Tag Archives: Firedoglake

Wikileaks 2.0

http://bankofamericasuck.com/

Adrian Chen at Gawker:

A member of the activist collective Anonymous is claiming to be have emails and documents which prove “fraud” was committed by Bank of America employees, and the group says it’ll release them on Monday. The member, who goes by the Twitter handle OperationLeakS, has already posted an internal email from the formerly Bank of America-owned Balboa Insurance Company

The email is between Balboa Insurance vice president Peggy Johnson and other Balboa employees. (Click right to enlarge.) As far as we can tell, it doesn’t show anything suspicious, but was posted by OperationLeaks as a teaser. He also posted emails he claims are from the disgruntled employee who sent him the material. In one, the employee says he can “send you a copy of the certified letter sent to me by an AVP of BofA’s [HR department] telling me I am banned from stepping foot on BofA property or contacting their employee ever again.”

OperationLeaks, which runs the anti-Bank of America site BankofAmericasuck.com, says the employee contacted the group to blow the whistle on Bank of America’s shady business practices. “I seen some of the emails… I can tell you Grade A Fraud in its purest form…” read one tweet. “He Just told me he have GMAC emails showing BoA order to mix loan numbers to not match it’s Documents.. to foreclose on Americans.. Shame.”

An Anonymous insider told us he believes the leak is real. “From what I know and have been told, it’s legit,” he said. “Should be a round of emails, then some files, possible some more emails to follow that.” The documents should be released Monday on Anonleaks.ch, the same site where Anonymous posted thousands of internal emails from hacked security company HBGary last month. That leak exposed a legally-questionable plot to attack Wikileaks and ultimately led to the resignation of HBGary CEO Aaron Barr.

Katya Wachtel at Clusterstock:

Anonymous said late Sunday evening, however, “this is part 1 of the Emails.” So perhaps more incriminating correspondence is to come. And to be honest, these messages could be incredibly damaging, but we’re not mortgage specialists and don’t know if this is or isn’t common in the field. The beauty is, you can see and decide for yourself at bankofamericasuck.com.

But for those who want a simple explanation, here’s a summary of the content.

The Source

The ex-Balboa employee tells Anonymous that what he/she sends will be enough to,

crack [BofA’s] armor, and put a bad light on a $700 mil cash deal they need to pay back the government while ruining their already strained relationship with GMAC, one of their largest clients. Trust me… it’ll piss them off plenty.

The source then sends over a paystub, an unemployment form, a letter from HR upon dismissal and his/her last paystub and an ID badge.

He/she also describes his/herself:

My name is (Anonymous). For the last 7 years, I worked in the Insurance/Mortgage industry for a company called Balboa Insurance. Many of you do not know who Balboa Insurance Group is, but if you’ve ever had a loan for an automobile, farm equipment, mobile home, or residential or commercial property, we knew you. In fact, we probably charged you money…a lot of money…for insurance you didn’t even need.

Balboa Insurance Group, and it’s largest competitor, the market leader Assurant, is in the business of insurance tracking and Force Placed Insurance…  What this means is that when you sign your name on the dotted line for your loan, the lienholder has certain insurance requirements that must be met for the life of the lien. Your lender (including, amongst others, GMAC… IndyMac… HSBC… Wells Fargo/Wachovia… Bank of America) then outsources the tracking of your loan with them to a company like Balboa Insurance.

The Emails

Next comes the emails that are supposed to be so damaging. The set of emails just released shows conversational exchanges between Balboa employees.

The following codes pertain to the emails, so use as reference:

  1. SOR = System of Record
  2. Rembrandt/Tracksource = Insurance tracking systems
  3. DTN = Document Tracking Number. A number assigned to all incoming/outgoing documents (letters, insurance documents, etc)

The first email asks for a group of GMAC DTN’s to have their “images removed from Tracksource/Rembrandt.” The relevant DTNs are included in the email — there’s between 50-100 of them.

In reply, a Balboa employee says that the DTN’s cannot be removed from the Rembrandt, but that the loan numbers can be removed so “the documents will not show as matched to those loans.” But she adds that she needs upper management approval before she moves forward, since it’s an unusual request.

Then it gets approved. And then, one of the Balboa employees voices their concern. He says,

“I’m just a little concerned about the impact this has on the department and the company. Why are we removing all record of this error? We have told Denise Cahen, and there is always going to be the paper trail when one of these sent documents come back. this to me seems to be a huge red flag for the auditors… when the auditor sees the erroneous letter but no SOR trail or scanned doc on the corrected letter… What am I missing? This just doesn’t seem right to me.

We suspect this is the type of email that Anonymous believes shows BofA fraud:

leak one

Image: Anonymous

Click here to see why these emails prove nothing interesting, and to see what what Bank of America says about the emails >

Chris V. Nicholson at Dealbook at NYT:

A Bank of America spokesman told Reuters on Sunday that the documents had been stolen by a former Balboa employee, and were not tied to foreclosures. “We are confident that his extravagant assertions are untrue,” the spokesman said.

The e-mails dating from November 2010 concern correspondence among Balboa employees in which they discuss taking steps to alter the record about certain documents “that went out in error.” The documents were related to loans by GMAC, a Bank of America client, according to the e-mails.

“The following GMAC DTN’s need to have the images removed from Tracksource/Rembrandt,” an operations team manager at Balboa wrote. DTN refers to document tracking number, and Tracksource/Rembrandt is an insurance tracking system.

The response he receives: “I have spoken to my developer and she stated that we cannot remove the DTNs from Rembrandt, but she can remove the loan numbers, so the documents will not show as matched to those loans.”

According to the e-mails, approval was given to remove the loan numbers from the documents.

A member of Anonymous told DealBook on Monday that the purpose of his Web site was to bring attention to the wrongdoing of banks. “The way the system is, it’s made to cheat the average person,” he said.

He had set up a Web site to post bank data that WikiLeaks has said it would release, and was subsequently contacted this month by the former Balboa employee. It has been speculated that the documents, which have yet to be released, would focus on Bank of America. The spokesman for Anonymous said he had no direct ties to WikiLeaks, which is run by Julian Assange.

Nitasha Tiku at New York Magazine:

WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, has threatened to leak damning documents on Bank of America since 2009. And Anonymous has backed WikiLeaks’ mission as far as the free flow of information. But these e-mails date from November 2010. Plus, they don’t exactly amount to a smoking gun. Whether or not the e-mails prove real, it’s clear Bank of America should have expanded its negative-domain-name shopping spree beyond BrianMoynihanSucks.com.

Naked Capitalism:

The charge made in this Anonymous release (via BankofAmericaSuck) is that Bank of America, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Balboa Insurance and the help of cooperating servicers, engaged in a mortgage borrower abuse called “force placed insurance”. This is absolutely 100% not kosher. Famed subprime servicer miscreant Fairbanks in 2003 signed a consent decree with the FTC and HUD over abuses that included forced placed insurance. The industry is well aware that this sort of thing is not permissible. (Note Balboa is due to be sold to QBE of Australia; I see that the definitive agreement was entered into on February 3 but do not see a press release saying that the sale has closed)

While the focus of ire may be Bank of America, let me stress that this sort of insurance really amounts to a scheme to fatten servicer margins. If this leak is accurate, the servicers at a minimum cooperated. If they got kickbacks, um, commissions, they are culpable and thus liable.

As we have stated repeatedly, servicers lose tons of money on portfolios with a high level of delinquencies and defaults. The example of Fairbanks, a standalone servicer who subprime portfolio got in trouble in 2002, is that servicers who are losing money start abusing customers and investors to restore profits. Fairbanks charged customers for force placed insurance and as part of its consent decree, paid large fines and fired its CEO (who was also fined).

