Obama and the CIA: The Limb Gets Thinner

August 1, 2014–President Barack Obama must rue the day when he renounced initiating an inquiry on CIA behavior during the war on terror in favor of moving forward into the future. Had there been a truth commission back in 2009, today all this would be in the past. Instead the scandals of the torture and the black prisons have come back to bite–hard. And as for the future to which Mr. Obama aspired, that now appears dark indeed. The Central Intelligence Agency is so far from telling truth to power that one begins to wonder if it can be saved.

First, far from marching into the future the CIA has become so mired in the past that it cannot keep its hands out of the till. A presumptive obstruction of justice, perpetrated at the agency in 2005, has been covered up. Agency stalwarts employed every legal maneuver imaginable in their efforts to avoid any serious investigation of these events. When Mr. Obama rejected any deeper inquiry and Attorney General Eric Holder dropped the last remaining criminal investigations, it seemed the spooks were almost out of the woods.

When the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) launched its investigation, as a substitute for the truth commission, Langley considered that a threat because it could rekindle the fire. No doubt the spooks did whatever they could to encourage Republicans on the SSCI to withdraw from the investigation. Reducing the stature of the SSCI’s eventual report to something like sour grapes from a disgruntled political party was the next best thing to getting the investigation cancelled.

It did not work. The gravity of the criminal offenses of torture and illegal imprisonment leveled at the torture program demanded serious attention. Everything revealed about the Senate report so far indicates that the SSCI found, to its horror, that the charges were true.

The CIA fallback was to have its own people spy on the investigators. Lawyers from the General Counsel’s Office kept watch on the SSCI people. Last December, when senators began asking questions about the so-called “Panetta Report,” a CIA document constructed to broadly review the set of evidence SSCI inquisitors might view, Langley went into convulsions. The CIA claimed the Senate intelligence committee had no right to view the document. The spooks claimed it was “predecisional”–a category of secrets that supposedly shields documents leading to presidential choices but which in fact has been manipulated to deep six everything from official histories of the Bay of Pigs to this very same Panetta Report, which had nothing “decisional” about it.

If Mr. Obama’s rationale in 2009 lay in avoiding a waste of staff time and principals’ attention on these delicate matters, that turned out to be a bad judgment call. It’s a fair estimate that by now more time and effort has been expended attempting to avoid an investigation than would have been invested in one had it occurred. –And, given the nature of the latest developments, it is probable that a real inquisition is coming.

The CIA lawyers went berserk. Two of them, along with several agency IT specialists, shared access to the database network that had been set up for the SSCI investigators. From what has emerged thus far it appears the lawyers orchestrated a penetration operation into the Senate’s network and had their IT people carry it out, creating a fake identity and entering the database on multiple occasions, disguising their intrusions. Among other things, they discovered the senators already had the Panetta report.

Advisers made this an issue for CIA Director John Brennan who became their champion. On January 15 he went to Senator Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the SSCI, to accuse the committee of breaking secrecy regulations. Brennan threatened to file a criminal complaint with the Department of Justice. Feinstein accused the CIA of breaching the security of its computer network–and violation of the separation of powers provisions of the U.S. Constitution. On January 30 the CIA went ahead, its lawyer Robert Eatinger writing Justice to seek a criminal prosecution of SSCI investigators. Brennan also instructed inspector general David Buckley to review the SSCI’s allegations against the agency. And he ordered intrusions into the Senate’s computers to be halted.

Inspector General Buckley found that the CIA’s criminal referral to Justice was phony–“the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based.” Put differently, the CIA lawyers, those guardians of truth, law, and the American way, lied to instigate this action. The maneuver was entirely about the chilling effect it could have on the Senate investigators–who all this time were waiting for the CIA to act on the declassification of their torture report, and had become increasingly restive in demanding its release. Langley’s lawyer here, Mr. Eatinger, has a conflict of interest–he played a significant role in the CIA torture project and is a prominent character in the SSCI report. Eatinger should have recused himself. The CIA has had access to the intelligence committee report for more than eighteen months and Eatinger certainly knows what it has to say about him. The twin facts that he participated in this manipulation, and that CIA brass permitted him to do so, throw a blinding light on the collapse of the agency’s integrity. It has none left.

