Archive for Intelligence

The 58.7% President

Illiterate or bullshi**er—we have our answer:

“Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting,” a former senior Pentagon official “who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq” told the Daily Beast.


C…A…very good, sir, just one more letter.

A new Government Accountability Institute (GAI) report reveals that President Barack Obama has attended only 42.1% of his daily intelligence briefings (known officially as the Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB) in the 2,079 days of his presidency through September 29, 2014.

The GAI report also included a breakdown of Obama’s PDB attendance record between terms; he attended 42.4% of his PDBs in his first term and 41.3% in his second.

The GAI’s alarming findings come on the heels of Obama’s 60 Minutes comments on Sunday, wherein the president laid the blame for the Islamic State’s (ISIS) rapid rise squarely at the feet of his Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

“I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,” said Obama.

“It’s pretty well-known that the president hasn’t taken in-person intelligence briefings with any regularity since the early days of 2009,” an Obama national security staffer told the Daily Mail on Monday. “He gets them in writing.”

The Obama security staffer said the president’s PDBs have contained detailed threat warnings about the Islamic State dating back to before the 2012 presidential election.

“Unless someone very senior has been shredding the president’s daily briefings and telling him that the dog ate them, highly accurate predictions about ISIL have been showing up in the Oval Office since before the 2012 election,” the Obama security staffer told the Daily Mail.

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What Do You Mean “We”, Doofus?

Aggie told you yesterday how Obama blamed his intelligence community for “underestimating” ISIS.

It would seem, rather, that the intelligence community just couldn’t get the very substantial ear of the president. Maybe they should take up golf.

“How did the U.S. intelligence community get it so wrong on ISIS?” MSNBC host Jose Diaz-Balart asked.

“I don’t think they did,” Sestak replied bluntly, prompting Diaz-Balart’s eyebrows to nearly rocket off of his face in shock.

“If you remember back in January and February, the head — the general, the Defense Intelligence Agency, actually testified before the House and Senate that in 2014, ISIS would take over large swaths of territory,” the Navy veteran asserted. “In fact, at the time he testified, they had already seized Ramadi and Fallujah — 35 miles from Baghdad.”

Sestak noted that even DNI Clapper, who today still bears the tire marks from the bus under which he was thrown by the president, testified that ISIS maintained the capability to expand out from Syria into a wide swath of territory in Iraq.

“I think it was slow on the part of the entire administration to assess that they — what they had to do in order address the threat,” Sestak concluded.

Isn’t “slow” one of those racist dog whistle words?

Anyhow, this is the testimony to which Sestak refers:

Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL):
AQI/ISIL probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria to exhibit its strength in 2014, as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah, and the group’s ability to concurrently maintain multiple safe havens in Syria. However, its ability to hold territory will depend on the group’s resources, local support, as well as the responses of ISF and other opposition groups in Syria. While most Sunnis probably remain opposed to AQI’s ideology and presence in Iraq and Syria, some Sunni tribes and insurgent groups appear willing to work tactically with AQI as they share common anti-government goals. Baghdad’s refusal to address long-standing Sunni grievances, and continued heavy-handed approach to counter-terror operations have led some Sunni tribes in Anbar to be more permissive of AQI’s presence. Since the departure of U.S. forces at the end of 2011, AQI/ISIL has exploited the permissive security environment to increase its operations and presence in many locations and also has expanded into Syria and Lebanon to inflame tensions throughout the region. For example, AQI/ISIL claimed credit for the 2 January 2014 car bombing in Beirut, in a Hezbollah stronghold, furthering sectarian conflict and demonstrating its strength throughout the region. And, the likelihood of more attacks in Lebanon is high. Concurrently, AQI remains in control of numerous Syrian cites such as Raqqah, Al-Bab, and Jarablus.

So, not only did Obama know plenty about the JV team, he picked the JV team.

Put another way:

Reached by The Daily Beast after Obama’s interview aired, one former senior Pentagon official who worked closely on the threat posed by Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq was flabbergasted. “Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting,” the former official said.

Again the dilemma: is Obama truly evil or just monstrously stupid?

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It’s Official: Obama Has Created A Nuclear Iran

Feeling safer now, Obots?

In the “US Intelligence Worldwide Threat Assessment,” delivered to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Clapper reported that Tehran has made significant advances recently in its nuclear program to the point where it could produce and deliver nuclear bombs should it be so inclined.

