Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, May 28, 2006

  Memorial Day, a time for mea culpas

Decoration Day, begun as an occasion to honor our war dead, also became a way to heal a deeply divided nation. Today the U.S. is riven by animosities once again, courtesy of George Bush's duplicitous and divisive policies. Bush had many willing helpers as he set about shattering lives in Iraq, fracturing the military, and trampling upon our laws. Each year brings a new generation of lies, withering and falling like chestnut burrs littering the ground, dangerous under foot.

Those complicit in creating the mess ought to be capable of some gesture on this Memorial Day that would help to heal the bitter divisions and allow the U.S. to face the future undistracted by debates about the past. The question is, what gesture is most needed?

From every perspective, the best way for the complicit to honor those who died in Iraq and to help the nation to recover, is to fess up to what they’ve been complicit in. What we need as much as anything now are mea culpas from politicians who devised and facilitated this fiasco, and journalists who justified and excused it. It will be essential if we're ever to face up to the crises besetting us.

I don’t mean vostra culpas, nostra culpas, or even sua culpas, of the sort that the Richard Cohens and Tom Friedmans have tried to fob off on the world, nor the minime culpas coming out every so often from some conservatives.

I don’t mean blaming others, or blaming everybody, or blaming the neocons, or blaming liberals, or blaming George Bush, or blaming Dick Cheney, or blaming the CIA, or blaming the Pentagon, or blaming that popinjay, or blaming known unknowns. I don’t mean evasions, lies, and half-truths.

I mean a frank admission of fault from everybody who bears some of the blame, offered with the humility owed by those who have harmed their country. Those who asserted whatever they chose to believe and ignored what the evidence actually told them, should promise to talk in the future about fact rather than fancy. Those who suppressed or ignored what was inconvenient, should rethink their commitment to public life. Those who assented to governmental wrongdoing in the name of a greater cause, should acknowledge the error of placing ends above means. Those who put trust in people who had proven themselves untrustworthy, should admit that their judgment is questionable.

And those who deceived the nation about the alleged danger presented by Iraq, should finally, at long last, take full responsibility for their actions.

I say these things not in a spirit of triumphalism. I sized up George Bush’s lies in 2002 and have been adamant ever since that he had no adequate evidence for the accusations he was making and no legal basis for invading Iraq. It was obvious at the time, and I don’t need the war’s proponents now to confirm that view. Their public stance reflects upon themselves, not upon me.

No, the reason it’s essential for the war proponents to fess up is that the nation will remain divided and distracted by internecine and pointless bickering until such time as those who abused their positions of power and influence set the record straight. The longer they fail to come clean about their own responsibility in creating the mess, the more harm they do to the country they claim to honor, and the greater dishonor they show to those who paid with their lives for these disastrous policies.

We show no honor to the war dead by refusing to learn from our mistakes.

The U.S. has a long history of refusing to face up to such mistakes. Many of us remember how divisive, ill-informed, and caustic the debate over the Vietnam War was. And it still is, for many participants prefer to hold onto their fictions rather than admit to well-documented facts. Political leaders of the day rarely took real responsibility (Robert McNamara waited a quarter century before penning his mea culpa).

So although journalists did their job in that war, the nation has remained at war with itself these three decades. Those who were deceived most egregiously by the government have continued to nurse fantastic grudges against imaginary traitors in their midst. The same sorts of politicians who misled the U.S. into the war have been quick to manipulate lingering grudges by wrapping themselves in the flag.

But that was not the first time the nation had been led on false pretenses into an unnecessary war. The experience during WWI was all too similar. The Wilson government trumped up excuses to enter the war in 1917, and then found it had neither the troops nor the equipment needed to fight. Rather than face up to charges of deception, incompetence, and war profiteering, Wilson promoted policies that demonized war critics and divided the country against itself. He waged a war at home against civil liberties. Losses on the battlefield were horrific, and the more Wilson feared the erosion of public support the more he came to rely upon propaganda, fear-mongering, and manipulation of the public generally.

It is no surprise, then, that after the war Wilson’s government never acknowledged any wrongdoing or deception, and continued to try to paint U.S. involvement in the war as a great victory. Wilson also continued to hound his war critics, while his Attorney General quickly trumped up another fear-mongering campaign (the Red Scare).

The nation eventually came to grips with its true record in WWI, but only very slowly and painfully. Many veterans were traumatized for life by their experiences; many became embittered with the government (witness the Bonus March in 1932). And the nation as a whole turned its back on international commitments and, during the 1930s, became deeply suspicious of the motives of those who warned that action was needed to stem the rise of fascism.

So here are two occasions when those who’d dragged the country into disastrous wars for obscure reasons refused to come clean about their failings. In both cases, the country suffered badly as a result. For decades, participants could not let go of the bitter feelings these idiotic wars created. Government per se came into disrepute, such that it was nearly impossible to formulate a coherent foreign policy to address the real needs of the nation. Instead, we continued to fight our own demons, never exorcised.

Why should we hope for any better outcome this time? I don’t for a moment suppose that the foolish will now act wisely, the arrogant will learn some humility. As in the past, it will be tempting to remain in denial, to make excuses, or to point fingers—especially toward those who turned out to be right about the rush to war in Iraq. Congressional ‘leaders’ will see political disadvantage in admitting to error, especially if they dream of running for the presidency. George Bush and his “people” certainly will not fess up to anything more than the occasional semantic mistake, in between rounds of back-slapping and self-congratulation. And some journalists have forgotten that they were cheerleaders for the war they’ve long since renounced.

Yet I also think it’s worth making a public call for mea culpas. There must be many former war supporters and Bush facilitators who have managed to keep their consciences intact, who though they’ve quietly changed their position on the Iraq War, retain a sense that they owe the country more than a mere change of mind. If these people would make a show of publicly apologizing for whatever harm they’ve done the nation by supporting this fiasco, it would go a long way toward isolating those who continue to reside in that peculiar fantasy world created by the Bush administration’s propaganda.

The sooner that bubble is burst, the sooner we’ll be able to address the vital issues that the fantasists would like to pretend don’t matter. I do not believe we can implement a coherent strategy for withdrawing from Iraq until as a nation we’re prepared to acknowledge how we got into the mess.

That is how we can best honor the fallen, by honoring the truth.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

  The GOP shall inherit the Earth

The Saviour of Mankind threw his weight behind a Republican candidate for Governor in Florida two years ago, essentially nullifying well in advance both the primary and general election for 2006.

It would not be unusual for a Republican officeholder, such as Katherine Harris, to scheme to fix an election. Yet it does come as a surprise to find that Jesus, normally not associated with this kind of thing, would show his hand so openly.

A reverend [O'Neal Dozier] who introduced Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist during a breakfast with other pastors Monday said the Lord came to him in a dream two years ago and told him Crist would be the state's next governor....

"The Lord Jesus spoke to me and he said 'There's something I want you to know,'" said Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach. "'Charlie Crist will be the next governor of the state of Florida.'"...

"I introduce to you, as the Lord Jesus has said, the next governor of the state of Florida, Charlie Crist," Dozier said.

Crist's first words were, "Well, as they say, the praise doesn't get any higher."

Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who is opposing Crist in the primary, wouldn't comment on the remarks after the event.

Afterward, Dozier said he met Crist two months after the dream at a conference of Republican leaders from around the South. He told Crist about the dream, and Crist replied that he would run.

"It's the most amazing thing anyone's every told me," Crist said. "It's beyond overwhelming, but the reverend has a very strong faith in his heart and he's a good man. I'm very grateful for his help and his support and his belief."

Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed Dozier to a group that nominates judges in South Florida, didn't directly respond to the remark, but praised Dozier.

"Far be it from me to judge about people's faiths and what occurs because of it," Bush said. "He is very sincere. Rev. Dozier's a good man."

Although the other Republicans in attendance did not challenge Dozier or Crist directly on the issue, behind the scenes there was plenty of grumbling about Jesus' announced intention to hold a fundraiser for his candidate.

Democrats are said to be talking to lawyers about whether the Son of God can legally cancel the gubernatorial election this November. They may file an appeal directly to the state supreme court.

  Republicans love a draft-dodger

The Vice President is in California raking in the dough for three GOP House candidates.

His former top aide is under indictment in the CIA leak probe. His poll ratings fall somewhere between bad and atrocious. Still, Dick Cheney can pack in the faithful like few others in the Republican Party.

The objects of this largess include Richard Pombo. Not long ago, Pombo concluded with regret that he can no longer count on Jack Abramoff to just slip him the cash under the table, so he's turned to Dick Cheney. Pombo's official biography at the House website shows him wearing an immense cowboy hat. I reckon the hat must have some greater significance for Pombo; my guess is that it's stuffed full of money.

Anyhow, why would Republicans other than Richard Pombo flock to behold a politician who has ruined everything he's touched, and who is reviled by most of the nation? It can't be that the war in Iraq that Cheney ginned up is popular with the GOP anymore than with the rest of us.