Equally ominous, the CIA Office of Security started its own investigation of the alleged SSCI security breach after Director Brennan ordered his minions to cease and desist. The Office of Security penetrated the Senate computers again and looked at email traffic while also conducting keyword searches. According to Inspector General Buckley the agency security officials were not aware of Brennan’s stand down order.

On March 11 Senator Feinstein took the floor to deliver a speech laying out her view of this case, which has been completely affirmed by the CIA inspector general. Director Brennan’s response to the Feinstein speech was to assert the CIA has a duty to make the SSCI report “balanced and accurate.” Former CIA director Michael V. Hayden argued that Feinstein had gotten too “emotional.” Cheerleader Hayden, of course, is a principle character in the SSCI report. Attorney General Holder has declined to prosecute anyone in Congress based on the bogus CIA complaint. On April 3 the Senate committee voted to release the report’s summary and recommendations sections. Today, four months later, the public still awaits executive action.

Inspector General Buckley issued his conclusions on July 18. This puts new light on the odd interplay that occurred around that time where former CIA directors like General Hayden were told they could review the torture report in advance of its release while lesser fry, first informed they could do so also, had that approval revoked. The criminal referrals may be going the other way.

News of the Buckley report appeared yesterday. The latest damage control gimmick, needless to say, is to release this inflammatory news more than ten days after it was available on the classified level, and on the eve of Capitol Hill’s summer recess. No question but that CIA and the White House hope all this will be forgotten before Congress returns to work.

But for that one day Washington has been in an uproar. President Obama’s spokesman assures us that CIA’s Brennan enjoys his full confidence. Chairwoman Feinstein has been notably reticent, but her Republican vice-chairman is demanding the heads of those who breached the computers. Senator Mark Udall has called for Brennan’s resignation. Senator Jay Rockefeller commented, “it shouldn’t take five months and an Inspector General investigation for [Brennan] to know and acknowledge what is happening inside the agency he runs.”

–And that is exactly the problem. The CIA is so consumed with manipulating this outcome that its integrity has been compromised. And Mr. Obama, by his blind support of a corrupted process, has played a contributing role. There is no easy way to say this. The entire matter of the torture program needs to be taken out of the hands of our line officials. I have, for months, been advocating a national commission–for the NSA abuses as much as these. It should now be obvious that that is the only way forward.

Senate Torture Report, Version 1.75

July 27, 2014–Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) investigated CIA torture and the agency’s black prisons the spooks at Langley made the investigators come to them to access the source material. With the Senate report now complete and intense pressures to release it, subjects of the study (read George J. Tenet, his successors, and their minions) are desperate to see the document, learn what it says, and prepare their counterattacks. When the SSCI voted to release the report, CIA director John O. Brennan consulted former spooks who had participated in the events it portrays. There were meetings in the director’s conference room and conference calls among the principals.

Despite his promises at confirmation hearings to take the report to heart and support its release, Director Brennan has continued to drag his feet on taking any action. In part this reflects his own loyalties–Brennan was once chief of staff to George Tenet, and the man Tenet selected to lead the first terrorist threat integration center, a fusion center whose “threat matrix” reports guided CIA counterterror actions for some time after 9/11. No doubt Brennan thought he owed it to Tenet and the others involved to bring them into the loop on the SSCI torture report.

Tenet, Porter J. Goss (who presided over the destruction of the videotapes of torture sessions), and Michael V. Hayden (who defended the program and sought to preserve the “authorities” to conduct it) sent a joint letter to Director Brennan arguing it was only fair they be able to see the report and react to it before the document is declassified. John Brennan took the letter to chairwoman Diane Feinstein of the SSCI. In a cute bit of turnabout (sauce for the gander), Feinstein offered to let the gentlemen have access on the premises of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Apparently that was too much for the former spooks, who raised the roof about the injustice of it all. (They might well have pondered the justice issues more deeply when they had those “high value detainees” in their black prisons.) But let’s take a moment to think about this. In U.S. security services access to classified information requires “clearances” that periodically have to be renewed. Indeed at several points in the past couple of decades, not least with the Manning and Snowden affairs and the Navy Yard shootings, it has been controversial that these renewals are not more thorough, with new investigations and polygraphing. Promises to tighten procedures have been made repeatedly. Of course the units that carry out these vettings are overwhelmed with work and far behind schedule.

