Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Nice Start, But...

Conservative bloggers have been encouraged by news that the Justice Department is now investigating recent leaks of classified information to the press, namely the disclosure of the NSA domestic surveillance program, and the existence of CIA detention facilities in Eastern Europe.

The MSM has been playing fast and loose with sensitive information for years, aided by intelligence insiders who leak for a variety of reasons. Some are disgruntled employees, passed over for promotion or merit bonuses. Others vehemently disagree with the President Bush's handling of the War on Terror, and view their actions as striking a blow against an "evil" administration. Others are upset with recent leadership changes at intelligence agencies (namely the CIA), and efforts to reign in rogue elements within those organizations.

Whatever their motive, the MSM couldn't publish their "exclusives" without help from leakers, who break the law whenever the divulge classified information. All government personnel with a security clearance sign non-disclosure agreements which spell out the potential penalties for leaking sensitive information.

You'll note my use of the word "potential." As we have pointed out before, few leakers are ever caught, let alone punished. In some cases, the leaks are "inside" jobs, information divulged by administration officials to advance a particular theme or policy. In other situations, the leakers find ways to effectively cover their tracks, or investigators are unable to use certain techniques (such as polygraphs) to find the source of a leak. Surprisingly, polygraphs are not a standard practice throughout the intelligence community; while they are used routinely at both the CIA and NSA, they are used less often at the Defense Intelligence Agency and only rarely in military intelligence circles. Without a polygraph (or a clear paper trail), it is often difficult to pin a leak on a particular individual.

Regrettably, it's also now easier to leak that ever before. With the advent of INTELINK (the intelligence community's intranet), thousands of personnel have access to vast amounts of information, including highly sensitive data classified at the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (SCI) level. While INTELINK is a boon to intelligence personnel, it also makes it convenient for leakers to point, click and print a classified document, and pass it to a member of the press. And amazingly, security at some intelligence facilities is surprisingly lax; end-of-the day searches of personnel leaving their offices are rare, so the chances of a leaker being caught are remote.

Over the past decade, there have been more than 600 referrals to the Justice Department for leaks of classified information. During the same period, there were no successful prosecutions for leak-associated crimes. Those "odds" hardly discourage leakers, since the chances of being caught, let alone punished, are very, very remote.

Secrets are necessary for the survival of a democracy, so the probe of these recent leaks is a step in the right direction. But find the source--and punishing the leakers--is another proposition. And, since the NSA and CIA prison disclosures were "good leaks" from the MSM's perspective, they will fight the Justice Department probe on every legal front.

We've been down this road countless times before, and the government's track record in catching leakers is less-than-impressive. Will the NSA and CIA cases be any different? We can only hope so--but don't get your hopes up.

A final note: during my spook days, I saw a classified analysis of the impact of media leaks over the past ten years. The impact of these disclosures--in terms of blown sources and lost intel information--was absolutely staggering. The senior official who prepared the report is now retiring. I hope he will publish his unclassified version of the study in the near future. The public needs to know the real impact when classified information finds its way into print or broadcast, with no regard for the security consequences.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

The Justice Department has launched a probe into the leaks that divulged the NSA domestic surveillance program and the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. The New York Times and Washington Post are squarely in the cross-hairs. Heh..heh...heh

Mac Ranger has been ahead of the curve on this one.

Michelle Malkin predicts how the MSM will spin this one, differentiating between "good" and "bad" leaks. Good = anything that embarasses GWB and may result in the indictment of administration officials. Bad = anything that may get the NYT or WaPo's proverbial t** caught in a wringer.

Somewhere, the ghost of John Mitchell is smiling.

A Measure of Protection

Israel's state airline, El Al, has confirmed that it will begin installing missile defense systems on some of its passenger jets. The decision to install self-protection systems was actually made in 2002, after Al-Qaida terrorists tried (unsuccessfully) to down an Israeli charter jet over Kenya, using a shoulder-fired, SA-7 surface-to-air missile (SAM).

According to the Israeli daily Harretz, El Al will mount "Flight Guard" defensive suites on six of its jetliners that routinely fly to areas where Al-Qaida has been active in the past. The airline does not have current plans to install the system on the rest of its aircraft, but that might be an option as the threat from man-portable missiles increases.

The Flight Guard systems consists of a missile warning system, linked to flare dispensers mounted at various locations on the aircraft. When warning sensors detect a missile launch, the system begins dispensing hot flares, designed to decoy the missile away from the aircraft.

Systems like Flight Guard are effective against older shoulder-fired, like the Russian-built SA-7/14 series, and the U.S. manufactured Redeye, which are readily available on the black and gray arms markets. But the systems are not foolproof. To detect a missile, the system scans the environment for a spike in infrared (IR) energy, typically associated with a missile launch. Unfortunately, other events--such as sunlight reflecting off a lake, or a "hot" cloud can produce similar spikes, resulting in false alarms and flare deployments.

Compounding the problem, those decoy flares burn very hot and they do fall to earth. While they're supposed to burn out before reaching the ground, residual heat can still ignite dry material--such as brush or foilage around an airport, or beneath a departure/arrival corridor. Can you imagine what might happen if an airliner dispensed flares around the Dallas-Ft Worth Airport, or Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City? Firefighters might be busy for days, given the dry conditions and on-going wildfire threat.

Of greater concern is the reduced effectiveness these systems have against newer man-portable SAMS, including the Russian SA-18/24 and the latest version of the U.S.-built Stinger. More advanced MANPADs have built-in flare rejection capabilities, allowing them to "recognize" flares and regain lock on their target. Al-Qaida (and other terrorist groups) may have access to these weapons, reducing the protection offered by Flight Guard.

From the Israeli perspective, even limited protection is better than nothing. There are also indications that Flight Guard is an interim measure and will eventually be replaced by a system called BRITENING, which links missile detection sensors with an advanced IR jammer, designed to blind the seeker of a shoulder-fired SAM.

U.S. manufacturers produced similar hardware, notably the NEMESIS system built by Northrop-Grumman. The FAA (and other government agencies) have been evaluating NEMESIS (and other self-protection suites), but so far, there has been no decision to actually mount anti-missile defenses on U.S. aircraft. At a cost of $1 million per jetliner, it's an expensive proposition, one that the government and financially-strapped airlines seem unwilling to undertake.

On the other hand, what would be the likely cost--in decreased travel, lost jobs and permanently-grounded airlines--if a terrorist managed to shoot down a jetliner inside the CONUS. Suddenly, the cost of putting missile defensive systems on airliners might seem like a relative bargain.

Nuclear Rope-a-Dope, Part II

Over the past couple of days, we've been reporing on Tehran's apparent interest in a Russia's offer to enrich Iranian uranium at a facility inside Russia--a plan designed to end the international standoff over Iran's nuclear program. We have expressed serious reservations that this proposal will ever bear fruit; instead, Iran will likely use the Russian offer as a way to engage the west, forestall potential military action and advance its nuclear program. As we noted:

"If history is any indication, the Iranians will "study" the plan for a few months, then ultimately reject it, demanding complete control over all aspects of their nuclear program."

Perhaps the Iranians are operating on a shorter timetable, or simply laying the ground work for eventual rejection of the Russian plan. But a Reuters report indicates that Iran has not abandoned its desire to conduct its own enrichment efforts, despite its stated interest in the Russian option. The comment, which came from a member of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, probably reflects Tehran's "official" position on the subject. But I'm also guessing that Iran will sustain its "talks" with the Russians for at least a few more months and buy more time for its nuclear program.

And, since the Russian plan is the only western offer now on the table, the U.S. and European Union will continue to support this effort, hoping that Moscow can somehow broker a deal that would provide some measure of control and accountability over Iran's nuclear program. It's a fool's paradise, but (absent other options), the diplomats will keep playing the Russian card until Tehran finally rejects it, on their timetable.

People Who Really Mattered in 2005

Just before the holidays, Time published its annual "Persons of the Year" issue. I was slightly underwhelmed at their selections (Bill and Melinda Gates; rocker/activist Bono). Mr. and Mrs. Gates were cited for giving away much of their multi-billion dollar fortune for humanitarian and medical relief projects in the third world. However, Time failed to mention that some of Gates's largess also goes to population control advocates and pro-abortion organizations. Bono was lauded for his efforts to get the developed world to forgive debts by third world nations, so (presumably), they can borrow more money from the World Bank, and start the process all over again.

I was even less impressed with Time's companion piece, listing "People Who Mattered" in 2005. Some of their choices (President Bush, Tony Blair) were obvious; others were dubious (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald) and many were simply ridiculous (Cindy Sheehan, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin; Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame). The entire list can be found here.

After reading the Time list, I promised to go the magazine one better, and publish my own list of "People Who Really Mattered" in 2005. With suggestions and nominations from dozens of readers, the alternative list has been compiled, and I am proud to present my listing of "People Who Really Mattered in 2005. As you read my list, I think you'll agree that their contribtions to the nation (and the world) far exceed those individuals recognized by Time. You'll also note very little overlap between my listing and the persons cited by the magazine.

