Commentary Magazine


Topic: director of national intelligence

Does the Press Have Better Intel than the White House?

Among the many dismaying aspects of the Benghazi attacks which left our ambassador and three other American dead, there is this point which I have not yet heard publicly debated: that readers of the New York Times and Washington Post probably had a better idea of what happened than readers of the President’s Daily Brief and other highly classified intelligence products.

The office of the director of national intelligence offered the following in a statement issued September 28: “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”

Yet those who read about the attack in “open source,” unclassified publications had reason to reach a very different conclusion. On September 13, just two days after the attack, the New York Times published an article, datelined Benghazi, by Suliman Ali Zway and Rick Gladstone, which began by quoting a Libyan security official, Wanis el-Sharif, who claimed that there had been two attacks–the first a spontaneous demonstration, the second a planned terrorist attack. But then the intrepid reporters noted:

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Among the many dismaying aspects of the Benghazi attacks which left our ambassador and three other American dead, there is this point which I have not yet heard publicly debated: that readers of the New York Times and Washington Post probably had a better idea of what happened than readers of the President’s Daily Brief and other highly classified intelligence products.

The office of the director of national intelligence offered the following in a statement issued September 28: “In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available.”

Yet those who read about the attack in “open source,” unclassified publications had reason to reach a very different conclusion. On September 13, just two days after the attack, the New York Times published an article, datelined Benghazi, by Suliman Ali Zway and Rick Gladstone, which began by quoting a Libyan security official, Wanis el-Sharif, who claimed that there had been two attacks–the first a spontaneous demonstration, the second a planned terrorist attack. But then the intrepid reporters noted:

Two Libyans who were wounded while guarding the consulate said that, contrary to Mr. Sharif’s account, there was no indication within the consulate grounds that a mass protest, including members of armed groups, had been brewing outside. The guards spoke on condition of anonymity for their personal safety, and one of them said he realized the dangers only about 9:30 p.m., when protesters crashed through the gate and “started shooting and throwing grenades.” The other guard said that he had been drinking coffee inside the compound just before the attack, and that it was so quiet “there was not even a single ant.”

So those who read this New York Times account would have been at least alerted to the possibility that there had been no demonstration at all–and if they had placed their faith in the testimony of eyewitnesses, not in what a faraway Libyan government official said, they would have been inclined to accept it as a certainty.

Why wasn’t that same conclusion reached by the intelligence community? Why was it not until a month later that the State Department finally admitted that there had been no demonstration?

It’s impossible for an outsider to know for sure, but I can speculate. And my speculation is this: the New York Times, and other major media organs, often have better-on-the-ground reporting from hot spots like Benghazi than does the intelligence community. In this case intelligence gathering would have been severely disrupted by the attack on the U.S. consulate, which caused the evacuation of all U.S. government employees from Benghazi. Those evacuated included not only diplomats but also, undoubtedly, intelligence officers who usually operate out of U.S. installations under diplomatic cover. The situation was judged so unsafe that even an armed FBI team was not allowed into Benghazi for three weeks and then very briefly. But journalists, operating without the “force protection” requirements that often bedevil U.S. government employees, were able to reach the consulate right away.

There is something slightly pathetic about the fact that all of the tens of billions of dollars spent by the U.S. on intelligence gathering too often leave policymakers either blind or sometimes, as with Iraq’s purported weapons of mass destruction, deluded. This is not the forum in which to spell out how the intelligence community should be reformed, but clearly there is an urgent need for reform to cut overhead and improve analysis and human collection. Not the kind of faux reform that occurred after 9/11, adding an extra layer of bureaucracy to the process, but real reform that would cut back bureaucracy and set loose the many talented individuals, both analysts and case officers, who too often struggle unsuccessfully to break out of the shackles of red tape.

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Can’t Anybody in the Obama Administration Talk Without Saying Embarrassing and Revealing Things This Week?

This morning, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question on Fox News about the new administration report on how, to quote Tom Joscelyn on the Weekly Standard website, “150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday.” That’s one of every 4 detainees at the base. Quoth Crowley: “We actually expected this would happen.”

Crowley is not making an unsophisticated or illogical case here. What’s interesting is how he slips into the standard spokesman trick of downplaying the significance of something by saying it had been foreseen, anticipated. In fact, such foresight and anticipation only make the fact that more than 80 Gitmo detainees have disappeared back into jihad (with another 13 killed and 34 recaptured) seem all that much more horrifying.

This morning, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley responded to a question on Fox News about the new administration report on how, to quote Tom Joscelyn on the Weekly Standard website, “150 former Guantanamo detainees are either “confirmed or suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities,” according to a new intelligence assessment released by the Director of National Intelligence’s office on Tuesday.” That’s one of every 4 detainees at the base. Quoth Crowley: “We actually expected this would happen.”

Crowley is not making an unsophisticated or illogical case here. What’s interesting is how he slips into the standard spokesman trick of downplaying the significance of something by saying it had been foreseen, anticipated. In fact, such foresight and anticipation only make the fact that more than 80 Gitmo detainees have disappeared back into jihad (with another 13 killed and 34 recaptured) seem all that much more horrifying.

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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

The question is whether anyone has written a funnier, more devastating parody of liberal Jews than this. Definitely not!

The question is becoming not whether Israel will strike Iran, but when: “Israel, which initially tolerated President Obama’s effort to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions through sanctions, has grown increasingly impatient in recent weeks with the approach and concerned that whatever is agreed to now at the U.N. Security Council will only allow Iran more time to advance its program.” When will mainstream Jewish groups voice impatience with Obama?

