Saturday, December 31, 2005

Justice Department Probes Leaks

The US Justice Department has opened a probe into the various leaks surrounding the release of classified surveillance programs ordered in the wake of 9/11. The latest leaks involve information regarding warrantless surveillance by the NSA as reported in the New York Times. (AlJazeera: US opens inquiry into spying leak).

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said, "The leaking of classified information is a serious issue. The fact is that al-Qaeda's playbook is not printed on page one, and when America's is, it has serious ramifications." According to Duffy, the investigation was launched independently by the Justice Department and was not ordered by the White House.

Clearly there is someone in the intelligence community that is leaking classified information to the news media, and specifically to the New York Times. Now, just as the receipt of stolen goods is illegal, so too should be the receipt of illegal information. The New York Times must not be allowed to hide behind the "Freedom of the Press" clause on this one. The rights of a free press do not extend to compromising national security. The person leaking this information is guilty of espionage against the United States and in this case the New York Times is equally guilty and must be held accountable.

Top level leaks have become commonplace of late. Investigations are still ongoing over the release of CIA Operative Valerie Plame's name. The Justice Department recently launched a probe to determine who leaked the existence of top secret CIA prisons in Europe to the Washington Post. Now the Justice Department must deal with the release of a secret NSA program to the New York Times. Wherever these leaks originate, they must be stopped and those responsible for them must be brought to justice.

It is equally important that the reporters and editors of newspapers receiving this information and choosing to print it be held just as accountable as those that leaked the information in the first place. The First Amendment does not give the press the right to publish classified information. It does not give the press the right to obtain and publish any information that endangers national security. With freedom comes responsibility, and the news media has demonstrated precious little of the latter.

There are several steps the administration should take immediately. First, the Washington Post and New York Times must be removed from the press pool that has access to government briefings. If they can't report the news responsibly, then they have no right to obtain the information first hand. Second, the reporters and editors of both papers should be subpoenaed and ordered to reveal the source of the information. Should they choose to withhold that information then both should be imprisoned until they do. There can be no tolerance at all for the release of classified information and clearly the reporters and editors know where the information originated. Lock them up until they talk.

The penalty for those releasing this information must be especially harsh. An example must be made of those that commit what amounts to an act of treason. Yes, I do consider this treason under Article III, Section III of the Constitution: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court." In this case, the release of classified information regarding anti-terror surveillance constitutes providing aid and comfort to the enemy as defined in the Constitution.

The three Justice Department investigations currently underway will be watched with interest. The apprehension of those responsible is an important part of our ongoing war on terror. Likewise, the punishment of those in the news media guilty of conspiring against our national security interests will also be required. I look forward to seeing all of them brought to justice.


Friday, December 30, 2005

Outsourcing Is National Security Issue

A one-man terror style attack in Bangalore underscores the serious threat facing the US economy as American companies continue to send sensitive and mission-critical jobs to third world countries. (Time: Is Outsourcing the Next Terror Target?). What happened in Bangalore was simplicity itself from a terror attack perspective. A man walked into a conference at the Indian Institute of Science, tossed four hand-grenades into the crowd, and then opened fire with an AK-56.

In this instance, the attack was not aimed at US interests, however it did hit one of the most prestigious institutions in India and it targeted the center of India's thriving outsourcing industry. More to the point, though, is that a terror attack in India does not have to be aimed at US interests to have a devastation impact on the US economy. Neither does it have to be conducted by anti-American extremists. India has plenty of its own enemies, complete with extremist groups targeting India's infrastructure.

Information Technology is the core of all American companies, but for the financial sector it is the industry's life blood. Brokerage firms, banks, mortgage companies, and any other corporation even remotely involved in the financial industry simply cannot function without uninterrupted service to their information technology systems. Yet, these are the very companies that are sending their mission-critical technology jobs to unstable third-world companies in a misguided attempt to reduce their IT costs.

India, for its part, is the recipient of the majority of these outsourcing jobs, but in many cases they've simply become the middleman for the jobs' ultimate destination: Bangladesh. Indian companies, faced with rising costs as worker salaries rise to meet their American counterparts, are pushing those same jobs into Bangladesh because of the extremely low cost of labor in that country. What's wrong with that? Here is what the US State Department has to say about Bangladesh in a Travel Advisory issued on December 21, 2005:

An outlawed Islamist terrorist organization, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), has taken responsibility for a series of bombings and suicide attacks in Bangladesh since August against a variety of targets. The half-dozen attacks have focused on the judicial system and local government institutions, killed approximately 30 Bangladeshis, and wounded nearly 200. JMB leaflets found at attack sites and sent to local media call for the implementation of strict Islamic law in Bangladesh, justify the use of indiscriminate suicide attacks, and condemn Western social and political concepts as un-Islamic. They also identify the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom as enemies of Islam. Newspapers and Bangladeshi non-governmental organizations, including several which receive funding from the United States Government, have received threats purportedly from JMB.
So there are Islamic extremists operating in Bangladesh that are conducting suicide attacks, condemn Western concepts, and list the US as enemies of Islam. Sure, this sounds like a great place to send our mission critical technology jobs!

A single attack in New York City on 9/11 closed the New York Stock Exchange for almost a week. Many small businesses operating in the World Trade Center never recovered, and the disaster recovery sites supporting major IT operations in the WTC were strained to the breaking point. How devastating would a targeted IT focused terror attack be in a third world country that does not have the infrastructure necessary to support large-scale recoveries?

The issue of outsourcing, especially to third-world countries, needs to be treated as a national security issue. Instead of lauding the use of outsourcing and using it as a political wedge between India and Pakistan, the Bush Administration must clamp down on this rampant threat to the US economy. Sending manufacturing jobs to countries with ultra-cheap labor is bad enough. But to send the life blood of our financial industries to unstable third world countries is absolute foolishness. Let's hope it is not a lesson we learn the hard way.