Without further ado, here's my list of "People Who Really Mattered in 2005," presented in random order:

1. The Iraqi People. Despite a near-constant terrorist threat, millions of Iraqis continued the process of building a democracy in their country. The voted in overwhelming numbers--twice--and those purple-stained fingers were a dagger through the heart of the insurgency. Meanwhile, the Iraqi econonmy continues to improve, and Iraqis are assuming an even greater role in fighting the insurgents. It received scant attention in the western press, but the Iraqis actually took the lead in providing security for the December elections--a testament of how far they--and their country--have come in the past two years.

2. Lt Gen David Petraeus, U.S. Army. After leading the 101st Airborne Division in the invasion of Iraq, General Petraeus was given an even tougher job--training Iraqis security forces so Allied units could begin drawing down. A year ago, critics chided the Pentagon because only a handful of Iraqi units were on the battlefield. Over the past year, Petraeus and his team have trained more than 80 additional battalions, and a number of Iraqi units are now capable of conducting independent operations. The recently-announced reductions among U.S. forces in Iraq are a measure of how General Petraeus has succeeded in his mission.

3. The National Security Agency. The always-secretive intelligence organization has found itself in the public spotlight in recent weeks, thanks to a NYT disclosure about the agency's expanded domestic surveillance program, launched in the wake of 9-11. Liberals howled, but their protests fell largely on deaf ears. Turns out that the program was briefed to Congress on a regular basis, and strict legal reviews were conducted on a bi-monthly basis. Better yet, the program seems to have yielded real intelligence that helped thwart terrorist attacks, at home and abroad. In the dark days after 9-11, President Bush and the NSA did the right thing, utilizing warrantless wiretaps and state-of-the-art information processing technology to ferret out terrorist threats. We owe a debt to the men and women of the NSA for enhancing our security over the past four years.

4. Chief Justice John Roberts. Originally nominated to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Judge Roberts became the nominee for Chief Justice after the death of William Rhenquist. While liberals hoped to torpedo his nomination, Judge Robert's confirmation hearings were a tour-de-force; with his astounding intellect and considerable charm, Judge Roberts ran legal circles around his Democratic interrogators, making them look like struggling 1L students. With Roberts as Chief Justice (and the likely confirmation of Sam Alito to replace O'Connor), a genuine, conservative block is finally emerging on the nation's highest court, and Judge Roberts will be around to run the show for the next 25 years or so. Sleep well, Teddy.

5. Governor Haley Barbour. When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, much of the nation's attention was focused on New Orleans, thanks largely to the incompetence of local officials who waited too long to start their evcauation, and left thousands stranded inside the city. Meanwhile, neighboring Mississippi bore the brunt of the storm, but there were far fewer problems, thanks to decisive leadership by Governor Barbour and his emergency management team. While Katrina (appropriately) destroyed the political careers of hacks like Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco, Barbour's approval ratings are above 60%, he's a shoo-in for a second term, and emerging as the first serious Presidential contender from Mississippi since Jefferson Davis.

6. Michael Yon. While the MSM told us that Iraq was going to hell in a handbasket, Michael Yon, a former Green Beret and independent journalist, decided to have a look for himself. Funded largely by contributions from readers of his blog, Yon spent a year in Iraq, on the front-lines with American troops. Along the way, he set the standard for combat coverage of that conflict, providing first-person accounts that recall the best work of Ernie Pyle. His dispatch from 31 August 2005 "Gates of Fire," may be the finest piece of combat writing I've ever read.

7. Lt Col Erik Kurilla. The second Army officer on our list, Lt Col Kurilla led the unit profiled by Michael Yon in many of his postings. Lt Col Kurilla's battalion (1-24th Infantry Regiment) played a decisive role in the liberation of Mosul, restoring order and relataive calm to a city that had been overrun by terrorists. Kurilla led from the front, inspiring his men and striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Kurilla's retiring CSM (Command Sergeant Major) describes him as the "best battalion commander" in the U.S. Army, and there are many who would concur with that assessment. Lt Col Kurilla was seriously wounded in a close-quarters, hand-to-hand fight with the terrorists in Mosul last August; he is expected to make a full recovery. Kurilla is the living embodiment of the superb, small-unit leadership that has turned the tide against the terrorists in Iraq.

8. Condolezza Rice. MSM types have focused on her flair for fashion, or her "rock star" personna" during trips abroad, but our new Secretary of State is making a real contribution in her clear articulation of Bush foreign policy, and her efforts to shape up Foggy Bottom. There have been a number of "retirements" since Dr. Rice moved to the State Department and there seem to be fewer leaks as well. Given her success in those areas, perhaps a promotion to run the CIA (or the entire intelligence apparatus) might be in order.

9. Lt Gen Russell Honore. Amid the chaos in New Orleans that followed Hurricane Katrina, General Honore provided the only real example of leadership and stability, detailing how rescue and relief operations would proceed. And, true to his word, the military took charge and began the long task of getting New Orleans back on its feet. General Honore also deserves special credit for his "handling" of the press. Refusing to tolerate fools among the Fourth Estate, Honore coined a phrase for them ("Stuck on Stupid") that became part of the national lexicon.

10. Porter Goss and John Negroponte. While Secretary Rice took on the difficult task of fixing the State Department, Mr. Goss and Ambassador Negroponte faced more difficult challenges--fixing the CIA, and unifying the intelligence community under the new Director of National Intelligence (DNI) construct. At the CIA, Goss and his management team forced a number of suspected critics and leakers into retirement, undercutting the agency's semi-declared war on the Bush Administration. However, leaks of sensitive information were still coming from Langley at year's end, suggesting that Goss's reform program has a ways to go. As DNI, Negroponte faced an even tougher battle, although he flexed his muscle early by challenging a proposed spy satellite system.

11. Melanie Morgan. The long-time morning co-host at KSFO Radio in San Francisco, Ms. Morgan is also a co-founder of Move American Forward, a California-based lobbying group that has been extremely effective in advancing the conservative message. Amid the "Summer of Cindy (Sheehan)" in Crawford, Texas, Ms. Morgan and her organization staged a highly effective counter-protest. She also led a group of radio hosts to Iraq, in an effort to balance the "doom-and-gloom" reports from the MSM. Ms. Morgan even made seven trips along Baghdad's infamous Airport Road, demonstrating that the security situation had dramatically improved, and MSM accounts were misleading, at best.

12. Sean Hannity and Oliver North. Best-known as conservative pundits and media personalities, Sean and Ollie have also been in the forefront to help the families of service members killed in Iraq. In less than three years, their "Freedom Concerts" (held every summer) have raised over $5 million to fund scholarships for the sons and daughters of deceased service members. Virtually all celebrities--including Michael Moore--claim to "support the troops" but Hannity and North put their time and money where their mouths are.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Osthoff File

Former hostage Susanne Osthoff appeared on German TV Wednesday night, just 10 days after being released by her captors in Iraq. In previous interviews, Ms. Osthoff--an Islam convert who has lived in the Middle East for many years--expressed sympathy for her captors. But, judging from her interview on Germany's ZDF network, I'm not sure what Ms. Osthoff is in favor of. According to der Spiegel, describing her appearance as "bizarre" would be an understatment.

But there may be more to the Osthoff story that her increasingly weird behavior. The German tabloid Bild has been looking into Ms. Osthoff's past and has supposedly linked her to Saddam Hussein's regime. The paper also wonders how Osthoff paid for her daughter's private school tuition on an academic's salary. Bild promises to keep digging into Osthoff's background.

Unfortunately, I don't speak German, and I haven't been able to find on-line, translated clips from the ZDF interview. Not that it really matters; based on the Spiegel account, Ms. Osthoff gave rambling, even incoherent responses and refused to discuss certain aspects of the ordeal, including the actual kidnapping.

There may be serveral possible explanations for Ms. Osthoff's unusual behavior, including post-traumatic stress disorder. But, as Charles Johnson notes, there's something fishy about this whole episode, including Germany's release of convicted Hizballah killer that (apparently) secured Osthoff's release in Iraq. Osthoff originally claimed she was well-treated by her captors, but her bizzare conduct during Wednesday's interview suggests otherwise. Some have suggested that Osthoff is suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, where captives begin to identify with their captors. But the condition implies that a shift in sympathy or allegiances occurs during the hostage ordeal; during her captivity, Ms. Osthoff reportedly told her kidnappers that "she knew of the Iraqi peoples' plight," and one of her kidnappers described her as "Iraq's friend," buzzwords straight out of the jihadist phrasebook.

I'm not accusing Osthoff of being a terrorist--far from it. But her initial accounts of a rather benign experience at the hands of her captors don't square with her interview on ZDF. Either Ms. Osthoff suffered trauma at the hands of her kidnappers (and she's trying to suppress it), or she's hiding something much more sinister.

The View from Tel Aviv

A hat tip to Paul Mirengoff of Powerline, who discovered a series of fascinating press articles on recent Israeli comments regarding Iran's nuclear program. I say "fascinating" because the reports remind us how important this issue will be in the New Year, while highlighting Israel's internal debate over the Iranian threat, and how to deal with it.