It is a near certainty that clearances held by former officials like Mr. Tenet are dated. And we are absolutely sure that the SSCI torture report is highly classified–otherwise this stupid argument over releasing it could not happen. All of which begs the question of whether it is just to permit the former spooks access to secret documents that are denied to the public.

In the New York Times on July 26 Mark Mazzetti revealed that Mr. Brennan has enlisted the cooperation of White House chief of staff Denis McDonough who has brokered a deal. Bypassing the clearance issue, Tenet and company can look at the secret documents (in their full-text, unredacted versions) at the offices of Fearful Leader James Clapper, who can be counted on to support the sour grapes arguments that are sure to follow. Mazzetti speculates there will be a three-way showdown among Mr. Tenet and his crowd of former spooks, the White House, and the Senate intelligence committee.

George Tenet and his top lieutenants–people like Cofer Black, who headed the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) when the black prisons were set up; or Felix Rodriguez, CTC’s chief of operations–will argue the Senate investigators got it all wrong. They will say there was a real threat on the day after September 11, that CIA busted up real plots, that the agency merely followed orders. (They will not say, as some cooler heads did after 9/11, that the attacks were a one-off spectacular, the capacity for which ended the day airlines installed armored doors for their cockpits; that the hysteria drummed up by claims of plots against shopping malls and the Brooklyn Bridge was used to push through outrageous orders; or that the CIA obtained approvals for its strong-arm methods while misrepresenting the degree of their severity.) The spooks won’t need to say that the Bush administration was eager to buy that Brooklyn Bridge plot, even to egg the CIA on to greater outrages. The perps here will also neglect to mention the Nuremberg Principle, that following orders is no defense in the case of crimes against humanity.

Porter Goss will say the destruction of videotapes–and obstruction of justice–was done without his knowledge. Without the full SSCI report (not its executive summary, which is at issue here) the public will not know the extent of Mr. Goss’s knowledge. Michael Hayden will say that he dismantled the black prisons and became the man who explained the program to outraged  overseers. He will not talk about CIA’s efforts to maintain contingency authority to continue the program, or his suppression of the agency’s own inspector general when the latter’s inquiries cut too close to the bone.

Here the White House is playing an enabling role, consistent with President Obama’s rejection of a truth commission back in 2009. This stance makes the president increasingly complicit in what happened here. One wonders. Mr. Obama had better have the great loyalty of the CIA on his side because he has gone far out on a limb for them. If that bough breaks the president will fall.

Fearful Leader and the 9/11 Gang

July 24, 2014–On the Left, at the height of the Vietnam war nightmare, some activists used to comfort each other bandying about pithy slogans. One of them went, “What if They Gave a War and Nobody Came?” Offering a hopeful sentiment, that slogan might be worth dusting off today. There’s news to report that, while not any huge development, is an interesting indicator of changing times. The basic thrust is the scaremongers have entered the Deep Muddy.

Consider: Two days ago we passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the 9/11 Commission report. For this occasion prominent members of the old Commission, which disappeared except for its useful “report cards” once the report appeared, showed up at the Bipartisan Policy Center to hand out a 50-page reflection on the decade of the war on terror. Those on the stage included both the chairpersons, former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean and former congressmen Lee H. Hamilton.

Also on the stage with them–Director of National Intelligence General James R. Clapper. Extremely interesting! The last time a spy director appeared together with our Commission folks it was CIA’s George Tenet, squirming on the hot seat and trying to explain how the spooks had failed to connect the dots on the terror plot which led to the September 11 attacks. Now Clapper shared the stage with erstwhile adversaries.

Why? Because of the message. Fearful Leader loved what the former investigators had to say. While conceding dramatic changes in the world since 9/11–in particular that the core of Al Qaeda has been “seriously diminished,” the commissioners went on to retail Clapper’s line that the threat is worse than ever. By these lights “Al Qaeda associates” have fanned out across the Middle East, now active in sixteen countries and objectified by Islamist groups in the Yemen and Syria. The 9/11 Gang members repeated what a “senior national security official” had told them: “that the forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade.” The Gang warned against “counterterrorism fatigue,” as well as “a waning sense of urgency.”

