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Posts Tagged ‘THE PENTAGON’

DUMBOCRATS AND THEIR COMPUTERS

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on April 13, 2018 at 12:06 am

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The emails were exchanged from January 2015 through May 2016.

These clearly reveal a bias for Hillary Clinton and against her lone challenger, Vermont United States Senator Bernie Sanders.

One email revealed that Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist. 

Sanders’ supporters had long charged that the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were plotting to undercut his campaign. Now thousands of them were outraged to discover that their fears had been confirmed.  

The leak came at a disastrous time for Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, United States Senator from New York and Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

About to receive the Democratic nomination for President, she found herself charged with undermining the electoral process. 

Wasserman-Schultz proved the first casualty of the leak, resigning from her position as chair of the DNC and saying she would not open the Democratic convention as previously scheduled.

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Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

As for Clinton: Her campaign manager, Bobby Mook, blamed the Russians for the leak. Their alleged motive: To help Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Cyber-security experts believed the hackers originated from Russia—-and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have authorized it.

His alleged motive: Trump had repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Trump believed the United States was paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance—and he wanted other members to contribute far more. He made it clear that if they didn’t—and if he was elected President—they would be on their own if attacked by Russia.

Trump took to twitter to offer his take on the release: “How much BAD JUDGEMENT was on display by the people in DNC in writing those really dumb e-mails, using even religion, against Bernie!”  

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Bernie Sanders

Which brings up the obvious question: Why was such sensitive information entrusted to computers that could be hacked? 

This is not the first time a major corporation or government agency has fallen prey to hackers.

Name-brand companies, trusted by millions, have been hit with massive data breaches that compromised their customers’ and/or employees’ most sensitive financial and personal information.

Among those companies and agencies:

  • Target
  • Kmart
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Anthem, Inc.
  • Sony Pictures
  • The U.S. State Department
  • The Pentagon
  • The Office of Personnel Management

Perhaps the most notorious target hacked was Ashley Madison, the website for cheating wives and husbands. Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan was: “Life is short. Have an affair.”  

On July 15, 2015, its more than 37 million members learned that highly embarrassing secrets they had entrusted to Ashley Madison had been compromised.

This included their sexual fantasies, matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.

A website offering cheating services to those wealthy enough to afford high-priced fees is an obvious target for hackers. After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true.  

And the same is true for computers of one of the two major political parties of the United States. 

Among the secrets unearthed in the WikiLeaks document-dump: Plans by Democratic party officials to reward large donors and prominent fundraisers with lucrative appointments to federal boards and commissions.

Most of the donors listed gave to Clinton’s campaign. None gave to Sanders.

According to Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group: 

“The disclosed DNC emails sure look like the potential Clinton Administration has intertwined the appointments to federal government boards and commissions with the political and fund raising operations of the Democratic Party. That is unethical, if not illegal.”  

Centuries before the invention of computers–and the machinery needed to hack into them–Niccolo Machiavelli offered cautionary advice to those thinking of entering into a conspiracy.  He did so in his masterwork on politics, The Discourses.  

Niccolo Machiavelli

Unlike his better-known work, The Prince, which deals with how to secure power, The Discourses lays out rules for preserving liberty within a republic.

In Book Three, Chapter Six (“Of Conspiracies”) he writes:

“I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the ‘Yes’ of one man is worth as much as the ‘No’ of another. 

“And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting.”

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, ordered the execution of the popular Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, claiming that he had aided Britain and plotted against France.

The aristocracy of Europe, still recalling the slaughters of the French Revolution, was shocked. 

Asked for his opinion on the execution, Napoleon’s chief of police, Joseph Fouche, said: “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.”  

This may prove to be history’s verdict on the storing of so many incriminating computer files by the DNC.

HOW TO CREATE TRUST–AND DISTRUST–IN GOVERNMENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on April 6, 2018 at 2:29 pm

In 2005, Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, was placed on the United States Government’s No-Fly list, operated by the Terrorist Screening Center.

It wasn’t because she was a member of Al Qaeda. It happened because of an FBI screw-up.

The mess started in January 2005, when Ibrahim and her 14-year-old daughter arrived at the San Francisco Airport. Their destination: Hawaii, to attend a conference trip sponsored by Stanford.

Ibrahim, still recovering from a recent hysterectomy, was in a wheelchair.

When she approached the United Airlines counter to check in, she was seized, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police car and taken to a holding cell.

There she was interrogated. During this, paramedics had to be summoned because she hadn’t taken her surgery medication.

Then, to her surprise, she was released—and told that her name had been removed from the No-Fly list. She boarded a flight to Hawaii and attended the conference.

But in March 2005, the situation suddenly changed.

Having returned to Malasia, she bought a ticket to fly back to California to meet with her Stanford thesis adviser. But at the airport, she was banned from the flight.

She was told that her student visa had been revoked, and that she would longer be let into the United States. When she asked why, authorities refused to give a reason.

She would not learn the answer for another eight years.

An FBI agent in San Jose, California, had conducted a background check on Ibrahim.  He hadn’t meant to place her on theNo-Fly list.

Image result for Images of FBI headquarters

 Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

He had simply checked the wrong boxes on a form. He didn’t even realize the mistake until nearly a decade later, during his deposition in 2013.

In fact, he filled out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions provided on the form. He did so even though the form stated, “It is recommended that the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases.”

