Commentary Magazine


Topic: operative

A Costly Error for the GOP?

Charles Krauthammer doesn’t mince words (when does he ever?) on the endorsement of Christine O’Donnell. He calls the decision to back the Tea Party darling (who has a boatload of  vulnerabilities) “destructive, capricious and irresponsible” and that if she wins it “could be the difference between Republican and Democratic control.” As he puts it, “Delaware is not Alaska.”

In some cases, the Tea Party activists and their endorsers have dodged a bullet. In Kentucky, Rand Paul is now comfortably ahead, no thanks to his own gaffes and erratic performance. But in states that aren’t traditionally Red, even in a wave election year, it’s important to select competent, electable candidates if the party’s goal is to maximize its numbers.

As I have pointed out in the past, 51 seats doesn’t necessarily give one “control” of the Senate. But, as one smart GOP operative told me, “It would be a disaster — literally throwing a seat away and potentially a shot at the majority.” On the other hand, it might be a valuable lesson for the GOP to learn about the importance of candidate selection.

Charles Krauthammer doesn’t mince words (when does he ever?) on the endorsement of Christine O’Donnell. He calls the decision to back the Tea Party darling (who has a boatload of  vulnerabilities) “destructive, capricious and irresponsible” and that if she wins it “could be the difference between Republican and Democratic control.” As he puts it, “Delaware is not Alaska.”

In some cases, the Tea Party activists and their endorsers have dodged a bullet. In Kentucky, Rand Paul is now comfortably ahead, no thanks to his own gaffes and erratic performance. But in states that aren’t traditionally Red, even in a wave election year, it’s important to select competent, electable candidates if the party’s goal is to maximize its numbers.

As I have pointed out in the past, 51 seats doesn’t necessarily give one “control” of the Senate. But, as one smart GOP operative told me, “It would be a disaster — literally throwing a seat away and potentially a shot at the majority.” On the other hand, it might be a valuable lesson for the GOP to learn about the importance of candidate selection.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

Don’t you expect Eric Holder will want to “spend more time with his family” before Republicans get a majority — and subpoena power — in the House and/or Senate? “Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is a man with blood on his hands.A year before 9/11, the Saudi al Qaeda operative masterminded the bombing of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole, killing 17 sailors as the vessel refueled in the Yemeni port of Aden.A Guantanamo tribunal was ready to arraign him last year, but since the Obama administration took office, it’s been a case of trial and error. No trial — plenty of error. … Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that because the Cole bombing was an attack on the military, Nashiri’s trial should proceed in a military tribunal. Did it really take nine months to figure that out?”

Don’t faint: “BBC Exonerates Israel.” When will J Street?

Don’t underestimate the cluelessness of liberal politicians: “The Muslim center planned near the site of the World Trade Center attack could qualify for tax-free financing, a spokesman for City Comptroller John Liu said on Friday, and Liu is willing to consider approving the public subsidy.The Democratic comptroller’s spokesman, Scott Sieber, said Liu supported the project. The center has sparked an intense debate over U.S. religious freedoms and the sanctity of the Trade Center site, where nearly 3,000 perished in the September 11, 2001 attack.”

Don’t think Florida Democrats should be celebrating Rick Scott’s win: “The first Rasmussen Reports post-primary survey of the Florida governor’s race finds Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink in a close contest.Scott, the winner of Tuesday’s bruising GOP Primary, earns the support of 41% of Likely Voters in the state, while Sink picks up 36% of the vote.”

Don’t be surprised if Charlie Crist comes in third in the Senate race. A distant third.

Don’t you wonder what compelled James Fallows, after his magazine invited one of the most effective neocon pundits to join in a week-long symposium, to go out of his way to “disassociate” himself not once but twice from his guest’s views? Could be that the left-leaning readership threw a hissy fit (how dare Atlantic allow a conservative to make mincemeat of their arguments!), or maybe it’s just a dirth of graciousness. These are not mutually exclusive explanations. (To his credit, Jeffrey Goldberg — “kudos to the assorted luminaries” — did not follow his colleague’s lead.)

Don’t miss Peter Berkowitz’s latest column. A sample: “In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish. … Messrs. [George] Packer, [E.J.] Dionne and [Sam] Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Obama to say “victory” or “democracy” in connection with Iraq. It’s all about keeping his campaign promise. And more money spent on the VA. I had hoped he would grow into the role of commander in chief. Hasn’t happened yet.

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The Times Square Attack and the Effort to Redefine “Terrorism”

Bill Burck and Dana Perino write: “No one yet knows for sure who is responsible for the attempted terrorist attack in Times Square last night. It could be al-Qaeda or some other Islamist terrorist group, or some other group, or an individual acting on his or her own. Initial reports are that it may have been a crude bomb and a relatively amateur attack.” But they warn this should serve as a reminder:

[I]t should remind us that the federal officials who continue to insist that New York City is the best place to try KSM and other 9/11 terrorists are, frankly, out of their minds. Attorney General Eric Holder remains delusional on this front, as he has continued to say that a civilian trial in New York remains on the table, despite the uniform protest of all major New York public officials from the mayor to the police chief to the governor.

New York is the world’s number-one terrorist target, and has been since at least he first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Those who claim, in spite of all logic and experience, that New York could be secured if KSM were brought there for trial are either being misleading or are plain old crazy.

It does suggest that those devising the administration’s approach to terrorism do so without consideration of or contact with the real world. It is the stuff of academic theory and law-school textbooks, not of the real world or the potential peril faced by ordinary Americans.

Moreover, the incident and the ensuing coverage have highlighted that there is a new definitional game afoot. The administration, in concert with the mainstream media, has begun to set up a false dichotomy: on the one hand, the perpetrators are amateurs, “lone wolves”; on the other, they are “real” Islamic terrorists. But this is folly. Was Major Hassan an “amateur” because he hadn’t perfected his terror skills in previous attacks? Was he a lone wolf because he merely e-mailed a radical imam and did not receive specific instructions from an al-Qaeda operative? When we are dealing with an enemy that does not observe the rules of war and does not conduct battle operations in uniform or within a defined chain of command, these distinctions make little sense.

What matters is that there are Islamic fundamentalists who seek to wage war on the West. (New York Police Chief Raymond Kelly supplied a moment of clarity when he explained, “A terrorist act doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted by an organization. An individual can do it on their own.”) So the notion that we should all breathe a sigh of relief if a particular jihadist is merely inspired by, but not directly linked to, an al-Qaeda operation seems designed only to inure ourselves to the dangers we face and to transform these incidents into “crimes” rather than acts of war.

As the New York Times noted, “Investigators were reviewing similarities between the incident in Times Square and coordinated attacks in the summer of 2007 at a Glasgow airport and a London neighborhood of nightclubs and theaters. Both attacks involved cars containing propane and gasoline that did not explode. Those attacks, the authorities believed, had their roots in Iraq.” We will learn more as the investigation proceeds about whether this was, in fact, a jihadist-motivated attack. But we should not fall into the trap of imagining that the number or organization structure of the attackers is what defines “terrorism.” That’s a recipe for ignoring the danger posed by stunts like affording KSM a public trial — where more “lone wolves” will hear the call to wage war on America.

Bill Burck and Dana Perino write: “No one yet knows for sure who is responsible for the attempted terrorist attack in Times Square last night. It could be al-Qaeda or some other Islamist terrorist group, or some other group, or an individual acting on his or her own. Initial reports are that it may have been a crude bomb and a relatively amateur attack.” But they warn this should serve as a reminder:

[I]t should remind us that the federal officials who continue to insist that New York City is the best place to try KSM and other 9/11 terrorists are, frankly, out of their minds. Attorney General Eric Holder remains delusional on this front, as he has continued to say that a civilian trial in New York remains on the table, despite the uniform protest of all major New York public officials from the mayor to the police chief to the governor.

New York is the world’s number-one terrorist target, and has been since at least he first World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Those who claim, in spite of all logic and experience, that New York could be secured if KSM were brought there for trial are either being misleading or are plain old crazy.

