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Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category

The Taking: The land grab for the first border wall

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T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, and Kiah Collier and Julián Aguilar, Texas Tribune, report, here in ProPublica:

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS — The land agents started working the border between Texas and Mexico in the spring of 2007. Sometimes they were representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers. Other times they were officers from the U.S. Border Patrol, uniformed in green, guns tucked into side holsters. They visited tumbledown mobile homes and suburban houses with golf course views. They surveyed farms fecund with sugar cane, cotton and sorghum growing by the mud-brown Rio Grande. They delivered their blunt news to ranchers and farmers, sheet metal workers and university professors, auto mechanics and wealthy developers.

The federal government was going to build a fence to keep out drug smugglers and immigrants crossing into the United States illegally, they told property owners. The structure was going to cut straight across their land. The government would make a fair offer to buy property, the agents explained. That was the law. But if the owners didn’t want to sell, the next step was federal court. U.S. attorneys would file a lawsuit to seize it. One way or the other, the government would get the land. That, too, was the law.

The visits launched the most aggressive seizure of private land by the federal government in decades. In less than a year, the Department of Homeland Security filed more than 360 eminent domain lawsuits against property owners, involving thousands of acres of land in the border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Most of the seized land ran along the Rio Grande, which forms the border between Texas and Mexico. All told, the agency paid $18.2 million to accumulate a ribbon of land occupying almost half the length of the 120 miles of the Rio Grande Valley in southernmost Texas.

Years before President Donald Trump promised to build his wall, Homeland Security erected an 18-foot-high fence here in a botched land grab that serves as a warning for the future.

An investigation by ProPublica and the Texas Tribune shows that Homeland Security cut unfair real estate deals, secretly waived legal safeguards for property owners, and ultimately abused the government’s extraordinary power to take land from private citizens.

The major findings:

  • Homeland Security circumvented laws designed to help landowners receive fair compensation. The agency did not conduct formal appraisals of targeted parcels. Instead, it issued low-ball offers based on substandard estimates of property values.
  • Larger, wealthier property owners who could afford lawyers negotiated deals that, on average, tripled the opening bids from Homeland Security. Smaller and poorer landholders took whatever the government offered — or wrung out small increases in settlements. The government conceded publicly that landowners without lawyers might wind up shortchanged, but did little to protect their interests.
  • The Justice Department bungled hundreds of condemnation cases. The agency took property without knowing the identity of the actual owners. It condemned land without researching facts as basic as property lines. Landholders spent tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves from the government’s mistakes.
  • The government had to redo settlements with landowners after it realized it had failed to account for the valuable water rights associated with the properties, an oversight that added months to the compensation process.
  • On occasion, Homeland Security paid people for property they did not actually own. The agency did not attempt to recover the misdirected taxpayer funds, instead paying for land a second time once it determined the correct owners.
  • Nearly a decade later, scores of landowners remain tangled in lawsuits. The government has already taken their land and built the border fence. But it has not resolved claims for its value.

The errors and disparities played out family by family, block by block, county by county, up and down the length of the border fence.

The Loop family spent more than $100,000 to defend their farmland from repeated government mistakes about the size, shape and value of their property. The government built a fence across Robert De Los Santos’ family land but almost a decade later has yet to reach a settlement for it. Ranch hand Roberto Pedraza was accidentally paid $20,500 for land he did not even own.

Retired teacher Juan Cavazos was offered $21,500 for a two-acre slice of his land. He settled for that, figuring he couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer.

Rollins M. Koppel, a local attorney and banker, did not make the same mistake. A high-priced Texas law firm negotiated his offer from $233,000 to almost $5 million — the highest settlement in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We got screwed,” said Cavazos, 74.

Homeland Security and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers referred questions to the Justice Department.

A Justice Department official, who insisted on anonymity, said all agencies involved in the land seizures followed proper procedures. He declined to respond to specific questions. . .

Continue reading.

There’s more, and also note this sidebar:

GET UPDATES ON ‘THE TAKING’

Additional stories and video in this series will explore the fates of landowners who, a decade later, are still waiting to be paid, as well as those who got to keep their property, but saw its value damaged all the same.

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 December 2017 at 9:10 am

Google’s true origin partly lies in CIA and NSA research grants for mass surveillance

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Jeff Nesbit, former director of legislative and public affairs, National Science Foundation, writes in Quartz:

Two decades ago, the US intelligence community worked closely with Silicon Valley in an effort to track citizens in cyberspace. And Google is at the heart of that origin story. Some of the research that led to Google’s ambitious creation was funded and coordinated by a research group established by the intelligence community to find ways to track individuals and groups online.

