Standing up and being counted:
Monthly Archives: June 2010
Shannen Coffin at National Review Online:
The documents involved date from the Clinton White House. They show Miss Kagan’s willingness to manipulate medical science to fit the Democratic party’s political agenda on the hot-button issue of abortion. As such, they reflect poorly on both the author and the president who nominated her to the Supreme Court.
There is no better example of this distortion of science than the language the United States Supreme Court cited in striking down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion in 2000. This language purported to come from a “select panel” of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a supposedly nonpartisan physicians’ group. ACOG declared that the partial-birth-abortion procedure “may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.” The Court relied on the ACOG statement as a key example ofmedical opinion supporting the abortion method.
Years later, when President Bush signed a federal partial-birth-abortion ban (something President Clinton had vetoed), the ACOG official policy statement was front and center in the attack on the legislation. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf, one of the three federal judges that issued orders enjoining the federal ban (later overturned by the Supreme Court), devoted more than 15 pages of his lengthy opinion to ACOG’s policy statement and the integrity of the process that led to it.
Like the Supreme Court majority in the prior dispute over the Nebraska ban, Judge Kopf asserted that the ACOG policy statement was entitled to judicial deference because it was the result of an inscrutable collaborative process among expertmedical professionals. “Before and during the task force meeting,” he concluded, “neither ACOG nor the task force members conversed with other individuals or organizations, including congressmen and doctors who provided congressional testimony, concerning the topics addressed” in the ACOG statement.
In other words, what medical science has pronounced, let no court dare question. The problem is that the critical language of the ACOG statement was not drafted by scientists and doctors. Rather, it was inserted into ACOG’s policy statement at the suggestion of then–Clinton White House policy adviser Elena Kagan.
John Hinderaker at Powerline:
Here is the shocking part: the ACOG report, as originally drafted, said almost exactly the opposite. The initial draft said that the ACOG panel “could identify no circumstances under which this procedure . . . would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman.” That language horrified the rabidly pro-abortion Elena Kagan, then a deputy assistant to President Clinton for domestic policy. This is what Kagan wrote in a memo to her superiors in the Clinton White House:
Todd Stern just discovered that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is thinking about issuing a statement (attached) that includes the following sentence: “[A] select panel convened by ACOG could identify no circumstances under which [the partial-birth] procedure … would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman.” This, of course, would be disaster — not the less so (in fact, the more so) because ACOG continues to oppose the legislation. It is unclear whether ACOG will issue the statement; even if it does not, there is obviously a chance that the draft will become public.
So Kagan took matters into her own hands: incredibly, she herself appears to have written the key language that eventually appeared in the ACOG report. Coffin writes:
So Kagan set about solving the problem. Her notes, produced by the White House to the Senate Judiciary Committee, show that she herself drafted the critical language hedging ACOG’s position. On a document [PDF] captioned “Suggested Options” — which she apparently faxed to the legislative director at ACOG — Kagan proposed that ACOG include the following language: “An intact D&X [the medical term for the procedure], however, may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.”
Kagan’s language was copied verbatim by the ACOG executive board into its final statement, where it then became one of the greatest evidentiary hurdles faced by Justice Department lawyers (of whom I was one) in defending the federal ban. (Kagan’s role was never disclosed to the courts.)
This is an image of Kagan’s “suggested options” note; click to enlarge:
The note does appear to be in Kagan’s handwriting; you can see a sample of her writing here.
Unless there is some other interpretation of these documents that does not occur to me, it appears that Elena Kagan participated in a gigantic scientific deception.
Yuval Levin at The Corner:
What’s described in these memos is easily the most serious and flagrant violation of the boundary between scientific expertise and politics I have ever encountered. AWhite House official formulating a substantive policy position for a supposedly impartial physicians’ group, and a position at odds with what that group’s own policy committee had actually concluded? You have to wonder where all the defenders of science—those intrepid guardians of the freedom of inquiry who throughout the Bush years wailed about the supposed politicization of scientific research and expertise—are now. If the BushWhite House (in which I served as a domestic policy staffer) had ever done anything even close to this it would have been declared a monumental scandal, and rightly so.
Apparently scientific integrity only matters as long as it doesn’t somehow infringe on abortion. That, of course, was always the lesson of the stem-cell debate in the Bush years anyhow. But clearly it started earlier. It’s good to know where Kagan’s priorities are. Let’s hope senators are paying attention.
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
This, as Yuval points out, is not only a shocking “violation of the boundary between scientific expertise and politics”; it is also an outright deception that was subsequently used in litigation by partial-birth-abortion defenders. The former deputy attorney general who defended the partial-birth-abortion ban during the Bush administration, Shannen Coffin, brought the story to light. He reminds us: “U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf, one of the three federal judges that issued orders enjoining the federal ban (later overturned by the Supreme Court), devoted more than 15 pages of his lengthy opinion to ACOG’s policy statement and the integrity of the process that led to it.” Had the judge known it was not the work of scientific gurus but that of a Clinton staffer (”nothing more than the political scrawling of a White House appointee”), one can imagine he wouldn’t have spent a sentence, let alone 15 pages, on it.
Some senator should have the wherewithal to take this on and require that Kagan explain herself. Not only is it, if accurate, a disqualifying episode for a Supreme Court justice; it is grounds for a solicitor general to step down. And her failure to advise the courts — which believed they were relying on neutral, expert testimony — constitutes a significant ethical breach.
Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator:
Given the memos Coffin provides in his article, it’s hard to see how Kagan could explain away her significant rewriting of the statement, which directly affected policy relating to partial-birth abortion. But maybe she can. A senator should give her the opportunity during the hearings.
Byron York at The Washington Examiner:
Before the Senate Judiciary Committee a short time ago, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan appeared reluctant to admit that she wrote a 1996 Clinton White House memo aimed at altering a key medical group’s opinion of whether partial birth abortion is medically necessary. The memo, reported yesterday by National Review, has caused a stir in conservative circles because it appeared that Kagan, then a White House policy aide, put words in the medical group’s mouth in order to soften its position on the controversial procedure. But when Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch brought the subject up with Kagan, he had a hard time getting her to admit that she did, in fact, write the document in question.
“Did you write that memo?” Hatch asked.
“Senator, with respect,” Kagan began, “I don’t think that that’s what happened — ”
“Did you write that memo?”
“I’m sorry — the memo which is?”
“The memo that caused them to go back to the language of ‘medically necessary,’ which was the big issue to begin with — ”
“Yes, well, I’ve seen the document — ”
“But did you write it?”
“The document is certainly in my handwriting.”
Although Kagan later explained her thinking in the memo — she said she was only trying to help the medical group express its true opinion — and it was clear that she did write the memo, she looked slippery in her attempt to avoid openly admitting that she did so. That won’t sit well with skeptical senators.
UPDATE #2: Ross Douthat
In a stunning display of self-unawareness, The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg pointed to last week’s forced “resignation” by Dave Weigel from The Washington Post as evidence that the Post, “in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training.” Goldberg then solemnly expressed hope that “this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards.” Numerous commentators immediately noted the supreme and obvious irony that Goldberg, of all people, would anoint himself condescending arbiter of journalistic standards, given that, as one of the leading media cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq, he compiled a record of humiliating falsehood-dissemination in the run-up to the war that rivaled Judy Miller’s both in terms of recklessness and destructive impact.
Except unlike Miller, who was forced to leave the New York Times over what she did, and the NYT itself, which at least acknowledged some of the shoddy pro-war propaganda it churned out, Goldberg has never acknowledged his journalistic errors, expressed remorse for them, or paid any price at all. To the contrary, as is true for most Iraq war propagandists, he thrived despite as a result of his sorry record in service of the war. In 2007, David Bradley — the owner of The Atlantic and (in his own words) formerly “a neocon guy” who was “dead certain about the rightness” of invading Iraq — lavished Goldberg with money and gifts, including ponies for Goldberg’s children, in order to lure him away from The New Yorker, where he had churned out most of his pre-war trash.
One of his most obscenely false and damaging articles — this 2002 museum of deceitful, hideous journalism, “reporting” on Saddam’s “possible ties to Al Qaeda” — actually won an Oversea’s Press Award for — get this — “best international reporting in a print medium dealing with human rights.” Goldberg, whose devotion to Israel is so extreme that he served in the IDF as a prison guard over Palestinians and was described last year as “Netanyahu’s faithful stenographer” by The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, wrote an even more falsehood-filled 2002 New Yorker article, warning that Hezbollah was planning a master, Legion-of-Doom alliance with Saddam Hussein for a “larger war,” and that “[b]oth Israel and the United States believe that, at the outset of an American campaign against Saddam, Iraq will fire missiles at Israel — perhaps with chemical or biological payloads — in order to provoke an Israeli conventional, or even nuclear, response,” though — Goldberg sternly warned — “Hezbollah, which is better situated than Iraq to do damage to Israel, might do Saddam’s work itself” and “its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, maintain extensive biological- and chemical-weapons programs.” That fantastical, war-fueling screed — aimed at scaring Americans into targeting the full panoply of Israel’s enemies — actually won a National Magazine Award in 2003. Given how completely discredited those articles are, those are awards which any person with an iota of shame would renounce and apologize for, but Goldberg continues to proudly tout them on his bio page at The Atlantic.
Despite all of those war-cheerleading deceits — or, again, because of them — Goldberg continues to be held out by America’s most establishment outlets as a preeminent expert in the region. As Jonathan Schwarz documents, Goldberg is indeed very well-“trained” in the sense that establishment journalists mean that term: i.e., as an obedient dog who spouts establishment-serving falsehoods. That’s why Goldberg is worth examining: he’s so representative of the American media because the more discredited his journalism becomes, the more blatant propaganda he spews, the more he thrives in our media culture. That’s why it’s not hyperbole to observe that we are plagued by a Jeffrey Goldberg Media; he’s not an aberration but one of its most typical and illustrative members.
Jeffrey Goldberg responds:
It turns out that the left-wing commentator Glenn Greenwald doesn’t like me (who knew?). In a rather long posting, he accuses me of many different sins, mainly, though not exclusively, having to do with my early support for the Iraq war, and for my reporting from pre-invasion Iraqi Kuridstan. (Greenwald has always been vehemently opposed to the invasion.)
As it happens, I was e-mailing yesterday with the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Barham Salih, and I mentioned Greenwald’s critique. I explained that Greenwald believes the invasion was a criminal act, to which Salih responded by asking if Greenwald had ever visited Iraqi Kurdistan. I said I didn’t know, not having too much contact with him, on account of him hating me. So Salih asked me to extend an invitation to Greenwald to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. So, Glenn, you are hereby invited to visit Iraqi Kurdistan. I’m happy to go with you (I’m actually a pretty good travel companion — even Matt Yglesias says that I can be both “funny” and “charming,” though, to be fair, he also says I can be “dangerous” and “inaccurate”). But if you didn’t want to go with me, I’m sure I can find someone to go with you.
