Commentary Magazine


Topic: spy

Alleged Iranian Spy Was Scapegoated

Last week, Iranian blogger Potkin Azarmehr questioned the authenticity of reports that Iran had executed Majid Jamali Fashi, the 24-year-old Iranian accused of carrying out the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud-Ali Mohammadi.

This morning, Potkin circulated a snapshot of an Israeli passport, showcased on Iranian TV, which authorities claim is evidence that Fashi was an Israeli agent.

I will leave it to others to decide whether Fashi’s execution was a fake. The passport certainly looks like a fake. This has less to do with the fact that the name and ID number of the passport holder have been erased and more with obvious flaws:

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Last week, Iranian blogger Potkin Azarmehr questioned the authenticity of reports that Iran had executed Majid Jamali Fashi, the 24-year-old Iranian accused of carrying out the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Massoud-Ali Mohammadi.

This morning, Potkin circulated a snapshot of an Israeli passport, showcased on Iranian TV, which authorities claim is evidence that Fashi was an Israeli agent.

I will leave it to others to decide whether Fashi’s execution was a fake. The passport certainly looks like a fake. This has less to do with the fact that the name and ID number of the passport holder have been erased and more with obvious flaws:

First of all, any passport issued since the mid-1990s by any country includes, at the bottom of its main page, a line with left-pointed arrows, much like in this picture. In an authentic passport, the line begins with the letter P followed by the three letter code of the country issuing the document (ISR for Israel), followed by the passport holder’s full name. In the snapshot, the line contains only arrows and no name – N.B. the name is not erased or blurred, it is simply not there.

Beyond this first surprising fault, the picture for Fashi is not suitable for passports – he is gazing away from the camera, whereas a passport head shot requires that the passport holder stare into the camera.

But there is something more – a small detail that Iranian state falsifiers–sloppy as ever–overlooked.

Fashi’s picture is very recent – yet the passport was issued, according to the snapshot, on 17 November 2003. Fashi’s biographical details tell us that he was 24 when he was hanged. If that is the case, he would have been 15-years-old – a teenager, with a much more boyish face with less facial hair than the picture shows.

For obvious reasons then, the year of birth of the passport holder is concealed as well.

Fashi might have been executed after all. But the attempt to turn him into a Mossad agent and gun-for-hire rests clearly on an orchestrated attempt by the regime to scapegoat someone who is innocent.

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Amnesty International Campaigns for Convicted Hezbollah Spy

Amnesty International has come under heavy criticism for supporting Ameer Makhoul, a former anti-Israel activist convicted by Israel of spying for Hezbollah. Makhoul received a nine-year prison sentence for transferring messages to and otherwise aiding Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

But Amnesty’s Philip Luther alleges that Makhoul was imprisoned for “his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel,” as opposed to his involvement in a terrorist organization. Luther further argues that Makhoul’s admission of the crime was invalid, allegedly obtained by Israel through torture.

According to NGO Monitor, Amnesty is intentionally ignoring the overwhelming evidence against Makhoul, in order to further its demonization campaign against Israel.

“Amnesty has completely lost its moral compass regarding human rights in the Middle East, as well as on other issues,” NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg told the Jewish Chronicle. “Even after Makhoul’s admission of spying for Hezbollah, and the evidence presented in court, [it] refuses to denounce Makhoul’s connections to terror, his poisonous Nazi rhetoric, his calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and his demonisation of Israel.”

Amnesty’s work has become so skewed against Israel that it’s impossible to take it seriously anymore. Recently, the organization disputed the Turkel Commission report’s claim that the activists aboard the Gaza flotilla had used firearms against Israeli soldiers, despite photographic evidence. When you can’t even admit what your own eyes are telling you, then it’s time to hang up the claim that you’re an objective observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Amnesty International has come under heavy criticism for supporting Ameer Makhoul, a former anti-Israel activist convicted by Israel of spying for Hezbollah. Makhoul received a nine-year prison sentence for transferring messages to and otherwise aiding Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War.

But Amnesty’s Philip Luther alleges that Makhoul was imprisoned for “his human rights activism on behalf of Palestinians in Israel,” as opposed to his involvement in a terrorist organization. Luther further argues that Makhoul’s admission of the crime was invalid, allegedly obtained by Israel through torture.

According to NGO Monitor, Amnesty is intentionally ignoring the overwhelming evidence against Makhoul, in order to further its demonization campaign against Israel.

“Amnesty has completely lost its moral compass regarding human rights in the Middle East, as well as on other issues,” NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg told the Jewish Chronicle. “Even after Makhoul’s admission of spying for Hezbollah, and the evidence presented in court, [it] refuses to denounce Makhoul’s connections to terror, his poisonous Nazi rhetoric, his calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and his demonisation of Israel.”

Amnesty’s work has become so skewed against Israel that it’s impossible to take it seriously anymore. Recently, the organization disputed the Turkel Commission report’s claim that the activists aboard the Gaza flotilla had used firearms against Israeli soldiers, despite photographic evidence. When you can’t even admit what your own eyes are telling you, then it’s time to hang up the claim that you’re an objective observer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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The FBI Thought AIPAC’s Rosen Was a Spy for Israel

The Washington Times reported today that the FBI believed that former AIPAC lobbyist Steven Rosen was a spy for Israel when it got a warrant to search his office in 2004. The evidence? Rosen was allegedly taking notes during meetings with U.S. officials and then passing the information along to other officials. So basically, he was being a lobbyist. Which makes sense, since that was his job.

