Yesterday, the White House announced that President Obama will not meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg as previously planned. From The Washington Post:
President Obama has canceled a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Russia’s decision to give temporary asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has exacerbated tensions with the United States over a number of issues:
“Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
Carney cited a “lack of progress” with Russia over the past 12 months on a broad range of issues including missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security and human rights and civil society issues. Carney added that Russia’s “disappointing decision” last week to grant Snowden temporary asylum, allowing him to live and work in Russia for up to a year, was also a factor.
President Obama discussed some of his issues with Russia in an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Tuesday night.
Saying that he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” Obama criticized a law, enacted in June, that prohibits public events promoting gay rights and public displays of affection by same-sex couples. A Russian official has promised that the law will be enforced during next February’s Sochi Games despite the International Olympic Committee’s contrary stance.
After the announcement, Russian-American journalist Julia Iofee wrote at The New Republic: Obama Bails on His Inevitably Awkward Date With Putin.
A week after Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia, President Obama canceled his bi-lateral September summit in Moscow with Vladimir Putin, though administration officials are at pains to portray this as something greater than pure tit-for-tattery. Rather, they say, it was an excuse to avoid what, even without Snowden, would have been “a pretty dreary affair.”
A few days before Snowden turned up in Moscow, Obama and Putin met on the sidelines of the G8 conference in Northern Ireland. The resulting photo-op—Obama looking forlornly into the distance, Putin slouched and sullen—said it all: they looked like the aging couple at the neighboring table, intently working on their food and eavesdropping on your conversation because they had nothing to support one of their own. Moscow and Washington had talked and talked, they’d gotten START and the transport route to Afghanistan and the sanctions on Iran, but now, the kids are out of the house and they were talking past each other on Syria, on Iran, on pretty much everything.
Lawrence O’Donnell asked Ioffe to appear on his MSNBC show last night to discuss the issues surrounding the decision; but instead of allowing her to express her opinions, O’Donnell interrupted Ioffe, lectured her about Russia and Putin, basically implying she is a liar. Ioffe responded at TNR:
Tonight, I went on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show, and Lawrence O’Donnell yelled at me. Or, rather, he O’Reilly’d at me. That O’Donnell interrupted and harangued and mansplained and was generally an angry grandpa at me is not what I take issue with, however. What bothers me is that, look: your producers take the time to find experts to come on the show, answer your questions, and, hopefully, clarify the issue at hand.
I was invited on the show to talk about Obama’s (very wise) decision to cancel his Moscow summit with Putin, about which I wrote here. I am an expert on Russia. In fact, it is how you introduced me: “Previously, she was a Moscow-based correspondent for Foreign Policy and The New Yorker.” I’m not going to toot my own horn here, but I was there for three years, I’m a fluent, native speaker of Russian, and, god damn it, I know my shit.
Which is why I wish you’d let me finish answering your bullshit question…
You can watch the interaction at MSNBC and read the things she would have liked to say about Putin at TNR. Basically Ioffe tried to explain the Putin doesn’t control everything that happens in Russia anymore than Obama controls everything that happens in the US. She believes that once the Bolivian plane was forced to land because the US suspected Snowden might be on board, Putin really had no choice but to allow Snowden to stay in Russia, because public opinion there strongly supported him.
I have quoted Ioffe in previous posts, and she certainly is no Putin apologist–as she asserts in her piece. I think O’Donnell treated her shamefully.
In other NSA news, mainstream reporters continue to published far more stunning revelations than anything that has come from Snowden and Greenwald. This morning at The New York Times, Charlie Savage writes about surveillance of e-mails between people in the US and foreign countries without warrants, which is being justified by an interpretation of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act.
The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials.
The N.S.A. is not just intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, a practice that government officials have openly acknowledged. It is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address, according to a senior intelligence official.
While it has long been known that the agency conducts extensive computer searches of data it vacuums up overseas, that it is systematically searching — without warrants — through the contents of Americans’ communications that cross the border reveals more about the scale of its secret operations….
Government officials say the cross-border surveillance was authorized by a 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, in which Congress approved eavesdropping on domestic soil without warrants as long as the “target” was a noncitizen abroad. Voice communications are not included in that surveillance, the senior official said.
Read more at the NYT link.
And at Reuters, John Shiffman and David Ingram report that a DEA program that appears to use NSA data to target ordinary criminals in the and then require DEA officers to conceal the source of the information was also used by the IRS.
