Whose Terror War? (2)

June 30, 2014–The caliphate has arrived, or at least we’ve been told it has. That is the confident assertion of propagandists for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who over the weekend put out an announcement that the area they control is now one state, with their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the caliph, or supreme leader. All Muslims the world over, we are told, now owe their allegiance to Al Baghdadi.

Listen up! ISIS is confirming what was argued here several weeks ago (“Whose Terror War?” June 3, 2014)– that the terror war has changed. The object of the jihadis is not an “imminent” attack on the United States, as popularizers of the war on terror would have us believe, but primacy among Islamists.

The original Al Qaeda has already “expelled” ISIS from the movement, or jihad, or however you want to describe the politico-religious framework in which this array of movements functions. You can be sure as well that other groups–including the Shahaab in Somalia and Kenya, the Magreb front in Chad, the islamists in Central African Republic and Mali, the Army of God in Sub-Saharan Africa, will all be surprised–and doubtless annoyed–that they are now supposed to report to Al Bagdadi.

This development lends further weight to the proposition that what we are seeing is a collection of local revolutionary movements intent on imposing social change for religious purposes. The islamists may believe that the West and the United States are decadent, but this is not a unified international front that aims at striking the U.S. There is no “global war on terror.” If that ever existed it ended a long time ago.

Shot Across the Bow for NSA

June 26, 2014–If I were the National Security Agency I’d be very worried right now. Developments are accumulating that signal the end for its electronic dragnet against everyone. The spooks–and their Fearful Leader, General James Clapper–thought they had dodged the shot on eavesdropping. The public ire and diplomatic disaster triggered by the spy programs had indeed forced President Obama to order reforms, but in classic spyworld fashion the NSA seemed to be manipulating the reform efforts to secure even greater advantage. The order to divest itself of possession of citizens’ phone call data, in favor of communications companies holding the material for summon by warrant, had been cleverly redirected. Agency actions plus helpful misdirections to congressmen looking for advice on how to craft a law to reflect the new electronic monitoring regime had created a nifty synergism. Phone companies can be called upon for much more than mere call metadata, and NSA lawyers succeeded in revising the wording in the prospective law, for a definition of material serious enough to call for a search warrant, watered down to the point where just about anything would qualify. –Especially with its rubber-stamp Foreign Intelligence Surveillance “Court.”

That was yesterday. Today the spooks should be worried. This is due to the Supreme Court’s decision in the cases Riley v. California (13-132, 819c), and United States v. Wurie (13-212) decided on June 25. These were not cases that had anything directly to do with the National Security Agency. Rather they deal with privacy rights in the class of technology that is the focus of NSA spying. In both cases police departments accessed data from the cell phones of citizens stopped for other reasons and ended up with more serious charges. In the Riley case a stop for expired auto registration led to indictment for murder.

When the case was argued on April 29 of this year, the government maintained that a cellphone is not “materially different” than a wallet or purse, the same kind of pap the NSA has been using to allege that individuals have no interest in “business records” that embody their entire calling histories. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, writing for the majority in these cases, said of the government’s argument, “that is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon.”

There are four reasons the NSA should be scared sh–l–s right now. First, this is the second time modern technology/privacy have come before the Supreme Court and the outcome is the same–decisions against expansive government interpretations of its power to intrude on citizens simply because of the form of technology involved. Next, in each instance the Supreme Court’s decision has been unanimous, 9 – 0. This is remarkable for a Court that has been divided on nearly every case. Third, it is only a matter of time until the entities involved in cases before the Court shift from police departments to intelligence agencies. In fact, just a couple of days ago courts in Oregon pronounced on a case of that sort, in which a citizen was convicted for terrorism in an FBI sting operation, induced to participate after monitoring of his cellphone. Cases like that are on their way to the Supremes.

Finally, the basic law–what the French might call a loi de cadre–that has been cited as the foundation for NSA’s dragnet expires next year if it is not renewed first. The “reform” silliness detailed at the top of this article forms part of a project to make changes in the course of re-authorizing the statute. Quite often legislators take positions on issues before Congress based on how they see the Supreme Court arrayed on the matter. The Court’s ruling in these privacy cases sends an explicit message to everyone on Capitol Hill. Smart fish will be more reluctant to bite on an NSA scheme to expand its powers while pretending to curtail them. Much more likely will be an outright repeal of this authority.