The question is when will the lies stop? Richard Blumenthal declared that he isn’t going to allow the race to be “about attacks on my character and service. … I have made mistakes. … I regret them. And I have taken responsibility.” No, he hasn’t. He has never apologized. He’s just sorry he got caught.

The question this election season for candidates, David Broder says, is whether you are with Obama or against him. “A liberal government is struggling to impose its agenda on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement operating inside the Republican Party. … [T]he Democrats are facing a populist backlash against the interventionist, expensive policies that Obama and others have pursued.”

The question is whether Obama “wasted” a Supreme Court nomination. According to a Fox poll, 33 percent don’t know whether Elena Kagan should be confirmed, which is exactly the right answer, given the paucity of information on her views and her lack of judicial track record.

The question is whether Obama should use this opportunity to abolish the job of director of national intelligence. John Noonan writes: “Unnecessary bureaucracy has a venomous effect on the national security establishment, whether it’s infantry or intelligence. The director of national intelligence, which has ballooned to a 1,500-man supporting office, was a top down solution to a bottom up problem.”

The question is whether there is any reason not to put Chris Christie on the shortlist for a place on the GOP ticket for 2012: “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have set a record for the speediest veto in American history on Thursday when he rejected an income tax surcharge passed by the Democratic legislature two minutes after it arrived on his desk. … Mr. Christie continues to stand out as a lone voice of economic sanity in Trenton and as a national fiscal leader.” I can’t think of one. (And by 2012, he’ll have had more years of executive experience — both in running the U.S. attorney’s office and as governor — than Obama did when he took office.)

The question is whether voters will laugh: Obama is going to run against George W. Bush in the 2010 election. Republicans are crossing their fingers that he be really serious about deploying this buck-passing, transparent gambit.

The question is now whether the Gray Lady will endorse him anyway. New York Times editor Clark Hoyt gives a somewhat candid assessment of the Times story on Richard Blumenthal’s serial lies, concluding: “In the end, through all the swirling sand the article has kicked up, a clear set of facts remains uncontested: On more than one occasion, Blumenthal said he had served in Vietnam when he had not. Did people the Times talked to have agendas? Sure. Did the Times independently verify the information? Yes, and that’s what counts.”

The question is whether anyone has written a funnier, more devastating parody of liberal Jews than this. Definitely not!

The question is becoming not whether Israel will strike Iran, but when: “Israel, which initially tolerated President Obama’s effort to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions through sanctions, has grown increasingly impatient in recent weeks with the approach and concerned that whatever is agreed to now at the U.N. Security Council will only allow Iran more time to advance its program.” When will mainstream Jewish groups voice impatience with Obama?

The question is when will the lies stop? Richard Blumenthal declared that he isn’t going to allow the race to be “about attacks on my character and service. … I have made mistakes. … I regret them. And I have taken responsibility.” No, he hasn’t. He has never apologized. He’s just sorry he got caught.

The question this election season for candidates, David Broder says, is whether you are with Obama or against him. “A liberal government is struggling to impose its agenda on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement operating inside the Republican Party. … [T]he Democrats are facing a populist backlash against the interventionist, expensive policies that Obama and others have pursued.”

The question is whether Obama “wasted” a Supreme Court nomination. According to a Fox poll, 33 percent don’t know whether Elena Kagan should be confirmed, which is exactly the right answer, given the paucity of information on her views and her lack of judicial track record.

The question is whether Obama should use this opportunity to abolish the job of director of national intelligence. John Noonan writes: “Unnecessary bureaucracy has a venomous effect on the national security establishment, whether it’s infantry or intelligence. The director of national intelligence, which has ballooned to a 1,500-man supporting office, was a top down solution to a bottom up problem.”

The question is whether there is any reason not to put Chris Christie on the shortlist for a place on the GOP ticket for 2012: “New Jersey Governor Chris Christie may have set a record for the speediest veto in American history on Thursday when he rejected an income tax surcharge passed by the Democratic legislature two minutes after it arrived on his desk. … Mr. Christie continues to stand out as a lone voice of economic sanity in Trenton and as a national fiscal leader.” I can’t think of one. (And by 2012, he’ll have had more years of executive experience — both in running the U.S. attorney’s office and as governor — than Obama did when he took office.)

The question is whether voters will laugh: Obama is going to run against George W. Bush in the 2010 election. Republicans are crossing their fingers that he be really serious about deploying this buck-passing, transparent gambit.

The question is now whether the Gray Lady will endorse him anyway. New York Times editor Clark Hoyt gives a somewhat candid assessment of the Times story on Richard Blumenthal’s serial lies, concluding: “In the end, through all the swirling sand the article has kicked up, a clear set of facts remains uncontested: On more than one occasion, Blumenthal said he had served in Vietnam when he had not. Did people the Times talked to have agendas? Sure. Did the Times independently verify the information? Yes, and that’s what counts.”

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Did John Brennan Lie?

Marc Thiessen dismantles John Brennan’s anti-terrorism spin on Meet The Press. Brennan claimed that Republicans were informed of the handling of the Christmas Day bomber and, specifically, his Mirandizing. Thiessen explains:

Republicans were assured by the Obama administration that the decision on reading Miranda rights to captured terrorists would be made a on “case-by-case” basis.

So if Brennan is wondering why the Republicans he spoke with did not just assume Abdumutallab would be automatically Mirandized, it is because the Obama administration told them so.

