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!!