Regardless, this release lends credence a notion too obvious to borrowers yet the banks and its co-conspirators, meaning the regulators, have long denied, that mortgage servicing and foreclosures are rife with abuses and criminality. Here’s some background courtesy Barry Ritholtz:

When a homeowner fails to keep up their insurance premiums on a mortgaged residence, their loan servicer has the option/obligation to step in to buy a comparable insurance policy on the loan holder’s behalf, to ensure the mortgaged property remains fully insured….

Consider one case found by [American Banker’s Jeff] Horwitz. A homeowner’s $4,000 insurance policy, was paid by the loan servicer, Everbank via escrow. But Everbank purposely let that insurance policy lapse, and then replaced it with a different policy – one that cost more than $33,000. To add insult to injury, the insurer, a subsidiary of Assurant, paid Everbank a $7,100 kickback for giving it such a lucrative policy — and, writes Horwitz, “left the door open to further compensation” down the road.

That $33,000 policy — including the $7,100 kickback – is an enormous amount of money for any loan servicer to make on a single property. The average loan servicer makes just $51 per loan per year.

Here’s where things get interesting: That $33,000 insurance premium is ultimately paid by the investors who bought the loan.

And the worst of this is….the insurance is often reinsured by the bank/servicer, which basically means the insurance is completely phony. The servicer will never put in a claim to trigger payment. As Felix Salmon noted,

This is doubly evil: it not only means that investors are paying far too much money for the insurance, but it also means that, as both the servicer and the ultimate insurer of the property, JPMorgan Chase has every incentive not to pursue claims on the houses it services. Investors, of course, would love to recoup any losses from the insurer, but they can’t bring such a claim — only the servicer can do that.

Note there are variants of this scheme where insurance is charged to the borrower (I’ve been told of insurance being foisted on borrowers that amounts to unconsented-to default insurance, again with the bank as insurer; this has been anecdotal with insufficient documentation, but I’ve heard enough independent accounts to make me pretty certain it was real)

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Just because something has a lot of anecdotal evidence behind it doesn’t necessarily mean the specific case is true. But the forced-place insurance scam has been part of other servicer lawsuits, so it definitely exists. Whether this set of emails shows that taking place is another matter. Apparently this is just the first Anonymous email dump, so there should be more on the way

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic

Parmy Olson at Forbes:

Yet however inconclusive the e-mails may be, the leak may have wider implications as Anonymous gradually proves itself a source of comeuppance for disgruntled employees with damning information about a company or institution. Once the domain of WikiLeaks, the arrest of key whistleblower Bradley Manning suggested the site founded by fellow incarcerate Julian Assange could not always protect its sources. “A lot depends on the impact of this week,” says Gabriella Coleman, a professor at NYU who is researching Anonymous, who added that “Anonymous could go in that [WikiLeaks] direction.”

Anonymous is not an institution like WikiLeaks. It is global, has no leader, no clear hierarchy and no identifiable spokespeople save for pseudo-representatives like Gregg Housh (administrator of whyweprotest.net) and Barrett Brown.

It has some ideals: Anonymous tends to defend free speach and fight internet censorship, as with the DDoS-ing of the web sites of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal after they nixed funding services to WikiLeaks, and the DDoS-ing of Tunisian government Web sites. It is also great at spectacle. The group’s hacking of software security firm HBGary Federal not only gained oodles of press attention, it inadvertently revealed the firm had been proposing a dirty tricks campaign with others against WikiLeaks to Bank of America’s lawyers.

That hack led, rather organically, to the establishment of AnonLeaks.ru, a Web site where the Anonymous hackers posted tens of thousands of HBGary e-mails in a handy web viewer. While it took just five supporters to hack HBGary, hundreds more poured through the e-mails to identify incriminating evidence, leading to more press reports on the incident.

Such is the nature of Anonymous–global, fluid, intelligent, impossible to pin down–that it is could become an increasingly popular go-to for people wishing to vent damaging information about an institution with questionable practices.

The collective already receives dozens of requests each month from the public to attack all manner of unsavoury subjects, from personal targets to the government of Libya, from Westboro Baptist Church to Facebook. It rarely responds to them–as one Anonymous member recently told me, “we’re not hit men.”

Yet for all its facets as both hot-tempered cyber vigilantes and enlighteners of truth, Anonymous is becoming increasingly approachable, as the latest emails between OperationLeakS and the former BoA employee show. Assuming this particular employee doesn’t end up languishing in jail like Manning, more people may now be inclined to follow suit.

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Filed under Economics, New Media, Technology, The Crisis

The Dean Is Dead

Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post:

David S. Broder, 81, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post and one of the most respected writers on national politics for four decades, died Wednesday at Capital Hospice in Arlington of complications from diabetes.

Mr. Broder was often called the dean of the Washington press corps – a nickname he earned in his late 30s in part for the clarity of his political analysis and the influence he wielded as a perceptive thinker on political trends in his books, articles and television appearances.

In 1973, Mr. Broder and The Post each won Pulitzers for coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Broder’s citation was for explaining the importance of the Watergate fallout in a clear, compelling way.

As passionate about baseball as he was about politics, he likened Nixon’s political career to an often-traded pitcher who had “bounced around his league.”

He covered every presidential convention since 1956 and was widely regarded as the political journalist with the best-informed contacts, from the lowliest precinct to the highest rungs of government.

Joel Achenbach:

If there were a more decent and generous journalist in our business than David Broder, I’ve never met the person.

Broder (“David” to everyone in the hallway, the elevator, the campaign filing center, of course) remained the consummate collegial figure long after — decades after — earning the status of “dean of the Washington press corps.” He had no pretense in him. He was a big-name pundit, but, most of all, he was a thing we used to call “a newspaper reporter.” He knocked on doors to the very end of his career, interviewing voters, getting to know the local political organizers, never promoting himself to a rank too exalted to conduct shoe-leather reporting or pound out a deadline story in a cold gym in some remote corner of New Hampshire or Iowa.

Who am I kidding: He loved those gyms! And the tighter the deadline, the better.

He could turn his analytical eye on his own reporting: Read this story by Broder, in which he expresses doubts about his influential report of Ed Muskie becoming tearful in the snow outside the Union-Leader office in the 1972 New Hampshire primary. Maybe it was just melting snow!

Steve Benen:

Regular readers know that I was often critical of Broder’s columns, but my critiques were driven in part by high expectations — the man was a giant of political journalism.

And even when I disagreed with his analysis, it was impossible not to respect his tenacity and his decency.

Best wishes go out to his family and friends.

David Weigel:

Last September, I traveled to Delaware to interview Rep. Mike Castle and his challenger, Christine O’Donnell, about a soon-to-be-infamous primary election. Castle and I talked for a long while he shook hands with voters outside the Arden Fair.

“This is becoming a pretty big deal,” Castle said. “You just missed David Broder. He came up here to interview me about the race.”

Broder, at that point, was about to turn 81 years old. He hadn’t just beaten me to the story, he’d beaten me by a month, traveling up to Delaware to interview Castle and introduce readers to Chris Coons, a “worthy match” who could actually win. After Castle lost the primary, the political press — myself included, reluctantly — spent countless pixels covering O’Donnell. But Coons won. If you had read Broder’s reporting, you would have expected that.

I can think of nothing more satisfying than doing what you love, doing it well, and making your readers more informed about the world because of the information you’re gathering. I’m deeply grateful to Broder for doing that for so many people over such a long time.