But that logic didn’t seem to faze the FBI, which used the information to portray Rosen as an Israeli agent in order to embark on what sounds like a fishing expedition. “Based upon my training and experience as an counterintelligence investigator, I believe Rosen is collecting U.S. government sensitive and classified information, not only as part of his employment at AIPAC, but as an agent of [Israel],” FBI agent Eric Lurie wrote in the affidavit for the warrant.

Of course, FBI officials never actually found any evidence of spying during their searches, and Rosen was never charged with espionage.

“The FBI followed me around for five years, they searched my office and searched my home, and they never found any classified documents, because there were none to find,” Rosen told the Times.

Which raises a troubling question — why was the FBI so eager to go after an AIPAC official for activities that seem typical for the job description of a lobbyist?

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told the Times that some segments of the intelligence community are still highly suspicious of Israeli intelligence-gathering, even decades after the convicted of Jonathan Pollard.

“I believe this goes back to this notion that there was a second Pollard and it was bigger than Pollard,” Foxman said. “I would rather they pursue this, come up with nothing, rather than not be given the opportunity to pursue it and saying, ‘if only they let us, we would find something.’”

I agree with Foxman that the officials should have the opportunity to carry on these searches, because it may help debunk this illogical suspicion. But I also find it concerning that the FBI can harass someone for years based on flimsy evidence simply because of a connection to Israel.

The Washington Times reported today that the FBI believed that former AIPAC lobbyist Steven Rosen was a spy for Israel when it got a warrant to search his office in 2004. The evidence? Rosen was allegedly taking notes during meetings with U.S. officials and then passing the information along to other officials. So basically, he was being a lobbyist. Which makes sense, since that was his job.

But that logic didn’t seem to faze the FBI, which used the information to portray Rosen as an Israeli agent in order to embark on what sounds like a fishing expedition. “Based upon my training and experience as an counterintelligence investigator, I believe Rosen is collecting U.S. government sensitive and classified information, not only as part of his employment at AIPAC, but as an agent of [Israel],” FBI agent Eric Lurie wrote in the affidavit for the warrant.

Of course, FBI officials never actually found any evidence of spying during their searches, and Rosen was never charged with espionage.

“The FBI followed me around for five years, they searched my office and searched my home, and they never found any classified documents, because there were none to find,” Rosen told the Times.

Which raises a troubling question — why was the FBI so eager to go after an AIPAC official for activities that seem typical for the job description of a lobbyist?

The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told the Times that some segments of the intelligence community are still highly suspicious of Israeli intelligence-gathering, even decades after the convicted of Jonathan Pollard.

“I believe this goes back to this notion that there was a second Pollard and it was bigger than Pollard,” Foxman said. “I would rather they pursue this, come up with nothing, rather than not be given the opportunity to pursue it and saying, ‘if only they let us, we would find something.’”

I agree with Foxman that the officials should have the opportunity to carry on these searches, because it may help debunk this illogical suspicion. But I also find it concerning that the FBI can harass someone for years based on flimsy evidence simply because of a connection to Israel.

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Netanyahu, Clergy Call on Obama to Release Pollard

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

The campaign to release Jonathan Pollard has been heating up over the past few days, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a group of 500 religious figures sent two separate letters to President Obama urging clemency for the convicted Israeli spy.

Netanyahu, who has only recently begun lobbying publicly on behalf of Pollard, sent his letter today. In it, he noted bluntly that Pollard was “acting as an agent of the Israeli government” and said that Israel’s actions “were wrong and wholly unacceptable.”

“Since Jonathan Pollard has now spent 25 years in prison, I believe that a new request for clemency is highly appropriate. I know that this view is also shared by former senior American officials with knowledge of the case as well as by numerous Members of Congress,” wrote the prime minister. “Jonathan Pollard has reportedly served longer in prison than any person convicted of similar crimes, and longer than the period requested by the prosecutors at the time of his plea bargain agreement. Jonathan has suffered greatly for his actions and his health has deteriorated considerably.”

The other letter, sent yesterday and signed by 500 Jewish, Protestant, and Roman Catholic clergy, made a similar case for Pollard’s release:

After more than two and a half decades in prison, Mr. Pollard’s health is declining,” reads the letter sent Monday from rabbis representing all streams, as well as a number of leading Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy. “He has repeatedly expressed remorse for his actions, and by all accounts has served as a model inmate. Commuting his sentence to time served would be a wholly appropriate exercise of your power of clemency — as well as a matter of basic fairness and American justice. It would also represent a clear sense of compassion and reconciliation — a sign of hope much needed in today’s world of tension and turmoil.

Considering the rocky relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, it’s doubtful that the prime minister’s plea will get very far. And while the letter from clergy shows some diverse support for Pollard, I can’t imagine it making much of a difference either. From a political perspective, there just doesn’t seem to be much for Obama to gain by releasing Pollard. While this isn’t a partisan issue (there have been quite a few Democratic lawmakers who supported clemency for Pollard, as well as Republicans who have opposed), there’s no question that releasing Pollard would hurt Obama with the anti-Israel paranoids that make up his left-wing base.

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Morning Commentary

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

Assange arrested in London, but extradition to Sweden “could take months,” reports the BBC. Despite the development, a WikiLeaks spokesman says the site will continue to release cables.