It does suggest that those devising the administration’s approach to terrorism do so without consideration of or contact with the real world. It is the stuff of academic theory and law-school textbooks, not of the real world or the potential peril faced by ordinary Americans.

Moreover, the incident and the ensuing coverage have highlighted that there is a new definitional game afoot. The administration, in concert with the mainstream media, has begun to set up a false dichotomy: on the one hand, the perpetrators are amateurs, “lone wolves”; on the other, they are “real” Islamic terrorists. But this is folly. Was Major Hassan an “amateur” because he hadn’t perfected his terror skills in previous attacks? Was he a lone wolf because he merely e-mailed a radical imam and did not receive specific instructions from an al-Qaeda operative? When we are dealing with an enemy that does not observe the rules of war and does not conduct battle operations in uniform or within a defined chain of command, these distinctions make little sense.

What matters is that there are Islamic fundamentalists who seek to wage war on the West. (New York Police Chief Raymond Kelly supplied a moment of clarity when he explained, “A terrorist act doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted by an organization. An individual can do it on their own.”) So the notion that we should all breathe a sigh of relief if a particular jihadist is merely inspired by, but not directly linked to, an al-Qaeda operation seems designed only to inure ourselves to the dangers we face and to transform these incidents into “crimes” rather than acts of war.

As the New York Times noted, “Investigators were reviewing similarities between the incident in Times Square and coordinated attacks in the summer of 2007 at a Glasgow airport and a London neighborhood of nightclubs and theaters. Both attacks involved cars containing propane and gasoline that did not explode. Those attacks, the authorities believed, had their roots in Iraq.” We will learn more as the investigation proceeds about whether this was, in fact, a jihadist-motivated attack. But we should not fall into the trap of imagining that the number or organization structure of the attackers is what defines “terrorism.” That’s a recipe for ignoring the danger posed by stunts like affording KSM a public trial — where more “lone wolves” will hear the call to wage war on America.

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Obama OKs Assassination of American Citizen

…and no, it’s not Rush Limbaugh.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.

Nice to know.

However, I respectfully request, Mr. President, that the following be added to your hit list:

• Customer-service rep #2346 at Time Warner Cable, Queens, New York
• Customer-service rep “Treacle” at Verizon Wireless
• Customer-service rep “Chandra” at Dell
• Customer-service rep “Mahmoud” at Vonage
• Customer-service rep “Captain Nightmare” at Citibank
• Whoever thought this was a good idea

…and no, it’s not Rush Limbaugh.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico and spent years in the United States as an imam, is in hiding in Yemen. He has been the focus of intense scrutiny since he was linked to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November, and then to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25.

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.

Nice to know.

However, I respectfully request, Mr. President, that the following be added to your hit list:

• Customer-service rep #2346 at Time Warner Cable, Queens, New York
• Customer-service rep “Treacle” at Verizon Wireless
• Customer-service rep “Chandra” at Dell
• Customer-service rep “Mahmoud” at Vonage
• Customer-service rep “Captain Nightmare” at Citibank
• Whoever thought this was a good idea

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Mideast Peace Gap: A Tale of Two Murderers

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

The dustup over the badly timed announcement of the building of Jewish homes in East Jerusalem this week has rightly provoked comment about the competence of the Netanyahu government. But for all the talk about the Palestinians’ being so offended by the idea of Jews living in East Jerusalem that they wouldn’t talk peace, it bears repeating that there is no indication that Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party and the Palestinian Authority it controls are willing to actually sign a peace agreement with Israel no matter what the terms of such a deal might be. Palestinian political culture remains anchored in an extremist interpretation of their national identity, which views the Jewish state as inherently illegitimate and all violence against it and its citizens as laudatory.

This was graphically illustrated yesterday in Ramallah, when Fatah’s youth division gathered to dedicate a square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, the Fatah operative that led the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, a terrorist attack that took the lives of 37 Israelis and one American. As David noted earlier this morning, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Palestinian Authority was postponing the event that was timed to honor the 30th anniversary of this case of mass murder for “technical reasons” that may have more to do with a desire to put it off until media coverage abates (i.e., after Vice President Biden has left the country). Yet the New York Times account published today makes it clear that followers and officials of Abbas’s Fatah were by no means embarrassed by their connection with the most notorious terrorist attack in Israel’s history.

The story was in the best tradition of the fallacy about one man’s terrorist being another’s “freedom fighter.” The Times headline reflected this moral ambivalence: “Palestinians Honor Figure Reviled in Israel as a Terrorist.” For Palestinians quoted in the piece, including Fatah officials, Mughrabi was a heroine who was “every Palestinian girl,” rather than a heartless killer who helped mow down 38 human beings, including 13 children, before being killed herself by Israeli forces. As for this being an isolated incident, as Palestinian Media Watch has reported, the drumbeat of incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Jews is unceasing. Indeed, as even the Times notes, “the Palestinians also named two girls’ high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.”

But those seeking moral equivalence between the two sides are largely undaunted. At the Times news blog, the Lede, Robert Mackey, who on Wednesday erroneously referred to East Jerusalem as “traditionally Arab,” wrote on Thursday that there are Jews who are extremists as well. He posted a video on the Times site purporting to be a Purim celebration by a few Jews living in a house in East Jerusalem. The “boisterous celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim by Israelis living in a home in East Jerusalem … appeared to be a calculated affront to their new Arab neighbors.”

That leads us to ask the Lede blogger whether he would sympathize with complaints by Jews should they witness “a boisterous celebration” of a Muslim holiday anywhere in Israel, where Arabs and Christians, as well as Jews, are free to practice their religions.

It is true that the video did include a bit where one man sang a song in praise of Baruch Goldstein, the mad Israeli who murdered 29 Muslims in Hebron on Purim in 1994. That is offensive. But for those who see this as the equivalent of Arab incitement, it is worth pointing out that this is just one Jewish extremist. No one could credibly assert that the Israeli government or the overwhelming majority of the Israeli people share his views. In fact, such despicable beliefs are completely marginal in Israel. But while Baruch Goldstein is a hero only to a tiny fragment of a percentage of Israelis, Dalal Mughrabi is a heroine to virtually all Palestinians. Rather than an illustration of how both sides are mired in mutual hate, the reaction of the Israeli and Palestinian publics to these two names actually shows how different the two cultures are at this point in time.

Indeed, true peace will only be possible when Palestinians think of Mughrabi the same way most Israelis view Goldstein.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Michael Rubin: “[Iran] Foreign Minister Mottaki: ‘Mr. [Yukiya] Amanu’s [IAEA] report shows that he is relatively new in his job. It takes some time until he reaches the maturity of Mr. El Baradei.’ That’s a bit like Hitler complaining that Churchill doesn’t have the maturity of Chamberlain. Congratulations to the IAEA for putting mission first, and leaving politics to the politicians.”

James Capretta on ObamaCare II: “The latest Obama plan would still pile a massive new health-entitlement program on top of the unaffordable ones already on the books. The Congressional Budget Office says the cost of the coverage expansions in the Senate bill (upon which the president’s plan is based) will reach $200 billion annually by 2019 and increase 8 percent every year thereafter. The Obama plan would increase those costs with even more expensive promises. Over the next decade, the plan would cost at least $1.2 trillion. Over a full ten years of implementation, its cost would approach $2.5 trillion.”

Even the Washington Post‘s editors don’t have nice things to say about Obama: “Overall, though, the president has proposed a plan whose uncertain savings are made even less certain, and whose known costs are increased. Already a trillion-dollar plan was ‘paid for’ with hundreds of billions of dollars in promised ‘savings’ from Medicare; already it ignored a known cost of well over $200 billion in Medicare payments to physicians; already it relegated too many reforms to pilot programs with long horizons. Now it postpones the key savings mechanism [the Cadillac excise tax]. Administration officials argue that Mr. Obama deserves credit for not dropping the tax altogether. But when did he stand up and fight for the better approach?”

