Photos by: joanneleon. August 15, 2013.
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News & Opinion
Does U.S. Have the Evidence and Authority to Hit Assad for Alleged Chemical Attack?
TARIQ ALI: Well, I think the main evidence which has been supplied is from an ally, certainly, but the name of the ally is Israel. Israeli intelligence has supplied the signals intelligence to the United States. It should be made public so we can judge it for ourselves. But virtually no one who knows the region believes that these attacks were carried out by the Syrian government, or on its orders. It’s crazy, if you think about it. ... And given that citizens in the United States and Europe were lied to in the run-up to the Iraq War—simple, straightforward lies—it’s very difficult to take the West seriously when it cries wolf again. So, 'til the evidence is there, it's impossible to take this at face value.
How an Insular Beltway Elite Makes Wars of Choice More Likely
The citizenry wants us to stay out of this conflict. And there is no legislative majority pushing for intervention. A declaration of war against Syria would almost certainly fail in Congress. Yet the consensus in the press is that President Obama faces tremendous pressure to intervene. ...
Where is this pressure coming from? Strangely, that question doesn't even occur to a lot of news organizations. Take this CBS story. The very first sentence says, "The Obama administration faced new pressure Thursday to take action on Syria." New pressure from whom? The story proceeds as if it doesn't matter. How can readers judge how much weight the pressure should carry? Pressure from hundreds of thousands of citizens in the streets confers a certain degree of legitimacy. So does pressure from a just-passed House bill urging a certain course of action, or even unanimous pressure from all of the experts on a given subject.
What I'd like is if news accounts on pressure to intervene in Syria made it clear that the "growing calls ... for forceful action" aren't coming from the people, or Congressional majorities, or an expert consensus. The pressure is being applied by a tiny, insular elite that mostly lives in Washington, D.C., and isn't bothered by the idea of committing America to military action that most Americans oppose. Nor are they bothered by the president launching a war of choice without Congressional approval, even though Obama declared as a candidate that such a step would be illegal. Some of them haven't even thought through the implications of the pressure they're applying. ...
Then there are all the stories about how Obama's credibility depends on him striking Syria. Isn't that something? A president's credibility hinging on him doing something just 9 percent of Americans want him to do! It only makes sense if the unwritten thought is, "His credibility among people who matter." D.C. people, who inflate the importance of rhetoric and looking tough. If Obama doesn't intervene in Syria, his credibility among the American people won't suffer at all.
Why does the American press treat credibility among an insular elite as if it matters most?
Syrians in capital hoard food, seek shelter as strike loomsRuh-roh!
DAMASCUS, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Syrians in the capital Damascus are racing against time to prepare for a foreign strike, with many hoarding supplies and others scrambling to find accommodation further away from potential military targets.
In a city where dozens of military sites are mixed in among the civilian population, many worry Damascus could become an especially dangerous place should a Western-led strike come in response to the apparent use of chemical weapons last week that killed hundreds in the suburbs.
At grocery stores, shoppers loaded up on bread, dried goods and canned foods, fearing they may face shortages if a strike hits the city. The items most in demand were batteries and water.
Nearby, a nurse idled in a clinic - empty as nearly no one showed up for their appointments on Wednesday - and raised the question on the mind of so many locals.
"We live in the capital. Every turn, every street, every neighbourhood has some government target. Where do we hide?"
Russian Pacific Fleet Warships Enter Mediterranean
VLADIVOSTOK, May 16 (RIA Novosti) - A group of warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet entered the Mediterranean waters for the first time in decades, a fleet spokesman said on Thursday
“The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Channel and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships enter this region,” Capt. First Rank Roman Martov said.
The vessels are now en route to Cyprus and are scheduled to make a port call in Limassol.
The group, including the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, the amphibious warfare ships Peresvet and Admiral Nevelskoi, the tanker Pechenga and the salvage/rescue tug Fotiy Krylov left the port of Vladivostok on March 19 to join Russia’s Mediterranean task force. ...