Hot Document Notice: Circusmaster Cheney and the Church Committee

June 21, 2014–Now posted for your delectation are a few documents where Dick Cheney, at that time a senior official in President Gerald R. Ford’s White House, sought to restrict the scope and contents for congressional investigations of U.S. intelligence in 1975. I mentioned these documents a couple of days ago (“Dick Cheney: Circusmaster or Clown?” June 19). The set includes Cheney’s handwritten notes for “next steps” at the White House to respond to the investigation of a Senate select committee led by Idaho democrat Frank Church, the senator’s actual request of the White House for CIA information–with Mr. Cheney’s annotations on what should not be handed over–and an excerpt from a later White House memo in which officials report a press conference where Senator Church notes that the indicated material had not, in fact, been handed over. These Hot Documents are in “Products” on the “Downloadable” section of the website.

Dick Cheney: Circusmaster or Clown?

June 19, 2014–Dick Cheney has struck again. Together with daughter Liz–a fellow-traveler in the classic mold–Cheney has published a piece in the Wall Street Journal in which he charged, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” In the June 18 op-ed article, the former vice-president goes on to accuse Barack Obama of “abandoning” Iraq and “snatching” defeat from the jaws of victory. What?

Several things are going on here that cannot be permitted to pass without comment. I’ll leave the obvious to the side for a moment to say this– for two decades in the 20th Century American politics were roiled by the issue of “who lost China?” It was a false charge, devised for the purpose of forcing politicians to take public stands on foreign intervention, posed from a conservative point of view. The stalking horse in Mr. Cheney’s latest foray is his barely disguised effort to revive the same kind of political  charge. Cheney cannot be allowed to get away with this.

The former vice-president obviously thinks by resurrecting this device he can put Democrats in a bind while redefining his own role in the Iraq debacle in a more positive light. Cheney has long believed himself a circusmaster, able to pull bunny rabbits out of the most threadbare of tophats. That’s what he did when he played George W. Bush’s piano keys and got the United States into Iraq in the first place, when he served the first president Bush as secretary of defense, when he sat in Congress and obstructed investigations of the Iran-Contra Affair, and when he held a White House portfolio for Gerald R. Ford and sought to evade and minimize investigations of U.S. intelligence agencies, ignited by charges of domestic spying and assassination plotting, all the way back in 1975. You can read all these stories in The Family Jewels. In honor of Cheney the circusmaster I will shortly be posting a new product for the “Downloadable” section of this website, one that will show Mr. Cheney, in his own handwriting, crafting the White House strategy against the Family Jewels investigations.

But there is more to it than that. Richard Cheney’s interventions have had a mad wizard quality to them, preoccupied with short-term tactical goals, which have resulted in long-term negatives for his country. Derailment of inquiries into the intelligence agencies in 1975, and White House staffs in the late 80s arguably made possible the manipulations by which Dick Cheney himself maneuvered his president, after the September 11 attacks, into one of the most disastrous episodes in U.S. history. There were small things to go with the big ones. In the Iraq and Afghan wars one of the most useful American weapons had been the CV-22 transport aircraft. As defense secretary for the first president Bush, Dick Cheney cancelled the V-22 program, losing eight years and untold millions of dollars in extra development costs.

But let’s return to the present, and take Dick Cheney up on his own words. In point of fact it is Cheney, not Barack Obama, who has been wrong about nearly everything he has claimed over the past decade. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, the alleged presence of which Cheney used to justify an unprovoked invasion. The war did not end in a few weeks as Mr. Cheney said it would. The invasion did not implant the new democracies in the Middle East that Cheney expected would eventuate. Iraqis stopped regarding Americans as liberators very quickly contrary to Mr. Cheney’s expectations. The Maliki government of Iraq was not the broad-based popular unity government that Cheney and his cohorts professed. The war in Afghanistan burbled along and then escalated because Cheney and his cohorts ignored it in favor of their myopic focus on Iraq. Intelligence work on “the dark side,” as Mr. Cheney insisted would defeat Al Qaeda, did not. CIA torture, which Cheney defended vociferously, has had marginal if any impact on U.S. Intelligence. NSA eavesdropping, which Cheney has said he would do again, in an instant, has had little intelligence impact, threatened the constitutional rights of everyone, and caused great damage to American foreign relations, hence U.S. national security. This is not even the complete list but it is sufficient. Never has one man been so wrong, about so much, at the expense of so many. Richard Cheney is a clown.

