Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:
At the center of it is an anti-Iranian group calling itself “United Against Nuclear Iran” (UANI), which is very likely a front for some combination of the Israeli and U.S. intelligence services. When launched, NBC described its mission as waging “economic and psychological warfare” against Iran. The group was founded and is run and guided by a roster of U.S., Israeli and British neocon extremists such as Joe Lieberman, former Bush Homeland Security adviser (and current CNN “analyst”) Fran Townsend, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and former Mossad Director Meir Dagan. One of its key advisers is Olli Heinonen, who just co-authored a Washington Post Op-Ed with former Bush CIA/NSA Director Michael Hayden arguing that Washington is being too soft on Tehran.
This group of neocon extremists was literally just immunized by a federal court from the rule of law. That was based on the claim — advocated by the Obama DOJ and accepted by Judge Ramos — that subjecting them to litigation for their actions would risk disclosure of vital “state secrets.” The court’s ruling was based on assertions made through completely secret proceedings between the court and the U.S. government, with everyone else — including the lawyers for the parties — kept in the dark.
In May 2013, UANI launched a “name and shame” campaign designed to publicly identify — and malign — any individuals or entities enabling trade with Iran. One of the accused was the shipping company of Greek billionaire Victor Restis, who vehemently denies the accusation. He hired an American law firm and sued UANI for defamation in a New York federal court, claiming the “name and shame” campaign destroyed his reputation.
Up until that point, there was nothing unusual about any of this: just a garden-variety defamation case brought in court by someone who claims that public statements made about him are damaging and false. That happens every day. But then something quite extraordinary happened: In September of last year, the U.S. government, which was not a party, formally intervened in the lawsuit, and demanded that the court refuse to hear Restis’s claims and instead dismiss the lawsuit against UANI before it could even start, on the ground that allowing the case to proceed would damage national security.
When the DOJ intervened in this case and asserted the “state secrets privilege,” it confounded almost everyone. The New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo noted at the time that “the group is not affiliated with the government, and lists no government contracts on its tax forms. The government has cited no precedent for using the so-called state secrets privilege to quash a private lawsuit that does not focus on government activity.” He quoted the ACLU’s Ben Wizner as saying: “I have never seen anything like this.” Reuters’s Allison Frankel labeled the DOJ’s involvement a “mystery” and said “the government’s brief is maddeningly opaque about its interest in a private libel case.”
Usually, when the U.S. government asserts the “state secrets privilege,” it is because they are a party to the lawsuit, being sued for their own allegedly illegal acts (such as torture or warrantless surveillance), and they claim that national security would be harmed if they are forced to defend themselves. In rare cases, they do intervene and assert the privilege in lawsuits between private parties, but only where the subject of the litigation is a government program and one of the parties is a government contractor involved in that program — such as when torture victims sued a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen, for its role in providing airplanes for the rendition program and the Obama DOJ insisted (successfully) that the case not go forward, and the victim of U.S. torture was thus told that he could not even have a day in court.
But in this case, there is no apparent U.S. government conduct at issue in the lawsuit. At least based on what they claim about themselves, UANI is just “a not-for-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group” that seeks to “educate” the public about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program. Why would such a group like this even possess “state secrets”? . . .
Remember Obama’s promises about “transparency”? When words go one direction and actions go another, which do you believe?
And something very odd is going on in that case. Read the entire article, because there’s more. Later in the article:
But in some important respects, this latest abuse is a step beyond that. It’s certainly true that legally immunizing brutal violations of human rights on secrecy grounds (as both the Bush and Obama DOJs have done) is worse than preventing a Greek billionaire from prosecuting a lawsuit. But to intervene in a private lawsuit in order to shield an extremist neocon group from the consequences of their actions — through secret meetings with the judge in which unaccountable “secrecy” assertions are made — is even more offensive to basic legal rights than what has preceded it.