Thursday, December 29, 2005

Embedded Reporters

The concept of embedded reporters traveling with military units is certainly not a new one, however in today's news oriented culture it's taken on an entirely new dimension. As an example, AP reporter Ryan Lenz is embedded with the 101st Airborne, one of the nation's most elite combat troops. ( Embedded With the 101st Airborne).

News reports out of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam came from embedded reporters, complete with battlefield photographs of our troops in action. Starting with the Vietnam war, however, war reporting took a sudden and unexpected twist. Prior to Vietnam, war reporters were inducted into the military and the news reports were subject to military censorship. Reports of the war were more propaganda than factual. Consider reporting out of the South Pacific in WWII as an example. Americans were not aware that the war against Japan was going very poorly in the early days until long after the war had ended.

Vietnam changed all that, and not for the better. Reports from the battlefield were far more accurate, but they also included for the first time images of American soldiers being killed in battle. As reports showed greater realism, American sentiment towards the war turned sour. We as a nation stopped using the news media as a propaganda tool and instead attempted to accurately report on the war. It was in Vietnam that American reporters first took the view that they had to be "impartial observers."

President Bush (41) changed that in the first Gulf War. Reporters were still allowed to cover the war, however their reports were subject to military censorship. Many people remember Bernard Shaw reporting live from Baghdad the night the war started. What people may not remember was the call that was placed from the Pentagon to CNN stopping them from reporting the locations that were being attacked. News from Iraq for the remainder of the war had to pass through not only Iraqi censors, but also US military censors.

That's as it should be. No reporter should be able to issue any war-time news report that is detrimental to the US war effort. War-time reports should be subject to military censorship. What people don't seem to want to accept is that our military is not at war, our nation is. Every one of us is fighting this war against terror and that includes this war in Iraq. That's the problem the media has created, though. By propagating this concept of American reporters being "impartial", they've created the notion that it is possible to be an American but not be at war with Iraq. That's the biggest difference between today and the wars we fought prior to Vietnam.

When it comes to war reporting, the news media should be more propaganda than factual. The media should be championing American successes in war, not over-emphasizing the failures. Morale plays a big role in the success of any war effort, both at the troop level and at the national level.

The biggest mistake made in the war in Iraq was the decision to allow embedded reporters to accompany our troops into battle. These reporters are not subject to military censorship, although there are guidelines around what they can report so as not to reveal troop movements or battle plans. The problem is, these reporters still think they can be - or worse, that they should be - impartial. There is no impartiality in war time. It really is a black and white situation. There are only two categories - friend or foe. Given the type reporting we've seen, especially from papers such as the New York Times, today's media would have to fall solidly in the "foe" category.

The war on terror and the war in Iraq will ultimately be won by the American people, not just our military. To win this war, however, the American people must recognize that we are as much a part of the battle as is the military. The news media must also come to that same realization. At the very least, however, the media must once again be constrained by military censorship for war-time reporting. They have proven beyond doubt that they cannot be trusted to report responsibly with the best interests of the United States in mind.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

EU's Galileo Poses Military Threat

The EU launched their first test satellite in a new system intended to be a direct European competitor with the US controlled GPS (Global Positioning System). Unlike GPS, which is controlled by the US military, the EU's Galileo system will be civilian controlled. Part of the complaint raised by the EU is the military's ability to scramble the GPS signal during critical periods in war time. (Spiegel: First Step Towards a European GPS Competitor).

Emphasising the EU's disgruntlement with GPS, EUSA spokesman Franco Bonacina said,"Galileo is made in Europe by Europeans. If the Americans want to scramble GPS, they can do it whenever they want." I have some bad news for you, Mr. Bonacina. In time of war, if we need to scramble GPS for security purposes, you can rest assured that we will also scramble Galileo.

Having Galileo in civilian hands is troubling at best since it effectively puts a pinpoint targeting system in the hands of our enemies. The US GPS system has the ability to randomly offset the accuracy of the signal made available to civilians, thus ensuring a high degree of accuracy to the military without giving the same degree of accuracy to our enemies. That safeguard is not built into the Galileo system.

What the Europeans must realize is that the Galileo system as designed poses a military threat to US operations, and therefore it will be necessary to counter or neutralize that threat. Whether or not they intend it as such - and I believe it is intentional - Galileo is a bone of contention amidst an increasingly antagonistic undercurrent to US and European relations. I have said in several posts that I believe the EU will ultimately replace the Soviet Union as a US adversary. The Galileo system is just one more step in that direction. What will be most interesting will be the EU's reaction the first time it becomes necessary to disrupt the signal for military reasons. It's only a matter of time before that happens.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Birthright Citizenship Debate Continues

Despite the sponsorship of 70 members of the House of Representatives, an attempt to end "Birthright Citizenship" via legislation failed to make it to the House floor in this legislative session. The concept of "Birthright Citizenship" stems from wording in the 14th amendment and grants automatic US citizenship to any child born on US soil regardless of the status of the mother. (Herald Net: Citizenship rules debate not over yet).

The 14th amendment, ratified in 1868 and intended to protect the rights of freed slaves and their children, also appears to grant sweeping approval over the practice currently being exploited by illegal aliens. Section 1 of the amendment reads, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." Congressional opponents of the Birthright Citizenship concept argue that the amendment was not written to include illegal aliens, and that simple federal legislation will protect us against the current practice. Would that constitutional law were so simple.

As much as I abhor the practice of Birthright Citizenship, I do not believe this issue will be settled without a constitutional amendment. The wording in the 14th amendment does not appear to leave much room for debate, and the first legal challenge to any federal legislation would likely be upheld in the Supreme Court. The only way to settle that issue once and for all is through a constitutional amendment.

Whether or not Congress in 1868 intended to exclude illegal aliens is also a matter for debate. The climate in the US following the Civil War was quite different then it is today, and the attitude towards immigration was similarly quite different. The strict standards desired by many, myself included, certainly did not apply to the immigration waves of the late 19th and early 20th centuries; waves that brought many of our families to this nation. What has changed in my view is the economic climate in the US and the institution of many federally funded social programs that are being exploited by illegal immigrants. Thus, I believe the current practice of Birthright Citizenship was most certainly intended by Congress in 1868. I also believe that it is time to amend that practice to account for the changes that have occurred over the last 140 years.

