Friday, July 30, 2010

Wikileaks Co-Founder: Media Reporting Failures Create Wikileaks Demand

Australia's The Age newspaper interviewed Daniel Schmitt, co-CEO of Wikileaks, who said mainstream media has become a coverup industry, instead crusaders for truth:
And by week's end, wonder was that the medium was perhaps the message, that while the thrust of the documents was hardly revelational, the high-tech disgorging of secret material might prove an increasingly popular method for airing grievances, exposing lies and cover-ups, and - yes, maybe - for keeping governments honest.

''I'm sure that we are changing the game here,'' coos Daniel Schmitt, a 32-year-old former IT security specialist from Berlin who, along with Australian Julian Assange, is the public face of WikiLeaks. ''Just look at the sheer amount of good leaks we've had in the past three years. The whole idea of automating the leaking process is changing the way that society works.''

Call it the democratisation of leaking: individual media groups were more inclined to keep custody of the information they were scrutinising, argues Schmitt, [but] ''we publish the documents in full''.

''A source wants the maximum impact of their revelations. They want to change something. If they go to a newspaper, the newspaper will keep it secret and not share it with different papers to work further on the information. That is why sources mainly come to us. When we publish something, everyone can write a story about it.''

Sunday Times (UK): US OK'd BP-Libya Pan Am Bomber for Oil Deal

For some reason Rupert Murdoch doesn't want anyone to read the original article (The Sunday Times website is charging a pound a peep), so I've posted this link to the smoking gun quote as published on The Spectator (UK) website:
‘In the letter, sent on August 12 last year to Alex Salmond, the first minister, and justice officials, Richard LeBaron (deputy ambassador in London) wrote that the United States wanted Megrahi to remain imprisoned in view of the nature of the crime.

The note added: “Nevertheless, if Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the US position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose.” LeBaron added that freeing the bomber and making him live in Scotland “would mitigate a number of the strong concerns we have expressed with regard to Megrahi’s release”.
Of course, the US could have asked that Megrahi be extradited for trial in the US, since there is no statue of limitations on murder, and the original agreement with the UK specified that he would not be set free--which is why the US needed to kosher the handover, in the first place.

Like the Wikileaks controversy, it is important that the facts come out, so that the problem can be resolved. If not, continued "credibility gaps" will suck all the life out of the administration as well as America's international posture, IMHO. Let's see all the relevant memos, in full, on the internet, sooner rather than later, please. Otherwise, it's just drip...drip...drip...

Arthur Herman has more in the NY Post (which Rupert still permits us to read online, for now):
Tuesday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) announced that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was going to suspend its hearings on the sudden release last year of convicted Lockerbie bomber and Libyan citizen Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

Menendez claims the reason he had to stop the investigation that he, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats have been screaming for is that the British witnesses they wanted to question on the possible link between Megrahi's release and a big BP offshore-drilling deal with Libya refused to testify.

Congressional Dems stopped a probe that would have disclosed what Obama and AG Holder knew about the release of Libyan terrorist Abdel Baset al-Megrahi.

The real reason is that the probe might also have had to disclose what President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder knew and when they knew it. That's because the London Times on Sunday published a letter written by deputy US ambassador Richard LeBaron in the days before Megrahi was set free, telling Scotland's first minister that, while the Obama administration opposed the terrorist bomber's release, it was nonetheless "far preferable" that he be sprung on compassionate grounds than be moved to a Libyan prison.

At the very least, the letter undermines Obama's statement that he had been "surprised, disappointed and angry" by the release last August. It turns out that he knew all along and that his anger and disappointment didn't extend so far as to make a diplomatic big deal about it.

At the time, an outraged Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said the release of the man convicted of murdering the 189 Americans on Pan Am 103 on grounds of "compassion" turned the meaning of the word on its head. It seems Obama was one of those doing the headstand.

Now that the Lockerbie hearings have been suspended, we may never get to the truth of what happened in those crucial days in mid-August or read the transcript that the White House is withholding of a conversation Holder had with his Scottish counterpart before the release.
That's unfortunate, because the truth would help us answer a more important question: How serious is this president about fighting and winning the War on Terror?
Meanwhile, Politico's Laura Rozen repeats US State Department boilerplate, including this link to the full text of LeBaron's 2009 letter as posted on the State Department website. After reading the text, including this paragraph:
We appreciate the manner in which the Scottish Government has handled this difficult situation. We recognize that the prisoner transfer decision is one that the Scottish Government did not invite, but now must take. We hope that the Scottish Government would consider every available alternative before considering the granting of Megrahi's prisoner transfer application;
IMHO, The Sunday Times interpretation is correct, and the State Department is misrepresenting the letter's implications.

If the US had objected strenuously, the UK (including Scottish) government would not have gone ahead with Megrahi's release.

Safe to say, from reading the document, that America's diplomats shed only "Crocodile Tears."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wikileaks Reveals Iranian Ties to Al Qaeda

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal (ht JihadWatch):
U.S. officials and Middle East analysts said some of the most explosive information contained in the WikiLeaks documents detail Iran's alleged ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the facilitating role Tehran may have played in providing arms from sources as varied as North Korea and Algeria.

The officials have for years received reports of Iran smuggling arms to the Taliban. The WikiLeaks documents, however, appear to give new evidence of direct contacts between Iranian officials and the Taliban's and al Qaeda's senior leadership. It also outlines Iran's alleged role in brokering arms deals between North Korea and Pakistan-based militants, particularly militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and al Qaeda.

Sherrod to Sue Breitbart

Sherrod v. Breitbart could be an interesting case, for it surely raises questions of defamation, libel, and the worth of one's personal reputation, as well as the responsibility of a blogger to correct mistakes on the record--provided they were mistakes. It would also be interesting from a freedom of the press point-of-view, insofar as Shirley Sherrod's status as a "public figure" who gave a public speech would probably become an issue.
SAN DIEGO — Ousted Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod said Thursday she will sue a conservative blogger who posted a video edited in a way that made her appear racist.

Sherrod was forced to resign last week as director of rural development in Georgia after Andrew Breitbart posted the edited video online. In the full video, Sherrod, who is black, spoke to a local NAACP group about racial reconciliation and overcoming her initial reluctance to help a white farmer.

Speaking Thursday at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, Sherrod said she would definitely sue over the video that took her remarks out of context. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has since offered Sherrod a new job in the department. She has not decided whether to accept.

Sherrod said she had not received an apology from Breitbart and no longer wanted one. "He had to know that he was targeting me," she said.

Breitbart did not immediately respond to a call or e-mails seeking comment. He has said he posted the portion of the speech where she expresses reservations about helping the white farmer to prove that racism exists in the NAACP, which had just demanded that the tea party movement renounce any bigoted elements. Some members of the NAACP audience appeared to approve when Sherrod described her reluctance to help the farmer.

The farmer came forward after Sherrod resigned, saying she ended up helping save his farm.

Vilsack and President Barack Obama later called Sherrod to apologize for her hasty ouster. Obama said Thursday that Sherrod "deserves better than what happened last week."
I'm looking forward to the trial, and think it might become a bellwether libel and press freedom case...unless it is settled out of court and sealed by a non-disclosure agreement. The libel case represents a coming of age, of sorts, for bloggers. Plenty of mainstream news outlets get sued for damages. For example, Vicki Iseman, a former aide to Sen. John McCain, sued The New York Times for libel. She settled the case in 2009.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Storm Cuts Power to 250,000 Homes in Washington Capital Area

I published an open memo to President Obama (reprinted in my local neighborhood newspaper, The Northwest Current) in May 2009. It recommended using stimulus money to bury power lines. Had the administration taken my advice, a quarter-million homes in and around Washington, DC would not have been in the dark after last Sunday's storm:
Memo to President Obama: Use Federal Stimulus Funds to Bury Urban Power Lines

TO: The President
RE: Using Stimulus Funds to Bury Power Lines
DATE: May 18, 2009

The night before last, a big thunderstorm knocked down some trees that cut power to our urban block in the Nation's Capital. We were without power for some 10 hours before repair crews fixed the problem. The experience reminded me of complaints from participants in a seminar that I teach for families of international diplomats. Every year, some of the foreigners posted here express shock and dismay that their power goes out during storms in Washington, DC. Europeans and delegates from the former Soviet block simply cannot believe that the richest and most powerful country in the world allows its capital to suffer power cuts and blackouts "like a third-world country." I used to just shrug my shoulders and repeat the mantra that "burying power lines is very expensive..."

However, given the massive spending on the stimulus package and the need to create jobs in the USA, it would seem to me that there would be no better time than right now for the Obama administration to announce a federal program to bury power lines in urban areas. These are jobs that can't be moved to China or India, and the benefits will be felt as soon as residents of Washington, DC no longer need to stock up on candles and flashlights every time there is a bad weather forecast.