According to the Chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Iran "will obtain a nuclear weapon within two years," if there are no interruptions in their development efforts. The committee chairman, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz, said that a nuclear-armed Iran will lead to a "new" Middle East--"threatening, dark and dangerous." Steinitz made the remarks after a recent committee meeting that focused on the Iranian nuclear issue.

During the same meeting, Mossad chief Meir Dugan offered a slighty different take on the issue, telling Knesset members that Iran will reach "a stage of independent technological ability in a matter of months." However, Dugan apparently did not predict when Iran might actually have nuclear weapons. In the past, Israeli defense and intelligence officials have differentiated between Iran's mastery of the technology required to produce nuclear weapons, and actually producing a working bomb. Dugan's comments seemingly refer to the technology issue, and not weapons production. Many Western intelligence analysts believe it will take Iran several years to build a bomb after they master the requisite technology.

Dugan believes the Iranian matter should be referred to the UN Security Council, noting that the imposition of sanctions could be effective, since 40% of Iran's fuel needs are imported. The Chief of Intelligence for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), seems to share that point of view, although Major General Aharon Zeevi Farkash believes the window for diplomacy is closing fast. According to General Farkash, if the Iranian issue isn't in the Security Council's discussion file by March, then "diplomacy will have failed."

At the other end of the spectrum the new IDF Chief (Air Force Lieutenant General Dan Halutz) believes that Iran does not pose an imminent threat. In an interview with Israel Army Radio, General Halutz also drew the distinction between Iran's efforts to develop nuclear technology, and the actual production of nuclear weapons, suggesting that Iran may not acquire nuclear weapons until "the beginning of the next decade." Halutz also called for continued diplomatic efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue, but did not suggest that talks must reach a successful conclusion in the coming months.

As we've noted previously, there is genuine disagreement within Israel over the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, and exactly when Tehran might actually field nuclear weapons. Amid this debate--and the upcoming parlimentary elections--the Israeli leadership seems willing to give diplomacy a chance, but only to an unspecified point. Several Israeli officials have made reference to the March timeframe, both as a date when Iran will have supposedly "mastered" nuclear technology, or a deadline for getting the issue before the Security Council. Does March represent some sort of "red line" which, according to the Israelis, Iran will not be allowed to cross, or (as General Halutz suggests) should diplomacy be given more time. We won't know that answer until sometime next year.

It's also worth remembering that 'March 2006 is when Israelis go the the polls and choose a new government. PM Sharon had hoped to keep the Iranian issue out of the political debate, but Likud is having none of that. Former PM Benjamin Netanyahu's recent endorsement of the "Begin doctrine" (preemptive strikes against Israel's enemies) and MK Steinitz's warnings about Iran are clearly intended for domestic political consumption. If Likud has its way, the Iranian nuclear program will become a central issue in the upcoming election, with conservatives questioning Sharon's handling of the threat.

The message from Tel Aviv remains mixed, politically, diplomatically and militarily. While this could be an Israeli deception tactic (designed to mask military preparations and political decisions that have already been made), the diverging assessments and opinions are--more likely--a reflection of continued debate within Israel's government. A consensus on the exact nature of the Iranian threat (and the required Israeli response) are still being formulated. Iran is certainly aware of the Israeli deliberations, and will use this opportunity to press ahead with its nuclear program, believing that there is only the slightest chance of an Israeli strike, at least for the near term.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Nuclear Rope-a-Dope

29 DEC 05, 12:38 CST

Iran has formally agreed to hold talks on a Russian proposal to enrich Iranian uranium at a facility inside Russia. A senior Iranian official told Reuters on Wednesday that his country would "seriously and enthusiastically" study Moscow's plan, which calls for creation of a joint venture to that would process uranium from Iran at a Russian enrichment facility. The U.S. and the European Union support the proposal, which is aimed at ending the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Don't get your hopes up. The concerns outlined in the post below are still valid. Iran has already stated that it sees potential problems with the Russian plan, which may ultimately be used to veto the proposal--after dragging out talks for a period of many months. The old "nuclear rope-a-dope" strategy is alive and well in Tehran.


Iran is said to be "studying" a Russian proposal that calls for moving its uranium enrichment efforts to a facility in Russia. The proposal--which has the backing of the U.S. and the European Union--is viewed as a potential means for reigning in Tehran's nuclear program. If the plan is accepted by Iran, enrichment activities now conducted at Iranian nuclear sites would be transferred to similar facilities in Russia, allowing greater monitoring--and control--of a critical step in the nuclear weapons development process.

There are a couple of problems with this approach. First, Iran seems to be adopting negotiating tactics perfected by the North Koreans. Let the west float a proposal, express some interest in the idea, stretch out negotiations for as long as possible, then reject the plan and start over again. Remember those recent negotiations between Iran and the so-called EU-3 (Britain, France, and Germany)? Those talks dragged on for almost a year until they reached a dead end, and forced diplomats to shift their focus to the Russian proposal.

If history is any indication, the Iranians will "study" the plan for a few months, then ultimately reject it, demanding complete control over all aspects of their nuclear program. At that point, the diplomats will trash about for something else, perhaps a resumption of the EU-3 talks. In the interim, Iran's nuclear program will continue to advance.

Another cautionary note: as we've noted before, Iran's periodic willingness to "discuss" its program may indicate that Iran has successfully concealed key elements of its program. If Tehran publicly agrees to move its enrichment efforts to Russia, there is a very good chance that the Iranians will retain a covert enrichment capability, circumventing any possible agreement, and allowing weapons development to continue.

Finally, the Russian plan ignores another key element of Iran's nuclear weapons program. Along with its enrichment efforts, Iran is also pursuing the development of heavy water facilities at Khondab (250 km SW of Tehran). A heavy water plant is already in operation at that location, and work is continuing on an adjacent heavy water reactor. When completed, the reactor could produce weapons-grade plutonium, extracted from fuel rods used in the reactor. The heavy water option could allow Tehran to essentially by-pass the enrichment process, and still develop nuclear weapons. Officially, Iran claims the reactor will be used to produce isotopes for industrial and medical use--a scenario that is highly unlikely, at best.

Despite on-going talks with Russia, it's highly unlikely that Iran will ever give up its enrichment efforts, or any other component of its nuclear program. Negotiations with the Russians and EU are little more than a nuclear rope-a-dope, allowing the west to expend its time and energy on efforts that are ultimately useless. And sadly, no one seems to have any better ideas for dealing with Iran's nuclear program (with the possible exception of the Israeli Air Force).

End of Argument

Eugene Robinson and David Ignatius are a couple of clueless op-ed columnists for the Washington Post. In their most recent columns, both have concluded that the recently-disclosed NSA domestic surveillance program is illegal. They apparently made their determination without reviewing existing statutes, relevant case law, or U.S. history. By their standards, if a program "seems" wrong (or it's being run by an administration you don't like), why it must be illegal. Needless to say, their logic train has jumped the tracks, but it proves that liberal group-think is alive and well at the WaPo.

I hate to burst their smug little bubbles, but Mr. Robinson and Mr. Ignatius, meet Professor Robert Turner, co-founder of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law. He's one of the nation's leading authorities on the president's legal authority to conduct intelligence activities, and he's written a column of his own (in today's OpinionJournal that presents a convincing case for the president's right to gather foreign intelligence--without a search warrant.

The Human Toll

Iraqi workers in Karbala have uncovered another mass grave, filled with more victims of Saddam Hussein's regime. According to human rights organizations, Saddam authorized the slaughter of more than 300,000 Iraqi citizens--mostly Shiites and Kurds--during his reign of terror. Some estimates place the death toll much higher--perhaps as high as one million.

Why is that number important? Back in 1999, we went to war in Kosovo largely to end ethnic cleansing and genocide by the Serbs. President Clinton painted a grim picture, insisting that "tens of thousands" of Kosavars had been murdered by Serbian troops and security forces. U.S. officials even provided satellite photos that purported to show mass graves that (supposedly) contained thousands of bodies.

So, what was the final death toll in Kosovo? Larry Elder, the columnist and KABC talk show host has been one of the few observers who actually followed up on the Kosovo story, comparing pre-war estimates against the number of bodies actually recovered. He discovered that the number of Kosavars murdered by the Serbs was betweeen 2-3,000, a horrible tragedy, to be sure, but far below original estimates. Based on those numbers, Larry rightly asks; did Clinton lie about the justification for Operation Allied Force, just as liberals accused Bush of lying about the need to liberate Iraq?

I'm no fan of Bill Clinton, but on issue of Kosovo, I'll be charitable and say that he received misleading or erroneous intelligence, just as George Bush did on Iraq. However, I won't give a pass to the MSM, which has ignored contradictions between pre-war intelligence and the ground truth that emerged in Kosovo, while assailing President Bush for "getting it wrong" in Iraq. Contrary to what the NYT or WaPo may think, you can't have it both ways: either Bush and Clinton both lied, (or) they acted on limited, sometimes faulty intelligence, (or) Saddam's genocide provided sufficient justification for going to war in Iraq, just as it did in Kosovo.

