The White House is conferring with senior people at the Justice Department in search of another venue for the 9/11 trial of plotter Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his co-defendants. Although the White House denies ordering the change, it seems clear that a new venue is in the offing.
The case will remain, however, in criminal court. Keeping the trial in criminal court continues a mistaken preference for trying certain terror cases in civilian courts. Convictions notwithstanding, such trials carry greater risk of the prosecution losing, entail balancing use of evidence versus intelligence secrecy, and confer more rights upon unlawful combatants today than lawful combatants had in prior wars.
The Wall Street Journal editors call upon Congress to strip the civilian courts of jurisdiction over terror cases, even granting that President Obama will likely veto such legislation. Charles Krauthammer, reviewing the wreckage of the administration's plan to locate the 9/11 trial in New York City & its decision to Mirandize the Flight #253 XMAS bomber without senior-level participation, writes that if Congress denies funds for a 9/11 New York trial it would resurrect the issue of whether terrorists should be tried in civilian or military courts. In a neat turn on a famous phrase, CK concludes:
Congress may not be able to roll back the Abdulmutallab travesty. But there will be future Abdulmutallabs. By cutting off funding for the KSM trial, Congress can send Obama a clear message: The Constitution is neither a safety net for illegal enemy combatants nor a suicide pact for us.
Bottom Line. Which leaves the Roman question, "Quo vadis?" ("Whither goest thou?") I prefer sending the trial to Pluto, for two reasons: First, it is as far as we can send the 9/11 plotters within our Solar System; second, Pluto, having lost its status as a planet in astronomers' eyes, needs a publicity boost. Failing spacecraft suitability for such a mission, Congress should refuse to fund a civilian trial for the 9/11 terrorists anywhere, and force their transfer back to military court.
A Washington Post front-pager reported widening US military & intelligence involvement inside Yemen. Reuters reports that Western and Gulf State leaders met in London to discuss using economic aid to help fight al-Qaeda in Yemen. The Washington Post reports that at that meeting Yemen's problems were addressed in great detail; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after that the Yemenis has been "brutally honest" about their situation. Yemen also agreed to a new detainee rehab initiative, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Transnational terrorism expert Steven Emerson assesses the growing international terror threat posed by jihadist groups based in Afghanistan & Pakistan.
The 9/11 Panel chiefs joined a growing chorus of criticism of Team Obama's mishandling of the Flight #253 XMAS bomber. Author Marc Theissen surveys the wreckage of our detainee interrogation policy under Team Obama and finds a gaping hole.
Why was Team Obama's High-value Interrogation Group (HIG) not yet operational, given that the Bush-=era program was immediately shut down in 2009 when 44 took office? Theissen explains:
Why was the HIG not ready? Because the Obama administration did not think it necessary. Under Obama, the administration is no longer trying to capture high-value terrorists alive for questioning. So when (much to their surprise) they found themselves with a high-value detainee in their custody, they were caught completely unprepared. Without consulting intelligence and counterterrorism officials, Attorney General Eric Holder directed that he be given a lawyer and told he had the “right to remain silent” — a right he has duly exercised.
COPS can use more interrogation tools than Team Obama allows for terrorists:
As I explain in Courting Disaster, even if the HIG were “fully operational,” we might be better off with Abdulmutallab in the hands of the Detroit Police Department — because under the rules established by the Obama administration, local law-enforcement officials actually have more tools at their disposal to interrogate common criminals than our military and intelligence officials have to interrogate captured terrorists. The Obama administration has limited the techniques available to the HIG to those contained in the Army Field Manual — a document that governs the interrogation of enemy prisoners of war with full Geneva Convention protections — even though there is a wide universe of lawful techniques beyond those included in the Army Field Manual that could be used to question high-value terrorists.
Local police use techniques beyond the Army Field Manual every day. For example, police detectives and district attorneys regularly use the threat of execution to get ordinary criminals to confess — offering to take capital punishment off the table if a criminal cops a plea or turns in his accomplices. Under the Army Field Manual this is not permitted; detainees cannot be threatened in any way. In other words, President Obama has so denuded our intelligence agencies’ interrogation capabilities that putting the HIG in charge of his interrogation would likely have been a useless exercise.
And here is what we lost by Mirandizing the XMAS bomber:
This is a massive intelligence failure on a number of levels. It cost us invaluable time-sensitive intelligence. From al-Qaeda’s vantage point, Abdulmutallab was supposed to be dead — vaporized with the plane that he was planning to explode. As soon as they learned that he was in custody, they began scrambling to cover his tracks — closing their e-mail accounts, cell-phone numbers, and bank accounts; putting terrorist leaders and operatives he knew about into hiding; and shutting down other trails of intelligence he might give us to follow. Every minute, every hour, every day that passed while Abdulmutallab exercised his “right to remain silent” cost us invaluable counterterrorism opportunities. Obama officials have said that they can still get information from him in the plea-bargaining process. Putting aside the question of why we should reduce his punishment in exchange for information, by the time we reach a plea deal it will be too late — the information will be useless.....
On Christmas Day, we were given an unexpected gift. A terrorist fell into our hands who possessed invaluable intelligence: the locations of the camps where he trained; the names of the people who trained him; the identities of those who trained alongside him for follow-up missions; the phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and bank-account numbers of those who sent him to kill Americans and may be sending others to do the same. We questioned him for 50 minutes, then read him his rights. If we get hit again, we will look back at that decision as the worst intelligence failure since Sept. 11, 2001.
Byron York reports in the Washington Examiner that a growing number of senators want the XMAS bomber transferred to military custody and interrogated. The "Last straw" for some senators was WH press flack telling Chris Wallace that 50 minutes of questioning fully sufficed. But York notes, citing two Reagan administration veteran legal aces, that it is unclear that the courts would allow the switcheroo:
But it raises a critical question: Once Abdulmutallab has been given the Miranda warning, can the administration take it back?
"Of course," says David Rivkin, a lawyer who served in the Reagan and Bush I administrations. "To the extent that the facts justifying his designation as an enemy combatant are there, you can always designate him as such. Miranda rights are relevant only to interrogations in the criminal justice system. If he were transferred to the military justice system, it wouldn't be taking those rights back -- it would be just irrelevant."
Others worry that it wouldn't be so easy. "The problem is, once you get them into the civilian system, the federal courts have made very clear that they're not going to let go easily," says Lee Casey, another veteran of the Reagan and Bush I administrations who has co-authored several articles with Rivkin. "While I think it would be a great idea, given how solicitous the courts have been of these detainees, I doubt the federal courts would cede jurisdiction."
Rich Lowry of NRO puts in even sharper perspective how monumental Team Obama's foolishness was:Intending to die in the act of destroying a jetliner, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab instead landed alive in Detroit as a kind of message in a bottle from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He knew more about its recruiting, training, and operations than anyone who is ever likely to fall into our arms babbling like a scared 23-year-old.
This is brazen self-sabotage. We are in a war of intelligence. People risk their lives every day to get the information to understand the terror networks arrayed against us and identify specific threats. Why would we pre-emptively silence a priceless source of timely intelligence?
It literally didn’t even occur to the administration to do otherwise. Top terrorism officials weren’t consulted. The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the director of National Intelligence, the FBI director, and the secretary of Homeland Security were all out of the loop. Some as-yet-unidentified top Justice Department official, who probably is known around the office as “general,” made the call.
"General" as an...Attorney-General Eric Holder, who is turning out to be the worst-ever A-G, with the possible exception of Clinton's Frankenstein's monster A-G, Janet Reno. Holder's January 2002 statement to CNN had presented a refreshingly realistic view of the limits of using Geneva Convention rules to govern treatment of unlawful combatants held in detention:
One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located; under the Geneva Convention that you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people.
It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohamed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.
Why did Holder change his mind? My jaundiced guess: Holder above all wanted to be A-G. In an Obama administration, any A-G candidate had to repudiate this. For Holder, who helped negotiate the pardon deal that spared Marc rich the inconvenience of going to jail, it was all too easy to change sides, and step up to a Cabinet title.
Bottom Line. The damage this time is already done--in the words of long-ago Yankee sportscaster Mel Allen's on-air call on home runs, "It's going, going, gone!" Al-Qaeda has had a month's time to cover its tracks and recalibrate to avoid damage from XMAS bomber spillage. What we can learn from him might tell us where al-Qaeda was, operationally, a month ago, but likely is of far less value going forward.
British military officer Tim Wilson has real-life experience with US (happy) & UK (unhappy) health care. To borrow from Will Shakespeare, "leave us not fly to ills we know not of..." the "slings & arrows" of America's health system are painful, but less poisonous than those wielded by our UK (and other European) friends.
On Thursday Democrats shelved plans to push through a comprehensive overhaul of health care, just one day after the President declared in his State of the Union address that health care reform remains a top administration priority.
Last night's State of the Union message was, NRO notes, a "stay the course" bomb--endless, too, clocking in at 1:09:35. Good thing I missed it!!!! His love affair with himself continues, by NRO's account. Hardly a surprise.
Now a dose of reality for 44: a Pew poll released Monday bodes ill for certain Presidential priorities. Three issues are way ahead of the pack: Economy, Jobs & Terrorism. In the middle of the pack are Health Care, Medicare & Deficits. Global Warming is at rock bottom, even lower than in 2007. Human Events lists 44's Top Ten Mistakes in 2009.
Another development of note: Tuesday the Senate voted 53-46 to create a Deficit Reduction Commission, modeled along the lines of the Base Closing Commission. As 60 votes are needed to create one, the bill failed to pass; of 46 votes against, 24 were GOP & 22 Democrats. The Senate vote is a strong rebuff to what is the safest political route to major tax increases. This is because unlike a base closing commission that targets a narrow objective to be achieved in a specific way--closing bases by giving political cover--deficit reduction offers many paths, over which the parties widely differ. No consensus is possible in such event.
Meanwhile, one reason Michelle Obama continues to stay up top in polls is the First Lady's continuing advocacy on behalf of military families. For this effort she deserves solid praise.
Bottom Line. Team Obama needs a new VOTER SCALE:
Annoyed = Visit the home country more often
Angry = Dump the mistress
Outraged = Don't raise our taxes!
Incredulous = Leave our health care alone
Apoplectic = Do NOT TOUCH the pickup truck!!!
Just when you wondered whether to trust the FBI, comes more reason not to: the anthrax 2001 investigation. Investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein shows that the FBI's 2001 anthrax attack "case closed" lacks Emperor's clothes.
Try this from Epstein's piece for openers:
The investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks ended as far as the public knew on July 29, 2008, with the death of Bruce Ivins, a senior biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Md. The cause of death was an overdose of the painkiller Tylenol. No autopsy was performed, and there was no suicide note.
Less than a week after his apparent suicide, the FBI declared Ivins to have been the sole perpetrator of the 2001 Anthrax attacks, and the person who mailed deadly anthrax spores to NBC, the New York Post, and Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. These attacks killed five people, closed down a Senate office building, caused a national panic, and nearly paralyzed the postal system.
The FBI's six-year investigation was the largest inquest in its history, involving 9,000 interviews, 6,000 subpoenas, and the examination of tens of thousands of photocopiers, typewriters, computers and mailboxes. Yet it failed to find a shred of evidence that identified the anthrax killer—or even a witness to the mailings. With the help of a task force of scientists, it found a flask of anthrax that closely matched—through its genetic markers—the anthrax used in the attack.
This flask had been in the custody of Ivins, who had published no fewer than 44 scientific papers over three decades as a microbiologist and who was working on developing vaccines against anthrax. As custodian, he provided samples of it to other scientists at Fort Detrick, the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, and other facilities involved in anthrax research.
