Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Good news, which should be cheer to Congress, which was complaining mightily when the exchange wasn’t working. I expect to see some guarded praise from the Right… well, no, not really. Lizette Alvarez and Jennifer Preston report in the NY Times:
After two months of false starts, error messages and pleas for patience from the once-hobbled federal online health care exchange, Karen Egozi, the chief executive of the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, watched on Monday as counselors navigated the website’s pages with relative ease.
Click. Next page. Click. Next page. The website, HealthCare.gov, was working so well that Ms. Egozi, who oversees the 45 navigators in eight locations who help consumers enroll in health plans, said her team gave the system an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, meaning that most people got as far as selecting a plan or taking home information to select a plan. It felt like a champagne moment.
“I’m 80 percent satisfied,” Ms. Egozi said. “I think it will be great when it’s 100 percent.”
A little over a week after the deadline that President Obama gave for fixing the federal health care exchange, the system is definitely working better, according to consumers and navigators interviewed in several states. The technical errors that had bedeviled visitors to the site for weeks seemed to have been tamed by the patchwork of hardware and software fixes ordered by the administration, and applicants were finally selecting health care plans under the president’s new law, the Affordable Care Act. By last week, the number of applicants who dropped a plan into their virtual grocery carts was climbing at a rapid clip.
Still, the interviews indicated, some technical obstacles persist. After shoppers clicked all the way to the plans, for example, the system was not letting some people actually choose one. In other cases, people were asked to try again later.
Improved entry into the online marketplace has also exposed a new layer of problems and confusion for applicants who are suddenly finding their efforts to buy insurance delayed by requirements that they provide proof of identity or citizenship or that they wait for determinations on Medicaid eligibility.
For the most part, though, the news for the beleaguered online exchange, which serves 36 states, is improving. Since early December, the federal exchange website has run without crashing, officials said. In the first week of December, about 112,000 people selected plans — compared with about 100,000 in all of November and only 27,000 in October. Last week, more than half a million people created accounts on the federal website, according to people familiar with the health care project.
Technical experts involved with the exchange said they are now preparing for a surge of applications before Dec. 23, the enrollment deadline to receive coverage by the first of the year. Although those preparations will require some significant changes to the system, the work will be easier now that the site seems stable during heavy use, the experts said.
In offices spread across the country, from Florida and Pennsylvania to Wyoming and Wisconsin, all of them states that rely on the federal government’s insurance exchange, navigators and applicants reported far fewer problems.
“I was hearing so much about the glitches in the system that I was worried that it wouldn’t work,” said Caroline Moseley, 54, who lost her job as a housing program analyst for the City of Philadelphia. After asking a navigator from the nonprofit Resources for Human Development for help in finding a plan, Ms. Moseley chose one that costs $27 a month with a $6,000 deductible. “It was a great experience,” she said. “The site was running very smoothly. It took about 30 minutes tops.”
Stephanie Lincoln, 60, of Lansdowne, Pa., also had quick success with the exchange — after a frustrating experience trying to submit an application online in October and November. With the help of a navigator, Caroline Picher, working at the local library, Ms. Lincoln signed up in just one hour on Friday for a policy that will cost $113 a month, with no deductible.
“I am one of the people whose plans were canceled,” Ms. Lincoln said. “It was just the easiest thing in the world.” . . .
Brian Beutler discusses the improved performance and links to other reports of progress; from his article:
. . . Here’s one from the State in South Carolina:
An elbow-injuring fall in March proved nearly as painful financially as physically for Carolyn Gates, who was uninsured and ended up with an $8,000 bill for her emergency room visit.
She felt much better Wednesday after a visit to the S.C. Progressive Network’s Columbia office, where she worked with Navigator Tim Liszewski to sign up on the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. While Gates and her husband slowly pay off that emergency room debt, she’ll also be paying a $107-per-month health insurance premium next year.
“As far as I’m concerned, it was the best thing ever,” Gates said. “I told my Bible study about it, and three said they’re going to sign up.”
And here are several more from the St. Louis Post Dispatch:
At the Columbia location of Primaris Healthcare Business Solutions, an enrollment event Monday proved successful for all of its visitors. Jeremy Milarsky, navigator program manager, said he didn’t experience any website glitches and all of his appointments with consumers ended in successful plan selections.
“Today was, I would say, an enrollment event with a capital ‘E,’” he said.
The St. Louis Area Agency on Aging, another nonprofit group assisting consumers with health insurance enrollment, held several outreach events this week. Mark Smith, case management coordinator, said navigators are still seeing some website problems, but also significant improvement. The new feature that allows users to delete their applications and begin again has helped, he said, and the majority of people at the events have been able to select a plan. . . .
Progress is good, right? Things are looking up (except for those in states that refused to expand Medicare for their citizens).
Obama seems to like a closed administration, with secrecy throughout. His comments on “transparency”, it is now clear, were mere rhetoric in which he had no belief, stated (presumably) because people like to hear that sort of thing. At ProPublica Cora Currier looks a the Obama Administration’s latest effort to work in secrecy:
As ProPublica reported this fall, the Obama administration is rolling back limits on some U.S. arms exports. Experts are concerned that the changes could result in military parts flowing more freely to the world’s conflict zones, and that arms sanctions against Iran and other countrieswill be harder to enforce.
Now, some in Congress are seeking to add back some oversight mechanisms lost in the overhaul – over opposition from the administration.
As part of the administration’s larger changes to what many view as an antiquated arms export system, thousands of military items have moved out from under the State Department’s long-standing oversight to the looser controls of the Commerce Department.
Commerce Department officials have said that, as a matter of policy, they will continue human rights vetting of recipient countries and reporting big sales to Congress, things the State Department was legally required to do.
A bill introduced in the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month would add back those and other legal requirements for many military items moving to Commerce control.
The bill is intended to “preserve Congressional oversight of arms transfers as the administration implements its Export Control Reform Initiative,” said Daniel Harsha, a spokesman for the committee.
While administration officials declined to comment on the pending legislation, they have quietly resisted it.
“They’ve opposed it because they don’t think it’s necessary,” said Colby Goodman, a consultant to the Open Society Policy Center who was formerly with the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs. (Open Society provides funding to ProPublica.) “The administration appears to prefer having human rights vetting in policy only. Unfortunately, this stance makes it easier for the administration to ignore such vetting when it suits them.”
Brandt Pasco, a lawyer who helped craft the overall export changes, said Congress may be over-reacting. “Most of what’s being transferred over, the reason it was being moved to the Commerce system was that it was not seen as being enormously sensitive,” said Pasco, who added that the human rights requirement risked creating “needless bureaucracy” for unimportant items.
The Senate is also considering legislation in response to the changes, though its approach may have less practical effect than that of the House.
