Spooks Gone Wild !!

October 29, 2016–By now you would have to be an ostrich out in the Australian outback with her head in the sand not to have heard the latest blast from the Federal Bureau of Investigation–the FBI is re-opening the Hillary Clinton email case on the strength of unspecified, mysterious, material allegedly found on laptop computers shared by Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her separated husband, Anthony Weiner. This requires comment, both in particular and from a broad perspective. Sadly, my house requires upkeep and painting, and I’ve not been able to spare the time the latest horror deserves, but let me put in a few words now. My guess is this story continues to spiral out of control and will be there for further comment in coming days, even weeks.

First of all, the Bureau was investigating Anthony Weiner, not Hillary at all. Of course, it was inevitable, in these last days of a presidential election, where the underdog has been desperately trying to use the Clinton email secrecy issue as a claw to recover lost ground, that a blow struck at Weiner/Abedin would reverberate as a shakedown of Clinton. The Trump campaign is taking it precisely that way. If FBI director James B. Comey thought it would be taken any other way he is foolish–and no one thinks that of him.

So, why this? Why now? Director Comey has been under strong fire from Republicans for, supposedly, shielding Clinton in the original investigation, which found the issue did not merit additional investigation. To revive the investigation might get the FBI a little credit, and at this time in a critical political campaign, a lot of ground with Republicans. The timing is doubtless partly due to this, partly due to the discovery on computer drives seized from Weiner of the Abedin/Clinton material. Comey probably calculated that if he delayed action, that fact was sure to leak, adding to FBI’s political problems. Unfortunately by the action he took, Comey buys into an even bigger problem.

I’ll return to the specifics of the secrecy investigation in a moment, but first a crucial point absolutely needs making: the “October Surprise” revival of the Clinton email investigation absolutely insures that, whoever wins the election, it will be followed by a purge of the intelligence community. Ms Clinton will be furious at the way FBI handled this matter. Comey’s tenure at the Bureau expires in the middle of the next president’s presumptive second term and you can be certain he’ll be unable to protect anyone the White House decides to go after. Comey himself will be frozen out of the halls of glory. If Donald Trump becomes the next president, he will purge because he’ll know that whoever fixed the cards against Hillary can tell that story on him, representing an incredible political danger. Plus, the unnamed culprits could do the same to the Donald, so they must be stamped out.

Yet I say purge of the whole intelligence “community.” That is the entity of sixteen agencies (or however many there are today) under their Fearful Leader, General James Clapper. In Spanish there is a slang word, flojo, literal meaning “flimsy” but used for pathetic weakness. Clapper’s “leadership” falls in that category. Running around with his hair on fire about North Korean missile tests and ISIS militants under every rug, Fearful Leader first casts our own intelligence officers as the greatest danger to American national security, and then he stands aside while James Comey takes an action that undoubtedly does affect national security. Obama was wrong not to get rid of Clapper when Fearful Leader escalated the NSA blanket surveillance scandal by perjuring himself before Congress. Now Clapper has been ineffectual in the face of an FBI action that may derail the prospects of Obama’s favored successor. Add to that that Clapper is unable to energize the CIA to do anything useful in the real ISIS war, in Syria, and you have an intelligence mess across the board.

There’s more painting to do and I have to go. But before I leave, a few words about the actual stimulus here. Director Comey does not know there’s any problem here. He supposes that because the computer was, in part, used by Huma Abedin, it may contain some of the same emails that have figured in the controversy over the Clinton emails and their classification status. Even if so, where’s the beef? For there to be a secrecy issue at all, Hillary Clinton needs to have sent emails with secret information from the Abedin/Weiner computer to another link that was not secure. Message traffic that is retrospectively graded secret does not count. Messages that copied Abedin at this address along with sending to her at other places (ever done that?) do not count. Messages that Abedin sent Hillary do not count. Messages that were mistakenly addressed do not count.

Readers of this space will know I have said repeatedly that the email controversy shows that the security regulations need to change once the system becomes so awkward a senior official cannot function without breaking the regs. This business of the alleged security violation over a secondary computer shows exactly what I mean. It becomes impossible to conduct the business of government this way. The system needs to change.

On the Ropes at Leyte Gulf

October 26, 2016–I’d intended to post yesterday but it proved too busy. Having missed the crucial day of Leyte Gulf I’ll come around anyway. There are interesting things we can still say from the standpoint of October 26, 1944, seventy-two years ago today. Some of the analysis underlying the points I’ll make here resides in my book Storm Over Leyte, in which you’ll find lots more material on a pile of related subjects.

