State of the Union

A Fair and Balanced Briefing on Gaza

A memo dated today is circulating among the members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It reads:  BRIEFING NOTICE: HCFA FULL COMMITTEE BRIEFING: “Israeli-Gaza Conflict: Operation Pillar of Defense” WEDNESDAY 11/28/12 10:00 a.m. MEMBERS ONLY

Dear Colleague:

You are invited to attend a closed briefing to discuss the Israeli-Gaza Conflict: Operation Pillar of Defense. The briefer will be:

  • His Excellency Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel

The briefing will take place on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building. This meeting is for Members only.


ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN                                                  HOWARD L. BERMAN

Chairman                                                                          Ranking Democratic Member               

As it is a closed session, one can only speculate on what will be discussed, but the acceptance of the Israeli name “Operation Pillar of Defense” for the briefing would seem to confirm that our Solons on the Potomac have rather bought into the Israeli narrative of what is taking place and why. And the briefing is being given by the Israeli ambassador, not by someone from CIA or the Defense Department or even the White House’s National Security Council. Wonder if there will be any questions from the audience challenging his viewpoint? Read More…

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It’s Only Sex, Apparently

Sunday’s Washington Post featured an op-ed by John Prados, described as a “national security expert,” entitled “He slept with her. Who cares?” in the print edition. Who cares indeed — apparently not Prados, who prefers to see a sex scandal surrounding General David Petraeus where the real issue is the pervasive corruption and entitlement mentality of Washington’s military elite. Or does Prados assume that most Americans travel around with a mistress doubling as a hagiographer on the taxpayer’s dime? He describes how the Petraeus/Broadwell affair has “done more to harm national security than the affair itself.” But he does not explain exactly how that is so before leading into a call for the intelligence community “to end the arbitrary and outdated rules that govern US intelligence employees.”

Prados focuses on two issues. The first is the “CIA’s insistence on investigating foreigners engaged to agency employees” and the policy to deny clearances to homosexual officers which prevailed until 1998. He opines that the policies were put in place to protect against blackmail and suggests that “the thought that a prospective spouse would have to pass a security check must have led many valuable intelligence officers to quit” while gay officers would find themselves “not working to the fullest extent of their capacities, keeping their heads down to avoid attracting attention.”

Both of Prados’s suggestions are absurd. He cites several CIA officers who went rogue and insinuates that their problems began with having foreign wives and girlfriends checked out by security. He claims that Philip Agee’s “catalyst for his crusade was the CIA’s demand to investigate his Mexican girlfriend” and that re: Aldrich Ames one has to “wonder about the impact … of the agency’s vetting of his Colombian wife.” As I recall the problem with Agee was that he drank a lot and was still married to his American wife when he acquired his Mexican girlfriend. Ames’s wife was complicit in his espionage, hiding the proceeds in her native land. No intelligence organization anywhere in the world would fail to investigate the foreign spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend of an intelligence officer.  Implying that it is an “artifact of the cold war era” makes no sense whatsoever, and to do otherwise would be suicidal. Read More…

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Four New Jersey Vignettes

We had a death in the family and had to go up to central New Jersey for the funeral last weekend. It was extremely difficult finding a room as most of the hotels are still full of people who are homeless as a result of hurricane Sandy. When I did find a vacancy online, I quickly moved to lock it in with my credit card.  The reservation bounced back, with a message telling me that the room was no longer the $130 posted price but had instead increased to $160. I did the reservation form a second time only to have yet another message pop up telling me that the price had increased to $190, plus tax. I reserved the room at that price as I had no choice. I wondered to what extent the hotels were playing the same trick with FEMA, with the State of New Jersey emergency management, and with the hapless survivors who were paying their own way.

