Friday, March 31, 2006

Money Sometimes Don't Mean Shit

Q: How many delegates did Libby Dole get for the $5.4 million she spent on her 2000 presidential run?

A: Zero

New "527" Group Rules In Offing

The GOP attempts to weaken the influence of "527" groups hit a temporary roadblock yesterday when a judge refused to immediately impose new regulations on the use of these campaign finance tools.

The Democratic Party-favored "527s" respite will only be brief, however, since the judge ordered the FEC to start implementing rules to rein in these groups or explain why it is not necessary.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has rejected requests by the Bush-Cheney campaign and by two advocates of campaign finance legislation to order the Federal Election Commission to impose tough regulations on "527" political committees that put more than $400 million into the 2004 elections.

Instead, in a ruling issued late Wednesday evening, the judge gave the FEC a choice: Either explain in detail why regulations are not needed or begin proceedings to develop such rules...

The judge warned that if the FEC continues to treat 527 committee complaints on a case-by-case basis instead of issuing encompassing rules, it will have to explain how the interests of complainants will be protected under time-consuming processes that often do not produce any action until the election is over...

Sullivan's decision means the FEC must once again tackle the tough issue of the independent political committees, which were used in 2003-04 to get around legislation banning the use of large donations from unions, corporations and rich people -- also known as "soft money."

The transfer of wealth to the rich is what American democracy is really all about, the Republican and Democratic parties are both engineered for this purpose.

That's why the really big money gives to both parties.

If "527" groups are stifled in any real way, this will not stop the spigot of funds to favored candidates.

The real owners of the United States will simply have their lawyers work out another mechanism to maintain the ongoing theft of the nation's bounty from the citizens.

NASA To No Longer Require Minders When Scientists Talk To Media

After being rightfully criticized for various intrusions on the free speech of their scientists, NASA is taking steps to permit more unfettered discussion of controversial topics.

NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin unveiled new rules yesterday that govern the release of agency information to news media and the public, his most detailed response yet to embarrassing allegations that NASA's public affairs office had sought to suppress the release of scientific information not consistent with the views of the Bush administration.

The new eight-page policy, written by an internal team of scientists, lawyers, public affairs specialists and managers, states that NASA scientists are free to talk to members of the media about their scientific findings and even express personal interpretations of those findings -- the heart of the controversy that has engulfed the agency since January.

It also makes clear that scientists are not required to have a public affairs officer with them when they speak with members of the media, though Griffin emphasized yesterday in comments broadcast to NASA employees that he believes such behavior is unwise.

"If you're not a media professional, then to go into an interview without a media professional is courting trouble," he said. "But you can do as you like."

Griffin had promised the revamped policy in February, after NASA employees complained publicly that information had been manipulated in ways that suited the Bush administration.

The Bush administration's modus operandi is to manipulate information to better suit their various agendas. The NASA scientists are on a much stronger footing than the hapless bureaucrats at other agencies who cant come forward to complain because of the classified nature of the information being "influenced" by the administration.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bush Knowingly Lied About Aluminum Tubes in 2003 SOTU

A new article by Murray Waas in the National Journal shows that President Bush's 2003 State of the Union claims about Iraq's aluminum tubes being for nuclear weapons production was known to him to be a highly disputed piece of intelligence.

A dissent (or alternate view) from the State and Energy Department's intelligence arms saying that the tubes could not be used in a uranium enrichment centrifuge was included in the one-page President's Summary of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true, according to government records and interviews.

Hadley was particularly concerned that the public might learn of a classified one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate, specifically written for Bush in October 2002. The summary said that although "most agencies judge" that the aluminum tubes were "related to a uranium enrichment effort," the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Energy Department's intelligence branch "believe that the tubes more likely are intended for conventional weapons."...

For one, Hadley's review concluded that Bush had been directly and repeatedly apprised of the deep rift within the intelligence community over whether Iraq wanted the high-strength aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program or for conventional weapons.

For another, the president and others in the administration had cited the aluminum tubes as the most compelling evidence that Saddam was determined to build a nuclear weapon -- even more than the allegations that he was attempting to purchase uranium...

"Presidential knowledge was the ball game," says a former senior government official outside the White House who was personally familiar with the damage-control effort. "The mission was to insulate the president. It was about making it appear that he wasn't in the know. You could do that on Niger. You couldn't do that with the tubes."

On July 18, the Bush administration declassified a relatively small portion of the NIE and held a press briefing to discuss it, in a further effort to show that the president had used the Niger information only because the intelligence community had vouched for it. Reporters noted that an "alternate view" box in the NIE stated that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (known as INR) believed that claims of Iraqi purchases of uranium from Africa were "highly dubious" and that State and DOE also believed that the aluminum tubes were "most likely for the production of artillery shells."

But White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett suggested that both the president and Rice had been unaware of this information: "They did not read footnotes in a 90-page document." Later, addressing the same issue, Bartlett said, "The president of the United States is not a fact-checker."

Because the Bush administration was able to control what information would remain classified, however, reporters did not know that Bush had received the President's Summary that informed him that both State's INR and the Energy Department doubted that the aluminum tubes were to be used for a nuclear-related purpose...

Later that summer, the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an investigation of intelligence agencies to determine why they failed to accurately assess that Saddam had no viable programs to develop chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion.

As National Journal first disclosed on its Web site on October 27, 2005, Cheney, Libby, and Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington, rejected advice given to them by other White House officials and decided to withhold from the committee crucial documents that might have shown that administration claims about Saddam's capabilities often went beyond information provided by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Among those documents was the President's Summary of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

No wonder that the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by the odious Sen. Pat Roberts, has refused to conduct the Phase II investigation of the administration's misuse of intelligence to lure the nation into war on false pretenses.

Murray Waas also indicates in his fine article that the bizarre behavior of the administration in Plamegate can be logically explained as their energetic efforts to muddy the waters with the Niger uranium issue in order to obfuscate the more blatant cherry-picking of intelligence about the aluminum tubes.

Federal Prosecutorial Skullduggery

The "war on terror" has inspired federal lawyers in at least two cases now to resort to unethical and potentially illegal tactics in order to administer what passes for justice these days.

The skullduggery involved in the Detroit prosecutions of alleged Muslim jihadists has been long public. The chickens are coming home to roost now for some of the government malefactors.

A former federal prosecutor and a State Department security officer were indicted yesterday on charges that they lied during a bungled terrorism trial in Detroit and then sought to cover up their deceptions once the case began to fall apart.

Former assistant U.S. attorney Richard G. Convertino, 45, and State Department special agent Harry R. Smith III, 49, were charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements in connection with the 2003 prosecution, according to an indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Detroit...

Legal experts said yesterday that an indictment of a prosecutor for improper conduct in a federal courtroom is extraordinarily rare, if not unprecedented, in modern times.

"The charge is essentially that he prosecuted too aggressively and crossed the line," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor who specializes in legal ethics. "This is simply astonishing."

Convertino also is charged with presenting false information at a sentencing hearing in a separate drug case to gain a light prison term for an informant...

Convertino led the prosecution of Karim Koubriti and three other North African immigrants, who were alleged to be part of a "sleeper operational combat cell." The government gained three convictions -- including two on terrorism charges -- but they were dismissed in 2004 after the Justice Department announced it had uncovered serious prosecutorial misconduct.

A report by a special Justice Department attorney assigned to review the case found that the prosecution had failed to turn over dozens of pieces of evidence to the defense. The "pattern of mistakes and oversights," along with possible misconduct, was so egregious that the government had little choice but to withdraw its case, his report said...

Convertino faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, while Smith could be sentenced to 20 years behind bars and a $750,000 penalty.