The president decides what stays on the State Department’s control list, and the current standard is items that provide a critical military advantage to the U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has put forward an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that lays out broader criteria for the president’s decision. . . .
Juan Cole quite rightly takes President Obama to task for working so hard to increase the range and depth of surveillance of American citizens (and lying to us about it, but that’s another matter: Cole’s focus is on the activity itself). Cole writes:
In his stirring eulogy of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first president to be legitimately elected, by the entire South Africa people, President Barack Obama said,
“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.
There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
I am not an armchair politician who holds the real ones in contempt. Politics is hard. Most of us don’t have the patience or the stamina for it. Hammering out a compromise among persons with strong egos and entrenched ideologies is a talent and a skill that I admire. Those puritans who demand consistency and decry hypocrisy, who scoff at bargaining, may admire their own unsullied characters alone in their rooms, but they will never actually accomplish anything good for people. Barack Obama has the patience of a Job, in the face of an opposition party that has declared itself not a loyal opposition but a deadly enemy.
So it is not lightly or glibly that I use the occasion of Obama’s heartfelt speech to upbraid him. But the contradictions in his sentiments and his actions here are too extreme, too glaring to pass without rebuke.
Obama praised dissent in the service of human rights, but has done everything in his power to suppress dissent. Dissent can come from within the ranks of government employees (indeed, since 3% of the work force in the US is employed by the Federal government if you count the military, it would have to). If Mr. Obama truly valued dissent in the service of human rights, he would persuade his Attorney General to drop charges against Edward Snowden and he would use his presidential pardon to release Chelsea Manning from penitentiary. These two are dissenters, the one in prison and the other facing prosecution if the US could get its hands on him. They saw their government do things that they found ethically repugnant and blatantly unconstitutional, which the government had hidden from the citizens whom it was supposed to be serving. Their revelations of what they knew was the highest form of morality.
Mr. Snowden in particular has revealed a Federal government completely out of control, engaged in warrantless surveillance of millions of American citizens on US soil, in ways that contravene the letter, spirit and intent of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and whichcourts have found illegal when these practices have been allowed to come before them. The ACLU has shown how dangerous this unfettered surveillance could be to our individual liberties and personal autonomy.
One can only be disappointed at Mr. Obama’s complaisant reaction to these revelations, many of which may well have come as a surprise to him, since apparently the octopus-like secret government that has substituted itself for the elected one doesn’t tell the front men very much about what it is really doing. Obama seems convinced that the records being assiduously compiled on Americans (not to mention millions of innocent French, Brazilians, Germans, Indians and others) will not be misused by government. This conviction is either self-serving or strangely naive, and in any case goes against the entire tradition of American governance. The US government was erected by people who had suffered forms of tyranny pursued by a much less powerful government than we now have, and who were convinced that state officials will often get away with as much as they can get away with.
We already know that warrantless surveillance of individuals has started law enforcement investigating them for, e.g., drug buying. When the investigation threw up actionable evidence, law enforcement prosecuted on the basis of it. The police then lied to the judges and defense attorneys, making up some reason for which they began looking at the alleged perpetrator in the first place, and obscuring that it was unwarranted electronic surveillance that put them on to him or her. Perhaps thousands of such unconstitutional prosecutions have been brought, dishonestly and illegally. If police will lie to the judge’s face to get their conviction, what else will they do? And getting up a political protest involving civil disobedience is as easily monitored as are drug buys.
The kind of information being gathered without a warrant not only by the National Security Administration but by a wide range of law enforcement and intelligence agencies has the potential for making dissent impossible. Most effective protest of the sort Mr. Obama praised in his speech is illegal. Often, the laws themselves are wrong, as with the latticework of Jim Crow legislation that subjected African-Americans or the enactments of the South African parliament in the Apartheid era. Breaking wrong laws is key to much of the social progress the world has made in the past century. Gandhi, whom Obama cited, formulated a policy of nonviolent noncooperation, which involves law-breaking. The government’s aspiration to total information awareness about all human beings will be deadly to conspiring to break the law or carrying it out.
Some may think I am exaggerating the case, but we only have 1% of the Snowden leaks and what we already have makes Orwell’s 1984 look like a lackadaisical libertarian paradise.
A man driven by a desire for social justice, on discovering what the NSA and other agencies have been up to, would have formed an urgent commission to investigate abuses and curb them. Obama instead kidnapped the president of Bolivia looking for Snowden and stiff-armed any talk from people like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) about maybe reforming the practices. . .
I will be so glad when Dianne Feinstein reaches the end of this term. Although every now and then she takes a good position, in general she has done an increasingly shoddy job as Senator. Brendan Sasso and Bob Cusack report in The Hill:
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. doesn’t mince his words.
The Wisconsin Republican says the House and Senate Intelligence committees have become “cheerleaders” for the National Security Agency.
“Instead of putting the brakes on overreaches, they’ve been stepping on the gas,” he said of the committees, which are led by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
In an interview with The Hill, Sensenbrenner — who has offered legislation to rein in the NSA — called rival legislation “a joke.”
He said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper should be prosecuted for “lying” to Congress on the nation’s surveillance programs.
Sensenbrenner, the original author of the Patriot Act, wants to limit the NSA’s surveillance powers in the wake of leaks by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden.
“There is no limit — apparently, according to the NSA — on what they can collect. And that has got to be stopped,” he said.
The 18-term lawmaker claims Congress fell down on the job of overseeing the NSA.
He said the failure in oversight occurred after Congress reauthorized the Patriot Act in 2006, just as he was stepping down as Judiciary Committee chairman.
The NSA then won secret approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to use a provision of the Patriot Act to collect records on all U.S. phone calls.
The court authorized the sweeping data collection even though the provision, Section 215, only allows the NSA to collect records that are “relevant” to terrorism.
“I don’t think the oversight was vigorously done by the Judiciary Committee,” Sensenbrenner said. “When I was running the Judiciary Committee, it was being vigorously done.”
Sensenbrenner, along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), has introduced the USA Freedom Act to end the bulk collection of phone records, limit the NSA’s power and tighten oversight.
But Rogers and Feinstein are fighting to protect the NSA’s authority, especially its sweeping phone record collection program. Feinstein has introduced a bill that would make certain reforms to promote transparency but would endorse the phone data collection.
“The Feinstein bill is a joke,” Sensenbrenner said.
He said that her view is essentially “if you like your NSA, you can keep it.”
Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Feinstein, declined to respond to Sensenbrenner’s salvo…
The US government grows increasingly intolerant of dissent. Read this post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:
Cenk Uygur at Young Turks makes the point that the National Security Agency and other US intelligence (services who are ending up with massive amounts of electronic surveillance information on Americans –whether that is what they were mainly going for or not) keep saying we should trust them with the information. They maintain that they aren’t looking at the information on US citizens on US soil and that strict procedures are in place to forestall abuses. But they admit a few abuses– NSA ex-boyfriends stalking ex-girlfriends and similar minor personal matters.