The prime minister said we could invite Kurds from different political parties and media outlets to a big, public forum, and Glenn could explain to them his position that the invasion was immoral, and the Kurds could explain why they supported the invasion. (Of course, we would try to find some Kurds who opposed the invasion, and there are, indeed, some out there, to meet with Greenwald as well). We would also be able to visit Halabja, and the other towns and villages affected by Saddam’s genocide, and I’m sure we could arrange meetings with other Kurdish leaders and dissidents.
Obviously, I think this is a good idea, because I view the subject of Iraq as a complicated one, and I think that Greenwald has an overly simplistic, black-and-white view of the situation. If he were to meet with representatives of the Kurds — who make up 20 percent of the population of Iraq and who were the most oppressed group in Iraq during the period of Saddam’s rule (experiencing not only a genocide but widespread chemical gassing) — I think it might be possible for him to understand why some people — even some Iraqis — supported the overthrow of Saddam. Also, as a bonus, I’m reasonably sure we could meet with Kurdish intelligence officials who could explain to him why they believe Saddam was secretly supporting an al Qaeda-affiliated Kurdish extremist group, and, if we have time, I could also arrange a visit to Najaf or the equivalent, where Greenwald could meet with representatives of the Shi’a, who also took it on the chin from Saddam.
This is a sincere offer from a very important Kurdish official, and I hope Glenn Greenwald takes it seriously.
Glenn Greenwald responds:
Jeffrey Goldberg responded yesterday to my post detailing his long list of journalistic malfeasance by telling me that he and the Prime Minister of Iraqi Kuridstan would like me to travel there to hear how much the Kurds appreciate the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Leaving aside the complete non sequitur that is his response — how does that remotely pertain to Goldberg’s granting of anonymity to his friends to smear people they don’t like or the serial fear-mongering fabrications he spread about the Saddam threat prior to the invasion? — I don’t need to travel to Kurdistan to know that many Kurds, probably most, are happy that the U.S. attacked Iraq. For that minority in Northern Iraq, what’s not to like?
They had foreign countries (the U.S. and its “partners”) expend their citizens’ lives and treasure to rid the Kurds of their hated enemy; they received semi-autonomy, substantial oil revenues, a thriving relationship with Israel, and real political power; the overwhelming majority of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis whose lives were snuffed out and the millions of people displaced by the war were not Kurds, and most of the destruction took place in Central and Southern Iraq away from their towns and homes, while they remain largely free of the emergent police state tactics of the current Iraqi government. As Ali Gharib put it to Goldberg: “there are at least 600,000 Iraqis who, I imagine, are not too thrilled about the way it all turned out and with whom Greenwald will never get a meeting.”
Goldberg apparently thinks that if you can find some citizens in an invaded country who are happy about the invasion, then it demonstrates the aggression was justifiable or at least morally supportable (I suppose I should be thankful that he didn’t haul out the think-about-how-great-this-is-for-the-Iraqi-gays platitude long cherished by so many neocons, though — given the hideous reality in Iraq in that realm — that’s now a deceitful bridge too far even for them). I’m not interested in an overly personalized exchange with Goldberg, but there is one aspect of his response worth highlighting: the universality of the war propaganda he proffers. Those who perpetrate wars of aggression invariably invent moral justifications to allow themselves and the citizens of the aggressor state to feel good and noble about themselves. Hence, even an unprovoked attack which literally destroys a country and ruins the lives of millions of innocent people — as the U.S. invasion of Iraq did — is scripted as a morality play with the invaders cast in the role of magnanimous heroes.
It’s difficult to find an invasion in history that wasn’t supported by at least some faction of the invaded population and where that same self-justifying script wasn’t used. That’s true even of the most heinous aggressors. Many Czech and Austrian citizens of Germanic descent, viewing themselves as a repressed minority, welcomed Hitler’s invasion of their countries, while leaders of the independence-seeking Sudeten parties in those countries actively conspired to bring it about. Did that make those German invasions justifiable? As Arnold Suppan of the University of Vienna’s Institute for Modern History wrote of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (click on image to enlarge): And, of course, German citizens were told those invasions were necessary and just in order to liberate the repressed German minorities. To be a bit less Godwin about it, many Ossetians wanted independence from Georgia and thus despised the government in Tbilisi, and many identified far more with the invading Russians than their own government; did that make the 2008 Russian assault on Georgia moral and noble? Pravda routinely cast the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as one of protection of the populace from extremists. I have no doubt that one could easily find Iraqi Sunnis today who would welcome an invasion from Hamas or Saudi Arabia to liberate them from what they perceive (not unreasonably) as their repressive Shiite overlords; would Goldberg therefore recognize the moral ambiguity of that military action? If, tomorrow, China invaded Israel and changed the regime, there would certainly be many, many Palestinians who would celebrate; would that, in Goldberg’s view, make it morally supportable? Saddam himself, in FBI interrogations after he was captured, was insistent that many Kuwaitis were eager for an Iraqi invasion and that this justified his 1990 war; if he were right in his facutal premise, would that render his actions just?
