John Solomon, the editor of the Washington Times, opened the privacy panel at CPAC with a clip of Edward Snowden, and the question, “Is he a traitor?”
Bruce Fein, a lawyer hired by Snowden’s family, replied, “Snowden is more of a patriot in Thomas Paine’s sense: someone who saves his country from his government.” Soloman stuck to the theme by asking Fein, “If he were a traitor, how would you defend him?” Fein pushed back on the appropriateness of these questions, saying it made no sense to let a discussion of laws Snowden broke eclipse the discussion of “the lawlessness of the government that he exposed.”
Fein added, that, if the government was so keen on the rule of law, it had no need of extradition to prosecute the National Director of Intelligence, James Clapper, for perjury before Congress. Arguably, he said, Clapper’s offense and the overreach he covered up was more serious since, “When the government becomes a lawbreaker, it invites every man and woman to become a law unto themselves.”
The fear of governmental lawlessness was a central concern for Charlie Kirk, the executive director of TurningPoint USA. After allegations that the IRS selectively audited conservative groups, he said, it was impossible to hear the president promise that these programs target “enemies foreign and domestic” and be confident that the kinds of groups and people in attendance at CPAC weren’t in danger of increased scrutiny as retribution.
Former Governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore, who served as a U.S. Army Counterintelligence Agent, said that Snowden’s disclosures put the country at unacceptable risk. When spy programs go too far, he said, they should be opposed through official channels, not subverted through broad, illegal disclosures. Gilmore had opposed the Total Information Awareness program, he pointed out, and he didn’t put anyone’s lives in danger to do it.
Fein replied that the secrecy of these NSA programs made them hard to oppose using conventional means. He pointed out that Rand Paul’s class action lawsuit against the NSA could never have been filed, but for Snowden’s leaks. Without access the specific details Snowden revealed, Paul’s lawsuit would have been thrown out as speculative.
As the audience weighed the tradeoff between liberty and security, Gilmore drew applause when he argued that intelligence operations are needed to defend national security. But when the moderator asked the attendees to raise their hands if they felt safer as the result of NSA surveillance, barely twenty or so hands were visible in a room packed more than two hundred strong. The lively crowd booed Gilmore when he called Snowden “a coward as well as a traitor,” and one attendee yelled “You lie!” when Gilmore said, “I understand pretty well what the Fourth Amendment is about.”
Fein spoke up against appeals to 9/11 and said that terrorist attack shouldn’t necessarily be answered by giving the government new powers. According to Fein, “People are saying the laws prior to 9/11 didn’t work, but that’s like saying that our laws against murder don’t work, since there are still murders.” Ultimately, he concluded, an increased risk of attacks is the price America pays for liberty.
Abdullah al-Shami may be about to achieve a very strange kind of victory through martyrdom.
So far as we know, Al-Shami isn’t on the verge of a suicide bombing or self-immolation. If he dies in the coming weeks, it will likely be at the hand of another. Well, hand might be putting it strongly, since the hand that presses the button that looses the missile from the drone that kills him may be halfway across the globe. But if the bomb lands true, al-Shami will be the fifth American citizen assassinated by his government in the War on Terror.
The location of the person killing him will be as mysterious as his own origins. Although it is now public knowledge that the Obama administration is debating whether the man known by this nom de guerre meets their own classified criteria for assassination, al-Shami’s real name, place of birth, and biography to this point have all been kept secret. The most the New York Times was able to cobble together about his life is this:
The F.B.I. investigated Mr. Shami and determined that he had been born in the United States, but that he had left as a young child and had not maintained any ties to the country. In the years since then, Mr. Shami worked his way up the ranks of Al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan, his ascent aided by his marriage to the daughter of a top Qaeda leader. Last year, he appears to have risen to become one of Al Qaeda’s top planners for operations outside Pakistan, including plots against American troops in Afghanistan.
“We have clear and convincing evidence that he’s involved in the production and distribution of I.E.D.’s,” said one senior administration official, referring to improvised explosive devices, long the leading killer of American troops in Afghanistan.
Improvised explosive devices are intended to kill American troops. They’re deployed either tactically, for the sake of frustrating the objectives of an enemy force, or cathartically, out of the desire to wound and destroy, regardless of whether it advances a military objective. President Bush would often characterize al-Qaeda as motivated by a desire to destroy our freedoms and ideals. Stretching our laws to permit the droning of American citizens would seem to do more damage to American ideals than an entire shipment of IEDs.
