Commentary Magazine


Topic: Central Intelligence Agency

Who Had the Dirt on Petraeus?

In a Friday afternoon bombshell, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned, citing an extramarital affair. Petraeus has been under fire recently for the CIA’s response to the Benghazi attack. The Cable’s Josh Rogin posted the letter of resignation:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.

Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,

David H. Petraeus

This is completely out of nowhere. Just last week, the New York Times published a fawning profile of Petraeus (which the administration cooperated with), clearly an attempt to boost his image as the Benghazi criticism heated up. Here is the final paragraph:

Mr. Petraeus’s future has inevitably been the subject of rumors: that he would be Mitt Romney’s running mate, or, more plausibly, that he was interested in the presidency of Princeton. In a statement in late September, he did not rule that out for the future, but said that for the time being he was “living the dream here at C.I.A.” That was before the recriminations this week over Benghazi.

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In a Friday afternoon bombshell, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned, citing an extramarital affair. Petraeus has been under fire recently for the CIA’s response to the Benghazi attack. The Cable’s Josh Rogin posted the letter of resignation:

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the President to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA.  After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.

As I depart Langley, I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our Nation’s Silent Service, a work force that is truly exceptional in every regard. Indeed, you did extraordinary work on a host of critical missions during my time as director, and I am deeply grateful to you for that.

Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing. I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.

Thank you for your extraordinary service to our country, and best wishes for continued success in the important endeavors that lie ahead for our country and our Agency.

With admiration and appreciation,

David H. Petraeus

This is completely out of nowhere. Just last week, the New York Times published a fawning profile of Petraeus (which the administration cooperated with), clearly an attempt to boost his image as the Benghazi criticism heated up. Here is the final paragraph:

Mr. Petraeus’s future has inevitably been the subject of rumors: that he would be Mitt Romney’s running mate, or, more plausibly, that he was interested in the presidency of Princeton. In a statement in late September, he did not rule that out for the future, but said that for the time being he was “living the dream here at C.I.A.” That was before the recriminations this week over Benghazi.

The recriminations over Benghazi notably include charges that Petraeus misled lawmakers during a closed congressional hearing in September. Petraeus was scheduled to testify at another closed hearing before the House Intelligence Committee next week. He sure isn’t scheduled anymore. Did the timing of his resignation have anything to do with that?

One last question. Typically when an official resigns because of an affair, it’s because the information has already been made public or is about to be made public. So who had the dirt on Petraeus?

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U.S. Intel Undermined by Iraq, Obama

Much of Sunday’s New York Times story by James Risen suggests that U.S. intelligence analysts are overcompensating for their past failures on Iraqi WMDs by minimizing the risk of Iranian WMDs in the future. The upshot is that the Israelis might be right to distrust President Obama’s “we can wait until the very last minute” reassurances on Iranian weaponization, as politicized and skittish U.S. intelligence evaluations might miss that signal.

But Iraq isn’t the only ghost the article finds wandering around the hallways. The phrase you’re looking for is “top-down pressure,” which appears right below a paragraph about how the Obama administration is committed to studious denial of Iranian intentions:

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Much of Sunday’s New York Times story by James Risen suggests that U.S. intelligence analysts are overcompensating for their past failures on Iraqi WMDs by minimizing the risk of Iranian WMDs in the future. The upshot is that the Israelis might be right to distrust President Obama’s “we can wait until the very last minute” reassurances on Iranian weaponization, as politicized and skittish U.S. intelligence evaluations might miss that signal.

But Iraq isn’t the only ghost the article finds wandering around the hallways. The phrase you’re looking for is “top-down pressure,” which appears right below a paragraph about how the Obama administration is committed to studious denial of Iranian intentions:

But some conservatives who support more aggressive action to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon argue that the C.I.A.’s restraint has, in fact, been influenced by political pressure exerted by the Obama administration. President Obama has said he would use military force only as a last resort against Iran, and conservatives argue that the Obama administration does not want the intelligence community to produce any reports suggesting the Iranians are moving swiftly to build a bomb.

“The intelligence analysts I’ve dealt with have always been willing to engage in debates on their conclusions, but there is top-down pressure to make the assessments come out a certain way,” said John R. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former ambassador to the United Nations in the Bush administration.

Previous and subsequent paragraphs reference the notoriously politicized and eventually discredited 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – a quasi-putsch created to knock out President Bush’s knees lest he act on Iranian nuclearization – that certain intelligence sources have been shopping around to the media. The article further points out that the unpublished 2010 NIE concluded that Iran had restarted “some basic weapons-related research” but had not “restarted the actual weapons program.”

That’s the kind of semantic distinction-without-a-difference that makes people – described in the article as “some conservatives” – worry that U.S. intelligence agencies are trying a little too hard to avoid drawing obvious conclusions.

A more popular version of the same basic talking point is that “the Iranian leadership has not made a decision to build an atomic bomb,” a phrase that also makes an appearance in the article. This is not a good argument. Of course the mullahs haven’t made the decision to construct a bomb yet. They’re not there yet. When they have the components for a nuclear device, then it will make sense to talk about their decision to construct one. They’re not at a point where they can say “yay” or “nay,” so they still haven’t said “yay.” No kidding.

This reasoning is the equivalent of me pointing out how “I have not made a decision to spend my lottery millions on an island.” That’s technically true, but only in the trivial sense that – having not yet won the lottery – I haven’t gotten to the point where I can sensibly make a decision on whether I’m going to spend my winnings. Iran hasn’t made a decision to build a nuclear weapon in the same technically true but totally trivial sense. And yet public and private Iran analysts insist there’s some significance in the mullahs not having made a decision on something they’re still incapable of deciding upon.

It’s getting easier and easier to understand why the Israelis don’t take those arguments seriously, and why they’re nervous that some in the U.S. intelligence community seem to.

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Neoconservatives and Democracy: A 30-Year Story

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent. Read More

So it comes as a shock to many people, evidently, that “neoconservative” American intellectuals are consistent in holding the opinion that the national interest is best served by offering moral, logistical, and rhetorical support to those who seek “regime change” in dictatorial societies.

The plain fact of the matter is that this has been the “neoconservative” view for nearly three decades now — since the decision was made during the effort to save El Salvador from Soviet- and Cuban-aligned guerrilla forces to simultaneously push for elections there. That was a controversial choice then; people on the liberal left considered the El Salvador democratization policy mere window dressing for alignment with right-wing thugs, and realist conservatives considered it a display of ludicrous sentimentality.

