Category Archives: Security

Postwar consensus about U.S. role under fire from all directions

He believed in it, and so do I.

He believed in it, and so do I.

On a previous thread, we were having yet another discussion of “American exceptionalism.” Never mind where it started. At some point I said this and Doug said this and I said this and then Phillip weighed in.

And I answered Phillip at sufficient length that I thought it should be a separate post, so here goes:

Seeing as it’s Phillip and I have the greatest respect for him, I’m not going to send my seconds to confer with his seconds over his having called me a liar. Which is the only way I know to take “a feat of semantic gymnastics designed to make yourself feel more virtuous about your viewpoint.”

I’ll just say: Actually, no. There are no gymnastics involved when you’re saying exactly what you mean, and I’m saying exactly what I mean. As I suggested, there are people who DO think that way — the “superiority over” way. As I also said, people who dislike the phrase “American exceptionalism” — generally post-Vietnam liberals (as opposed to pre-Vietnam liberals, who saw things as I do) — like to paint the rest of us with that same brush, as a way of dismissing our views. As though we were a bunch of Steve Bannons or something.

But that’s not the main point I wish to argue. The larger point is that this assertion is completely wrong: “‘Responsibility’ in this case is self-assigned, that is, the United States arrogates for itself this ‘responsibility’ globally.”

Not at all. Through various security and other diplomatic arrangements, other liberal democracies have looked to the United States for leadership and support in many ways since 1945. This is most obvious through NATO, but through other arrangements as well.

Again, I refer y’all to the start of that Foreign Affairs piece:

In the 1940s, after two world wars and a depression, Western policymakers decided enough was enough. Unless international politics changed in some fundamental way, humanity itself might not survive much longer.

A strain of liberal idealism had been integral to U.S. identity from the American founding onward, but now power could be put behind principle. Woodrow Wilson had fought “to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Keeping his goals while noting his failures, the next generation tried again with a revised strategy, and this time they succeeded. The result became known as the postwar liberal international order.

The founders of the order embraced cooperation with like-minded powers, rejecting isolationism and casting themselves as player-managers of an ever-expanding team. They bailed out the United Kingdom, liberated France, rehabilitated Germany and Japan, bound themselves to Canada and Mexico, and more. And for seven decades, the allies were fruitful, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty.

Then arose up a new king who knew not Joseph….

And we know who that king is.

But it’s not just about him. If you go back to that thread where this discussion initiated, you’ll see that Doug enthusiastically applauded the comment from Phillip with which I argued. You may not think of those guys as being two peas in a pod, politically. And you certainly wouldn’t identify Phillip with Trump. Well, that brings me to my next point.

A startling array of people coming from many places on the political spectrum simply don’t believe in the postwar consensus that formed under FDR and Truman.

For a generation, that consensus stayed strong and almost unchallenged, with Democrats and Republicans differing mainly over how best to fulfill that role. Then things started breaking up over Vietnam, but the basic assumption that this country had obligations in the world continued, with variations in emphasis, through the Obama administration.

Now, it’s really under siege.

I mentioned Steve Bannon earlier. He, of course, doesn’t believe in our international obligations in part because he believes the U.S. is inherently superior. He’s sort of like those Chinese emperors who, with China positioned at least as well as Portugal and Spain to become a global trading and naval power, suddenly closed their country off to the world, under the theory that China was the center of the universe and superior to all other nations, so why have dealings with them?

Then there are the post-Vietnam liberals to whom I referred, and I hope Phillip doesn’t mind if I put him roughly in that category — I stand ready to be corrected if I’m being presumptuous. I hate to be labeled, so I hesitate to do it to my friends.

Then there are the libertarians like Doug and the Pauls, Ron and Rand. They hate the idea of the United States having a military for anything much beyond patrolling the border with Mexico. (No, wait — that last part took me back to Bannon.)

Then there are the socialists, the Bernie Sanders types, who in opposition to the libertarians WANT a big state, but they only want it to exist to shower blessings on the populace domestically. They get impatient at the very idea of talking foreign affairs. This is in some ways like the post-Vietnam liberals, only much more so.

Then there are the ideological extremists who have taken over the Republican Party, sharing some characteristics with the Bannon types and some with the libertarians. They can’t see over the edges of the narrow boxes they build around themselves, much less see beyond our borders.

The all have their motivations. One group just wants the U.S. to strut, out of the world’s reach. Another wants America to be humble. Another wants it to be small. Another wants it to be inward-looking, solipsistic. Another can’t see anything past the next GOP primary.

There’s no room in any of their views for a United States that would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Anyway, that thing that JFK said there? That’s American exceptionalism.

Apple stiffs America, kowtows to the Chinese

apple_logo_png_06

Remember how Apple told the U.S. government to take a hike when it made a perfectly legitimate request for help in a terrorism investigation?