Of course, the HIG was not interrogating Abdulmutallab because — despite all the fanfare with its announcement — it had not yet been stood up. But how were Republicans to know that? Especially since Obama’s own director of national intelligence didn’t know that either?

Needless to say, all the Republicans briefed on the Christmas Day bombing deny they were told Abdulmutallab had been read Miranda warnings:

“Brennan never told me any of plans to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber — if he had I would told him the Administration was making a mistake,” Sen. Bond said in a statement. “The truth is that the administration did not even consult our intelligence chiefs, as DNI Blair [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] testified, so it’s absurd to try to blame Congressional leaders for this dangerous decision that gave terrorists a five week head start to cover their tracks.” . . .

The other lawmakers said through aides on Sunday that they had received brief, non-secure courtesy calls from Mr. Brennan that imparted little substantive information. They also said Mr. Brennan was trying to deflect blame away from the administration.

Mr. Hoekstra’s statement said Mr. Brennan “only informed him that Abdulmutallab had severe burns and was being treated. Contrary to what he attempts to imply, he at no time informed Hoekstra that Abdulmutallab had been Mirandized nor did he seek Hoekstra’s consultation or provide any sort of meaningful briefing. The faulty decision to Mirandize Abdulmuttalab was the Obama administration’s, and its decision alone.”

Sen. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said Mr. Brennan “is clearly trying to shift the focus away from the fact that their bad decisions gave terrorists in Yemen a weeks-long head start.”

“The bottom line is this: on Christmas day, a known terrorist, with the help of al Qaeda in Yemen , attempted to kill Americans by blowing up an airplane,” Mr. Stewart said. “Rather than having highly trained terror investigators spend time with this terrorist, the administration decided to treat him as a common criminal who had a right to a government-funded lawyer and advised of his right to remain silent.”

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, echoed that sentiment, adding: “Instead of attempting to dodge responsibility, John Brennan and this administration should focus on fixing the near-catastrophic intelligence breakdown that failed to prevent this attack.”

Perhaps Brennan should be called back to testify under oath and confront the Republicans whom he claimed to brief. The Obama administration has assumed that any spin it puts out will not be rebutted. But the spin has been, rather forcefully. Now the ball is in the administration’s court, and its credibility is on the line.

Marc Thiessen dismantles John Brennan’s anti-terrorism spin on Meet The Press. Brennan claimed that Republicans were informed of the handling of the Christmas Day bomber and, specifically, his Mirandizing. Thiessen explains:

Republicans were assured by the Obama administration that the decision on reading Miranda rights to captured terrorists would be made a on “case-by-case” basis.

So if Brennan is wondering why the Republicans he spoke with did not just assume Abdumutallab would be automatically Mirandized, it is because the Obama administration told them so.

Of course, the HIG was not interrogating Abdulmutallab because — despite all the fanfare with its announcement — it had not yet been stood up. But how were Republicans to know that? Especially since Obama’s own director of national intelligence didn’t know that either?

Needless to say, all the Republicans briefed on the Christmas Day bombing deny they were told Abdulmutallab had been read Miranda warnings:

“Brennan never told me any of plans to Mirandize the Christmas Day bomber — if he had I would told him the Administration was making a mistake,” Sen. Bond said in a statement. “The truth is that the administration did not even consult our intelligence chiefs, as DNI Blair [Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair] testified, so it’s absurd to try to blame Congressional leaders for this dangerous decision that gave terrorists a five week head start to cover their tracks.” . . .

The other lawmakers said through aides on Sunday that they had received brief, non-secure courtesy calls from Mr. Brennan that imparted little substantive information. They also said Mr. Brennan was trying to deflect blame away from the administration.

Mr. Hoekstra’s statement said Mr. Brennan “only informed him that Abdulmutallab had severe burns and was being treated. Contrary to what he attempts to imply, he at no time informed Hoekstra that Abdulmutallab had been Mirandized nor did he seek Hoekstra’s consultation or provide any sort of meaningful briefing. The faulty decision to Mirandize Abdulmuttalab was the Obama administration’s, and its decision alone.”

Sen. McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said Mr. Brennan “is clearly trying to shift the focus away from the fact that their bad decisions gave terrorists in Yemen a weeks-long head start.”

“The bottom line is this: on Christmas day, a known terrorist, with the help of al Qaeda in Yemen , attempted to kill Americans by blowing up an airplane,” Mr. Stewart said. “Rather than having highly trained terror investigators spend time with this terrorist, the administration decided to treat him as a common criminal who had a right to a government-funded lawyer and advised of his right to remain silent.”

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, echoed that sentiment, adding: “Instead of attempting to dodge responsibility, John Brennan and this administration should focus on fixing the near-catastrophic intelligence breakdown that failed to prevent this attack.”

Perhaps Brennan should be called back to testify under oath and confront the Republicans whom he claimed to brief. The Obama administration has assumed that any spin it puts out will not be rebutted. But the spin has been, rather forcefully. Now the ball is in the administration’s court, and its credibility is on the line.

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The Gates Minuet

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is perpetually walking a tightrope. He is, after all, a member of the president’s cabinet, and if he wants to remain so, he must display loyalty and hew to administration policy. But he indisputably has little patience for the notion that we can endear ourselves to Islamic fascists or Iranian despots. His department is, unlike the rest of the federal government, on a strict budget, so he must make the most of what limited funds he has. And in all this, he is incapable of lying. So we have a series of pained but telling comments from him.