The 1982 election in El Salvador was a turning point, however, a moment when the people of that country made it clear that they wanted a way out of the binary choice of a junta or a Castro-ite state. It had been Jeane Kirkpatrick’s argument in her great 1979 COMMENTARY article that, when there is a binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, it is not only prudent but moral to choose the former, in part because authoritarian societies can change and evolve.

But what if there are choices that go beyond the binary? That was, in effect, what the democratization strategy was all about. It complemented Kirkpatrick’s argument in one sense because it was predicated on the notion that authoritarian regimes could be pushed toward change. But it also superseded it, since it suggested that the citizens of these nations could and would play a vital role not only in creating the change but also in implementing it.

This was not a developed philosophy at the time; indeed, the El Salvador policy was conceived in response to events on the ground and the need to build domestic support for anti-Communist efforts in Latin America. But over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, with lessons learned along the way, the democratization strategy became something more coherent.

For example, in the case of the anti-Communist efforts in Nicaragua, the CIA preferred working with the Contras, for whom its agents had essentially bought and paid, no matter their political coloration; officials at the State Department, however, thought that it was a mistake to align the United States with elements of the previous thug regime and that the U.S. should be promoting liberal forces within the Contra movement.

But probably the key year for the maturation of these ideas was 1986. It was a general axiom on the right, including among neoconservatives, that efforts to impose an economic embargo on South Africa were dangerous and naive because, though the apartheid regime might be unjust, it could be pushed to reform, and the sanctions might lead to a Soviet-aligned takeover of a strategically important country. When Congress voted for such sanctions, Ronald Reagan vetoed them. His veto was overridden.

And those of us who thought the sanctions would be disastrous were proved utterly mistaken. They turned out to be an effective strategy for crippling the regime without toppling it and forcing its end in a manner more pacific than anyone expected. (Not that South Africa post-apartheid is a wonderful model, but it was a gravely wounded civil society, and its healing will take a long time.) Part of the reason that sanctions have been a part of the American diplomatic toolbox ever since, and always with neoconservative support, is that they proved successful in South Africa.

The other thing that happened was an election in the Philippines, whose authoritarian junta regime was closely allied with the United States. The clear theft of the election by Ferdinand Marcos’s forces created a massive groundswell in the streets. At first, the White House did what Barack Obama did with the revolt in Egypt — it tried to stay out of it. Then-Secretary of State George Shultz, together with the later-notorious Paul Wolfowitz, who ran the State Department’s East Asia bureau, convinced Ronald Reagan to change policy, support those who said the election had been stolen, and eventually, with great efficiency, convince Marcos it was time for him to go.

And on it went, with South Korea and Taiwan and Chile and many other nations whose authoritarian regimes peacefully gave way to more liberal ones in part because of the encouragement of the United States.

It’s not a perfect strategy, by any means. No strategy is, and no strategy is applicable in every circumstance. The danger that Egypt might not follow in the path of the Philippines but rather in the path of revolutionary Iran is very real. But as the year of Carter-administration fecklessness on Iran that preceded Khomeini’s takeover in 1979 proved, a policy of passivity is not a way out for a president who does not know what to do.

America can’t not choose sides in such a struggle. Not choosing sides is, in effect, to choose sides. So it’s better to have a policy that offers a direction congruent with our values, and with a proven track record, than one that offers nothing but confusion.

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Obama’s Moment to Redefine the Modern Middle East

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution. Read More

Somehow it’s hard to get too worked up about the formalized rituals of the State of the Union when real news is happening half a world away. In the Middle East, revolutions, for good and for ill, are breaking out, while back in Washington, President Obama is touting the latest clean-energy boondoggles. All he had to say about the ongoing, exciting events was one line: “the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of the people.” What about the people of Lebanon? Or of Egypt? Don’t they deserve support too? And don’t the Tunisians battling for democracy against the security forces of the old regime deserve more than a throwaway line near the end of an hour-long address?

It is quite possible, even likely, that recent upheavals will amount to little. Many people, myself included, got our hopes up in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution overthrew Syrian domination in Lebanon and the people of Iraq turned out in droves to vote. Those hopes were swiftly dashed; indeed, this week the representative of the Cedar Revolution, Saad Hariri, ignominiously lost the prime minister’s job as Hezbollah and its patrons in Syria and Iran flexed their muscles. But it is also possible — not likely but possible — that the toppling of the Tunisian regime could have a ripple effect in this sclerotic region. This could be the most important moment for American diplomacy since the toppling of the Berlin Wall.

Certainly there is little precedent for the mass outpouring of protest in Egypt against the Mubarak regime, which is just as decrepit as was the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. The stakes in Egypt, however, are much higher, given that it’s much bigger than Tunisia and has a much larger, active Muslim Brotherhood that could take advantage of chaos to seize power.

At a moment like this, it would be comforting to see in the Oval Office an old diplomatic hand like George H.W. Bush — and I say this as someone who was never a big fan of the elder Bush. I do think, however, that despite some missteps (google the Chicken Kiev speech if you’re under 40), he did a brilliant job of managing a volatile situation. I do not mean to slight the contributions of brave dissidents or even of Mikhail Gorbachev, but nevertheless, the creation of democracies across Eastern Europe is in substantial measure the legacy of Ronald Reagan and his predecessors going back to Truman, who confronted the “evil empire,” and of Bush the Elder, who skillfully managed its dissolution.

Unfortunately, instead of someone like Bush, who had served as an ambassador, CIA director, and vice president, we have in the Oval Office a president with no foreign-policy credentials. This president seems to think that the entire region revolves around the moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Already Obama missed a crucial opportunity in the summer of 2009 to encourage the Green Revolution in Iran. Let us hope that will be a learning experience. This time around, we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

For all his lack of experience, Obama is no newcomer to the job. He is a fast learner, and he has a gift for rhetoric the likes of which always eluded George H.W. Bush. This may very well be his moment: the moment for redefining the modern Middle East. He should seize it — if he’s not too distracted with the domestic priorities that as usual dominated the State of the Union.

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Reading The Longest War

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda. Read More

Normally, I like a hanging judge, and I am certainly a big fan of Michael Mukasey, the esteemed former federal judge and attorney general. He is one of the most reasonable, learned, and authoritative voices around on most matters relating to the law — and especially on the war on terror with which he has been closely connected ever since he sentenced the “blind sheikh” to life in prison in 1996. Yet I can’t help but conclude that his review of Peter Bergen’s The Longest War in the Wall Street Journal metes out a harsher verdict than the book deserves.