By contrast, here’s how the company reacts when China asks it to help oppress the Chinese people:

BEIJING — Apple has removed the New York Times app from its digital store in China, acting on what it says were orders from the Chinese government.

The New York Times, which offers content in both English and Chinese, is one of a growing number of foreign news organizations whose content is blocked in China, although some people here use special software to bypass the censorship system.

The Times said the app was removed from Apple stores on Dec. 23, apparently under regulations issued in June preventing mobile apps from engaging in activities that endanger national security or disrupt social order.

That occurred as New York Times reporter David Barboza was in the final stages of reporting a story about billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies the Chinese government provides to the world’s largest iPhone factory, run by Apple’s partner Foxconn. That story went online on Dec. 29….

Krauthammer’s onto something re Comey’s motivation

comey testify

 

Charles Krauthammer says he thinks he understands why FBI Director Comey recommended that Hillary Clinton not be prosecuted, despite findings of illegality — and it doesn’t fit the usual GOP conspiracy theories.

In fact, it’s remarkably like what I said earlier in the week. Says Krauthammer:

The usual answer is that the Clintons are treated by a different standard. Only little people pay. They are too well-connected, too well-protected to be treated like everybody else.

Alternatively, the explanation lies with Comey: He gave in to implicit political pressure, the desire to please those in power.

Certainly plausible, but given Comey’s reputation for probity and given that he holds a 10-year appointment, I’d suggest a third line of reasoning.

When Chief Justice John Roberts used a tortured, logic-defying argument to uphold Obamacare, he was subjected to similar accusations of bad faith. My view was that, as guardian of the Supreme Court’s public standing, he thought the issue too momentous — and the implications for the country too large — to hinge on a decision of the court. Especially afterBush v. Gore, Roberts wanted to keep the court from overturning the political branches on so monumental a piece of social legislation.

I would suggest that Comey’s thinking, whether conscious or not, was similar: He did not want the FBI director to end up as the arbiter of the 2016 presidential election. If Clinton were not a presumptive presidential nominee but simply a retired secretary of state, he might well have made a different recommendation…

I think there’s something to that. This was a judgment call, and all sorts of factors go into judgments.

As I said before, there’s a point at which it is simply not in the national interest to reach back in time and use criminal statutes to punish those with whom one disagrees. Example: There are lots of folks who’ve always hated Tony Blair because of Iraq who now want to seem him prosecuted for it, just as there were Democrats who wanted to go back and prosecute people in the Bush administration once Obama took office (a proposition that Obama wisely dismissed).

Yep, I believe firmly in the rule of law, in the importance of having a country that is no respecter of persons. But in some cases, respect for the overall good of the country overrides consideration of the legal fate of an individual.

Comey had a judgment call to make, and he chose the less harmful option.

And if you don’t like it, remember that it was just a recommendation. It did not legally bind anyone. What he said was one man’s opinion (and also the unanimous opinion of those taking part in the FBI investigation — the opinions of professionals, not partisans). And I find his opinion defensible, even laudable.

I’m sorry, but this photo does not inspire confidence

25986848835_b1c501ec4d_o

The White House was probably trying to assure us that, even though he’s very busy doing photo ops in Cuba, he’s really staying on top of the Brussels situation.

So we have this official photo showing POTUS in a (presumably, going by the riveted door and sound-absorbing panels) secure room at the residence of the U.S. chief of mission, with this cutline:

President Barack Obama and National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice talk on the phone with Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco to receive an update on a terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium. The President made the call from the residence of the U.S. Chief of Mission in Havana, Cuba, March 22, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But ya know, I’m not much assured. Not because the president’s looking all tense and worried, but because of the person sitting at his right hand.

I still get a little chill down my spine whenever I’m reminded that Susan Rice is the president’s national security advisor. That’s because I learned way more than I wanted to know about her back when she was floated as possible secretary of state. And almost everything I learned worried me.

Not just because her misspeaking got the ball rolling on the GOP’s Benghazi fixation, but because incident after incident in her history showed a lack of judgment and reliability — in Rwanda, and other places. Such as Sierra Leone.

Ours is a vast and resource-rich nation. We have loads and loads of really smart people, in academia, in government, at think tanks, in multinational corporations — people with great track records in dealing with a complicated world. Is Susan Rice, who has so many questionable items in her record, from the deadly serious to the trivial, really the best person in the nation to be at the president’s right hand in a crisis?

That seems doubtful to me…

Barring Syrian immigrants: Prudent or ‘shameful?’

SyrianRefugeesWolvesColorAriiailW

Over the last day or so, we’ve seen a huge rush by Republican politicians — from presidential candidates to state legislators to governors, including our own — to bar Syrian refugees from our shores.

