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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Other Lessons From a 2nd Year Cadet

In the Senate debate over its proposed military funding bill that included language for a timetable of withdrawal, John McCain criticized the inclusion of the timetable language with the following comment (#1):

“This bill should be named the Date Certain for Surrender Act,” said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. “A second-year cadet at West Point could tell you that if you announce when the end will be, it’s a recipe for defeat.”


Hmmmmm. Given the phenomenal success of the Bush Administration's prosecution of this war and the equally valuable insight provided by Congress in supervising its progress, maybe John is on to something. What other esoteric military knowledge might a second-year West Point cadet have brought to bear to improve results that seemed to have escaped an entire generation of elected officials, appointees and think-tank refugees who designed this catastrophe?

Maybe:

1) Know your enemy, know where your enemy actually is, and attack your enemy, not a neighboring country filled with people that might look like your enemy but pose entirely different risks.

2) If you're going to invade a country and your planning exercises and three top generals all tell you the job needs 300,000 troops minimum, don't go in with 150,000.

3) When starting a war, don't jeopardize the safety of your front line troops by starting the shooting before your supply chain has been established.

4) When racing through "conquered" territory to plant your flag and nail that photo op for your bio flick at the next national convention, make sure you bring enough troops to secure the tons of high explosives scattered throughout the country.

5) After "conquering" the enemy and deposing their leader and toppling their government, you might want to retain a few of the civilians employees that keep the power plants and water plants running. Electricity and clean water are more than a nice-to-have in the middle of a desert, they're kind of a requirement.

6) When shooting your mouth off about the legality of torture and the applicability of the Geneva conventions on non-combatants, maybe you should listen to JAG lawyers within the military instead of your own toady Presidential Counsel and (now) civilian Attorney General who has no insight or expertise into the practical impacts of condoning such conduct in a theatre of war.


Maybe we should have the current Commander in Chief step down and put a 2nd year West Point cadet in his place. Could we possibly do any worse?

=========================

#1) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/washington/28cong.html

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

People Just Need to Hear the Truth

In the short Q/A session that followed President Bush's defiant "offer" to Congress on information related to the US Attorney issue, the President provided the following answer to a question (#1):

-----------------------------
Q Sir, in at least a few instances, the attorneys that were dismissed were actively investigating Republicans -- in San Diego, in Arizona, in Nevada. By removing them, wouldn't that have possibly impeded or stopped those investigations? And, sir, if I may also ask about the Attorney General. He does not have support among many Republicans and Democrats. Can he still be effective?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he's got support with me. I support the Attorney General. I told you in Mexico I've got confidence in him; I still do. He's going to go up to Capitol Hill and he's going to explain the very questions you asked. I've heard all these allegations and rumors. And people just need to hear the truth, and they're going to go up and explain the truth.

Q In San Diego, Nevada, Arizona, Republicans were the targets of investigations, and those U.S. attorneys were removed. Does that not give the appearance --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't -- it may give the appearance of something, but I think what you need to do is listen to the facts, and let them explain to -- it's precisely why they're going up to testify, so that the American people can hear the truth about why the decision was made.
-----------------------------


People just need to hear the truth…

Words from the President's own lips.

The President's response included the following highlights:

1) an "offer" to have Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales and some of his staff "interviewed" by appropriate members of the House and Senate --- But not under oath and with no written transcript of the "interview" for a permanent record.

2) access to over 3000 documents from within the Justice Department and between the Department and the White House --- But how many other email servers has the White House been operating outside the scope of previous controls and obligations related to document retention and archiving? We already know of four others (gwb43.com, georgebush.com, rnchq.com and even aol.com).

3) an outright "dare" to Congress to attempt to force testimony under oath via subpoenas -- His concluding remarks essentially asserted Executive Privilege protection over confidential White House deliberations.

================================

One prefacing comment first…

United States Attorneys are political appointees within the Executive branch. Until recent changes to the "Patriot Act", replacements had to be confirmed by the Senate but still serve at the the pleasure of the President and can be replaced at any time. I'm appalled that ANY President (Bill Clinton, George Bush, ANYONE) would ever find the need to fire a US attorney on any more than a onsie / twosie basis, much less ever consider replacing ALL of them en masse. However, it is each President's prerogative. PERIOD.

Unfortunately, the right of the President (this President or any President) to fire US attorneys is not the issue.

The issues involved here are:

1) Testimony from Administration officials to Congress which is directly and repeatedly contradicted by documents subsequently obtained by Congress. Alberto Gonzales testified in front of Congress in January 2007 that the Administration had every intention of submitting each replacement US Attorney to the Senate for confirmation despite the altered Patriot Act language that permitted what were essentially lame duck, non-confirmed appointments. In reality, correspondence within Gonzales' office referenced the desire to exercise the new Patriot Act authorization to appoint replacements without confirmation. Executive Privilege might have some bearing on a Congressional request to see details of a purely internal White House policy conversation. This issue involves testimony and evidence provided willingly by the Executive Branch to Congress and subsequently found to be incomplete, misleading and downright false. Executive privilege cannot be waived then reclaimed on matters related to communication BETWEEN the Executive branch and Congress. You cannot un-ring a bell.