Might it be all that talk of ObamaCare II? “For the second straight week, Republican candidates lead Democrats by nine points in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.”

Not buying Eric Holder’s latest: “Republicans are hitting back against Democratic claims that a guilty plea from an al Qaeda operative in federal court is proof the criminal justice system is up to the task of prosecuting terrorism suspects. … Republicans, however, remain steadfastly opposed to trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts and argued that the [Najibullah] Zazi case has no bearing on other prospective terrorism prosecutions, because Zazi is a legal permanent resident of the United States, while most accused terrorists are citizens of other countries who are not entitled to the constitutional rights civilian trials afford.” Rep. Lamar Smith chides Holder: “But comparing the prosecution of Zazi — a legal permanent resident of the U.S. — to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who engaged in an act of war against the U.S. by plotting the mass murder of Americans on 9/11 — is misleading at best.” Holder’s response? Still waiting.

Leslie Gelb points out that Rahm Emanuel is defending himself by dumping on Obama. “In other words, Mr. Obama could have thrived and saved himself on key issues had he only listened to Rahm. It sure looks like Rahm (or someone near and dear to him) trying to save himself at the president’s expense.” Or maybe anti-Rahm forces are trying to make Rahm look like a disloyal snitch.

Not a headline Gov. Charlie Crist wants to see: “Wounded Crist Campaign Losing Staff.”

Sen. Harry Reid gets criticized for saying that unemployment contributes to domestic abuse. (“I met with some people while I was home dealing with domestic abuse. It has gotten out of hand. Why? Men don’t have jobs.”) He actually has a point and certainly has said dumber, less defensible things. But he now has the ability to make even a plausible observation seem like a gaffe.

Michael Rubin: “[Iran] Foreign Minister Mottaki: ‘Mr. [Yukiya] Amanu’s [IAEA] report shows that he is relatively new in his job. It takes some time until he reaches the maturity of Mr. El Baradei.’ That’s a bit like Hitler complaining that Churchill doesn’t have the maturity of Chamberlain. Congratulations to the IAEA for putting mission first, and leaving politics to the politicians.”

James Capretta on ObamaCare II: “The latest Obama plan would still pile a massive new health-entitlement program on top of the unaffordable ones already on the books. The Congressional Budget Office says the cost of the coverage expansions in the Senate bill (upon which the president’s plan is based) will reach $200 billion annually by 2019 and increase 8 percent every year thereafter. The Obama plan would increase those costs with even more expensive promises. Over the next decade, the plan would cost at least $1.2 trillion. Over a full ten years of implementation, its cost would approach $2.5 trillion.”

Even the Washington Post‘s editors don’t have nice things to say about Obama: “Overall, though, the president has proposed a plan whose uncertain savings are made even less certain, and whose known costs are increased. Already a trillion-dollar plan was ‘paid for’ with hundreds of billions of dollars in promised ‘savings’ from Medicare; already it ignored a known cost of well over $200 billion in Medicare payments to physicians; already it relegated too many reforms to pilot programs with long horizons. Now it postpones the key savings mechanism [the Cadillac excise tax]. Administration officials argue that Mr. Obama deserves credit for not dropping the tax altogether. But when did he stand up and fight for the better approach?”

Might it be all that talk of ObamaCare II? “For the second straight week, Republican candidates lead Democrats by nine points in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot.”

Not buying Eric Holder’s latest: “Republicans are hitting back against Democratic claims that a guilty plea from an al Qaeda operative in federal court is proof the criminal justice system is up to the task of prosecuting terrorism suspects. … Republicans, however, remain steadfastly opposed to trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts and argued that the [Najibullah] Zazi case has no bearing on other prospective terrorism prosecutions, because Zazi is a legal permanent resident of the United States, while most accused terrorists are citizens of other countries who are not entitled to the constitutional rights civilian trials afford.” Rep. Lamar Smith chides Holder: “But comparing the prosecution of Zazi — a legal permanent resident of the U.S. — to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who engaged in an act of war against the U.S. by plotting the mass murder of Americans on 9/11 — is misleading at best.” Holder’s response? Still waiting.

Leslie Gelb points out that Rahm Emanuel is defending himself by dumping on Obama. “In other words, Mr. Obama could have thrived and saved himself on key issues had he only listened to Rahm. It sure looks like Rahm (or someone near and dear to him) trying to save himself at the president’s expense.” Or maybe anti-Rahm forces are trying to make Rahm look like a disloyal snitch.

Not a headline Gov. Charlie Crist wants to see: “Wounded Crist Campaign Losing Staff.”

Sen. Harry Reid gets criticized for saying that unemployment contributes to domestic abuse. (“I met with some people while I was home dealing with domestic abuse. It has gotten out of hand. Why? Men don’t have jobs.”) He actually has a point and certainly has said dumber, less defensible things. But he now has the ability to make even a plausible observation seem like a gaffe.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

The mayor of Las Vegas, despite numbers from helpful (or is it desperate?) Democratic polling outfits showing he would do better against Republican challengers to Harry Reid, says he won’t run. Recruitment is hard for the side facing rather than riding the wave.

Surveying the Democratic retirements and opt-outs, it sure does seem that “Democrats are spooked at all levels. Beau Biden’s Delaware bid has always had a Coakleyesque Democratic entitlement aroma to it, and Massachusetts has now sensitized the noses of the rest of the nation. Much more so than Republicans, Democratic congressional candidates are often products of their urban party machines, but I sure wouldn’t want to be a machine candidate running for Congress anywhere in the country next fall.”

Speaking of machines, the Illinois Senate primary race has heated up. The Democratic front-runner, Alexi Giannoulias, is being attacked for his ties to Tony Rezko. You sort of see how that would be a problem in the general election.

Democrats in Illinois seem awfully jumpy: “A televised forum among the three leading Democrats for the Senate last week seemed to transform into a scuffle over which one would be least likely, come November, to repeat what happened in Massachusetts. (Along the way, they struck notes that sounded not so unlike Mr. Brown.)”

Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Politico reports: “White House advisers appearing on the Sunday talk shows gave three different estimates of how many jobs could be credited to President Obama’s Recovery Act.”

Liberals can barely disguise their disdain for the Obami’s muddled health-care stance. TNR complains: “The White House seems to agree that passing the Senate bill and fixing it with reconciliation would be the best way to proceed. But that doesn’t mean they’re pushing hard for that option. According to the same sources, the Obama administration sent vague, sometimes conflicting signals about its intentions for much of last week–making the task for reform advocates even harder.” (And he could have been such a fine editor for them!) Perhaps the Obami just want the whole health-care thing to go away. That they might finally accomplish.

Megan McArdle explains how to do precisely that: “We want to pass health care, but we just have a few things to do first. … Once it goes on the back burner, it’s over. As time goes by, voters will be thinking less and less about the health care bill they hated, and more and more about other things in the news. There is not going to be any appetite among Democrats for returning to this toxic process and refreshing those bad memories. They’re going to want to spend the time between now and the election talking about things that voters, y’know, like.”

Victor Davis Hanson takes us down memory lane: “After Van Jones, Anita Dunn, the Skip Gates mess, the ‘tea-bagger’ slurs, the attacks on Fox News, the Copenhagen dashes, the bowing, the apologizing, the reordering of creditors, the NEA obsequiousness, the lackluster overseas-contingency-operation front, the deer-in-the-headlights pause on Afghanistan, the pseudo-deadlines on Iran, Guantanamo, and health care, the transparency and bipartisanship fraud, and dozens of other things, Obama simply does not have the popularity to carry unpopular legislation forward.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that “a new report warns that al-Qaeda has not abandoned its goal of attacking the United States with a chemical, biological or even nuclear weapon. The report, by a former senior CIA official who led the agency’s hunt for terrorists’ weapons of mass destruction, portrays al-Qaeda’s leaders as determined and patient, willing to wait for years to acquire the kinds of weapons that could inflict widespread casualties.” (Not even if we close Guantanamo? Give KSM his trial? No.) Seems like a good reminder that whenever we grab an al-Qaeda operative, we should be doing everything within our power to get every bit of data we can in order to prevent an attack with “widespread casualties.”