Details of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration program that feeds tips to federal agents and then instructs them to alter the investigative trail were published in a manual used by agents of the Internal Revenue Service for two years.
The practice of recreating the investigative trail, highly criticized by former prosecutors and defense lawyers after Reuters reported it this week, is now under review by the Justice Department. Two high-profile Republicans have also raised questions about the procedure.
A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual instructed agents of the U.S. tax agency to omit any reference to tips supplied by the DEA’s Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits, court proceedings or investigative files. The entry was published and posted online in 2005 and 2006, and was removed in early 2007. The IRS is among two dozen arms of the government working with the Special Operations Division, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
An IRS spokesman had no comment on the entry or on why it was removed from the manual. Reuters recovered the previous editions from the archives of the Westlaw legal database, which is owned by Thomson Reuters Corp, the parent of this news agency.
Just as a reminder that Russia’s treatment of journalists and whistleblowers is actually a hell of a lot worse than anything that happens in the US, Human Rights Watch reports on Russia’s Silencing Activists, Journalists ahead of Sochi Games.
(Moscow) – Local authorities have harassed numerous activists and journalists who criticized or expressed concerns about preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The six-month countdown to the Sochi Games opening ceremony is this week.
Human Rights Watch has documented government efforts to intimidate several organizations and individuals who have investigated or spoken out againstabuse of migrant workers, the impact of theconstruction of Olympics venues and infrastructure on the environment and health of residents, and unfair compensation for people forcibly evicted from their homes. Human Rights Watch also documented how authorities harassed and pursued criminal charges against journalists, apparently in retaliation for their legitimate reporting.
“Trying to bully activists and journalists into silence is wrong and only further tarnishes the image of the Olympics,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “One of the non-negotiable requirements of hosting the Olympics is to allow press freedom, and the authorities’ attempts to silence critics are in clear violation of that principle.”
Obviously that doesn’t justify the Obama administration trying to influence media coverage of the NSA story, but we do need to keep things in perspective. In that vein, Bob Cesca had a good post yesterday: The Real-Life Stories of Legitimate NSA Whistleblowers (Snowden Isn’t One of Them). I hope you’ll give it a read.
In other news, Yemen has been hit by 6 suspected US drone strikes in the past 2 weeks–probably linked to the recently reported threat of an imminent terror strike that led the US to close a number of embassies last weekend.
An official in Yemen said Thursday that the sixth suspected U.S. drone strike in just two weeks had left six suspected al Qaeda militants dead in the group’s former stronghold in the center of the country. The official told The Associated Press that a missile hit a car traveling in the central Marib province, causing the fatalities.
CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports that Yemen has long been a haven for al Qaeda leadership, and the country claimed Wednesday to have disrupted a major plot, which may have exposed potential targets.
Yemeni government officials say security forces are turning up the heat on militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the global terror network’s branch based in the nation, after foiling the plot to strike foreign embassies, gas and oil installations, and the country’s port cities.
The government has even given a shoot-to-kill order on anybody who looks suspicious and refuses to identify themselves.
The alleged plot appears to have been similar to the January attack in Algeria which saw gunmen storm the Amenas gas plant, killing more than three dozen foreign workers.
Yesterday in The Daily Beast, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin reported that information about the terror threats came from an al Qaeda “conference call,” involving top al Qaeda leaders and around 20 other people–a report that aroused quite a bit of skepticism on Twitter. Why would these guys risk talking on a conference call? Here’s an excerpt from the Daily Beast article:
The intercept provided the U.S. intelligence community with a rare glimpse into how al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, manages a global organization that includes affiliates in Africa, the Middle East, and southwest and southeast Asia.
Several news outlets reported Monday on an intercepted communication last week between Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen. But The Daily Beast has learned that the discussion between the two al Qaeda leaders happened in a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of the top leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates calling in from different locations, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. All told, said one U.S. intelligence official, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call.
To be sure, the CIA had been tracking the threat posed by Wuhayshi for months. An earlier communication between Zawahiri and Wuhayshi delivered through a courier was picked up last month, according to three U.S. intelligence officials. But the conference call provided a new sense of urgency for the U.S. government, the sources said.
Al Qaeda members included representatives or leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch. Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The presence of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sinai was one reason the State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, according to one U.S. intelligence official. “These guys already proved they could hit Eilat. It’s not out of the range of possibilities that they could hit us in Tel Aviv,” the official said.