Bring in the Lawyers

Today's edition of the NYT offers the latest salvo in its "expose" of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. Reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, who broke the story two weeks ago, now write that defense attorneys representing terror suspects plan legal challenges to the wiretap program.

As my 13-year-old neice might observe: "Duhhh"

Of course, they'e planning legal challenges. For attorneys representing suspected terrorists, the Lichtblau/Risen series has been a legal godsend, veritable "motion manna" from jurisprudence heaven. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. For months--even years--you've been representing suspects with reputed ties to Al Qaida and plots to kill Americans. It will be hard to convince a jury or military tribunal that these folks are innocent. Making matters worse, many of these suspects remain in legal limbo; as terrorist combatants, they are not entitled to the full legal rights and protections afforded to American citizens. It's a no-win situation for any defense attorney, even the well-known legal sharks who are representing some of the suspects.

Now, in the blink of an eye, the NYT is offering what may be a get out of jail card. If the defense lawyers can link their client to the NSA program--and that program is declared illegal--dozens, perhaps hundreds of terrorist suspects could potentially walk out of Guantanamo Bay and other U.S.-run detention facilities as free men. That is a positively chilling thought, but it could easily happen as legal challenges to the NSA program enter our nation's court system. And, despite past rulings that have upheld warrantless wiretaps, it's a good bet that defense attorneys can find a federal judge willing to break precedent, and declare that the program violates the Fourth Ammendment. Once freed, it's reasonable to assume that freed Al Qaida suspects would eventually return to their old ways, and again pose a threat to our national security.

Civil libertarians will argue that legal challenges will protect those falsely accused of terrorist ties. But it's also apparent that the legal maneuvering will include suspects whose terrorist activities appear well-documented, such as Iyman Faris, who planned to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. According to the Times, Mr. Faris's attorney is already planning a legal challenge, based on recent disclosures about the NSA program. New appeals for other suspects

Running this story serves a couple of useful purposes for the NYT. First, it advances the story, keeping it on the public radarscope at a time when many Americans had begun to lose interest. Secondly, it reinforces the notion that the domestic surveillance effort was illegal, and finally, it creates another mechanism for killing the program altogether. Legal challenges to the program will mean access for defense attorneys, who (in turn) will conduct a veritable fishing expedition in the NSA archives, in an effort to link their clients with suspect or quasi-legal surveillance activities. At some point, the expected barrage of legal motions, lawsuits, and trials will effectively gut the program, and the government will shut it down. The Times will pick up another Pulitzer (or two), and the civil libertarians will rejoice.

And when that happens, Al Qaida will find it even easier to communication, coordinate, and attack.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Read Any Good History Books Lately?

If you haven't, consider digging into the backpack of your middle schooler or high school student, and see how their history text handles the Clinton impeachment.

The Associated Press has conducted an informal survey of recently-published (or revised) history texts, exploring how they potray the Clinton scandal. According to the AP, most textbooks play it down the middle, providing "straightforward recaps of Clinton's toughest days, with some flavor of how it affected the nation." Most accounts spare students the lurid details of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, suggesting (perhaps) that America's most infamous cigar will eventually be lost to history.

But "straightforward" is apparently in the eyes of the beholder. Consider this "methodical and balanced" description from McGraw-Hill's "The American Journey" a middle school history text:

"Although there was general agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his actions justified impeachment."

General agreement? That might come as quite a shock to Federal Judge Susan Webber Wright, who fined Clinton $90,000 for lying in the Paula Jones case. She also held Clinton in contempt of court, determining that he deliberately gave false testimony in his deposition in the lawsuit filed by Jones, who accused him of sexual harassment. Judge Wright's ruling left no doubt that Clinton lied under oath, once and for all.

A high school text, "A History of the United States" (published by Pearson Prentice Hall) describes the impeachment as a "sorry mess" that diminished Clinton and his rivals.

Call that one half-right. Clinton did more than any president since Nixon to bring discredit and shame upon the office. But lumping the House impeachment managers into the same category is nothing more than recitation of shop-worn DNC talking points. Clinton committed impeachable offenses--namely, lying under oath--and the House did its required duty. The same cannot be said of the U.S. Senate, which took up the matter reluctantly, and quickly decided that Clinton's crimes did not warrant removal from office.

At all levels, textbooks refer to the Clinton-Lewinsky affair in only the mildest terms, describing it as a "personal relationship" or "improper relationship" between the President and a young intern. There are no references to immoral aspects of the affair, and its coarsening effect on our culture as a whole. The history books fail to record that Mr. Clinton is the only president whose conduct coined a new phrase for oral sex (a Lewinsky). Some legacy, huh?

As a former history teacher, I can identify with the difficulty of condensing an entire Presidency into a few paragraphs. And, in all fairness, the sum of Mr. Clinton's years in office is more than the Lewinsky scandal, his perjury and the subsequent impeachment. But I can also recognize a soft-peddle when I see one. Most of today's historians are over-whelmingly liberal, they share Bill Clinton's world-view, and they're more than willing to go easy on the issues of misconduct and impeachment. And sadly, their take on these issues will become the gospel for thousands of middle and high school students. As Allan Lichtman, a presidential historian at American University told the AP:

"The books not only influence the students, they influence the teachers," he said. "And given that many students don't go on to college — and even those who do may not revisit the material — the textbook may be their most significant impression."

And that's the general idea, isn't it?

Hat tip: Betsy Newmark.

Today's Reading Assignment

The last word on Kwanzaa, from LaShawn Barber......

Father of the Mother

Albert Weimorts, Jr. died last week at the age of 67. Even if you don't recognize the name, you may be familiar with Mr. Weimorts's work for the Department of Defense. During a 41-year career as an Air Force civilian engineer, Weimorts helped create some of the most unusual--and advanced--weaponry in the U.S. arsenal.

While Mr. Weimorts worked on a variety of projects during his long career, he is best know for his role in developing the GBU-28 "bunker buster" bomb, as well as the 21,000 pound, satellite-guided Fuel Air Explosive (FAE) weapon, often referred to as the "Mother of All Bombs," or MOAB. It remains the largest non-nuclear weapon in the U.S. inventory, capable of obliterating targets in a one-mile radius through a combination of heat, fragmentation and concussion. Because of his role in the MOAB project, Mr. Weimorts was sometimes referred to as "the Father of the Mother." To date, MOAB has not been used in combat, although smaller fuel air munitions were employed in past conflicts.

Obituaries for Mr. Weimorts also refer to his crash program that created bunker-penetrating weapons for the first Gulf War, noting that his team developed a prototype in only 28 days. By today's weapons procurement standards--when the timeline from drawing board to wrokig model is often measured in years, even decades--Weimorts's efforts were nothing short of miraculous; In an era when the term "bureaucrat" is synonmyous with waste and inefficiency, Mr. Weimorts proved that innovation and creativity are not the exclusive property of the private sector.

What's missing from the "official" bunker buster story is the role it played in our efforts to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Before Operation Desert Storm, U.S. intelligence analysts predicted (correctly) that Saddam would flee to the countryside when the war began, shuttling between hardened bunkers in the Iraqi desert. Taking out Saddam meant developing a weapon capable of penetrating bunkers located sixty feet below the desert surface, under tons of reinforced concrete.

To meet that requirement, Mr. Weimorts and his engineers developed and tested their bunker buster in less than a month, converting an 8-inch Army artillery shell into a guided bomb. Following a a successful test at a range in Florida, a second bomb was quickly assembled in northern California. By that time, the air war against Iraq was already underway; intelligence reports indicted that Saddam was moving around the desert and would stop at a specific underground bunker complex with 48 hours.

In hopes of "getting" Saddam, the recently-completed bunker buster was flown, non-stop, from an Air Force base in California to an airfield in Saudi Arabia by a C-141 cargo plane. When the C-141 arrived, an Air Force F-111 was sitting on the tarmac, engines running. The bomb was quickly off-loaded from the transport plane and uploaded on the F-111, while engineeers briefed the crew on how to best deliver the weapon. The F-111 dropped the bomb on the bunker complex barely an hour later, but unfortunately, Saddam had departed the complex. However, the weapon had worked as advertised, and a new category of specialized bombs had been born.

Upon his retirement in 2003, the Air Force awarded Mr. Weimorts its Meritorious Civilian Service Award and issued a statement, noting that "time and time again, he has put weapons in the warfighters hands and made a difference in the defense of our country." A fitting tribute, indeed.

Remembering Those Less Fortunate Media Types

To all of you who read this blog, I hope you had a joyous Christmas, and I wish you a happy and prosperous New Year. Whatever success this blog has achieved is the result of your patronage, comments, and suggestions. I hope you will continue to visit this site in 2006, for a continued exchange of ideas on national security, the media, and other topics of mutual interest.

As we celebrate the holidays, we should, of course, remember those who are less fortunate. Many are facing tough economic times, or dismal employment prospects. However, these particular victims are not survivors of last year's killer tsunami in South Asia, or the recent hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Instead, these "unfortunates" populate the nation's newsrooms and live in trendy urban neighborhoods, or exclusive suburbs near major cities.

