Friday, February 29, 2008

'Toontime: Monkey See...

[credit: Dwane Powell, Raleigh News & Observer ]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Vox Versi:: "We don't Torture"

Dateline Omaha, May 1900: The Omaha World-Herald newspaper published a letter from a soldier in the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment serving in the Philippines:

Now, this is the way we give them[Filipino resistance fighters] the water cure. We lay them on their back , a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose , and if they don't give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I'll tell you it is a terrible torture.

General Order No. 100, Paragraph 16 from the Army's Civil War era combat regulations :
Military necessity does not admit of cruelty--that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in a fight, nor of torture to extort confessions.

FISA Politics

In typical Washington fashion the conservative politicians in the bunker and on the hill have made a political hot potato out of the question of protecting American citizens from unconstitutional spying by their own government. The temporary law (Protect America Act) allowing the Regime to continue its program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping expired on February 16th after Republicans refused to support a twenty-one day extension so that compromise on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform bill could be reached in conference. The House approved RESTORE act contains more civil rights protections and no retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies as opposed to the Senate bill. In response to the lapse, the petulant lame warrior in the bunker has been issuing frequent press statements castigating the House for being soft on terror. Congressional Republicans have refused to participate in conference negotiations hoping to scare the Democrats into accepting the Senate version and the holy grail of indulgences for corporate criminal activity.

Even without the temporary law, intelligence officials are able to put wiretaps on terrorism and espionage suspects under directives that were approved before the expiration of the six-month law. The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Reyes outlined three provisions still in effect in a letter to the Regime that allow timely, legal wiretap authorizations to be obtained by the government. A telecommunications lawyer familiar with intelligence gathering was interviewed by the NY Times. He saw little affect from the law's expiration on intelligence operations. In his view they have continued "unabated". The facts have not stopped wingnuts from launching a full blown media attack using scare tactics designed to intimidate Congressmen who want a FISA reform law that respects the rule of law. The director of national intelligence admitted the Regime's intransigence is motivated by the desire to protect it's corporate supporters. Mike McConnell, told National Public Radio: "It's true that some of the [previous] authorities would carry over to the period they were established for one year. That would put us into the August, September time frame. However, that's not the real issue. The issue is liability protection for the private sector. We can't do this mission without their help." Senator Ted Kennedy fired back in unusually harsh language. He said McConnell, in arguing that U.S. intelligence capabilities were being degraded, was being "dishonest and self-serving," and added, "It's nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration's massive lawbreaking." The RESTORE Act provides prospective immunity from civil suits for all companies cooperating with legal government surveillance activities. The Regime has been unable to explain how that provision fails to protect companies who eavesdrop on Americans upon lawful government requests in the future.

Call your Representative and tell them protecting your civil rights is more important than protecting corporations from lawsuits, and you want them respected by the government and corporate America. Capitol Hill switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

'Mad Dog' McCain

Almost every American knows that John McCain spent almost six years as a POW, some of the captivity in the 'Hanoi Hilton' prison camp. The pregnant question is what that nightmare experience--full of physical hardship, torture, deprivation and emotional turmoil--had on his psyche. (Interestingly, the North Vietnamese did not consider downed US airman to be prisoners of war but "pirates" and "brigands" or in today's more obtuse parlance, "unlawful combatants"). We used to think that our military men were immune to psychological damage thanks to their training, religious beliefs, and values as citizens of a democracy. But we have been sorely disabused of that notion after troops returning from Korea, Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan have displayed symptoms of readjusting to civilian life and the after effects of combat. The question is even more urgent since the office of the President of the United States sits atop a military command structure that has the means to destroy the planet.

The Arizona Republic, one of the most conservative dailies in the country, has said,"Many Arizonans active in policy making have been the victim of McCain's volcanic temper....McCain often insults people and flies off the handle." The editors bleakly concluded there is reason "to seriously question whether McCain has the temperament, and the political approach and skills, we want in the next president of the United States." The lengthy Mount Graham controversy in Arizona provided a clear indication of John McCain's "volcanic" personality and insulting behavior. The Federal government wanted to put an observatory on top of the mountain. The San Carlos Apaches said that an observatory would be inappropriate because the mountain was sacred to them. Dzil nchaa si an, or Big-Seated Mountain, is the home of the ga' an spirit dancers. There are also shrines and burial grounds there. Environmentalists objected to development because the mountain is the unique habitat of an endangered subspecies of red squirrel. In 1992 two respectable physicians and environmentalists went to McCain's office to discuss the issues. At the mention of the name Mount Graham, according to the doctors, the Senator burst into a raging fit of anger, shouted obscenities and waved his fists at the shocked visitors for ten minutes. After experiencing the explosive tirade, one of the doctors formed an opinion: "To my mind, McCain's the most likely senator to start a nuclear war".[1] The Senator makes a great effort to cloak his short fuse with humor (he refers to covering journalists as "jerks"), but it seems that John McCain's long years as a prisoner of war did not have a salutary effect on his ability to control his anger.
[1]Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch, February 23,2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Le Shorter: McCain's Golden Girl

McCain denies romantic involvement with telecommunications
lobbyist, Vikki Iseman. She is a partner at the firm Alcalde & Fay, and represented telecommunications companies for whom Mr. McCain’s commerce committee was pivotal. Her clients contributed tens of thousands of dollars to his campaigns.