As Jonathan Schwarz wrote in 2007, responding to similar war-justifying claims from Christopher Hitchens that he saw Iraqis giving “sweets and flowers” to American and British soldiers:
The strange-but-true reality is that throughout history, whenever one country has invaded another, there have always been some people within the invaded country who’ve welcomed the invaders. Sometimes it’s because they’ve been oppressed by their own government, are similar ethnically or religiously to the invader, or just know what side their bread is buttered on.
At the same time, those within the invading country who support the invasion have always seized on tales of the welcome they’ve received and declared it demonstrates the justice of their cause. And this is rarely pure cynicism. Human beings — even (or especially) the worst of them — need to believe they’re moral.
To underscore the point, consider these photographs of ethnic Germans in Lithuania handing flowers to invading German soldiers, and citizens of Ukraine and Poland doing the same, all from the BBC documentary, Nazis: A Warning from History (click on photogaphs to enlarge):
As Schwarz wrote: “I don’t know who took this footage, but I would bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back to the home front to demonstrate the extraordinary morality of their cause.” And just to bolster the point a bit more, compare the propagandistic photograph on the right (below) used by Germans in 1941 to show that Lithuanians welcomed their invasion (depicting citizens pulling down a statue of an oppressive Communist ruler, likely Lenin), to the virtually identical, iconic photograph on the left of the staged scene of Iraqis “celebrating” the American invasion by pulling down a statue of Saddam:
It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that’s irrelevant. The point is that every nation which launches even the most brutal, destructive and unprovoked wars of aggression employs moralizing propaganda to claim that their aggression engenders magnanimous and noble ends, and specifically often points to segments of the invaded population which welcome the violence and invaders. Pointing to the happy and rewarded Kurdish minority no more justifies or legalizes the attack on Iraq than similar claims do for any of those other cases.
Jeffrey Goldberg responds:
Glenn Greenwald Compares the Iraq War to the Nazi Conquest of Europe
Yes he does.
Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
To be sure, lazy, corrupt journalism happens; always has, always will. But Goldberg’s work is quite the opposite: rigorously reported, beautifully written and fiercely honest. Indeed, Jeff’s willingness to be candid about lessons he learned along the way created a book that Greenwald rarely, if ever, mentions: Prisoners, a memoir of Jeff’s time as a member of the Israel Defense Forces when he served as a prison guard and developed a close, difficult and unresolved friendship with one of his Palestinian prisoners. This is the sort of work that Greenwald, locked in the sterile prison of his ideology, is completely incompetent to understand.
And now, Greenwald–who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world–has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush’s dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland:
It’s difficult to find an invasion in history that wasn’t supported by at least some faction of the invaded population and where that same self-justifying script wasn’t used. That’s true even of the most heinous aggressors. Many Czech and Austrian citizens of Germanic descent, viewing themselves as a repressed minority, welcomed Hitler’s invasion of their countries, whileleaders of the independence-seeking Sudeten parties in those countries actively conspired to bring it about.
This is obscene. Comparing the Kurds, who had been historically orphaned and then slaughtered with poison gas by Saddam Hussein, with Nazi-l0ving Sudeten Germans is outrageous. Comparing the United States to Nazi Germany is not merely disgraceful, but revelatory of a twisted, deluded soul. And, once again, we need to stand back and remember how this started: a dispute over whether the Post should have fired Dave Wiegel. Wow.
Greenwald will probably come after me now, armed with the same three or four quotes he routinely uses as evidence of my moral and professional dishonesty and dissipation. For Greenwald, it seems, any honest political disagreement always winds up with charges of corruption and decadence. I wonder why that is. But fine, Glenn, go for it. I’m going back to my vacation.
Update: A commenter–a Glennbot, clearly–notes that Greenwald finagles this caveat:
It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions. It may or may not be, but that’s irrelevant.
No, it’s not irrelevant. If he’s going to compare the U.S. in Kurdistan with Nazi Germany in Sudetenland, Greenwald can’t just slink away by saying those actions “may or may not be comparable.” He can’t plead ignorance, can’t get away with a litigator’s trick. And if he truly is ignorant–it certainly seems so–perhaps he should take the time to study up on the situation, or perhaps take up Jeff’s invitation to visit Kurdistan, before he goes off comparing Kurds to Sudeten Germans. But then, that would involve…reporting, wouldn’t it?
Actually Joe, you’ve completely missed the point.
Let’s put this in words Joe can understand- If Israel were to be attacked, occupied, and have millions of her citizens murdered or killed in an invasion by Egypt, six years from now, it would not be ok to point to that immoral invasion and say “But look how happy the Palestinians are!” Which is precisely what Goldberg was doing, and exactly what Greenwald was pointing out. Even worse, Klein needed a reader to point out the very fact that Greenwald himself insisted the invasion of Iraq and the Nazi invasions are not the same. Now that’s some close reading of something that really upset you!
Joe noted that he was interrupting his vacation for this outburst- for his sake, I hope it was written from the hotel bar, because he completely missed the point. And for the record- I really like reading Joe Klein- most of the time.
*** Update ***
We’ve now got the spectacle of two prominent journalists, one for Time, one for the Atlantic, willfully misinterpreting someone’s remarks and screaming that person is a Nazi lover and hates America. Godwin wept.
Hamilton Nolan at Gawker:
Glenn Greenwald wrote a column about Jeff Goldberg, the Iraq War, and the moral issues surrounding invasions of countries, in which he mentioned Germany’s invasion of the Sudetenland, among other examples. Quote: “It should go without saying, but doesn’t: the point here is not that the attack on Iraq is comparable to these above-referenced invasions.” Time’s Joe Klein responded: “And now, Greenwald—who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world—has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush’s dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland.” Joe Klein is the world’s best reader.