Thus, Ibrahim was placed on the No-Fly list.

That was bad enough—but at least understandable. FBI agents are human, and can and do err like anyone else.

What is not understandable or forgivable is this:

After Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the United States Government in 2006, the Justice Department ordered a cover-up—to prevent word from leaking that one of its agents had made a mistake.

Moreover, Ibrahim was ordered by the Justice Department to not divulge to anyone that she was suing the United States Government—or the reason for the lawsuit.

Ibrahim is currently the dean of architecture at University Putra Malaysia.

Because the Justice Department refused to admit its mistake, attorneys working pro bono for Ibrahim incurred a reported $3.8 million in legal fees, as well as $300,000 in litigation costs.

In his recent decision on the case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, based in San Francisco, called the agent’s error “conceded, proven, undeniable and serious.

Once derogatory information is posted to the Terrorist  Screening Database, it can propagate extensively through the  government’s interlocking complex of databases, like a bad credit  report that will never go away,” he wrote.

The Justice Department could have quickly admitted the mistake and quickly moved to correct it.  But the egos of Federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors effectively ruled out this option.

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2006-2011) had a completely different approach to dealing with mistakes.

In his autobiography, Duty, he writes of his determination to promote good relations between the Pentagon and the reporters who covered it.

Robert Gates, official DoD photo portrait, 2006.jpg

Robert Gates

In his commencement address at the Anapolis Naval Academy on May 25, 2007, he said:

“…the press, in my view [is] a critically important guarantor of our freedom.

“When it identifies a problem, the response of senior leaders should be to find out if the allegations are true. And if so, say so, and then act to remedy the problem.

“If [the allegations are] untrue, then be able to document that fact.”

Millions of Americans not only distrust the Federal Government—they believe it is aggressively conspiring against them.

But the vast majority of Federal employees do not come to work intent on destroying the lives of their fellow Americans.

They spend most of their time carrying out routine, often mind-numbing tasks—such as filling out what seem like an endless series of forms. 

But even where no malice is involved, their actions can have devastating consequences for innocent men and women. It’s easy, for example, to turn down someone for disability coverage when you’ve reduced human applicants to black-and-white documents.

But the consequences become even more frightening in cases where “national security” can be invoked to hide error, stupidity, or even criminality.

The refusal of the Justice Department to quickly admit the honest mistake of one of its agents prevented Ibrahim from boarding a commercial flight for seven years.

Federal agencies should follow the advice given by Robert Gates: Admit your mistakes and act quickly to correct them. 

Unless this happens, the poisonous atmosphere of distrust between the Government and its citizens will only worsen.

THE NEXT 9/11: TSA WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 1, 2017 at 1:05 am

All security systems–including those considered the best–are manned by humans. And humans are and will always be imperfect creatures.

So there will inevitably be times when security agents miss the assassin or terrorist intent on mayhem.  For example:

  • In September, 1975, two women–Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore–tried to assassinate President Gerald R. Ford on two separate occasions.
  • Fromme was tackled by a Secret Service agent. Moore’s aim was deflected by Oliver Sipple, a Marine and Vietnam veteran, thus saving Ford’s life.

Gerald Ford being hustled from danger by Secret Service agents

Until these incidents, the Secret Service profile of a potential assassin didn’t include a woman.

  • On March 30, 1981, John W. Hinckley, a psychotic obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, gained access to a line of reporters waiting to throw questions at President Ronald Reagan.
  • As Reagan got into his bulletproof Presidential limousine, Hinckley drew a pistol and opened fire. Wounded, Reagan escaped death by inches.

The Reagan Assassination attempt

The Secret Service Service had failed to prevent the attack because no one–until that moment–had attacked a President from the section reserved for reporters.

  • On September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists armed with boxcutters highjacked four American jetliners and turned them into fuel-bombs.
  • Two of the airliners struck the North and South towers of the World Trade Center, destroying both structures.
  • A third hit the Pentagon.
  • The fourth–United Airlines Flight 93–crashed when it was diverted from its intended target (the White House or Congress) by passengers who resolved to fight back.
  • Three thousand Americans died that day–in New York City, Washington, D., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Until this day of catastrophe, no highjacker had turned a jumbo-jet into a fuel-bomb. Passengers had been advised to cooperate with highjackers, not resist them.

So how will the next 9/11 happen?  In all likelihood, like this:

  • A terrorist–or, more likely, several terrorists–will sign up for one or more airline “VIP screening” programs.
  • They will be completely clean–no arrests, no convictions.  
  • They may well be respectable citizens in their communities.
  • They will probably have amassed enough “frequent flier miles” to ingratiate themselves with the airlines and convince the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) of their integrity.
  • Then, one day, they will breeze through their selected airports–
  • Without removing their belts and shoes;
  • Without undergoing pat-down searches;
  • Without being required to remove laptops and other electronic devices from their carry-ons;
  • Without exposing their electronic devices to X-ray technology.
  • Then they will board planes–either as part of an individual terrorist effort or a coordinated one, a la 9/11.

And then it will be too late.

Memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93

The TSA/airlines’ VIP programs are based on the assumption that someone who has completed a security check in the past need not be re-checked in the future.

This assumption has proven false for American Intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA.