2) Evidence that the White House has been using computer servers and email systems outside traditional Executive branch systems for conducting routine Administration business. While the network domains involved (gwb43.com, georgebush.com, rnchq.org) don't indicate serious efforts were made to completely hide any audit trail, the fact these systems are not under the control of official government channels makes it far easier to destroy important chains of communication or to alter electronic archives -- the Internet era equivalent of an 18-minute gap in an audio tape. Staff in the National Parks Department or the Small Business Administration might be forgiven this faux paus. Senior leadership of the Justice Department who should be intimately familiar with the security, privacy and custodial aspects of using non-government, non-secured email systems for this type of correspondence have no excuse. Use of external email systems and networks is highly suspicious activity worthy of investigation in its own right.

3) A highly coincidental sequence of events related to the firing of US Attorney Carol Lam who bubbled to the top of the "must-go" list within a day of news that she was pursuing an investigation of CIA Executive Directory Kyle Fogge as part of the bribery investigation of California Representative Randall Cunningham. While Lam was already referenced in some Justice Department correspondence putting her on the "bubble" prior to the Fogge news, her review for 2005 found her "an effective manager and respected leader". In 2006, Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein sent a letter to Gonzales inquiring about her immigration enforcement efforts (indicating some legitimate performance / policy concerns even on the part of Democrats) yet a response from the Justice Department a month later defender her record. (#2) With this contradictory record of performance, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to raise a concern about possible prosecutorial interference when an action taken against someone with ties to the White House is followed within one day by an immediate decision to put her on the "axe" list.

President Bush tells us we need to hear the truth, yet he provides copies of documents created on systems the Executive Branch shouldn't be using for official business to bolster conflicting testimony his own officials provided to Congress then claims executive privilege protects any of the players from testifying under oath.

That's an interesting variety of truth we have here that cannot be provided under oath with a stenographer present. There seems to be a lot of this "truth" in this Administration.

================================

#1) http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2007/03/bush_will_correct_fired_us_att.html

#2) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8983665

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

So Help Me God (Again)

On February 6, 2006, news outlets covered arguments in the Senate over the need to swear in members of the Bush Administration, Alberto Gonzales in particular, before providing testimony. At the time, Senator Jeff Sessions made the following comment:

---------------------------
And I remember having a conversation with General Myers and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and one of the saddest days in their career was having to come in here and stand before a Senate committee and raise their hand as if they are not trustworthy in matters relating to the defense of this country.

And I think it's not necessary that a duly confirmed Cabinet member have to routinely stand up and just give an oath when they are, in effect, under oath and subject to prosecution if they don't tell the truth.

I think it's just a question of propriety and good taste and due respect from one branch to the other.

---------------------------

I wrote at the time:

As they say in Texas, au contraire, mon frere.

Due respect between branches of government?

THIS ADMINISTRATION? Are you kidding me?

The breadth of contempt throughout the entire Bush Administration (White House staff, VP's office, Pentagon, NSA, OMB, EPA, you name it...) for the Judiciary and Congress is unparalleled in our history. If there was EVER an administration whose officials deserve to be treated like any other American citizen testifying in front of Congress and "subjected" to the "humiliation" of reciting a simple declarative statement that they would tell the truth, it's this administration.

Heck, if you say the oath, you even get to mention God. I thought that was good, right?

If you plan on telling the truth, what's so humiliating or condenscending about reciting an oath to tell the truth that's recited THOUSANDS of times every day in courts across the country?

Come on, Administration officials. Repeat after me...

So....
help......
me.......
God.

That wasn't so bad, was it?

===================

Alberto Gonzales appeared before the press and public on March 13, 2007 and publicly stated he or his staffers provided grossly incorrect information to Congress about administrative issues in which he or his staff was directly involved. Earlier this year, Gonzales testified under oath that "I think I would never, ever, make a change in a United States Attorney position for political reasons or if it would in any way jeopardize an ongoing, serious investigation." (#1) Memos released March 13, 2007 make it absolutely, 100 percent clear that then-White House counsel Harriet Miers and Gonzales' chief of staff Kyle Sampson initially considered replacement of ALL 93 US Attorneys after the 2004 election and that final changes were reviewed and approved by Karl Rove, chief strategist for George Bush.

Testimony provided to Congress last week by some of the fired US Attorneys states they received direct calls from members of Congress or officials in the Justice Department about pending investigations. One US Attorney was questioned directly by Harriet Miers about his handling of a contested governor's race in Washington State. Another testified he was contacted as recently as February 20, 2007 by Justice Department officials and told to keep quiet about his dismissal. (#2) Normally, such inquisitiveness about the wheels of justice and government would be commendable for this Administration, but in each case, the only contacts involved investigations that didn't proceed against Democratic opponents or that were proceeding against Republicans.