UPDATE: Kevin Drum
UPDATE #3: Jeffrey Goldberg
David Knowles at Politics Daily:
After an FBI investigation spanning several years, ten people were taken into custody on Sunday across the northeastern United States and have been charged with conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release.
According to the D.O.J., eight of the accused were involved in what it termed as “long-term, deep-cover assignments” for the Russian government. Two of the defendants were arrested for participating in the covert Russian operation. Nine of those picked up were charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The defendants, some of whom may go by and assumed alias, include: “Richard Murphy” and “Cynthia Murphy” of Montclair, N.J., Vicky Plaez and “Juan Lazaro” of Yonkers, N.Y. Anna Chapman of New York City, “Michael Zottoli,” “Patricia Mills,” and Mikhail Smenko of Arlington, Va., and “Tracey Lee Ann Foley” and “Donald Howard Heathfield” of Boston, Ma.
“Christopher R. Mestos” remains at large, the D.O.J. said.
Daniel Foster at The Corner:
This on the heels of President Obama’s happy-go-lucky meeting with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in D.C.
Five years for conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government? What’s going on here — Mr. McCarthy?
The details are still a little fuzzy. It’s not clear if these are Americans who were recruited by the Russians, or if these were Russians living in America, or a mixture of both.
The story seems to indicate that at least some of them were Russian. This may explain why all those hot Russian chicks willing to marry dumpy, balding, middle-aged American men. They’re all Russian spies!
As some of you know, I spent a year studying in Russia under the theory that the Cold War would be back, and when it does — job security, baby! Is it time for Rusty to break out the old resume?
When it comes to human intelligence, the Russian Federation has a leg up on the U.S. in terms of the vestiges of the Cold War great game. The arrest today of 10 Russians for spying is a case in point: none of them were diplomats or had official cover. All of them were what the old Soviet Union used to call “illegals” — regular folks living and doing regular jobs, but serving as cutouts and go-betweens for other case officers and agents.
The CIA still spies on Russia, but/and I’m not exactly revealing secrets here, most of them have some sort of official cover — usually, the more bland sounding title in the embassy, the better.Russian counterintelligence services have known this for decades. And for decades, the CIA has made efforts to field its version of illegals — NOCs — spies operating under “non official cover,” but fewer than one in ten of its case officers are NOCs, according to current and former officials. This makes the job of a case officer difficult. It’s even more difficult to establish a NOC — a cover story must be provided — a “legend” — that is trackable and verifiable. These days, it’s easy to Google someone and discover whether they are who they say they are, so if a Mr. Leonard Panerta were to become a teacher in Moscow, the Russian FSB, which does counteintelligence, can check pretty quickly.What type of information is valuable to Russia these days? It’s no longer nuclear weapons information, really, or war plans: it’s proprietary information, trade secrets, technical specifications of satellite and ballistic missile technology…also political intelligence and economic intelligence. The FBI still has squads of counterintelligence (CI) agents that follow Russian embassy officials in Washington, but it does much less CI work than it did before the age of terrorism. The US has much better signals intelligence capabilities than the Russians, but Russia also quietly outsources some of its spying to other countries, including countries that are ostensibly friendly to the U.S.
Noah Shachtman at Dangerroom at Wired:
Moscow communicated with a ring of alleged spies in America by encoding instructions in otherwise innocent-looking images on public websites. It’s a process called steganography. And it’s one of a slew of high-tech and time-tested methods that the deep-cover agents and their Russian handlers used to pass information — from private Wi-Fi networks to buried paper bags.
Steganography is simultaneously one of the oldest methods for secret communications, and one of the more advanced. The process dates back to the fifth century B.C., when the Greek tyrant Histiaeus shaved the head of one of his servants, tattooed a message on his head, and waited for his hair to grow back before sending the messenger out. When the courier arrived, his head was shaved and the missive was read, giving information about upcoming Persian attacks. Later on, secret inks were used on couriers’ backs. Morse code messages were woven into a sweater that was worn by a courier.
As information went digital, steganography changed. Messages could be hidden in the 1s and 0s of electronic files — pictures, audio, video, executables, whatever. The hidden communications could even be slowly dribbled into the torrent of IP traffic. Compression schemes — like JPEG for images or MP3 for audio — introduce errors into the files, making a message even easier to hide. New colors or tones can be subtly added or removed, to cover up for the changes. According to the FBI, the image above contains a hidden map of the Burlington, Vermont, airport.
Both before and after Sept. 11, there were rumors in the media that al-Qaida had begun hiding messages in digital porn. That speculation was never confirmed, as far as I can tell.
The accused Russian spy network started using steganography as early as 2005, according to the Justice Department’s criminal complaint against the conspirators, unsealed yesterday in Manhattan. In 2005, law enforcement agents raided the home of one of the alleged spies. There, they found a set of password-protected disks and a piece of paper, marked with “alt,” “control,” “e,” and a string of 27 characters. When they used that as a password, the G-Men found a program that allowed the spies “to encrypt data, and then clandestinely to embed the data in images on publicly available websites.”
