Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 17, 2008

A Canadian Course in Torture

Canada has put Israel and the U.S. on an official list of countries where prisoners are at risk of being tortured. Here’s Reuters with the best part: “CTV said the document was part of a course on torture awareness given to Canadian diplomats to help them determine whether prisoners they visited abroad had been mistreated.” A course on torture awareness sounds like something from the 07′/08′ Columbia University course catalogue. According to this course, interrogation techniques such as “forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation” are considered torture. Then again this is the country that considers critical media commentary a violation of human rights.

Guantanamo Bay (where prisoners tend to gain weight) is specifically mentioned. It should be noted that suspects held at Gitmo live in conditions far superior to the those of the men and women on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Conservative Canadian politicians are understandably humiliated: “A spokesman for Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier tried to distance Ottawa from the document. ‘The training manual is not a policy document and does not reflect the views or policies of this government,’ he said.”

Nor does it reflect the views or policies of this one.

Canada has put Israel and the U.S. on an official list of countries where prisoners are at risk of being tortured. Here’s Reuters with the best part: “CTV said the document was part of a course on torture awareness given to Canadian diplomats to help them determine whether prisoners they visited abroad had been mistreated.” A course on torture awareness sounds like something from the 07′/08′ Columbia University course catalogue. According to this course, interrogation techniques such as “forced nudity, isolation, and sleep deprivation” are considered torture. Then again this is the country that considers critical media commentary a violation of human rights.

Guantanamo Bay (where prisoners tend to gain weight) is specifically mentioned. It should be noted that suspects held at Gitmo live in conditions far superior to the those of the men and women on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Conservative Canadian politicians are understandably humiliated: “A spokesman for Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier tried to distance Ottawa from the document. ‘The training manual is not a policy document and does not reflect the views or policies of this government,’ he said.”

Nor does it reflect the views or policies of this one.

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Nabokov’s Stalemate

I hope I’m not alone in finding something amusing about Ron Rosenbaum’s article—his breathless, agonized, pleading, even a little self-aggrandizing article—about whether or not Vladimir Nabokov’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura should be destroyed in accordance with Nabokov’s wishes. Here are the facts:

What we do know is that the Laura manuscript consists of approximately 50 index cards covered in V.N.’s handwriting. Dmitri has said in the past that the text amounts to some 30 conventional manuscript pages. (To those familiar with what is perhaps Nabokov’s greatest work, Pale Fire, the use of index cards as a draft medium will not seem strange. Indeed the parallels to Pale Fire’s account of a struggle over the disposition of an index-card manuscript border on the uncanny.) But in any case, before he died in 1977, Nabokov made clear that he wanted those cards destroyed.

I fail to see the “uncanny” in a parallel between Nabokov’s fictional creation and a real-life scenario that he himself engineered. Rosenbaum’s remark, which I’ll charitably call a stretch, is a red flag that we are in the gladiatorial arena of superfandom, where only the truly rabid survive. (Speaking of rabies, even Rosenbaum’s foray into catblogging was infected with Pale Fire fever.)

I intend no disrespect to Rosenbaum. We all have our obsessions, and Nabokov is a more praiseworthy one than, say, Dr. Who. Still, obsession can cloud judgment, and I don’t think the question at hand is much of a question at all. This isn’t a Linear B tablet or a lost Shakespeare play dredged from the Oak Island Money Pit. It’s a fragment by a literary giant who died within living memory. We shouldn’t pretend to be grateful for the finished, polished, perfect works he did give us without honoring his wishes as to this one.

As for Dmitri Nabokov, I’ll raise the possibility that Rosenbaum—who would cheerfully eat light bulbs for a peek at those thirty pages—cannot: Might not all Dmitri’s hemming and hawing and teasing and stalling be more about himself than about his father’s legacy? Just a thought. (Readers, consider this an open thread.)

I hope I’m not alone in finding something amusing about Ron Rosenbaum’s article—his breathless, agonized, pleading, even a little self-aggrandizing article—about whether or not Vladimir Nabokov’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura should be destroyed in accordance with Nabokov’s wishes. Here are the facts:

What we do know is that the Laura manuscript consists of approximately 50 index cards covered in V.N.’s handwriting. Dmitri has said in the past that the text amounts to some 30 conventional manuscript pages. (To those familiar with what is perhaps Nabokov’s greatest work, Pale Fire, the use of index cards as a draft medium will not seem strange. Indeed the parallels to Pale Fire’s account of a struggle over the disposition of an index-card manuscript border on the uncanny.) But in any case, before he died in 1977, Nabokov made clear that he wanted those cards destroyed.

I fail to see the “uncanny” in a parallel between Nabokov’s fictional creation and a real-life scenario that he himself engineered. Rosenbaum’s remark, which I’ll charitably call a stretch, is a red flag that we are in the gladiatorial arena of superfandom, where only the truly rabid survive. (Speaking of rabies, even Rosenbaum’s foray into catblogging was infected with Pale Fire fever.)

I intend no disrespect to Rosenbaum. We all have our obsessions, and Nabokov is a more praiseworthy one than, say, Dr. Who. Still, obsession can cloud judgment, and I don’t think the question at hand is much of a question at all. This isn’t a Linear B tablet or a lost Shakespeare play dredged from the Oak Island Money Pit. It’s a fragment by a literary giant who died within living memory. We shouldn’t pretend to be grateful for the finished, polished, perfect works he did give us without honoring his wishes as to this one.

As for Dmitri Nabokov, I’ll raise the possibility that Rosenbaum—who would cheerfully eat light bulbs for a peek at those thirty pages—cannot: Might not all Dmitri’s hemming and hawing and teasing and stalling be more about himself than about his father’s legacy? Just a thought. (Readers, consider this an open thread.)

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Lots of Missiles But No Nukes?

Yesterday, Lt. General Henry Obering, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, noted that Iran is accelerating its efforts to build long-range missiles. “They’re developing ranges of missiles that go far beyond anything they would need in a regional fight, for example, with Israel,” he said.