  • FBI agent Robert Hanssen spied for Soviet and Russian Intelligence services for 22 years (1979-2001). He’s now serving a life sentence in Florence, Colorado.
  • CIA agent Aldrich Ames betrayed American secrets–including those Russians who had shared them–to Soviet and Russian espionage agencies from 1985 to 1994. He is likewise serving a life sentence.

Even requiring an agent to undergo repeated security checks is no guarantee of trustworthiness.

When asked about how he repeatedly passed CIA polygraph tests, Ames said: “There’s no special magic. Confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner. Rapport, where you smile and make him think that you like him.”

Thus, as William Shakespeare warned in Hamlet, “one may smile and smile and be a villain”–or a highjacker.

The TSA introduced its Pre-Check program during the fall of 2011. By May, 2017, more than four million travelers had been found worthy of “expedited” status.

In early September, 2013, TSA announced that it would more than double its “expedited screening” program, Pre-Check, from 40 to 100 airports by the end of the year.

Nor is TSA the only organization giving big-spending fliers special treatment at potential risk to their country. For example:

Delta Air Lines offers Sky Priority, described as providing “privileged access through security checkpoints” at select airports.

Another private security program, Clear, collects several pieces of biometric data on well-heeled passengers. Once verified by a kiosk local to the security checkpoint, the passengers are allowed to skirt the security barriers that poor and middle-class folks must pass through.

Priority Access, set up by TSA and the airlines, provides “expedited service” to first-class and business passengers. To qualify, you need only possess certain credit cards–such as the United Mileage Plus Club Card.

Some critics blast this two-tier passenger check-in system as an affront to democratic principles.

“It’s stratifying consumers by class and wealth, because the people who travel a lot usually have higher incomes,” said Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and frequent business traveler.

But there is an even more important reason to immediately disband these programs and require everyone–rich and middle-class alike–to undergo the same level of security screening:

The 3,000 men and women who died horrifically on September 11, 2001, at the hands of airline passengers whom authorities thought could be trusted to board a plane.

Tribute to the vanished World Trade Center

THE NEXT 9/11: TSA WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 31, 2017 at 12:01 am

Almost 16 years after 9/11, America is now selling its Islamic enemies access to the very weapons—jet-fueled airplanes—they need to wage jihad against its citizens.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

This danger is brought to you by IdentoGO, the private security company chosen by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to screen airline passengers.

Consider this ad it posts:

“How many times have you stood in line at the airport watching others breeze through security with no hassle? By enrolling in TSA Pre✓® , you too can breeze through security.

“Keep your shoes, jacket and belt on; your laptop in its case; 3-1-1 compliant liquids in your bag; and enjoy a better overall travel experience.

“TSA Pre✓® allows low-risk travelers to experience faster, more efficient screening at participating U.S. airport checkpoints for domestic and international travel.”

Yes, for a one-time payment of $85, you, too, can apply to receive such preferential treatment.  Even if it means putting the Nation’s security at risk. Travelers that are eligible for TSA Pre✓® include:

  • U.S. citizens of frequent flyer programs who meet TSA-mandated criteria and who have been invited by a participating airline;
  • U.S. citizen, U.S. national or Lawful Permanent Residents who are members of the TSA Pre✓® Application Program;
  • U.S. citizens who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Trusted Traveler program, such as Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS and Canadian citizens who are members of NEXUS; and
  • Members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

To apply for TSA Pre✓®:

  1. Find an IdentoGO Center near you, including a growing number of airport locations, offering TSA Pre✓® and pre-enroll online.
  2. Schedule an appointment to come in for fingerprinting.
  3. Pay the $85 applications fee and show your proof-of-identity documents from the approved list of valid government IDs.
  4. A Known Traveler Number (KTN) will be mailed to you or can be obtained online.
  5. Once enrolled, your KTN is used when booking travel and your TSA Pre✓® approval is printed on your boarding passes.  
  6. Be sure to update your airline member profile to have the number automatically sent to the TSA when making reservations.

 Among the credit cards that will buy you such preferential treatment:

If you’re accepted, you don’t need to undergo another background check for the next five years.

In April 2017, 97% of TSA Pre’s more than four million passengers waited less than five minutes to board.

So what difference does it make that some passengers must submit to close inspection while others do not?

  • If you’re trying to carry a metallic firearm aboard a plane, the magnetometer will likely pick it up.  But if you’ve filled your computer with plastic explosive, the magnetometer won’t pick it up.

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Advanced imaging technology

  • Or maybe you want to be a shoe-bomber like Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001. Being allowed to skip the requirement to remove your shoes will certainly take you a long way toward reaching your goal.

Why is America being placed at such risk?  Three reasons:

  1. The greed of American airline corporations and the TSA.
  2. Wealthy, self-entitled Americans hate waiting in long airport security lines—like ordinary citizens.
  3. The Calvinistic belief—shared by most Americans—that wealth is a sign of God’s favor, and thus proof that its holder is worthy of deference, if not awe.

On September 11, 2001, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded as three highjacked airliners slammed into:

  • The North Tower of the World Trade Center;
  • The South Tower of the World Trade Center;
  • The Pentagon; and
  • A field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers and crew on United Flight 93 tried to regain control.

The attacks inflicted the worst shock and grief on America since the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

So think about how easy it is to qualify as a TSA Pre-Check passenger the next time you board an airliner.