We talked to a number of people who had lived on or near the Jersey Shore. Many were either retired or were approaching the end of their working careers and had lost absolutely everything in the storm. The entire Shore area has been reconfigured and whole communities embracing a specific economy and way of life have been swept away. Many homeowners did not have flood insurance as it was prohibitive (upwards of $4000 per annum I was told). Like New Orleans, this was a disaster that will play out over many years as reconfiguration and reconstruction take place in the peculiar New Jersey human environment that combines widespread corruption with sometimes astonishing altruism. Our local best-in-New Jersey pizzeria (a significant accolade) had lost its power for a week but was up and running overtime when we arrived dishing out hundreds of free pies to people who had lost their homes. Read More…

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More on Petraeus

Nearly everyone commenting on the rapidly expanding Petraeus story is missing the most critical point:  it is inconceivable that the FBI would get involved in an investigation that came to include the Director of Central Intelligence even peripherally without having that information go straight up to the desk of FBI Director Robert Mueller. And Mueller would undoubtedly inform Attorney General Eric Holder five seconds later, if only to cover his own behind. As this investigation implicated Petraeus in a case of adultery, at a minimum, some weeks ago, suggesting the possibility of major political fallout, there was clearly a cover-up or deliberate delaying action by either Mueller or Holder or both. Or, if the president was informed, by the White House itself to avoid a scandal just before the election. This could easily have been perceived as something that might alter the course of the election, and perhaps it would have.

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The Fall of Petraeus: A CIA Coup?

It now seems clear what occurred to bring down CIA Director David Petraeus: some months ago his paramour Paula Broadwell sent threatening emails to another woman warning her to keep away from Petraeus, seemingly unaware that computers and emails have signatures that can be identified by investigators. The woman, identified by the Associated Press as Jill Kelley, became alarmed over being threatened and notified the FBI, which got into the emails to discover that there was an affair in progress, leading to an investigation of Petraeus to determine if any classifed information had been leaked. Broadwell was subsequently interviewed by FBI agents, as was Petraeus two weeks ago. The Justice Department informed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about the affair on election night, which led to a phone call to Petraeus. Clapper recommended that he resign and informed the White House. Petraeus met with the president on Thursday and submitted his resignation, which was accepted on Friday.

Adultery is not exactly uncommon at CIA, but the Director operates at a much more political level than do the other ranks. There are some interesting questions being raised about the timing. Petraeus knew he would be exposed when he was interviewed by the FBI, if not before through Broadwell. Due to its sensitivity, Attorney General Eric Holder, to whom the FBI reports, had to know about the investigation as soon as the link to Petraeus was established, and he must have also known about the adultery. Is it plausible that he did not inform the president? Was it Petraeus’s personal decision to wait until after the election before submitting his resignation?

There are also the inevitable CIA rumors that are going around in the former spook community this weekend. To set up the interview between Petraeus and the FBI, the CIA Office of Security must have become involved. One suspects that the security people must have already known about the affair, as the DCI operates within a tight security cocoon. If they knew, others in the Agency also knew. Contrary to some recent press coverage, Petraeus was not very well liked by many at CIA. Former military officers in general are disliked pro forma, but Petraeus was particularly resented because he was perceived as moving forward with the paramilitarization of the Agency. He recently requested more drones and the paramilitary share of a shrinking overall budget continues to grow. This has particularly miffed the Agency’s former elite, the Clandestine Services, a group well versed in bringing about regime change within CIA itself. I personally recall how they mounted a campaign and forced out the Reagan/Bill Casey selection as Director of Operations Max Hugel back in 1981. They also contributed to the fall of Director John Deutch. Agency spies have long watched their money and influence shrink and might have figured out some way to help things along with the objective of bidding fond farewell to General Petraeus. This is just speculation, mind you.

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A Victory of Sorts

The defeat of Mitt Romney is a victory for those of us who seek sane foreign and defense policies based on the traditional conservative principles that government policies should always serve clearly defined U.S. national interests while avoiding unnecessary interventionism overseas. Romney was truly an empty suit on foreign policy and it should be assumed that he would have continued the worst parts of the Obama program while adding some particular wrinkles of his own. His victory would have meant a return of the neocons to the front stage coupled with a more generally aggressive military-based posture overseas which could easily have led to a war with Iran and heightened tension with Russia and China. It would also have resulted in major donors like Sheldon Adelson having a voice in policy formulation relating to the Middle East.