If Obering is correct, then the National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program in late 2003, is almost certainly wrong—nations do not build missiles of this sort to deliver conventional explosives. Obering was in Prague to convince the Czechs and the Poles to host missile-defense interceptors and radars. So is the Pentagon hyping the threat from Iran to promote its program?

It’s time to go to the videotape. In September, Tehran unveiled the Ghadr-1, which has a range of 1,125 miles. At the end of November, it announced the Ashoura, a new model with a 1,250-mile range. The Ashoura appears to be an improvement over Iran’s Shahab-3, and the country is rumored to be working on even longer-range missiles. Tehran, therefore, seems intent on proving Obering correct.

Iran’s zeal in developing long-range missiles is matched only by its efforts to end the international community’s investigation of its nuclear efforts. Earlier this month, Tehran said its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, had entered a “new phase.” At about the same time, the Iranians pointed out that their cooperation with the IAEA would show that Western suspicions that they are covertly building a bomb are “baseless.” And a few days later, on Sunday, the IAEA announced that Tehran had pledged to answer all remaining questions about its nuclear program within a month. This is a repeat of its now-forgotten promise made last August to respond to all inquiries.

So Iran is once again confirming that it is not building the only weapon suitable for the missiles it is developing at a break-neck pace. I feel so relieved. How about you?

Yesterday, Lt. General Henry Obering, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, noted that Iran is accelerating its efforts to build long-range missiles. “They’re developing ranges of missiles that go far beyond anything they would need in a regional fight, for example, with Israel,” he said.

If Obering is correct, then the National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program in late 2003, is almost certainly wrong—nations do not build missiles of this sort to deliver conventional explosives. Obering was in Prague to convince the Czechs and the Poles to host missile-defense interceptors and radars. So is the Pentagon hyping the threat from Iran to promote its program?

It’s time to go to the videotape. In September, Tehran unveiled the Ghadr-1, which has a range of 1,125 miles. At the end of November, it announced the Ashoura, a new model with a 1,250-mile range. The Ashoura appears to be an improvement over Iran’s Shahab-3, and the country is rumored to be working on even longer-range missiles. Tehran, therefore, seems intent on proving Obering correct.

Iran’s zeal in developing long-range missiles is matched only by its efforts to end the international community’s investigation of its nuclear efforts. Earlier this month, Tehran said its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, had entered a “new phase.” At about the same time, the Iranians pointed out that their cooperation with the IAEA would show that Western suspicions that they are covertly building a bomb are “baseless.” And a few days later, on Sunday, the IAEA announced that Tehran had pledged to answer all remaining questions about its nuclear program within a month. This is a repeat of its now-forgotten promise made last August to respond to all inquiries.

So Iran is once again confirming that it is not building the only weapon suitable for the missiles it is developing at a break-neck pace. I feel so relieved. How about you?

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Choreographing the Synchronicity of Mutually-Reinforcing Couplings

That, my friends, is what Robert Malley and Hussein Agha would like us to understand is the key to peace in the Middle East. In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, they start with a somewhat reasonable premise:

Nervous about being left out, all three parties are laboring mightily to avert an understanding between the other two. . . . The end result is collective checkmate, a political standstill that hurts all and serves none.

But then the analysis gets buried in so much vague diplomatic twaddle that all of the realities of the conflict become helpfully obscured — which seems to be the point. “Fatah and Hamas will need to reach a new political arrangement, this time not one vigorously opposed by Israel.” Oh, that will be nice. So it was Israel that caused all of that unpleasantness in Gaza over the summer? “Hamas and Israel will need to achieve a cease-fire and prisoner exchange, albeit mediated by Abbas.” Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

“And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will need to negotiate a political deal with Abbas, who will have to receive a mandate to do so from Hamas.” Did you catch that? Hamas will grant its rival, Mahmoud Abbas, who Hamas views as a Zionist puppet, a “mandate” to negotiate a peace deal with the country whose annihilation is the premise of Hamas’ existence. There is not the slightest shred of evidence that Hamas would ever even think of doing this — but why should that stop Malley and Agha from predicting it on the Washington Post op-ed page?

They conclude this acid trip by saying:

The current mind-set, in which each side considers dealmaking by the other two to be a mortal threat, could be replaced by one in which all three couplings are viewed as mutually reinforcing. For that, the parties’ allies ought to cast aside their dysfunctional, destructive, ideologically driven policies. Instead, they should encourage a choreography that minimizes violence and promotes a serious diplomatic process.

Translation into plain English: Gosh, peacemaking would be so simple if everyone would just make peace already! And I want a pony for my birthday. I’m going to go huff some lighter fluid and see if I can get a piece in the Post, too.

Meanwhile, take note of who Robert Malley is: the leader of a group of revisionists who are attempting to shift blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David negotiations onto Israel and America. His co-author was an adviser to Yasser Arafat. Most disturbingly, Malley is also a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama. See here, here, and here for more.

That, my friends, is what Robert Malley and Hussein Agha would like us to understand is the key to peace in the Middle East. In an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, they start with a somewhat reasonable premise:

Nervous about being left out, all three parties are laboring mightily to avert an understanding between the other two. . . . The end result is collective checkmate, a political standstill that hurts all and serves none.

But then the analysis gets buried in so much vague diplomatic twaddle that all of the realities of the conflict become helpfully obscured — which seems to be the point. “Fatah and Hamas will need to reach a new political arrangement, this time not one vigorously opposed by Israel.” Oh, that will be nice. So it was Israel that caused all of that unpleasantness in Gaza over the summer? “Hamas and Israel will need to achieve a cease-fire and prisoner exchange, albeit mediated by Abbas.” Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

“And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will need to negotiate a political deal with Abbas, who will have to receive a mandate to do so from Hamas.” Did you catch that? Hamas will grant its rival, Mahmoud Abbas, who Hamas views as a Zionist puppet, a “mandate” to negotiate a peace deal with the country whose annihilation is the premise of Hamas’ existence. There is not the slightest shred of evidence that Hamas would ever even think of doing this — but why should that stop Malley and Agha from predicting it on the Washington Post op-ed page?