Read the whole story at the NY Times:

Update: Controversy now surrounds Senator McCain over whether he acted unethically to help Lowell Paxton, one of Ms. Iseman's clients. Paxton had a license application for a TV station pending before the FCC. Paxson himself has said that he did meet with McCain in the senator's office and told him about the TV station issue. He recalls he asked the Senator to write a letter to the FCC. Earlier last week McCain denied any contact with Paxton. But McCain testified in a 2002 deposition that he had met with Paxton and told him he would be glad to write the FCC asking for a decision. The Senator wrote two letters asking the agency to expedite it's decision on Paxton's Pittsburgh license. The FCC shot back, rebuking the Senator for his "highly unusual" involvement in a pending application. Eventually the FCC granted the application, but by that time the takeover deal had fallen apart. According to Paxton, Vikki Iseman may have even been in the room when Paxton asked McCain for help. Senator McCain was then chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee. "The woman was a professional. She was good," said Paxton. Yeah, maybe too good.

Friday, February 22, 2008

'Toontime: Better Than First Class!

[credit: Rex Babin, Sacremento Bee ]

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Le Shorter: Is There a Pattern Here?

Reuters reports the Charlatan said while flying back on Air Force One, "there's no compromise on whether these phone companies get liability protection." House and Senate leadership called a bipartisan meeting to work on the FISA conference bill, but conservatives boycotted the meeting demanding an immediate vote on the Senate bill with immunity for telecommunications companies that spied on Americans without warrants. Must be music to Ms. Iseman's ears.

Le Shorter: Environment Scorecard

The League of Conservation Voters has issued its environmental voting scorecard for the first session of the 110th Congress (2007). Of interest are the records of Senators Clinton and Obama. Ms. Clinton scored 73%. Mr. Obama scored 67%.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hasta La Vista, El Jefe Maximo

Fidel Castro, aging and infirm after 47 years as Cuba's maximum leader and several CIA inspired assassination plots later, announced his retirement from governing this week. El Presidente inspired admiration around the world despite his unquestionable and sometimes harsh dictatorship. According to one human rights organization there are 306 political prisoners in Cuba. Reasons for the admiration are several and eclipse his spirited defiance of a belligerent superpower that has inflicted a crippling trade embargo against his nation since 1962 (the biggest US trading partner is communist China). Perhaps most notable are his accomplishments for the Cuban people in the fields of agricultural reform, education and health care. At a time when the richest country on earth does not provide health care for all it's citizens, it is sobering to know what Fidel Castro has done in Cuba, one of the poorest nations on earth:

--Life expectancy at birth: male 75.11; female: 79.85 (US: 75.02; 80.82)
--Infant mortality rate: 6.22 deaths per 1,000 live births (US: 6.43)
--HIV/Aids adult prevalence rate: <0.6%

--HIV/Aids deaths per 100,000 per year: 4.4 (US: 5.4)
--Physicians per 1,000 population: 5.91 (US: 2.56)
--Hospital beds per 10,000 population: 49 (US: 33)
--Per capita GDP: $3,649 (US: $39,901)
--25,000 Cuban doctors are on humanitarian missions in 68 countries
--Last year 1,800 doctors from 47 developing countries graduated from Cuba's 21 medical schools
--Each year more than 5,000 "health tourists" travel to Cuba, generating more than $40m for Cuba

--Number of Cuban doctors sent to Venezuela to provide free health care: 20,000 (in exchange for, among other things, 90,000 barrels of oil per day)
--Number of doctors Fidel Castro offered to send to the US to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina: 1,586.
(Source: CIA World Factbook; World Health Organization)

"Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me." October 1953, while on trial for the failed rebel attack that launched the Cuban Revolution.

Monday, February 18, 2008

An Economy on FIRE

As you may realize by now our economy does not rely on producing finished goods of high value for trade anymore. Our last merchandise trade surplus was way back in 1975. Our new economy is described by an acronym: FIRE for finance, insurance and real estate. The FIRE economy's life blood is easy credit and lots of it. After World War II the dollar was allowed to float in value against other currencies according to the Breton Woods Agreement. The dollar was still redeemable in gold, however. By 1971 the US had accumulated a tiny trade deficit by today's standard ($3.8 adjusted versus $204 billions). Nixon was faced with a run on US gold reserves when de Gaulle demanded that the trade deficit be payed for in gold and not depreciated dollars. Nixon unilaterally ended the US legal obligation to back the dollar in gold; in effect, he defaulted.
In the 1980s less credit worthy companies were able to finance their expansion through the corporate junk bond, a new class of investment securities. Under the leadership of Alan Greenspan the Federal Reserve set about deregulating the banking and securities markets in the 1990s. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which prevented commercial banks from entering the securities industry was repealed. The Fed provided cheap capital by keeping interest rates low. The US has thus been able to finance its mounting trade deficits with it's own depreciating currency, a truly "exorbitant privilege" to use de Gaulle's words. Trade partners such as Saudi Arabia, Japan and Taiwan balance their trade surpluses by purchasing US financial assets. This process becomes self-reinforcing because our largest creditors are now stake holders in the value of the dollar and the health of the underlying national economy. If they reduce their holdings of dollar instruments, the dollar's trade value will fall thereby reducing the value of their remaining holdings even further. If they stop buying our debt altogether, the US cannot afford to keep buying their exports. A double think worthy of repetition is the title of a neoconservative Cato Institute report, "America's Record Trade Deficit: A Symbol of Strength". And war is peace; liberty is treachery.

