Let's Fix This Country
war

The Drone Controversy, Viewed From All Sides »

Senate scrutiny of John Brennan to head CIA brings issue to forefront Feb 16 2013

As the confirmation hearings by the Senate of John Brennan to be named CIA director drew near, the heat intensified over the program of death by drone enough to cause the Obama White House to finally relent, pledging to release to lawmakers the document that it had even gone to court to keep secret.


An opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, the document gives the President legal cover for killing, without due process of trial, an American citizen in September of 2011 in Yemen and of his 17-year-old son two weeks later. The practice of conjuring after-the-fact legal justifications for deeds already done brings to mind the opinions issued by that same office during the Bush administration that blessed “enhanced interrogation techniques”, otherwise known as torture.

kill list criteria

Just days before the hearing, NBC News had obtained and released a copy of a white paper that supposedly summarized the contents of the longer opinion. That finally undercut the White House’s long campaign to keep secret its arguments why a program of targeted killing is constitutionally defensible, but, even with the white paper out in the open, the full opinion is still classified and… Read More »

war

Obama’s Hidden War: Peeling Back the Layers of Secrecy »

We…the people…are not entitled to know Feb 15 2013

As the use of drones increased in the Waziristan tribal areas of Pakistan, inaccessible to U.S. ground forces, a New York Times exposé in May of 2011 revealed that the White House itself was calling the shots from a “kill list” maintained by Obama’s counter-terror advisor, John Brennan. He who has now been nominated to head the CIA.

The drone war, since ramped up in Yemen and elsewhere, has still not even been acknowledged to exist by the White House. The Obama administration has decided that it is none of the public’s business. The White House has steadily denied Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain copies of the 2010 opinion the Office of Legal Counsel’s served up to make the assassination by this administration of even Americans legal (see related story). What irony, considering that on taking office, this president, over the protests of the CIA, found it only proper and transparent to release the similar and linguistically tortured Justice Department legal opinions that absolved the Bush administration of its physical torture practices.

The American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times sued, which led to an unusual ruling from federal judge Colleen McMahon of… Read More »

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security

Still a Disconnect After All These Years »

Government agencies still don’t exchange information? Apr 26 2013

The Department of Homeland Security {DHS} knew about the Boston bomber's trip to Russia, despite a misspelled name on his travel documents, the agency's chief, Janet Napolitano, told a Senate subcommittee a week after
Our increasingly militarized police: Do we
really need all this to go after a 19-year-old?

the atrocity. Redundancies in the system caught the disparity and “there was a ping on the outbound to Customs”, one of the divisions of the DHS, she said.

That puzzled Sen. Lindsay Graham (R, SC), who had been told by the FBI that "that they had no knowledge of [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] leaving or coming back".

But the FBI is separate — a part of the Justice Department. Both they and CIA had added the older Tsarnaev to two different watch lists in 2011. CIA notified State and DHS. They had been tipped off by Russian intelligence, suspicious about the U.S. transplant from Dagestan even before he went to Russia. But neither CIA nor FBI noticed when Tsarnaev last year went back to the mother country.

where have we heard that before?

What we are hearing is that what one agency knew was not shared with the other and that databases are where information goes to die. Russia had warned the FBI twice, calling the older brother "a follower of radical Islam" who had "changed drastically", yet the FBI dropped the matter because a law prevents them from indefinite surveillance, they now say. That ping to Customs? That was relayed to the Boston area FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. There is no evidence so far that they took any action.

This account and another by the New York Times reminds us of George Tenant warning the president in the summer of 2011 that "the system is blinking red" and yet the signals were once again missed. Here's what it was like in the prelude to 9/11, which we offer to compare progress between then and now.

the 9/11 commission revisited

The 2004 commission investigating the 9/11 attacks uncovered numerous instances where vital information that might have warned us of the attacks instead disappeared into dead ends, with notorious failings to “connect the dots”. In fact, a structural fault was found right in the 9/11 Commission’s ranks. One of its panelists, Jamie Gorelick, was the author of rules while at the Justice Department that set up “the wall” through which information must not pass, even within the FBI. Agencies were forbidden to pass criminal investigation discoveries to intelligence agencies and vice versa. The CIA was restricted to international, the FBI to domestic. Gorelick’s rules… Read More »

history

Ten Years After: How Bush Took Us to War »

Called the worst foreign policy decision in U.S. history Apr 26 2013

After the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq this March and the "Mission Accomplished" moment of May, 2003, that just passed, history is slowly being rewritten to soften the image of George W. Bush, as was apparent in the dedication ceremonies for the Bush Library in Dallas in late April.
"He kept us safe" is what the former president wants us to remember, to earn credit where credit is due for constructing the vast security apparatus that prevented any further attacks on U.S. soil for almost a dozen years until Boston.

The Iraq invasion is another matter, and it is fair on the 10th anniversary of its March 19, 2003 commencement, followed only six weeks later on May 1 by the heralding of "Mission Accomplished", to assess the results of that disastrous war. Many in the media have done so. But instead, let's go back to how it began and recount just how we managed to blunder into so costly a mistake. It's an extraordinary story: the deceptions the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld administration spun that many would call treasonous to lure the American public into endorsing an unnecessary war. We shouldn't allow that memory to dim as the nation faces new threats and considers taking new military actions in Syria and Iran.

the past as prelude

Anyone who knew the recent history of Iraq — the arbitrary boundaries drawn to make a country of hostile ethnic and religious groups when the Ottoman Empire was dismembered after… Read More »

defense

Mortal After All, The Shine Comes Off Military Brass »

Looks like our adulation got a bit out of hand Dec 1 2012

A welcome fallout from the Petraeus affair is that voices have come forth suggesting that we not idolize our military leaders quite so unreservedly. Unlike

the opprobrium heaped by some misguided elements on those who fought in Vietnam, we have honored the troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan deservedly this time around. But there are those that say we have taken this too far.

Their criticism is not of units who have done the hard and hazardous work of our two wars — frontline units from brigade level on down are generally credited with adapting well to these insurgency wars and getting done the job assigned to them. Our mistake, say a number of military commentators, is to adore the generals along with them. Paul Yingling, for one, now retired but then a U.S. Army colonel who served three tours in Iraq,… Read More »

the military

Defense: Are We Cutting Too Close to the Bone? »

The Right thinks so, the Left says “about time” Oct 12 2012

In January of this year, President Obama announced a revamping of the military that entails budget cuts of $487 billion across ten years. Before leaving office last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had already trimmed several hundred billion dollars by shutting down costly weapons programs, notably the F-22 fighter. And beginning this January 2, barring further action, another $500 billion over ten years will be lopped off the defense budget by law.

That’s the consequence of the nation having walked to the brink of default in mid-summer 2011 after months of dispute over raising the debt ceiling. On August 2 of last year, when Treasury Secretary Geithner had warned that the United States would run out of cash needed to pay its bills, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Budget Control Act. It called for $917 billion in spending cuts but, out of an inability to reach agreement… Read More »