After the announced decision to deploy 30,000-plus troops to Afghanistan (a position he favored), it was up to Gates (along with Hillary Clinton) to soft-pedal the 18-month deadline. He took to the talk shows and Congressional hearings to assure everyone that Obama didn’t really mean a fixed deadline and that we’d of course stick it out to achieve our aims, relying on conditions on the ground.

On the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber, he would only say this was Eric Holder’s call. And while he was careful not to slam his cabinet colleague, in an exchange with Sen. John McCain, he left little doubt about what he thought of the decision:

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

Nor does Gates want to suggest that there is any hope that we can talk the mullahs out of their nukes. On Iran:

Speaking to reporters in Ankara after meeting with Turkish leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not believe that Iran and the West are close to a nuclear deal. “I don’t have the sense that we’re close to an agreement,” Gates told reporters, according to Reuters. “If they are prepared to take up the original proposal of the P-5 plus one of delivering 1,200 kilograms of their low enriched uranium, all at once to an agreed party, I think there would be a response to that,” he added. He described Iran’s response to Obama’s diplomatic outreach as “disappointing.”

But alas, he is part of the administration and voiced the Obama line that the purpose of sanctions would be to get the mullahs back to the table, not to affect regime change.

Gates is unlikely to please either the Left or the Right. The Left would rather that Joe Biden run national-security policy and that the Gates position on Afghanistan had been rejected. They smarted as he fuzzed up the 18-month deadline that Obama had thrown to the Left as a consolation prize. Conservatives would certainly prefer he not make excuses for cuts in missile defense and be more critical of Holder’s serial follies. But those conservatives who expect more of Gates should ask themselves: would the administration’s national-security policy be worse without him? The answer, I would suggest, is almost certainly yes. So the Gates minuet continues.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is perpetually walking a tightrope. He is, after all, a member of the president’s cabinet, and if he wants to remain so, he must display loyalty and hew to administration policy. But he indisputably has little patience for the notion that we can endear ourselves to Islamic fascists or Iranian despots. His department is, unlike the rest of the federal government, on a strict budget, so he must make the most of what limited funds he has. And in all this, he is incapable of lying. So we have a series of pained but telling comments from him.

After the announced decision to deploy 30,000-plus troops to Afghanistan (a position he favored), it was up to Gates (along with Hillary Clinton) to soft-pedal the 18-month deadline. He took to the talk shows and Congressional hearings to assure everyone that Obama didn’t really mean a fixed deadline and that we’d of course stick it out to achieve our aims, relying on conditions on the ground.

On the Mirandizing of the Christmas Day bomber, he would only say this was Eric Holder’s call. And while he was careful not to slam his cabinet colleague, in an exchange with Sen. John McCain, he left little doubt about what he thought of the decision:

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

Nor does Gates want to suggest that there is any hope that we can talk the mullahs out of their nukes. On Iran:

Speaking to reporters in Ankara after meeting with Turkish leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he does not believe that Iran and the West are close to a nuclear deal. “I don’t have the sense that we’re close to an agreement,” Gates told reporters, according to Reuters. “If they are prepared to take up the original proposal of the P-5 plus one of delivering 1,200 kilograms of their low enriched uranium, all at once to an agreed party, I think there would be a response to that,” he added. He described Iran’s response to Obama’s diplomatic outreach as “disappointing.”

But alas, he is part of the administration and voiced the Obama line that the purpose of sanctions would be to get the mullahs back to the table, not to affect regime change.

Gates is unlikely to please either the Left or the Right. The Left would rather that Joe Biden run national-security policy and that the Gates position on Afghanistan had been rejected. They smarted as he fuzzed up the 18-month deadline that Obama had thrown to the Left as a consolation prize. Conservatives would certainly prefer he not make excuses for cuts in missile defense and be more critical of Holder’s serial follies. But those conservatives who expect more of Gates should ask themselves: would the administration’s national-security policy be worse without him? The answer, I would suggest, is almost certainly yes. So the Gates minuet continues.

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Wheels Coming off Obama Anti-Terror Approach

Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln are joining Republicans to up-end plans for a civilian trial for KSM by denying funding to transport and try them in the U.S. ABC News reports:

It is unclear when or how this measure would come to a vote, but it is abundantly clear that President Obama’s plan to use the American justice system to try suspected 9/11 conspirators is in serious jeopardy.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan.

“I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. . .

“It’s hard to bring the people of New York City and Little Rock together but they have done that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, of the growing opposition to civilian trials. Graham favors trying suspected 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in military trials at Guantanamo Bay, where they are currently held. . .

Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain were there as well. (“Lieberman said the trial of suspected 9/11 conspirators in civilian court as ‘common criminals’ would be like ‘justice in Alice in Wonderland. . . The rule of law that should be tried according to is the rule of the law of war. Justice can’t be blind to terror threat.”) McCain took the opportunity to also voice criticism of the 50-minute interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber: “I have some experience with interrogation and 50 minutes does not get you what you need.”

Meanwhile, in a senate hearing today, Secretary of Defense Gates, under questioning from McCain, was cagey about the decision to try KSM in New York, deferring to Eric Holder. McCain and Gates also went back and forth on the interrogation of Abdulmutallab.

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

McCain said that Holder “has obviously botched this thing very, very badly,” and said he would continue to question how the man’s interrogation was handled.