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It Isn’t Too Late to Interrogate Abdulmutallab

Dennis Blair, for reasons not entirely clear (a parting shot? a spasm of guilt for a job poorly done?), took a big swing at the Obami yesterday where they’re most vulnerable: their knee-jerk fixation on treating Islamic terrorists as common criminals. This report explains:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair faulted the decision not to use the “High Value Interrogation Group” (HIG) to question alleged al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

“That unit was created exactly for this purpose — to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means,” Blair told the Senate homeland security committee.

The intelligence chief said the interrogation group was created by the White House last year to handle overseas cases but will be expanded now to domestic ones. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have,” he added.

Later in the day Blair was forced to walk it back with the “my words were misconstrued” lingo that is the telltale sign of being big-footed by an irate White House. Still, the damage had been done. Blair’s complaint is precisely the one that critics have been making since it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chatted with the FBI for a bit and then clammed up, having been handed a full panoply of constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. No more dot-connecting information will come from him unless he disregards his lawyer’s admonitions or, more likely, makes a plea deal.

It seems the Obami operate on cruise control — set the car in motion, hit the button, and never touch the controls again. The lack of thoughtful analysis or consideration is breathtaking. As the report notes, “Blair, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael E. Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that they were not consulted about the charging decision.” Well, with Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department apparently running anti-terror policy, no one thought that those responsible for preventing future attacks and gathering critical intelligence data might want to weigh in on the matter.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t too late. We can still declare Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant and ship him off for questioning and a military tribunal. Sure we’ve lost time, and it was a grievous error not to have used all the tools at our disposal to extract information, but why compound the error by leaving him in the criminal justice process? Blair has admitted that the Obami erred, so someone should ask him why Mueller, Leiter, Napolitano, and maybe even the president (he is in charge, right?) aren’t now considering how to limit the damage done by the ill-advised and unthinking actions taken on Christmas Day.

Dennis Blair, for reasons not entirely clear (a parting shot? a spasm of guilt for a job poorly done?), took a big swing at the Obami yesterday where they’re most vulnerable: their knee-jerk fixation on treating Islamic terrorists as common criminals. This report explains:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair faulted the decision not to use the “High Value Interrogation Group” (HIG) to question alleged al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

“That unit was created exactly for this purpose — to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means,” Blair told the Senate homeland security committee.

The intelligence chief said the interrogation group was created by the White House last year to handle overseas cases but will be expanded now to domestic ones. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have,” he added.

Later in the day Blair was forced to walk it back with the “my words were misconstrued” lingo that is the telltale sign of being big-footed by an irate White House. Still, the damage had been done. Blair’s complaint is precisely the one that critics have been making since it was revealed that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab chatted with the FBI for a bit and then clammed up, having been handed a full panoply of constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. No more dot-connecting information will come from him unless he disregards his lawyer’s admonitions or, more likely, makes a plea deal.

It seems the Obami operate on cruise control — set the car in motion, hit the button, and never touch the controls again. The lack of thoughtful analysis or consideration is breathtaking. As the report notes, “Blair, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael E. Leiter and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers that they were not consulted about the charging decision.” Well, with Eric Holder and the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department apparently running anti-terror policy, no one thought that those responsible for preventing future attacks and gathering critical intelligence data might want to weigh in on the matter.

But here’s the thing: it isn’t too late. We can still declare Abdulmutallab an enemy combatant and ship him off for questioning and a military tribunal. Sure we’ve lost time, and it was a grievous error not to have used all the tools at our disposal to extract information, but why compound the error by leaving him in the criminal justice process? Blair has admitted that the Obami erred, so someone should ask him why Mueller, Leiter, Napolitano, and maybe even the president (he is in charge, right?) aren’t now considering how to limit the damage done by the ill-advised and unthinking actions taken on Christmas Day.

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The Free Flow of Classified Information Act

Given his particular set of credentials in national security, it is not a surprise that John McCain understands the critical need for secrecy in the conduct of foreign and military policy.  He has, for example, sharply criticized the New York Times for its December 2005 decision to reveal the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, the highly classified effort to intercept the international telephone and email communications of al-Qaeda terrorists.  “I understand completely why the government charged with defending our security would want to discourage that from happening and hold the people who disclosed that damaging information accountable for their action,” McCain told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on April 13.But exactly how is the government to uncover who the disclosers are? One way would be for it to issue a subpoena to the journalists who broke the story and ask them before a grand jury, under pain of a contempt citation, to disgorge the names of their confidential sources. That is precisely what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did in issuing a subpoena to Judith Miller of the New York Times as he investigated the leak of the identity of the ostensibly undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail refusing to comply with the subpoena before she changed her mind and identified Scooter Libby as her source.

A bill now before Congress would exempt journalists from having to testify in such cases. The bill is called the Free Flow of Information Act, but a better name might be the Free Flow of Classified Information Act. By making it almost impossible to apprehend leakers in government, the flow of highly secret information, already substantial, is likely to grow into a flood.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both supporting this legislation. So, also, is — of all people — John McCain. In addition to criticizing it sharply–he has called it “a license to do harm, perhaps serious harm,” he has also performed a pirouette to praise it as “a license to do good; to disclose injustice and unlawfulness and inequities; and to encourage their swift correction.”

McCain’s effort to have it both ways is either evidence of serious intellectual confusion or shabby political calculation. For its part, the New York Times is insisting that without the law, the flow of news will slow and the public’s “right to know” will be seriously impaired.

I have sought to explain some of the problems with this contention in several articles: Why Journalists Are Not Above the LawA License to Leak and Not Every Leak is Fit To Print. Whatever one makes of my conclusions, the assertion by the Times that the news will dry up without a shield law is a ridiculous position for a newspaper that is currently in the process of slashing its staff by a hundred editors and reporters. Unless its newsroom is currently populated by a forest of deadwood, those cuts will limit its ability to report the news far more than the purely hypothetical loss of stories caused by the absence of a shield law.

Given his particular set of credentials in national security, it is not a surprise that John McCain understands the critical need for secrecy in the conduct of foreign and military policy.  He has, for example, sharply criticized the New York Times for its December 2005 decision to reveal the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program, the highly classified effort to intercept the international telephone and email communications of al-Qaeda terrorists.  “I understand completely why the government charged with defending our security would want to discourage that from happening and hold the people who disclosed that damaging information accountable for their action,” McCain told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on April 13.But exactly how is the government to uncover who the disclosers are? One way would be for it to issue a subpoena to the journalists who broke the story and ask them before a grand jury, under pain of a contempt citation, to disgorge the names of their confidential sources. That is precisely what the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did in issuing a subpoena to Judith Miller of the New York Times as he investigated the leak of the identity of the ostensibly undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail refusing to comply with the subpoena before she changed her mind and identified Scooter Libby as her source.

A bill now before Congress would exempt journalists from having to testify in such cases. The bill is called the Free Flow of Information Act, but a better name might be the Free Flow of Classified Information Act. By making it almost impossible to apprehend leakers in government, the flow of highly secret information, already substantial, is likely to grow into a flood.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both supporting this legislation. So, also, is — of all people — John McCain. In addition to criticizing it sharply–he has called it “a license to do harm, perhaps serious harm,” he has also performed a pirouette to praise it as “a license to do good; to disclose injustice and unlawfulness and inequities; and to encourage their swift correction.”

McCain’s effort to have it both ways is either evidence of serious intellectual confusion or shabby political calculation. For its part, the New York Times is insisting that without the law, the flow of news will slow and the public’s “right to know” will be seriously impaired.

I have sought to explain some of the problems with this contention in several articles: Why Journalists Are Not Above the LawA License to Leak and Not Every Leak is Fit To Print. Whatever one makes of my conclusions, the assertion by the Times that the news will dry up without a shield law is a ridiculous position for a newspaper that is currently in the process of slashing its staff by a hundred editors and reporters. Unless its newsroom is currently populated by a forest of deadwood, those cuts will limit its ability to report the news far more than the purely hypothetical loss of stories caused by the absence of a shield law.