According to Yelp! reviews of thoroughly satisfied IdentoGO customers:

  • “My TSA precheck appointment was done in 10 minutes! Plenty of free parking in their parking lot. The staff was friendly and courteous. I made an appointment thru the TSA precheck website. When I arrived, there was no wait. The office was clean, and the staff member who I met was friendly and courteous. Be sure to bring in your proper documents. $85 fee collected at the end of appointment. TSA precheck works for domestic flights only.”
  • “The friendly agent took me in right away and he proceeded to go through my application with me, just to double check that all the information in the application is correct. He took my fingerprints (all fingers) and I was pretty much done in about 10 minutes.”
  • “Going here for TSA precheck is a no-brainer.  Super easy to get an appointment, free parking, and no waiting.  Staff was friendly and efficient, explained what to expect after they submitted my information, and within less than 10 minutes I was on my way.  Went in on a Friday afternoon and by Monday evening (ok, late evening really), I had my KTN. So, so easy.”

AFGHANISTAN: DYING TO CIVILIZE THE UNCIVILIZED

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 16, 2017 at 1:02 am

On February 9, Army General John Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee he had enough U.S. and NATO troops for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. 

But he needed more to sufficiently “train, advise and assist” the Afghan forces.

There are now 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and another 5,000 troops from NATO countries.

To put this latest troop request into human terms:

On December 21, 2015, a suicide-bomber rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol.  Six American troops and an Afghan were killed.

One of the dead was Joseph Lemm, 45, a detective and 15-year veteran of the New York Police Department. A technical sergeant in the New York Air National Guard, he had been deployed three times–once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

IMAGE: NYPD Detective Joseph Lemm

Joseph Lemm

Lemm left behind a daughter, Brook, 16, a son, Ryan, four, and his wife, Christine.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that flags on all state government buildings be flown at half-staff on December 23 in Lemm’s honor.

“Staff Sergeant Joe Lemm served this nation with the selflessness and bravery that embodies the U.S. Armed Forces and the NYPD,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Lemm’s death was a double tragedy–that of a dedicated man who should not have died so needlessly.

In short: It’s long past time for the United States to quit its failed mission to civilize Afghanistan.

The history of American conflict in Afghanistan began on September 11, 2001.

On that date, 19 Islamic highjackers slammed two jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

A fourth plane, headed for the White House or Capitol Building, failed to reach its target when its passengers rioted–and the highjackers dove it into a Pennsylvania field.

The mastermind of the attacks was Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire then living in Afghanistan, under protection by its ruling thugocracy, the Taliban.

The administration of President George W. Bush demanded his immediate surrender to American justice.

The Taliban refused.

So, on October 7, 2011–less than one month from the 9/11 attacks–American bombers began pounding Taliban positions.

The whole point of the campaign was to pressure the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden.

But the Taliban held firm. Bin Laden holed up in the mountains of Tora Bora, and then ultimately escaped into Pakistan.

After December, 2001, American Intelligence completely lost track of Bin Laden.  CIA officials repeatedly said he was likely living in the “no-man’s-land” between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thus, there was no longer any point in pressuring the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden

Still, the United States continued to commit forces to Afghanistan–to turn a primitive, warlord-ruled country into a modern-day democracy.

There was, admittedly, a great deal to detest about the Taliban:

  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they turned soccer stadiums into execution plazas for mass beheadings or shootings.
  • Taliban “fighters” have proven their “courage” by throwing acid into the faces of women who dared to attend school.

Taliban religious police beating a woman

  • On August 8, 1989, the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif. Talibanists began shooting people in the street, then moved on to mass rapes of women. Thousands of people were locked in containers and left to suffocate.
  • The Taliban forbade women to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative and wearing the burqa–a traditional dress covering the entire body. Those who disobeyed were publicly beaten.

Yet, as horrific as such atrocities were, these did not obligate the United States to spend eternity trying to bring civilization to this barbaric country.

And, in pursuing that goal, both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly overlooked the following realities:

  • Hamid Karzai, the “president” of Afghanistan (2001-2014) didn’t believe in democracy–despite American claims to support his efforts to bring this to Afghanistan.
  • His authority didn’t extend beyond Kabul, and he was viewed by most Afghans as an illegitimate ruler, imposed by America.
  • The same can be said for his successor, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.
  • American soldiers in Afghanistan feel surrounded by enemies and hamstrung by unrealistic orders to win “hearts and minds” at the risk of their own lives.
  • The Taliban poses no threat to the security of the United States.
  • Afghan “insurgents” are fighting American forces because (1) they are in a civil war; and (2) they believe their country has once again been occupied by foreigners.
  • Counterinsurgency is being preached as the key to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan–where it hasn’t worked.
  • Americans entered Afghanistan without an exit strategy.

All these truths applied just as firmly to America’s failed misadventure in Vietnam.

Almost 50 years ago, American “grunts” felt about their so-called South Vietnamese allies as American troops now feel about their Afghan “allies.”

Dr. Dennis Greenbaum, a former army medic, summed up how Americans had really felt about their supposed South Vietnamese allies.

American surgical team in Vietnam

“The highest [priority for medical treatment] was any U.S. person. The second highest was a U.S. dog from the canine corps.  The third was NVA [North Vietnamese Army].  The fourth was VC [Viet Cong].