The task force may be enlarged to include nuclear submarines, Navy Commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov said last Sunday.
AP Sources: Intelligence on Weapons No 'Slam Dunk'Fisk:
The intelligence linking Syrian President Bashar Assad or his inner circle to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed at least 100 people is no "slam dunk," with questions remaining about who actually controls some of Syria's chemical weapons stores and doubts about whether Assad himself ordered the strike, U.S. intelligence officials say.
President Barack Obama declared unequivocally Wednesday that the Syrian government was responsible, while laying the groundwork for an expected U.S. military strike.
"We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out," Obama said in an interview with "NewsHour" on PBS. "And if that's so, then there need to be international consequences."
However, multiple U.S. officials used the phrase "not a slam dunk" to describe the intelligence picture — a reference to then-CIA Director George Tenet's insistence in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk" — intelligence that turned out to be wrong.
Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?
If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida.
Quite an alliance! Was it not the Three Musketeers who shouted “All for one and one for all” each time they sought combat? This really should be the new battle cry if – or when – the statesmen of the Western world go to war against Bashar al-Assad.
The men who destroyed so many thousands on 9/11 will then be fighting alongside the very nation whose innocents they so cruelly murdered almost exactly 12 years ago. Quite an achievement for Obama, Cameron, Hollande and the rest of the miniature warlords.
This, of course, will not be trumpeted by the Pentagon or the White House – nor, I suppose, by al-Qa’ida – though they are both trying to destroy Bashar. So are the Nusra front, one of al-Qa’ida’s affiliates. But it does raise some interesting possibilities.
Maybe the Americans should ask al-Qa’ida for intelligence help – after all, this is the group with “boots on the ground”, something the Americans have no interest in doing. And maybe al-Qa’ida could offer some target information facilities to the country which usually claims that the supporters of al-Qa’ida, rather than the Syrians, are the most wanted men in the world.
You, Too, Can and Should Be an "Intelligence Analyst"Hat tip to suejazz. New Snowden revelations in the Washington Post:
You, Too, Can and Should Be an "Intelligence Analyst"
"Intelligence is completely irrelevant to major policy decisions. Such decisions are matters of judgment, and knowledgeable, ordinary citizens are just as capable of making these determinations as political leaders allegedly in possession of "secret information." Such "secret information" is almost always wrong -- and major decisions, including those pertaining to war and peace, are made entirely apart from such information in any case.
The second you start arguing about intelligence, you've given the game away once again. This is a game the government and the proponents of war will always win. By now, we all surely know that if they want the intelligence to show that Country X is a "grave" and "growing" threat, they will find it or manufacture it. So once you're debating what the intelligence shows or fails to show, the debate is over. The war will inevitably begin.
To repeat: the decision to go to war is one of policy, and the intelligence -- whatever it is alleged to show -- is irrelevant. Don't argue in terms of intelligence at all. If you do, you'll lose. The administration knows that; many of its opponents still haven't figured it out, even now."
U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary
U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government’s top secret budget.
The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny. Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses those funds or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.
Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:
•Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the behemoth of the community.
•The CIA and NSA have launched aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as “offensive cyber operations.”
•The NSA planned to investigate at least 4,000 possible insider threats in 2013, cases in which the agency suspected sensitive information may have been compromised by one of its own. The budget documents show that the U.S. intelligence community has sought to strengthen its ability to detect what it calls “anomalous behavior” by personnel with access to highly classified material.
•U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in foes as well as friends. Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.”
•In words, deeds and dollars, intelligence agencies remain fixed on terrorism as the gravest threat to national security, which is listed first among five “mission objectives.” Counterterrorism programs employ one in four members of the intelligence workforce and account for one-third of all spending.
•The governments of Iran, China and Russia are difficult to penetrate, but North Korea’s may be the most opaque. There are five “critical” gaps in U.S. intelligence about Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, and analysts know virtually nothing about the intentions of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Check out Wapo's nifty graphical organizer of the black budget.
