Why exactly again is the U.S. at war in Syria and Iraq? Here’s a potpourri of fun things.
I heard it was something to do with Islamic State, a bunch of guys who have never done anything outside their own neighborhood but who we are afraid will strike inside the United States at any moment.
They’ve never done that, anywhere, and seem to have their hands full in Syria and Iraq, plus most of their heavy weapons seem to come from American allies handing our stuff over to them. It is almost as if by elevating them to Bond-villain status they are able to use that notoriety to recruit more fighters.
And of course to strike inside the U.S. ISIS would need to get in line behind our own mass shooters.
We’re no longer really even giving lip service to saving Iraq, so why are we fighting over there?
Now in Syria a couple of years ago we started our war there because Assad was butchering his own people, what with the barrel bombs and the chemical weapons and such. Well, we’ve shown him. He is no longer butchering his own people, others are. Currently the U.S., Russia, Turkey, UAE, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France and Jordan are bombing Syria.
Also, the war to save the Syrians from their dictator has killed 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries in the Middle East and to Europe.
Maybe I could check with the Iranians. They, too, are fighting in Iraq, but in order to maintain control over the Shiite government as their proxy, and to push aside or wipe out the Sunnis, all in contravention of American goals, except America is helping the Iranians because they are also killing them some ISIS.
The Iranians are also fighting in Syria, on Assad’s side allied with the Russians. We help the Iranians in Iraq, but not in Syria.
Now the Saudis, they know where they stand. They do sometimes do a little tiny bit of bombing stuff in Syria, and especially in Yemen, probably Islamic State, but who knows, because they live in literal terror about terrorism sweeping away their repressive monarchy. The Saudis are also bombing Syria because the Saudis are one of America’s closest allies in the region.
Except that donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to terrorist groups worldwide. In fact, Hillary Clinton even said so, in a Wikileaks document from 2009 classified as secret, where she admonished her diplomats that “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups.”
Oh, also, the Saudis may have helped fund 9/11. See, there was this disagreement between the secular monarchy and the religious side of the Kingdom, that resulted in Islamic religious zealots being assigned into Saudi embassies worldwide as part of the balancing act/compromise, including in the U.S. Some of those “diplomats” collected donations from within the Kingdom and funneled them to extremists in the the U.S. and elsewhere, such as the 9/11 guys. I heard.
Also, we’re bombing hospitals and killing doctors in Afghanistan, apparently to prove the axiom that when we do it it’s an accident and when they do it it’s barbaric terrorism.
Anyway, if anyone can straighten me out on all this, please, I need your help. Thanks!
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
A staple of those cheesy black and white science fiction movies from the 1950s was the United Nations. An alien threat would arrive, and the solution involved the people of earth working together, delegates in exotic native dress, through the UN.
But nearly from its founding the reality of the UN was no more real than those rubber-suited alien beings. As the United Nations General Assembly meets this week in New York amid much fanfare, what is the point of the UN?
There is little point. The UN, at its very best not much more than a forum, has been manipulated and ignored from its founding. Actually, earlier.
The United Nations
The UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, grew out of the First World War, ironically known then as “the war to end all wars.” The idea was to prevent future conflict via collective security, disarmament and the settling of international disputes through negotiation. The League gathered little support from the great powers of the day, the U.S. in particular, all of whom sought to instead further their own interests via war, armaments, and by ignoring negotiation. The result was World War II.
Nonetheless, following WWII, the idea was given another try. The war ended with pretty much only one clear winner, the United States, and it would be through the U.S., buttressed by a Security Council of other semi-major powers, that a forum for world peace and negotiation arose in October 1945. It had a very noble name befitting its grand purpose: the United Nations.
The First Security Council
Things started off in a way that would plague the UN for its full life. The very first Security Council saw the U.S. as a permanent member, of course, and then tagged on minor powers but U.S. allies the French and the UK. Germany and Japan were and continue to be left out, mainly because they lost the war. The Russians made it in, based on their contribution to defeating the Nazis. The U.S. did make sure Taiwan, a tiny pro-U.S. island, represented “China,” ignoring the most populous country in Asia, “Red” China. The Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not replace Taiwan on the Council until 1971, well after the United States fought it directly in Korea, then as a proxy in Vietnam, and years after the PRC went nuclear.
The Case Of South Korea
Speaking of Korea, the fallacy of the United Nations found an early home there. Following the Japanese surrender that ended WWII, the United States left the Imperial Army in place for some time, pseudo-occupying the former colony while details could be worked out. The Koreans themselves tried then to build a peninsula-wide government under Lyuh Woon-Hyung. He was soon forced off stage by the United States, which worried about his leftist leanings. An initiative to hold general elections was proposed in the United Nations in 1947, only to be shot down by the United States and the Soviet Union, both angling for power.
Korean puppet governments were set up by both sides, but when war broke out in 1950, it was the South, backed by the United States, that the UN sided with. Legend holds that the only reason this happened was that the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council the day a vote was taken, though any serious review suggests the UN would have been brought around sooner or later, or, that it would not have mattered and the United States would have just fought alone. Nonetheless, the American troop presence in Korea over the next 65 years and its support for a long series of military coups that dislodged multiple civilian governments, is maintained under the paper-thin mandate of the UN.
Adding insult to UN injury, and despite enjoying one of the world’s most heavily-armed borders, neither North nor South Korea was allowed into the UN until 1991. Since then, North Korea has not been seated as a temporary member of the Security Council, though South Korea has done it twice, held the General Assembly presidency and of course the current Secretary General of the UN is Ban Ki Moon, a former South Korean diplomat.
The UN, Downhill
With the failure of the UN to stop war in Korea, things pretty much slide downhill. Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe, American military actions in Southeast Asia, alongside CIA-backed coups and Russian hijinks, all went on without much joy out of the United Nations. The French pounded away as they wished in North Africa, and the many wars in the Middle East, centered on Israel, all stumbled forward. During what many feel was the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the UN served as a forum for gassy history-making speeches, and some behind-the-scenes negotiations, but little more.
When the U.S. wanted a coalition to invade Iraq in 1991, it cooperated with the UN to get one. When the U.S. could care less, as in 2003, it bypassed the UN. Indeed, the low point for the United States and the UN came in 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell enthusiastically and falsely made the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and could only be disarmed via a massive American invasion.
This was seen by many as a slap in the face to the efforts of the United Nations to maintain peace; in November 2002, the UN Security Council had adopted Resolution 1441, giving Iraq an ultimatum to co-operate in disarmament within an open-ended (i.e., diplomatically flexible) time frame. UN inspectors could find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, in March 2003, the U.S. launched military operations against Iraq.
The United Nations of Manipulations
To be fair, the UN has had some success as a peacekeeper in brushfire wars the major powers had no interest in, or wanted a quick way out of, and the UN charities and aid organizations do good around the world. But that really isn’t much on the plus side given the minuses.
Like the League of Nations before it, the UN serves as little more than a stage for the great powers to manipulate when that fits their purposes, and to ignore otherwise as they pursue their own aims by force. Resolutions pass in the General Assembly only to be stymied as needed in the Security Council (notably in attempts to contain Israeli aggressive war; in 2009, the U.S. cowardly abstained from Security Council Resolution 1860, which called for a halt to Israel’s brutual military response to Hamas rocket attacks, and the opening of the border crossings into Gaza.)
Once a year, as they are doing this week, the General Assembly serves as a place where some of America’s opponents (in a long line, from Iran to Cuba to Venezuela to the Palestinians and onward) get a chance to stand up on American TV and denounce things soon forgotten. The American president will say nice things about world peace. Then everyone goes home and forgets all about it all for another twelve months.
Perhaps one day, when beings from another planet really do arrive to threaten earth, the UN may get its chance to shine brighter. But not now.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Cody Wilson, who created computer code that will allow someone to 3-D print a handgun, is trying now to use the First Amendment’s right to free speech to assure his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
And he has to sue to the U.S. Department of State to do it.
A Plastic Gun
3-D printing allows the use of plastics and some metals to create three dimensional objects, using an off-the-shelf “printing device” and computer code. You can create the code yourself if you are smart like Cody, or you can buy and download the code from a smart guy like Cody if you are not as smart. The printer takes that code and builds up the object, layer-by-layer (watch it work.) The tech is amazing, and is even being used now on the International Space Station to fabricate spare parts on demand.
Two years ago Cody posted online what is believed to be the world’s first computer code to create a 3-D printable gun. Wilson’s files for what he called the Liberator, a single-shot pistol, were partly a statement about freedom in the digital age and partly an assertion of his Second Amendment rights.
Enter the State Department
A few days after the plans for the Liberator were put online, the State Department ordered Wilson to remove them, threatening him with jail and fines for breaking rules on the export of military data.
State informed him that by posting his files online he may have violated a complicated set of federal regs, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which seek to prevent the export of sensitive military technology. The regulations are pretty heavy stuff, aimed at stopping the export of classified military hardware, weapons of mass destruction, that sort of thing.
It is unclear that the intent of the regulations was something to do with 3-D printing of a single shot handgun. It appears that, in panic, the Federal government looked through its books for a way to stop people like Cody, and could not come up with anything else without violating the Second Amendment. Hence, the call to the State Department to step in as pseudo-law enforcement.
Note also that no terrorists have been stopped. Wilson removed the code from the web as ordered, but not before it was downloaded 100,000 times. It thus exists forever in cyberspace. And while Wilson is no doubt a clever lad, he is not the first/last/only person to know how to program a 3-D printer.
Wilson Fights Back
Wilson’s first move against State was to spend two years and thousands of dollars on lawyers to him file paperwork to comply with the ITAR regulations. State, for its part, took no action on Wilson’s case (Wilson’s attorneys claim State is obligated to issue a ruling in 60 days and just did not.) The State Department also did not respond to Wilson’s queries that it has no authority to regulate his actions inside the United States, where he believes the Second Amendment applied.
And so Wilson moved to the next step, filing suit via his company in May against the State Department, claiming that its efforts to stop him from publishing his plans amount to a prior restraint on free speech.
Basically, Wilson is trying to use the First Amendment to protect the Second. Pretty sure that is a first.
Wilson’s initial response from the judiciary was not warm. In August, a district judge denied a preliminary injunction against the State Department’s order, stating that any potential violations of Wilson’s Constitutional rights did not outweigh the public interest. Wilson filed an appeal to that decision and the case will be next heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Regardless of one’s thoughts on weapons, the issues here are Constitutionally significant, testing the depth of the First Amendment in the face of ever-expanding technologies, as well as the balance between individual rights and public good. The latter test has always been how the courts have judged limits on free speech (“shouting fire in a crowded theatre.”)
This one has Supreme Court written all over it.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Wow, remember all those horrible things we read about how Islamic State crucifies people? Those barbarians, good thing we are at war with them.
So it must be OK then that groovey American bestie allies the Saudis are planning to crucify someone, because they had like a trial and everything. And is the victim going to die a most horrible death for child murder? No. For building a WMD to use against innocent people? No. For participating in 9/11 like many other Saudis did? Nope.
He is going to die on the cross for protesting illegally against the Saudi regime.
Saudi Arabia dismissed the final appeal of a juvenile prisoner set to be crucified. Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr was arrested when he was only age 17 after participating in anti-government protests in 2012, the hilarious Arab Spring democracy and free love festival the United States turned a blind eye toward in favor of maintaining the status quo of thug dictatorships across the Middle East who sell us oil and buy our weapons, for freedoming. The boy was accused of protesting illegally.
Ali was initially held at a juvenile offender’s facility which in Saudi must be a hoot, like Spring Break. Oops, no, because human rights reporting indicated that he was tortured and forced to sign a confession under duress. His for sure fully-legal appeal was held in secret and dismissed without comment, with no remaining legal routes of objection to his sentence of “death by crucifixion” remaining.
Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, said: “No one should have to go through the ordeal Ali has suffered – torture, forced ‘confession’, and an unfair, secret trial process, resulting in a sentence of death by ‘crucifixion.’”
“But worse still, Ali was a vulnerable child when he was arrested and this ordeal began. His execution – based apparently on the authorities’ dislike for his uncle, and his involvement in anti-government protests – would violate international law and the most basic standards of decency. It must be stopped.”
The government of the United States has issued no statement. Nobody on Twitter has started a feel-good hashtag campaign.
In 2012 I published a book all about how the United States squandered billions of dollars on the reconstruction of Iraq. The main point was that we had no plan on what to do and simply spent money willy-nilly, on stupid things and vanity projects and stuff that made someone’s boss in Washington briefly happy. We had absolutely no plan on how to measure our successes or failures, and then acted surprised when it all turned out to be a steaming pile of sh*t that did little but create the breeding ground for Islamic State.
The idea of the book was to try and lessen the chance the United States would do exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.
Now, I just read a speech given by John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), entitled “Ground Truths: Honestly Assessing Reconstruction in Afghanistan” which says the United States has done exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.
And like me, Sopko concludes if we do not learn the lessons from Afghanistan “we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come.” To which I can only say, “Good Luck” with that John.
Here’s some more of what Sopko pointed out, all his quotes from the same speech:
— There is a strong need for evidence-based policymaking, because if you don’t have a means of knowing whether or not your programs are succeeding, the policymaker’s job is that much harder.
— In a conflict-affected environment such as Afghanistan, the challenge of setting realistic standards is amplified. That said, perhaps constructing buildings to U.S. standards across the board in such an environment might be unwise, especially if we expect the Afghans to maintain and sustain what we give them.
— If after 13 years and so much blood and treasure invested in Afghanistan, we cannot be honest with ourselves about our successes and failures, we are not only leaving the Afghans in a precarious position, but also putting our entire mission there at risk.
— Incredibly, for the first nine years of CERP’s existence [an Army funding program for reconstruction], a single, clearly articulated mention of the program’s true objectives could not be found in any official document beyond the generic inputs of “humanitarian relief and reconstruction.”
