Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The Iraq War De-escalation Act of 2007

Guess we know who the serious antiwar candidate is.

Forget the nonbinding resolution. Now everybody else has to deal with what Obama put on the table.

This was a smart move for him, politically. He needed to throw down something dramatic to maintain his momentum. It almost doesn't matter -- for his purposes -- whether the bill passes, because it defines his position.

Should his bill pass? That's another question. But it's a far more important one than whether the name "Obama" sounds know, American.


RELATED: Check out Slate's new Obama Messiah Watch. Tim Noah wonders,
Is Barack Obama ... the second coming of our Savior and our Redeemer, Prince of Peace and King of Kings, Jesus Christ? His press coverage suggests we can't dismiss this possibility out of hand.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Rockefeller bird-dogs the NSA

More on the agency's electric bills from the Baltimore Sun.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Whistleblowers get the brush-off

According to an article by the Congressional Quarterly national security editor, whistleblowers in Washington get no thanks from the government. In fact, telling the truth can be dangerous to your career, Jeff Stein writes. About 60 of whistleblowers, including NSA types, have formed their own organization.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


What's good for Lockheed is good for America

Ford isn't doing so well. But Lockheed is raking it in.

In case you missed it, Harper's magazine recently published an unflinching National Intelligence Estimate on the United States, by the political scientist and Asia hand Chalmers Johnson. Back in '60s and '70s, Johnson consulted with the CIA office that prepared those reports for the President's benefit.

Johnson argues that our commitments in Iraq in Afghanistan were not solely a response to global events. Rather, they were the "inevitable result" of America's "decades-long policy of military Keynesianism."

That is to say, the defense establishment's continued growth -- and by extension the health of the entire American economy -- demanded something like the "war on terror."

Too out there for you? Remember, he said it first.

Johnson writes:

To understand the real weight of military Keynesianism in the American economy today, however, one must approach official defense statistics with great care. The "defense" budget of the United States-that is, the reported budget of the Department of Defense-does not include: the Department of Energy's spending on nuclear weapons ($16.4 billion slated for fiscal 2006), the Department of Homeland security's outlays for the actual "defense" of the United States ($41 billion), or the Department of Veterans Affairs' responsibilities for the lifetime care of the seriously wounded ($68 billion). Nor does it include the billions of dollars the Department of State spends each year to finance foreign arms sales and militarily related development or the Treasury Department's payments of pensions to military retirees and widows and their families (an amount not fully disclosed by official statistics). Still to be added are interest payments by the Treasury to cover past debt-financed defense outlays. The economist Robert Higgs estimates that in 2002 such interest payments amounted to $138.7 billion.

Even when all these things are included, Enron-style accounting makes it hard to obtain an accurate understanding of U.S. dependency on military spending. In 2005, the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress that "neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing" or "details on how the appropriated funds are being spent." Indeed, the GAO found that, lacking a reliable method for tracking military costs, the Army had taken to simply inserting into its accounts figures that matched the available budget. Such actions seem absurd in terms of military logic. But they are perfectly logical responses to the requirements of military Keynesianism, which places its emphasis not on the demand for defense but rather on the available supply of money.

This is too getting too deep for a blog. The upshot is, Johnson is pessimistic.

His article was in the January issue. If you want to read more of it, drop me a line.



We had the chance to see the first public demonstration of the military's new ray gun at Moody AFB yesterday. We couldn't make it, unfortunately. (Fortunately?)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Jobs available at NSA

The National Security Agency is listed as one of the top 25 employers of college students and recent graduate. According to College Recruiter, rental car agencies, accounting firms and retailers are higher up the list than the NSA. But it's projecting 1,500 entry level hires for the agency in 2007.

Monday, January 22, 2007


News you probably didn't hear

The BBC recently reported that in 2003 the Bush administration rejected a sort of nonagression pact proposed by Iran. The network saw an unsigned letter regarding the deal, and got Colin Powell's old chief of staff to go on the record about it.

Apparently the Iranians would open up their nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions and security guarantees. This is pretty much what North Korea wanted, too. And they were also blown off.

The Beeb story made news elsewhere in the world, but in the US, not so much.

