Parenthood on constitutional grounds as a pro-choice vote.

But in an interview with Fox, Amash also called Ellis’ ad rather famously repeating a claim he’s al Qaeda’s best friend in Congress disgusting.

“I’m an Arab-American, and he has the audacity to say I’m Al-Queda’s best friend in congress. That’s pretty disgusting.”

This ad, which played (among other prominent ad buys) during the World Cup, really pissed me off.

Not only for the treatment of Gitmo as anything but a terrible moneypit, all in the hopes of maintaining some extra-legal space to sustain the notion of war rather than law. But especially for the notion that anything but lock-step support for counterproductive counterterrorism policies makes you a friend of al Qaeda.

And yes, especially the suggestion that one of Congress’ only Arab-American members (Amash’s parents are Palestinian and Syrian Christians) might therefore be an Islamic terrorist.

For 12 years — ever since Saxby Chambliss used a similar technique to take out Max Cleland — our political culture has tolerated ads that invoke terror to short-circuit any real political debate about how we fight it. Those ads get treated as business as usual. Win or lose the race and then make nice with your opponent.

That such ads are still (were ever!) considered acceptable political discourse — that Amash, and not Ellis, is getting the scolds — damns our political system. By treating any debate over the efficacy of counterterrorism policy as terrorism itself, we foreclose potentially far more effective ways of keeping the country safe and potentially far smarter ways to spend limited resources. (Crazy Pete, for example, fear-mongered about moving Gitmo detainees to a prison threatened with closure in Michigan, thereby losing Michigan jobs, but also committing the US to continue to spend exorbitant amounts to keep our gulag open.)

At some point, it needs to be okay to call out such bullshit. Because until then, we’ll never be able to actually debate the best way to keep the country safe.

If 40 Months of Drone Strikes in Yemen Haven’t Made Transfers Safe …

When on January 5, 2010 President Obama announced a halt to all transfers of Yemeni Gitmo detainees, he reiterated his intent to close the prison, even noting that AQAP formed, in part, in response to Gitmo (recall that Said al-Shihri, one of AQAP’s actual operational leaders, had been a Gitmo detainee).

Finally, some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. So let me be clear. It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected.

With respect to Yemen in particular, there’s an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner. Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the Attorney General and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

But make no mistake: We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The announcement came less than a week after John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman released a statement (citing Shihri explicitly) complaining about the imminent release of 6 Yemeni detainees; Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond issued their own request. Jane Harman and Crazy Pete Hoekstra were also calling for a halt to transfers to Yemen (Hoekstra, of course, was also leaking NSA intercepts to fearmonger against Anwar al-Awlaki). The day after the announcement, DOD sources leaked a report that would later be released in more detail showing 20% of Gitmo detainees released had joined or rejoined al Qaeda. In short, in significant part it came in response to political pressure to halt transfers, something DiFi admits readily.

But the halt in transfers also came among Obama Administration guarantees that their new strategy against Yemen would quickly bring results. Brennan described the new security agreements put into place at the January 2, 2010 David Petraeus-Ali Abudullah Saleh meeting (this is where Brennan estimated the number of AQAP militants to be “several hundred”) at which Saleh agreed to let fixed wing planes, including drones, operate in his country.

WALLACE: Let me widen this discussion in that sense. Not only as you point out, obviously, were you in Yemen earlier, but General Petraeus, the head of Central Command, was in Yemen yesterday.

The British overnight have announced that the U.S. and the British are going to be co-funding a new Yemeni anti-terror counter-terror police force.

Is it fair to say that we are opening up a second front in our war on terror outside the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater in Yemen?

BRENNAN: I wouldn’t say we’re opening up a second front. This is the continuation of an effort that we’ve had under way since, as I said, the beginning of this administration.

David Petraeus has been out to Yemen several times. I spoke with him yesterday after he met with President Salih. We’re continuing to have a very close and ongoing dialogue with the Yemeni government. The cooperation is on the security, intelligence and military fronts.

We’ve had close consultations with the British. I spoke with the British last night also about the types of things that we can do together in support of the Yemeni government. So this is a determined and concerted effort.

We’re not going to let Al Qaeda continue to sort of make gains in Yemen, because we need to take whatever steps necessary to protect our citizens there as well as abroad.

WALLACE: Could that mean U.S. troops on ground in Yemen?

BRENNAN: We’re not talking about that at this point at all. The Yemeni government has demonstrated their willingness to take the fight to Al Qaeda. We — they’re willing to accept our support. We’re providing them everything that they’ve asked for.