President Obama has termed the proposal to let in only Christian Syrian refugees “shameful.” My initial reaction yesterday was to say he was right. For me, it was the religious test more than anything else. Nothing speaks more directly to what this country is about than to respect freedom of belief and expression. Y’all know how I oppose “hate crime” laws, because I believe it’s unAmerican to punish beliefs or attitudes? It’s related to that. Punish actions, not beliefs. Bar terrorists, not Muslims.

But overall, is it “shameful” to say, hey, wait a minute on letting Syrian refugees into the country, after at least one of the Paris attackers got into Europe that way? Not necessarily. There’s an element of pragmatic self-preservation in it.

Do I think nativism and xenophobia are mixed up in it? Yes. Do I think there’s an element of We’ve got ours, so pull up the ladder behind us? (The “ours” being an element of security that Europe lacks.) Yes.

But I don’t think it’s inherently evil to take care in such a situation. Just because some unpleasant impulses are mixed up in the situation doesn’t mean it’s wrong to have second thoughts.

Most of us today condemn the practice of interning Japanese Americans during World War II. We associate it with the racism that was so common in America at the time, and yep, that was mixed up with it. But it wasn’t irrational to have a security concern about people on our shores who may have had some sense of loyalty to Japan. It was an overreaction, knowingly locking up thousands of loyal Americans in order to contain a supposed spy or two. It was going after squirrels with an elephant gun. It was an injustice — it was thousands of injustices. It was unfair. Ultimately, it was wrong.

But it wasn’t irrational. We know, for instance, of the Niihau Incident, in which a nisei couple aided a downed Japanese pilot from the Pearl Harbor attack. Humans are complicated; their loyalties not always easy to predict.

Does that excuse the internment? No, because loyal Americans were treated unjustly. It was wrong. But I don’t join with those who seem to believe it was all about racism. Were there plenty of Americans who wanted to see the Yellow Peril locked up? Sure. But that’s not all it was.

Bottom line, it’s wrong to slam the door on Syrian refugees. But while I know nativism and intolerance play a role in many people’s eagerness to do so, that’s not all that’s going on.

It’s complicated.

It’s very easy to do what partisans do: To notice that it’s Republicans calling to bar the refugees, and Democrats calling it “shameful,” and use it as another excuse to split us into two reconcilable camps — the good people over here, and the bad people over there.

In this post, I’m deliberately resisting that, doing my best to see the merits of each position. Although in the end, I’m for carefully letting refugees in, with our eyes wide open. Which appears to be what we’ve been doing.

Does ANYONE have informed thoughts on the deal with Iran?

The issue is, do you trust the judgment of these people? "President Barack Obama talks with national security staff in the Oval Office after being notified of the nuclear agreement with Iran. From left, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Jeffrey Prescott, NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, July 13, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)"

The issue is, do you trust the judgment of these people? “President Barack Obama talks with national security staff in the Oval Office after being notified of the nuclear agreement with Iran. From left, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Jeffrey Prescott, NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States; National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice; Avril Haines, Deputy National Security Advisor for Counterterrorism and Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, July 13, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)”

This is rightly the dominant news story of the day, but it’s one that I hesitate to comment on:

A historic agreement Tuesday to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief will ensure Iran has no possibility to achieve rapid nuclear weapons “breakout” capabilities for at least the next decade, U.S. leaders said.

“We have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region,” said President Obama as he listed some of the pillars of the deal including international inspections, reductions in Iran’s centrifuges used to make nuclear fuel and a sharp cut in Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material.

“We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic solution, and that is what we have done. . . . This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it,” said Obama, noting a potentially tough review ahead in Congress.

I hesitate because I don’t know enough to be able to judge the agreement.

Will it really limit, hinder or at least delay a nuclear Iran? How can I tell? Even if I had carefully studied the agreement, which I haven’t, I would not have the expertise to know whether the agreement will succeed on those critical points.

And neither does anyone else. The outcries from various Republicans criticizing the agreement are based on a simple variable — their lack of trust of the Obama administration.

If I’m going to listen to any objections, it would be the ones coming from Israel and Saudi Arabia — they at least have a life-and-death motivation to know what they are talking about.

It gets down to whom do you trust? And while I see the administration’s motives as pure, I worry that Iran always had an advantage in the negotiations, arising from the fact that POTUS really, really wanted an agreement.

As I say, that worries me. But do I know enough to judge this agreement? No, I do not. And that’s unsettling, because the question of whether Iran is more or less likely to develop and deploy nuclear weapons is one of the most important issues on this planet.

It’s disturbing, and embarrassing, that I have better-informed opinions on the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” than I do about this.

Here’s Where I am on the Hillary Clinton E-mail Thing

Where is this Clinton e-mail story going to end? I mean, the idea of running a server out of your house for privacy strikes me as paranoid. It’s not like the office of the Secretary of State didn’t have e-mail capability. In fact, having a government e-mail would seem like one of the perks of the job.