“Tehran has made technical progress in a number of areas — including uranium enrichment, nuclear reactors, and ballistic missiles — from which it could draw if it decided to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons,” Clapper wrote. “These technical advancements strengthen our assessment that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. This makes the central issue its political will to do so.”

In the past year alone, the report states, Iran has enhanced its centrifuge designs, increased the number of centrifuges, and amassed a larger quantity of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride. These advancements have placed Iran in a better position to produce weapons-grade uranium.

Who thinks Iran lacks “the will to do so”?

– Aggie

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Smile, You’re on ObamaCam!

How many fingers am I holding up, Mr. President? Correct!

One:

William Binney worked as a National Security Agency analyst for nearly 30 years, eventually becoming the technical director of the of the world geopolitical and military analysis and reporting group. After retiring from the NSA in 2001, Binney became an increasingly vocal critic of the intelligence community, raising alarms about mission creep, wasteful projects and surveillance of law-abiding Americans. Although he still collects a pension from his old employer, the NSA has yanked his security clearance and his home was raided in 2007 as part of a leak investigation in which he was eventually cleared. Binney spoke with The Daily Caller about the latest NSA revelations from his home in Maryland.

William Binney: Look at the court order that went to Verizon [pdf]. In the upper right portion of page 1 there’s a number, 13-80. That means that’s the eightieth order from that court in 2013. Now if you assume all of the other 79 orders are going to other telecoms and providers, to do the same thing — and these things are issued every quarter — that’s the second issue to Verizon this year. So if you took that and said, OK, 80 orders and each of the companies got two, that means a minimum of at least 40 companies’ data assembled.

Daily Caller: We’re told these are just records of calls made — times, durations, numbers called, and so forth. But what universe of information are we talking about that’s available to the NSA?

Binney: The former FBI agent, Tim Clemente, says they can get access to the content of any audio, any phone call. He says that there are no digital communications that are safe or secure. So that means that they were tapping into the databases that NSA has. For the recorded audio, and for the textual materials like emails and phone.

Daily Caller: All textual material?

Binney: Any kind of textual material is relatively easy to get. The audio is a little more difficult. Now I don’t think they’re recording all of it; there are about 3 billion phone calls made within the USA every day. And then around the world, there are something like 10 billion a day. But, while they may not record anywhere near all of that, what they do is take their target list, which is somewhere on the order of 500,000 to a million people. They look through these phone numbers and they target those and that’s what they record.

But having that info doesn’t mean they knew what to do with it:

Daily Caller: There’s been some talk about the authorities having a recording of a phone call Tamerlan Tsarnaev had with his wife. That would be something before the bombing?

Binney: Before the bombing, yes.

Daily Caller: Then how would they have that audio?

Binney: Because the NSA recorded it.

Daily Caller: But apparently the Russians tipped off the FBI, which then did a cursory interview and cleared him. So how were they recording him?

Binney: Because the Russians gave a warning for him as a target. Once you’re on a list, they start recording everything. That’s what I’m saying.

Daily Caller: So why didn’t they prevent the bombing?

Binney: Once you’ve recorded something, that doesn’t mean they have it transcribed. It depends on what they transcribe and what they do with the transcription.

Daily Caller: So it seems logical to ask: Why do we need all of this new data collection when they’re not following up obvious leads, such as an intelligence agency calling and saying you need to be aware of this particular terrorist?

Binney: It’s sensible to ask, but that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re making themselves dysfunctional by collecting all of this data. They’ve got so much collection capability but they can’t do everything.

So… the very effort to mine all data, everywhere, all the time, undermines the very reason they mine all that data (and file it away in Utah): to prevent terrorism.

Awesome.

Binney: … [T]he basic problem is they can’t figure out what they have, so they store it all in the hope that down the road they might figure something out and they can go back and figure out what’s happening and what people did. It’s retroactive analysis. The FBI is using it that way too.

Daily Caller: What about the specifics of what Snowden is claiming: that a guy like him, a Booze Allen contractor basically, can get all of my emails, all of my passwords, my credit card records, and everything else, all of my phone calls, etc. Is that true? Is it really that simple for one guy who’s not even at what we would think of as the highest level of security clearance to do that?

Binney: Well if he’s got access to the system, he can go into the database and pull that, yes.

Daily Caller: What system are we talking about?

Binney: It used to be called Stellar Wind and now it’s called Ragtime. Ragtime P is the domestic stuff. That may be a reference to the Patriot Act Section 215.