The response was strikingly subdued, given the loyalties of his audiences. In Stockton, there were cheers and whoops as Cheney reeled off a tickertape of upbeat economic statistics. But his lengthy defense of the war in Iraq, his insistence that "we are on the offensive" and "have a clear plan for victory," was met with nearly complete silence. The response was identical at Tuesday's fundraiser in San Diego...

Asked his opinion of Cheney, Richard Solarz, a 58-year-old physicist who lives in Pombo's district, replied: "Ummm … Uh … " He gripped his chardonnay. He paused. "I wish we weren't in Iraq," he finally said.

Nor could Republicans, who handed over large sums of money to hear the Vice President speak, realistically hope that he'd reveal what he knows about the big news of the day.

Not surprisingly, the names Abramoff and Cunningham never passed the vice president's lips, nor did Valerie Plame's....Instead, Cheney stuck to his practiced role as administration cheerleader and stiletto-wielding partisan.

Nothing at all new in his remarks, then, that rich people might be willing to pay to hear.

No, I think that by this stage, it's widely agreed, the Vice President's most admired quality is that he is a draft dodger. For other chicken-hawks, it must bring a special frisson of excitement to watch Cheney skillfully wrap himself in the sacrifices that soldiers and sailors are making in his wars.

"We are going to stay on the offensive and stay in the fight until the fight is done," the vice president told the cheering crowd.

Notice the first person plural. That is known as "the royal we".

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

  Mr. Jabr has not heard of that

The third part in the NYT series on the security debacle in Iraq, another must read, summarizes the situation as it stands today. It also discusses the outlook for bringing order to Iraq. It is bleak.

I will try to identify the salient points, though in this case the picture is so chaotic that it's a bit of a fool's mission to attempt any summary.

Here's a mark of how bad things are in Iraq now. The earlier installments in the series, parts one and two, had lengthy and detailed introductions summarizing their findings. This part, by contrast, gets to its overview only in a roundabout fashion, and then paints with a very broad brush. I suspect that the reporter, Dexter Filkins, despaired of providing a full summary of exactly how chaotic Iraq has become.

And the problem for a reporter is not just the intense fragmentation of the current Iraqi security structure. It's also that these fragments combine and recombine, and nothing is as it seems, so that a stable picture of the situation is beyond anybody's grasp.

Sometimes, the lines between one government force and another — and between the police and the militias — are so blurry that it is impossible to determine who the killers are.

"No one knows who is who right now," said Adil Abdul Mahdi, one of Iraq's vice presidents.

The armed groups operating across Iraq include not just the 145,000 officially sanctioned police officers and commandos who have come under scrutiny for widespread human rights violations. They also include thousands of armed guards and militia gunmen: some Shiite, some Sunni; some, like the 145,000-member Facilities Protection Service, operating with official backing; and some, like the Shiite-led Badr Brigade militia, conducting operations with the government's tacit approval, sometimes even wearing government uniforms.

Some of these armed groups, like the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police, often carry out legitimate missions to combat crime and the insurgency. Others, like members of another Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, specialize in torture, murder, kidnapping and the settling of scores for political parties.

One measure of the absurdity of the situation is mentioned almost in passing. The outgoing Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr (who has inserted his own Badr Brigade loyalists into the state police forces, whence they've terrorized Sunnis mercilessly), created a special force to guard the Ministry. This is the 28th Battalion, something like a nascent Praetorian Guard.

The [anonymous] American official did not specify which atrocities he believed the battalion was responsible for. "We are very concerned about it," the official said. "They form the core of the death squads."

The official was reluctant to go into detail. American and Iraqi leaders agree that the subject of rogue elements operating inside the ministry is a delicate topic, particularly since they are trying to bring Sunni leaders into the government. Some declined to talk about the 28th Battalion, while others, like Mr. Jabr, said they had not heard of it.

To get the full horror of the interview with Mr. Jabr, you'll have to read the article. It's enough to mention that he was wearing a powder-blue leisure suit as he claimed to know nothing about the brutality of Interior Ministry forces.

The Interior Ministry's police and commando units are not the only dangerous armed forces in Iraq, by a long shot. Every one of the 27 Ministries have their own forces, each numbering in the thousands, which have become like separate armies loyal to their own minister--when they aren't stealing the government blind.

The most dangerous of these are the Defense Ministry's oil-pipeline protection Brigades. There are four that are particularly corrupt. They cooperate regularly with insurgents in blowing up the pipelines they're supposed to be protecting.

Even in a country beset by murder and death, the 16th Brigade represented a new frontier.

The brigade, a 1,000-man force set up by Iraq's Ministry of Defense in early 2005, was charged with guarding a stretch of oil pipeline that ran through the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dawra. Heavily armed and lightly supervised, some members of the largely Sunni brigade transformed themselves into a death squad, cooperating with insurgents and executing government collaborators, Iraqi officials say.

"They were killing innocent people, anyone who was affiliated with the government," said Hassan Thuwaini, the director of the Iraqi Oil Ministry's protection force.

Crackdowns are promised all the time by the Iraqi government, especially by the new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But don't hold your breath waiting on that.

"They need to begin by setting examples," an American official in Baghdad said of the Iraqi government. "It is just very noticeable to me that they are not making any examples."

"None," the official said. "Zero."

  Selling the Constitution down the river, one vote at a time

The Democrats in Congress, who rarely offer more than tepid opposition to the outrages Republicans have been commiting in Washington since 2001, are especially supine when it comes to defending the Constitution. Hence, as feared, most Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Pat Roberts' fiefdom) voted to confirm Gen. Hayden as the next CIA Director.

This is the man who instituted programs at the NSA to wiretap Americans in America, without warrant, in direct violation of federal wiretap law, of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, and Article Four of the Constitution--not to mention the basic principle that the NSA should never, ever be permitted to spy upon the United States. This is the man who kept these programs secret from the nation and from Congress. This is the man who has tried to deceive about the nature and scope of these programs, as reports began to leak out.

Heck, this is the man who, when asked at his confirmation hearings whether water-boarding of prisoners is legal, answered that he wished to respond in closed session. The right answer, of course, was "No."

In short, this is a man who seems to believe that anything the President tells him to do is legal per se. He is the perfect civil servant, for a dictatorship.

Why would anybody vote to confirm this man, apart from sheer partisanship (as we expect from all the Republicans on that Committee)? What possible reason could Democrats have for selling the Constitution down the river again?

The committee's vice chairman, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, also offered warm praise, saying that General Hayden "has shown the necessary independence that is essential to restoring the C.I.A.'s credibility and stature."

It's unclear what "necessary independence" Sen. Rockefeller was refering to....certainly NOT the kind Hayden employed when he instituted an unconstitutional surveillance program.

Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, lauded the nominee as a man of competence and integrity but said, "My confidence in General Hayden should not be interpreted as confidence in this administration."

I'm glad Sen. Mikulski added that statement at the end, because otherwise I could not have distinguished her vote to confirm from those of all the Republicans. By "competence", in any case, I take it she is refering to the billions (with a "B") of dollars that Hayden lavished on the Trailblazer boondoggle at NSA.

As Senator Carl Levin said of his 'yes' vote,

"He has shown some independence and some backbone."

As I rummage through my memory of the General's career, I'm trying to locate the occasion when this occured. Perhaps it was just after 9/11/01 when Hayden famously stood up to George Bush? It's all a bit hazy now, but didn't Hayden insist that he would institute that illegal NSA surveillance program, despite the administration's desire to stay within the boundaries of the law?

To be entirely fair to Senators Rockefeller and Levin, they did have the sense to vote against the nomination of Porter Goss last year. Congressman Goss was an utter partisan hack, an obvious incompetent.

But this time the only Democrats on the Committee who showed the sense or integrity to vote against the appointment of the scofflaw General were Sen. Wyden, Sen. Bayh, and Sen. Feingold.

I voted against the nomination of General Michael Hayden to be Director of the CIA because I am not convinced that the nominee respects the rule of law and Congress’s oversight responsibilities. General Hayden is highly experienced and talented. But, as Director of the NSA, General Hayden directed an illegal program that put Americans on American soil under surveillance without the legally required approval of a judge. Having finally been briefed about this program last week, I am more convinced than ever that it is illegal....

General Hayden’s conduct and testimony also raise serious questions about his willingness to respect congressional oversight. He was complicit in the Administration’s failure to inform the full congressional intelligence committees about the warrantless surveillance program, even though this notification is required by law. In his testimony, he repeatedly failed to explain or criticize the Administration’s failure to inform the full committees about the program. And he declined to commit to notifying the full committees about all intelligence activities, as is required by law.

In other words, General Hayden will continue to be a silent partner in governing. Evidently, the other Senate Democrats welcome that.

I'm sure there must be some reason for supporting the cause of these fools in the November election, but at the moment I just can't recall what that is.


  VOICE OF AMERICA abandoned Baghdad last year

I had not seen this new story yesterday when I wrote about the danger to reporters in Iraq, and the hypocrisy of the Bush administration in complaining about the alleged failures of reporters there to publish more good news about the country. But it confirms almost perfectly the points I made.

