Archive for the ‘CIA’ Category

The Carolyn Krass nomination to be General Counsel at the CIA, secret legal justifications and memos, and democratic government under the rule of law

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Should the President of the United States be able to conduct secret operations and activities without revealing to Congressional oversight committes the legal memoranda on which he is relying in making such decisions?

The subject came up, again, in the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearings for Carolyn Krass to become the CIA’s top lawyer, on December 17, 2013.

The cute argument made in defense of the refusal to hand over certain memos relating to torture and other covert activities, prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), is that they could not be turned over because they were “pre-decisional” and needed to be kept secret to protect free debate among the president’s advisors.

This argument (with its echoes of a claim of Executive Privilege) is misleading and obscures the central fact that, in a democracy, congressional committees with responsibility for oversight of covert activities need to know the legal basis on which the president has authorized certain covert or secret activities. Without access to the written legal justifications upon which the president relied, they cannot effectively exercise oversight of the legality of the activities involved.

What the country needs is for top lawyers, from outside the national security coterie of lawyers who have been in the national security loop in the government while they or other lawyers supported torture, extraordinary renditions, targeted executions, and a whole range of covert activities in different countries, to come in and assume the top legal positions at the CIA, the State Department and other key institutions.

Such new lawyers from the outside will bring with them a fresh perspective, and a fresh approach to what is really legal or not. That is both the reason their appointment will be fiercely resisted and the reason such resistance must be overcome. Those in the government who have been working on these issues may well have an inkling of how an unbiased eye might appraise their work.

Only then will the Congress and the American people have confidence in the constitutionality of the covert actions undertaken, and in their legality under international law.

Government of the people, by the people, and under the rule of law cannot abide secret legal justifications for covert activities, whose very occurrence is itself wrapped in secret.

See Josh Gerstein, “Judge orders Obama foreign aid order released, Politico, December 17, 2013 (6:16 p.m. EST).

See also, on the question of whether in a democracy the government can rule by secret laws, upheld by secret courts, and never exposed to the light of day,

“Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, February 24, 2013

Secret laws, secret legal analyses, secret legal memoranda, and secret judicial decisions, it should be recognized, represent key building blocks for a totalitarian state.

See “The Disposition Matrix”: Is Obama laying the foundations of a future totalitarian state?” The Trenchant Observer, July 18, 2013, (Updated July 27, 2013).

In this article, the Observer explains,

The disposition matrix is just one piece of architecture which when used by others in the future could form part of a totalitarian state.

Other elements would be total surveillance of individuals in society who might pose a challenge, any challenge, to those who control the machinery of the state. Another would be the ability of the government to influence and move public opinion by using personal data to sway voters in electoral campaigns, as the Democrats and Obama did so successfully in the 2012 elections.

Another element would be the use of secret laws and secret legal justifications, and the state secrets privilege, to avoid public debate and public challenges in the courts to governmental actions violating basic constitutional rights (e.g., free speech, due process, Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.).

A final element would be control of the flow of information, an enterprise in which Google has been obtaining vast experience, dealing with authoritarian regimes throughout the world.

No nominee to be General Counsel of the CIA or any nominees for to be a top legal official at another agency should be confirmed if he or she is unwilling to commit to sharing with the Senate and House Intelligence Committees the legal basis, expressed in written analyses and memorands, for covert activities and operations authorized and carried out by the President of the United States.

The essential and core elements of a democratic state governed by the rule of law are at stake.

There can never exist such a thing as the secret “rule of law”.

The very concept is an oxymoron. The reality of efforts to use secrecy to avoid accountability before the law (as interpreted not only by the Executive but also by the Congress and by the Supreme Court) represents a mortal threat to any democracy, including the American Democracy.

The Trenchant Observer

The real problem with U.S. policy toward Afghanistan: Hamid Karzai and the CIA

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

It is sometimes stunning to observe how journalists at leading U.S. newspapers can write about some recent action Hamid Karzai has taken against U.S. interests in Afghanistan, without at the same time recalling for the reader Karzai’s near-certain deep ties to the CIA and the latter’s funding the corruption of his government.

Karzai’s latest outrage is his attempt to introduce new conditions for his signing of the status of foces agreement with the United States that Secretary John Kerry and everyone else thought had just been agreed to last week.

But Karzai decided to raise the ante in his perennial game of high-stakes poker with U.S. military and civilian leaders–saying he wouldn’t sign the (agreed-upon) agreement until after the April 5 elections, which incidentally would give him enormous leverage over the U.S. and other Western countries to ensure that they do not push too hard for really democratic presidential elections in April, or denounce the electoral fraud that will surely take place again, as it did in 2009 when Karzai through the most curious of circumstances was “elected” to be president of Afghanistan.