I'm referring, of course, to America's media yuppies. Until I read a recent Slate article, I didn't realize how tough it had become for a mid-level journalism couple to make it in the nation's media capital, New York City. As Daniel Gross postulates, a typical media couple (she's a reporter for the NYT, he's an editor at the Wall Street Journal) can earn a combined $250,000 a year. Not bad, you say. But when you factor in the city's higher cost of living, astronomical real estate prices, good schools for the kids, etc., well, it's downright difficult for these media types to make ends meet.

Mr. Gross claims that New York-area journalists don't want--nor do they deserve--pity. Fine, but why waste 1,000 words on a subject that's hard (for most of us) to get excited about. I will give him credit for one observation: Mr. Gross notes that most journalists "like comfort and access, but we don't want to work all that hard." And that's what seperates the media types from their neighbors who work on Wall Street, at the big law firms, or in the upper echelons of big business. In those sectors, princely pay checks are usually based on a certain degree of performance, risk-taking, and (yes) profit, words that are anathema to most media types.

If present trends continue, Gross believes that some of the best and brightest journalistic types will vote with their feet and head for greener pastures. I'm not so sure. A four-year journalism degree--even from "prestige" schools like Columbia, Northwestern and the University of Missouri--may prepare graduates for an entry-level reporting job, but it is not a foundation for success as a Fortune 500 manager or executive. Besides, the "nice pay check/little work"mindset that Daniel Gross describes won''t take you very far at a Wall Street firm, or anywhere else in corporate America. Consequently, I don't see a stampede of journalist types to the "greener" pastures of the business world.

Besides, there are plenty of eager, talented reporters who are willing to report for major media organizations for less than the elites now earn. It's the old law of supply and demand; since Watergate, the nation's journalism and communications schools have churned out far more graduates than the market can absorb, keeping wages low. My first full-time reporting job in the Mid-West in 1980 paid just over $13,000 a year--and that was with a college degree and three years of professional experience. My last journalism job (before joining the military) paid a whopping $14,500. Back in those days, my "dream job" was a reporting gig in Memphis, St. Louis or Nashville that might pay $2o,000 a year.

At those wages, I obviously wasn't working for the NYT or NBC news, but there was plenty of competition, even at that level. One of my chief competitors in those days was Erin Hayes, who later became a national correspondent for CBS and ABC News; a young woman named Kelly Ring worked as a summer intern in my newsroom; she's now the primary anchor for WTVT, the Fox-owned station in Tampa, Florida. And, across the border in neighboring Kansas, a young fellow named Brian Williams was cutting his teeth in the TV news business.

Twenty-five years later, starting salaries for aspiring journalists remain low, thanks again to an over-supply of j-school graduates, and limited demand in the job market. If the media elites decide to take a hike, there are plenty of hungry, ambitious young journalists willing to join the Times, WSJ, or the networks, for two-thirds the salary of an established reporter, producer, or editor. And, with many MSM companies in financial trouble, it's an offer that management finds increasingly attractive. There's been an exodus of experienced reporters from the Times over the past year, with many accepting buyouts or early retirement from the paper. It's a good bet that new hires will earn only a fraction of what their predecessors were paid.

So remember these unfortunate media types this holiday season; the would-be yuppies who can't afford the lifestyle they crave; those poor journalistic couples trying to scrape by in NYC on a measley $250K a year, forcing them to choose between pricey Manhattan real estate, or a "long, painful commute" from the 'burbs. Theirs is a dire predicament, made more difficult by the notion that they somehow "deserve" a megabucks salary, palatial apartment (or house), luxury cars and hefty stock portfolio for their "work."

As John Stossel might say, "Give me a break."

Court Watch

Keep you eye on the Washington, D.C. Federal District Court, where Judge James Robertson sits. Judge Robertson, you'll recall, resigned last week from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Activities (FISA) Court, in protest over the recently-disclosed NSA domestic spying program. However, Judge Robertson elected to retain his seat on the district court, so his resignation was, er...only "half" a resignation.

But perhaps Judge Robertson had other reasons for removing himself from the FISA bench. A.J. Strata was one of the first in the blogosphere to deduce that Judge Robertson (along with West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller) may have been sources for the original NYT story, and may be under investigation for leaking classified material to the press. As Strata and Mac Ranger have noted, Senator Rockefeller has suddenly gone quiet on the NSA program, and there are some suggestions that Judge Robertson may be clearing his docket for a possible hiatus from the bench. By law, Robertson cannot hear cases if he is under investigation for a possible crime.

Another possible indicator of an investigation is silence from the White House and the Justice Department. After initially criticizing the disclosure of the NSA program, the administration has had little to say on the subject, and the Justice Department has refused comment, a posture consistent with a criminal investigation in its early stages.

If Robertson is the target of a criminal probe, we can expect him to take a hiatus from the court at some point in the near future. Strata discovered that Robertson is on tap to hear "emergency cases" for the District Court over New Year's weekend (January 1-2), and has been assigned to the D.C. circuit's Motions Court in February. Additionally, he has a status conference for a case scheduled for next week, along with a jury trial (USA v. Brown, 1-2005-cr-00002-JR). I'm not an attorney, so I can't say whether Robertson's calendar represents a full schedule for a federal judge. However, if Robertson is being probed for leaking the NSA program to the press, his duties could be easily reassigned to another judge on the circuit.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

The blog will essentially be on hiatus for the Christmas weekend, as I spend time with family and friends. During this most blessed time of the year, I wish you and yours peace, health, prosperity and glad tidings. And remember the reason for this season, now and throughout the New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Robertson Brief

Yesterday, we reported the resignation of Federal Judge James Robertson from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), in protest over the recently-disclosed NSA program that conducts warrantless surveillance of terrorism suspects, both at home and abroad.

Robertson's "decision" has already been hailed as courageous, although it's unclear if he will reach the icon level of other anti-Bush luminaries, such as Joe Wilson and Cindy Sheehan. Perhaps his decision wasn't so brave afterall; we've subsequently learned that Judge Robertson plans to remain on the federal bench; his resignation applies only to the FISA court, so that nice federal paycheck will keep rolling in, and there won't be any interruption of his health insurance, or other fringe benefits.

Judge Robertson may not be such a lofty judicial figure, either. Scott Johnson at Powerline has unearthed a Wall Street Journal column from 2000, outlining Robertson's role as one of the "Magnificent Seven," Clinton-era appointees to the federal bench in the D.C. area. As recounted by George Mason University Law Professor Ronald Rotunda, the Clinton judges (under the aegis of Chief Judge Norma Holloway Johnson) wound up hearing cases that related to the President's various scandals. Judge Robertson--who worked in an contributed to the Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign--was assigned the trial of Web Hubbell, the long-time Clinton crony accused of corruption as a partner at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, where he worked with Hillary Clinton.

As Professor Rotunda notes, Judge Robertson made some rather unusual decisions in the case that appeared to favor the defense:

"In the Hubbell tax-fraud prosecution, Judge Robertson ruled that he could ignore the ruling of the three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit and hold that the OIC (Office of Independent Counsel) did not have jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Hubbell and the other defendants, and that it could not use tax documents subpoenaed from Mr. Hubbell. J udge Robertson used incendiary language, calling the OIC's tactics (which other circuits had approved) "scary." The D.C. Circuit agreed with these other circuits and reversed."

Robertson's unusual--perhaps questionable conduct--extended into other elements of the trial as well. At subsequent hearings, Judge Robertson found it almost impossible to set a trial date, and Professor Rotunda observes:

At the hearing of May 8, 1998, OIC counsel asked Judge Robertson to set a trial date, which is standard operating procedure. The judge responded that he normally does that but it would be "arbitrary" to do so here, "when we're looking at the kinds of motions that I'm sure are coming." In other words, the judge refused to set a trial date because of motions not even filed; that is not standard operating procedure. The OIC attorney replied that he had already talked to defense counsel and they were prepared to find a mutually agreeable date, to which Judge Robertson answered, apparently in surprise: "Oh." He still refused to set a date.

At the June 2, 1998 hearing, the judge again questioned whether "it makes sense for us to set a trial date," and he volunteered that any date will be written "in sand here if there are, heaven forfend, interlocutory appeals." The defendants are not entitled to interlocutory appeals but the prosecution is, so once more it appeared that the judge had already decided that there would be no trial.

On July 1, three business days after oral argument, Judge Robertson issued a lengthy written opinion. This is an extraordinarily brief time in which to formulate a decision and write it up, unless the judge had made up his mind in advance.

Given these--and other--shennanigans by Judge Holloway and the "Magnificent Seven," Professor Rotunda believed an investigation was in order (it never happened). He also wondered if the federal court's reputation for integrity and impartiality would be the "greatest victim" of the Clinton Presidency. And ironically, a judge now hailed for his "courage" appears to have been a key player in a saga that brought no honor to the federal bench.

Just Your Typical Christian Family

If you've been watching NBC lately, you may have seen the network's promos for the "New NBC, coming in January." In other words, their fall schedule tanked, so they're rolling out lots of new shows next month, in a desperate bid to attract more viewers.