The intelligence community hoped that the nation’s leading computer scientists could take non-classified information and user data, combine it with what would become known as the internet, and begin to create for-profit, commercial enterprises to suit the needs of both the intelligence community and the public. They hoped to direct the supercomputing revolution from the start in order to make sense of what millions of human beings did inside this digital information network. That collaboration has made a comprehensive public-private mass surveillance state possible today.

The story of the deliberate creation of the modern mass-surveillance state includes elements of Google’s surprising, and largely unknown, origin. It is a somewhat different creation story than the one the public has heard, and explains what Google cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page set out to build, and why.

But this isn’t just the origin story of Google: It’s the origin story of the mass-surveillance state, and the government money that funded it.

Backstory: The intelligence community and Silicon Valley

In the mid 1990s, the intelligence community in America began to realize that they had an opportunity. The supercomputing community was just beginning to migrate from university settings into the private sector, led by investments from a place that would come to be known as Silicon Valley.

A digital revolution was underway: one that would transform the world of data gathering and how we make sense of massive amounts of information. The intelligence community wanted to shape Silicon Valley’s supercomputing efforts at their inception so they would be useful for both military and homeland security purposes. Could this supercomputing network, which would become capable of storing terabytes of information, make intelligent sense of the digital trail that human beings leave behind?

Answering this question was of great interest to the intelligence community.

Intelligence-gathering may have been their world, but the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) had come to realize that their future was likely to be profoundly shaped outside the government. It was at a time when military and intelligence budgets within the Clinton administration were in jeopardy, and the private sector had vast resources at their disposal. If the intelligence community wanted to conduct mass surveillance for national security purposes, it would require cooperation between the government and the emerging supercomputing companies.

To do this, they began reaching out to the scientists at American universities who were creating this supercomputing revolution. These scientists were developing ways to do what no single group of human beings sitting at work stations in the NSA and the CIA could ever hope to do: gather huge amounts of data and make intelligent sense of it.

A rich history of the governments science funding

There was already a long history of collaboration between America’s best scientists and the intelligence community, from the creation of the atomic bomb and satellite technology to efforts to put a man on the moon.

In fact, the internet itself was created because of an intelligence effort: In the 1970s, the agency responsible for developing emerging technologies for military, intelligence, and national security purposes—the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—linked four supercomputers to handle massive data transfers. It handed the operations off to the National Science Foundation (NSF) a decade or so later, which proliferated the network across thousands of universities and, eventually, the public, thus creating the architecture and scaffolding of the World Wide Web.

Silicon Valley was no different. By the mid 1990s, the intelligence community was seeding funding to the most promising supercomputing efforts across academia, guiding the creation of efforts to make massive amounts of information useful for both the private sector as well as the intelligence community.

They funded these computer scientists through an unclassified, highly compartmentalized program that was managed for the CIA and the NSA by large military and intelligence contractors. It was called the Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) project. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it is both interesting and disturbing.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2017 at 10:17 am

We’re loosening the rules for killing. This won’t end well.

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Daniel Mahanty writes in USA Today:

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” John Quincy Adams, 1821

The U.S. military is going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, and Americans should be worried. New changes to U.S. counterterrorism policy, branded as getting decisions out of the White House and into the hands of commanders in the field, are going to make it easier to kill more people, in more places, with fewer explanations.

Loosening the rules for killing may seem like a favor to those charged with fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. But in many ways, the latest and least bounded mutation of America’s war on terror may end up complicating, rather than simplifying, the job of our nation’s spies, soldiers and diplomats, now and for decades to come.

The U.S. military and CIA already employ lethal force against armed groups in up to seven countries across the Middle East and Africa, often times in secret. And, after receiving a briefing from Defense secretary James Mattis, Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters to expect “more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less.” Niger may be next, NBC reports.

With each new country and adversary added to the list, the relationship between the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force and current U.S. operations becomes less and less recognizable. Even in places where the U.S. does not conduct strikes or raids on its own, these “train and advise” missions involving hundreds of special forces members in places like Niger, Somalia, and the Philippines may quickly escalate, thrusting U.S. forces into combat with little warning and deadly consequences. Any policy that increases the likelihood of expanding American military operations in the absence of debate and proper authorization from America’s highest legislative body, risks undermining American democracy by obscuring the truth of U.S. involvement in war and its deadly costs.

