Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 2, 2007

China’s Global Truce

On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all member states to observe a truce during next year’s Beijing Olympics and the subsequent Paralympic Games. Ancient Greek states halted warfare for the Olympics, and the General Assembly has adopted Olympic truce resolutions since 1993. This year, China sponsored the UN resolution and crowed about it in state media afterward.

This is one Chinese Communist initiative that I endorse heartily. In fact, I like it so much I think the concept should be extended. For example, during these sporting events Beijing could withdraw its support for the Sudanese government and the murderous Janjaweed militia; refuse to sell small arms to Iran so that it can send them to insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan; stop its diplomatic backing of Tehran’s atomic ayatollahs and pull back its nuclear technicians in Iran; suspend its assistance to North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Burma; discontinue its campaign of cyber-attacks on other governments; and, if all of this is not too much to ask, take a break from conspiring with Moscow to commit mischief around the world.

Even more important, I suggest that, during the Olympic events next year, the Chinese Communist Party suspend its struggle against the legitimate aspirations of the Chinese people. While the truce is in effect the Party would, among other things, lift all censorship of the media, allow people to assemble and protest, free all jailed dissidents, stop all forced sterilizations and abortions, end the practice of destroying places of worship and beating parishioners, and prohibit local officials from engaging in their normally rapacious behavior.

Under my temporary truce proposal, the Party could resume its malignant practices, both at home and abroad, once the Games are over. Of course, the risk is that the world enjoys the breather so much that the General Assembly decides to ban Beijing’s despotism forever. That is a lot to ask from the UN, but we don’t have to worry. I’m sure the Chinese people would not let the Communists go back to their old way of doing things.

On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution calling on all member states to observe a truce during next year’s Beijing Olympics and the subsequent Paralympic Games. Ancient Greek states halted warfare for the Olympics, and the General Assembly has adopted Olympic truce resolutions since 1993. This year, China sponsored the UN resolution and crowed about it in state media afterward.

This is one Chinese Communist initiative that I endorse heartily. In fact, I like it so much I think the concept should be extended. For example, during these sporting events Beijing could withdraw its support for the Sudanese government and the murderous Janjaweed militia; refuse to sell small arms to Iran so that it can send them to insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan; stop its diplomatic backing of Tehran’s atomic ayatollahs and pull back its nuclear technicians in Iran; suspend its assistance to North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Burma; discontinue its campaign of cyber-attacks on other governments; and, if all of this is not too much to ask, take a break from conspiring with Moscow to commit mischief around the world.

Even more important, I suggest that, during the Olympic events next year, the Chinese Communist Party suspend its struggle against the legitimate aspirations of the Chinese people. While the truce is in effect the Party would, among other things, lift all censorship of the media, allow people to assemble and protest, free all jailed dissidents, stop all forced sterilizations and abortions, end the practice of destroying places of worship and beating parishioners, and prohibit local officials from engaging in their normally rapacious behavior.

Under my temporary truce proposal, the Party could resume its malignant practices, both at home and abroad, once the Games are over. Of course, the risk is that the world enjoys the breather so much that the General Assembly decides to ban Beijing’s despotism forever. That is a lot to ask from the UN, but we don’t have to worry. I’m sure the Chinese people would not let the Communists go back to their old way of doing things.

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That 70′s Show

Director Jonathan Demme’s documentary on Jimmy Carter—Jimmy Carter Man from Plains—has been drawing dozens of the former President’s devotees to the theaters. The film couldn’t be better timed. What with the shock of skyrocketing oil prices, a feeling of political malaise, the renewed threat of Iranian extremism, and an economy that no longer conforms to tried and true assumptions, it’s starting to seem like the Carter years all over again. (As it did then, it feels now like we’re in a kidney stone of a period that will pass only with great difficulty.)

If you let your memory roam a bit during last Tuesday’s Democratic Party debate, you could, listening to Barack Obama (who is nearly as unctuous as Carter) speak of how only he could deal “honestly with the American people,” hear further echoes of the Carter era. Evidently, such honest dealings require the good will of the Iranian leadership. Carter reached out to Khomeini as “one man of God to another.” Obama, holding out the promise of membership for the Persian state in the World Trade Organization, says he too wants to “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran.