Philip Klein at American Spectator:

Broder was working up until the very end, and anybody who covers politics for a living has probably bumped into him at one point or another. I remember covering the Rudy Giuliani campaign during a cold weekend in New Hampshire in November 2007, and Broder, then in his late 70s, was touring along. I noticed him at one event, standing in the back, his hand slightly shaking as he took notes the old fashioned way while younger reporters were running around with digital recorders and scrambling to upload video on their laptops.

I wondered whether I’d still find the campaign trail so alluring when I reached that age.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

A few quick facts about David Broder:

  • He was only a car or two behind President Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1963. He was proud of his ability to show no human emotion during this traumatic episode for the country. This is probably how he secured “dean” status, by preventing himself from writing with any sort of sadness or sympathy during the assassination of a golden-boy president several yards away.
  • He hated the Clintons and led the moralistic Beltway howl against President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was the angriest he’d ever been in his life, when he heard about Bill Clinton getting a hummer from Monica Lewinsky.
  • He liked compromise and bipartisanship as ends in themselves, had no real interest in analyzing specific pieces of legislation, and was an original proponent of many other familiar Washington media traits, like “both sides do it.” For more, google High Broderism.
  • He was an important figure in 1972’s The Boys on the Bus, one of the earliest media-centric books showcasing the depravity of “pack journalism” on the campaign trail.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The phrase “Broderism” became a signifier in the blogosphere for a certain type of self-regarding faux-centrism which always seemed to side with deficit peacocks over everyone else, and defaulted to the position that the midpoint between any two issues was always the wisest course.

Broder’s book “The System,” about the failure of the Clinton health care plan in the 1990s, is actually a highly regarded work. But for many years, he seemed to have been writing the same column over and over, attacking the extremes of political debate in favor of the sensible center.

Nevertheless, Broder had a very strong pull on national politics, and was considered within Washington as the dean of the national press corps. So his death changes that landscape, however subtly

 

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Filed under Mainstream

The Continued Case Of Bradley Manning

Charlie Savage at NYT:

The Army announced 22 additional charges on Wednesday against Pfc. Bradley Manning, the military intelligence analyst who is accused of leaking a trove of government files to WikiLeaks a year ago.

The new charges included “aiding the enemy”; wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing that it was accessible to the enemy; multiple counts of theft of public records, transmitting defense information and computer fraud. If he is convicted, Private Manning could be sentenced to life in prison.

“The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Private First Class Manning is accused of committing,” said Capt. John Haberland, an Army spokesman.

The charges provide new details about when prosecutors believe that Private Manning downloaded copies of particular files from a classified computer system in Iraq. For example, the charges say he copied a database of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables between March 28 and May 4, 2010.

Glenn Greenwald:

Most of the charges add little to the ones already filed, but the most serious new charge is for “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Although military prosecutors stated that they intend to seek life imprisonment rather than the death penalty for this alleged crime, the military tribunal is still empowered to sentence Manning to death if convicted.

Article 104 — which, like all provisions of the UCMJ, applies only to members of the military — is incredibly broad. Under 104(b) — almost certainly the provision to be applied — a person is guilty if he “gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly” (emphasis added), and, if convicted, “shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.” The charge sheet filed by the Army is quite vague and neither indicates what specifically Manning did to violate this provision nor the identity of the “enemy” to whom he is alleged to have given intelligence. There are, as international law professor Kevin Jon Heller notes, only two possibilities, and both are disturbing in their own way.

In light of the implicit allegation that Manning transmitted this material to WikiLeaks, it is quite possible that WikiLeaks is the “enemy” referenced by Article 104, i.e., that the U.S. military now openly decrees (as opposed to secretly declaring) that the whistle-blowing group is an “enemy” of the U.S. More likely, the Army will contend that by transmitting classified documents to WikiLeaks for intended publication, Manning “indirectly” furnished those documents to Al Qaeda and the Taliban by enabling those groups to learn their contents. That would mean that it is a capital offense not only to furnish intelligence specifically and intentionally to actual enemies — the way that, say, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen were convicted of passing intelligence to the Soviet Union — but also to act as a whistle-blower by leaking classified information to a newspaper with the intent that it be published to the world. Logically, if one can “aid the enemy” even by leaking to WikiLeaks, then one can also be guilty of this crime by leaking to The New York Times.

The dangers of such a theory are obvious. Indeed, even the military itself recognizes those dangers, as the Military Judges’ Handbook specifically requires that if this theory is used — that one has “aided the enemy” through “indirect” transmission via leaks to a newspaper — then it must be proven that the “communication was intended to reach the enemy.” None of the other ways of violating this provision contain an intent element; recognizing how extreme it is to prosecute someone for “aiding the enemy” who does nothing more than leak to a media outlet, this is the only means of violating Article 104 that imposes an intent requirement.

But does anyone actually believe that Manning’s intent was to ensure receipt of this material by the Taliban, as opposed to exposing for the public what he believed to be serious American wrongdoing and to trigger reforms?

Jazz Shaw:

The “aiding the enemy” charge should come as no surprise to anyone, and in fact we had predicted it would come down to treason last winter. Despite the poo-pooing and endless protestations of some of Manning’s most vocal and frequently comical defenders, there is one object lesson here which can not be repeated often enough: the U.S. Military has zero sense of humor when it comes to things like this.

Assuming for the moment that this winds up in a conviction – and the Army is certainly acting like they’re playing a pretty solid hand at this point – the situation only becomes more explosive and holds the potential to be a huge thorn in the side of the Obama administration for months or years to come. Aiding the enemy during a time of war is generally considered one of the surest paths to a firing squad for obvious reasons, but it will leave the President in a sticky position.

If the military decides to drag Manning out back and shoot him – a distinct possibility – a significant portion of Barack Obama’s base will be in an uproar. They tend to be opposed to the death penalty in general, for starters. But Manning has also become something of a folk hero on the Left, allegedly helping – albeit indirectly – Julian Assange to “stick it to the man” and expose the various perceived evils of the American government. Allowing him to be executed would be a huge black eye for Obama with his base.

But if he steps in and commutes the sentence – assuming there is a legal mechanism for him to do so – then he will be seen as undercutting his own military establishment and substituting his judgment for their established practices and discipline. (Not to mention earning the tag of “going soft on traitors,” always a sure winner in an election year.)

Of course, the Army could let Obama off the hook and simply send Manning to Leavenworth for the rest of his natural life, but that’s not a great option either in terms of the political optics. Manning’s cheerleaders are already complaining about the “horrific” conditions he’s being held under and it’s only going to get worse after his conviction. (He might even lose his cable TV, library and newspaper privileges and private exercise yard.)

If convicted on the Big Count, Manning will never, ever be able to be transferred into the general military prison population and will, in all likelihood, spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. Of all the scoundrels in legal history, traitors are probably the most unpopular with the enlisted rank and file. Dumped into a large crowd, Manning’s safety would be virtually impossible to assure. And that would leave the President with a “folk hero” of the Left locked up under the same – or worse – conditions than he’s in now for the rest of his time in office. This would be a burr under Obama’s saddle which would never go away.

It’s been a long and winding road, but it looks like we may be coming to the end of it. The Army moves at their own pace, as they should, but if they’ve filed charges now they probably feel like their case is just about ripe for presentation. Look for a court martial date to be announced in the coming weeks or months.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

While we can’t be sure, I suspect the reference in Charge II, Specification 3 is to this information about the surveillance of Assange.

If I’m right about that, then it means the government is charging Manning with providing WikiLeaks with information about the surveillance being conducted, in real time, on WikiLeaks. And it would make it easy to prove both that “the enemy” got the information and that Manning intended the “enemy” to get it.