According to Eric Janszen, a former venture capitalist writing in Haper's Magazine, the FIRE economy is about to have it's first near-death experience. The agent de mort is the what is commonly called the "subprime mortgage crisis", but is more accurately described as the home price hyperinflation or bubble. The real estate bubble was inflated by easy credit. After the .com bubble burst in 2000, the Fed reduced the discount rate from 6% to 1.24% which led to inexpensive adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). When the mortgage credit industry ran out of credit worthy borrowers, they made it even easier to buy expensive homes by creating an investment derivative known as a collateralized debt obligation (CDO) in which pools of lesser quality loans were repackaged and given lower risk ratings. The idea was to spread the risk of some non-performing loans beyond banks throughout global financial markets. But as in past bubbles, greed got ahead of the game [1]. Home loans were even given to borrowers who gave no proof of their stated incomes, so-called "liar loans". Since the housing bubble burst in 2007 and home prices are falling towards their historic trend (about 3.3% annual increase since WWII, close to the rate of monetary inflation) the poisonous risks of hyperinflated prices and loan defaults are becoming known like a receeding tide uncovering carcases on a beach. One clear indicator of the global spread of this toxic tide is the announcement that UK's big mortgage lender, Northern Rock, will be nationalized after suffering a stock decline of 87% [2]. The estimate is $12 trillion of fictitious value in the US real estate market. If real estate prices decline at a rate of 6% to 7% a year, it will take about six years before the economy is stabilized again (currently house prices are declining nationally at a 10% clip which translates to American households loosing $2 trillion in value per year). This lost money has to come from somewhere. Frederick Mishkin, a governor at the Federal Reserve, suggests that for every dollar lost in value a typical family will cut spending by 7 cents. That adds to about $155 million less consumption nationwide. Keynesian re-inflation--the first installment is the tax refund just approved--probably will not be enough as it was after the .com collapse. Then the Federal funds rate was 6%, now it is 4.25%. Then the dollar was trading at a multi-decade high, now it is at multi-decade lows. Rather than a balanced national budget, the federal deficit is at a record high while we simultaneously finance two wars and grant tax breaks to wealthy Americans. If foreign investors do not buy even more of our depreciating debt, the government will be forced to print more money just to fund it's operations. Avoiding a depression will take an economic miracle, or another bubble. Now that I have your attention, may I direct it to these fine nuclear power plants we have for sale over here?

[1] See the 1961 theory of Dr. Hyman P. Minsky, "financial-instability hypothesis", previously thought to be crackpot by mainstream economists.
[2] The market for an arcane derivative, default insurance swaps, is also being roiled by the crisis. The market is so obscure and unregulated that experts do not know if losses will be catastrophic or insignificant. What is clear is that trading volume is straining the contract clearance system to it's limits.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mercury Polluter Suffers Setback

Mallinckrodt company's petition to review a lower federal court was recently denied by the US Supreme Court. The lower court had ordered the company to conduct a multi-year study of mercury pollution in Maine's Penobscot River. the NRDC and local partners showed that mercury pollution from the company's manufacturing facility had migrated downstream for almost twenty miles, contaminating fish and wildlife and threatening human health. Mercury is a potent toxin than can cause birth defects. The case went to trial in 2002. The Supreme Court's refusal to intervene affirms the right of private environmental action groups to enforce environmental laws on behalf of members affected by pollution in the absence of government action. The study is expected to cost about $4 million and will determine the most effective remedial action. [photo: Penobscot River at Old Town, ME]

Friday, February 15, 2008

'Toontime: Flat Earth Society

[ credit: Dwane Powell, Raleigh News & Observer ]

Spineless Senate Capitulates on FISA

Update: A real leader in the "peoples' House", Intelligence Chairman Sylverster Reyes told the Charlatan to get real on FISA. His letter is so straightforward and patriotic, Persona Non Grata reproduces it here:
Dear Mr. President:
The Preamble to our Constitution states that one of our highest duties as public officials is to "provide for the common defence." As an elected Member of Congress, a senior Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I work everyday to ensure that our defense and intelligence capabilities remain strong in the face of serious threats to our national security. Because I care so deeply about protecting our country, I take strong offense to your suggestion in recent days that the country will be vulnerable to terrorist attack unless Congress immediately enacts legislation giving you broader powers to conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans' communications and provides legal immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the Administration's warrantless surveillance program.
Today, the National Security Agency (NSA) has authority to conduct surveillance in at least three different ways, all of which provide strong capability to monitor the communications of possible terrorists. First, NSA can use its authority under Executive Order 12333 to conduct surveillance abroad of any known or suspected terrorist. There is no requirement for a warrant. There is no requirement for probable cause. Most of NSA's collection occurs under this authority. Second, NSA can use its authority under the Protect America Act, enacted last August, to conduct surveillance here in the U.S of any foreign target. This authority does not "expire" on Saturday, as you have stated. Under the PAA, orders authorizing surveillance may last for one year – until at least August 2008. These orders may cover every terrorist group without limitation. If a new member of the group is identified, or if a new phone number or email address is identified, the NSA may add it to the existing orders, and surveillance can begin immediately. We will not "go dark." Third, in the remote possibility that a new terrorist organization emerges that we have never previously identified, the NSA could use existing authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor those communications. Since its establishment nearly 30 years ago, the FISA Court has approved nearly every application for a warrant from the Department of Justice. In an emergency, NSA or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may begin surveillance immediately,and a FISA Court order does not have to be obtained for three days. The former head of FISA operations for the Department of Justice has testified publicly that emergency authorization may be granted in a matter of minutes. As you know, the 1978 FISA law, which has been modernized and updated numerous times since 9/11, was instrumental in disrupting the terrorist plot in Germany last summer. Those who say that FISA is outdated do not understand the strength of this important tool....
If our nation is left vulnerable in the coming months, it will not be because we don't have enough domestic spying powers. It will be because your Administration has not done enough to defeat terrorist organizations-– including al Qaeda--that have gained strength since 9/11. We do not have nearly enough linguists to translate the reams of information we currently collect. We do not have enough intelligence officers who can penetrate the hardest targets, such as al Qaeda. We have surged so many intelligence resources into Iraq that we have taken our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, you have allowed al Qaeda to reconstitute itself on your watch.... I, for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear. We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly (69-29) to end debate, giving the Regime what it wanted in the FISA bill: immunity for telecommunications companies that cooperated with government orders to spy on American citizens without warrants. War hawks said the companies should not be punished for their "patriotic response" after the terror attacks. Senator Hillary Clinton did not vote. Senator Joe Lieberman, former Democrat, voted to end debate. The House bill does not include an immunity provision and it's leaders were angry about the Senate's craven decision to support another expansion of imperial powers.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Dept. of Deja Vu: The Italian Job II