The debate over Birthright Citizenship has not ended. Unfortunately, without a constitutional amendment it will not end. The appetite for such and amendment is pretty strong in the US right now. It would be a pity if the Congress that is seated in January fails to avail themselves to the strong anti-illegal immigration sentiment that is currently prevalent in the nation.


Red Cross Again Under Fire

Close to 50 people have been indicted for stealing funds from the Red Cross fund allocated for Katrina victims in the latest wave of problems to strike the emergency aid agency. (Washington Post: Fraud Alleged at Red Cross Call Centers). Forty-nine people in the Bakersville, CA area have been indicted over the past three months for filing false claims with the Red Cross.

According to the Washington Post, the problem was associated with a system "cobbled together" to get aid to the Katrina victims on very short notice. Given that the very purpose of the Red Cross is to provide this type of assistance after a disaster, one must wonder why any aid distribution would be "cobbled together". Isn't that what this organization does for a living?

This is certainly not the first time the Red Cross has come under fire. The agency spearheaded a very successful fund-raising campaign in the days following 9/11, but then announced that not all of the money collected would go to the 9/11 victims. Rather, they announced that the money would be used for a number of Red Cross initiatives, including preparation for future disasters. Clearly that did not sit well with an American public that donated close to $1 billion after the 9/11 attacks, and the Red Cross was forced to retract that plan after a wave of negative publicity.

Suffice it to say that the Red Cross is very low on my list of charities. The reputation of the agency has suffered significantly of late, and I've lost confidence in their ability to deliver donated funds where they are needed most. The latest corruption scandal is merely the icing on the cake. When faced with a natural disaster, there are plenty of other organizations that are far better equipped than the Red Cross to deliver the necessary funds, equipment, and supplies. Some do it as a matter of routine on a daily basis. The bottom line is, do your research before sending in any donations to an aid organization. Not all are created equal.


Monday, December 26, 2005

US Supports India's Nuclear Program

Current US policy towards nuclear proliferation world-wide appears hypocritical at best. On the one hand, we are taking an extremely strong position of anti-proliferation with regards to Iran and North Korea. On the other hand, we are openly supporting the enhancement of nuclear technology within India, a nation that defied the ban on nuclear proliferation seven years ago. (Dallas Morning News: Nuclear issue to test India-U.S. friendship).

In public statements, the Bush Administration has openly admitted that the US would like to help India become a great world power, not only economically, but militarily as well. Certainly that is due in no small part to the precipice upon which Pakistan's pro-US government is balanced. Pakistan is clearly one bullet away from becoming an Islamic fundamentalist state, putting nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists around the world. It would appear that the US is hedging that bet by improving India's economic and military position.

The problem is that improving the economic position of India is at the expense of US high technology jobs. India is a grave threat to our economy just by the nature of the jobs they are drawing overseas. Originally, companies in the US were off-shoring high technology jobs to India for their cheap labor. Now we see a tremendous influx of Indians coming to the US to claim those jobs here, primarily because the salaries are better here as is the standard of living. The net result in either case, however, is the loss of jobs by American workers.

As India's economy started to grow, many companies moved their call centers to that region, again to take advantage of lower salaries and administrative costs. Now India's economy has grown to the point where they are outsourcing those same jobs to a third party, typically in Bangladesh. I fail to see how any of this is good for the American economy since it is still American jobs that are being lost.

With regards to the nuclear issue, there is nothing good that can come of this. If the goal is to use India as a nuclear deterrent against Pakistan, then why would we ever want to commit our technology infrastructure there? We certainly do not need India to do what a single Trident submarine could accomplish should Pakistan ever decide to launch a nuclear weapon. Worse yet, this open arms approach with India sends precisely the wrong message to Iran and North Korea. Rather than taking punitive action against India for violating the non-Proliferation goals of the UN, we are rewarding them with civilian contracts and enhancing their nuclear programs. I fail to see how this could possibly help defuse the growing confrontation in Iran.

The US policy towards India needs to be reversed quickly. Behind China, India is the greatest growing threat to the US economy. Behind Israel, India is the nation most likely to draw the US into a nuclear confrontation. There is nothing about our policy towards India that benefits the US, but there is much in that policy that should be of concern. As the nuclear debate is taken up in Congress, one hopes that the Senate at least is capable of putting a halt to this foolhardy approach. It is up to Congress to safeguard American jobs. It is up to Congress to stop the steady wave of Indian immigration into the US. It is up to Congress to put a halt to our duplicity in India's quest to enhance their nuclear capabilities.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Radiation Monitoring Reported

Fast on the heels of reports out of the New York Times that President Bush authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on suspected terror sympathizers in the US come fresh reports that the federal government has been monitoring the air quality around predominantly Muslim sites for evidence of radiation. (Reuters: US monitored Muslim sites for radiation: report). Muslim rights groups are up in arms about the reports claiming that this makes it appear that the government is specifically targeting Muslims.

First of all, we most certainly are targeting Muslims for surveillance. Muslim groups in the US, under the guise of charitable donations, have sent a significant sum of money to front groups overseas for terror cells. Muslim clerics both at home and abroad have been largely critical of the US, have at times justified the actions of terrorists, and in some more extreme cases have actually condoned the use of terrorist type activities against the US and US interests. All of the terrorists in the 9/11 attacks were Muslim. Overseas, the insurgency is Muslim, the terrorist groups targeting the US are Muslim, and the terror groups striking the UK and Indonesia are likewise Muslim. Who, then, should we target for surveillance here in the US? The Irish?

In the weeks following 9/11, the US government took a number of very necessary steps to prevent another serious attack on US soil. Those steps included the monitoring of people here in the US that may have connections to terror cells overseas. They including the monitoring of Muslim centers here in the US that could have been fronts for overseas cells or could have been providing money and information to those cells. They included - and still include - the monitoring of Muslim centers for evidence that groups here in the US may have obtained radioactive material capable of producing a dirty bomb. Now that four years have passed and the Americans have lived in relative safety, there is a growing trend of second guessing in Washington and in the media that would have us believe that the government overstepped its authority in those post-9/11 activities.