During nuclear talks this week, Iran showed a willingness to further discuss its program with P5+1 officials, reports the Los Angeles Times: “Though Iran’s position was a sign of progress, it was about the minimum the six powers could accept after a 14-month stalemate. Pressed by Washington, the U.N. Security Council tightened economic sanctions against Iran in June. The U.S. and European Union added their own tougher sanctions the following month. The U.S. and its allies have threatened further action if Iran does not commit to serious negotiations.”

Nineteen governments have joined a boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony that will give the award to jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, indicating increased pressure from Beijing. Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year sentence for “subversion.” China’s foreign minister claimed that Nobel officials “are orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves. …We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns and we will not change our path.”

In the December issue of COMMENTARY (behind our pay wall), Ron Radosh dissected Walter Schneir’s attempt to backtrack from his bid to exonerate Communist spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. He now does the same (with co-author Steven Usdin) for another Rosenberg apologist: “Now, so many years later, when the intellectual community largely acknowledges the Rosenbergs’ guilt—a 2008 public confession by former Soviet spy Morton Sobell, who was tried along with the Rosenbergs, made continued denial impossible—[Victor] Navasky has written what is possibly the last-ditch attempt to redeem the Rosenbergs.”

The New York Times claims that a letter from lawmakers indicates “bipartisan” support for Obama’s nuclear strategy. Reality seems to disagree.

Looks like President Obama’s counter-attack against the U.S. Chamber of Conference is paying dividends. Dozens of local chapters of the Chamber have distanced themselves from or quit their associations with the national body due to its support of Republican candidates during the 2010 midterms. “Looking ahead to the 2012 elections, if more local chambers publicly declare their independence, it could undermine the power and credibility of attacks launched from the Washington office,” reports Politico.

Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two years, but has this move alienated his liberal base? New York Times analyst Peter Baker writes: “For President Obama, this is what bipartisanship looks like in the new era: messy, combustible and painful, brought on under the threat of even more unpalatable consequences and yet still deferring the ultimate resolution for another day.”

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An Exceptional Life

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

I admit to being a fan of obituaries, not only those of the most famous or infamous but also of those whose lives were not played out in daily headlines. They are tiny history lessons and morality tales. They are vivid reminders that ordinary people are capable of doing remarkable things, and they prod us to ask: what would I have done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a gem. We learn:

Shortly after German troops invaded Belgium in 1940, Gaston Vandermeerssche, a Belgian university student, bicycled 800 miles to the south of France and became a spy.

Mr. Vandermeerssche, who died Nov. 1 at age 89 in Milwaukee, joined the resistance and ferried microfilm documents over the Pyrenees to Spain, where intermediaries sent the information on to London.

Later in the war he helped organize the Dutch underground, which came to comprise hundreds of agents and safe houses. After his network was penetrated by the Germans, he tried to escape, but was arrested near the Spanish border. He spent 24 months being interrogated in prison, but by his own account never broke.

The details of his exploits are eye-popping. (“He became a courier, making weekly trips from Brussels to Toulouse to Barcelona. The last leg involved trudging over snowy passes in the Pyrenees by moonlight. The microfilms he carried bore information collected by members of the underground on shipyards, gun emplacements and the like.”) But it is also the details of his very unextraordinary life — the son of a furniture maker who ended life in the U.S. as an executive of Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. — that remind us of the innate decency and capacity for greatness that ordinary people possess. Indeed, it was Vandermeerssche’s unexceptionalness that confounded his captors:

Mr. Vandermeerssche was arrested in Perpignan, France, in 1943 with a cache of microfilm stuffed into butter tubs. His German interrogators suspected his role in the Dutch underground, but couldn’t prove it.

“I was so young, the Germans did not believe that this kid was the head of that large network,” he said in the oral history. “And I told them, ‘Are you crazy? I couldn’t have done this.’ ”

Months of brutal interrogation and solitary confinement failed to break Mr. Vandermeerssche’s will. He was betrayed by another member of the underground, and was sentenced to death in a military trial. But he was freed by American troops near the end of the war.

Although shattered by his experiences in prison—he said he couldn’t eat or sleep normally for a decade—Mr. Vandermeerssche resumed his studies, earning a Ph.D. in physics.

You can understand my fondness for obits.

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Dumbest Policy Response, 2010 Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spy Talk Illustrates Unreality of Mideast Talks

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

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Wikileaks, Insignificant

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

The Pentagon Papers they’re not. The New York Times and the Guardian, among others, are touting the massive leak of 92,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan War, which was unearthed by the Wikileaks website. What bombshells do these secret memos contain? Pretty much none, if you are an even marginally attentive follower of the news.

In fact, the only new thing I learned from the documents was that the Taliban have attacked coalition aircraft with heat-seeking missiles. That is interesting to learn but not necessarily terribly alarming because, even with such missiles, the insurgents have not managed to take down many aircraft — certainly nothing like the toll that Stingers took on the Red Army in the 1980s.

As for the other “revelations,” here is the best the Times could do after weeks of examining the documents:

The documents … suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan. …

  • The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
  • Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.

Is it really news to anyone that Pakistan supports the Taliban? Or that Special Operations Forces and the CIA are conducting raids against the Taliban? If so, these must be the worst-kept secrets in the world. Senior U.S. officials have quite openly spoken about Pakistan’s role and about the Special Operations raids. As usual, comments on the CIA’s role have been more circumspect, but the agency’s involvement has been written about in numerous books and articles and not denied by senior officials.