Howard Kurtz at the Washington Post reports that the VOA closed down its bureau in Iraq because its last remaining reporter had been targeted for assassination.

The Voice of America's bureau in Baghdad has been closed for the past six months, ever since the government-funded agency withdrew its only reporter in Iraq after she was fired upon in an ambush and her security guard was later killed.

All Western news organizations have struggled with the dangerous conditions in Iraq, which have led to such high-profile incidents as the kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll and the wounding of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff. But for a federally funded information service to pull out of Baghdad for such a prolonged period raises questions about the Bush administration's insistence that conditions there are gradually improving.

VOA reporter Alisha Ryu said yesterday that she told her bosses in December that "it would really be impossible for me to do any kind of work" in Iraq. "I couldn't live with the idea that someone else could have died who was working with me. . . . For all journalists, it's really become impossible to move around."

Ryu had reported in November on the transfer of prisoners, mostly Sunnis, from a secret prison run by the Iraqi Interior Ministry. She described their appearance as resembling Holocaust victims. The victims had been tortured, evidently by Shiite militias that had infiltrated the Interior Ministry.

[Ryu] said that after her initial reports, "I had a feeling the Shiite militia was watching me, and I know they were not happy."...

Two weeks after that, Ryu said, gunmen opened fire on the car carrying her and her driver, Mohammed Siddik, who was under contract as her security guard. They escaped, but the driver in the car in front of hers was killed, she said.

Days later, Siddik was kidnapped by men she believed to be members of a Shiite militia.

Siddik was later released with the help of some Shiite militias. Ryu stated that after she was withdrawn from Iraq for her own safety, the VOA had not sent anybody to replace her because the Agency could not find anybody willing to go.

She did go back in February briefly, met with Siddik and warned him to be careful. Almost immediately thereafter, Siddik was assassinated. His brother was gunned down separately.

Administration officials have complained on numerous occasions that journalists in Iraq are focusing too heavily on the daily violence and attacks, and are neglecting signs of progress there.

Indeed they have. Yet I've never heard Bush or his minions draw attention to the VOA's inability to report at all from Iraq. Odd, that.

Monday, May 22, 2006

  It's too dangerous to report how dangerous Iraq has become

Another trenchant story in tomorrow's Independent by Patrick Cockburn, ruminating on Blair's hasty visit to Iraq today. Blair dashed in to the Green Zone, avoiding as far as possible all the messiness that plagues the real Iraq. He promptly burbled some preposterous but soothing sounds.

Mr Blair said the establishment of a national unity government meant there was no longer any justification for the insurgency. He announced that now at last the "Iraqi people [are] able to take charge of their own destiny and write the next chapter of Iraqi history themselves".

So there. Might as well cut it out now, chaps.

But this observation by Cockburn stood out the most:

A frustrating aspect of writing about Iraq since the invasion is that the worse the situation becomes, the easier it is for Tony Blair or George Bush to pretend it is improving. That is because as Baghdad and Iraq, aside from the three Kurdish provinces, become the stalking ground for death squads and assassins, it is impossible to report the collapse of security without being killed doing so.

The importance of the NYT series on the Iraqi policing debacle is partly that the indifference Bush has shown to restoring security in Iraq provides an essential backdrop to Bush's prolonged fantasy about how things are improving day by day there.

"They aren't reporting the good news in Iraq" How many times have you heard that parroted by the President's apologists? The truth is that for years now there have been precious few journalists who've dared to report about much of anything in Iraq, except from inside the Green Zone.

Those who do, often die in the line of duty. Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 69 journalists have been killed already. Another 26 media support workers have been killed as well.

The CPJ figure includes only those journalists who died from hostile action. That may be a partial explanation why the International Federation of Journalists has a much higher figure:

The International Federation of Journalists has called for urgent international action as a series of new targeted killings in Iraq have increased the pressure on media. The killing of three news people over the past three days has created an “unprecedented atmosphere of terror and intimidation” for journalists throughout the country, says the IFJ.

The IFJ says that the latest murders bring to around 120 the number of journalists and media staff killed in the country since the invasion by United States and British forces in 2003.

Three journalists were killed on Sunday, two of them kidnapped and then brutally murdered south of Baghdad, and a third assassinated by a gunman in Basra. The IFJ is investigating the deaths of three other journalists.

“These deaths add fresh brutality to the atmosphere of terror and intimidation that has overtaken Iraqi media,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Despite the claims of the Iraqi authorities that they would act to defend journalists, the reality is one of unbearable suffering for media people that continues to intensify.”

The deliberate targeting of journalists in Iraq is an especially vile aspect of a war that has been marinated in unmitigated horror from the outset. The clearest parallels known to me for deliberate killing of reporters, were the nightmare years in Central America (1979-1989), when some 89 reporters were killed, and in Argentina (1976-1983) where 98 reporters died or disappeared.

But for the sheer speed with which journalists are being killed, Iraq seems to have no parallel. For the sake of comparison, the number of journalists killed during the entire Vietnam War has been put at either 66 or 71. During World War II, 68 journalists are thought to have been killed. I have discovered no comparable three-year period of warfare during the 20th century, in which journalists were killed at anything like the rate that has been occuring, consistently, in Iraq.

For all the carping the right wing does about the alleged failings of journalists in Iraq, the haters and screamers have overlooked this one salient fact. The shocking rate at which journalists are being slaughtered in Iraq is the most under-reported story coming out of the war.

There has long been a blind hatred of journalism on the right wing fringes, whipped up with malice by GOP politicians. But ere now, the fringes have come to envelope much of that Party. If you prefer not to think so, check out the knee-jerk reactions of commentators to this important report from ABC, which first revealed that the FBI has been spying on journalists' phone calls without warrant, by means of the Orwellian Patriot Act.

We saw similar rants from similar quarters when Eason Jordan stated that he knew of 12 journalists who'd been targeted by U.S. troops. As early as April 2003 there were clear signs of indifference toward the safety of journalists in Iraq, if not outright hostility, in the U.S. bombings of the Palestine Hotel and the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV. Yet the true believers prefered to hound Jordan from his job than to look seriously into the question of whether journalists were in significant danger in Iraq, and if so, what that would mean for the course of the war and the reconstruction effort.

Since then, I suspect, journalists have been under-reporting the story of the killing of journalists in Iraq. From time to time this has preoccupied my thoughts, when for example Tom Lasseter chose to stay on in Iraq this year rather than return to the U.S. as scheduled.

But it's time for a little push-back against the nutters on behalf of working reporters in Iraq, and Patrick Cockburn points the way. The only reason that George Bush and his dwindling band of fanatics have been able to maintain until now the shreds of their infantile fiction, about an Iraq nuzzled in the loving bossom of peace&freedom™, is that Iraq is far too dangerous for any but the most intrepid journalists to report upon. And the reason it is that dangerous is that Mister Bush has been virtually indifferent to the need to restore and maintain order in Iraq.

  One murder every hour in Basra

The other day I commented on the first in a stunning series of reports in the NYT, by Michael Moss and others, about the debacle in Iraqi policing created by the Bush administration. The second report today practically beggars description.

It details the attempts by British and U.S. forces to train and oversee effective police forces, even while many units that were scraped together hastily became corrupt and then thuggish outfits. The report devotes much attention to Basra, which was supposed to be an isle of calm in Iraq. Now it is an utter mess.

Gradually, the corruption increased. Much of the city came to be controlled by sectarian groups, including the Iranian-influenced Badr Organization and the more radical Shiite militia controlled by Moktada al-Sadr, the Iraqi cleric who clashed with coalition forces in April 2004.

Evidence arose that the police began acting as the militia of these groups to carry out sectarian violence and enforce a fundamentalist creed....

Then, starting last spring, the accumulating evidence in a string of assassinations pointed to the senior police officers at Jamiat. The officers acted so brazenly that the American advisers dubbed them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, for the havoc they created, Mr. Villanova said.

The police chief in Basra, Gen. Hassan Sawadi, complained publicly last summer that he could not trust most of his men, and that corruption was rampant, but that he was powerless to fire even the worst offenders....

On Saturday, Majed al-Sari, an Iraqi Defense Ministry adviser, said in an interview that violence in Basra had gotten so bad that murders were now running about one every hour.

In the long term, creating police commando units to fight insurgents around Iraq turned out to be one of our most disastrous post-war policies. The commandos were recruited from former military personnel and heavily equipped. Falah al-Nakib, then the Iraqi interior minister, states "The recruiting was done by U.S. officials who didn't know who they were hiring."

But even as the special police units fought successfully, the American and British officials who helped create them remained worried....

"We saw them as a good thing, something with which to take on the insurgents," said Andrew Mackay, a British brigadier general who worked for General Petraeus. "But you could see that if we didn't get this right, it would quickly be something that the Minister of Interior, depending on who he was, could turn into his own little army."

Mr. Nakib said that before he left his post in April 2005, he met with Mr. Rumsfeld in Baghdad and told him the Shiite political parties who were coming into power that summer would hijack the commandos for use as their own militia.