Two things concern me the most in this hoopla. First and foremost, I want to know who is leaking vital national security information and I want them brought to justice. Whoever leaked the news about the NSA monitoring needs to be criminally charged for revealing top secret information. Likewise, whoever leaked the information about our air quality monitoring is guilty of providing aid and comfort to the enemy.

The New York Times is not guiltless either. The fact that they obtained this information, and that fact that they may have a constitutional right to print that information, does not mean that they should print it. In both of these cases, it was against the best interests of the US and against the best interests of our national security for them to release the information. Their choice to weaken the security of the US is inexcusable. All too often, I wonder if the New York Times is on the side of the US or on the side of the terrorists. There is no neutrality in this war. You are on one side or the other, and right now I consider the New York Times to be no better than a front organization for al Qaeda. They certainly do an excellent propaganda job for the terrorists.

The other issue I have with all this is the growing complacency here in the US. Americans are again taking the attitude that we're invulnerable here, and as a result we're quickly losing our will to do what it takes to fight and win this war. Few Americans seem to believe we are at war in the first place. Oh, they all know we're fighting in Iraq, but they don't seem to realize that Iraq is only one front on a global war against Muslim extremists that desperately want to destroy our way of life. This war may go on for years. We cannot afford to let down our guard because the Bush Administration has successfully defended our shores for the past four years. The enemy is still there, they still want to strike us, and we still must take whatever steps are necessary to intercept them. That is not something I expect to see change in my lifetime.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Leftist Amendments Cripple Surveillance Bill

Amendments added to the Intelligence Authorization Bill by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and John Kerry (D-MA) forced Senate Republicans to block a move to pass the bill by unanimous consent. (Washington Post: GOP Blocks Action on Senate Intelligence Authorization Bill). Instead, the bill will now have to wait for action in the January session and will face a tough challenge as long as the two new provisions are included. This marks the first time in 27 years that the bill failed to be extended by the end of the year.

At issue are two last-minute amendments added by the Massachusetts contingent. Kennedy's amendment requires that the Administration turn over to Congress copies of the daily intelligence briefs that President Bush and President Clinton reviewed on Iraq. Such a move infringes on the authority and independence of the Executive Branch and oversteps the authority of congress. As such, any passage of the bill that includes that amendment would setup a confrontation between the two over presidential versus congressional authority. Congress is not privy to the Daily Brief, nor do they have any right to that information.

Also a source of contention is an amendment added by Kerry that would require the Director of the CIA to provide congress with details on secret prisons allegedly housed in Eastern Europe and Asia. Once again, the amendment oversteps the authority of Congress as the Director of the CIA reports directly to the President. Requiring the CIA to provide this type of top secret information regarding their operations abroad undermines the ability of the CIA to engage in the surveillance and intelligence gathering activities necessary for securing American interests both home and abroad.

Neither amendment will make it through congress as written. Even if they are able to squeak by in the Senate, they would most certainly die a rather quick death in the House. More troubling are the moves by the liberal Senators from Massachusetts to erode the ability of our intelligence gathering organizations to safeguard Americans. Still miffed over the methods being employed by the CIA and other intelligence organizations, Kennedy and Kerry would seek to defang our ability to extract information from terror supporters that are currently waging war against the US.

Naturally, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) attempted to sensationalize the hold placed on the bill, claiming the move also put a hold on "vital intelligence operations". Ironically, it is precisely the intention of Kennedy and Kerry to cripple such operations, however congressional and intelligence community sources both issued assurances that this would have absolutely no effect on ongoing intelligence gathering efforts. For now, if the left truly wants to see the bill renewed for the 27th straight time, they would be well advised to withdraw the offending amendments. As written, there is simply no way we can tolerate that bill making its way through to passage.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Legality of NSA Surveillance

Members of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are holding briefings to determine why they were kept out of the loop on NSA surveillance of communications between American citizens and foreign terrorist organizations. (Washington Post: Judges on Surveillance Court To Be Briefed on Spy Program). Pass the popcorn, Bucko, because this promises to be one of the most entertaining debates of 2006. The tri-corner bout pits the authority of a Presidential Executive Order against the oversight of a super secret court and the Electronic Surveillance Act.

From a purely legal background, it looks like the surveillance in question is on pretty shaky ground. Executive Order 12333 issued by President Reagan on December 4, 1981 grants the NSA some pretty broad authority when it comes to surveillance against foreign powers engaged in espionage or terrorist activities against the US. It someone skirts the issue of communications between foreign powers and US citizens, however, and 12333 spends a good deal of time genuflecting at the alter of US civil rights legislation.

Of greater concern in the current situation is Title 50, Section 1801 of the US code covers the authority of the President to obtain electronic surveillance without a court order. That section states specifically as one of the conditions for such surveillance that, "there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party."

In reviewing the legalities of the President's orders to the NSA, the Administration's legal team drew heavily on EO12333. They also cited actions taken by President Clinton to order searches of American citizens without court order. Clearly, the Administration believes it is on solid ground, and equally clearly Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court do not.

In the end, this is going to come down to a showdown between Presidential Authority in the form of Executive Orders versus the authority of the legislative and judicial branches of our government. It would appear to me that EO12333 is a pretty weak limb on which to sit since an Executive Order cannot supersede signed legislation. Also, EO12333 requires some fairly interesting interpretations to grant the widespread authority assumed by both Presidents Clinton and Bush. When this matter is concluded, I believe the Administration will be on the losing end. I doubt very much that the courts are going to uphold any actions that weaken their oversight of civil rights issues.