But it was John Edwards, like Carter a Southern liberal, who took the most Carter-like approach. President Carter spoke of the need to put aside “our inordinate fear of Communism.” A would-be President Edwards similarly complained that we have been “governed by fear” of terrorism; he promised to put an end to the “politics of fear.” Carter and his spokesmen, such as UN Ambassador Andrew Young, spoke insistently and repeatedly of the need to “restore America’s reputation.” Edwards also speaks about “restoring our good name” in the world.

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Director Jonathan Demme’s documentary on Jimmy Carter—Jimmy Carter Man from Plains—has been drawing dozens of the former President’s devotees to the theaters. The film couldn’t be better timed. What with the shock of skyrocketing oil prices, a feeling of political malaise, the renewed threat of Iranian extremism, and an economy that no longer conforms to tried and true assumptions, it’s starting to seem like the Carter years all over again. (As it did then, it feels now like we’re in a kidney stone of a period that will pass only with great difficulty.)

If you let your memory roam a bit during last Tuesday’s Democratic Party debate, you could, listening to Barack Obama (who is nearly as unctuous as Carter) speak of how only he could deal “honestly with the American people,” hear further echoes of the Carter era. Evidently, such honest dealings require the good will of the Iranian leadership. Carter reached out to Khomeini as “one man of God to another.” Obama, holding out the promise of membership for the Persian state in the World Trade Organization, says he too wants to “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran.

But it was John Edwards, like Carter a Southern liberal, who took the most Carter-like approach. President Carter spoke of the need to put aside “our inordinate fear of Communism.” A would-be President Edwards similarly complained that we have been “governed by fear” of terrorism; he promised to put an end to the “politics of fear.” Carter and his spokesmen, such as UN Ambassador Andrew Young, spoke insistently and repeatedly of the need to “restore America’s reputation.” Edwards also speaks about “restoring our good name” in the world.

Both then and now, seemingly paradoxical developments in the economy shredded the old certainties. The Democrats had, since the late 1930’s, organized their economic policy around the requirements of Keynesian demand management. Government spending was their means to avoid economic downturns and ensure a robust economy. This approach was summarized by what was known as the Phillips curve, which described how x percentage of inflation brought y percentage in unemployment reduction. But by the late 1970’s, as business had become accustomed to the Keynesian game and oil prices ramified through the economy, government spending produced the combination of stagnation and inflation known as stagflation. Stagflation ended the Keynesian era and left the Democrats economically rudderless.

Republicans, notes economist Joel Kotkin, face something similar now. There is no doubt that global trade has expanded our GDP. The aggregates, as Larry Kudlow points out, are looking very good. But people don’t live in the aggregate economy. Paradoxically, a sharp increase in inequality, as middle-class incomes grow slowly at best, has accompanied the increase in overall prosperity (the economy grew at a very strong 3.9 percent rate in the last quarter). As former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers explains, “If the distribution of income in the U.S. today were the same as it was in 1979, and the U.S. had enjoyed the same growth, the bottom 80 percent would have about $670 billion more, or about $8,000 per family a year. The top 1 percent would have about $670 billion less, or about $500,000 a family.”

One response to this seeming paradox has been an increasingly critical attitude towards global trade, as if there were an alternative. Politically, this represents a huge opening for the Democrats—much as stagflation helped make Reagan’s election possible.

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Not Surrender Monkeys Anymore

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute have published a fascinating new paper based on their recent talks with counterterrorism officials in Europe. Their findings contrast with the crude stereotype that so many American conservatives have of the French as “surrender monkeys.” Gerecht and Schmitt write: “France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe.”

France, they note, has been facing the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism since the 1980’s and has done an impressive job of marshaling its resources to defend itself. What’s the secret of French success? Gerecht and Schmitt point to the fact that the French “grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist investigative magistrates (juges d’instruction).”