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Secret Agent Hillary

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

So does a first lady play a critical foreign policy role or not?

These days, Hillary Clinton certainly wants us to think so. She claims she “helped to bring peace” to Northern Ireland, stood up to the Chinese, negotiated with Macedonians, and braved a hail of bullets in war-torn Bosnia.

So then why, when questioned in 1997 about having held an important foreign policy meeting in 1996, did her spokesman deflect inquiries to the National Security Council (whose spokesman said that foreign policy is set by the President and not by the First Lady)? Perhaps because this rare instance of Hillary’s actual foreign policy experience was problematic then and disastrous now.

Recent reports indicate that in 1996 Hillary had an agreeable conference with Muthanna Hanooti, the alleged Iraqi intelligence operative who was just indicted for bringing U.S. lawmakers to Iraq on Saddam’s dime. During this meeting they discussed easing American sanctions on Iraq.

Hanooti told the New York Sun’s Ira Stoll that Hillary was “very receptive” to weakening sanctions and she “passed a message to the State Department” urging the implementation of the oil-for-food deal. Oil-for-food was nominally intended to help Saddam feed Iraqis through oil sales. In reality it allowed Saddam and a global crime syndicate to profit under cover of UN legitimacy, while Iraqis continued to suffer.

Now, to be fair, the current indictment against Hanooti charges that his formal involvement with Saddam’s intelligence began “in or about 1999.” But clearly his sentiments were in line with Iraq’s dictator at the time he met with Hillary Clinton. Saddam’s goal was to end sanctions altogether and re-establish a formidable WMD program. At the time, the sanctions kept him too financially strapped to see his WMD dreams to completion, but allowed for him to proceed building countrywide palaces. Needy Iraqis never entered the equation.

But Hillary did. There she was, meeting with man who would later be identified as an Iraqi intelligence operative, and allegedly “receptive” to his ploy. Judging from Hillary’s Bosnia claim, her next move is obvious: She wasn’t really receptive to this pro-Saddam stance. She was onto Hanooti before anyone else; she was functioning as a top-level spy, in fact. There was a mini-camera in her brooch and a lie-detector in her purse. Just another day, I guess, in the life of Super First Lady.

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Obama Smear–The Hebrew Version

The Democratic race has fallen off the curb and into the gutter. Ynet News reports that an email making its way through the U.S. and Israel asserts that Barack Obama is a stealthy al Qaeda operative poised to topple the American government. Here’s perhaps the most distasteful aspect of this latest development: “One of the target audiences in the campaign is clearly the American Jewish community because the e-mail has also been sent out in Hebrew.”

In fact, this new smear is merely a Hebrew translation of the email that went around a month ago – the email that was actually penned by a (since jettisoned) Hillary Clinton Iowa county chair. With the non-stop identity carnival that is now the Obama and Clinton campaigns, this update on last month’s mini-scandal takes on the larger grotesqueness of the day.

This isn’t the first time the Obama-Muslim connection has come up. About a year ago, Daniel Pipes merely raised the question of Obama’s historical relationship to Islam, and the left-wing blogosphere went apoplectic. Where’s the outrage now that a Hillary supporter’s vulgar slander finds a second life through Jew-baiting?

The Democratic race has fallen off the curb and into the gutter. Ynet News reports that an email making its way through the U.S. and Israel asserts that Barack Obama is a stealthy al Qaeda operative poised to topple the American government. Here’s perhaps the most distasteful aspect of this latest development: “One of the target audiences in the campaign is clearly the American Jewish community because the e-mail has also been sent out in Hebrew.”

In fact, this new smear is merely a Hebrew translation of the email that went around a month ago – the email that was actually penned by a (since jettisoned) Hillary Clinton Iowa county chair. With the non-stop identity carnival that is now the Obama and Clinton campaigns, this update on last month’s mini-scandal takes on the larger grotesqueness of the day.

This isn’t the first time the Obama-Muslim connection has come up. About a year ago, Daniel Pipes merely raised the question of Obama’s historical relationship to Islam, and the left-wing blogosphere went apoplectic. Where’s the outrage now that a Hillary supporter’s vulgar slander finds a second life through Jew-baiting?

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The Plame Game

Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game is out, complete with lots of blacked-out spots thanks to CIA concerns about the publication of classified information. Thus, in describing how she tended to her twins while holding down her job as an undercover operative, she has passages like this:

It felt a little like feeding a baby bird. Switching between breast and syringe feedings when they took only a few ounces each time and capturing each detail in a notebook soon took its toll. I was exhausted. XXXXXX XXX XXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX. Every baby book out there recommends that the mother sleep when the baby sleeps.

She sketches quite a bit of nature, too, but Turgenev she is not.

It was the best time: early evening, the furnace blast from the summer day over, the jasmine just opening to perfume the air, and sunset still streaking the sky pink and orange.

She is candid about many things, including the “relevant life experience” that made her suitable for work as a CIA operative recruiting agents and would-be terrorists:

As a Pi Beta Phi sorority sister at Penn State, I had lived through the frenzied “rush” weeks, and once I’d been accepted by the sorority, I attended many a crowded party where fitting in and exchanging easy banter with others was key to social success. Now, I smiled to myself, envisioning the room as nothing more than another fraternity/sorority party, I dove in, trying to find my target.

This kind of thing, and there is a great deal of it in the book, does not exactly make her come across as a Mata Hari.

She discusses at length the famously controversial sixteen words in President Bush’s State of the Union Address: “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” which prompted her husband, Joseph Wilson, to write an op-ed denouncing the Bush administration for cooking intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction while building the case for war. But she is either being evasive about how these sixteen words ended up in the President’s speech, or her explanation has been removed by the CIA censors. It does not matter; responsibility for the blunder has already been unequivocally accepted by George Tenet, the CIA’s then-director.

To her credit, Plame is honest in sketching the broader picture of how the U.S. came to believe that Iraq was vigorously pursuing WMD’s. Although she does point to what she regards as pressure from the White House on the agency to adjust its intelligence to fit policy—principally by means of visits to CIA headquarters by Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby to engage in direct talks with analysts—she sticks with the evidence that is by now solidly established, namely, that Langley itself must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame:

The crime and the colossal failure of the intelligence community—and the CIA in particular—was that . . .deep disagreements [about Iraqi WMD programs] were relegated to footnotes in tiny type at the bottom of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The NIE was hastily ordered by Congress in October 2002 (just prior to the vote to authorize use of force against Iraq) and pulled together by the CIA in an unprecedented few weeks. Even more damning is the intellectual sloppiness of a document known as the “President’s Summary,” which distills the NIE down to one page. . . The CIA failed to demonstrate convincingly to the administration that there was a serious and sustained debate over this issue [the aluminum tubes thought erroneously to be for nuclear purposes].

I haven’t yet finished reading this heavily padded (even as it is heavily redacted) book, but so far, given how much it reveals about the peculiar and dysfunctional culture of the CIA, it is more engaging than I expected.

Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game is out, complete with lots of blacked-out spots thanks to CIA concerns about the publication of classified information. Thus, in describing how she tended to her twins while holding down her job as an undercover operative, she has passages like this:

It felt a little like feeding a baby bird. Switching between breast and syringe feedings when they took only a few ounces each time and capturing each detail in a notebook soon took its toll. I was exhausted. XXXXXX XXX XXXXX XXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXX. Every baby book out there recommends that the mother sleep when the baby sleeps.

She sketches quite a bit of nature, too, but Turgenev she is not.

It was the best time: early evening, the furnace blast from the summer day over, the jasmine just opening to perfume the air, and sunset still streaking the sky pink and orange.

She is candid about many things, including the “relevant life experience” that made her suitable for work as a CIA operative recruiting agents and would-be terrorists:

As a Pi Beta Phi sorority sister at Penn State, I had lived through the frenzied “rush” weeks, and once I’d been accepted by the sorority, I attended many a crowded party where fitting in and exchanging easy banter with others was key to social success. Now, I smiled to myself, envisioning the room as nothing more than another fraternity/sorority party, I dove in, trying to find my target.