Daily Caller: So what are they doing with all of this information? If they can’t stop the Boston marathon bombing, what are they doing with it?

Binney: Well again, they’re putting an extra burden on all of their analysts. It’s not something that’s going to help them; it’s something that’s burdensome. There are ways to do the analysis properly, but they don’t really want the solution because if they got it, they wouldn’t be able to keep demanding the money to solve it. I call it their business statement, “Keep the problems going so the money keeps flowing.” It’s all about contracts and money.

Daily Caller: Well if that’s where the priorities are, should we ask if the goal really is to prevent terrorism? Or is it to know as much as possible about Americans — at an individual level and a society level?

Binney: That’s my point. When you ask how much damage these leaks have done to our capability, they’ve actually done absolutely nothing. The terrorists were monitoring all of this information anyway, so they had a pretty good idea of what was being collected. So, who are we keeping this from? It’s not the terrorists. We are really keeping it from the American public. Because that’s who they’re collecting data about. And that’s who they’re keeping it secret from. The terrorists already knew all this stuff.

As for oversight:

Binney: … [T]hese people have all been duped by the intelligence community agencies. They throw technobabble down at the Congress and the judges. And those people have no idea what they’re talking about. All they can do is listen to the agencies and take their word for it. And they have no way of double checking or verifying. So I look at the oversight by Congress and the courts as just a joke. In the last year, how many requests for a warrant has the FISA court rejected? Zero. It’s just a rubber stamp. In 2002 the FISA courts found out that the FBI lied on 75 affidavits for a warrant. And they didn’t do anything as a result of that. How good of an oversight is that? It’s nothing, it’s a joke.

Just one guy, just one opinion. But as we the people try to make sense out of this—are we being protected, or are we being violated, and can it possibly be both—we need all the informed opinion we can get. We certainly can’t take the president’s word for it.

Binney makes the same point I’ve made, but in a different way. My complaint has been that because we won’t descend to “profiling” possible or likely suspects, we put everyone through the same invasive process. Can’t complain about selective prosecution if everyone’s selected. His point is that such a wide net produces too much material, more than they can possibly process. And for all the usual bureaucratic bull[bleep] reasons: protecting their budget; covering their ass; control; etc.

How does it provide my security to download the telephone records of your Aunt Tillie from Dubuque? It doesn’t, of course. So it must serve some other purpose. You figure it out.

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Putting the Roach in “Modest EncROACHment”

Oh dear.

So much bluster on both sides: what is one to make of the so-called meta-data mining by the NSA? Left-wing wackos like Bernie Sanders and conservatives wing-nuts like Rush Limbaugh find themselves uncomfortably on one side of the issue—while other left wing wackos and conservative wing-nuts find themselves on the other. First, the facts, as we understand them:

The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

At least some of the phone calls and emails were pulled from among the hundreds of millions stored by telecommunications companies as part of an NSA surveillance program. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Thursday night publicly acknowledged what he called “a sensitive intelligence collection program” after its existence was disclosed by the Guardian newspaper.

Blair drew a distinction between the “collection” or mining of data on specific U.S. citizens by NSA and the massive trove of phone call information that was turned over to the NSA under a negotiated agreement among intelligence officials, the telecommunications companies and the FISA judges. The purpose of the FISA order was to store information in the event that U.S. intelligence agencies need to access it after getting specific intelligence that somebody in the U.S. might be tied to terrorism. It is only at that point, he explained, that the NSA goes back to the court to get permission to mine or “collect” the data.

But the intelligence community’s distinction between “storing” and “collecting” data does not satisfy privacy and civil liberties advocates. “They are playing games,” said Cindy Cohn, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing U.S. phone companies over their cooperation with the NSA. Of the improper collection acknowledged by Blair, she said, “Who knows how many times this has happened?”

Let’s look at that argument in a little more detail:

[I]ntelligence officials – echoed by President Obama today, who characterized access to metadata a “modest encroachment” on privacy – are implying that the information they’re collecting is relatively innocuous, since they don’t listen in on the actual phone conversations.

In an op-ed for Reuters, Ben Wizner and I explain why government access to metadata – which reveals whom you talked to, from where, and for how long – is a gross privacy invasion:

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study a few years back found that reviewing people’s social networking contacts alone was sufficient to determine their sexual orientation. Consider, metadata from email communications was sufficient to identify the mistress of then-CIA Director David Petraeus and then drive him out of office.

