Thursday, July 18, 2013. Chaos and violence continue, the President of Iran visits Iraq, Baghdad residents have trouble getting into their own neighborhoods, the effects of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden are still being felt, and more.
Starting with NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden who remains in Russia. Kasie Hunt and Kelly O’Donnell (NBC News) report US Senator Lindsey Graham “has told NBC News that the United States should consider boycotting the upcoming Winter Games if Russian President Vladimir Putin grants leaker Edward Snowden asylum — a suggestion that a top U.S. Olympic official quickly rejected.” First off, Putin has no say in temporary asylum. The process involves one ministry only. As we noted Tuesday, “Putin wouldn’t have a formal voice in temporary asylum. In fact, he should have no role in the decision. Again, that’s per State Dept friend, however, that’s how the process is supposed to work and government processes don’t always work as they are supposed to.” The temporary process also moves quickly. As from Graham’s suggestion?
Stupidest thing in the world. Unless he’s trying to get kicked out of the Senate. In 1980, the US boycotted the summer Olympics in Moscow. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States then. The decision was costly in so many ways. First off, US citizens have been training for four years. Second off, this politicizes the Olympics which are not supposed to be politicized. Third, do you realize how much money is at play right now? NBC suits will not be forgiving (NBC is carrying the Winter Olympics). That’s a ton of ad revenue at stake and they’ve got nothing currently to plug into the schedule if the US doesn’t compete. (And if the US doesn’t compete, they could still air the Olympics but the US ratings would be in the toilet.)
Again, if Graham’s trying to retire from the Senate, this is the way to do it. He will be publicly vilified for weeks should this take place. Chris Moody (Yahoo News) reports US House Speaker John Boehner has responded, stating, “Listen, I love Sen. Graham. We’ve been close friends for 20 years. But I think he’s dead wrong. Why would we want to punish U.S. athletes who have been training for three years to compete in the Olympics over a traitor who can’t find a place to call home?”
Traitor? A traitor would be someone, for example, in Congress who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then worked to secretly destroy the Bill of Rights. That would qualify as a traitor. Ed Snowden? Nope. But Boehner’s remarks put him in the same camp as the editor of The Moscow Times’ Michael Bohm. In other words, Boehner’s talking like the Kremlin. How strange it must be for his home district.
Roger Runnigen (Bloomberg News) reports the White House’s stomping feet and pity party may mean that a September summit with Putin is called off, “Canceling the Putin meeting, announced in June, would deal a blow to administration efforts to bolster already strained relations with Russia and would be a direct challenge to the Russian’s prestige on the world stage.” Whether the meeting is on or off isn’t the only thing the White House is staying silent on. Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reports:
The Obama administration is refusing to say whether it will seek to renew a court order that permits the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records on millions of Verizon customers when it at the end of this week.
Officials declined to discuss what action they intend to take about the order at the center of the current surveillance scandal, which formally expires at 5pm Friday.
Yesterday PBS’ The NewsHour (link is video, audio and text) featured a debate on the topic between whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey
DANIEL ELLSBERG, former State Department official: Pardon me, but listening to that just now, I have to smile at the thought that our friends will be very upset about the thought that Snowden had exposed that we were spying on them, which he has done.
I must say, I think a lot of them would be envious of our capability. I think Russia and China would be envious of our capability, the NSA capabilities. It’s exactly what they want in countries that aren’t exactly democratic.
My concern is that the very existence of this kind of capability chills free speech in a disastrous way. I cannot see how there can be investigative reporting of the national security community, when the identity, the location, the metadata, and really the contents of every communication between a journalist and every source, every journalist, every source, is known to the executive branch, especially one that has been prosecuting twice as many journalist — sources as any president before.
Moreover, my even larger concern is, I don’t see how democracy can survive when one branch, the executive branch, has all the personal communications of every member of Congress, and every judge, every member of the judiciary, as well as the press, the fourth estate that I have just been describing.
I don’t see how the blackmail capability that’s involved there can be — will not be abused, as it has happened in the past, including to me, by the way, and to other — and to journalists.
Without that freedom to investigative or bring checks and balances, we won’t have a real democracy. That’s my concern.
But Snowden’s whistle-blowing is having an impact on Americans. Mark Clayton (Christian Science Monitor) reports:
Roughly 70 lawsuits have been filed since 2005 alleging that secret US surveillance programs violated someone’s constitutional rights, but federal judges have dismissed most of the cases before the merits of the charges were ever heard, these experts say. In particular, plaintiffs have stumbled over the challenge of gaining legal standing to even bring suit against the government, primarily because they could not identify the secret surveillance program that they claimed had harmed them.
But fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, who in June divulged to reporters top-secret documents about two US surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA), may have provided a way to get around that hurdle, constitutional lawyers say. Since the Snowden leak (and US officials’ subsequent confirmation that the documents are real), at least five lawsuits have been filed, the latest on Tuesday, alleging that the NSA program to track all Americans’ telephone records violates the US Constitution.
Ed Snowden’s whistle-blowing had made a real impact. Yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing would not have taken place without those revelations. Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte asked near the start of the hearing, “Why not simply have told the American people that we’re engaging in this type of activity in terms of gathering the information?”
Asking a simple question, it turns out, is much easier than getting an answer. Ali Watkins (McClatchy Newspapers) reports: US House Rep Jerrold Nadler stating, “The fact that a secret court unaccountable to public knowledge of what it’s doing . . . may join you in misusing or abusing the statutes is of no comfort whatsoever. So to tell me you go to the FISA court is irrelevant.”
The hearing was on the spying and the FISA court. The first panel was made up of DoJ’s James Cole, NSA’s John C. Inglis, Office of Director of National Intelligence’s Robert S. Litt and the FBI’s Stephanie Douglas. The second panel was Steptoe & Johnson, LLP’s Stewart Baker, the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer and CNSS’ Kate Martin. We covered it in yesterday’s snapshot, Kat covered it in “FISA rulings,” Wally covered it in “Proof that we should be thanking Ed Snowden (Wally)” and Ava covered it in “House Judiciary Committee hearing.”
Ranking Member John Conyers attempted to get some straight answers.
Ranking Member John Conyers: If only relevant conversations can be secured under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, then why on earth would we find now that we are collecting the names of everybody in the United States of America who made any calls for the last 6 years or more?
Stephanie Douglas: Sir, we’re not collecting names. 215 only collects phone numbers, the time and date of the phone call and the duration of the phone call.
Ranking Member John Conyers: Well how do you consider that to be relevant to anything if there is only collecting the names. I mean, look, if this is an innocent pastime we just do to keep busy or for some other reason why on earth would be collecting just the numbers of everybody in the United States of America for at least six years?
Stephanie Douglas: I can speak to the, uhm, applications against investigations and, in this case for 216, it would be specific to counterterrorism investigations, uhm, that information enables us to, uh, search against connections to other, uh, if there’s a communication between a US-based phone number and a phone number that is overseas related to terrorism. And I know that Mr. Inglis explained to you the reasonable articula — articulable suspicion standard by which we have to search against those phone numbers.
Ranking Member John Conyers: Well here-here we’re faced with the fundamental problem in this hearing. We’re not questioning access, we’re talking about the collection in the first instance. In the first instance when you collect the phone numbers of everybody in the United States for over six years, there wasn’t anything relevant in those conversations. Now you have them. What I’ve been getting out of all of this is that they may — “This access may become valuable, Mr. Ranking Member, and so that’s why we do it this way.” But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else. You’ve already violated the law, as far as I am concerned. And that is, in my view, the problem. And of course to further document the first question that the Chairman of this Committee asked — is why didn’t we just tell everybody about it — is because the American people would be totally outraged — as they are getting now as they become familiar with this — that every phone number that they’ve ever called is already a matter of record. And we skip over whether the collection was a Fourth Amendment violation, we just say that the access proved, in one case or two, that it was very important and that’s why we did it this way.
The witnesses’ non-answers and rationalizing was frustrating throughout the hearing. James Risen (New York Times) observes:
Last night, Ava noted the disrespect shown the Committee by the witnesses on the first panel. She wrote about how the Committee members were talked down to and she’s correct. The witnesses were not respectful and they behaved as if they owned the House. Sari Horwitz and William Branigin (Washington Post) report, “The sharp and sometimes angry questioning stood in stark contrast to the tone of hearings on the surveillance programs by congressional intelligence committees in recent weeks.”
In the House (as in the Senate), during rounds of questioning, each member of the Committee is limited to a set time. (It’s five minutes in the House.) Conyers’ time had expired and he wrapped up — or thought he had when he was interrupted.
Ranking Member John Conyers: This is unsustainable, it’s outrageous and must be stopped immediately.
John Inglis: Sir, if I may compliment the answer Ms. Douglas gave, uh, with respect to the question of relevance, of course it must be legally relevant and it must therefore have operational relevance. I’d like to address the operational relevance and then defer to my colleagues.