Perhaps the biggest faux news here is that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes “crash or collide.” This would come as a revelation, presumably, only to those who believe that military operations in wartime should achieve a standard of perfection unknown in any other human activity.

The Guardian, as befitting the more freewheeling (and less factual) culture of British journalism, tries harder to hype the findings, which, it claims, provide a “devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan.” Actually, the documents show no such thing. At most, they provide a ground-level view of difficulties the coalition experienced in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2009.

Nobody denies that the war was being lost in that period; in fact, that was the rationale for the surge in forces orchestrated by the Bush and Obama administrations since 2008 — to turn around a failing war effort. The documents do not at all reflect on how the war is going now because they don’t cover this year. Even if they did, their usefulness would be highly limited: like most such reports, they provide a soda-straw view of events narrowly circumscribed by time and location. The fact that blunders and casualties occur in wartime should hardly be news; whether those blunders and casualties amount to a failing war effort or whether they are part of the fog and friction normal even in victory is more than the documents can tell us.

The Wikileakers should certainly be castigated for their cavalier treatment of classified documents, which may make our troops’ jobs harder and more dangerous. Their enablers in the mainstream media should also come in for censure. Whoever provided the information to them should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But at the same time, we should recognize this disclosure for what it is: an unsuccessful attempt to damage the war effort. I doubt that anyone will remember this episode a year from now; what will count, as always, will be the outcome on the battlefield. Win, and a thousand missteps are forgiven; lose, and even the biggest tactical victories fade into insignificance.

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International Outrage, Please

There are stories in the news right now that in most of their themes are similar to stories that recently set off waves of condemnation and hysteria in much of the world, especially in the delicate global conscience of “the international community.”

In the Gaza Strip, many of the residents have been left without electricity because of a fight that shut down the Strip’s power plant. Palestinians are suffering, with nothing to relieve the daytime heat and the nighttime darkness — but the world yawns.

In a nearby part of the Middle East, an unprovoked and disproportionate attack against civilians destroyed a building and damaged others. The EU has not called for an investigation, and currently the UN Security Council has not been convened to discuss this act of war. Remarkably, this aggression is not even mentioned on the front pages of British newspapers, which normally cover attacks on civilians in this region with great attentiveness.

Also in the Middle East, a repressive regime is razing the homes of a persecuted minority. According to reports, 90 percent of the buildings owned by this minority group have been destroyed in these acts of discrimination and ethnic cleansing. Surprisingly, the UN secretary-general and the Obama administration — which have both publicly and repeatedly criticized Israel for legally demolishing buildings that were constructed in violation of zoning laws — have said nothing about this grave offense.

Elsewhere, it has been discovered that a major figure in a spy ring that has just been broken up had been using a forged British passport for her travels — and we all know what happens when someone is accused of using a forged British passport: two weeks of utter pandemonium in the British media; journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens become profoundly shocked and appalled; the foreign secretary promises investigation, punishment, and diplomatic fallout; the intelligence relationship with the offending country is downgraded; and so on.

But today the denunciations are absent, the criticism muted, the calls for investigation nonexistent, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on other issues. Why could this be?

There are stories in the news right now that in most of their themes are similar to stories that recently set off waves of condemnation and hysteria in much of the world, especially in the delicate global conscience of “the international community.”

In the Gaza Strip, many of the residents have been left without electricity because of a fight that shut down the Strip’s power plant. Palestinians are suffering, with nothing to relieve the daytime heat and the nighttime darkness — but the world yawns.

In a nearby part of the Middle East, an unprovoked and disproportionate attack against civilians destroyed a building and damaged others. The EU has not called for an investigation, and currently the UN Security Council has not been convened to discuss this act of war. Remarkably, this aggression is not even mentioned on the front pages of British newspapers, which normally cover attacks on civilians in this region with great attentiveness.

Also in the Middle East, a repressive regime is razing the homes of a persecuted minority. According to reports, 90 percent of the buildings owned by this minority group have been destroyed in these acts of discrimination and ethnic cleansing. Surprisingly, the UN secretary-general and the Obama administration — which have both publicly and repeatedly criticized Israel for legally demolishing buildings that were constructed in violation of zoning laws — have said nothing about this grave offense.

Elsewhere, it has been discovered that a major figure in a spy ring that has just been broken up had been using a forged British passport for her travels — and we all know what happens when someone is accused of using a forged British passport: two weeks of utter pandemonium in the British media; journalists, politicians, and concerned citizens become profoundly shocked and appalled; the foreign secretary promises investigation, punishment, and diplomatic fallout; the intelligence relationship with the offending country is downgraded; and so on.

But today the denunciations are absent, the criticism muted, the calls for investigation nonexistent, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on other issues. Why could this be?

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Still Spying After All These Years

One thing the emerging Russian spy scandal demonstrates is that America really is one heck of a melting pot. Where else would you find neighbors referring to a couple whose names are Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills as “the Russian parents” because of their Russian accents? Hey, it could happen. If a Russian ends up going by the name Patricia Mills for a legal or logical reason, America is where she’ll do it.

This is all to the good for social harmony, but it does make it easier for Russian agents to hide in plain sight. That’s one lesson from the spy incident. Another is the very basic lesson that the espionage is ongoing. It hasn’t stopped; it isn’t going to. Russia has never ceased being one of the two most espionage-invested nations in the world (the other is China). Significant infiltration by Russian spies has been reported over the past two years by Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. The NATO headquarters in Belgium had to remove Russian spies in 2008 and 2009. Japan and Australia have dealt with influxes of Russian spies in the last several years. Smaller-scale incidents have occurred in Canada and India.