The indictment alleges that, during the trial, Convertino concealed photographs taken by Smith and another State Department staff member of Queen Alia Hospital in Jordan. Convertino had alleged that the defendants made a casing sketch of the military hospital in preparation for a terrorist attack, and Smith testified that he had no photographs with which to compare the sketches.

But Justice investigators said later that Convertino knew U.S. officials had taken numerous photographs and that "it is difficult, if not impossible, to compare the . . . sketches with the photos and see a correlation."

Carla J. Martin, the government lawyer who is alleged to have coached witnesses in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, is facing a federal investigation of her own.

The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria quite sensibly recused itself from the matter. The U.S. attorney in Philadelphia will be conducting the inquiry.

She was subpoenaed to appear in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on Monday to answer questions about her conduct, but the subpoena was quashed. In a closed hearing March 21, when U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema granted the request by defense lawyers to subpoena Martin, Brinkema disclosed the investigation.

"I am advised by the U.S. attorney's office that there very well may be a prosecution of her; at least they are looking at the possibility," Brinkema said. "I understand this office [the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria] will recuse itself, and I think the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is going to handle it."

"That's correct, your honor," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Spencer.

The rules for dealing with "terror" cases have clearly been loosened all across the board. NSA warrantless wiretapping, Geneva convention violations, including torture, detaining U.S. citizens without due process, establishing secret foreign prisons, etc.

What will come out next?

Maybe nothing. Although only the NSA controversy resulted from leaks, the crackdown on leakers and their contacts is well underway to stop any further revelations.

Senate Passes Weak Lobbying Reform Bill

Those who have been predicting a lax effort by lawmakers in the direction of lobbying reform were vindicated yesterday when the Senate passed a bill that will not have much effect on the multi-billion dollar business.

The Senate voted yesterday to require lobbyists to provide far more information about their dealings with lawmakers, responding to the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal with a plan for more disclosure rather than tougher enforcement of ethics laws.

By a vote of 90 to 8, the Senate approved a bill that would also force the disclosure for the first time of indirect lobbying, such as grass-roots activities, and prevent registered lobbyists from paying for lawmakers' meals or giving them gifts such as sports tickets. Congressional leaders had promised far-ranging revisions of lobbying activities after Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to bribe public officials. But the legislation that emerged yesterday is less sweeping than GOP leaders envisioned...

On Tuesday, the Senate rejected a bipartisan plan to create an independent investigative office designed to help the Senate's ethics committee enforce lobbying and ethics laws. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), one of the authors of the Democrats' lobbying proposals, voted against the Senate bill in part because it did not contain the office of public integrity.

Senate and House leaders will have to reconcile differences before Congress can send a final bill to the president. The House's leading ethics proposal, offered by its Republican leaders, would also broaden disclosure requirements, though not for such grass-roots activities as instigating e-mails, letters and phone calls from voters back home. The House plan would bar neither meals nor gifts...

Besides Obama and John McCain (Ariz.), the other six senators voting against the measure were Democrats Russell Feingold (Wis.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.), and Republicans Tom Coburn and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina. Not voting were West Virginia Democrats Robert C. Byrd and John D. Rockefeller IV...

"This legislation contains very serious reform," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), one of the architects of the Senate bill...

Asked if the measure meets the sweeping pledges of change voiced by senior members of the House and Senate early in the year, McCain laughed. "The good news is there will be more indictments, and we will be revisiting this issue," he said.

McCain gets the last word.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Abramoff Gets Nearly Six Years

Everybody's favorite lobbyist received his sentence today for the Miami part of his legal troubles.

Jack A. Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist at the center of a major corruption scandal, was sentenced in Miami today to five years and 10 months in prison for his role in the fraudulent purchase of a fleet of casino cruise ships. An associate received the same sentence.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck sentenced Abramoff, 47, and his former partner, Adam R. Kidan, 41, after considering their pleas for the shortest possible prison terms. Each laid most of the blame on the other for the scam, in which they faked a $23 million wire transfer to obtain financing for the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos from an owner who was later shot to death in a gangland-style hit...

The judge opted today for the minimum. But Abramoff faces the prospect of at least a few additional years in prison when he is sentenced in a separate case in Washington, D.C.

In that second case, Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to federal charges of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. His plea deal with federal prosecutors in that case required him to cooperate with a broad federal investigation of corruption involving members of Congress, congressional staffers, other lobbyists and employees of the Interior Department and other federal agencies.

Among the congressmen whose names have come up in the probe are Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), former chairman of the House Administration Committee, and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the former House majority leader.

Colloquy Charade

Some Republican Senators have engaged in the legal, but questionable tactic of "colloquy"--inserting a fictional debate into the Congressional Record--and pointing to the charade in order to influence the Supreme Court deliberations in a major case.

According to the official Congressional Record of Dec. 21, 2005, Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) held a long conversation on the Senate floor about an amendment bearing Graham's name that restricts the legal rights of detainees in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"I agree entirely," Graham responds to Kyl at one point. "I have just been handed a memorandum on this subject," Kyl says later. Another Republican senator, Sam Brownback of Kansas, interrupts the two with his own commentary.

But those exchanges never occurred. Instead, the debate -- which runs 15 pages and brims with conversational flourishes -- was inserted into the Congressional Record minutes before the Senate gave final approval to the legislation.

In legal briefs to the Supreme Court, which took up the issue yesterday, the Justice Department cites the material as evidence that Congress intended the Detainee Treatment Act to retroactively invalidate pending legal challenges by hundreds of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. Graham and Kyl submitted a friend-of-the-court brief asserting the same thing...

The briefs filed in support of the government do not make clear that the Graham-Kyl debate was manufactured. In their friend-of-the-court brief, filed in February, Graham and Kyl note that the "Congressional Record is presumed to reflect live debate except when the statements therein are followed by a bullet . . . or are underlined."

The Graham-Kyl exchange is not marked in either way, although a C-SPAN recording and other records make clear that the discussion never happened...

David H. Remes, a Washington lawyer who has helped Hamdan's defense team, called the colloquy "outrageous."

"This colloquy is critical to the government's legislative history argument, and it's entirely manufactured and misrepresented to the court as having occurred live on the Senate floor before a crucial vote," Remes said.

The goopers have gotten away with so much malfeasance so far during their control of the White House and Congress that they think they are exempt from the normal conventions of civilized behavior.

I wonder how they will like it when their precedent for fast and loose behavior are copied by their opponents when the Republicans are again the minority party.

That is, if in the new environment of mandatory electronic voting, the Republicans are ever forced to relinquish power.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Senate Judiciary Committee To See Action This Week

The extra-legal NSA warrantless eavesdropping program will be examined today by Sen. Arlen Specter's Senate Judiciary Committee:

Needless to say, not all lawmakers agree that Bush broke the law, and the issue should get a good airing this morning in a separate hearing before Specter's panel. Four federal judges are slated to discuss proposals to bring the eavesdropping program, which is conducted by the National Security Agency, under the auspices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act...

Some of the judges have served on the FISA court. Also scheduled to testify today are Morton H. Halperin of the Open Society Policy Center and David S. Kris, senior vice president of Time Warner Inc.

Later in the week, things might get interesting:

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Friday hearing on Sen. Russell Feingold's resolution to censure President Bush for authorizing warrantless surveillance of Americans' international phone calls and e-mails. The measure has divided Feingold's fellow Democrats, some of whom fear he is helping Republicans shift attention from the GOP's problems in dealing with Iraq, hurricane relief and other matters.

The goopers will be in fine form, I'm sure.

Feingold will no doubt be on the receiving end of some of the most colorful (within Senate decorum) diatribes we have seen in many moons.

That is, if the goopers don't succeed in persuading their man Specter to cancel Friday's hearing first.

"EXCUSE MATRIX" Info-Op Update

The information operation against Russia is showing signs of mismanagement barely four days into the effort. Defense is unable to get all of the uniformed military commands to work from the same playbook.