Without U.S. support, Karzai’s fate might very well be sealed in short order, with the collapse of his government.

We have to ask, “What gives Karzai such brazen assurance that he can defy the U.S. with impunity, without consequences?

For one thing, he has done it for many years and always gotten away with it.

The reason for his impunity from any consequences from the U.S. for repeatedly outrageous and perfidious behavior results, in all likelihood, from the close ties he and his deceased brother have had with the CIA over the years.

See

Matthew Rosenberg, “With Bags of Cash, C.I.A. Seeks Influence in Afghanistan.” New York Times, April 28, 2013.

Rosenberg reported,

KABUL, Afghanistan — For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.

All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.

“We called it ‘ghost money,’ ” said Khalil Roman, who served as Mr. Karzai’s deputy chief of staff from 2002 until 2005. “It came in secret, and it left in secret.”

The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.

“The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan,” one American official said, “was the United States.”

See also

Alissa J. Rubin, “Departing French Envoy Has Frank Words on Afghanistan,” New York Times, April 27, 2013.

Michael Kelly, “The CIA Has Paid Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To The Afghan President’s Office Over The Last Decade,” Business INsider, April 29, 2013 (12:34 AM).

Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, “Brother of Afghan Leader Said to Be Paid by C.I.A.,”New York Times, October 27, 2009.

On CIA payments to other high Afghan government officials, see

“CIA Payments Undercut U.S. Efforts to Strengthen Governance in Afghanistan, The Trenchant Observer, September 2, 2010.

Karzai’s most recent act of perfidy is one he could only be emboldened to undertake as a result of the close relationship he and his family have had with the CIA, and his unbroken string of successes in forcing the U.S. to back down or to accept his outrageous comments and behavior.

Instead of a democratic project in Afghanistan, what we have seen at least since 2004 or 2005 is a cynical policy in which the CIA paid high government officials, even if corrupt or involved in the drug trade, in a policy based on the assumption that good governance would somehow just automatically spring into existence as U.S. and ISAF forces fulfilled their missions and trained the Afghan army and security forces.

We saw how that works with the abject failure of the “government in a box” concept in the Marja campaign in 2010.

See the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan, June 23, 2010; and

“REPRISE: Reasoning from Conclusions in Afghanistan,” August 19, 2012.

What we are seeing now with Karzai is only the logical consequence of that cynical policy, where U.S. money was used to block the development of truly democratic forces and institutions in Afghanistan, through bags of money delivered to President Karzai and other government officials, off the books, and by other means.

The last exit ramp from the Karzai carrousel was in 2009 when a second round of presidential elections was called, and the U.S. had the power to ensure that it actually be held. But they couldn’t break with Karzai, who undoubtedly has a lot of dirty linen on the CIA, and without whose help and that of Ahmed Wali Karzai, his brother in Kandahar (until his death in 2011), the CIA and the U.S. military probably couldn’t even have operated effectively in the south.

So the endgame is in McLean, and not in Kabul. For the United States to ever have a stable status of forces agreement upon which it can rely, and a chance to ever build a state in Afghanistan that can stand on its own, it will have to be prepared to cut the cord with Hamid Karzai, and to support genuinely free presidential elections in Afghanistan in April, 2014.

Karzai is now acting to forestall that possibility. But the U.S. urgently needs to push back, to change its strategy, and to stop relying on Karzai, if there is to be any point to keeping a residual force in Afghanistan after 2014. To achieve that, Obama will have to negotiate with John Brennan at the CIA in McLean, not with Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

The great risk here is that Karzai is overplaying his hand, and domestic politics in the United States may produce a result which leads to a complete withdrawal of U.S. and international forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, if not before, and a withdrawal of the financial assistance which keeps the Afghan state afloat.

In sum, any of a number of events, such as a miscalculation, events on the ground, or political reactions in the United States, could lead to an abrupt American withdrawal, resulting in the same kind of fiasco as has occurred in Iraq, with one difference: the Afghan state would be likely to collapse.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama’s foreign policy incompetence, and what to do about it

Friday, November 1st, 2013

For background, see the following articles:

Victor Davis Hanson, “Is Obama Still President? National Review Online, October 29, 2013 (3:00 AM).

David Ignatius, “Pitfalls of a ‘realist’ Middle East strategy,” Washington Post, October 30, 2013.

Elizabeth C. McCall, “President Obama’s Absentee Foreign Policy,” U.S. News and World Report, August 27, 2013.

Doyle McManus, “On foreign policy, a consistently inconsistent president: Op-Ed Obama’s rhetoric tends to outrun his willingness to use U.S. power,” Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2013.