It is hard to see that there is much support for the Obama anti-terror gambits. Whether discussing the KSM trial or the interrogation decisions, the Obama team is increasingly on the defensive and without vocal support even from fellow Democrats. And why would the Democrats defend Obama’s approach? It defies common sense and has proven to be politically toxic. If Obama is going to persist in applying the criminal-justice model to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, he will find himself increasingly isolated. And if Democrats actually mean what they say, they’ll act to cut off funding as well as court jurisdiction in order to prevent Obama and his Justice Department lefty lawyers from continuing on this ill-advised lark.

Democratic Sens. Jim Webb and Blanche Lincoln are joining Republicans to up-end plans for a civilian trial for KSM by denying funding to transport and try them in the U.S. ABC News reports:

It is unclear when or how this measure would come to a vote, but it is abundantly clear that President Obama’s plan to use the American justice system to try suspected 9/11 conspirators is in serious jeopardy.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, who faces a tough reelection bid, was asked by a reporter at a press conference today if the President is being “tone deaf” in asking moderate Democrats to support his plan.

“I’d be tone deaf if I didn’t speak for the people,” said Lincoln, questioning the “cost, security and appropriateness” of using civilian courts to try suspected terrorists. . .

“It’s hard to bring the people of New York City and Little Rock together but they have done that,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, of the growing opposition to civilian trials. Graham favors trying suspected 9/11 conspirators like Khalid Sheikh Mohamed in military trials at Guantanamo Bay, where they are currently held. . .

Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain were there as well. (“Lieberman said the trial of suspected 9/11 conspirators in civilian court as ‘common criminals’ would be like ‘justice in Alice in Wonderland. . . The rule of law that should be tried according to is the rule of the law of war. Justice can’t be blind to terror threat.”) McCain took the opportunity to also voice criticism of the 50-minute interrogation of the Christmas Day bomber: “I have some experience with interrogation and 50 minutes does not get you what you need.”

Meanwhile, in a senate hearing today, Secretary of Defense Gates, under questioning from McCain, was cagey about the decision to try KSM in New York, deferring to Eric Holder. McCain and Gates also went back and forth on the interrogation of Abdulmutallab.

Gates said “I think we did not have the high-level interrogators there that we now have protocols in place” to assure their presence. But he added: “I believe that a team of highly experienced FBI and other interrogators could be as effective in interrogating the prisoner as anyone operating under the (Army) field manual.”

McCain asked Gates if he agreed with an assertion by Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, that better, more complete or more useful information might have been gleaned from the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, if he had been subjected to a more intense style of interrogation.

“I’m just not in a position to know the answer to that, senator,” Gates replied. But he did reply, “Yes,” when asked if he thought a special group of more qualified interrogators, members of the High Value Interrogation Group, should have been present.

McCain said that Holder “has obviously botched this thing very, very badly,” and said he would continue to question how the man’s interrogation was handled.

It is hard to see that there is much support for the Obama anti-terror gambits. Whether discussing the KSM trial or the interrogation decisions, the Obama team is increasingly on the defensive and without vocal support even from fellow Democrats. And why would the Democrats defend Obama’s approach? It defies common sense and has proven to be politically toxic. If Obama is going to persist in applying the criminal-justice model to the war against Islamic fundamentalists, he will find himself increasingly isolated. And if Democrats actually mean what they say, they’ll act to cut off funding as well as court jurisdiction in order to prevent Obama and his Justice Department lefty lawyers from continuing on this ill-advised lark.

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An Anti-War “Teach-In” at the CIA?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Its statement of purpose can be found on its website:

As historians, teachers, and scholars, we oppose the expansion of United States empire and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that have led to the occupation of Iraq. We deplore the secrecy, deception, and distortion of history involved in the administration’s conduct of a war that violates international law, intensifies attacks on civil liberties, and reaches toward domination of the Middle East and its resources.

Taking a leaf from the anti-Vietnam war movement, Historians Against the War sponsors “teach-ins” on college campuses across the United States in which radical professors offer their view on such subjects as U.S. imperialism and the Bush administration’s “assault on the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties.”

On April 9, 2003, one such teach-in was held at Temple University in Pennsylvania, where one such radical professor, Richard Immerman, took part. As I have noted in the Weekly Standard, in a recently “scholarly” article in Diplomatic History, the journal of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Immerman recounts how the Bush administration, in leading the United States into the war in Iraq, made “every effort to ‘cook the books,’ . . . ‘hyped’ the need to go to war, and . . . lied too often to count.” He calls Bush and his cabinet members “cognitively impaired and politically possessed.”

Such views would all be completely unremarkable if Immerman were just a mere–and all too typical–professor at a second-tier university. But he is not. He has gone on to greater glory. Last September, he was appointed to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards” and “ombudsman” inside the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the top intelligence body in the United States. In that slot he is in charge of ensuring the “analytic integrity” of American intelligence reports.

One question I have about this whole affair is whether Immerman has been taking part in or organizing “teach-ins” against the war inside the intelligence community in institutions like the CIA. Another question is what his colleagues and superiors think. To answer that second one, I’ve been contacting various top spies and seeking their comments. Here is what one senior intelligence official, who did want his name used, told me:

His assertions are way off base. His statements are not only biased, they are baffling. It’s troubling and it raises all sorts of questions. If someone who holds these views was selected for that particular position, it makes you wonder what the other candidates looked like.

It is mildly heartening that not everyone within the intelligence world thinks like Immerman, although at the same time the failure of anyone, including Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, to speak out publicly is profoundly discouraging.