Then Fearful Clapper took the stage. The intelligence community, the general boldly asserted, has been victimized by “a perfect storm” over the past year, its efforts hampered by the Snowden affair.

Let’s parse all of this. Counterterrorism fatigue? Al Qaeda has been taken off the board. The Syrian ISIS group, in making a bid for Islamist primacy, is fighting an internal war, not one aimed at the United States. Efforts of the rebels in Yemen are also directed overwhelmingly at the Yemeni government. The global monolithic terrorist conspiracy, if it ever existed (outside the heads of the national security mavens), is over. If the idea is that the world’s citizens should continue to accept the purposeful exercise of coercive force superceding all constitutional rights–and regardless of the actual threat–then the waning urgency of the public is no surprise.

As for the Snowden affair, readers of this space already know what I think. There is a perfect storm about the spies’ excesses because they have crossed the line, not because some of them were revealed by Edward Snowden. The current muddle of Fearful Clapper’s minions in Germany is the obvious example. As I argue in The Family Jewels, the time has come to revamp the oversight of intelligence operations with a real 9/11 Commission.

General Clapper tries to rally the forces of hysteria. Here he seized the occasion of the 9/11 report anniversary to stoke the terrorism threat. I would put odds that the national security official who laid that doomsday rap on the 9/11 Gang was none other than Fearful Leader himself.

And the good news? Despite seizing the limelight from the 9/11 commissioners, convincing them to articulate the spooks’ dire line, and the 9/11 Gang’s predilection for threats–plus the public venue–Clapper’s sally went over like one hand clapping in the forest. Network news virtually ignored the event. Only a few papers noted it. The festivities were absent from both the New York Times and Washington Post, though the latter carried an item on its website. In short, Fearful Leader is having trouble getting a bullhorn for his hysterical pronouncements–and that is good news indeed!

Geneva Ends U.S. Action in French Indochina

July 21, 2014–Sixty years ago today at Geneva, the negotiators for an array of Far Eastern nations, convening powers, and Western allies announced a negotiated settlement of the Franco-Vietnamese war that had climaxed so remarkably at Dien Bien Phu. The Geneva accords set the stage for what would later become the American war in Vietnam. Players changed. Others assumed new places onstage. The United States was among the latter.

I have posted a good deal about Dien Bien Phu in this space. You can read more in my book Operation Vulture. I’ve tried to illuminate one of the most ignored aspects of that 1954 crisis, the extent to which the U.S., going beyond the received history of diplomatic feelers, participated in real military actions in the French war at the time of Dien Bien Phu.

The book is replete with details of various American naval and air activities and the Eisenhower administration’s canoodling on whether to move to open intervention in Indochina. Here I thought I would just present a few points on U.S. Air Force activities by way of making the case concrete.

First, a quote. This concerns the long-running effort to pretend that U.S. planning for Indochina intervention in 1954 never had anything to do with using nuclear weapons in Vietnam. The text is from Far East Air Force (FEAF)staff study K720.04-8, dated April 12, 1954, and intended to “Recommend an Effective Course of Action to Achieve US Objectives in Indochina.” In their concept of operations the FEAF staff planners commented: “All types of weapons and devices, including atomic bombs, should be made available and used whenever a militarily profitable target is discovered. In order to gain maximum psychological benefit from the decision to use atomic weapons where profitable in a localized war, the decision should be generally announced. Its subsequent employment would not then create would-wide opinion that the US is about to embark on a global war.”

President Eisenhower didn’t take this advice as it turned out, instead doing what he could to keep the lid on his conversations about nukes. But Ike’s action should be seen as the cover up it was, and the absence of open acknowledgement of the nukes in memoirs and so on should no longer be taken as evidence that none were involved. As Operation Vulture shows, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers conducted nuclear weapons drills on their way to patrols off the Vietnamese coast.