(developing story)

Wherever you look across the globe, the United States is in retreat, and held in lower and lower esteem and respect. This is the result of the incompetent foreign policy of Barack Obama, who despite his insistence on being in control of all the important issues facing the United States in the world, is not in control. No one is in control. The state is adrift.

The president has no sense of strategy, or even of keeping on top of things in different parts of the world. What is worse, he doesn’t seem to be able to delegate important authority to those under him.

The recent U.S.-Russian deal in Geneva on the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting in Geneva, and the subsequent achievement of a strong Security Council resolution imposing a chemical weapons disarmament regime on Syria, might conceivably count as an exception to the general pattern.

That might be the case had it not occurred in the context of the complete fiasco of the U.S. preparing to use military force against Syria in response to the al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons at Ghouta on August 21, 2013, mobilizing its allies (e.g., Britain) to support such action, and then Obama “flinching” at the moment of truth, the moment when he might have pulled the trigger, and throwing the hot potato to Congress where he could not have assumed he would get approval.

The chemical weapons deal if fully carried out may achieve one American objective–the removal of chemical weapons from Syria–and two Russian objectives, first, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, and, second, the establishment of a dynamic which is sure to bolster al-Assad and keep him in power for quite some time to come.

Obama cut the rug out from under his allies, including the French and, most notably, Saudi Arabia. His decision to “work through the Russians”, which seems to be a longstanding preference, had the effect of selling out the Free Syrian Army and the civilian opposition to the al-Assad regime.

Bashar al-Assad is now continuing his campaign of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the armed opposition and innocent civilians, while chemical weapons inspectors go about their business.

Throughout the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles. Stalwart allies for decades, like Saudi Arabia, have become disillusioned with the United States, fully aware that if Obama can sell out the Turks as he did a year ago when they were preparing for the use of military force in Syria, and could sell out the Syrian opposition as he just did, he could surely sell out the Saudis as he pursues a nuclear settlement with Iran.

Last month the United States used force violating the territorial integrity and political independence of Libya (see U.N. Charter, Article 2 para. 4) to catch an al-Qaeda terrorist high on the U.S. target list, without even offering a justification for its actions under international law. It also sent armed forces into Somalia on the same day to capture a target on their wanted list, also without a justification under international law. Last week Israel bombed targets in Syria for the third time, without acknowledgment or legal justification, or any comment so far as I am aware from the White House.

The civil war in Iraq is gaining steam, wiping out all of the gains U.S. blood and treasure was spent to secure.

In Afghanistan, the best hopes are for the survival of a narco-state ruled by war lords under the general coordination of Hamid Karzai, who appears to want to continue to rule from behind the throne following the upcoming presidential elections.  For the U.S., the logical policy would be to strongly insist on these elections and the electoral process being truly democratic, which if that were to occur could actually bring to power individuals who might collectively help to stablize the country. But as the U.S. showed in 2009, it is hardly an impartial player in the electoral game.

Obama’s record is one of inaction, and of inaction aggravated by failing to connect the dots and to understand how inaction could produce a domino effect leading to immense damage to U.S. foreign policy interests.

Where in the world is the U.S. leading on any foreign policy issue? What significant international initiatives has the U.S. launched? What international conventions or treaties is it pushing, in order to reduce the scourge of war and to improve the lot of mankind?

What has it done to support human rights, in deeds and not just empty rhetoric?

The cumulative damage over the last four years has been enormous. Just ponder the fact that four Latin American states are seeking to undermine the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, each of which which played an instrumental role in restoring democracy to the countries of Latin America in the 1970′s and 1980′s after decades of dictatorship.

The world has taken the measure of Barack Obama, and is not impressed.

What is to be done?

1. One alternative is impeachment (e.g. for failure to protect the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States by authorizing the NSA and other intelligence agencies to act in total disregard of its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures).  But the Democrats would not be likely to go along with such an option.

2. A second option would be to persuade Obama to resign, turning the leadership of the country over to Vice-President Joseph Biden. But that seems unlikely to work against the capacious ego of a vain and arrogant president whose ego and belief he is the smartest man in the room, any room, seem to be made of titanium.

3. A third option, suggested earlier here, would be for the president to turn foreign policy leadership over to John Kerry, who actually has some experience in the area. But does this seem likely?

4. A fourth option would be to just wait out the rest of Obama’s term, which ends on January 20, 2017.

The fourth option, while the likeliest to be followed, is also perhaps the most dangerous. Given the damage Obama has already inflicted on U.S. foreign policy interests, who knows what further disasters he might produce in the next three years and three months?

For evidence The Trenchant Observer is not alone in his thinking, see the list of articles above, which will be updated regularly.

We are really in a pickle, as they say.

