“Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail,” said Secretary of State Henry Stimson of his 1929 decision to shut down “The Black Chamber” that decoded the secret messages of foreign powers.
“This means war!” said FDR, after reading the intercepted instructions from Tokyo to its diplomats the night of Dec. 6, 1941. Roosevelt’s secretary of war? Henry Stimson.
Times change, and they change us.
The CIA was created in 1947; the National Security Agency in 1952, with its headquarters at Ft. Meade in Maryland. This writer’s late brother was stationed at Meade doing “photo interpretation” in the years the CIA’s Gary Powers, flying U-2s at 70,000 feet above Mother Russia, was providing the agency with some interesting photographs.
This last week, through security leaks, we learned that the NSA has access to the phone records of Verizon, Sprint and AT&T. Of every call made to, from or in the U.S., NSA can determine what phone the call came from, which phone it went to, and how long the conversation lasted.
While NSA cannot recapture the contents of calls, it can use this information to select phones to tap for future recording and listening.
Through its PRISM program, the NSA can acquire access, via servers such as Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft and AOL, to all emails sent, received and presumably deleted or spammed. And if the NSA can persuade a secret court that it has to know the contents of past, present or future emails, it can be accorded that right.
Our ability to intercept and read communications of foreigners and foreign governments seems almost limitless. In the Nixon years, Jack Anderson reported that we were intercepting the conversations of Kremlin leaders in their limos, and listening in on Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev. Our capacity today is surely orders of magnitude greater.
Last week, we also learned that Barack Obama, by Presidential Policy Directive 20, has tasked our government to prepare for both defensive and offensive cyberwarfare to enable us to attack whatever depends on the Internet anywhere in the world.
Lately, the U.S. and Israel planted a Stuxnet worm that crippled scores of centrifuges and disabled Iran’s nuclear enrichment plant at Natanz. If we can do this in Iran, can we not do the same to nuclear plants all over the world, creating two, three, a hundred Chernobyls and Fukushimas?
Is it too much to imagine that, one day, if not already, the United States will be able to cyber-sabotage the power plants, electrical grids and communications systems of any country on earth? Read More…
For those of you just joining us, there have been two big revelations about the NSA’s data-mining efforts since Wednesday, both reported by the Guardian.
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largesttelecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.
And the second:
The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.
A few things to keep in mind: Technically the latter only applies to foreign nationals living outside the U.S.—keeping tabs on which is the NSA’s job description—but it seems impossible to separate one from the other. There are good reasons to be skeptical of the tech companies’ denials that they cooperated. As for the collection of phone records, it’s probably safe to assume that this is going on with most major providers.
In a press conference today, during which he took one question from the press–”because I don’t want the whole day to just be a bleeding press conference”–the president tried to reassure Americans that the NSA is full of really good people who would never in a million years think about violating your Fourth Amendment rights, and that ”You can’t have 100% security and then 100% privacy.” From the AP report:
In his first comments since the programs were publicly revealed this week, Obama says safeguards are in place. He says nobody is listening to the content of phone calls. And he says the internet targeting is aimed at foreign nationals, not American citizens.
Obama says he increased some of the “safeguards” on the programs after taking office. And he believes they help his administration stop terrorist attacks.
From a political standpoint, these massive data collection efforts the administration’s stated commitment to ending the war on terror pretty hard to believe. They also contradict the president’s former views—he sponsored the SAFE Act, which would have banned them, and talked frequently about the “false choice” of liberty or security during campaigns.
Senator John McCain undermined the point of his trip to Syria—to prove that it really is possible to arm the right rebels and not the wrong ones—by posing with what the Lebanese press has claimed are Islamist kidnappers. Even the reliably hawkish Andrew McCarthy is cracking jokes. Allahpundit gets it right:
… [McCain] actually says at 4:40 that the rebels “are trying to achieve the same thing that we have shed American blood and treasure for for well over 200 years.” It’s one thing to believe that 10 years ago, before a series of exceptionally hard lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and Egypt; it’s another to believe it now. It’s so surreally untrue that it eclipses McCain’s one solid realpolitik-minded argument here, that aiding the Sunni rebellion is a way to weaken Iran and, especially, Hezbollah by bleeding them in a Vietnamish quagmire of their own. We’ve spent two years watching Egypt bend towards Islamism and now here’s Maverick attempting to sell the public again on the idea that Syria’s a liberal democracy in the eventual making if we just pick the right people to empower, knowing full well that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood probably constitutes one of the milder expressions of Islamic fundamentalism among the rebel hordes.