Silvio Berlusconi came to power in 1994. He is a supporter of the war in Iraq, a fact which may have lead to his election defeat in 2006. However with the fall of the Prodi center-left coalition government, Berlusconi is again leading right-wing forces to power in Italy. All this background may seem irrelevant to you, but here is the link: several former American intelligence officials and military analysts interviewed by Vanity Fair believe that the Niger yellowcake documents were forged and foisted on policymakers in a classic psychological warfare operation to deliberately mislead the American public.[1] There were at least 14 instances prior to the January 28, 2003 State of the Union speech containing the infamous 16 words in which analysts at the C.I.A., the State Department, or other government agencies who had examined the Niger documents or reports about them raised serious doubts about their legitimacy—only to be rebuffed by Bush officials who wanted to use the material. Italian politics has a postwar history of American interference, influence buying, and violent covert activities conducted by secret neofascist organizations sometimes funded by the CIA. It is in this murky environment of ruthless competing ideologies that neoconservatives in the Bush administration were able to enlist persons with the political motivation and means to assist them in selling the war to Congress and the people.

The Niger psy-op had precedents. Michael Ledeen, an American fascist sympathizer was stationed in Rome as a correspondent for the neoconservative magazine, The New Republic in 1980. He met Francesco Pazienza a piduista and SISMI (Italian military intelligence) agent. They teamed up to write an incendiary and false article to help unseat President Jimmy Carter. Just before the 1980 election Ledeen charged that the President's errant brother, Billy, had received a payoff of $50,000 from Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and had met secretly with PLO leader Yassar Arafat. A subsequent investigation by a journalist for the The Wall Street Journal concluded that the damaging article was part of a disinformation scam run by SISMI to tilt the U.S. election. Pazienza claimed that Ledeen was a paid agent of SISMI and even had his own code name, Z-3. Money from SISMI was sent to him via a Bermuda bank account. Pazienza was convicted in abstensia for fraud and extortion related to the affair. Pazienza's indictment named Ledeen as a co-conspirator. Ledeen was not charged. Ledeen played a prominent role in another disinformation operation from the eighties. He promoted the alleged Bulgarian secret service connection with Mehmet Ali Agca the shooter of Pope John Paul. The story did not pass the giggle test. Agca was a committed Turkish fascist-- a former member of the "Gray Wolves" a youth group of the Fascist National Action Party. Whether the disputed story was accurate or not, it made good anti-communist propaganda. When Reagan took office Ledeen was made special assistant to Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Later as a staff member of the National Security Council, he played a key role in initiating the illegal arms for hostage deal with Iran that later became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. He is now works for the American Enterprise Institute, a prominent neoconservative think tank in Washington, DC.

Ledeen has long standing connections with prominent right-wing Italian politicians. He has been friends with the Berlusconi Minister of Defense and co-founder of Forza Italia, Antonio Martino, since the 1970s. He played bridge with former SISMI director, Nicolo Pollari. In the words of a former CIA agent stationed in Italy, "Michael Ledeen is connected to all the players". No doubt the discredited former SISMI agent and peddler of information, Rocco Martino, was also known to Ledeen. Il Postino (the Postman) as he is known in the Italian press obtained forged documents from the Niger ambassador's secretary as well as SISMI's own document archives. The dossier was a hodgepodge of fake and real documents. The most important document, a two page memo purportedly sent to the president of Niger concerning the sale of 500 tons of pure uranium per year to Iraq, was a fake. Pollari denies Italian intelligence had anything to do with creating the documents, but Martino makes the perfect cutout--a discredited middleman that provides the maximum amount of deniability. The initial Niger Embassy robbery shortly after New Year's Eve 2001, in which letterhead and seals were taken, could have been aimed at creating a cover story for a war on Iraq. As early as 1992 hawks in the first Bush administration were lobbying for regime change there. The neocon lobbying continued through the Clinton years and resulted in the policy of regime change being enacted into law. The "Vulcans" included Michael Ledeen, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Feith would later run the Office of Special Plans and report to Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Secretary Donald Rumsfled at the Department of Defense.

Given Ledeen's deep Italian connections and personal history it would have been easy for him to make a request of an intelligence agent or even a member of an allied underground organization. There was no doubt about his position on war with Iraq. In his National Review columns he repeatedly pleaded the case for war. His hope was that the US would turn the region into a "burning cauldron" and "faster, please." Through his ties to White House political advisor Carl Rove, Deputy National Security advisor Stephan Hadley and Undersecretary Douglas Feith, he was wired into the White House Iraq Policy Group charged with marketing the war. One measure of his influence may be a series of secret meetings he set up—with Hadley's approval, he claims—in Rome in the second week of December 2001. According to the Italian newspaper La Reppublica, Nicolò Pollari had become frustrated by the C.I.A.'s refusal to let SISMI deliver a smoking gun that would justify an invasion of Iraq. At an unspecified date, he discussed the issue with Ledeen's longtime friend Minister of Defense Antonio Martino. Martino, the paper reported, told Pollari to expect a visit from "an old friend of Italy". Soon afterward, Pollari allegedly took up the Niger matter with Ledeen when he was in Rome. Ledeen says the meetings were about Iran not Iraq.

