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Those of you familiar with my work in debunking 9/11 conspiracy theorists might be surprised at my attitude toward the case of suicide by the prime suspect in the anthrax attacks of 2001. In this matter, there is so much smoke that I will not dismiss the idea of conspiracy – not necessarily involving the government but such a theory cannot be ignored – despite my belief that there is usually a much simpler and boring explanation for most events surrounded by conspiracy theories.

The suicide of Bruce Ivins, a prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax mail poisonings will certainly give the conspiracy jobbers something to wag their tongues about for a few days. But until a little more information becomes available, I would hold to the facts and not speculate too forcefully – yet.

There are certainly troubling aspects to the idea that the anthrax attacks were planned and carried out by an employee who works in a government lab. And the strange way the investigation was handled by the FBI and the Army leaves many questions unanswered.

There is also the timing of the attacks – so soon after 9/11 that at the time, it was easy to believe America was under attack by Islamic militants on several fronts.

To those inclined to believe the worst of Bush and the American government, the answer is simple; Ivins was a tool of the Administration and that the Bushies sought to gin up fear of terrorism to pass their dictatorial agenda that included the Patriot Act and other domestic spy initiatives. He didn’t commit suicide but was killed to keep him quiet.

Nice movie script but several problems are immediately apparent. First, according to this LA Times article, Ivins had been depressed for months, had run out of money to pay for legal fees, and actually told his therapist he wanted to commit suicide:

Soon after the government’s settlement with Hatfill was announced June 27, Ivins began showing signs of serious strain.

One of his longtime colleagues told The Times that Ivins, who was being treated for depression, indicated to a therapist that he was considering suicide.

Soon thereafter, family members and local police officers escorted Ivins from USAMRIID, where his access to sensitive areas was curtailed, the colleague said.

Ivins was committed to a facility in Frederick for treatment of his depression. On July 24, he was released from the facility, operated by Sheppard Pratt Health System. A telephone call that same day by The Times verified that Ivins’ government voice mail was still functioning at the bacteriology division of USAMRIID.

The scientist faced forced retirement, planned for September, said his longtime colleague, who described Ivins as emotionally fractured by the federal scrutiny.

“He didn’t have any more money to spend on legal fees. He was much more emotionally labile, in terms of sensitivity to things, than most scientists. . . . He was very thin-skinned.”

Secondly, there’s the FBI. Reviewing the investigation of the anthrax attacks until 2006 is a study in incompetence by the FBI and the Army. Is it possible they deliberately blew the investigation in order to keep the plot from being exposed? Conspiracists will make that argument. I reject it because all too often, human error and coincidence is the much simpler and therefore more realistic explanation. It may very well be that the Army didn’t want to know if anyone from their lab was involved – a plausible explanation when considering the bureaucratic mindset at work in the lab’s own investigation of Ivins for an incident regarding a possible anthrax “spill” that the suspect never reported to his superiors. Covering up lax safety at the lab by not disciplining Ivins is perfectly in keeping with the way some in the Army bureacracy might operate. If that reflects badly on the Army, I’m sorry but we have seen similar cover ups over the years.

The FBI, however, knew of Ivins activities in cleaning anthrax from lab areas at Fort Detrick and still never made him a focus of the investigation. It wasn’t until FBI chief Mueller kicked out the agents heading the inquiry in 2006 and replaced them that movement towards Ivins began. 

Why did the FBI concentrate their investigation instead on Stephen Hatfill, recipient of more than $5 million in a settlement agreed to just a few months ago and another employee at the lab? While demonstrating a breathtaking incompetence,this fact alone absolves the government of any conspiracy in my mind for the simple fact it would be stupid to make someone from the same lab as Ivins a suspect if there was a plot afoot. There are other labs they could have grabbed a patsy from while deflecting attention from Ivins. Therefore, we can almost certainly conclude that the FBI would not be part of any plot.

This is not to say that a thorough investigation shouldn’t immediately be undertaken by either a bi-partisan Congressional or independent panel that would examine all aspects of the case - including possible conspiracies. This matter went unresolved for entirely too long and whether it was incompetence or just bad luck, answers must be found regarding the Army and the FBI’s investigation of both Hatfill – whose case is strange indeed – and Ivins. 

This case is far from closed. But I would urge everyone to wait upon the facts before connecting any dots – even if those dots are tempting one to posit conspiracies about the matter. Because at bottom, in order to believe in a government conspiracy to ratchet up fear following 9/11, one must suppose something so monstrous at the core of our government that if proven correct, will bring the United States to ruin.  

This blog post originally appears in The American Thinker.

By: Rick Moran at 9:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19)


A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an exciting story about how the CIA broke 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaik Mohammed. The hero of the story was a nondescript CIA interrogator who astonished his CIA colleagues by eliciting enormous amounts of valuable information from KSM, all by using psychological ploys and developing a rapport with the terrorist rather than the tactics used by the “knuckledraggers” as the interrogator’s colleagues called the CIA paramilitary types, who were using waterboarding and other methods of torture.

As Allah points out, the story in the Times was not about the interrogator but rather the US government’s stumbling about in the post 9/11 intelligence climate searching for a counter terrorism strategy. Why then, did the Times reporter Scott Shane, his Washington Bureau Chief Dean Baquet, and executive editor Bill Keller decide to include the real last name of the interrogator when publishing the story?

An editor’s note published with the article explaining the decision to out the interrogator is self serving twaddle:

The Central Intelligence Agency asked The New York Times not to publish the name of Deuce Martinez, an interrogator who questioned Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other high-level Al Qaeda prisoners, saying that to identify Mr. Martinez would invade his privacy and put him at risk of retaliation from terrorists or harassment from critics of the agency.

After discussion with agency officials and a lawyer for Mr. Martinez, the newspaper declined the request, noting that Mr. Martinez had never worked under cover and that others involved in the campaign against Al Qaeda have been named in news stories and books. The editors judged that the name was necessary for the credibility and completeness of the article.

The Times’s policy is to withhold the name of a news subject only very rarely, most often in the case of victims of sexual assault or intelligence officers operating under cover.

The backstory, revealed today by Times “Public Editor” Clark Hoyt, is even more shocking in its implications. What it reveals about the people who make such decisions at the highest editorial level at the Times is that quite simply, they do not believe that al-Qaeda poses much of a threat to individuals and, by extension, the United States.

And beyond the security calculations made on behalf of the interrogator by those noted terrorism experts Bill Keller and Dean Basquet, there is the extraordinary lack of common decency in deliberately and knowingly placing someone’s life and the lives of his family in danger. This is especially true when you consider that the story would have gotten along just fine without us knowing the real name of the interrogator.

This raises a couple of other questions, none of which would flatter the editorial leadership at the Times. Are they so enamored of their own policies and rules governing the naming of names that they got caught up in a fight to identify a non-covert employee of the CIA at the expense of his safety? Did Keller et al sacrifice common sense and common decency on the altar of corporate inflexibility rather than bend the rules to accommodate a special situation?