Furthermore, from a national security point of view it would seem to be a no-brainer that buried power lines are less subject to disruption from terrorism than those hanging on flimsy telephone poles. Needless to say, if climate change predictions are correct, increasingly severe weather would result in more power outages affecting above-ground transmission wires. Not to mention the disruption power cuts cause to the disabled dependent on electrically-powered medical equipment.

Burying power lines with stimulus funds would create jobs, improve national security, and enhance the quality of life in urban areas. At the same time, the latest FiOS and other high-tech connections could be installed, providing infrastructural improvements requisite for the industries of tomorrow where people are living today, perhaps lowering electricity rates in the bargain..Last but not least, it would no doubt help improve the image of America in the hearts and minds of diplomats posted here from around the world.

To those who say it can't be done, let us remind them of your campaign slogan: "Yes, we can!"

The Guardian's Wikileaks Website (Nice Graphics...)

French TV Interviews Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange

Wikileaks v FOIA

The Wikileaks story has made me think a bit about the Freedom of Information Act. This law, signed by Lyndon Baines Johnson on September 6, 1966 (officially Public Law 89-554, 80 Stat. 383; Amended 1996, 2002, 2007), was intended to make information about activities of the US government available to the American public--who as citizens and taxpayers are responsible for the federal government. The principle was simple. However, in practice, over time, more and more loopholes have been added to the law through legislation, regulation, executive and administrative decisions, and court rulings--to the point where, due to fees allowed for search, review, and duplication by government agencies, it has become almost prohibitive for individual citizens to request information. Instead, a series of preferences has emerged over time that has privileged various sectors of society--such as newspapers, television stations, universities, non-profit organizations and the like--which have been exempted from certain charges.

These privileges resulted, no doubt, from well-intended attempt to reduce the burden of answering requests from thousands of American citizens, to give "bang for the buck" to the law. The idea would be that such institutional players would be best situated to disseminate information to the American public.

However, since the law was written, advances in technology have shifted the nature of information dissemination. As the Wikileaks controversy reveals, news organizations such as the New York Times offered to collaborate with the US government to suppress information. That is, they served not only as disseminators, but also as filters, editors, indeed censors of information.

On the other hand, the Wikileaks website provided universal, immmediate, instantaneous and total dissemination. Thus, the mainline news organizations provided an inferior medium of dissemination to Wikileaks.

This only has to do with the question of dissemination. However, dissemination is a key problem that is considered under FOIA when granting categorical preferences and fee reductions.

Secondly, the "data dump" on Wikileaks permitted thousands of interested readers all over the world to comb through the data looking for keywords of interest to them--in the aggregate, small numbers add up to big numbers. Thus, in combination with distributed computer processing, the data mining possibilities of an internet post by a lone individual on Wikileaks are much greater than a release to an established newspaper or media company.

More interesting is that the Wikileaks release demonstrates that US Government information is already available in electronic form. Clearly, automated computer programs could scan data for keywords to classify and/or de-classify the information on a regular basis. Such routine declassification--which might include excision of specific information "too hot to handle" while allowing more general material to be distributed--could be automatically posted on government websites.

A daily release of routine information, much like a daily press conference, removes much of the drama and "gotcha!" from information. It would allow sober citizens to evaluate what is going on--perhaps with computer matrices of their own devising that might actually help win the war that the US has been losing since 9/11 (Islamist extremism has metastasized, spreading around the globe, "on a roll," due in large measure to America's failure to catch Bin Laden "dead or alive", the express war aim stated by President George W. Bush, and reiterated by President Obama).

Such sharing of information would probably help mobilize the American citizenry, creating pressure to win--rather than the current situation, where a "Top Secret America" (to quote the Washington Post) keeps ordinary citizens in the dark, yet demands trillions of tax dollars for projects of dubious efficacy, legality, or prudence. The resulting enrichment and corruption of Washington decision-makers actually serves the interests of America's enemies. America grows weaker and poorer, the stock market and housing market collapse, America's adversaries strike with impunity--and still no one is held to account, because the American public has been kept in the dark.

It has become a cliche to quote Justice Brandeis's observation that "sunshine is the best disinfectant." But it does not make it less true.

The first rule of war, to know one's enemy, cannot be practiced in the dark. The key problem, now as always, is for the American public to be able to "identify friend, or foe?" Americans don't know the answer to that question in Iraq, or Afghanistan. Indeed, due to a flawed strategy that shrank from properly identifying allies and enemies (despite public rhetoric of "with us, or against us"), Americans have been literally kept in the dark by political and military leaders.

The Wikileaks controversy could provide a welcome change, by reminding American leaders that the public's right to know is not an obstacle to victory--but a prerequisite for it. What is needed is honest debate about the struggle America faces, based on honest information.

Let's hope the Wikileaks story doesn't go away, but is the beginning of a flow of new information that will enable America to chart the right course in the years to come...based not on ideology, wishful thinking, "conflict resolution," "reconciliation," "power sharing," or blaming allies. The 90,000 documents have been a gift to the American people, that could serve as a catalyst for a realignment of political and economic forces in such a way as to clear the decks.

Let us hope that there is someone in America with the common sense, and leadership, to grasp this opportunity for what it represents...

Wikileaks Documents Embarrass Central Asia, Per Eurasianet

Joshua Kucera looked for Central Asian references in the Wikileaks file, and found a few:
Here, an outgoing US ambassador to Uzbekistan (apparently Jon Parnell) gives his thoughts in 2007:

*Uzbekistan is not that hard to figure out. Coming up with effective policy mechanisms to advance U.S. interests in Tashkent is a much more difficult question. On the eve of my departure after over three years in Tashkent, I offer some thoughts on where we are and what may lie ahead. Uzbekistan does not pose all that complex a picture. It is a post-Soviet police state run in the interest of a small coterie of families who monopolize political and economic life. Membership in the inner circle is no longer based on loyalty to a ruling ideology or party as it was in the Soviet era, but on loyalty to the president, Islam Karimov. He will be reelected for another term later this year (probably on December 23) regardless of what the constitution may say. His many public and private statements to the contrary, he is not interested in reform of any sort, but in tight bureaucratic control of the economic and political system.

Here, a US embassy cable complains about Tajikistan's president "ranting" about Uzbekistan in July 2007:

*"This new bridge is as important for us as oxygen," Tajik President Emomali Rahmon told Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who led the US presidential delegation to the opening of the new US-funded bridge linking Tajikistan and Afghanistan across the Pyanj River. Rahmon used the remainder of a ninety-minute US-Tajik bilateral meeting to elicit US assistance and investment for additional infrastructure projects, expound on Tajikistan's favorable foreign policy and business climate, and rant about Uzbekistan. A separate trilateral meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai was more scripted and concluded the business portion of the festive weekend (August 25-26).

A May 2007 cable from the US embassy in Tashkent reports on frustrations that the Germans have with Uzbekistan:

*According to the German Ambassador, the German-Uzbek counterterrorism relationship is "stagnant," with no real dialog taking place. In addition to providing little credible information, the Government of Uzbekistan allows little access to the Islamic community, thus impeding Germany's ability to reach an independent assessment about the real terrorist threat here. The Uzbeks profess to want more cooperation, but their approach to cooperation is that German equipment and money are welcome, but that German values on such things as respect for human rights are not. The German Ambassador expects that the Uzbeks will "scream" publicly if European Union sanctions are not lifted completely in May, but that the decision will have little negative impact on the German base at Termez because of the money that the Uzbeks receive as a result of the German presence.

In June 2007, the US embassy in Dushanbe analyzes Tajikistan's relationship with Iran:

*Tajikistan has characterized its ties with Iran as purely economic, but growing political, military and diplomatic relations indicate that more than investment and trade is bringing the two countries closer together. In the last eighteen months, Tajik President Rahmon and Iranian President Ahmadinejad have made trips to each other's capitals and signed a raft of agreements and declarations ranging from education, science and culture to inter parliamentary and defense cooperation. Iranian assistance has also trickled into impoverished rural areas, building schools and mosques in places where the government has provided little development. But although friendship with a country that supports religion-based insurrections in neighboring states is a dangerous game for Tajikistan, neither Rahmon nor Tajikistan can afford to say no to infrastructure development and investment. In the short run, both countries stand to gain from closer relations: Tajikistan needs the money, and Iran needs the friend.

A Kyrgyz politician is called "melodramatic" for warning of the possibility of civil war:

*A meeting between opposition MP Kubatbek Baibolov and SCA DAS Evan Feigenbaum April 19 revealed that Baibolov, at least, has little hope for a near-term solution to Kyrgyzstan's political instability. Baibolov said that the struggle for power and resources between rival clans remained the core explanation for the country's dilemmas, and was doubtful that constitutional reforms alone could resolve the current standoff. Ever melodramatic, he forecast that if a resolution was not found, civil war could ensue.