Today would be the moment that Bull Halsey’s vaunted battleship fleet, Task Force 34, would have arrived off the San Bernardino Strait. A couple of its fastest warships (of the Iowa class) could have made it. But four of the six battlewagons in Task Force 34 were rated at only 28 knots and could not have made it from the position where Halsey’s fleet was located when the battleships were pulled out of their screen positions around his aircraft carriers and instructed to form up. There is an argument in history that Admiral Halsey ought to have ordered the creation of Task Force 34 the previous night, and there was some scout information to support such a decision–see Storm Over Leyte for that– but even then the American vessels could not have arrived before the Japanese fleet had retreated through the straits. As it was some U.S. cruisers and destroyers, making their best speed, arrived in time to fire at Japanese destroyers that had stayed behind to save sailors from heavy cruisers that had sunk in the battle.

Admiral Halsey’s general situation had also become problematical. His entire Third Fleet had been steaming around for days, with high speed burning up fuel. The long chase action just carried out, known to history as the Battle of Cape Engano, used up much of what was left. Halsey had no alternative for October 26, 1944, except to order his carrier fleet to refuel at sea. The high speed deployment to San Bernardino expended his battleships’ fuel in the same way.

Storm Over Leyte relates the stories of a number of Japanese vessels for the day after the great surface action. The most remarkable aspect of their experience is that most American bombers which struck that day came from the self-same jeep aircraft carriers that the Japanese fleet had shelled only twenty-four hours before. Halsey’s ships were under orders to top off their oil tanks and then use their planes to defend U.S. ground positions on the island of Leyte. It’s ironic that the Imperial Navy’s behemoth, battleship Yamato, suffered more casualties on October 26 than on the day of battle.

At 11:34 AM on October 26 the headquarters of the Combined Fleet, the Japanese naval high command, ordered heavily damaged warships to return to the Home Islands, with more moderate repairs to be made at Hong Kong or in Singapore. It marked the effective end of what had been the proudest navy in the Pacific on the day of Pearl Harbor.

The Clinton Emails (3)–Games WERE Played

October 19, 2016–Games were played with the Clinton emails, just not the ones you think. Or perhaps, just the ones you thought. From the beginning of the Clinton email saga you read in this space that this was a scam about secrecy, and new evidence for the bankruptcy of the secrecy system. Now we have the proof. The FBI has released texts of interviews it conducted during its investigation of the email scandal. In combination with the Bureau’s own final report, and the parallel inquiries of journalists, we can now assemble a picture of the handling of one of Hillary’s typical emails.

Under instructions to release material handled on Mrs. Clinton’s private email server the State Department reviewed swathes of these for opening to the public. As part of the government’s standard approach in matters of secrecy, the messages were circulated to other agencies for their say. The government calls this “equity,” as if agencies can own information–which they cannot, by law. Nevertheless the “equity” arrangement has been used as a major tool to manipulate declassification and secrecy, as it was here.

The State Department had simply intended to release the emails. The Federal Bureau of Investigation objected. It considered that some of these emails ought to be secret. (The first problem with this set up–you’ll also have seen that here before–is that we have FBI deciding after the fact that something should have been secret before, and then claiming the breach of regulations designed to protect secrecy at the inception of a document.)

A senior State Department official, Patrick Kennedy, in charge of the email release project, phoned the FBI, where he spoke to Brian McCauley. This was May 2015 and McCauley was the Bureau official responsible for its foreign operations. The FBI had just lost two slots on the staff of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad–and here is where the story gets muddled. McCauley adverts that he initially asked State to reinstate the Baghdad field agents and offered at his end to help get FBI to back down on its secrecy demand enabling State to move forward. Once he learned the message concerned Benghazi, McCauley relates, all bets were off. On the State Department’s side, Patrick Kennedy has loyally said he thought the message was not secret, though certain redactions might be required for other reasons, and that he knew nothing of any FBI offer of a trade.

The way this story was first reported alleged that it was the State Department that had begged for a trade–with the implication it sought in that way to shield Hillary Clinton.

So is the game played. Secrecy is not wielded simply for the protection of national security, it is used as bludgeon to obtain all manner of interagency “cooperation.” The losers are the American people, who are not only robbed of the true record of their government’s actions, but are subjected to the arbitrary measures of a system in which policy is forged partly by barter.

You have already read here (for example, “Hillary’s Emails: Bursting the Secrecy Bubble,” August 22, 2015) that the email controversy really shows the need to reform the laws governing secret information, which have made it impossible to function as a senior official without breaking them. Here’s a good illustration of why–an act taken in the open at time x is suddenly recast as secret at time y–and then the charge of breach of secrecy is used to extract some other action. Add to this the fact that investigation of the breach is in the purview of the FBI and you have the makings of a completely vicious circle.

It is tragic that this whole “Hillary Emails” thing has been made into an election issue in a campaign for the presidency of the United States. The emails controversy has been manipulated from beginning to end, is based on a very ephemeral set of acts pumped up by persons with other agendas, and has even been exploited by foreign governments to meddle in American politics. Do not make an issue of the emails without carefully considering the full issue.