The Trenchant Observer

New strategy and accompanying military action needed in Syria; Justification under International Law

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

President Barack Obama’s strategy for dealing with Syria has demonstrably failed.

That strategy consisted mainly in looking the other way, providing fitful and ineffectual covert support, and actively blocking the efforts of others to mount some form of military action that might have brought the widespread commission by the al-Assad regime of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a halt. These have now culminated in the use of chemical weapons by al-Assad on a large scale against his own people.

The covert action has had minimal results, involving coordination of the supply of arms by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the insurgents, apparently with the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The results of this policy, as long predicted here and by knowledgeable experts, has been a brutal civil war in Syria whose death toll now exceeds 100,000, according to the latest U.N. update.  However, the number is  growing by hundreds if not thousands every week, and likely to be much higher than even this appalling number.

Military action to stop the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime in Syria has been needed for a long time, but now must be undertaken by the West and allied Arab countries in order to avoid an exploding regional conflict between Shi’a and Sunni militias and regimes, on the one hand, and to prevent Syria from becoming the first chemical weapons battleground since the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), if not since World War I, with the concomitant acquisition of chemical WMD by al-Qaeda affiliated and other terrorists groups, on the other.

The options available to the West and the Arab states, following two and a half years of dithering and blocking actions by the Obama administration, are not enviable.

Nonetheless, what is needed is a military and diplomatic strategy that will produce results and outcomes that safeguard the vital interests of the West, the Arab countries, and other civilized nations in the world.

Before considering that strategy, it will be useful to highlight mistakes that have been made and which must not be repeated.

First, the illusion of a negotiated agreement with Bashar al-Assad should be discarded at the outset. Al-Assad has not kept a single agreement with the international community, from the Arab League peace plan of November 2, 2011, to the agreements reached with Kofi Annan regarding the cessation of hostilities in the first half of 2012. Moreover, al-Assad has proven, time and time again, that he is a master of playing off different countries one against the other, with promises of this or that, or negotiations on this or that to get his approval, all coming to naught.

The lesson is clear: The new strategy should not seek al-Assad’s agreement to any kind of peace agreement short of an agreement to hand administration of the country over to a NATO or United Nations Authority under the protection of a NATO-led or United Nations Peacekeeping Force, in a manner similar to the establishment of IFOR under the agreements reached with Slobodan Milosovich of Serbia and the leaders of Bosnia and Croatia by Richard Holbrooke and the United States in Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995.

Second, with over a year and a half of experience with the Russians following their and the Chinese veto of a mild U.N. Resolution on February 4, 2012, the West and the Arab states should not waste their efforts on negotiating anything with the Russians in the Security Council which does not include:

1) the immediate authorization of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria; and

2) immediate steps for the implementation of a binding cease-fire in Syria,  which is obligatory on Syria with or without its consent under the terms of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.

The use of military force should be aimed at securing these objectives, not the agreement of al-Assad to this or that proposal. Above all, no negotiation of the final political and military arrangements should be undertaken before a cease-fire takes effect. The disastrous precedent of Kofi Annan and the U.N. seeking to negotiate elements of the outcome with al-Assad in exchange for his cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity should not be repeated. Ever.

The military campaign against al-Assad’s government and its ongoing atrocities should be pressed until the commission of these crimes ceases, and a NATO-led or U.N. force and accompanying International Authority for Syria are established and put in place.

The military actions required to achieve the above strategic objectives should be publicly justified under international law, along the lines suggested here in earlier articles, as temporary measures of protection undertaken to protect the population of Syria against the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity and their effects. The justification should be very narrowly tailored to the facts of the Syrian case, as suggested previously here.

On justifications under international law for military intervention in Syria, see the following articles by The Trenchant Observer:

Syrian Options: The White House’s sophomoric understanding of International Law, June 14, 2013.

The U.N. Charter, International Law, and Legal Justifications for Military Intervention in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #83 (September 1), September 1, 2012.

Continuing massacres in Syria, at Daraya and elsewhere; legal justification for military intervention — Obama’s Debacle in Syria —Update #78 (August 26), August 26, 2012

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #68 (July 25), July 25, 2012

Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9 (February 25), February 24, 2012

Military action without clear strategic objectives will not be effective. The sooner the West comes to grip with these harsh realities, the better the outcome will be.

When a strategy has failed, spectacularly, the most important thing is that it not be pursued further, and that it be abandoned as an approach to the solution of the conflict.

Military action is now urgently required. But it should be undertaken as a means for securing the goals of an effective strategy, not just to satisfy the demands of the press or other countries to take some action in response to the massacre of Syrian citizens by the use of chemical weapons on a large scale.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

Extraordinary rendition in Italy: Inside details revealed in 2003 CIA Milan abduction of Osama Mustapha Hassan Nasr

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

See

Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Washington Bureau), “U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says,” McClatchy, July 27, 2013.