Snowden impersonated NSA officials, sources say
Edward Snowden accessed some secret national security documents by assuming the electronic identities of top NSA officials, said intelligence sources.
“Every day, they are learning how brilliant [Snowden] was,” said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the case. “This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people. Brilliant people get you in trouble.”
Snowden was a Honolulu-based employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor. His job gave him system administrator privileges on the NSA’s intranet, NSAnet. He reportedly used his privileges to download 20,000 documents.
The NSA still doesn’t know exactly what Snowden took. But its forensic investigation has included trying to figure out which higher level officials Snowden impersonated online to access the most sensitive documents.
What NSA Transparency Looks Like
Last week, the Washington Post published an internal audit finding the NSA had violated privacy rules thousands of times in recent years.
In response, the spy agency held a rare conference call for the press maintaining that the violations are “not willful” and “not malicious.”
It’s difficult to fully evaluate the NSA’s track record, since the agency has been so tight-lipped on the topic.
What information about rule violations has the agency itself released? Take a look.
French prosecutor investigates U.S. Prism spying scheme
The Paris prosecutor's office said on Wednesday it had launched a preliminary investigation into the U.S. National Security Agency's Prism surveillance program after French rights groups complained it was snooping on citizens' emails and phone calls.
The probe, which was opened in mid-July, followed a legal complaint earlier that month by two human rights groups denouncing U.S. spying methods revealed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
The groups filed their complaint against "persons unknown" but named Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Paltalk, Facebook, AOL and Apple as "potential accomplices" of the NSA and FBI.
The original complaint was filed by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the French Human Rights League (LDH).
NYPD secretly labels mosques as terror groups and spies on them
The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen "terrorism enterprise investigations" into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.
Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.
The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.
U.S. sends two Algerian prisoners home from Guantánamo
The Pentagon announced Thursday that it repatriated two long-held Algerians from the prison camps at Guantánamo -- the first detainee transfer from the U.S. Navy base in nearly a year.
The men, Nabil Hadjarab, 34, and Motai Sayab, 37, were held as Detainees 238 and 288, and among the first prisoners brought to Cuba soon after the Bush administration set up the detention center in 2002. An Obama administration official called the transfer, conducted in secret on Wednesday, a sign of the White House’s commitment to close the camps.
It was not immediately known if the men were released in their homeland on return. An Algerian Press Service report said their cases would be handled by “competent courts” using “legal procedures” established for earlier transfers the government of Algeria negotiated with the United States.
The release was also the first since President Barack Obama pledged in a May 23 national-security speech to redouble his efforts to close the detention center in southeast Cuba that as of Thursday held 164 detainees, three of them convicted of war crimes and six others awaiting death-penalty trials.
The rest remain in a variety of statuses, include at least 84 cleared for transfer in one fashion or another, like the Algerians who were just sent home.
Hold Onto Your Wallet — “Fiscal Cliff 2.0″ is Coming Soon
With news that the federal government will hit the “debt ceiling” in mid-October rather than in December, as had been previously predicted, we’re headed toward another contrived “fiscal cliff” crisis. Hold onto your wallet.
Barack Obama has made it clear that he won’t negotiate with congressional Republicans over the debt limit. But because it will now be reached just a couple of weeks after the deadline for a budget resolution at the end of September, that’s only going to be technically correct. As Kevin Drum put it, “everyone’s going to get mighty hazy mighty fast about what exactly is being negotiated.” This is precisely what happened last winter leading up to January’s fiscal cliff deal (which resulted in a tax hike on working people and enough economy-slowing “austerity” to cut growth forecasts significantly).