"I warned him that there would be problems," said Mr. Nakib, now a member of Parliament.

Steve Casteel, an American security expert who served as Mr. Nakib's adviser, said Mr. Rumsfeld nodded and said, " 'We understand your concerns.' " Mr. Casteel said Mr. Nakib raised the same alarm with other officials, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Iraq.

As David Manning (UK Foreign Policy Advisor) said to Tony Blair before the war about the Bush administration, "They may agree that failure isn’t an option, but this does not mean that they will avoid it." And what Mr. Nakib warned Rumsfeld about is precisely what happened last spring when the Interior Ministry was taken over by the Shiite military leader, Bayan Jabr.

James Steele, a retired United States Army colonel who also helped develop the special police as a member of General Petraeus's team, said he did not regret their creation, but rather saw their misuse by sectarian groups as one of the biggest threats to the American plans in Iraq.

"That is more dangerous in terms of our strategic success than the insurgency," he said. "If this thing deteriorates into an all-out civil war our position becomes untenable. Who the hell are you fighting?"...

The power of sectarian rifts in Iraq to influence police operations gained international prominence in November. American soldiers discovered a secret prison run by Interior Ministry officials in Baghdad where 173 malnourished prisoners, mostly Sunni Arabs, complained of being tortured. At the time, several Iraqi officials said the police working there were members of the Shiite Badr Organization.

If anything, the NYT article gives too little emphasis to these secret prisons, which are said to be quite numerous. By last July already it was being widely reported that the Interior Ministry had been turned into an instrument for sectarian violence.

Still, if you were wondering why the new government of Prime Minister al-Maliki has not yet been able to find an acceptable candidate for Interior Minister, consult today's report in the Times. To whom would you be willing to hand over the power to brutalize the nation?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

  Chronology is the lens of history

And Theodor Mommsen might have added, it can be a bitch. What in the world was Laura Bush talking about today in her commencement address at Roger Williams?

In the weeks that followed September 11th, Americans were shocked by the pictures that emerged from Afghanistan. Especially haunting were the images of Afghan woman denied their rights -- the right to work, even the right to be educated. Seeing those pictures, American women realized that we had taken these rights for granted. And during those weeks, as I traveled around our country, I was impressed by how proud American women were to stand with the women of Afghanistan, and how eager they were to help in any way we could.

The 'eye of history' works equally well from either direction, however. As often as not, a person's version of chronology is a good window into her mind, even her soul. In this instance, the chronology we're given is both warped and egocentric.

The 'theme' of Bush's speech, if that's not too grandiose a term, was that you can't go through your life ignoring others who are in need. Yet to judge by her own chronology here, until 9 months into her husband's presidency, she had pretty successfully ignored the plight of Afghans, male and female, under the Taliban. That was while the rest of the world was up in arms over the bastards' treatment of everyone and everything in Afghanistan.

You may remember that the Taliban's ill treatment of women was notorious long before May 2001, when for example Robert Scheer wrote this editorial in the LA Times: Bush's Faustian Deal with the Taliban.

Enslave your girls and women, harbor anti-U.S. terrorists, destroy every vestige of civilization in your homeland, and the Bush administration will embrace you. All that matters is that you line up as an ally in the drug war, the only international cause that this nation still takes seriously.

That's the message sent with the recent gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, the most virulent anti-American violators of human rights in the world today....

Never mind that Osama bin Laden still operates the leading anti-American terror operation from his base in Afghanistan, from which, among other crimes, he launched two bloody attacks on American embassies in Africa in 1998.

Sadly, the Bush administration is cozying up to the Taliban regime at a time when the United Nations, at U.S. insistence, imposes sanctions on Afghanistan because the Kabul government will not turn over Bin Laden....

At no point in modern history have women and girls been more systematically abused than in Afghanistan where, in the name of madness masquerading as Islam, the government in Kabul obliterates their fundamental human rights. Women may not appear in public without being covered from head to toe with the oppressive shroud called the burkha , and they may not leave the house without being accompanied by a male family member. They've not been permitted to attend school or be treated by male doctors, yet women have been banned from practicing medicine or any profession for that matter.

But the LA Times is such a provincial paper; little wonder that Laura Bush did not encounter the story.

You may remember that there was a bit of a to-do the world round in March 2001 as the Taliban began systematically destroying ancient rock carvings in rural Afghanistan. It was in all the papers. But it was for the rest of the world to focus on the Taliban outrages, not for Mrs. Bush.

You may remember that that summer foreign aid workers were held by the Taliban, accused of preaching Christianity. Mrs. Bush did not notice, evidently.

As late as August 2001, according to reports, her husband's government was trying to cut a deal with the Taliban to get their cooperation with the Turkmenistan to Pakistan oil pipeline.

The last meeting between U.S. and Taliban representatives took place five weeks before the attacks on New York and Washington; on that occasion, Christina Rocca, in charge of Central Asian affairs for the U.S. government, met the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan in Islamabad on August 2, 2001. Rocca said the Taliban representative, Mr. Zaeef, was aware of the strong U.S. commitment to help the Afghan people and the fact that the United States had provided $132 million in relief assistance so far that year.

Somehow, all the attention that Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney were devoting to the Taliban that summer did not even pique her interest in Afghanistan, not even a little bit to judge by her speech. Then, after Sept. 11, Laura Bush suddenly noticed that the Taliban were bad, bad people. Chiz.

  "The police are working." How Iraq was lost (Pt. 1966)

Michael Moss and David Rohde publish a devastating assessment of the Bush administration's neglect, nay indifference, toward the need to train and support a new police force in Iraq: Misjudgments Marred U.S. Plans for Iraqi Police. A series of plans were developed, even before the invasion, to send large numbers of trainers to Iraq, which the experts all thought to be essential for the future stability of the country. Yet each of these plans in turn was rejected, forgotten, promised but not implemented, or nickled-and-dimed. Never did the problem receive adequate attention from the Bush administration.

What Iraq ended up with was a mere shell of a training program, introduced far too late, with little supervision of the police after they'd been trained, and woefully inadequate background checks on them before they were trained. One mark of how incompetently managed the entire program has been is this: The man initially selected to head up police training in Iraq was the infamous Bernard Kerik.

Here is an overview of the initial bungling.

Before the war, the Bush administration dismissed as unnecessary a plan backed by the Justice Department to rebuild the police force by deploying thousands of American civilian trainers. Current and former administration officials said in interviews that they were relying on a Central Intelligence Agency assessment that said the Iraqi police were well trained. The C.I.A. said its assessment conveyed nothing of the sort.

After Baghdad fell, when the majority of Iraqi police officers abandoned their posts, a second proposal by a Justice Department team calling for 6,600 police trainers was reduced to 1,500, and then never carried out. During the first eight months of the occupation — as crime soared and the insurgency took hold — the United States deployed 50 police advisers in Iraq.

Disaster loomed already in March, 2003. A prewar plan, developed under Jay Garner by a policing expert, called for 5000 trainers to be sent immediately after the invasion. A month earlier, a former official at the N.S.C. had also recommended a training force of 6000. Yet Rumsfeld had been complaining publicly about post-war planning as nation-building, which he asserted would create a "culture of dependence". At an N.S.C. meeting in March 2003, Garner's proposal was pushed aside without any decision being taken.

But at the meeting with N.S.C. officials, General Garner's proposal was met with skepticism by council staff members, who contended that such a large training effort was not needed. One vocal opponent was [Frank] Miller.

"He didn't think it was necessary," General Garner said in an interview.

Mr. Miller, who left the government last year, confirmed his opposition. He said the assessment by the C.I.A. led administration officials to believe that Iraq's police were capable of maintaining order. Douglas J. Feith, then the Defense Department's under secretary for policy, said in an interview that the C.I.A.'s prewar assessment deemed Iraq's police professional, an appraisal that events proved "fundamentally wrong."

But Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the C.I.A., said the agency's assessment warned otherwise.
"We had no reliable information on individual officers or police units," he said. The "C.I.A.'s written assessment did not judge that the Iraqi police could keep order after the war. In fact, the assessment talked in terms of creating a new force."...

John E. McLaughlin, deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000 to 2004, said intelligence officials made it clear in prewar planning sessions that the police were troubled....

At the White House meeting, Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, said the administration would revisit the issue after Mr. Hussein was removed from power, General Garner said. The meeting then moved on to other issues....

Ms. Rice did not respond to a request for comment.

When have Ms. Rice, or for that matter Mr. Feith, ever faced up to their own blunders? Iraq erupted in chaos after the invasion because, as anticipated, the police could not be relied on.

As American forces advanced across Iraq in late March and early April of 2003, Iraqi police officers abandoned their posts by the tens of thousands. In the resulting security vacuum, mobs looted and burned police stations and government ministries.

American troops stood by, having received no orders to stop the looting. When General Garner and other American officials arrived in Baghdad, 16 of 23 major government ministries were stripped shells....

On May 18, Mr. Kerik arrived in Baghdad and found "nothing, absolutely nothing" in place. "Twelve guys on the ground plus me," he recalled. "That was the new Ministry of Interior."