The Vice President, a rabid war advocate, got word of the Niger documentation from the Defense Intelligence Agency and confronted the CIA with the report. It had already been debunked by the agency and no mention of it was made in the President's Daily Brief, but when the Vice President gave the report credence, the agency was forced to backtrack. The French had managed to penetrate Saddam's inner circle by recruiting the Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri. Sabri told the CIA that Saddam did not have any weapons of mass destruction since they had been destroyed by UN weapons inspectors. The information confirmed what Saddam's son-in-law, General Hussein Kamal, had told the US in 1995 when he defected. But the CIA did not believe him. When Kamal returned to Iraq, Saddam had him executed. The good intelligence was not welcomed by the White House. The marketing campaign went ahead full bore. The opening salvo in the media blitz came from Secretary Rice who made a sensational remark about a "smoking gun turning into mushroom cloud". The riposte was so well received that other officials repeated it on the air. Selective leaks were made to credulous reporters like Judith Miller at the New York Times who wrote about Saddam buying aluminum tubes for refining centrifuges. Pollari met with Stephen Hadley the next day on September 9, 2002. It was a breach of protocol for a foreign intelligence official to meet with a member of the Security Council contrary to what Hadley characterizes as merely a "courtesy visit". Polari knew what the aluminum tubes were used for, but did not tell his American intelligence counterparts. The tubes were used to replace aging Medusa ground to air missile bodies that dated to Italy's weapons trade with Iraq. Two days later Hadley asked the CIA to clear a statement for the President's use that Iraq was seeking to buy enriched uranium oxide from Africa.

As if on cue, the false information was reinforced from abroad by Prime Minister Tony Blair who called the Niger disinformation a "dossier of death". Martino Rocco did his part by offering the documents to a reporter for Silvio Burlesconi's Panorama magazine. It was edited by a close political supporter of Burlesconi. Michael Ledeen had even contributed articles to it. The documents were duly transmitted to the CIA which immediately recognized them as previously discredited and worthy only of the trash bin. The State Department's intelligence bureau also doubted their authenticity. The French knew the Niger dossier was phony because Niger was their former colony. Their service so informed the CIA. US intelligence also knew that Sadddam already possessed 550 metric tons of enriched uranium ore. Saddam's problem was not a source of supply, but refining it to weapons grade. Nevertheless, the false report made it into the President's speech to the VFW in Cincinnati through the ideologues' sheer persistence and over the written objections of the agency. For the next two months there were repeated references to the bogus Niger yellowcake purchase in the regime's propaganda releases. Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenant, widely viewed in the intelligence community as an inveterate team player, denied ever seeing the State of the Union address with the sixteen words claiming that Saddam Hussein was resupplying himself with enriched uranium from Niger. In May 1999 George Tenant had failed to strike Osama Bin Laden with cruise missiles when the agency had intelligence--it would never be better in the opinion of his deputy--for thirty-six consecutive hours on his exact location. [2].

On March 7, 2003 the IAEA publicly exposed the Niger documents as forgeries. On March 14th the ranking Democratic senator on the Senate Intelligence Committee asked for an investigation by the FBI. The Republican chairman of the Committee refused to cooperate. The war began on March 19th. Later the Republican chairman incredibly claimed no one in the intelligence community attempted to have the language removed from the President's speech. There is no Ledeen fingerprint on the Niger forgeries. Despite the best efforts of journalists and investigators the ultimate source of the documents remains obscure. But their importance in bringing about a tragic foreign policy disaster cannot be doubted. The context of history is all we have to shine a light into the dark halls of power.

[1]The officials are Milt Bearden, former station chief and head of the Soviet-East European Division; Colonel W. Patrick Lang, who served as the D.I.A.'s defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, South Asia, and terrorism; Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Melvin Goodman, a former division chief and senior analyst at the C.I.A. and the State Department; Ray McGovern, a C.I.A. analyst for 27 years; Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who served in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia division in 2002 and 2003; Larry C. Johnson, a former C.I.A. officer who was deputy director of the State Department Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993; former C.I.A. official Philip Giraldi; and Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of operations of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center.
[2]Frontline,"The Dark Side", January 20, 2006.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Justice Perverted

They say timing is everything. So the military's announcement that it intends to impose the death penalty after trying six detainees en masse under the constitutionally infirm system of military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay during a presidential campaign season is somewhat suspect. The decision is bound to raise a howl world wide since our European allies oppose the death penalty and the Islamic world sees the tribunals as simply a propaganda show of the same order as the trial afforded Saddam Hussein before he was hanged amid a crowd of his Shia tormentors. US civil rights attorneys have raised concerns that convictions would be based upon evidence extracted under torture and secret evidence. Strict rules against hearsay evidence used in US federal courts to insure reliability and authenticity will not be followed in tribunal proceedings.

The government has had mixed success trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts. Zacarias Moussaoui, previously labeled the "20th hijacker" (that soporific is now applied to Mohammed al-Qahtani) emerged from his federal court trial in Virginia as a deeply disturbed individual bearly able to participate in a multi-faceted international guerrilla operation. He was an embarrassment to his federal prosecutors. Jose Padilla, a Chicago homeboy and 'wanna-be' guerrilla from, won his release from indefinite military custody after his habeas corpus case went to the US Supreme Court. Prosecutors asked for thirty years to life in his civilian criminal trial for trying to plant a dirty bomb. He got seventeen.

The six now facing execution are: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Ali Al-Aziz Ali; Ramzi Bin al-shibh; Walid Bin Attash; Mustafa Ahmad al-hawsawi; Mohammed al-Qahtani. Since September 11, 2001 three thousand or more individuals have been arrested worldwide in pursuit of al-Qaeda. Innocents have been detained and abused for years, others have been transported against their will and tortured. Our nation has paid a very high price for capturing fourteen actual leaders of the terrorist network.

