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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another ugly wrinkle in the CIA-Blackwater relationship

Germany's Der Spiegel says Blackwater was used by the CIA to take detainees out of Guantanamo and into the black hole of secret prisons and detention.
Even today, members of Congress do not have a complete image of the activities Blackwater undertook on behalf of the government.

The intelligence service commissioned Blackwater and its subsidiaries to transport terror suspects from Guantanamo to interrogations at secret prison camps in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The paper identifies aircraft movements and unveils how the flights were disguised. The memo says: "The CIA hired Blackwater to conduct extraordinary renditions". And: "Blackwater flew the rendition targets from Fort Perry and Cuba to Kandahar, Afghanistan."

Think we'll find dead bodies at the end of these trails?

That would be a war crime....

From the less redacted 2004 CIA IG report due out next week,
The CIA's internal investigator found that agency interrogators conducted mock executions of terror suspects and in one case threatened a detainee suspected in the USS Cole bombing with a gun and power drill, congressional officials said late Friday.

From a different AP version, we also get a significant political bit,
The report casts doubt on the effectiveness of the harsh interrogation methods employed by CIA interrogators, according to quotes from the report that were contained in Bush-era Justice Department memos declassified this spring. It says no attacks were averted by information obtained using harsh interrogation methods.

Both pretty damning.

Also, I should mention that the original story is by Hosenball and Isikoff in Newsweek.

In that version, we also learn that "The inspector general's report alludes to more than one mock execution," and that the interrogations of Nashiri, the subject of waterboarding and mock execution, was on the interrogation videotapes the CIA had destroyed.

What it doesn't seem to contain is the direct chain of orders, involvement, and knowledge above the CIA which is the real political bombshell.

If you'll remember from April, ABC described dozens of top level staff meetings in the White House (Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, and Ashcroft all meeting and deciding on individual "interrogation" methods on individual detainees.)
In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

There's apparently nothing to say that they authorized mock executions, but they were clearly very deep in specifics of interrogations, and you gotta wonder if they saw the videotapes and were aware of the worst of it.

And, Cheney is finally going to get his document release, but amid all the rest of this, the political value he sought will likely be lost.
At the same time the administration releases the inspector general's report, it is also expected to release other CIA documents that assert the agency collected valuable intelligence through the interrogation program. For months, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for these documents to be released. However, a person familiar with the contents of the documents says that they contain material that both opponents and supporters of Bush administration tactics can use to bolster their case.

So, they'll offer a little cover to those already prone to the Cheney position, but won't really impact the overall debate.

(Does AG Holder have any choice but to prosecute now that clear war crimes have been so clearly and publicly revealed?

And, as next week will be another torture week, is it any wonder Obama went on vacation.)

Maybe another reason for Dick Armey's firing

Two weeks ago, Dick Armey suddenly "resigned" his lobbying post. The official reason given was that his activities for FreedomWorks in organizing the townhall screamers was deemed too controversial for Army to maintain his position at Piper.

However, now we have a second possibility. A former Dick Armey aide has been indicted on five felony counts related to Abramoff which took place in large part while the aide was working for Dick Armey.

Friday, August 21, 2009


"One of the things I find most interesting is that generally Evangelicals are so much more supportive of Israel than the American Jewish community," Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, said.

(Although what "supportive of Israel" means is a pretty open question.)

The Bush folks coordinate response

Politico has a piece on the Bush folks responding to Ridge's allegations. There are two statements against Ridge by Andy Card and Fran Townsend (Two sources vs. one? The classic statement and confirm?,) but what really caught my eye was this.
Ridge did not respond to numerous requests for comment from POLITICO and a number of former top political and national security officials within the Bush administration declined to respond to Ridge, referring POLITICO to Card and Townsend.

So, they're still coordinating message that closely? Who's the post-White House Chief of Staff?

The CIA is supposed to be invisible/Porter Goss starts dodging

A fuller version of the 2004 CIA IG's report on detainee treatment is due out on Monday. The rumblings I've seen seem to indicate that it may have some bombshells.

Meanwhile, Porter Goss is dodging on the Blackwater "assassinations" program. He lists four different excuses in just five paragraphs.1) He didn't know what was going on. 2) He was just following orders. 3) He only did it to protect the country. 4) Could you have done any better?
Goss said he had not been fully briefed on the details of the CIA activities in question...

Goss alluded to that effort, stating that "my standing orders were 'field-forward' mission."

"We wanted to catch the people who brought down the trade centers and killed innocent people and wanted to kill more," he said....