Incredibly, the Garner plan was simply forgotten after he was replaced by Bremer. An emergency working group from the Justice Dept. eventually drew up a new plan, to send 6,600 police trainers immediately. DynCorp, a company from Texas (naturally), was hired to provide them. And nothing was done because Bush & Co. never provided the money, though Bremer says he kept asking for the trainers.

Mr. Miller, the former National Security Council official, said Mr. Bremer never made the need for field trainers a major issue in Washington.

"If at any point Mr. Bremer had said, 'I just saw a report and I need 6,600,' that would have made this a front burner issue," Mr. Miller said. "I don't recall that as an issue."

The new plan got pared back several times until finally, by Dec. 2003, an extremely modest training program was opened in Jordan. Meanwhile, all sorts of thugs and insurgents were given badges in the desperate hope of reviving the former police force. The administration pretended that it was all going swimmingly.

no American officials publicly sounded the alarm about the troubled situation. In fact, after spending three and a half months in Iraq, Mr. Kerik returned to the United States and praised the police during a news conference with President Bush on the South Lawn of the White House.

"They have made tremendous progress," Mr. Kerik said. "The police are working."

There in a nutshell is the Bush administration's MO: Bald-faced lies.

Mr. Bremer said he repeatedly complained in National Security Council meetings chaired by Ms. Rice and attended by cabinet secretaries that the quality of police training was poor, and focused on producing high numbers.

"They were just pulling kids off the streets and handing them badges and AK-47's," Mr. Bremer said....

A year and a half after the invasion, the police barely functioned, if at all.

That was when DynCorp (from Texas) received another contract to train police. It achieved relatively little. Employees of the company are however under criminal investigation for spectacular examples of fraud committed in Iraq.

Here is the Times' overview:

Like so much that has defined the course of the war, the realities on the ground in Iraq did not match the planning in Washington. An examination of the American effort to train a police force in Iraq...reveals a cascading series of misjudgments by White House and Pentagon officials, who repeatedly underestimated the role the United States would need to play in rebuilding the police and generally maintaining order.

"A cascading series of misjudgments" would be a fitting epitaph upon this war--or, for that matter, upon the Bush administration.

Friday, May 19, 2006

  Lopping off heads at CIA: How Iraq was lost (Pt. 1965)

Since at least 2002 we’ve heard myriad reports about the aggressive treatment meted out by the White House to intelligence officials who reported unwelcome news about Iraq, or who would not produce the goods per the specifications of Bush & Co. That was how a farrago of WMD intel was fed to the public to justify invading Iraq.

No surprise that this auspicious policy continued after the invasion, since a whole new set of inconvenient facts needed to be ignored as well. Ken Silverstein details at Harper’s how CIA officers who dared to tell the truth about the deteriorating situation in Iraq were demoted and hounded. That is why, for example, the last NIE on Iraq was produced two years ago. As Silverstein explains, almost nobody at the CIA would be willing to touch the job.

Several of the sources I spoke with said that they were further troubled because it appears that no National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE) has been produced since the summer of 2004. The last NIE—which the CIA describes as “the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue”—offered a dark but prescient assessment of the U.S. position in Iraq, as disclosed when the highly classified document was later leaked to the New York Times. One former senior agency official told me, “If I were at the CIA now and was asked to work on an NIE [on Iraq], my first response would be, 'How the fuck do I get out of this?' The most courageous, honest person in the place would be reluctant to do it because every time someone says the emperor has no clothes he gets his head lopped off.” Indeed, President Bush practically dismissed the 2004 NIE, responding to questions about the report at a September 2004 press conference by saying: “They were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like. The Iraqi citizens are defying the pessimistic predictions.”

In other words, further contributions from the CIA in the form of another round of NIE guesswork would just provide ammunition to those journalists who want to pin the President down with facts. There should be no surprise then that the latest NIE for Iran, a country we’ve got in our bombsights, is already a year old. Who needs the aggro of telling the White House that Iran remains years away from a nuclear weapon?

Well, there’s certainly plenty of retribution waiting for you, if you’re in the aggro business.

A number of current and former intelligence officials have told me that the administration's war on internal dissent has crippled the CIA's ability to provide realistic assessments from Iraq. “The system of reporting is shut down,” said one person familiar with the situation. “You can't write anything honest, only fairy tales.”

The New York Times and others have reported that in 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad authored several special field reports that offered extremely negative assessments of the situation on the ground in Iraq—assessments that later proved to be accurate. The field reports, known as “Aardwolfs,” were angrily rejected by the White House. Their author—who I'm told was a highly regarded agency veteran named Gerry Meyer—was soon pushed out of the CIA, in part because his reporting angered the See No Evil crowd within the Bush administration. “He was a good guy,” one recently retired CIA official said of Meyer, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.”

The next Baghdad Station Chief had the temerity to write six similarly, well, glum Aardwolfs. When he finished in December 2004, his career went into the crapper. He was treated like a pariah within the CIA. Another long-time CIA veteran, Charles Allen, toured Iraq in spring 2005 and in his report of conditions there, again, had the misfortune of telling the truth. Allen’s expected promotion as assistant to Negroponte as Deputy Director of National Intelligence was scuttled.

Not shocked yet?

As has been the case with other people deemed to be insufficiently loyal, the White House went fishing for dirt on the two station chiefs, including information on their political affiliations. “I spent 30 years at the CIA,” said one former official, “and no one was ever interested in knowing whether I was a Republican or a Democrat. That changed with this administration. Now you have loyalty tests.”

That is eerily reminiscent of what we learned about inquiries by Bush & Co. into party affiliation after Mary McCarthy was fired.

The result, as anticipated, was that by 2005 the new Baghdad Station Chief had learned what good taste required. He produced only a single, very sunny Aardwolf.

The report, which one person told me was widely derided within the CIA as “a joke,” asserted that the United States was winning the war despite all evidence to the contrary. It was garbage, but garbage that the Bush administration wanted to hear; at the end of his tour, that Station Chief was given a plum assignment.

That is after all one of the things the Bush adminstration does well—rewarding those who sell the troops down the river, who leave them to rot in the quagmire. The other skill the White House has honed? To punish those who report on the dangers and difficulties the troops face, who look for solutions that might save lives and end the war.

The message from Mister Bush: Don’t take your job seriously. Just watch what I do.

Crossposted at Daily Kos.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

  NSA lawyers were against it, before they were for it

The Baltimore Sun’s Siobhan Gorman has a major story about NSA data mining programs. This really deserves more attention than it has received. One aspect to this story stands out, the very thing that has gone virtually unnoticed so far: The lawyers for the NSA strongly opposed, in the late 1990s, implementing a program that would have analyzed domestic telephone data on the grounds that it was against the law. After 9/11, however, the NSA lawyers reversed themselves and implemented another program to analyze domestic calls that had significantly less stringent protections for civil liberties.

The basis for such a stunning reversal? Merely the tired argument that the President obtains expansive powers during wartime. Even apart from the absurdity of that argument as applied to constitutional civil liberties, there is this difficult conundrum. What are we to do about this inconvenient fact, that the U.S. was already at war in the Balkans in the late 1990s? Let’s not mention the never-concluded war in Korea.

The data-mining program in question, named ‘ThinThread’, was developed by the NSA in the 1990s partly because of fears about terrorist attacks at millennium celebrations. Controversially, it would have analyzed both foreign and domestic electronic communication. The NSA was aware that some foreign-based terrorists might be communicating with others inside the U.S., and the Agency was looking for a way around the rule that domestic surveillance had to be conducted by the FBI.

To make a domestic surveillance program less repulsive, ThinThread incorporated several measures to safeguard the civil liberties of Americans, at least to some degree. All the data was encrypted before analysis to ensure privacy; an automated system watched how analysts were using the data, to prevent misuse; and after sifting out most of the encrypted data, if the remaining data showed evidence of a terrorist threat, only then would the Agency request a court for permission to decrypt the relevant data.

The program turned out to be highly adept at identifying threats; allegedly it was the best one available to the NSA. Yet the NSA lawyers blocked it because they refused absolutely to allow the Agency to spy on domestic communication. Here are the relevant sections of the Sun report:

Officials say that after the successful tests of ThinThread in 1998, [project director Richard] Taylor argued that the NSA should implement the full program. He later told the 9/11 Commission that ThinThread could have identified the hijackers had it been in place before the attacks…

But at the time, NSA lawyers viewed the program as too aggressive. At that point, the NSA's authority was limited strictly to overseas communications, with the FBI responsible for analyzing domestic calls. The lawyers feared that expanding NSA data collection to include communications in the United States could violate civil liberties, even with the encryption function.

After the 2001 attacks, the NSA lawyers who had blocked the program reversed their position and approved the use of the program without the enhanced technology to sift out terrorist communications and without the encryption protections.

The NSA's new legal analysis was based on the commander in chief's powers during war, said former officials familiar with the program. The Bush administration's defense has rested largely on that argument since the warrantless surveillance program became public in December.