According to the FBI's reckoning, over 100 scientists had been given access to it. Any of these scientists (or their co-workers) could have stolen a minute quantity of this anthrax and, by mixing it into a media of water and nutrients, used it to grow enough spores to launch the anthrax attacks.
The FBI treated suspects harshly, leading one to commit suicide, perhaps even contributing to the main suspect's suicide. And then came the canary in the investigative coal mine:
But there was still a vexing problem—silicon.
Silicon was used in the 1960s to weaponize anthrax. Through an elaborate process, anthrax spores were coated with the substance to prevent them from clinging together so as to create a lethal aerosol. But since weaponization was banned by international treaties, research anthrax no longer contains silicon, and the flask at Fort Detrick contained none.
Yet the anthrax grown from it had silicon, according to the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. This silicon explained why, when the letters to Sens. Leahy and Daschle were opened, the anthrax vaporized into an aerosol. If so, then somehow silicon was added to the anthrax. But Ivins, no matter how weird he may have been, had neither the set of skills nor the means to attach silicon to anthrax spores.
At a minimum, such a process would require highly specialized equipment that did not exist in Ivins's lab—or, for that matter, anywhere at the Fort Detrick facility. As Richard Spertzel, a former biodefense scientist who worked with Ivins, explained in a private briefing on Jan. 7, 2009, the lab didn't even deal with anthrax in powdered form, adding, "I don't think there's anyone there who would have the foggiest idea how to do it." So while Ivins's death provided a convenient fall guy, the silicon content still needed to be explained.
The FBI's theory of accidental contamination was exploded by the Livermore Laboratory:
The answer came seven months later on April 17, 2009. According to the FBI lab, 1.4% of the powder in the Leahy letter was silicon. "This is a shockingly high proportion," explained Stuart Jacobson, an expert in small particle chemistry. "It is a number one would expect from the deliberate weaponization of anthrax, but not from any conceivable accidental contamination."
Nevertheless, in an attempt to back up its theory, the FBI contracted scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Labs in California to conduct experiments in which anthrax is accidently absorbed from a media heavily laced with silicon. When the results were revealed to the National Academy Of Science in September 2009, they effectively blew the FBI's theory out of the water.
The Livermore scientists had tried 56 times to replicate the high silicon content without any success. Even though they added increasingly high amounts of silicon to the media, they never even came close to the 1.4% in the attack anthrax. Most results were an order of magnitude lower, with some as low as .001%.
So what does the FBI plan to do soon, given that its theory of the case is exploded, and thus the perp is still at large?
Easy. If your case explodes, and you have no idea how to proceed, you declare the case closed. Which is precisely what the FBI intends to do.
Here is more reason not to fear that Big Brother is eavesdropping on you: the sheer volume of calling activity, both as to hours spent and number of messages, makes this impossible for Uncle Sam to do.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (part of the U.S. Department of Labor) publishes, as part of its American Time Use Survey, two tables on Telephone Calls, Mail and E-Mail. A recent Forbes article titled "The Decade in Data" provides added data. BLS data show how much time callers spend daily on calling activities.
Of particular interest is data from the Forbes article on US usage of messaging over the Internet. It shows that in June 2009 daily text message volume was 4.5 billion, up 11,000-fold in just 9 years. Daily e-mail volume in 2000 was 12 billion daily, and then skyrocketed to 247 billion daily messages in 2009.
This means that in one year at the June 2009 number per day, Americans send over 1.6 TRILLION text messages; and at the 2009 daily rate, Americans send nearly ONE TRILLION e-mails every four days, which works out to some 90 TRILLION e-mails annually.
Let's see the government read all that traffic!!!!
Bottom Line. Text and e-mail away, and worry more about the government snooping on your health data to decide what your health insurance can cover and how much your doctor gets reimbursed, than on spooks snooping your Internet life.
A New York Times front-pager details cyberwoes inside the Obama administration, after a cyberwar game exposed gaping holes in US cyberwar security:
WASHINGTON — On a Monday morning earlier this month, top Pentagon leaders gathered to simulate how they would respond to a sophisticated cyberattack aimed at paralyzing the nation’s power grids, its communications systems or its financial networks.
The results were dispiriting. The enemy had all the advantages: stealth, anonymity and unpredictability. No one could pinpoint the country from which the attack came, so there was no effective way to deter further damage by threatening retaliation. What’s more, the military commanders noted that they even lacked the legal authority to respond — especially because it was never clear if the attack was an act of vandalism, an attempt at commercial theft or a state-sponsored effort to cripple the United States, perhaps as a prelude to a conventional war.
Google's cybersleuths (not surprisingly) did better:
What some participants in the simulation knew — and others did not — was that a version of their nightmare had just played out in real life, not at the Pentagon where they were meeting, but in the far less formal war rooms at Google Inc. Computers at Google and more than 30 other companies had been penetrated, and Google’s software engineers quickly tracked the source of the attack to seven servers in Taiwan, with footprints back to the Chinese mainland.
After that, the trail disappeared into a cloud of angry Chinese government denials, and then an ugly exchange of accusations between Washington and Beijing. That continued Monday, with Chinese assertions that critics were trying to “denigrate China” and that the United States was pursuing “hegemonic domination” in cyberspace.
Bottom Line. Cyber-threats are bound to increase, and this is one arms race America had better not lose. We have superb cyberwar talent, but as always with our leaders the issue is political will to persevere.
Author & Afghan expert Ann Marlowe has published several informative pieces on the situation inside Afghanistan, from a ground view: "Fighting a Smarter War in Afghanistan"; "Afghanistan's Economy Blooms"; "Smarter Than a Surge: What Afghanistan Really Needs". She acutely assess the situation and finds many ways that our effort can be improved there, identifying major mistakes along the way (such as supporting Hamid Karzai after his fraudulent re-election, and failing to gather enough pertinent information to leverage our presence. All three articles I highly recommend to LFTC readers. (Our Afghanistan Ambassador expressed similar views in diplomatic cables, according to the New York Times.)
There are more articles on Afghanistan and other topics at Ann Marlowe's website.
Richard Haas, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls for a policy of supporting regime change in Iran, in a Newsweek piece:
In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration judged incorrectly that Iran was on the verge of revolution and decided that dealing directly with Tehran would provide a lifeline to an evil government soon to be swept away by history's tide. A valuable opportunity to limit Iran's nuclear program may have been lost as a result. The incoming Obama administration reversed this approach and expressed a willingness to talk to Iran without preconditions. This president (like George H.W. Bush, whose emissaries met with Chinese leaders soon after Tiananmen Square) is cut more from the realist cloth. Diplomacy and negotiations are seen not as favors to bestow but as tools to employ. The other options—using military force against Iranian nuclear facilities or living with an Iranian nuclear bomb—were judged to be tremendously unattractive. And if diplomacy failed, Obama reasoned, it would be easier to build domestic and international support for more robust sanctions. At the time, I agreed with him.
I've changed my mind. The nuclear talks are going nowhere. The Iranians appear intent on developing the means to produce a nuclear weapon; there is no other explanation for the secret uranium-enrichment facility discovered near the holy city of Qum. Fortunately, their nuclear program appears to have hit some technical snags, which puts off the need to decide whether to launch a preventive strike. Instead we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago.
The authorities overreached in their blatant manipulation of last June's presidential election, and then made matters worse by brutally repressing those who protested. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lost much of his legitimacy, as has the "elected" president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The opposition Green Movement has grown larger and stronger than many predicted.
Critics will say promoting regime change will encourage Iranian authorities to tar the opposition as pawns of the West. But the regime is already doing so. Outsiders should act to strengthen the opposition and to deepen rifts among the rulers. This process is underway, and while it will take time, it promises the first good chance in decades to bring about an Iran that, even if less than a model country, would nonetheless act considerably better at home and abroad. Even a realist should recognize that it's an opportunity not to be missed.
Bottom Line. Haas has served in senior positions in prior administrations, and is a pillar of the foreign policy establishment. His voice is thus an influential one, and may encourage other power players to follow suit.
Call it the Law of Union Campaign Funding Leverage: One netted-out union campaign dollar goes 24 times as far for Democrats as one netted-out corporate campaign dollar does for the GOP.
In 2007-2008 corporations gave $1.965B to union giving of $673M, a nearly 3-fold edge. Sounds like a bonanza for the GOP, right? Guess again. Since 1990 the record shows union dollars have gone much further: Unions give 92 - 8 percent to Democratic over GOP candidates; corporations straddle, giving 50.6 percent GOP and 49.4 percent Democrats. Netting out the figures means that the union margin of 84 percent for the Democrats (92 minus 8) is some $565M; the razor-thin corporate margin for the GOP of 1.2 percent (50.6 minus 49.4) works out to a mere $24M. Thus Democrats' $565M net margin from unions is nearly 24 times the $24M net corporate margin for the GOP from corporate donors.
Thus my back-of-the-envelope calculation, based upon recall from my telecom industry Washington days, of a 90-10 edge for Ds from unions versus a 60-40 edge for Rs from corporations--put in my Monday LFTC entry on the Supreme Court decision on corporate speech--was way off as to corporate political giving. I underestimated how even-steven corporate giving has become. All they get is access, without helping either party much. But unions are a huge help--financial and otherwise--for the Democrats.
Lessons for Obama. George Will, long America's regnant Tory, sees four "silver linings" in 44's Massachusetts spanking: it will (a) moderate his agenda, (b) lessen policy uncertainty, (c) inject realism into 44's calculus and (d) end what GW calls "the curse of 60":
Obama is now liberated from The Curse of 60 -- exactly the minimum number of senators necessary to move the party's agenda. Democrats would not have reached 60 had not Alaska Republican Ted Stevens been convicted, on the eve of the election, in a corruption trial tainted by gross prosecutorial abuse. And had not Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, facing defeat in a Republican primary, suddenly discovered -- who knew? -- that he really is a Democrat. And had not Minnesota Democrat Al Franken defeated incumbent Norm Coleman after an excruciatingly close election, followed by a protracted and controversial recount. And, perhaps, if Illinois, Delaware and New York had elected rather than appointed senators to replace Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.
Be that as it may, the Democratic Senate caucus landed, like a roulette ball destined for a dangerous slot, on 60. It then learned that when all Democrats are indispensable, every Democrat can be an extortionist. So there have been serial purchases of 60th votes for health legislation. This squalid commerce (special benefits tailored for Florida's Medicare Advantage clients, for Louisiana and Nebraska, and for union members) did almost as much as the legislation itself to discredit the entire sorry business.
GW offers tart advice to 44:
If Obama can now resist the temptation of faux populism, if he does not rage, like Lear on the heath, against banks, he can be what Americans, eager for adult supervision, elected him to be -- a prudent grown-up. For this elegant and intelligent man to suddenly discover his inner William Jennings Bryan ("You shall not crucify America upon a cross of credit-default swaps") would be akin to Fred Astaire donning coveralls and clodhoppers.
Advice for GOP. Bill Kristol says "Heckuva job, Brownie!" and means it. Comparing Mr. Brown to Jimmy Stewart's 1939 "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" Kristol writes:
But the biggest similarity is this: Americans liked an underdog in 1939. They liked one in 2010. When the establishment is arrogant and unresponsive, they tend to side with a Jefferson Smith/Scott Brown figure.
In 1939, that establishment seemed to be made up of conservative economic royalists. Today, that establishment seems to consist of liberal political royalists.