I do not ascribe wicked ulterior motives to the Times outing of the interrogator. I believe it much more likely that the bureaucrats and lawyers at the Times insisted on following established policy – the God of the small minded – instead of making an exception in the interrogator’s case.

Clark Hoyt’s non-explanation of why the interrogator’s name remained in the story despite entreaties made by DCIA Hayden and the interrogator’s personal attorney, the high-powered, well connected Washington lawyer Robert Bennett, is more incredible than the “Editor’s Note” that appeared in the original story. Note the lack of empathy for the interrogator’s concerns for his safety and that of his family as well as the disingenuous of the explanations:

Shane said he had sought the C.I.A.’s cooperation in reporting the story but was rebuffed by the agency and by Martinez, who now works for a private contractor. After Shane contacted friends and associates of Martinez and sought an interview with him, Mark Mansfield, the C.I.A.’s director of public affairs, sent a strongly worded letter to Dean Baquet, The Times’s Washington bureau chief. Naming the interrogator “would be reckless and irresponsible,” Mansfield said, and “could endanger the lives of this American and his family” by making them Qaeda targets. And in the “poisoned atmosphere” of the debate over the C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques, Mansfield wrote, Martinez could be “vulnerable to any misguided person who believes they need to confront ‘torture’ directly.”

Baquet asked for a meeting to discuss the C.I.A.’s request. Mansfield refused. He told me the letter said it all and nothing could be accomplished by a meeting. But to Baquet, Shane and Rebecca Corbett, the editor of the story, the refusal suggested that the C.I.A. was not actually that concerned. The Times has been asked before by the C.I.A. to withhold information — it has sometimes agreed, sometimes refused — and serious requests have usually come from the top of the agency, with an opportunity to discuss them.

But the reporter and editors said they were still worried about Martinez’s fears and tried to assess how realistic they were. Shane said he repeatedly pressed the C.I.A. for more information. He called John Kiriakou, a former covert operative who was the first to question another top Qaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaydah. Kiriakou voluntarily went public last December, and Shane wanted to know what happened. Kiriakou mentioned a death threat published in Pakistan and didn’t go into much more detail. Kiriakou said he advised Shane not to use the name.

The Times was not looking for a reason to keep the name of the interrogator quiet. They were looking for justification to publish it. When the CIA wouldn’t give it to them, they went outside the agency and were told exactly the same thing – publishing the name would put the man and his family in danger.

How much danger? Here is what the former agent told Hoyt about what happened when his name became known:

When I asked Kiriakou for full details about his experience, he said he received more than a dozen death threats, many of them crank. His house was put under police guard and he took his family to Mexico for two weeks after the C.I.A. advised him to get out of town for a while. He said he lost his job with a major accounting firm because executives expressed fear that Al Qaeda could attack its offices to get him, though Kiriakou considered that fear unreasonable.

Apparently, the Times brain trust did not press Kiriakou for these details because they simply didn’t want to hear them. Our brave Public Editor did not see fit to criticize his colleagues for this gross negligence.

Finally, the last leg of the Times case for publishing the name was cut from under them (“serious requests have usually come from the top of the agency, with an opportunity to discuss them…”) when the DCIA calling Bill Keller to plead the interrogator’s case:

[name redacted] hired a Washington super-lawyer, Robert Bennett, to plead his case. With the story two days from publication, Gen. Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, called Bill Keller, The Times’s executive editor. Keller said Hayden acknowledged that he did not know of any specific threat to [name redacted] or of any Qaeda hit list. But Hayden said that naming [name redacted] could subject him to harassment or even put him in danger. Keller said, “I had this impression that he was doing it out of respect for [name redacted] and his family’s concerns more than a concern the C.I.A. had.”

Through his spokesman, Hayden agreed with Keller’s description of what was said but disagreed with the editor’s interpretation of the call. Hayden was “extremely disappointed” in the newspaper’s decision, Mansfield said.

Keller’s “impression” that Hayden wasn’t serious about trying to protect the interrogator is a breathtaking example of journalistic arrogance. With that kind of insight, Keller should be transferred to the Business Section and made into a stock touter. Instead, it is clear that the Times editors placed the interrogator’s safety as a secondary concern while trying to justify their decision to name him.

What kind of fallout can the interrogator expect?

The Times and other news organizations have been asked over the years to withhold stories for fear of harm. And they have done so when a persuasive case has been made that the danger — whether to national security or an individual — is real and imminent. In this case, there is no history of Al Qaeda hunting down individuals in the United States for retribution. It prefers dramatic attacks that kill indiscriminately. And The Times took reasonable precautions to prevent Martinez from being easily found.

Bennett said The Times did “a terrible thing.” He said Martinez had been threatened repeatedly by Mohammed and others he interrogated but they did not know his identity. Now their friends do, at least to some degree. Martinez has received no threats since the article was published. Shane, on the other hand, has received abusive e-mail bordering on the threatening.

I understand how readers can think that if there is any risk at all, a person like Martinez should never be identified. But going in that direction, especially in this age of increasing government secrecy, would leave news organizations hobbled when trying to tell the public about some of the government’s most important and controversial actions.

Of all the self serving tripe contained in this backstory, the notion that there is no threat because al Qaeda hasn’t gone after individuals yet is perhaps the most ridiculous. It suicidally underestimates the capabilities of our adversary while giving the paper another “out” when it comes to responsibility if anything does happen to the interrogator. “How could we possibly have known they would kill the guy? They had never done it before…” would make an excellent lead editorial if, God forbid, al-Qaeda makes good on its threats.

And poor little Shane! He’s been getting “abusive” (name calling) emails “bordering” on being threats. What shameless sophistry from Hoyt. To try and equate an al-Qaeda threat with that of some internet magpie is patently stupid and transparent in the extreme. It is perhaps revealing of how the Times editors actually view the War on Terror that they would compare al-Qaeda to an anonymous web rabble rouser.

And in a case like this, it is up to the paper to prove how it would be “hobbled” if they published an alias for the interrogator rather than mention him by name – not the other way around where the subject of the story must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be in danger if his name was published. That is perhaps the most telling proof of hubris on the part of the Times. In their little cocoon of arrogance and self importance, they place the life of a man on a scale and weigh it against their own petty policies and personal notion of the public’s “right to know.”

The fact that the interrogator was no longer with the agency and therefore was being punished with notoriety years after he had served his country honorably shows that the Times concerns were not with national security or the personal security of the interrogator but rather with their own warped view of journalistic standards that apparently brook no revision – even if it could cost someone’s life.

Hoyt never bothers to criticize any of his colleagues in this story. He accepts their “explanations” – some of which are outrageously inapt – at face value with no comment on whether they pass the smell test. To my mind, the excuses made by Keller, Shane, and Baquet stink – reason enough to bring down disapprobation on the Times, their editorial staff, and most especially, their Public Editor who once again has failed to do his job.