So if the government maintains that, by virtue of being an intelligence target, WikLeaks qualifies as an “enemy,” then they can also argue that Manning intentionally gave WikiLeaks information about how the government was targeting the organization. Which would make their aiding the enemy charge easy to prove.

But I also think that opens up the government to charges that it is criminalizing democracy.

As I noted above, the government’s own report on WikiLeaks describes its purpose to be increasing the accountability of democratic or corrupt governments. The government, by its own acknowledgment, knows that WikiLeaks’ intent is to support democracy. Furthermore, while the intelligence report reviews the debate about whether WikiLeaks constitutes protected free speech or criminal behavior (without taking a side in that debate), in a discussion of WikiLeaks’ efforts to verify an NGIC report on the battle of Fallujah, the report acknowledges that WikiLeaks did the kind of thing journalists do.

Wikileaks.org and some other news organizations did attempt to contact the NGIC personnel by e-mail or telephone to verify the information.

[snip]

Given the high visibility and publicity associated with publishing this classified report by Wikileaks.org, however, attempts to verify the information were prudent and show journalist responsibility to the newsworthiness or fair use of the classified document if they are investigated or challenged in court.

So while the military, according to its own report, describes WikiLeaks as a threat to the armed forces, it also acknowledges that WikiLeaks has behaved, at times, as a journalistic organization.

Mind you, all of this is simply a wildarsed guess about what the government may mean with its invocation of the “enemy.” But if I’m right, it would mean the government was threatening Manning with life in prison because he leaked information about the government’s surveillance of what it admits is an entity that engages in journalistic behavior.

Doug Mataconis:

Personally, though, I don’t think it would be that difficult a position for the President. The number of people complaining about Manning’s treatment can basically be whittled down to the Glenn Greenwald segment of the President’s progressive base, and many of them don’t seem to understand that Manning’s rights as a military prisoner being prosecuted under the Uniform Code Of Military Justice are distinctly different from the rights he would be entitled to as a civilian defendant in a civilian court. Additionally, many of them don’t seem to think that he did anything wrong even if the charges against him are true. I dare to say that they do not represent a majority of the Democratic Party, and certainly not a majority of the country. If Bradley Manning is convicted of aiding the enemy, then I doubt many Americans are going to care what happens to him.

There’s one fact buried in the new charges that I’ve only seen reported in the MSNBC story on them, though:

Pentagon and military officials also report that investigators have made no direct link between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

This has been the case for months, despite digging by federal investigators in all directions, and it makes the probability that any charges will ever be sustained against Wikileaks, Julian Assange, or any related individuals, seem very remote indeed.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake:

Bradley Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, writes about the true reason Bradley Manning is being stripped each night and forced to report naked each morning in the same way prisoners were tortured at Abu Graib:

On Wednesday March 2, 2011, PFC Manning was told that his Article 138 complaint requesting that he be removed from Maximum custody and Prevention of Injury (POI) Watch had been denied by the Quantico commander, Colonel Daniel J. Choike.  Understandably frustrated by this decision after enduring over seven months of unduly harsh confinement conditions, PFC Manning inquired of the Brig operations officer what he needed to do in order to be downgraded from Maximum custody and POI.  As even Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell has stated, PFC Manning has been nothing short of “exemplary” as a detainee.  Additionally, Brig forensic psychiatrists have consistently maintained that there is no mental health justification for the POI Watch imposed on PFC Manning.  In response to PFC Manning’s question, he was told that there was nothing he could do to downgrade his detainee status and that the Brig simply considered him a risk of self-harm.  PFC Manning then remarked that the POI restrictions were “absurd” and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.

Without consulting any Brig mental health provider, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes used PFC’s Manning’s sarcastic quip as justification to increase the restrictions imposed upon him under the guise of being concerned that PFC Manning was a suicide risk.  PFC Manning was not, however, placed under the designation of Suicide Risk Watch.  This is because Suicide Risk Watch would have required a Brig mental health provider’s recommendation, which the Brig commander did not have.  In response to this specific incident, the Brig psychiatrist assessed PFC Manning as “low risk and requiring only routine outpatient followup [with] no need for … closer clinical observation.”  In particular, he indicated that PFC Manning’s statement about the waist band of his underwear was in no way prompted by “a psychiatric condition.”

While the commander needed the Brig psychiatrist’s recommendation to place PFC Manning on Suicide Risk Watch, no such recommendation was needed in order to increase his restrictions under POI Watch.  The conditions of POI Watch require only psychiatric input, but ultimately remain the decision of the commander.

Given these circumstances, the decision to strip PFC Manning of his clothing every night for an indefinite period of time is clearly punitive in nature.  There is no mental health justification for the decision. There is no basis in logic for this decision.  PFC Manning is under 24 hour surveillance, with guards never being more than a few feet away from his cell.  PFC Manning is permitted to have his underwear and clothing during the day, with no apparent concern that he will harm himself during this time period.  Moreover, if Brig officials were genuinely concerned about PFC Manning using either his underwear or flip-flops to harm himself (despite the recommendation of the Brig’s psychiatrist) they could undoubtedly provide him with clothing that would not, in their view, present a risk of self-harm.  Indeed, Brig officials have provided him other items such as tear-resistant blankets and a mattress with a built-in pillow due to their purported concerns.

This is just vile.  The former brig commander, James Averhart, violated military rules by putting Manning on suicide watch as punishment, and was subsequently replaced by Denise Barnes.  Now she’s stripping him naked to punish him for a sarcastic quip. Who is she, Nurse Ratched? Abusing someone’s mental health classification in order to subject them to torture “for their own good” is sick and sadistic, reminiscent of Soviet gulags.

Maybe she wants to become his “god.”

Alana Goodman at Commentary:

First, Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, confirmed that Manning’s clothes were taken from him, though he didn’t give many details of the incident, except to say that it wasn’t done for punitive reasons.

“It would be inappropriate for me to explain it,” Villiard told the New York Times. “I can confirm that it did happen, but I can’t explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy.”

This isn’t the first time that Manning’s lawyer has asserted that the private suffered abuse in prison, and it likely won’t be the last. It’s typical of attorneys to claim that their clients are mistreated in prison, and in a case like Manning’s, these types of allegations will be eaten up by his supporters.

But based on Villiard’s statement, and the timeline of the incident, it sounds like Manning’s clothes may have been taken from him owing to suicide concerns. The Army private was previously put on suicide watch in prison. His reaction to the new charges against him could have military officials apprehensive about his mental state.

Doug Mataconis:

As Glenn Greenwald notes, there really only seems to be one purpose behind what Manning is being subjected to:

Let’s review Manning’s detention over the last nine straight months: 23-hour/day solitary confinement; barred even from exercising in his cell; one hour total outside his cell per day where he’s allowed to walk around in circles in a room alone while shackled, and is returned to his cell the minute he stops walking; forced to respond to guards’ inquiries literally every 5 minutes, all day, everyday; and awakened at night each time he is curled up in the corner of his bed or otherwise outside the guards’ full view.  Is there anyone who doubts that these measures — and especially this prolonged forced nudity — are punitive and designed to further erode his mental health, physical health and will?  As The Guardian reported last year, forced nudity is almost certainly a breach of the Geneva Conventions; the Conventions do not technically apply to Manning, as he is not a prisoner of war, but they certainly establish the minimal protections to which all detainees — let alone citizens convicted of nothing — are entitled.