This difference is, politically, a big deal. It is at the heart of the Republicans’ opportunity to build on what Scott Brown has accomplished. It suggests the GOP, and the conservative movement, should embrace the kind of enlightened, good-natured, constructive populism that Brown demonstrated in his campaign. And it means resisting the twin perils of Republican establishmentarian royalism on the one hand, and a bitter and destructive populism on the other.
Fred Barnes sees in Scott's non-Brownian Motion a uniting of four political segments in common cause: tea partiers, conservatives, independents and moderates.
Bottom Line. Year Two holds promise & peril for both parties. Democrats must find a viable way forward, while the GOP must strike a balance between reaching across the aisle and standing fast in hopes that come November they will emerge with a far larger contingent in both houses, and thus exercise more political bargaining leverage than the razor-thin edge they now possess.
Begin with a recent disclosure: FBI agents interrogated Osama's Flight #253 XMAS bomber for all of fifty--yes, 50--minutes before Mirandizing him. Here are the incredible details:
The news came in an Associated Press reconstruction of Abdulmutallab's first hours in custody. The AP reported that Abdulmutallab "repeatedly made incriminating statements" to U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who originally took him into custody. Then Abdulmutallab made more statements to doctors who were treating him for burns and other injuries. Only later did FBI agents interview him -- a session that lasted, according to the Associated Press, for "about 50 minutes." Before beginning the questioning, the AP continues, "the FBI agents decided not to give him his Miranda warnings informing him of his right to remain silent" -- apparently relying on an exception to Miranda that allows questioning about imminent threats.
After that, Abdulmutallab went into surgery. It was four hours before he was available for more questioning. By that time, the Justice Department in Washington had intervened. A new set of agents read Abdulmutallab the Miranda warning, telling him he had the right to remain silent -- and thereafter, Abdulmutallab remained silent.
50 MINUTES? THAT IS LESS THAN ONE HOUR. And we are supposed to believe that there was no prospect of getting more actionable intel from him, had we interrogated him for a few days, a week, holding him in military custody as an unlawful combatant?
The Washington Post reported that a Justice Department task force has divided detainees into three categories:
The task force has recommended that Guantanamo Bay detainees be divided into three main groups: about 35 who should be prosecuted in federal or military courts; at least 110 who can be released, either immediately or eventually; and the nearly 50 who must be detained without trial.
The WP explains the reasons why some will be held indefinitely:
The task force's findings represent the first time that the administration has clarified how many detainees it considers too dangerous to release but unprosecutable because officials fear trials could compromise intelligence-gathering and because detainees could challenge evidence obtained through coercion.
WP also offers the detainee release scorecard to date:
Since Obama took office, 44 Guantanamo Bay detainees have been repatriated or resettled in third countries, including 11 in Europe.
The administration anticipates that about 20 detainees can be repatriated by this summer, and it has received firm commitments from countries willing to settle an additional 25 detainees who have been cleared for release, officials said.
Within a few days, sources said, four other detainees are slated to be transferred out.
Meanwhile, the Washington Times reports that NYPD chief Ray Kelly says he was not consulted on Team Obama's KSM 9/11 NYC trial location decision. Kelly added that not just Lower Manhattan, but the entire city, will be a target if the trial goes forward in NYC.
Bottom Line. Team Obama's confusion on detention & trial is nearly total. Put simply, it has the option of holding all detainees without trials, as unlawful enemy combatants, with the exception of US citizens. Why 9/11 mastermind KSM and his senior terror cohorts are not regarded as too dangerous to ever release defies elementary common sense. Presumably the trial reflects the administration's belief that (a) conviction will be obtained and (b) benefit will derive in terms of international standing, including in the Muslim world. This, however, is a leap of faith, not calculus of reason.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito are taking fire from outraged critics of their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission last week, in which they voted to overturn a 20-year-old legal precedent in the campaign financial corporate speech decision released last Thursday. The attacks center on the judicial doctrine of stare decisis--legal Latin for "Let the decision stand"--that was set aside by Justices in the majority, who overruled a 1990 case to reach their holding. But stare decisis is never an absolute, as the two Justices explain below.
Ed Whelan, whose NRO Bench Memos blog is a vital online resource in assessing matters judicial and legal, places the confirmation testimony of Roberts & Alito in proper context:
Remarks to Senators
Roberts and Alito both faced questions about how they would approach stare decisis during their confirmation hearings.
From the perspective of senators, particularly those who are pro-choice, the questioning was an attempt to pin the nominees down on their willingness to overrule Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that endorsed the right of women to have abortions.
Although unwilling to elaborate much on that issue, Roberts and Alito did give lengthy legalistic explanations of their interpretation of stare decisis.
Roberts, whose hearing took place in September 2005, described overruling precedent as "a jolt to the legal system" that should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
"It is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided," he said. Justices have to take into account "settled expectations" and such issues as "the legitimacy of the court," "whether a particular precedent is workable or not" and "whether a precedent has been eroded by subsequent developments," Roberts added.
During Alito's confirmation hearing in January 2006, the nominee acknowledged under questioning from then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., that the Supreme Court does not need to follow its own precedents.
"It is not an absolute requirement, but it is the presumption that the court will follow its prior precedent," he said. Alito then added that the court does, however, "need a special justification for overruling a prior precedent and that reliance and reaffirmation are among the factors that are important."
He cited the notorious 1896 ruling Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the court endorsed separate-but-equal accommodations for blacks and whites, as an example of a case the court rightfully overruled.
Justices not boxed in
Looking back at those comments, "there are no statements that either made that boxes them in," said Rick Hasen, an expert in election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. The justices are now engaged in process of balancing their respect for stare decisis with their misgivings about the earlier rulings, he added.
Other legal experts, like Doug Kendall, of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a progressive legal group that supports campaign finance limits, concede the justices can overrule cases but stress that any court that does so needs stronger justification.
"It's tough for them to justify overturning a precedent like Austin," Kendall said. Although Austin was decided in 1990, it is based on 100 years of campaign finance law, Kendall added.
Key to how the court will rule is Roberts's and Alito's willingness to categorize the case as a recent ruling that is not settled law, he said.
The oral argument would suggest that they have no qualms about categorizing it that way, especially Alito, who at one point expressed his views with some clarity.
"All of this talk about 100 years and 50 years is perplexing," Alito said. "It sounds like the sort of sound bites that you hear on TV. The fact of the matter is that the only cases that ... may possibly be reconsidered are McConnell and Austin. And they don't go back 50 years, and they don't go back 100 years."
Changed Media/Campaign Finance Marketplace. In 1990, when one of the cases overruled last week was decided, the market was vastly different: (1) hardly any talk radio & limited cable television, with few national shows covering politics intensively; (2) no commercial Internet, which enabled online fund-raising; (3) fewer sophisticated vehicles for circumventing financing limits, such as the "527s" that sprang up after McCain-Feingold was passed in 2003, creating ways for the likes of George Soros to pour millions into Democratic campaign coffers.
For an intelligent, informed partially-dissenting view the estimable Stuart Taylor of National Journal calls this ruling conservative judicial activism upholding decades of legal precedent. Here are online entries on the two the Supreme Court corporate speech cases overruled last week: Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce; (1990); the McCain-Feingold case, McConnell v. Federal Election Commission ((2003).
And enjoy ex-Federal Election Commissioner Bradley Smith's celebration of the ruling, in which he wittily adds needed perspective to the restoration of corporate political speech rights:
To truly appreciate the stakes in Citizens United, one must remember the government's legal position in the case. Implicit in its briefs but laid bare at oral argument, the government maintained that the Constitution allows the government to ban distribution of books over Amazon's Kindle; to prohibit a union from hiring a writer to author a book titled, "Why Working Americans Should Support the Obama Agenda"; and to prohibit Simon & Schuster from publishing, or Barnes & Noble from selling, a book containing even one line of advocacy for or against a candidate for public office. As David Barry would say, "I am not making this up."
The Court said "no," and the only shocking thing about the decision is that the four liberal justices said "yes."
Hopefully, this ruling marks an end to 20 years of jurisprudence in which the Court has provided less protection to core political speech than it has to Internet pornography, the transmission of stolen information, flag burning, commercial advertising, topless dancing, and burning a cross outside an African-American church.
Will GOP win big? Unlikely. Union dollars raised by Democrats go further, because unions give about 90-10 Dem-GOP, whereas corporations give more like 60-40 GOP-Dem. Thus, if unions give $100M splitting 90-10 Dems, Dems net $80M; corporations would have to give $400M, splitting 60-40 GOP, for the GOP to gain a net $80m.
Legal ace Jeremy Rabkin adds more reasons to endorse the court's ruling: It underscores that government cannot regulate diversity better than the market. Of corporate power he notes Scalia's rejoinder to the dissenters:
But look at it from the side of corporations. If they have such enormous political clout, as Justice Scalia asked in an earlier case, how did Congress have the political capacity to enact restrictions on corporate speech in the first place? If it is so easy to dominate public opinion with corporate advertising, why haven't we seen more such ads trying to influence public opinion on controversial Obama policies? (The spending restrictions in federal law only applied to the weeks before an election.)
If, on the other hand, the argument advanced by the Court's liberals is a sound argument, it's hard to see why it should be restricted to corporations. Talk radio seems to be dominated by conservatives. Why not federal regulation to ensure listeners get more balance? What made the current version of talk-radio possible was the repeal, during the 1980s, of Federal Communications Commission regulations requiring a balance of viewpoints (the "fairness doctrine").
Such regulation was endorsed by the Supreme Court in the 1960s on the ground that radio and television (in contrast to print media) could only operate through a limited number of broadcast stations in any one city, so the government had special need to regulate against viewpoint domination in broadcast media. What the Court's liberals are now arguing is that, in an era when satellite radio, cable tv, the Internet, have eliminated such concerns, government still needs to regulate in order to protect viewers or listeners from a disorienting excess of information.
Rabkin notes that 44 has one tool in his kit that may change this result: appointing more justices to the Supreme Court. That is true, if he gets a chance to replace one of the five in the majority; replacing the two thought most likely to step down--Ginsburg & Stevens--merely puts a liberal in place of a liberal, and would not shift the court balance.
On a personal notes LFTC readers might ask themselves: If a candidate proposes to do things that you judge would impair the value of your shareholdings, wouldn't you want the companies in which you own stock (or hold bonds) to be free to speak up and protect the value of their assets? Bear in mind also that property rights were co-equal with other fundamental rights in the view of the Framers of the Constitution.
Bottom Line. The critics are full of hot air. Bad precedent, of relatively recent vintage, demonstrably unworkable in today's campaign environment, was rightly discarded.
A WSJ editorial assesses President Obama's proposed bank regulation reforms, which are based upon advice from former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. WSJ editors write:
Phony populism aside, yesterday Mr. Obama introduced his first serious idea into the debate on reforming the financial system. In calling for an end to proprietary trading at firms with a federal safety net, the President showed that he now understands an important principle: Risk-taking in the capital markets is incompatible with a taxpayer guarantee.
Under the President's still-sketchy plan, firms that hold government-insured deposits or are eligible to receive cheap loans in an emergency from the Federal Reserve would not be able to trade for their own accounts. The firms could facilitate customer orders as brokers have always done and continue to underwrite new issues of stocks and bonds, but they could not make bets with their own capital or own or invest in hedge funds.
Yesterday's announcement is a critical departure from the reform plan Mr. Obama introduced last year—largely incorporated in the House and Senate bills written by Barney Frank and Chris Dodd. Those plans all sought to expand the universe of too-big-to-fail companies eligible for taxpayer rescue. Mr. Obama has at last joined the most important policy discussion: How to eliminate the moral hazard now embedded in the U.S. financial system. Political assaults on banker compensation have done nothing to address this core problem that enables gargantuan bonuses.