— It becomes really difficult for SIGAR to assess reconstruction projects and programs if agencies don’t set clear criteria or project management standards.
— USAID spent almost $15 million to build a hospital in Gardez, but USAID did not fully assess the Afghan Ministry of Public Health’s ability to operate and maintain the hospital once completed. It seems that time and again, people have to be reminded that Afghanistan is not Kansas.
— It is hard to give people the benefit of the doubt when we build multi-billion dollar roads to U.S. weight standards in a country that has no ability to enforce weight limitations, or when a military official suggested that we spend millions building high-tech bus stops in Afghanistan, complete with solar-powered lighting. This is not Bethesda.
— Two and a half years ago, SIGAR sent the Departments of State and Defense, as well as USAID, a letter requesting that they identify, by their own judgement, their ten most and least successful reconstruction programs, and why they selected those programs. We still have not received a straight answer from any of them. A USAID official even said that asking him to identify his agency’s top successes and failures was like asking him to choose which of his children he loved more.
— Almost fourteen years into our trillion dollar effort, with over 2,000 American lives sacrificed, if we can’t honestly point to some actual, measurable accomplishments from that massive investment, we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come. In short, we risk failing to understand the conditions necessary not only to produce peace and prosperity, but to sustain them.
The world finally noticed that one Syrian refugee kid drowned on a beach, after failing to notice the Middle East refugee crisis has been an ongoing disaster for almost five years now.
Same for the U.S.; Obama just announced he wants America to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, so this is all fixed now, we can go back to Miley and Katy, right? No.
The Day Before
Here was the state of affairs as of the day before Obama’s announcement.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees referred 15,000 Syrians to Washington for resettlement over the last four years; the United States accepted 1,500, with formally announced plans to take in only another 1,800 by next year, citing, among other issues, concerns over terrorists hiding among the groups.
With no apparent irony, United States Senator Patrick Leahy stated the refugee crisis “warrants a response commensurate with our nation’s role as a humanitarian leader.” Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is “looking hard at the number” of additional Syrian refugees it might accommodate, given America’s “leadership role with respect to humanitarian issues and particularly refugees.”
Many in Washington likely felt that was enough. A token increase, some nice, high-flying language, a little sprinkle of freedom and respect. I think we’re done here.
The Day After
But, after seeing that it was a slow week and the media was still showing sad pictures of refugees on the TV box, it seemed more (rhetoric) was needed. So, on September 10, President Obama announced, per the New York Times headline, he will “Increase Number of Syrian Refugees for U.S. Resettlement to 10,000.”
Well, that’s good, right? I mean, the estimates are that there are some four million Syrian refugees already out there, with another 10 million internally displaced, so even if it is 10,000 that’s hardly anything but still, better than nothing.
What He Said, What He Meant
Maybe. But let’s dig down one level deeper.
To be precise, Obama did not say the U.S. is taking 10,000 Syrian refugees in FY2016. He did not say if the 10k were part of the U.S.’ overall 70k refugee cap, or in addition to it, meaning other refugees could be left behind to favor the flavor-of-the-moment out of Syria. Obama also did not explain that the United States processes refugees abroad (if the person is somehow in the U.S. physically, that’s asylum, different thing, done while the person is in the U.S.)
Actually, have a look at the exact wording from the White House spokesperson (emphasis added): “The president has… informed his team that he would like them to accept, at least make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees.”
Refugees are processed, not accepted. That processing can take years, indefinite if enough information on a person’s security background cannot be amassed; there remains great fear in the U.S. government about terrorists sneaking into refugee flows, and so if a positive “up” decision cannot be made that a person is “safe,” then the default is indefinite pending status. Such a conundrum has, for example, stymied the applications of many Iraqis and Afghanis who served as translators for the American military and fear for their lives, only to have been stuck left behind.
As Representative Peter King said “Our enemy now is Islamic terrorism, and these people are coming from a country filled with Islamic terrorists. We don’t want another Boston Marathon bombing situation.”
There are also medical and other checks before a refugee is approved. With all the variables, there is no average processing time, but post-9/11 we can say the average is s-l-o-w. In the world of suffering, slow can often mean death.
It appears the White House is taking full advantage of the media’s ignorance of how refugee processing works to create the appearance of doing something when little of a practical nature is being done, all sizzle and no meat. There is little help coming from the United States for any significant number of Syrian refugees. Sorry guys!
Good Reason to Stay Awake for 100 hours: something to do with saving a life.
Bad Reason to Stay Awake for 100 hours: write a speech for Hillary Clinton no one remembers.
It was that Bad Reason that inspired Clinton aide, Hitler Youth cosplayer, Waylon Smithers-wannabe and all around dweeb Tomicah Tillemann, pictured.
Tillemann was the State Department’s senior adviser for civil society and emerging democracies in 2010, which must be so important as he looks to be about 29 years old and was a political appointee, and collaborated with Clinton on more than 200 speeches, according to his State Department bio.
The aspiring Obersturmfuhrer came to public attention after another Hillary sycophant sent an email to Clinton, suggesting she personally thank Tillemann for his work on one particular speech, which covered global Internet freedom.
“If you have the time or the inclination, it would be really nice if you could send an email to Tomicah, or phone him. He went for almost 100 hours without sleep to get the speech done, under unusually trying circumstances,” the email read.
Tillemann told Yahoo! that while neither he nor any other member of Clinton’s staff was ever asked to work for that long, he was inspired to do so. “I worked on a lot of speeches. I knew this one mattered,” he said. “I lost many members of my family in the Holocaust, and I felt this speech was a chance to protect key freedoms in our time. That kept me going.”
Internet, Holocaust, sure, that’s all related. If only they’d had the Internet and Hillary back then!
But, he admits, he had difficulty working after a while: “When things started to get fuzzy — and they did — teammates jumped in to help me across the finish line.”
Tillemann says he doesn’t drink coffee but “by the end I was ready to ink a sponsorship with Diet Coke.” He also says he took a nap after the speech was done, adding “it was awesome.”
MEMO to Tillemann:
Nobody cares. Nobody remembers your silly little speech, and Hillary likely didn’t even read it in advance and just mouthed the words. It didn’t matter. And what kind of speech takes 100 continuous hours to write anyway, dork boy? Entire books are written in that time, good books, too. Admit it — you knocked out the speech in about an hour and spent the other 99 panting to Hillary’s photo, didn’t you?
There is a frightening misunderstanding, some intentional, some not, among the media on how classified information is created and handled.
That misunderstanding turns much of the Clinton email story into a partisan shouting match, when knowing the facts of the classification system actually clarifies what happened and what it means.
Let’s look at the State Department’s policies on handling foreign government information, and how Clinton’s actions were at specific variance with those policies.
The tranche of Hillary Clinton’s emails released Aug. 31 contains 150 messages containing classified information. That brings the total number to more than 200.
Let the spin begin.
“The Department does not know for sure if any information was classified at the time it was sent or received on the private email server Clinton used for work,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s not an exact science. When we’ve upgraded [a document’s classification], we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent.”
Toner’s remarks are at variance with how the classification system works.
(Full disclosure: Following the publication — during Clinton’s time as secretary of state — of my book critical of the State Department’s role in the Iraq War, the department unsuccessfully carried out termination proceedings against me. Instead, I retired voluntarily.)
There are specific rules establishing government-wide, uniform standards as to what should be classified. And though Clinton has said she sent no information via email that was classified at the time and received none marked that way, the “marked/unmarked” issue is codified in security law and regulation. What matters is the information itself, whether its potential release would harm the United States or assist its adversaries. Gold is gold, whether it is labeled or not.
In addition, if any of Clinton’s messages contained information that originated outside of the State Department, say something sourced from the CIA, then it is the originating agency alone which determines the classification of a document, not end users such as Clinton in 2010, or the State Department in 2015.
Lastly, since there is clearly information in some 200 Clinton messages that cannot be in an unclassified setting now, then it is obvious it should not have been in an unclassified setting then.
Of particular concern is that more than half of the now-classified Clinton emails consist of a special category: information shared in confidence by foreign government officials. The Department’s own regulations say this information must be safeguarded, and even require specialized markings in addition to the standard classification indicators such as “Confidential.”
It makes sense; if a foreign leader shares something, only to learn the information was available to a hostile intelligence agency on an insecure email server, she or he is unlikely to trust the United States with information in the future. In such instances, it is the source of the information (for example, direct from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair) that is perhaps more sensitive than the information itself. Imagine the difference between “an anonymous official” calling the Afghan president untrustworthy, and Blair himself exposed as saying the same.
Asked whether Clinton followed the regulations on proper handling of foreign government information, the State Department spokesperson said, “I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function.”
That is inaccurate. The State Department maintains a significant infrastructure in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that does nothing else but monitor employees’ handling of foreign government and other classified or sensitive information. It is indeed a function of the agency.
The issue of foreign government information handling is of critical importance to the State Department, given its mandate to carry out the foreign relations of the United States; so much so that the Department argued it to help convict Chelsea Manning after she transferred a large number of State Department cables to Wikileaks. State claimed the action significantly affected foreign governments’ confidence in exchanging information with the United States.
Manning’s leak of government files, not all classified, had a chilling effect, impeding American diplomats’ ability to gather information, a senior State Department official testified. The unauthorized releases made foreign diplomats and business leaders “reticent to provide their full and frank opinions and share them with us,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified in 2013. “It’s impossible to know what someone is not sharing with you – and this is, in itself, I believe, a risk to the national security.”
With some irony, at the exact time the Manning cables appeared on the Internet, Clinton was committing a similar act. Statute 18 USC 1924, “Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material,” sets the standard as moving classified information to an unauthorized location (a private email server) and does not require the information to actually make it into the wild (Wikileaks) for a violation to occur. It’s also the same statute, inter alia, under which David Petraeus was prosecuted.
The complexity of the classification issues regarding Clinton’s private email server are, in fact, why the decision to use one at all, in lieu of established official channels, remains an issue worthy of our attention, beyond the one of up-or-down criminality.
You know, the stuff you need from a world leader when the sh*it hits the fan at 3am and crucial decisions need to be made. Short-decision time frames, long-term consequences kinda stuff.
For added fun, I’ll restrict myself to only Hillary’s latest remarks on her server.
Here’s the money shot up front: Hillary said “You know, I was not thinking a lot when I got in. There was so much work to be done. We had so many problems around the world,” Clinton said. “I didn’t really stop and think what kind of email system will there be?”
— “I was not thinking a lot when I got in.” How’s that for a president’s explanation for, well, anything? Generally speaking, you want yer president to be thinkin’ all the time.
— Hillary, as Secretary of State, just did not want to pause from resolving all the world’s problems to consider what email system to use. So, instead of having Huma get her a password via one phone call (maybe there already was one on a yellow sticky under the keyboard) to use the existing State Department system already installed in her office and maintained by an existing staff, it seemed somehow better to create and use a fully independent system that she set up and paid for separately. Is such prioritizing, followed by such justifying, presidential?
— “They may disagree, as I now disagree, with the choice that I made. But the facts that I have put forth have remained the same.” Except those “facts” keep changing and growing. Week by week there are new facts to be discussed. That drip drip drip of confidence lost in one’s leader (check the damn polls, people), how presidential is that?
— Clinton seems to have a pattern of hiring people into public, taxpayer-paid roles (see Bryan Pagliano, her server guy, and Huma, her body man, to begin) while at the same time paying them as her private staff. Conflict of interest much? Public good versus personal employer good? Is that kind of thinking presidential?
Basically, the Clinton campaign now has left exactly three “positive” themes to promote:
Vote for me because I am non-male (better hope Elizabeth Warren stays out of the race);
Vote for me or you’ll end up with one of those Republicans (better hope Sanders quits and Biden stays out of the race);
Vote for me because as of today nothing indictable has come up (better hope the FBI works really slowly).
The old adage, “follow the money,” is still not a bad way to suss out wrongdoing. Originated during the Watergate era, the term says if you follow the trail of money through an organization or a caper, you’ll find the guilty people at the end.
With the State Department and Hillary Clinton, the advice should read: “Follow Pat Kennedy.”
Meet Pat Kennedy
The name of long-time State Department Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, pictured, is unknown to most journalists and nearly all of the public, but he in fact is present at every significant public issue State confronts. Take a look…
Kennedy and Manning
Do a little Googling around, and there’s Pat helping drive nails into Chelsea Manning’s coffin, testifying at his trial about the “grave damage” done to America’s national security. Kennedy in September 2013 admitted his testimony “contained misstatements,” which he said were “inadvertent.” Kennedy also oversaw State’s internal report on Wikileaks’ impact and ran the working group that was supposed to identify people at risk because their names appeared in the State Department cables online.
Kennedy and Benghazi
And at the Congressional Benghazi hearings, there’s Pat testifying Clinton did no wrong, that State as an institution did no wrong, and helping throw a few lesser officials under the bus in hopes of making it all go away.
Kennedy also was the one who hand-picked the members of State’s internal Accountability Review Board that failed in December 2012 to find any senior official at fault for any wrongdoing in the run-up to Benghazi. That Review Board chose not to interview Secretary of State Clinton about her role in Benghazi.
Kennedy and Child Prostitution Cover-Up
It was Pat who helped former American Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman retire in order to curtail a public investigation.
A State Department investigator asserted Gutman solicited “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” Howard Gutman and members of Clinton’s security detail were also accused of hiring prostitutes. According to an internal memo prepared by the State Department Inspector General in October 2013, Kennedy personally called off an investigation.
Kennedy and Iraq
Kennedy was also the central figure in the First Amendment struggle over my Iraq book critical of the State Department, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
There’s more, but you get the picture. When dirty deeds need to be done dirt cheap to protect Clinton and State, Pat’s your man.