I imagine this could be resulting in some awkward conversations this week in Tashkent and Dushanbe...

Afghan Police Chief Was Iranian Spy, Per Wikileaks Documents

From Jihad Watch:
Here again we see that those in authority had no mechanism for and/or no interest in distinguishing "moderates" who merited being given powerful positions in post-Taliban Afghanistan from Islamic supremacists and jihadists. And even they had cared to make such a distinction and tried to do so, how could they have gone about it?

Wikileaks Founder Fears US Arrest as "Material Witness" in Manning Case

Julian Assange fears the US government, reports London's Daily Telegraph:
Mr Assange says despite this he still fears he is at risk of being forcefully detained by the US government as a material witness in the prosecution of US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning.

Mr Manning, 22, was arrested in Baghdad in May and charged earlier this month with multiple counts of mishandling and leaking classified data, after a computer hacker turned him in.
In the United States an authority has the right to detain and hold a material witness for an indefinite period to ensure they give their testimony in a criminal investigation.

The Wikileaks founder said: "Today the White House put out a private briefing to reporters about Wikileaks and me and it quoted a section from an interview with me in Der Spiegel saying that I enjoy crushing -------- [bastards].

"Somehow the White House finds that offensive.

"In terms of returning to the United States I don't know. Our sources advise from inside the US government that there were thoughts of whether I could be charged as a co-conspirator to espionage, which is serious.

"That doesn't seem to be the thinking within the United States any more however there is the other possibility of being detained as a material witness and being kept either in confinement or not being allowed to leave the country until the Manning case is concluded."

He also claimed that Bradley Manning is being held in a secluded facility in Kuwait which he says is like "a second Guantanamo Bay".

He also accused the US government of doing this to "hide" Mr Manning from effective civil representation.

Wikipedia on Wikileaks

An interesting account, here:
Staff and funding

According to a January 2010 interview, the Wikileaks team then consisted of five people working full-time and about 800 people who worked occasionally, none of whom were compensated.[31] Wikileaks has no official headquarters. The expenses per year are about €200,000, mainly for servers and bureaucracy, but would reach €600,000 if work currently done by volunteers were paid for.[31] Wikileaks does not pay for lawyers, as hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal support have been donated by media organisations such as the Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association.[31] Its only revenue stream is donations, but Wikileaks is planning to add an auction model to sell early access to documents.[31] According to the Wau Holland Foundation, Wikileaks receives no money for personnel costs, only for hardware, travelling and bandwidth.[45] An article in wrote

As a charity accountable under German law, donations for Wikileaks can be made to the foundation. Funds are held in escrow and are given to Wikileaks after the whistleblower website files an application containing a statement with proof of payment. The foundation does not pay any sort of salary nor give any renumeration [sic] to Wikileaks' personnel, corroborating the statement of the site's German representative Daniel Schmitt on national television that all personnel works voluntarily, even its speakers.[45]

Wikileaks describes itself as “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking”. Wikileaks is hosted by PRQ, a Sweden-based company providing “highly secure, no-questions-asked hosting services.” PRQ is said to have “almost no information about its clientele and maintains few if any of its own logs.” PRQ is owned by Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij who, through their involvement in The Pirate Bay, have significant experience in withstanding legal challenges from authorities. Being hosted by PRQ makes it difficult to take Wikileaks offline. Furthermore, "Wikileaks maintains its own servers at undisclosed locations, keeps no logs and uses military-grade encryption to protect sources and other confidential information." Such arrangements have been called "bulletproof hosting."[46] Wired reported in July 2010 that is currently not possible to make submissions to the Wikileaks website. Assange responded that the submissions engine is currently being re-engineered.[47] Since 16 July 2010 the submission page is reachable again.
The Wikipedia entry posts an interesting list of prominent scoops, as well as a link to the Wikipedia profile of Julian Assange, director of Wikileaks. Thanks to this link on WaPedia's entry for Assange, I found this post from Assange's 2007 blog, that I think explains his rationale for Wikileaks:
Sun 31 Dec 2006 : The non linear effects of leaks on unjust systems of governance

You may want to read The Road to Hanoi or Conspiracy as Governance ; an obscure motivational document, almost useless in light of its decontextualization and perhaps even then. But if you read this latter document while thinking about how different structures of power are differentially affected by leaks (the defection of the inner to the outer) its motivations may become clearer.

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.

Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

Only revealed injustice can be answered; for man to do anything intelligent he has to know what's actually going on.

Kingston Daily Freeman on Wikileaks and the New Media Order

An interesting analysis of the import of the Wikileaks story from the Kingston (NY) Daily Freeman:
THE online release of an estimated 91,000 secret U.S. military documents on the Afghanistan war has shaken the old order.

In brief, a private group — — obtained the records and scheduled the material for release on the Internet.

Yes, the White House, Britain and Pakistan were — and are — all up in arms at what is being called one of the largest unauthorized disclosures in military history.

But the organization also made the records available to three news organizations — The New York Times, the German magazine Der Spiegel, and the Guardian newspaper in London — about a month before the scheduled release. By doing so, WikiLeaks not only disseminated information to the displeasure of three sovereign governments, but also put three esteemed “old media” news organizations to work, effectively daring them not to publish stories on the documents.

NOT too long ago, editors at those publications would have been deciding whether and, if so, on what terms the public would receive leaked material.

In today’s world, all three organizations knew WikiLeaks was going to post the documents with or without their parallel participation.

In that way, the decision to write about the hither-to secret material was taken out of the hands of the old media editors by the distribution power of the Internet...
Or, as President Obama declared on ABC News’ Good Morning America: “...we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles.”

Document of the Week: Wikileaks Afghan War Diary

I'm reading it now, and shall comment as I figure out what's going on here. But in the meantime, here's the link to the 90,000 pages of documents posted on the web by Wikileaks, so you can read the original material:,_2004-2010.

There's also a dedicated webpage, with a number of download options:

Some preliminary thoughts:

The following statement seems to indicates that the leak may be coming from somewhere nearer the top than the bottom of the chain-of-command:
We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source. After further review, these reports will be released, with occasional redactions, and eventually, in full, as the security situation in Afghanistan permits.
The White House reaction, so far, seems to support a view that this "leak" may have been sanctioned from the top, as indicated by this July 26th White House press conference statement by Robert Gibbs:
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I would point you to -- as I said a minute ago, I don’t know that what is being said or what is being reported isn’t something that hasn’t been discussed fairly publicly, again, by named U.S. officials and in many news stories. I mean, The New York Times had a story on this topic in March of 2009 written by the same authors.
Likewise, National Security Advisor General James Jones' statement:
These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies; and to support the aspirations of the Afghan and Pakistani people.
More evidence of a leak from the top can be found in today's statement from President Obama, as reported by The Guardian (UK):
Barack Obama today claimed the disclosures about the mishandling of the Afghanistan war contained in leaked US military documents justified his decision to embark on a new strategy.

If the release of 90,000 leaked messages doesn't damage US releations with Afghanistan and Pakistan, why were they classified in the first place?

I'll hazard one other comment at this point. Whatever the source, even if President Obama or Vice President Biden, a recourse to "leaks" is a symptom that the document classification system is not working properly.

At a certain point, the US government invites a climate of distrust--as it did in Vietnam--when it refuses to routinely declassify and release information that poses little danger to the war effort. In that sense, over-classification becomes a security risk, because it encourages leaks. These leaks, in turn, undermine the justification for secrecy in the first place--and lead to questions as to whether information had been properly classified by the US government.

Indeed, this article in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the problem of overclassification, in the light of the Wikileaks story.

A perceived "credibility gap" is the logical consequence of such an approach. In the end, it would tend to undermine both the war effort and the administration, despite any protests to the contrary...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Randall Terry Calls Senate Republican Leader "Spineless Chicken"

From the Louisville Courier-Journal:
In an interview yesterday, Terry called [Sen. Mitch] McConnell [R-KY] "a spineless chicken" for not leading a filibuster against Kagan.

He said he believes that Republicans can cobble together enough opposition to Kagan using her positions on abortion, gun rights and other issues to sustain a filibuster.

"Find your problem with Elena Kagan and make that your hill to die on," he said.

Frank Gaffney: Elena Kagan Has Not Come Clean About Her Shariah Past

Which is where Elena Kagan's enabling of the penetration of Shariah into our capital markets through the Harvard Law School's Islamic Finance project comes in. The purpose of that project is, according to an excellent essay by Andy McCarthy entitled "Elena Kagan's ‘Don't Ask Don't Tell' Shariah Policy" published last week in National Review Online, "to promote Shariah compliance in the U.S. financial sector."

This is accomplished by via legal support to an industry known as "Shariah-Compliant Finance" (SCF)." It was invented in the mid-20th Century by Brotherhood operatives as a means of facilitating and underwriting the penetration of Shariah into Western societies by mainlining it into their capitalist bloodstreams.