While the armed forces and the C.I.A. have systematically picked off high-ranking leaders in al-Qaeda, to the point where nationalist factions blithely ignore the orders of their higher ups, civil liberties law at home has been subject to a barrage of Justice Department memos, FISA court opinions, and executive orders, many of them kept as secret as any military operation, on the same justification: we can’t afford to tip our hand to the enemy.
According to the Times, the debate over al-Shami’s death has been driven as much by logistical concerns as by ethical or legal scruples. Obama has been working to hand over responsibility for drone assassinations to the Pentagon. This would put drone program under a few more legal restrictions, but free the United States to claim responsibility for strikes and make other disclosures that the CIA can’t. However, the Pentagon has no authority to kill anyone in Pakistan, where al-Shami is rumored to be hiding.
If the President makes an exception to allow the CIA to conduct this strike, it will be yet another jury-rigged change to our legal system, meant to secure the short-term objective of killing the enemy, while possibly endangering the security and trustworthiness of the government we are defending from men like al-Shami.
The United States has struggled to find a way to support Syrian rebels without putting American lives at risk, and President Barack Obama has repeatedly rejected proposals to shift from arms dealing to cyberwar. He’s making a prudent choice.
Instead of targeting enemy soldiers, cyberwar targets enemy infrastructure. Just as your own computer can be damaged by being infected with a virus, enemy computers can be compromised with targeted malicious software, but, instead of stealing your credit card number or wiping your hard drive, these attacks can steal battle plans and disable or even destroy weapons systems and infrastructure.
Cyberwar is a tempting option, since it keeps our boots off the ground and out of enemy airspace. One Pentagon plan would have reportedly grounded President Bashar al-Assad’s missiles, preventing him from launching airstrikes without the inconvenience of setting up a no-fly zone or a shield system.
However, the safety Obama would win for our troops abroad could be outweighed by the danger he’d expose us to on the homefront. The very remove that makes cyberwar tempting makes it more likely that, if this kind of conflict is normalized, battles will spill over into the infrastructure of our daily lives. And that’s a theater of operations we’re ill equipped to defend.
Cyberwar favors the smaller side. Developed countries have the most to lose, responsible as they are for power grids, secure databases, banking systems, etc. A digital insurgency is agile and light, with nothing to protect but its own files. Some struggling countries even have even lucked into their own defenses by lagging behind. According to the New York Times,
[Cyberattacks were] considered during the NATO attacks on Libya in the spring of 2011, but dismissed after Mr. Obama’s advisers warned him that there was no assurance they would work against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s antiquated, pre-Internet air defenses.
But this strategy is better suited to self-interested despots like Qaddafi or science fiction like Battlestar Galactica than to a modern nation. The United States will never be in a position to sacrifice prosperity and progress for security through technical regress.
Right now, the United States doesn’t just have weak cyber defenses, but, once a breach occurs, our infrastructure isn’t resilient enough to weather the damage. A recent sniper attack on a California power plant raised concern because our power grid is so delicately balanced that compromising just a few power stations, physically or electronically, would give an attacker the ability to induce a massive blackout, even worse than the one that struck the Northeast in 2003. Read More…
Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the AP revealed yesterday the existence of a previously unknown secret CIA facility at Guantanamo Bay, tasked with turning captured terrorists into double agents. Set up along with the makeshift prison facility as prisoners flowed into the American base in Cuba, the secret CIA outpost was best known by the Beatles-inspired name “Penny Lane.”
Candidates were ushered from the confines of prison to Penny Lane’s relative hominess, officials said. The cottages had private kitchens, showers and televisions. Each had a small patio.
Some prisoners asked for and received pornography. One official said the biggest luxury in each cottage was the bed, not a military-issued cot but a real bed with a mattress.
The cottages were designed to feel more like hotel rooms than prison cells, and some CIA officials jokingly referred to them collectively as the Marriott.
In contrast with the prison conditions, Penny Lane appears to have been practically a luxury resort. Indeed, cottages in the Caribbean are a hotly sought after commodity. The great, cruel irony of the Penny Lane program’s perks, however, is that they were obviously unavailable to prisoners without any actual terrorist connections. As Goldman and Apuzzo note, Bush administration officials at the time characterized Guantanamo detainees as the “worst of a very bad lot,” in Vice President Cheney’s words, or “among the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth,” as Donald Rumsfeld described them.
In reality, many were held on flimsy evidence and were of little use to the CIA.
While the agency looked for viable candidates, those with no terrorism ties sat in limbo. It would take years before the majority of detainees were set free, having never been charged. Of the 779 people who were taken to Guantanamo Bay, more than three-fourths have been released, mostly during the Bush administration.