Perhaps the call was encrypted in some way and the US had found a way to listen anyway? But then why would they blow future such operations by leaking the fact that they had listened to the call? This morning CNN’s Barbara Starr tweeted to Josh Rogin:
@joshrogin IT WAS NOT A PHONE CALL. IN FACT, AL QAEDA WENT TO EXTENSIVE MEANS TO SET UP WHAT YOU MIGHT SAY A VIRTUAL MEETING SPACE.”
I’m not sue how to interpret that either. I’ll update if I get anything more on this.
Once again, my morning post has gotten way too long. I have other news links, but I’ll put them in the comments. I hope you’ll do the same with whatever stories you’re following today, and have a tremendous Thursday!!
In the midst of so much policy disarray, it is easy to overlook many issues that deserve our attention. I’m beginning to think all the chaos may be angle of hat trick magician relying on slight of hand and misdirection. So, just as I continue to hammer at boring things like bank reform, I continue to follow things related to the Patriot Act, FISA, and other potential intrusions that are in conflict with constitutional rights.
Today, the NY Times predicted “A Looming Battle Over the Patriot Act”. Remember, the most sensitive portions and controversial are those that involve surveillance. House and Senate committees are discussing re-authorization of three key sections that are set to expire at the end of this year. In a continuation of the Bush-Cheney encroachment on civil liberties, the Obama-Biden administration seeks re-authorization.
The provisions expanded the power of the F.B.I. to seize records and to eavesdrop on phone calls in the course of a counterterrorism investigation.
Laying down a marker ahead of those hearings, a group of senators who support greater privacy protections filed a bill on Thursday that would impose new safeguards on the Patriot Act while tightening restrictions on other surveillance policies. The measure is co-sponsored by nine Democrats and an independent.
Days before, the Obama administration called on Congress to reauthorize the three expiring Patriot Act provisions in a letter from Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs. At the same time, he expressed a cautious open mind about imposing new surveillance restrictions as part of the legislative package.
“We are aware that members of Congress may propose modifications to provide additional protection for the privacy of law abiding Americans,” Mr. Weich wrote, adding that “the administration is willing to consider such ideas, provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness of these important authorities.”
At the moment, there appears to be very little evidence that the FBI has abused its current power. Is that the salient point over which to argue for or against re-authorization? Sadly, we liberals have so much on our plate now with pressuring an administration and congress that should be our ally on things like truly universal health care, involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continuation of Bush financial market bailouts, that we could potentially miss this important battle over one of our most basic rights. That right to go missing would be security from government invasion into our person and homes without due process.
The first such provision allows investigators to get “roving wiretap” court orders authorizing them to follow a target who switches phone numbers or phone companies, rather than having to apply for a new warrant each time.
From 2004 to 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation applied for such an order about 140 times, Robert S. Mueller, the F.B.I. director, said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.
The second such provision allows the F.B.I. to get a court order to seize “any tangible things” deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation — like a business’s customer records, a diary or a computer.
From 2004 to 2009, the bureau used that authority more than 250 times, Mr. Mueller said.
The final provision set to expire is called the “lone wolf” provision. It allows the F.B.I. to get a court order to wiretap a terrorism suspect who is not connected to any foreign terrorist group or foreign government.
Mr. Mueller said this authority had never been used, but the bureau still wanted Congress to extend it.
Several other lawmakers are expected to file their own bills addressing the Patriot Act and related surveillance issues in the next several weeks.
Many of the proposals under discussion involve small wording shifts whose impact can be difficult to understand, in part because the statutes are extremely technical and some govern technology that is classified.
But in general, civil libertarians and some Democrats have called for changes that would require stronger evidence of meaningful links between a terrorism suspect and the person whom investigators are targeting.
In the same way, some are proposing to use any Patriot Act extension bill to tighten when the F.B.I. may use “national security letters” — administrative subpoenas that allow counterterrorism agents to seize business records without obtaining permission from a judge. Agents use the device tens of thousands of times each year.
I know you have a lot of issues and life challenges on your plate right now, but I think it might be worth your time to follow this issue as it makes its way through committee to the President’s desk. Our technological capability to intrude far surpasses our ability to ferret out potential abuse. I think it best we ensure the FBI can do its job, but not at the expense of our our basic civil rights. Just a reminder of who is on what side on one facet of this act. That would be the provision granting immunity from prosecution from telecoms.
As a senator, Mr. Obama voted for that bill, infuriating civil libertarians.