By: Rick Moran at 8:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (28)


The hysterically exaggerated, intellectually dishonest portrayal of the workings of the NSA surveillance program by many on the left is something I have catalogued on this site since its existence was revealed by the New York Times way back in December of 2005.

To be honest, the netroots have made themselves ridiculously easy targets for ridicule.

My own reservations about the program remain. Reasonable, honest people can debate how this program skirts the law and may – depending exactly how it works which is something that to this day remains hidden – cross the line of legality. The fact that debate raged in the Justice Department over the legality of the program with many career prosecutors opposed while others supported it should demonstrate to any reasonable person that at worst, the Terrorist Surveillance Program was an extremely close call.

Not so scream the netnuts. To the hysterical three year olds who make up the “reality based community,” facts don’t matter nor does it cross their infantile minds that such a surveillance program is even necessary. The program is illegal – no debate is allowed.

To such an incurious crowd we are now about to hand the reigns of government.

What is most worrisome is that they have so much invested in denying the reality of the terrorist threat – that the whole thing was dreamed up by Bush to seize power and become dictator – that one can legitimately question just how serious these mountebanks will be about national security. No doubt they will be relentless in their pursuit of terrorists – after we’ve been hit again. Cold comfort for those Americans who die as a result of their “terrorists are innocent until they commit an overt act” mindset.

Holy Christ! Even Barack Obama thinks the NSA surveillance program is indispensable to our national security. Of course, Obama has no better idea that the program is or was illegal despite his claims to the contrary. He is simply “playing the rubes” in the netroots community as Ian Welsh tells it at Firedoglake:

The FISA Cloture vote just passed. The Senate will now consider the motion to proceed with the bill, then they’ll head to the bill itself (corrected procedural details, h/t and thanks to CBolt). Various motions will be put forward to strip immunity, odds are they will fail. Then a number of the 80 who voted to restrict debate will vote against FISA so they can say they were against the bill. However this was the real vote, and the rest is almost certainly nothing but kabuki for the rubes.

Obama and McCain were both absent, as was Clinton. Unimpressive, but unsurprising, though I suppose I’m disappointed by Clinton (Obama has made it clear he didn’t intend to try and stop the bill.) Clinton and Obama will claim there was no point since it wasn’t close. But, with their leadership, it might well have gone the other way.

The folks who actually voted for the Bill of Rights are listed below. Remember, after the debate there’ll be a larger number of people who vote against this bill, but this was the real vote, and those Senators are just playing the rubes.

In less stressful, less partisan times, it may have been possible to debate the necessity for this surveillance program and even whether or not it actually steps over the line of legality, although how any definitive answers could have been arrived at with key parts of the program still classified and unknown to all but a very select few in government would have been problematic indeed.

So instead, we get ignorant rantings about the Constitution being torn up while brave liberals manned the battlements trying heroically to save American democracy:

A few weasel words from there, but Obama is totally cool with the precedent of the government giving a slip of paper to a corporation allowing them to break the law. He’s cool with the premise of “we were just following orders” that was shot down at Nuremberg being revived. He’s cool with if the President does it, then it isn’t illegal. He’s cool with a bunch of the other really dangerous aspects of the bill, including the vacuuming up of every communication that leaves or enters the United States without even the caveat that they be related to terrorism. He’s cool with a national surveillance state.

Just plain cool with it.

Gee. If all that is true, I am going to turn in my Captain America outfit and move to Brazil. Maybe Lambchop has a spare room he can let me stay in.

Of course, the above is wildly exaggerated – childishly so. Nice touch raising the spectre of Nazis, don’t you think? Battling fascism has always been the counterpoint to righties bravely battling Sharia law here in the US. Neither exists in the real world but boy is it goddamned heroic to see yourself doing it.

The only germ of truth in dday’s idiotic rant above is the “vacuuming up” of communications – a data mining program evidently carried out by the NSA with the assistance of the Telecoms. It is unclear whether this is a separate program or part of the NSA surveillance made public by the Times. But the USA Today reported back in May of 2006 that this data mining project includes a massive number of purely domestic calls as well. The program may have been confirmed by internal AT&T documents.

Question: Did the Telecoms violate the privacy rights of Americans by handing over records to the government of purely domestic calls? Once again, the nuance of the issue escapes the potato heads on the left who are licking their chops at the prospect of massive class action lawsuits against some major corporations that could easily bankrupt them as the legal fees alone could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Supreme Court decided a case that many experts believe bears directly on the privacy issue:

The U.S. Supreme Court has drawn a legal line between collecting phone numbers and routing information, and obtaining the content of phone calls. In a ruling in 1979, the court said in Smith v. Maryland that a phone company’s installation, at police request, of a device to record numbers dialed at a home did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

“We doubt that people in general entertain any actual expectation of privacy in the numbers they dial,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote. He noted the court had said “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.”

As I said, another gray area where technology and perceived necessity have outstripped – temporarily – the law’s ability to be absolutely clear about the line that must be drawn.

So instead of reasoned debate, we’re stuck with these wild charges that bear little resemblance to what the actual situation is much less the important questions raised by the actions of the Administration in developing and carrying out these programs.

The left just isn’t satisfied with opposing problematic programs. They have to ratchet up the rhetoric to unbearable levels of sophistry and stupidity in order to be seen as saviors of American civilization, standing alone in thwarting the evil machinations of Bush who, after all, is planning another 9/11 attack before the election so that he can cancel it and seize power indefinitely.

Their self image just couldn’t bear the thought of being reasonable and discussing the issues rationally. Too boring. Too vanilla. Only by playing the drama queen will their psyches be assuaged and their egos be satisfied.

Eventually, thankfully, Bush will be gone and chances are they will have Obama to kick around. But somehow, I just don’t see them getting so all-fired upset at a President Obama if he were to continue these surveillance programs or even expand them. At that point, all the nuance involved disappears and a new light of reason and rationality will shine on this debate. The “reality based community” will accept the reality that one of their own is in charge – which is what this whole thing has been about to begin with.

By: Rick Moran at 8:12 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (12)


No debate in Congress. No rules published in The Federal Register. Not a whisper of any opposition from the intelligence agencies, DHS, or any domestic law enforcement departments. They simply went ahead and did it:

The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers.

A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance.

Administration officials say the program will give domestic security and emergency preparedness agencies new capabilities in dealing with a range of threats, from illegal immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires.

I guess that part in the Constitution which says “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” is just too old fashioned for some people. Not when we have all these marvelous little toys in space that can see through walls, eavesdrop on our conversations, and take pictures of our backyard barbecues.

Those of you familiar with this space know that I am far from being a civil liberties absolutist. I have recognized in the past that programs like the Terrorist Surveillance Program – if it is properly administered – is a distasteful but necessary price to pay to fight al-Qaeda and its offshoots in this country. I have supported these programs because for the most part, a citizen’s right to privacy is maintained by the fact that the overwhelming amount of information gathered in these digital dragnets is never seen by human eyes. It is digested by supercomputers, examined by algorithmic computer programs for relevancy, and then discarded back into the ether from which it came.