The U.S. military's Central Command said yesterday it has not opened an investigation into whether sources inside the command leaked details of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq to Russian officials, and distanced itself from captured Iraqi documents that contain the allegations...

A Central Command official said the command takes "all matters of operational security seriously" but was not probing the allegations...

In e-mailed statements in response to questions, Centcom cast doubt upon the validity of the captured Iraqi documents: "It's important to remember that the information came from an Iraqi intelligence report.

"Central command does not vouch for the document's accuracy or authenticity," the statement said...

Such views contrast with those of the authors of the 210-page Iraqi Perspectives Project study released Friday by the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk. They said they believe the Iraqi documents are authentic. Retired Lt. Col. Kevin M. Woods, the project director, said he had "no reason to doubt the Iraqi documents."...

The Central Command spokesman, said no one in his office knew of the existence of the Iraqi documents before the study's release on Friday, and that it was "highly possible" the military released them without prior vetting by Central Command.

The editorial page of the Washington Post proves today that it is still on board with the anti-Russia propaganda program, itself a sideshow (and liability) to the larger anti-Iran information operation.

"I do think we have to look at the documents and look very carefully," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. "But I don't want of jump out ahead and start making accusations about what the Russians may or may not have known." Fair enough, but a Pentagon study has already been through at least part of that exercise. It found no reason to doubt the documents' authenticity.

The news that Moscow would have helped Saddam Hussein fight U.S. forces might be unwelcome to those administration officials who still try to portray Mr. Putin as a partner of the West and a worthy host for the next summit of the Group of Eight nations. But it shouldn't be surprising. As has been well documented, Russia did its best to weaken and then break the sanctions regime imposed on Iraq, and then to prevent the 2003 invasion. In exchange it reaped lucrative economic concessions from Saddam Hussein, including the payment of large bribes to senior officials and politicians.

Ms. Rice and other Putin apologists ignore all this in part because they believe Russia will be helpful in stopping Iran's nuclear program. But Russia hasn't been helpful. Since its compromise offer to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russian facilities failed to gain traction, it has dedicated itself to blocking concerted action by the United States and its European allies in the U.N. Security Council. Meanwhile it is discussing the sale to Iran of surface-to-air missiles. As Mr. Putin knows, Iran wants those weapons in the event its drive to obtain nuclear bombs eventually leads to a military confrontation -- with the United States. But the possible consequences of bolstering the defenses of a U.S enemy may not deter him. After all, he has suffered none for Russia's actions in Iraq.

The lack of professionalism in executing the EXCUSE MATRIX info-op comes from ignoring one of the oldest rules in the business.

You never want to have too many cooks in the kitchen.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Skimming From Earmarks For Campaign Contributions

The lobbying reform effort is edging ever so slowly in the direction of the real source of lobbyists' influence, the ability to direct campaign contributions to helpful politicians.

These mutually beneficial transactions are legal under House ethics rules. As long as there is no explicit quid pro quo, lawmakers can channel clients to lobbyists, who help secure home-district pet projects, or "earmarks," and in turn, those lobbyists can send part of their fees back in the form of campaign contributions. But in the wake of the corruption scandals of former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, congressional reformers want to shine a light on dealings that have even a whiff of impropriety.

Most politicians are lawyers. They are smart enough to engineer any fund raising in a way in which there is no explicit quid pro quo. The Dukestir probably should have gone to law school.

Proposals pending before the House and Senate would force lawmakers to reveal their contacts with lobbyists and disclose their involvement in winning federal spending provisions or earmarks for constituents or special interests. If such disclosures become mandatory, some in Congress hope past practices will shrivel in the light of day. If not, they hope to win passage of provisions that would allow improperly secured earmarks to be struck from bills on the House or Senate floor. The Senate will take up earmark-reform proposals as early as today, when it turns its attention to a broad package of lobbying and ethics rule changes.

The elected politicians know that the average overworked voter doesn't understand the nuts and bolts of sausage making lawmaking, such as earmarks. Prediction; no earmark reform will make it through Congress.

"As the amount of earmarking increases, the amount contributed to campaigns increases. The lawmaker is getting a cut of the money he helped generate," said Scott Lilly, a former chief Democratic aide on the House Appropriations Committee and now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Do not expect this to change. Nor hold your breath for any crackdown on lobbyist-related campaign contributions.

Treacherous Groups Targeted By FBI

We have known for quite a while now about the FBI's surveillance of anti-war protesters and environmental activists, but today's Los Angeles Times reports on several other shadowy groups that the feds are spying on. One stands out as particularly suspicious.

It is people who feed vegetarian meals to the homeless.

The FBI's encounters with activists are described in hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act after agents visited several activists before the 2004 political conventions. Details have steadily trickled out over the last year, but newly released documents provide a fuller view of some FBI probes...

The list included Food Not Bombs, which mainly serves vegetarian food to homeless people, and, with a question mark next to it, Indymedia, a collective that publishes what it calls radical journalism online.

I hope these agents got hazardous duty pay.

It is interesting that the feds target groups opposed to war. The logic there must be that groups that dislike official violence may embrace non-official violence as psychological compensation. Or something like that.

Denver, where the ACLU fought a lengthy court battle with local police over its spying on political groups, has the most extensive records of encounters between the FBI and activists. Documents obtained by the ACLU there revealed how agents monitored the lumber industry demonstration, an antiwar march and an anarchist group that activists say was never formed...

In June 2002, environmental activists protested the annual meeting of the North American Wholesale Lumber Assn. in Colorado Springs. An FBI memo justified opening an inquiry into the protest because an activist training camp was to be held on "nonviolent methods of forest defense, security culture, street theater and banner making."...

About 30 to 40 people attended the protest; three were arrested for trespassing while hanging a political banner. Colorado Springs police faxed the FBI a three-page list of demonstrators' license plate numbers...

"There's a lot of responsibility on the FBI," said Joe Airey, head of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in Denver. "We have a real obligation to make sure there are no additional terrorist acts on this soil."

The bottom line is that if and when any future terrorist attacks occur in the U.S., the investigative agencies will have to explain how wasting manpower on crap like this helped to detect the plot that they will have just missed.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Electronic Voting Machine Skullduggery

A Florida elections official who looked a little too closely at how manipulatable the "tamper proof" electronic voting machines really are is finding that none of the three big companies who make these jewels are willing to do business with him absent an agreement from him not to rigorously test the machines.

The maverick elections supervisor in Leon County, Fla., last year helped show that electronic voting machines from one of the major manufacturers are vulnerable, according to experts, and would allow election workers to alter vote counts without detection.

Now, however, (Ion) Sancho may be paying an unexpected price for his whistle-blowing: None of the state-approved companies here will sell him the voting machines the county needs...

There are three vendors approved to sell voting equipment in Florida, and each has indicated it cannot or will not fill Sancho's order for 160 voting machines for the disabled. Already, he has had to return a $564,000 federal grant to buy the machines because he has been unable to acquire the machines yet...

The trouble began last year when Sancho allowed a Finnish computer scientist to test Leon County's Diebold voting machines, a common type that uses an optical scanner to count votes from ballots that voters have marked. Diebold Election Systems is one of the largest voting machine companies in the United States.

While some tests showed that the system is resistant to outside attack, others showed that elections workers could alter the vote tallies by manipulating the removable memory cards in the voting machines, and do so without detection...

last month, California elections officials arranged for experts to perform a similar analysis of the Diebold machines and also found them vulnerable -- noting a wider variety of flaws than Sancho's experts had. They characterized the vulnerabilities as "serious" but "fixable."

"What he [Sancho] discovered was -- oops -- that the conventional wisdom was all wrong," said (David Wagner, a computer scientist at the University of California at Berkeley), a member of the panel that reviewed the Diebold machines. "It was possible to subvert the memory card without detection."