So here's the bottom line. Do I think the actions taken were legal? No. Do I think the actions were necessary and justified? Absolutely. The question in my mind is why the Administration chose to bypass the Surveillance Court in the first place. That court has been extremely accommodating in granting electronic surveillance requests without much cause. (They have only denied four requests in history.) It is highly unlikely that they would have denied any requests in the aftermath of 9/11. Politically, this was a serious blunder since it setup a challenge to executive authority that need not have been raised.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Iran's Fate Tied to Sharon's Health

News that spread over the weekend that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had suffered a minor stroke not only placed the Israel's leadership in jeopardy, but it also raised the stakes in both the Palestinian peace process and in the escalating war of words with Iran. Sharon is perceived by many as the most likely leader to be able to achieve a peace accord with Palestinians, and he is also the leader most likely to show the greatest restraint in dealing with Iran's belligerent anti-Semitic rhetoric. (Washington Post: Sharon To Leave Hospital).

While the Prime Minister struggled with the after effects of his minor stroke, his rival Benjamin Netanyahu, a former Prime Minister, soundly defeated two other candidates for control of the Likud Party; a party Sharon abandoned last month. With general elections slated for March, Netanyahu appears poised to regain the top seat in Israel.

A vocal critic of Sharon's "land for peace" agreement with the Palestinians, Netanyahu would clearly follow a different path in dealing with troubles in that region. Of even more interest lately would be how Netanyahu would handle the issue of Iran. Sharon had already given Iran an artificial target of March for resolving the nuclear issue before Israel would be forced to act "non-diplomatically". It's doubtful that Netanyahu, a conservative hard-liner, would show even that much restraint.

Between Hamas jockeying for a spot in the Palestinian elections - something that is opposed by the US and the EU -, continued border conflicts in the Gaza and West Bank, and Iran's verbal provocations and attempts to obtain nuclear fuel technology, a hard-liner may be just what Israel needs right now. With the Israeli's on the retreat throughout Sharon's tenure, a shift towards a non-conciliatory stance with Iran and the Palestinians is sorely needed.

The land-for-peace deal was ill-fated from the beginning and has not borne any fruit. If anything, it has emboldened Hamas, resulted in more attacks from the West Bank, and positioned the terrorist group for a stake in upcoming elections. As high as the stakes are in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, however, they are dwarfed by the growing conflict with Iran. Any sign of weakness on that front would be devastating to Israel. Even without the stroke, it's doubtful Sharon had the political philosophy or history capable of setting the proper tone for that confrontation.

So it would seem at this point that Iran's fate is closely tied to Sharon's health and political future. At 77, the latter is in grave danger. Many of his former supporters now view Sharon as too old to continue in the post, making change in March extremely likely. With the front runner emerging as former Prime Minister Netanyahu, Iran may be well advised to tone down the rhetoric. Under Netanyahu, the dog may not bark but it most certainly will bite.


Monday, December 19, 2005

"Dark Prison" Revealed in Kabul

The leftist group Human Rights Watch, headquartered in New York City, released reports of a prison in Kabul, Afghanistan in which they allege prisoners were "tortured". The prison itself closed last year and inmates - all terror suspects - were transferred elsewhere. (LA Times: Report Cites Torture in U.S. Prison).

According to the group's report, "They were chained to walls, deprived of food and drinking water, and kept in total darkness with loud rap, heavy metal music, or other sounds blared for weeks. Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep." I hope they have more than that to report, because I'm still waiting to hear about the torture.

Everything that group listed so far falls under the category of typical interrogation techniques employed by intelligence agencies world-wide. I realize that Human Rights Watch would prefer that we feed these terrorists cake and ask them nicely if they planned to bomb the US, but my preference is that we allow the CIA to do whatever is necessary to extract information from these scum.

What amazes me is that sleep deprivation has suddenly emerged in the group's definition of "torture". That method of interrogation, which is highly effective, is used by law enforcement agencies throughout the US as a matter of routine. To eliminate sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique would effectively handcuff every investigative agency we have.

The loud music claim is also rather amusing. While the parents of most teenagers growing up in the '60s and '70s may have been inclined to agree with Human Rights Watch on this one, the fact is that blaring loud music is another common interrogation technique and has nothing to do with torture. As you may recall, the US military used a very similar technique when rousting Manuel Noriega from the Nunciature of the Vatican Embassy in Panama where he had taken refuge. The only protest at the time was from the Vatican since its diplomats were also losing sleep.

It's important to remember that the people we are interrogating are enemies of the US and are intent of committing acts of terror against American interests both here and abroad. Any information extracted from them is information useful in protecting American citizens. To extract that information, it is necessary to break down the will of the terrorists being interrogated. The goal in this case is not to build a criminal case against them but rather to determine what terror attacks are planned and to prevent those attacks from taking place.

It is rather disgusting that we criticise the CIA on the one hand for failing to prevent the attacks in New York, yet we criticise their subsequent interrogation techniques on the other. A handcuffed CIA is ineffective. We need intelligence agencies free to employ effective interrogation techniques when dealing with suspected terrorists. To prevent them from using the most effective techniques for breaking down prisoners is foolish and counter-productive. Their job is to extract information. Let them do their job.


Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bolivia Shifting Left

If current polls hold true, Bolivia's leftist candidate Evo Morales will take the majority of votes in today's presidential elections. That would make Morales, an avid supporter of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the first Indian president of the land-locked nation. (CNN: American 'nightmare' favored in Bolivia vote). Pro-American candidate Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga is currently in second place in the polling, holding 29% to Morales' 34%.

Should Morales be elected, Bolivia would join a growing block of South American nations following the belligerent ideals of Chavez. Brazil and Argentina have already swung into the Chavez camp, taking a united stance against capitalistic ideals presented in the recently concluded FTAA talks. Chavez, a socialist that borders on communistic ideals, has allied himself with Cuba and Iran. His anti-American and anti-Mexican rhetoric has destabilized northern South American and contributed to the rise in oil prices.

Of increasing concern to the US is the growing coalition of oil producers in South America that have a distinctly anti-American attitude. Bolivia is the second largest producer of oil in South America, and Morales pledges to nationalize oil production should he be elected. Given the reverence other South American presidents appear to have towards Chavez, this election would give Venezuela a disproportionate amount of power in controlling oil flow and oil prices.