The last office, whose most famous holder is Jean-Louis Bruguière, was created in 1986 and is utterly without parallel in the American system, because it gives a single magistrate the power to use both intelligence and police services to stop terrorists before they strike. Magistrates even have the power to lock up French citizens when there is not enough evidence to convict them of a crime.

For all their carping about America’s supposed civil-liberties abuses, the French have concentrated more power in the hands of their counterterrorism officials than we have. And it’s paid off. Gerecht and Schmitt conclude:

“We underscore the power of the French state since so much post–Patriot Act commentary in the United States suggests that enhanced police powers—for example, the sequestration of terrorist suspects without immediate access to attorneys, or the use of wiretapping and physical surveillance that falls far short of ‘probable cause’ of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) standards—are counterproductive to counterterrorism efforts since they corrode our collective trust in the law and are ineffective in any case.”

In fact, as they stress, the kind of steps the French take work. And yet in the more than twenty years since this system was created, “France has not gone down the slippery slope into tyranny. France’s society, its politics, and many of its laws have actually become much more liberal and open.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht and Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute have published a fascinating new paper based on their recent talks with counterterrorism officials in Europe. Their findings contrast with the crude stereotype that so many American conservatives have of the French as “surrender monkeys.” Gerecht and Schmitt write: “France has become the most accomplished counterterrorism practitioner in Europe.”

France, they note, has been facing the threat of Middle Eastern terrorism since the 1980’s and has done an impressive job of marshaling its resources to defend itself. What’s the secret of French success? Gerecht and Schmitt point to the fact that the French “grant highly intrusive powers to their internal security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), and to their counterterrorist investigative magistrates (juges d’instruction).”

The last office, whose most famous holder is Jean-Louis Bruguière, was created in 1986 and is utterly without parallel in the American system, because it gives a single magistrate the power to use both intelligence and police services to stop terrorists before they strike. Magistrates even have the power to lock up French citizens when there is not enough evidence to convict them of a crime.

For all their carping about America’s supposed civil-liberties abuses, the French have concentrated more power in the hands of their counterterrorism officials than we have. And it’s paid off. Gerecht and Schmitt conclude:

“We underscore the power of the French state since so much post–Patriot Act commentary in the United States suggests that enhanced police powers—for example, the sequestration of terrorist suspects without immediate access to attorneys, or the use of wiretapping and physical surveillance that falls far short of ‘probable cause’ of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) standards—are counterproductive to counterterrorism efforts since they corrode our collective trust in the law and are ineffective in any case.”

In fact, as they stress, the kind of steps the French take work. And yet in the more than twenty years since this system was created, “France has not gone down the slippery slope into tyranny. France’s society, its politics, and many of its laws have actually become much more liberal and open.”

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Hanan Ashrawi, Hustler

Hanan Ashrawi is a name familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as she has been at the forefront, particularly the media forefront, of the campaign to put Palestinian grievances front and center on the world stage. Ashrawi, like her counterpart Saeb Erekat, is American-educated, fluent in English, and has immense talent in presenting Palestinian terrorism and irredentism in a vocabulary that grates, as minimally as possible, on the western ear.

On Monday night she spoke at Emory University, and updated her repertoire to take in the latest developments. The Second Lebanon War, she said, “proved [Israel] could not defeat a nation fighting for freedom.” Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy that is encamped in southern Lebanon, is a nation? That is fighting for its freedom by abducting IDF soldiers in Israel? That’s a novel take. Regarding Palestinian politics, she said: “Violence and extreme ideology of Israel feeds violence and extremism on the other side. And that’s what led to the election of Hamas.”

Ashrawi is a prisoner of one of the great imperishable cultural dementias of the Arab world—namely, the imperative always to blame everything on Israel, no matter how implausible, no matter how ludicrous, no matter the extent to which doing so undermines your own interests and credibility and contributes to the spread of a mania that has been singularly detrimental to the advancement of the people you claim to speak for. This is why it was such a shock, in the summer of 2006, to see several Sunni regimes denounce Hezbollah for instigating a war with Israel. Granted, those statements were far more expressions of concern over Iran’s outsized ambitions in the region than defenses of Israel, but still—they indicated that a ray of sunlight, however fleeting, had appeared in the Middle East. Ashrawi is having none of that, and prefers the good old days of the intifada, when Israel was the first and only object of Arab scorn in the Middle East.