The proposed changes also risk further legitimating acts proscribed by international law, and thus weakening international norms in which the U.S. government has invested much to preserve an order which overwhelmingly serves its interests. Lowering the bar for taking the life of a person outside of (and sometimes within) a situation of armed conflict without due process should not be taken lightly. This trend could at some point cost America’s relationship with allies who support American counterterrorism operations on the basis of at least some pretense to lawfulness.

We are already seeing this play out in allied countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany, where the public is increasingly calling on their government to clarify the legal basis for drone strikes. By setting rules that effectively permit killing anyone, anytime, anywhere, the United States is building a dangerous precedent for other states, many of whom are already arming drones for use as they see fit. This will certainly compromise America’s ability in the future to protest the practices of others when they begin to use lethal force against their adversaries, as they define them, and on their terms. This risk may seem acceptable when the world’s adversary is ISIS. But when the adversary is a humanitarian worker, an activist, a political opponent or even an American, it may be too late.

Perhaps most puzzling, for the many risks and costs involved, it’s hard to identify how setting fewer reasonable limits on killing really advances American interests or makes Americans safer. The administration has yet to articulate how any of its proposals serve some clear political end — other than annihilating terrorists — a goal that is as unachievable as it is dangerous to pursue.

Not all groups or individuals that profess affinity for ISIS or Al Qaeda necessarily pose a threat to the United States; even fewer present a threat that can actually be solved by launching a missile.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 November 2017 at 9:57 am

Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?

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Apparently so. Aaron Glantz writes in Reveal News:

Retired Gen. James Mattis earned the nickname “Mad Dog” for leading U.S. Marines into battle in Fallujah, Iraq, in April 2004. In that assault, members of the Marine Corps, under Mattis’ command, shot at ambulances and aid workers. They cordoned off the city, preventing civilians from escaping. They posed for trophy photos with the people they killed.

Each of these offenses has put other military commanders and members of the rank and file in front of international war crimes tribunals. The doctrine that landed them there dates back to World War II, when an American military tribunal held Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita accountable for war crimes in the Philippines. His execution later was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the siege of Fallujah, which I covered as an unembedded journalist, Marines killed so many civilians that the municipal soccer stadium had to be turned into a graveyard.

In the years since, Mattis – called a “warrior monk” by his supporters – repeatedly has protected American service members who killed civilians, using his status as a division commander to wipe away criminal charges against Marines accused of massacring 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in 2005 and granting clemency to some of those convicted in connection with the 2006 murder of a 52-year-old disabled Iraqi, who was taken outside his home and shot in the face four times.

These actions show a different side of Mattis, now 66, than has been featured in most profiles published since his nomination as President-elect Donald Trump’s defense secretary, which have portrayed him as a strong proponent of the Geneva Conventions and an anti-torture advocate.

Although Mattis argued against the siege of Fallujah beforehand, both international and U.S. law are clear: As the commanding general, he should be held accountable for atrocities committed by Marines under his command. Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting received no reply to messages sent to Mattis’ personal, business and military email addresses. Trump’s transition team likewise did not respond to inquiries. Mattis’ biography on the transition team’s website does not mention the battle.

There have been credible reports that U.S. troops under the command of Gen. Mattis did target civilians, conducted indiscriminate attacks and also conducted attacks against military objectives that caused disproportionate casualties to civilians during military operations in Fallujah,” said Gabor Rona, who teaches international law at Columbia University and worked as a legal adviser at the Geneva headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross at the time of the siege.

“All of these are war crimes,” Rona said. “Applying the doctrine of command responsibility, Gen. Mattis would be responsible for these misdeeds, these war crimes of troops under his command if he … either knew, should’ve known or did nothing to prevent or punish this behavior.”

Nearly 13 years later, the siege of Fallujah has receded from the headlines. But for those of us who experienced the events firsthand, the death and destruction are seared into our memories. The lack of accountability for the killing of so many civilians grates like nails on chalkboard.

Given his command responsibility, Mattis’ confirmation hearing for defense secretary, which starts Thursday, provides an opportunity to probe his role in the killings, including asking whether he committed war crimes.