What the election means for Bolivia itself is a major wild card. There continues to be growing discontent between the underprivileged Indian population and the ruling class descended primarily from western European nations. Election of an Indian president may well signal a power shift, not unlike that experienced in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The fear is that the social backlash in Bolivia could rival what was seen in those two African nations, plunging Bolivia into a social civil war; something that would place additional constraints on oil prices throughout the western hemisphere.

There's no easy solution to the South American problem. US efforts to bolster the economies of developing nations south of the equator have been universally rebuffed. Almost to a nation in South America, there is a distinct division between the ruling class and the poverty stricken lower class that is mostly unemployed and living in conditions that would shock most Americans. Corrupt governments continue to play a major role in keeping the general population downtrodden, and a shift to the left by followers of Chavez are doing nothing to improve the economic plight of the people.

Chavez has gone to great lengths to stir up anti-American rhetoric in Venezuela, and has attempted to paint the threat of impending US invasion. To date, the US has largely ignored his ramblings, however it's not clear for how much longer we will have that luxury. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the instability being generated by Venezuela. While I certainly don't advocate overt military action in Venezuela, a covert effort to foster regime change from within would certainly be in order. The cancer that is Chavez is beginning to spread throughout that region. It seems clear that some form of surgery will be required.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Powell Blames Intelligence Agencies

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell accused US intelligence agencies of withholding doubts about the veracity of their reports regarding Iraq's possession of WMDs. Powell, one of the few peace advocates in the Administration, had argued the US case for war in a landmark presentation at the UN; a presentation seen at the time to parallel Adlai Stevenson's historic presentation on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Herald Sun: White House 'never told' of WMD doubts). Powell told BBC News 24, "What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced to us."

At the heart of our preparations for war were certainties regarding Iraq's possession of chemical and biological weapons as well as an extensive nuclear program that had yet to produce a bomb. The evidence was enough to convince Powell that an overwhelming case had been made for war. On more than one occasion he asserted that anyone who saw the evidence available to the administration would have no doubt that war with Iraq was necessary. Given Powell's pacifistic views, it is hard to imagine that he would be part of any hawkish conspiracy to manipulate the evidence to build a case for war. Powell's claims regarding the intelligence community care a significant weight of truth.

What this shows, however, is one of the major failings of the Patriot Act and a major problem with the way intelligence was handled after 9/11. Prior to 9/11, the various intelligence agencies had little to no contact with each other. They did not share information with each other, and the President was able to receive independent reports from each agency. Of course, this separation was viewed as a problem in the post-9/11 review since there was - and still is - a belief that cooperation between the agencies might have prevented those terrorist attacks.

Following the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, the President backed the concept of an "Intelligence Czar", a single focal point of all intelligence gathering efforts and one that would report directly to the President. Unfortunately, what this would do is undermine the ability to present different and opposing views to the President. It is essential that the President receive reports from all sides, not just a single point of view. That apparently did not happen in the pre-war intelligence reporting that was made available to the White House. As a result, reports that some members of the intelligence community doubted some of the sources also never made it to the White House.

What's interesting is that the measures in the Patriot Act forcing cooperation between various intelligence agencies will expire on January 1, 2006. Despite passage in the House, the US Senate has killed efforts to renew the Patriot Act and that cross-agency cooperation will end when this year comes to a close. In my view, that is a good, though unintended, event. Once again, the various agencies will be able to operate independently, untainted by each other's research or viewpoint. When multiple agencies reach the same conclusions independently, there is a much higher chance of accuracy in the interpretation of gathered intelligence. When they are all sharing each other's information, they are also sharing each other's misinterpretations and the quality of our intelligence is lessened.

Would any of this have changed our decision to go to war? Probably not. The Administration believed from the onset that war with Iraq was necessary for the stability of that region and it is likely that we would have sought to remove Hussein from power in 2003 regardless of any WMD intelligence. All it would have changed was the public argument presented both in the UN and in the American press. The outcome would remain unchanged. With or without that evidence, Saddam Hussein would today be a prisoner on trial for his life and Iraq would be emerging as a new democratic force in the Middle East.

As to our intelligence gathering, change is certainly needed. Accuracy of information when determining when to go to war is essential. The credibility of our intelligence agencies must be restored world-wide since that has implications whenever we make an appeal to our allies or enlist their support in containing our enemies. Yet that necessary change must not undermine the ability of the President to hear all sides of the intelligence debate. It is essential that multiple agencies have access to the President, not just one. It is essential that multiple agencies be free to conduct their own intelligence gathering untainted by the efforts of other agencies. It is essential that each agency provide a check and balance against the others. The goal is to improve the quality of our intelligence, not to water down the efforts of all agencies involved in information gathering.


Iraqi Elections Overwhelming Success

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and top U.S. commander Gen. George W. Casey Jr issued a joint statement hailing the sweeping success of this week's elections in Iraq. They said in that statement, "All reports indicate that Iraqis from all communities and regions turned out in large numbers with only limited reports of violence and irregularities. This is a signal that the people of Iraq have chosen to become active participants in their country's future." ( Sunni Leader Open to Coalition Government).

In a dramatic shift, insurgent groups reached an agreement before the elections not to stage attacks, and many resistance groups actually provided protection for the polling places during the historic elections. Sunni communities that boycotted the first elections experienced overwhelming turnout as all factions embraced the democratic process.

Successful elections of a government recognized and supported by the Iraqi people are critical to the success of our mission in Iraq. This week's elections mark the greatest leap forward towards the goal of a free and sovereign Iraq capable of defending themselves and managing their own affairs. Said Casey, "We should not expect the insurgency to just go away because of yesterday's great success. But we should expect it to be gradually weakened and reduced as more and more Iraqis adopt the political process and the root causes of the insurgency are addressed by the new Iraqi government and by the coalition."

