Thursday Reads: Obama KOs Perry, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

Yesterday President Obama met with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the so-called “immigration crisis.” Perry had initially refused to shake hands with the President as Obama disembarked from Airforce One, but Perry ended up doing it anyway.

From Mediaite: Rick Perry Admits Defeat, Shakes President Obama’s Hand.

Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) was determined not to shake President Barack Obama’s hand when he arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Wednesday. But in the end, it appears he just couldn’t help himself.

As CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said while Obama was descending the steps of Air Force One, “I’m anxious to see if the governor Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is there at the bottom of the stairs to receive the president of the United States.”

The anchor betrayed some surprise when Perry walked across the tarmac to greet Obama, shaking his hand and walking side by side to Marine One, where they would have a private meeting about the current crisis at the border.

It’s been ages since I’ve watched CNN, but it sounds like Wolf and his network are practically outdoing Fox News. Do they not see the racial implications of a Republican Governor resisting shaking hands with an African-American President?

On Monday, the Austin American-Statesman reported: Rick Perry declines Obama offer for ‘quick handshake’ at Austin airport.

Gov. Rick Perry Monday turned down what he characterized as President Barack Obama’s offer for a “quick handshake on the tarmac” at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Wednesday, but said he would juggle his schedule to accommodate a “substantive meeting” with the president on the border crisis any time during his two-day visit to Texas.

In a letter to the president, Perry wrote, “I appreciate the offer to greet you at Austin-Bergstrom Airport, but a quick handshake on the tarmac will not allow for a thoughtful discussion regarding the humanitarian and national security crises enveloping the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. I would instead offer to meet with you at any time during your visit to Texas for a substantive meeting to discuss this critical issue. With the appropriate notice, I am willing to change my schedule to facilitate this request.”

“At any point while you are here, I am available to sit down privately so we can talk and you may directly gain my state’s perspective on the effects of an unsecured border and what is necessary to make it secure,” Perry wrote the president.

In addition, Perry actually said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday:

“I don’t believe he particularly cares whether or not the border of the United States is secure,” Perry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” charging the president was either “inept” or had an “ulterior motive” in failing to secure the border.

Perry Obama

Back to the Mediaite story:

Following Perry’s letter, the Obama administration decided to invite the governor to join Obama at a previously scheduled meeting with faith leaders and elected officials in Dallas. Following that concession, Perry decided he would be comfortable greeting Obama on the tarmac, though he did not indicate whether he would deign to shake the president’s hand.

If Perry was wary of the type of photo-op that has haunted Republicans like Governor Chris Christie(R-NJ), and former Republicans like Charlie Crist, he can at least be thankful that the president did not try to hug him. Though, he did give him a few friendly pats on the back.

Mediaite thinks the photos will doom Perry’s chances for the 2016 Republican nomination; but after his performance in 2012, it seems pretty obvious that Perry himself will destroy his presidential hopes all by himself.

So what happened when the two men met? The New York Times reports: Obama Presses Perry to Rally Support for Border Funds. According to the authors, Jackie Calmes and Ashley Parker, Obama “directly challenged” Perry to convince Congressional Republicans to support $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with what Perry has called “a humanitarian crisis” — “thousands of Central American children who have crossed the Mexican border.”

Perry frown

And from The Wire: Rick Perry’s Immigration Meeting With Obama Produces Photo for the Ages.

So, how did President Obama’s meeting with Republican Governor Rick Perry go today? In a statement on Wednesday, Obama described the meeting as “constructive,” but, well, this photo also exists. It’s not immediately clear what the context of this photo was — Is Perry sad? Uncomfortable? Telling a funny story? Happy, but trying to look serious? Hmm. Perhaps someone made a joke at Perry’s expense? Or maybe Perry just makes the Robert De Niro shrug face a lot for no reason.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter right now. Until we know more about the context, the photo will be a Rorschach test. In the future, there will be Midrash about this photo.

A couple more links on the border crisis:

The Washington Post: Dana Milbank: In border crisis, Obama is accused of ‘lawlessness’ for following law.

A querulous quartet of conservatives took to the Senate floor Wednesday….to criticize the president for failing to visit the border during his visit to Texas this week, was coordinated by Sen. John McCain and included fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake and both of the chamber’s Texans, Sen. John Cornyn and the man McCain once dubbed a “wacko bird,” Sen. Ted Cruz.

“President Obama today is down in the state of Texas, but sadly he’s not visiting the border,” said Cruz, in a rare collaboration with McCain. “. . . He’s visiting Democratic fat cats to collect checks, and apparently there’s no time to look at the disaster, at the devastation that’s being caused by his policies. . . . It is a disaster that is the direct consequence of President Obama’s lawlessness.” ….

But this border crisis, sowed years ago and building for months, is neither a high crime nor a misdemeanor. It’s a humanitarian nightmare in which children, some as young as 4, can face physical and sexual abuse, injury and death in their lonely journeys. What’s upside-down about the Cruz-Palin argument is that this crisis has actually been brought about by Obama following the law.

The most obvious and direct cause of the flood of children from Central America is the 2008 human trafficking law that ended the rapid deportation of unaccompanied minors who come illegally from countries other than Mexico and Canada. The law essentially guarantees long stays for these immigrants by promising them a deportation process that can take 18 months, during which time they are often placed with family members who have little incentive to have the kids show up for hearings.