But there are two other things we should pay attention to in the break-up of this spy ring. One is that the Russians considered it worthwhile to cultivate agents in interactive occupations that facilitate logistics, and from which access might be gained to individuals with primary knowledge of political and defense topics. People in real estate, travel planning, and opinion journalism fit this role. I see a lot of bloggers today poking fun at this method — and at the conduct of the ring in general — but this is classic, professional intelligence craft. Several of the 11 who have been arrested would more correctly be called agents than spies, but that is really the point: what we are seeing the outlines of is not a single, targeted campaign but a routine modus operandi.

The other aspect of interest is the alleged participation in the Russian ring of El Diario writer Vicky Pelaez and her husband Juan Lazaro. Latin American media are reporting that Pelaez is Peruvian and Lazaro is from Uruguay; Pelaez was reportedly a well-known TV reporter in Peru in the 1980s. She, at least, seems to be a person with a valid history, using the name she was born with. That makes her unusual in this group. It suggests her choice to act as an agent for Russia was prompted by political motivations.

Others have noted the very left-leaning tendency of her positions. She was quoted at length in a recent press release by Fidel Castro; in 2003, she penned an explanation of the putative  “Trotskyist roots of neoconservatism” that sparked furious debate among serious socialists over her invocation of Trotsky’s concept of “permanent revolution.” This is an ideological leftist who knows the theory and lingo.

And when she accepted a spying assignment, she accepted it from Russia. Her arrest certainly doesn’t implicate other left-wing journalists in espionage. But this echo from the Cold War ought to give us pause. Russia is no longer the global standard-bearer of Marxism, but it appears Marxists from elsewhere are still spying for Russia.

One thing the emerging Russian spy scandal demonstrates is that America really is one heck of a melting pot. Where else would you find neighbors referring to a couple whose names are Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills as “the Russian parents” because of their Russian accents? Hey, it could happen. If a Russian ends up going by the name Patricia Mills for a legal or logical reason, America is where she’ll do it.

This is all to the good for social harmony, but it does make it easier for Russian agents to hide in plain sight. That’s one lesson from the spy incident. Another is the very basic lesson that the espionage is ongoing. It hasn’t stopped; it isn’t going to. Russia has never ceased being one of the two most espionage-invested nations in the world (the other is China). Significant infiltration by Russian spies has been reported over the past two years by Britain, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, and the Netherlands. The NATO headquarters in Belgium had to remove Russian spies in 2008 and 2009. Japan and Australia have dealt with influxes of Russian spies in the last several years. Smaller-scale incidents have occurred in Canada and India.

But there are two other things we should pay attention to in the break-up of this spy ring. One is that the Russians considered it worthwhile to cultivate agents in interactive occupations that facilitate logistics, and from which access might be gained to individuals with primary knowledge of political and defense topics. People in real estate, travel planning, and opinion journalism fit this role. I see a lot of bloggers today poking fun at this method — and at the conduct of the ring in general — but this is classic, professional intelligence craft. Several of the 11 who have been arrested would more correctly be called agents than spies, but that is really the point: what we are seeing the outlines of is not a single, targeted campaign but a routine modus operandi.

The other aspect of interest is the alleged participation in the Russian ring of El Diario writer Vicky Pelaez and her husband Juan Lazaro. Latin American media are reporting that Pelaez is Peruvian and Lazaro is from Uruguay; Pelaez was reportedly a well-known TV reporter in Peru in the 1980s. She, at least, seems to be a person with a valid history, using the name she was born with. That makes her unusual in this group. It suggests her choice to act as an agent for Russia was prompted by political motivations.

Others have noted the very left-leaning tendency of her positions. She was quoted at length in a recent press release by Fidel Castro; in 2003, she penned an explanation of the putative  “Trotskyist roots of neoconservatism” that sparked furious debate among serious socialists over her invocation of Trotsky’s concept of “permanent revolution.” This is an ideological leftist who knows the theory and lingo.

And when she accepted a spying assignment, she accepted it from Russia. Her arrest certainly doesn’t implicate other left-wing journalists in espionage. But this echo from the Cold War ought to give us pause. Russia is no longer the global standard-bearer of Marxism, but it appears Marxists from elsewhere are still spying for Russia.

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A Real Intelligence Oversight

There is something incongruous about President Obama denouncing an intelligence failure in the case of the underwear bomber on the very same day that we read this in the New York Times:

The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The Times goes on to assure us:

The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.

Count me as skeptical. Efforts to retask the intelligence community to focus on the environment, trade issues, and other concerns beyond the realm of traditional “national security” were all the rage after the end of the Cold War, when it was widely believed that history had “ended.” History restarted on 9/11, however, and since then, the war on terrorism has been the intel community’s all-pervading concern — as it should be. Until now, though, President Obama has shown much less concern about the “war on terror” (words that he, of course, does not use) and has even allowed his attorney general to investigate CIA personnel for alleged abuses committed under the previous administration. Intel community operatives aren’t dummies. Even if they can’t always figure out what’s going on in the Hindu Kush, they are astute readers of the tea leaves in Washington. They know when the top-level politicos are sending signals that they should pull back from aggressively fighting terrorists. Once again getting the intel community involved in “green” concerns will be taken as just another sign of where this president’s priorities are — and aren’t.