But there is no reason for us to simply trust the US government with personal information that they should not by the Constitution be having in the first place. The history of government illegally invading privacy and playing dirty tricks on citizens is long and fetid. J. Edgar Hoover menaced senators with his secret files. The the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually proposed to Jack Kennedy in 1962 that they conduct a false flag campaign of terrorism in the US and blame it on Castro, to justify an invasion of Cuba. That is, the highest military commanders of the US armed forces were terrorists willing to hurt innocent citizens for their purposes. You had COINTELPRO in the 1960s and 1970s, when the FBI attempted to smear and disrupt anti-war groups by infiltrating them. Richard M. Nixon attempted to use the CIA politically, and it kept 10,000 files on US citizen activists on US soil at that time. All this would come as no surprise to the Founding Fathers, who knew that government officials are often corrupt and tyrannical and can’t be trusted. That was why they attempted to bind those officials with a constitution, bill of rights, independent courts, and oversight from the legislature.
Their attempts have failed. In late 2001 there was a coup, and a secret shadow government was established at that point that has no checks or balances, and which is completely ruthless. It exploited elementary flaws in the architecture of the internet to spy on the whole world not excluding Americans on American soil (the internet sends US emails, phone calls, etc. all around the globe bouncing off servers, and you can’t scoop up all the fiber optic traffic going to the UK across the Atlantic without scooping up Americans’ information). It doesn’t tell the relevant House and Senate committees or the judiciary what it is really up to, or even, I suspect, the president.
An indication of how these things are actually done surfaced when Glenn Carle, a retired CIA officer, and some others inside the agency, told the New York Times’s James Risen in 2011 that the Bush White House asked the CIA to “get” me (Juan Cole) wanted to find personal information on me with which to discredit me. Carle’s and others’ courageous pushback (he said “hell, no, that’s illegal and might destroy the Agency!”) helped stop this criminal conspiracy of the Neocons in its tracks. But others at the Agency were perfectly willing to go along, and if Carle hadn’t been there, who knows what would have happened? And if the White House could try to use the CIA against an obscure Midwest college professor with a blog, imagine what they were doing to other more important people.
More came out on Democracy Now! that summer:
By the way, Barack Obama’s DOJ is prosecuting the courageous James Risen for his national security journalism, which is despicable. After all, what the White House ordered the CIA to do to me was presumably classified, so he revealed classified information. It is all classified, Mr. President, the wrongdoing along with the things gotten right. You can’t have journalism if you prosecute all leaks.
Reminds me of Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud!!!” – C. Rice. But I guess once a tactic is found to work, it will inevitably be repeated, especially since the last time there was no accountability for the false stories that got the US to invade Iraq. Amy Goodman interviews Seymour Hersh at Democracy Now!, where the interview is available on video or as a transcript. The blurb:
Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.” The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra Front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.
Very interesting story. I think some game geeks convinced the NSA and CIA that letting them play on-line games all day might be useful at some point…
Interesting post at Informed Comment by either csstester or Jack Searle, it’s not clear which:
An unprecedented attempt to discover if British officials are complicit in the CIA drone campaign in Pakistan reached the Court of Appeal this week.
Khan’s lawyers are attempting to get English courts to examine whether UK officials at GCHQ share information about targets in Pakistan with the CIA, and whether this could therefore make British spies complicit in murder or war crimes.
The case has been brought against the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who is responsible for GCHQ.
The British government has consistently refused to confirm or deny whether it does share such intelligence.
Khan is represented by Leigh Day & Co and the case is backed by legal charity Reprieve. In March 2012 Khan launched judicial review proceedings, but after a two-day hearing in October 2012, High Court judges refused to order such a review.At that stage, Lord Justice Moses ruled that the aim of the case was actually to try to stop US drone strikes. He said: ‘The claimant cannot demonstrate that his application will avoid, during the course of the hearing and in the judgment, giving a clear impression that it is the United States’ conduct in North Waziristan which is also on trial.’
f the court was forced to consider whether US drone strikes were legal it could ’imperil relations’ between the US and UK, Moses ruled.
But this week Khan’s lawyers argued against this decision before three senior judges in the Court of Appeal.
They argued they were not seeking to show ‘the actions of the United States or its agents are criminal’, adding that those who launch the strikes on Pakistan are beyond the jurisdiction of English courts. Khan’s barrister Martin Chamberlain QC said: ‘The criminality of agents of the United States is a matter for their law or Pakistan’s.’
Chamberlain told the Court of Appeal that allowing the judicial review to proceed would not damage UK-US relations. A week before the High Court case, the government lodged an application to stop Khan’s claim being heard as it is ‘injurious to public interest’, using a document called a public interest immunity (PII) certificate. Before the case could continue, there would have to be a fresh hearing in which a court would appoint special advocates, hearing arguments for and against the application in secret.
Chamberlain added that at present the facts around the UK involvement in US drone strikes, and US drone strikes themselves are not clear. But he argued that the fact that the government, in the form of the Foreign Secretary William Hague who is responsible for GCHQ, has lodged a PII suggests there are things Hague knows ‘that he does not wish to disclose’.
Barristers for Hague argued that if the case was to go ahead the court would be unable to avoid ‘examining the conduct and action’ of the US. This would ‘cut a swathe’ through UK intelligence-sharing with the US.
Related story: Evidence in British court contradicts CIA drone claims
Kat Craig, legal director of Reprieve, said: ‘Drones that killed Noor Khan’s father – and have killed hundreds more civilians in Pakistan – are the US’ weapon of choice in their illegal “war on terror”. The UK government is wilfully refusing to reveal whether and how they facilitate this secret war. Fear that our friends in the US will be annoyed is nothing like an acceptable excuse for continuing to keep these details under wraps.’
The judgment will be handed down at a future date.
The court may find that the US does not have to right to travel around the globe killing people it doesn’t like.
I was thinking about this amazing piece by Pratap Chatterjee on how the CIA has seen too many Jason Bourne movies and has adopted the derring-do and bravado tactics that work so well in the movies but, in real life, turn out to make a mess. One thinks of the person who sees in a movie the tablecloth trick—whisking a tablecloth away from a fully set table, disturbing nothing—and decides to show his family at Thanksgiving dinner, only to discover that movies hide the effort, the practice, and the failed attempts and show only the shot that came out perfectly. In real life, things are different, as Chatterjee shows. Instead of Jason Bourne, think of Inspector Clouseau, only not funny.
And the piece, which I blogged earlier, is really worth reading in its recitation of how would-be Jason Bournes and James Bonds fare in real life: poorly. He doesn’t even mention the CIA’s kidnapping and torture of a totally innocent German citizen (Khalid El-Masri), apparently thinking they had Khalid Al-Masri. Or the entire CIA team that kidnapped the Egyptian cleric in Italy and were then tried and convicted of the kidnapping (in abstentia). The messy story, so unlike a movie, is described by an agent who was part of the team.