Greg Miller, “Ex-CIA operative convicted in Italy of kidnapping Muslim cleric is detained,” July 18, 2013 (updated July 19 8:58 a.m.).

See also

“European court of human rights condemns Macedonia for “extraordinary rendition” to cooperating CIA officials, in Khaled el-Masri case,” The Trenchant Observer, December 28, 2012.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And the claims of law for justice, the claims of international law for punishment of violators of fundamental human rights so that justice be done, are dogged, persistant claims. They will not go away. Violators will always have those claims hanging over them. They will always be subject to arrest and punishment for their crimes, even if it takes 50 years to bring them to justice.

The Trenchant Observer

The United States and Syria: Incoherent policy

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

The Daily Star is one of a handful of outstanding English-language newspapers in the Middle East, and does not have an anti-Western bias. When it criticizes the United States, or Europe, its comments are directed at policies. The following editorial consequently merits close attention, because its caustic judgments come from writers who live in the vortex of events in the region and yet are not ill-disposed to the United States as a country.

See

Editorial, “Incoherent policy,” Yhe Daily Star, July 17, 2013 (12:43 AM).

The editorial is cogent, and makes its telling points in a few words:

Over the last two years, many have waited with bated breath over U.S. foreign policy in the region, and where exactly it was headed. But now it appears that all along there was no grand plan, and it is precisely as haphazard and shortsighted as it has seemed since the start of the Arab Spring.

Where once it seemed as if the American vagueness was based on calm and reasoned wisdom, a pragmatic approach gained after decades of experiences and learning in the Middle East, it now appears that its foreign policy, or lack thereof, actually stems from a gross misunderstanding of events on the ground.

This policy wavering would be a luxury if it were not for the thousands of lives being lost in the region, 5,000 a month in Syria alone, the U.N. said Tuesday. On this issue, the U.S. has flagrantly procrastinated and dithered….American “support” for the opposition, which transpires as little more than words, is perhaps more harmful to the rebels, and civilians than Russian arms handed to the regime.

This same tangled foreign policy approach has been witnessed in Egypt, where, three weeks after the ousting of Mursi and the U.S. still appears as lost and befuddled as ever, clearly not knowing what to do or who to ally with….

The only good that can come from this confused and incoherent policy is that now the veil has been removed. The people of this region can see the U.S. for what it is, and while the election of President Barack Obama once seemed to symbolize a future full of hope for the Middle East, his presidencies now stand for a nightmare.

These are words worth reflecting on and which call for taking urgent remedial action.

The Trenchant Observer

“The Disposition Matrix”: Is Obama laying the foundations of a future totalitarian state? (Updated July 27, 2013)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

A recent article in The Guardian on Obama’s kill lists and the now highly bureacratized killing machine used to extirpate individuals on the lists, highlights for those who missed it that the kill lists and the bureacratic machinery for using them have now been re-baptized as “The Disposition Matrix”.

This wonderful euphemism is presumably from John Brennan, the president’s teacher and moral guide in all such matters, and now Director of the CIA. Brennan, it will be recalled from his confirmation hearings, preferred to refer to “enhanced interrogation tecniques” (“torture” as defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture) as “EIT’s”. Presumably, we will soon be referring simply to the “DM” and individuals who were dealt with through “DM techniques”, or maybe just “DMT” for short.

George Orwell wrote of the abuse of language as the sure methodology of totalitarian movements and states. One of the key concepts is to divorce words from any unpleasant images or feelings which they might conjure up.

So, we can see how euphemisms such as “extraordinary rendition” avoid the unpleasant associations of a kidnapping squad which, acting under the authorization of the American president but in flagrant violation of both domestic and international law, grabs someone off the street and “renders” him to a CIA “black site” (secret jail) or to a foreign power where he is likely to be tortured, and held in conditions completely violating his fundamental human rights (right to a lawyer, right to due process, including trial by an independent court, in public, for specific violations of public laws, etc).

Or, how “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or “EIT’s” for short, avoid associated images of a man experiencing drowning as he is waterboarded, or his body and mind are abused in other ways which, if actually described accurately, would call up associated images which in ordinary people produce feelings of physical disgust.

Now, at the pinnacle of our Orwellian linguistic pyramid we have the stunningly opaque yet descriptive euphemism of “the disposition matrix”. This would be a wonderful title for a movie, and undoubtedly will become one.

What is different, however, is that in the past such movies were usually told from the point of view of the victims or the potential victims, whereas in the White House and other agencies the term is used with pride, without self-doubt, by today’s bureaucrats entrusted with the efficient protection of society from terrorists who would do us harm. (The bureaucratization of this killing machine brings to mind other killing machines, and places like Auschwitz and Treblinka.)