And they’ve made some real progress. And over the past month, Al Qaeda has taken a number of hits, and a number of Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen are no longer with us because of this determined and aggressive action.

The day after Obama announced the moratorium on Yemen transfers, Robert Gibbs claimed (perhaps because several Yemenis had been transferred in December) that the moratorium came as a result of a recent decline in security.

MR. GIBBS: I have not seen or heard about the latest report that you refer to and I don’t have handy what numbers had been for similar reports in years past. Yesterday’s determination was made and announced very much on what you heard John Brennan say over the weekend. We never had a plan to transfer anybody either to their home country or to a third country that we believe — we have reason to believe will present a security situation for us or for that country. And in relating to Yemen, I think you heard John say nobody was going to be transferred back that we did not believe that the Yemeni government could handle.

The determination was made that given the — as you heard the President say — the swift change in the security environment even over the last few weeks in Yemen caused the President and the Attorney General to agree that pausing any of those transfers was the right policy right now.

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Dennis Blair and Drone Targeting

On February 3, 2010, in a public House Intelligence Committee hearing, Ranking House Intelligence member Pete Hoesktra asked then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair about the “framework” that might be used to target a US citizen.

So there is a framework and a policy for what’s hypothetically a radical born cleric … who’s living outside of the United States, there’s a clear path as to when this person may be engaging in free speech overseas and when he may have moved into recruitment or when he may have moved into actual coordinating and carrying out or coordinating attacks against the United States?

In response, Blair gave one of the most detailed statements any serving Administration figure has uttered about the process used to target Americans.

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said in each case a decision to use lethal force against a U.S. citizen must get special permission.

“We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community,” he said. “If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that.”

He also said there are criteria that must be met to authorize the killing of a U.S. citizen that include “whether that American is involved in a group that is trying to attack us, whether that American is a threat to other Americans. Those are the factors involved.”

[snip]

Mr. Blair responded that he would rather not discuss the details of this criteria in open session, but he assured: “We don’t target people for free speech. We target them for taking action that threatens Americans or has resulted in it.”

He added, “The reason I went this far in open session is I just don’t want other Americans who are watching to think that we are careless about endangering … lives at all. But we especially are not careless about endangering American lives, as we try to carry out the policies to protect most of the country and I think we ought to go into details in closed session.”

Viewed from this distance, the conversation is particularly ironic. As a Gang of Four member, Hoekstra presumably received a detailed review of the attempt to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009.

Yet, it is largely because of Hoekstra’s attempt to politicize the Nidel Hasan attack that we now know that the Intelligence Community believed, on the day Awlaki was targeted, that he was not operational. Even on the day this exchange occurred, it is not clear Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had yet changed his initial confession to implicate Awlaki.

So while the NSA had found messages between the UndieBomber and Awlaki to indicate they communicated, and while the US had intelligence warning of an imminent attack that led us to target a clan of Bedouins even while Abdulmutallab was on his way to Detroit, even when this exchange occurred it’s not clear we had clear evidence implicating Awlaki in the UndieBomb attempt.

Two months later, Awlaki reportedly would be added to the CIA’s kill list, presumably based on the plea agreement based representations of Abdulmutallab. The following month, in May 2010, Blair would be ousted, ostensibly because of his failure to prevent the UndieBomb attack, though that explanation didn’t make any sense, for a number of reasons. And only after that–in early June 2010–would the Administration finally get around to finalizing the OLC memo that ostensibly okayed the targeting of Awlaki, though the memo clearly did not cover the circumstances of that first attempt.

I find all that rather interesting background, considering Blair’s increasingly assertive calls for the Administration to be more transparent in its discussions of drones.

Blair — who was dismissed by President Obama in May 2010 after a falling-out over intelligence matters — said the administration should make public some details of how and why it decides that some terrorists should be targeted. “The United States is a democracy, we want our people to know how we use military force and that we use it in ways the United States is proud of,” Blair said. “There’s been far too little debate” about this form of killing.

The drone strikes are reviewed, after they have taken place, by the House and Senate intelligence committees, so there is some oversight of the process by which targets are selected and people killed. But Blair said he doubted the White House would allow the public insight into the drone program. “They’ve made the cold-blooded calculation that it’s better to hunker down and take the criticism than to take the debate public — which I think in the long run is essential,” he said.

He’s the guy who went on the record saying “special permission” was needed to target an American–with the understand that permission came from the President. And he now describes a refusal to explain the drone targeting “hunkering down.”