Having read the book myself — and having interviewed Bergen about it for an upcoming episode of C-SPAN’s Afterwords — I agree with many of Mukasey’s specific criticisms. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he makes withering criticisms of Guantanamo and the use of “enhanced” interrogation techniques on the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. I, too, disagree with Bergen when he criticizes “renditions” of terrorists and when he claims (in words not quoted by Mukasey) that “by any rational standard” Saddam Hussein’s Iraq “did not pose a real threat to the United States.” The last is a particularly puzzling statement considering that Saddam Hussein had invaded his neighbors twice, schemed to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and had already sparked one war with the United States and numerous lesser military actions.

But by focusing on these dubious assertions, Mukasey gives the impression that Bergen’s book is an anti-Bush screed along the lines of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side. It isn’t. It’s actually a fairly balanced account of the past decade’s fight against al-Qaeda.

In the first place, many of the criticisms Bergen offers are on the money — for instance, about the failure of the Bush administration to send more troops to trap Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and about the failure to prepare for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. Both assertions should, by now, be fairly uncontroversial even in conservative circles. For that matter, I think Bergen is convincing in arguing that no tangible links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda have been uncovered and that mainstream Islam has rejected al-Qaeda — both assertions that Mukasey questions.

In the second place, Bergen also offers praise for Bush that Mukasey doesn’t quote. He writes, for example, “There is little doubt that some of the measures the Bush administration and Congress took after 9/11 made Americans safer.” Among the positives he cites are the Patriot Act and other enhanced security measures.

Bergen also endorses Bush’s decision to  attack al-Qaeda with the full weight of the U.S. military — not just with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. This led the Economist to criticize Bergen’s book for dismissing “the view of some Europeans that al-Qaeda is essentially a law and order problem—more or less arguing, with odd logic, that since it declared war on America, then America must be at war.”

Unlike Michael Scheuer, the eccentric former CIA analyst whose new book about Osama bin Laden is also reviewed by Mukasey, Bergen does not think that Bush fell into a trap by sending troops into Afghanistan. Although bin Laden has talked about how he was luring America into a guerrilla war, Bergen concludes that this is largely an ex post facto justification and that the invasion of Afghanistan actually did significant damage to al-Qaeda. Moreover, unlike many of those who backed the initial decision to intervene, he strongly supports the current war effort in Afghanistan. Indeed Bergen and I teamed up at an Intelligence Squared US debate not long ago to argue that Afghanistan isn’t a lost cause.

In short, I think Mukasey is being harder on Bergen than the facts of the case warrant. But judge for yourself — read the book and watch my interview with Bergen in which I press him on some of the very points that Mukasey raises.

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New Evidence in Daniel Pearl Murder May Be Useless in a Trial

A new report released by the Pearl Project, based on the group’s three-and-a-half-year investigation into the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, alleges that Pakistani authorities used perjured testimony and made other legal errors during the murder trial.

It also claims to have found new forensic evidence that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed committed the actual beheading of Pearl:

Mr. Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, in January 2002, and a videotape of his murder was delivered to U.S. officials in Pakistan in February 2002.

FBI agents and CIA officials used a technique called “vein-matching” to compare the killer’s hands, as seen in the video, with a photograph of Mr. Mohammed’s hands.

But a legal expert with personal knowledge of the case tells me that there are several reasons why this discovery probably won’t add any legal weight to the U.S.’s prosecution of KSM.

One reason is that the vein-matching technology the group cited may not be admissible in court. “While it may have some merit in an academic study, it’s not a technology that has been subject to court scrutiny under the rules of evidence dealing with expert testimony. So I would doubt seriously whether it would be admissible in a U.S. court,” Charles “Cully” Stimson, a Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me.

Another reason is because there’s already a staggering amount of evidence that KSM committed the murder — so the Pearl Project’s linkage is a bit superfluous.

“It’s not a whodunit. And it hasn’t been a whodunit for some time,” said Stimson, who formerly served as an adviser to the Secretary of Defense on detainee issues.

In addition to the evidence that’s already been publicized — such as KSM’s confession — Stimson says that “there’s other evidence that will come to life that has been in the government for some time now that will further link him to that gruesome murder.”

“For those of us who have been involved in detaining operations with these high-value detainees, we’ve known for a long time that KSM was the throat-cutter.”

But that, of course, does not diminish the great work the Pearl Project has done in publicizing this case. After all, it’s certainly preferable to have too much evidence against vile killers like KSM rather than too little.

The Pearl Project’s full report can be found here.

A new report released by the Pearl Project, based on the group’s three-and-a-half-year investigation into the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, alleges that Pakistani authorities used perjured testimony and made other legal errors during the murder trial.

It also claims to have found new forensic evidence that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed committed the actual beheading of Pearl:

Mr. Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, in January 2002, and a videotape of his murder was delivered to U.S. officials in Pakistan in February 2002.

FBI agents and CIA officials used a technique called “vein-matching” to compare the killer’s hands, as seen in the video, with a photograph of Mr. Mohammed’s hands.

But a legal expert with personal knowledge of the case tells me that there are several reasons why this discovery probably won’t add any legal weight to the U.S.’s prosecution of KSM.

One reason is that the vein-matching technology the group cited may not be admissible in court. “While it may have some merit in an academic study, it’s not a technology that has been subject to court scrutiny under the rules of evidence dealing with expert testimony. So I would doubt seriously whether it would be admissible in a U.S. court,” Charles “Cully” Stimson, a Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told me.

Another reason is because there’s already a staggering amount of evidence that KSM committed the murder — so the Pearl Project’s linkage is a bit superfluous.

“It’s not a whodunit. And it hasn’t been a whodunit for some time,” said Stimson, who formerly served as an adviser to the Secretary of Defense on detainee issues.

In addition to the evidence that’s already been publicized — such as KSM’s confession — Stimson says that “there’s other evidence that will come to life that has been in the government for some time now that will further link him to that gruesome murder.”

“For those of us who have been involved in detaining operations with these high-value detainees, we’ve known for a long time that KSM was the throat-cutter.”

But that, of course, does not diminish the great work the Pearl Project has done in publicizing this case. After all, it’s certainly preferable to have too much evidence against vile killers like KSM rather than too little.