Not to worry: Citizens need not be troubled by the images that would come up if factually descriptive words told us exactly what the operations entailed, here the killing of another human being without due process of law (as that term is defined in international human rights treaties and indeed the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States).

The disposition matrix is just one piece of architecture which when used by others in the future could form part of a totalitarian state.

Other elements would be total surveillance of individuals in society who might pose a challenge, any challenge, to those who control the machinery of the state. Another would be the ability of the government to influence and move public opinion by using personal data to sway voters in electoral campaigns, as the Democrats and Obama did so successfully in the 2012 elections.

Another element would be the use of secret laws and secret legal justifications, and the state secrets privilege, to avoid public debate and public challenges in the courts to governmental actions violating basic constitutional rights (e.g., free speech, due process, Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.).

A final element would be control of the flow of information, an enterprise in which Google has been obtaining vast experience, dealing with authoritarian regimes throughout the world.

Already Google “filters” what results you see in a search by nationality, language, and algorithms based on your previous search history. One result, even now, is that you are less likely to see press reports and opinion critical of U.S. government actions and policies which are published outside the U.S. (e.g., in England, Canada, or Australia) or in a language other than English. Further, Google has the ability to delay the indexing of blogs or other pages, so that you cannot see critical opinion in a timely manner, in real time.

For example, let’s see how long it takes Google to index this article. See “Do search engines delay indexing of blog posts they don’t like?” The Trenchant Observer, June 5, 2013.

Another way to control the flow of information is to go after its source, for the government to go after its critics, as in the James Risen case, or to intimidate journalists so that they engage in self-censorship. These are old tools typically used by authoritarian regimes. What is different is the magnitude of the threat and its reach as the result of new technological capabilities.

The pieces are not all in place. But they are moving in that direction.

For details on “the disposition matrix”, see

Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor (McClatchy Washington Bureau), “Experts: Obama’s plan to predict future leakers unproven, unlikely to work,” McClatchey newspapers, July 9, 2013.

Greg Miller, “Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists,” Washington Post, October 23, 2012.

Ian Cobain, “Obama’s secret kill list – the disposition matrix; The disposition matrix is a complex grid of suspected terrorists to be traced then targeted in drone strikes or captured and interrogated. And the British government appears to be colluding in it,” The Guardian, July 14, 2013 (14.00 EDT).

Daniel Byman and Benjamin Wittes, “How Obama’s ‘Disposition Matrix’ Decides The Fate Of ‘Terrorists’,” The Atlantic, January 3, 2013.

See also Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, “Obama is laying the foundations of a dystopian future; The US leader’s successors will be able to target anyone, say Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick,” Financial Times, July 10, 2013 (7:36 p.m.).p

How can we, and the American Republic, survive the personal tragedy of Barack Obama and its nefarious consequences? Obama is the protagonist of a Greek tragedy, the story a would-be hero brought down by a tragic flaw. In his case, that flaw is hubris, unbounded arrogance, and something approaching disdain for the views of those who diagree with him. We are talking of behavior manifested by action, not the endless stream of words issuing from the White House.

He is a president who imagined himself as entering history in the company of such real heroes as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, but who will instead be remembered as the “Bush and Cheney on steroids” who systematically undermined the Constitution in a quest for unlimited power over the lives and fates of others.

In this quest, characterized by secret legal opinions and secret judicial decisions and covert activities, “the covert commander in chief” sought to become and ultimately succeeded in becoming responsible to no one–not to Congress, not to the courts, not to the informed judgments of citizens with access to the truth about government actions, and not to the judgments of other states regarding the legality of his actions and policies under international law.

In view of the above, we must ask ourselves:

How will we ever re-establish the complete and full rule of law in the United States? This will be the most critical question facing Americans for the remainder of Obama’s second term, and perhaps far beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Observateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivo)
(O Observador Incisivo)

Intelligence Matters: Not good at chess—the U.S. pursuit of Snowden pushes him inevitably into KGB’s arms (Update — July 12, 2013)

Friday, July 12th, 2013

UPDATE
July 12, 2013

Edward Snowden will seek at least temporary asylum in Russia, confirming the prediction in the article below that by shutting off his asylum routes, the U.S. was pushing him inevitably into the KGB’s arms.

See

Will Englund, “Snowden says he will seek asylum in Russia, The Washington Post, July 12, 2013 (Updated 9:41 AM).

Ellen Barry and Andrew Roth, “Snowden Is Said to Renew Plea for Asylum in Russia,” New York Times, July 12, 2013.