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Hanan Ashrawi is a name familiar to anyone who has even casually followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as she has been at the forefront, particularly the media forefront, of the campaign to put Palestinian grievances front and center on the world stage. Ashrawi, like her counterpart Saeb Erekat, is American-educated, fluent in English, and has immense talent in presenting Palestinian terrorism and irredentism in a vocabulary that grates, as minimally as possible, on the western ear.

On Monday night she spoke at Emory University, and updated her repertoire to take in the latest developments. The Second Lebanon War, she said, “proved [Israel] could not defeat a nation fighting for freedom.” Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy that is encamped in southern Lebanon, is a nation? That is fighting for its freedom by abducting IDF soldiers in Israel? That’s a novel take. Regarding Palestinian politics, she said: “Violence and extreme ideology of Israel feeds violence and extremism on the other side. And that’s what led to the election of Hamas.”

Ashrawi is a prisoner of one of the great imperishable cultural dementias of the Arab world—namely, the imperative always to blame everything on Israel, no matter how implausible, no matter how ludicrous, no matter the extent to which doing so undermines your own interests and credibility and contributes to the spread of a mania that has been singularly detrimental to the advancement of the people you claim to speak for. This is why it was such a shock, in the summer of 2006, to see several Sunni regimes denounce Hezbollah for instigating a war with Israel. Granted, those statements were far more expressions of concern over Iran’s outsized ambitions in the region than defenses of Israel, but still—they indicated that a ray of sunlight, however fleeting, had appeared in the Middle East. Ashrawi is having none of that, and prefers the good old days of the intifada, when Israel was the first and only object of Arab scorn in the Middle East.

In her speech Ashrawi bemoaned the economic decrepitude of the West Bank and Gaza, and wallowed in the feelings of hopelessness she says have cast all of Palestine into shadow. If Ashrawi wishes to locate the cause of these problems, she need only look to the Palestinian terror war of 2000-2005, a war Ashrawi spent barnstorming the western media, explaining away every suicide bombing and act of Palestinian depravity as the understandable responses of a helpless, victimized people. She said at Emory that “there is a very clear power asymmetry. One side holds all the cards, all the power, and the other side is entirely helpless.” Think about that choice of words for a moment: entirely helpless. Ashrawi is an advocate for the permanent infantilization of her people and the complete denial of their moral and political agency. (I suppose she gets more time in front of the cameras this way.)

The true liberation of Palestine—I’m not holding my breath—will require in its first act the rejection of cynical hustlers like Ashrawi, who have made careers out of sending the Palestinian people down one dead end street after another, only to appear later on television screens, decrying their suffering. Free Palestine, indeed.

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Denmark’s “Outlandish” Foreign Policy

It’s no secret that, within Muslim countries, Denmark has an image problem. The September 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper generated shocking uproar, with angry masses torching the Danish consulate in Beirut, the Danish embassy in Damascus, and Danish flags just about everywhere. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared the furor the worst Danish international relations incident since World War II, as his effigy burnt worldwide.

One can hardly blame Denmark for wanting to resuscitate its image. After all, the cartoons debacle erupted from an independent newspaper’s publication choices, and not Danish foreign policy. Yet the public diplomacy tactic it will employ tonight in Cairo reeks of hypocrisy. In a bid to shift the negative attention away from Denmark, the Danish Embassy will be hosting the band Outlandish, whose lyrics prominently emphasize anti-Israel themes.