And in the post just blogged, car-jack victim Edward Bell fired on his own car as it was being driven away by an assailant. In the movies, depending on the rating, he would have shot out a tire and stopped the car, or wounded the driver and stopped the car, or (for R-rated) shot the driver through the back of the head. But it wasn’t a move, and Bell instead killed 69-year-old Geraldine Jackson inside her house. Movie shootings and stunts are choreographed and follow the plot and if a mistake is made, the scene is reshot until it is done right. Jackie Chan once did 2900 takes before the scene was done right. (In life, you get one take and have to carry on from there.)
So the CIA needs to rethink its programs and tactics. Read Chatterjee’s piece and see if you don’t agree.
Juan Cole posts at Informed Comment:
Jon Schwartz ( @tinyrevolution ) posted this to Twitter. It is a side by side comparison of a passage from “1984″ to the news report from a former senior FBI official that the FBI can turn on the laptop cameras of individuals without activating the red light that shows the camera is operating.
The Washington Post broke the story. If the FBI is doing this without a warrant it is yet another nail in the coffin of the US 4th Amendment, which guarantees people the right not to have government snoop through their personal effects without evidence of wrongdoing and a judge’s permission.
You can see the full length feature here for $4. Interesting: I hadn’t realized YouTube was in the rental business.
Amy Goodman interviews Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now!, with the video of the interview at the link. Here’s the blurb and the start of the transcript:
Just over six months ago, President Obama gave a major address unveiling new guidelines to limit drone strikes abroad, vowing to narrow the scope of the U.S. targeted killing campaign. But a new analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has raised questions about how much Obama’s new rules have actually constrained the drone program. The Bureau found that while the total number of strikes has slightly decreased, more people were killed in Yemen and Pakistan by covert drone strikes strikes in the past six months than in the six months preceding Obama’s address. We speak with independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, whose documentary film, “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield,” directed by Richard Rowley, was one of 15 feature documentaries shortlisted this week for an Oscar.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Just over six months ago, President Obama gave a major address unveiling new guidelines to limit drone strikes abroad. He vowed to narrow the scope of the U.S. targeted killing campaign. Here’s part of what he said then.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To say a military tactic is legal or even effective is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance, for the same progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power—or risk abusing it. And that’s why, over the last four years, my administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists, insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in presidential policy guidance that I signed yesterday.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Obama speaking just over six months ago. Well, a new analysis by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has raised questions about how much Obama’s new rules have actually constrained the drone program. The Bureau found that while the total number of strikes has slightly decreased, more people were killed in Yemen and Pakistan by covert drone strikes in the past six months than in the six months preceding Obama’s address.
AMY GOODMAN: In related news, the U.S. has halted military shipments from Afghanistan through Pakistan due to protests against the U.S. drone war. In a statement, the Pentagon says it’s suspended the removal of military equipment in Pakistan because of the dangers posed to truck drivers. Thousands of Pakistanis have taken part in protests and blockades along NATO supply routes in recent weeks to call for an end to U.S. drone strikes.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, producer and co-writer of the documentary film Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, also the author of the book by the same name. This week, Dirty Wars, which was directed by Richard Rowley and co-written with David Riker, was one of 15 documentaries shortlisted for an Oscar.
[Above is a trailer of the film, which is shown at this point in the videotaped interview. - LG].
AMY GOODMAN: A trailer from Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. The book and the film came out right about the same time. The film has just been shortlisted for an Oscar for best documentary. Jeremy Scahill, the co-producer and writer, is with us right now. It was directed by Rick Rowley.
Jeremy, congratulations on the film. What a difficult subject, how important it is right now.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, thank—I mean, we’ve been, you know, over the past day, emailing all of the people that worked with us on it in Yemen and Afghanistan and Somalia and elsewhere. And, I mean, I—the hope with this is, is that people pay attention to these stories, that Americans will know what happened to the Bedouin villagers in al-Majalah, Yemen, where three dozen women and children were killed in a U.S. cruise missile strike that the White House tried to cover up and allowed the Yemeni government to take credit for, or the people that are killed in night raids in Afghanistan or drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. I mean, that’s our hope with this. It’s been our hope from the beginning. And so, you know, we’re—in the 15 films that are on the short list for an Oscar, there are some incredible films on that. Jehane Noujaim’s film, The Square, about the Egyptian revolution is—you know, it’s a fantastic movie. The Act of Killing, of course, you had Joshua Oppenheimer on the show. And, I mean, there’s just—we’re honored to be in that field with people, and we just hope that this results in more attention being paid to this issue of the U.S. assassination program.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, this report that just came out from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that more people have been killed in drone strikes in the six months after President Obama gave his speech—
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —saying they’re reforming or changing drone policy, than the six months before?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. I mean, this—it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. I mean, you know, the drone czar, or the assassination czar, John Brennan, who now is the head of the CIA, you know, he worked very hard to create something called the “disposition matrix,” which basically is a program that’s going to be used to determine who should be assassinated, who should we try to abduct, who should we try to render, who should we—which terror suspects should we leave it up to local authorities in Yemen or Pakistan to try to deal with. And basically what Obama and his team have done in his second administration is to create an infrastructure for whoever happens to come into office next, whether they’re a Democrat or Republican, and they have ensured that this policy of pre-emptive war—that’s really what we’re talking about here. It’s—these are pre-emptive, pre-crime strikes, where the idea that we should even view terrorism as a law enforcement activity or terrorism as a crime is completely thrown away by the constitutional lawyer president. And so, what I think one of the major legacies of Obama is going to be on this front is that he has tried to put a stamp of legitimacy on what most countries around the world would claim—you know, plainly view as a global assassination program run by the empire, run by the most powerful nation on Earth.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about . . .
Continue reading. There’s an interesting quotation from Erik Prince, who started Blackwater (currently named Academi):
AMY GOODMAN: Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company known as Blackwater—or it was once, now Academi.
JEREMY SCAHILL: There’s a new name every week.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Jeremy, you wrote the book about Blackwater, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Well, he recently told The Daily Beast the national security state he once served has grown too large. Prince said, quote, “America is way too quick to trade freedom for the illusion of security. … I don’t know if I want to live in a country where lone wolf and random terror attacks are impossible ’cause that country would look more like North Korea than America.” That was Erik Prince’s quote. I mean, he doesn’t live in this country, does he?