But now the task is to reform Mr. Obama. I would suggest that conservatives try to convince the president to alter course in the following areas:

  • Not all Islamists are radical and not all radicals Islamists are terrorists who actually threaten the United States. The United States has a duty to respond effectively to those who wish to harm the American people but it also has to learn to live with political Islam.
  • A loss vs. gain assessment must be done on drone attacks, in Pakistan most particularly. The evidence suggests that drones make more new enemies than they succeed in killing and they destabilize the governments where they take place. They have been universally condemned but they have nevertheless increased in number under the current administration. Their efficacy as a counter-terrorism tool should be challenged and the government must make a clear case if they are to continue.
  • A realistic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan should be made. It would likely conclude that the situation is beyond repair and that a settlement that includes the Taliban as a party of government is inevitable, so serious negotiations to that end are a sine qua non rather than continued pledges of support for the corrupt Karzai government.
  • The United States should accept and openly state that Iran does not currently pose any serious threat. It should accept that Iran is interested in getting out from under sanctions and should negotiate in good faith to reduce the punishment that is being inflicted commensurate with agreements by Iran to modify some aspects of its nuclear program. The threat to intervene military should be taken off the table and Israel should be informed that attacking an Iran that does not have nuclear weapons is not in the U.S. interest.
  • Humanitarian interventionism under Obama has not worked any better than preemptive attacks under George W. Bush. The necessary lesson in that respect has been learned in Libya and Obama should be encouraged to maintain his reticence over getting more heavily involved in Syria.
  • Obama should recognize that Russia and China will only become actual enemies again if the United States continues to criticize and even intervene in their internal politics. The internal politics of any nation, unless there is negative impact on actual U.S. interests, have nothing to do with Washington.
  • There should be an understanding that a preemptive foreign policy based on the potential use of force has essentially failed and has nearly bankrupted the United States. A new foreign policy should be shaped that is commensurate with and responsive to actual U.S. interests worldwide. Large overseas presence in the form of military bases should be eschewed and scaled back in exchange for a less muscular policy that would be cheaper, more welcomed by potential friends overseas, and ultimately capable of making the United States more secure.

I am sure that TAC readers can come up with some other suggestions.

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Muslims or Mormons? Franklin Graham’s Political Opportunism

Full-page ads by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association have appeared in a number of leading newspapers over the past two weeks, urging voters to support “biblical values” in the upcoming election:

I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.

The ads do not endorse any particular party or politician by name but they constitute a clear recommendation that evangelicals should vote for Mitt Romney.

Franklin Graham, who now heads his father’s ministry and also calls himself an evangelist, endorsed Romney in September. Romney met with father and son on October 11 at the Graham home in North Carolina. The elder Graham pledged to Romney that he would do “all I can to help you.” Graham’s association subsequently removed Mormons from the list of cults posted on its website, where it had shared space with groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientologists.

Franklin Graham has suggested that President Barack Obama might be a Muslim and has also asserted that the president is creating a “nation without God.” He describes Islam as a “very wicked and evil religion” and has also discovered that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by Muslims,

The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active in our country. It’s infiltrated every level of our government. Right now we have many of these people that are advising the US military and State Department on how to respond in the Middle East, and it’s like asking a fox, like a farmer asking a fox, “How do I protect my henhouse from foxes?” We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries. And many of these people we’ve brought in, I’m afraid, are under the Muslim Brotherhood.

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The Politics of Sandy

Scott McConnell has pointed out how Michael Bloomberg has cited the damage inflicted by tropical storm Sandy as a good reason to endorse President Barack Obama. But it seems odd that other Democrats nationally have avoided using Sandy as a club to beat the GOP, possibly because they consider it unseemly. The Republican Party platform expresses a clear reluctance to do anything to reduce greenhouse gases:

We also call on Congress to take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations that will harm the nation’s economy and threaten millions of jobs over the next quarter century. The most powerful environmental policy is liberty, the central organizing principle of the American Republic and its people.