The industry is trying to fight back. If they weren't concerned about rigorous testing, why are they so touchy about selling their product to Sancho?

A spokesman said Diebold will not sell to Sancho without assurances that he will not permit more such tests, which the company considers a reckless use of the machines...

Another company, Sequoia Voting Systems, backed out of discussions with Sancho earlier this year. Spokesman Michelle Shafer said the company lacks the capacity to fill his order.

The third voting machine company, Election Systems & Software Inc., did not respond to three calls for comment directed through their sales representative.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Patriot Act Signing Statement Skullduggery

President Bush has again utilized the slimy tactic of issuing a dubious "signing statement" to subvert the intentions of the lawmakers who have written and approved a piece of legislation.

This time it was used on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

When President Bush signed the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act this month, he included an addendum saying that he did not feel obliged to obey requirements that he inform Congress about how the FBI was using the act's expanded police powers.

The bill contained several oversight provisions intended to make sure the FBI did not abuse the special terrorism-related powers to search homes and secretly seize papers. The provisions require Justice Department officials to keep closer track of how often the FBI uses the new powers and in what type of situations. Under the law, the administration would have to provide the information to Congress by certain dates...

Bush signed the bill with fanfare at a White House ceremony March 9, calling it ''a piece of legislation that's vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people." But after the reporters and guests had left, the White House quietly issued a ''signing statement," an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used and that, despite the law's requirements, he could withhold the information if he decided that disclosure would ''impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive's constitutional duties."...

Bush wrote: ''The executive branch shall construe the provisions . . . that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch . . . in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information... "

(W)hen Congress passed a law forbidding the torture of any detainee in US custody, Bush signed the bill but issued a signing statement declaring that he could bypass the law if he believed using harsh interrogation techniques was necessary to protect national security.

After the torture bill signing statement became public, a wag told me that he is planning to buy a car. The fellow said that at the moment he signs the contract for the car loan, he will issue a signing statement declaring that the terms of the agreement are hereby changed to make the payments optional.

How do you think that will work?

GOP Strategy For Campaign Season

The GOP will be the beneficiary of President Bush's default strategy for trying to keep majorities in both chambers on Capitol Hill.

The plan is to be: All Fearmongering, All The Time.

President Bush on Friday provided a preview of his two-front strategy for protecting the Republican congressional majority in an ominous political climate: hammer Democrats on national security and the economy, and raise millions of dollars for embattled GOP candidates such as Rep. Michael E. Sodrel (Ind.).

At a luncheon fundraiser here, Bush repeatedly called Sodrel an indispensable ally in fighting terrorism, and emphasized his support for the military and a robust U.S. foreign policy. Sodrel, he said, "understands this is a nation at war" against terrorists intent on striking America again. It is imperative that voters elect candidates who know that "there is an enemy which hates those of us who embrace freedom and would like to strike us again."...

Election analysts say Republicans could lose seats, if not their House and Senate majorities, if the public's gloomy view of Bush, Congress and the direction of the country does not brighten this summer.

A Democratic majority in the House or the Senate would be likely to launch hearings and investigations into the war and other issues, and would be positioned to stop the Bush agenda in the remaining two years of the Bush presidency. "The Democrats' plan for 2006? Take the House and Senate, and impeach the president," Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, warned in a fundraising e-mail sent to party members this week. "With our nation at war, is this the kind of Congress you want?"

I think Mehlman might be surprised to learn that, yes this is the kind of Congress that the people want.

That's why the goopers enacted the electronic voting legislation. Just in case things get worse for them.

Bush realizes, aides say, that he is no longer the political force he was in the days before the 2002 and 2004 elections, when lawmakers lined up for high-profile presidential visits. In fact, some lawmakers in tight races in swing states such as Ohio have passed on chances to appear side by side with Bush at recent events. Santorum, for instance, cited "scheduling conflicts" in skipping a recent Bush speech in his state but has not missed a chance to raise money with the president at private gatherings like the one held Friday night...

The short-term goal is stabilize Bush's low public-approval ratings by talking about the progress and prospects for victory in Iraq. The White House also hopes to minimize intramural GOP feuding with a skeletal domestic agenda.

"A skeletal domestic agenda" to promote sounds an awful lot like the emphasis will be on his patented "you're either with the Republicans, or you are sharing a cave with Osama bin Laden."

Bush knows he cannot allow the Congress fall into hostile hands. He may preface his warnings by appealing to the American people's dislike of losing wars, but political cover for Bush's extra-legal activities may be the bigger impetus for his efforts towards getting his GOP allies returned to Washington this November.

Iran's 164-Centrifuge "Cascade"

Our regular coverage of the anti-Iran info-op takes us today in the direction of a purported technological breakthrough that is allegedly near at hand by Iran in their efforts at uranium enrichment.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, last week briefed diplomats from Britain, France, the United States, China, Russia and Germany, at the request of all six countries, on the progress Iran has made in assembling a 164-centrifuge "cascade" for uranium enrichment. Such a cascade would be far too small to produce enough weapons-grade fuel for a bomb, experts said. But U.S. and British officials expressed concern that it showed Tehran was mastering the enrichment technology as it works toward building an industrial-scale nuclear enrichment program that would run thousands of centrifuges with the capacity to produce fuel for weapons...

Getting multiple centrifuges to operate together in arrays known as cascades is one of the most daunting engineering challenges in the process of developing enriched uranium. Until now, Iran has been trying to get about 20 centrifuges to work in a cascade. The attempt to try 164 suggests that the Iranians have succeeded at the lower number, but IAEA officials cautioned in the briefing that Iran still faces many technical hurdles in operating a larger cascade, according to U.S. and European officials.

Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, Emyr Jones Parry, said he is "very concerned" that the latest Iranian advance will provide Iran with the technological expertise needed to enrich uranium on a much larger scale. "If you can do 164, you can probably do many more" centrifuges, Jones Parry said. "That means you have the potential to do full-scale enrichment."

A senior U.S. official said that the Bush administration expressed similar concerns. "The reports that Iran is speeding up its enrichment program at Natanz is alarming to all of us, not just to the United States," the official said.

Is everyone scared enough yet to support a bombing campaign?


Then keep reading these reports as we file them. They will find something to convince you. The info-op is building toward a crescendo.

The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll

The March 27 issue of New York magazine has an article, The Ground Zero Grassy Knoll, on the current crop of 9-11 conspiracy theories. Aficionados of this genre will find little or nothing new here, but the way the writer, Mark Jacobson, presents his material makes for an interesting read.

Father Frank Morales's conversion was more dramatic. Raised in the Jacob Riis Projects, Morales, who if not for his priest collar could be mistaken for an East Village hipster, is a longtime Lower East Side hero, primarily for his work with local squatter communities. The day after 9/11, the diocese asked if he'd go to ground zero to perform last rites. "They said be prepared, because "we're not talking bodies, Frank, we're talking body parts.""

"I could feel myself getting madder and madder, not the way a priest is supposed to feel," says Morales. Sitting with a fireman, Morales called out, "If I had somebody in this mess, I'd wanna get those motherfuckers." It was then, Morales says, that the fireman whispered, "Hey, that'’s not it. You wanna know something? Bush and bin Laden have the same banker."

Later Jacobson describes his own experiences of that day:

Hours later, I sat down beside another, impossibly weary firefighter. Covered with dust, he was drinking a bottle of Poland Spring water. Half his squad was missing. They'd gone into the South Tower and never come out. Then, almost as a non sequitur, the fireman indicated the building in front of us, maybe 400 yards away.

"That building is coming down," he said with a drained casualness.

"Really?" I asked. At 47 stories, it would be a skyscraper in most cities, centerpiece of the horizon. But in New York, it was nothing but a nondescript box with fire coming out of the windows. "When?"

"Tonight . . . Maybe tomorrow morning."