The “who,” “when” and “how frequently” of communications are often more revealing than what is said or written. Calls between a reporter and a government whistleblower, for example, may reveal a relationship that can be incriminating all on its own.

Repeated calls to Alcoholics Anonymous, hotlines for gay teens, abortion clinics or a gambling bookie may tell you all you need to know about a person’s problems. If a politician were revealed to have repeatedly called a phone sex hotline after 2:00 a.m., no one would need to know what was said on the call before drawing conclusions. In addition sophisticated data-mining technologies have compounded the privacy implications by allowing the government to analyze terabytes of metadata and reveal far more details about a person’s life than ever before.

As I wrote at the beginning, conservatives and liberals are on both sides of this issue. I don’t have a clue who’s “right”. But I do have a finely-tuned hypocrisy sensor, if I do say so myself… takes one to know one, I guess.

Liberals who shrieked about Bush’s efforts in this area have no business remaining silent now; similarly, conservatives who defended those efforts then can’t reasonably attack them now (unless there are substantial differences). That’s why my post on the subject, “What if Bush Had Done This?” answered with “Oh wait, he did!”

As a conservative, I like nothing more than to watch a blowhard liberal choke on his words. I am often spoiled for choice. But if that’s all I get, it becomes—like a second slice of double-fudge chocolate cake or a third measure of Lagavullin single malt—too much of a good thing. A very good thing, and way too much.

I said above that we need the facts, and we need to know the differences between Bush’s initiatives and Obama’s. But this is top secret classified material, so we can’t. So we have to assume, and let’s assume the worst. The NSA and the FBI (why not?) have at their disposal every telephone call, email, and web page that all of us have placed, received, written, or visited over the last, say, seven years.

All of them; you do the math. They don’t necessarily act on them, are forbidden to do so without further authorization (with the occasional “mistake”), but they have them—just in case. Feel better? Me neither.

This is substantially more data than I thought they were mining. Maybe that makes me ignorant, but it also makes me a little perturbed. Remember my high dudgeon over the airport scanners? It wasn’t so bad, I once thought, that because Muslim terrorist manqué planted a bomb in his shoe, we all had to take off our shoes before boarding a plane (though only in American airports). No, because another Muslim terrorist manqué loaded his shorts with a bomb, we all had to get our junk x-rayed and appraised by those stalwart and sober sentries of the TSA. Some of us have little to hide, and much to declare, but that’s not the point.

The point was it was everybody. Grannies in wheelchairs and little girls with stuffed animals. Our solution to a very real, if narrowly defined, threat to national security was to put everyone’s privates on parade. Beyond the massive invasion of privacy, it was a colossal waste of time and money. Just as loaded loafers yielded to Semtex shorts, so Semtex shorts yielded to undetectable explosive undies. The terrorists had moved on, while we were still asking curvaceous blondes to stand spread-eagle in front of leering “security” agents and say cheese. (I’m just envious.)

Here’s what the president actually said:

[...] But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and not looking at content, that on, you know, net, it was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment of that. But I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. [...]

Not exactly: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Nor is it: “A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither.”

But then one can’t always be so articulate. (Or clean.)

We weren’t willing to make the difficult choice to identify likely and possible suspects for additional screening, choosing instead to put everyone through the Boob-o-Vision 3000™ and the Junk-o-Meter Deluxe™. How that meets “probable cause” or constitutes a “reasonable” search and seizure is lost on me, but most of you were fine with it. I could have led a citizen’s revolt and gotten myself arrested as a domestic terrorist (more likely just a nuisance)—or I could just have chosen to fly less and submit when so commanded. I’m not proud that I chose the latter.

I had no problem with FISA warrants when I thought they involved intelligence agents asking for specific searches through specific channels, more secretive and more selective than ordinary channels. Maybe that was the process once upon a time. But now this administration—which has hassled conservative Americans for two years (at least), using the most empowered and unassailable Executive Branch departments at its disposal—is asking us to trust their “modest encroachments on privacy” (which sounds like being a little bit pregnant). Every electronic conversation, spoken or written, every online query or search, all in government hands—what could go wrong?

“You can trust us; we’re not like the others,” President Obama is saying. But I can’t. I won’t.

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Hey, Remember Benghazi?