So it is little surprise that media reports now tell us that the Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy is now in charge of running interference on Capitol Hill regarding the Clinton email controversy.
Kennedy reportedly visited lawmakers in July and argued that the Abedin email along with another one sent in 2012 by another Clinton aide, Jake Sullivan, are not classified. The Under Secretary also argued that the information in the emails was already public.
However, one source said that it was odd that Kennedy wanted to discuss the matter in a secure facility for classified information while simultaneously arguing that the Abedin email was not classified.
The source also said that Kennedy cited a report from the Irish Times in 2011 as evidence, but that the details were not comparable. Kennedy also said that someone from the CIA agreed with his conclusion. However, the CIA was not the agency that sent the email.
Kennedy likely has more in the fire with the Clinton emails than his usual dollops of blind institutional loyalty.
Given his role at State, Pat Kennedy is very likely to be the most senior official below the Secretary of State’s own staff to have either signed off on Hillary’s email server or passively fended off concerns from the rank and file about it. There are no doubt interesting emails with his name on them to be FOIAed or subpoenaed about all that. Pat no doubt hopes like hell a Democrat wins the presidential election or he is toast.
So, mark this down: when Pat Kennedy steps into the picture, State/Clinton knows it is in real trouble and is calling in its Fixer of Last Resort. Journalists would be wise to keep on eye on Kennedy’s schedule over the coming months.
Are American analysts skewing intelligence reporting and assessments to provide a rosier outlook of U.S. progress against Islamic State?
At least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst says so, and has convinced the Pentagon’s Inspector General to look into it. The analyst says he had evidence officials at United States Central Command, overseeing the American campaign against Islamic State, were improperly rewriting conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama.
While legitimate differences of opinion are common in intel reporting, to be of value those differences must be presented to policy makers, and played off one another in an intellectually vigorous check-and-balance fashion. There is a wide gap between that, and what it appears the Inspector General is now looking at.
Cooking the intel to match policy makers’ expectations has a sordid history in the annals of American warfare. Analysis during the Vietnam War pushed forward a steady but false narrative of victory. In the run-up to Iraq War 2.0, State Department analysis claiming Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction was buried in favor of obvious falsehoods.
Jokes about the oxymoron of “military intelligence” aside, bad intel leads to bad decisions. Bad intel created purposefully suggests a war that is being lost, with the people in charge loathe to admit it.
My thanks to The Examiner, OPSEC Team, The Hill and Daily Kos for their articles noting the discrepancy between how the State Department treated my non-disclosure of classified materials on an unclassified system, and Hillary Clinton’s actual disclosure of classified materials on an unclassified system. There seem to be double-standards being applied.
My first book, We Meant Well embarrassed the State Department by pointing out the failure of State’s efforts in Iraq. In retaliation for this, the State Department used its security bureaucracy infrastructure to push me into retirement after they failed to prosecute me, and then failed to fire me.
Here’s what they did
In October 2011 I wrote this blog post, which linked to an alleged State Department confidential cable on the Wikileaks site. The document in question was and still is online for all the world to see. State has never acknowledged publicly its authenticity or its classification.
I merely linked to it.
Based on that link, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security conducted a full investigation into my ability to continue to hold the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident for 23 years. They concluded I was no longer to be trusted.
In fact, they said:
The SUBJECT is me. SBU stands for Sensitive But Unclassified, a made-up level of classification the State Department routinely assigns to all of its unclassified information to allow it to withhold documents from journalists and others as required. DS/ICI/PR is the State Department Office of Diplomatic Security, Professional Responsibility Division.
The investigation into my supposed misdeeds around classified materials included Diplomatic Security running the “hacker” program WGET against this blog, and amassing “Screen shots collected by the DS Computer Threat Analysis Division (DS/CTAD) from the article ‘Let’s Watch Qaddafi Get Beaten and (Maybe) Sodomized’ published on WeMeantWell.com on 10/26/2011.” Agents also printed out nearly my entire blog to preserve a paper copy, apparently in case I deleted the files from my server. Hmm.
I was interviewed three times in depth by a team of security agents, who characterized my linking as “transferring [classified] information from Wikileaks.org” to my own, unclassified, blog. I learned later that Diplomatic Security had been monitoring my State Department computer to ensure I did not misuse it. Security also searched my official email back several years and interviewed my neighbors looking for, well, something to use against me.
It was a lot of effort by a busy organization over what, even if it had been as they portrayed it, a pretty minor matter.
Clinton v. Manning: Protecting Classified Information
And of course during the Bradley/Chelsea Manning trial, itself concerning State’s Secret level cables, Hillary Clinton was clear on her position: “I think that in an age where so much information is flying through cyberspace, we all have to be aware of the fact that some information which is sensitive, which does affect the security of individuals and relationships, deserves to be protected and we will continue to take necessary steps to do so.”
I’ve focused here on my own situation not because it was important nationally, or out of bitterness (OK, maybe a little, I’m human) but primarily because it is the example I know most about.
But there are others.
The Intercept points out NSA whistleblower Tom Drake, for instance, faced years in prison, and ultimately had his career destroyed, based on the Obama DOJ’s claims that he “mishandled” classified information (it included information that was not formally classified at the time but was retroactively decreed to be such). Less than two weeks ago, “a Naval reservist was convicted and sentenced for mishandling classified military materials” despite no “evidence he intended to distribute them.” Last year, a Naval officer was convicted of mishandling classified information also in the absence of any intent to distribute it.
John Kiriakou was sent to prison in part for his alleged mishandling of a business card, unmarked as to classification, that the CIA claimed was sensitive. Robert Maclean, at TSA, lost his job because he revealed unclassified information that was later retroactively classified.
There are many examples.
What it means…
You are welcome to say what you wish about the merits or lack thereof of how I was treated by the State Department when the issue was handling of classified information. This article is not to open an old can of worms. I retired from my 24 years at the State Department and that’s that as far as that’s concerned.
The point here instead is that State appears to have a sliding scale of how it sees possible security violations by its employees — Hillary Clinton and me, in this instance. Because while all this was happening with me in 2011, Clinton was running her own email system, unclassified in name but with classified materials in fact.
And when you have double standards, as everyone knows, you really have no standards at all.
BONUS: That photo’s of me, on my last day of work at State, wearing my ‘Free Bradley Manning’ T-shirt on campus. Manning, of course, is in jail for disclosing Secret-level information. I lost my job over purported confidential information. Hillary’s server contained above Top Secret information, the same level of information Edward Snowden is accused of disseminating.
March 10: Hillary admits she used a personal email server while Secretary of State, claiming it was because she did not want to handle multiple devices. She adamantly said there was no classified on her server, and that she would never turn the hardware over to anyone. “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material.”
“We have no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal e-mail account for anything but unclassified purposes,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said.
The devices argument died instantly in a hail of photos of her using multiple devices. Information released yesterday shows that not only did Hillary have classified information on her server, the tiny sample the State Department allowed the Inspector General from the Intelligence Community to review contained very highly classified material. Hillary was forced to turn her hardware over to the FBI.
Let’s break it down a bit.
That Classified Material
Seven emails are currently being reviewed by an inter-governmental agency, led by the FBI, to determine whether or not they are classified. Two other emails were classified as top secret by the CIA, according to information circulated by Senator Chuck Grassley.
Grassley said in a statement that: “two of the four emails that the office had previously described as ‘above Secret’ were, in fact, classified at the Top Secret/SI level. According to the Intelligence Community Inspector General, the other two emails, which intelligence community officials said were classified by the State Department at the time they were sent, are being reviewed by the State Department to determine what the current appropriate level of classification should be.”
In fact, the two emails in question were marked TS//SI//TK//NF. What does all that mean?
TS = TOP SECRET
SI = Special Intelligence (SIGINT)
TK = TALENT KEYHOLE (from satellites)
NF = NOFORN (US eyes only)
America has a basic, three-tiered classification system: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. Hillary exposed the highest level of classification, on par with what Edward Snowden and David Petraeus did. Chelsea Manning is in jail for only Secret level documents.
After information is considered Confidential, Secret or Top Secret, handling tags apply. These further indicate how the contents should be treated, given where it came from, those “sources and methods” one hears about that when known to an adversary, tell them not only what we know, but how we know it.
SI and TK together indicate the information came from electronic spying, eavesdropping of some sort, and satellite-based. An adversary would know, after seeing what was on Hillary’s server, that they were being monitored from space and that the U.S. satellites were specifically capable of picking up whatever was discussed in those emails. The argument about how, post-Snowden, all of the world “knows” they are being monitored is one thing, but hard proof in a specific instance is another level of “knowing” that will allow an adversary to take specific countermeasures.
Lastly, the NF means that the information is of such sensitivity that it cannot be disclosed even to America’s closest allies, typically the “Five Eyes” group: Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand. Sharing among the group is so broad that the U.S. even gave them access to information pulled electronically by the NSA from inside the equivalent of Japan’s Oval Office.
As for any security Clinton may have used on her server, it is important to note that Top Secret materials within the government are not only processed on special hardware, they must be read inside of special rooms with physical security.
A friend of this blog also wrote in to say:
“Unclass, class up to Secret, and TS/SCI are processed and retrieved on three distinct systems; employees have separate log-ons for each. You can’t ‘accidentally’ send a classified doc to an unclass address.
“So, for HRC or her colleagues to have gotten classified info into an unclass system, they would have had to copy or ‘gist’ it into the class system, while omitting the markings. As you and others have noted, the material remains classified. This is a deliberate decision to ignore law and regulations. If you then use a non-State server and your personal, unencrypted phones… the likelihood of compromise is high.”
It is also important to note that Clinton’s email server was not encrypted for at least her first three months of foreign travel, including her using the system on a visit to China.
With Clinton’s server (as well as the two thumb drives her attorney held with duplicate contents) now in possession of the FBI, all of the emails she did not delete are available for analysis. Depending on how the other emails, the ones she claimed were personal, were deleted, they may also be forensically salvageable.
Yet all that only will add to the growing pile of what happened.
The key question of what will be done with the amassed data, such as some sort of prosecution, remains hanging. It is not a partisan statement or an exaggeration to say that any other government employee found to have held such highly classified data on an unclassified system would have lost her job, her security clearance and likely faced judicial charges.
Clinton’s limited defense options are already in the trial balloon stage, fronted by a State Department that should be a neutral entity at this point now that the case has moved to the FBI.
“Department employees circulated these emails on unclassified systems in 2009 and 2011 and ultimately some were forwarded to Secretary Clinton,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby. “They were not marked as classified.”
What affect any of this will have on voters is even a larger question fully unresolved.
In the world of handling America’s secrets, words – classified, secure, retroactive – have special meanings. I held a Top Secret clearance at the State Department for 24 years and was regularly trained in protecting information as part of that privilege. Here is what some of those words mean in the context of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The Inspectors General for the State Department and the intelligence community issued a statement saying Clinton’s personal email system contained classified information. This information, they said, “should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system.” The same statement voiced concern that a thumb drive held by Clinton’s lawyer also contains this same secret data. Another report claims the U.S. intelligence community is bracing for the possibility that Clinton’s private email account contains multiple instances of classified information, with some data originating at the CIA and NSA.
A Clinton spokesperson responded that “Any released emails deemed classified by the administration have been done so after the fact, and not at the time they were transmitted.” Clinton claims unequivocally her email contained no classified information, and that no message carried any security marking, such as Confidential or Top Secret.
The key issue in play with Clinton is that it is a violation of national security to maintain classified information on an unclassified system.
Classified, secure, computer systems use a variety of electronic (often generically called TEMPESTed) measures coupled with physical security (special locks, shielded conduits for cabling, armed guards) that differentiate them from an unclassified system. Some of the protections are themselves classified, and unavailable in the private sector. Such standards of protection are highly unlikely to be fulfilled outside a specially designed government facility.
Yet even if retroactive classification was applied only after Clinton hit “send” (and State’s own Inspector General says it wasn’t), she is not off the hook.
What matters in the world of secrets is the information itself, which may or may not be marked “classified.” Employees at the highest levels of access are expected to apply the highest levels of judgment, based on the standards in Executive Order 13526. The government’s basic nondisclosure agreement makes clear the rule is “marked or unmarked classified information.”
In addition, the use of retroactive classification has been tested and approved by the courts, and employees are regularly held accountable for releasing information that was unclassified when they released it, but classified retroactively.
It is a way of doing business inside the government that may at first seem nonsensical, but in practice is essential for keeping secrets.
For example, if an employee were to be handed information sourced from an NSA intercept of a foreign government leader, somehow not marked as classified, she would be expected to recognize the sensitivity of the material itself and treat it as classified. In other cases, an employee might hear something sensitive and be expected to treat the information as classified. The emphasis throughout the classification system is not on strict legalities and coded markings, but on judgment. In essence, employees are required to know right from wrong. It is a duty, however subjective in appearance, one takes on in return for a security clearance.
“Not knowing” would be an unexpected defense from a person with years of government experience.
In addition to information sourced from intelligence, Clinton’s email may contain some back-and-forth discussions among trusted advisors. Such emails are among the most sensitive information inside State, and are otherwise always considered highly classified. Adversaries would very much like to know America’s bargaining strategy. The value of such information is why, for example, the NSA electronically monitored heads of state in Japan and Germany. The Freedom of Information Act recognizes the sensitivity of internal deliberation, and includes a specific exemption for such messages, blocking their release, even years after a decision occurred. If emails discussing policy or decisions were traded on an open network, that would be a serious concern.
The problem for Clinton may be particularly damaging. Every email sent within the State Department’s own systems contains a classification; an employee technically cannot hit “send” without one being applied. Just because Clinton chose to use her own hardware does not relieve her or her staff of this requirement.