The Pearl Project’s full report can be found here.

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Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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RE: Curb Your Enthusiasm

I agree with Jonathan Tobin: the predicted delay in Iran’s achievement of a working nuclear weapon is the mildest of good news. For one thing, the year 2015 has figured in the CIA’s outside projection for over a decade. U.S. intelligence estimates have hewed to a time frame of 2009-2015 since 1999. Even the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate used that as the projected period in which Iran was most likely to succeed in weaponizing a nuke.

This means that reference to the year 2015 has been a factor in every step taken by the U.S., the P5+1, and the UN over the past decade. We have made our policy on the basis of that year. It’s not a new planning factor or a signal that our basis for policy should change. We have always assumed it could take Iran until 2015 to have a working nuke. And even when it became clear that a working nuke wouldn’t emerge in 2009, the year 2015 nevertheless justified urgent concern. We will only get closer to it from here.

It also bears reiterating that Stuxnet is irrelevant to Iran’s progress toward weaponization. The assassination of nuclear scientists is on point when it comes to weaponization; the operation of Stuxnet is not. The virus can delay the accumulation of an arsenal, but its design and purpose are not geared to the weaponization process.

It’s not clear to me why Meir Dagan’s summary was made available to the media. Outgoing leaders usually celebrate the successes of their organizations as they take their leave, but the risk is high that these particular successes, as framed in the Dagan report, will be misinterpreted. Complacency about the time available to us is dangerously misguided: to date, delaying our decision deadline for effective action has only allowed Iran to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency in its nuclear pursuits.

I agree with Jonathan Tobin: the predicted delay in Iran’s achievement of a working nuclear weapon is the mildest of good news. For one thing, the year 2015 has figured in the CIA’s outside projection for over a decade. U.S. intelligence estimates have hewed to a time frame of 2009-2015 since 1999. Even the infamous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate used that as the projected period in which Iran was most likely to succeed in weaponizing a nuke.

This means that reference to the year 2015 has been a factor in every step taken by the U.S., the P5+1, and the UN over the past decade. We have made our policy on the basis of that year. It’s not a new planning factor or a signal that our basis for policy should change. We have always assumed it could take Iran until 2015 to have a working nuke. And even when it became clear that a working nuke wouldn’t emerge in 2009, the year 2015 nevertheless justified urgent concern. We will only get closer to it from here.

It also bears reiterating that Stuxnet is irrelevant to Iran’s progress toward weaponization. The assassination of nuclear scientists is on point when it comes to weaponization; the operation of Stuxnet is not. The virus can delay the accumulation of an arsenal, but its design and purpose are not geared to the weaponization process.

It’s not clear to me why Meir Dagan’s summary was made available to the media. Outgoing leaders usually celebrate the successes of their organizations as they take their leave, but the risk is high that these particular successes, as framed in the Dagan report, will be misinterpreted. Complacency about the time available to us is dangerously misguided: to date, delaying our decision deadline for effective action has only allowed Iran to achieve greater success and self-sufficiency in its nuclear pursuits.

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Curb Your Enthusiasm: Iran Is Still on Track to Have a Bomb in Four Years

Two weeks ago, Israeli cabinet member Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon until 2013. But apparently, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is even more optimistic. In a summary given to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Meir Dagan assured his country’s parliament that Iran would not have nuclear capability until 2015 at the earliest. According to Dagan, a series of “malfunctions” have plagued the Iranian program, setting it back.

If true, that is certainly good news, and if the “malfunctions” are the result of Western or Israeli sabotage operations, such as the much-talked-about Stuxnet virus or the reported attacks on Iranian scientists, then so much the better. It gives both Israel and the United States a bit more breathing room to build an international coalition in favor of serious sanctions on Iran as well as more time to prepare less-diplomatic methods of ensuring that the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran does not obtain the ultimate weapon.

But the problem with such pronouncements is that they also tend to foster complacency about the deadly nature of the Iranian threat. After all, even if the Mossad is right (and like our own CIA, Israel’s vaunted spooks have been terribly wrong about a lot of things in the past), it still means that Iran will have the bomb in just four years. However little we may think of the Iranians’ scientific capabilities, the odds are that they will figure out how to solve the Stuxnet attack on their computers by then — and also how to toss a curve or two our way. Given the resources they have put behind this project and the limited impact of the weak Western sanctions that have been imposed on them, it is only a matter of time (and perhaps less time than we think) before they succeed.

Stuxnet is not a solution to the existential threat that an Iranian bomb poses to Israel in particular and to stability in the Middle East in general. It is just a delaying tactic. It is has been extremely difficult to awake a slumbering Western public to the danger that Iran represents. Iran has profited in the past by delaying tactics that were facilitated by the credulousness and inexperience of the Obama administration. The time that Stuxnet may have earned the West is valuable, but we need to curb our enthusiasm about it. Those who take too much comfort from pronouncements such as the one made by Dagan are liable to awake one morning and be confronted with the unpleasant reality of a nuclear Iran.

Two weeks ago, Israeli cabinet member Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon until 2013. But apparently, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is even more optimistic. In a summary given to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Meir Dagan assured his country’s parliament that Iran would not have nuclear capability until 2015 at the earliest. According to Dagan, a series of “malfunctions” have plagued the Iranian program, setting it back.

If true, that is certainly good news, and if the “malfunctions” are the result of Western or Israeli sabotage operations, such as the much-talked-about Stuxnet virus or the reported attacks on Iranian scientists, then so much the better. It gives both Israel and the United States a bit more breathing room to build an international coalition in favor of serious sanctions on Iran as well as more time to prepare less-diplomatic methods of ensuring that the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran does not obtain the ultimate weapon.

But the problem with such pronouncements is that they also tend to foster complacency about the deadly nature of the Iranian threat. After all, even if the Mossad is right (and like our own CIA, Israel’s vaunted spooks have been terribly wrong about a lot of things in the past), it still means that Iran will have the bomb in just four years. However little we may think of the Iranians’ scientific capabilities, the odds are that they will figure out how to solve the Stuxnet attack on their computers by then — and also how to toss a curve or two our way. Given the resources they have put behind this project and the limited impact of the weak Western sanctions that have been imposed on them, it is only a matter of time (and perhaps less time than we think) before they succeed.