So to Iraq. The war in Iraq was not a United States victory. Anyone who imagines it was is deluded. The line about snatching defeat from the hands of victory, increasingly to be heard from the neocons, is an attempt to redefine the conflict’s result in the guise of discussing current policy. It is not for the U.S. to snatch anything from the present situation in Iraq. Conversely, it is very much the case that Maliki policies have undermined his own legitimacy and created the situation in which he is vulnerable.

Let’s consider two more things: One, defeat in Iraq was the product of decisions taken or not taken by the administration of which Dick Cheney was a major player. The U.S. barely avoided a rout, and salvaged an orderly withdrawal, which Barack Obama completed. Further, for the sake of this analysis suppose Obama does what Cheney wants and goes back into Iraq, only to stand at Maliki’s side as he is defeated or yields to an Iranian proconsul–the most likely outcome. That result would be snatching defeat from whatever Iraq is now. That’s number two. Playing that game might open the door to a “Who Lost Iraq” competition. Dick Cheney must think he really is a circusmaster. But he must know that Barack is never going to play. This is not about U.S. interests, foreign policy or national security. It’s all about scoring points. That’s exactly why Dick Cheney is such a clown.

[NOTE: June 21: Documents on Mr. Cheney’s attempt to restrict the Church committee inquiry are now posted in “Products” under the “Downloadable” section of the website. There is a related set of documents, posted on March 15, 2014, under the title “Church Committee Access to CIA Documents.”]


NSA Scandal Update 2

June 17, 2014–Just a couple of days ago I wrote about bad-mannered criticisms by Michael Kinsley that aimed America back toward a 1984-style society (“Ugly Image in Critic’s Mirror,” June 15, 2014). Mr. Kinsley stated his preference for living in a society where the government decides what information the public can learn about. Two items from yesterday’s news illustrate just how dangerous is that preference.

In a development from Chicago, the Federal Circuit Court overruled district court judge Sharon J. Collins, who had decided for a motion this past January that would have given lawyers access to evidence the U.S. government had submitted to the FISA court. Lawyers defending a man alleged to have planned a terrorist bombing of a Chicago bar, under the appeals court decision, are thus barred from seeing the evidence used to justify full NSA surveillance of this individual. Under legal precedent established by the Supreme Court, warrants can be invalidated if they were premised on omission or misrepresentation. We have already seen massive omission and misrepresentation in the NSA program, hence there is reasonable suspicion that might be the case with the agency’s FISA application here. By its decision the appeals court robs the defendant of the ability to test the quality of the FISA application.

Our other development is from across the pond, where NSA’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), as a result of a document sprung loose by a freedom of information lawsuit, has been forced to reveal some of its rationale for dragnet surveillance. The GCHQ believes that a British citizen is legitimately subject to electronic eavesdropping if she or he makes any use of a message service (like Google, Facebook, or Twitter) that uses servers or search engines located outside Great Britain. GCHQ insists its spying is legitimate even in the case of British citizens inside the UK merely communicating with each other.

These are the authorities Michael Kinsley would like to rely upon to say what can be released to the people.

Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front the real costs of NSA spying are evident in the kid gloves being used by Vice-President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. on a trip to Brazil. Biden’s visit, ostensibly to watch the United States and Ghanian teams compete for the World Cup of football, is potentially the highest-level contact between the U.S. and Brazil since the spooks’ eavesdropping on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff became known last year. Rousseff then cancelled a long-awaited visit to the U.S. and sternly criticized Washington at the United Nations General Assembly last fall. Right now Biden and Rousseff are tip-toeing around each other, both telling reporters the time may be right, conditions have “matured,” and so on. This dance may lead to a meeting. If it does, feathers will have to be smoothed, but Brazilian-American relations could be back on track.