They conclude this acid trip by saying:

The current mind-set, in which each side considers dealmaking by the other two to be a mortal threat, could be replaced by one in which all three couplings are viewed as mutually reinforcing. For that, the parties’ allies ought to cast aside their dysfunctional, destructive, ideologically driven policies. Instead, they should encourage a choreography that minimizes violence and promotes a serious diplomatic process.

Translation into plain English: Gosh, peacemaking would be so simple if everyone would just make peace already! And I want a pony for my birthday. I’m going to go huff some lighter fluid and see if I can get a piece in the Post, too.

Meanwhile, take note of who Robert Malley is: the leader of a group of revisionists who are attempting to shift blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David negotiations onto Israel and America. His co-author was an adviser to Yasser Arafat. Most disturbingly, Malley is also a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama. See here, here, and here for more.

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Europe, Iran, and Energy

On the heels of the NIE release in December, European energy giants are flocking back to Tehran to sign lucrative deals. On December 22, Italian energy company ENI was reported to be ready to sign an important gas deal with National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC), as its CEO, Nosratollah Seifi told the Farsi News Agency. Whatever the time frame of this deal, the signal is clear: CEO’s feel there is no war on the horizon and it is safe to invest in Iran. Nor is the road to EU sanctions open: many member states are against sanctions, fearful of losing important market shares to China and Russia, after it took European companies so many years and so much effort and capital to penetrate Iran’s markets.

Europeans make a reasonable case against sanctions, especially in the energy sector, citing the need for diversification of energy sources, calling engagement—both economic and political—a means to leverage on Tehran that Washington lacks, and claiming that a European withdrawal from Iran’s markets would only pave the way for Chinese, Russian and Indian competition to move in—with little impact on Iran’s economy. But the truth is that Europeans sell technology which few non-Western companies can currently match in quality and precision. Whether it’s building dams or tunnels, liquid natural gas (LNG) technology or fuel refinement, and with the Americans out of the game, European technology is hard to beat. This makes Iran vulnerable to European pressure.

Take gas, Iran’s biggest natural resource after oil. Though Iran sits on the largest single natural gas field in the world, most phases of production (both the ones that are operational and the ones being developed) rely on the know-how of European and other Western companies. With the partial exception of Phase 2 and 3—operated by TotalElfFina on behalf of the Russian Gazprom and the Malaysian Petronas—all other companies are either European or South Korean. If they were to withdraw, deny spare parts supply, stop importing extraction technology and refuse to build liquefaction facilities, Iran would be sitting on its gas forever, because it would take years before the Russians, the Chinese, and the Indians could replace European and other Western companies.

Europeans should look at Iran past their fantasies of a stable and powerful regime backed by a proud and patriotic nation: the Iranian state is 50 percent non-Persian, and the specter of revolt in the provinces is always around the corner. Pressure can be mounted to make this regime feel more vulnerable, knowing that, aside from being a powerful political signal, the withdrawal from Iran’s energy sector of Europe’s energy giants might have in the short terms momentous repercussions on Iran’s economy and the stability of its regime.

On the heels of the NIE release in December, European energy giants are flocking back to Tehran to sign lucrative deals. On December 22, Italian energy company ENI was reported to be ready to sign an important gas deal with National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC), as its CEO, Nosratollah Seifi told the Farsi News Agency. Whatever the time frame of this deal, the signal is clear: CEO’s feel there is no war on the horizon and it is safe to invest in Iran. Nor is the road to EU sanctions open: many member states are against sanctions, fearful of losing important market shares to China and Russia, after it took European companies so many years and so much effort and capital to penetrate Iran’s markets.

Europeans make a reasonable case against sanctions, especially in the energy sector, citing the need for diversification of energy sources, calling engagement—both economic and political—a means to leverage on Tehran that Washington lacks, and claiming that a European withdrawal from Iran’s markets would only pave the way for Chinese, Russian and Indian competition to move in—with little impact on Iran’s economy. But the truth is that Europeans sell technology which few non-Western companies can currently match in quality and precision. Whether it’s building dams or tunnels, liquid natural gas (LNG) technology or fuel refinement, and with the Americans out of the game, European technology is hard to beat. This makes Iran vulnerable to European pressure.

Take gas, Iran’s biggest natural resource after oil. Though Iran sits on the largest single natural gas field in the world, most phases of production (both the ones that are operational and the ones being developed) rely on the know-how of European and other Western companies. With the partial exception of Phase 2 and 3—operated by TotalElfFina on behalf of the Russian Gazprom and the Malaysian Petronas—all other companies are either European or South Korean. If they were to withdraw, deny spare parts supply, stop importing extraction technology and refuse to build liquefaction facilities, Iran would be sitting on its gas forever, because it would take years before the Russians, the Chinese, and the Indians could replace European and other Western companies.

Europeans should look at Iran past their fantasies of a stable and powerful regime backed by a proud and patriotic nation: the Iranian state is 50 percent non-Persian, and the specter of revolt in the provinces is always around the corner. Pressure can be mounted to make this regime feel more vulnerable, knowing that, aside from being a powerful political signal, the withdrawal from Iran’s energy sector of Europe’s energy giants might have in the short terms momentous repercussions on Iran’s economy and the stability of its regime.

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Ah, To Be a Jew Again…

The London Jewish Chronicle reports on the bizarre Jewish revival now taking place in Poland. You see, there used to be three million Jews there, but now there are only about 30,000, since all the rest were, um, murdered. So today, throughout the country, Jewish film festivals, Hasidic music, and a whole array of cultural events have been initiated, but mostly by non-Jews, for non-Jews. Polish supermarkets now sell Challah and kosher salt in communities that have no Jews. Why? “One Pole in 10 was Jewish before the war,” the Chronicle offers. “Like the phantom pain from a long-lost limb, some of the population may have experienced a longing for what has disappeared.”

Eew.