National Security Tools and Gun Violence

Within days after Nidal Hasan killed 13 people in Fort Hood, TX, Crazy Pete Hoekstra leaked FBI intercepts to the press to suggest Anwar al-Awlaki had pushed Hasan to attack, with the underlying implication that the Obama Administration had failed to prevent terrorism.

And while a number of Democrats have come forward to say that this time we have to do something to prevent massacres like the one in Sandy Hook, no one has yet suggested that it was a failure not to.

It may not have been a failure; thus far, the evidence suggests Adam Lanza’s attack might have been a failure of our mental health system, but there’s no indication he came on the  law enforcement radar outside a failed attempt to buy a gun.

All that said, there’s a shocking underlying assumption there, that the President and the National Security bureaucracy has more responsibility to protect the soldiers in Fort Hood than the 6-year olds in Newtown’s elementary schools from crazed gunmen.

Which is where this Charlie Savage story comes in. It explains how, in the wake of the Gabbie Giffords shooting (by a guy whose profile may be similar to Lanza’s), DOJ moved to ramp up the background checks on gun buyers.

Instead, it focused on ways to bolster the database the F.B.I. uses for background checks on gun purchasers, including using information on file at other federal agencies. Certain people are barred from buying guns, including felons, drug users, those adjudicated mentally “defective,” illegal immigrants and people convicted of misdemeanor offenses related to domestic violence.

For example, the study recommended that all agencies that give out benefits, like the Social Security Administration, tell the F.B.I. background-check system whenever they have made arrangements to send a check to a trustee for a person deemed mentally incompetent to handle his own finances, or when federal employees or job applicants fail a drug test. It also proposed setting up a system to appeal such determinations.

Although advocates for gun rights and privacy protection would probably object to the sharing of such information among agencies, the Justice Department concluded such activity would be lawful and appropriate.

Savage explains that the effort was shelved because of increasing pressure on DOJ because of Fast and Furious. I don’t find that explanation remotely adequate (it may be true, but if so, it’s a measure of the Administration’s failure to defend its own rather than a real political measure). DOJ could have said Border Patrol Brian Terry’s death demonstrated that gun-walking–one intelligence response to the urgent problem of drug gangs using US-purchased guns–had failed, and that this data-driven focus represented DOJ’s new approach to deal with the still urgent problem. (Note, Savage says DOJ also called for increased penalties for straw buyers, which would have fit with that explanation.)

Whatever the excuse, the Administration backed off this plan, even as it rolled out its effort to do something similar, but even more intrusive–to make some of the same databases available for NCTC’s counterterrorist data mining. Once again, the NatSec bureaucracy uses far more intrusive methods against terrorists–who have killed fewer people since 9/11 than the number that died at Sandy Hook Friday–than against gun violence generally.

Mind you, while the scrapped plan sounds fairly reasonable, I’d want to learn more before I agreed this is the right solution. And it would amount to a half measure if it didn’t come with increased accessibility for mental health care.

Though if it happened, I suspect it would trigger the kind of debate about privacy that we should be having over the counterterrorist measures, and we might see the same kind of privacy protections, such as DOJ’s plan to set up an appeal process, in those CT efforts.

As we go forward with this debate, we need to do something about gun violence. But we also need to make it clear that the government has every bit as much–more–responsibility to protect children from crazed gunmen as it has to protect military bases from terrorism. It’s time to stop treating unarmed radicalized Muslims as a bigger threat than mentally ill or imbalanced young men bearing Bushmasters, because far more people are being killed by the latter.

The Paul Ryan Surge, MI’s Anti-Obama Blacks, Mitt’s Bankrupt Birth, and Other Republican Myths

On August 11, Mitt Romney announced his pick of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. A few days later, CrazyPete Hoekstra renewed his earlier call for the repeal of the 17th Amendment in the name of state’s rights. More recently, a poll based on off-year turnout model reported Mitt and Hoekstra would win MI. And seemingly in response to that poll, Mitt came to MI to race bait about how he was born in MI, unlike that brown fella.

It all sort of makes you believe MI’s Republicans don’t plan on running a fair election this November.

All of which makes me grateful that Nate Silver just called out both that earlier poll and an even crazier one that came out yesterday. As he notes, yesterday’s poll–showing a tie in the Presidential and, even more improbably, a one point CrazyPete lead over Debbie Stabenow–assumed that African Americans would not be voting in November.