Some may say even if Clinton committed security violations, there is no evidence the material got into the wrong hands – no blood, no foul. Legally that is irrelevant. Failing to safeguard information is the issue. It is not necessary to prove the information reached an adversary, or that an adversary did anything harmful with the information for a crime to have occurred. See the cases of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Jeff Sterling, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou or even David Petraeus. The standard is “failure to protect” by itself.
None of these laws, rules, regulations or standards fall under the rubric of obscure legalities; they are drilled into persons holding a security clearance via formal training (mandatory yearly for State Department employees), and are common knowledge for the men and women who handle America’s most sensitive information. For those who use government computer systems, electronic tools enforce compliance and security personnel are quick to zero in on violations.
A mantra inside government is that protecting America’s secrets is everyone’s job. That was the standard against which I was measured throughout my career and the standard that should apply to everyone entrusted with classified information.
Don’t sweat the details of the July nuclear accord between the United States and Iran. What matters is that the calculus of power in the Middle East just changed in significant ways.
Washington and Tehran announced their nuclear agreement on July 14th and yes, some of the details are still classified. Of course the Obama administration negotiated alongside China, Russia, Great Britain, France, and Germany, which means Iran and five other governments must approve the detailed 159-page “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” The U.N., which also had to sign off on the deal, has already agreed to measures to end its sanctions against Iran.
If we’re not all yet insta-experts on centrifuges and enrichment ratios, the media will ensure that in the next two months — during which Congress will debate and weigh approving the agreement — we’ll become so. Verification strategies will be debated. The Israelis will claim that the apocalypse is nigh. And everyone who is anyone will swear to the skies that the devil is in the details. On Sunday talk shows, war hawks will fuss endlessly about the nightmare to come, as well as the weak-kneedness of the president and his “delusional” secretary of state, John Kerry. (No one of note, however, will ask why the president’s past decisions to launch or continue wars in the Middle East were not greeted with at least the same sort of skepticism as his present efforts to forestall one.)
There are two crucial points to take away from all the angry chatter to come: first, none of this matters and second, the devil is not in the details, though he may indeed appear on those Sunday talk shows.
Here’s what actually matters most: at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. Understanding how significant that is requires a look backward.
A Very Quick History of U.S.-Iranian Relations
The short version: relations have been terrible for almost four decades. A slightly longer version would, however, begin in 1953 when the CIA helped orchestrate a coup to oust Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. A secular leader — just the sort of guy U.S. officials have dreamed about ever since the ayatollahs took power in 1979 — Mosaddegh sought to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. That, at the time, was a total no-no for Washington and London. Hence, he had to go.
In his place, Washington installed a puppet leader worthy of the sleaziest of banana republics, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The U.S. assisted him in maintaining a particularly grim secret police force, the Savak, which he aimed directly at his political opponents, democratic and otherwise, including the ones who espoused a brand of Islamic fundamentalism unfamiliar to the West at the time. Washington lapped up the Shah’s oil and, in return, sold him the modern weapons he fetishized. Through the 1970s, the U.S. also supplied nuclear fuel and reactor technology to Iran to build on President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative, which had kicked off Iran’s nuclear program in 1957.
In 1979, following months of demonstrations and seeing his fate in the streets of Tehran, the Shah fled. Religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to take control of the nation in what became known as the Islamic Revolution. Iranian “students” channeled decades of anti-American rage over the Shah and his secret police into a takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. In an event that few Americans of a certain age are likely to forget, 52 American staffers were held hostage there for some 15 months.
In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein (remember him?) in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. (Washington claimed it was an accident.) In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington, following American military successes in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush declared that country part of the “Axis of Evil.”
Iran later funded, trained, and helped lead a Shiite insurgency against the United States in Iraq. In tit-for-tat fashion, U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office there and arrested several staffers. As Washington slowly withdrew its military from that country, Iran increased its support for pro-Tehran leaders in Baghdad. When Iran’s nuclear program grew, the U.S. attacked its computers with malware, launching what was in effect the first cyberwar in history. At the same time, Washington imposed economic sanctions on the country and its crucial energy production sector.
In short, for the last 36 years, the U.S.-Iranian relationship has been hostile, antagonistic, unproductive, and often just plain mean. Neither country seems to have benefited, even as both remained committed to the fight.
Despite the best efforts of the United States, Iran is now the co-dominant power in the Middle East. And rising. (Washington remains the other half of that “co.”)
Another quick plunge into largely forgotten history: the U.S. stumbled into the post-9/11 era with two invasions that neatly eliminated Iran’s key enemies on its eastern and western borders — Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (The former is, of course, gone for good; the latter is doing better these days, though unlikely to threaten Iran for some time.) As those wars bled on without the promised victories, America’s military weariness sapped the desire in the Bush administration for military strikes against Iran. Jump almost a decade ahead and Washington now quietly supports at least some of that country’s military efforts in Iraq against the insurgent Islamic State. The Obama administration is seemingly at least half-resigned to looking the other way while Tehran ensures that it will have a puppet regime in Baghdad. In its serially failing strategies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, Washington has all but begged the Iranians to assume a leading role in those places. They have.
And that only scratches the surface of the new Iranian ascendancy in the region. Despite the damage done by U.S.-led economic sanctions, Iran’s real strength lies at home. It is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.
Why Iran Won’t Have Nuclear Weapons
Now, about those nukes. It would take a blind man in the dark not to notice one obvious fact about the Greater Middle East: regimes the U.S. opposes tend to find themselves blasted into chaos once they lose their nuclear programs. The Israelis destroyed Saddam’s program, as they did Syria’s, from the air. Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya went down the drain thanks to American/NATO-inspired regime change after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions. At the same time, no one in Tehran could miss how North Korea’s membership in the regime-change club wasn’t renewed once that country went nuclear. Consider those pretty good reasons for Iran to develop a robust nuclear weapons program — and not give it up entirely.
While, since 2002, Washington hasn’t taken a day off in its saber-rattling toward Iran, it isn’t the only country the clerics fear. They are quite convinced that Israel, with its unacknowledged but all too real nuclear arsenal, is capable and might someday be willing to deliver a strike via missile, aircraft, or submarine.
Now, here’s the added irony: American sabers and Israeli nukes also explain why Iran will always remain a nuclear threshold state — one that holds most or all of the technology and materials needed to make such a weapon, but chooses not to take the final steps. Just exactly how close a country is at any given moment to having a working nuclear weapon is called “breakout time.” If Iran were to get too close, with too short a breakout time, or actually went nuclear, a devastating attack by Israel and/or the United States would be a near inevitability. Iran is not a third world society. Its urban areas and infrastructure are exactly the kinds of things bombing campaigns are designed to blow away. So call Iran’s nuclear program a game of chicken, but one in which all the players involved always knew who would blink first.
The U.S.-Iran Nuclear Accord
So if Iran was never going to be a true nuclear power and if the world has lived with Iran as a threshold state for some time now, does the July accord matter?
There are two answers to that question: it doesn’t and it does.
It doesn’t really matter because the deal changes so little on the ground. If the provisions of the accord are implemented as best we currently understand them, with no cheating, then Iran will slowly move from its current two- to three-month breakout time to a year or more. Iran doesn’t have nukes now, it would not have nukes if there were no accord, and it won’t have nukes with the accord. In other words, the Vienna agreement successfully eliminated weapons of mass destruction that never existed.
It does really matter because, for the first time in decades, the two major powers in the Middle East have opened the door to relations. Without the political cover of the accord, the White House could never envisage taking a second step forward.
It’s a breakthrough because through it the U.S. and Iran acknowledge shared interests for the first time, even as they recognize their ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. That’s how adversaries work together: you don’t have to make deals like the July accord with your friends. Indeed, President Obama’s description of how the deal will be implemented — based on verification, not trust — represents a precise choice of words. The reference is to President Ronald Reagan, who used the phrase “trust but verify” in 1987 when signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Russians.
The agreement was reached the old-school way, by sitting down at a table over many months and negotiating. Diplomats consulted experts. Men and women in suits, not in uniform, did most of the talking. The process, perhaps unfamiliar to a post-9/11 generation raised on the machismo of “you’re either with us or against us,” is called compromise. It’s an essential part of a skill that is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans: diplomacy. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, solve every bilateral issue, or even gain the release of the four Americans held in Iran. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Such deft statecraft demonstrates the sort of foreign policy dexterity American voters have seldom seen exercised since Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (Cuba being the sole exception).
It’s All About the Money
While diplomacy brought the United States and Iran to this point, cash is what will expand and sustain the relationship.
Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, is ready to start selling on world markets as soon as sanctions lift. Its young people reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. The lifting of sanctions will allow Iranian businesses access to global capital and outside businesses access to starved Iranian commercial markets.
Since November 2014, the Chinese, for example, have already doubled their investment in Iran. European companies, including Shell and Peugeot, are now holding talks with Iranian officials. Apple is contacting Iranian distributors. Germany sent a trade delegation to Tehran. Ads for European cars and luxury goods are starting to reappear in the Iranian capital. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of foreign technology and expertise will need to be acquired if the country is to update its frayed oil and natural gas infrastructure. Many of its airliners are decades old and need replacement. Airlines in Dubai are fast adding new Iran routes to meet growing demand. The money will flow. After that, it will be very hard for the war hawks in Washington, Tel Aviv, or Riyadh to put the toothpaste back in the tube, which is why you hear such screaming and grinding of teeth now.
The Real Fears of the Israelis and the Saudis
Neither Israel nor the Saudis ever really expected to trade missile volleys with a nuclear-armed Iran, nor do their other primary objections to the accord hold much water. Critics have said the deal will only last 10 years. (The key provisions scale in over 10 years, then taper off.) Leaving aside that a decade is a lifetime in politics, this line of thinking also presumes that, as the calendar rolls over to 10 years and a day, Iran will bolt from the deal and go rogue. It’s a curious argument to make.
Similarly, any talk of the accord touching off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is long out of date. Israel has long had the bomb, with no arms race triggered. Latent fears that Iran will create “the Islamic Bomb” ignore the fact that Pakistan, with own hands dirty from abetting terror and plenty of Islamic extremists on hand, has been a nuclear power since at least 1998.
No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo — hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh — just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.
The July accord acknowledges the real-world power map of the Middle East. It does not make Iran and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two biggest regional players to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility in the world’s most volatile region, that is no small accomplishment.
Rahinah Ibrahim is a slight Malaysian woman who attended Stanford University on a U.S. student visa, majoring in architecture. She was not a political person. Despite this, as part of a post-9/11 sweep directed against Muslims, she was investigated by the FBI. In 2004, while she was still in the U.S. but unbeknownst to her, the FBI sent her name to the no-fly list.
Ibrahim was no threat to anyone, innocent of everything, and ended up on that list only due to a government mistake. Nonetheless, she was not allowed to reenter the U.S. to finish her studies or even attend her trial and speak in her own defense. Her life was derailed by the tangle of national security bureaucracy and pointless “anti-terror” measures that have come to define post-Constitutional America. Here’s what happened, and why it may matter to you.
The No-Fly List
On September 10, 2001, there was no formal no-fly list. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting that September 12th were the creation of two such lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list for travelers who were to undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. If you were on the no-fly list itself, as its name indicated, you could not board a flight within the U.S. or one heading out of or into the country. As a flight-ban plan, it would come to extend far beyond America’s borders, since the list was shared with 22 other countries.
On January 2, 2005, unaware of her status as a threat to the United States, Ibrahim left Stanford for San Francisco International Airport to board a flight to Malaysia for an academic conference. A ticket agent saw her name flagged in the database and called the police.
Despite being wheelchair-bound due to complications from a medical procedure, Ibrahim was handcuffed, taken to a detention cell, and denied access to medication she had in hand. Without explanation, after extensive interrogation, she was allowed to board her flight. When she tried to return to America to resume her studies, however, she found herself banned as a terrorist.
Suing the United States
Stuck in Malaysia, though still in possession of a valid student visa, Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, asking to be removed from the no-fly list and allowed back into the country to continue her architectural studies.
Over almost nine years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) employed an arsenal of dodges and post-9/11 tricks to impede her lawsuit, including invoking the “state secrets doctrine” to ensure that she would never have access to the records she needed. “State secrets” is not a law in the U.S., as it is, for example, in Great Britain, where the monarch also retains “Crown Privilege,” the absolute right to refuse to share information with Parliament or the courts. Here, it is instead a kind of assumed privilege and the courts accept it as such. Based on it, the president can refuse to produce evidence in a court case on the grounds that its public disclosure might harm national security. The government has, in the past, successfully employed this “privilege” to withhold information and dead-end legal challenges. Once “state secrets” is in play, there is literally nothing left to talk about in court.
A related DOJ dodge was also brought to bear in an attempt to derail Ibrahim’s case: the use of made-up classification categories that dispatch even routine information into the black world of national security. Much of the information concerning her placement on the no-fly list, for instance, was labeled Security Sensitive Information (SSI) and so was unavailable to her. SSI is among hundreds of post-9/11 security categories created via memo by various federal agencies. These categories, too, have no true legal basis. Congress never passed a law establishing anything called SSI, nor is there any law prohibiting the disclosure of SSI information. The abuse of such pseudo-classifications has been common enough in the post-9/11 years and figured significantly in the ongoing case of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) whistleblower Robert MacLean.
Next in its end-run around Ibrahim’s lawsuit, the DOJ pulled “standing” out of its bag of tricks. Standing is a legal term that means a person filing a lawsuit has a right to do so. For example, in some states you must be a resident to sue. Seeking to have a case thrown out because the plaintiff does not have standing was a tactic used successfully by the government in other national security cases. The ACLU, for instance, sued the National Security Agency for Fourth Amendment violations in 2008. The Supreme Court rejected the case in 2013 for lack of standing, claiming that unless the ACLU could conclusively prove it had been spied upon, it could not sue. In the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations showing that the NSA indeed spied widely on American citizens, the ACLU has revived the suit. It claims that the new documents provide clear evidence of broad-based surveillance and so now give it standing.