The London Jewish Chronicle reports on the bizarre Jewish revival now taking place in Poland. You see, there used to be three million Jews there, but now there are only about 30,000, since all the rest were, um, murdered. So today, throughout the country, Jewish film festivals, Hasidic music, and a whole array of cultural events have been initiated, but mostly by non-Jews, for non-Jews. Polish supermarkets now sell Challah and kosher salt in communities that have no Jews. Why? “One Pole in 10 was Jewish before the war,” the Chronicle offers. “Like the phantom pain from a long-lost limb, some of the population may have experienced a longing for what has disappeared.”

Eew.

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Singapore Plays with Fire

Scarcely had I sent off my posting about the risks Singapore runs with its Islamic and Malay neighbors by hosting guest workers from the People’s Republic of China than I spotted an even more worrying report.

A headline in my Chinese language morning paper, the World Journal, announced “Singapore and China Conclude Military Cooperation Agreement,” adding “Neighboring States View with Concern.” Singapore’s neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all have maritime territorial disputes with China, mostly concerning islands in the South China Sea. Last November China took another step toward claiming that entire body of water when she created a government administration for three island groups–the Sansha–none of which she legally controls. China’s latest plan to build three aircraft carriers and more nuclear attack submarines would fit well with the ambition to annex this territory. Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Hanoi, among others will be asking: Does Singapore now plan to host those ships?

Singapore’s leaders have a track record of botched attempts to cultivate economic and political relations with China while ignoring neighbors. On the economic side, an ambitious Singapore Industrial Park was inaugurated in Suzhou in 1994. The huge investment lost almost a hundred million dollars and the Singaporeans sold out at a loss. State-owned Raffle’s Holding bought Brown’s Hotel in London in 1997, truly a gilt-edged stock, only to sell in 2003, reportedly in order to acquire shopping centers in China. On January 8 of this year China’s government humiliatingly slapped down a bid by Singapore Airlines to take a stake in China Eastern Airlines.

Worse, politically, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien-loong, regularly echoes China’s assertions that her massive military buildup threatens no one, while failing to address the genuine danger. Last June, for example, speaking to a regional conference, Lee observed “that Washington and Tokyo are worried about China’s military build-up . . .But most Asian countries see China’s actions not as a threat to regional security, but as a specific response to the cross-straits situation”–a doubtful assessment to say the least.

Singapore’s tilt toward China is not going unnoticed, either in the island itself, or in the region (though it gets next to no coverage in the American press). It has already cost the island state financially. If it continues, it will undermine security and regional trust as well.

Scarcely had I sent off my posting about the risks Singapore runs with its Islamic and Malay neighbors by hosting guest workers from the People’s Republic of China than I spotted an even more worrying report.

A headline in my Chinese language morning paper, the World Journal, announced “Singapore and China Conclude Military Cooperation Agreement,” adding “Neighboring States View with Concern.” Singapore’s neighbors, including Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, all have maritime territorial disputes with China, mostly concerning islands in the South China Sea. Last November China took another step toward claiming that entire body of water when she created a government administration for three island groups–the Sansha–none of which she legally controls. China’s latest plan to build three aircraft carriers and more nuclear attack submarines would fit well with the ambition to annex this territory. Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Hanoi, among others will be asking: Does Singapore now plan to host those ships?

Singapore’s leaders have a track record of botched attempts to cultivate economic and political relations with China while ignoring neighbors. On the economic side, an ambitious Singapore Industrial Park was inaugurated in Suzhou in 1994. The huge investment lost almost a hundred million dollars and the Singaporeans sold out at a loss. State-owned Raffle’s Holding bought Brown’s Hotel in London in 1997, truly a gilt-edged stock, only to sell in 2003, reportedly in order to acquire shopping centers in China. On January 8 of this year China’s government humiliatingly slapped down a bid by Singapore Airlines to take a stake in China Eastern Airlines.

Worse, politically, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien-loong, regularly echoes China’s assertions that her massive military buildup threatens no one, while failing to address the genuine danger. Last June, for example, speaking to a regional conference, Lee observed “that Washington and Tokyo are worried about China’s military build-up . . .But most Asian countries see China’s actions not as a threat to regional security, but as a specific response to the cross-straits situation”–a doubtful assessment to say the least.

Singapore’s tilt toward China is not going unnoticed, either in the island itself, or in the region (though it gets next to no coverage in the American press). It has already cost the island state financially. If it continues, it will undermine security and regional trust as well.

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Abraham Barack Fitzgerald Reagan

A new video offers a glimpse of Barack Obama’s humility. “I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure,” he begins. And then goes on to compare himself and this election to Ronald Reagan and the nineteen-eighty election.

I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that, for example, the nineteen-eighty election was different. I mean, I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.

Just Ronald Reagan? Believe in yourself a little, Barack. Go for it. Obama goes on:“I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So, I think a lot of it just has to do with the times. I think we’re in one of those times right now. . .”

Now we’re talkin’. He does Reagan; he does JFK. Oh, and he does Lincoln, too. Maybe the country’s ready for a new Rich Little. Andrew Sullivan, one of the chief ginners-up of the Obama “moment,” sure thinks so. He writes,

The overwhelming first impression that you get – from the exhausted but vibrant stump speech, the diverse nature of the crowd, the swell of the various applause lines – is that this is the candidate for real change. He has what Reagan had in 1980 and Clinton had in 1992: the wind at his back.

Wind, indeed!

A new video offers a glimpse of Barack Obama’s humility. “I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure,” he begins. And then goes on to compare himself and this election to Ronald Reagan and the nineteen-eighty election.

I think part of what’s different are the times. I do think that, for example, the nineteen-eighty election was different. I mean, I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.

Just Ronald Reagan? Believe in yourself a little, Barack. Go for it. Obama goes on:“I think Kennedy, 20 years earlier, moved the country in a fundamentally different direction. So, I think a lot of it just has to do with the times. I think we’re in one of those times right now. . .”

Now we’re talkin’. He does Reagan; he does JFK. Oh, and he does Lincoln, too. Maybe the country’s ready for a new Rich Little. Andrew Sullivan, one of the chief ginners-up of the Obama “moment,” sure thinks so. He writes,

The overwhelming first impression that you get – from the exhausted but vibrant stump speech, the diverse nature of the crowd, the swell of the various applause lines – is that this is the candidate for real change. He has what Reagan had in 1980 and Clinton had in 1992: the wind at his back.