Lindsay Graham disagrees with his good buddy McCain, according to The Hill:

Republicans will take the political fall if they don’t provide emergency funds to address the immigrant crisis at the southern border, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned Wednesday.

A number of conservatives on Capitol Hill are pushing back hard against President Obama’s request for almost $4 billion to manage the spike of immigrants — thousands of them unaccompanied minors — that’s hit the Texas-Mexico border in recent months.

But Graham, a long-time supporter of an immigration system overhaul, said a failure to provide the funds will exacerbate the crisis while handing Obama and the Democrats a political victory ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“If we do that, then we’re going to get blamed for perpetuating the problem,” Graham told reporters on Wednesday.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time that right wing Republicans acted against their political best interest.

In other news,

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Another Republican Governor has made an ass of himself  (not for the first time). Indiana Governor Mike Pence has told state agencies to not to honor the hundreds of gay marriages that took place after a federal court in Indianapolis invalidated as unconstitutional Indiana’s law banning same-sex marriages.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office is telling state agencies act as if no gay marriages had been performed during three days following a federal court order.

The memo from the governor’s chief counsel tells executive branch agencies to execute their functions as though the June 25 court order had not been issued.

Pence defended the memo Wednesday and the sentiment expressed in it Wednesday afternoon. He said it was his job as governor to carry out the laws of the State of Indiana.

“The State of Indiana must operate in a manner with the laws of Indiana. So we have directed our state agencies earlier this week to conduct themselves in a way that respects current Indiana law, pending this matter’s process through the courts,” Pence said.

A “disappointed” Beth White responded to Pence’s order:

“As Clerk of Marion County, I was proud our office was able to issue these licenses and officiate over 450 weddings for couples, many of whom have been in loving committed relationships for decades. Governor Pence owes these couples an explanation on why he continues to deem them as second class citizens. They legally obtained their license, paid the requisite fee and should be entitled to the same rights and privileges the rest of us enjoy.

It is time for our state leaders to put the issue behind us so that we can focus on strengthening the middle-class, investing in quality Universal Coin and rebuilding Indiana’s economy. Hoosier businesses depend on the best and brightest employees to compete in the global economy. Indiana is rolling up the welcome mat with this regressive stance on this issue. Although my opponent has a long history of opposing marriage equality, I call on Mrs. Lawson to reject Governor Pence’s ruling today. The Office of the Secretary of State should be welcoming to all employers choosing to invest or reinvest in Indiana. And that includes their prospective employees and their families. Hoosiers deserve common sense leadership that is focused on moving Indiana forward.”

Greenwald

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released an official statement in response to the latest article and statements by Glenn Greenwald that suggest without any supporting evidence that U.S. intelligence agencies are essentially duplicating the illegal actions of COINTELPRO from 1956-1971.

Joint Statement by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice on Court-ordered Legal Surveillance of U.S. Persons.

It is entirely false that U.S. intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.

Unlike some other nations, the United States does not monitor anyone’s communications in order to suppress criticism or to put people at a disadvantage based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Our intelligence agencies help protect America by collecting communications when they have a legitimate foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose.

With limited exceptions (for example, in an emergency), our intelligence agencies must have a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to target any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident for electronic surveillance.

These court orders are issued by an independent federal judge only if probable cause, based on specific facts, are established that the person is an agent of a foreign power, a terrorist, a spy, or someone who takes orders from a foreign power.

No U.S. person can be the subject of surveillance based solely on First Amendment activities, such as staging public rallies, organizing campaigns, writing critical essays, or expressing personal beliefs.

On the other hand, a person who the court finds is an agent of a foreign power under this rigorous standard is not exempted just because of his or her occupation.

The United States is as committed to protecting privacy rights and individual freedom as we are to defending our national security.

Take from that what you will. The Greenwald cultists simply dismiss statements coming that from the Government as lies, and assume the worst. My tendency is to base my opinions on evidence. So far I haven’t seen evidence in anything coming from the Snowden leaks that NSA is specifically targeting people because of their political and/or religious beliefs. In my opinion the FBI has done this, but Greenwald’s latest article doesn’t even present valid evidence against the FBI.

On the other hand, I’d like to see Congress do a serious investigation of what NSA and other intelligence agencies are actually doing, and particularly I’d like the government to address the issue of whether the five Americans named in Greenwald’s article were actually targeted and why. The supposed targeting happened before 2008, so perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if more information were released about the reasons.

For further reactions to the latest claims from The Intercept and The Washington Post–and to the DNI/DOJ statement, check out  to the following links.

Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter, Greenwald’s Latest NSA Bombshell is an Incomplete Mess, Lacking Any Evidence of Wrongdoing. Here’s the lede:

Glenn Greenwald’s “grand finale fireworks display” finally appeared online early Wednesday and, indeed, there were fireworks but not the “spectacular multicolored hues” he predicted. The fireworks instead came in the form of a bombshell that exploded in a mushroom cloud of shoddy reporting and the usual hyperbolic, misleading accusations that have been the centerpiece of his brand of journalism for more than a year.

You need to read the entire article to understand Cesca’s article, so please go over there if you’re interested in this issue.

Driftglass,  Beware the Tingler: Glenn Greenwald, The Phantom Menace, and The Present Progressive Tense.