For the Record: With John McCain

January 2003: "But the point is that, one, we will win this conflict. We will win it easily." [MSNBC, 1/22/03]
March 2003: "I believe that this conflict is still going to be relatively short." [NBC, Meet the Press, 3/30/03]
June 2004: "The terrorists know that this is a very critical time." [CNN, 6/23/04]
December 2005: "Overall, I think a year from now, we will have a fair amount of progress [in Iraq] if we stay the course." [The Hill, 12/8/05]
November 2006: "We're either going to lose this thing or win this thing within the next several months." [NBC, Meet the Press, 11/12/06]
January 2008: "I don't think the American people care if we are there [Iraq] for a hundred years." [New Hamshire Primary campaign interview]
Senator McCain repeatedly voted against a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. [S. Amdt. 3876 to S.Amdt. 3874 to H.R. 2764, Vote #438, 12/18/07; S.Amdt.. 3875 to S.Amdt.. 3874 to H.R. 2764, Vote # 437, 12/18/07; S.Amdt.3164 to H.R. 3222, Vote # 362, 10/3/07; S.Amdt. 2898 to S.Amdt. 2011 to H.R. 1585, Vote #346, 9/21/07; S.Amdt. 2924 to S.Amdt.. 2011 to H.R.1585, Vote #345, 9/21/07; S.Amdt.2 087 to S.Amdt. 2011 to H.R. 1585, Vote #252, 7/18/07; S.Amdt. 643 to H.R. 1591, Vote #116, 3/27/07; S.Amdt. 4320 to S. 2766, Vote #182, 6/22/06; S.Amdt. 4442 to S. 2766, Vote #181, 6/22/06; S.Amdt.. 2519 to S.1042, Vote # 322, 11/15/05]

Monday, February 11, 2008

Dept. of Deja Vu: The Italian Job

Regular readers of this space are probably asking themselves by now, "Were does this guy get this stuff? How can he claim that the neocons had their Italian neofascist friends fabricate the Niger yellowcake documents?" Dear readers, it helps if you know the context and the context is history. The story begins as with so many in our modern world at the end of World War II. Italy was devastated and Mussolini's fascists had been eliminated from power. It was clear to the Truman administration that the victorious Russian communists and their European comrades had to contained or they would fill the void. Italy had a popular and organized communist party. It was ripe for a communist takeover. Rebuilding the country with a friendly republican government had to begin immediately and the officers of the OSS, Office of Strategic Services, would be none too squeamish about who they would ask for help.

On December 14, 1947 the National Security Council issued its first top secret order to the successor CIA which was to counter Soviet and Soviet inspired activities by covert psychological operations. Given a mandate, the CIA set out to win its first foreign election, the Italian elections of 1948. The means would be money, not guns. The Rome station chief, James Jesus Angleton, estimated winning would cost $10 million. He could use the Italian secret service, which he had penetrated so deeply he could claim he actually ran it, as the organization to disburse the funds. There was only one problem. The CIA had no independent budget yet and no contingency fund for covert operations. There was however a little known fund, the Exchange Stabilization Fund, that had been set up during the Depression for short term currency trading. During the war it was converted to a depository for captured Axis loot. The money was earmarked for European reconstruction. John Snyder, Truman's Secretary of the Treasury, allowed the fund to be used as a conduit to wealthy Americans, many Italian-Americans, who sent the money on to new CIA political fronts. Millions were in turn delivered to Italian politicians of the right persuasion and priests of Catholic Action, the political action arm of the Vatican. Suitcases stuffed with cash literally changed hands in the foyer of Rome's Hassler Hotel. There was not time to be more sophisticated about the operation. Nevertheless it worked: the Christian Democrats won and formed a government that excluded the communists. Thus began a twenty-five year American covert program of buying right and center Italian politicians. By 1976 the operation had spent at least $65 million. [image: NATO Gladio insignia]

In 1970 with Nixon White House approval, $25 million was distributed to both Christian Democrats and neofascists. The action was the result of lobbying by a wealthy right-wing American who lived in Rome, Pier Talenti. Talenti went to see Alexander Haig, then Secretary of State Henry Kissenger's aide to warn of the socialists taking power in Italy. According to an American State Department official then in Rome some of the money also went to the far-right underground. The money helped elect the corrupt Giulio Andreotti, but also fueled a neofascist coup that failed. The money also financed right-wing covert operations by the so-called "stay behind" army created by the Allies after the war (Gladio)--including terror bombings--that Italian intelligence blamed on the Red Brigades. Subsequent parliamentary investigations revealed that General Vito Miceli, chief of Italian military intelligence took at least $800,000 of the CIA's cash [1]. He was jailed for attempting a forcible overthrow of the government. Another Italian intelligence chief, Gianadelio Maleti, testified in a terror bombing trial that "the CIA, following the directives of its government, wanted to create an Italian nationalism capable of halting what it saw as a slide to the left and, for this purpose, it may have made use of right-wing terrorism," Maletti also told the court: "Don't forget that Nixon was in charge and Nixon was a strange man, a very intelligent politician but a man of rather unorthodox initiatives." Prime Minister Andreotti revealed the existence of the secret paramilitary organization Operation Gladio to a parliamentary commission investigating the "years of lead" in 1990, but spent the last years of his long public career fighting corruption and criminal charges, including murder. A 2000 report by a left parliamentary coalition concluded that the "strategy of tension" used by Gladio had been supported by the United States to prevent communists and socialist parties from reaching executive power in Italy. [pictured l to r: Andreotti, Sinatra, Nixon].