But this is different. This is real time imagery scanned by snoops looking for illegal activity. At the present time, they anticipate using it against (they say) drug smugglers and terrorists. But make no mistake, gentle readers. We are in true slippery slope territory here. Ed Morrissey spells out the consequences:

While some conservatives undoubtedly would argue that they see nothing wrong with giving law-enforcement agencies access to existing technology, others will rightly object on two grounds. First, the obvious application for the sneak-peek technology would be to avoid search warrants. If probable cause existed for a warrant, law enforcement wouldn’t need the satellite technology; they’d simply enter. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, and has worked well for over 200 years. Civil liberty is based in part on judicial oversight of law enforcement encroachment on private property, which the sneak-peek technology would obliterate.

Second and perhaps more importantly, American legal tradition has separated military and foreign-intel collection from domestic law enforcement, and for good reasons. The Posse Comitatus Act forbids the military (except the Coast Guard, for certain purposes) from acting in a law-enforcement role, except under emergencies specifically requiring martial law. This law keeps the federal government from usurping power from local and state authorities. Since these satellites were launched with strictly military and foreign-intel missions in mind, using them as tools for law enforcement may not entirely cross the PCA, but it gets too close for comfort.

“Some conservatives” who might support this program aren’t very conservative at all. Militarizing law enforcement, however well intentioned, smacks of fascism. Mr. Morrissey is too much the Christian gentleman to say so but I challenge any conservative to defend this anti-democratic, anti-privacy program in terms of classic conservative dogma. It cannot be done. And the reason is quite simple; conservatives invented the right to privacy.

It is a shame that the debate over privacy rights has been tied to the debate over abortion and gay rights. Prior to Roe V. Wade, Justice Harlan, a conservative through and through, foresaw a time when an implied right to privacy would have to be accepted:

Justice Harlan took a view of privacy that rested on a general and expansive reading of American traditions. He did not expect people claiming rights to point to some specific tradition or some specific body of law. He understood that the questions were more difficult than that. The right of privacy now, if anything, is more important, indeed much more important than it was when Justice Harlan wrote, “With changes in reproductive technology and end of life technologies that make these questions all the more acute.”

The question whether we will have a Justice Harlan-like approach to the right of privacy or a skeptical approach to the right of privacy that questions whether it even exists and evinces a desire to confine it as narrowly as possible, that question it seems to me is very much on the table, and will be a question that will be with us for the next generation.

The consequences of traditional conservatives allowing social conservatives to hijack the debate over privacy can now be seen in the context that this implied right to be safe and secure in our private spaces is under attack largely because the social cons have rejected the entire argument in favor of privacy in order to fight abortion, gay marriage, and other social concerns. This is more than “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” It simply cannot be defended on the basis that we can trade off one constitutional right in order to support another.

My respect for those who advocate a right to life – at least those who believe such a right exists from the moment of conception – has always been tempered by their advocacy to overturn Roe V. Wade. This is because I recognize that the privacy rights granted by Roe have now been expanded far beyond that envisioned by Justice Blackmun when he penned the decision in 1973. Roe has become a cornerstone of privacy law. Remove it, and the entire edifice of protections against unreasonable invasions of our privacy by government, our employers, our next door neighbors, or even total strangers would be affected. It is decidedly un-conservative to deny that basic fact – regardless of whether you believe abortion should be legal or gays prevented from marrying.

I have no desire to start a war with social conservatives over this issue. After all, there are some parts of the social con agenda I can support – end of life issues and their standing alone against the coarsening of our culture are two areas we can agree on. But my friends, without privacy, we have no true liberty. Destroy the right of privacy and you invite all sorts of mischief from those who would use modern technology like satellites as well as stuff you can buy at any Radio Shack to intrude in places they have no business going in a free society.

And I also want to make it clear that I do not believe in the “one more step on the road to dictatorship” meme being advanced by the left. Their paranoia regarding the Bush Administration disqualifies them from engaging in any kind of rational debate on the subject. The Bush Administration has sought from the beginning to redefine executive power more robustly than their predecessors, seeing (many believe quite rightly) that some powers of the executive had been appropriated or weakened by Congress since Watergate. The courts have always adjudicated these inter-branch arguments and I trust such will always be the case. But to posit the notion that we are slipping into some kind of anti-democratic nightmare is just plain silly.

Withdrawing this dangerous proposal will not affect our ability to fight terrorism in any significant way. I would hope Congress will take this issue in hand quickly and prevent this stupid idea from advancing very far.

By: Rick Moran at 6:44 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (19) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Domestic Use of Spy Satellites To Widen...

I am not one to get my panties in a twist thinking that the world will come to an end if a few of my personal communications are captured in a digital dragnet by some dumb brute of a super computer and then released back into the ether without any human on planet earth laying eyes or ears on what was contained in those messages.

It bothers me that the potential for abuse is there – as it should trouble any conservative worth their salt. But to exaggerate the threat to civil liberties by positing the notion that while my Auntie Midge is giving her famous recipe for fruit cake over the phone or via email to one of my nieces that NSA spies are avidly listening in and faithfully taking notes on exactly how much rum should be added to give her delicacy its enormous heft is silly.

Actually, given the weight of the damn thing, there’s a good chance the NSA would see it as a weapon of mass destruction and “disappear” dear Auntie by renditioning her to some dark hole of a prison in eastern Europe. Not that we do that kind of thing anymore, right?

This is the essence of the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” leaked by the New York Times in December of 2005. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time:

What good comes of insuring our survival at the expense of losing some of our liberty?

If one of our cities was destroyed by a nuclear weapon smuggled into the country by al Qaeda, I daresay the relatives of the dead would answer that question much differently than the arm chair civil libertarians who so blithely condemn the Administration’s actions in the aftermath of 9/11. There are even those who say that there is no choice to make, that our survival as a nation is not at stake at all therefore any argument that includes a loss of privacy rights as a way to head off an al Qaeda attack is setting up a straw man to justify oppression.

I don’t have much sympathy for that argument but I am troubled that our government has skirted so close to the line involving spying on innocent American citizens and may have in fact crossed it. Ultimately, it must come down to a question of responsibility. You and I are not responsible for the safety and security of the United States. The Constitution has vested that awesome responsibility in the office of the President. In the end, where you come down on this controversy depends on how much you trust the occupant of that office not to abuse his authority nor misuse the frightening power our technological prowess has bestowed upon his government to invade our most private and personal spaces.

For if in fact we are in a war for the survival of our republic – and our enemies themselves have made it abundantly clear that this is what the War on Terror is all about – we are in grave danger if we give in to the temptation to turn the issue of liberty versus security into a political club in order to beat one’s political opponent for acting dictatorially or just as bad, unpatriotically. The issue is too important for the kind of lazy generalities being tossed about regarding an absolutist position on civil liberties or aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war. In the end, we must trust each other or perish.