We are in the middle of a war in which intelligence is the most critical front. The elevation of an obscure, radical, anti-war professor to be responsible for the “analytic integrity” of U.S. intelligence reports raises a question that after September 11, 2001, we should not be having to ask: is this country serious about intelligence or not?

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Who is Richard H. Immerman?

Is this a case of the fox guarding the henhouse?

Immerman is the man Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, appointed back in September to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards.” Immerman also holds the position of “analytic ombudsman.”

Immerman’s job is to ensure that intelligence reports are created according to accepted norms and are vetted properly for accuracy and lack of bias. He also investigates complaints by others of shortcomings in the production of intelligence analyses.

But before assuming this position, Immerman was a professor at Temple University, where he adumbrated some views that make him a peculiar choice for a position of such high responsibility. I explore them — and their possible connection to the recent botched National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s WMD program — in If Michael Moore Had a Security Clearance, which appears in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard.

Here are the questions of the day:

How exactly did someone of Immerman’s particular political persuasion come to hold such a critical position in the intelligence community?

Will Mike McConnell keep him in his job?

What do readers of Connecting the Dots predict?

Is this a case of the fox guarding the henhouse?

Immerman is the man Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, appointed back in September to the position of “assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic integrity and standards.” Immerman also holds the position of “analytic ombudsman.”

Immerman’s job is to ensure that intelligence reports are created according to accepted norms and are vetted properly for accuracy and lack of bias. He also investigates complaints by others of shortcomings in the production of intelligence analyses.

But before assuming this position, Immerman was a professor at Temple University, where he adumbrated some views that make him a peculiar choice for a position of such high responsibility. I explore them — and their possible connection to the recent botched National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s WMD program — in If Michael Moore Had a Security Clearance, which appears in the latest issue of the Weekly Standard.

Here are the questions of the day:

How exactly did someone of Immerman’s particular political persuasion come to hold such a critical position in the intelligence community?

Will Mike McConnell keep him in his job?

What do readers of Connecting the Dots predict?

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The Big Stories

It’s only the morning after Super Tuesday, but it still’s not too early to think about the really super Tuesday—the one that comes in November. In that regard I was struck by the two major stories of this morning after the election news. One is that the economy is apparently continuing its slide into recession. The other is the testimony of Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack the United States.

The former story seems to favor Clinton/Obama (or Obama/Clinton), the latter McCain. Of crucial importance will be the weight assigned by voters to the two. At the moment it appears that the economy and health care edge out the war in Iraq and terrorism as issues of concern in the polls. Of course a president can do far less to influence the economy than national security policy, and even if we’re in a recession it will probably be over by the time the next president is inaugurated. Moreover, since McCain is not closely associated with the Bush administration it is an open question to what extent voters will punish him for what may be seen as the Bush recession.

Admittedly, there is a strong tendency among voters to use a general election as a referendum on the state of the economy with the incumbent party being punished if the economic news is bad. But that could be trumped if terrorism and war stay in the news since McCain is so much more better qualified than Clinton/Obama to “keep us safe”—the only voter concern that can rival the economy in importance.

I don’t profess to have the foggiest notion of how these dynamics will play out. The only safe prediction seems to be that it will be a wild ride until November—as wild as the past year, and that’s saying something.

It’s only the morning after Super Tuesday, but it still’s not too early to think about the really super Tuesday—the one that comes in November. In that regard I was struck by the two major stories of this morning after the election news. One is that the economy is apparently continuing its slide into recession. The other is the testimony of Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, that Al Qaeda is improving its ability to attack the United States.

The former story seems to favor Clinton/Obama (or Obama/Clinton), the latter McCain. Of crucial importance will be the weight assigned by voters to the two. At the moment it appears that the economy and health care edge out the war in Iraq and terrorism as issues of concern in the polls. Of course a president can do far less to influence the economy than national security policy, and even if we’re in a recession it will probably be over by the time the next president is inaugurated. Moreover, since McCain is not closely associated with the Bush administration it is an open question to what extent voters will punish him for what may be seen as the Bush recession.

Admittedly, there is a strong tendency among voters to use a general election as a referendum on the state of the economy with the incumbent party being punished if the economic news is bad. But that could be trumped if terrorism and war stay in the news since McCain is so much more better qualified than Clinton/Obama to “keep us safe”—the only voter concern that can rival the economy in importance.

I don’t profess to have the foggiest notion of how these dynamics will play out. The only safe prediction seems to be that it will be a wild ride until November—as wild as the past year, and that’s saying something.

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Am I Missing Something?

The Washington Post offers a lengthy recounting this morning of how the intelligence community went about gathering the intelligence behind its new estimate that Iran shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. The story is particularly notable for three details.

First, it confirms what Dick Cheney has already said about the decision to make a summary of the NIE public. Initially, reports the Post, “Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, [had] decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a cover-up.”

Second, with the decision to make the NIE public taken only last weekend, the story makes plain that the summary of the document, as opposed to the NIE itself, was produced in a mad rush: “analysts scrambled over the weekend,” the Post reports, “to draft a declassified version.”

This is crucial, because it leaves unclear whether the White House was ever shown or ever had a chance to sign off on the unclassified summary as opposed to the NIE itself. Perhaps the full NIE is a well-drafted and well-qualified document that makes it clear that, because of the “civilian” uranium-enrichment project at Natanz, the time-line on which Iran might obtain enough fuel to build a bomb is virtually unchanged from the supposedly discredited 2005 NIE.