The underground quasi-Masonic cell Propaganda Due (P2) was officially outlawed in 1981 following the Banco Ambrosiano scandal which also implicated the Vatican Bank. It was allegedly connected to the Gladio organization. Many prominent Italians of public affairs and business have been members or piduistas. A membership list of over 900 hundred names was found in the home of Worshipful Master Licio Gelli. It contained the names 38 deputies, four cabinet ministers, former prime ministers, 30 generals, newspaper editors, TV executives, all the heads of the Italian intelligence services, and businessmen. One of those was businessman Silvio Berlusconi who had been a member since 1978. Berlusconi is now a former Prime Minister of Italy, a billionaire media mogul, and founder of the right-wing Forza Italia party. The stated mission of the P2 lodge was to form a new political and economic elite that would move Italy away from socialism towards a more authoritarian anti-communist state. [continued]

[1]Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner 2007, p. 300

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dept. of Deja Vu: Team B

President Vladimir Putin complains that the West is reigniting the Cold War. He said in a speech to the State Council, a top level group of officials and military officers, that because of NATO's failure so far to accommodate Russia's security concerns, " We are forced to retaliate, to take corresponding decisions. Russia has, and always will have, responses to these new challenges." Russian officials are especially upset with the United State's decision to install an anti-ballistic missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland. In response Russia, after a lengthy hiatus, recently re-instituted strategic bomber patrols over Europe and Scandinavia. In the words of the assertive Russian president, "a new phase of the arms race is unfolding...and it's not our fault because we did not start it." Mr. Putin appears to have a point.

It would not be the first time conservative elements in the US government distorted security threats to achieve desired levels of funding for the military-industrial complex. In 1976 George H.W. Bush was the director of central intelligence. He allowed a team of neoconservative ideologues to rewrite the CIA's estimates of Soviet military power. His decision was a blatant politicizing of a process that was supposed to be rigorously objective. Among the group of "howling right wingers" was Paul Wolfowitz, later to become a deputy secretary of defense under Shrub, and who endlessly lobbied for war on Iraq after the homeland attack. "Team B", as it was called, portrayed a decaying and economically moribund Soviet Union as a resurgent world threat undergoing a tremendous military buildup. In fact it was cutting military spending. They dramatically overestimated the accuracy of Soviet missiles, the number of 'Backfire' bombers, the danger of technologies never created, and worst of all, a supposed secret strategy to fight and win a nuclear war with the US. Team B selectively leaked their alarmist and inaccurate findings to sympathetic journalists. The uproar created lasted into the next decade and contributed to the election of Ronald 'Raygun' and his tremendously expensive expansion of the US military. His defense spending deficits were not erased until Bill Clinton's administration. When the Cold War was supposedly over, the CIA went back and examined the findings. None of Team B's conclusions were correct, but they did have the desired effect: increases in military spending for more than a decade.

It seems Paul Wolfowitz had WMD on the brain early in his career as a professional Casandra. But Bush senior was not the first to corrupt the supposedly objective analysis of data gathered by the American intelligence community. Richard Nixon did it in 1969 when he insisted the CIA revise it's analysis of the Soviet Union's first strike capability. The corruption reached a new level of extreme in Shrub's regime when his director of central intelligence, George Tenant, delivered a "slam dunk" case of WMDs to justify the Iraq invasion. But even the willing cooperation of the director was not enough for the neocons at the Defense Department. They circumvented the CIA by making use of their neofascist connections in Italy, paid collaborators like Ahmed Chalabi, and opportunistic disinformers like "Curveball" to produce unvetted intelligence data that was fed directly to the hungry true believers in Vice Darth's office for use in selling the war on Iraq to America.

Friday, February 08, 2008

'Toontime: Surrender to Insanity

[credit:Morin, The Miami Herald ]

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Obamanon Wins Border Clash

While corporate political pundits are pointing to Senator Clinton's establishment win in California, Senator Obama's narrow victory in Missouri is the more telling result from "Superduper Tuesday." If any state can be viewed as a microcosm of the American electorate, it is Missouri or Missoura depending on which part of the state you call home. Iowa is too homogeniously northern, white and rural to qualify as a representative demographic. New Hampshire's small population is too regional and idiosyncratic. South Carolina is too regional and ethnic. The Missouri win shows that Obama's decisive victories in Iowa and South Carolina were not flukes. He has claimed during the campaign that of the two remaining Democratic candidates, he has the most crossover appeal and Missouri proves he is correct. Missouri is both a southern and northern state, rural and urban, ethnic and anglo, evangelical and established church. Obama has managed to bridge a divide within the Democratic Party that is not just racial but socio-economic as well. His movement is from below, not top down. It will take a movement, not just a campaign, to win enough idenpendent and liberal Republican votes to beat the Republican money machine in the general election.

Obama also offers the most contrast with the Republican front runner, John McCain. These two candidates represent two very divergent views of America. McCain is an old warhorse, a tragic hero of a failed foreign policy. He intends to continue the military-industrial security state and global hegemon we have inherited from ten consecutive administrations, Republican and Democratic, since the end of World War II . His vision for American is a hundred year occupation of Iraq and continued global confrontation with our competitors if we take him at his word. Senator Clinton has often identified herself with her husband's foreign policy which did not differ in significant ways from his predecessors in office. The idea of regime change in Iraq came to fruition in Bill Clinton's administration. The current Regime acted with force on that established policy. For a Senator who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to claim she was surprised by the Charlatan's use of military force after granting him the authority, is completely disingenuous, or indicative of her lack of discernment of the militarists in power, or reflects her true willingness to use American military power in the same way John McCain would: to maintain a world-wide hegemony at the expense of domestic programs. Senator Obama offers the hope of a long awaited change in this disfunctional and costly paradigm. He is talking about national security in terms of social justice and economic prosperity, and an America rebuilt to lead in solving global crises, to be more energy self sufficient, and more caring of our citizens. Obama wants to reorder America's policy priorities because the operative dynamic of world affairs has change drastically since the Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight. Barak Obama has become the historic face of change.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Whales Win Protection