This was around 5:15 p.m. I know because five minutes later, at 5:20, the building, 7 World Trade Center, crumbled.

LIHOP, MIHOP, and assorted other theories are discussed, and deals briefly with the reason why it will be impossible to decipher the truth of the matter--disinformation intentionally placed in the path of the researcher:

The D-word is nothing to take lightly in conspiracy circles. For, as Thomas Pynchon notes in his "Proverbs for Paranoids," if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.


There exists many labyrinths and wild goose chases designed to divert anyone who looks seriously at the events of that day.

There are too many grassy knolls this time making for an insurmountable investigative task.

Just the way they want it.

Excuse Matrix Growing

When all the U.S. networks led with this story last night, I knew that something obnoxious was afoot. I was right. The U.S. government is now trying to get the distracted American people to believe that the vile Russians have contributed to our impending defeat in Iraq.

Russian officials collected intelligence on U.S. troop movements and attack plans from inside the American military command leading the 2003 invasion of Iraq and passed that information to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, according to a U.S. military study released yesterday.

The intelligence reports, which the study said were provided to Hussein through the Russian ambassador in Baghdad at the height of the U.S. assault, warned accurately that American formations intended to bypass Iraqi cities on their thrust toward Baghdad. The reports provided some specific numbers on U.S. troops, units and locations, according to Iraqi documents dated March and April 2003 and later captured by the United States.

"The information that the Russians have collected from their sources inside the American Central Command in Doha is that the United States is convinced that occupying Iraqi cities are impossible, and that they have changed their tactic," said one captured Iraqi document titled "Letter from Russian Official to Presidential Secretary Concerning American Intentions in Iraq" and dated March 25, 2003.

Note the highlighted passage. This document indicates that the U.S. was fully aware before the war of the nightmare inherent in trying to occupy Iraqi cities. And adjusted the war plan accordingly.

This makes the U.S. officials who didn't plan for the troubles we have seen in occupied Iraq (the civilians) look even more derelict in their "short-sightedness" than previously publicly known.

"This is absolutely nonsense," said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian mission to the United Nations. She said the allegations were never presented to the Russian government before being issued to the news media.

Why would she expect that we would clear propaganda (based on truthful information or not) with the party that we are smearing?

The study gives no indication who the alleged sources inside the U.S. Central Command might have been, or whether American officials believe the Kremlin authorized the transfer of information to Hussein's government.

That's the only really germane issue here. Whether the Russian government per se authorized their man in Baghdad to give the intel to Saddam.

Celeste A. Wallander, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that although Russia probably had intelligence on U.S. war plans, she is skeptical that the Kremlin would have ordered that it be passed to Hussein's government.

It is more likely that a "freelancing" Russian official such as the ambassador in Baghdad personally shuttled the information, she said.

Lets get real, folks. This is war. If anyone in the U.S. security establishment thought that the Russians were not inclined to engage in such skullduggery--that is inter alia an intel failure.

The reason that we are seeing this information being trumpeted now by the government--the same authorities who are leaving much of a broad range of 50 years worth of diplomatic history classified--is simple.

The allegations against Russia will, over time, become a part of the excuse matrix for why we lost the Iraq war.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Iran Accused Of Skullduggery in Iraq

It's been a few days since we covered the anti-Iran information operation. Today brings a message from "Zal", as every jerkoff in Washington refers to U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.

Iran is publicly professing its support for Iraq's stalemated political process while its military and intelligence services back outlawed militias and insurgent groups, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Thursday.

Iranian agents train and arm Shiite Muslim militias such as the Mahdi Army, linked to one of Iraq's most powerful clerics, Khalilzad said, and also work closely with Sunni Arab-led insurgent forces including Ansar al-Sunna, blamed for dozens of deadly attacks on Iraqi and American soldiers and Shiite civilians.

"Our judgment is that training and supplying, direct or indirect, takes place, and that there is also provision of financial resources to people, to militias, and that there is presence of people associated with Revolutionary Guard and with MOIS," the Afghan-born Khalilzad said, referring to Iran's main military force and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

The phrase "our judgment is" refers in U.S. intelligence community-speak to the consensus position expressed in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

Someone authorized Khalilzad to allude to the classified NIE. In other words, this is being released for propaganda purposes.

Khalilzad expressed particular concern over Iran's ties to the Mahdi Army, an armed group loyal to the outspoken Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that the ambassador said was responsible for many of the recent killings, despite Sadr's public pleas for calm...

But Khalilzad said the United States has had no face-to-face contact with the cleric, in his early thirties, whose followers hold more than 30 seats in the new parliament. "No, I don't talk to him, because we don't meet with Moqtada Sadr, but I have sent him messages publicly. . . . We engage him whatever way we can," said Khalilzad, who added that he and other embassy officials did meet with Sadr's political allies. "I think that our people advise me against it because there is an indictment against him."

The denial of any contact between U.S. officials and Sadr is a questionable assertion at best.

An aide to Sadr, one of the most outspoken critics of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, said Thursday that the cleric would not meet with American officials until foreign troops are withdrawn from Iraq.

The previous statement is made in precisely the same spirit as George W. Bush's claims never to have met Jack Abramoff.

Khalilzad ends with a reasonable statement given the situation. Too bad it is untrue:

"I have been reduced -- and I am not complaining -- to an observer, which is a good thing," he said, dismissing the widely held belief that he is still the driving force for unity, cajoling rival groups to negotiate. "I think now I say that they are really politically moving toward a self-reliance."

The reader is well advised to take Khalilzad's "observer" status with a grain of salt.

Blame The War Opponents, Act One

This morning, ace WaPo op-ed man David Ignatius argues that Bush needs to do a better job of convincing the American people that we are, contrary to war critics, doing well in Iraq.

Ignatius says that if Bush fails to succeed in snowing the people, we may be forced--despite impending victory-- to withdraw prematurely from Iraq in failure.

This is an opening salvo of the "blame the war opponents for our eventual loss in Iraq" program, which was discussed here earlier this week.

The polls suggest that Bush is losing the ability to communicate effectively about the issue that matters most to him. He has a better story on Iraq than many people seem to appreciate: Iraqi politicians are in fact coming together toward a government of national unity; Iraqi troops are improving their performance; substantial reductions in the number of U.S. troops are likely this year. But to many Americans, judging by the polls, Bush's assertions sound like a broken record. His optimism comes across as happy talk...

Ask senior military commanders what they think about Bush and they will tell you they love his toughness -- but wish the White House could communicate its Iraq strategy better.

Horse Hockey. If the military commanders could win the war, they already would have. All the domestic propaganda in the world cannot salvage the mission. Only prolong the inevitable.

Bush works hard to disguise it, but one senses the same inner conflict that afflicted Johnson as Vietnam began to go bad. In "The Best and the Brightest," David Halberstam described LBJ's torment: "He was a good enough politician to know what had gone wrong and what he was in for and what it meant to his dreams, but he could not turn back, he could not admit that he had made a mistake. He could not lose and thus he had to plunge forward." But, recalls Halberstam, "instead of leading, he was immobilized, surrounded, seeing critics everywhere."

True enough. Ignatius always tries to sound reasonable when pushing the agenda of the national security state.

Then he is back to it:

It's a dangerous situation. If Bush loses his ability to convince the country that his war aims make sense, America may be forced into a hasty withdrawal that will have devastating repercussions.

Here you have it, folks. Ignatius has been entrusted to start getting opinion, especially among the influential Washington lemmings, behind the new meme.

It has worked for 30 years against the Vietnam War protest movement.

Hence, the Halberstam quote.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Defamation Suit Against John Kerry

Some fuckwit is suing John Kerry for standing up for himself against allegations that he behaved dishonorably towards fellow Vietnam vets after returning from the War.

