froomkin

The Dark Side Of The Obama White House

The always insightful Dan Froomkin at The Huffington Post pulls no punches in his new review essay on New York Times reporter David E. Sanger’s Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power and Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman’s Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency

He also asks all the right questions, like: “When is targeted killing OK? Can U.S. citizens be snuffed out by the state without any judicial due process? Does indefinite detention ever end?"  Did these books offer answers?  Read all about it here.

New Intel Doc: Do Not Be ‘Led Astray’ By ‘Commonly Understood Definitions’

New evidence of the intelligence community’s intentionally deceptive use of the English language was released today in the form of a Defense Intelligence Agency document that instructs analysts to use words that do not mean what they appear to mean.

The section of the DIA’s “intelligence law handbook” on the “Collection of Information about United States Persons” opens like this:

To begin the journey, it is necessary to stop first and adjust your vocabulary. The terms and words used in DoD 5240.1-R have very specific meanings, and it is often the case that one can be led astray by relying on the generic or commonly understood definitions of a particular word.

DoD 5240.1-R — entitled “Procedures Governing the Activities of DOD Intelligence Components that Affect United States Persons” – is the Department of Defense document that implements Executive Order 12333, the unilateral presidential directive first signed by President Reagan that authorizes government agencies to covertly sweep up vast amounts of private data from overseas communications.

The plainspoken employee handbook was one several documents about Executive Order 12333 the ACLU obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and released today. See also today’s Intercept story: “The Ghost of Ronald Reagan Authorizes Most NSA Spying

Here is the handbook explaining how not to be led astray:

For example, “collection of information” is defined in the Dictionary of the United States Army Terms (AR 310- 25) as: “The process of gathering information for all available sources and agencies. ” But, for the purposes of DoD 5240 .1-R, information is “collected” –

only when it has been received for use by an employee of a DoD intelligence component in the course of his official duties… (and) an employee takes some affirmative action that demonstrates an intent to use or retain the information.

So, we see that “collection of information” for DoD 5240.1-R purposes is more than “gathering” – it could be described as “gathering, plus … “. For the purposes of DoD 5240.1-R, “collection” is officially gathering or receiving information, plus an affirmative act in the direction of use or retention of that information.

For good measure, there’s this footnote:

In addition, data acquired by electronic means is “collected” only when it is processed into intelligible form…;What constitutes an intelligible form may be somewhat problematic.

Analysts can even gather information and keep it for up to six months without it counting as having been “collected”, as long as it’s being “held or forwarded to a supervisory authority, solely for the purpose of making a determination about its collectability.”

Although the intelligence community’s astonishing abuse of words has been frequently noted, particularly in the context of surveillance, this may be the first time we’ve actually seen an instruction manual.

And as it happens, it comes right in the middle of a couple pieces I’m writing about another linguistic perversion, the non-denial denial. (My exegesis of CIA director John Brennan’s latest ran on Friday; more examples from recent history should be out tomorrow.)

The intelligence community’s redefinition of terms inspired the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman last year to author a ”lexicon for decoding the true meaning of what NSA officials say” which includes nifty non-intuitive recastings of terms such as surveillance, relevant, targeted, incidental and inadvertent.

There’s also a “Guide to the Deceptions, Misinformation, and Word Games Officials Use to Mislead the Public About NSA Surveillance” that Trevor Timm wrote for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Mike Masnick’s more tongue in check “NSA-To-English Dictionary” from Techdirt.

The post New Intel Doc: Do Not Be ‘Led Astray’ By ‘Commonly Understood Definitions’ appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/F1mqr4

Billion Dollar Surveillance Blimp to Launch over Maryland

The Army is about to launch the first of two massive blimps over Maryland, the last gasp of an 18-year-long $2.8-billion Army project intended to use giant airships to defend against cruise missiles. But their ability to track cars, trucks and boats hundreds of miles away is raising serious privacy concerns.

The post Billion Dollar Surveillance Blimp to Launch over Maryland appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/t1s3bW

"Shutdown" news: when objectivity rings false

So-called journalistic objectivity has been a dealt a one-two punch from the press gallery.

One: “The political media’s aversion to doing anything that might be seen as taking sides — combined with its obsession with process — led them to actively obscure the truth in their coverage of the votes. If you did not already know what this was all about, reading the news would not help you understand.” – Froomkin for Al Jazeera.