Here’s where I am on this: Under no circumstances should the Secretary of State be setting up a remote, private server for conducting official business. I don’t care if it has absolutely unassailable cybersecurity. Can we all agree on this, or am I off-base?

Aside from the technical aspects and the legalities, which we could argue over forever, is that ever since this revelation on March 2, 2015, we haven’t heard from Mrs. Clinton. Is she ever going to talk about this, or is she just going to ignore it? If this is how she handles controversies and crises, I’m not impressed. Everyone keeps talking about how strong a candidate Hillary is (or will be). I’m starting to question that. Seems like a good candidate would get out there and address this.

In related news, Lindsey Graham said he’s “never sent an e-mail“. Between Hillary running her own super-secret e-mail server and Sen. Graham never sending an e-mail, this is ridiculous. Can we just get some normal people up in Washington?

I’m glad Obama picked Clancy to head Secret Service

It may seem counterintuitive to many, but I’m glad the president made this decision, and not just because the guy’s name is Clancy (I mean, could you find a better name for a top cop?):

President Obama has named his acting director and trusted former detail leader Joseph Clancy as the new permanent leader of the Secret Service, the White House said Wednesday.

Clancy, 59, has led the agency for the past four months since being asked by the president to replace Julia Pierson, who resigned Oct. 1 amid a series of major security lapses. He had emerged as the likely choice for the full-time role last week, when the administration officials informed candidates that the president had made a selection.

Among the challenges for Clancy will be to determine how to secure the perimeter of the White House complex, in the wake of an intruder bursting past several layers of security last fall and a small drone aircraft landing on the lawn last month. The new director also will be charged with overseeing the massive security operation of protecting the candidates in the 2016 presidential race, through the primaries and the general election…

His selection goes against the advice of an independent panel, appointed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson to examine the security failures, that recommended the agency name an outsider to the top job for the first time in the 150-year history of the Secret Service.

But Obama signaled to associates that his trust in Clancy trumped other concerns…

Why do I prefer Clancy to some outsider? I’ll offer four reasons:

  1. I think an insider who fully understands the challenges the service faces and is committed to overcoming them — assuming he is personally up to the job — is more likely to have the full, unhesitating cooperation of the rank and file in getting the job done. This is a demoralized agency, and being led by one of their own is better for morale than having some Pro from Dover come in and assume he knows it all.
  2. The president’s had experience with this particular guy, observing him in the job, and therefore he’s a known quantity — beyond the fact that the president is used to putting the lives of his family in his hands. POTUS is the boss, and it needs to be someone who has his confidence and full backing.
  3. I’ve just got a prejudice for hiring from within, of giving good people a chance to advance where they are. I’ve been the Pro from Dover myself a couple of times, and while I was qualified and had confidence in my own abilities, I fully understood the resistance I got from people who knew the place far better than I did and resented me as an outsider. Also, I’ve got this thing about trusting people to do their jobs unless they, personally, have demonstrated they’re not up to it. (The agency may have been falling down on the job, but I’ve heard of no indication that Clancy has.) For instance, I’ve got a thing against special prosecutors, who tend to be appointed for political reasons to do jobs that regular cops and prosecutors should be able to do if we just trust their professionalism — which we shouldn’t do if they’ve shown themselves unsuited, but if they haven’t, it’s wrong not to trust them.
  4. Finally, who you gonna trust — a guy named “Clancy,” or one named “Jeh?”

OK; I was kidding with that last one.

Turning our backs on the world

The problem is not that Barack Obama didn’t go participate in a feel-good march in Paris.

The problem is that when he pauses to talk about what he considers to be important, the rest of the world hardly gets a mention.

Dana Milbank went into this at some length in his column yesterday, headlined, “On terrorism, the State of the Union is strangely quiet.” An excerpt:

Not since before the 2001 terrorist attacks has there been such a disconnect between the nation’s focus and the condition of the world. As threats multiply in the Middle East and Europe, President Obama delivered on Tuesday night an annual message to Congress that was determinedly domestic. And his inward-looking gaze is shared by lawmakers and the public.

Thousands of foreign fighters have joined with Muslim extremists in Syria and Iraq, and their fanatical cause has inspired sympathizers across the globe: 17 killed by terrorists in Paris; terrorism raids and a shootout in Belgium; a hunt for sleeper cells across Europe; a gunman attacking the Canadian Parliament; an Ohio man arrested after buying guns and ammunition, allegedly with plans to attack the Capitol. Even Australia has raised its terrorist threat level.

And yet, when it comes to countering the terror threat in America, the State of the Union is nonchalant. “We are 15 years into this new century, 15 years that dawned with terror touching our shores,” Obama said at the start of his speech. “It has been, and still is, a hard time for many. But tonight, we turn the page.”