Marc Ambinder at The Week analyzes the IC official statement, What you need to know about the latest NSA revelations.

Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare: On Glenn Greenwald’s Latest.

That’s all the news I have room for today. What stories are you following? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific Thursday!


Thursday Reads

Jospeh H Davis (American artist, 1811-1865) Charles & Comfort Caverly & Son Isaac 1836 Cat, Top Hat, Newspaper,  Painted Table, Patterned Carpet

Good Morning!!

The Villagers are still nattering on about excepts from retired defense secretary Robert Gates’ new memoir Duty, which will be released on January 14.

The DC media is focused on Gates’ criticisms of President Obama and how they will embarrass the administration and negatively affect Hillary Clinton’s chances in 2016. What has impressed me so far in the excepts I have read is that Obama was wary of the military and willing to stand up to them. Some examples from an e-mail I received from Foreign Policy Magazine yesterday:

Gates on what Biden did to poison the military well: “I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, every day saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.'”

On Obama’s approach to Afghanistan: “I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission.”

On Obama’s approach to Afghanistan: “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.”

On Obama and Bush: “During my tenure as secretary, Bush was willing to disagree with his senior military advisers on the wars, including the important divergence between the chiefs’ concern to reduce stress on the force and the presidents’ higher priority of success in Iraq. However, Bush never (at least to my knowledge) questioned their motives or mistrusted them personally. Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations. Bush seemed to enjoy the company of the senior military; I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation.”

On Obama as an ice man: “I worked for Obama longer than Bush and I never saw his eyes well up. The only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the law prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military that Obama successfully pushed to repeal.”

On an oval office meeting that deeply pissed him off: “…Donilon was especially aggressive in questioning our commitment to speed and complaining about how long we were taking. Then he went too far, questioning in front of the president and a room full of people whether Gen. Fraser was competent to lead this effort. I’ve rarely been angrier in the Oval Office than I was at that moment; nor was I ever closer to walking out of that historic room in the middle of a meeting. My initial instinct was to storm out, telling the president on the way that he didn’t need two secretaries of defense. It took every bit of my self discipline to stay seated on the sofa.

Every one of those quotes made me like and respect Obama and Biden more. I’m sure I’m not alone in that reaction.

A couple more “criticisms” quoted in The Atlantic: Robert Gates: The Iraq War Undermined U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan.

President Bush always detested the notion, but our later challenges in Afghanistan—especially the return of the Taliban in force by the time I reported for duty—were, I believe, significantly compounded by the invasion of Iraq. Resources and senior-level attention were diverted from Afghanistan. U.S. goals in Afghanistan—a properly sized, competent Afghan national army and police, a working democracy with at least a minimally effective and less corrupt central government—were embarrassingly ambitious and historically naive compared with the meager human and financial resources committed to the task, at least before 2009.

Who doesn’t agree with that? Well, sure some right wing nut jobs, but the majority of Americans have completely soured on the Iraq war, according to many polls over the past few years.

Wars are a lot easier to get into than out of. Those who ask about exit strategies or question what will happen if assumptions prove wrong are rarely welcome at the conference table when the fire-breathers are demanding that we strike—as they did when advocating invading Iraq, intervening in Libya and Syria, or bombing Iran’s nuclear sites. But in recent decades, presidents confronted with tough problems abroad have too often been too quick to reach for a gun. Our foreign and national security policy has become too militarized, the use of force too easy for presidents. Today, too many ideologues call for U.S. force as the first option rather than a last resort.

So Obama’s approach might have kept us out of Iraq, right? I don’t see that as a problem. I want my president to be wary of the military and hesitant to go to war. I want my president to get teary-eyed over granting rights to people who have been historically discriminated against and stay dry-eyed and rational when contemplating “military matters.”

robert_gates

So let Gates have his day in the sun. Today some in the media are already questioning whether his book may damage his reputation. From Foreign Policy again: Did Bob Gates’ New Book Just Trash His Golden Reputation?

Gates, 70, has unmasked himself as just another former Washington official writing just another kiss-and-tell in the soon-to-be-released Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War, in which he takes shots at a sitting commander-in-chief, his top aides and Congress, an institution with which he often expressed frustration – but also respect. Gates was known for being discreet and sharp-minded, loyal to the office he occupied and careful about what he said in public. So deliberate were his public pronouncements about wars or national security policy or budgets that he became the E.F. Hutton of the Pentagon — everyone leaned in every time he had something to say.

But now his brand seems diminished by the scrappy, petty nature of many of his criticisms — even though some are substantive and legitimate — and a legacy he seemed quietly determined to protect may be permanently reduced to something less than what it once was.

We’ll have to wait and see. It’s also possible that the furor over Gates’ memoir will fade quickly, because another book is coming out on January 21, and it looks to be a lot more entertaining–the tell-all book about Fox News’ Roger Ailes, The Loudest Voice in the Room, by Gabriel Sherman. Excerpts started leaking out yesterday and they are wild! Check these “key revelations” from Gawker:

  • During a salary negotiation in the 1980’s, Ailes offered producer Randi Harrison an additional $100 each week she would agree to have sex with him whenever he wanted.
  • He also privately thinks of Bill O’Reilly as “a book salesman with a TV show” and Brian Kilmeade as “a soccer coach from Long Island.”
  • During a 1990’s power struggle with NBC executive David Zaslav, Ailes was accused of making an anti-Semitic remark involving an obscenity and “the words ‘little’ and ‘Jew’.” NBC’s chairman and counsel believe “he probably said it.”