The WSJ notes that it was not the bankers that caused the 2008 financial meltdown, but a credit crisis brought on by the Fed and made far wrose by America's Financial Fric & Frac, Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac:
If we are going to have a Fed and a political class as reckless as we have, then we need a more comprehensive answer to financial risk. Bankruptcy for risk-takers who bet wrong is the best option. Barring that, strict limits on margin and leverage, especially for holders of insured deposits, can be helpful. Mr. Obama's suggestion yesterday of limits on the size of financial firms—with the limits still to be determined—deserves a hearing but would seem more problematic.
It is imperative that policy makers come out with clear capital and operating rules. They should be more conservative than in the past, but not so onerous as to make it impossible for banks to earn a return on equity sufficient to attract fresh capital.
Apart from helping investors regain confidence, clarity on new operating rules would likely encourage the banks to shed problem assets more aggressively. Nearly every past credit cycle ended once the banks felt confident enough about their future earnings and capital that they moved to disgorge the problems that hurt them in the prior downturn.
Policy makers need to decide if they want healthy banks able to attract fresh capital and make loans, or whether they want quasi-public utilities that would provide ready cash for political ends. On this, the verdict remains unclear.
AEI financial maven Peter Wallison, who flagged to financial meltdown early, warns that the President's reforms will relegate bank lending to real estate only, and bring on a new crisis, because too many other forms of financial trading and lending will be prohibited. His piece is serious and well worth reading in full. A Washington Post front-pager reports how power shifted toward outside adivser Volcker and away from Treasury Secretary Timonthy Geithner:
Geithner agreed with Volcker that banks' risk-taking needed to be constrained.
But through much of the past year, Geithner said the best approach to limiting it is to require banks to hold more capital in reserve to cover losses, reducing their potential profits. Geithner said blanket prohibitions on specific activities would be less effective, in part because such bans would eliminate some legitimate activity unnecessarily.
The shift toward Volcker's thinking began last fall, according to government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations were private.
Volcker had been arguing that banks, which are sheltered by the government because lending is important to the economy, should be prevented from taking advantage of that safety net to make speculative investments.
The WP article notes that Team Obama advisers reacted in part to the failure of banks to lend despite receiving bailout funds.
Economist David Malpass calls upon the Federal Reserve to return to a more traditional role:
A key area that's off track is the expanding role of the Federal Reserve, which is harmful to growth and jobs but is fixable. The Fed should go back to basics: setting the interest rate, with the goal of providing a relatively stable dollar over time and low inflation. Let the Executive Branch and Congress do the rest, using a proper system of checks and balances.
This narrower Fed mandate would reduce conflicts of interest, increase the Fed's independence, stabilize the weakening dollar and add to economic growth and employment. A focused Fed and a stable dollar would attract global investment to the U.S., a critical job creator the current Fed is not providing.
Instead, the Fed has become the fourth branch of government. It's the powerful and inbred go-to institution used when Washington wants to regulate, fund bailouts or save the global financial system, while pretending these actions are costless.
Unlike other government agencies the Fed is largely outside the normal congressional process of appropriations and performance audits. It doesn't have to get congressional approval for an increase in its balance sheet. It's not counted in the national debt, no matter how much it borrows--currently $1.1 trillion. Because it can create money, the Fed's spending power is practically unlimited--$1.4 trillion on bonds after the Lehman bankruptcy, with no outside approval required....
he Fed's most important role is to get interest rates generally right, protecting the value and purchasing power of the dollar. It hasn't been doing that. Advertisements for gold as an inflation hedge fill the airwaves, a daily vote of no-confidence in the Fed.
A Washington Post story assesses rising populist anger against Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, putting his confirmation for a full term as Fed Chairman in jeopardy:
Once viewed as the rock at the center of the government's response to the financial crisis, Bernanke has become a target for mounting anti-Wall Street fervor with two Democratic senators registering their opposition Friday and other support softening.
Top Senate Democrats scrambled for votes to confirm Bernanke less than a week after he seemed certain to earn a second term when his first expires Jan. 31. Although Democrats and Republicans alike mostly praise Bernanke for aggressive steps to combat the recession, he is increasingly blamed for failing to rein in Wall Street excesses that led to the crisis and tarred by his role as engineer of the profoundly unpopular bailout for financial firms.
On top of all this, a Bloomberg survey shows that 77 percent of investors regard President Obama as anti-business.
Bottom Line. It is nice to see 44 moving in the right direction. But unless Fannie & Freddie are reined in, and unless foolish ideas like the "bank tax"--which will discourage bank lending, the last thing the marketplace needs now--are junked 44's financial reforms will fail.
Last week the head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admitted "error" in the panel's 2007 finding that the Himalayan glaciers were likely to disappear by 2035. Specifically, the IPCC had said that the probability of them “disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high”. The UK Times Online reports the juicy details:
It emerged last week that the prediction was based not on a consensus among climate change experts but on a media interview with a single Indian glaciologist in 1999. That scientist, Syed Hasnain, has now told The Times that he never made such a specific forecast in his interview with the New Scientist magazine.
“I have not made any prediction on date as I am not an astrologer but I did say they were shrinking fast,” he said. “I have never written 2035 in any of my research papers or reports.” Professor Hasnain works for The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi, which is headed by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the climate change panel.
Dr Pachauri has defended the panel’s work, while trying to distance himself from Professor Hasnain by saying that the latter was not working at the institute in 1999: “We slipped up on one number, I don’t think it takes anything away from the overwhelming scientific evidence of what’s happening with the climate of this Earth.”
Professor Hasnain confirmed that he had given an interview to Fred Pearce, of New Scientist, when he was still working for Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1999. “I said that small glaciers in the eastern and central Himalaya are declining at an alarming rate and in the next 40-50 years they may lose substantial mass,” he said. “That means they will shrink in area and mass. To which the journalist has assigned a date and reported it in his own way.” Mr Pearce was not immediately available for comment.
Despite the "error" the IPCC chief (predictably--it's the UN, after all) stands behind the UN's overall assertions re global warming. The 2007 Himalayan scare-IPCC finding won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize (shared with--who else?--Al Gore). This WSJ editorial adds detail on how absurd the IPCC's 2007 "finding" was--and is. Christopher Booker at UK Telegraph adds spice on "Glaciergate":
Until now it has been generally reported that the IPCC based its offending paragraph on an interview Dr Hasnain gave to the New Scientist in June 1999. This was a time when global warming researchers were busy making ever more extravagant claims in the run-up to the IPCC's 2001 report. It was in that year that Dr Michael Mann in America launched on the world his famous "hockey stick" graph, purporting to show that temperatures had risen faster in the late 20th century than ever before in the Earth's history. The graph was made the centrepiece of the IPCC's 2001 report, though it has since been comprehensively discredited.
In fact Dr Hasnain had first made his own controversial claim two months earlier, in a much longer interview with an Indian environmental magazine, Down to Earth, in April 1999. It was the wording of this interview which the IPCC was to quote almost exactly in its 2007 report.
Clearly the IPCC was aware that to cite a little Indian magazine as the reference for such a startling prediction would hardly seem sound scientific practice. But it discovered that Dr Hasnain's slightly later interview with New Scientist had been quoted in a 2005 report by the environmental campaigning group WWF. So it was this, rather oddly, which the IPCC cited as its authority – even though the words it quoted were taken directly from the earlier interview.
Booker notes the contemptible smearing of an Indian climate expert by the UN chief at the center of this latest climate humbug:
Last November, however, Dr Raina, the country's most senior glaciologist, published a report for the Indian government showing that the rate of retreat of Himalayan glaciers had not increased in the past 50 years and that the IPCC's predictions were recklessly alarmist. This provoked the furious reaction from Dr Pachauri that tarred Dr Raina's report as "arrogant" and "voodoo science". Only weeks later came the devastating revelation that the IPCC's own prediction had no scientific foundation.
Dr Pachauri's first response to these revelations was to claim that he had "absolutely no responsibility" for the blunder, that it was "the work of independent authors – they're responsible". But the IPCC's error was so blatant that last week Pachauri and other senior officials had to put out their remarkable statement, admitting that it had been due to a serious system failure.
Even more damaging now, however, will be the revelation that the source of that offending prediction was the man whom Dr Pachauri himself has been employing for two years as the head of his glaciology unit at TERI – and that TERI has won a share in two major research contracts based on a scare over the melting of Himalayan glaciers prominently promoted by the IPCC, using words drawn directly from Dr Hasnain.
The UN scientist now admits using unverified glacier data to put pressure on world leaders to act. The Hindu reports that India & China will NOT sign the Copenhagen Accord. (HT reports that all of four countries, only two of them major nations--Australia, Canada, Papua New Guinea and the Maldives--have signed Copenhagen to date.) Bruce Chapman added thoughts on his Discovery Blog entry, "I'm melting, I'm melting!".
Bottom Line. It's another gift for the climate skeptics (myself included), another raspberry for the UN (which earns raspberries regularly) and a double-raspberry for the Nobel Peaceniks, who decided that in addition to awarding the Peace Prize to dreamers, terrorists and totalitarians it was a good idea to reward climate alarmists. For this year's Peace Prize, how about awarding it to the Himalayan glaciers, for deciding to stick around?
Former Secretary of Defense Keith Payne, long a missile defense maven, dismantles the latest adjustment of the Doomsday Clock by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The clock was set on January 14, 2010 to 6 minutes before midnight, one minute earlier than during the Bush years and one minute later than the original 1947 setting. The Doomsday Clock Timeline reveals that twice it was set at 2 minutes away (1949, when the Russians detonated their first atomic device & 1953, after the US tested the world's first hydrogen bomb). Once it was set a 3 minutes away (1984, when Ronald Reagan allowed the Soviets to walk away from the negotiating tale, due to his refusal to pre-emptively abandon the US Euromissile deployment & thus accept the then-existing Soviet Euromissiles already in place). Its earliest setting was 18 minutes in 1991, when the Cold War ended as the Soviet Union imploded.
A Weekly Standard piece notes that scientists foolishly speak as if scientific prowess equates to strategic acuity:
This is no doubt music to the ears of the atomic scientists, who feel themselves to be especially qualified to judge these matters. But knowing in detail how the bomb works does not necessarily grant one any special insight into the complex geopolitics of nuclear posture, deployments, bargaining, and hosts of other issues. To believe otherwise is a conceit that stretches back to Oppenheimer himself, but one that ignores the enormous gulf between technical proficiency—even scientific brilliance—and political wisdom. It’s the job of statesmen, not scientists, to think through the latter, and they may not always come to the same conclusion.
Tellingly, Payne notes an unimpeachable source for the PR focus of the Clock, in its original setting:
The keepers themselves recognize the lack of precision underlying their showy claims: Kennette Benedict, publisher of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, apparently observed that the Doomsday Clock originally was set “at seven minutes to midnight because that’s where it would look best in a design sense.” One can only wonder: Where was the scientific substance in this aesthetically pleasing timekeeping?
Bottom Line. Scientists often have high IQs to go with equally high Ego Quotients. The Bulletin's Clock is set by dovish scientists who fear conservatives and worship liberals, and calibrate their clock accordingly. The two, when combined, often yield (excuse the nuclear pun) low-yield foreign policy quotients.
British physician and pundit Theodore Dalrymple offers a two-page summary of Haiti's desperation and its dismaying likely future. Of the latter he writes, ignoring fashionable P.C.:
....No one can remain unmoved by the pictures of Port-au-Prince after the earthquake (the situation outside the capital remains unknown, but one can imagine). Everything that can be done should be done: the financial resources necessary are, comparatively speaking, tiny.