The score? A full year of void for the United States with one of its major Latino trading partners–and for Brazil its second-largest foreign market. A continued delicate rapprochement which may yet go awry (there remains the question of whether the U.S. will apologize for its spying). All of this because a bunch of stupid spooks couldn’t keep their ears in their pants. This real cost is not due to the leak of the fact of the spying, it is entirely because of what the NSA is, in fact, doing.


Ugly Image in Critic’s Mirror

June 15, 2014–Last week a very irate diatribe against Glenn Greenwald’s book on Edward Snowden and his leak appeared in the New York Times Book Review. From liberal columnist Michael Kinsley, I cringed as I read some of this–and I hoped it would go away. But I’ve seen yet more commentary on this very review since then, so now I think it’s become necessary to say something.

To set the context, Glenn Greenwald is the journalist who worked most closely with Edward Snowden. The latter gave his secret NSA material to Greenwald, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and a couple of other reporters, and they wrote and published the stories which brought the Snowden leak to the public. The book No Place to Hide is Greenwald’s account of his role, of Snowden the man, and his evaluation of the information Snowden has revealed. Much of Kinsley’s review is ad hominem. Greenwald is a “ruthless revolutionary,” Snowden a “political romantic.” The reviewer drags in Julian Assange of Wikileaks–completely uninvolved in this latest fracas–to call him a “narcissist.” Kinsley makes claims as to Greenwald’s procedures, and Snowden’s supposed goal of martyrdom. As an author myself I often confront the spectacle of a review that doesn’t go my way–and I respect the reviewer’s right to whatever opinion she or he may have reached. So I’m going to pass on the pyrotechnics of the Kinsley v Greenwald pie fight–except to say that it appears to me that Mr. Kinsley got himself so worked up over those aspects of his subject that he blinded himself to far more dangerous doctrines proposed in the course of his diatribe.

In the second paragraph of his review Kinsley jumps right in by asserting the world is complex, not simple, and that laws exist against both government eavesdropping on the American people as well as against leaking secret information. “You can’t just choose the laws you like and ignore the ones you don’t,” the reviewer wrote. The truth is, to quote Mr. Kinsley, “It’s not that simple.” It was  the government (of the people, by the people, and for the people) that first chose to break the law–and more than that, to obtain even more leeway by securing changes to the law, using false pretenses to reduce its vulnerability to criminal infraction.

The first question in “U.S. Government v Snowden,” as this controversy can readily be imagined, is which violation is greater, that of spy agencies trampling on the constitutional rights of all citizens while calling it protection–and legal to boot–or the infraction of the citizen who called out the government for its eavesdropping. Snowden has said, rightly, that he swore an oath to protect the Constitution of the United States, not any particular set of leaders or bosses. The president and all those other officials swore the same oath. The Nuremberg principles, which flowed from war crimes prosecutions after the Second World War, enshrined the proposition that carrying out the orders of a superior officer was no defense against a person’s commission or omission of actions that constitute crimes. Bottom line– the NSA and U.S. government actions are not so white, nor are Mr. Snowden’s acts so black, as Michael Kinsley would have us believe.

The central element in Kinsley’s indictment of Glenn Greenwald concerns the role of the press in publicizing Snowden’s leak. Here the reviewer lets the personal intrude on the institutional. Ask Michael Kinsley on any given Sunday his view of the Fourth Estate as a pillar of democracy and I’m sure he would say the right thing. But, unminded by his vision of Greenwald the revolutionary, here Kinsley writes “it seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies who own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets.”

In that alternate history timeline there is no purpose to a whistleblower, because only government decides what becomes known. There is also no democracy, for that exists only when a people have the knowledge to rein in their government.