Moreover, Greenwald points out, correctly I think, the media seems to be giving the Obama Administration a pass here:

I’ll say this again:  just fathom the contrived, shrieking uproar from opportunistic Democratic politicians and their loyalists if it had been George Bush and Dick Cheney — on U.S. soil — subjecting a whistle-blowing member of the U.S. military to these repressive conditions without being convicted of anything, charging him with a capital offense that statutorily carries the death penalty, and then forcing him to remain nude every night and stand naked for inspection outside his cell.  Feigning concern over detainee abuse for partisan gain is only slightly less repellent than the treatment to which Manning is being subjected.

Indeed. It’s understandable, to be honest, why the right wouldn’t care all that much about how Private Manning is being treated. If this were happening under a Republican, though, the left would be united in outrage. Now, their silence is telling

Make no mistake about it. I do not consider Bradley Manning a hero in any sense of the word. Even if it were the case that much of the material that Manning stole from military computers should not have been classified, or really wasn’t all that important (and much of it wasn’t in the end), that isn’t a decision that a Private in the Army has a right to make. If the charges against him are true, he violated orders, accessed systems he had no right to access, and stole information that he had no right to take off base. If he’s convicted of these charges, he deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. While he’s awaiting trial, though, and even after he’s convicted, he still must be treated humanely and, at present, Manning is receiving worse treatment than a Prisoner Of War would, and the only purpose behind it seems to be to break him psychologically. That’s simply unacceptable.

Jazz Shaw:

But can this treatment really be justified? There are two points to address on this front.

First and most simply put, Manning made the comment about being able to kill himself with his underwear, sarcastic or not. Can you imagine what would be said if the brig commander did nothing and then he actually did turn up dead in his cell by his own waistband? It would be a movable feast for the media and several careers would come to an abrupt end. How does the commander ignore something like that?

The second point is a bit more complicated and far less clear, and one that we’ve touched on here in the past. It boils down to some of the fundamental differences between civilian society and the military community. Just as civilians, used to all their freedoms of free speech, etc. don’t understand the restrictions on military personnel, those familiar with the civilian justice system are frequently shocked by many of the “unofficial” aspects of the U.C.M.J. Lots of things like this go on all the time in the military, or at least they used to back in the day. But normally you don’t have the civilian press watching and reporting on it.

Does that make it right? I leave that to the judgment of the reader.

Also, life in the military in general is just a bit more physical and harsh than in the civilian world. A lot of things happen which would probably shock many of you who have never served. In the Navy, for example, there is an old tradition of an initiation rite of passage the first time a sailor crosses the equator on a war ship. It is the time when you graduate from being a “pollywog” (or just “wog” for short) to being a “shellback.” Trust me, it’s an ordeal, usually lasting 24 hours or more.

The third time I made the passage, two enlisted men wound up in sick bay with broken arms. Everyone got to experience the joys of crawling through plastic chutes filled with garbage, rotting food and bilge water, all the while being “herded” by shellbacks wielding foot long lengths of fire hose, loving called, “shillelaghs.” (During my own initiation it took more than a week before the bruises finally faded.) And this is all for your friends who have done nothing wrong.

I’ll leave it for one of the veteran submarine sailors to tell you about the grand old tradition of having your dolphins “tacked on” if they wish to do so in comments.

So I suppose our final question is, does any of this make it acceptable for Manning to be treated in this fashion, either to cover the brig commander’s butt or for the sake of teaching a lesson to somebody mouthing off to their superiors? I really don’t know. Maybe we do need to shine a light on this and review military procedures, both official and “under the covers.” But I do know that life in the military community is a lot different than in the civilian world, and having lived it for a number of years myself, this story honestly didn’t shock me at all.

Andrew Sullivan:

There is only one word to describe the treatment of this model prisoner: sadism. Glenn Greenwald has been following the case closely and has two disturbing must-reads here and here. We all hoped that under Obama, brutal treatment of military prisoners and lies about it would end. In this case, they haven’t.

Megan McArdle:

I understand that Bradley Manning has probably done something very wrong, for which, if guilty, he deserves a hefty jail sentence and the contempt of his fellow citizens.  But this is not what a decent country does to its citizens.

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Filed under Crime, Military Issues, Technology, Torture

Erlernen Sie Von Uns, Amerika, Part III

David Leonhardt at NYT:

Remember the German economic boom of 2010?

Germany’s economic growth surged in the middle of last year, causing commentators both there and here to proclaim that American stimulus had failed and German austerity had worked. Germany’s announced budget cuts, the commentators said, had given private companies enough confidence in the government to begin spending their own money again.

Well, it turns out the German boom didn’t last long. With its modest stimulus winding down, Germany’s growth slowed sharply late last year, and its economic output still has not recovered to its prerecession peak. Output in the United States — where the stimulus program has been bigger and longer lasting — has recovered. This country would now need to suffer through a double-dip recession for its gross domestic product to be in the same condition as Germany’s.

Yet many members of Congress continue to insist that budget cuts are the path to prosperity. The only question in Washington seems to be how deeply to cut federal spending this year.

If the economy were at a different point in the cycle — not emerging from a financial crisis — the coming fight over spending could actually be quite productive. Republicans could force Democrats to make government more efficient, which Democrats rarely do on their own. Democrats could force Republicans to abandon the worst of their proposed cuts, like those to medical research, law enforcement, college financial aid and preschools. And maybe such a benevolent compromise can still occur over the next several years.

The immediate problem, however, is the fragility of the economy. Gross domestic product may have surpassed its previous peak, but it’s still growing too slowly for companies to be doing much hiring. States, of course, are making major cuts. A big round of federal cuts will only make things worse.

So if the opponents of deep federal cuts, starting with President Obama, are trying to decide how hard to fight, they may want to err on the side of toughness. Both logic and history make this case.

Let’s start with the logic. The austerity crowd argues that government cuts will lead to more activity by the private sector. How could that be? The main way would be if the government were using so many resources that it was driving up their price and making it harder for companies to use them.

In the early 1990s, for instance, government borrowing was pushing up interest rates. When the deficit began to fall, interest rates did too. Projects that had not previously been profitable for companies suddenly began to make sense. The resulting economic boom brought in more tax revenue and further reduced the deficit.

But this virtuous cycle can’t happen today. Interest rates are already very low. They’re low because the financial crisis and recession caused a huge drop in the private sector’s demand for loans. Even with all the government spending to fight the recession, overall demand for loans has remained historically low, the data shows.

Similarly, there is no evidence that the government is gobbling up too many workers and keeping them from the private sector. When John Boehner, the speaker of the House, said last week that federal payrolls had grown by 200,000 people since Mr. Obama took office, he was simply wrong. The federal government has added only 58,000 workers, largely in national security, since January 2009. State and local governments have cut 405,000 jobs over the same span.

The fundamental problem after a financial crisis is that businesses and households stop spending money, and they remain skittish for years afterward. Consider that new-vehicle sales, which peaked at 17 million in 2005, recovered to only 12 million last year. Single-family home sales, which peaked at 7.5 million in 2005, continued falling last year, to 4.6 million. No wonder so many businesses are uncertain about the future.

Without the government spending of the last two years — including tax cuts — the economy would be in vastly worse shape. Likewise, if the federal government begins laying off tens of thousands of workers now, the economy will clearly suffer.

Doug J.:

Bobo six months ago on German austerity:

The early returns suggest the Germans were. The American stimulus package was supposed to create a “summer of recovery,” according to Obama administration officials. Job growth was supposed to be surging at up to 500,000 a month. Instead, the U.S. economy is scuffling along.

[….]