JEREMY SCAHILL: I mean, well, he lives in Abu Dhabi. He lives in the Emirates. He was here recently on a book tour. Not only—that was a piece by Eli Lake that you’re referring to there. Not only did Erik Prince make that statement, which I agree with, and I have no problem saying that I agree with Erik Prince, as I agree with libertarians who have been the primary voices speaking out about the drone program and the question of whether or not the president can, by edict, decide that an American citizen should be assassinated. The Democrats have been totally asleep on this. I mean, I do think there’s politicking here. I mean, Erik Prince is a very right-wing libertarian, in many ways, except he does embrace, you know, the full-spectrum war.
The other thing, though, that he told Eli Lake is that he believed that Anwar al-Awlaki—he was against the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who was assassinated in Yemen in September of 2011. But he also said that he believes—and remember, Erik Prince is a guy with very close connections to the CIA and JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, and is a former Navy SEAL himself and has done all sorts of dirty covert ops stuff for the U.S. government. He said he believes that the killing of 16-year-old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, who was killed two weeks after his father, that he believes it was intentional. . .
Ezra Klein makes a very good point: in the old days, people were terrified of losing their healthcare insurance (employer provided or not). If they left the company, they would lose their medical benefits. If they were covered on an individual plan that was cancelled for any reason, there was no guarantee that they could get another. If they had a chronic illness, they were unable to get any individual healthcare insurance at all. Klein writes:
The furor over “if you like your plan, you can keep it” touches on a deep fear in American life: That your health-care insurance can be taken from you. That fear is so powerful because it happens so often: Almost everyone in the country can lose their health insurance at any time, for all kinds of reasons — and every year, millions do.
If you’re one of the 149 million people who get health insurance through your employer, you can lose your plan if you get fired, or if the H.R. department decides to change plans, or if you have to move to a branch in another state.If you’re one of the 51 million people who get Medicaid, you could lose your plan because your income rises and you’re no longer eligible or because your state cut its Medicaid budget and made you ineligible. You could lose it because you moved from Minnesota, where childless adults making less than 75 percent of the poverty line are eligible, to Texas, where there’s no coverage for childless adults.
If you’re one of the 15 million Americans who buys insurance on the individual market, you could lose your plan because your insurer decides to stop offering it or decides to jack up the price by 35 percent. And that’s assuming you’re one of the lucky people who weren’t denied coverage based on preexisting conditions in the first place.
Then, of course, there are the 50 million people who don’t have a plan in the first place. The vast majority of them desperately want health-care coverage. But it turns out that just because you want a plan doesn’t mean you can get one.
Virtually the only people whose health coverage is reasonably safe are those on fee-for-service Medicare and some forms of veterans insurance. And even there, enrollees are only safe until the day policymakers decide to change premiums or benefit packages.
President Obama’s critics are right: Obamacare doesn’t guarantee that everyone who likes their health insurance can keep it. In some cases, Obamacare is the reason people will lose health insurance they liked.
What Obamacare comes pretty close to guaranteeing, though, is that everyone who needs health insurance, or who wants health insurance, can get it.
It guarantees that if you lose the plan you liked — perhaps because you were fired from your job, or because you left your job to start a new business, or because your income made you ineligible for Medicaid — you’ll have a choice of new plans you can purchase, you’ll know that no insurer can turn you away, and you’ll be able to get financial help if you need it. In states that accept the Medicaid expansion, it guarantees that anyone who makes less than 133 percent of poverty can get fully subsidized insurance.
Health insurance isn’t such a fraught topic in countries such as Canada and France because people don’t live in constant fear of losing their ability to get routine medical care. . .
Al Shaw, Theodoric Meyer, and Christie Thompson report for ProPublica:
When Patrice and Philip Morgan bought a house near the ocean in Brooklyn, they were not particularly worried about the threat of flooding.
Federal maps showed their home was outside the area at a high risk of flood damage. For that reason, the government did not require them to buy flood insurance, a cost imposed on neighbors on more vulnerable blocks.
Even so, the couple decided to raise their house four feet to protect their basement from the effects of heavy rain storms.
“We thought we might have a foot or two of water,” Patrice said, “so we put a sump pump in to avoid any small issues.”
But the maps drawn up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency were wrong. And government officials knew it. [This is the point at which I think criminal charges become appropriate. - LG]
According to documents and interviews, state, local and federal officials had been aware for years that the crucial maps of flood risks were inaccurate; some feared they understated the dangers in New York City’s low-lying areas.
The flaws in the maps had significant impact. Developers relied on FEMA’s assessment of risks when they built new homes near the water. And homeowners and businesses made crucial decisions about where to buy or lease property on the assurance that they were outside of the high-risk zones.
Thousands of the buildings incorrectly identified as outside the flood zone were damaged when seawater surged ashore as Hurricane Sandy made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012.
State and city officials had been asking FEMA for years to revise the maps with technology and modeling methods that didn’t exist when they were first drawn in the 1980s. William S. Nechamen, New York State’s floodplain chief, warned FEMA in a 2005 letter that the failure to do so “will lead to higher than necessary flood damages and more expenses placed on individuals and on FEMA.”
Yet, despite Nechamen’s warning, FEMA missed chances to make changes that could have protected city dwellers from some of the worst of Sandy’s destruction.
During a push to modernize flood maps in the mid-2000s, FEMA decided to save money in New York City and much of the rest of the country by digitizing old flood maps without updating the underlying information, rather than using new technology to create more accurate maps.
The agency changed course in 2006, but didn’t release maps with better elevation data and more accurate storm-surge models until months after Sandy – too late to help New Yorkers like the Morgans.
When FEMA finally released a preliminary version of those maps this January they showed that the number of city structures considered at high risk of flooding had doubled. More than 35,000 additional homes and businesses were added to the map’s riskiest zones, according to a study by New York City’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. Some 9,503 of those buildings suffered damaged during Sandy, a ProPublica analysis of flood maps shows.
FEMA did not respond to specific questions about the adequacy of its flood maps or glitches in the modernization process. Bill McDonnell, the deputy director for mitigation for FEMA’s Region II, acknowledged that no new data had been collected to update maps for New York or New Jersey in the mid-2000s. In a statement, the agency said it began giving priority to map updates for “high-risk, coastal areas” in 2009. These included 14 counties in New Jersey and New York City. The agency said it continues to work with state and local officials to “incorporate the best available data into maps.’’
That didn’t help the Morgans. Their home, a 1920s bungalow to which they added a second floor, was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. . .
Interesting column by Pratap Chatterjee at TomDispatch.com. Tom provides a good introduction:
Someone should launch a feature somewhere on American foreign and war policy under the rubric: How could anything possibly go wrong? Here are just two recent examples.
The Obama administration intervenes militarily in Libya, plays a significant role in overthrowing the autocrat who runs the country as a police state, and helps unleash chaos in its wake. The streets of Libyan cities fill with militias as the new government’s control of the situation fades to next to nil. Which brings us to our present moment, when a panicky Washington decides that what’s needed is yet another, different kind of intervention. The plan seems to be to compete with various local and Islamic militias by creating a government militia as the core of a new “national army.” Its members are to be drawn from already existing militias and they’ll be trained somewhere outside of Libya. What an idea! Honestly, what could possibly go wrong?