But because of the very problems that contributed so much to the disaster in the first place -- appalling infrastructure, absent administration -- such relief will be difficult to provide efficiently, without the absurdities of supplies accumulating where they are not useful, and not reaching the places where they're desperately needed. Terrible as the Haitian army was, and often harmful as its role was, its deliberate and total dissolution in 1994 may now be a severe handicap, an unintended consequence of a good intention. And after the immediate crisis has passed, what? International administration? Restoration of national sovereignty under a government incapable of governing? More aid that results in little but corruption and infighting?
Laissez-faire? The mind reels.
In ghastly conjunction with Haiti's unfolding agony, a Royal Caribbean luxury cruise liner carried on with docking elsewhere at Haitian beaches, for the amusement of its passengers. The action has proven a PR disaster, as well it should be. True, tourist revenue is routinely collected all across the world by countries riven with desperate poverty, but in the midst of a mega-catastrophe decency demands suspending business-as-usual.
Wednesday saw three top inte/homeland security chiefs put on the griddle by the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Watch video of Homeland Insecurity Secretary Janet "The system worked perfectly after the nuke went off" Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis "I get Jack Bauer his intel" Blair and National Counterterrorism Center director Michael "I get my intel on my iPhone as I schuss!" Leiter. Also, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Among the nuggets that emerged from the day's witnesses, correcting earlier news reports cited by LFTC: The XMAS bomber was Mirandized within 24 hours, and not 30 hours as originally reported.
Blair admitted that it may have been a mistake to Mirandize the XMAS bomber before intelligence officers could interrogate him. After that masterpiece of understatement, Blair noted that the High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) should have been called in, except, get this:
We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have. Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people. And, you know, we didn’t put it then — that’s what we will do now. And — and so we need to make those decisions more carefully.
Thinking more of interrogating those captured overseas? It gets even better: The HIG is not yet operational--and, the DNI does not know this. It is bottled up in the National Security Council.
A former prosecutor writes that we still do not know who decided to charge the XMAS bomber--it might possibly have been a local, junior prosecutor, as the bigwigs were on XMAS holiday. Andy McCarthy offers pointed paragraphs from Sen, Jefferson Sessions (R-AL) on the need to find out exactly who made the call, and to adopt a consistent future policy. At The Weekly Standard Stephen Hayes writes that the XMAS bomber was never asked questions based upon specific information we had collected on him.
The Weekly Standard recounts how GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) tried to get straight answers from White House counter-terror chief John Brennan:
First, why were Miranda rights given to the obvious terrorist after only a brief session of questioning, which predictably ended his cooperation?
Second, at what level of authority was this decision taken to treat him as a criminal defendant instead of an unlawful enemy combatant? Who made this decision?
I asked this question last night of John Brennan, the President’s senior counterterrorism adviser, three times and he refused to answer. I think that the Senate is entitled to know precisely who authorized this.
A year ago the President decided to revise the Nation’s interrogation policies, and to restrict the CIA’s ability to question terrorists. The administration created a High Value Detainee Interrogation Group to question terrorists. Why wasn’t his group brought in once this terrorist was taken into custody?
Americans need to know these answers.
We do know that local FBI officials decided to question the bomber, because FBI Director Mueller said so at the Judiciary Committee hearing:
The decision to arrest [Abdulmutallab] and put him in criminal courts, the decision was made by the agents on the ground, the ones that took him from the plane and then followed up on the arrest in the hospital. In this particular case, in fast-moving events, decisions were made-appropriately, I believe, very appropriately-given the situation.
Hayes links us to a Sessions-Mueller Senate Judiciary Committee hearing video clip (7:20). The best part is Sessions dueling with Sen. Patrick Leahy (Dumb-VT), after Leahy interrupted to try to salvage the witness, by noting that we have put hundreds of terrorists on trial and convicted them. Leahy then practically guffaws over how it will be easy to convict someone caught in the act by numerous eyewitnesses and thus the interrogation is not needed. To which Sessions answers aptly that what was missed is intel about future possible attacks.
Here is the full Jan. 20 Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing video (2:42:38). I confess I did not have time to review it, but LFTC readers may wish to do so.
A Washington Post front-pager recounts a verbal sally from Claire McCaskill (D-MO), no right-winger she:
[Sen. McCaskill], a former U.S. attorney, said she knew of no precedent for sending a terror suspect apprehended on American soil immediately into military custody. She added that José Padilla, a U.S. citizen sentenced to 17 years in prison on terrorism charges, was arrested in Chicago and held for one month as a material witness in 2002 before being transferred to a military prison and back to criminal court in 2006.
Still, McCaskill warned Obama officials, "We're going to lose the ability to use all those tools if we don't reassure the American people that there's a process in place, that these decisions are being made with the right people in the room."
Sen. McCaskill's point about Jose Padilla is right on point. Arrested at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 2002, he was held one month as a material witness, then transferred from criminal to military custody and kept there until 2006, when he was sent back to the criminal justice system. The way the XMAS bomber was yakking when pulled of f the plane, even a few days would likely have yielded additional actionable intel.
Senator-Elect Scott Brown, in his Jan. 19 victory speech, said it perfectly:
And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation - they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.
In the midst of all this what does one TSA employee do? On Jan. 5 he plants a clear plastic bag with white powder in the carry-on luggage of a young co-ed returning to college after XMAS break. He waits until she bursts into tears after he confronts her, then laughs and explains that he planted it for a laugh! He has apparently been fired. The student's dad is a lawyer, so the story may not be at an end.
Bottom Line. Wednesday's Senate spectacle reveled full-bore the staggering stupidity and obtuseness of many of our senior officials. Even FBI Director Mueller, who on the whole has performed well at the FBI, bringing in counter-terror operatives, fall flat on this case. But if we want intelligent intel, the buck stops on the Oval office desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.
This media confrontation between author Marc Theissen and CNN's Christiane Amanpour (9:22) is a humdinger. Theissen wins going away, because Christiane actually thinks that water torture by the Khmer Rouge & the Japanese (WW-II) is equivalent to what the CIA did to three top terror detainees at Guantanamo. Here are photos of the Khmer Rouge's infamous S-21 prison. Does not look like Gitmo, does it? The Japanese used water to burst stomachs of prisoners, as well as to interrogate; fatalities in Japanese camps were more than ten times higher than in German POW camps (the latter not to be confused with the concentration camps where the Holocaust was carried out).
For Americans, the applicable US regulation is Title 8 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 15, sec. 208.18. Here are the key sections of that regulation (presented without italics for clarity)--I have boldfaced the most important language:
Implementation of the convention Against Torture
(a) Definitions. The definitions in this subsection incorporate the definition of torture contained in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture, subject to the reservations, understandings, declarations, and provisos contained in the United States Senate resolution of ratification of the Convention.
(1) Torture is defined as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or her or a third person information or a confession, punishing him or her for an act he or she or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or her or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
(2) Torture is an extreme form of cruel and inhuman treatment and does not include lesser forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that do not amount to torture.
(3) Torture does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. Lawful sanctions include judicially imposed sanctions and other enforcement actions authorized by law, including the death penalty, but do not include sanctions that defeat the object and purpose of the Convention Against Torture to prohibit torture.
(4) In order to constitute torture, mental pain or suffering must be prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from:
(i) The intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(ii) The administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;
(iii) The threat of imminent death; or
(iv) The threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the sense or personality.
(5) In order to constitute torture, an act must be specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. An act that results in unanticipated or unintended severity of pain and suffering is not torture.
(6) In order to constitute torture an act must be directed against a person in the offender's custody or physical control.
(7) Acquiescence of a public official requires that the public official, prior to the activity constituting torture, have awareness of such activity and thereafter breach his or her legal responsibility to intervene to prevent such activity.
(8) Noncompliance with applicable legal procedural standards does not per se constitute torture.
The four boldfaced portions instruct us: (1) The US version of the Torture Convention is narrower than the international version ratified elsewhere; (2) treatment that may be cruel, inhumane or degrading is not necessarily torture; (3) harm must be prolonged; (4) procedural failings alone do not equate to torture.
Theissen noted that thousands of American special forces and other military personnel were waterboarded as part of SERE (Survival, Evavsion, Resistance and Escape) training.
Bottom Line. Waterboarding is a technique
Yesterday the Supreme Court released its decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (183 pages). I confess that time constraints--I am working hard on research for my next book, aiming for release a year from now--restricted me to reading the 7-page Syllabus. Thus while I can analyze the overall ruling, I cannot discuss positions taken by individual Justices in their opinions, authored or signed onto. This case was argued Sept. 9, 2009, the first case in which Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat on the bench.
Noteworthy in the Court's ruling as summarized in the Syllabus:
1. The Court issued a broader ruling than it might have chosen to do, holding the laws not merely unconstitutional as applied in the particular case before it (a movie DVD about Hillary), but declaring federal restrictions on corporate speech unconstitutional on their face--legalese for throwing out the pertinent parts of the statute entirely. Parts of the McCain-Feingpld campaign finance law are thus no longer operative, and several earlier Supreme Court rulings were overruled. The Court justified this by noting that to do so would chill free political speech, and undermine the central purpose of First Amendment freedom of speech.
2. The Court refused to distinguish the level of Constitutional free-speech protection given media versus non-media corporations.
3.. The Court formally concluded that "independent expenditures"--those made unconnected to any candidate campaign--"do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." The Court noted that campaign finance limits are easily circumvented and thus not effective.
4. The Court declined to apply stare decisis--legal Latin for "Let the decision stand"--principles, because none of the four justifications for applying the rule are present in this case. Its four criteria are: workability, antiquity, reliance interests (positions taken by parties based upon existing precedent, and harm to parties from changing precedent) and soundness of reasoning in prior cases.
5. The Court upheld disclaimer and disclosure requirements, and rejected Citizens United's argument that its supporters faced threats of harassment, of which, the Court held, no real evidence existed.
President Obama issued this statement yesterday:
With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington--while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.
The statement is odd, because President 44 has networked with little else besides big power players in his first year in office. As for getting Congress to work on this do not bet on it. The Court's ruling is based not upon interpretation of federal statutes, which Congress can easily reverse; rather it is based upon the Court's First Amendment interpretation, which is broad enough so that drafting a federal law that will pass the Court's new corporate speech standard will be a daunting task.
Bottom Line. The Citizens United case is clearly a milestone in the contest between free speech versus campaign finance laws. The Court no longer believes assertions about the power of corporations to corrupt the political process, nor does it see reason to accord superior protection to speech by media versus non-media corporations. Coincident with the Court's ruling is the arrival of Scott Brown in Washington to meet with his future Senate colleagues. Brown campaigned in his pick-up truck and shook hands with voters outside Fenway Park, while loser Martha Coakley went to Washington a week before the election to consort with Big Pharma lobbyists. Above all, the Court now clearly sees how today's vast, diverse 24/7 media environment and millions of online Internet donation dollars has reshaped the political campaign landscape, making their justifications for restricting corporate speech untenable.
It is nice to see the Supremes getting a Big One right.
Amidst the "all Haiti + Massachusetts news all the time" sturm und drang of the past week is this little item that normally might have provoked more media interest:
The Washington Times reported that US intelligence now believes Iran NEVER STOPPED its nuclear weapons program. The information is contained in a draft of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to be presented to the White House, in February at the earliest:. The WT article offers a view on the new Iran intel posture:
Differences among analysts now focus on whether the country's supreme leader has given or will soon give orders for full-scale production of nuclear weapons.
The new consensus emerging among analysts in the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community on Iran's nuclear arms program is expected to be the highlight of a classified national intelligence estimate nearing completion that will replace the estimate issued in 2007.