Obama, full of swagger, turned the page — several pages — from the start of his address, when he assured Americans that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” before arriving at his discussion of national security.

He went 32 minutes, more than halfway through his speech, before mentioning the “challenges beyond our shores.” He said that “we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.” But he dwelled on the topic only long enough to say he’d “continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks” and “keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”…

Essentially, the president paused in his lengthy examination of domestic policy to say, “And oh, yeah, the rest of the world, yadda-yadda…”

Of course, we’ve been hearing plenty of criticism along those lines from some of the president’s rivals, but the truth is the the GOP on the whole (with the exceptions of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and a few others) is offering no alternative vision for how we should conduct the affairs that are the primary reason for having a federal government. As Milbank noted, “The response to Obama’s address, delivered by new Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), gave terrorism no more prominence than Obama did. Indeed, the new Republican Congress has been just as domestic in its emphasis.”

Daniel Henninger wrote in The Wall Street Journal this morning about how jarring it was to see “American Sniper” Tuesday night, then return home to watch the president’s lack of concern about the world on display:

Opinions will differ, often bitterly, on the war in Iraq and the reasons for it. In the movie, a painful funeral scene captures that ambivalence. But what is just not possible to choke down is President Obama’s decision in 2011 to reduce the U.S.’s residual military presence to virtually zero. It was a decision to waste what the Marines and Army had done.

Announcing the decision at the White House on Oct. 21, Mr. Obama said, “After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and removeall of our troops by the end of 2011.” (Emphasis added.)

Military analysts at the time, in government and on the outside, warned Mr. Obama that a zero U.S. presence could put the war’s gains and achievements at risk. He did it anyway and ever since Mr. Obama has repeatedly bragged about this decision in public speeches, notably to the graduating cadets of West Point last May.

In January, months before that West Point speech, the terrorist army of Islamic State, or ISIS, seized back control of both Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. The month after the West Point speech, the city of Mosul and its population of one million fell to Islamic State, and here we are with the barbarians on the loose there, in Yemen, in Nigeria and in France.

Watching “American Sniper,” it is impossible to separate these catastrophes from seeing what the Marines did and endured to secure northern Iraq. Again, anyone is entitled to hate the Iraq war. But no serious person would want a president to make a decision that would allow so much personal sacrifice to simply evaporate. Which, in his serene self-confidence, is what Barack Obama did. That absolute drawdown was a decision of fantastic foolishness….

But we expect that from Henninger and the WSJ, right?

So let’s consider what the editorial board of The Washington Post had to say last week in an editorial headlined, “The U.S. fight against jihadism has lost its momentum:”

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S neglect of the anti-terrorism march in Paris seemed reflective of a broader loss of momentum by his administration in combating Islamic jihadism. Five months after the president launched military operations against the Islamic State, fighting in Iraq and Syria appears stalemated. The training of Iraqi army units for a hoped-for counteroffensive is proceeding slowly and, according to a report by The Post’s Loveday Morris, looks under-resourced. Weapons and ammunition are in such short supply that trainees are yelling “bang, bang” in place of shooting.

Iraq, moreover, is the theater where U.S. engagement is most aggressive; elsewhere, the Obama administration appears to be passively standing by as jihadists expand their territory, recruitment and training. In Libya, the job of stemming an incipient civil war has been left to a feckless U.N. mediator, even though the Islamic State is known to be operating at least one training camp with hundreds of recruits. In Nigeria, where a new offensive by the Boko Haram movement has overrun much of one northeastern state, a U.S. military training program was recently canceled by the government following a dispute over arms sales.

The bankruptcy of U.S. policy toward the Syrian civil war was underlined again on Wednesday, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry expressed hope for a patently cynical and one-sided diplomatic initiative by Russia, which has been working to preserve the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It’s been nearly a year since the last U.S. diplomatic effort to end the war collapsed, and the administration continues to offer no strategy for how to stop the regime’s assaults on moderate Syrian forces it is counting on to fight the Islamic State. It has ignored widespread assessments that its program for training Syrian forces is too small and too slow….

This is a bad situation for our country and our allies. And I worry that it won’t get any better as the 2016 presidential campaign gets under way. No wonder Lindsey Graham is thinking of running — it may be the only way most of the world gets talked about.

Tom Friedman’s take on torture report

I liked Tom Friedman’s latest column:

Why do people line up to come to this country? Why do they build boats from milk cartons to sail here? Why do they trust our diplomats and soldiers in ways true of no other country? It’s because we are a beacon of opportunity and freedom, and also because these foreigners know in their bones that we do things differently from other big powers in history.

One of the things we did was elect a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim as our president — after being hit on Sept. 11, 2001, by Muslim extremists. And one of the things we do we did on Tuesday: We published what appears to be an unblinking examination and exposition of how we tortured prisoners and suspected terrorists after 9/11. I’m glad we published it.