LATEST:Environmentalists and the NRDC won another court victory against the establishment of a permanent imperial presidency. Federal Court Judge Florence-Maria Cooper threw out the waiver granted to the Navy by the Regime to operate its lethal mid range sonar near California's Channel Islands and the coastline, the home of five species of endangered whales. Environmental groups hailed the decision to curb sonar use by the Navy, which scientists say "can damage the brains and ears of marine mammals." In last night's ruling, Judge Cooper called the Navy's so-called national security emergency "a creature of its own making," and reaffirmed that the military can train effectively without needlessly harming whales. Why to go NRDC!
UPDATE: Fifteen years after the Cold War, paranoia still reigns in the Bunker on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Charlatan granted the US Navy a national security waiver from the National Environmental Protection Act and the Coastal Zone Management Act on Tuesday so it could continue to kill marine mammals using lethal mid range sonar near the California coast. Both the NRDC and the California Coastal Commission will fight the exemptions in court. The exemptions based upon a finding that sonar use in coastal waters is "essential" to national security are unprecedented. Contribute to NRDC so we can continue to fight for protection of these beautiful and intelligent creatures.

By the Navy's own estimates, about 400 whales would suffer permanent injury if it was allowed to use mid range sonar off the California coast. A federal judge has come to their rescue however, ruling that the Navy's plan to protect the marine mammals from injury and death was "grossly inadequate". The court also ordered precautionary measures suggested by the NRDC to protect whales who hunt and migrate up and down the California coast. The Navy will not be permitted to use mid range sonar within 12 miles of the coast or in the Catalina Basin, a submerged canyon which is frequented by whales. This part of the ruling must be especially upsetting to the Navy since it believes that enemy submarines will use underwater canyons to lurk, waiting for targets. The Basin is close enough to Los Angeles to be within range of sea launched ballistic missiles. The Navy will also have to keep a lookout for whales and dolphins during sonar exercises. If any marine mammals are spotted within 2200 yards of the emitting ship, the sonar must be shut off. Thank you, NRDC and those many activists whose supported the legal action against the Navy. Not even the military is above the law in this nation, and they must be reminded of that from time to time.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dept. of Deja Vu: The CIA Train

The 1958 coup against the pro-western monarch of Iraq, Nuri Said, by a cabal of Army officers caught the CIA completely by surprise, again. The new regime, led by General Abdel Qasim, quickly unearthed the CIA's network of bribed officials in the monarchy. After a CIA contract agent disappeared without a trace, officers fled the station in Baghdad. Qasim tilted to the Soviets by allowing their political and cultural delegations into Iraq. Red warning flags went up all over the halls of power in Washington. Soviet hegemony in a region so vital to the United States because of it's oil reserves was simply intolerable.

Enter James Critchfield, the CIA's liason officer with former Nazi and Abwher General Reinhard Gehlen in Germany. Critchfield was made Near East division chief and quickly became interested in the Ba'ath Party of Iraq as a means of overthrowing Qasim. Members of the party had tried to assassinate Qasim in a wild gun battle. Critchfield's officers also tried to assassinate Qasim using a poisoned handkerchief, a slightly preposterous idea that was endorsed all the way to the top of the CIA command structure. The CIA was apparently fond of poisoning in unusual ways as a modus operandi. (They tried a poison ice cream cone on Fidel Castro). Nevertheless, the agency finally backed a successful coup five years later in 1963. According to the Ba'ath Party interior minister in the 1960's, Ali Saleh Sa'adi, "we came to power on a CIA train" [1]. Saddam Hussein, a rising party assassin, was on board that train. There is evidence that the agency was heavily involved with the coup plotters. The agency provided money, command and control and even a hit list of Iraqis whose extermination was deemed necessary for the coup's success. Relations between the agency and the Ba'athists were very close even after the overthrow. In return for help against Qasim's forces they provided the CIA with models of MiG fighters and Soviet armor not yet in US hands.

[1] A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, Aburish 2001

Sunday, February 03, 2008

FISA Fight Continues

Update: On Friday the Charlatan issued a 15 day extension of the so-called Protect America Act which allows greatly expanded spying on Americans' telecommunications. The bill to renew FISA is stalled in the Senate because he insists on legal immunity for his corporate supporters for their cooperation with the Regime's extralegal surveillance program. Earlier the Democrats successfully blocked a cloture vote to cut off debate. The Charlatan threatens to veto any further extension of the law while berating opponents for supporting terror. We now resume our regular Britney Spears coverage.

Republicans are screaming bloody terror again over Democratic efforts to make sure wiretapping for foreign intelligence does not invade Americans' right to privacy. Also, the dispute over immunity for telecom companies that cooperated with the Regime's warrantless wiretapping of US persons has prevented the current bill from going forward. Republicans have been unable to agree on several Democratic amendments to the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act bill, approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) all offered amendments to strengthen protections for citizens, but Republicans succeeded in blocking action on those proposals. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has called for a cloture vote just before the Charlatan's last State of the Union speech. Its unclear whether the Democratic Senators Obama and Clinton will leave the campaign trail and return to Washington to support their leader and the American people's right to be free from warrantless eavesdropping. Tell your Senators to support the Constitution and the rule of law by voting against cloture.

Friday, February 01, 2008

'Toontime: Bushed

[credit: Lee Judge, Kansas City Star]