Those “lazy generalities” have supplanted thoughtful argument as each side in the debate has now established their own narrative about domestic spying by this Administration and will brook no change in the parameters of those narratives to reflect new information or an altered perception of the man in the White House who sits atop the national security ziggurat with the capability to do enormous violence to the very concepts of privacy and liberty.

New information such as this should give everyone pause and cause them to re-evaluate their positions:

The Bush administration’s chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described.

The disclosure by Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, appears to be the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush’s order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005.

In a letter to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), McConnell wrote that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks included “a number of . . . intelligence activities” and that a name routinely used by the administration—the Terrorist Surveillance Program—applied only to “one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more.”

We’ve had other aspects to the overall surveillance program released in dribs and drabs over the past 2 years. Data mining and getting the cooperation of Telecom companies to monitor the “switching stations” where a lot of overseas phone traffic is channeled are evidently two of the elements that make up the “broader operations” connected to the TSP.

What else? Just what is the NSA up to?

There is no agency of the federal government with the potential to do more mischief to our liberty and privacy than the National Security Agency. Anyone who has read William Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace – which described NSA spying on Americans in the 60’s – should think long and hard about the monumental leaps in technology since that time which allow for even more intrusive and thorough efforts to invade our “private space” than ever before.

At the same time, reforms at the NSA have made it less likely that these abuses will take place. Procedures not even thought of back in the 60’s that relate to the way data is handled are supposed to protect American citizens from the kind of snooping done by the agency in the past.

But the reforms will not stop an aggressive executive if he is hell bent on pushing the outside of the envelope of constitutionality and legality by using the capabilities of the NSA to spy on Americans. All we can do is trust that oversight by the intelligence committees in Congress will prevent the President from crossing the line.

At this point, I am unsure if that oversight has been effective. Nor am I convinced that the Administration has been forthright with the intel committees (or the so called “Group of 8” made up the chair and vice chair of each committee plus the leaders of the House and Senate from both parties) in their description of all of the activities associated with the TSP.

I am fully cognizant of the fact that these intelligence activities represent the most closely held secrets of our government. And despite those on the left who dismiss the idea of giving the enemy an advantage by leaking the existence of these programs and their inner workings, I believe that al-Qaeda has benefited from the leaks which have revealed enough that they may be able to circumvent at least some of our efforts to keep track of them and discover their plans. (The idea that al-Qaeda already knew we’d try to keep track of them is true. What’s silly is the notion that they had much of a clue as to how we’d do it.) For this reason, the irresponsibility of the New York Times and other publications that continue to leak classified information should be condemned.

What all of this back and forth comes down to is the same thing it came down to 20 months ago when the existence of the TSP was leaked by the Times; how much do you trust the man in the White House to protect our civil liberties while carrying out domestic surveillance activities with the potential for harm?

I must admit to being a lot less sanguine today about the desire of those who wield such enormous power to view the balancing act between liberty and security with the seriousness that the rest of us do.

By: Rick Moran at 8:55 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (18)

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A faithful liberal reader of this site sent me an email asking me to do a post on the charges of perjury being leveled against the Attorney General of the United States. He was extremely worried about the implications such charges had for the country:

As a citizen, the implications of the alleged behavior terrify me. Most Conservatives I personally know don’t defend Mr. Gonzales, but they essentially get off the topic as quickly as possible.

To me, “Rightwing” always had a connotation of Rebellion against Government. If anybody was going to use a shotgun to tell a government official to get off their property, it sure as hell wasn’t a liberal. The very likely extension of the perjury (if true), would have unbelievably damning implications for the W Bush Administration—the type of implications that I would have assumed would have “Rightwing” conservatives stocking up on ammo.

Excellent insight – save the shotgun toting conservative telling the “government” to get off his land. As a metaphor for conservatives wishing to have government take a back seat in people’s lives, it’s fine. However, I’m not sure even a liberal wouldn’t stand up to the government if they felt their private property was threatened.

“Mike” is correct about the right’s relationship with Gonzalez. As with just about anything regarding the Bush Administration these days, he is very difficult to defend. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because of what he’s done as a member of the Administration. One problem is that he may be the most incoherent public official I’ve ever heard. His testimony before Congress on just about anything reveals a man who can’t seem to finish a thought before moving on to the next one. This causes all sorts of problems. It is amazing how many times he is asked to clarify or repeat something simply because it is so difficult to follow his meandering, disjointed responses.

Incoherence is not a criminal offense. Neither is incompetence. But the way the firing of 8 US Attorneys was handled does not reflect well on Gonzalez and his management style. Allowing so much leeway to subordinates in such an important matter and then not being aware of what they were doing (if you believe that) bespeaks a boss without much of a clue as to what was going on in his own office.

The fact is, the Administration has sought to politicize the Department of Justice as they have tried to stamp politics on most every other aspect of government. Of course, few President’s politicized their Justice Department more than Clinton. And given the angry, partisan mood in Congress, this may be the wave of the future for Presidents; taking what used to be a semi-independent cabinet department and turning it in to an adjunct to the White House. In fact, since the Carter Administration, DOJ has progressively become less and less independent with the Clinton Administration going over the top in making Justice just another federal agency.

Anyone remember Johnnie Chung, Charlie Trie and the slew of illegal fundraising cases that the Clinton Justice Department, according to an Inspector General’s audit did not handle correctly? Ties to Chinese intelligence, money laundering at a Buddhist Temple, Commerce Department waivers in exchange for cash – all of these cases were either not pursued or followed up. Clearly, Democrats have extremely short memories about politicizing DOJ actions in the wake of Clinton Administration’s outrageous fundraising activities.

But that’s in the past. What we have today is an Attorney General who can’t seem to explain to Congress the various intelligence activities being carried out by the NSA to catch terrorists before they can strike here in the US. Part of that is certainly the fact that much of it is classified (something the AG offered to clarify in closed session – Democrats refused, wanting their circus to be televised). But beyond that, Gonzalez can’t seem to summon the coherence to differentiate between the already acknowledged “Terrorist Surveillance Program” and “other intelligence activities” being carried out by NSA.

Here is the basis for what the Democrats are calling perjury. They point to Gonzalez testimony in May on the visit to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed to re-authorize the terrorist surveillance program. The story was told by James Comey who, due to Ashcroft’s illness, was Acting AG at the time. He refused to sign off on what appeared to be a routine re-authorization of the program. And other top DOJ officials and career DOJ attorneys threatened to resign if it was given the go ahead without modifying some of its technical aspects.

Ashcroft preferred allowing his deputy Comey to do his duty because he was in no shape physically (as the left likes to paint the picture, Ashcroft was being browbeaten into approving something while on his deathbed). As Comey testified, he and Ashcroft had decided the morning the AG went into the hospital not to re-authorize the program. Not being aware of this, the White House’s Andy Card and Gonzalez went to the hospital hoping the AG would over ride what they thought was Comey’s decision.

