Monday, September 24, 2007
Farked Voter Lists in Pakistan
Problems with voter lists always seem to come at the most sensitive locations.
I wonder if we are also setting them up with any of our crackerjack electronic voting technology.
With their country in turmoil, Pakistani voters are expected within months to go to the polls for the first parliamentary elections here in five years. But as time runs short, independent observers say that the nation is poorly prepared and that the elections will be highly vulnerable to fraud.
The most glaring weakness, they say, is a new voter list that is missing the names of tens of millions of Pakistanis, threatening to seed mass confusion over who is eligible to cast a ballot.
Creation of the list was heavily funded by Washington. It was to be the signature U.S. contribution to the election process.
"The very hard-earned money of U.S. taxpayers was used for this. But that money was not well spent," said Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, executive director of the nonprofit Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency. "This could severely jeopardize the quality of the elections."
Last month, Pakistan's Supreme Court agreed, ordering the Election Commission to go back and try to identify the missing names so they could be added to the rolls. But those involved say that the fix could do more damage and that the result could be a free-for-all, with the various political parties competing to rig the polls.
"The door is now open to the same kind of fraudulent voting as we've had in the past," said one international elections expert in Pakistan who was not permitted to speak for the record. "It's unfortunate because all of it could have been avoided." ...
The U.S. budget for election assistance in Pakistan is $28 million. In July, Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South Asia, told Congress that $20 million had gone toward supporting the Election Commission's work and that U.S. officials were "doing everything we can to support free and fair elections."
The single largest contribution to that effort has been the $10 million the United States spent on computerizing the new voter rolls, a program that officials broadly defend, while acknowledging problems.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Why The War Will Never End
Too many defense contractors are making too much profit.
And when they say it's not about the money, it's about more money, much more.
After smothering efforts by war critics in Congress to drastically cut U.S. troop levels in Iraq, President Bush plans to ask lawmakers next week to approve another massive spending measure -- totaling nearly $200 billion -- to fund the war through next year, Pentagon officials said.
If Bush's spending request is approved, 2008 will be the most expensive year of the Iraq war.
U.S. war costs have continued to grow because of the additional combat forces sent to Iraq this year and because of efforts to quickly ramp up production of new technology, such as mine-resistant trucks designed to protect troops from roadside bombs. The new trucks can cost three to six times as much as an armored Humvee.
The Bush administration said earlier this year that it probably would need $147.5 billion for 2008, but Pentagon officials now say that and $47 billion more will be required. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and other officials are to formally present the full request at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday. ...
When costs of CIA operations and embassy expenses are added, the war in Iraq currently costs taxpayers about $12 billion a month, said Winslow T. Wheeler, a former Republican congressional budget aide who is a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.
"Everybody predicts declines, but they haven't occurred, and 2008 will be higher than 2007," Wheeler said. "It all depends on what happens in Iraq, but thus far it has continued to get bloodier and more expensive. Everyone says we are going to turn the corner here, but the corner has not been turned."
In 2004, the two conflicts together cost $94 billion; in 2005, they cost $108 billion; in 2006, $122 billion.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are financed through a single administration request to Congress, and their costs are combined in the legislation.
The new spending request is likely to push the cumulative cost of the war in Iraq alone through 2008 past the $600-billion mark -- more than the Korean War and nearly as much as the Vietnam War, based on estimates by government budget officials.
Friday, September 21, 2007
We're Only In It For The Money
Military officials said Thursday that contracts worth $6 billion to provide essential supplies to American troops in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan — including food, water and shelter — were under review by criminal investigators, double the amount the Pentagon had previously disclosed.
In addition, $88 billion in contracts and programs, including those for body armor for American soldiers and matériel for Iraqi and Afghan security forces, are being audited for financial irregularities, the officials said.
Taken together, the figures, provided by the Pentagon in a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, represent the fullest public accounting of the magnitude of a widening government investigation into bid-rigging, bribery and kickbacks by members of the military and civilians linked to the Pentagon's purchasing system.
Until the hearing on Thursday, the Army's most detailed public disclosure about the scale of the problem was that contracts worth $3 billion awarded by the Kuwait office were under review. ...
The lawmakers also challenged assertions by the Pentagon officials that the corruption being uncovered was the work of a few isolated individuals. Several committee members suggested that the abuses were far more systemic.
"The problems were so severe that I fear they could represent a culture of corruption," said Representative Ike Skelton, Democrat of Missouri, the chairman of the committee. "I am extremely disappointed to learn that so many individuals violated their integrity and undermined the oaths they made to this country."
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
13 Congressmen Subpoenaed
The defense contractor charged with bribing convicted former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham has subpoenaed 13 House members, including former speaker J. Dennis Hastert, to testify in his federal trial.