Or consider this: Washington begins to panic about heightening tensions between Japan and China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The problem, reports David Sanger of the New York Times, based on what Obama administration officials have told him, is that the conflict could escalate and so “derail their complex plan to manage China’s rise without overtly trying to contain it.” Now, let’s get this straight: before things began to run off the rails in the East China Sea, the Obama administration was confidently planning to “manage” the rise of the next superpower on a planet already in such tumult that what being a new great power might even mean is open to question. And keep in mind that we’re talking about an administration that couldn’t manage the rollout of a website. What could possibly go wrong?
Both examples highlight the strange combination of hubris and panic that, as TomDispatch regular Pratap Chatterjee points out today, seems to be the essence of so many of Washington’s plans and actions at the moment. The urge to “manage” is invariably followed by shock at the unmanageability of this roiling globe of ours, followed by panic over plans gone desperately awry when things begin, utterly predictably, to happen unpredictably, followed of course by the next set of managerial plans. Is there no learning curve in Washington? Tom
And here is Chatterjee’s column:
Call it the Jason Bourne strategy.
Think of it as the CIA’s plunge into Hollywood — or into the absurd. As recent revelations have made clear, that Agency’s moves couldn’t be have been more far-fetched or more real. In its post-9/11 global shadow war, it has employed both private contractors and some of the world’s most notorious prisoners in ways that leave the latest episode of the Bourne films in the dust: hired gunmen trained to kill as well as former inmates who cashed in on the notoriety of having worn an orange jumpsuit in the world’s most infamous jail.
The first group of undercover agents were recruited by private companies from the Army Special Forces and the Navy SEALs and then repurposed to the CIA at handsome salaries averaging around $140,000 a year; the second crew was recruited from the prison cells at Guantanamo Bay and paid out of a secret multimillion dollar slush fund called “the Pledge.”
Last month, the Associated Press revealed that the CIA had selected a few dozen men from among the hundreds of terror suspects being held at Guantanamo and trained them to be double agents at a cluster of eight cottages in a program dubbed “Penny Lane.” (Yes, indeed, the name was taken from the Beatles song, as was “Strawberry Fields,” a Guantanamo program that involved torturing “high-value” detainees.) These men were then returned to what the Bush administration liked to call the “global battlefield,” where their mission was to befriend members of al-Qaeda and supply targeting information for the Agency’s drone assassination program.
Such a secret double-agent program, while colorful and remarkably unsuccessful, should have surprised no one. After all, plea bargaining or persuading criminals to snitch on their associates — a tactic frowned upon by international legal experts — is widely used in the U.S. police and legal system. Over the last year or so, however, a trickle of information about the other secret program has come to light and it opens an astonishing new window into the privatization of U.S. intelligence.
Hollywood in Langley
In July 2010, at his confirmation hearings for the post of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper explained the use of private contractors in the intelligence community: “In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War… we were under a congressional mandate to reduce the community by on the order of 20%… Then 9/11 occurred… With the gusher… of funding that has accrued particularly from supplemental or overseas contingency operations funding, which, of course, is one year at a time, it is very difficult to hire government employees one year at a time. So the obvious outlet for that has been the growth of contractors.”
Thousands of “Green Badges” were hired via companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and Qinetiq to work at CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) offices around the world, among the regular staff who wore blue badges. Many of them — like Edward Snowden — performed specialist tasks in information technology meant to augment the effectiveness of government employees.
Then the CIA decided that there was no aspect of secret war which couldn’t be corporatized. So they set up a unit of private contractors as covert agents, green-lighting them to carry guns and be sent into U.S. war zones at a moment’s notice. This elite James Bond-like unit of armed bodyguards and super-fixers was given the anodyne name Global Response Staff (GRS).
Among the 125 employees of this unit, from the Army Special Forces via private contractors came Raymond Davis and Dane Paresi; from the Navy SEALs Glen Doherty, Jeremy Wise, and Tyrone Woods. All five would soon be in the anything-but-covert headlines of newspapers across the world. These men — no women have yet been named — were deployed on three- to four-month missions accompanying CIA analysts into the field.
Davis was assigned to Lahore, Pakistan; Doherty and Woods to Benghazi, Libya; Paresi and Wise to Khost, Afghanistan. As GRS expanded, other contractors went to Djibouti, Lebanon, and Yemen, among other countries, according to a Washington Post profile of the unit.
From early on, its work wasn’t exactly a paragon of secrecy. By 2005, for instance, former Special Forces personnel had already begun openly discussing jobs in the unit at online forums. Their descriptions sounded like something directly out of a Hollywood thriller. The Post portrayed the focus of GRS personnel more mundanely as “designed to stay in the shadows, training teams to work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.”
“They don’t learn languages, they’re not meeting foreign nationals, and they’re not writing up intelligence reports,” a former U.S. intelligence official told that paper. “Their main tasks are to map escape routes from meeting places, pat down informants, and provide an ‘envelope’ of security… if push comes to shove, you’re going to have to shoot.”
In the ensuing years, GRS embedded itself in the Agency, becoming essential to its work. Today, new CIA agents and analysts going into danger zones are trained to work with such bodyguards. In addition, GRS teams are now loaned out to other outfits like the NSA for tasks like installing spy equipment in war zones.
The CIA’s Private Contractors (Don’t) Save the Day
Recently these men, the spearhead of the CIA’s post-9/11 contractor war, have been making it into the news with startling regularity. Unlike their Hollywood cousins, however, the news they have made has all been bad. Those weapons they’re packing and the derring-do that is supposed to go with them have repeatedly led not to breathtaking getaways and shootouts, but to disaster. Jason Bourne, of course, wins the day; they don’t.
Good NY Times column from Paul Krugman:
Much of the media commentary on President Obama’s big inequality speech was cynical. You know the drill: it’s yet another “reboot” that will go nowhere; none of it will have any effect on policy, and so on. But before we talk about the speech’s possible political impact or lack thereof, shouldn’t we look at the substance? Was what the president said true? Was it new? If the answer to these questions is yes — and it is — then what he said deserves a serious hearing.
And once you realize that, you also realize that the speech may matter a lot more than the cynics imagine.
First, about those truths: Mr. Obama laid out a disturbing — and, unfortunately, all too accurate — vision of an America losing touch with its own ideals, an erstwhile land of opportunity becoming a class-ridden society. Not only do we have an ever-growing gap between a wealthy minority and the rest of the nation; we also, he declared, have declining mobility, as it becomes harder and harder for the poor and even the middle class to move up the economic ladder. And he linked rising inequality with falling mobility, asserting that Horatio Alger stories are becoming rare precisely because the rich and the rest are now so far apart.