Standing was also used by the DOJ in the case of American citizen and purported al-Qaeda member Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the U.S. murdered by drone in Yemen. Prior to his son’s death, attorneys for al-Awlaki’s father tried to persuade a U.S. District Court to issue an injunction preventing the government from killing him. A judge dismissed the case, ruling that the father did not have standing to sue.
In Ibrahim’s no-fly case, the government argued that since she was not an American citizen, she had no standing to sue the government for its actions against her in the U.S. When all of those non-meritorious challenges failed to stop the case, the government invoked the very no-fly designation Ibrahim was challenging, and refused to allow her to travel to the United States to testify at her own trial.
Next, Ibrahim’s daughter, an American citizen traveling on a U.S. passport, was not allowed to board a flight from Malaysia to serve as a witness at her mother’s trial. She, too, was told she was on the no-fly list. After some legal tussling, however, she was finally allowed to fly to “the Homeland.” Why the American government changed its mind is classified and almost all of the trial transcript concerning the attempt to stop her from testifying was redacted from public disclosure.
In addition, by regularly claiming that classified information was going to be presented, the government effectively hid the ludicrous nature of the Ibrahim case from much public scrutiny. The trial was interrupted at least 10 times and the public, including journalists, were asked to leave the courtroom so that “classified evidence” could be presented.
A message of intimidation had been repeatedly delivered. It failed, however, and Ibrahim’s case went to trial, albeit without her present.
Despite years of effort by the DOJ, Ibrahim won her lawsuit. The U.S. District Court for Northern California ordered the removal of her name from the no-fly list. However, in our evolving post-Constitutional era, what that “victory” revealed should unnerve those who claim that if they are innocent, they have nothing to fear. Innocence is no longer a defense.
During the lawsuit, it was made clear that the FBI had never intended Ibrahim to be placed on the no-fly list. The FBI agent involved in the initial post-9/11 investigation of Ibrahim simply checked the wrong box on a paper form used to send people into travel limbo. It was a mistake, a slip up, the equivalent of a typo. There was no evidence that the agent intended harm or malice, nor it seems were there any checks, balances, or safeguards against such errors. One agent could, quite literally at the stroke of a pen, end someone’s education, job, and family visits, and there was essentially no recourse.
Throughout the nine years Ibrahim fought to return to the U.S., it appears that the government either knew all along that she was no threat and tried to cover up its mistake anyway, or fought her bitterly at great taxpayer expense without at any time checking whether the no-fly designation was ever valid. You pick which theory is most likely to disturb your sleep tonight.
Having won her case, Ibrahim went to the airport in Kuala Lumpur to fly back to Stanford and resume her studies. As she attempted to board the plane, however, she was pulled aside and informed that the U.S. embassy in Malaysia had without notice revoked her student visa. No visa meant, despite her court victory, she once again could not return to the United States.
At the U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Ibrahim was handed a preprinted “explanation” for the visa revocation with the word “terrorist” hand-written next to the boilerplate text. Ibrahim was never informed of her right under U.S. law to apply for a waiver of the visa revocation.
Though it refused to re-issue the visa, the State Department finally had to admit in court that it had revoked the document based solely on a computer “hit” in its name-checking database, the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS.) That hit, in turn, appeared to be a straggler from the now defunct no-fly list entry made erroneously by the FBI.
The State Department and CLASS
As is well known, the State Department issued legal visas to all of the 9/11 terrorists. In part, this was because the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies failed to tell State what they knew about the hijackers, as all were suspected to be bad guys. Then and now, such information is passed on when intelligence and law enforcement agencies make electronic entries in State’s computerized lookout system. CLASS is part of the Consular Consolidated Database, one of the largest known data warehouses in the world. As of December 2009, it contained over 100 million cases and 75 million photographs, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 records per day. CLASS also collects the fingerprints of all foreigners issued visas.
The problem is that CLASS is a one-way street. Intelligence agencies can put data in, but can’t remove it because State keeps the database isolated from interactive data maintenance. In addition, the basic database it uses to screen out bad guys typically only has a subject’s name, nationality, and the most modest of identifying information, plus a numerical code indicating why a name was entered. One code, 3B, stands for “terrorist”; another, 2A, means “criminal”; and so forth through the long list of reasons the U.S. would not want to issue a visa. Some CLASS listings have just a partial name, and State Department visa-issuing officers regularly wallow through screen after screen of hits like: Muhammad, no last name, no date of birth, Egypt — all marked as “critical, Category One” but with no additional information.
Nor, when the information exists but was supplied by another agency, do U.S. embassies abroad have direct access to the files. Instead, when a State Department official gets a name “hit” overseas, she must send a “Security Advisory Opinion,” or SAO, back to Washington asking for more information. The recipient of that cable at Foggy Bottom must then sort out which intelligence agency entered the data in the first place and appeal to it for an explanation.
At that point, intelligence agencies commonly to refuse to share more, claiming that no one at State has the proper clearances and that department should just trust their decision to label someone a bad guy and refuse to issue, or pro-actively revoke, a visa. If, on the other hand, information is shared, it is often done on paper by courier. In other words, a guy shows up at State with a bundle of documents, waits while someone reviews them, and then spirits them back to the CIA, the FBI, or elsewhere. That way, the intelligence agencies, always distrustful of State, are assured that nothing will be leaked or inadvertently disclosed.
In cases where no more information is available, or what is available is inconclusive, the State Department might allow the visa application to pend indefinitely under the heading “administrative processing,” or simply “prudentially” revoke or not issue the visa. No one wants to risk approving a visa for the next 9/11 terrorist, even if it’s pretty obvious that the applicant is nothing of the sort.
This undoubtedly is what happened to Ibrahim. Though the details remain classified, State certainly didn’t possess super secret information on her unavailable to other law enforcement or intelligence outfits. Some official surely decided to take no chances and revoked her visa “prudentially” based on the outdated information still lodged in CLASS.
Not CLASS Alone
Ibrahim’s case also reveals just how many secret databases of various sorts exist in Washington. Here’s how a name (your name?) gets added to one of those databases, and how it then populates other lists around the world.
A name is nominated for the no-fly list by one of hundreds of thousands of government officials: an FBI agent, a CIA analyst, a State Department visa officer. Each nominating agency has its own criteria, standards, and approval processes, some — as with the FBI in Ibrahim’s case — apparently pretty sloppy.
The nominated name is then sent to the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) at a classified location in suburban Northern Virginia. TSC is a multi-agency outfit administered by the FBI and staffed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and all of the Intelligence Community.
Once a name is approved by the TSC (the process is classified), it will automatically be entered into a number of databases, possibly including but not necessarily limited to:
*the Department of Homeland Security’s no-fly list;
*that same department’s selectee list that ensures chosen individuals will be subject to additional airport screening;
*the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS, including CLASS-Visa for foreigners and CLASS-Passport for U.S. Citizens);
*the Department of Homeland Security’s TECS (a successor to the Treasury Enforcement Communications System), which is used in part by customs officials, as well as its Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS), used by immigration officials;
*the Known and Suspected Terrorist File (KSTF, previously known as the Violent Gang and Terrorist Organizations File);
*TUSCAN, a database maintained by Canada;
*TACTICS, a database maintained by Australia;
*and finally, an unknown number of other law enforcement and intelligence agency databases, as well as those of other foreign intelligence services with which information may be shared.
As Ibrahim discovered, once a name is selected, it travels deep and far into both U.S. and foreign databases. If one clears one’s name from one database, there are many others out there waiting. Even a comprehensive victory in one nation’s courts may not affect the records of a third country. And absent frequent travel, a person may never even know which countries have him or her on their lists, thanks to the United States.
Once she learned that her student visa had been revoked in Malaysia, Ibrahim sued again, asking that the State Department reissue it. The government successfully blocked this suit, citing a long-established precedent that visa matters are essentially an administrative function and so not subject to judicial review.
A court did scold State for failing to notify Ibrahim of her right to seek a waiver, as it was required to do by law. To the extent that Ibrahim’s case has any life left in it, her next step would be to return to the Department of Justice’s bailiwick and apply for a waiver of the revocation the State Department made based on data given to it by the DOJ that both outfits know was struck down by a court. It’s that “simple.” Meanwhile, she cannot return to the U.S.
Nothing to Hide?
A common trope for those considering the way the National Security Agency spies on almost everyone everywhere all the time is that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. If your cell phone conversations are chit-chats with mom and your emails tend toward forwards of cute cat videos, why should you care if the NSA or anyone else is snooping?
Ask Rahinah Ibrahim about that. She did nothing wrong and so should have had nothing to fear. She even has a court decision declaring that she never was nor is a threat to the United States, yet she remains outside America’s borders. Her mistaken placement on the no-fly list plunged her head first into a nightmarish world that would have been all too recognizable to Franz Kafka. It is a world run by people willing to ignore reality to service their bureaucratic imperatives and whose multiplying lists are largely beyond the reach of the law.
Sad as it may be, the Ibrahim case is a fairly benign example of ordinary Washington practices in the post-9/11 era. Ibrahim is going about her life at peace in Malaysia. Her tangle with the United States seems to have been more a matter of bureaucratic screw-ups than anything else. No one sought to actively destroy her. She was not tortured in a CIA black site, nor left for years in a cage at Guantanamo. Her case is generally seen as, at worst, another ugly stain on the white wall we imagine we are as a nation.
But the watch lists are there. The tools are in place. And one thing is clear: no one is guarding the guards. You never know whose name just went on a list. Maybe yours?
[Note to Readers: You can fact-check this one by reviewing the same sources I drew from via links in the piece. Since many of the facts of Ibrahim’s case come from her suit against the Department of Homeland Security, however, I have limited the repetition of that link for ease of reading. You can find it by clicking here.]
[Note to Readers: You can fact-check this one by reviewing the same sources I drew from via links in the piece. Since many of the facts of Ibrahim’s case come from her suit against the Department of Homeland Security, however, I have limited the repetition of that link for ease of reading. You can find it by clicking here.]
General Ray Odierno, the Army’s most senior leader as Chief of Staff, told reporters the fight against Islamic State (IS) will last “10 to 20 years.”
That means if we take the General at his word, some of the American soldiers who will be fighting IS two decades from now haven’t even been born yet.
Just a Bit Longer Than Expected
“In my mind, ISIS is a ten to twenty year problem, it’s not a two year problem,” Odierno said. “Now, I don’t know what level it will be a problem, but it’s a long term problem.” Odierno is pictured above, when he was the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, a war which he did not help to win and a war which birthed IS right under America’s nose.
“The Obama administration has said ‘three to five’ years. I think in order to defeat IS, it’s going to take longer than that,” Odierno said. “This movement is growing right now, and so I think it’s going to take us a bit longer than we originally thought.”
Apparently in Odierno’s world, “a bit longer” can mean 15 additional years of conflict.
But Maybe, Sort Of, Possibly, Someone Else will Fight IS for Us
But don’t worry, the Army isn’t going to win the fight against IS any more than it won the fight in Iraq, or Afghanistan. See, it is not really their job. Odierno again:
“To defeat IS is not just a military issue. It is an economic issue. It is a diplomatic issue. It is an issue of moderate versus extremists and it is about also, potentially, having the capability to root them out of the places they now hold in Iraq and Syria. Others should do this. I believe the nations in the Middle East need to solve this problem. We should be helping them to solve this problem.”
Apparently word on how Odierno and the United States are not going to win the war has not yet filtered down to the nations of the Middle East.
About a year ago, the U.S. formed a make-believe coalition of 62 nations to fight IS. Where are they all now? The U.S. conducts 85 percent of all air strikes against IS, with most of the rest handled by western allies like Canada, France and the UK. None of the Arab ground troops expected ever showed up.
So far the only two Middle Eastern entities robustly fighting IS are Shiite militias under the control of Iran, and Iran. Neither is particularly interested in American-style goals; their focus is on eliminating a Sunni armed presence in Iraq, including IS, to secure that country as a client state for Tehran. One of those “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” types of situation.
There have been even fewer takers for the American request to fight IS in Syria. Or in Yemen, Libya and everywhere else IS is making inroads in the wake of clumsy American policy.
I’ll check back in on the situation after another two decades or so has passed, and update this article.
Here’s the story behind the drive by the Inspector General of the State Department and the Intelligence Community Inspector General for the Justice Department open a full investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while she held the position of secretary of state.
Government investigators discovered classified information on the private email account that Hillary used while secretary of state, stating “unequivocally” that those secrets never should have been stored outside of secure systems.
The inspectors general of the State Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies said the information they found was classified when it was sent and remains so now. Information is considered classified if its disclosure would likely harm national security, and such information can be sent or stored only on computer networks with special safeguards. The inspectors have not revealed which of Clinton’s emails contained classified data, though the State Department has redacted portions of email it has released, and the FBI demanded data in some emails pertaining to the security situation in Libya be withheld.
Clinton has said for months that she kept no classified information on the private server that she set up. Her campaign said Friday that any government secrets found on the server had been classified after the fact.
There are multiple holes in Clinton’s latest set of excuses.
To begin, she has stated there was nothing classified on her server. It appears now there was. The source is not a partisan attack dog, but the State Department’s own inspector general and the intelligence community. She violated national security, which require cleared individuals, such as Hillary, to protect sensitive information. Exposing classified data is a crime; that is what Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are accused of doing. It does not matter if the info can be proven to have reached the media or an adversary, the crime is the exposure itself, not the results.