Ranking Member John Conyers: Well you don’t — Wait a minute. We’re handling this discussion. I, uh, I asked her. Maybe somebody else can do it. But my time has expired. And I appreciate you’re volunteering to help out here but it’s clear to me that we have a very serious violation of the law in which the Judiciary Committee deliberately put in the issue of relevance. And now you’re going to help me out and defer to somebody else?
John Inglis: No, sir, I meant to actually provide additional information. I’d be happy to take the question for the record if time is not allowing that.
Ranking Member John Conyers: Well in all fairness —
Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte: Without exception, the gentleman is recognized for an additional minute to allow another member of the panel to answer the question if he so chooses.
Ranking Member John Conyers: No, I don’t so choose. I’m satisfied exactly with what I’ve gotten from the witness I asked the question to.
Former US Senator Gordon Humphrey wrote POLITIO about Ed Snowden, “Respectfully, I say to Sweden, ‘\’America has done wrong in this instance. Stand up to her. Grant Edward Snowden asylum. You will do the people of the United States a great favor to resist their government in this matter and at this moment..”
Earlier today, Fu Peng (Xinhua) reports, “Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left for Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Thursday for talks on subject of mutual interest, semi-official ISNA news agency reported.” AFP’s Ammar Karim Tweeted:
We met four inspections dogs before reach to press conference of outgoing
#Iranian President Ahmedinejad who visit #Baghdad today
Prensa Latina notes, “The president’s agenda includes interviews with Vice President of the host country, Khuder al Khuzaie, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, reported IRNA news official agency.” Al-Manar explains Ahmadinejad was greeted on the red carpet by Shi’ite Vice President of Iraq Khudayr al-Khuzaie. AFP reports, “The Iranian president was invited by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, but will be hosted by Khuzaie, as Talabani is abroad for medical treatment.” Last December, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke. The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad’s Medical Center Hospital. Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany. He remains in Germany currently.
Adam Schreck (AP) points out, “Ahmadinejad is just weeks away from handing over power to president-elect Hasan Rouhani, who is expected to be sworn in in early August.” Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports:
Ahmadinejad, who arrived in Iraq’s capital Baghdad on Thursday afternoon, said “The Iran-Iraq relation is outstanding and exceptional, which is significant for spreading progress in the region.”
“We believe that if the Iranian and Iraqi peoples put their potential together in one path, they would lead the way to solutions to the problems in the region,” he said in a briefing after talks with Iraqi Vice President Khudair al-Khuzaie.
NINA reports Ahmadinejad also met with Nouri al-Maliki:
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Media Bureau quoted Maliki saying during the meeting that Iraq seeks to develop its relations with all countries of the world, especially its neighbors, “We continue to overcome the old burden, on both regional and international levels.”
Maliki added, “Iraq supports peaceful solutions to all of the area’s problems; in its relations, it adopts open door policy, based on mutual respect and interests.” He pointed out that long borders with Iran require more cooperation in all fields.
The Iranian leader’s visit was planned in advance but kept secret. Prensa Latina explains, “Days ago an Iraqi official source refuted versions about the visit, apparently for security reasons due to the attacks and terrorist attacks especially against areas in which the majority Shiite community lives.”
Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 480 violent deaths in Iraq so far this month. Monday, AKE’s John Drake noted the increase in violence:
Last night, Elaine noted the lack of coverage on the violence from the US press, “The US press helped the US government unleash all the hell that has followed in Iraq. How dare they think they can walk away.”
The violence continues today. All Iraq News reports a battle in Anbar Province left 2 Iraqi soldiers and 3 rebels dead, 4 police officers were killed and twelve people injured when “police patrols in Aitha village” (near Tikrit) were attacked, 1 Ministry of Oil employee was shot dead in Mosul and his nephew was left injured, and a Mosul bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier while leaving another injured. Alsumaria adds that, south of Tikrit, a farmer was shot dead and when police arrived to investigate a bomb went off and they were shot at resulting in four of them being injured. AFP reports it was 2 farmers (husband and wife) killed in the attack (by a bomb, not gunfire) and they note a Wajihiyah bombing claimed the lives of 3 “young men.” Alsumaria notes a Tuz Khurmatu bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer, that gunmen stormed a Kirkuk home and killed 1 woman, and a Kirkuk bombing injured one civilian. That’s 18 reported deaths and 19 reported injured.