The unclassified summary of the 2007 document said the U.S. intelligence community had "moderate confidence" that Iran's nuclear weapons work had halted in 2003. In a footnote, it stated that weapons development was defined as warhead design and not the enrichment of uranium, which has continued unabated contrary to the Iranian government's agreement not to develop uranium enrichment techniques outside International Atomic Energy Agency controls.
A senior U.S. military officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity last week revealed that the new argument among analysts is over Iran's decision to move forward with weaponization.
"There is a debate being held about whether the final decision has been made. It is fair to argue that the supreme leader has not said, 'Build a nuclear weapon.' That actually does not matter, because they are not at the point where they could do that anyway."
The officer, who is knowledgeable about operational matters and intelligence on Iran, said Iran's nuclear program is well-advanced and moving toward the point at which a weapon could be built.
"Are they acting as if they would like to be in a position to do what the supreme leader orders if he gives the thumbs up at some point down the road? The answer to that is indisputably yes," the officer said.
There is more Iran news. Iran warned that it might strike at the more than 90 warships now patrolling the Persian Gulf, were it attacked. Jordan's General Intelligence Department (GID) said that Iran was behind a failed attempt to assassinate Israeli diplomats; the attack was an ostensible retaliation for the killing of an Iranian scientist, which Iran blames on Israel & America. (In reality, this seems a Reichstag fire ploy by the Iranian regime.) Amidst all this, what does China do? China urged more "flexibility" in considering stronger UN sanctions against Iran. In a business-as-usual move, a German firm has signed a major natural gas equipment deal with Iran.
Retuers reports that Iran has formally notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it rejects parts of the deal the IAEA has offered Iran. Iran has February plans: it will launch three new communication satellites; such launches serve also as ballistic missile tests applicable to military use. The US, for its part, plans to test its Ground-based Midcourse Missile (GMD) interceptor in the Pacific Ocean in February; the test will mimic an Iranian missile aimed at the US.
Two Bush-43 public diplomacy senior officials urge a soft-power strategy to move the Iranian rulers toward less aggressive policies, coupled with stronger sanctions.
Bottom Line. The November 2007 US NIE on Iran's nuclear program was, as critics then charged, a political document, authored by analysts who believe that a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is more risky than reliance upon traditional deterrence of a nuclear-armed Iran. This latest NIE, though apparently not politicized, comes with a President in power even less inclined to launch a preventive strike at Iran than his predecessor. But Israel was never fooled, and the ball thus remains in Israel's court, as to whether a strike will be launched against Iran to delay its crossing the nuclear weapons threshold.
A New York Times story reports that South Korea has warned the North that it is prepared to launch a conventional pre-emptive strike upon "clear indications" that the North is preparing a nuclear attack. In response to last week's threat that the North would launch "a holy war to blow away" the South, South Korea's defense minister said:
A nuclear attack from the North would cause too much damage for us to react. We must detect signs, and if there is a clear sign of attack, we must immediately strike. Unless it’s a case where we would sustain an attack but still could counterattack, we must strike first.
Bottom Line. The South's policy is far easier said than done. Strategic surprise is rarely detected in advance. And with Seoul hostage to massive artillery fire, the South's capital would be leveled within hours, even absent nuclear weapons. Stalin's satanic step-child continues to cause trouble 65 years after its misbegotten birth.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen offers post-vote poll indicators of why Scott Brown is on his way to the Senate. Key metrics: (1) Coakley won handily among voters who labeled health care their top issue; (2) Brown won narrowly among voters who put the economy first, and won huge on voters picking taxes, terrorism and deficits. The WSJ editors add high-cost RomneyCare--highest in the US--has a key voting factor. Voter turnout, at 2.25M, was epic for an off-year special election--75 percent of the 3M turnout for the 2008 Presidential election.
Politics super-maven Michael Barone adds further insight:
The state that in the last four presidential elections has voted on average 61 percent Democratic and 33 percent Republican. That's a bigger margin than in any other state.
George Will sees a massive repudiation of runaway liberalism in the MA result:
The 2008 elections gave liberals the curse of opportunity, and they have used it to reveal themselves ruinously. The protracted health care debacle has highlighted this fact: Some liberals consider the legislation's unpopularity a reason to redouble their efforts to inflict it on Americans who, such liberals think, are too benighted to understand that their betters know best. The essence of contemporary liberalism is the illiberal conviction that Americans, in their comprehensive incompetence, need minute supervision by government, which liberals believe exists to spare citizens the torture of thinking and choosing.
Last week, trying to buttress the bovine obedience of most House Democrats, Obama assured them that if the bill becomes law, "the American people will suddenly learn that this bill does things they like." Suddenly?
If the Democrats' congressional leaders are determined to continue their kamikaze flight to incineration, they will ignore Massachusetts' redundant evidence of public disgust. They will leaven their strategy of briberies with procedural cynicism -- delaying certification of Massachusetts' Senate choice, or misusing "reconciliation" to evade Senate rules, or forcing the House to swallow its last shred of pride in order to rush the Senate bill to the president's desk. Surely any such trickery would be one brick over a load for some hitherto servile members of the Democratic House and Senate caucuses, giving them an excuse to halt their party's Gadarene rush toward the precipice.
WSJ pundit Dan Henninger fingers a culprit: JFK, whom no one else (myself included) thought of. Yes, THAT JFK, the tax-cutter, national security hawk, DH fingers JFK's Executive Order 10988 (1962). EO 10988 unionized the federal workforce, and thus gave rise to the militant public-sector unions who milked taxpayers for the past 40 years and fund liberal candidates. Rising populist anger comes from taxpayers tired of high taxes and poor services.
NRO legal ace Andy McCarthy notes that Brown's internal polling showed that voter opposition to trials for terror suspects was a powerful issue driving voters to Brown:
The laws of war are the rule of law. They are not a suspension of the Constitution. They are the Constitution operating in wartime. The Framers understood that there would be wars against enemies of the United States — it is stated explicitly in the Constitution’s treason clause (Art. III, Sec. 3). The American people understand that we have enemies, even if Washington sees them as political “engagement” partners waiting to happen. Americans also grasp that war is a political and military challenge that the nation has to win, not a judicial proceeding in which your enemies are presumed innocent. The rule of law is not and has never been the rule of lawyers — especially lawyers we can’t vote out of office when they say we must let trained terrorists move in next door.
As for privacy, Americans are not as self-absorbed as ACLU staffers — who, by the way, reserve the right to search your bags before you enter their offices. If you fret about privacy, it’s Obamacare that ought to give you sleepless nights. The lefties who’ve told us for nearly 40 years since Roe v. Wade that the government can’t come between you and your doctor are now saying you shouldn’t be able to get to a doctor except through the government, which will decide if you’re worth treating — that is an invasion of privacy. Penetrating enemy communications, on the other hand, is what Americans think of as self-defense. It’s what we’ve done in every war in our history. It’s what common sense says we must do to win. And when America goes to war, Americans want to win.
A WSJ/NBC News poll shows two startling shifts since 44 took office: (1) voters are now evenly split as to which party they prefer to have run Congress, with likely voters leaning GOP; (2) President Obama's approve/disapprove rating crossed in December, with disapproval now higher. Had MA promptly called for a special senatorial election last August had held it in October or November, instead of delaying so that appointee Paul Kirk could carry ObamaCare over the top ObamaCare would be law, as no GOP candidate likely would have won Teddy Kennedy's seat back then.
Newt Gingrich offers nine lessons from Brown's win. Among them: contest races everywhere, and be positive & issues-oriented. My favorite: Trucks beat lobbyists.
ObamaCare in its present form is now comatose. President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) both said on TV that there will be no Senate vote on health care until Senator-Elect Scott Brown is seated. NRO reports that House liberals told Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Pluto) that the House will not pass the current Senate ObamaCare bill. The New York Times reports that President Obama is considering a stripped-down health care bill in order to win some GOP support. NRO reports that even Senator Ben Nelson (D-Cupidity) has had a Damascus conversion and will not support a Democrat-only bill.
Another casualty of Brown's triumph may well have been President Obama's nominee to head the Transportation Security Agency (TSA), Erroll Southers; Southers withdrew his nomination Wednesday. Giving terrorists the same rights as American citizens is an issue that will cost Democrats dearly this fall, if they stay their present course.
Bottom Line. Although RomneyCare is now unpopular in MA, likely that reflects concern with cost; with universal coverage in MA--97 percent--RomneyCare is the nation's most expensive state plan. Ardent supporters of health care, however, still back ObamaCare; the GOP has to take advantage of the upending of ObamaCare to offer a cohesive agenda for health care reform. National security remains a Democratic weakness that candidates must surmount by showing voters they are strong on such issues.
Above all, the MA vote reaffirms that America is a centrist country, rejecting policies perceived as too far left or right, depending upon which excess is salient in a given election cycle. And voters increasingly demand performance from both parties, and will toss out anyone perceived as not performing. Put simply, neither party can afford to delude itself that a grand realignment is in order anytime soon. The center of gravity in American politics is occupied by the independent voter.
Ever-astute super-success Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of US News & World Report, offers a stark picture of the US economy plus his prescription to fix it. (My link has a USN&WR online glitch in it; you may need to click on "cancel print job" after it comes up, and then print from your File menu.) MZ paints in detail the stark jobs landscape, not conveyed adequately by looking at the spotlighted unemployment rate. His prescription to fix it includes targeted infrastructure projects plus pro-investment & pro-skilled immigrant policies. But most compelling is his summary of the fix we now find ourselves in:
In summary, we have overleveraged households weighed down by debt and worried about layoffs, thus curtailing their spending. We have businesses unwilling to hire until they are certain that the recovery is solid. They are unlikely to invest in new machinery and plants when they are using less of the nation's industrial capacity than they have at any time since the end of World War II.
What this means is that larger-than-typical head winds face two of the three normal engines of recovery: consumption and residential investment. These usually make up about 4.5 percent of the growth in the gross domestic product in the first year of a recovery. This represents a subtraction on the order of three quarters of a trillion dollars annually from consumer spending. Given how high our fiscal deficits are, it is hard to imagine how consumers will be in any position to make up the difference.
Rather than pumping more cash willy-nilly into a fragile economy, the government will have to focus on its next big task: drawing up credible plans for bringing bloated budget deficits under control without triggering another downturn. The public understands this.
The prospect, therefore, is sluggish GDP growth; employment gains that are too slow to prevent further increases in the unemployment rate; slowing and probably falling inflation; a Federal Reserve policy that may be forced to unravel some of the Fed's unconventional monetary stimulus but still will keep the fed funds rate at its current near-zero level; banks more willing to lend, but only gradually; and firms probably still very reluctant to hire vigorously.
George Will notes the 17.3 percent underemployment rate--far more significant than the official 10 percent rate--and adds data on real estate plus recovery numbers from past recessions, giving force to the argument that rapid recovery is simply not in the cards today. Further force comes from a WSJ editorial this morning, spotlighting six of the worst veteran liberal leaders of the House, whose animus towards and ignorance of the private sector help drive market-destructive policies embedded in legislation they produce.
Bottom Line. All administrations use Rosy Scenario economic growth numbers to drive political budgetary exigencies. But today's true economic prospects make Team Obama's edition of Rosy the Rosiest ever.
Last Thursday the Pentagon released "Protecting the Force: Lessons From Fort Hood" (Jan. 2010, approx. 80 p.), its report on the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood Massacre. A quick scan reveals page after page of bureaucrat-speak prose. To my jaundiced eye it reads like a document designed more to obfuscate than inform.