The centerpiece of NBC's revised prime time schedule is a series called The Book of Daniel. The show follows the lives of a drug-addicted Episcopalian priest and his family, including a semi-alcoholic wife, and a 23-year-old Log Cabin Republican son. As he wrestles with issues of morality, sexuality and faith, the priest has regular conversations with a modern incarnation of Jesus. Borrowing a phrase from the late Jack Paar, "I kid you not."

This is all supposed to be edgy and provocative, words that TV programmers like to use, especially when they need a hit to hand onto their job. Will Daniel attract an audience? We won't know until the show joins the NBC line-up. Not surprisingly, at least one gay community outlet thinks The Book of Daniel is going to be boffo. The American Family Association has serious doubts about the show. So do I. Daniel doesn't represent any Christian family I know and besides, when TV tries to tackle the subject of faith, why do usually depict "believers" that belong to main-line Protestant denominations, or the Catholic Church. Evagelicals represent the fastest-growing segment of Christianity in America, but you won't see them in primetime, except as the object of derision and scorn.

More Justification for the NSA Program (If You Really Need It)

As most of you know, Richard Miniter is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who has written three best-selling books on the War on Terror. His latest work, Disinformation: 22 Media Myths that Undermine the War on Terror is required reading for anyone concerned about the impact of the MSM on our military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Unlike many of the talking heads who appear on cable news programs, Miniter is well-versed in such areas as intelligence, counter-terrorism, military tactics and homeland security. He's done yeoman work exposing media inaccuracies and distortions in Iraq, including the claim that "no weapons of mass destruction were found," and "there were no 9-11 ties between Iraq Al-Qaida.

Mr. Miniter appeared on Sean Hannity's radio program last night, to discuss the NSA surveillance program. He reminded guest host Kirby Wilbur of two salient facts regarding the domestic surveillance effort. First, everyone targeted for eavesdropping by the NSA had known ties Al-Qaida, and secondly, there is ample evidence of continued contact between terrorist leaders and operatives/sympathizers in the United States. Case in point: former Al-Qaida operations director Abu Zubaydah, captured in Pakistan in 2002. Examination of Zubaydah's cell phone provided a treasure trove of information, including some 300 American phone numbers the Al Qaida leader had either called or taken calls from in the months before his capture.

I'm going out on a limb here, but it's probably resonable to say Zubaydah wasn't calling the States to get stock quotes or baseball scores. That steady stream of communications--plus more calls and e-mails from other terrorist leaders--provides a powerful argument for the NSA program. Why not rely the FISA court (as civil libertarians might argue)? Securing a warrant through that process is often cumbersome, and can take from three weeks to six months. In the aftermath of 9-11, the U.S. needed a proactive, flexible approach to gather intelligence information on developing terrorist operations, and the NSA program met those requirements.

Relying on the FISA process alone, there is reason to believe that we would have missed a significant number of terrorist communications over the past three years. The NSA program is hardly perfect, but it's a better mechanism for collecting intelligence information on known and suspected terrorists, with built-in safeguards to protect our civil liberties. In a world where terrorists plot against us (both within and outside our borders) we have no other choice.

BTW, I haven't found any audio files of the Miniter interview, either on Hannity's site, or at the webpage of KVI radio, the Seattle station where Kirby Wilbur serves as morning host. Hopefully, someone will post them in the coming days.

If Ignorance is Bliss....

...Then Newsweek's Jonathan Alter is one happy feller. A couple of days ago, we dissected Mr. Alter's latest column, where he described the recently-disclosed NSA surveillance program as "illegal." Alter also opined that President Bush asked the NYT to stop publication of the article so he wouldn't be exposed as a lawbreaker.

If you wonder how a member of the MSM can arrive at such conclusions, Hugh Hewitt has some answers. Alter appeared as a guest on Hewitt's radio program Tuesday night, and Hugh questioned him at length on the NSA program. Some of the exchanges reveal that Mr. Alter has an appaling lack of knowledge on critical legal issues and precedents affecting the NSA program. Here are a few revealing exchanges, courtesy of Radioblogger:

Hugh Hewitt: "...Yesterday, you wrote, "we're seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator. Do you think George Bush is acting like a dictator?"

Jonathan Alter: "Well, I think that in his own mind, if you had read the rest of that sentence, I think he's acting like Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War, although unlike President Bush, Lincoln actually went and got Congressional authorization for some of the extra-Constitutional things that he did during that war. But I think in his own mind, he's not a dictator. But I think what he did in this particular...and I think to call him flat-out a dictator would be kind of a ridiculous exaggeration. But I think what he did in this case was dictatorial, extra-Constitutional, and I think many conservatives, Senator John Sununu being only one of many, many conservatives agree with me. And they see this as not really just the old kind of partisan mud-slinging, but a real question of separation of powers, and how far presidential power extends."

HH: "So do you think he is acting as a dictator acts?"

JA: (Cites an example of FDR of electing not to move in a dictatorial fashion, then compares that to GWB) "In Bush's case, the reason that this is dictatorial, Hugh, is that when he says that his authority for doing this comes from two places, in his press, the Constitution, and two, the authorization, the Congressional authorization after September 11th, the Congressional resolution that said he was allowed to use all necessary force, quote unquote. But that was for military intervention. That was not a blank check to do absolutely anything that he wanted in the War On Terror."

HH: "Now Jonathan Alter, let me get a couple of questions in. Have you read In re sealed case, and the Keith case, also known as United States V. United States district court, Eastern district of Michigan?"

JA: " Are you talking about the Hamdi case?"

HH: "No. I'm talking about the two cases interpreting the national security acception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment."

JA: "First of all, no, I haven't read those cases. But I'm actually not making a Fourth Amendment argument, because if you look at, for instance, border security and that kind of thing, there's a lot of caselaw. You know this much better than I do, Hugh, you know, that interprets the Fourth Amendment in different ways. I'm not saying that he's being unconstitutional in..."

HH: "You're saying extra-Constitutional. But in fact, these cases are very emphatic that what he has done is not extra-Constitutional."

JA: "No, no. We're talking about two different things. This is a critical, critical point. I am not saying that he violated the Fourth Amendment. That is a very complex question to look at. What I'm saying is that he, by claiming that he's in violation of the 1978 foreign intelligence surveillance act, and that that act sets up the FISA system, and it's a good system. It works. His doubts about the timeliness and everything are a crock, because we know that you can do it retroactively."

HH: "But Jonathan, the 2002 case, In re sealed case, is the FISA appeals court case directly on point, which refutes your assertion, and you haven't read it."

JA: "What does it say? I haven't read it. What does it say?"

HH: "It says that the context of the president's authority to avoid FISA has certain Constitutional roots, and is no way dependent upon FISA's language."

JA: "So you're saying that this has been litigated?"

HH: "I'm not saying that. I'm saying that the assertion that you're making is directly reputed by In re sealed case."

JA: "Well, let's look closely at the case, which you've read. Tell me what the case was, and what the court found."

HH: "I will be happy to read that to you at length, In fact, I'll send you the link."

JA: "No, no. Before you just assert that somehow a court has validated him violating the law, which he did in this 1978 law, tell me how."

HH: "He did not violate the law, because what the court says, the appellate court, the panel says, is that there is no reason to believe that FISA controls the president's inherent authority, and it could not control the president's inherent authority. And like the Supreme Court before it in Keith, it refuses to rule on that issue."

JA: "Inherent authority to do what?"

HH: "To conduct surveillance on foreign powers in contact with American citizens."

Pretty amazing stuff...a highly-influential columnist for a major news magazine writes a column that accuses the President of violating the law, then freely admits that he never bothered to review critical legal decisions that provide justification for the NSA program. Never let the facts get in the way of a good opinion piece, I suppose.

But wait, there's more, as they say on those late-night TV commercials. A little later in the interview, Alter expresses the view that the "expose" of Valerie Plame is a more serious matter than disclosure of the NSA program. Back to the transcript:

HH: "Jonathan Alter, in the November 7th issue of Newsweek, you wrote about the seriousness of blowing the cover of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Do you believe that that was more serious that what has happened with the NSA program leak?"

JA: " Oh, absolutely. Yeah, because that cost...she was what's called non-official cover. The CIA invested millions of dollars in her, and whatever you think of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame now, I don't think they're covering themselves in glory. It was damaging to the CIA to have that revealed. In this case, this isn't going to prevent us from catching terrorists, you know, this revelation. Hugh, you've got to understand. I'm a hard-liner on terrorism. I don't have any problem with eavesdropping. I want it to be done in a legal way. There's a legal standard that's established for it. You said that there's a court decision here that says...that gives the president standing under the 1978 statute to do this...he didn't claim that."

HH: "No, I didn't. I said that the issue has been specifically reserved to the Supreme Court, and has not been decided, and under this opinion, which is lengthy and complicated, and I'll send it to you. I just want to put that aside, though. I want to get your standard in place, because you think the leak of Valerie Plame is much more serious than the leak of this NSA program."

JA: No, no. I won't say much more serious. I don't want to put a comparative value on it. But there, the damage, if you were looking at damages, you know, to say the way you would in a legal case, I mean we know that all the CIA cut-outs, proprietary fake companies that they created for Valerie Plame, and all the people she dealt with, all that is money down the toilet. All that was wasted. In this case, it's hard to assess the collateral damage. There's nobody...all the commentary in the last few days, nobody has said what damage this story did. The president..."