McCarthy notes that: "Kagan and other apologists for Shariah-Compliant Finance would absolve themselves from the real-world consequences of their allegedly well-intentioned diversity fetish. But legitimizing any aspect of Shariah is the endorsement of all of it....There is no cut-and-dried separation of Shariah brutality from the tidy, white-collar world of financial transactions."

Against this backdrop another Kagan connection to Shariah looms large. As my colleague, Christine Brim, observed in a post at Andrew Breitbart's awesome new national security web portal, During her time as Harvard Law's dean, Kagan twice (once in absentia, the other time in person) awarded the school's "Medal of Freedom" to the controversial Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudry. Today, according to Brim, the thus-legitimated Chaudry is engaged in a " impose Shariah law across Pakistan's government."

As a new ad by the Center for Security Policy asks, "If Kagan tolerates promoting the injustice of Shariah law on the campus of Harvard, what kind of injustice will she tolerate in America during a lifetime on the Supreme Court?"

Althouse: Kagan Least Popular Supreme Court Nominee Since Bork & Miers

From Ann Althouse's blog:
 Instead, she and we got the supposedly charming Kagan, who, for some reason, is the least popular Supreme Court nominee...since Gallup started polling people, at the time of the Bork nomination. (Bork and Harriet Miers,unsuccessful nominees,  were less popular than Kagan.) 
IMHO, Kagan's a Bork of the Left; that is, an Ivy-League law professor, Solictor General, extremist on the abortion issue, political operative, lacking empathy or judicial temperament.

Full disclosure: I had an unhappy debate with Bork at the American Enterprise Institute years ago about Madonna v. Gypsy Rose Lee, when he was hawking his book "Slouching Towards Gomorrah." At the AEI event, Bork, who denounced Madonna vociferously for her lewd act, defended Gypsy Rose Lee, whom he admitted seeing perform in person, with these words: "Madonna is no Gypsy Rose Lee."

A gasp filled the room, then chuckles.

The event was reported in The New York Times by William Grimes.
Oddly enough, both Mr. Bork and Professor Berns, the strongest voices for censorship, indulged in fond reminiscence over the good old days when the strip shows they attended, on rare occasions, showed a respect for the decencies.
AEI certainly practiced what it preached when it comes to censorship: I was never invited back to speak on a public panel at AEI, after that. Later I attended a Bork debate versus C. Boyden Gray--and Gray wiped the floor with him.

Bottom Line: If the Republicans allow Kagan through, they don't deserve to win control of Congress in November...

Dr. C. Everett Koop: Stop Elena Kagan!

From the Americans United for Life website:
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wrote an open letter urging that Senators vote against the nomination of Elena Kagan. Koop based his letter on AUL Action’s 54-page report on Kagan and partial-birth abortion. Two major national media outlets have written about the Koop letter so far.
Excerpts from a USA Today blog post on this subject today at their On Politics blog:
Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop is urging a no vote on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan in a letter that will be delivered today to senators who soon will be deciding to confirm her.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on sending President Obama’s second Supreme Court nominee to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote.
In the letter, Koop accuses Kagan of lobbying successfully to change the language of a 1997 statement by American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists on a controversial procedure that critics call “partial-birth abortion.”
Koop calls “unethical” and “disgraceful” Kagan’s effort to convince the medical group to describe the procedure as medically necessary.
“She was willing to replace a medical statement with a political statement that was not supported by any existing medical data,” writes Koop.

Document of the Week:

The Washington Post published part one of Dana Priest's and William Arkin's three-part investigative report today into the 854,000 people with Top Secret security clearances working for approximately 3200 government and private organizations in 10,000 locations across the United States. The story revealed that in the Washington, DC area, these operations utilize about 17 million square feet of office space, publishing 50,000 intelligence reports annually.

Conclusion: "...many are routinely ignored."

IMHO, this story is the tip of the iceberg, so one hopes that the authors might have a book coming out with more information. The only question I have is: Why did the Post's editors wait until 2009?

This sort of report might have helped had it come out in 2002, 2003, or 2004--before the US started losing "big time," to use a favorite phrase of Dick Cheney. Was it fear of the Bush administration? Was it a favor to them?

Perhaps CIA Leon Panetta or Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wanted this critique to come out, now.

It would appear so, at least from reading their mentions in the article. In which case, better late than never.

In any case: here's a link to the Post website for the complete story:

And here's a link to the Facebook page:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Galina Vromen on the Dilemmas of Israeli-Arab Friendship

My cousin has published her account of life as an Israeli in an Arab village in the current issue of the Wilson Quarterly:
Some Jews think I’m brave. Some think I’m stupid. I am an Israeli Jew who lives in an Arab Israeli town because I want to get to know the 20 percent of my compatriots who are Arabs and learn their language. No one thinks this is normal. There must be another motive. Maybe I am married to an Arab? Maybe I want to make a political statement? Maybe my work brings me here? The answer on all counts is “no.” Just curiosity? How crazy!
Once Israeli Jews get over the shock, they almost always ask: “How do people treat you? Are you accepted?” The assumption is that I am shunned at best, attacked at worst. Nothing could be further from the truth...

Patrick Doughterty's "Stickwork"

An artist friend told me about the giant stick constructions of Patrick Dougherty, who is coming to Washington, DC's Dumbarton Oaks this September...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Washington Post May Finally Have Done Something Right

By announcing this forthcoming story about intelligence contractors (I would outlaw any contracting for intelligence work, myself) on Monday (ht Drudge Report). Here's an excepft from a State Department cable about the story from Foreign Policy's website:
"The Washington Post plans to publish a website listing all agencies and contractors believed to conduct Top Secret work on behalf of the U.S. Government...The website provides a graphic representation pinpointing the location of firms conducting Top Secret work, describing the type of work they perform, and identifying many facilities where such work is done..."


While we can't predict specific content, we anticipate the following themes:

The intelligence enterprise has undergone exponential growth and has become unmanageable with overlapping authorities and a heavily outsourced contractor workforce.

The IC and the DoD have wasted significant time and resources, especially in the areas of counterterrorism and counterintelligence.

The intelligence enterprise has taken its eyes off its post-9/11 mission and is spending its energy on competitive and redundant programs.


The Washington Post may run a series of three articles, the first being an overview, the second focused on the large number of contractors supporting the intelligence enterprise, and the third looking at a specific community (the Fort Meade/BWI Airport area) that has expanded in part due to Intelligence Community growth.

The Washington Post is expected to work with Public Broadcasting Service's Frontline program to add a television component to this work, and will also present an interactive web site demonstrating growth of the intelligence enterprise and inviting comment and dialogue. The Post advises that "links" between individual contractors and specific agencies have been deleted, although the Post will still cite contractors and their locations.
Too bad about the links being deleted by the Post...

Earthquake Rocks US Capital!

Washington, DC was shaken up--and shaken awake--this morning by a 3.6 earthquake reportedly centered in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I felt it myself, along with someone I know, at 5 am (official reports say 5:04). Luckily, no major damage has been reported, and no casualties.

Still, unusual for Washington, DC. Someone I know had felt a small earth tremor just yesterday morning, now it seems it was a precursor of this quake. Since earthquakes come in waves, we're sitting tight, waiting for aftershocks...

WTOP news story here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tea Party Targets Lindsey Graham

Over Kagan's nomination. From Talking Points Memo:
Tea party activists are claiming victory over the one-week delay until Solicitor General Elena Kagan receives a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and one group is going after Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as the most likely GOP "Yes" vote to confirm Kagan to the Supreme Court.

"This gives us more time and we must not fail. We must keep calling Senators and tell them to stop Kagan," Tea Party Nation wrote supporters in an email obtained by TPM Organizers misspelled Graham's name, then said he's "the most likely" to support Kagan's nomination.

We think so too, even though Graham peppered Kagan with questions during her hearings. Of course, it's not likely that tea party calls to Graham are going to change his mind, since he told the New York Times recently that the movement "will die out." So far, the Republicans who have said they are opposing Kagan are the ones with political targets on their backs.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tony Blankley: Kagan Must Be Barred From Supreme Court

From The National Review:
The very power of the Supreme Court to exercise judicial review derives precisely from the Court’s being empowered by the pre-constitutional sovereignty of the people, who have an inalienable right to protect themselves from any undue state restraints on such sovereign rights (see Empire of Liberty, Gordon S. Wood, pages 443, 448 — 451).

And now, proposed to be intruded into that temple of justice — that last fail-safe of freedom — comes the form of Elena Kagan: cold to the very passion of our Declaration of Independence. Ignorant of its animating powers. Insentient of its still-governing force. And — thankfully — oblivious even to her need to attempt to hide her true scorn and indifference.

It is a dead certainty that, if she is admitted to the High Court, the day will come when she will cast aside — carelessly, indifferently, and without pause, and with a leering smile and a chuckle on her lips — our sacred birthrights as so much nuisance and interference with the government’s right to direct our lives as it, or she, sees fit.