The United States may have reached the conclusion that the damage Snowden is inflicting and could inflict in the future, by publishing details of its secret intelligence programs, outweighs the damage that might be done to U.S. interests by his eventually collaborating with Putin and Russia’s intelligence agencies.

However, it is far from clear, and even dubious, that the ongoing release of further information about such U.S. operations will cease once Snowden is in Putin’s absolute control (if he isn’t already). Such a conclusion would greatly underestimate the possibility that Snowden has distributed this information to a number of other persons and organizations, and that should he decide to turn the encryption key, or simply fail to deactivate an automatic mechanism, much more damning information could be released.

The Russians, for their part, need not be in any hurry. They have time to wait, until Snowden reaches that psychological point where he is grateful for their protecting him and becomes ready to collaborate.

In the meantime, further revelations are likely, even if Snowden complies with Putin’s condition that he stop harming U.S. interests. The revelations probably do not depend on him anymore.

At this point in the chess match, one would have to surmise that Putin is greatly enjoying the game, while the United States seems to be far behind.

The Trenchant Observer

*************************************************************

“Intelligence Matters: Not good at chess—the U.S. pursuit of Snowden pushes him inevitably into KGB’s arms”

Article originally published June 30, 2013

Food for Thought

The longer Edward Snowden is holed up in the transit area of the airport in Moscow, while the U.S. exerts pressure on Ecuador and other potential asylum refuges, the more desperate his personal situation becomes. The Russians, led by Vladimir Putin, an old KGB man, is playing a smart game from their point of view which, when it turns out there is nowhere else Snowden can go, will deliver him and all he knows into the hands of the Russian KGB (whatever its new name may be).

Like Wikileaks, the Snowden affair points to one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history.

Obama, by blindly driving to get America’s hands on a whistleblower who is viewed by the administration as a traitor, has unwittingly magnified the intelligence damage Snowden will ultimately cause in the future. By closing off his asylum routes, the U.S. will have guaranteed the result that the KGB will have him, with complete control over his personal circumstances, and access to everything he knows.

Looking at the Snowden affair through this optic, it may be that much better chess moves by the United States could have been to allow him to secure exile and asylum in Iceland or Ecuador. At least in one of these countries, he would have been less likely to fall into the hands of the KGB.

Whether either of these options is still available is unknown.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs (actualisé / updated)

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

BEIRUT: Intense fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs has left 60 to 70 percent of a besieged rebel-held district damaged, destroyed or uninhabitable, activists said on Sunday.

The estimate from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights came nine days into an all-out army assault on the rebel-held Khaldiyeh and Old City neighbourhoods, which have been under siege for more than a year.

On Sunday, regime forces subjected insurgent areas of the city to fierce shelling, said the Observatory.

“Sixty to 70 percent of buildings in Khaldiyeh are either totally destroyed, partially destroyed, or unsuitable for habitation,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Homs is Syria’s third-largest city, and tens of thousands of its residents have fled the fighting.

On Sunday, government troops used mortars, rocket fire and heavy artillery to target rebel areas in the city, the Britain-based Observatory said.

On the edges of Khaldiyeh, fresh clashes broke out between rebels and troops and pro-regime militiamen, it added.

According to the United Nations, some 2,500 to 4,000 people are trapped in the besieged areas.

In Damascus, regime warplanes targeted Jubar in the east of the capital, while tanks hit Qaboon in the northeast, said the Observatory.

–AFP, “Two thirds of Syria’s Homs rebel area destroyed: activists, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 7, 2013 (6:01 PM).

The destruction of Hom’s continues.

With the world’s attention turned to the rapid and undeniably enthralling events in Egypt at the moment, Syria’s battlefields are being dangerously neglected by the media and those supposed friends of the revolution, which is allowing the regime to up the scale and intensity of its massacres across the country.

The fierceness of fighting in Syria has reached unprecedented levels. At the moment it is focused in the central city of Homs, the heartbeat of the revolution, which has been held by the rebels for two years. From the air and on the ground, the regime is trying with all its might to wrest back control of the city, capital of a strategically located province.

This week government forces also destroyed the city’s official records building, another apparent attempt to wipe out the city and its history.

The hypocrisy of the international community at this moment seems to know no limits. Aside from the loss of life on the ground, once things calm down in Egypt, and people again look to Syria, the superpowers may realize they have blood on their hands.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 6, 2013.

***

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012

First published on February 25, 2012
REPRISE published on June 19,2012

***

Voir / See

BEYROUTH (Reuters) – L’opposition syrienne a accusé mardi l’armée gouvernementale d’intensifier ses bombardements sur les quartiers résidentiels de Homs et les autorités de Damas ont affirmé que les rebelles empêchaient l’évacuation de la population civile de cette ville du centre du pays.