This isn’t entirely new terrain for Mr. Obama. What struck me about this speech, however, was what he had to say about the sources of rising inequality. Much of our political and pundit class remains devoted to the notion that rising inequality, to the extent that it’s an issue at all, is all about workers lacking the right skills and education. But the president now seems to accept progressive arguments that education is at best one of a number of concerns, that America’s growing class inequality largely reflects political choices, like the failure to raise the minimum wage along with inflation and productivity.
And because the president was willing to assign much of the blame for rising inequality to bad policy, he was also more forthcoming than in the past about ways to change the nation’s trajectory, including a rise in the minimum wage, restoring labor’s bargaining power, and strengthening, not weakening, the safety net.
And there was this: “When it comes to our budget, we should not be stuck in a stale debate from two years ago or three years ago. A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit.” Finally! Our political class has spent years obsessed with a fake problem — worrying about debt and deficits that never posed any threat to the nation’s future — while showing no interest in unemployment and stagnating wages. Mr. Obama, I’m sorry to say, bought into that diversion. Now, however, he’s moving on.
Still, does any of this matter? The conventional pundit wisdom of the moment is that Mr. Obama’s presidency has run aground, even that he has become irrelevant. But this is silly. In fact, it’s silly in at least three ways.
First, much of the current conventional wisdom involves extrapolating from Obamacare’s shambolic start, and assuming that things will be like that for the next three years. They won’t. HealthCare.gov is working much better, people are signing up in growing numbers, and the whole mess is already receding in the rear-view mirror.
Second, . . .
Ezra Klein runs the speech in Wonkblog, and the italicized portion below is his introduction; following that, the President.
The speech President Obama delivered this morning at THEARC in D.C. is perhaps the single best economic speech of his presidency. That’s in part because it exists for no other reason than to lay out Obama’s view of the economy. His other speeches on the subject have been about passing legislation, defining campaign themes, or positioning himself against Republicans. But Obama’s done running for office. He’s not getting anything through this Congress. And he’s not negotiating with John Boehner. This is just what he thinks. I’ll have more to say on it later. But it’s worth reading it for yourself first.
Over the last two months, Washington has been dominated by some pretty contentious debates — I think that’s fair to say. And between a reckless shutdown by congressional Republicans in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and admittedly poor execution on my administration’s part in implementing the latest stage of the new law, nobody has acquitted themselves very well these past few months. So it’s not surprising that the American people’s frustrations with Washington are at an all-time high.But we know that people’s frustrations run deeper than these most recent political battles. Their frustration is rooted in their own daily battles — to make ends meet, to pay for college, buy a home, save for retirement. It’s rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them. And it’s rooted in the fear that their kids won’t be better off than they were. They may not follow the constant back-and-forth in Washington or all the policy details, but they experience in a very personal way the relentless, decades-long trend that I want to spend some time talking about today. And that is a dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility that has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain — that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.
I believe this is the defining challenge of our time: Making sure our economy works for every working American. It’s why I ran for President. It was at the center of last year’s campaign. It drives everything I do in this office. And I know I’ve raised this issue before, and some will ask why I raise the issue again right now. I do it because the outcomes of the debates we’re having right now — whether it’s health care, or the budget, or reforming our housing and financial systems — all these things will have real, practical implications for every American. And I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real.
Now, the premise that we’re all created equal is the opening line in the American story. And while we don’t promise equal outcomes, we have strived to deliver equal opportunity — the idea that success doesn’t depend on being born into wealth or privilege, it depends on effort and merit. And with every chapter we’ve added to that story, we’ve worked hard to put those words into practice.
It was Abraham Lincoln, a self-described “poor man’s son,” who started a system of land grant colleges all over this country so that any poor man’s son could go learn something new.
When farms gave way to factories, a rich man’s son named Teddy Roosevelt fought for an eight-hour workday, protections for workers, and busted monopolies that kept prices high and wages low.
When millions lived in poverty, FDR fought for Social Security, and insurance for the unemployed, and a minimum wage.
When millions died without health insurance, LBJ fought for Medicare and Medicaid.
Together, we forged a New Deal, declared a War on Poverty in a great society. We built a ladder of opportunity to climb, and stretched out a safety net beneath so that if we fell, it wouldn’t be too far, and we could bounce back. And as a result, America built the largest middle class the world has ever known. And for the three decades after World War II, it was the engine of our prosperity.
Now, we can’t look at the past through rose-colored glasses. The economy didn’t always work for everyone. . .
Elizabeth Murray writes at ConsortiumNews.com:
This New Year’s Eve, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will quietly deliver a devastating blow to the American public’s access to accurate, unbiased information that is unparalleled in quality and comprehensiveness by shutting off access to the World News Connection.
WNC is a valuable trove of U.S. government-sponsored media translations and analyses that has informed the work of American scholars, journalists, writers and historians for the past six decades. It is one of the few offices in the U.S. intelligence community that regularly shares information with the people, rather than simply extracting metadata about them.
Since 1941, the Open Source Center (OSC) – which was known by its earlier moniker, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) until 2005 – has produced timely, mainly unclassified products based on foreign media that provide valuable strategic insights to the U.S. intelligence community, including military and diplomatic developments. Previously administered by the CIA, it now comes under the purview of the ODNI.The Open Source Center has long made a substantial amount of this material available to public subscribers, such as university libraries, think tanks and other institutions – as the “World News Connection” via the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), a government information clearinghouse.
However, on Oct. 7, NTIS announced the termination of the WNC service as of Dec. 31, saying it lacked the authority to rescind the decision though without explaining the reasons for the shutdown. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has not been observed to comment either, though one might think that the ODNI and the entire U.S. intelligence community would be looking for ways to burnish their tarnished images rather than sullying them further by shutting down a valuable public service.
This past year, the revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden shocked many Americans and others around the world with evidence about how intrusive U.S. electronic surveillance has become. Those disclosures also forced Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to admit to Congress that he had provided misleading testimony on the subject.
Informing the Public
The World News Connection has been one area in which the U.S. intelligence community serves to inform the public, not just the policymakers. The translations of foreign news articles and broadcasts can shed important light on the activities and motivations of governments and political movements around the world.
There is no shortage of support or demand for the Open Source Center’s high-quality products, both inside and outside the intelligence community. In 1997, when post-Cold War budget cuts threatened to curtail or eliminate OSC products altogether, the Open Source Center was deluged with letters of support attesting to its invaluable role in the academic, research, and intelligence fields. The campaign, championed by Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, succeeded in saving the OSC from draconian budget cuts.