It may endanger captured Americans in the future. That is not to be taken lightly. But this act of self-examination is not only what keeps our society as a whole healthy, it’s what keeps us a model that others want to emulate, partner with and immigrate to — which is a different, but vital, source of our security as well….

It’s not a unique point of view. Even The Guardian, in expressing its high dudgeon over “America’s shame and disgrace,” acknowledged in a backhanded way that issuing the report illustrates something special about America, even though they were just using it as a way to beat up on HMG:

In one sense, it is a tribute to the US that it has published such a report. It is certainly a huge contrast to the cosy inadequacy of UK policy, practice and accountability – shortcomings that parliament must address.

But I particularly appreciate Friedman’s approach. His headline was “We’re Always Still Americans,” and it came from this John McCain quote at the end:

… I greatly respect how Senator John McCain put it: “I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. … But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.” Even in the worst of times, “we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”

Whether, of course, we remain Americans, true to our ideals, depends on whether we truly have put this shameful practice behind us.

In the Line of Ire: Secret Service chief quits

A guy climbing the fence and running wild in the White House and some aggressive reporting by The Washington Post have led to the following:

Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, resigned Wednesdayfollowing a series of security lapses by her agency, including a recent incident in which a man with a gun was allowed on an elevator with President Obama.secret service

Obama “concluded new leadership of the agency was needed based on recent and accumulating accounts” of performance problems within her agency, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a news briefing.

Pierson’s departure from her post came just 24 hours after a congressional oversight hearing about a growing number of security breaches. She appeared evasive, gave conflicting accounts of a recent incident involving a man who jumped over the White House and got deep inside the building, and said she learned some things about her agency by reading accounts in the Washington Post.

That growing list of security failures, many first reported in the Washington Post, had put the president and his daughters in potential danger. Some of the details of the lapses, including the service’s fumbled response to a 2011 shooting at the White House, were unknown to Congress and the president before they were reported ….

It usually takes a little longer than this for someone in Washington to fall this hard. But fall she did.

And yeah, I partly posted this just to use the headline…

I’d also like to say that while I don’t subscribe to the school that holds that the ultimate measure of a journalist is the number of public officials’ scalps on his or her belt, the Post has done some fine work ferreting these stories out, and making a compelling case for quick action.

That said, a resignation solves nothing. The work of addressing these problems needs to begin now.

Another year of notices about sex offenders, I guess

Just got this notice from CSID today:

We are excited to inform you that the State of South Carolina has partnered with CSID to offer an additional year of identity theft protection to you for free. Since you’ve already enrolled, your service will automatically renew for another year through October 31, 2015, and no additional action from you is necessary. We hope you are enjoying your identity monitoring service from CSID and are taking advantage of all this service has to offer.

Any of y’all get that?

I don’t know what this means, other than I suppose I’m going to get another year of alerts about sex offenders living in the area. That’s all I’ve ever gotten from this service. You? And frankly, I don’t know what that has to do with ID security.

Here’s an odd thing that I hesitate to mention, but I found it interesting. On the CSID homepage, the focus is on a very attractive young woman of what appears to be Indian extraction. And I couldn’t help wondering if that was supposed to be some sort of subliminal nod to Nikki Haley. Or something…

No, I know it isn’t, but that did pop into my head…

csid

WashPost reveals pattern of White House security failures

Frank Horrigan would REALLY be ticked if he heard these stories...

Frank Horrigan would REALLY be ticked if he heard these stories…

The Washington Post has really been digging into the recent fence-climber incident at the White House, and previous incidents, and what it has been finding doesn’t make the Secret Service look all that great.

Yesterday, the paper revealed that in 2011, four shots were fired at the White House, and it was days before the Secret Service realized it had even happened:

Secret Service officers initially rushed to respond. One, stationed directly under the second-floor terrace where the bullets struck, drew her .357 handgun and prepared to crack open an emergency gun box. Snipers on the roof, standing just 20 feet from where one bullet struck, scanned the South Lawn through their rifle scopes for signs of an attack. With little camera surveillance on the White House perimeter, it was up to the Secret Service officers on duty to figure out what was going on.

Then came an order that surprised some of the officers. “No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down,” a supervisor called over his radio. He said the noise was the backfire from a nearby construction vehicle….

It took the Secret Service four days to realize that shots had hit the White House residence, a discovery that came about only because a housekeeper noticed broken glass and a chunk of cement on the floor….

Then today, the Post reports this disturbing story:

The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident….

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.

Secret Service officials had earlier said he was quickly detained at the main entry. Agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said the office is not commenting due to an ongoing investigation of the incident….