But the declassified summary itself is anything but well-drafted and well-qualified. It leaves the misleading impression that all Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons came to a halt in 2003. The differences between the summary and the full document on this score might explain why the White House was so blindsided by its own decision to make the NIE public.

Third, the Washington Post story takes note of the controversy within the government about whether the intelligence underpinning the new NIE is accurate. But it nowhere mentions the more crucial fact that Iran has an ongoing “civilian” nuclear program that was downplayed in the NIE summary, relegated to a footnote. Failing to mention this is deeply disingenuous, even mendacious. The Post is complicit with the drafters of the NIE summary in promoting the false impression that Iran has completely changed course and there is nothing to worry about.

What is behind this striking omission? The Post story was written by Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer. Walter Pincus, Joby Warrick, and Robin Wright contributed to it. A team of editors undoubtedly also read it and made changes and suggestions as editors do. What are we dealing with here? Laziness, deliberate deception, a desire to please sources within the intelligence world, a blinding world-view? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

The Washington Post offers a lengthy recounting this morning of how the intelligence community went about gathering the intelligence behind its new estimate that Iran shut down its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. The story is particularly notable for three details.

First, it confirms what Dick Cheney has already said about the decision to make a summary of the NIE public. Initially, reports the Post, “Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, [had] decided to keep the new findings secret, but reluctantly reversed course in a flurry of discussions last weekend out of fear of leaks and charges of a cover-up.”

Second, with the decision to make the NIE public taken only last weekend, the story makes plain that the summary of the document, as opposed to the NIE itself, was produced in a mad rush: “analysts scrambled over the weekend,” the Post reports, “to draft a declassified version.”

This is crucial, because it leaves unclear whether the White House was ever shown or ever had a chance to sign off on the unclassified summary as opposed to the NIE itself. Perhaps the full NIE is a well-drafted and well-qualified document that makes it clear that, because of the “civilian” uranium-enrichment project at Natanz, the time-line on which Iran might obtain enough fuel to build a bomb is virtually unchanged from the supposedly discredited 2005 NIE.

But the declassified summary itself is anything but well-drafted and well-qualified. It leaves the misleading impression that all Iranian efforts to build nuclear weapons came to a halt in 2003. The differences between the summary and the full document on this score might explain why the White House was so blindsided by its own decision to make the NIE public.

Third, the Washington Post story takes note of the controversy within the government about whether the intelligence underpinning the new NIE is accurate. But it nowhere mentions the more crucial fact that Iran has an ongoing “civilian” nuclear program that was downplayed in the NIE summary, relegated to a footnote. Failing to mention this is deeply disingenuous, even mendacious. The Post is complicit with the drafters of the NIE summary in promoting the false impression that Iran has completely changed course and there is nothing to worry about.

What is behind this striking omission? The Post story was written by Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer. Walter Pincus, Joby Warrick, and Robin Wright contributed to it. A team of editors undoubtedly also read it and made changes and suggestions as editors do. What are we dealing with here? Laziness, deliberate deception, a desire to please sources within the intelligence world, a blinding world-view? Connecting the Dots would like to know.

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Imperiled by the Imperial Judiciary

Must reading today is Andy McCarthy at NRO on recklessness at the FISA court, the secret panel established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to place electronic surveillance in matters of espionage and counterterrorism under judicial review.

Earlier this year, a judge who sits on the FISA court took the unprecedented step of ruling that our intelligence community “needs the permission of a federal judge before it can conduct electronic surveillance on non-Americans outside the United States who are communicating with other non-Americans outside the United States.”

In other words, in the middle of a war in which the interception of enemy communications is one of our most vital tools, an unelected judge, whose name remains secret, is tying our counterterrorism effort abroad in knots.

Is the judge’s astonishing ruling a remotely plausible interpretation of FISA? McCarthy argues persuasively that it is not. But ultimately, we cannot say. The ruling itself, like the judge’s identity, remains secret.

What is really at stake here? Sometimes it might be the ability to move quickly in finding an al Qaeda operative. Sometimes it might cost an American his life. A story in yesterday’s New York Post, “‘Wire’ Law Failed Lost GI,” offers an example of the trouble the FISA court has placed us in:

U.S. intelligence officials got mired for nearly 10 hours seeking approval to use wiretaps against al Qaeda terrorists suspected of kidnapping Queens soldier Alex Jimenez in Iraq earlier this year. . .

This week, Congress plans to vote on a bill that leaves in place the legal hurdles in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—problems that were highlighted during the May search for a group of kidnapped U.S. soldiers.

In the early hours of May 12, seven U.S. soldiers—including Spc. Jimenez—were on lookout near a patrol base in the al Qaeda-controlled area of Iraq called the “Triangle of Death.”

Sometime before dawn, heavily armed al Qaeda gunmen quietly cut through the tangles of concertina wire surrounding the outpost of two Humvees and made a massive and coordinated surprise attack.

Four of the soldiers were killed on the spot and three others were taken hostage.

A search to rescue the men was quickly launched. But it soon ground to a halt as lawyers—obeying strict U.S. laws about surveillance—cobbled together the legal grounds for wiretapping the suspected kidnappers.

Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.

For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the “probable cause” necessary for the attorney general to grant such “emergency” permission.

Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.

Is this any way to wage war? Where is the outrage?

Must reading today is Andy McCarthy at NRO on recklessness at the FISA court, the secret panel established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to place electronic surveillance in matters of espionage and counterterrorism under judicial review.