A person in Hillary’s position, and certainly with her claimed experience in government, should know what is and is not classified, sensitive or otherwise needs to be protected. In my own 24 years with the State Department, I saw that almost everything that reached the secretary’s office needed to be classified, either because of the contents itself, or because it was part of the tiny fraction of information that bubbled up that high. Of all the issues in the world, an adversary knowing what the secretary was personally focused on, or how the data was being presented to her, was valuable in its own right.
Some/much of the information Hillary was dealing with originated within her inner circle, particularly email sent between her and her closest advisors that helped shape her decisions. It is the originating person that is charged inside State with assigning a classification. If Hillary’s staff did not assign a classification, well, then one was not technically included with the data. But that’s a fudge; it is the data itself that matters, with or without a label, and as part of the responsibility for holding a clearance a person is expected to make judgements to protect information. Hillary knew how sensitive the information was at times. It is a veneer of deniability.
There have also been multiple public cases where the government has taken action against individuals because they “should have known unclassified” data “should have been classified” and thus protected. Google up those of TSA’s Robert MacLean, NSA’s Thomas Drake and, sadly, my own. All of us were punished, fired or threatened with jail over the alleged release of unclassified data that the government deemed ex post facto should have been considered classified. This is not speculation, it is precedent.
Criminal? Maybe. Irresponsible? Likely. Not very presidential? Certainly.
I had a chance to sit down with RT.com to talk about the peace talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban that are expected to start again after Ramadan ends. The negotiations are taking place after more than a decade of war. Here’s what we said.
RT: Why is the Afghan government negotiating with Taliban terrorists in the first place?
PVB:As a former diplomat, I think it’s critical people do talk. Look, this war has gone on for fourteen years between the US, the Taliban, the Pakistanis, the Afghans – the whole gang. There has got to be a way to bring it to a conclusion, and since the US has failed militarily to bring it to a conclusion, really the only answer now is some form of negotiation. Terrorist or not, the labels are less important than the idea of stopping this war.
RT: The talks in Pakistan were said to have been very constructive, with negotiators reportedly even hugging each other afterwards. Can this diplomacy really bring peace to Afghanistan?
PVB: I think the word “peace” is a little ambitious at this point of time. I prefer the word “resolution”. We are going to have a hard time saying this is a war that was won, or a war that settled something. But I think what we need now is to speak of resolution, a way for the US to disengage, a way for the Afghan government and the Afghans in the Taliban to talk to one another and try to work something out that will benefit the Afghan people.
RT: US-led occupation forces ran the show in Afghanistan for 13 years. Were they even trying to make peace with the Taliban?
PVB: It’s a good question and one I think people like you and people like me have been asking for all these years. We’re going to have to take a deep breath and say that it’s good that the negotiations have started, even though history would judge poorly the fact that it took all these years and all these deaths to get us to this point.
RT: What about a military solution here? Has the US finally understood it’s not going to work?
PVB: It took Washington a good part of those years to realize there is no military solution, but I’m sad to say it took Washington even more time to understand that it was going to have to negotiate with the people who are on the battlefield. I think that mindset of having to negotiate with “the enemy” was really a harder victory to achieve in Washington than the idea that the military solution wasn’t going to work.
RT: Could talks with the militants have started sooner?
PVB: Absolutely. They could have started much sooner, they could have started back in 2001. The US initial push into Afghanistan was actually very successful. The Taliban was driven out of all the major cities, they were driven up into the mountains, into the caves, into hiding and at that point of time I think there was in fact a negotiated political solution that might have avoided all the years of war. There were points no doubt along the way when some type of negotiations may have been possible. That’s all water under the bridge; it’s blood on everyone’s hands but again we are going to take a deep breath and say “Thank goodness, we finally got to the point where we are sitting down at a table rather than facing off across the battlefield.”
RT: There’s also the threat posed by Islamic State in the region. There are reports that the group’s leader for Afghanistan and Pakistan has been killed in a US drone strike. The terrorist organization has said it wants to expand in the area. Who’s there to stop them?
PVB: Islamic State has something to do with it, but perhaps in a different way. Certainly no one wants to see IS entering the conflict in Afghanistan. More people with more guns are not going to make anything better. But I suspect part of the motivation is to allow the US to focus more on IS in Iraq, in Syria and other places. The Afghan war is over; everyone knows that, it’s a matter of figuring out the right way to bring America’s role to some form of resolution.
RT: Could IS be possibly welcomed in Afghanistan?
PVB: IS has the potential to establish a foothold there. Keep in mind Afghanistan shares a huge border with Pakistan, so infiltration is not going to be physically a very difficult thing, and the Taliban have often welcomed outside help in their struggle. But at the end of the day I don’t think the Taliban have much interest in sharing power with IS, I don’t think the Taliban would have much tolerance for IS setting up any kind of permanent shelter there and I don’t think the Taliban at this point see themselves wanting to give away their successes against the US by giving America yet another reason to kick the war in Afghanistan up a notch. I suspect IS’s welcome in Afghanistan would be relatively short.
For those new to the story, in 2011 State Department Diplomatic Security Special Agent Christopher Deedy was briefly in Hawaii protecting then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Deedy, off duty, shot and killed a local man, Kollin Elderts. From there it gets complicated; allegations and denials of alcohol involvement, an inconclusive surveillance tape, the question of whether the shooting was in self-defense or not, it goes on, now heading into a fifth year of legal stuff. More background here.
Two Trials So Far, No Conviction
Since the shooting there have been two trials.
Deedy’s first murder trial in the summer of 2013 ended with the jurors deadlocked on a murder charge. Hawaii Judge Ahn found that there was no evidence to support manslaughter and so did not allow the jurors to consider that lesser charge. Ahn then reversed herself in the retrial last summer (2014), allowing the jurors to consider manslaughter as well as other lesser charges, including assault. The jurors returned a not guilty verdict on the murder charge but were deadlocked on manslaughter (manslaughter is “the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder.”)
Third Trial to Come?
Deedy’s lawyers filed motions to block the third trial; the prosecutor in Hawaii wanted it to go through. Judge Ahn rejected the key defense motions and allowed the trial to proceed. Deedy’s attorney instead will present the same motions to dismiss, the ones Ahn has already rejected, to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
If the Appeals Court also rejects the motions, a third trial could commence in the fall. If the court grants the motions, the Deedy criminal case is over and he is a free man.
I could not locate any information on the status of a civil suit by Kollin Elderts’ family.
Throughout the four+ years since the shooting, Deedy has been out on bail, still employed by the Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Since a condition of his bail is that he cannot carry a firearm, he has been assigned to some sort of unspecified desk duty on full salary.
Last Words… For Now
The Deputy City Prosecutor Janice Futa argued in favor of a third trial. “Justice demands for Kollin Elderts and his family that we pursue this case,” she said.
Deedy’s lawyer said the state has had enough chances. “This is not about justice. This about trying to convict Agent Deedy of something.”
No one knows — literally, geographically, physically — what happened to $210 million in American taxpayer money spent by USAID, a part of your U.S. Department of State, on Afghan health programs.
This is not a case of “well, it went to buy a heck of a lot of filing cabinets,” or “it was flushed down the toilet,” though those things are indeed possible. No, it appears that by using geospatial imagery, the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR; slogan: “Can we please go home now?”) determined that 80 percent of the health facilities that were supposed to have been built never were.
Worse yet, USAID accepted hilariously inaccurate data as proof of construction, including coordinates that would have located a medical facility in the middle of the Mediterranean.
But the real wackiness is, as always, in the details:
— Thirteen coordinates for funded Afghan projects were not even located in Afghanistan, with one located in the Mediterranean Sea.
— Coordinates for 30 facilities were located in a province different from the one USAID reported.
— In 13 cases, USAID reported two different funded facilities at the same coordinates.
— 189 sets of coordinates showed no physical structure within 400 feet of the reported coordinates, and a subset of 81, or just under half of these locations, showed no physical structure within a half mile of the reported coordinates.
— 154 coordinates did not identify a specific building.
Takeaways? The buffoons running the USAID programs are just phoning it in. They are not even trying anymore to hide their own corruption, sloth, stupidity or lack of even the slightest concern for oversight. Any bonehead with Google Maps could have discovered with four mouse clicks USAID was being fed bogus data by its contractors, though apparently USAID is short of boneheads at present to do that work.
As the inspectors at SIGAR sum it all up, “To provide meaningful oversight of these facilities, USAID needs to know where they are.”
Play the USAID Game at Home, Kids! Based on coordinates provided, pictured is one supposed clinic, perched on a glacial peak:
In one form or another, the U.S. has been at war with Iraq since 1990, including a sort-of invasion in 1991 and a full-scale one in 2003.
During that quarter-century, Washington imposed several changes of government, spent trillions of dollars, and was involved in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. None of those efforts were a success by any conceivable definition of the term Washington has been capable of offering.
Nonetheless, it’s the American Way to believe with all our hearts that every problem is ours to solve and every problem must have a solution, which simply must be found. As a result, the indispensable nation faces a new round of calls for ideas on what “we” should do next in Iraq.
With that in mind, here are five possible “strategies” for that country on which only one thing is guaranteed: none of them will work.
1. Send in the Trainers
In May, in the wake of the fall of the Sunni city of Ramadi to Islamic State (IS) fighters, President Obama announced a change of course in Iraq. After less than a year of not defeating, degrading, or destroying the Islamic State, the administration will now send in hundreds more military personnel to set up a new training base at Taqaddum in Anbar Province. There are already five training sites running in Iraq, staffed by most of the 3,100 military personnel the Obama administration has sent in. Yet after nine months of work, not a single trained Iraqi trooper has managed to make it into a combat situation in a country embroiled in armed chaos.
The base at Taqaddum may only represent the beginning of a new “surge.” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has begun to talk up what he calls “lily pads,” American baselets set up close to the front lines, from which trainers would work with Iraqi security forces. Of course, such lily pads will require hundreds more American military advisers to serve as flies, waiting for a hungry Islamic State frog.
Leaving aside the all-too-obvious joke — that Dempsey is proposing the creation of a literal swamp, a desert quagmire of the lilypad sort — this idea has been tried. It failed over the eight years of the occupation of Iraq, when the U.S. maintained an archipelago of 505 bases in the country. (It also failed in Afghanistan.) At the peak of Iraq War 2.0, 166,000 troops staffed those American bases, conducting some $25 billion worth of training and arming of Iraqis, the non-results of which are on display daily. The question then is: How could more American trainers accomplish in a shorter period of time what so many failed to do over so many years?
There is also the American belief that if you offer it, they will come. The results of American training so far, as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made clear recently, have fallen far short of expectations. By now, U.S. trainers were to have whipped 24,000 Iraqi soldiers into shape. The actual number to date is claimed to be some 9,000 and the description of a recent “graduation” ceremony for some of them couldn’t have been more dispiriting. (“The volunteers seemed to range in age from late teens to close to 60.” Given how much training the U.S. has made available in Iraq since 2003, it’s hard to imagine that too many young men have not given the option some thought. Simply because Washington opens more training camps, there is no reason to assume that Iraqis will show up.
Oddly enough, just before announcing his new policy, President Obama seemed to pre-agree with critics that it wasn’t likely to work. “We’ve got more training capacity than we’ve got recruits,” he said at the close of the G7 summit in Germany. “It’s not happening as fast as it needs to.” Obama was on the mark. At the al-Asad training facility, the only one in Sunni territory, for instance, the Iraqi government has not sent a single new recruit to be trained by those American advisers for the past six weeks.
And here’s some bonus information: for each U.S. soldier in Iraq, there are already two American contractors. Currently some 6,300 of them are in the country. Any additional trainers mean yet more contractors, ensuring that the U.S. “footprint” made by this no-boots-on-the-ground strategy will only grow and General Dempsey’s lilypad quagmire will come closer to realization.
2. Boots on the Ground
Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the most vocal proponent of America’s classic national security go-to move: send in U.S. troops. McCain, who witnessed the Vietnam War unfold, knows better than to expect Special Forces operatives, trainers, advisers, and combat air traffic controllers, along with U.S. air power, to turn the tide of any strategic situation. His response is to call for more — and he’s not alone. On the campaign trail recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for instance, suggested that, were he president, he would consider a full-scale “re-invasion” of Iraq. Similarly, General Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, urged the sending in of many boots: “I can tell you, you could put ground forces on the ground now and we can destroy ISIS.”
Among the boots-on-the-ground crowd are also some former soldiers who fought in Iraq in the Bush years, lost friends, and suffered themselves. Blinking through the disillusion of it all, they prefer to believe that we actually won in Iraq (or should have, or would have, if only the Bush and Obama administrations hadn’t squandered the “victory”). Needed now, they claim, are more U.S. troops back on the ground to win the latest version of their war. Some are even volunteering as private citizens to continue the fight. Can there be a sadder argument than the “it can’t all have been a waste” one?
The more-troops option is so easy to dismiss it’s hardly worth another line: if over eight years of effort, 166,000 troops and the full weight of American military power couldn’t do the trick in Iraq, what could you possibly expect even fewer resources to accomplish?
3. Partnering with Iran
As hesitancy within the U.S. military to deploy ground forces in Iraq runs into chicken-hawk drum-pounding in the political arena, working ever more closely with Iran has become the default escalation move. If not American boots, that is, what about Iranian boots?
The backstory for this approach is as odd a Middle Eastern tale as you can find.
The original Obama administration plan was to use Arab, not Iranian, forces as proxy infantry. However, the much-ballyhooed 60-nation pan-Arab coalition proved little more than a short-lived photo op. Few, if any, of their planes are in the air anymore. America flies roughly 85% of all missions against Islamic State targets, with Western allies filling in a good part of the rest. No Arab ground troops ever showed up and key coalition countries are now openly snubbing Washington over its possible nuclear deal with Iran.