Clinton supposedly will testify tomorrow

Do you remember Benghazi or shall I dig into the deep, dark past to refresh your memory? The Benghazi terror attack happened on September 11, 2012. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, blamed a hapless Coptic Christian originally from Egypt, but living in California at the time. He had produced a “trailer” for a “movie” about Mohammed, and the footage was incomprehensible, but derisive, you could tell. So, the government of the United States of America had him arrested in the middle of the night, but in full view of television cameras, and tossed him in jail. He remains in jail.

Meanwhile, it became more and more obvious that the film had nothing to do with the attack, and that it was a September 11th attack. Oh yeah – did I mention that the media failed to cover it at all until September 12th? This is because it wouldn’t have helped President Obama’s reelection chances to point out that we’d suffered another September 11th attack.

Somehow the administration shut up the media and Congress. Hillary Clinton took an extended vacation to Jupiter, and when she returned, she had a headache. So finally, tomorrow, some of our elected representatives will get to ask her a few questions.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to be on Capitol Hill Wednesday, to give long-awaited testimony about State Department security and the attack that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya.
Clinton, who had to postpone testimony because of health issues, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 9 a.m. and the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 2 p.m. Wednesday. She will be the only person giving testimony in the hearing called, “Terrorist Attack in Benghazi: The Secretary of State’s View.”
More than four months have passed since an act of terrorism killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya. Clinton was expected to testify about a report on security failures in Benghazi in December, but first a concussion and then a blood clot near her brain kept the out-going secretary of state away from Capitol Hill.
The report led to the firing of three State Department employees from their posts and one resignation because of ”systemic failures and leadership deficiencies at senior levels in securing the compound.” The departing staff are still on administrative leave, however, meaning they are still State department employees.

As you know by now, the US is a Banana Republic (The Banana Republic of the United States of America) and nothing that she says will matter. But it is kind of nice that she has decided to appear.

– Aggie

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The Effort To Silence People Who Question The Hillary Clinton Blood Clot Story

Constitutional Law Professor Ann Althouse has some choice words for those who try to intimidate people who question the narrative

And, by the way, I’ve gotten some pushback in email and on the web, saying that it was “shameful” and “appalling” for me to tie Clinton’s health problems to a possible intent to avoid testifying about Benghazi. Let me tell you that a core motivation to my blogging — and I’ve been going at this for 9 years now — is to stand tough against people who try to cut off debate with this kind of shaming. So I’m glad that this performance of outrage was directed at me. I know it when I see it, and it fires me up. You want silence? You want backing down? You want me not to dare say a thing like that? That’s how you want to control political debate in the United States? Thanks for reminding me once again how deeply I hate that and for giving me an (easy) opportunity to model courage for the more timid people out there who are cowed by the fear of shaming.

ADDED: Here’s something I would dearly love to do with this blog: I want to make it so that emotive, intimidating outrage like that backfires. I want people to learn that they can’t get away with empty assertions like “I am aghast” or “You are despicable.” You have to give reasons for what you think. Even if you really feel those feelings. And, of course, many of these hack writers don’t actually feel the feelings they scribble about. They just don’t want to have to talk about the actual issue. They want to make it something that everyone feels they’d better not talk about. But that should be a loud signal: We need to talk about it!

And let’s get back to basics: What we need to talk about is Benghazi.

Go to the link and read the whole post. I completely agree with her on this one. But what frightens me even more than the bullies who try to shut us up is the media which is simply ignoring the Benghazi incident and now the peculiarities of Clinton’s failure to answer questions. I get why individual bullies are on the internet doing what they do best, but where is “the profession of journalism”?

– Aggie

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Bomb, Bomb, Bomb—Bomb, Bomb Iran

People don’t ask this often, but what if McCain had won?

Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed on Thursday Haaretz’s report that President Barack Obama recently received a new National Intelligence Estimate report on the Iranian nuclear program, which shares Israel’s view that Iran has made significant progress toward military nuclear capability, and said that the report has raised the urgency of the issue.

Speaking on Israel Radio on Thursday morning, Barak said that there is a U.S. intelligence report “being passed around senior offices,” and that, as far as Israel knows, this report has brought the U.S. position over Iran closer to the Israeli position, and made the issue more urgent.

Haaretz reported on Thursday that the National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran was supposed to have been submitted to Obama a few weeks ago, but it was revised to include new and alarming intelligence information about military components of Iran’s nuclear program. Haaretz has learned that the report’s conclusions are quite similar to those drawn by Israel’s intelligence community.