Roger Ailes

New York Magazine has published a lengthy except from Sherman’s book and it is the most fascinating and horrifying thing I’ve read in ages. Ailes is far weirder than I ever imagined. The article opens with a description of how Ailes moved into a rural town in upstate New York, hoping to return to his small-town roots, but instead bought the local newspaper and tried to transform it into a mini-Fox News. It’s a riot! Just a small except to whet your appetite for the bizarre:

As summer turned to fall, political issues began to arise. Alison Rooney, the copy editor, at first found reasons to be optimistic about the ownership change. She liked using the new computers to put out the paper and looked forward to the newsroom moving into a renovated two-story building on Main Street. But that honeymoon ended when Rooney laid out a press release from the Garrison Art Center that described a work invoking the “mythological story” of the Virgin Birth. After the release was published, the priest of Our Lady of Loretto wrote a letter to the editor, and Beth Ailes lit into Rooney. A few weeks later, Rooney got another dressing-down as she formatted a promotion of the high school’s upcoming production of Urinetown, this time from an editor who found the language offensive and removed the title of the show from the headline.

Another drama erupted after a reporter named Michael Turton was assigned to cover Haldane Middle School’s mock presidential election. After the event, Turton filed a report headlined “Mock Election Generated Excitement at Haldane; Obama Defeats McCain by 2–1 Margin.” He went on, “The 2008 U.S. presidential election is now history. And when the votes were tallied, Barack Obama had defeated John McCain by more than a two to one margin. The final vote count was 128 to 53.” Reading the published version a few days later, Turton was shocked. The headline had been changed: “Mock Presidential Election Held at Haldane; Middle School Students Vote to Learn Civic Responsibility.” So had the opening paragraph: “Haldane students in grades 6 through 8 were entitled to vote for president and they did so with great enthusiasm.” Obama’s margin of victory was struck from the article. His win was buried in the last paragraph.

Turton was upset, and wrote a questioning e-mail to Hunt, but never heard back. Instead, he received a series of accusatory e-mails from the Aileses. Turton had disregarded “specific instructions” for the piece, Beth wrote. “Do you anticipate this becoming an ongoing problem for you?” A short while later, Roger weighed in. Maureen Hunt’s instructions to focus on the school’s process for teaching about elections had been “very clear,” he wrote, and Turton’s “desire to change the story into a big Obama win” should have taken a backseat. Ailes described himself as “disappointed” by Turton’s failure “to follow the agreed upon direction.”

Soon afterward, Turton learned that Maureen Hunt had resigned, and Ailes continued his quest to bring “fair and balanced” to Philipstown.

John and Bonnie Raines, two of the burglars, at home in Philadelphia with their grandchildren. Mark Makela for The New York Times

John and Bonnie Raines, two of the burglars, at home in Philadelphia with their grandchildren. Mark Makela for The New York Times

Since I’ve been discussing new books so far, I guess I might as well continue. On Tuesday, The New York Times published interviews with some of the activists who broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania on March 8, 1971 and stole a massive number of files. They took the files to a remote location, studied them for ten days, and found evidence of the illegal FBI domestic spying program COINTELPRO. Unlike Edward Snowden, the burglars swore to keep their identities a secret so that the story itself would get all the public attention. From the Times article:

They were never caught, and the stolen documents that they mailed anonymously to newspaper reporters were the first trickle of what would become a flood of revelations about extensive spying and dirty-tricks operations by the F.B.I. against dissident groups….

The burglars had, until now, maintained a vow of silence about their roles in the operation. They were content in knowing that their actions had dealt the first significant blow to an institution that had amassed enormous power and prestige during J. Edgar Hoover’s lengthy tenure as director.

“When you talked to people outside the movement about what the F.B.I. was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,” said one of the burglars, Keith Forsyth, who is finally going public about his involvement. “There was only one way to convince people that it was true, and that was to get it in their handwriting.”

That’s heroism in my book. They revealed real government abuses that had been almost unknown until they found the proof. Now one of the reporters who helped get the story out, Betty Medsger, has written a book called The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI. It came out this week, and I’m dying to read it.

By contrast Snowden and his PR man Glenn Greenwald have so far revealed very little that we didn’t already know or suspect about NSA domestic spying and have spent most of the seven months since they began rolling out their revelations 1) publishing articles about the NSA spying on foreign countries and their partnerships with foreign countries who have few espionage resources; 2) giving self-aggrandizing interviews and bragging about all the secrets they have; 3) Defending Snowden’s decision to defect to Russia. At the same time Greenwald has sold book and movie rights and worked on a media start up funded by libertarian E-bay and Paypal billionaire Pierre Omidyar. I haven’t heard anything about Greenwald sharing his earnings with Edward Snowden either.

Fortunately some in the media are beginning to point out inconsistencies in Snowden’s and Greenwald’s behavior. Here is an op-ed by Doyle McManus that lays out the case very well. Edward Snowden, in shades of gray I agree with just about everything he wrote.

Is Edward Snowden” Edward Snowden a whistle-blower or a traitor?

Debate over the renegade computer technician who leaked thousands of secret National Security Agency documents is too often reduced to that deceptively simple choice.