Ralph Peters is blunt, calling it worse than a cover-up:
* It's not about what happened at Fort Hood.
* It avoids entirely the issue of why it happened.
Rarely in the course of human events has a report issued by any government agency been so cowardly and delusional. It's so inept, it doesn't even rise to cover-up level.
"Protecting the Force: Lessons From Fort Hood" never mentions Islamist terror. Its 86 mind-numbing pages treat "the alleged perpetrator," Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, as just another workplace shooter (guess they're still looking for the pickup truck with the gun rack).
Peters sees a pass given the P.C. culture of the Army towards militant Islam in its ranks:
Unquestionably, the officers who let Hasan slide, despite his well-known wackiness and hatred of America, bear plenty of blame. But this disgraceful pretense of a report never asks why they didn't stop Hasan's career in its tracks.
The answer is straightforward: Hasan's superiors feared -- correctly -- that any attempt to call attention to his radicalism or to prevent his promotion would backfire on them, destroying their careers, not his.
Hasan was a protected-species minority. Under the PC tyranny of today's armed services, no non-minority officer was going to take him on.
Bottom Line. Alas, Peters's assessment, that P.C. remains regnant supreme in the Army, seems on target.
Red-FACED American officials have withdrawn a photofit mugshot of terror chief Osama bin Laden - after admitting they used a Spanish politician's face.
The "wanted" image of the al-Qaeda leader as he might look now without his trademark long beard and turban was posted on the internet by the FBI.
But it was based on a photograph of Communist MP Gaspar Llamazares found on Google by an FBI technician who was dissatisfied with his collection of photofit facial features - and launched a web search, keying in "faces" with "Islamic names".
The technician at the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, used the MP's hair and forehead for the picture put on a State Department webpage with an offer of a $25million reward last week. FBI assistant director Louis E. Grever hailed it as a "powerful example" of how technology and science can be used to bring wanted people to justice.
Check out the paired images in the DM story and see the FBI's latest handiwork. Efrem Zimbalist, where are you when we REALLY need you?
Herbert Meyer, ex-CIA, explains why President Obama's intel reform is doomed, as was President Bush's reform: The bureaucratic dopes who gave us the Iraq 2002 WMD intel catastrophe and the 2007 Iran intel disaster will be directing the latest reform. Our intel services are run by managers who lack ability to spot world-class talent, which is the asset missing from our intel agencies for the past two decades.
In a similar vein is this Washington Post front-pager detailing how CIA commanders ignored red flags from case officers that the Chapman Forward Operating Base suicide-bomber was a committed jihadist:
Jordanian and U.S. officials have since concluded that Balawi was a committed extremist whose beliefs had deep intellectual and religious roots and who had never intended to cooperate with them. In hindsight, they said, the excitement generated by his ability to produce verifiable intelligence should have been tempered by the recognition that his penetration of al-Qaeda's top echelon was too rapid to be true.
Senior CIA and GID officials were so beguiled by the prospect of a strike against al-Qaeda's inner sanctum that they discounted concerns raised by case officers in both services that Balawi might be a fraud, according to the former U.S. official and the Jordanian government official, who has an intelligence background.
A Washington Post front-pager adds the latest detail on the Flight #253 XMAS bomber intel failure to connect dots. But the WP story attributes the failure to flawed computer search setups & lack of sharing data, ignoring cultural factors in risk-averse bureaucracies. National security maven Edward Luttwak writes that better air security means either privacy-invasive screening that can detect body cavity smuggling, or intelligent questioning.
Now to the Israelis, who CAN connect dots. Stephanie Guttman, brilliant author of The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy (2005), writes in the linked article about what our Transportation Security Administration (TSA) dopes can learn from Israeli air security:
But the Israeli security system is not based on dual language skills or racial and ethnic profiling. The heart of the Israeli strategy is the idea that the most sophisticated scanner in the world is an intelligent, alert human being and that the most important terrorist behavior database is the shared assumptions, memories and life learning we call "common sense." It revolves around a simple principle that no one in the Homeland Security Department does not yet seem capable of grasping: "Look at people, not things."
I've been through Ben Gurion Airport many, many times. As a female Caucasian with a Jewish last name, you'd think I wouldn't have any trouble with "racial and ethnic profiling." Yet I've been questioned extensively more than once. In every instance, it had nothing to do with what I was carrying or whether I was a little darker than usual. It had to do with my behavior.
Israeli strategy is built on multiple face-to-face contacts between passengers and airport personnel. A mile or so away, on the road leading to the terminals you encounter a structure that resembles a classic American highway toll plaza. It's actually a checkpoint. A young soldier approaches your vehicle, bends close to the window, peers in, and asks a few questions, innocuous things like "How're you doing? Where are you going today?" The substance of the answers (i.e. "I'm going to Casablanca") is far less important than what psychologists call your "affect" -- your demeanor, whether your gaze is steady or if it ping-pongs around, whether you are sweating heavily, whether your clothes seem appropriate to the surroundings or just subtly...well...off.
SG explains the second screening filter:
The second screening occurs while you wait on line to check your baggage. You are then approached by a uniformed young person (they are usually Israeli reservists) and "chatted with" again, the same sort of "where are you going?" stuff -- even such friendly questions as, "Did you enjoy your trip to Israel? Where do you live in the United States? Do you go to a synagogue there?"
People are often taken aback by the synagogue question but it is not an effort to identify Jews; rather it is simply a conversational gambit to prolong the contact, a way to get in close and feel the vibes. As Sela explains, "They're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you. Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes. And that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."
And finally--depressing, too--SG explains why the US of A will likely never get air security right:
Maybe I'm wrong, but everything I know about American government in the 21st century tells me that even if we try to adopt Israeli methods, we're going to get it wrong. It will end up like those "psy-ops" efforts in Iraq, where Arabic-speaking soldiers stand there reading questions off a checklist rather than engaging the population in casual or even earnest conversation. All our so-called "reforms" and "outreach" in everything from policing to intelligence gathering to government hiring have been about banning the intuitive, the hunch.
When Richard Reid climbed aboard a trans-Atlantic flight with a British passport issued in Belgium, no luggage, a one-way ticket and a bomb in his shoe, we made everybody take off their shoes. Now that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has gotten past security with no luggage, a one-way ticket and a bomb in his underpants, we're going to check everybody's underpants with body scanners. But no scanner ever invented can look into another person's mind. Only when we start talking to passengers will be able to get into their heads. And that is where the real danger lies.
SG is being diplomatic. In truth, talking to passengers only works if those doing the interviewing are whip-smart, as the Israeli personnel surely are; if we use dopes who are 8-t5 on what day of the week it is, we will get results equally dismal to the current system. On the bright side, fewer grannies & kids will be abused. If we are must live wit (or die with) dumb air security, at least let us travel unmolested.
Other security/intel tasks are impaired by absurd standards of perfection: The Washington Post reports today that an audit of FBI phone surveillance shows 2,000 improper call interceptions made in 2002-2006 without justification. There are about one billion landline + wireless calls daily made in the US. For the six years inclusive, 2002-2006, this amounts to a total of roughly 1.8 trillion calls; this represents one improper interception out of every 900 million calls. Sound like a high number for calls made daily? Think of it this way: With over 300 million Americans, four calls daily per person (infants make none, but others make more than four) adds up to around one billion calls daily. Wait for the grandstanding hearings on Capitol Hill over this one, with privacy hawks in full predatory mode. Ironically, the phone-tap record is the inverse of the air security record: Whereas the air security searches abuse the vast majority of people to try to weed out a minuscule fraction of passengers, phone surveillance leaves the vast majority of caller conversations untouched.
Bottom Line. The old adage that "People are policy' rings especially true with intel reform; people are also policy in Congressional lawmaking and oversight. Given whom we have running our intel and TSA operations, plus grandstand players in Congress, be afraid, be VERY afraid....
The latest from Haiti: The French are protesting that US management of the airport includes giving Americans priority for evacuation. Really? And had France been running the airport, they would not have given priority to evacuating French? Mais non....
Christopher Booker writes in The Daily Telegraph on why the response of the US v. the EU to Haiti shows once again the vast difference between real & fantasy superpower status. Re Haiti:
Compare and contrast the initial responses of two "major world powers" to the Haitian earthquake disaster. Within hours of Port-au-Prince crumbling into ruins, the US had sent in an aircraft carrier with 19 helicopters, hospital and assault ships, the 82nd Airborne Division with 3,500 troops and hundreds of medical personnel. They put the country's small airport back on an operational footing, and President Obama pledged an initial $100 million dollars in emergency aid.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the European Union geared itself up with a Brussels press conference led by Commission Vice-President Baroness Ashton, now the EU's High Representative – our new foreign minister. A scattering of bored-looking journalists in the Commission's lavishly appointed press room heard the former head of Hertfordshire Health Authority stumbling through a prepared statement, in which she said that she had conveyed her "condolences" to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and pledged three million euros in aid.
This contrast was echoed by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami contrast:
Memories might have gone back to December 2004, which saw similarly contrasting responses to the Indian Ocean tsunami catastrophe which cost nearly 300,000 lives. Again, within hours the US took the lead in forming an alliance with Australia, India and Japan, and had sent in two battle groups fully equipped to deal with such an emergency, including 20 ships led by two carriers with 90 helicopters. President Bush immediately pledged $35 million, later rising to $350 million. Because they were self-sufficient, the US forces pulled off a stupendously successful life-saving operation, almost entirely ignored by the British media, notably the BBC (whose journalists on the spot were nevertheless quite happy to hitch lifts from US helicopters).
The EU, by contrast, pledged three million euros for the tsunami victims, called for a three-minute silence (three times longer than is customary to remember the millions who died in two world wars) and proposed a "donors' conference" in Jakarta nearly two weeks later to discuss what might be done.
Tragically, as Anne Applebaum notes among the dreamers are those calling for Haiti to emerge stronger and better from this tragedy--now routinely labeled "Biblical":
Though the earthquake itself was powerful, its impact was multiplied many, many times by the weakness of civil society and the absence of the rule of law in Haiti. As Roger Noriega has written, "you can literally see the dysfunction from space." Satellite photos of Hispaniola, the island split between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, show green forests on the Dominican side and bare, deforested hills on the Haitian side. Mudslides and collapsing houses were routine in Haiti even before this disaster. Laws designed to prevent erosion, and building codes designed to prevent criminally shoddy construction, were ignored. The rickety slums of Port-au-Prince were constructed in ravines and on steep, unstable hills. When they collapsed, they collapsed completely.
So incredibly weak were Haiti's public institutions that nothing is left of them either. Parliament, churches, hospitals and government offices no longer exist. Haiti's archbishop is dead. The head of the U.N. mission is dead. There is a real possibility that violent gangs will emerge to take the place of leadership, to control food supplies, to loot what remains to be looted. There is a real possibility, in the coming days, of epidemics, mass starvation and civil war.
AA recalls that the Boxing Day Tsunami & Katrina aftermaths worked because of civic efforts:
I don't remember feeling this utter hopelessness about previous natural disasters. After the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 there were equally horrific scenes and stories: Whole villages swept away, people drowned in their homes, American families wading through water clutching their possessions on their heads. But after the initial chaos in both places, it was possible to coordinate basic assistance. In fact, the victims of Katrina were moved quickly out of New Orleans. Remember the buses to Texas, the Americans who offered their spare rooms to homeless families, the churches and schools that "adopted" refugees from the Gulf Coast? Although I would never claim that the result is satisfactory -- neither the city nor the adjacent coastline will ever be rebuilt as it was, and hundreds of thousands of people will never truly recover -- at least there were no epidemics, no mass starvation, no civil war.