She must be barred from the Court.

Forty-one filibustering senators can save the Republic this week, or all 99 will surely be condemned by history for their failure to act when they had the legal power to do so.

The senators have had their warning: Side with Abraham Lincoln and the Republic or with Elena Kagan. Which will it be?

Gun Owners of America: Elena Kagan "Not Sympathetic" to African-American Gun Owners

Combine all of this with the fact that in 1987 Elena Kagan told her boss, Justice Thurgood Marshall, that she was “not sympathetic” to the plight of an African-American man who wanted to own a gun for self-protection because he carried large sums of cash when depositing money for the laundromat where he worked in Washington, D.C.

Senator Lautenberg Demands BP-Libyan Pan Am 103 Bomber Deal Investigation

FoxNews.crom reports:
Megrahi originally had not been part of the prisoner transfer, but former British Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw later cited "overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom" in including Megrahi.

BP could earn as much as $20 billion from the deal with Libya, set to begin next month.

"It is shocking to even contemplate that BP is profiting from the release of a terrorist with the blood of 189 Americans on his hands," Lautenberg wrote. "The families of the victims of Pan Am flight 103 deserve to know whether justice took a back seat to commercial interests in this case."
Hmmmmm...$20 billion, where have I seen that number before? Oh, that's right, it is the same amount BP has pledged to pay victims of the Gulf oil spill. Link to read Lautenberg letter (PDF) here.

South Carolina Group Targets Lindsey Graham in Kagan Nomination Fight

The Canada Free Press (of all places) reports that Move America Forward will buy ads in South Carolina to pressure the state's senators (meaning Lindsey Graham, since Jim DeMint's position is not in doubt) to oppose Elena Kagan. The effort begins with a press conference tomorrow:
Columbia, SC – The nation’s leading grassroots military-support organization, Move America Forward, is joining the Judicial Action Group and Tea Party Express in calling on South Carolina U.S. Senators Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham to oppose the nomination of Elena Kagan to the United States Supreme Court. The groups will be discussing why they are exerting pressure to oppose Kagan, and announcing details of a major TV ad buy.

Nikki Haley is scheduled to attend, and will give her reasons for opposing a Kagan confirmation.

Military families and their supporters are extremely displeased President Barack Obama has chosen Solicitor General Elena Kagan to join the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are urging the United States Senate to defeat her nomination.

“We are proud to be standing with Nikki Haley, a pro-troop American patriot, who from a military family, against the nomination of Elena Kagan. Military families like Nikki’s agree that Kagan is a bad choice for Supreme Court, after kicked military recruiters off the campus of Harvard Law, impeding their ability to do their jobs in service to their country.” said Danny Gonzalez, Director of Communications for the pro-troop group. Haley’s brother has served in U.S. Army for over 20 years and her own husband Michael Haley is currently employed by the Department of the Army while concurrently serving in the South Carolina National Guard.

Also appearing at Thursday’s Columbia news conference to express the organization’s opposition, will be former Navy S.E.A.L. Benjamin Smith and Paul Jauregui, representing Judicial Action Group, the organization whose name appears on the TV ad.


Thursday, July 15 at 10:00AM

The State House (Front Steps)
1100 Gervais St.
Columbia, SC

The groups gathering tomorrow oppose Kagan on four major premises:

*Kagan has zero experience as a judge
*At Harvard, Kagan treated terrorists’ lawyers better than our own U.S. military
*Kagan asked the Supreme Court to ignore the law and re-write it so as to impose her own “gay rights” agenda
*Kagan favors foreign law over our own U.S. Constitution

For further details, please contact Danny Gonzales at (714) 926-6189 or
The reason for the campaign is clear: If Graham could be persuaded to vote against Kagan, her nomination might be killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee, without the need for a floor vote...

Armenian Lobby Fights Nomination of New US Ambassador to Azerbaijan

I received an email from the Armenian National Council of America in opposition to the nomination of Matthew Bryza as ambassador to Baku. Among the ANCA complaints was this item:
Firing of Ambassador John Evans:

Matthew Bryza served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, overseeing Armenia and the surrounding region, during the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans, over his truthful statements on the Armenian Genocide. He also held this position during what the Washington Post has described as the State Department’s intervention with the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) regarding the withdrawal of its award to Ambassador Evans for constructive dissent.

Mr. Bryza has yet to offer any meaningful insights into the specific justification for the firing of Ambassador Evans or to discuss his role in the termination of a distinguished 35-year diplomatic career.
The website has posted some background on the Evans controversy:
Evans's use of the word `genocide,' which is bound to anger Turkey, was also announced and welcomed by the chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, Anthony Barsamian. `In his public commentaries, Ambassador Evans repeatedly employed the words "Armenian Genocide" to properly characterize the attempted annihilation of our people by Ottoman Turkey,' he said in a speech in Los Angeles.

Barsamian was addressing more than 270 community leaders that gathered to pay tribute to countries that attempted to stop or recognized the genocide.

Evans thus became the first U.S. official since former President Ronald Reagan to publicly describe the mass killings and deportations of Ottoman Armenia as a genocide. Reagan did so in an April 1981 statement on the genocide committed in Cambodia in the 1970s.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Judge Orders Guantanamo Prisoner Photos Released

In response to a FOIA lawsuit, reported on FOIABlog.

Congress Investigates Defense Department's "Corrupt Practices" in Kyrgyzstan

At a CESS conference in Michigan, a few years ago, I had a debate of sorts with a US State Department official from Embassy Bishkek, who complained in her presentation about corruption in Kyrgyz education. She had described American anti-corruption efforts to stamp out the selling of grades by professors. I thought the project sounded unwise, and remarked from the audience something to the effect of, "I wish we'd stop this anti-corruption rhetoric, because I bet we are corrupting them." Needless to say, the discussion ended on a sour note. Now, I find out, I may have been more right than I knew at the time, according to Eurasianet's Diedre Tynan'a report on hearings scheduled for Thurday:
Three figures said to be associated with Red Star Enterprises Ltd. and Mina Corp have been subpoenaed by a US congressional committee that is investigating potential improper dealings concerning the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan. The trio will be expected to answer questions about the companies' business operations and relationships in Kyrgyzstan, as well as the entities' ownership structures.

Chuck Squires, the director of operations for both Red Star and Mina Corp, Erkin Bekbolotov, a Kyrgyz national, and Doug Edelman, an American entrepreneur, were subpoenaed July 1 by Edolphus Towns, a New York Democrat and the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has learned.

Squires, a former defense attaché at the US Embassy in Bishkek, is due to appear before the committee on July 15. Bekbolotov is scheduled for questioning on July 20 and Edelman on July 22. The testimony will be given in closed committee sessions.

The subpoenas have been formally served to Squires, Bekbolotov and Edelman, as well as to Red Star and Mina Corp's company addresses in Gibraltar, sources close to the investigation insist. A spokesman for Red Star/Mina Corp declined to comment on the development.

Investigators at the Subcommittee for National Security and Foreign Affairs are said to be frustrated by a lack of cooperation from Red Star and Mina Corp since the start of the congressional probe. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

In letters dated April 12, investigators asked representatives of the two entities to provide information about the companies' structures and their respective relationships to former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, his son Maxim, and the companies Aalam Services and Manas Aerofuels, both of which are now in the process of being nationalized by the Kyrgyz provisional government.

The congressional probe is focusing on possible corrupt practices surrounding Manas fuel supplies, as well as fuel supply arrangements at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Representatives of Red Star and Mina Corp, the previous and current holders of US government contracts to supply jet fuel to Manas, deny any wrongdoing in connection with the fulfillment of their contracts.

The Browser's Five Books

Like an internet version of the Five Books of Moses, or a print variant of the BBC's Desert Island Discs radio program, The Browser offers a Five Books feature on topics of current interest (ht Charles Crawford). What does it mean?
FiveBooks – Become an expert with FiveBooks.

Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire. Read the interviews, share in the knowledge, buy the books.

Our site is funded by the small percentage we get from every Amazon sale made through us. So please support us by buying your books from FiveBooks, the authoritative way to become an authority.
This week, the theme is a world gone mad:
This Week on Five Books--Mad World

Sociology Professor Frank Furedi chooses books on the crisis in education and says schools have got to stop trying to solve social problems and start educating kids, stop hiding behind gimmicks and interactive white boards and start talking to young people in an intelligent way.
BTW, there's a Russian connection, in the person of the founder, Al Breach:
I’m Al Breach, am 39, and started working on what was to become The Browser with Robert in early 2008. Along with managing the set-up of the business, I’m on the board / advisor to a few companies (Vostok Nafta and Bank of Georgia) and invest actively. My home is in a village in the Swiss mountains.