The economy can’t be played like a piano — press a fiscal key here and the right job creation notes come out over there. Instead, economic management is more like parenting. If you instill good values and create a secure climate then, through some mysterious process you will never understand, things will probably end well.

An actual economics reporter (Dave Leonhardt) today:

With its modest stimulus winding down, Germany’s growth slowed sharply late last year, and its economic output still has not recovered to its prerecession peak. Output in the United States — where the stimulus program has been bigger and longer lasting — has recovered. This country would now need to suffer through a double-dip recession for its gross domestic product to be in the same condition as Germany’s.

[…..]

“It’s really quite striking how well the U.S. is performing relative to the U.K., which is tightening aggressively,” says Ian Shepherdson, a Britain-based economist for the research firm High Frequency Economics, “and relative to Germany, which is tightening more modestly.” Mr. Shepherdson adds that he generally opposes stimulus programs for a normal recession but that they are crucial after a crisis.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that any argument involving the idea of government as parent will be a faulty argument.

No one could have predicted that Paul Krugman would be right about austerity.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

David Leonhardt is speaking simple economic truths in what must sound like a foreign language, given the tenor of debates over the past few months. Standard economic theories haven’t applied in Washington for a while, so Leonhardt’s essay has the force of the running man throwing the hammer into the Big Brother TV screen in the famous Apple 1984 commercial.

Leonhardt manages to mention that GDP is still growing too slowly in the US for mass hiring, even with a higher growth rate than Germany. He manages to note the state and local cuts that will blunt recovery. He manages to look at interest rates, which are historically low, and reason that government spending is not crowding out the private sector in any way. He calls John Boehner a liar for saying the federal workforce has grown by 200,000 employees since Barack Obama’s tenure in office (it’s about 1/4 that). He says that the problem right now is a lack of demand. He cites the much better example of Britain, which has gone whole-hog for austerity and seen negative job growth and negative GDP growth since.

I’d like to think that this kind of truth would, like resuscitating a dying patient, shock the political class back to life. More likely it will just fall down the memory hole, drowned out by the bipartisan cries of “we all want to cut spending.” The unemployed are still invisible, economic theory is still upside down, and one article won’t change that.

It would be nice if it did.

Andrew Leonard at Salon:

What do we learn from the correlation between states with the worst housing bust and budget shortfalls? If U.S. economic growth slows, the federal deficit situation will get worse. Republicans believe that cutting government spending will spur economic growth. But the evidence we have from countries that have attempted such a strategy since the Great Recession began to ebb — Germany and the United Kingdom — suggests exactly the opposite. Austerity policies are not the right medicine for a fragile economy.

Felix Salmon:

One of the best aspects of being a journalist is that you get to talk at length to the most knowledgeable and interesting experts on just about any subject you can think of. For me, yesterday was a prime case in point: a long and fascinating lunch with James Macdonald, the author of my favorite book on the history of sovereign debt. Turns out he also has a microscopic vineyard in Tuscany, so the conversation ebbed wonderfully from economics to wine and back.

Macdonald has an economic historian’s view of the current austerity debate, and he was very clear: if you look at the history of countries trying to cut and deflate their way to prosperity while keeping their currencies pegged, it’s pretty grim — all the way back to Napoleonic times. Sometimes, the peg is gold. For a good example of the destructive abilities of that particular peg, look at the UK in the 1920s, which Macdonald says was arguably worse than the US in the 1930s: shallower, to be sure, but substantially longer. The devaluation of the pound, when it finally came, was very long overdue.

At other times, the peg is simply political: Macdonald gives the example of southern Italy being locked into what was essentially the Piedmontese monetary system at the time of the Risorgimento. That might have been well over a century ago, but there’s a case to be made that it has hobbled just about everywhere south of Rome to this day — and that’s in a country with about as much internal labor mobility as between EU countries.

So from a historical perspective, the prospects for countries like Portugal, Ireland and Greece are pretty grim. They can cut their budgets drastically and stay pegged to the euro, but most of them would be better off in the position of Iceland, which can and did devalue in a crisis (and allowed its banks to default, too). So far, the Baltic states have stuck to their deflationary guns with the most determination and discipline, but such things work until they don’t: at some point it’s entirely possible that Latvia or Estonia could pull an Argentina and kickstart growth by devaluing.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I’m sure that, in the light of this new evidence, American conservatives will undertake a thorough rethinking of their anti-stimulus beliefs. After all, as they told us at the time, this was a natural experiment.

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Filed under Economics, Foreign Affairs, The Crisis

Huh, Don’t Trust Someone Named Curveball. Got It.

Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd at The Guardian:

The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”

The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

But I’m particularly interested in two new details he reveals. First, BND and British intelligence met with Curveball’s boss in mid-2000; the boss debunked Curveball’s claims.

Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],’” Janabi recalled.

So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).

And Curveball describes how BND returned to his claims in 2002, then dropped it, then returned to it just before Colin Powell’s Feruary 5, 2003 speech at the UN.

We’ve known the outlines of these details before. But it sure adds to the picture of the US dialing up the intelligence it needed — however flimsy — to start a war.

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Guardian reporters Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd tracked down Alwan in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized city along the French-German border. They speculate his admission “appeared to be partly a purge of conscience, partly an attempt to justify what he did,” or maybe just a last-ditch attempt “to resurrect his own reputation” in the hopes of moving back to Iraq. They acknowledge Curveball’s attempted “reinvention as a liberator and patriot is a tough sell to many in the CIA, the BND and in the Bush administration, whose careers were terminally wounded” by his fabrications.

Alwan’s motives, not surprisingly, were of little interest to pundits based in those countries that devoted seven years of blood and treasure to the fight in Iraq. “Yet another nail in the coffin of those who claim that the intelligence was clear about the alleged threat,” writes Guardian columnist Carnie Ross. “We should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.” Wonkette’s Ken Layne echoed the sentiment. “Tell whatever lies you want for whatever ends you desire. That is the lesson.”

Paul Waldman at Tapped:

Things move fast these days, and 2003 can seem like ancient history to some. But given that the run-up to the war in Iraq was the greatest media failure in decades, I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the tears of joy and gratitude that greeted Powell’s U.N. speech. What’s important to keep in mind is that a lot of Powell’s bogus claims were known at the time to be false or baseless, if reporters had bothered to ask around. But they didn’t, because they were so blinded by how awesome Powell was. Think I exaggerate? Let’s take a look back:

“Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strong, plain-spoken indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime before the UN Security Council Wednesday embodies something truly great about the United States. Those around the world who demanded proof must now be satisfied, or else admit that no satisfaction is possible for them.” — Chicago Sun-Times”In a brilliant presentation as riveting and as convincing as Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 unmasking of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Powell proved beyond any doubt that Iraq still possesses and continues to develop illegal weapons of mass destruction. The case for war has been made. And it’s irrefutable.” — New York Daily News

“Only those ready to believe Iraq and assume that the United States would manufacture false evidence against Saddam would not be persuaded by Powell’s case.” — San Antonio Express-News

“The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.” — Richard Cohen, Washington Post

That’s just a small sample, but you see the pattern: Not only was Powell’s show presented as settling the matter of whether Iraq had this terrifying arsenal and would use it on us, but if you didn’t agree, you were either an Iraqi sympathizer or at the very least anti-American. At that point, the debate over whether we would invade was pretty much over — the only question was when the bombs would start falling. It may boggle the mind that so much of the case for war was based on the testimony of one absurdly unreliable guy. But that was what passed for “intelligence” during the Bush years.