Those swept up in the heat of battle and spirited across the globe remained in their cells as some of the true terrorists were wined and dined by a CIA seeking their cooperation. The AP notes that “infiltrating al-Qaida has been one of the CIA’s most sought-after but difficult goals, something that other foreign intelligence services have only occasionally accomplished,” increasing their eagerness to set up shop and obtain what sources they could. They did have some successes, as “some of the men who passed through Penny Lane helped the CIA find and kill many top al-Qaida operatives, current and former U.S. officials said,” though “others stopped providing useful information and the CIA lost touch with them.”
As the years dragged on, however, and the detainee’s contacts faded in freshness, the program dried up, closing altogether by 2006. So today, the Guantanamo Bay prisons still stand, with what prisoners remain. Five years after Barack Obama took office pledging to close the prison, it stays open. And Penny Lane’s cottages, though empty, still stand.
This really is frightening.
Terrorist incidents tell us nothing new about human nature. We already knew that people are capable of horrendous violence, especially when they have come to regard some other subset of human beings as unworthy of full human status. It’s not surprising, then, to see the terrorists of Somalia’s loathsome al-Shabaab movement violating all laws of humanity by slaughtering innocent victims of all ages. People can become monsters, and they did in the Nairobi mall attack that began on September 21.
What really is alarming, though, is to see terrorists create a radical new tactic against which there is no obvious response or defense. There was nothing surprising, for instance, in the idea that terrorists might hijack airliners, but only in 2001 did we realize that hijackers might use them for suicide attacks, turning those aircraft into deadly missiles. Nairobi has just shown us another horrible innovation. It might be that we won’t realize how effective this could be against the U.S. until we face yet another day when we are counting the dead in their hundreds. We have to confront this issue immediately.
Think about it. How would one attack a shopping mall, whether in Nairobi or Minneapolis? Presumably a number of pickup trucks draw up in the parking lot, and 20 or so armed men and women get out, carrying their weapons and ammunition. Then they enter the mall and begin killing until they can do no more harm. They are strictly limited by the number of bullets and grenades they can carry. When police and military forces arrive, the terrorists might hold out for an hour or two before being eliminated.
That’s one way to do it, but it’s clearly not what happened in Nairobi, where firefights were still in progress several days after the initial assault. Even more amazing, terrorists were still putting up resistance against strong Kenyan forces, reputedly trained and assisted by British and Israeli special forces.
How on earth did the terrorists do it? Why, they rented a store. Read More…
Andrew Doran’s article in National Review last week rightly notes the brutality undergone by the Copts in the aftermath of Egypt’s coup. He even compares the brutality with Nazi persecution of the Jews:
The Muslim Brotherhood’s systematic and coordinated attacks against Christians in Egypt are reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938, when Nazi paramilitaries systematically vandalized Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues and murdered scores of Jews in a disturbing foreshadowing of the fate of European Jews over the next few years. It is no accident that many Jews, including Barry Rubin and Jeffrey Goldberg, have been quick to raise the alarums over the persecution of Christians: They recognize the dangerous signs. “They have hatred in their hearts,” says Thabet of the Brotherhood, echoing observations commonly made of the National Socialists in 20th-century Germany.
But the Copt’s persecutors are not a well-organized military force, with a charismatic and powerful leader. Rather, they are a hurt and angry mob, with a rapidly dwindling leadership. Their acts of aggression against Coptic Christians seem less a calculated ruthless policy than the raged revenge of a hurt and angry people. Of course, this is not to excuse those horrendous actions. However, it does change the way in which we seek a solution to the problem.
In Egypt, the mob and the military are not unified; rather, their very friction has helped instigate and foster this persecution, more or less. More military crackdown only seems to result in more Coptic persecution. Thus, a foreign military strengthening Egypt’s military arm is not likely to fix the problem. The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership has been weakened significantly in recent weeks; this, as Eric Trager argued in The New Republic, makes the group even harder to control and direct in a peaceable manner. And this does make sense: without leadership with whom to reason, the group will become more and more unreasonable:
… By disorganizing Egypt’s most cohesive Islamist group, the generals have turned hundreds of thousands of deeply ideological Muslim Brothers into free radicals, who will no longer listen to their typically cautious leaders. Many younger Muslim Brothers, in particular, lean towards Salafism, and their upbringing in the Brotherhood—whose motto concludes with the phrase “death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our aspirations”—has made them willing to die for Islamism, and possibly willing to fight for it as well.
In addition, one cannot exempt the military from blame in Coptic persecution: John Storm, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Thursday that “For weeks, everyone could see these attacks coming, with Muslim Brotherhood members accusing Coptic Christians of a role in [Morsi’s] ouster, but the authorities did little or nothing to prevent them.”