Very interesting report on a prescient newsletter from a decade ago. Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchieri at Motherboard:
Ever since Edward Snowden leaked thousands of top secret documents to journalists laying bare its most guarded secrets, the NSA, a government agency that was once known as the No Such Agency for its love for secrecy, has been thrown in the media limelight.
But people have been freaking out, to a certain extent, over the NSA’s powers for a long time.
In a newsletter dated May 26, 1996, titled “The [NSA] is Poised to Control the Internet,” the unidentified author talks about how the computer revolution, then in its infancy, would help the NSA spy on everyone online.
“A computer revolution seems to be happening and with it a dramatic increase in people using the Internet, as well as people watching what the people use it for,” read the newsletter, which has been making the rounds on the Internet on Thursday, after someone found an old mailing list post apparently authored by Julian Assange. (It appears that the WikiLeaks founder was simply distributing the newsletter, but he is probably not the original author of the essay.)
“Ever heard of the NSA? This could very well be the NSA decade for the Internet. Conspiracy, power struggles and surveillance of the citizenry may be what is remembered about the NSA during this period of time,” the author wrote in a newsletter called NorthStar, which billed itself as a “a guiding light to help you focus on the issues which threaten our Internet Freedom.”
The essay goes on to discuss the NSA’s authorities, its budget, and its ability to spy on American communications as long as one end is outside of the country—sometimes even when both ends are inside US borders.
It even criticizes the NSA’s reliance on semantics to justify its actions. “Target” the author noted, doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means for the NSA. This eerily echoes the NSA’s justification for its bulk data collection programs: it’s just “collection,” not “targeting,” US officials have repeatedly said. . .
Andrew Becker reports at Reveal News:
Faced with a Department of Justice investigation into the men and women charged with protecting U.S. commercial flights from terrorism, former and current air marshals are coming forward to describe a “wheels-up, rings-off” culture rife with adultery, prostitution and other misconduct.
The tone, they say, was set at the top. Former air marshals who worked in the service’s Orlando, Florida, field office say managers directed subordinates to modify assignments for the bosses’ benefit. That included supervisors jumping on flights or bumping air marshals off missions so they could play golf in Scotland, travel to exotic locations or meet a lover.
Around the country, others tell similar stories. They say managers flew around the globe at little personal expense and even padded their paychecks, under the guise of so-called check rides to monitor air marshals’ job performance.
Reveal disclosed late last month that an investigation into misconduct may involve dozens of employees of the Federal Air Marshal Service and manipulation of marshals’ flight schedules for personal gain. The reportsparked a House oversight committee investigation. The Senate homeland security committee has begun a preliminary inquiry as well, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a written statement.
In a Senate commerce subcommittee hearing last week . . .
Nine-minute audio at the link. Later in the article:
Insiders say a permissive culture that also punishes and intimidates whistleblowers has enabled such misbehavior for years. They say it leaves the service vulnerable to security risks, including situations that could unveil air marshals’ identities and put them in harm’s way.
The No. 1 person responsible for punishing and intimidating whistleblowers? Barack Obama and his Department of Vindictive Persecution of Whistleblowers.
John Bresnahan and Lauren French report in Politico:
Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration reportedly had “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by drug cartels in Colombia, according to a new inspector general report released by the Justice Department on Thursday.
In addition, Colombian police officers allegedly provided “protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties,” the report states. Ten DEA agents later admitted attending the parties, and some of the agents received suspensions of two to 10 days.
Story Continued Below
The stunning allegations are part of an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general into claims of sexual harassment and misconduct within DEA; FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the U.S. Marshals Service. The IG’s office found that DEA did not fully cooperate with its probe.
The congressional committee charged with federal oversight is already promising hearings and an investigation into the allegations.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told POLITICO on Thursday he wanted the agencies involved to swiftly fire those involved and that his panel would immediately start digging into the allegations.
“You can’t ignore this. This is terribly embarrassing and fundamentally not right,” the Utah Republican said. “We need to understand what’s happening with the culture … anytime you bring a foreign national into your room, you’re asking for trouble.” . . .
