Suck it


For Glenn Greenwald the news that the NSA has not only been spying on Benjamin Netanyahu but members of Congress who spoke to him, most likely about blocking the Iran deal, is like a glass of Veuve Clicqot. On the bleating of former representative Jane Harman a few years ago and colleague Pete Hoekstra’s newfound respect for the civil liberties of Americans:

In January 2014, I debated Rep. Hoekstra about NSA spying and he could not have been more mocking and dismissive of the privacy concerns I was invoking. “Spying is a matter of fact,” he scoffed. As Andrew Krietz, the journalist who covered that debate, reported, Hoekstra “laughs at foreign governments who are shocked they’ve been spied on because they, too, gather information” — referring to anger from German and Brazilian leaders. As TechDirt noted, “Hoekstra attacked a bill called the RESTORE Act, that would have granted a tiny bit more oversight over situations where (you guessed it) the NSA was collecting information on Americans.”

But all that, of course, was before Hoekstra knew that he and his Israeli friends were swept up in the spying of which he was so fond. Now that he knows that it is his privacy and those of his comrades that has been invaded, he is no longer cavalier about it. In fact, he’s so furious that this long-time NSA cheerleader is actually calling for the criminal prosecution of the NSA and Obama officials for the crime of spying on him and his friends.

This pattern — whereby political officials who are vehement supporters of the Surveillance State transform overnight into crusading privacy advocates once they learn that they themselves have been spied on — is one that has repeated itself over and over. It has been seen many times as part of the Snowden revelations, but also well before that.

The other point: at the moment it’s not illegal for Congress to undermine the president’s diplomatic efforts. As a result, the White House will probably face hearings in the new year.

Spook show

When hep cats read the phrase “ran the C.I.A.’s Latin American division,” they know to reach for the laughing gas grenade and aim it at Chuck Todd. A spook so repellent that he made George H.W. Bush’s list of pardons said uncomplimentary things about Dr. Ben Carson in today’s New York Times. No one thought the doctor’s acumen extended beyond performing lobotomies on himself, though.

What fascinates me is the degree to which GOP candidates, besotted with skullduggery and the purported ingenuity of the private sector, lick the asses of men who raid the federal granaries; it’s as if that’s the idea. The NYT wrote an article in 2011 that I’m sorry Norman Mailer never fictionalized in Harlot’s Ghost:

Mr. Clarridge, 78, who was indicted on charges of lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal and later pardoned, is described by those who have worked with him as driven by the conviction that Washington is bloated with bureaucrats and lawyers who impede American troops in fighting adversaries and that leaders are overly reliant on mercurial allies.

His dispatches — an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports — have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck.

For all of the can-you-top-this qualities to Mr. Clarridge’s operation, it is a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.

The failure of the American press to reckon with the idea of a cabal of former CIA and current NSC apparatchiks operating under the imprimatur of a catatonic president having fun and games with birthday cakes and signed Bibles and Cuban exiles in camouflage is one of the great tragedies of the last thirty years. One of the ironies in todays NYT piece is how Jeb is set up as the guy who can have his pick of foreign policy eminences yet whose father the CIA director approved creeps like Clarridge dreaming up black bag jobs while “Max Gomez” aka Felix Rodriguez was callings the veep’s national security adviser in late 1986 the moment Eugene Hasenfus’ plane went down in Nicaragua.

The question isn’t what Duane R. Clarridge is doing advising Ben Carson. The question is why Duane R. Clarridge isn’t working for the other GOP presidential candidates. They all could have hired him.

For those curious about how a republic headed by caudillos would opearte, listen to this interview. As a friend said today, this video needs a trigger warning.

“Post-terror” world, my fanny

Boy, we sure love personalities, don’t we? Musicians, actors, politicians, even traitors (to quote Dana Perino) like Edward Snowden, who has never stopped being the story about the American surveillance state. Very well. Let’s recap what we learned from the man whom Charles Pierce calls the International Man of Luggage:

Rather than transmitting information to foreign powers, Snowden handed over his electronic stash of documents to reporters from the Guardian and the Washington Post, with the stipulation that they treat its contents sensitively and carefully. Although the leak led to some sensational stories—Michael Morell, a top C.I.A. official, called it “the most serious compromise of classified information in the history of the U.S. intelligence community”—the journalists largely adhered to Snowden’s stipulation.