Anyone that has doubts as to whether or not we are winning this war, not only in Iraq but across the Middle East, need only look at the dramatic success of these elections. We are experiencing a dramatic shift in the attitude of the Iraqi people. We now see three major adversaries - Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds - working together to implement a coalition government. They are developing a government not under the duress of a tyrant in Baghdad, but rather a government that is of their own making and with the support of their people.

These are new desperate days for the insurgency. After a taste of freedom, captivity is no longer the same. The Iraqi people are now getting their first tastes of that freedom. The insurgency's days are, indeed, numbered. Al Qaeda is in disarray with 5 of their top 6 leaders dead or captured, Syria is under siege amid more reports that Damascus was involved in the Hariri assassination, and Iran is effectively isolated in the international community over their attempts to obtain nuclear capability.

Final victory in this region is certainly in reach. A major battle was won this week; a battle that, like our own Gettysburg, may well be the deciding factor in this war. There's still more work to do, and we will certainly see more insurgent attacks as they desperately face the end-game. Yet, the momentum is overwhelmingly on the side of the Iraqi people and the coalition supporting them. The insurgency cannot defeat us. The insurgency cannot defeat the Iraqi people's march towards democracy. The greatest threat to this process and to victory now is the impatience of the American press and the outspoken naysayers in Congress that would have us cut and run now with the finish line in sight. The greatest enemy we face now in Iraq is our own resolve. Let's not be the cause of our own defeat.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush Authorized Internal Spying

A new storm is brewing over reports that President Bush allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on at least 500 US citizens as part of the intelligence gathering in the War on Terror. Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced that he would open an investigation into the accusations. (New Mexican: Bush authorized NSA to spy on Americans).

The President defended his actions in a public radio address. "We do not discuss ongoing intelligence operations to protect the country, and the reason why is that there's an enemy that lurks, that would like to know exactly what we're trying to do to stop them," the President said. "I will make this point: that whatever I do to protect the American people _ and I have an obligation to do so _ that we will uphold the law, and decisions made are made understanding we have an obligation to protect the civil liberties of the American people."

At issue are reports that the NSA monitored the e-mails and international communications of at least 500 people suspected of terror activity following the 9/11 attacks. Such activities are technically illegal under the Constitution. There are situations, however, that do warrant such extreme surveillance. When it comes to protecting the security of the US, especially in the wake of the terror attacks in NY, such measures by the NSA are most certainly justified. We can ill afford to allow our enemies any advantage. Like it or not, a state of war exists, and that means certain intelligence measures are needed that would not ordinarily pass muster in peace time.

Various news agencies reported today that Congressional leaders were briefed on the program when it was implemented. Of course, that briefing took place following 9/11 when the national focus was on security. Four years later, as memories of 9/11 fade into the distant past, the American public and Congress seem to have forgotten why those extreme measures were necessary in the first place.

Under normal circumstances, I would not condone the wiretapping of US citizens. These are not normal circumstances. Those suspected of spying for the enemy, plotting attacks against the US, or providing information to those that are bent on attacking us, simply cannot be afforded the Constitutional protections that are questioned in this report. National Security is the first responsibility of our government, and that means they must at times take extraordinary means to safeguard the public at large.

It is a given that Congress will investigate these reports. Congress has oversight authority in these matters, and it is their responsibility to conduct those investigations. Like the President, though, they too have an obligation to protect the American people. It is essential that Congress not undermine the ability of the NSA to keep tabs on the enemies of the United States, especially those that may be living in this country.

Perhaps Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said it best. "Winning the war on terrorism requires winning the war of information We are dealing with a patient, diabolical enemy who wants to harm America." Indeed, in the face of such an enemy, we must be prepared to give the NSA and other intelligence organizations a bit of leeway. Let's not hinder their ability to gather the intelligence needed to prevent another 9/11 style attack.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

President Accepts Responsibility; Reiterates War Policy

President Bush yesterday gave the fourth and final speech in a series designed to counter calls to withdraw from Iraq, this time addressing Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. His address called for patience on the part of both Americans and Iraqis, noting that there was still a good deal of work to be done in establishing a solid Iraqi government capable of standing on its own. (Washington Post: Bush Urges 'Patience' on Iraq). "It's also going to take a while for them to form a government," Bush said in his speech. "The work ahead will require patience of the Iraqi people and require our patience as well."

The President once again accepted responsibility for the decision to go to war, reiterating that that decision was based on intelligence that has since been determined to be inaccurate. The President established a commission months ago to review the pre-war intelligence gathering process and to address the flaws in that process. Despite the inaccurate data, the President maintains that the removal of Hussein from power was the correct one.

Dusting off a phrase he used frequently in the build-up to the war and again on the night US troops launched the first volley in Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Bush reminded the nation that, "The United States did not choose war. The choice was Saddam Hussein's."

That, perhaps, is the message that has been most lost on the public over the past 2 1/2 years, and it's a very important message to deliver. The decision to withhold information demanded in UN Resolution 1440 was Saddam Hussein's. The decision not to account for the disposal or storage of tons of chemical weapons that had previously been documented by Iraq was Saddam Hussein's. The decision to divert, thwart, and mislead UN inspectors for 12-years was Saddam Hussein's. The decision to give a $25,000 reward to the families of all Muslim suicide bombers in the year prior to the war was Saddam Hussein's.

In the weeks prior to the start of the war, the President offered Hussein a way out of the conflict. Even without adhering to 1441, Hussein was offered exile and safe harbor. We learned earlier this year that other nations in the Middle East had offered to grant him a safe exile. He refused, choosing instead to fight a war that he could not possibly win. President Bush is correct. The decision to go to war was ultimately Hussein's.

Now that we are there, the stakes are extremely high. As the war of words escalates between Israel and Iran, do not think for a moment that the eyes of the Arab world are on US resolve in Iraq. Just as the overwhelming success in Gulf War I and in Afghanistan brought Libya into compliance, so too will the world's perception of our willingness to stay the course in Iraq have a significant impact on the outcome in Iran. The weaker the US appears in Iraq, the stronger Iran's position will be in their quest for nuclear fuel technology.