The Far East Air Force was a large organization. Its aerial transport activities were conducted by the 315th Air Division, which was composed of units of various type aircraft. The extent of its involvement in work that directly supported the French military in Indochina is evident from the division’s own statistics: nearly 40 percent of the flight hours of its C-119 twin-engine aircraft, a quarter of the effort of the huge C-124 “Globemasters,” yesterday’s equivalent of the C-5A or Boeing 747 (that effort amounted to 48.3 percent of C-124 flight activity during the height of the Dien Bien Phu battle), and over 20 percent of the hours flown by four-engine C-54 transports, the military version of the Douglas DC-6. In all U.S. Air Force aircraft spent nearly 11,000 hours flying for the benefit of the French military effort just until April 18, 1954, with more work to do before the Dien Bien Phu battle ended in May. Slightly more than five thousand airmen of the transport units worked on the Indochina mission.

Bottom Line: The American military effort was real–and significant. On a certain level it is a good thing that the diplomats reached some accommodation at Geneva, because the warriors were edging closer and closer to battle.

Red Flag for the Spooks: The Gathering Storm

July 11, 2014–Remember back in March? What Obama said? The spy agencies served up a menu to President Barack Obama they thought could turn the tables and get them out of deepening scandal. The National Security Agency (NSA) advanced a scheme that, while appearing to respond to criticism of its dragnet eavesdropping, might actually permit it to collect more information on Americans and other citizens. The president thought the option workable. Obama said, “I’m confident it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people had raised.”

Meanwhile the Central Intelligence Agency was counterattacking against Congress on the Senate torture report, claiming the Senate Intelligence Committee had violated secrecy regulations, referring the case of an allegedly purloined document to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

Fearful Leader James Clapper must have felt himself riding especially high last week, when the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board delivered its opinion on the NSA’s targeted (as opposed to its dragnet) wiretapping, which expressed itself “impressed with the rigor of the government’s efforts to ensure that it acquires only those communications it is authorized to collect.”

Then it all came crashing down.

In short order a series of developments have blown away the gossamer webs of complacency. On July 6, just a few days after the Privacy Board report, the Washington Post published an extensive expose that reviewed some 22,000 actual NSA surveillance reports, finding that just 11 percent of those intercepted were targets approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Nine out of ten persons wiretapped were bystanders.

The spooks’ irrepressible consigliere Robert S. Litt jumped up with the its-just-as-we-said defense, remarking that “the most you could conclude from these news reports is that each valid foreign intelligence target talks to an average of nine people.”

That lasted for just two days. The parsing depends on what is a “valid” foreign intelligence target. On July 9 in The Intercept, journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain revealed that the NSA targeted numerous American citizens, including officials of American Muslim lobbying and advocacy groups, a Pentagon official running for political office in Virginia, and other prominent Muslim citizens. The FBI, functioning as the NSA’s target provider, put out training materials clearly racist in nature, picturing Muslims as conspirators (“Mohammed Raghead”) and fundraising for any purpose as intended to support terrorism.

Let’s go back to that nine-out-of-ten bystander rate. We’re not talking 2,400 terrorists, here, plus everyone they communicated with. We’re talking a small number of legitimate targets–Anwar al-Awlaki is on that list–a much larger list of innocents targeted–and then 90 percent more innocent bystanders in the NSA crosshairs. Once the NSA finds any expression of less than sterling content, the FBI then organizes a sting to entrap the person.

I mentioned the novel 1984 in a recent posting. What could be more Orwellian than this? It is totally illegitimate.

Meanwhile there is the matter of the German spying. The NSA wiretapping of German prime minister Angela Merkel has been deplored for some time. Der Spiegel, the newsmagazine, reports the NSA has its largest listening posts in Europe ensconced near Wiesbaden. As noted here the other day (“NSA: Who’s Damaging American National Security,” July 5), the German parliament has begun to investigate NSA spying in Germany–and the CIA set one of its spies to find out what is happening. German counterintelligence caught the agent. Now we get the everybody-spies-on-allies line from flak Michael V. Hayden (“Michael Hayden’s Faustian Bargain,” April 29). Hayden probably wishes now he had kept his mouth shut. A couple of days ago the Germans arrested a second alleged CIA spy, and their government has declared the CIA station chief persona non grata. That’s the kind of thing that happened between the U.S. and Russia during the Cold War. To have it now with Germany, a close U.S. ally on whose territory thousands of American soldiers and airmen are still stationed, is astonishing. The damage to U.S. national security is evident.