President Obama’s decision to close embassies and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa has added yet another twist in this summer’s NSA revelations saga. Lawmakers who have been briefed on the terror threat are calling it credible, specific, and alarming, according to the Washington Post.
But civil libertarians are alarmed that these threats will create a climate of fear in which the debate about the NSA’s vast data collection will be scuttled.
Glenn Greenwald, the reporter-activist who has served as a megaphone for revelations about and criticisms of U.S. government surveillance activities, went so far as to suggest that the embassy closings could be an effort to distract from the heightened scrutiny. He told Democracy Now,
Here we are in the midst of one the most intense debates, and sustained debates, that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated Al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates throughout the world.
Even if we trust that the embassy closures are well-justified, we should still protest loudly when the specter of terrorism is used to distract from a vital civil liberties debate. Conspiracy or no, the embassy closings provide an all-too-easy way for NSA defenders to cudgel surveillance skeptics. That’s the real scandal, and it’s one we’ve seen before.
“These [NSA] programs are controversial, we understand that,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “But they are also very important … If we did not have these programs, then we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys.”
He was just one of several Congressional supporters of the NSA making the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows to defend the NSA.
Granted, not all lawmakers painted in as broad strokes (“these programs”) as Chambliss did. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) admitted that one of the more controversial NSA programs, the collection of cell phone metadata, was not necessarily involved in detecting the Al Qaeda plot. “You have to be careful how much you represent that any particular program has contributed to our security,” he told CNN.
Even if the NSA’s vast surveillance powers helped us “listen in on the bad guys” to prevent an attack, this fact should not weaken any truly principled concern about government snooping. The question has never have been, “are the NSA programs intrusive and useless?” but rather, “even if they are useful, how much privacy are we willing to sacrifice for the security they bring?”
Rep. Justin Amash, to his credit, pivoted directly from the embassy threats back to Constitutional liberties:
“It’s precisely because we live in this dangerous world that we need protections like the Fourth Amendment,” he told Fox News. “The framers of the Constitution put it in place precisely because they were worried that you could have national security justifications for violating people’s rights.”
“Chatter” is the word of the week—it refers to intercepted Al Qaeda messages. But it also describes our degraded conversation about civil liberties, in which the first hint of danger can shut down any scrutiny of the national security state.
Apparently, the threat is both serious and specific.
The United States ordered 22 diplomatic missions closed and issued a worldwide travel alert for U.S. citizens.
The threat comes from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, AQAP, the most lethal branch of the terrorist organization.
“After Benghazi,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., “these al-Qaeda types are really on steroids thinking we’re weaker and they’re stronger. …
“They want to drive the West out of the Mideast and take over these Muslim countries and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity … and if we ever take the bait and try to come home and create fortress America, there will be another 9/11.”
By the time this column appears, America may have been hit. Yet is it not time to put al-Qaeda in perspective and consider whether our Mideast policy is creating more terrorists than we are killing?
In 2010 America lost 15 citizens to terrorism. Thirteen of them died in Afghanistan. The worst attack was the killing of six Americans at a Christian medical mission in Badakhshan Province.
Yet, in 2010, not one death here in America resulted from terrorism.
That year, however, 780,000 Americas died of heart disease, 575,000 of cancer, 138,000 from respiratory diseases, 120,000 in accidents (35,000 in auto accidents), 69,000 from diabetes, 40,000 in drug-induced deaths, 38,000 by suicide, 32,000 by liver disease, 25,000 in alcohol-induced deaths, 16,000 by homicide and 8,000 from HIV/AIDS.
Is terrorism the killer we should fear most and invest the lion’s share of our resources fighting?
Since 9/11, al-Qaeda has not proven a terribly effective enemy. Some plots—the shoe-bomber on the airliner over Detroit, the Times Square bomber—failed from sheer incompetence. Other attacks have been thwarted by excellent U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism work.
Our home front has been well protected.
But by having fought a “war on terror” overseas in Graham’s way—invading, occupying, nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq—we lost 6,000 soldiers and brought back 40,000 wounded Americans.
Were the wars in which we suffered such casualties, and that cost us $2 trillion and counting, really worth it? Did they make us more secure?
The Taliban are making a comeback. Iraq is sinking into civil, sectarian and tribal war. Our influence in the Islamic world is at a nadir. And Graham concedes the enemy that we went over there to destroy, al-Qaeda, is not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Mali, and is now “on steroids.”
Ten years ago, anti-interventionists warned that a plunge into the Islamic world would produce what it was designed to prevent. We could create more terrorists than we would kill.