Kinsley further writes that Mr. Greenwald, in citing evidence that the majority of citizens now agree on the oppressiveness of this eavesdropping, undermines his own argument. The ability to hold that opinion, the reviewer observes, shows that dissent has not been suppressed. But again, it’s not that simple. Citizens can hold the opinion they do because they learned of what the NSA is up to courtesy of the Snowden leak, brought to them by Greenwald and other journalists. Not Greenwald but Kinsley undermines his own argument.

Let us not forget that government, in the form of the NSA’s superior, Fearful Leader James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, lied to the public, through Congress, when asked directly about this same information. Fearful Clapper did so with no compunction, invented some mumbo jumbo about mental distraction to pass off this serious dereliction of duty, and even took the BS to a higher level by sending out his top consigliere to make the same claim.

These are the people Michael Kinsley would have as the arbiters of what citizens are permitted to know. Kinsley’s imagined America is not our country, it is the land of 1984. If that were to be abetted by an emasculated press it would be a tragedy. Personally I don’t think Mr. Kinsley really wants what he appears to have been writing about.

No Rant on Iraq

June 13, 2014–Don’t succumb to the siren songs of temptresses on the latest Iraq debacle. This is a right wing screed propelled by a feel-good drive to think that something we did there was worthwhile. My time today is very limited but I want to say– remember how we got here.

First off, the United States did not “win” the Iraq war. There is nothing there which we achieved and we have no winnings to protect. Democracy in Iraq? The Maliki government is no more a democracy than that of Saddam Hussein. Maliki has spent his time in power seizing control of more levers of power and excluding ethnic and religious groups other than his own Shiites. Vice-presidents and senior officials of his own government have fled to evade trumped up criminal charges. Is it any wonder Sunnis and Kurds won’t fight for the Baghdad government?

Second, Maliki swore off U.S. aid. His refusal to enter into the status of forces agreement that Washington sought as we withdrew our main forces from Iraq was understandable from a nationalist point of view. But both the U.S. and Iraq understood that refusal meant the end of U.S. training for the Iraqi military. Maliki then undermined the Iraqi military by employing the same tactics he did with the political system as a whole. Maliki buttered his own bread. Intervention now does not prevent Iraqi WMD, any more than it did in 2003, and it does not preserve Iraqi democracy.

Next, Washington’s basic decision was made when President Obama rejected calls to intervene in Syria. The fighters threatening Iraq today have spilled across the border from Syria and represent an attempt to forge a confessional state that will take over that area. For that to happen the so-called ISIS group has to topple not just Mr. Maliki but the Hafez Asad regime as well. Intervention against ISIS in Iraq is actually the equivalent of helping Asad. Americans shouldn’t want to do that.

Military action in Iraq is the wrong intervention at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.

The Phoenix Program and the Vietnam War

June 10, 2014–Back in print today is a book that, if you’re interested in the Phoenix Program, is a must read. During the Vietnam war Phoenix was a U.S. effort to aim directly at the leadership of the Vietnamese insurgency, what American officials called the “Viet Cong Infrastructure.” There have been few books that zeroed in directly on this subject, and of them, Douglas Valentine’s The Phoenix Program is the only book based on extensive interviews with Phoenix operatives. Indeed, the CIA, which furnished much of the staff for the program, tried to suppress this book when it was written in the 1980s.

You should read that story in my own work The Family Jewels. It is among the actions which show how the CIA, for its parochial purposes of the moment, has so thoroughly manipulated the standard rules for secrecy that it is not to be trusted as an honest broker in a legitimate process. In the case of the Valentine book the CIA used its Publications Review Board, which–as the name indicates–is an entity supposed to approve the writings of CIA employees, in an effort to prevent Valentine from obtaining information for his book.

This maneuver fails the smell test on at least two counts. First, Valentine was not an agency employee and its Review Board had no jurisdiction over him whatever. Second, the Board exists to approve written works and has no authority over speech. CIA officials exhorted colleagues to come to them if approached by Valentine, and congratulated those who did so. To give their intervention a patina of legality they encouraged employees to write down Valentine’s questions and the employees’ proposed answers–which could then be considered written materials that the Board could reject.