But it’s the wrong way to pose the question, because Snowden is both of those things at the same time. Yes, he’s a whistle-blower, and if that were all he had done, he would deserve our thanks for forcing a debate over the NSA’s swollen powers.

But he’s also a scoundrel who deserves prosecution and public condemnation. That’s because his leaks no longer seem focused on protecting U.S. citizens’ constitutional rights or toughening safeguards on the NSA. Instead, Snowden’s disclosures have expanded far beyond those laudable aims to exposing U.S. intelligence-gathering operations that appear not only legal but legitimate in the eyes of most Americans.

McManus is referring to revelations about the NSA doing it’s job, which is gathering foreign intelligence to protect national security. A little more:

“…most of those disclosures, from Merkel to Al Qaeda, have nothing to do with Americans’ right to privacy. Snowden has acknowledged that his ambitions go far beyond limiting what the NSA can do at home. “I have acted at great personal risk to help the public of the world, regardless of whether that public is American, European or Asian,” he told the Guardian in June.

Well, OK. But that makes him, by his own description, a global crusader against NSA spying anywhere, not merely a whistle-blower against potential abuses inside the United States. It means some of his disclosures have made Americans safer against government prying, but others have probably made us less safe.

And for a man who proclaims himself a fighter for universal rights, accepting asylum in Russia and praising his hosts for their devotion to freedom does not strengthen his claim to consistency, let alone nobility.

I’ll end there and turn the floor over to you. What stories are you following today. Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great Thursday!


Thursday Reads: Updates on Drone Assassinations, West Fertilizer Plant Explosion, and Boston Bombing Aftermath

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Newsstand in Copley Square, Boston

Good Morning!!

I have lots of news updates for you today.

First, as I’m sure you heard, the Obama administration has finally admitted that it has killed four American citizens with drone strikes.  Charlie Savage reported in The New York Times yesterday that President Obama will give a speech this afternoon at the National Defense University in which he will

open a new phase in the nation’s long struggle with terrorism on Thursday by restricting the use of unmanned drone strikes that have been at the heart of his national security strategy and shifting control of them away from the C.I.A. to the military….

As part of the shift in approach, the administration on Wednesday formally acknowledged for the first time that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, arguing that its actions were justified by the danger to the United States. Mr. Obama approved providing new information to Congress and the public about the rules governing his attacks on Al Qaeda and its allies.

A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists.

Lethal force will be used only against targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a letter to Congress, suggesting that threats to a partner like Afghanistan or Yemen alone would not be enough to justify being targeted.

Savage writes that Obama may eliminate drone attacks on groups of men assumed to be associated with al Qaeda that in the past have also killed many innocent civilians. He will also argue for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison and renewing efforts to return inmates to their “home countries.” CNN also has a helpful article on the President’s speech and proposed policy changes.

The speech will be at 2PM, and I will post a live blog if people are interested in watching it together. I’m sure it will be live streamed at C-Span and other news sites.

Important update on West, Texas disaster.

Yesterday evening Reuters released their own “Special Report.” on the situation.

(Reuters) – The fertilizer-plant explosion that killed 14 and injured about 200 others in Texas last month highlights the failings of a U.S. federal law intended to save lives during chemical accidents, a Reuters investigation has found.

Known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, the law requires companies to tell emergency responders about the hazardous chemicals stored on their properties. But even when companies do so, the law stops there: After the paperwork is filed, it is up to the companies and local firefighters, paramedics and police to plan and train for potential disasters.

West Fertilizer Co of West, Texas, had a spotty reporting record. Still, it had alerted a local emergency-planning committee in February 2012 that it stored potentially deadly chemicals at the plant. Firefighters and other emergency responders never acted upon that information to train for the kind of devastating explosion that happened 14 months later, according to interviews with surviving first responders, a failing that likely cost lives.

It’s a complex story, and you really should read the whole thing, because the West disaster is not an isolated incident.

The lack of preparedness endangers not only firefighters and emergency medical technicians, but also people nationwide living near chemical stockpiles similar to those that exploded in West.

At least 800,000 people in the United States live within a mile of 440 sites that store potentially explosive ammonium nitrate, which investigators say was the source of the explosion in West, according to a Reuters analysis of hazardous-chemical storage data maintained by 29 states.

Hundreds of schools, 20 hospitals, 13 churches and hundreds of thousands of homes in those states sit within a mile of facilities that store the compound, used in both fertilizers and explosives, the analysis found.

The rest of the states either refused to provide Reuters with data, provided “incomplete data” or simply didn’t respond to their requests.

Since 1990, companies have reported more than 380 incidents involving ammonium nitrate to the National Response Center, a federal agency that collects reports of spills, leaks and other discharges within the United States. Eight people were killed, 66 injured and more than 6,300 evacuated in those incidents, according to the center’s data.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because reporting of these kinds of incidents is voluntary!

Update on Boston Bombing Investigation

I spent most of yesterday following breaking updates in the Boston Marathon bombing case, which continues to get stranger by the day.

Early yesterday morning, there were reports of the FBI fatally shooting a man in Orlando, Florida with connections to accused (deceased) Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. While the circumstance of the shooting are still not at all clear, here’s a brief summary of what I gleaned from reading hundreds of news reports.