From CNN's top stories:

# Mystery woman emerges after years in jungle
# Fortune: Second Life evolution could be a gold mine
# Son who dismembered mother gets six months
# 20-lb. rabbits may help save starving families
# Are kids' parties out of control?

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Still not enough linguists?

A conservative blog called The Compass says that the NSA and other agencies still have not hired enough translators to keep up with their intelligence mission.

The blog reports:

"How mountainous is the backlog of untranslated intercepts? Read this comment from a National Security Agency (NSA) official quoted from Congressional hearings in a Washington Times article on the subject written by Rowan Scarborough and Bill Gertz entitled: 'Intelligence backlog.'

"NSA director, Army Lt. Gen. Keith in commenting in written response to Senators on the large backlog of time consuming labor intensive foreign language intercepts on terrorism noted:

"'Today’s backlog is no longer confined to Arabic and its multiple dialect but also less commonly taught languages where linguists are in short supply.'"

The Compass also says many linguists have been turned away for reasons that seem inconsequential, given the grave need for translators.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Secret FISA Courts: Just What The Founders Intended

Baby steps.

The secret courts will supposedly reassert their (secret) authority over the NSA's no-longer-secret domestic surveillance programs.

It's fair to ask: Did Alberto Gonzales have his fingers crossed behind his back when he made this announcements?

This latest administration "concession" reminds me of what happened with Total Information Awareness. That program, you'll remember, was supposedly killed by Congress after it was exposed, but in reality, the administration pursued the same objectives under new programs with different names -- and without John Poindexter.

The administration knows full well that nobody can really confirm whether it's telling the truth, and that it actually does intend to stop spying on Americans. (That is, unless we get lucky and more insiders blow the whistle.)

Considering that the administration was arguing very recently that it had the right to open people's mail, I find it hard to believe that this is the end of domestic surveillance without judicial oversight. As the Washington Post notes:
Officials would not say, for example, whether the administration will be required to seek a warrant for each person it wants to monitor or whether the FISA court has issued a broader set of orders to cover multiple cases. Authorities also would not say how many court orders are involved or which judge on the surveillance court had issued them.
At least the administration has been put on the defensive on this issue. Count your blessings.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


'Budget falling short at NSA'

That's a counterintuitive headline, if I ever saw one. From the Baltimore Sun.

The reason? Apparently, the agency is using too much electricity.

Um... not sure Congress is going to bite, there.

Maybe they should tell analysts to wear sweaters to work, in the winter.


Enemies foreign and domestic?

2,821 "force protection threats" under military surveillance carry U.S. passports.

Considering this is a country of 300 million, that may not sound like a lot of people who have been subject to domestic surveillance by an arm of the government that's still bound, or at least ought to be, by the principles of Posse Comitatus.

Look at it another way, and the problem is obvious.

Judging by these numbers, roughly one of every 70 reports in the Pentagon's Talon counterintelligence database concerned an American citizen who happened to be a peace activist.

That's clearly a disproportionate amount of concern about a group of people -- the peaceniks -- who are so ineffective they haven't staged a significant demonstration since 2003.

But let's say the military spied on ONE American citizen without just cause. Wouldn't that still be a problem?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Only 5 more missions

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Pentagon has abandoned its limit on the time a citizen-soldier can be required to serve on active duty ...

Until now, the Pentagon's policy on the Guard or Reserve was that members' cumulative time on active duty for the Iraq or Afghan wars could not exceed 24 months. That cumulative limit is now lifted ...

In other words, a citizen-soldier could be mobilized for a 24-month stretch in Iraq or Afghanistan, then demobilized and allowed to return to civilian life, only to be mobilized a second time for as much as an additional 24 months.


"You're wasting your time," Doc Daneeka was forced to tell him.

"Can't you ground someone's who's crazy?"

"Oh sure, I have to. There's a rule saying I have to ground anyone who's crazy."

"Then why don't you ground me. Ask Clevinger."

"Clevinger? Where is Clevinger? You find Clevinger and I'll ask him."

"Then ask any of the others. They'll tell you how crazy I am."

"They're crazy."

"Then why don't you ground them?"

"Why don't they ask me to ground them?"

"Because they're crazy, that's why."

"Of course they're crazy," Doc Daneeka replied. "I just told you they're crazy didn't I? And you can't let crazy people decide whether you're crazy or not can you?"

Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. "Is Orr crazy?"