I spent most of my adult life in Moscow working as an economist. I started in Moscow in mid 1996 writing a journal, before joining Goldman Sachs to become their Russia & FSU economist. After an 8 month sabbatical in Japan in 2002, I joined what was then Brunswick UBS and worked there until late 2007 heading research.

I was born and raised in London, but along with Moscow and Switzerland have lived in Beijing, Tokyo, New York and Zimbabwe. I did an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics (LSE), studied Mathematics with Philosophy at Edinburgh University, and my secondary school was Westminster.
By sheer coincidence, I actually saw Al Breach speak a few years ago, at a panel on the Russian economy chaired by Leon Aron, at the American Enterprise Institute. If he is as knowledgable about literature as about Russian business, this site should prove to be of interest...especially since Nick Clegg also went to Westminster School--Breach's alma mater.

Another Russian connection, for editor Anna Blundy:
I am a novelist and journalist, and I studied Russian at University College, Oxford. I covered Russia’s financial crisis and Yeltsin’s demise in the late 1990s as Bureau Chief for The Times AND once interviewed Mikhail Gorbachev live in Russian on Radio Svoboda. I am the author of seven critically acclaimed novels and a memoir and have appeared as a commentator on the BBC’s Newsnight Review, Radio Four’s Midweek and Woman’s Hour among others and have written for publications such as The Spectator and Cosmopolitan. My five Faith Zanetti books feature a female war correspondent at odds with a rumbling world, and my latest novel, The Oligarch’s Wife, is published by Random House in December 2009. I wrote a single-girl column for The Times in the early 1990s and now write a regular column in The Times entitled ‘How Did I Get Here?’ about life in northern Italy. I have a masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and am currently working on a PhD thesis psychoanalysing Samuel Pepys from his diaries.
And yet another Russian connection, in the person of Browser co-founder Robert Cottrell:
My name is Robert Cottrell, and I am editor of The Browser. Which is to say, mainly, that I choose the pieces we recommend in "Best of the Moment", and I collect the fragments we publish under "Browsings".

I take suggestions gladly from all sides for pieces to recommend: my email address is robert[at] Most links come from my daily reading of RSS feeds, and, increasingly, from following other strong readers on Twitter, where I am @robertcottrell.

Until 2008 I was in print journalism as a staff writer variously for The Economist, the Financial Times, the Independent and the Far Eastern Economic Review. I also contributed to the New York Review of Books for ten years, mostly on Russian topics.

In 2004 I moved to New York as deputy editor of I found over time that I wanted to try building something new, rather than maintaining a large and established site. My first attempt in that direction was the creation of More Intelligent Life, a "baby" site for a re-launched Economist quarterly magazine, Intelligent Life: the site has since been taken over, and improved out of all recognition, by Emily Bobrow. I left The Economist in 2008 to form a business partnership with Al Breach, out of which The Browser has grown.

I live now in Riga, Latvia, where I have a second-hand-book shop.

In my print-journalism days the pieces I most enjoyed writing were the relatively relaxed ones done for The Economist's Christmas issues. Most of those are behind a pay barrier now—such as this one, about the art of conversation. But I see my profile of Santa Claus can still be had for nothing; and, for the time being, my piece about being foreign, in the latest Christmas issue, is also free. Most of my pieces for the New York Review of Books are behind a pay barrier, though last time I looked, one of them, on Chechnya, has remained in the wild.
I wonder if they need a Washington correspondent?

New Format from Blogger

You may have noticed that this blog has switched to the "Simple" format on Blogger. Hope that makes it easier to read--and for RSS subscriptions to Mobile apps (blogger doesn't seem to have it's own app to format blogs for iPhones, yet).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Charles Crawford on British Diplomacy in the Former Yugoslavia

From Diplomat Magazine:
In my own career this question came up in an interesting way after the NATO bombing of Serbia/Kosovo in 1999. That episode represented a classic attempt by Tony Blair to establish the principle of ‘humanitarian intervention’ under the idea of a new ‘Right to Protect’ populations from massive human rights violations by their own authorities.

This principle made sense at the time – the fact that so many people had been murdered at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia shuddered the UN system. Nonetheless, the way NATO intervened in Serbia/Kosovo was morally problematic, for me at least. NATO forces bombed countless Serb targets almost at will, killing hundreds of Serbian soldiers and civilians. Milosevic and the top Belgrade leadership whose policies had prompted the intervention were unscathed, although most of them ended up facing war crimes charges at the Hague Tribunal.

When that NATO bombing ended, I was appointed by then Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to lead on the British diplomatic policy towards the Balkans in general and Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in particular. We of course wanted Milosevic to resign or be toppled. But we were not allowed by FCO lawyers to say that we were acting to make this happen. That would be pressing for regime change – a quite improper interference in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s internal affairs under firmly established international law.

Anything we might contemplate doing to help see Mr Milosevic depart had to be described in bland, unspecific ways – for example, supporting democratic reforms and European standards of the sort Belgrade itself had endorsed under the Helsinki Accords. Pshaw. Back in the real world we did a lot to help anti-Milosevic forces. And we won.

Sen. Orrin Hatch's Case Against Elena Kagan

From National Review Online:
Ms. Kagan’s hearing did nothing to temper the picture of judicial activism painted by her record. Despite the excessive media and political attention one can receive, a confirmation hearing is only a small part of the picture for any nominee, and Supreme Court hearings have become less and less meaningful, with nominees prepared and prepped to provide answers that are more form than substance. Ms. Kagan, for example, referred to any previous Supreme Court decision as “settled law,” whether it was two days or two centuries old. Her pledge to give such “binding precedent . . . all the respect of binding precedent” told us nothing more. In effect, she said that a decision is a decision and a precedent is a precedent — not much to go on.

Ms. Kagan chose not to answer many questions by various senators about a range of issues. I spent 30 minutes asking her about freedom of speech, campaign-finance reform, and the Citizens United v. FEC case, which she argued before the Supreme Court. I asked for her own views, but she instead told me what Congress said, what she argued before the Court, and what the Court held. I already knew those things because I had read the statute, the transcript, and the opinion. She would not even admit that she had in fact written the 1996 memo about partial-birth abortion that not only bore her name but included her handwritten notes. After three attempts, all she would say is that it was in her handwriting; I suppose that left open the possibility that it had been forged.

A nominee, of course, may choose to use such code words and evasions. For Ms. Kagan, however, this choice stood in stark contrast to her previous strong critique of Supreme Court confirmation hearings. After serving on the Judiciary Committee staff during Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s hearing, Ms. Kagan wrote in a 1995 law-journal article that Supreme Court confirmation hearings had become a “vapid and hollow charade” and taken on “an air of vacuity and farce.” The solution, she said, was for a nominee to discuss “the votes she would cast, the perspective she would add, and the direction in which she would move the institution.” Ms. Kagan refused to discuss any of these at her own hearing, prompting the Associated Press to ask the question on many Judiciary Committee members’ minds: “What happened to the Kagan standard?”

Liberty requires limits on government; it always has, and it always will. That includes limits on judges. Measured against that standard, Elena Kagan’s record shows that her primarily academic and political experience and her activist judicial philosophy make her inappropriate for serving on the Supreme Court. Her hearing offered nothing to neutralize the clear evidence of what kind of justice she will be.

Happy Birthday, To Kill a Mockingbird

A friend sent me this item about the anniversary of Harper Lee's novel:
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm broken at the elbow..."

Those were the first fifteen words Harper Lee wrote in her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Little did she know that soon after her book's publication in 1960, it would go on to win not only a Pulitzer Prize, but remain a bestseller for decades to come. The film version received eleven Academy Award nominations, winning three Oscars. (Gregory Peck won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch.) I first saw the book in the hands of my mother shortly after it was published. An avid reader, she spent many hot and humid summer evenings enthralled by the words Harper Lee had composed about Scout, Jem, their father Atticus Finch, and Boo Radley and the mythical town of Maycomb, Alabama. My father, nor my two younger siblings dared to interfere with my mother's reading. It was always after supper and after the dishes were washed - by my younger brother and me - that she got comfortable in her favorite chair and in her mind traveled to visit the Finch family in Maycomb. She and my father would stroll down to the local theater to see the film version upon its arrival in our tiny town.

Years later in a college english class, my classmates and I were assigned to write an essay about a book of our choice. Being an eternal procrastinator, I waited until literally the last minute to choose, read a book, and write my essay about it. Miraculously, I recalled that my mother had not only read To Kill a Mockingbird, she had also seen the movie. So I immediately called her. I omitted the fact that I had an essay due in a matter of days. My inquiry went something like this: "Hey, mom. Remember that book you read...ummm, uhhh, the one you really liked...And then you and dad went to see the movie." Her reply: "I've read a lot of books..." "This one was about the south and a lawyer with two kids who defends a black man..." "To Kill a Mockingbird..." "That's it. I think." "Why are you asking about it now?" "Oh...ummm...I'm thinking about reading it. But I just need, uh, want to know more about it..." I readied my pen, had it hovering over note paper. My mother's long silence made me fidget in my seat at my desk. "H-u-l-l-o?" "Umm humm. Is this for one of your classes?" I was afraid to lie, but too desperate not to persist in weeding out the information I needed from my mother. "Kinda" "And you haven't read it?" "I will. I will. I just..." "I'm not going to tell you about the book. You'll have to read it for yourself, young man. Better get busy....Hope you get an A. B-y-e." Dial tone.