Be that as it may, Gonzalez testified in May that what was being sought from the AG was a re-authorization of the already revealed NSA program and that there was no dispute over that “program” (the word “program” is important as we shall soon see), that the dispute was over another related classified program. Gonzalez exact words:

“[t]here has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.”

It turns out today, that the “other matters” involved in the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program related to a massive, legal, data mining operation:

A fierce dispute within the Bush administration in early 2004 over a National Security Agency warrantless surveillance program was related to concerns about the NSA’s searches of huge computer databases, the New York Times reported today.

The agency’s data mining was also linked to a dramatic chain of events in March 2004, including threats of resignation from senior Justice Department officials and an unusual nighttime visit by White House aides to the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Times reported, citing current and former officials briefed on the program.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, one of the aides who went to the hospital, was questioned closely about that episode during a contentious Senate hearing on Tuesday. Gonzales characterized the internal debate as centering on “other intelligence activities” than the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program, whose existence President Bush confirmed in December 2005.

Data mining is not illegal as long as the identity of the person whose records are being mined is not captured or revealed – we think. I use that caveat because no one knows exactly how the NSA data mining operation – carried out as a part of the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program – actually worked. The speculation on why DOJ attorneys balked at re-authorization of the program at that time centers around the idea that although the data mining was legal, what the NSA wanted to do with the results may have crossed the line of legality.

So is the data mining operation a different “program?” If so, that would seem to put Gonzalez in the clear as far as perjury charges are concerned:

The report of a data mining component to the dispute suggests that Gonzales’s testimony could be correct. A group of Senate Democrats, including two who have been privy to classified briefings about the NSA program, called last week for a special prosecutor to consider perjury charges against Gonzales.

The report also provides further evidence that the NSA surveillance operation was far more extensive than has been acknowledged by the Bush administration, which has consistently sought to describe the program in narrow terms and to emphasize that the effort was legal.

Again, this goes back to Mr. Gonzalez incoherence in trying to differentiate between the NSA efforts at terrorist surveillance (where one party in the communication was overseas and the other here in America) and the massive collection of data which all took place in the US with the cooperation of phone giants like AT&T and Sprint. They allowed NSA to tap into their “switching stations” in order to feed the monster computers who were chewing on trillions of bits of information in order to discern patterns of communication that could have led to a terrorist cell in this country.

But if the data mining were a part of the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program, how can they be two separate programs?

I think the most logical explanation is that they were separately reauthorized by DOJ, although probably at the same time. Separate paperwork could mean a separate program to many bureaucrats even though on the surface, it would appear to a lay person that both were part of the same program.

Another logical but unprovable explanation is that the technical aspects of the data mining operation were handled by a different entity than NSA. ABLE DANGER’s data mining was done in Florida out of the headquarters for Special Operations. Whether such a distinction would legally constitute a separate “program,” I haven’t a clue.

Marty Lederman has another explanation:

There was some sort of data mining program going on. Probably not of content, almost certainly not content reviewed by humans. That is to say, it involved computers searching through “meta-data” related to calls and e-mails, looking for certain patterns that might suggest connections to Al Qaeda or to suspicious activity that might be terrorism-related. (I have my theories as to what the programs might have been looking for, but don’t want to get into such speculation in this forum. And in any case, my theories are probably way off.)

This data-mining indicated that it might be valuable to do more targeted searches of particular communications “pipelines” (John Yoo’s phrase), looking for more specific information. But that’s where FISA came in. In order to target a particular U.S. person, or to wiretap a particular “facility,” FISA requires that the NSA demonstrate to the FISA court probable cause to believe (i) that the target of the electronic surveillance is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power, and (ii) that each of the facilities or places at which the electronic surveillance is directed is being used, or is about to be used, by a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. 50 U.S.C. 1805(a)(3).

Perhaps, as John Yoo suggests in his book, FISA would have prohibited following up on the leads revealed by the data mining with more targeted wiretaps of suspicious “channels” or “pipelines,” “because we would have no specific al Qaeda suspects, and thus no probable cause.”

Besides all of this, Tom McGuire points out that it would be virtually impossible to make any perjury charges against Gonzalez stick for the simple reason that to do so would expose massive amounts of classified details about our intelligence gather efforts:

Let me ask an obvious question that seems to have eluded some of our Senators and is not broached by the Times – how in the world is a perjury prosecution going to proceed without a massive declassification of these classified and presumably ongoing programs? Will the jury and the public see what Sen. Feingold saw?

The greymail issue was reported by the Times in the context of the Libby trial, so let’s use their definition (if not their spelling):

Graymail is the practice of discouraging a prosecution from proceeding by contending that a defendant may need to disclose classified or sensitive information as part of a full defense. Such an approach can force the government to choose between dropping the prosecution or allowing the information to be disclosed at a trial.

In the Libby case the classified issues were somewhat tangential to the question of whether Libby lied about his interaction with various reporters, but in the Gonzales situation, I can’t imagine how a jury could rule on whether this reasonably be characterized as more than one program without a fair amount of information about the underlying activities.

God knows what a determined Democratic Congress would be willing to do in order to get Gonzalez. But I think McGuire has a good point; the downside in revealing classified data would probably prevent even the Democrats from trying to make the case.

Josh Marshall is unconvinced and believes there’s much more lurking beneath the surface that the White House is desperate to cover up:

As you can see, we now have the first hint of what was at the center of the Ashcroft hospital room showdown. According to the New York Times, what the White House calls the ‘terrorist surveillance [i.e., warrantless wiretap] program’ originally included some sort of largescale data mining.

I don’t doubt that this is true as far as it goes. But this must only scratch the surface because, frankly, at least as presented, this just doesn’t account for the depth of the controversy or the fact that so many law-and-order DOJ types were willing to resign over what was happening. Something’s missing.

Marshall is speculating based on his take of the Bush Administration’s past “illegal” activities (quotes are necessary because no one has proven anything the Bushies done is “illegal”). But to be honest, how such speculation can be considered valid when there is so much we don’t know about the warrantless surveillance and why those same attorneys who were willing to resign over these “other matters” relating to the NSA Terrorist Surveillance Program had no problem with Ashcroft re-authorizing the program 20 times previously. Marshall is right. Something doesn’t fit. But whether it involves a “cover up” of other, more intrusive or illegal intelligence programs or a simple desire to hold close the most important secrets vital to our national security cannot be said with anything approaching certainty or even intelligently be guessed at.

Gonzalez should have been allowed to resign months ago over the US Attorney firings. Not because of anything illegal he did but because of the incompetent way it was handled. But Bush stuck with him and now must weather another storm of controversy that weakens him politically (if he could get any weaker). Some might admire the President’s steadfastness (I call it stubbornness) in standing behind his Attorney General. But there must come a point when doing so harms the office of the President as well as the country. That time has long passed. It’s time for Gonzo to go.