While appointees serve at the pleasure of the President, it is IMPOSSIBLE to square even the consideration of the wholesale replacement of ALL US Attorneys with a claim that changes would never be made in a way that would jeopardize ongoing investigations. The only reason can be political and politics were involved in the circumstances of all of the eight US Attorneys actually dismissed.

I hope every Democratic and Republican member of Congress has learned their lesson.

THERE ISN'T A SINGLE MEMBER OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION THAT CAN BE TRUSTED TO TELL THE TRUTH AT ANY TIME, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, UNDER OATH OR OTHERWISE.

This is not a Republicans versus Democrats issue.

This is the people of the United States, our two political parties and two of our three branches of government versus George Bush, Richard Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove, and who knows how many other faceless minions in a criminally incompetent, if not outright criminal, cabal.

This administration gets no benefit of the doubt because they have removed any doubt that they have nothing but contempt for ANY branch of government, including agencies within the Administration. They don't respect the role of government. In the eyes of this Administration, government exists solely to aid favored business interests and political allies. PERIOD.

The United States is MILES past a political and legal tipping point with the Bush Administration. Both parties and both houses of Congress need to begin putting these officials under oath, in front of We the People, and begin removing them, one by one, as quickly as possible. Another Iraq isn't the worst thing that can be done in another twenty two months of office.

========================

#1) http://www.abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=2946995

#2) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/06/AR2007030600606.html

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Battling jihad.com

60 Minutes ran a story March 4, 2007 that addressed the use of Internet based communication techniques by terrorists for publicity and recruiting. Two key themes in the piece were the cunning genius of cyber terrorists working on the other side and the wakeup call it provides to our military in attempting to eliminate the source of would-be suicide jihadists. In other words, the story managed to completely miss the point on both themes.

Jihad as Technological Struggle -- Visual images of Humvees getting blown up or innocent civilians and reporters being beheaded does fill a sick void for over-the-top gore that fits visual mediums well. However, the 60 Minutes piece portrayed techniques used by Al Queda to host propaganda sites and share video / sound files as though they were cutting edge solutions developed by jihadist computer scientists. Taking over computers in the data center of a state government within America to relay video files! How dasterdly!

NOT. It is just as likely the jihadist hacker used readily available tools to scan huge numbers of IP address ranges to find PCs and servers running hackable programs (such as improperly secured mail servers, web servers, FTP servers, etc.) found one, then used readily available "root kit" tools to take over administrative access on the machine to install the jihadist content. These tools don't require a degree from MIT to use, your fourteen year old teenager has more than enough skill to use them. These are the very same techniques used to hijack computers to send spam. The hijacking of computers within the United States for use in propagating Al Queda's message says less about the technological sophistication of their members than the incompetent administration of millions of computers by American businesses and individuals.

One fascinating aspect of the 60 Minutes piece was the lead-in that featured an interview with an Army General stating how we engage and kill teenagers recruited by these jihadist web sites every day in Iraq. Really? Iraq? The country that has power approximately 25% of the day on any given day? Exactly how is the average pre-teen or teenager in Sadr City visiting these web sites? Has there been a sudden influx of DSL, cable and wireless Internet providers in Bagdad to make viewing five megabyte video clips as convenient as visiting the "IEDs R Us" store across the street? I bet Windows Vista upgrade sales are taking off in Fallujah.

Jihad as Really Dumb Ideas -- Obviously, the content on these sites IS getting out to poorly educated youth both in Iraq and other countries in the world and helping to warp minds. Without a doubt, senior leaders of a reconstituted Al Queda make use of standard Internet tools such as email, file servers, web servers, encryption and anonymizers to hide their tracks. However, the biggest source of inspiration for up and coming terrorists is the continual frustration of living in a war zone with no economy and no working justice system and, consequently, no security.

One subject interviewed in the 60 Minutes piece actually touched upon that idea by summarizing the real recruiting approach of Islamic terrorists:

1) find vulnerable youth struggling with their immediate economic / social situation (in the case of poor Muslims) or normal teenage angst (in the case of wealthy Muslims otherwise leading the good life)
2) explode their world by telling them they haven't been living as true Muslims
3) disconnect them from their families by telling them their parents haven't been living as true Muslims either
4) after inducing that chaos, give them the "solution" -- jihadism, battling the sole cause of all of their problems head on in a way that assures you live (and likely die) as a true Muslim

Anyone with a passing familiarity with Charles Manson or Jim Jones recognizes those techniques as more than mere "recruiting," those are classic brainwashing techniques used by cults. The subject who outlined this approach hit the nail precisely on the head. We are witnessing the results of a tiny fraction of nutjobs attempting to hijack a religion and turn it into a cult.

Both the 60 Minutes piece and our government have completely failed to address the disconnect between fighting the spread of really dumb ideas through cult-like techniques and a door-to-door military strategy that not only fails to break the cycle but accelerates it by adding to the chaos that produced it in the first place.