Wind, indeed!

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Obama and Reagan?

Ben Smith of The Politico writes

[Barack] Obama, in his interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal’s editorial board, made the case that his movement is as much about a national moment as about him as a “singular” individual, and he drew a rather odd analogy for a Democrat: Ronald Reagan. “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and a way that Bill Clinton did not,” he said, describing Reagan as appealing to a sentiment that, “We want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

On this point Obama is quite right. President Reagan was a transformational figure in several ways. The first is that he injected a new economic theory into American life, supply side economics, and cut the top tax rates from 70 percent to 28 percent. This was a profound shift for the “green eye shade” party that once focused its full attention on the deficit; cutting taxes was a far more distant priority. Ronald Reagan attempted to limit the size of government–but his greatest legislative success was in cutting tax rates and changing how his party, and much of the country, viewed taxes.

Second, Reagan was a sharp critic of Nixon and Kissinger’s détente policy and utterly rejected the Spenglerian pessimism that believed that the key to American statecraft was to manage our decline. Reagan believed the U.S. could go beyond containment and prevail against the Soviet Union–a view that was met with utter condescension within the foreign policy establishment and those in the “realist” camp.

In addition, Reagan made morality a centerpiece of American foreign policy and used explicitly moral language when talking about it (for example, calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire”). He was a relentless advocate for spreading democracy throughout the world. And President Reagan established the GOP as a pro-life party in a way that it never had been before.

Those achievements were significant and lasting; Reagan’s influence on the GOP is hard to overstate. He is to Republicans what FDR has been to Democrats.

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Ben Smith of The Politico writes

[Barack] Obama, in his interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal’s editorial board, made the case that his movement is as much about a national moment as about him as a “singular” individual, and he drew a rather odd analogy for a Democrat: Ronald Reagan. “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, and a way that Bill Clinton did not,” he said, describing Reagan as appealing to a sentiment that, “We want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.”

On this point Obama is quite right. President Reagan was a transformational figure in several ways. The first is that he injected a new economic theory into American life, supply side economics, and cut the top tax rates from 70 percent to 28 percent. This was a profound shift for the “green eye shade” party that once focused its full attention on the deficit; cutting taxes was a far more distant priority. Ronald Reagan attempted to limit the size of government–but his greatest legislative success was in cutting tax rates and changing how his party, and much of the country, viewed taxes.

Second, Reagan was a sharp critic of Nixon and Kissinger’s détente policy and utterly rejected the Spenglerian pessimism that believed that the key to American statecraft was to manage our decline. Reagan believed the U.S. could go beyond containment and prevail against the Soviet Union–a view that was met with utter condescension within the foreign policy establishment and those in the “realist” camp.

In addition, Reagan made morality a centerpiece of American foreign policy and used explicitly moral language when talking about it (for example, calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire”). He was a relentless advocate for spreading democracy throughout the world. And President Reagan established the GOP as a pro-life party in a way that it never had been before.

Those achievements were significant and lasting; Reagan’s influence on the GOP is hard to overstate. He is to Republicans what FDR has been to Democrats.

Bill Clinton also attempted to change his party–but met with mixed success. As President he made it pro-free trade. He fulfilled his commitment to “end welfare as we know it.” And he was in the tradition of liberal internationalists. During the 1992 campaign, for example, he was hawkish on China, criticizing President George H.W. Bush for kowtowing to the “Butchers of Beijing.” During his presidency the United States used military force in Iraq. And President Clinton, in concert with NATO, began a massive bombing campaign against the Serbian government to end its “ethnic cleansing” of

Albanians in the Kosovo region.

The Democratic Party post-Bill Clinton has retreated on free trade and is much more skeptical about the use of military force. And while Democrats are not calling for a return to the welfare policies of the past–how could they, after all, since it ranks among the most significant social achievements of the last half-century?–the theme of individual responsibility has largely vanished from their political lexicon. The real energy in the Democratic Party today comes from the kind of fringe groups that Bill Clinton attempted to marginalize during his presidential campaign.

The Democratic Party today is almost pre-Bill Clinton, at least intellectually; his presidency was sui generis and, as Obama said, he did very little to change the trajectory of America.

Senator Obama’s words are not only true, they are a reminder of what an intriguing political figure he is. In the midst of an intense Democratic primary battle, he had good words to say about President Reagan, a very popular figure with most Americans, while he succeeded in linking (and properly so) Nixon and Clinton in terms of their impact on our country.

But Obama’s words also reflect on him. So far his campaign is largely about capturing a mood rather than about advocating a set of ideas–and at the end of the day, changing the trajectory of America depends on ideas and policies, not sentiment. Reagan was an optimistic person–but that is not his lasting achievement. And if Reagan’s policies had failed rather than succeeded, his optimism would have looked badly misplaced and would now be used against him. Barack Obama, who so far has shown himself to be an utterly orthodox liberal (as has Hillary Clinton), now has to take the next step and show that he is bold and creative in the realm of ideas and policies, which was a hallmark of Reagan. So far Obama hasn’t–and that has been the glaring weakness in his otherwise impressive campaign.

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Three States for Two Peoples?

The Jerusalem Post has reported that the Palestinian Authority is planning on creating a new Parliament, one which would govern the West Bank and presumably be dominated by PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, as opposed to the Hamas-dominated parliament now ruling over Gaza. This would be a huge step towards the formal separation of the two territories into two different regimes, which they have already become de facto.

Why does it feel like the media and Western leaders live in an alternate universe? President Bush just visited Israel, and Olmert and Abbas both declared the beginning of final-status talks and negotiation over “core” issues. But who are the Israelis negotiating with? To much fanfare, Israel has now undertaken to engage in a protracted negotiation, make “painful concessions,” such as dividing Jerusalem and relocating hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, all with the aim of signing a final, long-awaited full-fledged peace agreement–with half the Palestinians. The other half declare jihad, arm themselves, lob missiles into Israeli cities, and proudly make themselves into an extension of Iranian power and hostility in the region. What an ingenious way to make simultaneous peace and war: Split into two different states.