Doug Mataconis:

The Germans returned to Janabi in May 2002, just when the propaganda run-up to the Iraq War was beginning. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that this likely occurred at the behest of the United States, which was eager for as much information proving that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a WMD program in violation of UN sanctions as it could find. Despite the fact that he had been previously established as a liar, he was apparently taken seriously and given incentives for sharing as much information as he could come up with. Which he obviously did.

At the same time, there’s no evidence that the United States knew about the problems with Janabi’s credibility, or even that they knew who he was other than “Curveball,” the code name assigned to him by German intelligence. So, absent additional information, this doesn’t strike me as implicating the Bush Administration in Janabi’s lies. What it does demonstrate, though, is the extent to which, during the period from late 2001 through early 2003, the United States was singularly focused on finding any evidence it could to justify war against Iraq to the exclusion of anything to the contrary. Obviously, the Germans, as our allies, picked up on this and provided us with the information we needed. The problem is that nobody in Berlin or Washington seems to have bothered to make any effort  to independently verify what Janabi was saying before deciding to use it as the basis to go to war. And that’s a problem.

So far at least, this story seems to be be drawing very little attention in the blogsphere, and none at all among conservative bloggers. That’s too bad, because the fact that we fought a war based not only on bad intelligence, but on intelligence that was based on evidence provided by someone who was already a known liar strikes me as something that we ought to be concerned about.

Moe Lane:

I probably wouldn’t be on Colin Powell’s Christmas card list, nor he on mine – not for any particular enmity on my part, or (hypothetical) on his; we’re just not the same kind of Republicans – but I have to admit:

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons capability.

…I’d like to know the answer to this one myself.  I mean, contrary to Lefty mythology, the liberation of Iraq did not hinge on the presence of WMDs (although I will admit that their proven past existence and use on civilian targets by the late, unlamented-by-civilized-people Hussein regime did make quite a few Democrats at least temporarily capable of being swayed by reason); but the failure to find any in significant amounts after the fact was definitely embarrassing to the Bush administration, and I join former Secretary Powell in wanting to hear the bureaucrats explain themselves.  Because we’re still counting on these people to tell us what the heck is going on, and President Obama needs to be better served by them than former President Bush was.

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Filed under Iraq

The Keystone Kops Are After Greenwald!

Steve Ragan in Tech Herald:

After a tip from Crowdleaks.org, The Tech Herald has learned that HBGary Federal, as well as two other data intelligence firms, worked to develop a strategic plan of attack against WikiLeaks. The plan included pressing a journalist in order to disrupt his support of the organization, cyber attacks, disinformation, and other potential proactive tactics.

Update:

The Tech Herald was able to get in touch with Glenn Greenwald for his reaction to being singled out in the WikiLeaks proposal. He called the report creepy and disturbing. Moreover, he commented that the suggestions for dealing with WikiLeaks, along with the assumption that the organization could be undermined, were “hard to take seriously.”

The listed mitigations, such as disinformation or submitting false documents, have been discussed before. In 2008, the Pentagon had similar ideas, so that aspect of the document was nothing new.

Greenwald, as a journalist, is a prolific writer on media topics. He is a harsh critic of political figures and the mainstream media. The suggestion made by the proposal that he would pick career over cause is “completely against” what he is about, he told us.

“The only reason I do what I do is because im free to put cause before career,” he said.

Pointedly, he reminded us that his work includes taking aim at political figures, which could be a source of professional leverage with scoops or favors, as well as news organizations who could offer him gainful employment. None of these actions paints a picture of a man who would pick career over his passion.

Update 2:

WikiLeaks is hosting an official mirror of the sixth and final draft of the report. You can see a copy here.

Update 3:

Palantir Technologies has severed all ties with HBGary Federal and issued an apology to reporter Glenn Greenwald. More details here.

Update 4:

Berico Technologies has cut ties as well. More information is here.

Jesse Walker at Reason:

According to a report in the Tech Herald, three security firms recently pitched the Bank of America with a plan to take down WikiLeaks. If the documents at the core of the story are legit — and as Andy Greenberg of Forbes notes, “their level of detail would require immense effort on the part of counterfeiters” — the companies come off as Keystone Kops.

The most interesting detail is that the firms involved — HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies, and Berico Technologies — placed a lot of emphasis on the pro-WikiLeaks blogger Glenn Greenwald, arguing that “Without the support of people like Glenn wikileaks would fold,” so “It is this level of support that needs to be disrupted.” The firms are confident that this can be done, since “most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals.”

The source of the documents is a massive trove of HBGary emails that was seized and released by Anonymous. The backstory behind that is pretty fascinating in itself.

Matthew Yglesias:

A consortium of national security contractors, led by Palantir Technology, seems to have been shopping a counter-WikiLeaks strategy. This slide is about neutralizing Glenn Greenwald:

— Glenn was critical in the Amazon to OVH transition
— It is this level of support that needs to be disrupted
— These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals.
— Without the support of people like Glenn, Wikileaks would fold

I like that they’re on a first-name basis with Greenwald. Lee’s 2008 book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, is highly recommended. And remember, without the support of people like you, the Yglesias Blog would fold!

Kerry Lauerman at Salon:

We take threats against our own very seriously.

A bizarre plan for an attack on the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks and journalists construed as sympathetic to it — first reported by the Tech Herald — clearly targets Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, saying that his “level of support” for WikiLeaks “needs to be disrupted.” The report (you can download the purported final draft here) is listed as an “overview by Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies,” and according to a string of e-mails also leaked, was developed following a request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm that represents, among others, Bank of America.

Bank of America is the presumed next target of WikiLeaks, and has reportedly been bracing for what’s to come.

The leaked report singles out other journalists, as well, and suggests that “these are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause …” And goes on: “Without the support of people like Glenn wikileaks would fold.”

Emptywheel at Firedoglake:

Now aside from the predictable, but nevertheless rather shocking detail, that these security firms believed the best way to take WikiLeaks out was to push Glenn to stop supporting them, what the fuck are they thinking by claiming that Glenn weighs “professional preservation” against “cause”? Could they be more wrong, painting Glenn as a squeamish careerist whose loud support for WikiLeaks (which dates back far longer than these security firms seem to understand) is secondary to “professional preservation”? Do they know Glenn is a journalist? Do they know he left the stuffy world of law? Have they thought about why he might have done that? Are they familiar at all with who Glenn is? Do they really believe Glenn became a household name–to the extent that he did–just in December?

I hope Bank of America did buy the work of these firms. Aside from the knowledge that the money would be–to the extent that we keep bailing out Bank of America–taxpayer money, I’d be thrilled to think of BoA pissing away its money like that. The plan these firms are pushing is absolutely ignorant rubbish. They apparently know almost nothing about what they’re pitching, and have no ability to do very basic research.

Which is precisely the approach I’d love to see BoA use to combat whatever WikiLeaks has coming its way.

Glenn Greenwald:

My initial reaction to all of this was to scoff at its absurdity.  Not being familiar with the private-sector world of internet security, I hadn’t heard of these firms before and, based on the quality of the proposal, assumed they were just some self-promoting, fly-by-night entities of little significance.  Moreover, for the reasons I detailed in my interview with The Tech Herald — and for reasons Digby elaborated on here — the very notion that I could be forced to choose “professional preservation over cause” is ludicrous on multiple levels.  Obviously, I wouldn’t have spent the last year vehemently supporting WikiLeaks — to say nothing of aggressively criticizing virtually every large media outlet and many of their leading stars, as well as the most beloved political leaders of both parties — if I were willing to choose “career preservation over cause.”