The same is true in Indonesia. It is even possible to read assessments of the worst-hit places, such as the region of Aceh -- from the World Bank, for example -- that describe life there as better than ever. I am certain that many disagree. There are, however, no scenes in Aceh of what everyone always calls "biblical" tragedy. Indonesia is not a society of utopian perfection, and neither is the United States. But both have enough social cohesion to support indigenous charities; both have enough educated people to plan reconstruction; both are capable of absorbing lessons learned, of rebuilding villages and cities with an eye toward future floods, of helping their own refugees resettle.
One thing, AA writes, is no longer permissible: colonial oversight. Yet that might be Haiti's only hope, were it possible. It isn't. And many of Haiti's most enterprising citizens live abroad, sending scads of money back but keeping skills in their adopted countries.
Bottom Line. The US does the heaviest lifting, while the EU--and their UN pals--do the loudest talking. And barring a miracle--no, a succession of miracles--Haiti's future is bleak and bleaker.
North Korea expert Nicholas Eberstadt sees hyperinflation coming to worsen Pyongyang's economic mess. Its November 30, 2009 100 to 1 devaluation of the won enraged the citizenry. Worse surely is to come.
Meanwhile, the North's nuke program moves merrily onward, desultory diplomacy notwithstanding. The linked article provides background historical context to the messy foreign policy problems a nuclear North continues to create.
Claudia Rosett compares a martyr for good to a would-be martyr for evil: Robert Park, who walked into North Korea and asked not to be released until the North's people are free, versus the Flight #253 XMAS bomber, would-be martyr for Islamist tyranny. Park is already all but forgotten, a true Forgotten Man; the XMAS terrorist will get better medical and prison treatment, a full panoply of rights the North gives no one, and a platform to sound off, should he wish to strut during his more than 15 minutes of fame.
Bottom Line. We can hope for at least no civilized person wasting sympathy on a terrorist, whilst ignoring a true martyr for freedom and justice.
Gordon Chang sees China's Google Moment as an indicator that the regime is turning inward, seeking to make China less dependent upon global trade and economic trends; GC notes that Google's market share is 36 percent, versus the Chinese Internet search firm's Baidu's 58 percent. Newsweek pundit Fareed Zakharia sees a clash of titans, testing how much the Chinese people yearn for freedom. FZ sees China's role in the global community of nations at stake:
Will China's new attitude cost it in economic terms? Perhaps. Certainly many scholars, like Carnegie's Minxin Pei, argue that the tensions between China's authoritarian regime and its economic ambitions are growing as the economy and society modernize. Schmidt argues that limiting information and communications cannot produce the kind of economic growth, creativity, and productivity that China seeks in the long run. But whether or not that is true, one thing is becoming clear: while the Internet is changing China, China is also changing the Internet. And while globalization has shaped China, China is also shaping globalization.
We have assumed, perhaps too easily, that China's rise would be accompanied by a process of modernization within that country that would make Beijing easier and easier to deal with. And in many ways that has proved true. But now we must confront a prospect that I have worried and written about—that China's rise will reinforce Chinese nationalism and a sense of uniqueness and actually make the country less likely to easily integrate into the global system.
The world transitioned seamlessly from British to American global hegemony largely because the two countries had very similar conceptions of global order and values. Both were seafaring, free-trading countries, with a High Protestant mission and a sense of shared universal values. As China's voice rises in the councils of the world, we will notice that it speaks in a very different language than the Anglo-American dialect. And this might prove to worry many countries beyond the United States and Britain. As countries like India and Japan and Australia and Indonesia think about a world in which Chinese values will shape the rules and routines of international life, they will find themselves discomfited. If China truly wants to be a world power, it will have to show that it has an outward orientation, open to the currents of modernity that are sweeping the world. How Beijing chooses to respond to Google will be a good test of its desire and ability to be a global leader.
The Washington Post sees China v. Google complicating US diplomacy. Al-Jazeera reports that US diplomats are backing Google for now. For its part, China's government is pushing back, defending its Internet access policies; a piece in The Australian sees Google rethinking its stance. A New York Times story covers ways in which cyber-denizens inside China scale digital walls erected by the regime. Here is a Financial Times piece on a daring Chinese celebrity-blogger who pushes against regime constraints. The confrontation was triggered by a monster cyber-attack from China directed at Google; A Washington Post front-pager reports that the attack is part of a vast Chinese cyber-effort targeting American providers and companies.
Historian Walter Russell Mead sees the next decade marked by the breaking up of the West--the coalition of first-world democracies that dominated global politics over the past 65 years:
It is not just the United States that is rethinking its place in the world. Europe and Japan, while not wishing to abandon their alliances with Washington (any more than Washington wants to abandon its alliances with them), are re-balancing their foreign policy portfolios. As we saw in Copenhagen, the differences between European and American approaches to questions of global governance has outlasted the Bush administration. Europe and the United States these days are often fishing for allies in the old ‘Third World” against one another rather than, as in the past, working together to block communist advances among the non-aligned. While common values and interests will persist (and rising tensions with Islam could conceivably drive Europe and the United States closer together), the West is likely to look less united and less connected in 2020 than it is today.
Barring new surprises (and surprises after all are one of the few true constants in international relations), the outlines of the old, familiar world will continue to fade and blur during the 2010s. As the old associations and aggregations fade away, new and probably more fluid and less enduring ones will form. Effective diplomacy in the new decade will require the ability to form issue-by-issue coalitions and to identify the rise of new blocs as the old ones gradually lose their strength.
Bottom Line. A declining West will increasingly face challenge from China. The weaker the West is, the more severe the temptation to China to push the geopolitical envelope. Google's challenge shows that the West is not dead yet, but unless Western governments show as much spine as Google they will lose the contest.
The full veil is not welcome in France because it runs contrary to our values and contrary to the idea we have of a woman's dignity. Let us undertake not to give opponents of democracy, dignity and sexual equality the chance for a victory which would put our society in a very difficult situation.
But Sarko called it "essential that no one [feels] stigmatised."
The unceasing parade of horror stories dominating our television screens the past two days rends the heart of every sentient, civilized human being. In choosing entities to send help, it is important to weigh two prime factors: (1) a reputable organization that can be trusted to spend the money as intended by the donor; (2) an efficient distributor not unduly encumbered by bureaucracy.
On the first none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on "Fox & Friends":
SECRETARY CLINTON: But we have systems in place now to be able to track the money, to hold it accountable, to look for results. We’re doing that across the board. I’m revamping our aid system so that I can look you in the eye and the American taxpayer in the eye and say look, I’m not going to spend a penny unless I have some confidence that it’s going to go to the right place. In a disaster like this, you have to put in a lot of resources.
New York Times pundit David Brooks raises a politically incorrect set of truisms: Culture matters in determining which societies become prosperous and thus are able to weather natural catastrophes. Thus the Dominican Republic & Haiti share the same Caribbean island, but the D.R. is in far better shape.
I would add one more, politically incorrect major point: The largest responder to this mega-calamity is--often true, as happened with the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami--once again the United States Navy: aircraft carriers turned into makeshift floating hospitals (in addition to specialized hospital ships), US Marines ashore to keep order.
None of this military-provided humanitarian aid counts as "foreign aid" in the eyes of internationalists like the Norwegian globalist who back then implied that America is "stingy" because its official government aid was not then at the 0.7 percent benchmark established by les bien pensants as the minimum for reputational honor. Hudson Institute scholar Carol Adelman's "Global Philanthropy and Remittances: Reinventing Foreign Aid" (June 2009) detailed how private charity from America exceeds government largesse by a substantial margin; American private charity vastly outpaces contributions from any other population on the planet. (Another very generous source of aid in natural disasters, with little notice given by news outlets, is Israel and Jewish groups.)
Even when the U.N. gets fully going, the U.S. will still be providing at least 40 percent of U.N. aid. In addition to America's quarter-share of the U.N.'s costs, almost all U.N. aid will be transported to stricken areas by American planes, ships, and helicopters. In short, the U.S. is the dominant force in this disaster- relief program.
There is no great disgrace in that — the U.S. has greater capability than other countries and agencies even in combination — and we should not scorn U.N. relief efforts because others can do more sooner.
What is disgraceful is that there has been a concerted effort by the U.N. and its ideological allies — against the evidence and all commonsense — to insist that the U.N. must take the lead in organizing the relief effort, to allege that any independent U.S. help is "undermining" the U.N., and to claim credit for aid that the U.S. and Australia had actually delivered.
The first case of this was the accusation (since withdrawn) that the U.S. and Western countries were "stingy." Then ideological charities such as Oxfam demanded that all aid should be channeled through the U.N. even though, as Rosemary Righter of the London Sunday Times pointed out, it was clear that the U.N. was not capable of coordinating such a massive effort. Next, Britain's former International Development Secretary, the left-wing Clare Short, declared that the U.S. was seeking to "undermine" the U.N. by joining with Japan, India and Australia in a practical coalition to coordinate aid to Asia. Sadly (and absurdly), Tony Blair seconded her demand that the U.S. should acknowledge U.N. leadership. Most recently (as reported by the blogger Diplomad) a local U.N. representative in Aceh asked that U.S. and Aussie military flying in aid and introducing clean water to the area should wear blue U.N. helmets in order to "soothe local cultural anxieties."
In other words for the U.N. and its claque, helping the stricken takes second place to getting the credit. They have to obscure the realities revealed by the tsunami crisis. Otherwise, American generosity will re-fashion the global image of the U.S. as a callous superpower and American efficiency will shame a U.N. still struggling to catch up with American aid efforts.
Here is Fox News's list of organizations helping the relief effort. I would add to the list Mercy Corps and Doctors Without Borders.
Here is AEI scholar Roger Noriega with lessons for government aid to Haiti over the longer term.
Bottom Line. America will once again do the heaviest lifting, and get little credit for it, because that is what is expected of it. And Israel will, of course, get zero credit from the globalist elite. As for the UN types, they will, as ever, hog the limelight and take most of the credit, while doing little of the real work.
Following an item on the tragic news from Haiti is not easy. But a serious issue concerning how we fight the terror war persists, and there was a major TV event this week. Its total video length is just under 24 minutes, but well worth watching.
Bush-43 legal eagle John Yoo, widely reviled for his "torture memo" legal analysis, now rejected by Team Obama, did a full-length guest appearance Monday on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show." Here are the three segments: Part I (5:59); Part II (8:19) & Part III (8:22). Here are Stewart's next-day on-air reflections on the Yoo interview (1:09), in which Stewart concedes he was bested. But the clips are worth viewing for a terrific look at how a first-class legal mind (Yoo's) tries to explain legal issues to a non-lawyer; Stewart is reasonably bright and is, unlike many on the left, clearly a decent guy. I enjoyed watching the clips and hope you do, too.
The WSJ reports that the Obama administration is shifting its policy emphasis to reflect an emerging view that the Iranian regime is weaker than previously thought. Team Obama doesn't support regime change, but it realizes that it is a real possibility. A major Swiss commodities trading firm is suspending gasoline shipments to Iran, fearing US sanctions. Stateside, a major federal court appellate case will address whether a major anti-regime group, the MKK, should remain designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO); the administration intends that the designation be kept, but security consultant James Zumwalt argues the label should not apply.
AEI Iran maven Ali Alfoneh sees opposition influence growing, and notes the five points set forth by opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi:
That's why the Islamic Republic's political leadership is bound to ignore opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi's five-point plan to solve the political crisis in the country: Responsible government, free and fair elections, freedom to political prisoners, freedom of the press, and the right to establish political parties.
Bottom Line. American policy must put regime change first, sanctions second and quixotic negotiations third.