In “Look Into My Eyes,” for example, Outlandish refers to Israel’s existence as “terror . . . 57 years so cruel,” and ultimately blames the United States: “Americans do ya realize/That the taxes that u pay/Feed the forces that traumatize/My every living day.” The music video is particularly noteworthy, depicting an elementary school class play in which a Palestinian Little Red Riding Hood overcomes an Israeli Big Bad Wolf. In “Try Not to Cry,” meanwhile, Outlandish compares Israel to “the Crusaders and Mongols,” declaring “I throw stones like David before me.” On YouTube, one of their fan-made music videos heavily demonizing Israel has been viewed over a million times.

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It’s no secret that, within Muslim countries, Denmark has an image problem. The September 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper generated shocking uproar, with angry masses torching the Danish consulate in Beirut, the Danish embassy in Damascus, and Danish flags just about everywhere. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared the furor the worst Danish international relations incident since World War II, as his effigy burnt worldwide.

One can hardly blame Denmark for wanting to resuscitate its image. After all, the cartoons debacle erupted from an independent newspaper’s publication choices, and not Danish foreign policy. Yet the public diplomacy tactic it will employ tonight in Cairo reeks of hypocrisy. In a bid to shift the negative attention away from Denmark, the Danish Embassy will be hosting the band Outlandish, whose lyrics prominently emphasize anti-Israel themes.

In “Look Into My Eyes,” for example, Outlandish refers to Israel’s existence as “terror . . . 57 years so cruel,” and ultimately blames the United States: “Americans do ya realize/That the taxes that u pay/Feed the forces that traumatize/My every living day.” The music video is particularly noteworthy, depicting an elementary school class play in which a Palestinian Little Red Riding Hood overcomes an Israeli Big Bad Wolf. In “Try Not to Cry,” meanwhile, Outlandish compares Israel to “the Crusaders and Mongols,” declaring “I throw stones like David before me.” On YouTube, one of their fan-made music videos heavily demonizing Israel has been viewed over a million times.

When asked why the Danish Embassy would host such an event, Cultural Relations Officer Dorte Zaalouk called Outlandish—whose members are of Moroccan, Pakistani, and Honduran backgrounds—a “good example of integration in Denmark,” emphasizing that showcasing Danish-Muslim talent was essential after the cartoons public relations debacle. Perhaps, but wasn’t the Embassy concerned about showcasing a band that merely incites disdain for another country through its politically charged lyrics? “We don’t see it that way,” she said.

Well, maybe Denmark should see it “that way.” After all, at the height of the cartoon controversy, Denmark was hardly the only country whose national symbols were desecrated: American, Israeli, French, and Norwegian flags, among others, were also incinerated, while the Norwegian embassy in Damascus was torched. That the Danish Embassy in Cairo has sought to improve its own lot by hosting the defamation of another country demonstrates both poor character and political short-sightedness.

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Is Russia Our Enemy?

In New York on Tuesday, Intelligence Squared, a British-based debate forum, sponsored a discussion on one of today’s critical issues: Is Russia becoming our enemy again?

The debaters who took the benign view—especially Robert Legvold of Columbia University and Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—argued that we should not call Russia an enemy because that might make it one. There is, of course, a dose of logic in this simple proposition. After all, we don’t need to create another antagonist at this moment, especially if it’s a large nation with a chip on its shoulder and a finger on the button.

Yet a mutually self-destructive spat of name-calling is not the problem we face at this time. “Just last week George W. Bush insisted in a speech that Russia is not an enemy of the United States,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, as he argued that Moscow is indeed becoming an adversary. “Now if that does not convince this audience that our side is right, I don’t know what will.”

In just a few words Stephens identified perhaps the most important shortcoming of American foreign policy of this era. We don’t have to worry about making Russia an enemy by calling it one. On the contrary, we have to be concerned that we will permit Russia to become an enemy by failing to speak plainly.

In recent months, Moscow has been supporting the atomic aspirations of the Iranians, bombing the Georgians, upgrading Syria’s air defenses, poisoning and shooting foreign nationals on foreign soil, seizing foreign-owned energy investments without justification, threatening to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, harassing the Estonian government, and resuming cold war patrols of heavy bombers far from its shores (and close to our shores and those of our allies). In short, the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin has tried to upend the international system by taking down the post-cold war architecture.