Stuxnet is not a solution to the existential threat that an Iranian bomb poses to Israel in particular and to stability in the Middle East in general. It is just a delaying tactic. It is has been extremely difficult to awake a slumbering Western public to the danger that Iran represents. Iran has profited in the past by delaying tactics that were facilitated by the credulousness and inexperience of the Obama administration. The time that Stuxnet may have earned the West is valuable, but we need to curb our enthusiasm about it. Those who take too much comfort from pronouncements such as the one made by Dagan are liable to awake one morning and be confronted with the unpleasant reality of a nuclear Iran.

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WikiLeaks Debunks History for Stupid People

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times says WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange deserves a medal rather than prison. “He and WikiLeaks have done America a massive favour,” he writes, “by inadvertently debunking decades-old conspiracy theories about its foreign policy.”

He’s right. And I suspect Rachman’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he says Assange should be rewarded. If the United States wanted all that information made public, the government hardly needed his help getting it out there.

Anyway, Rachman points out that many rightists in China and Russia, and leftists in Europe and Latin America, assume that whatever American foreign-policy officials say in public is a lie. I’d add that Arabs on both the “left” and the “right” do, too. Not all of them, surely, but perhaps a majority. I’ve met people in the Middle East who actually like parts of the American rationale for the war in Iraq — that the promotion of democracy in the Arab world might leech out its toxins — they just don’t believe the U.S. was actually serious.

And let’s not forget the most ridiculous theories of all. Surely somewhere in all these leaked files there’d be references to a war for oil in Iraq if the war was, in fact, about oil. Likewise, if 9/11 was an inside job — or a joint Mossad–al-Qaeda job — there should be at least some suggestive evidence in all those classified documents. If the U.S. government lied, rather than guessed wrong, about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, or if NATO invaded Afghanistan to install a pipeline, this information would have to be written down somewhere. The State and Defense department bureaucracies are far too vast to have no records of what they’re up to.

Conspiracy theories, though, as someone once said, are history for stupid people. Those who actually believe this stuff — whether about American foreign policy, the president’s birth certificate, or whatever — think the historical record is part of the con job, that anyone who debunks the conspiracy is either deluded or in on it.

So Assange is accused of working for the CIA.

Rachman points out other silly theories that are debunked, or at the very least unsupported, by the leaked cables. “The Americans say, in public, that they would like to build a strong relationship with China based on mutual interests,” he writes, “but that they are worried that some Chinese economic policies are damaging American workers. This turns out to be what they are saying in private, as well. In a cable predicting a more turbulent phase in US-Chinese relations, Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador, insists: ‘We need to find ways to keep the relationship positive,’ while ensuring that American workers benefit more. Many Chinese nationalists and netizens have developed elaborate theories about American plots to thwart China’s rise. There is not a hint of this in WikiLeaks.”

Julian Assange is stridently anti-American. He is not trying to boost the government’s credibility by leaking thousands of cables, and he almost certainly would refuse a medal if one were offered. He should not have done what he did for a number of reasons, and the least rational among our species won’t be persuaded of anything by this material, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t still feel a little bit satisfied.

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Morning Commentary

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

Can Michael Steele actually win re-election as RNC chair? Chris Cilliza crunches the numbers and finds that the unpopular GOP official just doesn’t have the support: “In the most optimistic assessments of his current strength among the 168 members of the RNC, Steele has 40 hard supporters. That’s a little less than half of the 85 people he would need to win a second term. A look back at the voting in the 2009 chairman’s race suggests that Steele’s initial base of support simply isn’t big enough.”

Kissinger defends his controversial comments about Soviet Jewry — and his explanation is less than convincing: “The quotations ascribed to me in the transcript of the conversation with President Nixon must be viewed in the context of the time,” wrote Kissinger in an e-mail to the JTA. “We disagreed with the Jackson Amendment, which made Jewish emigration a foreign policy issue. We feared that the amendment would reduce emigration, which is exactly what happened. Jewish emigration never reached the level of 40,000 again until the Soviet Union collapsed. The conversation between Nixon and me must be seen in the context of that dispute and of our distinction between a foreign policy and a humanitarian approach.”

Byron York points out seven signs that the “No Labels” campaign leans left. Reason #7: “The sandwiches. At No Labels, there were stacks of box lunches on tables outside the auditorium. Politico’s Ben Smith noted that, ‘The vegetarian and chicken sandwiches were rapidly devoured at lunch time, leaving only a giant pile of roast beef.’ That’s a sure sign: If there had been more Republicans there, there would have been fewer leftover roast beef sandwiches.”

Richard Holbrooke’s last words — “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan” — may actually have been a joke as opposed to a policy prescription. According to the Washington Post: “The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.”

CounterPunch writer Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier who claimed that Julian Assange’s rape accuser had ties to the CIA, has been revealed as an employee of WikiLeaks.

Douglas Murray discusses the growing trend of Christmas-season terrorists coming out of Britain and what it needs to do to combat the crisis of radicalization in its universities.

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Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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RE: WikiLeaks and Consequences

I would strongly concur with J.E. Dyer’s observation concerning the leaked cables:

Its true value lies in confirming what hawks and conservatives have been saying about global security issues. China’s role in missile transfers from North Korea to Iran; Syria’s determined arming of Hezbollah; Iran’s use of Red Crescent vehicles to deliver weapons to terrorists; Obama’s strong-arming of foreign governments to accept prisoners from Guantanamo — these are things many news organizations are reporting prominently only because they have been made known through a WikiLeaks dump. In the end, WikiLeaks’s most enduring consequences may be the unintended ones.

You can add to the list of the hawks’ confirmed truths: the enthusiastic support of the Arab states for a more vigorous U.S. response to Iran, the mullahs’ possession of more advanced technology than previously acknowledged, and the recognition by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that “reset” has been a disaster for democracy in Russia.

You don’t have to cheer the leaks of confidential information (as the left did with every revelation helpful to their cause, from the Pentagon Papers to the drips from the infamously porous CIA during the Bush administration) to understand that, aside from the salacious parts, they do inform the debate by providing details that reveal that the Obama policies in many respects are a failure — and recognized as such by some high-ranking officials within the administration.

Should we prosecute the WikiLeaks gang? Of course. But let’s not deny reality: this is a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration.