Initially news reports said that a Chechen immigrant, Ibragim Todashev, had been shot by an unnamed FBI agent after Todashev attacked the agent with a knife during an interrogation at Todashev’s apartment house overnight. Todashev and a friend named Khusen Taramov had been interrogated for hours on Tuesday afternoon, according to Taramov. Then agents had let Taramov go while they continued questioning Todashev.

According to Taramov, he and his friend Todashev had been followed by law enforcement for some time and had been questioned previously. Todashev had been planning a trip home to Chechnya, but the FBI wanted wanted him to postpone it so they could continue to question him. The agents returned to question the two men further after midnight Wednesday when they learned that Todashev had decided to cancel his flight. That is when the shooting took place. At the time, two FBI agents from the Boston field office, two Massachusetts state troopers, and “other law enforcement” officers were present. It’s not clear who the other law enforcement officers were, but Emptywheel questioned yesterday whether they might have been from the FBI High Value Interrogation Group.

Later in the day it became clear that Todashev was considered a suspect in a shocking triple murder that took place in Waltham, MA two years ago on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Todashev lived in the Boston area–in Allston, Cambridge, and Watertown; and was acquainted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev through their mutual involvement in MMA mixed martial arts fighting and the two had spoken by phone or Skype about a month before the marathon bombings. Todashev is not suspected of involvement in those.

As I reported here previously, Tamerlan and Dzhokhor Tsarnaev had reportedly been connected to the murders by “forensic” evidence, presumably DNA. One of the murdered men was Tamerlan’s “best friend,” Brian Mess. The three men had their throats slit and their bodies were covered with large amounts of marijuana and $5,000 in cash. After the murders, both Tsarnaev brothers stopped seeing friends and Tamerlan did not even attend Mess’s funeral. Not long after, Tamerlan traveled to Dagestan and stayed in Russia for nearly seven months.

Back to yesterday’s events. Later reports indicated that Todarov did not have a knife when he “lunged” at the FBI agent, and it was no longer clear which law enforcement officer or officers had shot the “suspect.” A team of FBI agents are in Orlando to review the shooting, and perhaps we’ll learn more about what actually happened.

Multiple news sources have reported that Todashev had implicated himself and Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the Waltham murders and that FBI agents were trying to get him to sign a written confession when he became enraged and attacked an agent, who sustained “non-life-threatening” injuries. Apparently Todashev didn’t want to sign whatever document the FBI agents had prepared for him. Since the FBI refuse to tape their interrogations, we may never know what the reported “implication” consisted of.

According to his friend Khusen Taramov, Todashev willingly answered the FBI’s questions.

The ex-roommate said Todashev shared the substance of his previous conversations with investigators with him and that he was completely forthcoming. That’s why he was surprised that Wednesday’s interview ended the way it did.

‘‘He told them everything,’’ Taramov said. ‘‘He told everything he knew. … I don’t know why that (the shooting) happened. It’s crazy.’’

But Taramov also said Todashev was afraid before Wednesday’s interview. ‘‘That’s what he asked me before he pretty much died,’’ Taramov said. ‘‘He asked me, ‘If something happens can you go out and tell all the truth, what exactly happened.’’’

It is clear that Todashev was prone to violence and people found him intimidating. He was involved in road rage incidents in Boston and Orlando.

Sorry I don’t have links for every detail, but the story is so complex and I’ve gotten information from so many sources that I thought it would be best for me to summarize it in my own words. There has been much more news breaking on this story, and I won’t try to include everything in this post. Anyone who is interested is welcome to ask me questions, and I’ll answer as best I can.

Here is one story from this morning from Fox Orlando: Moments leading to fatal FBI shooting in Orlando still unclear.

Federal and Central Florida law enforcement agencies are still collecting and processing evidence from the shooting scene at a condominium complex on Peregrine Avenue, near Kirkman Road and Universal Orlando, where Ibragim Todashev was shot early Wednesday.

Initially, FBI officials said Todashev, 27, became violent and lunged at an agent with a knife while he was being questioned about Tsarnaev and an unsolved 2011 triple murder in the Boston suburb of Waltham. The agent, acting on an “imminent threat,” then shot Todashev, they said.

Sources say Todashev, a Russian national living legally in Florida, was about to confess to the Waltham slaying when the shooting took place.

However, officials have backed off that preliminary account, and it’s no longer clear what happened in the moments before the fatal shooting.

“I heard a couple of loud bangs and saw a couple of cop cars riding by,” said Jared Morse, who lives in the area. “They wouldn’t let anyone out to see anything or anything like that, so they made us go back inside.”

There is one more possible connection between the Waltham murders and a massive drug bust that took place several months earlier in Watertown MA, in May 2011. It “followed a year-long investigation by federal authorities and resulted in charges against 18 people.” This was mentioned in a Washington Post Story yesterday that some friends of one of the murdered men believed there was a connection. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s likely the Tsarnaev brothers were financing their lifestyles with illegal activities, including drugs and possibly some kind of scam involving luxury cars.

Finally, a must-read article on the Boston saga and the failures of the Homeland Security Department and the Boston Police Department: BRIC-ED IN: WHY THE BPD DIDN’T THINK THAT TAMERLAN TSARNAEV WAS A KILLER. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone who lives in a large city that could be a terrorist target. Basically, the article describes how the BPD ignored terror warnings and instead spent millions on surveillance of Occupy Boston and other peace and environmental groups. COINTELPRO all over again. One representative of the Massachusetts ACLU had some suggestions.