Two: As Ross Douthat of NYTimes suggests, "the press’ efforts to remain neutral/balanced while also acting as a medium for surfacing underrepresented voices and investigating the powerful actually undermines good coverage of real issues as the two aren’t entirely compatible.“

Much of our current narrative is filled with stories that increase polarization. In response, editors cling to so-called objectivity – even where it’s not warranted.

As the industry formerly known as the newspaper business evolves, we will see more non-traditional editorial models cropping up, and that’s a good thing for democracy and individual agency

Examples:

Image: The Birmingham News (today’s edition) 

Media Should Be Challenging Arguments for War, Not Baying for Blood

Washington’s elite media, as usual, is doing its job exactly wrong.

They are baying for war.

Pundits and reporters are seemingly competing for who can be more scornful of President Obama for his insufficiently militaristic response to the brutal Sunni militants who call themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

They are  gleefully parsing Obama’s language for weakness, and essentially demanding a major military assault — while failing to ask the tough questions about what if any good it could actually accomplish.

It’s not just that the lessons of the abject failure of the press corps in the run-up to war in Iraq seem to have been forgotten. Watching post-invasion reality in the region should have made it clear to anyone paying any attention at all that America is not omnipotent, and that military action kills not just enemies but innocent civilians, creates refugee crises, can spawn more enemies than it destroys, further destabilizes entire regions, and alters the future in unanticipated and sometimes disastrous ways.

(Indeed, as noted author Robert W. Merry wrote in the National Interest recently, the “ominous turn of events in the Middle East flows directly from the regional destabilization wrought by President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.”)

In a nation that considers itself peaceful and civilized, the case for military action should be overwhelmingly stronger than the case against. It must face, and survive, aggressive questioning.

There is no reason to expect that kind of pushback from within Congress — leading figures from far right to far left are falling into line with the hawkish consensus for some sort of action, virtually begging Obama to ask for their authorization so they can give it to him. And Vice President Joe Biden, the one guy inside the White House who’s been a consistent voice of military restraint, said Wednesday that the U.S. will follow ISIS “to the gates of hell“.

In the absence of a coherent opposition party or movement, it’s the Fourth Estate’s duty to ask those questions, and demand not not just answers, but evidence to back up those answers.

The press corps shouldn’t be asking: Why isn’t Obama sounding tougher? It should be asking: What is he considering, and why the hell does he think it has any chance of working?

I asked a few experts who I respect and trust to propose some of the specific questions that the Obama administration should have to answer. (As I wrote in my inaugural blog post, one of my goals here it to serve as a megaphone for people who a) know what they’re talking about and b) have gotten things right in the past.)

Here are two responses. As more come in, I’ll add them to the bottom. And I’ll hoist good ones up from comments, too. Or maybe I’ll make it all into a second post.

Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, now a military scholar and author, summed up his questions in three words: “Purpose? Method? Endstate?”

He argues that ISIS isn’t the threat some make it out to be, and that it’s only one part of a proxy war against Iran that will continue as long as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar continue to fund it:

ISIS is a contemporary version of Mohammed’s 7th Century force with pickup trucks instead of horses, but with the same brutality. Its successful conquest of largely Sunni Arab areas in irrelevant desert is evidence for the weakness in those areas and their surroundings rather than strength on the part of ISIS.

Frankly, I think lots of Westerners with either no personal experience on the ground fighting and killing Arabs or with agendas (ideological or self-enrichment) are making a mountain range out of very small hills at best. Also, keep in mind if ISIS in Syria presented any real threat would the Israelis stand by and do nothing about it? Of course not.

Finally, we created the conditions for ISIS through our intervention and installation of Iranian power in Baghdad, but Riyadh, Ankara and Doha are now the recruiting and financial centers for ISIS. As long as they and their surrogates want to wage this proxy war against Iran and its satellites/allies the conflict will continue.

After the 1991 failure to remove S[addam] H[ussein] from power, we wasted two decades, trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on Iraq and the region. It’s time to stop.

Iconoclastic retired diplomat and Middle East expert Chas W. Freeman Jr., whose appointment to chair Obama’s National Intelligence Council was quashed in early 2009 by the pro-Israel lobby, notes the inherent conflict between Obama’s casual admission last week that “We don’t have a strategy yet” and the fact that we are already actively bombing ISIS.

There have been 124 air strikes across Iraq as of September 2, according to the Guardian; the White House has described the mission thus far as “to protect U.S. personnel and facilities and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground.”

Freeman asks:

What are the missing elements of a strategy for dealing with ISIS and whose cooperation do we need to produce one? What is being done to secure that cooperation?