This is not Clint Eastwood’s Secret Service, folks…

 

STILL no victims of Department of Revenue breach

When an alert reader brought this to my attention, I thought that maybe I’d been wrong about no one yet being harmed by the huge SC Department of Revenue security breach. In other words, maybe Vincent Sheheen was in “luck,” in that there was a rich vein of wronged taxpayers out there ready to channel resentment at Nikki Haley:

Calls pour in to ID theft unit

South Carolina’s tax agency hacked in October 2013

By Tim Smith

Staff writer tcsmith@greenvillenews.com 

COLUMBIA — The incidents are an all too familiar and scary part of modern life: a monthly statement shows someone has been fraudulently using your credit card; a store where you’ve never shopped sends you a notice demanding repayment of charges you’ve never made; a laptop be­longing to a government agency with your personal data has been stolen.

Two years after a hacker broke into South Carolina’s tax agency and took data belonging to 3.6 million taxpayers, the in­cidence and threats of identity theft are so pervasive that a four-person state unit reg­ularly handles calls about the subject.

In fact, since October 2013, when the identity theft unit for the state Depart­ment of Consumer Affairs began operat­ing, more than 3,300 people have called to talk about identity theft or some type of scam, some of which are attempts at iden­tity theft, said Juliana Harris, a spokes­woman for the agency. “I definitely know that calls are up,”she said….

But then, I got to this line, way, way down in the story (the 27th graf; not many news stories these days even have 27 paragraphs):

After the Department of Revenue breach, she said she stayed on the phone constantly all day, with every one of her lines lit up. She said she might have talked to 100 people per day following the revenue department hacking.

No one has come forward since the breach saying it has caused their identity to be stolen, she said. 

So. We have yet to see our first victim of the huge hack at DoR. I mean, we’re pretty much all of us “victims” in that our data were stolen. But who has been harmed by that yet?

By the way, you might want to read Cindi Scoppe’s column today on how Sheheen is emphasizing the wrong things in his criticisms of the incumbent — but also how he has little choice, since the right things are so hard to explain…

New Sheheen ad: Another attempt to get us stirred up about hacking scandal

Above is the latest Sheheen TV ad.

Here’s a release that elaborates upon it, contrasting the promptness with which credit card companies tell us when there’s been a breach, versus the two weeks it took Gov. Haley to let anyone know about the huge Department of Revenue breach.

The Sheheen campaign keeps plugging away at this, But I doubt it will catch fire with the public until someone, somewhere has actually been harmed by the hacking, and we hear about it…

Has ANYONE been harmed yet by the SC DoR hacking?

I’ve asked that before, and I am prompted to ask it again after seeing this release from the Sheheen campaign:

Two Years After First Hacking Breach, Sheheen to Haley: “You Broke the People’s Trust”
Sheheen demands honesty & accountability in letter to Governor Haley, calls for answers following continued reports of South Carolinians’ information being in jeopardy
Camden, SC — Today Sen. Vincent Sheheen sent a letter to Governor Haley, exactly two years after a malicious email opened a hole in the Department of Revenue that allowed 3.4 million people’s Social Security Numbers to be stolen.
The text of Sen. Sheheen’s letter is below.
August 13, 2014
Dear Governor Haley,
I write today to demand honesty and accountability for the people of South Carolina.
Two years ago, weak cybersecurity measures at the Department of Revenue allowed a malicious email to open a hole for a hacker to steal our citizen’s most private financial information. The people of our state demanded answers, and received no response,  just a secret report. Less than one year ago, I wrote to you on the October anniversary about the safety and security of the people’s information to ask for answers regarding ongoing activities by Experian, and received no response.
Now, reports of an alarming nature have made headlines recently detailing an additional hacking at the credit-monitoring agency you handpicked to provide services to the people of South Carolina. CNN and TV stations here in South Carolina reported that not only was Experian hacked, but they also have been selling personal information of their members to third parties. So it’s time to demand answers once again.
After the Department of Revenue was hacked under your watch, the people of South Carolina were essentially forced to sign up for credit monitoring with Experian, the company which received a no-bid contract from you to handle credit monitoring. Now they are seemingly at risk once again because they trusted that the government had done its due diligence in securing the contract and negotiating the terms.
Leadership is about honesty and trust. When your Department of Revenue was hacked and you covered it up for 16 days, you broke the people’s trust. When you pushed through a no-bid contract with Experian, with no conditions to safeguard the people’s most personal information further, you broke the people’s trust. Every day you refuse to make public the secret report on what happened rather than being open with your constituents – you break the people’s trust. And as our citizens’ information is at risk yet from another breach, we have to read about it in the news once again before the people of South Carolina hear it from you.
South Carolinians deserve to know whether the contract you negotiated allows Experian to sell their personal information to third parties. They deserve to know if they are at further risk from the subsequent hacking of the company. Most importantly: the people deserve to hear about these events straight from their Governor and they deserve real answers instead of having to rely on passing reports in the news.
Because honest leadership is also about accountability– about putting our people first, and always being on their side. At every step in this hacking crisis, from the initial delay in informing the people to still refusing to release the final report on what happened, your administration has chosen to operate in secret and you have failed the most basic test of leadership. That is unacceptable. The people of South Carolina deserve much better.
This latest development in the Department of a Revenue hacking scandal is just the latest example in the long pattern of secrecy in your administration and it is beyond disappointing. The people of South Carolina deserve a governor they can trust.
I have written to the CEO of Experian asking for a full accounting of who in South Carolina is at risk due to the additional hacking. I have also requested clarification on the terms under which they are allowed to sell our people’s most personal information to share with the public so they are fully aware of where things stand.
I hope that you will not stand in the way of transparency and honesty any further as we continue to restore the broken trust and damage of the Department of Revenue hacking scandal.
Sincerely,
Vincent Sheheen
###