But perhaps large-scale killing increases rather than diminishes terrorist activity? The more who are enraged, the more turn to terrorism? It’s hard to know, but think of the US reaction (in terms of anger and violence) after just 3,000 were killed on 9/11, and think what would have been like if 430 times as man—1,300,000—had been killed. Democracy Now! has a video program with transcript. Their blurb:
As the United States begins bombing the Iraqi city of Tikrit and again delays a withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new report has found that the Iraq War has killed about one million people. The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other groups examined the toll from the so-called war on terror in three countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The investigators found “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around one million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware. … And this is only a conservative estimate.” The true tally, they add, could be more than two million. We are joined by two guests who worked on the report: Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions regime; and Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
A headline in the NY Times this morning: 3 Shiite Militias Quit Iraqi Siege of ISIS Over U.S. Air Role
I think we in the US do not fully grasp the impact of our wars on the mood of the people in the country where we fight them and on their feelings toward the US.
Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman report:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday vehemently denied aWall Street Journal report, leaked by the Obama White House, that Israel spied on U.S. negotiations with Iran and then fed the intelligence to Congressional Republicans. His office’s denial was categorical and absolute, extending beyond this specific story to U.S.-targeted spying generally, claiming: “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”
Israel’s claim is not only incredible on its face. It is also squarely contradicted by top secret NSA documents, which state that Israel targets the U.S. government for invasive electronic surveillance, and does so more aggressively and threateningly than almost any other country in the world. Indeed, so concerted and aggressive are Israeli efforts against the U.S. that some key U.S. Government documents – including the top secret 2013 intelligence budget – list Israel among the U.S.’s most threatening cyber-adversaries and as a “hostile” foreign intelligence service.
One top secret 2008 document features an interview with the NSA’s Global Capabilities Manager for Countering Foreign Intelligence, entitled “Which Foreign Intelligence Service Is the Biggest Threat to the US?” He repeatedly names Israel as one of the key threats.
While noting that Russia and China do the most effective spying on U.S., he says that “Israel also targets us.” He explains that “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked [Israel] as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.” While praising the surveillance relationship with Israel as highly valuable, he added: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel.” Specifically, the Israelis “target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems.”
Other NSA documents voice the grievance that Israel gets far more out of the intelligence-sharing relationship than the U.S. does. One top secret 2007 document, entitled “History of the US – Israel SIGINT Relationship, post 1992,” describes the cooperation that takes place as highly productive and valuable, and, indeed, top secret documents previously reported by the Intercept and the Guardian leave no doubt about the very active intelligence-sharing relationship that takes place between the two countries. Yet that same document complains that the relationship even after 9/11 was almost entirely one-sided in favor of serving Israeli rather than U.S. interests: . . .
The blundering interference of the US moves closer to home. From TomDistach.com:
One of the mysteries of our era is why there seems to be no learning curve in Washington. Over the last 13 years, American wars and conflicts have repeatedly helped create disaster zones, encouraging the fragmentation of whole countries and societies in the Greater Middle East and Northern Africa. In the process, such American wars, drone assassination campaigns, raids, and conflicts have acted as recruitment posters for and aided and abetted the growth of terror outfits. And here’s where the genuine strangeness begins to enter the picture: after all of this is absorbed and assessed in Washington, the response is regularly more of what hasn’t worked and a clamoring for yet more of it.
It turns out, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon reports today, that the same kind of process has been going on so much closer to home — right across the border in Mexico, in fact, resulting in the kind of blowback that Chalmers Johnson would have appreciated. Yet while hysteria and panic reign over the barbaric acts of the faraway Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, U.S. involvement in the “war on drugs” in a neighboring country gets just passing attention here. Curiouser and curiouser, hysteria and panic over Mexico only seem to rise when ISIS is reputed to be involved (at least in the fantasy worlds of various right-wingers). Consider it all part of the true mysteries of our strange American age of repetitive war. Tom
Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish?