The news stories brought to light many details about domestic surveillance, such as the bulk collection of phone records and the PRISM program, which enabled the N.S.A. to retrieve users’ e-mails and search histories from Internet companies such as Google and Facebook. Another story revealed that the N.S.A.’s own internal auditor had concluded that the agency had breached its own privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times a year since 2008. But despite some embarrassing details about overseas operations (such as the fact that the United States had tapped the phone calls of world leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel), the stories based on the Snowden leaks didn’t reveal much about specific U.S. intelligence operations around the world.

Even so, I wish I could agree with the Man of Luggage that after Congress’ vote last week “we are witnessing the emergence of a post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined by a singular tragedy.” No. When I see “post-” affixed to a noun, I reach for my gin and tonic. Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Rick Perry, and Barack Hussein Obama’s careers depend on a terror generation, frightened by brown-skinned heffalumps and woozles that could have done us harm under other names in 1993, 1986, and 1983.

Spy and punishment

No, domestic spying does not go on. Why worry?

The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.

Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.

Surely these agents got approval from superiors, no?

Confronted by evidence contained in the cache of documents, the agency admitted that “FBI approval levels required by internal policy were not initially obtained” for the investigation, but said the failure was remedied and later reported internally.

The FBI files appear to suggest the Houston branch of the investigation was opened in early 2013, several months after a high-level strategy meeting between the agency and TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

For a period of time – possibly as long as eight months – agents acting beyond their authority were monitoring activists aligned with Tar Sands Blockade.

Because the American press defines opposition to Keystone as the work of environmental extremists, we will never see this story get the play it deserves. These methods reflect what the national security establishment, comprised of Democrats and Republicans (think Dianne Fienstein in the Senate and Peter King in the House) regards as normal. It’s the assumption of illegality that most strikes me: of course these people don’t have the best interests of the United States in mind.

Obama and the press


The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.

The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly that it couldn’t find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files quickly that might be especially newsworthy.

It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor records were improper under the law — but only when it was challenged.

I’ve written repeatedly about this administration’s fetish for secrecy. Even if I grant that more private organizations and thinktank types are requesting documents than ever, or argue that the number of resources and employees available can’t keep apace with the requests, withholding records and being sneaky about it is the kind of habit I expect from the Bush administration. This strikes me as the key paragraph:

Under the president’s instructions, the U.S. should not withhold or censor government files merely because they might be embarrassing, but federal employees last year regularly misapplied the law. In emails that AP obtained from the National Archives and Records Administration about who pays for Michelle Obama’s expensive dresses, the agency blacked-out a sentence under part of the law intended to shield personal, private information, such as Social Security numbers, phone numbers or home addresses. But it failed to censor the same passage on a subsequent page.

The sentence: “We live in constant fear of upsetting the WH (White House).”

Ask John Kiriakou.

‘He’s lost his job. How much does the government want?’

Good on the NYT editorial board for decrying the double standard whereby respected establishment member David Petraeus gets a slap on the wrist and an earnest finger wag for the leaking of classified information to his favorite reporters while Abbe Lowell serves thirteen months in prison and John Kiriakou two:

Federal prosecutors have charged more public servants for leaking classified information to journalists during the Obama administration than all previous administrations. Yet top officials, who often seek to advance self-serving political agendas in their dealings with the press, appear to enjoy significant leeway in disclosing classified information. Prosecutors agreed not to seek jail time when Mr. Petraeus is sentenced next month as part of his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information.

Mr. Petraeus, who charmed and provided extraordinary access to handpicked journalists and national security experts during his tours running the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was all too familiar with the currency of classified information in the battleground of public opinion. Journalists and think tank analysts who could be trusted to report favorably often got invited to sit in on his classified briefings.

Remember the words of Dianne Feinstein:

“This man has suffered enough in my view,” Feinstein said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, explaining why she doesn’t think Attorney General Eric Holder should seek an indictment.

Petraeus “made a mistake,” added the senator, who is vice chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “But … it’s done, it’s over. He’s retired. He’s lost his job. How much does the government want?”

Ask Kiriakou and Lowell.

Collect away!

Meanwhile the wheels of justice continue to grind civil liberties to dust:

A federal court has again renewed an order allowing the National Security Agency to continue its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, a decision that comes more than a year after President Obama pledged to end the controversial program.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved this week a government request to keep the NSA’s mass surveillance of U.S. phone metadata operating until June 1, coinciding with when the legal authority for the program is set to expire in Congress.

The extension is the fifth of its kind since Obama said he would effectively end the Snowden-exposed program as it currently exists during a major policy speech in January 2014. Obama and senior administration officials have repeatedly insisted that they will not act alone to end the program without Congress.