The NIE report contends that Iran has made surprising, notable progress in the research and development of key components of its military nuclear program.

I’m going to suggest that Iran has not made “notable progress” in its nuclear program in recent weeks and months. I just don’t think you undergo two computer virus attacks and a spate of “accidental” deaths of nuclear scientists and make a net gain in research. Rather, I think the NIE has slowly, very slowly, been extracting its head from its hindquarters on the issue—from what me worry to oh [bleep]!

If that’s too cynical for some of you, consider the other possibility: that politics has been driving the NIE reports rather than the other way around. The Obama administration would prefer to deal with Iran in its own way, in its own time. Israel doesn’t have that luxury.

Neither do the rest of us.

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Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Not of Iran. A couple of well-placed JDAMs and bunker-busters (or even a nasty computer virus) will put them in their place.

Be afraid of your government:

Mounting evidence over the last few years has convinced most experts that Iran has an active program to develop and construct nuclear weapons. Amazingly, however, these experts do not include the leaders of the U.S. intelligence community. They are unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue—and so they remain at variance with the Obama White House, U.S. allies, and even the United Nations.

The last month alone has brought several alarming developments concerning Tehran’s nuclear program. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano said last month that his agency has new information pointing to the military ambitions of Iran’s nuclear program. As of today, Iran has over 4,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium—enough, according to the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, for four nuclear weapons if enriched to weapons grade.

Iran has accelerated its production of low-enriched uranium in defiance of U.N. and IAEA resolutions. It has also announced plans to install advanced centrifuge machines in a facility built deep inside a mountain near the city of Qom. According to several U.S. diplomats and experts, the facility is too small to be part of a peaceful nuclear program and appears specially constructed to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

To top this off, an item recently posted to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps website mused about the day after an Iranian nuclear test (saying, in a kind of taunt, that it would be a “normal day”). That message marked the first time any official Iranian comment suggested the country’s nuclear program is not entirely peaceful.

Despite all this, U.S. intelligence officials are standing by their assessment, first made in 2007, that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not restarted it since.

What kind of person doesn’t believe Iran is building nuclear weapons?

I have been permitted to say the following about the outside reviewers: Two of the four are former CIA analysts who work for the same liberal Washington, D.C., think tank. Neither served under cover, and their former CIA employment is well known. Another reviewer is a liberal university professor and strong critic of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. The fourth is a former senior intelligence official. Not surprisingly, the 2011 NIE included short laudatory excerpts from these reviewers that offered only very mild criticism.

It is unacceptable that Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon while our intelligence analysts continue to deny that an Iranian nuclear weapons program exists. One can’t underestimate the dangers posed to our country by a U.S. intelligence community that is unable to provide timely and objective analysis of such major threats to U.S. national security—or to make appropriate adjustments when it is proven wrong.

If U.S. intelligence agencies cannot or will not get this one right, what else are they missing?

Here’s hoping we live long enough to find out. I’m not holding my breath.

PS: Maybe there is a learning curve, however:

A senior Iranian legislator confirmed earlier reports saying that a US drone has been shot down by Iran over Fordo nuclear enrichment plant in the Central Qom province.

Member of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Ali Aqazadeh Dafsari said on Tuesday that the unmanned spy plane was flying near the Fordo nuclear enrichment plant in Qom province when the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)’s Air Defense units brought it down.

The official stated that the US drone was on a mission to identify the location of the Fordo nuclear enrichment plant and gather information about the nuclear facility for the CIA, Dafsari stated.

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Smarting Power

As reader Marcus noted in a comment, truth isn’t within a thousand miles of this debate.

But to try to nudge it a little closer…

As I noted in a self-congratulatory comment of my own (if we don’t, who will?), we already knew a lot of this stuff. It’s been an open secret, for example, that the Arabs have as much or more to fear from a nuclear-armed Iran than anyone. That they have been telling us so in private should come as no surprise—neither should Israel’s smug look of satisfaction.

Mugabe is a despotic genius (i.e. a genius at despotism)—not exactly a bulletin.

Qaddafi’s certifiable—who knew?

The UN is a nest of spies—stop!

Just bear all that in mind when you read the offended responses:

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, called the leaks “unhelpful and untimely” but told Agence France-Presse that he had not seen specific cables released by Wikileaks.

Local television news networks late Sunday night prominently highlighted a cable released by WikiLeaks that mentioned the Saudi King’s damning assessment of Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari.