Of course, McCain’s office pushed back hard, saying ”it would be ludicrous to suggest that the senator in any way condones the kidnapping of Lebanese Shia pilgrims or has any communication with those responsible.”
But that isn’t really the point. The point is that he didn’t know what sort of people they were and turned out to be wrong.
More troublingly, apart from being inappropriate meddling by the legislative branch in a tense diplomatic situation, McCain’s photo-op could possibly constitute ‘material support’ for terrorists under the PATRIOT Act, as Doug Bandow points out:
Having his photo taken with Islamic extremists could reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement, which, based on past cases, could be seen as providing “material support” for terrorism. Presumably that isn’t what Sen. McCain intended. But the law’s application is not based on intent.
To be fair to the rest of us, the Justice Department should investigate. The alternative would be for Senator McCain to launch a legislative effort to restrict the application of the law to what most people would reasonably consider to be aiding terrorists. …
A legislative rewrite obviously would be the best response. Still, as much as I oppose vague and ambiguous criminal enactments by the federal government, I would enjoy seeing Senator McCain in the dock. It would be cosmic justice for his support of the catastrophic invasion in Iraq and endless occupation of Afghanistan.
This vague, sweeping definition of ‘material support‘, defined in the 2010 case Holder v. Humanitarian Law also made the likes of John Bolton, Howard Dean, Tom Ridge, Louis Freeh, and Clarence Page terrorist supporters under the government’s own definition, for giving paid speeches on behalf of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. The Islamo-marxist cult was de-listed late last year after a coordinated lobbying campaign headed up by the agency that represented Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad.
Count me with Bandow in thinking it would have been nice to see some law enforcement agency be consistent enough to arrest and jail any of the above supporters of terrorists, if just to prove a point about the overreach of executive power since 9/11. But why quibble over some abstract principle like equal justice under the law when there are terrorists to
Former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein have released a letter today calling for President Obama to release the 86 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay that have been cleared for transfer.
“No statute or other legal limitation blocks you from this enlightened course of action, which you have commended as who we are as a people. We are supposed to be willing to take risks that other countries shun because we find imprisoning, killing, or otherwise punishing the innocent to be morally reprehensible,” the letter reads.
On Tuesday, Obama promised to reopen discussions with Congress over closing the installation, which he has promised to do since campaigning for president the first time.
The letter arrives in the midst of a hunger strike by Guantanamo detainees, which has led to cases of force-feeding. It comes under the imprimatur of the National Commission on Intelligence Misuse to Justify War, a relatively unknown entity about a year and a half old, registered to the same address as Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform. Tony Shaffer sits on its board.
Earlier this year, Nader and Fein also released letters calling for a pardon of whistleblower John Kiriakou and for the Harvard Law Review to take the president’s constitutional abuses more seriously.
Here’s the rest of it:
Amazing for its viciousness and rank dishonesty is the campaign waged against UN special rapporteur for human rights in occupied Palestine Richard Falk for making some pretty straightforward “blowback” points in the aftermath of the Boston terrorist attack. Falk’s piece is here; written before the perpetrators were discovered, it notes chiefly the relative calm compared to 9/11, and the greater reflectiveness of many of the callers to PBS and other venues, who noted (as have several other commentators) that many innocents are also victims of American violence. Falk also laments what he perceives as Obama’s apparent obeisance to Israel and fears a war with Iran. Falk is a lucid and often deep thinker, but this was not an unusual piece.