Washington has, of course, been in a Cold War-ish relationship with Iran since 1979 when the Shah fell and radical students took over the American Embassy in Tehran. In the 1980s, the U.S. aided Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, while in the years after the invasion of 2003 Iran effectively supported Iraqi Shiite militias against American forces occupying the country. Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, currently directing his country’s efforts in Iraq, was once one of the most wanted men on America’s kill list.
In the wake of the 2014 Islamic State capture of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, Iran ramped up its role, sending in trainers, advisers, arms, and its own forces to support the Shiite militias that Baghdad saw as its only hope. The U.S. initially turned a blind eye on all this, even as Iranian-led militias, and possibly the Iranians themselves, became consumers of close American air support.
In Washington right now, there is a growing, if quiet, acknowledgment that Iranian help is one of the few things that might push IS back without the need for U.S. ground troops. Small but telling escalations are occurring regularly. In the battle to retake the northern Sunni city of Tikrit, for example, the United States flew air missions supporting Shiite militias; the fig leaf of an explanation: that they operated under Iraqi government, not Iranian, control.
“We’re going to provide air cover to all forces that are under the command and control of the government of Iraq,” a U.S. Central Command spokesperson similarly noted in reference to the coming fight to retake the city of Ramadi. That signals a significant shift, former State Department official Ramzy Mardini points out. “The U.S. has effectively changed its position, coming to the realization that Shiite militias are a necessary evil in the fight against IS.” Such thinking may extend to Iranian ground troops now evidently fighting outside the strategic Beiji oil refinery.
Things may be even cozier between the U.S. and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias than we previously thought. Bloomberg reports that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both already using the Taqaddum military base, the very place where President Obama is sending the latest 450 U.S. military personnel.
The downside? Help to Iran only sets up the next struggle the U.S. is likely to bumble into due to a growing Iranian hegemony in the region. Syria, perhaps?
4. Arm the Kurds
The Kurds represent Washington’s Great Hope for Iraq, a dream that plays perfectly into an American foreign policy trope about needing to be “liked” by someone. (Try Facebook.) These days, glance at just about any conservative website or check out right-wing pundits and enjoy the propaganda about the Kurds: they are plucky fighters, loyal to America, tough bastards who know how to stand and deliver. If only we gave them more weapons, they would kill more Islamic State bad guys just for us. To the right-wing crowd, they are the twenty-first-century equivalent of Winston Churchill in World War II, crying out, “Just give us the tools and we’ll defeat Hitler!”
There is some slight truth in all this. The Kurds have indeed done a good job of pushing IS militants out of swaths of northern Iraq and were happy for U.S. assistance in getting their Peshmerga fighters to the Turkish border when the locus of fighting was the city of Kobane. They remain thankful for the continuing air support the U.S. is providing their front-line troops and for the limited weapons Washington has already sent.
For Washington, the problem is that Kurdish interests are distinctly limited when it comes to fighting Islamic State forces. When the de facto borders of Kurdistan were directly threatened, they fought like caffeinated badgers. When the chance to seize the disputed town of Erbil came up — the government in Baghdad was eager to keep it within its sphere of control — the Kurds beat the breath out of IS.
But when it comes to the Sunni population, the Kurds don’t give a hoot, as long as they stay away from Kurdistan. Has anyone seen Kurdish fighters in Ramadi or anywhere else in heavily Sunni al-Anbar Province? Those strategic areas, now held by the Islamic State, are hundreds of actual miles and millions of political miles from Kurdistan. So, sure, arm the Kurds. But don’t expect them to play a strategic role against IS outside their own neighborhood. A winning strategy for the Kurds involving Washington doesn’t necessarily translate into a winning strategy for Washington in Iraq.
5. That Political Solution
Washington’s current man in Baghdad, Prime Minister al-Abadi, hasn’t moved his country any closer to Sunni-Shiite reconciliation than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, did. In fact, because Abadi has little choice but to rely on those Shiite militias, which will fight when his corrupt, inept army won’t, he has only drawn closer to Iran. This has ensured that any (American) hope of bringing Sunnis into the process in a meaningful way as part of a unified government in a unified state will prove to be a pipe dream.
A balance of forces is a prerequisite for a Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish federal Iraq. With no side strong enough to achieve victory or weak enough to lose, negotiations could follow. When then-Senator Joe Biden first proposed the idea of a three-state Iraq in 2006, it just might have been possible. However, once the Iranians had built a Shiite Iraqi client state in Baghdad and then, in 2014, unleashed the militias as an instrument of national power, that chance was lost.
Many Sunnis see no other choice but to support the Islamic State, as they did al-Qaeda in Iraq in the years after the American invasion of 2003. They fear those Shiite militias — and with good reason. Stories from the largely Sunni city of Tikrit, where militia-led forces defeated Islamic State fighters, describe “a ghost town ruled by gunmen.” In the Euphrates Valley town of Jurf al-Sakhar, there were reports of ethnic cleansing. Similarly, the mainly Sunni population of the city of Nukhayb, which sits at a strategic crossroad between Sunni and Shiite areas, has accused the militias of taking over while pretending to fight the extremists.
There remains great fear in Sunni-dominated Anbar of massacres and “cleansing” if Shiite militias enter the province in force. In such a situation, there will always be a place for an al-Qaeda, an Islamic State, or some similar movement, no matter how brutal, to defend the beleaguered Sunni population. What everyone in Iraq understands, and apparently almost everyone in America does not, is that the Islamic State is a symptom of civil war, not a standalone threat.
One lingering hope of the Obama administration has no support in Baghdad and so has remained a non-starter: defeating IS by arming Sunni tribes directly in the style of the “Anbar Awakening” movement of the occupation years. Indeed, the central government fears arming them, absent a few token units to keep the Americans quiet. The Shiites know better than most what an insurgency can do to help defeat a larger, better-armed, power.
Yet despite the risk of escalating Iraq’s shadow civil war, the U.S. now is moving to directly arm the Sunnis. Current plans are to import weapons into the newest lilypad base in Anbar and pass them on to local Sunni tribes, whether Baghdad likes that or not (and yes, the break with Baghdad is worth noting). The weapons themselves are as likely to be wielded against Shiite militias as against the Islamic State, assuming they aren’t just handed over to IS fighters.
The loss of equipment to those militants is no small thing. No one talking about sending more new weaponry to Iraq, no matter who the recipient is, should ignore the ease with which Islamic State militants have taken U.S.-supplied heavy weapons. Washington has been forced to direct air strikes against such captured equipment — even as it ships yet more in. In Mosul, some 2,300 Humvees were abandoned to IS fighters in June 2014; more were left to them when Iraqi army forces suddenly fled Ramadi in May. This pattern of supply, capture, and resupply would be comically absurd, had it not turned tragic when some of those Humvees were used by IS as rolling, armored suicide bombs and Washington had to rush AT-4 anti-tank missiles to the Iraqi army to destroy them.
The Real Reason Nothing Is Going to Work
The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims. The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq. The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions. Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria. The Kurds want an independent homeland.
When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals. In the Washington mind-set, Iraq is charged with ultimate responsibility for resolving problems that were either created by or exacerbated by the U.S. in the first place, even as America once again assumes an ever-greater role in that country’s increasingly grim fate.
For America’s “plan” to work, Sunni tribesmen would have to fight Sunnis from the Islamic State in support of a Shiite government that suppressed their peaceful Arab-Spring-style protests, and that, backed by Iran, has been ostracizing, harassing, and murdering them. The Kurds would have to fight for an Iraqi nation-state from which they wish to be independent. It can’t work.
Go back to 2011 and it’s unlikely anyone could have imagined that the same guy who defeated Hillary Clinton and gained the White House based on his opposition to the last Iraq War would send the U.S. tumbling back into that chaotic country. If ever there was an avoidable American crisis, Iraq War 3.0 is it. If ever there was a war, whatever its chosen strategies, in which the U.S. has no hopes of achieving its goals, this is it.
By now, you’re undoubtedly shaking your head and asking, “How did this happen?” Historians will do the same.
I know a fair number of State Department employees peak at this blog, so I have a favor to ask.
Would someone please tell the “social media gurus” at the State Department young people join Islamic State for a number of very serious and often deeply-held reasons — religion, disillusionment with the west, anger at American policy — and not because they saw an IS tweet? And that you can’t dissuade people from their beliefs simply with a clever hashtag and 140 characters of propaganda pablum?
Yet the idea that the State Department can use social media to “counter program” IS’ message persists, even as its uselessness stares everyone but the State Department in the face.
A Little Background on YouTube
The State Department’s propaganda uses a negative message to try and counter the attraction of Islamic State. Started in 2011, State’s blather was only in foreign languages, moving into English in 2013. In 2014 year the work started showing up on YouTube. The theme then was “Think Again, Turn Away; the messaging was found on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even on the sides of buses in New York City as posters. One YouTube video includes subtitles such as “learn useful skills, such as blowing up mosques” and “crucifying Muslims.” Another features oil being poured on the ground framed as “squandering public resources.
The content is seemingly written more to appeal to Washington than potential jihadis, as you can see in this example. A lot of the messaging mocks potential recruits, claiming, for example, they read “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria. Those efforts cost between $5 million and $6.8 million a year.
When in Doubt, Hire a Consultant
With the clear failure of that messaging to stop the flow of western recruits to IS (State does like to point to proving the negative, suggesting they cannot measure people who did not join), the State Department is now trying a new version of the old strategy.
EdVenture Partners, a company whose self-described mission is to connect clients with the “valuable and powerful millennial market” to sell junk to dumbasses, was hired to enlist student teams to combat violent extremism with some kind of digital effort — an app, a website or an online initiative. It was to be a contest; State would pick the winners and fund those as U.S. government propaganda, er, counter messaging.
Because, see, up until now, the problem has been that those dang young people just weren’t “getting down” with the messages old people at State were “putting out there.” For real. Ya’all.
“Millennials can speak better to millennials, there’s no question about that,” State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelly Keiderling, who was a judge in the competition, said, sounding like some 1950s educational film narrator.
How to Defeat Islamic State
So here’s how the young will be stopping other youngsters from joining Islamic State.
— Australia’s Curtin University developed an app called 52Jumaa, which to support young Muslims. The app sends daily positive affirmations about Islam to users’ smartphones, allows them to connect with other Muslims and asks them to complete a selfless act of kindness every Friday.
— Students at Texas A&M came up with a website idea called The Funny Militant, which would run jihadi-centric parodies, including a hilarious app for finding a jihadi bride and one called Who’s Your Bagdaddy?
— Missouri State’s product, which won the competition, is a website about the dangers of violent extremism. The site provides English-language curriculum for teaching about the extreme ideological ideas on social media and how to recognize them. It also includes trivia, community boards and videos from people who have been directly affected by terrorism.
Wait — the winner sounds almost exactly like the lame stuff the State Department already spews out, basically saying “IS is bad, so don’t do that,” the war on terror’s reboot of the 1980s anti-drug message “Just Say No.” The winning group also created a hashtag, so you know they are like super-serious: #EndViolentExtremism
Here are all the winners of the competition. Looks can obviously be deceiving, but one does wonder how many Muslims are in a group seeking to speak directly to Muslims in a voice that doesn’t sound like a bunch of know-it-all white kids from the ‘burbs:
USAID just got caught wasting $769 million not supporting Afghanistan’s education sector.
How could this happen?!? As a public service, here are your step-by-step instructions.
— Start with the premise that schools in a wasteland like Afghanistan in support of a failed American policy are more important uses of American taxpayer money than schools in America (which is socialism, or a handout, or whatever, Ayn Rand.)
— Send incompetent people (see below) to Afghanistan with a lot of money, say $769 million. Tell them to build schools. If you don’t have enough in-house incompetent people, like USAID, hire contractors, like USAID did.
— Make sure those people never travel to where the schools are being built. Instead, have them rely on a known corrupt government to tell them where to spend the money. In our instant case, former ministry officials who served under President Hamid Karzai provided false data to USAID regarding the number of active schools in Afghanistan.
— Make sure, as USAID, while spending all that money, not to ask if there are any schools actually being built. Instead, sit back and look the other way as Afghan officials doctored statistics, embezzled money, and interfered with university entrance exams to make it seem schools existed. These allegations suggest that the U.S. and other donors may have paid for ghost schools that ghost students do not attend and for the salaries of ghost teachers who do not teach.
— Despite this, as USAID, announce at every opportunity that education programs are among your most successful work in Afghanistan. For example, USAID cited a jump in students enrolled in schools from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013 as a clear indicator of progress.
— Make sure all your data supporting these successes is unverifiable, coming only from the Afghan Ministry of Education. Appear surprised when you learn, years and $769 million later, that the data has been falsified. Do not conduct any investigation of your own. Wait and see if some inspector general notices. You know most of the media won’t.
— Ignore the fact that accurate data is essential for gauging progress and for making future funding decisions. Congress will help with this.
— Make sure you have bosses in the field and at the State Department in Washington who do not care about accurate metrics or real results.
— Repeat this process for fourteen years of the Afghan War.
Since I already have a full-time job and can’t do it, luckily the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) does document the waste as a full-time job.
Here are just a few updates.
Kandahar Industrial Park
The U.S. paid for a number of industrial parks in Afghanistan. The idea was if water, electricity and roads were established, businesses would somehow pop up spontaneously and the bleak landscape of Afghanistan would soon resemble the bleak landscape surrounding many small American cities. Such was the plan for Kandahar.
However, during the inspection of one such “industrial park,” SIGAR found only one active Afghan business at the facility, which was originally planned to accommodate 48 businesses. Better yet, due to missing contract files and the lack of electricity at the time of their site visit, SIGAR was not able to fully inspect and assess whether construction met contract requirements.
Of interest, Kandahar was not the first time missing contract documents prevented SIGAR from conducting a full inspection of a USAID-funded facility. In January 2015, missing contract documents limited the inspection of the no doubt otherwise scenic Gorimar Industrial Park in Balkh province. That inspection also noted that a lack of electricity and water left the $7.7 million U.S.-funded industrial park largely vacant.