So here’s where it begins. “It” being the swamp that is going to swallow Fearful Clapper and his minions. As I explain in The Family Jewels, these scandals usually have a president defending the spooks, then tossing them overboard when the White House itself becomes implicated. Now Obama is indeed on the hot seat. He promised NSA reforms and said a good scheme has been adopted, only to have American citizens openly spied upon with an enormous army of the also-threatened right behind them. Muslim-American organizations have demanded explanations direct from the White House. Obama had discussed the NSA eavesdropping with Angela Merkel, making undertakings with Germany only to have continued espionage–and CIA spies–revealed. This calls into question Mr. Obama’s leadership of the U.S. intelligence community.

The marker quietly laid down several days ago is that the White House knew nothing about the CIA spies in Germany. That’s a very temporary holding position. Here is a high profile intelligence matter with a major U.S. ally who grants basing rights to American troops and whose cooperation on the Ukraine, in NATO, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere is quite necessary. Obama had already been revealed spying on Merkel. He made promises. The Germans actually tried to negotiate a no-spy pact. Now the CIA is caught with its hand in the cookie jar? In behalf of the NSA? Obama either did not bother to inform himself of what our spooks were doing (which seems unlikely), or he was the ringleader (also unlikely), or the spy agencies are out of control. I think the president will be obliged to demonstrate leadership by cracking down.

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced it is dismissing the CIA’s complaint against the Senate intelligence committee. The shoe is falling. NSA, CIA–welcome to the Brave New World.

 

 

NSA: Who’s Damaging American National Security?

July 5, 2014–It’s ironic–or, perhaps, fitting in this new era of government  doublespeak–that the patriotic airs of July 4 and America’s birthday are now accompanied by news of fresh security outrages. The National Security Agency’s preoccupation for covering its ass is to blame, and from the looks of this, it sounds like NSA is dragging the CIA into the muck with it. The locale is Germany and the story is spies.

As you’ll know from watching television, reading the papers, or this space, the NSA has scandalized Germany with its dragnet eavesdropping operations. President Obama issued an order to impose some limits on coverage of individuals–and specifically prohibited (only) spying on German chancellor Angela Merkel. The subject was the elephant in the closest recently when Merkel visited Washington for the two leaders to concert a policy to cope with the current troubles in the Ukraine.

That was “identifiable damage to national security”–the standard applied to claim so many citizens have hurt the spies. Here we have the spies hurting the nation. The security agencies should have taken their marching orders from the sense of Obama’s instructions. Instead we have this: the German parliament, or Bundestag, is conducting an official investigation into the NSA dragnet operation. This week the investigating committee took testimony, some of it in secret session, from former NSA employees Thomas Drake and William E. Binney. The spooks are so desperate to learn what German parliamentarians are discovering about the NSA’s operations, illegal in Germany, that CIA sources have been mobilized to service NSA desires.

Not long ago German counterespionage officers apprehended a suspected double agent, a 31-year old officer for the federal intelligence agency Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), who was suspected of spying for Russia. German state prosecutor Harald Range has confirmed the action on July 2. The BND officer is accused of selling more than two hundred secret documents, including a number that disclose activities of the Bundestag parliamentary committee. Under questioning, German sources report, the suspected spy disclosed that he does not work for the Russians at all but for the CIA–and takes his instructions direct from the U.S. embassy. Reports are that U.S. ambassador John Emerson, summoned to the German foreign ministry, has been asked to cooperate with the investigation of this espionage.

Can’t blame this on Edward Snowden. It is the activities of the intelligence agencies–in this case spying on friends America needs to make our foreign policies succeed–that damage our national security. These activities become known to the targets (as they did here) whether or not they are revealed by whistleblowers. The spooks would prefer to have us believe the damage results from revelation, not from commission. That is an arrogant and cynical stance. Do not believe it.

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.”]