“While the administration waits for the Congress to act, it has continued to operate the program with … important modifications in place,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement released late Friday.

More than a year’s worth of efforts to reform the NSA stalled last year, as the Senate came two votes short of advancing the USA Freedom Act in November. The measure failed to overcome a filibuster by Republicans, many of whom warned any limitation imposed on the NSA could bolster terrorist groups like the Islamic State.

I had no illusions about the FISA court but at least it was a picaresque Potemkin village.

The revolving door of government and lobbyists

Glenn Greenwald, co-star of Citizenfour, interviews James Risen about his new book with the self-explanatory title Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. On record as claiming Barack Obama is the “greatest enemy to press freedom in a decade,” Risen is in a heap of trouble for refusing to testify against former spook Jeffrey Sterling; he faces possible jail time. Here’s a bit I’d forgotten about:

GREENWALD: One of the things that always amazes me—I remember that there was this reporting that was done by Wired, during the debate over whether to give immunity to the telecoms that participated in the NSA program that you uncovered. An extraordinary thing to do, to retroactively immunize the biggest companies in the United States, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller became the leading spokesman for it at the time. He was the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and there were studies showing that right around the time when he became the leading proponent of telecom immunity, AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint began donating lots of money to his campaign, they threw parties for him, but still, in the context of Jay Rockefeller—a Rockefeller—with a super safe seat in West Virginia, they were pretty trivial amounts to be able to just dominate congressional policy that way. And that was what struck me too about General Atomics. So they fund some congressional staff travel…

RISEN: You know, I don’t think that it’s the money that really does the trick. I think what really, you’ve got to look at is that all of the staffers, and all of the members of Congress are thinking about what are they going to do after they leave those jobs. The same is true for military officers. What are you going to do when you retire from the military, or from the House Intelligence Committee, or whatever? You’re going to need a job at a defense contractor. And so I think that the real incentive for a lot of these people is not to upset their potential employers in the future. The campaign contributions themselves are just tokens, as you said

Government existing for the sake of training future lobbyists and FOX News…it’s as if that’s the point.

Out to get you: Citizenfour

Hours of explanation regarding how the National Security Administration spies on Americans with the collaboration of European allies. Nervous eye flickers as the Hong Kong hotel in which he’s hiding holds a fire drill. He has to plug the room phone he’d turned off (these new phones can record conversations) and call the front desk. Finally, ready to inspect Guardian columnist and reporter Glenn Greenwald’s laptop, he throws what looks like a red curtain from his grandmother’s parlor in 1976 over his head. Someone might be spying on him at that moment. From — where? The room titters with laughter.

At that moment the NSA contractor whose crisp jargon-free English betrays traces of his North Carolinian birth, becomes likable. Not that it matters. One of director Laura Poitras’ decisions when assembling Citizenfour was to exclude biographical montages, interviews with friends, relatives, and former lovers, accompanied by music — the cliches of documentary filmmaking. This isn’t Flag Wars or The Oath, Poitras’ best known previous films. The first thing out of Snowden’s mouth when Greenwald sits across from him is an insistence on depersonalizing the stories that The Guardian and the Washington Post will publish. Greenwald, a victim himself of smear campaigns and dismissals because he doesn’t hang out with Luke Russert at Peggy Noonan’s for Sunday brunch, practically claps. What the audience sees is an articulate twenty-nine-year old in a black tee on a bed explaining the extent to which a largely unaccountable state apparatus accumulates, with a bipartisan imprimatur, credit, banking, and electronic information from Americans. No NSA, State Department, or administration apparatchiks get interviewed for the sake of a phony balance. Snowden and Greenwald in a modern Hong Kong hotel, oitras invisible behind her camera, accompanied sometimes by Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill are all the film shows for a forty or fifty-minute stretch. There is never any question about Snowden revealing himself — how long he can evade detection without his story subordinating the purloined data shapes the drama. The only moment when Citizenfour succumbs to spy novel bait happens when Snowden and a human rights lawyer try to figure out how to slip him into a United Nations facility where he can claim asylum. Replacing glasses with contacts, fussing over how much mousse he spreads into his hair, smoothing his shirt, he’s like a star readying for a E! interview, albeit with a bullseye drawn on his back.