This kind of thing, and there is a great deal of it in the book, does not exactly make her come across as a Mata Hari.

She discusses at length the famously controversial sixteen words in President Bush’s State of the Union Address: “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa,” which prompted her husband, Joseph Wilson, to write an op-ed denouncing the Bush administration for cooking intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction while building the case for war. But she is either being evasive about how these sixteen words ended up in the President’s speech, or her explanation has been removed by the CIA censors. It does not matter; responsibility for the blunder has already been unequivocally accepted by George Tenet, the CIA’s then-director.

To her credit, Plame is honest in sketching the broader picture of how the U.S. came to believe that Iraq was vigorously pursuing WMD’s. Although she does point to what she regards as pressure from the White House on the agency to adjust its intelligence to fit policy—principally by means of visits to CIA headquarters by Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby to engage in direct talks with analysts—she sticks with the evidence that is by now solidly established, namely, that Langley itself must shoulder the lion’s share of the blame:

The crime and the colossal failure of the intelligence community—and the CIA in particular—was that . . .deep disagreements [about Iraqi WMD programs] were relegated to footnotes in tiny type at the bottom of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). The NIE was hastily ordered by Congress in October 2002 (just prior to the vote to authorize use of force against Iraq) and pulled together by the CIA in an unprecedented few weeks. Even more damning is the intellectual sloppiness of a document known as the “President’s Summary,” which distills the NIE down to one page. . . The CIA failed to demonstrate convincingly to the administration that there was a serious and sustained debate over this issue [the aluminum tubes thought erroneously to be for nuclear purposes].

I haven’t yet finished reading this heavily padded (even as it is heavily redacted) book, but so far, given how much it reveals about the peculiar and dysfunctional culture of the CIA, it is more engaging than I expected.

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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?

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Let’s Help al Qaeda to Kill Americans

What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

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What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

Levitt believes that putting such suggestions in print for terrorists to read is “a form of public service.” By thinking of plausible ways of causing violent destruction, he writes, “it gives terror fighters a chance to consider and plan for these scenarios before they occur.”

Levitt’s column generated what he says today, in a subsequent posting on the Times website, was an immense amount of hate mail: “The people e-mailing me can’t decide whether I am a moron, a traitor, or both.”

But there are also quite a few letters on the site applauding Levitt, like this one from a person who identifies herself simply as Kelly: “I think you are doing a terrific job actually THINKING about our situation rather than reacting like so many of our fellow Americans.”

Is Levitt indeed performing a public service, or is he a moron, traitor, or both?

Answering this is not as easy as it might appear at first glance. The fact is that we do need to think carefully about the manifold ways terrorists might attack us again. The U.S. government has failed abysmally at that task in the past.

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director George Tenet recalls with some pride how on the evening of September 12, 2001, he was sitting in his office “kicking around ideas” with a senior agency official when they hit upon the idea of creating “a group with the CIA whose sole purpose in life would be to think contrarian thoughts.” Such a unit, duly created by Tenet and dubbed the “Red Cell,” was given the assignment of “speculat[ing] on what was going through Osama bin Laden’s mind.”

In other words, up until September 11, it never occurred to the clueless Tenet or anyone else in a position of responsibility at our premier intelligence agency to perform the elementary task of thinking systematically about how our terrorist adversaries were thinking about us, including about how they might attack us.

There is thus a case for a public discussion of the issue raised by Levitt. But raising the issue and generating actual scenarios in public are two different things. Levitt defends himself on this point by noting that “a lot of the angry responses [he received made] me wonder what everyday Americans think terrorists do all day. My guess is that they brainstorm ideas for terrorist plots. And you have to believe that terrorists are total idiots if it never occurred to them after the Washington D.C. sniper shootings that maybe a sniper plot wasn’t a bad idea.”

True enough. Or is it true at all?

Yes, there are terrorist masterminds out there who do not need our help cooking up the most intricate and lethal plots against the United States. The attacks of September 11 alone are sufficient evidence of that.

But there are also more than a few terrorists and would-be terrorists roaming around who might qualify as “idiots,” or something close. Most recruits for terrorist action in the Islamist cause are not sophisticated planner types like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but angry, ignorant, low-level figures, used by the higher-level terrorist plotters as expendable “muscle.”

Richard Reid is one such figure. If he had been smart enough to set off his shoe-bomb in the privacy of the bathroom instead of while remaining in his seat, American Airlines Flight 63 might now be resting quietly on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with all of it 197 passengers and crew.

Then there was Zacharias Moussaoui, who was encountering trouble in his Minnesota flight school. This deranged fanatic might have only needed scant prompting, perhaps by stumbling across a clever scenario cooked up by Steven Levitt, to find a way to work al Qaeda’s will that was easier than poring through aviation manuals and struggling to operate a Boeing 747 simulator.

There was also el Sayyid Nosair, an operative in the nascent al Qaeda operation, part of the band that was to attack the World Trade Center the first time around in 1993. In 1990, Nosair spent his time and energy planning and carrying out the assassination of the firebrand rabbi Meir Kahane. Given the combination of Kahane’s extremist views and marginal status, this act was senseless, and even counterproductive, from the point of view of Nosair’s own cause. In choosing his victim, Nosair could well have used some help from an economist like Levitt. Will Levitt now offer to provide a public list of superior human targets, whose deaths would be far more useful to the Islamist cause? The logic of his argument suggests that the answer would be yes.

But beyond the logic or illogic of Levitt’s argument, there is something else. Thousands of Americans died on September 11. Although Levitt minimizes the dangers that lie ahead, blithely writing that his guess is that “the terrorism threat just isn’t that great,” the fact is that, like everyone else, he does not know what he does not know. It is entirely possible that the United States will be hit again, and hit harder than we were on September 11.

To Levitt, however, this solemn subject is not solemn at all. He writes about it in a glib and flippant tone, as in his summons to the public to come up with even more lethal scenarios by which al Qaeda might wreak death and destruction on the United States: “I’m sure many readers have far better ideas. I would love to hear them.”

One of the better ripostes to Levitt on the Times website came from a reader named Steve: “Sir, unable to determine if you are demonic, but your actions are demonic. Contemplate this name, Christine Lee Hanson.”

Christine Lee Hanson was a two-year old who perished on board United Airlines Flight 175 when it plowed into the World Trade Center on September 11.

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Off With Libby’s Head?

When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

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When he is sentenced this coming Tuesday, Scooter Libby may be sent directly to jail. If so, this would be grossly unfair since he stands an excellent chance of having the verdict against him overturned on appeal. But it would also be the moment for President Bush to pardon him immediately.

Back in March, when he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice by a jury in federal court in Washington D.C., I explained why I thought the case “represents a terrible injustice.” The federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, had insisted to both the public and the jury that the disclosure of the identity of the CIA operative Valerie Plame—which was the underlying action he had been appointed to investigate—was in fact a crime. But this was a point that had never been established or even formally alleged. Fitzgerald’s overreaching on this colored the jury’s thinking about the gravity of the issues at stake, suggested a motive for Libby to lie that did not reside in proved facts, and conflicted with the judge’s ruling that the case would not hinge on Plame’s status.

Now Fitzgerald has been back in court, arguing that when Libby is sentenced on Tuesday, the judge should throw the book at him precisely on the grounds that he committed the underlying crime-that-was-not-a-crime. Fitzgerald approvingly cites Judge David S. Tatel’s ruling in the Judith Miller case that “because the charges contemplated here relate to false denials of responsibility for Plame’s exposure, prosecuting perjury or false statements would be tantamount to punishing the leak.”

But this a vicious circle. Convicted on the basis of something that was never proved or even formally alleged, is Libby now to be punished on the same basis? With Fitzgerald continuing to overreach, the case for a presidential pardon is growing stronger by the day. If Libby is imprisoned, will Bush do the right thing?