The Massachusetts Democrat recently created a defense fund to pay his legal costs in a federal defamation lawsuit filed last fall by a Pennsylvania filmmaker, Carlton Sherwood.

Sherwood alleged that Kerry and a top aide sought to "discredit and silence" him while blocking the broadcast of his anti-Kerry documentary during the final weeks of the race.

The film, "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," alleges Kerry's actions as an anti-war activist after he returned home from the Vietnam War harmed American POWs. Kerry lied about atrocities by U.S. soldiers as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, according to the film.

Kerry has denied the charges...

The defamation suit was filed in Philadelphia by Sherwood and the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation. Thomas Manning, a lawyer for Sherwood and the group, declined comment.

Drug-Free School Zones Snare Mostly Minorities

A new study shows that minorities are the ones who are mainly given the mandatory harsh penalties for being caught with contraband in drug-free school zones, which extend in some areas for 27 square miles around each school.

Many entire cities are considered drug-free school zones.

During the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, dozens of states drew wide circles around schools and called them "drug-free zones" to keep dealers away from children. But a national report released yesterday said the zones have failed to achieve that goal.

A report by the Justice Policy Institute, a liberal research organization that advocates for alternatives to incarceration, said the zones have led to a far different result: a disproportionately high number of drug convictions and harsh sentences for black and Latino citizens who live who live near urban schools and other protected areas.

In some cases, entire cities are covered by the zones, leading to mandatory sentences even for first-time offenders caught possessing minuscule amounts of drugs far from any school...

Alabama's zones cover 27 square miles each, almost half the size of one of its largest cities, Tuscaloosa. Convictions within the zones often come with fixed sentences that are added to whatever jail time is imposed for the crime committed...

The New Jersey study included maps of Newark, Jersey City and Camden, dense urban areas dominated by minorities and smothered by drug zones. But the largely white Mansfield Township, suburban and spread out, was marked by three small circles, where more minorities live...

In New Jersey, 96 percent of inmates serving harsher zone sentences are either black or Latino...

In Massachusetts, racial disparities in arrests and convictions were also tied to the zones. Eighty percent of people convicted with enhanced penalties were minorities, according to the Justice Policy Institute report.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bill-Signing Skullduggery

In the last few days, bloggers have been the only people taking note of a blatant case of bill-signing skullduggery.

Now, as proof that real people think something is amiss, the mainstream media is picking up on the story:

(L)ast month...President Bush signed into law a bill that actually never passed the House. The bill -- in this case, a major budget-cutting measure that will affect millions of Americans -- became a law because it was "certified" by the leaders of the House and Senate.

After stewing for weeks, Public Citizen, a legislative watchdog group, sued yesterday to block the budget-cutting law, charging that Bush and Republican leaders of Congress flagrantly violated the Constitution when the president signed it into law knowing that the version that cleared the House was substantively different from the Senate's version.

The issue is bizarre, with even constitutional scholars saying they could not think of any precedent for the journey the budget bill took to becoming a law. Opponents of the budget law point to elementary-school civics lessons to make their case, while Republicans are evoking an obscure Supreme Court ruling from the 1890s to suggest a bill does not actually have to pass both chambers of Congress to become law...

For their part, congressional leaders and administration officials point to an 1892 Supreme Court decision, Field v. Clark , to argue that as long as the speaker of the House and the leader of the Senate certify a bill passed, it is passed. In that case, a bill signed by President Benjamin Harrison and authenticated by the leaders of the House and Senate was different from the version printed in the official journals of Congress, known now as the Congressional Record...

In the 1892 case, the Supreme Court did not rule that the law really was a law but instead said the dispute was not a matter for the courts to decide, said Michael C. Dorf, a professor of constitutional law at Columbia University. The main problem for Public Citizen will not be showing that the budget law is technically not a law, but getting the courts involved, Dorf said, especially with a measure as sweeping as this one...

The issue would be solved if the House voted again, this time on the version that passed the Senate. But that would mark the third time House members would have to cast their votes on a politically difficult bill, containing cuts in many popular programs, and it would be that much closer to the November election.

The bottom line is that the fuckwitted House members are too spineless to vote again on the legislation, and would rather throw this thing to the Court, if need be, to deal with the mess.

There is also some evidence that Bush knew at the time that he was signing a bill that hadn't passed both chambers in identical form.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

FBI Agent Warned Superiors More Than 70 Times About Moussaoui

A heretofore unknown aspect of the U.S. security blunders surrounding 9-11 emerged yesterday in the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.

An FBI agent who interrogated Zacarias Moussaoui before Sept. 11, 2001, warned his supervisors more than 70 times that Moussaoui was a terrorist and spelled out his suspicions that the al-Qaeda operative was plotting to hijack an airplane, according to federal court testimony yesterday.

Agent Harry Samit told jurors at Moussaoui's death penalty trial that his efforts to secure a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings were frustrated at every turn by FBI officials he accused of "criminal negligence."...

Samit's testimony added striking detail to the voluminous public record on the FBI's bungling of the Moussaoui case. It also could help Moussaoui's defense. Samit is a prosecution witness who had earlier backed the government's central theory of the case: that the FBI would have raised "alarm bells" and could have stopped the Sept. 11 attacks if Moussaoui had not lied to agents. But under cross-examination by the defense yesterday, Samit said that he did raise those alarms -- repeatedly -- but that his bosses impeded his efforts.

Defense attorney Edward B. MacMahon Jr. zeroed in on increasingly urgent warnings Samit issued to his FBI supervisors after he interviewed Moussaoui at a Minnesota jail in mid-August 2001. Moussaoui had raised Samit's suspicions because he was training on a 747 simulator with limited flying experience and could not explain his foreign sources of income.

By Aug. 18, 2001, Samit was telling FBI headquarters that he believed Moussaoui intended to hijack a plane "for the purpose of seizing control of the aircraft." A few days later, he learned from FBI agents in France that Moussaoui had been a recruiter for a Muslim group in Chechnya linked to Osama bin Laden.

But when Samit tried to use the French intelligence in his draft application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings, he said, Maltbie edited out the connection with bin Laden because it did not show that a foreign government was involved.

"How are you supposed to establish a connection with a foreign power if it's deleted from the document?" MacMahon asked.

"Well, sir, you can't," Samit replied.

Samit said he also sent an e-mail to the FBI's bin Laden unit but did not receive a response before Sept. 11, 2001...

Samit acknowledged that he told the Justice Department's inspector general's office that his supervisors engaged in "criminal negligence" and were trying to "run out the clock" because they wanted to deport Moussaoui rather than prosecute him.

Most portions of the inspector general's report dealing with Moussaoui have never been made public.

"You thought a terrorist attack was coming, and you were being obstructed, right?" MacMahon asked.

"Yes, sir," Samit answered.

One has to wonder why the supervisors were so opposed to investigating Moussaoui. The story about simply wishing to deport him does not fly.

Especially in light of the editing of the French intelligence information out of the FISA affidavit.

And all the other suspicious government actions surrounding the events of that day.

U.S. Officials Claim Iran Is Helping Al-Qaeda

The administration needs to establish ties between Iran and Al-Qaeda if they are to be able to successfully promote the necessity of war with the Islamic Republic.

It would be even better to accuse the Iranians of participating in 9-11.

From today's Los Angeles Times:

U.S. intelligence officials, already focused on Iran's potential for building nuclear weapons, are struggling to solve a more immediate mystery: the murky relationship between the new Tehran leadership and the contingent of Al Qaeda leaders residing in the country.

Some officials, citing evidence from highly classified satellite feeds and electronic eavesdropping, believe the Iranian regime is playing host to much of Al Qaeda's remaining brain trust and allowing the senior operatives freedom to communicate and help plan the terrorist network's operations.

And they suggest that recently elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be forging an alliance with Al Qaeda operatives as a way to expand Iran's influence or, at a minimum, that he is looking the other way as Al Qaeda leaders in his country collaborate with their counterparts elsewhere...