***

I spent parts of three years in Iraq, covering the war as an independent, unembedded journalist, including work in and around Fallujah at the time of the April 2004 siege. The year before, in May 2003, I had spent $10 to take a taxi from Baghdad to Fallujah and – as an American journalist armed only with a microphone – walked freely among the fruit and vegetable sellers, buying a Seiko watch with a fake leather band and sitting in on a Friday prayer to hear from Jamal Shakur, the city’s most strident and powerful imam.

Although AK-47s were being sold openly on the street and there already had been clashes with American troops, the imam urged nonviolence.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” he preached. Do not confront the Americans, he said. Do not turn out to protest.

But as the U.S. government bungled the occupation, anti-American sentiment grew. Basic services such as electricity, knocked out during the initial invasion in March 2003, were not restored. Insurgent attacks increased, and along with them the number of civilians killed in American counterattacks. Thousands of Iraqis disappeared into Abu Ghraib prison, Saddam Hussein’s old lockup outside Baghdad, by then operated by the U.S. military.

A year later, Fallujah was destroyed by the Marines under Mattis’ command. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

I find it a very bad sign that war crimes now are okay for the US to do (e.g., torturing prisoners, sometimes to death). No accountability tends to make things get worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2017 at 6:14 pm

You know, I lived through Nixon, and it was never this bad

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I also was aware of the McCarthy hearings, which my mother listened to on the radio as she did the ironing. But I was way too young to follow, but I did pick up on the general unease about it.

But Nixon: I was right there, 30 miles from DC, and grabbing the Washington Post every morning. Some of those front pages I can vividly recall, like photos, from memory: the one of Haldeman and Ehrlichman looking defiant, jaws jutted…

But Nixon was a walk in the park compared to this. I’m afraid he’s going to launch an impulsive strike and we’re in for it. It’s quite clear that his not well-briefed (taken by surprise in the phone call with Australia, and because he was caught off-guard, Trump immediately goes on the offensive, insulting and cutting the call short. It’s his only tactic when the situation is uncomfortable in any way: attack. Because the situation should never be uncomfortable for him. I would bet that he’s finding the job a lot more work than he ever expected (or has ever done), so it must be a great comfort to him that Stephen Bannon is right there, taking part of the load and dealing with things so Trump doesn’t have to think about them. And Bannon is only too happy to help.

The George W. Bush administration wasn’t all that pleasant either. Dana Perino, for example, explaining how global warming was good because people would not get so cold in the winter, or some such. Dana Perino, communications major, teaches us all about climatology and how simple it is: warmer = better.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 February 2017 at 6:44 pm

Obama’s terrible record on journalists and whistleblowers sets the stage for Trump to go further

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Obama did many good things and also some terrible things, and his vindictive persecution of whistleblowers (after saying he would protect them) and his lack of transparency (how many press conferences has he had?) are a gift to the incoming president.

James Risen, a NY Times journalist who was threatened with a prison sentence by Obama’s Attorney General, has a column on the fallout from Obama’s disregard for press freedom:

If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump made his animus toward the news media clear during the presidential campaign, often expressing his disgust with coverage through Twitter or in diatribes at rallies. So if his campaign is any guide, Mr. Trump seems likely to enthusiastically embrace the aggressive crackdown on journalists and whistle-blowers that is an important yet little understood component of Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy.

Criticism of Mr. Obama’s stance on press freedom, government transparency and secrecy is hotly disputed by the White House, but many journalism groups say the record is clear. Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.

Under Mr. Obama, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have spied on reporters by monitoring their phone records, labeled one journalist an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case for simply doing reporting and issued subpoenas to other reporters to try to force them to reveal their sources and testify in criminal cases.

I experienced this pressure firsthand when the administration tried to compel me to testify to reveal my confidential sources in a criminal leak investigation. The Justice Department finally relented — even though it had already won a seven-year court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court to force me to testify — most likely because they feared the negative publicity that would come from sending a New York Times reporter to jail.

In an interview last May, President Obama pushed back on the criticism that his administration had been engaged in a war on the press. He argued that the number of leak prosecutions his administration had brought had been small and that some of those cases were inherited from the George W. Bush administration.

“I am a strong believer in the First Amendment and the need for journalists to pursue every lead and every angle,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the Rutgers University student newspaper. “I think that when you hear stories about us cracking down on whistle-blowers or whatnot, we’re talking about a really small sample.

“Some of them are serious,” he continued, “where you had purposeful leaks of information that could harm or threaten operations or individuals who were in the field involved with really sensitive national security issues.”