I would strongly concur with J.E. Dyer’s observation concerning the leaked cables:

Its true value lies in confirming what hawks and conservatives have been saying about global security issues. China’s role in missile transfers from North Korea to Iran; Syria’s determined arming of Hezbollah; Iran’s use of Red Crescent vehicles to deliver weapons to terrorists; Obama’s strong-arming of foreign governments to accept prisoners from Guantanamo — these are things many news organizations are reporting prominently only because they have been made known through a WikiLeaks dump. In the end, WikiLeaks’s most enduring consequences may be the unintended ones.

You can add to the list of the hawks’ confirmed truths: the enthusiastic support of the Arab states for a more vigorous U.S. response to Iran, the mullahs’ possession of more advanced technology than previously acknowledged, and the recognition by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that “reset” has been a disaster for democracy in Russia.

You don’t have to cheer the leaks of confidential information (as the left did with every revelation helpful to their cause, from the Pentagon Papers to the drips from the infamously porous CIA during the Bush administration) to understand that, aside from the salacious parts, they do inform the debate by providing details that reveal that the Obama policies in many respects are a failure — and recognized as such by some high-ranking officials within the administration.

Should we prosecute the WikiLeaks gang? Of course. But let’s not deny reality: this is a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration.

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Center for Constitutional Rights: What It Means to Hate America

There is appropriate horror being expressed today all over the blogosphere about the statement released by the radical leftist group called the Center for Constitutional Rights on the verdict in the Ghailani trial: “CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11,” it says. “However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.”

The astounding and vicious vulgarity of the sentiments expressed here — no Muslim can get a fair trial, anyone dissatisfied with the fact that a man who confessed to his role in the murder of 224 people has been acquitted of those killings should be more upset that the person who killed those people was treated roughly by agents of the U.S. government — tells you everything you need to know about the Center for Constitutional Rights. Atop a CCR website posting by a member of the organization’s board denouncing the guilty verdict and sentencing of Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who served as a courier for terrorist messages sent through her from her imprisoned client to his network, is a quote from Karl Marx: “At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” That same item described Stewart’s client, the “blind sheikh” Abdel Rahman, as “was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt,” whereas in fact what he did was oversee the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Lynne Stewart monstrousness is of a piece with the monstrous work done by CCR altogether. It is run by Michael Ratner, who conveniently espouses a hate-America and evils-of-capitalism philosophy even as he swims in his own family’s real estate billions. (His brother Bruce is, among other things, the Machiavellian developer of Atlantic Yards, the Brooklyn megaproject.) It is, and I say this advisedly, an evil organization. In the guise of protecting civil liberties, it uses the American legal system to attack the American political system and the American way of life. Its approach is to offer aggressively self-righteous defenses of the morally indefensible — i.e., the logic that says a waterboard is worse than a killing — in a classic bait-and-switch according to which any form of state action against anyone is unacceptable unless that person happens to be a cop, a soldier, or an official of the U.S. government, in which case he is guilty until proven innocent.

So while I share the disgust expressed by Benjamin Wittes, Tom Joscelyn, and others, it just seems all in a day’s work for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization whose loathing of America is exceeded only by its masterful exploitation and manipulation of America’s blessings.

There is appropriate horror being expressed today all over the blogosphere about the statement released by the radical leftist group called the Center for Constitutional Rights on the verdict in the Ghailani trial: “CCR questions the ability of anyone who is Muslim to receive a truly fair trial in any American judicial forum post-9/11,” it says. “However, on balance the Ghailani verdict shows that federal criminal trials are far superior to military commissions for the simple yet fundamental reason that they prohibit evidence obtained by torture. If anyone is unsatisfied with Ghailani’s acquittal on 284 counts, they should blame the CIA agents who tortured him.”

The astounding and vicious vulgarity of the sentiments expressed here — no Muslim can get a fair trial, anyone dissatisfied with the fact that a man who confessed to his role in the murder of 224 people has been acquitted of those killings should be more upset that the person who killed those people was treated roughly by agents of the U.S. government — tells you everything you need to know about the Center for Constitutional Rights. Atop a CCR website posting by a member of the organization’s board denouncing the guilty verdict and sentencing of Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who served as a courier for terrorist messages sent through her from her imprisoned client to his network, is a quote from Karl Marx: “At all times throughout history the ideology of the ruling class is the ruling ideology.” That same item described Stewart’s client, the “blind sheikh” Abdel Rahman, as “was the leading oppositionist to the U.S.-sponsored Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt,” whereas in fact what he did was oversee the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

The Lynne Stewart monstrousness is of a piece with the monstrous work done by CCR altogether. It is run by Michael Ratner, who conveniently espouses a hate-America and evils-of-capitalism philosophy even as he swims in his own family’s real estate billions. (His brother Bruce is, among other things, the Machiavellian developer of Atlantic Yards, the Brooklyn megaproject.) It is, and I say this advisedly, an evil organization. In the guise of protecting civil liberties, it uses the American legal system to attack the American political system and the American way of life. Its approach is to offer aggressively self-righteous defenses of the morally indefensible — i.e., the logic that says a waterboard is worse than a killing — in a classic bait-and-switch according to which any form of state action against anyone is unacceptable unless that person happens to be a cop, a soldier, or an official of the U.S. government, in which case he is guilty until proven innocent.

So while I share the disgust expressed by Benjamin Wittes, Tom Joscelyn, and others, it just seems all in a day’s work for the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization whose loathing of America is exceeded only by its masterful exploitation and manipulation of America’s blessings.

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The Ghailani Debacle

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.'”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

The acquittal of Guantanamo detainee Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani yesterday on all but one of 285 counts in connection with the 1998 al-Qaeda bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has once again demonstrated that the leftist lawyers’ experiment in applying civilian trial rules to terrorists is gravely misguided and downright dangerous. The soon-to-be House chairman on homeland security, Peter King, issued a statement blasting the trial outcome and the nonchalant response from the Justice Department:

“I am disgusted at the total miscarriage of justice today in Manhattan’s federal civilian court.  In a case where Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was facing 285 criminal counts, including hundreds of murder charges, and where Attorney General Eric Holder assured us that ‘failure is not an option,’ the jury found him guilty on only one count and acquitted him of all other counts including every murder charge. This tragic verdict demonstrates the absolute insanity of the Obama Administration’s decision to try al-Qaeda terrorists in civilian courts”

The Congress can start by ending federal-court jurisdiction over detainees. Then they should demand Eric Holder’s resignation — preferably before his serially wrong advice causes any more damage to our national security.