There is something incongruous about President Obama denouncing an intelligence failure in the case of the underwear bomber on the very same day that we read this in the New York Times:

The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The Times goes on to assure us:

The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.

Count me as skeptical. Efforts to retask the intelligence community to focus on the environment, trade issues, and other concerns beyond the realm of traditional “national security” were all the rage after the end of the Cold War, when it was widely believed that history had “ended.” History restarted on 9/11, however, and since then, the war on terrorism has been the intel community’s all-pervading concern — as it should be. Until now, though, President Obama has shown much less concern about the “war on terror” (words that he, of course, does not use) and has even allowed his attorney general to investigate CIA personnel for alleged abuses committed under the previous administration. Intel community operatives aren’t dummies. Even if they can’t always figure out what’s going on in the Hindu Kush, they are astute readers of the tea leaves in Washington. They know when the top-level politicos are sending signals that they should pull back from aggressively fighting terrorists. Once again getting the intel community involved in “green” concerns will be taken as just another sign of where this president’s priorities are — and aren’t.

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Hillary Admits Failure on Iran

The Washington Post reports:

The accumulating evidence of Iran’s nuclear momentum emerges as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded Monday that the White House has little to show for nearly a year of diplomatic engagement with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. “I don’t think anyone can doubt that our outreach has produced very little in terms of any kind of a positive response from the Iranians,” Clinton told reporters.

So in other words, rather than pursuing regime change or using evidence of the Qom enrichment reactor to garner support for those “crippling sanctions,” we frittered away another year, allowing the mullahs to solidify power and the Iran nuclear program to advance. And it certainly has advanced, as the report notes:

The internal documents and expert analysis point to a growing Iranian mastery of disciplines including uranium metallurgy, heavy-water production and the high-precision explosives used to trigger a nuclear detonation. Although U.S. spy agencies have thought that Iran’s leaders halted research on nuclear warheads in 2003, European and Middle Eastern analysts point to evidence that Iran has continued to hone its skills, as recently as 2007.

Hmm. That would be the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate declaring that Iran had dropped its nuclear military ambitions. Turns out that it was bunk. And knowing it was bunk and that the Qom and perhaps other facilities were under development, one has to wonder why the Obami wasted time in a fruitless effort to engage a regime bent on brutalizing its own people, supporting terror groups, and acquiring a nuclear blackmail card.

We’re told that the Obama administration intends to press forward on sanctions next year. Perhaps, and maybe the Obama team can avoid the endless haggling and watering down that will be needed to get others on board. And then we’ll see if the sanctions have any real impact. And then we’ll argue about whether they “worked.” And then there’ll be more talks. But in the meantime, the entire process has been delayed for yet another year as the Iranians inch forward to the day when they will declare themselves a nuclear power. And soon, I suspect, we will hear that “containment” is really the only option left. One wonders if that wasn’t the end game all along.

The Washington Post reports:

The accumulating evidence of Iran’s nuclear momentum emerges as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded Monday that the White House has little to show for nearly a year of diplomatic engagement with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. “I don’t think anyone can doubt that our outreach has produced very little in terms of any kind of a positive response from the Iranians,” Clinton told reporters.

So in other words, rather than pursuing regime change or using evidence of the Qom enrichment reactor to garner support for those “crippling sanctions,” we frittered away another year, allowing the mullahs to solidify power and the Iran nuclear program to advance. And it certainly has advanced, as the report notes:

The internal documents and expert analysis point to a growing Iranian mastery of disciplines including uranium metallurgy, heavy-water production and the high-precision explosives used to trigger a nuclear detonation. Although U.S. spy agencies have thought that Iran’s leaders halted research on nuclear warheads in 2003, European and Middle Eastern analysts point to evidence that Iran has continued to hone its skills, as recently as 2007.

Hmm. That would be the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate declaring that Iran had dropped its nuclear military ambitions. Turns out that it was bunk. And knowing it was bunk and that the Qom and perhaps other facilities were under development, one has to wonder why the Obami wasted time in a fruitless effort to engage a regime bent on brutalizing its own people, supporting terror groups, and acquiring a nuclear blackmail card.

We’re told that the Obama administration intends to press forward on sanctions next year. Perhaps, and maybe the Obama team can avoid the endless haggling and watering down that will be needed to get others on board. And then we’ll see if the sanctions have any real impact. And then we’ll argue about whether they “worked.” And then there’ll be more talks. But in the meantime, the entire process has been delayed for yet another year as the Iranians inch forward to the day when they will declare themselves a nuclear power. And soon, I suspect, we will hear that “containment” is really the only option left. One wonders if that wasn’t the end game all along.

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The Difference Between Drefyus and al-Qaeda

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

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Analysis For Dummies

In China’s Great Cultural Revolution, landlords and other capitalist roaders were paraded through the streets wearing dunce caps. The 20,000 analysts in the U.S. intelligence community whose job it is to make sense of the world for the U.S. government are all now compelled to “wear cards around their necks reminding them to remain ‘independent of political considerations.’”

That, at least, is what the Los Angeles Times reports today in a lengthy puff piece about Thomas Fingar, the director of analysis at the ODNI and the fellow who drafted the egregious National Intelligence Estimate of last December that stated, misleadingly, that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.

The article also describes some of the training new analysts are given in a six-week course called Analysis 101.

During a recent class in northern Virginia, students from a dozen agencies formed teams to work on a war scenario. It was their first day of class, but many seemed to have arrived having absorbed the lessons of Iraq.