“And the fifth was ARVIN [Army of the Republic of South Vietnam], because they had no particular value,” said Greenbaum.

When you despise the “ally” you’re spending lives and treasure to defend, it’s time to pack up.

REDS AND REPUBLICANS HATE THE SAME MAN: OBAMA

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 12, 2016 at 12:22 am

Psssst!  The Republicans and Chinese Communists (“Chi-Coms”) have something in common.

They both much preferred the foreign policy of George W. Bush to that of Barack Obama.

It’s one of the many fascinating revelations offered in Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Uses of America Power.  

The author is David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times.

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Early in 2011, Sanger had lunch at the Central Party School outside Beijing. This is where the party’s leadership debates questions that are thought too controversial to air in public.

A retired general in the People’s Liberation Army sat down next to Sanger and, in a relaxed moment of candor, said:

“I sat through many meetings of the People’s Liberation Army in the 80s and 90s where we tried to imagine what your military forces would look like in 10 to 20 years.

“But frankly, we never thought that you would spend trillions of dollars and so much time tied down in Afghanistan and the Middle East. We never imagined that as a choice you would make.”

Chinese military parade 

And, writes Sanger: “Not so secretly, the Chinese were delighted by the Bush-era wars.  The longer the United States was bogged down trying to build democracies in foreign lands, the less capable it was of competing in China’s backyard.

“But now that America was emerging from a lost decade in the Middle East, the Chinese began to ask: How should China respond?  With cooperation, confrontation, or something in-between?”

And the Chinese were equally thrilled that the United States had squandered so much of its treasury during the eight-year Bush Presidency.

In the decade following 9/11, the Pentagon went on an unprecedented spending binge. The defense budget grew by 67%, to levels 50% higher than it had been per average year during the Cold War.

According to Sanger: “An estimate [the New York Times] put together for the tenth anniversary of the [9/11] attacks suggested that the United States had spent at least $3.3 trillion.”

These monies had gone on

  • securing the country;
  • invading and trying to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq; and
  • caring for wounded American soldiers.

“Put another way,” writes Sanger, “for every dollar al-Qaeda spent destroying the World Trade Center and attacking the Pentagon, America had spent $6.6 million in response.

“The annual Pentagon budget of $700 billion was equivalent to the combined spending of the next twenty largest military powers….

“The world had come to expect that America would underwrite global security, regardless of the cost. Obama was determined to change that mind-set.”

In short, America became financially and militarily vulnerable during the Presidency of George W. Bush.

And this flatly contradicts the standard Republican line: Obama is a weak President–and is betraying us to the (pick one or both) Muslims/Communists.

It also speaks volumes that the two most important members of the George W. Bush administration declined to attend the 2012 Republican National Convention. Just as they declined to attend the 2016 one.

That, of course, meant former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney

And why was that?  Perhaps it’s because polls show that a majority of Americans continue

  • To blame Bush for lying the country into a needless, bloody and expensive war with Iraq.
  • To blame him for presiding over the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.
  • To see Dick Cheney as the Dr. Strangelovian manipulator of George W. Bush.

Even former President George H.W. Bush said he wouldn’t attend the convention.

It’s possible that Bush, Sr., didn’t want to serve as a reminder that his son left the White House with the lowest popularity rating of any modern President.

And that was just fine with those planning to attend the convention–especially its nominee-to-be, Mitt Romney.

They wanted to do with George W. Bush what Nikita Khrushchev and his fellow Communists did with the embarrassing Joseph Stalin: Bury him far from public view.

Romney certainly didn’t want the viewing audience to be reminded that the United States sharply declined in wealth and prestige during the eight-year reign of George W. Bush and a Republican Congress.

Romney and his fellow conventioneers also didn’t  want to remind the country of something else: That Obama has spent most of his own Presidency trying to undo the harm his predecessor did, in both foreign and domestic policy.

Thus, now approaching the 2016 election, the Republican party finds itself torn.

Its leaders want Americans to believe that Barack Obama is the worst President in the history of the Republic. Donald Trump, its nominee for President, has even accused Obama of being “the founder of ISIS.”  

This ignores that ISIS didn’t join Al-Qaeda until October, 2004–more than a year after Bush invaded Iraq. And that it was Bush’s destruction of Iraqi stability under Saddam Hussein that enabled ISIS to spread like a cancer throughout Iraq and Syria.

So while Republicans rail that Obama is the worst President in American history, they know that most Americans believe that title goes to the last Republican one.

THE FIRST RULE OF CONSPIRACIES–AND COMPUTERS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 26, 2016 at 12:15 am

On July 22, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The emails were exchanged from January 2015 through May 2016.

These clearly reveal a bias for Hillary Clinton and against her lone challenger, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

One email revealed that Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist. 

Sanders’ supporters have long charged that the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were plotting to undercut his campaign. Now thousands of them are expected to descend on the Democratic convention as furious protesters.  

The leak could not have come at a worse time for Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York and Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

About to receive the Democratic nomination for President, she finds herself charged with undermining the electoral process. 

Wasserman-Schultz has proven the first casualty of the leak, resigning from her position as chair of the DNC and saying she would not open the Democratic convention as previously scheduled.

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Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

As for Clinton: Her campaign manager, Bobby Mook, blamed the Russians for the leak. Their alleged motive: To help Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Cyber-security experts believe the hackers originated from Russia–and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have authorized it.