"He sure is," Doc Daneeka said.

"Can you ground him?"

"I sure can but first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule."

"Then why doesn't he ask you to?"

"Because he's crazy," Doc Daneeka said. "He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me to."

"That's all he has to do to be grounded?"

"That's all. Let him ask me."

"And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked.

"No, then I can't ground him."

"You mean there's a catch?"

"Sure there is a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, that specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of the clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka replied.


'They helped us load our van.'

That's a GAO investigator explaining how easy it was to buy security-sensitive military surplus -- rocket launchers, jet parts, missile parts -- at auction.

Iran and China got some.

Hey, why not? Who's the Defense Department to get in the way of the free market?

Monday, January 15, 2007


Cheney: Try And Stop Us

The Vice President on the Pentagon's financial record-fishing:
“There’s nothing wrong with it or illegal,” Mr. Cheney said. “It doesn’t violate people’s civil rights. And if an institution that receives one of these national security letters disagrees with it, they’re free to go to court to try to stop its execution.”
The people subjected to a warrantless search, however, will just have to suck it up.


Beware of "unexplained wealth"

Your bank and credit card company are quite willing to part with your personal information. According to an article in The International Herald Tribune, the Pentagon and CIA have been sending out "non-compulsory" letters asking for financial records.

In hundreds of cases, financial institutions complied, allowing investigators to look at the files of both military personnel and civilians.

"While they would not provide details about specific cases, military intelligence officials with knowledge of them said the military had issued the letters to collect financial records regarding a government contractor with unexplained wealth, for example, and a chaplain at Guantánamo Bay erroneously suspected of aiding prisoners at the facility," the paper reports.

Apparently "unexplained wealth" now makes people subject to terrorism investigations.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Inspiring less confidence in Vista

Microsft has confirmed that the NSA calls had a hand in the development of Microsoft’s Vista operating system, Microsoft confirmed Tuesday.

"The National Security Agency (NSA) stepped in to help Microsoft develop a configuration of its next-generation operating system that would meet U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) requirements, said NSA spokesman Ken White."

Exactly what Department of Defense requirements are they talking about. After recent revelations in the New York Times that the Department of Defense is expanding its role in domestic intelligence gathering, this does little to inspire confidence in the security of the new software.

However, it's nothing new. Some say the Windows operating system was undermined by the NSA.

"A careless mistake by Microsoft programmers has revealed that special access codes prepared by the US National Security Agency have been secretly built into Windows. The NSA access system is built into every version of the Windows operating system now in use, except early releases of Windows 95 (and its predecessors)," according to this post from 1999.

Friday, January 12, 2007


What's in a name?

No whooping at Ft. Benning. "Bush Speaks and Base Is Subdued" (NYT):
Though Mr. Bush’s lunch was open to the press, the base commander, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, would not let the troops in attendance talk to reporters. His spokeswoman said the commander wanted “the focus to be on the president.”
Oh, it is.

Gag orders aside, more than 1,000 uniformed soldiers have found a way to speak. If you haven't seen it yet, the Appeal for Redress has been making the rounds since before the "surge" was announced.

If you support the surge, here's another petition to consider.

Friday, January 05, 2007


'Certified geek' from NSA to replace Negroponte?

Defense Tech notes how SIGINT vets are ascending to top intel jobs and asks what that could mean for the quality of US intelligence overall.


More on Mike McConnell at DT and Salon. Some possible Total Terrorist Information Awareness ties.


... We Open Them First.

Why would Bush issue a signing statement affirming his right to open anyone's mail without a warrant?

I'm guessing it's a CYA maneuver. It's probably been going on for years, and now that Congressional investigations are possible, the administration wants to prepare some retroactive legal(istic) defense.

This theory isn't a total shot in the dark. Bush is, at the moment, getting lawyered up.

(Also, wasn't there a case a couple of years ago where DHS or FBI was intercepting some journalists' mail without going through the courts? Can't remember the specifics right now and my files are in disarray...)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Terror Target #1: Spencer's Gifts

Homeland Security training for mall security guards.

Well, that only took about 2000 days.

I can't even think of a joke for this one. I just wonder how long it'll be before we issue assault rifles to the rent-a-cops at Regency Mall.

Things are getting safer by the day, here...

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