Mustafa Habib (Niqash) reports one result of the ongoing violence:
We’ll come back to the violence in a moment. Right now, we’ll note this Tweet from the Washington Post‘s Liz Sly:
“The U.S., as a superpower, can change the equation in Syria in 30 minutes” a Syrian refugee tells Kerry in Jordan http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/kerry-meets-with-syrian-refugees-at-camp-in-jordan/2013/07/18/3464b752-ef7f-11e2-bed3-b9b6fe264871_story.html?hpid=z4 …
Really? The way they ‘improved’ Iraq? Don’t pin that on Bully Boy Bush. Not only did numerous Dems vote for authorization of war but Barack’s had five years as president to ‘help’ Iraq and all he’s done is nullify the will of the people (by insisting Nouri get a second term as prime minister after the Iraqi people said no. Iraq is in shambles and what the State Dept does there, spending billions, is kept from the American people either due to indifference or secrecy. Jason Ditz (Antiwar.com) noted Kerry yesterday:
“You had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence, and you now have a constitutional process proceeding forward very rapidly,” insisted Kerry, warning against a “rush to judgment.”
So a coup is now a good thing? These are the values the State Dept and White House want to espouse?
John Glazer (Antiwar.com) notes reports that US President Barack Obama was warned against arming the so-called ‘rebels’ in Syria, that White House lawyers told him it would be illegal. Glaser points out, “First, this is a case in point for anyone who wonders whether the federal government is guided by the rule of law or operates on the basis of perceived interests. As can be consistently demonstrated throughout U.S. history, even if it’s illegal, the Executive Branch (which has usurped essentially all of the governments war-making powers) will still do it if they want to.”
Meanwhile Defense Industry Daily notes the remarks of Lt Gen Robert Calsen (formerly in charge of the Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq — as of Wednesday, he’s now in charge of West Point) to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction:
“We have 479 separate FMS [DID: Foreign Military Sale, where a branch of the US armed forces acts as Iraq’s project and contracting agent] cases valued at $14.8 billion: 166 are pending cases valued at $2.3 billion, 152 are active Iraqi-funded cases valued at $11 billion, and 161 are closed cases valued at $1.5 billion. Of the closed cases, 85 were funded with $750 million from the Iraq Security Forces Fund (U.S. money) and 76 were Iraqi-funded cases valued at $750 million. We currently have 73 cases in development. OSC-I continues to push the total-package approach, which is equipment, training, maintenance, and sustainment for each case. We have FMF [US-funded Foreign Military Financing]… at $850 million, with $566 million obligated and $284 million still available.”
DID has covered ongoing and planned requests for F-16 fighters, C-130J medium aerial transports, and M1 tanks, among others. These American buys have been accompanied by multi-billion deals for Ukrainian transport aircraft and armored personnel carriers, and for Russian attack helicopters and point defense anti-aircraft units. According to Lt.-Gen. Caslen, There’s more to come for the Americans [. . .]
Where others see misfortune and mourning, the defense industry sees potential profit. Al Mada reports that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense has put out a request for members of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army to help them in locating lost weapons and lost weapons contracts. Nouri’s government has spent the last 7 years demonizing these people but now they want their help. Why? Again, the profit motive. Iraq, out of Chapter VII (but now in Chapter VI), is eager to see that contracts were enforced fairly and that any monies owed the former government be quickly paid to the current one. Weapons also figure into where Iraq stands on Syria, it turns out. John Hudson (Foreign Policy) reports:
For months, the Obama administration has tried and failed to persuade Iraq to block flights over its territory from Iran to Syria — a corridor the U.S. believes is sustaining Syria’s military advantage over the rebels. Though U.S. officials insist Iranian flyovers present a critical lifeline for the Assad regime, Iraqi officials say they can’t stop Iran’s military airlift: Iraqi air defenses are too weak. Now, Iraq’s newly-minted ambassador to the U.S. has a plan to bridge the diplomatic impasse: Help me help you.
In an interview on Wednesday, Ambassador Lukman Faily said he’s busy trying to convince U.S. officials that if they agree to bolster Iraqi air defenses, it will improve Iraq’s ability to halt weapons coming from Iran. “We don’t have full control of our airspace because we don’t have an Integrated Air Defense System in place and this is why I’m talking with Capitol Hill, I’m talking with the State Department and the [Pentagon] because we already have a request for an Integrated Air Defense System plus Apache helicopters which total $10 billion,” he told The Cable. “It’s beneficial for the United States.”
We’ll note Rajiv Chandrasekarn’s important article for the Washington Post tomorrow. We’ll also note that Isaiah‘s The World Today Just Nuts “The Lemon On The Lot” went up.
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