The Jerusalem Post has reported that the Palestinian Authority is planning on creating a new Parliament, one which would govern the West Bank and presumably be dominated by PA chief Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, as opposed to the Hamas-dominated parliament now ruling over Gaza. This would be a huge step towards the formal separation of the two territories into two different regimes, which they have already become de facto.

Why does it feel like the media and Western leaders live in an alternate universe? President Bush just visited Israel, and Olmert and Abbas both declared the beginning of final-status talks and negotiation over “core” issues. But who are the Israelis negotiating with? To much fanfare, Israel has now undertaken to engage in a protracted negotiation, make “painful concessions,” such as dividing Jerusalem and relocating hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes, all with the aim of signing a final, long-awaited full-fledged peace agreement–with half the Palestinians. The other half declare jihad, arm themselves, lob missiles into Israeli cities, and proudly make themselves into an extension of Iranian power and hostility in the region. What an ingenious way to make simultaneous peace and war: Split into two different states.

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Re: Bill Kristol Is Worse Than a Poisonous Mushroom

Over at Connecting the Dots, Gabriel Schoenfeld notes the peculiar journalistic standards of the New York Times‘s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, who gets the vapors at the thought of Bill Kristol being an NYT columnist, but had no problem with–and even defended as an example of high journalistic integrity–the publication of an op-ed last summer by a Hamas spokesman.

Hoyt believes that it is a matter of pride for the Times to run op-eds by terrorists, because “Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself.” Let’s look at that op-ed, and attempt to discern the “controversial ideas” that the Times helped bring into the public debate. Under the title, “What Hamas Wants,” Ahmed Yousef wrote:

We want to get children back to school, get basic services functioning again, and provide long-term economic gains for our people.

Our stated aim when we won the election was to effect reform, end corruption and bring economic prosperity to our people. Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance. We now hope to create a climate of peace and tranquillity within our community that will pave the way for an end to internal strife…

It goes without saying that these words were lies, articulated in perfect pitch to a western ear that desperately wishes to believe that Palestinian terrorism might actually be intended to accomplish noble ends.

What the Times accomplished was nothing so great as the airing of “controversial” views–it would have done that if it had published an honest defense of Islamic imperialism and terrorism from a Hamas spokesman. Instead it advertised to the world its own astonishing gullibility in believing that a piece of obvious propaganda from Hamas was actually a forthright attempt by its spokesman at explaining the group to the world. It’s not so much that people like Hoyt are hypocrites: being a hypocrite requires a level of shrewdness that I’m not sure was ever on display in this case. Instead I apply Occam’s Razor: Hoyt objects to Kristol but celebrates Yousef because he fervently wishes to believe that behind all of its savagery, Hamas’ goals are perfectly understandable–they want “Palestinian rights and good governance.” Who could have a problem with that? In this case, I think, naivety and gullibility are a lot worse than a little hypocrisy.

Over at Connecting the Dots, Gabriel Schoenfeld notes the peculiar journalistic standards of the New York Times‘s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, who gets the vapors at the thought of Bill Kristol being an NYT columnist, but had no problem with–and even defended as an example of high journalistic integrity–the publication of an op-ed last summer by a Hamas spokesman.

Hoyt believes that it is a matter of pride for the Times to run op-eds by terrorists, because “Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself.” Let’s look at that op-ed, and attempt to discern the “controversial ideas” that the Times helped bring into the public debate. Under the title, “What Hamas Wants,” Ahmed Yousef wrote:

We want to get children back to school, get basic services functioning again, and provide long-term economic gains for our people.

Our stated aim when we won the election was to effect reform, end corruption and bring economic prosperity to our people. Our sole focus is Palestinian rights and good governance. We now hope to create a climate of peace and tranquillity within our community that will pave the way for an end to internal strife…

It goes without saying that these words were lies, articulated in perfect pitch to a western ear that desperately wishes to believe that Palestinian terrorism might actually be intended to accomplish noble ends.

What the Times accomplished was nothing so great as the airing of “controversial” views–it would have done that if it had published an honest defense of Islamic imperialism and terrorism from a Hamas spokesman. Instead it advertised to the world its own astonishing gullibility in believing that a piece of obvious propaganda from Hamas was actually a forthright attempt by its spokesman at explaining the group to the world. It’s not so much that people like Hoyt are hypocrites: being a hypocrite requires a level of shrewdness that I’m not sure was ever on display in this case. Instead I apply Occam’s Razor: Hoyt objects to Kristol but celebrates Yousef because he fervently wishes to believe that behind all of its savagery, Hamas’ goals are perfectly understandable–they want “Palestinian rights and good governance.” Who could have a problem with that? In this case, I think, naivety and gullibility are a lot worse than a little hypocrisy.

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Is the New York Times Being Wiretapped?

The New York Times has been howling about “warrantless wiretapping” conducted in the United States by the National Security Agency and directed against al-Qaeda operatives who might be wandering around our country carrying carrying knitting needles or other household implements that are still allowed on planes. 

But even as the newspaper worries about the privacy rights of suspected terrorists, why has it not said a word about the possibility that it itself is a target of warrantless surveillance, and not by the U.S. government but by far less friendly forces? Is the newspaper unaware of the problem, or does it find it inconvenient to acknowledge it, or does it simply have its head in the sand?

Without subjecting Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. to enhanced interrogation methods, we cannot say. But Jennifer Dyer, formerly a Commander in U.S. Naval Intelligence, offers her analysis of the issue in another Connecting the Dots exclusive. Her short answer is yes, such eavesdropping is probably happening. Her long answer is right here:

Russia, in particular, has an extensive history of using its diplomatic and civilian facilities abroad as bases for intelligence collection — and for collecting against civilian targets as well as government agencies. But Russia is not the only suspect; and technological advances have changed the collection targets and methods somewhat, since the public last had occasion to think very hard about this topic.