Yet the old and venerable Falk (he was a prominent international law professor when I was in college, a very long time ago) had enemies lying in wait. Within a few days a well-funded neocon group called UN Watch and its various media allies had ginned up an intense public relations campaign, based on falsifying the meaning of his piece, using ellipses to distort its sentences, to claim that Falk had said that the Boston victims somehow deserved their fate. Phan Nguyen at Mondoweiss records in meticulous detail the contours of the misrepresentation campaign here. UN Watch’s rendering of Falk got assistance from the New York Post and someone from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and they obviously sent out a lot of messages to politicians, diplomats, and UN functionaries claiming (falsely) that Falk had blamed Israel and America for the terror attack, while asking them to respond. Many politicians responded as you would think they would, with US UN ambassador Susan Rice calling for Falk to be stripped of his post. (One shudders to imagine this spineless creature as Secretary of State.)
The question is why. I don’t believe that Professor Falk has any particular power or influence as the UN rapporteur for Palestine, and I’m not sure if his reports have saved a single Palestinian olive tree or water cistern from Israeli destruction. I’d like to be mistaken. If the reason is simply ideological, it’s difficult to believe that Israel lobby is all that concerned about people who say that if the United States persists in fighting what appears to Muslims as a war against Islam, with drones and whatnot, some Muslims are going to become radicalized and do evil in return. A young Yemeni made precisely that point before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee early this week, and he was treated respectfully—despite much senatorial grandstanding. Americans are ready to at least entertain the notion that a violent foreign policy (even one that uses drones autopiloted from the sanitary airconditioned confines of Nevada) can produce blowback. Glenn Greenwald argued the point here.
The smear campaign was probably started not because what Falk wrote was ridiculous but because it was reasonable. He commited the additional offense of mentioning Israel’s obvious efforts to ignite an American war with Iran. My guess is that UN Watch and its allies thought Boston provided an opportunity, that there would be enough righteous anger at the perpetrators of the terrorist attack to open a window where a smear campaign might work. If Falk could be forced out, it would illustrate their power to punish dissent and control the American discourse. Lo and behold, they got Susan Rice to endorse them.
In an important column, Justin Raimondo explores further the Chechen connection, which is not only the path to the older Tsarnaev brother’s radicalization but a Cold War leftover inside the Beltway and a cause dear to many neoconservatives. Because the Chechens are anti-Russian, they have many friends in Washington. Enough perhaps to influence the FBI to take Russian warnings of Tamarlan Tsarnaev’s terrorist connections with a grain of salt.
The problem is that the Chechen “freedom fighters” are US allies, along with their ideological compatriots in Libya and Syria. When the Chechen rebel “foreign minister,” Ilyas Akmadov,” applied for political asylum in the US, the Department of Homeland Security nixed the idea – but were overruled by a bipartisan coalition of political heavyweights, including Madeleine Albright, Alexander Haig, Frank Carlucci, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain. In a letter of endorsement, Albright gushed that Akhmadov is “devoted to peace, not terrorism.” McCain wrote: “I have found him to be a proponent of peace and human rights in Chechnya.”
Although support for the Chechen independence movement is bipartisan, that troublesome little sect known as the neoconservatives has actively backed the Chechen cause from the get-go: an impressive list of prominent neocons, including Bill Kristol, sits on the board of the Chechens’ principal US propaganda outfit, the American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus (formerly the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya). According to Glen Howard, head of the Jamestown Foundation, a neocon outfit focused on Central Asia, the Chechens aren’t Islamist terrorists, they’re just cuddly “nationalists” rebelling against a Russia that has gone “fascist.” “The Russians are trying to treat Chechen separatism through the prism of 9/11 and terror rather than as a nationalist movement that has been defying Kremlin rule for 200 years,” says Howard. This analytical premise, however, doesn’t seem to apply to, say, Afghanistan.
This may explain why the FBI didn’t put Tamarlan Tsarnaev under surveillance after Russian intelligence informed them that he held six(!) meetings with a Chechen Salafist militant during his trip to Dagestan. There may well be a lot of opportunities for self-radicalization via the Internet for alienated young Sunni Muslims, but in this case there is also a real trail to leading to established foreign groups with a record of terrorism. The trouble seems to be that the FBI ignored it, despite specific warnings. Why?