His alleged motive: Trump has repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He believes the United States is paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance–and he wants other members to contribute far more. Otherwise, if he is elected President, they would be on their own if attacked by Russia.

Trump took to twitter to offer his take on the release: “How much BAD JUDGEMENT was on display by the people in DNC in writing those really dumb e-mails, using even religion, against Bernie!”  

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Bernie Sanders

Which brings up the obvious question: Why was such sensitive information entrusted to computers that could be hacked? 

This is not the first time a major corporation or government agency has fallen prey to hackers.

Name-brand companies, trusted by millions, have been hit with massive data breaches that compromised their customers’ and/or employees’ most sensitive financial and personal information.

Among those companies and agencies:

  • Target
  • Kmart
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Anthem, Inc.
  • Sony Pictures
  • The U.S. State Department
  • The Pentagon
  • The Office of Personnel Management

Perhaps the most notorious target so far hacked is Ashley Madison, the website for cheating wives and husbands. Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan is: “Life is short. Have an affair.”  

Ashley Madison - Ashley Madison Agency

On July 15, 2015, its more than 37 million members learned that highly embarrassing secrets they had entrusted to Ashley Madison had been compromised.

This included their sexual fantasies, matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.

A website offering cheating services to those wealthy enough to afford high-priced fees is an obvious target for hackers. After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true.  

And the same is true for computers of one of the two major political parties of the United States. 

Among the secrets unearthed in the WikiLeaks document-dump: Plans by Democratic party officials to reward large donors and prominent fundraisers with lucrative appointments to federal boards and commissions.

Most of the donors listed gave to Clinton’s campaign. None gave to Sanders.

According to Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group: 

“The disclosed DNC emails sure look like the potential Clinton Administration has intertwined the appointments to federal government boards and commissions with the political and fund raising operations of the Democratic Party. That is unethical, if not illegal.”  

Centuries before the invention of computers–and the machinery needed to hack into them–Niccolo Machiavelli offered cautionary advice to those thinking of entering into a conspiracy.  He did so in his masterwork on politics, The Discourses.  

Niccolo Machiavelli

Unlike his better-known work, The Prince, which deals with how to secure power, The Discourses lays out rules for preserving liberty within a republic.

In Book Three, Chapter Six (“Of Conspiracies”) he writes:

“I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the ‘Yes’ of one man is worth as much as the ‘No’ of another. 

“And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting.”

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, ordered the execution of the popular Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, claiming that he had aided Britain and plotted against France.

The aristocracy of Europe, still recalling the slaughters of the French Revolution, was shocked. 

Asked for his opinion on the execution, Napoleon’s chief of police, Joseph Fouche, said: “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.”  

This may prove to be history’s verdict on the storing of so many incriminating computer files by the DNC.

VIETNAM–MIDDLE-EAST STYLE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 22, 2016 at 12:39 am

Michael Hastings was the Rolling Stone reporter whose 2010 article on “The Runaway General” ended the illustrious military career of General Stanley McCrystal.

In 2012, Hastings greatly expanded on his article with a 2012 book: The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan. 

According to its hardcover dust jacket: “General Stanley McCrystal, the innovative, forward-thinking, commanding general of international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was living large.  He was better known to some as Big Stan, M4, Stan, and his loyal staff liked to call him a ‘rock star.’

“During a spring 2010 trip across Europe to garner additional allied help for the war effort, McCrystal was accompanied by journalist Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone.

“For days, Hastings looked on as McCrystal and his staff let off steam, partying and openly bashing the Obama administration for what they saw as a lack of leadership.

“When Hastings’ piece appeared a few months later, it set off a poiltical firestorm: McCrystal was ordered to Washington where he was fired  unceremoniously.”

General Stanley A. McCrystal

But there is an even deeper element to be found within Hastings’ book–that is, for anyone with even a general knowledge of the war in Vietnam.

Hastings (who died in a high-speed car accident in 2013) does not make any direct parallels between the almost 11-year conflict in Afghanistan and the 14-year conflict in Vietnam. 

But those parallels are definitely there for anyone to see:

  • Ngo Dinh Diem, the “president” of South Vietnam (1955 -1963) was a Catholic mandarin who was alienated from an overwhelmingly poor, 95% Buddhist country.
  • Hamid Karzai, the “president” of Afghanistan (2004 – 2014) was from a wealthy Pashtun family and is alienated from members of other Afghan tribes.
  • Diem’s authority didn’t extend far beyond Saigon.
  • Karzai’s authority didn’t extend beyond Kabul.
  • Diem didn’t believe in democracy–despite American claims to support his efforts to bring it to Vietnam.
  • Ditto for Karzai–despite American claims that he sought to bring democracy to Afghanistan.
  • Diem was widely regarded in Vietnam as an illegitimate leader, imposed by the Americans.
  • Ditto for Karzai.

Ngo Dinh Diem

Hamid Karzai

  • American soldiers were sent to Vietnam because America feared Communism.
  • American soldiers were sent to Afghanistan because America feared terrorism.
  • Americans were ordered to train the South Vietnamese to defend themselves against Communism.
  • American troops were ordered to train the Afghan army to defend themselves against terrorism.
  • Americans quickly determined that the South Vietnamese army was worthless–and decided to fight the Vietcong in its place.
  • Americans quickly determined that the Afghan army was worthless–and decided to fight the Taliban in its place.