Let’s review what went on here. First, this was a case of mass murder. As the New York Times explains:

[P]rosecutors built a circumstantial case to try to establish that Mr. Ghailani had played a key logistical role in the preparations for the Tanzania attack.

They said the evidence showed that he helped to buy the Nissan Atlas truck that was used to carry the bomb, and gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast. He also stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors contended.

The attacks, orchestrated by Al Qaeda, killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and wounded thousands of others.

But the case was ill-suited to civilian courts, and a key witness was excluded from testifying:

But because of the unusual circumstances of Mr. Ghailani’s case — after he was captured in Pakistan in 2004, he was held for nearly five years in a so-called black site run by the Central Intelligence Agency and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — the prosecution faced significant legal hurdles getting his case to trial. And last month, the government lost a key ruling on the eve of trial that may have seriously damaged their chances of winning convictions.

In the ruling, the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court, barred them from using an important witness against Mr. Ghailani because the government had learned about the man through Mr. Ghailani’s interrogation while he was in C.I.A. custody, where his lawyers say he was tortured.

The witness, Hussein Abebe, would have testified that he had sold Mr. Ghailani the large quantities of TNT used to blow up the embassy in Dar es Salaam, prosecutors told the judge, calling him “a giant witness for the government.”

The judge called it correctly, and explicitly warned the government of “the potential damage of excluding the witness when he said in his ruling that Mr. Ghailani’s status of ‘enemy combatant’ probably would permit his detention as something akin ‘to a prisoner of war until hostilities between the United States and Al Qaeda and the Taliban end, even if he were found not guilty.'”

In other words, what in the world was the bomber doing in an Article III courtroom? He was, quite bluntly, part of a stunt by the Obama administration, which had vilified Bush administration lawyers for failing to accord terrorists the full panoply of constitutional rights available to American citizens who are arrested by police officers and held pursuant to constitutional requirements.

Once again, the Obama team has revealed itself to be entirely incompetent and has proved, maybe even to themselves, the obvious: the Bush administration had it right. And in fact, maybe we should do away with both civilian trials and military tribunals and just hold these killers until hostilities end. You know, like they do in wars.

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What About the Other CIA Witchhunt?

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

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Karzai Takes Iranian Cash, Just in Case

Give Hamid Karzai points for honesty. He has made no attempt to deny a report in the Saturday New York Times that he receives bags of cash from the Iranians. Instead he came right out and admitted it and vowed to continue accepting the cash that he said amounts to about $2 million a year. “They have asked for good relations in return, and for lots of other things in return,” he said of the Iranians. No kidding.

In a way, this should hardly be a shocker. The Iranians have attempted similar dollar diplomacy in Iraq, Lebanon, and lots of other countries. No surprise that they should try the same thing with another neighbor. Nor should anyone be particularly shocked that the Iranians appear to be playing both sides of the street — giving both to Karzai and to the Taliban. In a way, what the Iranians are doing, while undoubtedly cynical, is not that far removed from conventional foreign-aid programs run by the U.S., Britain, and other powers that also seek to curry influence with their donations. Even the Iranian resort to cash — which is more than a bit seedy — is hardly all that different from what the U.S. does. The CIA, in particular, is known for handing out suitcases stuffed full of bills to our allies, including Karzai. I am more concerned about lethal aid that the Iranians provide to insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan that is used to kill American troops — aid that has been highlighted once again by WikiLeaks.

These cash payments hardly mean that Karzai is a dupe of Iran. He gets much more money and support from the U.S. than from the Iranians, and he knows that. He is, like most politicians, primarily looking out for numero uno and that means ensuring that he is not entirely reliant on a single ally that has proved fickle in the past.

This should, however, alert us to the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan. If we leave prematurely, Afghanistan will once again be the scene of a massive civil war, with neighboring states, and in particular Pakistan and Iran, doing their utmost to exert their influence to the detriment of our long-term interests. That is yet one more reason why it is important to prevail in Afghanistan.

Give Hamid Karzai points for honesty. He has made no attempt to deny a report in the Saturday New York Times that he receives bags of cash from the Iranians. Instead he came right out and admitted it and vowed to continue accepting the cash that he said amounts to about $2 million a year. “They have asked for good relations in return, and for lots of other things in return,” he said of the Iranians. No kidding.

In a way, this should hardly be a shocker. The Iranians have attempted similar dollar diplomacy in Iraq, Lebanon, and lots of other countries. No surprise that they should try the same thing with another neighbor. Nor should anyone be particularly shocked that the Iranians appear to be playing both sides of the street — giving both to Karzai and to the Taliban. In a way, what the Iranians are doing, while undoubtedly cynical, is not that far removed from conventional foreign-aid programs run by the U.S., Britain, and other powers that also seek to curry influence with their donations. Even the Iranian resort to cash — which is more than a bit seedy — is hardly all that different from what the U.S. does. The CIA, in particular, is known for handing out suitcases stuffed full of bills to our allies, including Karzai. I am more concerned about lethal aid that the Iranians provide to insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan that is used to kill American troops — aid that has been highlighted once again by WikiLeaks.

These cash payments hardly mean that Karzai is a dupe of Iran. He gets much more money and support from the U.S. than from the Iranians, and he knows that. He is, like most politicians, primarily looking out for numero uno and that means ensuring that he is not entirely reliant on a single ally that has proved fickle in the past.

This should, however, alert us to the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan. If we leave prematurely, Afghanistan will once again be the scene of a massive civil war, with neighboring states, and in particular Pakistan and Iran, doing their utmost to exert their influence to the detriment of our long-term interests. That is yet one more reason why it is important to prevail in Afghanistan.

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Talks with the Taliban?

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

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Dumbest Policy Response, 2010 Award

A significant mismatch of “policy” with “problem” arose yesterday in a speech by James Clapper, Obama’s new director of national intelligence (DNI), addressed to the audience of a Washington think tank. This AFP report summarizes Clapper’s thesis (emphasis added):

US President Barack Obama is full of “angst” over a “hemorrhage” of leaks of sensitive intelligence from government officials, the director of national intelligence said on Wednesday.

James Clapper, the new chief of the country’s spy services, also said that intelligence agencies would have to be more restrained about sharing information with each other as a result of the leaks, citing the recent release of secret files on the Afghan war by the WikiLeaks website.