The head of Mitchell Research, Steve Mitchell, wrote a long memo accompanying his poll release on Monday. In that poll, he weighted the survey to assume that African-Americans would make up only 8 percent of Michigan’s turnout. By contrast, black voters represented 12 percent of the turnout in Michigan in 2008 according to exit polls, and 14 percent according to another source, the Current Population Survey. Blacks also made up 13 percent of Michigan’s vote in 2004 and 11 percent in 2000, according to exit polls. Continue reading

The Terror Attack in the Temple

Over at Lawfare yesterday, a Sikh Notre Dame professor, Naunihal Singh, argued that the media have treated the Oak Creek attack as a singularly Sikh tragedy, not an American one.

The media has treated the shootings in Oak Creek very differently from those that happened just two weeks earlier in Aurora. Only one network sent an anchor to report live from Oak Creek, and none of the networks gave the murders in Wisconsin the kind of extensive coverage that the Colorado shootings received. The print media also quickly lost interest, with the story slipping from the front page of the New York Times after Tuesday. If you get all your news from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” you would have had no idea that anything had even happened on August 5th at all.

The tragic events in the Milwaukee suburb were also treated differently by political élites, many fewer of whom issued statements on the matter. While both Presidential candidates at least made public comments, neither visited, nor did they suspend campaigning in the state even for one day, as they did in Colorado. In fact, both candidates were in the vicinity this weekend and failed to appear. Obama hugged his children a little tighter after Aurora, but his remarks after Oak Creek referred to Sikhs as members of the “broader American family,” like some distant relatives. Romney unsurprisingly gaffed, referring on Tuesday to “the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple.” Because the shooting happened in Paul Ryan’s district, the Romney campaign delayed announcement of its Vice-Presidential choice until after Ryan could attend the funerals for the victims, but he did not speak at the service and has said surprisingly little about the incident.

As a result, the massacre in Oak Creek is treated as a tragedy for Sikhs in America rather than a tragedy for all Americans. Unlike Aurora, which prompted nationwide mourning, Oak Creek has had such a limited impact that a number of people walking by the New York City vigil for the dead on Wednesday were confused, some never having heard of the killings in the first place.

I absolutely agree with his assessment of media attention, and I agree that the differential attention stems from real discomfort (which is a polite word for ignorance, maybe) about Sikhism. It was all the media could do to explain that Sikhs weren’t Muslim, by which I actually think they meant well, but which betrayed horrible things about their views both of Muslims and turbans.

But I don’t agree, exactly, that politicians stayed away (or didn’t publicize their attendance at the memorial, in the case of Ryan) because of their unfamiliarity with Sikhs. I don’t think any of the Presidential and Veep candidates are as unfamiliar with Sikhs as the media are, for example.

Rather, I think it has to do with the political role of terrorism.

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It’s Not Just Whether Nidal Hasan’s Emails Stuck Out, It’s Whether Abdulmutallab’s Did

I’ve been meaning to return to the Webster report on Nidal Hasan’s conversations with Anwar al-Awlaki. This conversation between Gunpowder & Lead and Intelwire about how alarming those emails were will be a start provides a good place to start.

Hasan’s emails should have raised more concern–but probably didn’t because of the sheer volume of Awlaki intercepts

G&L notes that certain details from the emails–such as his invocation of Hasan Akbar, a Muslim-American soldier who killed two officers in Kuwait–as an example that should have raised more concern than it did.

But more significant, his question to Awlaki didn’t actually deal with the valid question that he raised, the feeling of inner conflict between one’s faith and serving in the U.S. military. Instead, he leaped right to a question that should rightly trigger alarm: if Hasan Akbar died while attacking fellow soldiers, would he be a martyr? Hasan skipped over questions about whether serving in the U.S. military is religiously acceptable; whether going to war against fellow Muslims is a violation of religious principles. Instead, in addressing “some” soldiers who felt conflicted about fighting fellow Muslims, Hasan right away asked whether it was permissible to kill other U.S. soldiers in the way Hasan Akbar.

After a close analysis of a number of the emails, G&L refutes the representation of these emails as “fairly benign.”

I agree with that assessment (and would add that the suggestion, in a February 22, 2009 email, that Hasan was donating to entities that his mosque would not is another troubling detail). But I also agree with Intelwire. These emails, from an Army officer, surely merited more attention. But these emails, as they likely appeared among the stream of Anwar al-Awlaki communications, probably did not stick out.

Based on who Hasan was (a military officer), who he was talking to (a suspected 9/11 accomplice), and the fact he repeatedly tried to get Awlaki’s attention using a variety of stratagems, the case should have been escalated and Hasan’s superiors should have been informed.