There are more angles to this story, which I won’t explore in detail partly because others have focused on them. Consult these three excellent diaries from Daily Kos, here, here, and here. Also, the story has been discussed by Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall, and Digby.

For Gorman, the main issue is that ThinThread was shelved largely because of bureaucratic infighting. Gen. Hayden was heavily promoting a data-mining program he’d initiated, ‘Trailblazer’, which was plagued by problems. It is the program that he was closely questioned about this morning by Sen. Wyden, in as much as Wyden thought the General had grossly exaggerated Trailblazer’s success in testimony to the Senate. As the Sun noted yesterday,

The decision [to shelve ThinThread], which one official attributed to "turf protection and empire building,” has undermined the agency's ability to zero in on potential threats, sources say. In the wake of revelations about the agency's wide gathering of U.S. phone records, they add, ThinThread could have provided a simple solution to privacy concerns.…

Despite its success in tests, ThinThread's information-sorting system was viewed by some in the agency as a competitor to Trailblazer, a $1.2 billion program that was being developed with similar goals. The NSA was committed to Trailblazer, which later ran into trouble and has been essentially abandoned….

NSA managers did not want to adopt the data-sifting component of ThinThread out of fear that the Trailblazer program would be outperformed and "humiliated," an intelligence official said.

For the on-going analysis of domestic communication, done without warrant, the NSA has been relying upon a less effective rump version of this data-mining program, one without encryption, without automated oversight, without the need to seek a court order to decrypt the most important information, and therefore without the rigor of ThinThread that forced analysts to focus narrowly on the most salient threats that the program could single out.

NSA managers did not want to adopt the data-sifting component of ThinThread out of fear that the Trailblazer program would be outperformed and "humiliated," an intelligence official said.

In short, before 9/11 the NSA rejected a more effective program in favor of a pet boondoggle, on the grounds that the civil liberties safeguards in the better program still fell afoul of the law. But later the NSA did not apply even those basic safeguards either to the ineffectual program (Trailblazer), or to the rump of a data-mining program that it began to apply to domestic communications after 9/11.

It is the incompetence of Hayden’s leadership that most other commentators on the Baltimore Sun report have dwelled upon. Yet the most important aspect by far is the ease with which the NSA reversed course on the absolute necessity of avoiding domestic surveillance and of protecting civil liberties.

Once President Bush gave the go-ahead for the NSA to secretly gather and analyze domestic phone records -- an authorization that carried no stipulations about identity protection -- agency officials regarded the encryption as an unnecessary step and rejected it, according to two intelligence officials knowledgeable about ThinThread and the warrantless surveillance programs.

"They basically just disabled the [privacy] safeguards," said one intelligence official.

From a surface reading of this article, it would appear that the NSA reversed course on safeguarding civil liberties with alacrity late in 2001.

Officials familiar with Thin Thread say some within NSA were stunned by the legal flip-flop.

And Bush has said in the past that it was Hayden who volunteered to create the domestic surveillance program, without prompting from Bush (he implied). But did the NSA give in without a fight? A recent report in the NY Times argues that Dick Cheney tried to force Gen. Hayden to direct the NSA to engage in widespread surveillance of domestic communication, which Hayden resisted in favor of a more limited violation of the law. My own analysis of the NYT story, for what it’s worth, argued that the details don’t add up unless we infer that it was Cheney, rather than Hayden, who conceived of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. I speculated that Hayden, or more likely the NSA lawyers, fought a rear-guard action against Cheney until they finally agreed to permit a less expansive version of domestic surveillance.

In any event, the thing to stress about this week’s reports in the NYT and Baltimore Sun is that until quite recently the NSA aggressively resisted attempts to drag it into the business of domestic surveillance on the grounds that it was illegal for the Agency to engage in it. The only support for the reversal under the Bush administration is a very thin reed, the notion that the Congressional Authorization of Force resolution gave the President the power to spy domestically without warrant.

If the post at NRO gets nothing else right, at least it recognizes that this ought to be the central issue that comes out of the Sun story.

Either you think this type of intelligence-gathering falls within the powers of the executive to command the military, or you don't.

I don’t, because it did not fall within Bill Clinton’s powers in the 1990s either.

Crossposted at Booman Tribune.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

  Why Iraq is not like Vietnam

Today Rep. John Murtha delivered the bad news about the U.S. Marines who stand accused of slaughtering at least 15 Iraqi civilians, several of them children, on November 19, 2005 in Haditha. He was quoted by Knight Ridder.

A Pentagon report on an incident in which U.S. Marines shot and killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians last November will show that those killings were deliberate and worse than initially reported, a Pennsylvania congressman said Wednesday.

"There was no firefight. There was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed those innocent people," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said during a news conference on Iraq. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell."

Murtha's comments were the first on-the-record remarks by a U.S. official characterizing the findings of military investigators looking into the Nov. 19 incident. Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and an opponent of Bush administration policy in Iraq, said he hadn't read the report but had learned about its findings from military commanders and other sources.

NBC News also quotes Murtha as well as unnamed military officials familiar with the investigation.

Military officials say Marine Corp photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style. One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn't been completed.

One military official says it appears the civilians were deliberately killed by the Marines, who were outraged at the death of their fellow Marine.

“This one is ugly," one official told NBC News.

It appears that on Nov. 19 a roadside explosion (IED) in Haditha killed a Marine, Miguel Terrazas. In retaliation, his comrades entered at least four houses and massacred most of the people present. When the next day a village resident took a video of the scene that appeared to depict a slaughter, a USMC spokesman issued a denial saying that an IED had blown up a bus killing 15 civilians and one Marine, and that a firefight had followed in which 8 further insurgents were killed.

Yet the video showed no signs of a firefight. The angry villagers visited the Marine camp, but the only explanation they received was that the Marines mistakenly thought there were terrorists in the village. No disciplinary action was taken.

The cover-up continued for some time, it seems. The armed forces opened an investigation only on Feb. 14, after a Time magazine reporter brought pressure to bear.

In January, after Time presented military officials in Baghdad with the Iraqis' accounts of the Marines' actions, the U.S. opened its own investigation, interviewing 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors. According to military officials, the inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military's initial report, the 15 civilians killed on Nov. 19 died at the hands of the Marines, not the insurgents....

In February an infantry colonel went to Haditha for a weeklong probe in which he interviewed Marines, survivors and doctors at the morgue, according to military officials close to the investigation. The probe concluded that the civilians were in fact killed by Marines and not by an insurgent's bomb and that no insurgents appeared to be in the first two houses raided by the Marines. The probe found, however, that the deaths were the result of "collateral damage" rather than malicious intent by the Marines, investigators say.

In mid-March the investigation was handed on to the NCIS, as Time reported.

The military announced last week that the matter has been handed over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (ncis), which will conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the troops broke the laws of war by deliberately targeting civilians. Lieut. Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, spokeswoman for the Multi-National Force-Iraq, told Time the involvement of the ncis does not mean that a crime occurred. And she says the fault for the civilian deaths lies squarely with the insurgents, who "placed noncombatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves."

During the next few months, the explanation for the killings evolved further, as Knight Ridder explains.

After CNN broke the news of the initial investigation in March, military officials told Knight Ridder that the civilians were killed not in the initial blast but were apparently caught in the crossfire of a subsequent gun battle as 12 to 15 Marines fought insurgents from house to house over the next five hours. At that time, military officials told Knight Ridder that four of the civilians killed were women and five were children.

Subsequent reporting from Haditha by Time and Knight Ridder revealed a still different account of events, with survivors describing Marines breaking down the door of a house and indiscriminately shooting the building's occupants.

Twenty-three people were killed in the incident, relatives of the dead told Knight Ridder.

By May 1, as CNN reported, one military official was prepared to admit "It's beginning to look like the Marines were overzealous."

Overzealous? That really does not describe either the killers in Haditha, or the military investigators who for half a year have been applying most of their zeal toward dithering.

So, once again an evolving story from the military about alleged atrocities in Iraq--which never adds up, which dismisses out of hand the accusations of eyewitnesses, and which happens to be utterly false. Plenty of blame to go around, from the killers who pulled the triggers, to the officers who covered up, and to the Secretary of Defense and the President who allowed Iraq to spiral out of control while leaving our troops pinned down in this quagmire, without any strategy to win and no timetable to leave.

But who will actually be made to share the blame? My guess--and this is just a wild hunch--is that after the killers have been held accountable, there won't be much need felt to single anybody else out.

One thing is for certain, though, that Haditha should not be compared to My Lai, because as we've been advised many times, Iraq is definitely not like Vietnam.

  FBI abuse of National Security Letters (Part 2)

I try to find time to cover a representative sample of the Bush administration's outrages, but seem to keep doubling back to the same kinds of scandals. A suspicious sort of person might conclude that whenever a new hint of scandal pops up, it is just the tip of something much larger and unimaginably worse than the substantial evil it appears to be.