"Suppose you got a high-value guy, a terrorist, part of al-Qaeda, a radical fundamentalist trained to kill innocent people, who you cannot talk down from the tree. What happens when you actually find that guy? Do you send the FBI? That's probably not the best option for the tribal areas" in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Later: A NYTimes story fingers Porter Goss as the one who brought Blackwater into the "assassinations program."
In interviews on Thursday, current and former government officials provided new details about Blackwater’s association with the assassination program, which began in 2004 not long after Porter J. Goss took over at the C.I.A.

: When the CIA is repeatedly in the news for operations, the recent past directors failed at their jobs.

Thought for the Day

Good astroturf looks real in front of TV cameras, but it does affect the game.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tom Ridge writes a tell all

Pre-press from Tom Ridge's new book.
Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings;

was "blindsided" by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him;

found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored;

was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.

The first three paint Ridge as a bureaucratic incompetent who was out maneuvered and pushed around, but it's that last one that should get the coverage.

(And there's that bit about the DHS chief being kept in the dark...)

Later: We also have the question of whether and to what degree Ridge talks about this in his book promoting interviews.

"Death panels," "bearing false witness," and the death of Sarah Palin's presidential ambitions.

On a conference call with some lefty Christian groups, Obama used the phrase "bearing false witness" to describe those who are intentionally misleading on healthcare.

Now, I don't know if he meant it with the depth that it impacted me, (he may have been trying to speak their lingo,) but it did ring in my head. Those self proclaimed "Christians" who are intentionally deceiving on healthcare are breaking one of the big ten commandments.

And needless to say, foolish professing Christians intentionally lying led me to Sarah Palin.

You know, if she's serious about a presidential run, the multiple "death panel" comments could be a real problem. At some point, (in the theory of a decent press) she is going to have to define whether she was knowingly telling such a huge lie about "death panels" or whether she was so extremely ignorant on a basic and provable element on the most major legislation of the year.

I don't see how either of those answers plays out well for her outside those who already love her. I mean, would you elect a President who lied that far or was that intentionally ignorant?

She did it multiple times.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The CIA "assassinations" program begins to be defined.

The NYTimes reports that one "toxic" bit in that CIA assassinations program that was hidden from Congress and canceled so suddenly by Panetta was that they were paying Blackwater for some role as yet undefined in assassinating foreign targets.

Later: The WaPo adds that Blackwater's role was "operational,"
...given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders and was awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry, but the program was canceled before any missions were conducted, the two officials said.

It's curious that this great secret is so suddenly leaking in detail to so many different sources. This feels like a "first version" leak, intended by someone to write the narrative before the full truth comes out.

The WaPo adds
The effort, known to intelligence officials as the "targeted killing" program, was originally conceived for use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but officials later sought to expand it to other countries in the region, according to a source familiar with its inception.

"Countries." Plural.

And this,
The official said the teams simulated missions that often involved kidnapping.

"They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch," he said.

So, US "contractors" conducting private renditions in multiple "countries" (plural) outside the battle zone? That sounds a little more like a program hidden from Congress and canceled upon discovery.

A bad day

The new women's 800m world champion is going to be subjected to a gender test to be sure (by whatever standard) she's a woman.

Kinda craps all over her win, eh?

Big attacks in Baghdad

A car bomb targeting the Foreign Ministry and a barrage of mortars killed "at least" 75 in Baghdad with 300 injured.

Thought - Guns as Nooses

Can you imagine the apoplexy if 20 or so blacks or hispanics or Muslims showed up at a Republican event carrying assault weapons? What if the anti-Bush folks had been carrying weapons? Think they'd have defended that?

There's an unmentioned racial component to these gun toting incidents. White men toting guns as a display of force to "protest" a black leader. Within the context of American racial history, there's a clear implied threat there. It's a step below carrying nooses, but it's in the same family.

(And I know one of those gun toters was black, but he's pretty clearly a nutball who is hanging with the "militias.")

Teddy Olsen's Blues

I don't know if it's because it's well written or interesting on its own, but I couldn't stop reading the NYTimes piece on Ted Olsen defending gay marriage.

(My hunch is that he's trying to get a signature case to define his reputation away from his ties to the Bush White House.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If you lie down with the crazies.....

I'd be really curious what Rep. Gingrey and the others who were defending the gun toters at the Obama rally yesterday would say now that we know some of them are tied to a 90's era Arizona militia which landed a whole bunch of them some serious time in the federal prison system.

Casing federal buildings on videotape, manufacturing explosives.....