The G-Men also found a hard drive. On it was an address book with website URLs, as well as the user’s web traffic history. “These addresses, in turn, had links to other websites,” the complaint notes. “Law-enforcement agents visited some of the referenced websites, and many others as well, and have downloaded images from them. These images appear wholly unremarkable to the naked eye. But these images (and others) have been analyzed using the Steganography Program. As a result of this analysis, some of the images have been revealed as containing readable text files.”
These messages were used to arrange meetings, cash drops, deliveries of laptops and further information exchanges. One of the steganographically hidden messages also directed the conspirators to use radiograms — a decades-old method to pass information, long discredited in spooky circles.
Jen Doll at Village Voice:
The FBI obtained the following decrypted message from Russia’s intelligence headquarters in Moscow:
Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels to the Moscow center.
CBS News reports that agents would have been highly trained in “foreign languages; agent-to-agent communications, including the use of brush-passes (covert hand-offs of secret information); short-wave radio operation and invisible writing; the use of codes and ciphers, including the use of encrypted Morse code messages; the creation and use of a cover profession; counter-surveillance measures” and more.
This is creepy, but we’re suddenly less afraid of spies because we knew they did all of that stuff already! Really, short-wave radio? Invisible writing? Morse Code? Guys, that went out with magic decoder rings and camera cigarette lighters. Come on, even China is onto the hacking game.
Still, maybe in some small way, it’s nice to hear that Russia still considers us worthy of being spied on. And it’s good to know the FBI is on this shit. Let’s not go getting all Cold War or anything.
John Hinderaker at Powerline:
News accounts don’t make clear when Russia first placed these agents. But from today’s perspective we can say: what a waste! The Russians thought they needed spies with “ties in policymaking circles” to gain intelligence about American policy, or, best case, possibly even influence it in a direction adverse to American interests. Those were the good old days. In today’s America, our “policymaking circles” are as antipathetic to American interests as the Russians could possibly have hoped to make them through spycraft.
Jim Newell at Gawker:
Hooray, the Cold War is back and awesome.
There are many things that confuse me in life — Manhattan parking rituals, the proliferation of rotaries in Massachusetts, the appeal of most reality television, and so forth. I think I’m going to have to add the Russian spy ring to this list.
Less than a week after Russian President Dmitri Medevedev’s burger date with U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Justice Department has busted eight Russkies in an espionage ring so heinous, they’ve been charged with…. “conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government.”
Um…. so, in other words, the Russians are accused of some combination of illegal immigration and impersonating Jack Abramoff?
Seriously, this story is the most bizarre foreign policy/international relations episode I’ve seen since the Sandy-Berger-let’s-stuff–classified-documents-down-my-pants episode.
UPDATE: Daniel Drezner and Megan McArdle at Bloggingheads
UPDATE #2: Marc Ambinder
UPDATE #3: Bruce Bartlett
Charlie Savage at the NYT:
Stymied by political opposition and focused on competing priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantánamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.
When the White House acknowledged last year that it would miss Mr. Obama’s initial January 2010 deadline for shutting the prison, it also declared that the detainees would eventually be moved to one in Illinois. But impediments to that plan have mounted in Congress, and the administration is doing little to overcome them.
“There is a lot of inertia” against closing the prison, “and the administration is not putting a lot of energy behind their position that I can see,” said Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and supports the Illinois plan. He added that “the odds are that it will still be open” by the next presidential inauguration.
And Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who also supports shutting it, said the effort is “on life support and it’s unlikely to close any time soon.” He attributed the collapse to some fellow Republicans’ “demagoguery” and the administration’s poor planning and decision-making “paralysis.”
The White House insists it is still determined to shutter the prison. The administration argues that Guantánamo is a symbol in the Muslim world of past detainee abuses, citing military views that its continued operation helps terrorists.
Polls suggest that the majority of Americans want Guantanamo Bay to remain open in the wake of the attempted terrorists attacks on Times Square and a Detroit-bound airliner. Congress, according to the White House, hasn’t moved quickly on its plan to move detainees to an Illinois prison. And Attorney General Eric Holder’s initial decision to hold the trial for alleged 9/11 conspirator Khalid Sheik Mohammed in New York even upset top White House adviser Rahm Emanuel, who argued that such a trial would alienate Republicans and prevent the closure of Guantanamo Bay.
Confronted with these problems — as well as the McCrystal flap, worsening economic numbers, and the ongoing Gulf Coast oil spill — the White House may have decided to simply punt on Guantanamo after all. Top officials told The New York Times that the president’s ‘magic wand’ was incapable of providing the administration any other alternative.
The “wave a wand” gripe should elicit loud peals of laughter from both sides of the aisle. Barack Obama’s critics on his Gitmo position made that very same point repeatedly, both before the 2008 presidential election and after Obama made his order to close Gitmo his first official act as President. Any such move required the President to find a different and yet still suitable detention facility, one where foreign terrorists captured by military and intelligence personnel would have separate adjudication from Americans in normal criminal courts, and one which could be secured properly for its purpose. It would then have to contemplate the costs and benefits of such a move when in the end the detainees would end up using the very same processes they currently have for adjudication.
If Congress has dragged its feet, it’s only because no one can really explain how closing Gitmo while retaining the military commissions systems justifies the costs and the risks. The issue the Left has with Gitmo isn’t its geographical location, after all. When Obama committed to using the military commissions system to process the rest of the detainees in Gitmo, he himself mooted the necessity of closing it. And for good reason — the use of criminal courts to try foreign terrorists in military or intel contexts would either result in botched prosecutions, or in changing the rules that protect American residents against undue prosecutorial power in criminal court.