Separating my responses to what Snowden leaked from a full accounting of Poitras’ film is hopeless. Citizenfour is a political document. Readers of this blog know them. Click on the tags. It would be agitprop if Poitras belonged to a cause, but I hesitate to call an informed citizenry taking advantage of its constitutional liberties a cause. I wish she had drawn a line between Snowden’s revelations and Wikileaks. Using the fear of terrorism as an excuse to keep the United States as financial and military hegemon is the least surprising fact to emerge from Citizenfour,

‘You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today or their policies’

Edward Snowden, whom Charles Pierce calls the International Man of Luggage, talks to The Nation‘s Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen. Too lengthy to excerpt, it covers the iPhone 6’s encryption measures (done after the tech companies learned what the National Security Agency expected them to turn over), the definition of patriotism, the mixed success of Occupy Wall Street, and how Germans have offered beds for Snowden to sleep in; but the bit below seems key. Send it to friends and relatives who on Thanksgiving will insist They Have Nothing to Hide:

We only have the rights that we protect. It doesn’t matter what we say or think we have. It’s not enough to believe in something; it matters what we actually defend. So when we think in the context of the last decade’s infringements upon personal liberty and the last year’s revelations, it’s not about surveillance. It’s about liberty. When people say, “I have nothing to hide,” what they’re saying is, “My rights don’t matter.” Because you don’t need to justify your rights as a citizen—that inverts the model of responsibility. The government must justify its intrusion into your rights. If you stop defending your rights by saying, “I don’t need them in this context” or “I can’t understand this,” they are no longer rights. You have ceded the concept of your own rights. You’ve converted them into something you get as a revocable privilege from the government, something that can be abrogated at its convenience. And that has diminished the measure of liberty within a society.

Also: the point of civil disobedience is disobedience.

‘“I don’t know of a single thing…that should not be public after ten years’

The author of The Looming Tower wrote a post for The New Yorker showing the degree to which the fetish for secrecy dominates American national security. The post addresses missing pages from the 2002 ““Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,” purporting to delineate purported Saudi ties to the attacks on the World Trade Center. The assertion:

“We assert that purported ‘charities,’ established by the government of the Kingdom to propagate radical Wahhabi ideology throughout the world, served as the primary sources of funding and logistical support for Al Qaeda for more than a decade leading up to the 9/11 attacks,” Sean Carter, one of the lead attorneys in the lawsuit, told me. “Not coincidentally, these so-called charities were themselves regulated by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, which from its formation, in 1993, assumed primary responsibility for the Kingdom’s efforts to spread Wahhabi Islam.”

The chair of the 9-11 Commission, professional white washer Thomas Kean, denies the claims:

Thomas Kean remembers finally having the opportunity to read those twenty-eight pages after he became chairman of the 9/11 Commission—“so secret that I had to get all of my security clearances and go into the bowels of Congress with someone looking over my shoulder.” He also remembers thinking at the time that most of what he was reading should never have been kept secret. But the focus on the twenty-eight pages obscures the fact that many important documents are still classified—“a ton of stuff,” Kean told me, including, for instance, the 9/11 Commission’s interviews with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Bill Clinton. “I don’t know of a single thing in our report that should not be public after ten years,” Kean said.

I won’t use the “even Prince Bandar wants this information released” because his wealth and connections insulate him from prosecution were it to happen; but if these pages are as innocuous as these scions of respectability insist, then release them. Years ago the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a book in which he recounted the CIA’s mistakes since birth. His conclusion? Destroy it. Start over. Ask Congress to write a new charter. The problem is that Congress wants no responsibility. Meanwhile the torture report, to be released at the height of hysteria over ISIS’ determination to re-carve Mount Rushmore, is coming soon.

James Risen on Obama: “He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

Well. Er, Maureen Dowd….correct?

The president and the attorney general both spoke nobly about the First Amendment after two reporters were arrested in Ferguson, Mo., while covering the racial protests in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.

Obama said that “here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.”

Holder seconded the sentiment, saying that “journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.”

So why don’t they back off Risen? It’s hard to fathom how the president who started with the press fluffing his pillows has ended up trying to suffocate the press with those pillows.

How can he use the Espionage Act to throw reporters and whistle-blowers in jail even as he defends the intelligence operatives who “tortured some folks,” and coddles his C.I.A. chief, John Brennan, who spied on the Senate and then lied to the senators he spied on about it?

“It’s hypocritical,” Risen said. “A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin. They don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistle-blowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”

On Twitter, after the president’s listless appearance before the press last Thursday, I wrote, “dunno if Barack Hussein Obama is the president I want to hear defend journalists’ right to exercise First Amendment.” Thanks to the baffling overestimation of her abilities by the commentariat, Dowd will get read and passed around.

Lear more about James Risen by watching this documentary.