For the root of 9/11 was Islamic hatred of America’s perceived domination and a fanatic determination to drive us out of their world.
They were over here because we were over there. And if we went over there in even greater force, even more Muslims would rise up to expel us from what is, after all, their neighborhood, not ours.
So the anti-interventionists argued.
Dismissing such warnings as “isolationism,” George W. Bush launched the war. The result? Precisely what opponents of the war had predicted, an al-Qaeda that has metastasized and is now “on steroids.”
Now, Graham says, al-Qaeda wants “to drive the West out of the Middle East”—their objective all along—and “take over these Muslim countries and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity.”
But was it not the United States that dumped over Moammar Gadhafi and opened the door to the al-Qaeda that perpetrated the Benghazi atrocity?
Was not liberating Benghazi why we went to war?
We liberated it, but for whom?
Gadhafi, though himself a terrorist responsible for the Lockerbie Pan-Am bombing, was an enemy of al-Qaeda. So, too, are Hezbollah, Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad. All are fighting to prevent a takeover of Syria by rebels whose principal fighting force is the Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda.
Does not Vladimir Putin have a point when he asks why America is arming an insurgency dominated by the sort of people who did 9/11?
Graham says al-Qaeda wants to take over “Muslim countries and create an al-Qaeda-type religious entity.”
Yet the Muslim country al-Qaeda has the best chance of taking over is Syria. And we are arming the rebels who are allied with al-Qaeda and who want to take over Syria?
“If we ever take the bait and try to come home and create fortress America, there’ll be another 9/11,” warns Graham.
Graham is saying we must stay in the Middle East and fight on until al-Qaeda, which has grown since our intervention and because of our intervention, is annihilated.
Otherwise they create a caliphate and come over here and kill us all.
After 58,000 dead we left Vietnam. How many Americans have the Vietnamese killed since we left?
A Republican Congressman told Fox News yesterday that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, and not a traitor—another clear example of the shifting conversation on civil liberties on the Right.
Fox host Chris Wallace, clearly skeptical, asked Justin Amash of Michigan directly: “You still consider him a whistleblower?”
“Yes,” replied Amash.
Amash stressed that Congress could not provide effective oversight without Snowden’s revelations: “Members of Congress were not really aware … about what these programs were being used for, the extent to which they were being used.”
Late last month, Amash proposed an amendment to strip funding for an NSA program that collects the telephone records of people in the United States. While the amendment failed–narrowly–the vigorous debate it prompted exposed deep divisions in both parties in the NSA debate: it’s not Republican versus Democrat but civil-libertarians versus security hawks. As Jim Antle explained in TAC,
While the Tea Party was split down the middle, with many conservatives bucking the party leadership, civil libertarians on the left also revolted…Republican leaders can’t control the libertarians in their midst and are starting to conclude it’s better not to try. Civil libertarians in the Democratic Party are no longer allowing Barack Obama’s presence in the White House to keep them silent.
According to a Quinnipiac poll released last Thursday, a majority of U.S. voters agree with Amash’s recent comments: 55% percent of respondents say Snowden is “more a whistleblower” than traitor, 34% “more a traitor.”
Particularly interesting is the shift in Amash’s own party that these polls have highlighted. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the Republican demographic has been one of the most drastically changing in recent years. In 2010, 72% of Republicans said counterterrorism did not go far enough, which had fallen to 46% by this summer. And according to last week’s poll, Republicans almost mirror national sentiment: 51% of Republicans label Snowden a whistleblower.
Crucially, the poll was conducted before Snowden accepted asylum in Russia. Whether that will change the public’s mood remains to be seen, but Amash remained circumspect on that question: “He may be doing things overseas that we would find problematic, that we would find dangerous. We will find those facts out over time,” he conceded. “But as far as Congress is concerned, he’s a whistleblower. He told us what we needed to know.”
Nor have the recent al-Qaeda threats and embassy closings changed Amash’s mind; if anything, he says, these dangers should reinforce our wariness of expansive government powers:
“It’s precisely because we live in this dangerous world that we need protections like the Fourth Amendment,” he said. “The framers of the Constitution put it in place precisely because they were worried that you could have national security justifications for violating people’s rights.”
Defense News parses this new, totally surprising, threat:
“We need to be cognizant of the fact that nations elsewhere, and non-nation players, can easily develop unmanned systems themselves,” Chung said. “So that leaves us to think about the adversarial unmanned systems. We need to think not just about our unmanned system but the ones that want to attack us.”
One suggested solution is body armor, which should be fun for senators and DOD officials to wear all day in a globally warming world.