Meanwhile, in closely related news, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wants Valerie Plame to be re-interviewed. Back in March, in a dispatch entitled Lying Liars and Their Lies, I asked whether Plame was under oath when she testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and declared that she played no role in sending her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, on a fact-finding trip to Niger. “I did not recommend him. I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I did not have the authority,” she said.

Plame was under oath, and Senator Bond has pointed out that she has put out three separate versions of the circumstances under which her husband was sent to Niger. According to USA Today‘s summary, they are:

*She told the CIA’s inspector general in 2003 or 2004 that she had suggested Wilson.

*Plame told Senate Intelligence Committee staffers in 2004 that she couldn’t remember whether she had suggested Wilson.

*She told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in March that an unidentified person in Vice President Cheney’s office asked a CIA colleague about the African uranium report in February 2002. A third officer, overhearing Plame and the colleague discussing this, suggested, “Well, why don’t we send Joe?” Plame told the committee.

Which of these is the real story? Is Plame telling three versions of the truth, or is she a lying liar, or even worse, a perjuring perjurer? Bond would like to find out.

But the Intelligence Committee is now under the control of the Democrats who have no interest in calling attention to the antics of the Plame-Wilson provocateurs. Stay tuned, in other words, for the cover-up of the cover-up.  

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Our Unshakeable September 10th Mentality

Suppose a CIA officer stationed in Madrid identifies an al-Qaeda operative by the name, let’s say, of Jihad Jihadi, and observes him talking on a cellphone. Using tradecraft taught on the Farm—the agency training camp back in Virginia—the CIA officer skillfully manages to find out the cellphone’s number and then puts in a request to the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s signals-intelligence arm, to scoop up all conversations from the phone and have them translated. Can it be lawfully done?

Even if it turns out that the number Mr. Jihadi is telephoning belongs to a man named, say, Osama Fatwa, who is a pupil in a flight school in Florida where he is studying how to fly 747’s but not to land them, and even though Mr. Jihadi is located on foreign soil, the NSA might nonetheless be compelled to decline the CIA request.

Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, explains in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

Many Americans would be surprised at just what the current law requires. To state the facts plainly: In a significant number of cases, our intelligence agencies must obtain a court order to monitor the communications of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity who are physically located in foreign countries.

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Suppose a CIA officer stationed in Madrid identifies an al-Qaeda operative by the name, let’s say, of Jihad Jihadi, and observes him talking on a cellphone. Using tradecraft taught on the Farm—the agency training camp back in Virginia—the CIA officer skillfully manages to find out the cellphone’s number and then puts in a request to the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s signals-intelligence arm, to scoop up all conversations from the phone and have them translated. Can it be lawfully done?

Even if it turns out that the number Mr. Jihadi is telephoning belongs to a man named, say, Osama Fatwa, who is a pupil in a flight school in Florida where he is studying how to fly 747’s but not to land them, and even though Mr. Jihadi is located on foreign soil, the NSA might nonetheless be compelled to decline the CIA request.

Michael McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, explains in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post:

Many Americans would be surprised at just what the current law requires. To state the facts plainly: In a significant number of cases, our intelligence agencies must obtain a court order to monitor the communications of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity who are physically located in foreign countries.

In the aftermath of September 11, such restrictions—a consequence of the 1978 FISA Act—were rightly viewed as dangerously anachronistic, and President Bush set in motion his top-secret Terrorist Surveillance Program, under which the NSA was authorized to tap the conversations and intercept the emails of suspected terrorists without a warrant, if one party in the conversation was located abroad.
 
The New York Times revealed the existence of this program in December 2005, arguably compromising it, and the disclosure has been roiling our politics ever since. Whatever damage to our national security was inflicted by our newspaper of record, McConnell is urgently pushing for reform of FISA. “Technology and threats have changed,” he notes, “but the law remains essentially the same,” and our failure to keep pace “comes at an increasingly steep price.”
 
What exactly is that steep price? We made a downpayment with attacks on our embassies in Africa in 1998 and a major installment with the horrors of September 11, 2001. The fact is that tracking terrorist communications would be a problematic enterprise even if we were not tying our hands behind our backs. Insight into the tremendous difficulties involved comes from a recently declassified—and heavily redacted—top-secret NSA report looking back at the agency’s counterterrorism efforts in the 1970’s.
 
The report acknowledges that as terrorism emerged as a significant security concern in that era, with the rise of the Japanese Red Army, the Italian Red Brigades, and numerous Palestinian groups taking the lead, the NSA was “slow to take up the problem” and its “overall approach was rather haphazard.”

The explanation offered for the NSA’s lackluster response is that the signals-intelligence profile of a terrorist group was markedly different from the conventional military and diplomatic communications profile that the agency was accustomed to monitoring. “For the most part, terrorist groups lacked dedicated communications systems,” and as a result, the NSA was “confronted with the prospect of picking out the needles of terrorist transmissions in the haystack of [XXXXXX].” The nature of the “haystack” remains classified and the words defining it were excised from the report. But we do not have to guess in the dark. The report explains the essential difficulty: “the volume of traffic was so high, and the nature of terrorist communications so subtle, that finding anything transmitted by terrorists was problematic.”
 
Technology may have changed a great deal since the 1970’s, but the nature of terrorist communication has not. As in the 9/11 plot, terrorists cells are tiny and they do not use dedicated communications systems. Our intelligence agencies are still looking for a needle in haystack. Are we going to strew obstacles in their way beyond the formidable technological ones that are intrinsic to the problem? Or to put the question another way, are we in the grip of an unshakeable September 10th mentality and determined to set ourselves up for catastrophic failure once again?
 

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Sam Tanenhaus: Arsonist

The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

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The current issue of the New Republic contains a caustic exchange between me and Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Sunday New York Times book review.

Tanenhaus had written an article in TNR about William F. Buckley, Jr., the broader conservative movement, and today’s war on terror. In an aside, he said that COMMENTARY had called for the prosecution of the editors of the New York Times for “treason.” He also characterized the NSA terrorist surveillance program—the highly classified counterterrorism program disclosed by his newspaper in December 2005—as a “domestic surveillance program.”

I wrote a letter pointing out that in my March 2006 COMMENTARY article about the affair, I never accused the editors of the Times of treason. I did not use the T-word at all—precisely because, whatever else they did, the Times’s editors had not committed that particular crime. Nor did I say they had committed espionage. What I argued was that they had violated a U.S. statute proscribing the publication of classified information pertaining to communications intelligence.

In my letter to TNR, I further pointed out that it was inexact to call the NSA program “domestic.” In fact it was international, tapping only those conversations or intercepting those emails that had crossed borders, and in which one party was a suspected al-Qaeda operative either in the United States or abroad.

Summing up both of my objections to Tanenhaus’s article, I wrote: “To confuse an international surveillance program with a domestic one is to be as imprecise and inflammatory as to use the word ‘treason’ in describing a much less serious violation of the law.”

“Inflammatory” was the right word. For if in his initial article Tanenhaus was tending toward the incendiary, his response to my letter, now published in TNR, is a Molotov cocktail.

First he accuses me of propagating “nonsense.” Then he pours a bit of gasoline into the bottle, saying that the “charge of espionage implies a corollary charge of treason,” and that in distinguishing between the two I was employing a “mode of clarification” that is precisely like “one used a half-century ago by Joseph McCarthy.”

But I never said, to repeat, that editors at the Times committed either treason or espionage. Section 798 of Title 18, the provision at issue, is entitled “Disclosure of classified information” and it is very easy to understand. Even analysts who disagree with me about the desirability of prosecuting the Times—Morton Halperin, for example, of George Soros’s Open Society Institute—concur that the Times did indeed break this law.

As for his calling the NSA surveillance program “domestic,” Tanenhaus justifies this with a single citation from the December 16, 2005 Washington Post in which it was called “domestic spying”—as if that settled the matter. It doesn’t. And it doesn’t add a single fact to the discussion, except that someone at the Washington Post is also confused.