Undaunted by the lack of progress on 14 years of bringing electricity to these areas of Afghanistan, USAID officials intend to solicit bids within the next few months on a contract for a solar power system.
Afghan Army Slaughterhouse
Everyone’s gotta eat, right? So, the U.S. decided to spend $12 million of your tax money to construct an animal slaughterhouse to supply meat to the Afghan National Army.
The good news is that no animals were harmed in the construction of this slaughterhouse.
Why? Because, as SIGAR tells us, before it was completed, the slaughterhouse project was canceled. However the contractor not building the facility was paid $1.54 million anyway, even though the project was no more than 10 percent complete.
But because the taxpayer teat is a plump one, the contractor has requested $4.23 million in additional payments. Consequently, the cost to terminate the slaughterhouse project could rise to as much as $5.77 million.
The project was originally designated as a “high priority” by the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A). However, 15 months after the project started, CSTC-A determined that an existing facility would meet the need. Hence, the (expensive) termination.
Afghan Government Bailout
You thought we were done? Hah. The U.S. just received a formal request from the Afghan government for a $537 million budget bailout, just kinda because they needed more money for, um, whatever they spend money on.
Your State Department, ever on the job, already handed over $100 million of your money, even while warning the budget shortfall could be as much as $400 million this year unless the Afghan government’s revenue generation increases significantly.
No one has any idea how the Afghan government might increase revenue generation significantly, except perhaps if they use all of that $100 million to buy Lotto tickets.
Did the most-recent, recent, breach of United States government personnel files significantly compromise American security? Yes. Could a foreign government make use of such information to spy on the United States? Oh my, yes.
China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the human resources department for the entire federal government. They allegedly stole personnel and security clearance information for at least four million federal workers. The current attack was not the first. Last summer the same office announced an intrusion in which hackers targeted the files of tens of thousands of those who had applied for top-secret security clearances; the Office of Personnel Management conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, including all those needed by the Department of Defense and 100 other federal agencies.
Why all that information on federal employees is a gold mine on steroids for a foreign intelligence service is directly related to what is in the file of someone with a security clearance.
Most everyone seeking a clearance starts by completing Standard Form 86, Questionnaire for National Security Positions, form SF-86, an extensive biographical and social contact questionnaire.
Investigators, armed with the questionnaire info and whatever data government records searches uncover, then conduct field interviews. The investigator will visit an applicant’s home town, her second-to-last-boss, her neighbors, her parents and almost certainly the local police force and ask questions in person. As part of the clearance process, an applicant will sign the Mother of All Waivers, giving the government permission to do all this as intrusively as the government cares to do; the feds really want to get to know a potential employee who will hold the government’s secrets. This is old fashioned shoe-leather cop work, knocking on doors, eye balling people who say they knew the applicant, turning the skepticism meter up to 11.
Things like an old college roommate who moved back home to Tehran, or that weird uncle who still holds a foreign passport, will be of interest. Some history of gambling, drug or alcohol misuse? Infidelity? A tendency to not get along with bosses? Significant debt? Anything at all hidden among those skeletons in the closet?
The probe is looking for vulnerabilities, pure and simple. And that’s the scary “why this really matters” part of the China-based hack into American government personnel files.
America’s spy agencies, like every spy agency, know people are manipulated and compromised by their vulnerabilities. If someone applying for a federal position has too many of them, or even one of particular sensitivity, s/he may be too risky to expose to classified information.
And that’s because unlike almost everything you see in the movies, the most important intelligence work is done the same way it has been done since the beginning of time. Identify a person with access to the information needed (“Qualifying an agent;” a Colonel will know rocket specifications, a file clerk internal embassy phone numbers, for example.) Learn everything you can about that person. Was she on her college tennis team? Funny thing, your intelligence officer likes tennis, too! Stuff like that is very likely in the files taken from the Office of Personnel Management.
But specifically, a hostile intelligence agency is looking for a target’s vulnerabilities. They then use that information to approach the target person with a pitch – give us the information in return for something.
For example, if you learn a military intelligence officer has money problems and a daughter turning college age, the pitch could be money for secrets. A recent divorce? Perhaps some female companionship is desired, or maybe nothing more than a sympathetic new foreign friend to have a few friendly beers with, and really talk over problems. That kind of information is very likely in the files taken from the Office of Personnel Management. And information is power; the more tailored the approach, the more likely the chance of success.
Also unlike in the movies, blackmail is a last resort. Those same vulnerabilities that dictate the pitch are of course ripe fodder for blackmail (“Tell us the location of the code room or we’ll show these photos of your new female friend to the press.”) However, in real life, a blackmailed person will try whatever s/he can do to get out of the trap. Guilt overwhelms and confession is good for the soul. A friendly approach based on mutual interests and goals (Your handler is a nice guy, with a family you’ve met. You golf together. You need money, they “loan” you money. You gossip about work, they like the details) has the potential to last for many productive years of cooperative espionage.
So much of what a foreign intelligence service needs to know to create those relationships and identify those vulnerabilities is in those hacked files, neatly typed and in alphabetical order. Never mind the huff and puff you’ll be hearing about identity theft, phishing and credit reports.
Espionage is why this hack is a big, big deal.
So this was only in Egypt, where there’s no terrorism threat anyway, so meh. No, wait, this is something.
To the shock of U.S. officials, local authorities arrested an Egyptian security guard and charged him as the purported commander of a radical Islamist organization. U.S. officials are scrambling to get information from Egyptian authorities, who did not alert them beforehand.
No word on why America’s vast intelligence apparatus missed this one. Maybe summer vacation?
Send in the Marines
Unbeknownst to most Americans, our embassies abroad are not guarded by Marines for the most part, as you see in the movies. Even a large embassy like the one in Cairo will have only maybe 20 Marines. They mostly handle guarding classified data inside the building and some access control. The crucial perimeter patrols, bomb searches of incoming vehicles, security in public areas and the like are handled by local guards, contracted by the State Department’s much-maligned Office of Diplomatic Security. This is done worldwide, primarily to save money. Marines are expensive and are also needed elsewhere to fight America’s many wars of choice.
So a local guard has a lot of access to begin with. He also has a chance to influence, radicalize and/or bribe other local guards to assist him in whatever terror he plans on committing. He knows his way around the embassy, and understands much about its security plans and their weaknesses. To a terrorist planner, he is a very valuable guy.
Back in Cairo, an embassy official confirmed 42-year-old Ahmed Ali, accused by the Egyptians of helping to plan or taking part in more than a dozen attacks on security forces, was an employee in the security service at the U.S. mission. Egyptian authorities are claiming he is a commander in the militant Helwan Brigades.
Both the lack of any forewarning by the Egyptian authorities and the apparent security failure by the U.S. State Department, which failed to unearth Ali’s membership in the brigades, is likely to prompt outrage on Capitol Hill. Because: Benghazi, which was also “guarded” by locals. So perhaps the current system needs a few tweaks.
Your Next Vacation Isn’t Gonna Be Egypt
The disclosure of the arrest by Egyptian authorities on Wednesday came just hours before a suicide bomber blew himself up outside Luxor’s ancient Karnak temple in southern Egypt in an attack that left four people, including two police officers, wounded. Police said they also killed two of the bomber’s accomplices.
No group has as yet claimed responsibility for the attack at the spectacular temple, with its dozens of sphinxes and beautiful bas reliefs of ancient gods, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site on the Nile River. But some analysts speculated that the attack may have been organized by the so-called Islamic State, which has been courting local jihadis, seeking to persuade them to affiliate with the terror group based in Syria and Iraq.
It is the second time this month that suspected Islamic extremists have attacked a major Egyptian tourist attraction or launched a raid nearby. On June 3, gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside the Giza Pyramids on the outskirts of Cairo, killing two policemen.
Iraqi security forces lost 2,300 Humvee armored vehicles when the Islamic State jihadist group overran the northern city of Mosul, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday.
U.S. Weapons Already Lost to Islamic State
Iraqi forces have previously abandoned significant types and number of heavy weapons Islamic State could not have otherwise acquired. For example, losses to IS include at least 40 M-1A1 main battle tanks. IS also picked up in Mosul and elsewhere American small arms and ammunition (including 4,000 machine guns that can fire upwards of 800 rounds per minute), and as many as 52 American M-198 howitzer mobile gun systems.
“In the collapse of Mosul, we lost a lot of weapons,” Abadi said in an interview with Iraqiya state TV. Clashes began in Mosul, Iraq’s second city, late on June 9, 2014, and Iraqi forces lost it the following day to IS, less than 24 hours later.
More U.S. Weapons on the Way
To help replenish Iraq’s arms, last year the State Department approved a sale to Iraq of 1,000 Humvees with increased armor, machine guns, and grenade launchers. The U.S. is currently in the process of sending/has already sent to Iraq 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, 55,000 rounds of main gun ammunition for the tanks, $600 million in howitzers and trucks, and $700 million worth of Hellfire missiles.
Some $1.2 billion in future training funds for Iraq was tucked into an omnibus spending bill Congress passed earlier this year.
For those keeping score, between 2003-2011, the United States spent $25 billion training the Iraqi Army. Some 3,000 American soldiers are currently in Iraq, re-training the Iraqi Army to re-fight Islamic State. The previously trained Iraqi army had 30,000 soldiers in Mosul, who ran away in the face of about 1,000 Islamic State fighters. The same thing happened in Ramadi, where 10,000 Iraqi soldiers fled ahead of 400 IS fighters.
Could This Have Been Predicted?
Professor of Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University Chris Coyne, in an interview with me about a year ago even before the U.S. again sent troops into Iraq, predicted this exact scenario:
The U.S. government provided significant amounts of military hardware to the Iraqi government with the intention that it would be used for good (national security, policing, etc.). However, during the IS offensive many of the Iraqis turned and ran, leaving behind the U.S.-supplied hardware. This weapons windfall may further alter the dynamics in Syria.
Now the U.S. government wants to provide more military supplies to the Iraqi government to combat IS. But I haven’t heard many people recognizing, let alone discussing, the potential negative unintended consequences of doing so. How do we know how the weapons and supplies will be used as desired? What if the recipients turn and run as they have recently and leave behind the weapons? What if the weapons are stolen? In sum, why should we have any confidence that supplying more military hardware into a country with a dysfunctional and ineffective government will lead to a good outcome either in Iraq or in the broader region?
Impact on American Policy
And hey: A report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns IS possesses sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition and vehicles to wage its war in Syria and Iraq for up to two more years. And that presumes the U.S. won’t be sending more to them.
The United States remains the world’s largest exporter of weapons.
The United States remains the world’s largest exporter of weapons.
The Middle East and North Africa are among America’s most lucrative arms markets, and U.S. defense companies and contractors have opened local offices as the demand shows no sign of abating.
I sat down with VICE News to discuss the (lack of) controls on U.S. arms exports. The focus is on how arms sales were built into our war efforts in Iraq, and how the “controls” on selling weapons to regimes that violate human rights are bypassed via a compliant State Department.
One highlight of this documentary is VICE News traveling to the International Defense Exhibition and Conference in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi, to examine the competition between arms manufacturers vying for a greater portion of the lucrative market.
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When Hillary Clinton became Secretary of State in 2009, the Obama White House required her to sign an agreement promising to have her family’s charities, under the umbrella of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI; now known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation) submit new donations from foreign countries to the State Department for review.
The agreement was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, given her new government role. The arrangement was made by an Obama administration covering its flanks over the appearance, at a minimum, of impropriety, given the significant sums of money the charities pulled in from overseas. Many of the countries and foreign corporations who gave the most money also had issues in front of the State Department, where a positive decision could change the donor’s fortunes.
The Clinton Foundation repeatedly violated this agreement with the Obama White House.
The Washington Post reported the Clinton Foundation failed to disclose $500,000 from Algeria at the time the country was lobbying the State Department over human-rights issues. Bloomberg learned the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, a Clinton Foundation affiliate, failed to disclose 1,100 foreign contributions.
But the Boston Globe’s report on the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), yet another foundation affiliate (these people have more shell groups than a Mafia crime family), may cover the most notable omissions yet. Tens of millions of dollars went undisclosed to the State Department.
Overall, the Clinton charities accepted new donations from at least six foreign governments while Clinton was Secretary: Switzerland, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Rwanda, Sweden and Algeria. Australia and the United Kingdom increased their funding by millions of dollars during this period.
The Lack of Consequences
The Obama White House remains deadly silent over the violations of its own agreement with Hillary and the Clinton charities.
Now the State Department, the organization charged with overseeing the agreement and monitoring its own Secretary for impropriety, says it too will do nothing.
On May 7, State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke stated the Department “regrets” that it did not get to review the new foreign government funding, but does not plan to look into the matter further. “The State Department has not and does not intend to initiate a formal review or to make a retroactive judgment about items that were not submitted during Secretary Clinton’s tenure.”
The State Department spokesman said the Department was not aware of donations having an undue influence on U.S. foreign policy.
When reporters asked how the Department could know this without reviewing the belated disclosures, he declined to comment further.
No one can anticipate what issues may confront a president. No president’s full span of decisions can be made in public. There is, in the electoral process, a huge granting of trust from the people to their leader. In cases like the violation of the ethics agreement by Clinton, undisclosed for eight years, one must ask about that trust — has it been earned?
One must also ask how, and more importantly, why, the White House and the State Department simply wash their hands of this issue. The Congress and elements of the media, so obsessed with events in Benghazi, seem nearly unaware of these financial issues while Clinton held one of the most powerful positions in government.
Lastly, given that Clinton now seeks the most powerful position in government, one must ask why the American voters seem oblivious to the clear trail she has left behind of how she views trust and ethics in government.