On Monday morning, leading newspapers ran front-page coverage of the WikiLeaks documents. The News, a center-right newspaper that is critical of the current government, had a lead headline, “Zardari greatest obstacle to Pak progress: King Abdullah.” That was a reference to the King’s assertion that Mr. Zardari was an obstacle to Pakistan’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” the king was quoted as saying, “it affects the whole body.”

On his Twitter feed, P.J Crowley, a State Department spokesman, responds to what he says is the misleading idea that American diplomats are acting as spies, writing:

Contrary to some #Wikileaks’ reporting, our diplomats are diplomats. They are not intelligence assets.

Diplomats collect information that shapes our policies and actions. Diplomats for all nations do the same thing.

Issandr El Amrani, a journalist living in Cairo, writes on his blog the Arabist that the records of private conversations between American officials and Arab leaders released by WikiLeaks might reverberate much more strongly in the Arab world, where press freedom and government transparency are extremely limited.

There’s your international community for you. You can have it.

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International Man of Mystery

The name’s Assange, Julian Assange:

Julian Assange moves like a hunted man. In a noisy Ethiopian restaurant in London’s rundown Paddington district, he pitches his voice barely above a whisper to foil the Western intelligence agencies he fears.

He demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own as other men change shirts. He checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends.

“By being determined to be on this path, and not to compromise, I’ve wound up in an extraordinary situation,” Mr. Assange said over lunch last Sunday, when he arrived sporting a woolen beanie and a wispy stubble and trailing a youthful entourage that included a filmmaker assigned to document any unpleasant surprises.

Unpleasant surprises? You mean like these?

[S]ome of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood.

Several WikiLeaks colleagues say he alone decided to release the Afghan documents without removing the names of Afghan intelligence sources for NATO troops. “We were very, very upset with that, and with the way he spoke about it afterwards,” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, a core WikiLeaks volunteer and a member of Iceland’s Parliament.

He is also being investigated in connection with accusations of rape and molestation involving two Swedish women. Mr. Assange has denied the allegations, saying the relations were consensual.

When Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old political activist in Iceland, questioned Mr. Assange’s judgment over a number of issues in an online exchange last month, Mr. Assange was uncompromising. “I don’t like your tone,” he said, according to a transcript. “If it continues, you’re out.”

Mr. Assange cast himself as indispensable. “I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier, and all the rest,” he said. “If you have a problem with me,” he told Mr. Snorrason, using an expletive, he should quit.

In an interview about the exchange, Mr. Snorrason’s conclusion was stark. “He is not in his right mind,” he said. In London, Mr. Assange was dismissive of all those who have criticized him. “These are not consequential people,” he said.

That our democracy is in the hands of a dweeby little twerp like Julian Assange makes me uncomfortable—but I’m not altogether opposed to what he’s doing.

With apologies to President Obama, let me quote accurately from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Government has no power to which we do not consent. To consent, we must have knowledge, information on which to make a judgement. There is certainly information contained in these leaked documents (Iran’s undeclared war against us, Iraq’s malfeasances, etc.) that would help form our opinion.

There is also, obviously, information that would endanger the lives of many people—and has. Governments and armies can’t conduct all their business in real time, in open session. We understand, and consent, to secrecy. But only up to a point. There is a natural and even healthy tension between the government’s desire for secrecy and the people’s right to know.

In trying to separate the person from the problem, I think that, absent a few redactions and emendations, the release of these documents could be healthy for our democracy.

Or I could be dead wrong.

Comments (2)

Barack W. Obama

Same [bleep], different president:

The Obama administration promised Congress on Tuesday to negotiate stronger privacy protections for Americans under terrorism surveillance but insisted on retaining current authority to track suspects and obtain records.

Liberals on the House Judiciary Committee were left unsatisfied, clearly wanting the administration to go further and pledge to curb what they consider abuses of the Bush administration.

They repeatedly insisted that the law be rewritten to require better justification for wiretaps and subpoenas, and Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., even compared the Obama administration’s position so far to that of the Bush administration.

“You sound like a lot of people who came over from DOJ (the Department of Justice) before,” Conyers told Todd Hinnen, deputy assistant attorney general.

Well, of course he does. President Obama may be misguided and overweening, but it does him no good to allow another 9/11 to happen on his watch. If it did, I’d stay below the eight floor if I were you.

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