But when you place the content of Hasan’s messages alongside all the other raw intelligence that counterterrorism investigations generate, it’s extremely hard to argue from a subjective, non-psychoanalytical reading that they represented a red flag.

Which is why this report has seemed poorly scoped to me. Because not only did Nidal Hasan’s emails fail to trigger further attention, but Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s contacts with Awlaki before Fort Hood did too.

In spite of the fact that the FBI had two people spending a significant chunk of each day (they claimed it took 40% or 3 hours of their work day; 88) reviewing communications tied to Awlaki, in spite of the fact that two men about to attack the US were in contact with Awlaki, “the FBI’s full understanding of Aulaqi’s operational ambitions developed only after the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009.” (72)

The government also failed to respond to Abdulmutallab intercepts leading up to the Fort Hood attack

Consider: according to the report itself, Robert Mueller formally asked William Webster to conduct this inquiry on December 17, 2009 (though Webster’s appointment was reported over a week before then). Just 8 days later, another terrorist who had been in contact with Awlaki struck the US. Just 5 days after that, sources started leaking details of NSA intercepts from 4 months earlier (so around August) that might have warned about the attack.

Intelligence intercepts from Yemen beginning in early August, when Abdulmutallab arrived in that country, contained “bits and pieces about where he was, what his plans were, what he was telling people his plans were,” as well as information about planning by the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, a senior administration official said. “At first blush, not all these things appear to be related” to the 23-year-old Nigerian and the bombing attempt, he said, “but we believe they were.”

It’s unclear how many of these intercepts were directly between Abdulmutallab and Awlaki, and therefore presumably reviewed by the FBI team in San Diego. But at least according to the sentencing materials submitted in the Abdulmutallab case (there are reasons to treat this with a bit of skepticism), there were substantive communications between Awlaki and Abdulmutallab.

Defendant provided this individual [who offered to connect him with Awlaki] with the number for his Yemeni cellular telephone. Thereafter, defendant received a text message from Awlaki telling defendant to call him, which defendant did. Continue reading

RickyLeaks

In a post at the Document Exploitation blog, Douglas Cox reminds us of how Crazy Pete Hoekstra and Rick Santorum pressured the government to make all of Saddam’s documents–including a plan for a nuke–available on the InterToobz.

The drive towards this unprecedented doc dump arose in earnest in late 2005 and early 2006 when the continuing public debate over the justifications for the 2003 Iraq invasion turned towards the possibility of untapped evidence in the captured documents from Iraq.  Could they contain, for instance, “smoking gun” evidence of links between Saddam and al-Qaeda?  Stephen F. Hayes at the Weekly Standard, for example, had an impressive series of pieces during this period on his attempts to obtain access to some of the captured Iraqi documents both via the Pentagon press office and via repeated FOIA requests. He also covered growing calls in Congress for the release of the material.  See in particular his “Where Are the Pentagon Papers?” in November 2005, “Down the Memory Hole: The Pentagon sits on the documents of the Saddam Hussein regime” in December, and both “Saddam’s Terror Training Camps: What the documents captured from the former Iraqi regime reveal — and why they should all be made public” and “Read All About It: Prewar Iraqi documents are of more than academic interest” from January 2006.

In March 2006, both then-Rep. Pete Hoekstra and then-Sen. Rick Santorum took action by introducing nearly identical bills in the House and Senate that required the “Director of National Intelligence to release documents captured in Afghanistan or Iraq during Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

This led Gawker to make the obvious analogy to WikiLeaks.

Catholic scold Rick Santorum thinks Julian Assange is a “terrorist”—and ought to be prosecuted as such—for his role in releasing thousands of pages of classified documents on the internet. He ought to know: In 2006, Sen. Rick Santorum literally forced the U.S. government to dump thousands of pages of classified records concerning Iraq onto the web, including detailed plans for building a nuclear weapon, so that right-wing bloggers could search them for evidence of Saddam Hussein’s phantom WMD.

[snip]

No less an authority than former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card said at the time that the release was stupid, and that Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte had opposed Santorum’s push for release: “John Negroponte warned us that we don’t know what’s in these documents, so these are being put out at some risk, and that was a warning that he put out right when they first released the documents.”

ODNI of course took the documents down, but not before they were grabbed by anyone and everyone who may have been interested in designing a nuclear weapon.

A spokesman for Santorum did not respond to a request for comment.

Maybe now that he has effectively called himself a terrorist Santorum will start campaigning against Obama’s use of drones to target American citizens?

(Max Sawicky gets full credit for the post title.)

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