HH: "But Plame's damage is just money? Is that what you're saying? It's just lost money?"

JA: "No, no. The president asserted that it helps our enemies. "

HH: "No, the Plame damage. I'm talking about Plame."

JA: "No, it was a bad precedent to expose...I mean, I talked to several people who had been in the CIA about this, who are non-political people. They were all upset about this. You know, it's just a bad deal to go around talking about who might, or might not be in the CIA."

By any standard, Mr. Alter's leaps of convuluted logic and mental gymnastics are pretty impressive. During my days in J-school, I was taught to gather all relevant facts before sitting down at the keyboard. But in Alter's alternate universe, inconvenient facts and legal precedents should be ignored, since they tend to undercut his central thesis (Bush broke the law).

And, continuing with that line of thinking, the Plame affair is the worst national security breach in the nation's history, bar none. Why, think about all the money the CIA spent on her "cover." Those wasted dollars are far more important that a blown surveillance program which will yield less information on terrorist groups that want to attack our country. To make that assertion, you must ignore the fact that Ms. Plame wasn't undercover at the time her "identity" became public--and there's no proof anyone violated the federal law which makes it a crime to reveal the identity of an intelligence officer. But, judging from the interview, Mr. Alter is more than willing to cherry-pick the facts and the law to make his case.

Kudos to Hugh for an outstanding interview.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Man of Conscience

Federal District Judge James Robertson has resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), apparently in protest over the recently-disclosed NSA domestic surveillance program. Sources told the Washington Post that Judge Robertson had deep reservations about the program's legality, and felt it tainted the work of the FISA court.

While Judge Robertson was well-regarded by his colleagues, he was one of the most liberal members of the FISA court, and frequently ruled against the Bush Administration in cases relating to the War on Terror. In his most famous decision Hamadan vs. Rumsfeld, Robertson ruled that the Pentagon's system for trying terror suspects at Gunatanamo Bay was stacked against defendants. Robertson's decision was subsequently overturned by a three-judge federal appellate panel that included Judge John Roberts, now Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Robertson was named to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1994, and later selected to serve on the FISA court by then-Chief Justice William Rhenquist. Some observers described Robertson's decision as "courageous," but I'm guessing a former federal judge, with more than 30 years of legal experience, won't have a hard time finding work. His salary as a senior partner at a "name" law firm or law school dean will far exceed the $140,000 a year he earned on the federal bench.

More puzzling is Robertson's sudden dissatisfaction with warrantless wiretaps. The practice is nothing new; as Drudge (and others) have reported, the practice dates back to the Carter Administration, and Robertson's patron (Bill Clinton) signed an executive order continuing warrantless surveillance, and former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick opined that the president had the "inherent authority" to authorize such searches. Apparently, Judge Robertson had fewer problems with warantless domestic surveillance during the Clinton years, or if he did, his protests were far more muted.

On a related note, Federal Judge Richard Posner has a characteristically brillant op-ed in today's edition of the Wa-Po. From Judge Posner's perspective, the real threat is not from the domestic surveillance program, but from continuing gaps in our ability to collect information on terrorists operating in this country. As he notes, the NSA program was expanded primarily to make up for shortfalls in domestic intelligence collection. He makes a convincing case for creating a new spy agency to handle missions now divided between the FBI, the NSA and other agencies.

We Can Only Hope...

Saddam says he's been beaten while in detention.....

Pass the rubber hoses.

In (Generic Deity's Name) We Pray, Amen

Lt Gordon Klingenschmitt is a Navy Chaplain. As of 20 December, he was holding a multi-day hunger strike in Washington, protesting recent restrictions on religious liberties in the U.S. military.

The Washington Times has details on Lt. Klingenschmitt's vigil, which is being held across the street from the White House. The Navy Chaplain says he is being fired because he prays in Jesus's names at public military events. According to Klingenschmitt, military chaplains are being trained to pray "only to God" during public prayers; references to Christ, the Virgin Mary, Allah, or the Trinity are strongly discouraged.

Klingenschmitt apparently got in trouble with his superiors in the summer of 2004, while assigned to the USS Anzio. During a funeral for a Catholic sailor in the base chaptel in Naples, Italy, Klingenschmitt delivered an evangelistic sermon that landed him a reprimand from two senior chaplains. Klingenschmitt was reassigned to shore duty in Norfolk, VA in March of this year. He claims he may be booted from the service next month, and evicted from military family housing.

Klingenschmitt's plight is not unique. More than 50 Christian chaplains filed lawsuits against the Navy (in 1999 and 2000), claiming the service discriminates against Pentecostal and evangelical clerics. The American Center for Law and Justice has mounted a petition campaign, asking President Bush to sign an executive order, allowing individual chaplains to pray according to their religious traditions. More than 70 members of Congress have joined the effort, noting "it is increasingly difficult [for chaplains] to use the name of Jesus while praying.

The Air Force has actually taken formal steps to encourage non-specific public prayers. A few months ago, the service issued guidelines allowing a "brief, non-sectarian prior before military add a sense of seriousness of solemnity, not to advance specific religious beliefs." The guidelines were implemented amid charges that non-evangelicals were discriminated against at the U.S. Air Force Academy. An investigation into those charges eventually led to the early retirement of the Academy superintendent, and the reassignment of the school's Commandant of Cadets (Brig Gen Johnny Weida), an evangelical Christian.

Advocates of these restrictions say that a prayer in the name of Jesus or Allah discriminates against those who hold other religious views. They also point out that Chaplains are free to pray according to their tradition in chapel services. But with approximately 80% of the nation's armed forces calling themselves Christians, so the number of potentially "offended" service members is rather low. You've also got to wonder how offended someone might be by a single mention of "Jesus" or "Allah" in a short prayer at the beginning or end of a military ceremony. Again, I'm guessing that number would be almost negligible.

But in today's politically-correct military, even a handful of complaints can make generals and senior officials sweat. In that environment, it's easy to toss out two centuries of military tradition (and 400 years of religious liberty), in the name of generic prayer. Secularists will complain (again) that the religious community is overracting, but I'm not so sure. The Rev. Billy Baugham, head of a Greenville, S.C. group that endorses evangelical chaplains, tells of a phone call he recently received from a chaplain in Iraq. The chaplain told Baugham "he'd be hammered" if he use Jesus's name in a prayer.

During the Battle of Bataan in World War II, another Army chaplain remarked (famously) that there were no atheists in foxholes. But there are plenty of secularists in today's military, and they appear determined to impose their belief structure on our military chaplain corps. And sadly, our military leadership is doing little to reverse that trend.

The Floor is Open...

For nominees for the First Annual People Who Really Mattered List. As noted a couple of days ago. Time magazine's list of "People Who Mattered" includes folks like racist rapper Kanye West, New Orleans Mayor "Schoolbus" Ray Nagin, and of course, Mother Sheehan.

I'm convinced the blogosphere can produce a list of people that actually made a difference in 2005, and started the ball rolling with two nominees: Army Lt Gen David Petraeus, who successfully turned around the training program for Iraqi security forces (paving the way for a U.S. drawdown in 2006), and another Army officer, Lt Col Erik Kurilla. Lt Col Kurilla commanded the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (Deuce Four) during the hard fighting in Mosul earlier this year, and played an instrumental role in defeating the terrorists who were trying to take control of that city.

As a third nominee, several readers have suggested independent journalist/blogger Michael Yon, whose vivid dispatches from Iraq set the standard for combat coverage in the War on Terror. More remarkably, Mr. Yon is doing it on his own dime, relying heavily on reader contributions to fund his extended trips to Iraq. For providing the "ground truth" from Iraq, Michael Yon is indeed, someone who really mattered in 2005.

Provide other nominess in the comments section, or send them to My final list will be published at year's end.

C'mon In, the Water's Fine

It's always nice to see the big guys in the blogosphere (or even the MSM) echo observations first made in small blogs, like this one.

Case in point: last Thursday, we noted the blatant hypocrisy of the NTY (and other media outlets) who fretted over the outing of Valerie Plame, but had no problem revealing a highly sensitive surveillance program, vital to the War on Terror:

"...The Times also misses another key motivation for the surveillance program. By keeping it close-hold within the NSA, the administration and intelligence officials were hoping to lessen chances of a leak, or inadvertent disclosure. Secrecy was deemed vital to maintain the flow of critical information but that flow may now slow to a trickle, thanks to the NYT. Sometimes secrets are necessary to protect a democracy, but that is an alien concept in the Times newsroom and executive suite. The same organization that is so concerned about the Valerie Plame affair has no problems with exposing a secret that is far more vital to national security. It's the sort of hypocrisy the Times practices on a regular basis."

Columnist Max Boot makes similar points in today's edition of the Los Angeles Times, noting that the "Plame Platoon" has been predictably silent on the NYT's exposure of a highly classified intelligence program. Glad to see you're catching up, Max. Of course, as a moderate conservative at the LA Times, Mr. Boot operates at a serious disadvantage. His column appears only once a week, and that's probably a bit too often for some Times staffers. Still, it's encouraging to have Mr. Boot join the fray, in highlighting the MSM's obvious hypocrisy on protecting our nation's secrets.