To mark Independence Day, al-Qaeda #2 Ayman Zawahiri (just another country doctor turned terrorist) has issued a 90 minute video with a stirring call for Muslims to back the terrorists in Iraq. In fact, the tape also includes a piece from the Islamic State of Iraq terror group – an al-Qaeda “inspired” outfit that Zawahiri seems to be supporting and urging the entire Muslim world to help. This despite assurances by some in the west that al-Qaeda has no presence in Iraq and that every time someone in the Administration says so, they are lying.

Who to believe? Those lying Bushies or the country doctor?

As Americans celebrate the 4th of July today, Al Qaeda’s top deputy Ayman Zawahiri is appearing in a new internet video praising jihadi fighters in Iraq and elsewhere. Dressed in all white and sitting before a news studio background, Zawahiri warns Americans that “Today, the wind – by grace of Allah – is blowing against Washington.”

In the hour and half long video, which surfaced today on the website Strategic Translations, a translation and terror analysis firm, Zawahiri urges his followers to hurry to Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Somalia.

He also offers a message of confidence to the jihadi fighters in prison saying that victory in Iraq and Afghanistan will come soon.

“You must be patient and steadfast,” he says. “Rejoice, for victory is near, with Allah’s permission, and the herds of crusaders have begun to split up and their sole concern has become searching for a way out.”

Entitled “The Advice of One Concerned,” the video has English subtitles and includes clips from other videos and news broadcasts, including one from Al Furqan, the video production arm of the Islamic State of Iraq.

Thankfully, we don’t have to “search” very hard for a way out at all. Just do what the Democrats want and all will be well.

Beyond the words on the tape – and coming on the heels of several botched terrorist attacks in the UK and here – there’s always the thought that this particular tape will trigger a cell somewhere to go into action. And given we’ve already had some warnings about attacks this summer, one certainly hopes that DHS Director Chertoff has a little different attitude about terrorists operating in this country than his rather laid back approach to illegal immigrants. Given some of his recent statements, I’m not so sure.

Meanwhile, the Brits are waking up to the fact that warnings about these recent failed attacks were coming from some very interesting sources. Canon Andrew White, the president and CEO of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East and the vicar of St. George’s (Anglican) Church in Baghdad came face to face with pure evil at a meeting in Jordan two months ago where a specific warning was issued regarding the most recent attacks in the UK:

Dear Friends,

Just over two months ago I wrote in my Update that I had the worst meeting in my life. I said I have seen the Devil today. I met this awful man in Amman prior to our last major meeting in Baghdad.

I referred to him as the Devil and I even refused to continue the meeting and told the Sheikh who had brought him to me never to let me meet him again.

He told me that they were going to start killing in the UK then the USA. One sentence I remembered but did not understand was “those who cure you will kill you”.

I did not understand this then but in the last two days since the terrorist activities in the UK were brought to a head I was not surprised when there were reports that those arrested were all involved in the health services.

Those terrible words “those who cure you will kill you” suddenly made sense.

The litany of planned killing was horrendous. I do not know why I was told this by an Iraqi Sunni living then in Syria. I passed on this information to our FCO. I then learned that this person was a senior Al Qaeda figure and so was indeed bent on the destruction of innocent lives.

I will never forget this meeting. It remains the worst I have ever had. I hope I never have one like it again.

I find it interesting that this gentleman of the cloth – a liberal’s liberal judging by his record of opposing US-UK actions in the entire Middle East – would easily make the leap of faith and have the intellectual honesty to identify this al-Qaeda agent as “the Devil.” That puts him one step beyond 95% of the liberals in this country who can never seem to make that determination of evil regarding the nature of the enemy. Such black and white concepts aren’t “nuanced” or complicated enough. And what’s the point of being a liberal if you can’t trivialize the momentous and complicate the obvious>?

And as information continues to emerge about the UK terror plotters, one is struck by the prescience of the last National Intelligence Estimate from Iraq that predicted these kind of “do-it-yourself” terror cells that would use al-Qaeda ideology as an inspiration rather than receiving direct aid from the terrorist groups. It should be noted also that the NIE predicted that terrorists trained or blooded in Iraq would begin to inspire and perhaps even advise these homegrown jihadis. Judging by some of the remarks by Zawahiri on this new video, it appears that the al-Qaeda leader is trying to claim these groups as al-Qaeda’s own despite the fact that they have not given them any assistance. What that portends for the future can only be guessed at.

This brings up an issue that I’ve wrestled with since the beginning of the War on Terror: Does confronting the terrorists in and of itself breed more terrorists?

This question has not received the attention it deserves from either the right or the left. At the heart of the query is a big “what if;” if we had not gone into Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq and either responded as a President Gore might have by lobbing a few cruise missiles into al-Qaeda training camps following the 9/11 attacks (Gore may very well have invaded Afghanistan also) or done virtually nothing, what would the state of the worldwide jihad be today? In other words, would it have been better to simply acknowledge that we are going to be attacked every once and a while and concentrate our efforts on policing and prevention?

I throw this out simply to start a discussion not as an indication of what I believe. Given the success we’ve had worldwide in cracking al-Qaeda cells in many major cities around the world, as well as stifling their funding mechanisms, would essentially non-violent methods have worked just as efficiently while, at the same time, not creating additional terrorists for us to deal with?

One might think this is a sophomoric intellectual exercise given we can’t go back and change history. But very soon, following at least a partial withdrawal from Iraq, we are going to have to take a step back and figure out “what’s next?” I doubt very much whether this current crew in charge of our security has done much thinking along these lines so perhaps we should goose them a bit to start seriously considering our options.

For myself, I have no doubt that once we are hit again – and hit again we will be – we will be faced with decisions perhaps more momentous than our decision to go for regime change in Iraq. If confronting terrorism will always breed more terrorists anyway, perhaps continuing to attack the state sponsors of terrorism would be an exercise in futility given the nature of jihad today – not centrally organized and largely home grown. But can the will be summoned to resist what will surely be enormous pressure to hit back at one of these terrorist sponsors?

I’m not the answer man here – just someone with a lot of questions and who is very uneasy given our experiences with fighting terrorism so far. I’d be pleased if as many of you as possible shared your thoughts on this.

I have removed comment moderation to get a discussion going.

By: Rick Moran at 8:11 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (37)

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Victor Comras at The Counterterrorism Blog links to a letter sent by Comptroller General David Walker to Congressional leaders in November 2006 which outlines areas of oversight that Congress should take up in the new year. It is in the area homeland security that Mr. Comras gives us some keys to the unfinished business of Congress and the Bush Administration that needs to be addressed now more than 5 years after 9/11.

Actually, when one considers the overwhelming domestic security challenges facing the government in the aftermath of 9/11, Congress and the Administration have made astonishing progress in a relatively short period of time in some areas. But in other areas, there has been an equally astonishing lack of concern and focus that has homeland security experts shaking their heads in wonder that terrorists haven’t exploited these weaknesses.