Just to add insult to injury, the CIA had initially assisted Valentine, with its personnel retiree section forwarding letters from him to former agency officers as he sought interviews. It was when one of the interviewees, unsure of which particular Phoenix-related issues were classified, asked the agency’s general counsel’s office, that the latter involved the Publications Review Board. From that moment forward CIA’s whole approach changed. In his initial note on the subject, by the way, the lawyer dealing with it acknowledged the CIA had no standing in the matter.

Doug Valentine eventually discovered that the CIA was actively dissuading its former employees from talking to him. At that point Valentine used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request the agency release the documentation that covered how it had handled his case. The CIA denied the FOIA request.

Let me just emphasize that for a moment– there was a category of information about the Phoenix program that was secret and could be denied under FOIA. But Doug Valentine’s approaches to retirees for interviews were, by definition, not secret. Derivatively, talks inside CIA about how to deal with Valentine’s interviews were also not secret. But CIA rejected the FOIA on national security grounds. You can see why I talk about the agency’s parochial interest.

I first became acquainted with Valentine’s Phoenix program book when a publisher asked me to take a look at the draft manuscript. I saw immediately that it was a major advance in our knowledge. As it happened, in my own research I had taken a long look at French pacification methods during the French war. I knew things about that which I saw Valentine here relate. He was the only writer who had taken the trouble to include that.

Valentine’s text on the French did not survive into the published work, but it does serve as an example of the thoroughness of this book, which I commend to you. –And despite CIA’s obstacles, Douglas Valentine’s interviews yielded a plethora of material which permitted him to tell the Phoenix story in great detail. The National Security Archive was happy to accept the donation of his papers, which are available there to scholars. In the meantime you can read his e-book.


U.S. Intelligence Tied Up in Knots

June 8, 2014–Time for an update. I considered headlining with a question, “What Does Ruthenia Say to U.S. Intelligence?”–then the fanciful rejoinder, “You speak with forked tongue!”–but that was too facetious. I decided it’d be better to let the spooks get themselves into trouble directly. They’ve been very good about that lately, so good that you have to wonder what they are doing calling themselves “intelligence” agencies.

First let’s observe the antics of intelligence community top lawyer Robert S. Litt. The always entertaining consigliere to our spy chieftain, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, Litt has been working both sides of the street lately. Late in April the nation, along with quire a few other countries, celebrated “Sunshine Week,” a occasion that marks efforts to reduce government secrecy, encourage openness, freedom of information, and the like. Eager to obtain some official pronouncement, sponsors invited intelligence officials. Under pressure to get out in front of the public relations disaster that has been the NSA eavesdropping scandal, Fearful Leader Clapper handed this assignment to his consigliere. Lawyer Litt appeared at American University’s law school on April 20. This was the consigliere attempting to charm his audience.

Part of Mr. Litt’s good cop routine was where he declaimed that “These leaks have forced the Intelligence Community to rethink our approach to transparency and secrecy. We have had to reassess how we strike the balance.” He claimed credit for the ODNI on the website “IC on the Record.com,” where the spooks have been posting pieces of legal filings and decisions they have long kept secret. He repeated what General Clapper had said elsewhere–the spooks would have taken less heat if they had only been forthright about their eavesdropping. He concluded with three “principal steps” to be taken: high-level attention to the problem of overclassification, efforts at “proactive transparency;” and, the need for a commitment “to look critically at all potentially responsive documents” that could be released.

It sounded pretty good if you didn’t know the spooks’ real status. Most important, the statement that openness would have trumped the NSA scandal is not open to judgment because the spooks were confidently saying nothing on the assumption that secrecy would protect them. Once the Snowden leaks began to put surveillance issues on the table the spooks still said nothing. Mr Litt took credit for the “on the record” website as if it were the spies being pro-active for openness whereas the truth is that President Barack Obama ordered Fearful Leader Clapper to set up that site and pack it with the NSA legal papers. Odds are that Clapper objected to releasing those documents until he saw he had no choice except to do so.