During that campaign to save the Open Source Center, Dr. Gary Sick, an Iran expert who served on the National Security Council during the Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations, wrote that the World News Connection “informs us about other countries in ways that otherwise would be nearly impossible. …
“It costs virtually nothing in comparison with almost any other national security system. It is not as sexy as a bomber or a missile, but its contributions to national security can be attested to by generations of policy-makers. I was in the White House during the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, and my respect for the power of this information was born at that time. I often found it more helpful than the reams of classified material that came across my desk at the NSC.”
The value of these open-source reports was underscored too by journalist Robert Parry, who recalled that in 1984 when he was piecing together the facts surrounding the CIA’s mining of Nicaraguan harbors, he had government sources describing a clash between CIA helicopter-borne special forces and the Sandinista military, but FBIS translations of Nicaraguan news reports proved crucial in fleshing out the story.
Nicaraguan radio broadcasts reported details of a clash but without knowing who the attackers were. By overlaying the intelligence source material and the FBIS translations, Parry was able to provide a more complete account as published by the Associated Press and available to the American public.
If the ODNI goes ahead with its decision to turn off the World News Connection, U.S. citizens will have lost — perhaps irreparably — a vital window into foreign media perceptions of U.S. policy, untainted by government- and corporate-controlled media.
That has dark implications for the public’s right to know, not to mention . . .
A clue: mention is made of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The Director of National Intelligence is James R. Clapper, Jr., famous for deliberately lying to Congress, among other things. The Obama Administration really does not seem to like having the public learn things.
Amy Goodman has a good program at Democracy Now!, video and transcript. The blurb:
With hundreds of thousands of people now on the government’s terrorist watch lists, a closely watched trial begins today in San Francisco. Stanford University Ph.D. student Rahinah Ibrahim is suing the U.S. government after she was barred from flying from Malaysia back to the United States in 2005 to complete her studies at Stanford after her name was placed on the list. The New York Times reports that the federal government’s terrorist watch list, officially called the “Terrorist Screening Database,” has grown to at least 700,000 people, and those on the list are often subjected to extra scrutiny, prohibited from flying, and interrogated while attempting to cross borders. The government refuses to divulge who is on the list, how one can get off the list, and what criteria is used to place someone on the list in the first place. Oftentimes, people have no idea their name is in the database until they attempt to board a flight. We speak with Anya Bernstein, associate professor at the SUNY Buffalo Law School and author of the article, “The Hidden Costs of Terrorist Watch Lists.”
Those who (hope to) fly will find this of great interest—there are many routes to the No-Fly List.
Juan Cole has an excellent post at Informed Comment: http://www.juancole.com/2013/12/feinstein-reason-spying.html
Senator Diane Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers took to the airwaves on Sunday to warn that Americans are less safe than two years ago and that al-Qaeda is growing and spreading and that the US is menaced by bombs that can’t be detected by metal detectors.
Call me cynical, but those two have been among the biggest detractors of the American citizen’s fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure of personal effects and papers. I think their attempt to resurrect Usama Bin Laden is out of the National Security Agency internal playbook, which specifically instructs spokesmen to play up the terrorist threat when explaining why they need to know who all 310 million Americans are calling on our phones every day.
Now, obviously there are violent extremists in the world and the US like all other societies is likely to fall victim to further attacks by terrorists. But if they could not inflict significant damage on us with 9/11 (and economically and in every other way except the horrible death toll, they could not), then it is a little unlikely that this kind of threat is existential.
In fact the number of terrorist attacks in the US has vastly declined since the 1970s (as has violent crime over-all), as WaPo’s chart shows:
>> and now WordPress is refusing to upload media, but DO look at that chart: amazing that the US is still frightened of terrorists to the point where we give up our rights – LG <<
Read the whole thing.
And Natasha Lennard in Salon discusses the same issue: http://www.salon.com/2013/12/02/intelligence_committee_chairs_want_you_scared_you_should_be_angry/
You’ve been flippant, America. You forgot to be scared. Or, perhaps, you’ve been scared about your communications being swept into NSA spy dragnets. But you forgot to be scared of terrorists, silly America. You wanted Constitutional protections? Well, that’s because you’re not scared enough. But listen up, America, the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence committees have something to say: be afraid, be very afraid.
So went the playbook of intelligence committee chairs Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers in their Sunday morning talkshow appearances. Relying on undefined and overly broad definitions of terrorism, the pair worked to de facto defend the invasive and problematic work of U.S. intelligence agencies, invoking the reliable boogeyman of terrorism-on-the-rise.
“I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that. The fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs. Trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnetometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups than ever. And there is huge malevolence out there.” You hear that, kids? Huge Malevolence! Bombs! Death! Oh My! And you wanted privacy? In the face of unnamed malevolence existentially threatening your nation, your home, your kids and your puppies and — don’t forget — your freedom. Malevolence hates your freedom.
What Feinstein and Rogers did not note, however, was that statistics showing an uptick in terrorism tell a more nuanced geopolitical story than their non-specific fear-mongering. For example, as Mike Masnick pointed out in TechDirt, “nearly all of the “terrorist” attacks in that original report that Feinstein is obviously relying on, appear to take place in areas that are considered war zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And, um, I hate to bring this part up, but part of the reason why those are war zones is because, you know, the U.S. invaded both places.”
Feinstein and Rogers did not mention that anti-U.S. sentiment has been stoked in drone-struck Yemen and Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) found that from June 2004 to September 2012 U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone killed between 474 to 881 civilians, including 176 children. Last year, when Yemeni youth and human rights activist Baraa Shiban spoke to Congress about Yemenis responding to civilian deaths by U.S. drone fire, he said “What does the U.S. mean to these people now? A blasted car, and gruesome footage of dead families?” But in describing rage at the U.S. as “malevolence,” Feinstein tacitly rejects that the anger and radicalization may be grounded in responses to U.S. violence. It was Feinstein, after all, who erroneously claimed that civilian deaths by U.S. drone strikes each year were “typically been in the single digits.”
Feinstein and Rogers said nothing, either, about reports of U.S. special forces carrying out warcrimes — civilian murders and disappearances — in beleaguered Afghanistan. They didn’t bring up recent news of a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Kunar province which, according to locals, killed 14 civilians, most of them relatives. “There were pieces of my family all over the road,” said Miya Jan, a 28-year-old farmer.
Similarly, the intelligence chairs did not point out the terror attacks on U.S. soil have not seen an uptick in the wake of 9/11. Unless you follow the bogus logic of the government’s greenscare, which labeled animal rights and environmental activists as “terrorists” for attacks on property which not once hurt a person nor an animal.
“We’re not safer today,” said Rogers. Whatever truth resides in his remark owes much to the U.S.-led War on Terror. But it will — or at least should — take more than empty fear-mongering and threats of general “huge malevolence” to defend shadowy and vast surveillance operations and the government’s preemptive treatment of millions of Americans as potential terror threats. Feinstein and Rogers want you scared, America. It seems more appropriate to be furious.