According to Kade Crockford, who tracks the BRIC for the ACLU of Massachusetts, it’s about time that authorities reconsider their priorities. “A big question,” she says, “is whether efforts to build a bigger intelligence haystack may actually be less effective than improving traditional policing methods that focus on solving crimes …”

“Perhaps instead of extensively monitoring activists who are petitioning the government through the democratic process, law enforcement resources should focus on investigating and solving actual crimes, starting with murder.”

“Fewer resources tracking peace activists and more focus on traditional homicide detective work might be the best way to ensure a world in which we are both safe and free.”

I’ll end there, and open the floor to anything you want to discuss. Please post your links in the comments and have a great Thursday!


US Citizens Arrested, Interrogated, and Stranded Overseas

Gulet Mohamed surrounded by family on return to U.S.

From The New York Times, January 5, 2011:

An American teenager detained in Kuwait two weeks ago and placed on an American no-fly list claims that he was severely beaten by his Kuwaiti captors during a weeklong interrogation about possible contacts with terrorism suspects in Yemen.

The teenager, Gulet Mohamed, a Somali-American who turned 19 during his captivity, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from a Kuwaiti detention cell that he was beaten with sticks, forced to stand for hours, threatened with electric shocks and warned that his mother would be imprisoned if he did not give truthful answers about his travels in Yemen and Somalia in 2009.

American officials have offered few details about the case, except to confirm that Mr. Mohamed is on a no-fly list and, for now at least, cannot return to the United States. Mr. Mohamed, from Alexandria, Va., remains in a Kuwaiti detention center even after Kuwait’s government, according to his brother, determined that he should be released.

During the interview with the NYT, Mohammed said, “I am a good Muslim, I despise terrorism.”

During the 90-minute telephone interview, Mr. Mohamed was agitated as he recounted his captivity, tripping over his words and breaking into tears. He said he left the United States in March 2009 to “see the world and learn my religion,” and had planned to return to the United States for college.

He said he had traveled to Yemen to study Arabic, but stayed less than a month because his mother worried about his safety. He said that he spent five months later that year living with an aunt and uncle in northern Somalia, before moving to Kuwait in August 2009 to live with an uncle and continue his Arabic studies.

Mohammed’s ordeal began when he went to the airport in Kuwait to renew his travel visa. He was held for five hours and then handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a prison where he was interrogated and beaten on his feet and face with sticks when he didn’t give the “right answers.”

“Are you a terrorist?” they asked, according to his account.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you know Anwar?” his interrogators asked, referring to Mr. Awlaki.

“I’ve never met him,” Mr. Mohamed recalled saying.

“You are from Virginia, you have to know him,” they responded, according to Mr. Mohamed. From 2001 to 2002, Mr. Awlaki was the imam of a prominent mosque in northern Virginia.

Mohammed told the NYT in January that even after being released, he couldn’t sleep or eat and was constantly fearful. He said he has “always been pro-American” and obviously could not understand why he was targeted. After the article in the NYT, Mohammed was finally permitted to return home later in January. He told the Washington Post that his ordeal had “made me stronger.”

Mohammed is only one of many American citizens of Middle Eastern or African descent who have found themselves stranded overseas, unable to return home because their names have been put on a no-fly list while they were out of the country. Many of these people have been arrested and interrogated by foreign governments, apparently at the request of the F.B.I. From the Post article (1/21/2011):

Civil liberties groups charge that his case is the latest episode in which the U.S. government has temporarily exiled U.S. citizens or legal residents so they can be questioned about possible terrorist links without legal counsel.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government on behalf of 17 citizens or legal residents who were not allowed to board flights to, from or within the United States, presumably because, like Mohamed, they were on the government’s no-fly list. Of those stranded overseas, all were eventually told they could return, often after they agreed to speak to the FBI. None was arrested upon their return.

The ACLU suit, filed in Portland, Ore., alleges that Americans placed on the no-fly list are denied due process because there is no effective way to challenge their inclusion. The government does not acknowledge that any particular individual is on the no-fly list or its other watch lists. Nor will it reveal the exact criteria it uses to place people on its list.

This week Mother Jones published a series of reports on their investigations of FBI operations that sound like COINTELPRO updated.

COINTELPRO was an FBI covert operation that targeted domestic left-wing and anti-war groups from 1956 to 1971, in the name of “national security.” Frankly, the covert operations have probably continued even though they are technically illegal. But lately we’ve seen an uptick in FBI operations targeting groups within the U.S. Until I came across a couple of blog posts last week about American muslims being targeted overseas, I had no idea the FBI had branched out to foreign covert operations.

At Mother Jones, Nick Baumann writes:

In the past, the FBI has denied that it asks foreign governments to apprehend Americans. But, a Mother Jones investigation has found, the bureau has a long-standing and until now undisclosed program for facilitating such detentions. Coordinated by elite agents who serve in terrorism hot spots around the world, the practice enables the interrogation of American suspects outside the US justice system. “Their citizenship doesn’t seem to matter to the government,” says Daphne Eviatar, a lawyer with Human Rights First. “It raises a question of whether there’s a whole class of people out there who’ve been denied the right to return home for the purpose of interrogation in foreign custody.”

I highly recommend reading the whole article. Baumann describes other cases similar to Mohammed’s and reveals information he obtained from government officials and representatives of human rights groups.