I dashed to the student bookstore on campus, bought a copy of Cliff Notes on To Kill a Mockingbird, and frantically read the summary and analysis. After an overnight typing session, red-eyed I turned in my essay on time. A week or so later my english professor returned the graded essays to the class. With a grade of B- I thought I had done quite well, though I had not truly read the book. As I was about to leave, my professor called for me to come to where she sat at the front of the class. I was not guilty of plagiarizing a single word, so I knew I couldn't be had for that. What could it be? I worried. Finally. She was serious, not grim, as she stared into my eyes. "I can tell that you rushed your essay... Even after you had two weeks to write it." She was right. So I kept my mouth shut. She continued. "You have an innate ability to write. And I think it's a shame that you don't work to the best of your ability. The B-... could very well have been an A."

Whether my english professor knew it or not circa 1971 or 1972, she did shame me. Since then I have at the very least attempted to do the best I can do when it comes to the written word. Some positive results have come of it. But for some odd reason or another, I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird from the beginning to the end.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Paul Berman on Islamism's Nazi Roots

From Saturday's Wall Street Journal:
No one disputes that the Nazis collaborated with several Islamist leaders. Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, orated over Radio Berlin to the Middle East. The mufti's strongest supporter in the region was Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna, too, spoke well of Hitler. But there is no consensus on how to interpret those old alliances and their legacy today.

Tariq Ramadan, the Islamic philosopher at Oxford, is Banna's grandson, and he argues that his grandfather was an upstanding democrat. In Mr. Ramadan's interpretation, everything the Islamists did in the past ought to be viewed sympathetically in, as Mr. Ramadan says, "context"—as logical expressions of anticolonial geopolitics, and nothing more. Reviews in Foreign Affairs, the National Interest and the New Yorker—the principal critics of my book—have just now spun variations on Mr. Ramadan's interpretation.

The piece in Foreign Affairs insists that, to the mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler was merely a "convenient ally," and it is "ludicrous" to imagine a deeper sort of alliance. Those in the National Interest and the New Yorker add that, in the New Yorker's phrase, "unlikely alliances" with Nazis were common among anticolonialists.

The articles point to some of Gandhi's comrades, and to a faction of the Irish Republican Army, and even to a lone dimwitted Zionist militant back in 1940, who believed for a moment that Hitler could be an ally against the British. But these various efforts to minimize the significance of the Nazi-Islamist alliance ignore a mountain of documentary evidence, some of it discovered last year in the State Department archives by historian Jeffrey Herf, revealing links that are genuinely profound.

"Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion," said the mufti of Jerusalem on Radio Berlin in 1944. And the mufti's rhetoric goes on echoing today in major Islamist manifestos such as the Hamas charter and in the popular television oratory of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a revered scholar in the eyes of Tariq Ramadan: "Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one." Foreign Affairs, the National Interest and the New Yorker have expended nearly 12,000 words in criticizing "Flight of the Intellectuals." And yet, though the book hinges on a series of such genocidal quotations, not one of those journals has found sufficient space to reproduce even a single phrase.

Why not? It is because a few Hitlerian quotations from Islamist leaders would make everything else in those magazine essays look ridiculous—the argument in the Foreign Affairs review, for instance, that Qaradawi ought to be viewed as a crowd-pleasing champion of "centrism," and Hamas merits praise as a "moderate" movement and a "firewall against radicalization."

George Will on Prohibition

From last week's Washington Post column:
Although whiskey often was a safer drink than water, Americans, particularly men, drank too much. Women's Prohibition sentiments fueled the movement for women's rights -- rights to hold property independent of drunken husbands; to divorce those husbands; to vote for politicians who would close saloons. So the United States Brewers' Association officially opposed women's suffrage.

Women campaigning for sobriety did not intend to give rise to the income tax, plea bargaining, a nationwide crime syndicate, Las Vegas, NASCAR (country boys outrunning government agents), a redefined role for the federal government and a privacy right -- the "right to be let alone" -- that eventually was extended to abortion rights. But they did.

By 1900, per capita consumption of alcohol was similar to today's, but mere temperance was insufficient for the likes of Carrie Nation. She was "six feet tall, with the biceps of a stevedore, the face of a prison warden, and the persistence of a toothache," and she wanted Prohibition. It was produced by the sophisticated tenacity of the Anti-Saloon League, which at its peak was spending the equivalent of 50 million of today's dollars annually. Okrent calls it "the mightiest pressure group in the nation's history." It even prevented redistricting after the 1920 Census, the first census to reveal that America's urban -- and most wet -- population was a majority.

Before the 18th Amendment could make drink illegal, the 16th Amendment had to make the income tax legal. It was needed because by 1910 alcohol taxes were 30 percent of federal revenue.

Workmen's compensation laws gave employers an interest in abstemious workers. Writes Okrent, Asa Candler, founder of the Coca-Cola Co., saw "opportunity on the other side of the dry rainbow." World War I anti-German fever fueled the desire to punish brewers with names such as Busch, Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz. And President Woodrow Wilson's progressivism became a wartime justification for what Okrent calls "the federal government's sudden leap into countless aspects of American life," including drink.

And so Prohibition came. Sort of. Briefly.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Senate Posts Elena Kagan's Answers to Written Questions

You can read them on the Senate Judiciary Committee website (ht Senatus blog). IMHO Senator Coburn scored a point with his question about pro bono legal work:
[SEN. COBURN:]I believe each profession has an obligation to serve the less fortunate. I take that belief personally and apply it in my career as a physician. While I am not a lawyer, I do know the legal profession encourages and actively promotes, as does my medical profession, pro bono services. In fact, Rule 6.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which governs the behavior of attorneys, states “[e]very lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay. A lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono public legal services per year.” It goes on to note the various ways that responsibility should be fulfilled, stating the lawyer should provide those services to “persons of limited means or charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means.”

Comment 1 of Rule 6.1 reinforces the importance of pro bono services when it states, “[e]very lawyer, regardless of professional prominence or professional work load, has a responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay...” Comment 9 goes even further by stating, “[b]ecause the provision of pro bono services is a professional responsibility, it is the individual ethical commitment of each lawyer.”

Based on the Model Rules and your comments in the committee-required questionnaire for your nomination as solicitor general, which merely notes Harvard Law School’s institution of a tuition-free third year and loan forgiveness for students engaged in public service, I am concerned by your personal lack of pro bono legal services.

a. In your Supreme Court questionnaire, you note that you have “served on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations” and “promoted public service and pro bono work” while Dean at Harvard. But, you “did not engage in any individual representation of clients.” In fact, your pro bono work appears to be far less than prior Supreme Court nominees, despite some of those nominees’ restrictions on providing these services due to their careers as judges. Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Harriet Miers listed extensive pro bono activities, including representing indigent clients, in their questionnaires. Even Justices Sotomayor and Alito, who had spent most of their careers as judges and were prohibited from representing clients in pro bono work, had more meaningful volunteer work for the underprivileged and indigent.

i. Since graduating from law school, have you ever volunteered your time for pro bono legal services that would qualify you to fulfill the yearly requirements of Rule 6.1 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct? Why or why not?

My pro bono work as a lawyer is listed in my questionnaire response except that I may have done some pro bono work at Williams and Connolly that I do not now recall. My general practice as both a government lawyer and an academic was not to represent individual clients (whether for pay or pro bono). I do not know whether my efforts to expand pro bono opportunities as Dean of Harvard Law School or my service on the boards of several organizations devoted to representation of needy persons falls within Rule 6.1.

[SEN. COBURN:]ii.Please list the cases or clients you have participated in or in which you have represented a client pro bono.

Please see above.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Document of the Week: Chief FOIA Officer Report FY09 Central Intelligence Agency March 15, 2010

The CIA recently posted its report by a secret author on its handling of Freedom of Information Act requests for 2009. It makes for interesting reading.