Regardless of what we find about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s stay in Dagestan, the Boston Marathon case illustrates that we will not soon be done with terrorism inspired by Sunni Salafist doctrines. The Tsarnaevs had no understandable grievances, were not avenging the deaths of relatives, were fighting for no territory. They were apparently young men having trouble finding a place of psychic belonging in the world, and they had access to the internet and found the doctrine of Salafist jihad. Under such circumstances, there may always be some takers. Police work will help, and so will limiting immigration. But unlike that large portion of terrorism connected to concrete and plausible political goals, from the Stern Gang to the IRA, the FLN to the Tamil Tigers to the Kurds to various Palestinian groups, this phenomenon seems truly mindless.
Andrew Sullivan wrote last week about the Tsarnaevs:
A little lost in modernity; finding meaning in the most extreme forms of religion; in many ways assimilated by the West but finding new ways to feel deeply, internally alienated by it: this is a classic profile of an Internet Jihadist. And there is nothing traditional about this religion. It’s hyper-modern, spread online and combustible with any other personal dramas.
We will probably have no choice but to live with it, just as the United States seems prepared to live with homegrown mentally ill loner gunman having access to automatic weapons.
The same week the Tsarnaevs took over the news cycle, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the so-called “back door to war” resolution, described by Paul Pillar as “an open invitation to Israel to start a war with Iran and to drag the United States into that war.” Read More…
“Whatever they thought they could ultimately achieve, they’ve already failed,” says President Obama of the Boston Marathon bombers.
“They failed because the people of Boston refused to be intimidated. They failed because as Americans we refuse to be terrorized.”
Bostonians did react splendidly. From first responders to folks who gave blood, from hospital staffs to the FBI, ATF and state troopers, from the Boston and Watertown cops to the hostage rescue team that talked Dzhokhar Tsarnaev out of that boat.
But did the Brothers Tsarnaev really fail—as terrorists?
On Sunday’s talk shows, a sub-theme was that this had been the “most successful terrorist attack since 9/11.”
For consider what these brothers accomplished. Read More…
An incredible manhunt is underway. Police have surrounded a 20-block area in
Watertown, as the entire city of Boston remains shut down. One suspect is now dead, while the other is the subject of an unprecedented search effort. From the bombs going off on Monday to the current pursuit, new tools of public information conveyance merged with the old in a frenzied rush of identification, misidentification, and false certainty.
It’s still early w unconfirmed scanner reports but if Redit was right with the Sunil Tripathi theory, it’s changed the game 4ever
— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) April 19, 2013
For instance, in the middle of a wild Thursday night, before the Tsarnayev brothers were officially identified, several reports erroneously suggested that one of the suspects was in fact a missing Brown student previously fingered by users on Reddit. Ryan Chittum has more:
And then there were the keyboard crimefighters at Reddit. At one point a police dispatcher, apparently incorrectly, said that the suspects’ names were Sunil Tripathi, a Brown student who disappeared last month, and Mike Mulugeta. Reddit, still smarting from the backlash to their amateur sleuthing, took a very premature victory lap.
Earlier this week Alexis Madrigal warned against the giddy overzealous vigilantism on Reddit:
Boston’s WCVB has more astonishing raw footage from the early hours gunfight in Watertown, Mass., where police closed in on the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, who answered with (according to several reports) machine-gun fire and thrown explosives. Science journalist Seth Mnookin, who teaches at MIT, was on the scene—and tweeted it. The night’s developments began with the murder of a police officer at MIT, followed by the Watertown gunfight, and a manhunt for one of the suspects. The other suspect apparently died after the firefight.
Much of this information comes from Twitter, in particular from relayed reports from police scanners in the area. Needless to say, news of this sort is subject to revision. But the Boston Globe is among the more established sources that confirms the outlines of what happened overnight. At first it was unclear whether the MIT incident was related to the marathon bombings—but the subsequent exchange of heavy fire between police and the suspects, who seemed to have explosive devices in their possession, tended to dismiss most doubts.
Update – This post has been corrected to include new information. We now know the two suspects are apparently brothers from in or near Chechnya. The elder died in a firefight and the younger is still at large.