Also at stake is the view moderate Arab's have for America's willingness to support their own initiatives. Shiites in Iraq felt abandoned by the US after Gulf War I when Hussein was allowed to fly helicopters in that region and used them to launch a series of deadly attacks against the Shiite community. (That was the reason the no-fly zone in the south was instituted.) Moderate Arab groups in the Middle East, including a very large population of moderates in Iran that would like to see a far less militaristic tone set by their own government, are closely watching our desire to see the job of rebuilding and stabilizing Iraq.

Dismantling a government is easy. We've done it twice in the span of three months. The challenge is what comes afterwards, and that is what proves to be most difficult. So the President is correct. Patience is in order. We have been in Iraq for only 2 1/2 years, and astounding progress has been made. Much of what we've accomplished was deemed impossible by a skeptical world two years ago. It bears reminding that, in our own quest for freedom, 11 years passed between the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the US Constitution. Patience is indeed the key. Any calls to simply cut and run are misguided, foolhardy, and a sure recipe for disaster throughout the Middle East.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ahmadinejad Again Talks Trash

Undeterred by Iran's growing isolation even in the Arab world, and seemingly unfazed by Israel's March deadline for military action, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated yesterday his contention that the Holocaust never happened. (Times Online: Holocaust a myth, says Iran president).

Ahmadinejad continued his two month stretch of bringing tensions in that region to the brink of war between Iran and Israel. His latest outbursts decrying the veracity of the Holocaust were issued as part of his latest calls to move Israel to Europe. The Iranian hard-liner, reputed to be one of the kidnappers in the US hostage crisis in 1979, said last week, "You [Europeans] have to pay the compensation yourself. This is our proposal: give a part of your own land in Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to them [Jews], so that the Jews can establish their country."

Reports surfaced when Ahmadinejad was first elected that he was one of the leaders of the group that took Americans hostage during the Islamic revolution in Iran back in 1979. Photographs showed a youthful Ahmadinejad holding a gun to the head of a blindfolded hostage. Iran officially denied the reports, however Ahmadinejad's public statements recently are certainly consistent with those of the hostage taker.

His latest delusional statements regarding the Holocaust contend that it was a myth created by the US and Europe to justify creating a Jewish state in the midst of the Islamic world. It is only the latest in a series of verbal attacks aimed at Israel and the west; a dangerous game of brinkmanship being played with US troops on his border and an Israel growing increasingly nervous about Iranian nuclear developments.

Ahmadinejad is playing a very dangerous game and is using Israel as a pawn. It is unlikely that he truly wants war with Israel - a war he cannot win, given US support for Israel right next door. What he does want, however, is a united Arab world behind him as Iran continues to battle the west over nuclear proliferation. For the moment, the world is fairly united in their opposition to Iran's potential development of nuclear fuel technologies. The game Ahmadinejad is playing is designed to drive an Israeli wedge between the western world and the rest of the Arab states.

It's not a ploy unique to Iran, by any means. When the US and coalition forces attacked Iraq in the first Gulf War, Hussein's response was not to retaliate against any of the coalition nations. Rather, he sought to fracture the coalition by launching scud missile attacks against Israel. Had Israel responded, the Arab nations in the coalition would have withdrawn, and some may even have joined the war on Iraq's side.

Ahmadinejad's verbal scud attacks against Israel have the same goal. What he is gambling on now is that the US will once again restrain Israel from attacking an Arab nation. What is more likely, however, is that the US will beat Israel to the punch. The US has neither the leverage nor the incentive to restrain Israel this time around - Israel doesn't need US IFF codes to attack Iran like they needed for any retaliation against Iraq - but the US does have plenty of incentive to settle and old score with Ahmadinejad. As of this writing, I would not recommend underwriting any insurance policies for Ahmadinejad. The man is undoubtedly on borrowed time.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Syria Implicated Further; France Waffles Again

The second report issued by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis detailing his investigation into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri further implicated Syria in the assassination plot. Adding to the seriousness of the mounting case against Syria, Mehlis found strong evidence of witness tampering and the destruction of key evidence on Syria's part. (Washington Post: Report Says Syria Interfered in Hariri Probe).

Naturally, Syria denies the charges and claims they fully cooperated in the UN authorized investigation. Mehlis has asked the UN to extend his commission's authority for another six-months, even though he intends to step down from the commission when the mandate expires Wednesday.

Based on mounting evidence against Syria, the US is pushing for UN sanctions against the rogue state. As it did last time, however, France is once again waffling on any inclusion of the threat of sanctions in a UN resolution. France agrees with pushing forward another resolution against Syria, however it is still holding out against wording that would actually give that resolution some teeth. The French version of the revolution accuses Syria of not "providing full and unconditional cooperation" however it stops short of punishing them for their failure to fully cooperate.

We are seeing a very familiar theme in the UN. Consistently, it is France and typically Russia that oppose any resolutions that give the UN authority to enforce those resolutions. Russia, in fact, was one of the nations that opposed any threat of sanctions against Syria in the first round of resolutions. Indeed, France has always had a close relationship with Syria, although in recent years it has been much closer to Lebanon - at least since the election of Assad. Chirac's attempts to play the role of mentor for Assad were rebuffed and the relationship between France and Syria have been somewhat strained ever since.

What is quite clear in all this is that there are two rogue nations bordering Iraq that will have to be dealt with in 2006. Iran on one side has been discussed extensively in this journal. Syria is clearly the other. Both of those rogue nations are a significant threat to the stability of the Middle East. Both are heavily anti-Semitic and pose a threat to the security of Israel. Both are open sponsors of terrorism, providing support for groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. With Iran, the path in 2006 seems pretty clear and virtually unavoidable. With Syria, however, there is the potential for sanctions to be implemented with some effect. All we need is to hurdle the last two remaining roadblocks, France and Russia. In any road-map to peace in the Middle East, those two nations remain the biggest obstructions. One has to wonder what they stand to gain by dragging their feet.