In section one, part one, the CIA admits that it has released declassified documents to students at a private military day and boarding high-school located in Culver, Indiana for a symposium it called "Creating Global Intelligence: the Creation of the US Intelligence Community and the Lessons for the 21st Century." While it must have been fun for the high-schoolers, and nice for the school, one has to wonder how such a private event at a private military school, located out in the country, could be classified as a contribution to "the presumption of openness." (I'm guessing someone at the CIA knew someone connected to Culver Military Academy). I don't think that even the producers of Team America: World Police would have thought of this.
Chief FOIA Officer Report
Central Intelligence Agency
March 15, 2010

I. Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
1. Describe below the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the
presumption [of openness] is being applied to all decisions involving
the FOIA. This section should include a discussion of the range of
steps taken by your agency to apply this presumption. From
publicizing the President’s FOIA Memorandum and Attorney
General’s FOIA Guidelines and providing training on them, to
implementing the presumption in response to FOIA requests and
administrative appeals, with examples or statistics illustrating your
agency’s action in making discretionary releases of records or partial
releases when full disclosure is not possible.

Both the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA
Guidelines were widely circulated and discussed with all individuals involved
in the FOIA process. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has worked
diligently to release information to the public that no longer requires
protecting, including discretionary releases not mandated under FOIA.

Under the CIA’s Historical Review Program, several discretionary collections
on historically significant topics were released to the public in FY09. These
collections included (date of release in parentheses):

• Office of Scientific Intelligence (10/08)
• Polish Martial Law (12/08)
• Vietnam Histories (3/09)
• Air America: Upholding the Airmen’s Bond (4/09)
• Founding Documents of the Intelligence Community (5/09)

These discretionary releases provided official acknowledgement of
previously undisclosed information. For example, in the case of the Polish
Martial Law documents, the documents provided insight into the
contributions of Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski to U.S. policymakers’
understanding of the events leading up to the imposition of martial law in
Poland. In the case of the Air America documents, the CIA acknowledged
for the first time the role that Air America pilots played in the search and
rescue of airmen during the Vietnam conflict.

The CIA also partnered with Culver Academy, a private school in Indiana
during a year long effort to place declassified documents into the classroom
for hands-on study in the classroom. The CIA released the Founding
Documents of the Intelligence Community, 833 documents primarily from
the late 1940’s through the 1950’s. The documents provide specific
procedural and implementing guidance for the establishment of the CIA and
more broadly, the Intelligence Community. Historians from the CIA’s Center
for the Study of Intelligence Historians, the National Security Agency, and
Villanova University conducted in-class learning experiences with the
students showing them how to use the primary sources and also providing the
background framework and events that shaped the documents. The Capstone
of the project was a symposium entitled Creating Global Intelligence: the
Creation of the US Intelligence Community and the Lessons for the 21st

In section one, part two, the CIA states that it released 363 records in full and 918 records in part, in response to FOIA requests. This is compared to the previous years totals of 237 and 532, respectively. Thus, the CIA concludes: "The data show that more documents were released in full or in part in FY09 in comparison to 2008." This data is almost meaningless, because it consists only of raw numbers, rather than percentages of requests answered. How many requests were made as opposed to answered in the two years discussed? They don't say, we don't know, and so cannot make any claim as to relative trends in this regard. The information has been kept secret, in such a way as to negate the validity of the claim, except as technically responsive to the question. Perhaps some high school students at Culver Military Academy could explain principles of statistical analysis to the CIA FOIA officer?
2. Report whether your Agency shows an increase in the number of
requests where records have been released in full or where records
have been released in part when compared with those numbers in
previous year’s Annual FOIA Report.

In FY09, the CIA released 363 records in full and 918 records in part as
compared to FY08 when 237 records were released in full and 532 records
were released in part. The data show that more documents were released in
full or in part in FY09 in comparison to 2008.

In section two, sections one and two, the CIA first admits that it didn't have a functioning IT system in 2008 to track FOIA requests, then describes the new system in such vague terms as to be almost meaningless. I couldn't find one hard fact, statistic, or number to analyze. A non-answer. Again, the CIA FOIA officer might benefit from a refresher course in English composition at Culver Military Academy.
II. Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency has an Effective System for
Responding to Requests
1. Describe here the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the
system for responding to requests is effective and efficient.
2. This section should include a discussion of how your agency has
addressed the key roles played by the broad spectrum of agency
personnel who work with FOIA professional in responding to
requests, including, in particular, steps taken to ensure that FOIA
professionals have sufficient IT support.

1. In FY08 we replaced an outdated case management system with a new--
more efficient--system compatible with modern technology platforms. We
continue to assess and modify the current system in order to make it as
efficient and effective as possible. We also automated capturing, forwarding,
and tracking requestor phone calls to our public FOIA phone number in order
to respond to these requests effectively and efficiently.

2. The FOIA program office involves IT support in every aspect of the
FOIA/PA process and has partnered with it to further advance the common
goal to use technology to improve responsiveness. IT support personnel are
located within close proximity of the FOIA program office, fostering greater
interaction and support, and are proactive in their trouble-shooting efforts and
looking ahead for system enhancements.

III. Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
1. Describe here the steps your agency has taken to increase the amount
of material that is available on your agency website, including
providing examples of proactive disclosures that have been made
since the issuance of the new FOIA guidelines.

In addition to posting documents from closed FOIA cases each month, the
electronic FOIA Reading Room website also hosts documents released
through the discretionary Historical Review Program (see Section I above for
details). Web site statistics show that many visitors to the CIA FOIA Reading
Room website are most interested in these historically significant document
releases. New additions since the memo and guidelines include a
downloadable version of the previously released Family Jewels collection and
Warsaw Pact documents.

Part three actually contains a concrete fact. It's nice to know that some old documents have been put online. However, re-releasing already publicly available "Family Jewels" doesn't strike one as the same thing as making new material available under FOIA. If something has been made public once, it can't be made public again, even if it is now "downloadable". Perhaps Culver Military Academy offers courses in Logic?
IV. Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
1. Does your agency currently receive requests electronically? No.
2. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency establishing a
mechanism to receive requests electronically?

CIA is evaluating the security, counterintelligence, and resource issues
associated with the implementation of electronic FOIA submissions.
Currently, resources are devoted to automating the processing, tracking,
and required reporting of FOIA requests. Emphasis on back-end
processing has contributed to improved response time to requesters as
noted in our FY09 FOIA Annual Report.

3. Does your agency track requests electronically? Yes.
4. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing a
system to track requests electronically? Not applicable.
5. Does your agency use technology to process requests? Yes.
6. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing
technology to process requests? Not applicable.
7. Does your agency utilize technology to prepare your agency Annual
FOIA Report? Yes.
8. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing
technology in preparing your Annual FOIA Report? Not applicable.
Part Four seems to be the most interesting of all. While almost every government agency and business in the USA does business by email and on websites, the CIA does not receive requests electronically. While this may be justifiable somehow or other, there is no explanation given. The only answer I can think of is that it makes it harder to submit a request. They just don't want to hear from the public. But of course, I didn't go to Culver Military Academy. Perhaps they have a better explanation. Although I'd reckon some kids in the Culver Military Academy IT department might figure how to set up an email FOIA request service on a secure website.
V. Steps Taken to Reduce Backlogs and Improve Timeliness in Responding
to Requests
1. If you have a backlog, report whether your backlog is decreasing.
That reduction should be measured both in terms of numbers of
backlogged requests and administrative appeals that remain pending
at the end of the fiscal year, and in terms of the age of those requests
and appeals.

Note: Privacy Act Cases were not included in CIA’s FY08 data but were
included and reported in FY09. As reported in the FOIA Annual Reports,

CIA’s backlog is decreasing -- from 940 cases in FY08 to 592 in FY09. The
median number of days to process simple and complex cases decreased
(detailed below in Section 3), and we closed the four oldest pending FOIA
cases and the three oldest appeals cases. At the end of FY09, the oldest
FOIA/PA and administrative appeals cases were dated 10/7/1998 and
4/26/1995 compared to FY08’s oldest FOIA and administrative appeals cases
of 5/1/1992* and 3/1/1993, respectively.

2. If there has not been a reduction in the backlog, describe why that has
occurred and what steps your agency is taking to bring about a
reduction. Not applicable.

3. Describe the steps that your agency is taking to improve the timeliness
in responding to requests and to administrative appeals.

Throughout the fiscal year, CIA placed concerted efforts into streamlining
processes to improve timeliness. In FY09, the median number of days to
process simple and complex cases decreased from 28 to 15 and 68 to 51 days
respectively. For administrative appeals, the median number of days
decreased from 161 to 112 days. CIA also implemented several refinements
to its automated case management system to better address workflow and
other system issues as well as to add key data collection capabilities relative to
statistical reporting for the FOIA Annual Report.

*FY08’s Annual FOIA Report should have recorded this date as 7/7/1989.

Well, let's look at the bottom line: the oldest requests in 2009 dated from 1995 instead of 1992. That's to say, you only needed to wait for 14 years for an answer in 2009, rather than 16 years in 2008, for the CIA to process your FOIA request.

IMHO, this type of answer makes a mockery of FOIA--as well as a mockery of the CIA, the headquarters of which features the words of John 8:32 carved in stone, at the insistence of Allen Dulles, its first director:

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."