Dissent was encouraged. Attempts to goad students into policy debates were rebuffed. As one young analyst went through the mock exercise of briefing a general who was considering an invasion, she offered a pointed warning.

“Once you go into a country and take it over,” she said, “it would be best to have a plan.”

Perhaps a better name for the course is “Analysis for Dummies.”

There are some outstanding people in the U.S. intelligence community, and the fact that we have not been hit a second time after September 11 is testimony to their achievement.

But the stars appear to be those doing operational work, keeping the terrorist watch lists in order, running covert operations, and managing drones armed with Hellfire missiles in places like Waziristan.

Analysis remains a chronic weak spot; the products of this side of the intelligence house are typically either irrelevant or wrong. Indeed, the more one learns about what is going on there, the more convinced one becomes that the CIA and other spy agencies should be concentrating their efforts on purchasing (they are available for a good price in China) 20,000 dunce caps. These would be a good complement to the cards analysts are now required to wear around their necks. Fingar — and his deputy Richard Immerman – should be at the head of the parade.

In China’s Great Cultural Revolution, landlords and other capitalist roaders were paraded through the streets wearing dunce caps. The 20,000 analysts in the U.S. intelligence community whose job it is to make sense of the world for the U.S. government are all now compelled to “wear cards around their necks reminding them to remain ‘independent of political considerations.’”

That, at least, is what the Los Angeles Times reports today in a lengthy puff piece about Thomas Fingar, the director of analysis at the ODNI and the fellow who drafted the egregious National Intelligence Estimate of last December that stated, misleadingly, that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.

The article also describes some of the training new analysts are given in a six-week course called Analysis 101.

During a recent class in northern Virginia, students from a dozen agencies formed teams to work on a war scenario. It was their first day of class, but many seemed to have arrived having absorbed the lessons of Iraq.

Dissent was encouraged. Attempts to goad students into policy debates were rebuffed. As one young analyst went through the mock exercise of briefing a general who was considering an invasion, she offered a pointed warning.

“Once you go into a country and take it over,” she said, “it would be best to have a plan.”

Perhaps a better name for the course is “Analysis for Dummies.”

There are some outstanding people in the U.S. intelligence community, and the fact that we have not been hit a second time after September 11 is testimony to their achievement.

But the stars appear to be those doing operational work, keeping the terrorist watch lists in order, running covert operations, and managing drones armed with Hellfire missiles in places like Waziristan.

Analysis remains a chronic weak spot; the products of this side of the intelligence house are typically either irrelevant or wrong. Indeed, the more one learns about what is going on there, the more convinced one becomes that the CIA and other spy agencies should be concentrating their efforts on purchasing (they are available for a good price in China) 20,000 dunce caps. These would be a good complement to the cards analysts are now required to wear around their necks. Fingar — and his deputy Richard Immerman – should be at the head of the parade.

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Why the New Israeli Spy Case Now?

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980′s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980′s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

After the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard in 1986, it became an article of faith within the FBI and some other portions of the U.S. intelligence community, that Pollard was not acting alone and that Israel had other spies operating in the U.S.. The hunt for the second Pollard has continued ever since. Has it finally hit pay-dirt? Is Ben-Ami Kadish, a former mechanical engineer at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, charged yesterday with passing dozens of secret documents to Israel in the 1980′s, a vindication of the spy hunters?

One interesting mystery concerns the timing of this episode. When Pollard was arrested, Israel publicly claimed that Pollard was its only U.S. spy. But according to Haaretz, in 2004 Israel reversed course and told the U.S. that there was a second agent. But it would be very strange if Israel did that without identifying the agent in question to the U.S. And if it did identify him, why did the U.S. wait four years until they pounced?

Already various explanations are being put forward to explain the timing. Eitan Haber, an assistant to the late Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s defense minister at the time Pollard was arrested, thinks the Kadish case is a way to assure that President Bush will not pardon Pollard at the end of his term. But this seems far-fetched. Especially since there is no indication that Bush is planning to pardon Pollard in the first place.

Other Israelis are speculating that the arrest is timed to tarnish Israel’s celebration next month of its 60th anniversary, which Bush is scheduled to attend. This also seems far-fetched. Kadish’s activities allegedly took placed in the 1980′s and his arrest not likely to do any sort of serious damage to U.S.-Israeli relations today.

Another possibility is that there is a link to the AIPAC case, in which two members of the pro-Israel lobbying organization have been charged with providing classified information to Israel. The trial had been scheduled for the end of this month, until it was delayed once again. Lately prosecutors in the AIPAC have experienced setback after setback, and are even appealing some of the judge’s rulings against them to a higher court. Does the timing of the Kadish arrest have anything to do with the possible impending collapse of the AIPAC case? This seems slightly more plausible, but also far-fetched. What exactly would be the point of such a maneuver?

“One would be a fool to believe that the timing is a coincidence,’ Haber told Haaretz. Thus far, however, I haven’t seen anything to suggest it is more than a coincidence.

Count me a fool.

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Chinese Espionage Techniques

The FBI has stepped up counterintelligence investigations of Chinese espionage in the U.S., reports the Washington Post this morning.

The paper reprises several recent cases, including, that of Chi Mak, convicted of stealing sensitive naval technology plans from a U.S defense contractor; Dongfan Chung, a Boeing engineer arrested in February, accused of funneling classified space shuttle and rocket documents to Chinese officials; Noshir Gowadia, indicted last fall for providing cruise-missile data to Chinese officials; and Gregg W. Bergersen, a Pentagon official who pleaded guilty this week to charges that he gave classified information on U.S. weapons sales to China.