But after learning a lot more over the last couple of days, I now take this more seriously — not in terms of my involvement but the broader implications this story highlights.  For one thing, it turns out that the firms involved here are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial amounts of work for both the U.S. Government and the nation’s largest private corporations (as but one example, see this email from a Stanford computer science student about Palantir).  Moreover, these kinds of smear campaigns are far from unusual; in other leaked HB Gary emails, ThinkProgress discovered that similar proposals were prepared for the Chamber of Commerce to attack progressive groups and other activists (including ThinkProgress).  And perhaps most disturbing of all, Hunton & Williams was recommended to Bank of America’s General Counsel by the Justice Department — meaning the U.S. Government is aiding Bank of America in its defense against/attacks on WikiLeaks.

That’s why this should be taken seriously, despite how ignorant, trite and laughably shallow is the specific leaked anti-WikiLeaks proposal.  As creepy and odious as this is, there’s nothing unusual about these kinds of smear campaigns.   The only unusual aspect here is that we happened to learn about it this time because of Anonymous’ hacking.  That a similar scheme was quickly discovered by ThinkProgress demonstrates how common this behavior is.  The very idea of trying to threaten the careers of journalists and activists to punish and deter their advocacy is self-evidently pernicious; that it’s being so freely and casually proposed to groups as powerful as the Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce, and the DOJ-recommended Hunton & Williams demonstrates how common this is.  These highly experienced firms included such proposals because they assumed those deep-pocket organizations would approve and it would make their hiring more likely.

But the real issue highlighted by this episode is just how lawless and unrestrained is the unified axis of government and corporate power.  I’ve written many times about this issue — the full-scale merger between public and private spheres —  because it’s easily one of the most critical yet under-discussed political topics.  Especially (though by no means only) in the worlds of the Surveillance and National Security State, the powers of the state have become largely privatized.  There is very little separation between government power and corporate power.   Those who wield the latter intrinsically wield the former.  The revolving door between the highest levels of government and corporate offices rotates so fast and continuously that it has basically flown off its track and no longer provides even the minimal barrier it once did.  It’s not merely that corporate power is unrestrained; it’s worse than that:  corporations actively exploit the power of the state to further entrench and enhance their power.

That’s what this anti-WikiLeaks campaign is generally:  it’s a concerted, unified effort between government and the most powerful entities in the private sector (Bank of America is the largest bank in the nation).  The firms the Bank has hired (such as Booz Allen) are suffused with the highest level former defense and intelligence officials, while these other outside firms (including Hunton & Williams and Palantir) are extremely well-connected to the U.S. Government.  The U.S. Government’s obsession with destroying WikiLeaks has been well-documented.  And because the U.S. Government is free to break the law without any constraints, oversight or accountability, so, too, are its “private partners” able to act lawlessly.  That was the lesson of the Congressional vesting of full retroactive immunity in lawbreaking telecoms, of the refusal to prosecute any of the important Wall Street criminals who caused the 2008 financial crisis, and of the instinctive efforts of the political class to protect defrauding mortgage banks.

Nate Anderson at Wired

More Greenwald

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Where Will Harold Ford Go Now?

Ben Smith at Politico:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday.

The DLC, a network of Democratic elected officials and policy intellectuals had long been fading from its mid-’90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of “triangulation” at a moment when there’s little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right. The group tried — but has failed — to remake itself in the summer of 2009, when its founder, Al From, stepped down as president. Its new leader, former Clinton aide Bruce Reed, sought to remake the group as a think tank, and the DLC split from its associated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute.

But Reed left the DLC last year himself to serve as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, leaving Ed Gresser, a trade expert, to lead the group in the interim. Since then the board “hasn’t been able to find someone who wanted to come on in a permanent capacity,” a person familiar with the group’s woes said, with the central problem the difficulty of raising money for a Democratic group that isn’t seen as an ally of the White House.

Gresser declined to comment on the DLC’s future, and referred a call to From, who didn’t immediately respond to a message left with an assistant.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

It’s hard to remember, but the whole rise of the progressive netroots was organized around opposition to the DLC, which liberals saw as Satan incarnate. Bill Clinton was an early member, and the DLC helped frame his presidential candidacy.

I always had mixed feelings about the group. I think it was about half innovative effort to counterbalance traditional Democratic interest groups, and half naked effort to suck up to corporate America and/or give contentless messaging cover to red state Democrats.

But for the main part, the DLC disappeared because its work was over. The remaking of the Democratic Party begun by Clinton held in place. The DLC floundered because it had nowhere else to go — having moved the party to the center, it could only advocate for the party is it stood in the Clinton and post-Clinton era, or advocate that it move further still toward the center. It became a an anachronism.

Ezra Klein:

What it hasn’t been able to do is adapt to success. It hasn’t mended relations with liberals, so it never could become the all-purpose Democratic think tank and holding pen that the Center for American Progress is. Its policy shop and messaging shops got a bit stale, which allowed upstarts like Third Way to pass it in influence. It continued picking fights with people like Howard Dean and Markos Moulitsas, which meant that when it got headlines, they weren’t necessarily good ones. It hasn’t nurtured and held onto the young talent that could help it build new constituencies or really update its thinking. It never figured out the Web.

But if I were Al From, the organization’s founder, I’d feel pretty good about myself. For better or for worse, the DLC won. That’s why potential donors and others are now comfortable letting it die.

Marc Ambinder at National Journal:

More prosaically, the DLC did something in 2006 to permanently alienate them from virtually the entire party: they endorsed Joe Lieberman’s re-election bid. Lieberman’s stalwart support for the war in Iraq and for President Bush was just about the biggest sin of all to Democrats of the era. Some issues are zero sum, and the DLC found itself on the wrong side of history, as least as far as the Democratic Party was concerned.
There are two other factors worth mentioning. One was that Big Labor became all the more important to helping Democrats get out the vote, and that made it more difficult for Democrats to affiliate with the DLC. The second was that the Netroots — Atrios and Daily Kos and Chris Bowers — thought the DLC’s “centrism” was equivalent to the politics of concession and compromise.
No question: the Netroots and progressive left are at the center of gravity for the Democratic Party as an institution. There is a distinction, though, between energy and influence. And it still isn’t clear how Democrats win the election without galvanizing the type of voters the DLC sought to attract. The group may be going away, but debates about its ideas will dominate politics for a long time to come.
The truth of the matter is that the DLCs function has been taken over by Third Way. Nobody needs to fear that the centrists aren’t going to be well represented in the Democratic Party. They run the place.
David Dayen at Firedoglake

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Way back in 2005, Markos Moulitsas of the liberal Daily Kos was quite irked with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and declared:

Two more weeks, folks, before we take them on, head on. No calls for a truce will be brooked. The DLC has used those pauses in the past to bide their time between offensives. Appeals to party unity will fall on deaf ears (it’s summer of a non-election year, the perfect time to sort out internal disagreements). We need to make the DLC radioactive. And we will. With everyone’s help, we really can. Stay tuned.

He was going to make them “radioactive.” To think, if a conservative had said it, it would be considered encouraging dirty bomb attacks.

We scoffed. But no more. Apparently Kos really has perfected the promised radioactive superweapon. Ben Smith:

The Democratic Leadership Council, the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years, is out of money and could close its doors as soon as next week, a person familiar with the plans said Monday…  Its website currently leads a Harold Ford op-ed from last November, titled, “Yes we can collaborate.” It lists as its staff just four people, and has only one fellow. Recent tax returns weren’t immediately publicly available, but returns from 2004-2008 show a decline in its budget from $2.6 million to $1.5 million, and a source said funding further dried up during the financial crisis that began nine months before Reed took over.

Could the long-promised superweapon be real? I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions dozens of centrist Democrats suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced

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