Our military tell us that the use of force cannot effectively counter ISIS, yet we’re bombing ISIS as if it can. What can counter ISIS? What sort of diplomacy is needed to keep ISIS from carrying out its threats to extend its operations to our homeland?

How can we fight ISIS in Iraq while allowing it safe haven in Syria? Would opposing ISIS in Syria require us to cooperate with the Assad government? With Hezbollah? With Iran? If we cannot cooperate with these enemies of ISIS, can we coordinate policy with them? If so, how?

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf Arab states have been major sources of international financial support for radical Islamists in Syria. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has adopted a sectarian religions approach to its foreign policy, countering Iran theologically as well as geopolitically. Does Saudi Arabia have a role in turning Salafi Muslim rebels in Syria against their more extreme co-religionists in ISIS? If so, what?

Should we be working with Iran against ISIS? How would doing so be reconciled with our deference to Israeli and Saudi paranoia about Iran?

Compared to al Qa’ida, how do you rate ISIS as a threat to Americans abroad? Israelis? Americans at home?

How is a base area defended by hundreds of U.S. troops an embassy under the Vienna Convention? How does our embassy at Baghdad differ from the norm?

How afraid of ISIS are the Saudis? How much should they be concerned about it?

Who are the foreign fighters in ISIS? Where and how are they recruited? Is there any non-coercive program to counter the ideological appeal of ISIS?

Why is ISIS not an appropriate means of expressing the defiant resentment of Arab youth against the United States and American policies in the Middle East? If the U.S. and Israel can kill large numbers of civilians with impunity, why can’t citizen militias do the same to Americans and the United States?

How do you see the role of Russia in the contemporary Middle East, given the rise of ISIS and the siege of Syria?

Paul R. Pillar, formerly the CIA’s top Middle East analysis, wrote an influential op-ed in the Washington Post during a particularly intense period of saber-rattling toward Iran in 2007 called “What to Ask Before the Next War”.

Last week, he wrote a brilliant article in the National Interest, attempting to put “ISIS in Perspective”.

In the piece, he wrote that “Americans, following a long tradition of finding monsters overseas to destroy, are now focusing their attention and their energy on a relatively new one.”

He also noted that “We also are reacting quite understandably to the group’s methods, which are despicably inhumane, and to its objectives, which are disgustingly medieval.” But, he wrote, “we also should bear in mind that an emotional reaction to such an incident produces the wrong frame of mind for debate, and cool-headed deliberation, about public policy.”

He warned about the danger of absolutism in assertions that ISIS “must be destroyed”:

We have heard similar absolutism before, and we have seen the results. We heard it with the post-9/11 false syllogism that if terrorism is considered a serious problem then we must recognize that we are at “war,” and if we are at war then that means we must rely principally on military force. We heard it also in the dictum that if there is even a one percent chance of something awful happening to us, then we must treat that as a certainty.

The absolutist approach leads to inappropriate derision and dismissal of policy steps as “half measures” when they may in fact be—considering the costs, benefits, and other U.S. interests at stake—the most prudent steps that could be taken. Some actions that would set back ISIS may be, given the circumstances, sensible and cost-effective. Other possible measures may seem aimed more directly at the goal of destroying ISIS but, given the circumstances, would not be sensible.

In an interview, Pillar marveled at the “kind of mass emotional phenomenon” based in part on the recent barbaric beheadings of captured free-lance journalists and the scary maps that make it seem like ISIS is about to take Baghdad. But, he said, the press is “getting excited in a way that I think has been blown well out of proportion.”

Here are the questions he thinks the press should be raising instead:

What do you expect the response of ISIS to be, given especially that these killings that have gotten so much attention have been couched by the group as revenge for military action we’ve already taken? Why shouldn’t we expect more of the same if we do more of the same?

Have we considered whether part of the group’s purpose is to provoke more U.S. intervention, and therefore show themselves as the group standing up to the U.S.? Would we not indeed be playing into their hands by doing so?

Given that Matthew Olsen, the outgoing director of the NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center] made a statement the other day that we do not face the prospect of attacks by this group against the homeland, why are we focusing as much attention as we are against this one group? They’ve done certain dramatic things that have gotten our attention, and the press’s attention, but what exactly are the U.S.’s interests at stake?

Given that this group’s advances in Syria and Iraq have had a great deal to do with the larger sectarian conflict in those countries… how do we intervene without effectively taking sides in a sectarian conflict in which the United States has no interest? Why should we favor Shiites or Sunnis? Because that’s exactly how it will be seen. Have you considered the downside of being seen as taking sides in a sectarian conflict, in terms of the enemies that you make?