Earlier this year, a judge who sits on the FISA court took the unprecedented step of ruling that our intelligence community “needs the permission of a federal judge before it can conduct electronic surveillance on non-Americans outside the United States who are communicating with other non-Americans outside the United States.”

In other words, in the middle of a war in which the interception of enemy communications is one of our most vital tools, an unelected judge, whose name remains secret, is tying our counterterrorism effort abroad in knots.

Is the judge’s astonishing ruling a remotely plausible interpretation of FISA? McCarthy argues persuasively that it is not. But ultimately, we cannot say. The ruling itself, like the judge’s identity, remains secret.

What is really at stake here? Sometimes it might be the ability to move quickly in finding an al Qaeda operative. Sometimes it might cost an American his life. A story in yesterday’s New York Post, “‘Wire’ Law Failed Lost GI,” offers an example of the trouble the FISA court has placed us in:

U.S. intelligence officials got mired for nearly 10 hours seeking approval to use wiretaps against al Qaeda terrorists suspected of kidnapping Queens soldier Alex Jimenez in Iraq earlier this year. . .

This week, Congress plans to vote on a bill that leaves in place the legal hurdles in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—problems that were highlighted during the May search for a group of kidnapped U.S. soldiers.

In the early hours of May 12, seven U.S. soldiers—including Spc. Jimenez—were on lookout near a patrol base in the al Qaeda-controlled area of Iraq called the “Triangle of Death.”

Sometime before dawn, heavily armed al Qaeda gunmen quietly cut through the tangles of concertina wire surrounding the outpost of two Humvees and made a massive and coordinated surprise attack.

Four of the soldiers were killed on the spot and three others were taken hostage.

A search to rescue the men was quickly launched. But it soon ground to a halt as lawyers—obeying strict U.S. laws about surveillance—cobbled together the legal grounds for wiretapping the suspected kidnappers.

Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.

For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the “probable cause” necessary for the attorney general to grant such “emergency” permission.

Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.

Is this any way to wage war? Where is the outrage?

Read Less

The Leak Wars

“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

Read More

“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

The conundrum is easily resolved. First, McConnell, as the nation’s top intelligence officer, and unlike any reporter or editor at the Times, is in a position to evaluate whether a given disclosure will cause damage to American security.

Second, McConnell has the authority, under law, to declassify information when he determines it is in the national interest. The New York Times claims the same authority under the First Amendment. But the First Amendment is compatible with a whole range of restrictions on the press, as in the law of libel, the laws governing commercial speech, and so forth. By contrast, the idea that the media is not obligated to follow laws currently on the books restricting publication of national-defense information flies in the face of both reason and precedent.  

Third, in disclosing the success of the U.S. surveillance program in averting a disaster in Germany, McConnell was not revealing anything new. Why not? Because the Times had already compromised the key facts about the scope of National Security Agency surveillance in a series of stories that began in December 2005.

The fact that even after the Times had tipped them off, terrorists continue to use readily interceptible telephones and email demonstrates how difficult it is for them to find alternative means of rapid long-distance communication. But that is by no means a justification for what the Times did. A host of governments officials–Democrats and Republicans alike–have attested to the damage inflicted on U.S. counterterrorism efforts by the Times’s reporting.

CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden, speaking earlier this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, addressed the problem. His words are worth quoting at length:

Revelations of sources and methods or what seems to me to be an impulse to drag anything CIA does to the darkest corner of the room can make it very difficult for us to perform our vital work. When our operations are exposed–you know, the legal, authorized operations overseen by Congress–when those operations are exposed, it reduces the space and it damages the tools we use to protect Americans.

After the press report on how banking records in the international Swiss network could be monitored, I read a claim that this leak–and I’m quoting now–”bears no resemblance to security breaches”. . . I could not disagree more strongly. In a war that largely depends on our success on collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements have been in the past. Now the compromise to safety can be both immediate and lasting, and it extends beyond specific individuals. Each revelation of our methods in tracking terrorists, tracking WMD, tracking other threats allows our enemies to cover their tracks and change their practices. We’ll respond, but it takes us valuable time to readjust.

Now, some are out there who say there’s no evidence that leaks of classified information have actually harmed national security. As CIA director, I’m telling you there is and they have. Let me give you just two examples. In one case, leaks provided ammunition for a government to prosecute and imprison one of our sources whose family was also endangered. The revelations had an immediate chilling affect on our ability to collect [intelligence] against a top priority target. In another, a spate of media reports cost us several promising counterterrorism and counter-proliferation assets. Sources not even involved in the operation that was exposed lost confidence that their relationship with us could be kept secret and so they stopped reporting.
. . . On their own, journalists often simply don’t have all the facts needed to make the call on whether the information can be released without harm. I’ve heard some justify a release based on their view of the sensitivity of their story’s content with no understanding of the effect the release may have on the intelligence source at the heart of the story. . . [W]he the media claims an oversight role on clandestine operations, it moves that clandestine operation into an arena where we cannot clarify, we cannot explain, we cannot defend our actions without doing even further damage to our national security.

It’s important–as I say this, it’s important to bear in mind that my agency is subject to another oversight mechanism that has full access to our operations and takes our security requirements into account, it’s your representatives in Congress.

George Tenet and Porter Goss, George Bush’s previous CIA directors, never said anything nearly as sustained or lucid on this vital subject–and they and we paid for their silence with an accelerating flow of leaks appearing in the media. It is unlikely that Hayden’s caution will be heeded by many in the press, least of all at the New York Times. But the issue, at least, has finally been joined in a serious way by the Bush administration.

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