The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon
They behead people by the hundreds. They heap headless, handless bodies along roadsides as warnings to those who would resist their power. They havepenetrated the local, state, and national governments and control entire sections of the country. They provide employment and services to an impoverished public, which distrusts their actual government with its bitter record of corruption, repression, and torture. They seduce young people from several countries, including the United States, into their murderous activities.
Is this a description of the heinous practices of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria? It could be, but as a matter of fact it’s not. These particular thugs exist a lot closer to home. They are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry known as the drug cartels of Mexico. Like the Islamic State, the cartels’ power has increased as the result of disastrous policies born in the U.S.A.
There are other parallels between IS and groups like Mexico’s Zetas and its Sinaloa cartel. Just as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya fertilizedthe field for IS, another U.S. war, the so-called War on Drugs, opened new horizons for the drug cartels. Just as Washington has worked hand-in-hand with and also behind the backs of corrupt rulers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, so it has done with the Mexican government. Both kinds of war have resulted in blowback — violent consequences felt in our own cities, whether at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in communities of color across the country.
In Mexico, the U.S. military is directly involved in the War on Drugs. In this country, that “war” has provided the pretext for the militarization of local police forces and increased routine surveillance of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.
And just as both the national security state and the right wing have used the specter of IS to create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in this country, so both have used the drug cartels’ grotesque theater of violence to justify their demonization of immigrants from Latin America and the massive militarization of America’s borderlands.
The War in Mexico
If there was an official beginning to Mexico’s war on drugs, it would have to be considered the election of Felipe Calderón as the country’s president in 2006. The candidate of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party (PAN), Calderón was only the second Mexican president in 70 years who did not come from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His predecessor, Vicente Fox, had been the first.
It was Calderón who, with encouragement and assistance from the United States, changed Mexico’s war on drugs from a metaphor into the real thing, in which guns and grenades would fuel the deaths of more than 60,000 Mexicans through 2012.
The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, admits that another 27,000 Mexicans were murdered in the first year of his presidency. At least another 25,000 have been disappeared since 2007. It was Calderón who brought the Mexican military fully into the fight against drugs, transforming an ineffective policing policy into a full-scale shooting war with the cartels. At least 50,000 military personnel have been deployed.
In addition to ordinary citizens, journalists and politicians have been particular targets in this war. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that murders of Mexican reporters have increased dramatically since 2006. Among those whose killers have been positively identified, 69% died at the hands of the drug cartels, and at least 22% were killed by government or military personnel.
Wikipedia lists over 100 politicians who have lost their lives in Mexico’s war on drugs. That list does not include a woman named Aide Nava González, whose headless body was dumped this month on a road in Guerrero state. Nava was contending for the Partido Revolución Democrática, the Democratic Revolution Party, slot on the ballot in the town of Ahuacuotzingo. Her husband, the former mayor, had been murdered there last year. A note from Los Rojos, a local drug gang, was left with Nava’s body. “This is what will happen,” it read, “to anyone who does not fall in line, fucking turncoats.”
Guerrero is the home of Ayotzinapa, a town where 43 teachers-in-training once attended a rural teachers college. All 43 “disappeared” last September during a demonstration in the neighboring town of Iguala. Their arrest by police, and apparent subsequent murder at the hands of a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, was one of the few stories of Mexican suffering to break into the U.S. mainstream media last year. The mayor of Iguala has since admitted that he instructed the police to hand the students over to the gang and has been arrested, along with his wife. The town’s police chief is still on the run.
Like the “war on terror” globally, Mexico’s war on drugs has created endless new pretexts for government repression, which has its own lengthy history in that country. That history includes the long-remembered police murders of some 300 students, among the thousands protesting in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas a couple of weeks before the Summer Olympics began in 1968. Juan Méndez, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote in his 2014 mission report on Mexico: . . .