I’m pretty sure that in these two years, I haven’t seen a single report of anyone who has been harmed by the hacking. Which is weird.

Until I do, or rather, until all of us do, Vincent is unlikely to get much traction with voters on this in Anno Domini 2014. I think there was a good bit of general harrumphing when we first learned about it, but time passed, and we heard no horror stories. And, to my knowledge, none of us personally experienced any harm, or even serious inconvenience, as a result of the breach.

So as an issue at this time, it seems rather a dud.

I’m not saying it’s good that we were hacked, and I’m certainly not saying that those in charge did all that they could to prevent it. Obviously, they did not.

But the other shoe never dropped. Or rather, hasn’t yet.

 

SC Democrats, you won’t get my digits THAT easily…

After having gotten way harsh on the SC Democrats’ case (or at least, the SC House Democrats’ case) the other day, I was about to respond in a positive way to this come-on:

Brad-

In the coming elections, we have a chance to make a big change to the future of South Carolina. We must change course, because failed leadership and no accountability isn’t working for the people of South Carolina.

Change is never easy, but with all of you on board to help, I know that we can make a difference at the ballot box.

This is all about you, so we want to hear from you. Click here to let us know which issues are important to you, and share your story.

In just the last year, South Carolina has seen major ethics scandals, botched cover-ups, and failed leaders who are more worried about making headlines than getting their jobs done.

We can’t change this without you. Let us know what your biggest priority is in the coming election and share why it is important to you. Click here and let us know today!

Thank you for being part of our campaign to bring a new era of leadership to Columbia.

Sincerely,
Amanda Loveday
Executive Director, South Carolina Democratic Party

I was all like, I gave them a hard time for their agenda, so since they’re asking me now what their agenda should be, the least I can do is tell them what I think. Who knows; it might do some good…

But then I clicked on the link, and realized they were just after my contact info. That’s what they meant by “share your story.”

I should have known.

Anyway, they already have my email address. They can reach me when they want. Apparently, they won’t be satisfied until they have my credit card numbers. Which ain’t gonna happen…

Report: Now, ricin-laced letter has been mailed to Obama

First, there was the report last night that mail containing ricin had been intercepted on its way to Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker.

Now, there’s this:

 WASHINGTON – A letter addressed to President Obama, containing a suspicious substance, was intercepted at a screening facility outside the White House, the Secret Service said on Wednesday.

The letter was received on Tuesday – similar timing to the letter addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, which tested positive for ricin. The letter had similar markings and is similar in appearance to the one addressed to Mr. Wicker, according to a law enforcement official.

The Secret Service did not disclose what was in the letter or provide any details, saying it was intercepted in a facility that “routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery.”

The mailing facility is not close to the White House grounds, the Secret Service said. An official said the Secret Service is working with the United States Capitol Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This is more than weird. After 9/11, we had the anthrax mailings. Now this, after Boston. Is there something about overt terrorist acts on U.S. soil that stimulates a certain kind of deviant to put poison in the mail?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

This really brings back the memories. Since some media types were among the targets last time around, we went the extra mile at The State to make sure ensure the safety of employees. Some regular travelers like Doug experienced inconvenience at airports. For me, the biggest direct impact of extreme security measures was dealing with the mail in the fall of 2001.

It was decided to move mail sorting out of the main building, into a smaller structure located on the grounds of The State. And senior staff members — the executives in charge of news, editorial, advertising, circulation, etc. — worked shifts supervising the process. So it was that I found myself going over to the other building for an hour or two, a couple of times a week, to personally supervise the shuffling of mail. There was no practical point to senior staff doing this, beyond the point of showing that we would share any one-in-a-million danger involved in the process.

It was as boring as it sounds, and every moment was imbued with a sense of absurdity. But such was the atmosphere in the country at the time.

The interesting thing about these latest developments, for me, was that I learned that Congress and the White House were still processing mail at remote locations. Well, it makes a lot more sense for them to be doing it than for a private business. But I didn’t know it until now.