The other day I commented on the ABC report that the government has been collecting secretly the phone records of reporters at ABC News, the NY Times, and Washington Post. Allegedly, this was intended to help the administration to track down leakers inside the CIA who'd spoken to reporters. Yes, Nixon’s plumbers are back in business.

A fresh outrage surely, but which kind? Over at Daily Kos, I wondered what circumstances might permit the government to obtain secret warrants. Aside from such secret warrants as the FISA court issues in cases of foreign surveillance (which would be irrelevant to this case), I could not think of any legal provisions for secret warrants in domestic law enforcement.

The mystery was solved when the FBI confessed to ABC that it had issued National Security Letters to get the phone records. So there were no warrants, secret or otherwise. It was all done by fiat of the FBI, thanks to the repellent provision in the USA Patriot Act that allows the FBI to decide, on its own stick, that it really would rather do an end run around the Constitution.

The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters' phone records in leak investigations.

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official....

In a statement, the FBI press office said its leak investigations begin with the examination of government phone records.

"The FBI will take logical investigative steps to determine if a criminal act was committed by a government employee by the unauthorized release of classified information," the statement said.

Officials say that means that phone records of reporters will be sought if government records are not sufficient.

Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge.

It will cheer Americans no end to learn that, though it used to be hard for the FBI to secretly seize citizens' phone records—per the Constitution—the Bush administration has made it all quite easy. In any case, note that the FBI statement indicates that this particular seizure of reporters' phone records involves "the unauthorized release of classified information". I'll come back to that fact.

It just happens that a couple of weeks ago I wrote about this perversion of law: FBI: We don't need no stinkin' warrants. The Bureau had admitted to Congress, in a typically underhanded way, that last year it issued over 9,200 NSLs, not counting all the NSLs it wasn't, well, counting.

On a side note, it’s remarkable that yesterday the ABC reporter who broke the story about the FBI seizure of his phone-records, Brian Ross, finally got around to mentioning this weeks-old story about the widespread abuse of National Security Letters. Civil liberties abuses seem to mean a lot more when they’re directed against oneself, at least if one is a journalist.

Anyhow as that earlier post of mine pointed out, US District Judge Victor Marrero had already ruled these provisions of the Patriot Act unconstitutional. But all to no avail with the DOJ. The text of this stinkin' law remains embedded in the Federal Code.

(a) Duty to Provide.— A wire or electronic communication service provider shall comply with a request for subscriber information and toll billing records information, or electronic communication transactional records in its custody or possession made by the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under subsection (b) of this section.

(b) Required Certification.— The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or his designee in a position not lower than Deputy Assistant Director at Bureau headquarters or a Special Agent in Charge in a Bureau field office designated by the Director, may—

(1) request the name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records of a person or entity if the Director (or his designee) certifies in writing to the wire or electronic communication service provider to which the request is made that the name, address, length of service, and toll billing records sought are relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such an investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and

(2) request the name, address, and length of service of a person or entity if the Director (or his designee) certifies in writing to the wire or electronic communication service provider to which the request is made that the information sought is relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such an investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States....

(e) Requirement That Certain Congressional Bodies Be Informed.— On a semiannual basis the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation shall fully inform the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives and the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate, concerning all requests made under subsection (b) of this section.

You will search in vain in that text for any provision allowing the FBI to issue NSLs to seize reporters' phone records because of "the unauthorized release of classified information". But since the FBI does not bring its myriad National Security Letters before a judge at all, evidently there was never an occasion for anybody—at least nobody who takes upholding the law to heart—to point out that the FBI had no legal basis for doing it.

The FBI does however have to bring notice of NSLs to the attention of Congress, after the fact. Has the FBI ever told any of the congressional committees cited above that it has seized reporters' phone records by means of NSLs?

Inquiring minds would like to know. We might surmise from the disgust expressed to FBI Director Mueller two weeks ago by Sen. Feingold (of the Judiciary Committee), at the extremely high number of NSLs the FBI was reporting, that if the Senator had been informed that the FBI was seizing reporters' phone records, he would have had one or two very choice things to say about it.

One other question for your Representatives and Senators: During their legislative careers, have they ever happened to notice this text?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is the First Amendment, the exercise of which rights is supposed to be protected--even under these appalling provisions in the Patriot Act. That would seem to be another strike against the FBI’s justification of the seizure of reporters’ phone records.

As recent history has demonstrated exceedingly well, a supine press does a pretty inadequate job of keeping the people informed about the grievances for which they might want to petition the Government for redress. How could a supine and blind press be an improvement? That is the direction that Government is pushing the news media, as NPR reported this morning.

But reports about NSA surveillance, combined with the ongoing investigation into who outed CIA officer Valerie Plame, and now the ABC News report all add up to a climate where journalists and writers say it’s increasingly hard to get their sources to talk. …[Michael Isikoff] agrees sources are being intimidated….”Over the last few years, you can feel a palpable chilling effect of the multiple leak investigations that the government has been mounting and you get sources who become extremely jittery about talking to reporters over the phone.”

Our government, doing nothing more effectively than driving a wedge between reporters and their sources: Fission Accomplished.

Monday, May 15, 2006

  Bush is spying on American journalists too

I learned this morning, without surprise I'm sorry to say, that the federal government is reportedly spying on the telephone calls made by journalists. From the blog 'The Blotter' at ABC News comes this item. The reporters are the eminent Brian Ross and Richard Esposito. If this does not send a chill down your spine, you have grown too accustomed to our nightmare years.

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation....

Under Bush Administration guidelines, it is not considered illegal for the government to keep track of numbers dialed by phone customers.

The official who warned ABC News said there was no indication our phones were being tapped so the content of the conversation could be recorded.

A pattern of phone calls from a reporter, however, could provide valuable clues for leak investigators.

We're all considered potential terrorists now, including and evidently especially journalists who report news found to be inconvenient to the administration. It just goes to prove what many of us have been shouting since December when one tip of the NSA spy scandal was exposed: When the President acts unconstitutionally, it's a mark of willful ignorance to pretend that it might be justified.

By a remarkable coincidence, Der Spiegel carries a report today on a similar scandal in Germany.

Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND, has been breaking the law by gathering information about journalists and using fellow members of media as informants until quite recently. Now the government has cracked down to defuse a growing scandal....

retired federal judge Gerhard Schäfer had presented a report to a secret meeting of parliamentary controllers that suggested... the BND at times chooses not to obey law too rigorously when its hunger for knowledge became too intense.

The special investigator has described as clearly "unlawful" certain operations conducted by the agency, especially the surveillance since 1993 of various journalists in spying operations that in some cases went on for years and extended right into their private lives....

Schäfer, acting at the request of the parliamentary control committee, spent half a year examining an occurrence that had already embarrassed the BND last October: at the time the BND's leadership had to admit that it spent years running compliant journalists as sources and gathering information about critical reporters.

So in re-unified Germany, as in George Bush's Amerika, it is the breaking of news stories critical of the government that attracts the unwelcome caresses of the foreign spy agencies. If reporters would like to avoid the embrace, they'll have to learn how to stay away from certain kinds of news. I think we can agree that during the last five years, most of the loyal American journalists have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to ignore the wrong kind of news. I have little doubt they'll show themselves once again to be quick studies.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

  Did Cheney beget the warrantless NSA spying?

Tomorrow's report in the New York Times suggests to me at least that the warrantless spying program at the NSA was foisted on the nation at the insistence of Dick Cheney. The anonymous sources behind this story are either friendly to Gen. Michael Hayden, or at least concerned to distance the NSA from the inception of the program. You'll want to take the whole dish with a large helping of salt. Never the less, it's more than a little interesting to observe that, once again, a major scandal is laid right at the door of Dick Cheney.

From the Times story:

In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney and his top legal adviser argued that the National Security Agency should intercept purely domestic telephone calls and e-mail messages without warrants in the hunt for terrorists, according to two senior intelligence officials.

But N.S.A. lawyers, trained in the agency's strict rules against domestic spying and reluctant to approve any eavesdropping without warrants, insisted that it should be limited to communications into and out of the country, said the officials, who were granted anonymity to discuss the debate inside the Bush administration late in 2001.

The N.S.A.'s position ultimately prevailed. But just how Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the agency at the time, designed the program, persuaded wary N.S.A. officers to accept it and sold the White House on its limits is not yet clear....

On one side was a strong-willed vice president and his longtime legal adviser, David S. Addington, who believed that the Constitution permitted spy agencies to take sweeping measures to defend the country. Later, Mr. Cheney would personally arrange tightly controlled briefings on the program for select members of Congress.

On the other side were some lawyers and officials at the largest American intelligence agency, which was battered by eavesdropping scandals in the 1970's and has since wielded its powerful technology with extreme care to avoid accusations of spying on Americans.

The anonymous NSA sources for this story are serving up generous portions of CYA, obviously. On the other hand, the mention of David Addington lends verisimilitude to the picture of the Vice President, motivated by a vision of an imperial presidency, as a prime mover in creating the warrantless NSA programs.