Le chef de la mission de supervision des Nations unies en Syrie (Misnus), le général norvégien Robert Mood, a dit son inquiétude quant au sort des civils pris au piège dans la troisième ville du pays, encerclée par les soldats de Bachar al Assad et bombardée presque quotidiennement depuis le début du mois.

Des dizaines de milliers d’habitants ont déjà fui Homs ces derniers mois.

Samedi, l’Observatoire syrien des droits de l’homme (OSDH), une ONG basée en Grande-Bretagne, a déclaré qu’un millier de familles étaient prises au piège à Homs, sous le feu des troupes gouvernementales. Des dizaines de blessés sont en grand danger en raison du manque de soins, a ajouté l’OSDH.

Selon l’OSDH, les bombardements se poursuivaient mardi marin sur plusieurs quartiers de Homs et un soldat gouvernemental a été tué dans un affrontement.

–Dominic Evans (Beyrouth) et Guy Kerivel,” Poursuite des bombardements sur la ville syrienne de Homs,” Reuters, 19 juin 2012.

***

Dominic Evans, “Syrian forces bombard Homs before U.N. briefing,” The Daily Star, June 19, 2012 08:59 PM (updated: 9:00 PM).

****************************************************

25 Février 2012

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012

Barbara

Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
Épanouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam
Tu souriais
Et moi je souriais de même
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi
Rappelle-toi quand même ce jour-là
N’oublie pas
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Barbara
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante ravie épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Rappelle-toi Barbara
N’oublie pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur l’arsenal
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Oh Barbara
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Amoureusement
Est-il mort disparu ou bien encore vivant
Oh Barbara
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abimé
C’est une pluie de deuil terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.

Jacques Prévert, Paroles(1946)

English translation
Barbara

Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest that day
and you walked smiling
artless delighted dripping wet
in the rain
Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest
and I saw you on rue de Siam
You were smiling
and I smiled too
Remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Remember
Remember that day all the same
Don’t forget
A man was sheltering under a porch
and he called your name
Barbara
and you ran toward him in the rain
Dripping water delighted artless
and you threw yourself in his arms
Remember that Barbara
and don’t be angry if I talk to you
I talk to all those I love
even if I’ve seen them only once
I talk to all those who love
even if I don’t know them
Remember Barbara
Don’t forget
that wise happy rain
on your happy face
in that happy town
That rain on the sea
on the arsenal
on the boat from Ouessant
Oh Barbara
What an idiot war
What has happened to you now
In this rain of iron
of fire of steel of blood
and the one who held you tight in his arms
lovingly
is he dead vanished or maybe still alive
Oh Barbara
It is raining nonstop in Brest
as it rained before
But it’s not the same and everything is ruined
It’s a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
It’s not even a storm any more
of iron of steel of blood
Just simply clouds
that die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
along the water in Brest
and are going to rot far away
far far away from Brest
where there is nothing left.

–Jacques Prévert (1900-1977). The Breton city of Brest, France, where the poet saw Barbara, was the main German submarine base for the Atlantic during World War II. Brest was totally destroyed by bombing raids by the end of the war. Only three buildings were left standing.

Translation and text by Sedulia Scott.

Voire aussi

20th Century French Poetry: Narrated by Paul Mankin

“Barbara” chantée par Yves Montand

On se souvien aussi d’un poème de Paul Verlaine, ce qui suit:

Ariette III

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine!

–Paul Verlaine, Romances sans paroles, 1874

L’Observateur Incisif
(The Trenchant Observer)

Intelligence Matters: Not good at chess—the U.S. pursuit of Snowden pushes him inevitably into KGB’s arms

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Food for Thought

The longer Edward Snowden is holed up in the transit area of the airport in Moscow, while the U.S. exerts pressure on Ecuador and other potential asylum refuges, the more desperate his personal situation becomes. The Russians, led by Vladimir Putin, an old KGB man, is playing a smart game from their point of view which, when it turns out there is nowhere else Snowden can go, will deliver him and all he knows into the hands of the Russian KGB (whatever its new name may be).

Like Wikileaks, the Snowden affair points to one of the greatest intelligence failures in U.S. history.

Obama, by blindly driving to get America’s hands on a whistleblower who is viewed by the administration as a traitor, has unwittingly magnified the intelligence damage Snowden will ultimately cause in the future. By closing off his asylum routes, the U.S. will have guaranteed the result that the KGB will have him, with complete control over his personal circumstances, and access to everything he knows.

Looking at the Snowden affair through this optic, it may be that much better chess moves by the United States could have been to allow him to secure exile and asylum in Iceland or Ecuador. At least in one of these countries, he would have been less likely to fall into the hands of the KGB.

Whether either of these options is still available is unknown.

The Trenchant Observer