Some of the targets of oversight include:

(1) the effective integration and transformation of the Department of Homeland Security, (2) ensuring a strategic and integrated approach to prepare for, respond to, recover, and rebuild from catastrophic events, (3) transforming and strengthening our national intelligence community, (4) enhancing border security, (5) ensuring the safety and security of all modes of transportation, (6) strengthening efforts to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and their delivery systems, (7) enhanced computer security, and (8) otherwise ensuring the effectiveness and coordination of U.S. international counterterrorism efforts. Further congressional oversight and action are also required, the Comptroller’s letter indicates, to improve the overall US image overseas.

Perhaps the most important area for DHS is the effective integration and transformation of the department. Still a relatively new agency, DHS is suffering from indigestion, having gobbled up 22 federal departments in 2003 with various responsibilities in the homeland security area. The GAO has found numerous problems with the agencies’ attempt to integrate these various bureaus and departments into a seamless whole as well as inter-departmental squabbling over the setting of priorities.

For the former, this is something that will take time as with any large department made up of so many formerly semi-independent offices which is thrust into existence. Organizational charts (and the inevitable turf battles that accompany them) have to be drawn up and resolved and personnel adjustments made.

As for the latter, the setting of priorities is clearly management’s responsibility. And the fact that we are still having difficulties in this regard is a direct reflection on the job that Director Michael Chertoff is doing as head of DHS.

I don’t envy Mr. Chertoff his job or the enormous responsibilities that job entails. However, these management problems date back more than 2 years. And the idea that we are still experiencing some of the same problems this far down the road does not reflect well on Mr. Chertoff’s leadership or management abilities. From the GAO letter, these are areas of oversight they recommend regarding the management of DHS:

• Evaluate the progress of DHS and its components in strategic planning, particularly whether strategic plans conform to best practices and link performance goals to resource requirements.
• Assess the progress of DHS in developing and integrating key management functions—financial, acquisition, information, and human capital—across its components.
• Review the progress of DHS and its components in performing risk assessments—particularly in the mission areas like border and transportation security and critical infrastructure protection—as part of a risk management approach to the allocation of resources.
• Examine the progress of DHS and its components in improving partnering with other federal, state and local governments, and private entities in the fulfillment of its homeland security and non-homeland security missions.

Comras describes it a little less clinically:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been given a front-and-center role in combating terrorism and protecting us at home. It was charged by Congress in 2003 with digesting some 22 agencies into one department with the objective of enhancing our overall domestic security. But, the GAO has found some serious shortfalls in the integration of these agencies and in the ability of the new Department to set its priorities, particularly in the area of risk assessment and security planning. It has also expressed concern with the continuing lack of internal accountability and oversight. Border security, transportation security and critical infrastructure protection remain critical areas requiring increased Congressional oversight, the Comptroller General says.

This sounds like a department with serious management flaws – especially relating to “internal accountability and oversight.” All of this is a direct reflection on Chertoff and his apparrent inability to extend his influence over the entire agency. And is there anything more important to a homeland security department than “risk assessment and security planning?” If we’re having problems in those areas, it would seem that a good question to be asked by a Congressman at an oversight hearing might be “What the hell do we have a DHS for if you guys can’t get your act together in deciding what part of the homeland is at most risk and what the hell should we be doing about fixing it?”

Chertoff has received high marks for his relatively good relations with Congress and his candor in discussing some of these problems. But I think if I had to choose, I’d rather have a bastard that every Congresscritter hates but who knows what has to be protected first and has a good idea of how to go about doing it.

Given the choice, which would you take?

Another troubling area that the GAO wants more congressional oversight on is in the planning for dealing with the recovery from a catastrophic attack. This is especially important in light of the news from Canada that a “dirty bomb” would appear to be the most likely WMD attack on the horizon and that terrorists are fully capable of acquiring the materials and initiating such an attack:

“The technical capability required to construct and use a simple RDD [radiological dispersal device] is practically trivial, compared to that of a nuclear explosive device or even most chemical or biological weapons,” the CSIS study says.

A homemade radiological weapon could consist of a conventional explosive laced with radioactive material commonly found at universities, medical and research laboratories or industrial sites.

Several isotopes used in applications including cancer treatment and industrial radiography have been identified as possible sources. However, CSIS notes, much would depend on the material’s half-life, the amount of radioactivity present, the portability of the source and the ease with which it could be dispersed.

Experts say such an explosion, while claiming few initial casualties, could spread radiation over a wide area, contaminating several city blocks, sowing panic and wreaking economic havoc.

Indeed, imagine an RDD set off in mid town Manhattan. Depending on the wind and the size of the explosion, several square blocks of the most expensive and important real estate in the world would be unusable for many months as NEST (Nuclear Emergency Support Team) personnel fanned out over the affected area and went about the long and arduous task of removing enough of the radioactive material so that people could return and business could get back to normal. While the number of deaths from the initial blast might be relatively small, many hundreds could be sickened and die while several thousand would be at a much higher risk for cancer down the road.

And while most of the economic activity that normally occurs in the area affected would resume from other locations, there is no doubt that the psychological effect on our people and the markets would be profound.

Again, it is unsettling that this remains a priority that is in need of oversight because it hasn’t been dealt with properly or that plans are incomplete.

Another area that the GAO points to the need for oversight is border security. Now I don’t care who is running DHS, this is a matter that absolutely must be addressed by Congress and the Administration. And the fact that both branches of government insist on doing a Kabuki dance regarding illegal immigration while playing russian roulette with our border control policies is unconscionable.

I understand the political realities of battling over the Hispanic vote and why no one wants to offend that rapidly growing demographic. But this is suicidal. Given the ease with which our border can be violated and illegals escape detection, one has to wonder not if terrorists are in this country already, planning the next attack but how many terrorists might actually be here.

Some recognition by both Congress and the White House that the United States is a sovereign country with recognizable, defensible borders will have to be forthcoming before we can even begin to address the problem. And while I don’t believe a fence would help that much, surely a massive increase in border control personnel would seem to be in order along with the will to enforce the law by jailing employers who hire illegals.

This should be an absolute minimum. There’s much more we can do, of course, in determining visa reforms and other bureaucratic initiatives that will keep terrorists from coming here legally. But it starts at the border and it starts with enforcing the law. That much, we can demand of our representatives.

There’s more for Congress to look at – port security being among the items not mentioned in the GAO letter. And I’d like more emphasis placed on securing “softer” targets like chemical and power plants. What’s more, does anyone doubt that our transportation security efforts need a drastic overhaul? The point is, we have a long way to go before we can consider the job of homeland security being competently addressed.

So far, I would give the Administration a D+ for their homeland security efforts and the Republican Congress an F. Let’s hope the Democrats will give homeland security the attention and, more importantly, the funds it deserves.

By: Rick Moran at 8:14 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with After big Times Square bash, big cleanup