Rep Gingrey? Anything to say now?

Cognitive Dissonance for the Day

We shouldn't allow government run healthcare because private companies are so much more efficient than government services.

We shouldn't allow a public option because private companies wouldn't be able to compete with government run healthcare.


In Arizona it's legal to carry a loaded AR-15 in your hands at a political protest, but it's illegal to carry a knife over three and a half inches anywhere.

(As to a broader point, aren't all these gun toters providing cover to anyone who wants to seriously do harm?

And, what kind of shooting gallery would erupt if there was an even accidental discharge?)


We're no longer seeing breathless cable coverage of disrupted townhall meetings. Is it because the disruptions have lessened? The Dems learned how to handle them? Are they now "old news"?

Is it because the GOP establishment is now trying to establish distance from them since they accomplished their goal?

Just curious.

Rounding up Beithullah Mehsud's organization

Two top Beithullah Mehsud lieutenants have been arrested by the Pakistanis in the last 24 hours, sub commander Qair Saifullah and, today, Mehsud's spokesman, Maulvi Umar.

This really makes me wonder about the intelligence. Did someone turn inside the Mehsud structure? Or, maybe a power rival is turning these guys in to try and seize control?

Later: The BBC adds this bit on the "spokesman," "He has been acting as a liaison between the various Taliban groups to settle differences."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Save it, Grandpa

I can't wait until the baby boomers start to really age so that America will no longer be defined by the cultural conflicts of their youth.

I don't want to hear about Vietnam protesters or Woodstock or any of the rest of it. Only the civil rights movement and the advances of the women's movement really deserve a cultural place, and, frankly, the media ignores them.

The rest of it, the hippie vs. establishment stuff.... Save it, grandpa. We're all just sick of it.

Related: Have you seen anybody on the Republican crazy side, birthers, teabaggers, townhall disrupters, that are younger than 20 years old in the Reagan administration? Have you seen anyone younger than 40?


A banner in Israel outside a Huckabee appearance,
Huckabee, we are not pawns in your Armageddon.

Picture of the Day

"See, that's the public option, way over there."

(President Barack Obama with his wife Michelle Obama look out over the Grand Canyon, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon))

Spokesman for whom exactly?

Since Dick Armey was making a little news on the Sunday shows this weekend, I thought I'd revisit what happened Friday. Armey was forced to resign from his day job at lobbying firm DLA Piper because of his work organizing the townhall screamers at FreedomWorks.

The only interpretation is that Piper had to jettison him because his townhall stunts were damaging their ability to work with Dems (the majority.)

Losing the spin war

A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found 57% of adults say the stimulus package is having no impact on the economy or making it worse. Even more —60% — doubt that the stimulus plan will help the economy in the years ahead, and only 18% say it has done anything to help improve their personal situation.

And this,
President Barack Obama is willing to embrace insurance cooperatives over a government-run plan as the White House faces mounting opposition to its broad overhaul of the nation's health care system.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition

This Ron Perlstein editorial is getting alot of reads on the left. I wouldn't say it's brilliant, but the history and the chiding of the current media are kind of interesting.

Picture of the Day

(President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their two children Malia and Sasha, visit the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, August 15, 2009. (REUTERS/Larry Downing))

More advertisers ban Beck

Four more advertisers pull their ads from Glenn Beck, ConAgra, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis and RadioShack. However, I think it's important to revisit how the ads on the cable news nets work.

Advertisers can buy ads in single shows (you'll occasionally see that with issue ads only run during one show,) but, it's far cheaper and more effective for them to buy a block of advertising that's then scheduled by the network over a bunch of different shows relative to cost, ratings, etc. For example, you get three "A" ads in good slots in the top rated show, three "B" ads in bad slots in the top rated show, five "C" slots in a lesser rated shows, and five "D" slots scheduled by the network in slots they haven't otherwise sold.

So, for the most part, these major advertisers aren't really pulling off FoxNews or significantly costing FoxNews money. What they're doing is telling FoxNews not to schedule their "B" or "C" slots suring Beck's show. So, the FoxNews schedulers honor that request and just move other "package" advertisers into the Glenn Beck spots. It creates a headache, and a PR problem, but doesn't really cost FoxNews money, you know?

If FoxNews can continue to keep the ad slots filled, and Beck's ratings stay solid enough to charge enough money for those slots, the ten or so advertisers who "pulled" their ads from Beck are meaningless.

Unlike advertising way back when, you can't just go after one or two sponsors to kneecap a show.