But critics say the crackdown has had a much greater chilling effect on press freedom than Mr. Obama acknowledges. In a scathing 2013 report for the Committee to Protect Journalists, Leonard Downie, a former executive editor of The Washington Post who now teaches at Arizona State University, said the war on leaks and other efforts to control information was “the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate.”

When Mr. Obama was elected in 2008, press freedom groups had high expectations for the former constitutional law professor, particularly after the press had suffered through eight years of bitter confrontation with the Bush administration. But today, many of those same groups say Mr. Obama’s record of going after both journalists and their sources has set a dangerous precedent that Mr. Trump can easily exploit. “Obama has laid all the groundwork Trump needs for an unprecedented crackdown on the press,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, added: “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.”

The administration’s heavy-handed approach represents a sharp break with tradition. For decades, official Washington did next to nothing to stop leaks. Occasionally the C.I.A. or some other agency, nettled by an article or broadcast, would loudly proclaim that it was going to investigate a leak, but then would merely go through the motions and abandon the case.

Of course, reporters and sources still had to be careful to avoid detection by the government. But leak investigations were a low priority for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. In fact, before the George W. Bush administration, only one person was ever convicted under the Espionage Act for leaking — Samuel Morison, a Navy analyst arrested in 1984 for giving spy satellite photos of a Soviet aircraft carrier to Jane’s Defense Weekly. He was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

Things began to change in the Bush era, particularly after the Valerie Plame case. The 2003 outing of Ms. Plame as a covert C.I.A. operative led to a criminal leak investigation, which in turn led to a series of high-profile Washington journalists being subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and name the officials who had told them about her identity. Judith Miller, then a New York Times reporter, went to jail for nearly three months before finally testifying in the case.

The Plame case began to break down the informal understanding between the government and the news media that leaks would not be taken seriously.

The Obama administration quickly ratcheted up the pressure, and made combating leaks a top priority for federal law enforcement. Large-scale leaks, by Chelsea Manning and later by Edward J. Snowden, prompted the administration to adopt a zealous, prosecutorial approach toward all leaking. Lucy Dalglish, the dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, recalls that, during a private 2011 meeting intended to air differences between media representatives and administration officials, “You got the impression from the tone of the government officials that they wanted to take a zero-tolerance approach to leaks.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 6:47 pm

Judicial Watch Wants to Salt the Earth Over Hillary Clinton’s Corpse

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post worth reading about the unrelenting and irrational hostility the Right has against Hillary Clinton—this is their continued insistence that there must be something bad in the emails, despite the inability of the FBI and a Congressional committee to find anything. This is similar to the continued insistence that Clinton must have done something wrong in Benghazi, despite the inability of countless investigations to turn anything up and the inability of those holding that view to state anything specific that she did wrong. Same with the Clinton Foundation. A look at the Trump Foundation found sleazy practice along with outright violation of the law, but in all the investigation of the Clinton Foundation, nothing was exposed except a lot of good works. The fact is, those on the Right just don’t like her, they really, really don’t like her. It doesn’t matter what she does, there must be something wrong because… they dislike her.

The post is worth reading, but I’ll quote just the postscript:

I have never gotten an answer to this question, so I’ll try again. In November 2014 Vice News reporter Jason Leopold filed a FOIA request for every email Hillary Clinton sent and received during her tenure as Secretary of State. Unsurprisingly, the State Department pushed back against this very broad request. In January 2015 Leopold filed a lawsuit, and in March, both State and Hillary Clinton agreed to release everything. However, Leopold wasn’t happy with the terms of the release, and continued his lawsuit.

So far, so good. State obviously has the authority to release all of Clinton’s emails if it wants to, and Leopold has the right to continue his suit. But in May, US District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered State to release the emails, and to release them on a remarkably specific—almost punitive—rolling schedule. However, his order provided no reasoning for his decision. So here’s my question: what was the legal justification for ordering the release of all of Clinton’s emails? This has never happened to any other cabinet officer. Can anyone now file a FOIA request for all the emails of any cabinet officer?

I know I’m missing something here, but I’ve been missing it for a long time.

Specifically, if anyone can get all the emails of a previous Secretary of State just by filing a FOIA request, let’s see all the emails from Secretary of State Colin Powell (2001-2005) and Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009). That’s a very interesting period, covering the 9/11 attacks, the initial of the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq. Those emails would be quite interesting, and if they are available with a simple FOIA request, let’s do it.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 December 2016 at 11:30 am

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