American soldiers in Vietnam

  • There was massive distrust between American and South Vietnamese soldiers.
  • Ditto for relations between American and Afghan soldiers.
  • American soldiers in Vietnam felt surrounded by enemies and hamstrung by unrealistic orders to win “hearts and minds” at the risk of their own lives.
  • Ditto for American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan.
  • President John F. Kennedy doubted that Americans could win a war in Vietnam and tried to contain the conflict.
  • President Barack Obama came into office determined to contain the Afghan conflict and withdraw American troops as soon as possible.
  • The Pentagon saw Vietnam as “the only war we’ve got” and pressed to insert greater numbers of men.
  • The Pentagon sees Afghanistan as one of several wars “we’ve got” and has pressed to insert greater numbers of men.

American soldiers in Afghanistan

  • The Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) posed no threat to the security of the United States.
  • The Taliban poses no threat to the security of the United States.
  • The far Right embraced the Vietnam war as a way to assert American power in Asia.
  • The far Right embraces the Afghan war as a way to assert American power in the Middle East.
  • Counterinsurgency was preached as the key to defeating the Vietcong in Vietnam–where it didn’t work.
  • Counterinsurgency is now being preached as the key to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan–where it hasn’t worked.
  • Americans entered Vietnam without an exit strategy.
  • Americans entered Afghanistan without an exit strategy.

From this, the United States should draw several conclusions:

  • Commit forces only when American security is truly threatened.
  • Go in with overwhelming force, destroy as much of the enemy as quickly as possible, then get out.
  • Occupations are costly in lives and treasure–as Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler discovered–and should be avoided.
  • Don’t try to remake the cultures of other nations–especially those of a primitive, alien nature such as Afghanistan.

Hastings’ book does not cover the Afghan war to its end.  It can’t, since there is no telling when that war will end.

But by the end of its 379 pages, it’s clear what that outcome will be: Another futile exercise in “nation-building” at an exorbitant cost in American lives and treasure.

AFGHANISTAN: TIME TO FIND THE EXIT

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 23, 2015 at 11:39 am

On December 21, a suicide-bomber rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol.  Six American troops and an Afghan were killed.

One of the dead was Joseph Lemm, 45, a detective and 15-year veteran of the New York Police Department.  A technical sergeant in the New York Air National Guard, he had been deployed three times–once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

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Joseph Lemm

Lemm left behind a daughter, Brook, 16, a son, Ryan, four, and his wife, Christine.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that flags on all state government buildings be flown at half-staff on December 23 in Lemm’s honor.

“Staff Sergeant Joe Lemm served this nation with the selflessness and bravery that embodies the U.S. Armed Forces and the NYPD,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Lemm’s death is a double tragedy–that of a dedicated man who should not have died so needlessly.

In short: It’s long past time for the United States to quit its failed mission to civilize Afghanistan.

The history of American conflict in Afghanistan began on September 11, 2001.

On that date, 19 Islamic highjackers slammed two jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

A fourth plane, headed for the White House or Capitol Building, failed to reach its target when its passengers rioted–and the highjackers dove it into a Pennsylvania field.

The mastermind of the attacks was Osama bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire then living in Afghanistan, under protection by its ruling thugocracy, the Taliban.

The administration of President George W. Bush demanded his immediate surrender to American justice.

The Taliban refused.

So, on October 7, 2011–less than one month from the 9/11 attacks–American bombers began pounding Taliban positions.

The whole point of the campaign was to pressure the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden.

But the Taliban held firm. Bin Laden holed up in the mountains of Tora Bora, and then ultimately escaped into Pakistan.

After December, 2001, American Intelligence completely lost track of Bin Laden.  CIA officials repeatedly said he was likely living in the “no-man’s-land” between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Thus, there was no longer any point in pressuring the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden

Still, the United States continued to commit forces to Afghanistan–to turn a primitive, warlord-ruled country into a modern-day democracy.

There was, admittedly, a great deal to detest about the Taliban:

  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they turned soccer stadiums into execution plazas for mass beheadings or shootings.
  • Taliban “fighters” have proven their “courage” by throwing acid into the faces of women who dared to attend school.

Taliban atrocities

  • On August 8, 1989, the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif. Talibanists began shooting people in the street, then moved on to mass rapes of women. Thousands of people were locked in containers and left to suffocate.
  • The Taliban forbade women to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative and wearing the burqa–a traditional dress covering the entire body. Those who disobeyed were publicly beaten.

Yet, as horrific as such atrocities were, these did not obligate the United States to spend eternity trying to bring civilization to this barbaric country.

And, in pursuing that goal, both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly overlooked the following realities:

  • Hamid Karzai, the “president” of Afghanistan (2001-2014) didn’t believe in democracy–despite American claims to support his efforts to bring this to Afghanistan.
  • His authority didn’t extend beyond Kabul, and he was viewed by most Afghans as an illegitimate ruler, imposed by America.
  • The same can be said for his successor, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.
  • American soldiers in Afghanistan feel surrounded by enemies and hamstrung by unrealistic orders to win “hearts and minds” at the risk of their own lives.
  • The Taliban poses no threat to the security of the United States.
  • Afghan “insurgents” are fighting American forces because (1) they are in a civil war; and (2) they believe their country has once again been occupied by foreigners.
  • Counterinsurgency is being preached as the key to defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan–where it hasn’t worked.
  • Americans entered Afghanistan without an exit strategy.