What does this flurry of cases mean? A couple of non-mutually exclusive possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the Chinese are stepping up their collection efforts in the U.S. Another is that the FBI, in stepping up its counterintelligence and its work is bearing fruit. A third — a combination of the first and second — is that Chinese intelligence is not ten-feet tall.

That last possibility is suggested by some of the amateurish spycraft displayed by the Chinese in the Bergersen case. In one sense, the operation was fairly sophisticated. Bergersen was induced to take part in a false-flag operation, that is, an operation in which he believed he was selling secrets to a U.S. ally, Taiwan, when in fact the “businessman” he was dealing with, Tai Shen Kuo, was actually a spy from the mainland.

But there was also some remarkably sloppy behavior by the Chinese in this case. An elementary task of spying is maintaining covert communications. Kuo was eager to do so and he acquired PGP Desktop Home 9.5 for Windows, a commercially available program for encrypting emails. That was smart. It was not smart, on the other hand, to discuss this encryption software on an open phone line with his taskmaster in China. The FBI was listening in on the call.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Bergersen contains many other arresting details. One high point occurs when Bergersen returns from a trip to Bulgaria and his wife finds a wad of espionage cash in his wallet. Bergersen told her it was gambling winnings. Her reaction: she insisted on taking half of it “as her share.” Bergersen related this to Kuo who offered to make up the amount that he had lost to his spouse. This generous offer was declined.

The FBI has stepped up counterintelligence investigations of Chinese espionage in the U.S., reports the Washington Post this morning.

The paper reprises several recent cases, including, that of Chi Mak, convicted of stealing sensitive naval technology plans from a U.S defense contractor; Dongfan Chung, a Boeing engineer arrested in February, accused of funneling classified space shuttle and rocket documents to Chinese officials; Noshir Gowadia, indicted last fall for providing cruise-missile data to Chinese officials; and Gregg W. Bergersen, a Pentagon official who pleaded guilty this week to charges that he gave classified information on U.S. weapons sales to China.

What does this flurry of cases mean? A couple of non-mutually exclusive possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the Chinese are stepping up their collection efforts in the U.S. Another is that the FBI, in stepping up its counterintelligence and its work is bearing fruit. A third — a combination of the first and second — is that Chinese intelligence is not ten-feet tall.

That last possibility is suggested by some of the amateurish spycraft displayed by the Chinese in the Bergersen case. In one sense, the operation was fairly sophisticated. Bergersen was induced to take part in a false-flag operation, that is, an operation in which he believed he was selling secrets to a U.S. ally, Taiwan, when in fact the “businessman” he was dealing with, Tai Shen Kuo, was actually a spy from the mainland.

But there was also some remarkably sloppy behavior by the Chinese in this case. An elementary task of spying is maintaining covert communications. Kuo was eager to do so and he acquired PGP Desktop Home 9.5 for Windows, a commercially available program for encrypting emails. That was smart. It was not smart, on the other hand, to discuss this encryption software on an open phone line with his taskmaster in China. The FBI was listening in on the call.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Bergersen contains many other arresting details. One high point occurs when Bergersen returns from a trip to Bulgaria and his wife finds a wad of espionage cash in his wallet. Bergersen told her it was gambling winnings. Her reaction: she insisted on taking half of it “as her share.” Bergersen related this to Kuo who offered to make up the amount that he had lost to his spouse. This generous offer was declined.

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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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Spy vs. Spy

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

Congress’s reshuffling of the intelligence community in the wake of 9/11 was intended to enhance cooperation among the 16 agencies that serve as our country’s eyes and ears. Is it working? It is hard to tell. But there’s continued sniping among the spy agencies. Why else would a high-ranking official at one of the agencies send me an article entitled How Intelligent is the Director of National Intelligence?, the implied — and lighthearted — conclusion of which is: not very.

Meanwhile, there is serious business to be done. Among the open questions of more than passing interest is: who poisoned the Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 using polonium-21 and why? Was the Russian government behind this action? The consequences that would (or should) flow from such a conclusion are dire.

Edward Jay Epstein has long been one of the most interesting writers on intelligence matters, and also one of the most diligent researchers. He hasn’t solved the riddle, but he reports his findings in today’s New York Sun.  

After considering all the evidence, my hypothesis is that Litvinenko came in contact with a polonium-210 smuggling operation and was, either wittingly or unwittingly, exposed to it. Litvinenko had been a person of interest to the intelligence services of many countries, including Britain’s MI-6, Russia’s FSB, America’s CIA (which rejected his offer to defect in 2000), and Italy’s SISMI, which was monitoring his phone conversations. His murky operations, whatever their purpose, involved his seeking contacts in one of the most lawless areas in the former Soviet Union, the Pankisi Gorge, which had become a center for arms smuggling. He had also dealt with people accused of everything from money laundering to trafficking in nuclear components. These activities may have brought him, or his associates, in contact with a sample of polonium-210, which then, either by accident or by design, contaminated and killed him.

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Adrift

It’s broken and toxic, full of dirty secrets, cut off from its base and due to crash the first week of March. I’m referring, of course, to that pesky U.S. spy satellite.

It’s broken and toxic, full of dirty secrets, cut off from its base and due to crash the first week of March. I’m referring, of course, to that pesky U.S. spy satellite.

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