A different measure of proactive transparency is the content of the intelligence community website. In fact, it contains no document of any nature other than what ODNI was directed to declassify. Contrary to some of the press releases on that very website, even on the eavesdropping projects there are no program histories, no progress reports, no inspector general audits, no cost data, no analyses of effectiveness; just the antiseptic claims of legal memos filed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. More than that, the website page that deals in “oversight” contains nothing on the extensive congressional controversies ignited by the Snowden leaks, merely the response to one senator’s specific query, plus a series of items to suggest that officials solicited views on how they could protect civil liberties. There is an April report by a brand-new NSA civil liberties and privacy office which contains no analysis whatsoever of spooks’ behavior but reiterates claims the agencies have already made for why citizens should not fear the NSA dragnet. The section of the website that records officials’ public statements, for the man charged with civil liberties protection, contains nothing more recent than August a year ago, when he was claiming to the government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that questions it was posing had already been answered by an anodyne (and boiler plate) briefing. The most recent entry for Fearful Leader Clapper himself was two months old.

This is the norm, not the exception. Take the CIA website. Five directors ago Porter J. Goss took measures to reduce CIA’s extent of contact with the public, including making its website less open. Michael J. Hayden, who additionally terminated most outreach by CIA historians, at least compensated by reinvigorating the website and posting his own speeches and press comments, a practice which Leon Panetta continued between 2009 and 2011. But David Petraeus shut that down right away. John Brennan has, if anything, closed the door even tighter. Today the “news” that merits a press release on the CIA site is its pathetic joke, in connection with its first twitter post, that it will not “confirm or deny” its use of those very words in that message. The “press release” previous to that was on May 22 and carried the director’s Memorial Day message. The most recent speech from the director dated from March 11.

If that amounts to proactive transparency I’m a fruitcake.

Meanwhile, Consigliere Litt worked the other side of the street. His speech asserted that “none of the leaks has shown that the government was engaged in any willful violation of law”–apparently constitutional violations do not breach “law.” The assertion ignores the conclusions of two review boards and a federal court decision and is, at best, arguable.

Mr. Litt excused NSA’s efforts to defeat encryption systems built into commercial software–a matter that is the subject of another law–with the glib comment that that’s what spy agencies are supposed to do. All of which makes it rather hard for U.S. high tech firms to convince their foreign customers that American-built equipment and our software are kosher. Small wonder that corporations’ cooperation with the NSA eavesdropping has evaporated faster than a plate of ice cubes in the desert sun, or that corporate officials, like Google’s chief of security, Eric Grosse, are saying, “No hard feelings, but my job is to make their job hard.”

Two days ago Consigliere Litt was back–in an appearance not noted on the ODNI openness site. Now he laments the “unquestionable loss for our nation that companies are losing the willingness to cooperate.” Mr. Litt is quick with the threat too: “sooner or later there will be some intelligence failure and people will wonder why the intelligence agencies were not able to protect the nation.”

The spooks are actively blaming the messenger, resisting any conclusion that their own spying, not the revelation of it by a disaffected employee, is what has damaged the nation. They would prefer to construe their parochial interests as the national security. I know I have written this before but it is more true with every passing day.

By definition every intelligence failure involves an inability to protect the nation, and if there is one element of commonality that extends across the board of these failures, it is the petty jealousies and private competition among the spy agencies, not the fact of whether or not the spooks are sucking up every single type of data that might be technically feasible. More often than not–and that includes 9/11– the data was in the system but the agencies didn’t share it. For 9/11 specifically (which we’ve discussed in this space before), the terrorists who would have been revealed by the NSA metadata, which at that time was not being collected, were in the system at least two other ways. Robert Litt’s invocation of the threat of an intelligence failure to justify intrusive spying is not only scaremongering, it is disingenuous.

So the spooks’ alleged privacy protectors tell us everything’s fine? Well, last week’s news was that NSA is pulling down photographs transmitted on the web, incorporating the ones good enough for facial recognition into its database–at a rate of 55,000 a day. I guess they don’t think that’s a privacy breach. Our new NSA chief, Navy Admiral Michael A. Rogers, hastens to assure the public that the database is only intended to look for foreign spies. Naturally that remains true only until it’s not. Ambitious leaders, unscrupulous investigators, all-important goals–any number of factors can combine to override supposed protections, exactly as happened the day after 9/11. It’s better not to have the temptation.         

