If this doesn’t run chills down your spine, you have to be sleeping!

Just catch these last few paragraphs.  There is a future beyond Brennan, Obama, Romney, all the prospective presidents whose names we might now foresee.  Having this in place, as well as laws that fail to define “terrorism” or “associated forces” and permit indefinite detention, even of citizens, and presumably killing them on presidential authority, is not consistent with American values as I’ve learned them.

“Said Brennan: “I think the president always needs the ability to do things under his chief executive powers and authorities, to include covert action.” But, he added, “I think the rule should be that if we’re going to take actions overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take responsibility for that.”

One official said that “for a guy whose reputation is focused on how tough he is on counterterrorism,” Brennan is “more focused than anybody in the government on the legal, ethical and transparency questions associated with all this.” By drawing so much decision-making directly into his own office, said another, he has “forced a much better process at the CIA and the Defense Department.”

Even if Obama is reelected, Brennan may not stay for another term. That means someone else is likely to be interpreting his playbook.

“Do I want this system to last forever?” a senior official said. “No. Do I think it’s the best system for now? Yes.”

“What is scary,” he concluded, “is the apparatus set up without John to run it.””

via CIA veteran John Brennan has transformed U.S. counterterrorism policy – The Washington Post.

The most dangerous “state” belief–I’m sure it is sincere

Convincing oneself that one is following a valid process, to do something one’s own lawyers believe to be legal, to achieve something  appropriate that others in the future will confirm by following this example must surely be one of the most common and self-deceptive journeys upon which the human mind can embark.

“For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.”

via Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists – The Washington Post.


“Unitary Executive” or “Imperial Presidency” – Congress Continues to Enhance It – Obama’s Chocolate Truffle

Senate Republicans recently blocked cybersecurity legislation, but the issue might not be dead after all.

The White House hasn’t ruled out issuing an executive order to strengthen the nation’s defenses against cyberattacks if Congress refuses to act.

“In the wake of Congressional inaction and Republican stall tactics, unfortunately, we will continue to be hamstrung by outdated and inadequate statutory authorities that the legislation would have fixed,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in an email.

“Moving forward, the President is determined to do absolutely everything we can to better protect our nation against today’s cyber threats and we will do that,” Carney said.

The White House has emphasized that better protecting vital computer systems is a top priority.


Notice that Obama is employing executive orders or threatening to do so (1) when it helps his campaign and (2) when it responds to congressional gridlock.  What a chocolate truffle temptation:  increase or affirm use of one’s own power and run for office against the congress!

An Appeal to Our Leaders about their Behavior in the Face of Disasters

Obama was in Alabama last Friday.  He was followed on Sunday by five cabinet members.  FEMA workers and federal assistance were not yet there helping.

If an active combat operation of the kind that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden over the weekend can be monitored live in Washington at both the CIA and the White House and drones fired in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be actually launched and guided by people sitting in the United States, surely the Federal Government‘s activities in the wake of Katrina and last week’s tornadoes in the South can be monitored at a distance.  The first and most important step is not for officials from Washington to go to the scene.  This is pure political grandstanding and a distraction for the victims to deal with when they already have more than they can handle.

Yes, I’m saying that George W. Bush’s Air Force One flyover after Katrina was better than if  he had found a place to land and then put the local officials through the elaborate operations required for a presidential visit.

I understand the need for politicians to be seen in important settings doing important things.  But there is also some need for the public to see them exercising judgement consistent with the circumstances.  Their first priority after Katrina and the tornadoes ought to have been getting help to the affected people.  If visibility is desirable, they can go back after help is underway to see how things are going.  This might actually serve some function rather than just being a voyeuristic publicity stunt.

Apt restraint is a virtue, even for politicians.

What SEAL Team Six Could Teach the White House

I can’t understand the changing narrative of the Bin Laden event itself, even as I applaud the White House for correcting parts of it as quickly as it could.  It is as if they made no preparation for reporting this event, considered no strategies other than giving out information as fast as they could, had no awareness that an operation as complex as this, involving a team of people, will have to be a story pieced together from what each team member saw and did, as best those people can remember.  Every contingency the SEALs prepared for probably deserved a corresponding strategy for how it would be reported.

The solution to the chaotic narrative development is not to say, as the WH is reported to have done, that it will report no more details as, if they were appropriate prior to this time when they were inaccurate, they are surely more important as more and more of the story emerges.  At some future point they are probably going to want to release more facts.

SEAL Team Six, with some  CIA personnel, carried out this operation after months of rigorous training for it and mindful of some previous disasters when we’ve tried operations of this type.  They worked with a full-scale model of the compound, to the degree they had details necessary to construct one.  They planned to be successful killing or capturing a “high value target” thought likely to be Bin Laden.  I am also confident they had plans for other contingencies ranging from success to disaster.

The White House should take a lesson (maybe more than one)  from the SEALs.

White House Seeks Easier FBI Access To Internet Records, Blocks Oversight Attempt… Just As FBI Caught Cheating On Exam To Stop Abuse

From TechDirt‘s “feel safer” department.  Link follows comment.

We’re still at a loss to explain why there’s been so little outrage over the fact that the FBI got a total free pass for its massive abuse in getting phone records. As you may recall, reports came out about how the FBI regularly abused the official process for obtaining phone records, avoiding any of the required oversight, but right before that info came out the White House issued a ruling saying that it was okay for the FBI to break the law. That’s not how things are supposed to work.

And, it appears that since there was no outrage over all of this, the White House keeps pushing further. Three new articles highlight what a travesty this has become. First, the White House wants to quietly make it easier for the FBI to demand internet log file information without a judge’s approval.” Just as I finished reading that, I saw Julian Sanchez’s new writeup about how the White House blocked and killed a proposal to give the GAO power to review US intelligence agencies. The GAO is the one government operation that seems to actually focus on doing what’s right, rather than what’s politically expedient. Sanchez notes that, beyond the sterling reputation of the GAO, it’s also ready, willing and able to handle this kind of oversight:

The GAO has the capacity Congress lacks: as of last year, the office had 199 staffers cleared at the top-secret level, with 96 holding still more rarefied “sensitive compartmented information” clearances. And those cleared staff have a proven record of working to oversee highly classified Defense Department programs without generating leaks. Gen. Clapper, the prospective DNI, has testified that the GAO “held our feet to the fire” at the Pentagon with thorough analysis and constructive criticism.

Unlike the inspectors general at the various agencies–which also do vital oversight work–the GAO is directly answerable to Congress, not to the executive branch. And while it’s in a position to take a broad, pangovernmental view, the GAO also hosts analysts with highly specialized economic and management expertise the IG offices lack. Unleashing GAO would be the first step in discovering what the Post couldn’t: whether the billions we’re pouring into building a surveillance and national security state are really making us safer.

Oh, and just to make this all more comically depressing, just as I finished reading both of these stories, I saw a story about a new investigation into reports that FBI agents were caught cheating on an exam, which was designed to get them to stop abusing surveillance tools. Yes, you read that right. After all the reports of abuse of surveillance tools, the FBI set up a series of tests to train FBI agents how to properly go about surveillance without breaking the law… and a bunch of FBI agents allegedly cheated on the test that’s supposed to stop them from “cheating” on the law. And, not just a few. From the quotes, it sounds like this cheating was “widespread.” But, of course, it might not matter, since the requirements for surveillance are being lowered, oversight is being blocked, and apparently the White House is willing to retroactively “legalize” any illegal surveillance anyway.