To begin with, the allusion to WikiLeaks is a political strawman. Interagency intelligence sharing wasn’t the point of vulnerability in that leak, which involved a soldier leaking the tactical Army intelligence to which he had routine access. Limiting information sharing between agencies won’t stop that kind of leak. Nor is it the key to stopping the practice of higher-level political leaking. The political leakers of the George W. Bush years leaked classified information that was within their own agencies’ purview.

This policy gambit doesn’t compute. When the Clinton administration solidified the famous “wall” between FBI and CIA intelligence, the putative purpose was to protect civil liberties. The policy went too far, but it was at least grounded in an idea with some political merit. Americans should be protected against intelligence agencies sharing information about them outside the constraints of civil law.

But now the DNI wants to limit information sharing between agencies as a means of addressing the problem of leaks. There are not enough clichés to adequately express how absurd this is. There’s no evidence that information sharing, per se, is even the problem. Meanwhile, the alternative of investigating and prosecuting the leaks, as painfully and inconveniently as necessary to actually discourage them, doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. The leakers are, after all, committing felonies every time they leak the classified information they have sworn — on pain of punishment under federal law — to keep secure.

There is little appetite in Washington for prosecution and punishment, because political partisans, including members of Congress, find leaks a convenience. It’s valid, moreover, to point out that clamping down on leaks could be abused by an administration inclined to be overly secretive about policy in general. These countervailing factors, along with the presumptive privilege enjoyed by the media, will always discourage the systematic prosecution of leakers.

But reverting to a pre-9/11 posture respecting information sharing is too high a price to pay for the convenience of leaving these entrenched assumptions undisturbed, especially when information sharing isn’t the root of the problem in the first place. Congress needs to inquire promptly into the policy trend previewed this week by Clapper. It doesn’t make sense. Its dangers for the American people are obvious — and we can only hope that, as a signal of the Obama administration’s intentions, “dumb” is the worst thing it is.

A significant mismatch of “policy” with “problem” arose yesterday in a speech by James Clapper, Obama’s new director of national intelligence (DNI), addressed to the audience of a Washington think tank. This AFP report summarizes Clapper’s thesis (emphasis added):

US President Barack Obama is full of “angst” over a “hemorrhage” of leaks of sensitive intelligence from government officials, the director of national intelligence said on Wednesday.

James Clapper, the new chief of the country’s spy services, also said that intelligence agencies would have to be more restrained about sharing information with each other as a result of the leaks, citing the recent release of secret files on the Afghan war by the WikiLeaks website.

To begin with, the allusion to WikiLeaks is a political strawman. Interagency intelligence sharing wasn’t the point of vulnerability in that leak, which involved a soldier leaking the tactical Army intelligence to which he had routine access. Limiting information sharing between agencies won’t stop that kind of leak. Nor is it the key to stopping the practice of higher-level political leaking. The political leakers of the George W. Bush years leaked classified information that was within their own agencies’ purview.

This policy gambit doesn’t compute. When the Clinton administration solidified the famous “wall” between FBI and CIA intelligence, the putative purpose was to protect civil liberties. The policy went too far, but it was at least grounded in an idea with some political merit. Americans should be protected against intelligence agencies sharing information about them outside the constraints of civil law.

But now the DNI wants to limit information sharing between agencies as a means of addressing the problem of leaks. There are not enough clichés to adequately express how absurd this is. There’s no evidence that information sharing, per se, is even the problem. Meanwhile, the alternative of investigating and prosecuting the leaks, as painfully and inconveniently as necessary to actually discourage them, doesn’t seem to occur to anyone. The leakers are, after all, committing felonies every time they leak the classified information they have sworn — on pain of punishment under federal law — to keep secure.

There is little appetite in Washington for prosecution and punishment, because political partisans, including members of Congress, find leaks a convenience. It’s valid, moreover, to point out that clamping down on leaks could be abused by an administration inclined to be overly secretive about policy in general. These countervailing factors, along with the presumptive privilege enjoyed by the media, will always discourage the systematic prosecution of leakers.

But reverting to a pre-9/11 posture respecting information sharing is too high a price to pay for the convenience of leaving these entrenched assumptions undisturbed, especially when information sharing isn’t the root of the problem in the first place. Congress needs to inquire promptly into the policy trend previewed this week by Clapper. It doesn’t make sense. Its dangers for the American people are obvious — and we can only hope that, as a signal of the Obama administration’s intentions, “dumb” is the worst thing it is.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

What does Hillary need with a VP slot on an Obama ticket? Hillaryland eyes 2016. By then maybe voters will have forgotten what a mediocre secretary of state she was.

What does a tsunami look like? “In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.”

What does less than two years of the Obama presidency do to his party? “Working-class whites are favoring Republicans in numbers that parallel the GOP tide of 1994 when the party grabbed control of the House after four decades. The increased GOP tilt by these voters, a major hurdle for Democrats struggling to keep control of Congress in next month’s elections, reflects a mix of two factors, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests: unhappiness with the Democrats’ stewardship of an ailing economy that has hit this group particularly hard, and a persistent discomfort with President Barack Obama.”

What does it say about the mood of the country (and Rahm Emanuel’s chances) when even Chicagoans are disappointed in Obama? “Even in President Barack Obama’s hometown, they had hoped for more. … But nearly two years after Obama took office, while the president remains widely popular in the city, his image has slipped a bit as many people wonder where the promised change and jobs are, even if they believe such talk is probably a bit unfair.”

What does the civilian judicial system offer terrorists that military tribunals don’t? “Minutes before a major terrorism trial was about to begin, a federal judge barred prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday from using a key witness. The government had acknowledged it learned about the witness from the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, while he was being interrogated and held in a secret overseas jail run by the Central Intelligence Agency.”

What does Liz Cheney have to say about this? “The Obama Administration has dedicated itself to providing al Qaeda terrorists the kind of due process rights normally reserved for American citizens. By insisting on trying Ahmed Ghailani in civilian court with full constitutional rights, instead of by military commission, President Obama and Attorney General Holder are jeopardizing the prosecution of a terrorist who killed 224 people at U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. If the American people needed any further proof that this Administration’s policy of treating terrorism like a law enforcement matter is irresponsible and reckless, they received it today.”

What does Jeffrey Goldberg feel obliged to do? Explain to the Beagle Blogger what was wrong with Rick Sanchez’s anti-Semitic rant. A better question is what is the Atlantic doing with a writer who flaunts his indifference to anti-Semitism. (“It’s all about the clicks!” a colleague tells me. Yeah, but still.)

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