To some U.S. intelligence officials, what worries them most is what they don't know.

"I don't need to exaggerate the difficulty in determining what these people are up to at any given moment," the intelligence official said.

The U.S. counter-terrorism official was more blunt. "We don't have any intelligence going on in Iran. No people on the ground," he said. "It blows me away the lack of intelligence that's out there."

Only by the fucked up standards of 21st century U.S. intelligence analysis (and nowhere else in the world of spookdom) can someone extrapolate from no evidence whatsoever that an "imminent" threat is brewing.

One can prudently consider the worst when you don't have all the facts. That's what footnotes in intelligence analyses are for.

But to plan a military attack or other disruptions of the international system based solely upon masturbatory fantasies about worst case scenarios is a whole other level of incompetence that
we've not proven to be immune to in recent years.

The remainder of the propaganda piece details a rogue's regiment of Al-Qaeda operatives that the U.S. claims are hiding in Iran.

Leaving aside the obvious non sequitur of Shiite Iran giving voluntary sanctuary to shit-disturbing Wahabists, one wonders why--if true--this would amount to a casus belli against Iran.

On the lunatic fringe, there is a blog calling for the United States to spill it's blood so that a bunch of jerk-off Iranian ex-pats can go back home to a "Free-Iran."

Part of their hook is their claim that Osama bin-Laden was sheltered by the Iranian Mullahs before his death.

Does that make anybody want to immediately head off to the recruiting station? I didn't think so.

That's why we see today's piece in the Los Angeles Times.

L.A. being the home of perhaps the loudest bunch of Iranian expatriates in the USA.

Must be one of them "coincidences."

"War Against All Hazards"

Not long ago, I heard a medical student claim that he had dissected better looking cadavers than Michael Chertoff.

The body, despite a chronic cough that is not convincingly explained away as being from "a cold", is still up and functioning. I'm not so sure about the brain.

A typically witty Dana Milbank column this morning gets into the details. Beginning with your typical local color:

As Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff sat down for lunch yesterday on the seventh floor of the Heritage Foundation, a vivid scene from the post-9/11 world was unfolding outside the conference-room window.

Two blocks away at Union Station, a small grease fire had erupted on the grill at McDonald's. The blaze was quickly extinguished, but not before jittery security personnel ordered the terminal evacuated. Hundreds of shoppers, diners and rail passengers, heeding shouted warnings to flee the premises, flowed into the plaza outside, where emergency response vehicles joined the usual duck boats and tourist trolleys.

Chertoff aides watched the mayhem from the Heritage windows, but Chertoff himself missed the hullabaloo; one of his lunch partners explained that his security guards had ordered the blinds drawn.

It's not easy being Mr. Chertoff:

A strikingly thin man with a high-pitched voice, pointy ears and droopy eyelids, Chertoff speaks of "the critical points of triangulation" and calls for a "properly risk-managed approach to critical infrastructure." He talks about the need for "total assets visibility" and favors "an integrated, sensible, systems-based approach." He desires "better information about the constituents of the supply chain." And instead of telling people that he's protecting them, he says that his department has "done a lot to elevate the general baseline of security in this country."

Speaking yesterday to another group, the International Association of Fire Fighters at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill, he tried to put his talent for post 9-11 language abuse to the test.

Pointing to photos of the Sept. 11, 2001, wreckage, Chertoff said: "You are really part of the war on terror, as well as the war against all hazards."

War Against All Hazards: WAAH?

Isn't that the sound that babies make when they want their mommy?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Wade's MZM Skullduggery Revisited

The sordid tale of Mitchell J. Wade, who bribed Randy "Duke" Cunningham in order to obtain government work for his defense contracting company MZM, reads like a pulp novel of the perversely greedy taking advantage of the clueless incompetent.

According to excerpts of e-mails collected by a Pentagon employee and provided to The Washington Post, one contract official inaccurately thought Wade was a former undersecretary of defense. Another wrote that "Mitch Wade is a force to be reckonned (sic) with . . . he has a lot of perceived power that can slow us down . . . maybe even grind us to a halt."


Wade first bribed Cunningham on Nov. 16, 2001, according to prosecutors' court papers. That Friday, barely two months after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the contractor bought the congressman $12,000 worth of antiques, and Cunningham told Wade that he would make him "somebody." At the time, the government filings said, MZM had contracts of less than $1 million a year.

Their partnership became apparent early the next year as Wade requested a $15 million earmark for a counterintelligence program. He was also working at the time to get on the General Services Administration's schedule of companies authorized to seek federal business, a prelude to the broader intelligence-related "blanket purchase agreement" he pursued that summer and fall...

The blanket purchase agreement, signed with a Defense Department contracting office in September of 2002, was written so broadly that any agency inside or outside the Pentagon could order a wide variety of help. It seemed crafted for the Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 push for more defense and intelligence spending. It referred to homeland security, law enforcement planning, geospatial integration, document exploitation and what is called MASINT, for measurement and signature intelligence...

To ensure that MZM "could milk that account without interruption or interference" from the Defense Department officials who oversaw the contract, Wade enticed them with personal favors, the government said in court documents filed along with Wade's guilty plea. He hired the son of one Defense Department official at the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center in Charlottesville in early 2002, when MZM was still a subcontractor. In return, the official gave MZM inside information and favorable performance reviews ensuring further work, prosecutors alleged...

Two days after the war in Iraq started, MZM won a $1.2 million contract to provide interpreters for "post conflict" work. And in March, Wade's company got a $6.2 million contract, this one with the Pentagon's new Counter Intelligence Field Activity. In fiscal 2003, MZM got a total of $38.6 million in orders through the blanket purchase agreement...

The global war on terror was good for business. There was lots of work at the National Ground Intelligence Center and the Counterintelligence Field Activity. The Pentagon called on MZM to help seek counters to roadside bombs in Iraq. The Special Operations Command in Tampa needed help too. And thanks to an earmark from Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.), MZM was picked to run a Foreign Supplier Assessment Center in Martinsville, Va., to check out foreign-based contractors...

Last July, a month after the San Diego Union-Tribune triggered the investigation by disclosing the home sale, the Pentagon was still telling Cunningham's office that money was in the pipeline for his latest MZM earmarks.


I wonder if the Pentagon will keep a better eye on the defense contractors in the future.

I doubt it. Defense contracting companies are the preferred destination of Pentagon officials following retirement from the government.

That arrangement does not inspire too much motivation for government officials to aggressively look to find wrongdoing in contracting.

One wouldn't want to damage one's future career prospects, after all.

Hamas Finding No Outsiders Willing To Join Cabinet

Hamas is having a bit of difficulty getting politicians of other Palestinian parties to become ministers in the first cabinet to be led by the Islamic group widely shunned for using terrorist tactics.

Hamas finalized a proposed cabinet Sunday that would place several key ministries in the hands of senior leaders but not include any other Palestinian faction, precisely the narrowly partisan government that the radical Islamic movement had hoped to avoid.

Ismail Haniyeh, the designated prime minister, submitted the list to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose secular Fatah party declined to join the cabinet. The cabinet's makeup is likely to complicate efforts to persuade international donors to continue funding the government once Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, assumes control of the ministries.

"Their task was to have as wide a government as possible with Fatah, other factions and independents," said Ali Jarbawi, a political science professor at Beir Zeit University in the West Bank. "The cabinet they have proposed will be, in effect, all Hamas. They are facing a deep problem."

Their problem in fielding a broad-based government could cost them:

Haniyeh's proposed cabinet, which was due by the end of the month, could change in the weeks ahead. Hamas will probably continue seeking partners to broaden its domestic support and assuage international donors, who supply nearly half of the Palestinian Authority's roughly $2 billion annual budget.