All these truths applied just as firmly to America’s failed misadventure in Vietnam.

Almost 50 years ago, American “grunts” felt about their so-called South Vietnamese allies as American troops now feel about their Afghan “allies.”

Dr. Dennis Greenbaum, a former army medic, summed up how Americans had really felt about their supposed South Vietnamese allies.

American surgical team in Vietnam

“The highest [priority for medical treatment] was any U.S. person. The second highest was a U.S. dog from the canine corps.  The third was NVA [North Vietnamese Army].  The fourth was VC [Viet Cong].

“And the fifth was ARVIN [Army of the Republic of South Vietnam], because they had no particular value,” said Greenbaum.

When you despise the “ally” you’re spending lives and treasure to defend, it’s time to pack up.

American soldiers long ago recognized that “friendly Afghans” were worthless as allies.  But only recently has the Pentagon publicly admitted that ”friendly Afghans” pose as great a threat to American troops as self-declared Talibanists.

Can anyone recall such “ally-on-American” attacks by British or French soldiers during World War II?  Of course not.

It’s past time for the Obama administration to recognize this–and start shipping those troops home.

WHY SO MANY PEOPLE DISTRUST GOVERNMENT

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on October 23, 2015 at 12:40 am

In 2005, Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect, was placed on the United States Government’s No-Fly list, operated by the Terrorist Screening Center.

It wasn’t because she was a member of Al Qaeda.  It happened because of an FBI screw-up.

The mess started in January 2005, when Ibrahim and her 14-year-old daughter arrived at the San Francisco Airport.  Their destination: Hawaii, to attend a conference trip sponsored by Stanford.

Ibrahim, still recovering from a recent hysterectomy, was in a wheelchair.

When she approached the United Airlines counter to check in, she was seized, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a police car and taken to a holding cell.

There she was interrogated.  During this, paramedics had to be summoned because she hadn’t taken her surgery medication.

Then, to her surprise, she was released–and told that her name had been removed from the No-Fly list.  She boarded a flight to Hawaii and attended the conference.

But in March 2005, the situation suddenly changed.

Having returned to Malasia, she bought a ticket to fly back to California to meet with her Stanford thesis adviser. But at the airport, she was banned from the flight.

She was told that her student visa had been revoked, and that she would longer be let into the United States.  When she asked why, authorities refused to give a reason.

She would not learn the answer for another eight years.

An FBI agent in San Jose, California, had conducted a background check on Ibrahim.  He hadn’t meant to place her on theNo-Fly list.

FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

He had simply checked the wrong boxes on a form.  He didn’t even realize the mistake until nearly a decade later, during his deposition in 2013.

In fact, he filled out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions provided on the form. He did so even though the form stated, “It is recommended that the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases.”

Thus, Ibrahim was placed on the No-Fly list.

That was bad enough–but at least understandable. FBI agents are human, and can and do err like anyone else.

What is not understandable or tolerable is this:

After Ibrahim filed a lawsuit against the United States Government in 2006, the Justice Department ordered a coverup–to prevent word from leaking that one of its agents had made a mistake.

Moreover, Ibrahim was ordered by the Justice Department to not divulge to anyone that she was suing the United States Government–or the reason for the lawsuit.

Ibrahim is currently the dean of architecture at University Putra Malaysia.

Because the Justice Department refused to admit its mistake, attorneys working pro bono for Ibrahim incurred a reported $3.8 million in legal fees, as well as $300,000 in litigation costs.

In his recent decision on the case, U.S. District Judge William Alsup, based in San Francisco, called the agent’s error “conceded, proven, undeniable and serious.

Once derogatory information is posted to the Terrorist  Screening Database, it can propagate extensively through the  government’s interlocking complex of databases, like a bad credit  report that will never go away,” he wrote.

If only the Justice Department had readily admitted the mistake and quickly moved to correct it.  But the egos of Federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors effectively ruled out this option.

Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama (2006-2011) had a completely different approach to dealing with mistakes.

In his 2014 autobiography, Duty, he writes of his determination to promote good relations between the Pentagon and the reporters who covered it.

In his commencement address at the Anapolis Naval Academy on May 25, 2007, he said:

“…the press, in my view [is] a critically important guarantor of our freedom.

“When it identifies a problem, the response of senior leaders should be to find out if the allegations are true.  And if so, say so, and then act to remedy the problem.

“If [the allegations are] untrue, then be able to document that fact.”

Millions of Americans not only distrust the Federal Government–they believe it is aggressively conspiring against them.

But the vast majority of Federal employees do not come to work intent on destroying the lives of their fellow Americans.

They spend most of their time carrying out routine, often mind-numbing tasks–such as filling out what seem like an endless series of forms.

But even where no malice is involved, their actions can have devastating consequences for innocent men and women.

Especially in cases where “national security” can be invoked to hide error, stupidity, or even criminality.

The refusal of the Justice Department to quickly admit the honest mistake of one of its agents prevented Ibrahim from boarding a commercial flight for seven years.

Federal agencies should follow the advice given by Robert Gates:  Admit your mistakes and act quickly to correct them. 

Unless this happens, the poisonous atmosphere of distrust between the Government and its citizens will only worsen.

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