House Majority Leader John Boehner, (R-OH), promises a “whale of a fight” over the debt limit, now to be wrapped up in the budget fight. While the Republican establishment appears to have backed away from activists’ surreal demand that Democrats kill off Obamacare in order to raise the debt limit, they will ask for other concessions. And Obama has consistently said that he’d entertain some “Grand Bargain,” which might include cuts to Social Security benefits. At the very least, Boehner is going to demand another round of deep spending cuts at a time when those resulting from previous budget battles are already holding back the economy. Economist Dean Baker notes that “government spending as a share of GDP is lower in 2013 than it was in every year of the Reagan presidency except 1988,” and estimates that the sequester and other “austerity” measures enacted in the past 3 years have translated into five million fewer American jobs.
Largest fast food strike ever today: 58 cities will be affected
Fast food workers today plan to mount one-day walkouts against nearly a thousand stores in over fifty cities — the largest-ever mobilization against their growing, low-wage, non-union industry, which until last fall had never faced a substantial U.S. strike. The work stoppage comes four weeks after a four-day, seven-city strike wave in which organizers say thousands walked off the job.
Today, the strikes – which started with a single-city November work stoppage in New York — are expected to hit several cities. In each city – from Los Angeles to Peoria – workers are demanding a raise to $15 an hour, and the chance to form a union without intimidation by their boss. ,,,
As Salon has reported, the key player behind the campaign is the Service Employees International Union, which has partnered with local faith, labor and community groups in an effort to transform an industry whose conditions increasingly characterize U.S. work. Like a growing number of U.S. workers, fast food employees make poverty wages, face erratic schedules and unstable employment and are paid to perform a friendly personality (“emotional labor”) while working at a pace some blame for on-the-job burns.
Like their counterparts cleaning corporate offices or hauling goods in Walmart warehouses, they face a “Who’s the Boss” problem that renders New Deal labor law less and less relevant: The companies that legally employ them (individual fast food restaurant franchisees, who may own a handful of stores) aren’t the ones with the greatest sway over their working conditions. That would be giant corporations like McDonald’s, which brought in $5.5 billion in profit in 2011, and takes about a seventh of franchised stores’ revenue in rent and fees.
Tar Sands Drones are on Their Way
North American energy companies are planning to use drones to monitor their pipelines — in part to check for potential gas or oil leaks, but also to limit “third-party intrusions,” a broad range of activity that includes anything from unwanted vehicles entering restricted areas around pipelines to environmental activists. ...
Today, companies often rely on piloted aircraft for pipeline monitoring. That involves surveillance of the pipeline’s “right of way,” a strip of land surrounding the pipeline whose rights are typically shared by pipeline operators and landowners. In the right of way, which can range from about 25 to 125 feet, companies check for unauthorized vehicles, people and anything else that’s not supposed to be there. Meanwhile, companies engage in additional environmental monitoring to check for potential threats to the integrity of the pipeline, such as leakage. ...
Catherine Crump, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, says that “narrowly-targeted” pipeline monitoring isn’t necessarily problematic in itself, but warns about its potential for abuse. “I think drones raise the prospect that Americans will be subjected to constant aerial surveillance in ways they’ve never experienced before and that poses the possibility of changing our ability to engage in political protest,” Crump says. ...
In the eyes of the energy industry, anything entering the pipeline’s right of way is ultimately considered a security threat. The logic behind drone surveillance is focused on making it easier for companies to detect those threats — an ambiguous concept that can refer to animals, vehicles, non-violent protesters, violent protesters or unauthorized developers. ...
Drones could also infringe on the privacy of residents who sign agreements with energy companies to allow pipelines to cross their property.
“I would suggest that folks did not sign up for video surveillance when they signed easement contracts,” says Ron Seifert, spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group trying to prevent construction of the Keystone XL’s southern segment in Texas and Oklahoma. “Of course, keep in mind that a lot of these easements go right through landowners’ front yards and backyards. Does that mean that every time they go outside they have to worry that TransCanada, a multinational corporation who is known to share information with the federal government, might be filming them? Does that mean in signing a contract with TransCanada folks are subjected to surveillance and sharing information with the government?”
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