With particular regard to the question of intervening in Syria: What exactly would be our broader political objective? Do we still believe that [Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad] must go? And if we do, how do we square this with an intervention against ISIS, given that the regime and ISIS are the two most powerful interests in the Syrian civil war?

How effective would air strikes be against a group most of whose strength is closely intermingled with civilian populations? It does not consist of large military formations out in the desert. How do you do something effective militarily without causing casualties among innocent civilians?

Pillar said the air strikes thus far have largely involved “the few targets of opportunity there have been,” including advancing troops. “But the larger the operation, and the more extensive it becomes, the more the question of collateral damage becomes pertinent.”

Here are a few other notes of skepticism I’ve run across. (Send me more!)

New York Times reporter James Risen notes:

And in a story about the lack of fulsome debate on the issue, Huffington Post’s Sam Stein finds a critic asking questions:

“It seems unlikely that U.S. military action, even if assisted by surrogates on the ground, can ‘kill’ ISIS. At best, we will be able to significantly reduce its capabilities. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but then what?” said. “If the basic problem is instability — a problem extending far beyond Iraq/Syria, of course — then the big question is what if anything the U.S. and its allies can do to restore stability to the region. That’s where the debate ought to focus. I don’t get much sense of people taking on that issue, perhaps because it is truly a daunting one.”

Photo: Imagebroker/Getty Images

The post Media Should Be Challenging Arguments for War, Not Baying for Blood appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/RVtQgB

Non-Denial Denials: The Most Ludicrous and the Most Heinous: [This is the fourth post in a series on non-denial denials; see also parts onetwo and three.]

The most ludicrous but nevertheless most memorable post-Nixon non-denial denial has got to be President Bill Clinton’s finger-waggling statement:

I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

Some non-denial denials come incredibly close to flat-out lies, and that one sure did. It relied on a legalistic definition of “sexual relations” that Clinton later explained did not cover repeatedly receiving oral sex from Lewinsky, because, for his part, he had no “intent to arouse or gratify” her.

The most heinous non-denial denial of modern times relates to the use of torture as administration policy under President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Bush, notably and repeatedly, insisted that “we don’t torture,” evidently employing legal interpretations that had been commissioned by Cheney. Among the many things Cheney’s lawyers decided was not torture happened to be the single most iconic form of torture dating back to the Spanish inquisition: waterboarding.

Bush’s non-denial denial – he never specifically denied waterboarding, for example, and eventually acknowledged it — was obviously based on a definition of torture that was utterly spurious. But the elite media, too meek to use or assert the meaning of a very important word, let him get away with it.

It took repeated use of the word by President Obama – including the unfortunate “we tortured some folks” comment — for it to regain something closer to its true meaning. And when the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation practices is eventually released, there may be a moment of accountability for Bush’s non-denial denials. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The post Non-Denial Denials: The Most Ludicrous and the Most Heinous appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/fpMCQK http://dlvr.it/77x0Fp

Non-Denial Denials: The Most Ludicrous and the Most Heinous

[This is the fourth post in a series on non-denial denials; see also parts onetwo and three.]

The most ludicrous but nevertheless most memorable post-Nixon non-denial denial has got to be President Bill Clinton’s finger-waggling statement:

I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

Some non-denial denials come incredibly close to flat-out lies, and that one sure did. It relied on a legalistic definition of “sexual relations” that Clinton later explained did not cover repeatedly receiving oral sex from Lewinsky, because, for his part, he had no “intent to arouse or gratify” her.

The most heinous non-denial denial of modern times relates to the use of torture as administration policy under President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Bush, notably and repeatedly, insisted that “we don’t torture,” evidently employing legal interpretations that had been commissioned by Cheney. Among the many things Cheney’s lawyers decided was not torture happened to be the single most iconic form of torture dating back to the Spanish inquisition: waterboarding.

Bush’s non-denial denial – he never specifically denied waterboarding, for example, and eventually acknowledged it — was obviously based on a definition of torture that was utterly spurious. But the elite media, too meek to use or assert the meaning of a very important word, let him get away with it.