If I was in need of a mini-vacation then I have to tell you that reading the latest Vanity Fair was not going to do it for me. There were three articles that brought me down to earth with a thud! One was the account by Christopher Hitchens who voluntarily underwent water boarding and concluded that it really is torture. I think the most valuable quote I got from the article was bolded and oversized and said “If waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.”
Hitchens was one of the biggest drummers in the drumbeat to the Iraq War. This article is about four pages and has some very close up and big pictures showing the manner in which George Bush has defined the “American Way’ to the world. You can also find a video of his experiences on youtube. It is not for the faint of heart and I’ll let you google it.
The second article was a dissection of Hillary’s campaign. This was a depressing walk down the first six months of the year. My favorite part of the article was this bit:
“The air began to go out of Barack Obama’s balloon on the night of March 13, when ABC News ran clips from inflammatory sermons by the pastor from an Afro-centric church in Chicago, in which Reverend Jeremiah Wright twisted “God Bless America’ into “God Damn America.” Then on April 11, less than two weeks before the Pennsylvania vote, Penn read comments on the Huffington Post from a closed door speech Obama had given at a San Francisco fund-raiser. He seized on Obama’s characterization of small-town, working class Pennsylvania voters as “bitter’ because of economic distress and disposed to cling to “guns or religion.”
This was the turning point that came a little too late for Hillary but still is turning on Barrack Obama. Of course, after we were told that this was NOT the Jermiah Wright Obama knew, he moved on. After the FISA vote today, I’m sure there are a lot of folks saying this is not the Obama they thought THEY knew. Obama has now decided that granting Telecom companies immunity for conspiring to spy on American citizens is acceptable. Perhaps this version is not the IMMUNITY GRANT he once knew and swore he’d filibuster. He voted for it. Hillary stood by her convictions and voted against it.
This came after a week of selling-out on so many issues so noticeably that we caught a rare morsel of the frustration of black activists on primetime with Jesse Jackson’s poignant but crude remark. He wanted to “cut off Obama’s nuts” for “talking down to black people on morality” without mentioning the bigger issues of many young black men who grow up in neighborhoods filled with violence, horrid schools, and Mt. Everest-level unemployment rates. I’m pretty sure NARAL felt that way too when Obama implied that women will seek unnecessary third term abortions just because they feel a little ‘blue’. However, nice ladies talk about removing men’s private parts away from live microphones
The final article was about the Bear Sterns bailout. This was again pertinent since we’re now talking about multi-million dollar bailouts of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Ben Bernanke has been on the stump for expanded regulatory powers of the Fed in the mortgage and mortgage derivatives markets. Afterall, if they’re stuck with these nonperforming assets on the tax payer’s books, they might as well have the ability to stop these demons of greed before they strike again. This while more foreclosures are imminent and the illustrious Secretary of the Treasury says there’s no way to bail out the poor unfortunates stuck into risky mortgage vehicles because banks really wanted some high points. This is going to be no solace to anyone shortly. Even if you are making your mortgage payment, it only takes a few neighbors not paying to put your home’s equity on a downward spiral. I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard NADA, zilch, ZIP, NOTHING about this big problem from either of the presidential candidates. Probably because Obama’s finance committee and big donors are mostly the folks that created this problem and well, let’s face it, I’ve never met a Republican willing to go mano-y-mano with the American Banker’s Association.
All of this after I woke up to the news that Iran had just successfully tested a new long range missile capable of hitting Israel AND carrying a nuclear warhead. Of course, the Russians and Chinese, those folks whose sudden turn to capitalism has made them friends of Dubya, had something to do with this. As far as I can tell, once a totalitarian regime, ALWAYS a totalitarian regime. But you know, it’s more important that George gets to wave from the stands of the Olympic Opening ceremonies rather than stand for anything like, NOT throwing folks in prison for disagreeing with the government. OH, right, I forgot, that’s what could happen with the FISA thing and Obama voted for it and McCain just didn’t think it significant enough to show up and do anything about. Plus, Obama is just looking forward to getting elected so he can have a kumbayah moment with these guys. Yeah, that’s going to work real well. Perhaps he can send Jesse and Jeremiah over there to soften them up a bit.
So, this is the best our democracy offers us–two men who have no compass to point out what is right or wrong.
Two men who will say and do anything to be president while the newspapers are filled with situations outlining serious problems that need solutions. Next time I feel like a good summer read, I think I’ll find a good comic book. Maybe I’ll look for some thing from Japan with one of those Ninja warriors that takes on all the injustices of the world and lives by the samauri code. Maybe we can find one that will fight for truth, justice and the American way.