The dimensions of the problem are key factors. A Department of Defense publication from 1989 [p. 16] provides a useful overview of former-Soviet attempts and capabilities to monitor foreign communications abroad, pointing out, notably, the suitability of the Soviet consular compound in New York City for intercepting several types of voice communications in most of Manhattan. Although phone communications were overwhelmingly transmitted via landline at that time, the DOD security study observed that in more than half of all phone connections, calls were switched randomly over interim links to optimize circuit loading [p. 159], and that it was impossible to ensure that every potential connection path was secure against monitoring.

This warning was cutting-edge in the 1980′s, when physical tapping, of the phone lines associated with specific individuals or organizations, was still what the average person thought of in this regard. If there were no men in trench coats crouched in leased office spaces next door, could we not assume we were tap-free?

Foreign intelligence agencies, however, study our civil-communications infrastructure far more closely than we do, and for the specific purpose of identifying vulnerabilities. It has been quite some time since the surveillance of a phone call had to be undertaken next door, or even near a switching room in a phone company building. In the wireless microwave age, with routine satellite connections and high-data-rate transmission, 90 percent of the surveillance approach need not even involve collectors physically on the same continent. Soviet collectors in the 1980′s might seek to exploit phone junction facilities; in the 199’0s their Russian successors in New York posted vans near microwave towers. Actual exploitation of the data collected might occur within 24 hours, as linguists labored over replayed recordings.

Today, it is fairly simple not only to monitor microwave relay facilities, but to simply monitor cell-phone chatter through the airwaves. In fact, any phone call may be connected in a variety of ways, regardless of how it was placed by the originator; calling from a fixed, landline phone might once have increased the difficulty of intercept, but today it serves rather to make the originator easier to identify, as links in the transmission path are exploited. Moreover, it takes very little in the way of interception and transmission equipment to instantaneously relay anything collected to the other side of the world, where linguists — whose presence at a consulate, in a big bunker, might seem odd — can quickly interpret and report, unremarked, at home.

Such electronic surveillance produces some of the cheapest and highest-payoff intelligence there is, and we may apply a good rule of thumb from the intelligence world here: if it can be done, someone is trying to do it. It is reasonable to assume that Russia, as she has in the past, performs such monitoring from her consulate on Central Park East, and that Russian surveillance can intercept much of Manhattan via the airwaves, from its roof. Knowing the recent history of Russian attempts to exploit communications relay points with mobile collection, we may equally assume that that is an ongoing effort.

Russia, again, is not our only suspect. While there is less direct evidence available to the public on Chinese efforts at electronic surveillance, we know that espionage against the U.S. is a very high priority for China, and the rule of thumb suggests Beijing will try this method, as well as the human contact espionage China is best known for. China’s New York consulate on East 61 Street provides a useful vantage point for electronic collection. However, a nation need not have a diplomatic facility in New York to have a collection base there. The Iranian Alavi Foundation, a putative charitable foundation that has fallen under suspicion by U.S. federal agencies as a base for espionage and the support of terror cells, owns the 32-story building it occupies at 52nd and Fifth — a position with advantages for electronic collection in Manhattan.

Physical intercept of signals is, of course, only a primitive method of electronic surveillance in today’s technological environment. Because it remains cheap and high-payoff, it will continue for some time. But recent successes in information technology (IT) based espionage highlight the real feasibility of obtaining large amounts of intelligence by intercepting communications digitally. As phone and personal computer capabilities merge, it will be increasingly irrelevant to separate attacks against one from attacks against the other.

Probably the most celebrated monitoring attack to date against a phone network was the “Athens Affair” in 2004-05, when still-unidentified cyber-attackers hacked into switching computers in Greece’s Vodafone network and monitored more than 100 phones used by government officials and private civilians. (A full technical explanation of the hackers’ approach can be found here.)

Although these attackers have not been identified, China was directly implicated in the hacking of German government computers in 2007, when German authorities discovered that data was being “siphoned off” daily from computers in the German Chancellery and other government agencies, by hackers in Lanzhou, Canton Province, and Beijing. The years 2006-07 were busy ones for China’s hackers, who were fingered in network intrusions in the British government  and the U. S. Departments of Defense and Commerce. Russia demonstrated some network intrusion prowess of her own in a broad scale cyber attack on Estonia’s government, public facilities, and private organizations – including news media computers — in April-May of 2007.

While only one of these data network intrusions (the Chinese attack on German systems) was characterized by officials as an attempt at extended monitoring, per se, they underscore the easy availability of the technology to manipulate computer networks, and the aptitude of, at a minimum, China and Russia for exploiting it. The applicability of such capabilities to monitoring the journalists at the New York Times is reinforced by the success of eccentric American hacker Adrian Lamo in penetrating the New York Times computer network in 2004. Lamo confessed that while online with the New York Times network, he was able to view not only employment and other personal records of the New York Times staff, but was able to obtain the private phone numbers of journalists and contributors, such as former President Jimmy Carter.

Of course, if the intelligence collector is China, “Trojan” hardware sold to IT providers may be the placement method. The U.S. government decided not to even install 16,000 computers manufactured by the Chinese firm Lenovo, in the wake of Chinese intrusions on U.S. government networks in 2006. Russia’s history of introducing Trojan hardware into U.S. embassies and consulates was certainly a historical factor in this security decision [p. 17]. However, private news organizations do not routinely consider the possibility that IT hardware — phones or computers — that they purchase from commercial vendors may contain manufacturer-embedded code or devices for long-term exploitation.

If it can be done, someone is trying to do it.

The New York Times has been howling about “warrantless wiretapping” conducted in the United States by the National Security Agency and directed against al-Qaeda operatives who might be wandering around our country carrying carrying knitting needles or other household implements that are still allowed on planes. 

But even as the newspaper worries about the privacy rights of suspected terrorists, why has it not said a word about the possibility that it itself is a target of warrantless surveillance, and not by the U.S. government but by far less friendly forces? Is the newspaper unaware of the problem, or does it find it inconvenient to acknowledge it, or does it simply have its head in the sand?