It took repeated use of the word by President Obama – including the unfortunate “we tortured some folks” comment — for it to regain something closer to its true meaning. And when the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation practices is eventually released, there may be a moment of accountability for Bush’s non-denial denials. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The post Non-Denial Denials: The Most Ludicrous and the Most Heinous appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/fpMCQK

Brennan: Return of Torture Tactics Up to ‘Future Policymakers’

“ CIA Director John Brennan gave no ground to his critics during a press conference on Thursday, singing his agency’s praises and saying it “did a lot of things right” in its interrogation program. It was his first public appearance since a Senate report released on Tuesday exhaustively documented the CIA’s gruesome record of torture and>>

The post Brennan: Return of Torture Tactics Up to ‘Future Policymakers’ appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/GvyPtH

Non-Denial Denials: It Started With Watergate

In late October 1972, as the Washington Post was aggressively uncovering the secret, massive campaign of political spying and sabotage directed by Richard Nixon’s top White House and campaign officials, Watergate editor Barry Sussman started documenting a common theme in the public denials those stories were eliciting.

As Sussman wrote in his definitive 1973 book, “The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate“:

I picked out seventeen examples of unfounded criticism of the Post or of carefully worded statements meant to pass as denials that had been made by [then-press secretary Ron] Ziegler, [then-White House official Clark] MacGregor and [then-chairman of the Republican National Committee Bob] Dole, and put together a four-page analysis of them for others at work. I felt I had found an important key to understanding the Administration’s response, one that might give us at least some comfort if the attack on the Post continued. We were trying to report the news as best we could; they were playing at semantics, trying to make The Washington Post, and not Nixon campaign spying, into an election issue…

We had not been in error. We had hit a nerve.

The name for that made it into the pop-cultural lexicon in 1976, when Jason Robards, playing Post executive editor Ben Bradlee in the movie “All the President’s Men,” gruffly responded to administration statements like this:

Said Bradlee:

All non-denial denials. They doubt our ancestors, but they won’t say the story isn’t true.

Nixon himself delivered a doozy of a non-denial denial in November 1973, when he said: “I am not a crook.” He was denying having personally profited from his public service – not having turned the White House into a criminal operation.

Ever since Nixon, non-denial denials have become a familiar staple of public discourse.

Their central purpose, as I explained last week in a piece on the excellent example recently supplied by CIA Director John Brennan, is to convey the impression that you have denied doing the thing you did, without technically denying it.

This is the first of about a dozen posts on non-denial denials from Nixon to Obama. (I decided to split them up; more fun that way, right?) So tomorrow: Iran-Contra!

Photo: Keystone/Getty Images

The post Non-Denial Denials: It Started With Watergate appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/n8P6Fk

Brennan: Return of Torture Tactics Up to ‘Future Policymakers’

CIA Director John Brennan gave no ground to his critics during a press conference on Thursday, singing his agency’s praises and saying it “did a lot of things right” in its interrogation program. It was his first public appearance since a Senate report released on Tuesday exhaustively documented the CIA’s gruesome record of torture and>>

The post Brennan: Return of Torture Tactics Up to ‘Future Policymakers’ appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/T5OjFT

The Rise of Robot Governance

So Froomkin’s answer to Post’s question was to note that being “in the room” matters. Had “just one lawyer” been present when engineers were creating the domain name system its design could have been different because that lawyer would have spotted the issues we have been grappling with ever since.



Robot@Topix: http://ift.tt/1EfOWWz
April 18, 2015 at 11:00PM
White House Getting Cold Feet Over Exposing CIA’s Torture Secrets

“ After seven months of promising to release a report exposing CIA torture of terror suspects, the Obama administration Friday reportedly sent Secretary of State John Kerry to ask Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein to consider holding off “because a lot is going on in the world.” The White House has been negotiating with Feinstein>>

The post White House Getting Cold Feet Over Exposing CIA’s Torture Secrets appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/FMwe1h

White House Getting Cold Feet Over Exposing CIA’s Torture Secrets

“ After seven months of promising to release a report exposing CIA torture of terror suspects, the Obama administration Friday reportedly sent Secretary of State John Kerry to ask Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein to consider holding off “because a lot is going on in the world.” The White House has been negotiating with Feinstein since April over>>

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12 Things to Keep in Mind When You Read the Torture Report

“ 1) You’re not actually reading the torture report. You’re just reading an executive summary. The full Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture of detainees runs upward of 6,000 pages. The executive summary is 480 pages. So you’re missing more than 80 percent of it. 2) The CIA got to cut out parts. The summary>>

The post 12 Things to Keep in Mind When You Read the Torture Report appeared first on The Intercept. http://goo.gl/150XTB