Meanwhile, Fearful Leader Clapper, out of character for a brief moment, said this weekend that Snowden’s leaks have not been so damaging after all. Why? Because Snowden did not take with him so many documents as the NSA had feared. Edward Snowden has said that all along. The spooks did not believe him–or they used the larger number to magnify the alleged damage, hoping to obtain a better outcome from the scandal. One of the documents on the DNI’s openness website is the December 2013 preliminary report on the impact of the Snowden leaks. The review board “assesses with high confidence that the information compromise by a former NSA contractor . . . will have a GRAVE impact on U.S. national defense.” Reminiscent of the “declassification” of the now-notorious national intelligence estimate on Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, used to justify George W. Bush’s invasion of that country; the released “document” amounts to a few paragraphs out of dozens of pages of detailed argumentation. You could drive a truck through the redactions–and you can make a document like that say anything. Proactive transparency? More like spin-doctoring. All this is so far removed from the intelligence community’s vision of “speaking truth to power” that it’s embarrassing.

D-Day in Wargames

June 6, 2014–It’s the seventieth anniversary of what my parents knew as one of the decisive moments of World War II, what my generation saw as “The Longest Day,” and what now seems to have become endowed with a certain historical magic. News clips of Prince Charles, with an entourage, walking across Pegasus Bridge at the village of Benouville in Normandy were striking. They headed toward the flatland where British paratroops landed from gliders to grab that same bridge from the hands of German occupiers. Interviews with British paras who had participated in the lightning strike on the nearby Merville coastal battery were equally impressive. As I pen this no doubt the commemorative festivities in Normandy are coming to their climax, with delegations from five countries plus thousands of spectators.

The big shows happen only at intervals–70th anniversary seems to be one–but in between there is much less attention devoted to these historical events, climactic as they may be. Boardgamers, I am proud to say, have figured among the most observant of the public. Whether because the Normandy invasion is so dramatic, because the history is so important, or simply because gamers enjoy a good fight, D-Day boardgames have long been a staple of the wargame genre. Having designed a couple of them myself–including one that featured Pegasus Bridge and the Merville Battery, I can attest to that.

So far as wargames are concerned it started a little more than a decade after the real events, when The Avalon Hill Game Company put out its title D-Day. That was a picture of the “invasion” writ large–the whole Western European coast with the Allies to choose where to stage their invasion and the Germans to fight for France and the Low Countries. Since then boardgames on the subject have taken one of three paths. Games like D-Day– Fortress Europa and others–give you a bird’s eye picture of the entire military theater of operations. Titles like Axis & Allies: D-Day or Atlantic Wall, or The Longest Day offer a view more ample than that of D-Day itself–they go on for weeks of equivalent real time and give you the full Normandy campaign, invasion through breakout. There are not so many games which present the hours of D-Day itself as the main event. In the 1980s I published Monty’s D-Day, a simulation of invasion day on the British-Canadian beaches, long out of print today though I hope to bring it back. In 2012 Against the Odds brought out the companion game to that one, Bradley’s D-Day, which includes the American side of the invasion and the beaches known as Omaha and Utah.

It’s difficult to generalize on the basis of these few titles and their approaches. Over the long arc of boardgaming history there have been many more titles on the subject, these are just some of the games with which I am familiar. On the basis of game experience, though, I’d say the Normandy invasion was a done deal. In the theater-wide games there is some capacity to defeat the invasion, though usually on the basis of unrealistic historical elements (such as freeing the player from Hitler’s constraints on using the German mobile forces). In the Normandy campaign games and the D-Day beach games, outcomes tend to be Allied victories barring a run of extraordinarily bad luck. The Allied advantage at the tip of the spear was just that big. When modeled in a simulation the real capability disparities give Allied players the advantage in the game.

No matter. None of the advantage issues are likely to dissuade gamers from returning to Normandy’s beaches for another “go” at Operation Overlord. D-Day is just that big, the questions that hang in the balance just that important. I daresay that this weekend there will be D-Day games going up for another spin on tables all across the land.