Bush, Cheney Expect Victory in Iraq

The administration continues, despite evidence to the contrary, to insist that the ill-fated U.S. endeavor in Iraq will result in victory.

It all depends on the meaning of the word "victory."

The glass is looking more than half full to the true believers.

The administration could take heart this weekend from the relatively small antiwar protests around the country, compared with protests held on the previous anniversaries of the invasion. An estimated 7,000 people demonstrated in Chicago on Saturday and smaller protests were held over the weekend in Boston, San Francisco and other cities. In Times Square, the figure was about 1,000.

Now is not the time for Americans to go wobbly on the war, insisted Bush yesterday.

Bush, speaking on the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, assured Americans that his administration is pursuing a strategy "that will lead to victory in Iraq," an outcome about which polls show the public is increasingly skeptical.

The omniscient Vice President Cheney proved that he knows more about the situation on the ground in Iraq than people in that country who are not neo-cons.

Cheney, meanwhile, dismissed assertions made by former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi that the nation is in the throes of civil war. He said Iraq is holding together as a new constitutional democracy even as terrorists are desperately trying to cause its dissolution...

Cheney also dismissed a statement by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who said the war in Iraq should never have been fought: "I would not look to Ted Kennedy for guidance and leadership on how we ought to manage national security. . . . I think what Senator Kennedy reflects is sort of the pre-9/11 mentality about how we ought to deal with the world and that part of the world."

But CBS anchor Bob Schieffer bluntly challenged Cheney on his own string of prognostications, such as his pre-invasion assertion that U.S. troops would be welcomed in Iraq as liberators and, 10 months ago, that the insurgency was in its "last throes."

Cheney replied that those statements were "basically accurate and reflect reality," but that public perceptions of Iraq's progress are being skewed "because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad."

Again linking the war in Iraq to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Cheney called the conflict part of "an aggressive, forward-leaning" strategy that has since prevented terrorist incidents in the United States.

Only a psychopath would imagine that we haven't created more rather than less danger for Americans by our war of aggression against Iraq.

While not bothered by the opinions of the American public or Democratic lawmakers, the White House is growing concerned about increasing misgivings about the war on the part of their Republican allies in Washington.

As the administration offered optimistic appraisals of the war's progress, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a frequent administration critic who is weighing a run for president in 2008, echoed Allawi's assessment, saying that Iraq is already in the midst of a "low-grade civil war."

"I think it's important that we stop this talk about we're not going to leave until we achieve victory," Hagel said on ABC's "This Week." "Well, what is victory? We achieved victory: Saddam's gone, the Iraqis have a constitution, they had an election, it's now up to them."

The semantic challenge of defining down "victory" in Iraq may prove to be one of the most important battles, at least politically, that Republicans will face during the next several election cycles.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lobbyists Not Fearing Reform

Lobbyists have no fear that any possible reform of the practices they use to influence lawmakers will cause them any hardship when plying their trade.

Though Congress may ultimately vote to eliminate a few of the more visible trappings of special pleading, such as gifts, free meals and luxurious trips, lobbyists say they have already found scores of new ways to buy the attention of lawmakers through fundraising, charitable activities and industry-sponsored seminars. An estimated $10 billion is spent annually to influence legislation and regulations, and that spending is not likely to be diminished by the proposed lobbying changes, these lobbyists contend.

"I wouldn't classify those changes as major," said Dan Danner, executive vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business. "Between charitable events and fundraising events, there will still be lots of ways to get in front of members [of Congress]."...

An emerging Senate bill, which has yet to be completed, would bar lawmakers from accepting meals and gifts such as sports tickets from registered lobbyists. The leading House measure, which has been proposed by GOP leaders, would rely more heavily on additional disclosures but would also impose a temporary ban on privately paid travel...

"If meals are heavily restricted, we're likely to see executives from the home office picking up checks because they're not lobbyists," added J. Steven Hart of Williams & Jensen, a major lobbying firm. "And there are lots of other ways we can still get our cases before members of Congress."

Besides, experts said, industries and interest groups have turned to more sophisticated tactics in recent years, and such tactics are generally not addressed in the new bills on Capitol Hill. Lobbyists are increasing their campaign contributions, widening their use of the Internet to stir voter activism.

Directing contributions to campaigns is precisely where lobbyists in Washington derive most of their influence over the decisions of the beneficiaries of the largesse.

In 2004, the most recent full year about which data are available, lobbying was a $10 billion industry, according to estimates by James A. Thurber, a political science scholar at American University. Of the total, $2.1 billion was used to pay the salaries of registered lobbyists, while the rest was spent on more subtle forms of persuasion...

Interest groups also pay to participate in social activities, which double as lobbying venues. State societies, for example, offer lawmakers, congressional aides and lobbyists numerous opportunities for informal encounters...

The most important framework for lobbying clout -- campaign finance laws -- would not be altered in the Senate approach, while House GOP leaders have proposed putting limits on the contributions made to big-money independent groups known as 527s. But without Senate support, the effort to clamp down on the independent groups will fail.

As a result, lobbyists would still be able to contribute to lawmakers' coffers, host and organize major fundraising events, and arrange trips subsidized by their clients to encourage electoral giving -- just as they do now.

Again, we return to the main convincer--campaign contributions directed from corporate clients to lawmakers--that allows lobbyists to have their sway over public officials and policy.

One should not expect that this aspect of governance will be touched in any enacted lobbying reform.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

New Hypothesis About Govt. Lawyer's Possible Motivation

The judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui sentencing trial has reversed course and will allow aviation evidence, albeit untouched by the witness tampering government lawyer, to be shown to the jury.

In making this decision, the judge cited the cost to the taxpayers of the trial. Nice.

A federal judge yesterday revived the Justice Department's death penalty case for Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, accepting a compromise offered by prosecutors to find new aviation security witnesses not tainted by the misconduct of a government lawyer...

"I'm fully aware of the huge resources that have been expended on this case, the fact that we summoned 850 jurors . . . and I agree it would be unfortunate if this case could not go forward to some final resolution," Brinkema said in a teleconference with case attorneys, according to a transcript...

Although the government will continue its case, legal experts said the week's events still leave prosecutors in a tough spot. Martin had worked on the case since at least 2002 and had contact with aviation security experts throughout the government...

In e-mails to the seven witnesses, Martin was highly critical of the prosecution's argument that aviation officials could have kept the hijackers' knives from getting onto the planes, and defense attorneys might want jurors to hear of her doubts. But experts said it would be difficult for the defense to persuade Brinkema to allow evidence of Martin's conduct or e-mails. "It shouldn't come in, and I don't see how it would," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. "It could poison the minds of the jury."...

Martin violated a standing court order by e-mailing trial transcripts to the seven witnesses and coaching them on their testimony. All those witnesses worked for the government and were experts on aviation security. They would have testified about the government's ability to have stopped the terror attacks had Moussaoui not lied to the FBI when he was arrested in August 2001.

After a hearing Tuesday, Brinkema barred the testimony of the seven witnesses and the aviation evidence. That evidence is key, because about half of the prosecution's case consists of showing that airport security would have been dramatically stepped up if Moussaoui had provided the information.

Judge Brinkema is fully aware that much of the aviation evidence will show that airline security could not have detected all the weapons before they made it on to the plane.

Especially since the weapons used in the attack were not merely "box cutters" as the American public has been told, but ceramic knives that were sharper than steel, and which would not show up on the metal detectors.

It was never believed that the ceramic knives information would be presented to the jury. The government does not want this to be widely known.

Martin's violation of federal trial protocol was so brazen that she must have known, if discovered, it would result in the aviation security evidence being thrown out.

This may have been the goal all along.

Keeping the existence of the ceramic knives quiet may be an even more important reason than protecting the airlines from liability to explain the bizarre behavior of Ms. Martin.