And what is America doing? We call the Russian autocrat a friend and trustworthy partner. Methinks we do not protest enough.

In New York on Tuesday, Intelligence Squared, a British-based debate forum, sponsored a discussion on one of today’s critical issues: Is Russia becoming our enemy again?

The debaters who took the benign view—especially Robert Legvold of Columbia University and Mark Medish of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace—argued that we should not call Russia an enemy because that might make it one. There is, of course, a dose of logic in this simple proposition. After all, we don’t need to create another antagonist at this moment, especially if it’s a large nation with a chip on its shoulder and a finger on the button.

Yet a mutually self-destructive spat of name-calling is not the problem we face at this time. “Just last week George W. Bush insisted in a speech that Russia is not an enemy of the United States,” said the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, as he argued that Moscow is indeed becoming an adversary. “Now if that does not convince this audience that our side is right, I don’t know what will.”

In just a few words Stephens identified perhaps the most important shortcoming of American foreign policy of this era. We don’t have to worry about making Russia an enemy by calling it one. On the contrary, we have to be concerned that we will permit Russia to become an enemy by failing to speak plainly.

In recent months, Moscow has been supporting the atomic aspirations of the Iranians, bombing the Georgians, upgrading Syria’s air defenses, poisoning and shooting foreign nationals on foreign soil, seizing foreign-owned energy investments without justification, threatening to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, harassing the Estonian government, and resuming cold war patrols of heavy bombers far from its shores (and close to our shores and those of our allies). In short, the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin has tried to upend the international system by taking down the post-cold war architecture.

And what is America doing? We call the Russian autocrat a friend and trustworthy partner. Methinks we do not protest enough.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #7: Heavy Medal

In 2005, Michael Scheuer wrote a letter to COMMENTARY in which he stated that he had received the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal for having led a unit that:

helped to capture Talat Fuad Qassem, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and Hakim Murad; broke up Ramzi Yousef’s plot to down fourteen U.S. airliners over the Pacific; destroyed al-Qaeda cells in Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus; virtually destroyed the outside-Egypt wing of Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad; supplied all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.

He also wrote:

There is no need to take my word for any of this: check with the CIA and the citation accompanying my Intelligence Commendation Medal.

From what I have been able to learn from the CIA, and which is what I noted in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, the CIA medal was bestowed on Scheuer in 1995, one year before he was assigned to the Osama bin Laden unit, and also, as I wrote, “well before he could have accomplished a number of the triumphs that he suggests are cited in the commendation, like supplying ‘all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.’ Bin Laden was indicted in 1998, three years  after Mr. Scheuer’s medal was minted.”

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In 2005, Michael Scheuer wrote a letter to COMMENTARY in which he stated that he had received the CIA’s Intelligence Commendation Medal for having led a unit that:

helped to capture Talat Fuad Qassem, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, and Hakim Murad; broke up Ramzi Yousef’s plot to down fourteen U.S. airliners over the Pacific; destroyed al-Qaeda cells in Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus; virtually destroyed the outside-Egypt wing of Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad; supplied all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.

He also wrote:

There is no need to take my word for any of this: check with the CIA and the citation accompanying my Intelligence Commendation Medal.

From what I have been able to learn from the CIA, and which is what I noted in the June 2005 COMMENTARY, the CIA medal was bestowed on Scheuer in 1995, one year before he was assigned to the Osama bin Laden unit, and also, as I wrote, “well before he could have accomplished a number of the triumphs that he suggests are cited in the commendation, like supplying ‘all of the information used in the federal indictment of Osama bin Laden.’ Bin Laden was indicted in 1998, three years  after Mr. Scheuer’s medal was minted.”

My unconnected dots of the day are:

1. Am I correct about the medal being awarded in 1995?

2. Is the accompanying citation classified or unclassified?

3. What exactly does the citation say? Scheuer has declined to make a copy available. 

4. Can it be ferreted out using the Freedom of Information Act?

If you can help me connect these dots, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Michael Scheuer Watch in the subject line.