It does not take a climatologist to appreciate that “liberty” does not represent a coherent environmental policy. I am far from the expert on the subject, but it seems to be established that weather patterns are becoming more severe, possibly linked to global warming. If one assumes that global warming is at least in part attributable to the actions of mankind, efforts to reduce its impact would appear to be warranted lest Sandy become an annual occurrence along the eastern seaboard. Republicans appear to be reluctant to make that effort.

Admitting that climate change is taking place and is being caused by human activity does not necessarily imply any government policy, which would have to be carefully considered based on actual evidence and the options available. It seems that the GOP’s stubbornness on this issue is linked to a broader antagonism toward science, which possibly derives from its pandering to Christian evangelicals. Certainly if I were a Democrat I would be pointing to Sandy as one possible consequence of Republican unwillingness to be realistic or even “modern” in its policy prescriptions relating to the environment.

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CIA Presence in Africa Grows

The Obama administration is enhancing the U.S. presence in Africa, which it is increasingly identifying as the new front in the war against Islamic militants. New drones for the CIA will be partially deployed in Afghanistan in an attempt to take up the slack as Western troop presence wanes over the next year, but most of the aircraft will be going to an existing facility in the Seychelles and to an airbase near Mombasa in Kenya that is being leased. The drones will be able to locate and hit targets in the south Sahara region that have been hitherto out of reach, including Mali. An upgrade in facilities in Ethiopia is also in the works to permit drone operations.

The CIA has also re-established a presence on the ground in Somalia, though it is highly unusual to have a Station in a country where the U.S. has no diplomatic representation. The Station is located in a red building near the Mogadishu airport and is well known to locals. I recently spoke to a foreign visitor who said that even cab drivers refer to the “CIA building.” Since the U.S. has no official presence in Somalia, the Station is actually run by a private contractor, also highly unusual by CIA norms. The building is surrounded by a fence and a wall and is further protected by African Union soldiers assigned to the airport as well as by local militiamen who serve as contract guards.

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What Happened in Benghazi

Though I am in no way a fan of President Obama’s foreign and security policies, the flailing that the Republican Party is engaging in at the moment to demonstrate some kind of cover-up in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack reveals a complete lack of understanding of how intelligence collection and analysis works. David Ignatius explores the subject in an op-ed, “CIA documents supported Susan Rice’s description of Benghazi attacks.”

Ignatius observes that intelligence is developed when something happens and that evidence is frequently “fragmentary and conflicting.” While there may be such a thing as incontrovertible facts relating to any incident, that solid information is something that frequently cannot be easily discerned. Ignatius notes that Republicans have been beating Obama over the head most recently with the assertion that there was a CIA Station Chief cable the day after the killing of the ambassador that indicated that the attack had been planned and organized by a militant group. But I would bet that there were at least 15 other reports that went out the same day that provided alternative scenarios. If you intercept a cell phone call in which someone is claiming credit for organizing an attack, is he speaking the truth or is he boasting and trying to take credit for some reason or other? If a source in a militia is claiming that he knows who ordered the attack, does he have an agenda that is driving his claim? All of that has to be sorted out, which takes time and cross checking. At the present time, it does appear that the “Innocence of Muslims” video did play a role in the attack and the contention that it was a fully-orchestrated al-Qaeda event seems unlikely.

I was in Rome Station when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was occupied. The CIA went on full alert worldwide and we followed suit. I rather suspect that every Iranian official or businessman in Italy that we could get our hands on was interviewed three times. The reports went in to Washington, together with thousands of others. While the effort sounds silly in retrospect, I do recall that there were some Iranians in Rome who had significant information on the students who had led the takeover. My point is that intelligence is a complicated process and cherry picking raw intelligence reports relating to a developing situation might well produce whatever you want to find, but it will not necessarily reveal the truth.

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