The only one waving a wand on Gitmo was Obama himself. And now he hopes to wave another wand in a Friday night news dump to keep his Left from erupting in outrage over Obama’s white flag on Gitmo. Best of luck with that, Mr. President.
So that appears to be a consensus: Guantanamo — the closing of which was one of Obama’s central campaign promises — will still be open as of 2013, by which point many of the detainees will have been imprisoned for more than a decade without charges of any kind and without any real prospect for either due process or release, at least four of those years under a President who was elected on a commitment to close that camp and restore the rule of law.
None of this is news to anyone even casually watching what’s been going on, but there are several aspects of this article which are so noteworthy for illustrating how this administration works. Let’s begin with this: Obama officials — cowardly hiding behind anonymity as usual — raise the typical excuse which they and their defenders perpetually invoke for their “failures” to fulfill their campaign positions: it’s all Congress’ fault (“They blame Congress for failing to execute that endgame,” Savage writes). It’s true that Congress has enacted measures to impede the closing of Guantanamo, and threatened to enact others, but the Obama administration’s plan was never so much to close Guantanamo as to simply re-locate it to Thompson, Illinois (GTMO North), in the process retaining one of its key, defining features — indefinite, due-process-free detention — that made it such a menace in the first place (that’s the attribute that led Candidate Obama to scorn it as a “legal black hole”).
The only meaningful way to “close Guantanamo” is to release the scores of detainees whom the administration knows are innocent and then try the rest in a real court (as Pakistan just did with Americans they accused of Terrorism). Imprisoning only those people whom you convict of crimes is a terribly radical, purist, Far Leftist concept, I know — the Fifth Amendment is so very un-Pragmatic and pre-9/11 — and that is something the administration therefore refused from the start even to consider.
Let’s stagger down memory lane to Day Three of Hope and Change:
President Obama is expected to sign executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.
Gitmo was a deplorable symbol of this and that, until actually resolving the situation became too complicated. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts:
In any case, one senior official said, even if the administration concludes that it will never close the prison, it cannot acknowledge that because it would revive Guantánamo as America’s image in the Muslim world.
“Guantánamo is a negative symbol, but it is much diminished because we are seen as trying to close it,” the official said. “Closing Guantánamo is good, but fighting to close Guantánamo is O.K. Admitting you failed would be the worst.”
The bottom line is that this is just very hard. It’s debatable as to whether the Bush Administration should ever have transferred jihadists and alleged jihadists from Afghanistan to Gitmo. But, once they did, reversing it became very difficult.
Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:
With the Wall Street reform legislation agreed to by House and Senate negotiators now in serious doubt in the Senate, what happens if the final bill can’t muster the votes? At his weekly press availability this morning, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer hinted that they may have to make some changes.
“We’re trying to work with the Senate to ensure that we both take up a version that does in fact have 60 votes,” Hoyer said.
But the conference report, passed late last week, can not be amended on the House or Senate floors. It’s an up-or-down, yes-or-no proposition. If they need a new ‘version’ that has 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, they’d have to reconvene the conference committee, strip the language that offends Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and try again.
In the wake of a historic economic collapse caused largely by a financial industry allowed to run rampant, Sen. Russ Feingold (D–Wisc.) has decided to vote in favor of doing nothing at all to address this:
As I have indicated for some time now, my test for the financial regulatory reform bill is whether it will prevent another crisis. The conference committee’s proposal fails that test and for that reason I will not vote to advance it. During debate on the bill, I supported several efforts to break up ‘too big to fail’ Wall Street banks and restore the proven safeguards established after the Great Depression separating Main Street banks from big Wall Street firms, among other issues. Unfortunately, these crucial reforms were rejected. While there are some positive provisions in the final measure, the lack of strong reforms is clear confirmation that Wall Street lobbyists and their allies in Washington continue to wield significant influence on the process.
Can I vent for a minute? I know Feingold is proud of his inconoclastic reputation. I know this bill doesn’t do as much as he (or I) would like. I know the financial industry, as he says, continues to have way too much clout on Capitol Hill.
But seriously: WTF? This is the final report of a conference committee. There’s no more negotiation. It’s an up-or-down vote and there isn’t going to be a second chance at this. You either vote for this bill, which has plenty of good provisions even if doesn’t break up all the big banks, or else you vote for the status quo. That’s it. That’s the choice. It’s not a game. It’s not a time for Feingold to worry about his reputation for independence. It’s a time to make a decision between actively supporting something good and actively supporting something bad. And Feingold has decided to actively support something bad.
Scott Brown, the junior Senator from Mass:
Dear Chairman Dodd and Chairman Frank,
I am writing you to express my strong opposition to the $19 billion bank tax that was included in the financial reform bill during the conference committee. This tax was not in the Senate version of the bill, which I supported. If the final version of this bill contains these higher taxes, I will not support it.
It is especially troubling that this provision was inserted in the conference report in the dead of night without hearings or economic analysis. While some will try to argue this isn’t a tax, this new provision takes real money away from the economy, making it unavailable for lending on Main Street, and gives it to Washington. That sounds like a tax to me.
I have always strongly opposed a bank tax because, as the non-partisan CBO has said, costs would be passed onto the millions of American consumers and small businesses who rely on major U.S. financial institutions for their checking, ATM, loans or other services. This tax will be paid by consumers who will have to pay higher fees and the small businesses that won’t get the funding they need to invest and create jobs.