Confidentiality is guaranteed. (But see my Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law to understand exactly how far I would go in protecting your identity.)

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

 

 

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Is Max Boot Wrong, or Very Wrong?

Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

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Over at contentions, Max Boot has written skeptically about the fact that I have written skeptically about a new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
 
I had wondered, “if our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

Max says that “the short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.”

This I very much doubt. Major financial institutions operate in a highly regulated environment and are simply not permitted to conceal massive thefts. The big investment houses that do business in the United States are required to turn over immense reams of data every quarter to the Fed; they are also under intense scrutiny by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Most of them are publicly held. It is inconceivable that some hackers could siphon a couple of hundred millions bucks from, say, Lehman Brothers, without shareholders learning of it. Even if the banks had the legal right to conceal massive thefts, I doubt they could. These kinds of institutions may not be quite as colander-like as the CIA, but if millions have been stolen from their coffers via a hacker’s keystroke, such juicy information would surely leak.

Like Max, I believe in protecting ourselves from all sorts of emerging threats, from nano-robots armed with lethal bacteria to Iranian ICBMs tipped with ayatollahs. But I don’t believe in developing a military policy based upon gropes in the dark.

One such grope is Max’s reference to a Financial Times story about a 2005 attack against the London offices of the Japanese bank, Sumitomo. That episode lends support to my view and casts skepticism on Max’s skepticism about my skepticism. A key phrase in Max’s telling of that story is that the thieves “almost managed” to carry out their plot. A somewhat different way of describing that same outcome is that they didn’t manage to carry it out.

How did Scotland Yard get wise to the cyber-thieves? They were uncovered when bells and whistles sounded after they tried to transfer funds electronically to an account in Israel. In other words, Sumitomo’s cyber-security kicked in. Perhaps Sumitomo subscribes to McAfee’s “Total Protection, 12-in-1″ anti-virus and firewall software available for only $59.95 a year. Perhaps they paid much more to some smart programmers to build far fancier and more effective programs to guard against intrusion and theft. Whatever they have in place, the Pentagon needs to buy a version of it as well, and make sure that that it is kept regularly updated. It worked for Sumitomo.

Yes, there are manifold dangers in the cyber-realm. One problem flows from the fact that approximately half of the U.S. population is of below average intelligence. This helps to explain why some 1.78 million Americans have fallen victim to fake emails encouraging them to disclose personal banking information. The ensuing losses total more than $1 billion to date. But bankers and the programmers they hire are decidely not of below average intelligence. That is a major reason why electronic robberies of corporate coffers remain exceedingly rare.

This is not to say that the Pentagon should not be on guard. It should certainly be wary of purchasing software applications written by starving North Korean programmers toiling in front of Soviet-era workstations with Kalashnikovs pointed at their heads. And it also should be on guard against denial-of-service attacks of the kind Russia launched against Estonia earlier this year. But when Max cites that episode and concludes that “the U.S. is just as vulnerable to such an attack,” for the first time since I met Max a decade ago, I suddenly began to doubt his command of Estonian.

Silicon Valley is located in California not in Tallinn. Microsoft is located in Seattle not in Tartu. The GDP of Estonia last year was $26.8 billion. The market value of Lehman Brothers last year—one Fortune 500 corporation alone—was $38 billion. Is the mighty U.S. truly just as vulnerable to cyber-attack as mouse-sized Estonia? The U.S. may face dangers in the realm of malicious software and from hacking, but we also clearly face dangers from those who would exaggerate those dangers.

Max Boot is a good friend but I am afraid that there are only two ways that this bitter dispute can be settled. The first is that he and I face off in a duel. The second is that just before sundown on Sunday he should admit that he has been doing some groping in the dark. I will simultaneously make the same admission.

Before either of us reaches any firm conclusions about the Pentagon’s software problems, it would behoove us both to hear from computer experts in the financial industry—not just from those who are captives of our military-industrial-computer complex—about our real vulnerabilities and about the most cost-efficient way to address them.

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