Here is another example from a 2010 Huffpo article:

Yahya Wehelie

A Virginia man said he has been stuck in limbo in Egypt for the last six weeks, living in a cheap hotel and surviving on fast food after his name was placed on a U.S. no-fly list because of a trip to Yemen.

Yahya Wehelie, a 26-year-old Muslim who was born in Fairfax, Virginia to Somali parents, said Wednesday he spent 18 months studying in Yemen and left in early May. The U.S. has been scrutinizing citizens who study in Yemen more closely since the man who tried to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas was linked to an al-Qaida offshoot in Yemen.

Wehelie was returning to the U.S. with his brother Yusuf via Egypt on May 5 when Egyptian authorities stopped him from boarding his flight to New York. They told him the FBI wanted to speak with him.

He said he was then told by FBI agents in Egypt that his name was on a no-fly list because of people he met in Yemen and he could not board a U.S. airline or enter American airspace. His passport was canceled and a new one issued only for travel to the United States, which expires on Sept. 12. He does not have Somali citizenship.

Wehelie said his brother Yusuf was allowed to return home, but only after he was detained for three days by Egyptian police on suspicion of carrying weapon. He said his brother was shackled to a jail wall and interrogated by a man who claimed to work for the CIA. He was then dumped in the street outside the prison when he feigned illness.

In June, 2010, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) posted a list of American Muslims who had been kept from returning to the U.S. after trips abroad.

In July, 2010, CAIR posted a warning on its website informing Muslim-Americans that they could end up in “forced exile” if they traveled to another country.

CAIR this week issued an advisory to American Muslims — whether citizens, permanent residents or visa holders — warning of the risk of “forced exile” when traveling overseas or attempting to return to the United States. Muslim travelers are urged to know their legal rights if they are placed on the so-called “no-fly list.”

In the past few months, CAIR has received a number of reports of American Muslims stranded overseas when they are placed on the government’s no-fly list. Those barred from returning to the United States report being denied proper legal representation, being subjected to FBI pressure tactics to give up the constitutionally-guaranteed right to remain silent, having their passports confiscated without due process, and being pressured to become informants for the FBI. These individuals have not been told why they were placed on the no-fly list or how to remove their names from the list.

FBI agents have reportedly told a number of individuals that they face being stranded outside the United States longer, or forever, unless they give up their rights to legal representation or to refuse interrogations and polygraph tests. But even those who submitted to interrogations without an attorney or to the “lie detector” tests remain stranded.

This situation is outrageous, and President Obama should be directly confronted about his support of this un-American, authoritarian policy (White House approval is required for many of these FBI activities). Perhaps a relatively high profile article like the one in Mother Jones will influence some mainstream reporters to do that. In the meantime, please spread the word in any way you can.


FBI Spy Infiltrated Minnesota Peace Group

Remember a few months ago when members of an anti-war group had their homes and offices in Minneapolis and Chicago raided by the FBI? From CBS News, September 26, 2010:

The FBI said it searched eight addresses in Minneapolis and Chicago Friday. Warrants suggest agents were looking for connections between local anti-war activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East.

[….]

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said Saturday that the bureau’s investigations “are predicated on criminal violations, not First Amendment protected activities.”

When reached Friday, FBI spokesman Steve Warfield declined to provide details of the searches, but said there was no imminent threat to the community and the agency wasn’t anticipating any arrests “at this time.” He said the FBI was seeking evidence related to “activities concerning the material support of terrorism.”

The peace activists were subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury in Chicago. The groups apparently were originally targeted after they participated in protests at the Republican Convention in 2008.

It turns out the FBI used a spy to infiltrate the Minnesota group and report back on their activities. Shades of COINTELPRO. Democracy Now reported on the story yesterday.

Here is some more information at Fight Back News.

Minneapolis, MN – At a press conference here, Jan. 12, Jess Sundin of the Twin Cites based Anti-War Committee (AWC) blasted police infiltration of the anti-war and international solidarity movement, stating, “We are here today to express outrage that our democratic rights have been violated by a government operation of spying, infiltration and disruption of our anti-war movement, which was carried out over the course of at least two and half years.”

The exposure of an undercover law enforcement agent in the Twin Cities anti-war movement is linked to the Sept. 24, 2010 FBI raids on peace and international solidarity organizers and the subpoenas that have been served on 23 activists to appear in front of a Chicago Grand Jury.

The infiltrator, who used the name ‘Karen Sullivan,’ joined the AWC in April 2008, and about a year later she joined the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. A statement from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression notes, “In conversations between our attorneys and the prosecutor’s office in Chicago, we have had confirmation that Karen Sullivan was in fact a law enforcement officer working undercover.”

Sundin said, “In April 2008, law enforcement officer Karen Sullivan joined the Anti-War Committee. In 2008, we were involved in organizing the anti-war marches on the first and last days of the Republican National Convention in Saint Paul. At that time, there was a massive security operation here which included the infiltration of the RNC Welcoming Committee. We now have it confirmed that in this same time period, we too became the subject of government investigation. The difference is that our spy made herself comfortable and decided to stay awhile, posing as a fellow anti-war activist and pretending to befriend us.”

Why is it always peace activists that the FBI targets rather than people who are likely to murder of abortion doctors or commit mass murder/political assassinations?