Another Legal Opinion

The indispensible Powerline offers another legal take on the NSA surveillance program, this one from former U.S. attorney Bill Otis. Mr. Otis was part of a legal team that represented the U.S. government in Troung case, where the government conducted a warrantless wiretap of a suspect for months (the wiretap occurred before the FISA was enacted in 1979). As Mr. Otis notes, the Fourth Circuit held that:

"...the Executive Branch should be excused from securing a warrant only when “the object of the search or the surveillance is a foreign power, its agents or collaborators,” and “the surveillance is conducted ‘primarily’ for foreign intelligence reasons."

Given the stated purpose of the NSA program--gather information on suspected Al Qaida operatives--the administration would appear to be on firm legal ground, given the precedent established by Troung. Mr. Otis also observes that, in a court footnote, the Fourth Circuit determined that the warrantless wiretaps passed muster under the Fourth Amendment, and would satisfy FISA standards as well.

Funny, but you don't see that type of legal analysis highlighted in the MSM. But the NYT (and other publications) are eager to quote any law professor who thinks the NSA program violated the law.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Striking a Deal

The authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly is reporting that Syria has signed an agreement with Iran, pledging to hide Tehran's WMD and missiles, should it come under UN sanctions.

Citing diplomatic sources, Jane' s says that the strategic accord signed by Tehran and Damascus allows Iran to store weapons, sensitive equipment or even hazardous materials on Syria soil, in a time of crisis. Damascus also agreed to continue serving as a conduit for military hardware flowing from Iran to various terrorist groups, including Hizballah. In return, Iran has promised to provide a wide range of military hardware to Damascus, and upgrade Syrian chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. The agreement even allows Iran to operate "advanced weapons" on Syrian soil in times of crisis.

While details of the accord are surprising, the fact that Syria and Iran struck a deal is hardly earth-shattering. With expanding U.S. influence in the Middle East, both Tehran and Damascus find themselves increasingly isolated, with few other reliable partners in the region. Syria's willingness to accept Iranian WMD provides yet another option for deceiving western intelligence agencies and the UN, making it more difficult to track Tehran's nuclear efforts. Additionally, Damascus's willingness to continue funneling Iranian aid to Hizballah gives both nations leverage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From the Syrian point-of-view, Iranian aid comes at a time when Syria needs to modernize its military, but lacks the resources to do so. Iranian military technology is hardly advanced, but loans from Tehran could allow Syria to make needed upgrades in its air, air defense and ballistic missile forces. And, the potential presence of Iranian nukes on Syrian soil might provide a measure of deterrence--or (more likely) invite a preemptive Israeli strike.

While both sides probably view the agreement as a good deal, some of the provisions are unrealistic, even a bit silly. For example, how does Iran plan to get advanced weapons to Syria, let alone operate them near the Israeli border--I'm sure the Israeli Air Force would have something to say about that. But Damascus's apparent willingness to house Iranian WMD gives new credence to reports that some of Saddam's stocpiles also found a home there. The final chapter of Iraq's WMD program cannot be written until we find out what may be hiding in Syria.

Failing Her First Test

New German PM Angela Merkel campaigned on a promise to strengthen ties with Washington. Unfortunately, one her first major decisions isn't going to sit well with the United States, or anyone opposed to Islamic terrorism.

Hizballah member Mohammed Ali Hamadi was released from a German jail a few days ago and allowed to return to Lebanon. Hamadi was serving a life sentence for the murder of a U.S. Navy diver, Petty Officer Robert Stethem, who was tortured and killed during the hijacking of TWA flight 847 in June 1985. The Germans arrested Hamadi two years later, as he tried to smuggle liquid explosives through the Frankfurt airport. While the U.S. sought his extradition on murder charges, the Germans refused, citing American death penalty laws.

Not coincidentally, Hamadi's release came just days before Islamic terrorists freed a German hostage in Iraq. The cost of that little exchange has yet to be measured; Hamadi disappeared after flying from Germany to Beirut. Given his terrorist ties, it's a good bet he's getting reacquainted with his Hizballah chums, and he'll probably be back in the business in no time.

After the blatant anti-Americanism of Gerhard Schroeder, many Americans cheered when Ms. Merkel unseated him. Judging from the Hamadi decision, it appears as though our confidence was misplaced. By cutting a deal with terrorists, Ms. Merkel is likely setting the stage for more violence and bloodshed, all for the sake of scoring a few political points at home. I'm sure the kidnappers in Iraq are taking note; there's a new boss in Berlin, and she's more than willing to make a deal.

To my European friends, no I haven't forgotten about the Iran-Contra affair. While Ollie North's described it (famously) as a "neat idea," the arms-for-hostages-and-money-for-the Contras arrangement ultimately blew up in Ronald Reagan's face, and only emboldened the terrorists. It's a lesson Ms. Merkel has yet to learn.

Jonathan Alter's Alternate Universe

In his latest column, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter sems positively gleeful over an apparnet Oval Office meeting between President Bush and senior executives of The New York Times. According to Alter, Mr. Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the White House, in a futile effort to talk them out of running last week's expose on expanded domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. The President urged the Times not to run the story, citing national security concerns. Of course, the paper rejected the President's request, and ran the story anyway.

Alter is happy because he believes the Times caught the President red-handed. In the Newsweek columnist's alternate universe, the security concerns cited by Mr. Bush are bogus; in fact, the meeting with the newspaper executives was little more than an effort to help conceal law-breaking:

Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running this important story—which the paper had already inexplicably held for a year—because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker. He insists he had “legal authority derived from the Constitution and congressional resolution authorizing force.” But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post 9/11 congressional resolution authorizing “all necessary force” in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.

Law breaker? That's pretty amazing stuff from a member of a MSM establishment that accused Mr. Bush of "pre-judging" a case when he suggested that Texas Congressman Tom Delay might be innocent. But Alter--who isn't a lawyer, BTW--is quite ready to judge the surveillance program as illegal, and even suggests that a Democratic Congress might prepare articles of impeachment against President Bush. More remarkably, Alter makes his pronouncement before the first Congressional hearing or court case can be held.

Before Alter consigns Bush to the disgraced ranks of impeached Presidents, he might want to bone up on some legal precedents and relevant case law. Orin Kerr has an excellent summary of relevant laws and legal decisions in these areas; suffice it to say, he is not prepared to hop on Alter's "impeachable offense" bandwagon. Hugh Hewitt also has useful information on the subject, as does Tom Smith, who has some disagreement with some of Orin Kerr's analysis. Collectively, they seem to find sufficient constitutional and statutory authority for the NSA program.

But that won't deter the Jonathan Alters of the MSM. Mr. Alter was a history major at Harvard, and judging from his column, he sees instant parallels between the NSA surveillance effort and Watergate. Never mind that Watergate sprang from a political operation; it wasn't routinely reviewed by the Justice Department (as is the NSA program) and, of course, the inner workings of Watergate were never briefed to Democratic Congressional leaders. Alter ignores those glaring dissimilarities, since his "illegal action" theme ties in nicely with the "culture of corruption" charge that Howard Dean and the DNC have been trying to launch for several weeks. Nice to see you're getting the DNC's talking points, Jonathan. Apparently, modern communications still work in your universe, where it's still 1974, and there's a Republican crook that must be removed from the White House.

Why We Fight

During WWII, the government produced a documentary series entitled "Why We Fight." These films were produced by film director Frank Capra, and designed to educate military personnel on the reasons behind our involvement in the Second World War. Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall began the program after it was discovered that the first wave of pre-war draftees "haven't the slightest enthusiasm for this war or this cause."

Almost seven decades later, we no longer have that problem. I am continually impressed with the quality of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, and their clear understanding of what's at stake in the War on Terror. They are determined to see the mission through, even as many in Washington express doubts about our ability to win the war, or (in the case of feckless John Kerry), even accuse the troops of "terrorizing" civilians. In fact, a latter-day version of "Why We Fight" should be aimed at American civilians and our political leaders, who (seemingly) don't have a clue about the realities of our current conflict.

But for a solider or Marine on the ground, war is more than geopolitics; it's about doing your job so the task gets done, taking care of your buddies, keeping faith with those above and below you in the chain of command, and an overridding belief that your cause and mission are just. Sgt Mike Stokley of the Georgia National Guard was such a man. He died on August 15, 2005 in Iraq, the victim of an IED attack. Sgt Stokley's father has written a letter about his son, posted in the Mudville Gazette. It is extraordinarily moving, and beautifully describes the ideals that led his son into the Army, and on to Iraq.

"Why We Fight" was not a mystery to Sgt Stokley; he did not view Iraq as a quagmire or a lost cause. He never lost hope in the cause that sent him to the Middle East and ultimately claimed his life. Sgt Stokley understood "Why We Fight." To honor his memory--and those of our other fallen heroes--we need follow their resolve, and see the mission through to victory. It is the only fitting tribute for such remarkable men.