I have read a lot of Tanenhaus’s writings over the years in the Times, in Vanity Fair, in Slate, and even in COMMENTARY. I have never known him to break into a sweat or even get hot under the collar. For that matter, though he writes at great length about current events, I have never seen him stake out a genuinely controversial position on anything—attacks on safe targets like Pat Buchanan or Ann Coulter clearly do not count. His past reticence on matters of importance was always something of a mystery to me, although I have had my theories. Whatever explains that past reticence, his present act of minor intellectual arson in defense of his employer, in which he does not hesitate to toss in the name of Joseph McCarthy as tinder, offers an additional clue to the puzzle—about which, once again, I have my theories.

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The News You Don’t Read

It made big headlines in Israel on Wednesday, February 21, but I don’t imagine it got more than scant attention, if that much, anywhere else.

Police thwart major suicide attack.” That’s not front-page news in America or England—unless, that is, it happened in New York or London. If it happened in Tel Aviv, you need at least a bomb going off, and preferably a death or two, for anyone elsewhere to sit up and take notice. And this explains a certain paradox: the more successful Israel’s army and security services are in preventing deadly acts of Palestinian terror against Israelis, the more the world looks upon the means of prevention as vindictive and unnecessary harassment of Palestinians on Israel’s part.

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It made big headlines in Israel on Wednesday, February 21, but I don’t imagine it got more than scant attention, if that much, anywhere else.

Police thwart major suicide attack.” That’s not front-page news in America or England—unless, that is, it happened in New York or London. If it happened in Tel Aviv, you need at least a bomb going off, and preferably a death or two, for anyone elsewhere to sit up and take notice. And this explains a certain paradox: the more successful Israel’s army and security services are in preventing deadly acts of Palestinian terror against Israelis, the more the world looks upon the means of prevention as vindictive and unnecessary harassment of Palestinians on Israel’s part.

Take this Wednesday’s thwarted bombing. An Islamic Jihad operative from the West Bank city of Jenin was arrested in a Palestinian “safe house” in a southern suburb of Tel Aviv after planting a bomb, which he may have intended to retrieve and blow himself up with, in a trash can in the center of the nearby city of Rishon Letzion. He told his interrogators where the bomb was, a team of sappers was sent to defuse it, and no damage was done. This kind of thing happens all the time in Israel. The main reason it was treated as such a big story this time was that, warned by intelligence sources that the bomber was on his way, the police threw up roadblocks, causing major traffic jams in the Tel Aviv area.

You read such a story in the newspaper and turn the page and go on. Only in the act of turning it, perhaps, do you suddenly stop to wonder: Just a minute—how did Israel’s intelligence services know that someone from Jenin was on his way with a bomb? And how did they know where he was hiding so that they were able to get to him in time?

You won’t find the answers in the newspaper. For obvious reasons, their details are a secret. And yet in a general sort of way, there’s no great mystery. Israeli intelligence must have known about the bomb because it had a Palestinian agent who tipped it off. It may have known about the safe house from another agent. And where did it recruit these agents from? Most probably from the hundreds of Islamic Jihad operatives who have been arrested in recent years at roadblocks, in raids on houses, in dragnets, and in sweeps—in short, in all those operations that have given Israel a reputation for being an unconscionable oppressor. And how did it persuade them to work for it? Possibly with money, possibly with other incentives, possibly with threats against them and their families—that is, by doing the kinds of nasty things that nice people don’t do to one another.

The world hears mostly about the nasty things. “Dozens of Israeli lives saved yesterday” doesn’t play well with the editors of the New York Times or the Guardian in London. We in Israel, who know those lives could have been our own, our friends’, or our family’s, have a different take on it.

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Law and Order

Did Scooter Libby write a letter to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in prison containing a coded hint that she should back up his story in court? So asks New York Times reporter Neil Lewis, referring to a curious passage in a missive Libby mailed to Miller in September 2005, ostensibly releasing her from her pledge not to reveal him as her source for the identity of CIA operative Valery Plame Wilson, but possibly suggesting something else entirely. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters because their roots connect them,” Libby wrote.

Asks Lewis: “Was that phrase a simple attempt at a literary turn? Or was it a veiled plea for Ms. Miller to ‘turn’ with him and back up Mr. Libby’s account that he had not disclosed Ms. Wilson’s identity to her?”

The trial of Scooter Libby on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, now entering its second week, may not clear up the mystery of the clustered Aspens, if it is a mystery at all. And it may not clear up the new mystery, raised yesterday by Libby’s crack defense team, of whether their client was being sacrificed by White House operatives to protect Karl Rove. But the investigation of Libby and the Plame leak has gone a considerable distance toward resolving another conundrum that has bedeviled our legal system for decades: namely, whether newsmen are above the law. When the Supreme Court refused to hear Judith Miller’s appeal of her imprisonment on contempt charges, it stood by its own precedent set in 1972 in Branzburg v. Hayes that journalists, like all other citizens, are obliged to testify before grand juries regarding potentially criminal activities, including the criminal activities of their confidential sources. The “public . . . has a right to every man’s evidence,” ruled the Court.

A coalition of First Amendment activists and journalism associations is now lobbying Congress to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision by passing legislation that would create a “reporter’s privilege.” With the Democrats in power in Congress, the prospects for success are now better than they have been for a generation. But at a moment when the country is facing mortal threats from Islamic fanatics and the press has been publishing counterterrorism secrets with reckless abandon, we need a reporter’s privilege as badly as the New York Times needs another Jayson Blair. As I argue in the February issue of COMMENTARY, such a law would manage to damage our national security and do violence to the First Amendment in a single swoop.

To help defray the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233

To help defray the even more considerable costs of prosecuting Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 6D37
Hyattsville, MD 20782

Did Scooter Libby write a letter to New York Times reporter Judith Miller in prison containing a coded hint that she should back up his story in court? So asks New York Times reporter Neil Lewis, referring to a curious passage in a missive Libby mailed to Miller in September 2005, ostensibly releasing her from her pledge not to reveal him as her source for the identity of CIA operative Valery Plame Wilson, but possibly suggesting something else entirely. “Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters because their roots connect them,” Libby wrote.

Asks Lewis: “Was that phrase a simple attempt at a literary turn? Or was it a veiled plea for Ms. Miller to ‘turn’ with him and back up Mr. Libby’s account that he had not disclosed Ms. Wilson’s identity to her?”

The trial of Scooter Libby on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges, now entering its second week, may not clear up the mystery of the clustered Aspens, if it is a mystery at all. And it may not clear up the new mystery, raised yesterday by Libby’s crack defense team, of whether their client was being sacrificed by White House operatives to protect Karl Rove. But the investigation of Libby and the Plame leak has gone a considerable distance toward resolving another conundrum that has bedeviled our legal system for decades: namely, whether newsmen are above the law. When the Supreme Court refused to hear Judith Miller’s appeal of her imprisonment on contempt charges, it stood by its own precedent set in 1972 in Branzburg v. Hayes that journalists, like all other citizens, are obliged to testify before grand juries regarding potentially criminal activities, including the criminal activities of their confidential sources. The “public . . . has a right to every man’s evidence,” ruled the Court.

A coalition of First Amendment activists and journalism associations is now lobbying Congress to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision by passing legislation that would create a “reporter’s privilege.” With the Democrats in power in Congress, the prospects for success are now better than they have been for a generation. But at a moment when the country is facing mortal threats from Islamic fanatics and the press has been publishing counterterrorism secrets with reckless abandon, we need a reporter’s privilege as badly as the New York Times needs another Jayson Blair. As I argue in the February issue of COMMENTARY, such a law would manage to damage our national security and do violence to the First Amendment in a single swoop.

To help defray the considerable costs of defending Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Libby Legal Defense Trust
2100 M Street, NW Suite 170-362
Washington, DC 20037-1233

To help defray the even more considerable costs of prosecuting Scooter Libby, send a check payable to:

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 6D37
Hyattsville, MD 20782

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