The NYT report is pretty difficult to interpret, but I'll do my best. Clearly, supporters of Hayden have been trying to convince the paper that neither he nor the NSA should be blamed for the warrantless spying. Yet at the same time, and I would argue as part of that spin, they depict the NSA programs as having been created by Hayden under the traditional guidelines that the NSA works under. Thus they are willing to go along with the story that Bush promulgated two months ago in Cleveland--that the warrantless spying arose as a result of a meeting held right after 9/11, at which Gen. Hayden spoke up to volunteer to institute the surveillance program.

To my mind, that raises a question that the NYT article does nothing, really, to answer: Why bring Cheney into the matter at all? The NYT piece, as quoted above, indicates that right after 9/11 Cheney strenously urged the NSA to conduct spying on domestic phone calls without warrants. Indeed, the article strongly implies that Cheney and his feared and loathed legal adisor, David Addington, were on the warpath against Hayden for some time. Hayden, we're told, absolutely refused to conduct domestic surveillance. Ultimately, the NYT advises us, the good guys at the NSA won out in this struggle for control over the programs. They designed them so as to accord with the law, we're told, or at least with what they believed the law permitted.

So how does Cheney even figure in this story? A partial answer is, obviously, that his role in the tale makes everybody else involved in the spying look good by comparison. If you're appalled by the spying that (you now know) is being done, imagine how much worse it would be if Cheney and Addington had gotten their way.

That's just dandy. But, still, I have this nagging doubt. If Cheney's idea for purely domestic surveillance went nowhere in the end, why is the Vice President's abortive role being dredged up now by NSA types?

Perhaps a better explanation is that the foundation myth for the warrantless spying program has until now omitted a key detail: The initial idea for the program came not from Hayden, but from Cheney.

It could well be that Cheney also or especially wanted the program to focus on domestic surveillance, and that the NSA or Hayden in particular redirected the program's focus toward less indefensible targets. Or perhaps Hayden and the NSA convinced themselves that they had managed to refocus it away from the worst excesses that Cheney lusted after. If so, the NSA would have remembered very distinctly the role of Cheney in the genesis of a program that actually did take effect (though, possibly, in modified form). That seems like a much more plausible scenario, than the implication of the NYT story as presented--that the NSAers still vividly resent a push by Cheney that ended up going nowhere.

Naturally, since the news article in question does not give away why Cheney's role is given so much prominence, all this analysis must remain speculative. Still, the NYT piece provides plenty of big gaps in which to maneuver. Perhaps my own reconstruction is as credible as the curious story the NYT tells.

In fact, the third paragraph (quoted above) seems to imply that the reporters, Scott Shane and Eric Lightblau, were somewhat bemused by the account they were being given. Of the three questions they indicate remain unanswered by their informants, the most intractable is "just how Gen. Michael V. Hayden...persuaded wary N.S.A. officers to accept it". If Hayden and the NSA really were sticklers for remaining within the law and abiding by the Agency's operating principles, why did they create programs that by nearly every account (except their own) are egregiously illegal?

The story we're given here does not add up, as even the reporters seem to acknowledge. The position reportedly taken by Hayden and reluctant staffers at the NSA would however make much more sense if they viewed it as the best compromise they could strike with an administration, one half of which was trying to force the NSA to spy much more aggressively on Americans at home.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

  I'm outraged. Why aren't the Democrats in Congress?

Sen. Dick Durbin is quoted by Reuters after his half-hour chat with Gen. Michael Hayden today. If this is a signpost of the road ahead, of how the Democrats will treat the nomination hearings for Hayden, and of their position on the warrantless spying by the NSA, then recalibrate your outrage meter downward. On the face of it, Sen. Durbin appears to be looking to paper over the incommensurable constitutional crisis this program represents.

Sen. Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, said Hayden told him in a private meeting he was concerned when he set up the highly secretive program that approaching Congress could reveal tactics, techniques and procedures used by U.S. intelligence to track al Qaeda suspects.

``He said, however, that with all the publicity that's been surrounding this program, he may be closer to the possibility of asking for a change,'' Durbin, the Democratic whip, told reporters after meeting with Hayden for 35 minutes.

``I hope they do, and I think they're going to find bipartisan cooperation. I want to find a way to make it legal for us to be safe as a nation,'' he added.

This is absurd in so many ways that I hardly know what to make of it.

First, on the question of Hayden's nomination, why are Democrats making nice in advance of hearings? Simply on the tactical level, that is counterproductive to obtaining full and accurate information about a nominee who has been up to his ears in a highly controversial, secret program. He is the very man who put that program in place. What better occasion for extracting information from the administration about that program than at Gen. Hayden's hearings.

Thus far all attempts to expose what the NSA actually is up to, who designed the program, how it has been implemented, who is being spied upon, and why the Bush administration refused to employ the FISA court, have failed spectacularly. The hearing arranged three months ago by Sen. Specter never came close to answering any of the most basic questions. To judge by Specter's increasing frustration, he hasn't made any progress behind the scenes either.

To my mind, that makes the Hayden nomination a golden opportunity to tighten the screws on the administration. Dick Durbin seems to be treating it as an occasion for compromise, a potentially embarrassing scene to be prevented. Bi-partisan cooperation? What in the world is he talking about? Nearly five months have passed since the warrantless spying was exposed, and at no time have the Republicans in Congress shown any willingness to investigate the program in earnest. So what precisely would Democrats and Republicans cooperate towards?

The answer, I fear, is this: "I want to find a way to make it legal for us to be safe as a nation."

Now, why does Sen. Durbin choose to dig the ground out from under himself and the rest of us who care about civil liberties? Did he intend to imply--as he certainly does imply--that the U.S. will not be safe without this specific NSA spying program? And how does he know any details about this program, much less whether it's making the country safe? Or is it warrantless spying that makes us safe as a nation?

I'm puzzled by this. I thought warrantless spying by a secretive and unaccountable Executive is something we need to be made safe from.

Even more puzzling, Durbin as much as admits that the program is not legal. It needs to be made legal, he says.

Why does it need to be made legal? Isn't the first imperative, after determining that a program is illegal, to hold the law breakers accountable?

Why should the opinion of Gen. Hayden about making the program legal be taken into account, anyhow? Hayden has excused himself from any responsibility for having instituted an illegal program by announcing that he's not a lawyer. (The part in the military code making it necessary to refuse to obey an illegal order? It seems that the NSA never intercepted that text, so it never made it's way to the General's desk.)

Here we have General Hayden saying he's now willing to consider the possibility of allowing Congress to have some sort of (undefined) oversight over the NSA spying because the program received publicity. Not because there's any doubt about it's legality.

Here we have General Hayden saying he did not want to discuss the program with Congress when he instituted it because details of the program might become public. Not because there was any doubt ever about whether it was legal.

Where is there room for cooperation, then, Sen. Durbin? Are you proposing to cooperate in helping the President to cover his tracks, by retroactively declaring this program to be...well, if not legal, then off limits to political discussion?

Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said Hayden expressed a willingness to consider legislation that would put the NSA program ``as it exists now'' under federal law.

It appears that Mr. Shoemaker considers that to be a good thing, rather than an absurdity. The NSA program, like all government programs, already is governed by federal law. The problem, as Gen. Hayden doesn't seem to be willing to admit publicly, is that federal law makes the program illegal. Why would anybody sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution want to "put it under federal law"?

Sen. Durbin sounds as if he is snuggling up to Arlen Specter's proposal. As a way to circumvent the constitutional crisis that George Bush has created, rather than confronting it, Specter has proposed to bend and warp the FISA law to the point that it would be possible to claim, more or less seriously, that the NSA spying is being conducted under the law. I have never understood the logic of that proposal. It looks like a climbdown packaged as legislation; noise without sense, motion without progress.

I'm looking at Mister Bush's poll numbers, and it appears he is running on empty. Does Senator Durbin believe that Democrats are nearly out of gas as well? If not, I cannot imagine what he thinks he's doing in this circumstance. My impression is that neither Sen. Durbin, nor Senate Democrats generally, understand that they represent the opposition party. The only way back to power in the Senate is to oppose what is objectionable in the policies of the governing party. If the Bush administration's willingness to violate the letter of the law, and trample all over the Fourth Amendment, is not a powerful club with which to beat the GOP, I don't believe the Democrats will ever find one.

How can Democrats even consider voting to confirm a man to head the CIA who created such a dicey program? A nominee who believes the NSA, of all agencies, is permitted to spy upon Americans without warrant?

Hasn't the NSA as good as admitted that it cannot permit any form of oversight of this program by refusing to allow the Dept. of Justice to investigate it? Congressman Maurice Hinchey thinks so.

Hasn't the Bush administration as good as admitted that it has been lying about this program, by refusing to come clean to Rep. Nancy Pelosi about which members of Congress were (allegedly) briefed about what the NSA was up to?

To be fair to Senator Durbin, he did say that he has not decided whether he'll vote to confirm Hayden. I would like to make a suggestion, while he's still making up his mind: Vote filibuster, and demand that the administration come clean on warrantless spying.