Without subjecting Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. to enhanced interrogation methods, we cannot say. But Jennifer Dyer, formerly a Commander in U.S. Naval Intelligence, offers her analysis of the issue in another Connecting the Dots exclusive. Her short answer is yes, such eavesdropping is probably happening. Her long answer is right here:

Russia, in particular, has an extensive history of using its diplomatic and civilian facilities abroad as bases for intelligence collection — and for collecting against civilian targets as well as government agencies. But Russia is not the only suspect; and technological advances have changed the collection targets and methods somewhat, since the public last had occasion to think very hard about this topic.

The dimensions of the problem are key factors. A Department of Defense publication from 1989 [p. 16] provides a useful overview of former-Soviet attempts and capabilities to monitor foreign communications abroad, pointing out, notably, the suitability of the Soviet consular compound in New York City for intercepting several types of voice communications in most of Manhattan. Although phone communications were overwhelmingly transmitted via landline at that time, the DOD security study observed that in more than half of all phone connections, calls were switched randomly over interim links to optimize circuit loading [p. 159], and that it was impossible to ensure that every potential connection path was secure against monitoring.

This warning was cutting-edge in the 1980′s, when physical tapping, of the phone lines associated with specific individuals or organizations, was still what the average person thought of in this regard. If there were no men in trench coats crouched in leased office spaces next door, could we not assume we were tap-free?

Foreign intelligence agencies, however, study our civil-communications infrastructure far more closely than we do, and for the specific purpose of identifying vulnerabilities. It has been quite some time since the surveillance of a phone call had to be undertaken next door, or even near a switching room in a phone company building. In the wireless microwave age, with routine satellite connections and high-data-rate transmission, 90 percent of the surveillance approach need not even involve collectors physically on the same continent. Soviet collectors in the 1980′s might seek to exploit phone junction facilities; in the 199’0s their Russian successors in New York posted vans near microwave towers. Actual exploitation of the data collected might occur within 24 hours, as linguists labored over replayed recordings.

Today, it is fairly simple not only to monitor microwave relay facilities, but to simply monitor cell-phone chatter through the airwaves. In fact, any phone call may be connected in a variety of ways, regardless of how it was placed by the originator; calling from a fixed, landline phone might once have increased the difficulty of intercept, but today it serves rather to make the originator easier to identify, as links in the transmission path are exploited. Moreover, it takes very little in the way of interception and transmission equipment to instantaneously relay anything collected to the other side of the world, where linguists — whose presence at a consulate, in a big bunker, might seem odd — can quickly interpret and report, unremarked, at home.

Such electronic surveillance produces some of the cheapest and highest-payoff intelligence there is, and we may apply a good rule of thumb from the intelligence world here: if it can be done, someone is trying to do it. It is reasonable to assume that Russia, as she has in the past, performs such monitoring from her consulate on Central Park East, and that Russian surveillance can intercept much of Manhattan via the airwaves, from its roof. Knowing the recent history of Russian attempts to exploit communications relay points with mobile collection, we may equally assume that that is an ongoing effort.

Russia, again, is not our only suspect. While there is less direct evidence available to the public on Chinese efforts at electronic surveillance, we know that espionage against the U.S. is a very high priority for China, and the rule of thumb suggests Beijing will try this method, as well as the human contact espionage China is best known for. China’s New York consulate on East 61 Street provides a useful vantage point for electronic collection. However, a nation need not have a diplomatic facility in New York to have a collection base there. The Iranian Alavi Foundation, a putative charitable foundation that has fallen under suspicion by U.S. federal agencies as a base for espionage and the support of terror cells, owns the 32-story building it occupies at 52nd and Fifth — a position with advantages for electronic collection in Manhattan.

Physical intercept of signals is, of course, only a primitive method of electronic surveillance in today’s technological environment. Because it remains cheap and high-payoff, it will continue for some time. But recent successes in information technology (IT) based espionage highlight the real feasibility of obtaining large amounts of intelligence by intercepting communications digitally. As phone and personal computer capabilities merge, it will be increasingly irrelevant to separate attacks against one from attacks against the other.

Probably the most celebrated monitoring attack to date against a phone network was the “Athens Affair” in 2004-05, when still-unidentified cyber-attackers hacked into switching computers in Greece’s Vodafone network and monitored more than 100 phones used by government officials and private civilians. (A full technical explanation of the hackers’ approach can be found here.)

Although these attackers have not been identified, China was directly implicated in the hacking of German government computers in 2007, when German authorities discovered that data was being “siphoned off” daily from computers in the German Chancellery and other government agencies, by hackers in Lanzhou, Canton Province, and Beijing. The years 2006-07 were busy ones for China’s hackers, who were fingered in network intrusions in the British government  and the U. S. Departments of Defense and Commerce. Russia demonstrated some network intrusion prowess of her own in a broad scale cyber attack on Estonia’s government, public facilities, and private organizations – including news media computers — in April-May of 2007.

While only one of these data network intrusions (the Chinese attack on German systems) was characterized by officials as an attempt at extended monitoring, per se, they underscore the easy availability of the technology to manipulate computer networks, and the aptitude of, at a minimum, China and Russia for exploiting it. The applicability of such capabilities to monitoring the journalists at the New York Times is reinforced by the success of eccentric American hacker Adrian Lamo in penetrating the New York Times computer network in 2004. Lamo confessed that while online with the New York Times network, he was able to view not only employment and other personal records of the New York Times staff, but was able to obtain the private phone numbers of journalists and contributors, such as former President Jimmy Carter.

Of course, if the intelligence collector is China, “Trojan” hardware sold to IT providers may be the placement method. The U.S. government decided not to even install 16,000 computers manufactured by the Chinese firm Lenovo, in the wake of Chinese intrusions on U.S. government networks in 2006. Russia’s history of introducing Trojan hardware into U.S. embassies and consulates was certainly a historical factor in this security decision [p. 17]. However, private news organizations do not routinely consider the possibility that IT hardware — phones or computers — that they purchase from commercial vendors may contain manufacturer-embedded code or devices for long-term exploitation.

If it can be done, someone is trying to do it.

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