Imposing this new tax is the wrong option. Our economy is still struggling. It is wrong to impose higher taxes and ignore the impact it will have on our economy without considering other ways we might offset the costs of the measure. I am asking that the conference committee find a way to offset the cost of the bill by cutting unnecessary federal spending. There are hundreds of billions in unspent federal funds sitting around, some authorized years ago for long-dead initiatives. Congress needs to start to looking there first, and I stand ready to help.
Senator Scott P. Brown
John Carney at CNBC:
Democrats on Tuesday planned to strip out a controversial tax from their landmark financial reform bill in order to win the swing votes needed to pass it through Congress.
With crucial Republican moderates threatening to withdraw their support, Democrats were weighing alternative ways to fund the most sweeping rewrite of the Wall Street rulebook since the 1930s.
Though a supposedly final version of the bill had been hammered out last week, Democrats in charge of the process called a fresh negotiating session, which got under way shortly after 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
Democratic lawmakers and aides said they planned to remove a $17.9 billion tax on large financial institutions. Instead, they would cover most of the bill’s costs by shutting down a $700 billion bank-bailout program.
“I haven’t talked to everybody, but I gather from a number of people they like this option,” said Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd, one of the lawmakers in charge of the bill.
The bill had been expected to pass both chambers of Congress this week in time for President Obama to sign it into law by July 4. But supporters have been forced to scramble for votes in the Senate, putting that goal in jeopardy.
Analysts said while that timetable may slip, the bill was still likely to become law.
“We believe that this legislation will pass, timing and the bank tax remain the final question marks,” wrote FBR Capital Markets analyst Edward Mills in a research note.
Jay Newton-Small at Time:
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd stood an hour ago in the Senator’s Retiring Room off of the Senate floor in an intense conversation with Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown – one of surely many they will have today. Dodd is trying to get Brown, one of four Republicans who voted for the Senate version of financial regulatory reform, to pledge his support for final passage. House and Senate negotiators last week worked out a deal to combine the two measures only to find that Brown couldn’t support $18+ billion in new bank fees. To complicate matters, Democrats are now down a vote due to the untimely death of Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat.
Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, and House Financial Service Chairman Barney Frank are planning on taking the unusual step of reopening the conference committee this afternoon. Lucky for them it wasn’t formally closed or reopening it would’ve taken votes from both chambers of Congress. They have been negotiating with the four Republicans – Brown, Maine Senators Olympia Snowe Susan Collins and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley — on new offsets for the $18+ billion. Dodd says that 90% of the $18+ billion would now be paid for by the immediate end of TARP, the unpopular bank bailout fund due to expire October 3. The additional offset would come from raising fees the banks pay to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, exempting all small banks under $10 billion capitalization (Dodd says he’s spoke to Sheila Bair on this and she’s fine with it). Some Republicans still have reservations that such a move, though, wouldn’t prompt the banks to pass the cost on to consumers. “Repealing TARP definitely appeals to me,” says Snowe, who met with Dodd in her office last night and again this morning. “At this point other issues are not related to the TARP part, we’re still looking at how you replace those fees. So things are still in motion here, there are a lot of conservations developing.”
Brown, emerging from his meeting with Dodd, says he’s waiting to see the final product and hasn’t made any decisions yet. Brown sent Dodd and Frank a letter this morning announcing his opposition to the $18+ billion in fees, prompting today’s dramatics. Collins told reporters she was pleased with her meetings with Dodd but that she also had made no final decision. Grassley was nowhere to be found. “I gather there were a number of people who were uneasy with the earlier pay-for who like this alternative and so the present plan is to probably reconvene the conference this afternoon,” Dodd said, heading into a meeting in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s offices. If all four Republicans sign on, Dems should have enough votes to pass the Senate as they race to finish the legislation by the end of the week.
Annie Lowrey at The Washington Independent:
Rather than charging the hedge funds and big banks considered most responsible for the financial crisis a reasonable fee for implementation, the conference committee will settle for ending a government stability program and spreading the pain around to all federally insured banks — including small community-focused banks — to satisfy the demands of one Republican. So it goes in Washington.
It would be a fiasco of tragic proportions if the banks managed to remove these taxes from the final bill, essentially absolving themselves from cleaning up after their own mess. The arguments against the taxes are weak indeed: either you simply oppose all taxes on principle (which seems to be the Scott Brown stance, and which is fiscally disastrous), or else you’re forced into John Carney’s corner.
Carney is worried that we don’t know exactly where the tax will be applied — but that’s a feature, not a bug. Setting up the tax in great deal ex ante is essentially just asking banks to spend millions of dollars on tax consultants who can help them skirt the new levies. And as the risks in the system evolve and change, so to should the way that they’re taxed. It’s right and proper that the newly created Council for Financial Stability will be charged with taxing systemic risk, rather than having a bunch of politicians try to do so at the beginning and then watch as the banks and other financial institutions nimbly sidestep the new taxes.
An increase in the FDIC premium would be a gift on a platter to banks like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley which don’t have insured deposits — not to mention non-bank players like Citadel which are systemically very important. I’m unclear on what exactly this Republican “procedural hurdle” is — I thought that after reconciliation, you just needed a simple majority to pass a bill. But I’m getting very annoyed about it.
UPDATE: Russell Berman at The Hill
UPDATE #2: Eric Zimmermann at The Hill
Noam Scheiber at TNR