But the 13 lawmakers are refusing the subpoena, and the House general counsel sent lawyers for the contractor, Brent R. Wilkes, a letter saying that it was overly broad and "did not elaborate as to what testimony you seek from each member."
Wilkes has been indicted on more than 30 counts, including fraud and money laundering, as one of several alleged conspirators who paid more than $2.4 million in bribes to the California Republican. Cunningham is serving an eight-year prison term after pleading guilty to steering millions of dollars in government business to Wilkes and other defense contractors. ...
Most of the 13 members have served on the three committees from which Cunningham steered funding to Wilkes: Appropriations, Armed Services and intelligence. In their investigation, federal prosecutors had sought a massive swath of documents covering almost eight years from those three panels, which resulted in a protracted negotiation and the release of some materials.
Several of the subpoenaed members were recipients of large donations from Wilkes and his associates. They include three California Republicans: John T. Doolittle, who took in more than $80,000 in contributions linked to the contractor; Jerry Lewis, who received at least $60,000 and chaired the Appropriations defense subcommittee while it steered $37 million, at Doolittle's request, to a Wilkes company; and Duncan Hunter, the former Armed Services chairman who received at least $40,000 linked to Wilkes and is now running for president.
As required by House rules, the subpoenas were read into the Congressional Record late Monday evening. John D. Filamor, assistant House counsel, wrote Geragos on Sept. 6 to object to the subpoenas, citing House rules that forbid members from testifying in judicial proceedings unless their testimony is "material and relevant." ...
The other lawmakers subpoenaed: Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the minority whip; Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Appropriations defense subcommittee; Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee; Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), whose district adjoined Cunningham's; Joe Knoellenberg (R-Mich.), a senior member of the full Appropriations Committee; John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), the chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee; Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), chairman of Intelligence; Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of Armed Services; and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.).
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
U. of Fla. Student Tasered, Arrested at John Kerry Event
There are some matters you are not allowed to bring up in public.
Democrats Say They Will Use AG Nomination as Leverage
This kind of pressure might be the best chance to pry some information out of the White House about the illegal domestic spying programs and the like.
But alas, if Bush says no, I doubt that the Democrats will push it.
Two Senate Democrats warned Monday that the Judiciary Committee would delay confirmation of President Bush's choice for attorney general unless the White House turned over documents that the panel was seeking for several investigations.
The selection of Mr. Mukasey — a Washington outsider who met Mr. Bush for the first time during an hour-long interview at the White House on Sept. 1 — seemed to signal that the administration is looking to move past the partisanship that characterized Mr. Gonzales’s tenure.
But two Democrats who will have a powerful say over whether Mr. Mukasey gets confirmed — Senators Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Charles E. Schumer of New York — vowed on Monday to use the nomination to extract information from a reluctant White House.
"All I want is the material we need to ask some questions about the former attorney general's conduct, on torture and warrantless wiretapping, so we can legitimately ask, 'Here's what was done in the past, what will you do?'" Mr. Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said. ...
The White House wants Mr. Mukasey confirmed by Oct. 8, when the Senate leaves for its next recess. But Mr. Leahy said there would be no quick confirmation without the documents. He said he had told the White House counsel, Fred F. Fielding, that "cooperation with the White House would be central" to scheduling hearings.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Report: Condi Rice Ready To Support Attack on Iran
This story is saying that Condoleezza Rice is ready to join the hawkish element led by Dick Cheney that is favoring a U.S. attack -- potentially using nuclear weapons -- upon Iran.
Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.
Now it has emerged that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, who has been pushing for a diplomatic solution, is prepared to settle her differences with Vice-President Dick Cheney and sanction military action.
In a chilling scenario of how war might come, a senior intelligence officer warned that public denunciation of Iranian meddling in Iraq - arming and training militants - would lead to cross border raids on Iranian training camps and bomb factories.
A prime target would be the Fajr base run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force in southern Iran, where Western intelligence agencies say armour-piercing projectiles used against British and US troops are manufactured.
Under the theory - which is gaining credence in Washington security circles - US action would provoke a major Iranian response, perhaps in the form of moves to cut off Gulf oil supplies, providing a trigger for air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and even its armed forces.
Senior officials believe Mr Bush's inner circle has decided he does not want to leave office without first ensuring that Iran is not capable of developing a nuclear weapon.
The intelligence source said: "No one outside that tight circle knows what is going to happen." But he said that within the CIA "many if not most officials believe that diplomacy is failing" and that "top Pentagon brass believes the same".
He said: "A strike will probably follow a gradual escalation. Over the next few weeks and months the US will build tensions and evidence around Iranian activities in Iraq."
Previously, accusations that Mr Bush was set on war with Iran have come almost entirely from his critics.
Many senior operatives within the CIA are highly critical of Mr Bush's handling of the Iraq war, though they themselves are considered ineffective and unreliable by hardliners close to Mr Cheney.
The vice president is said to advocate the use of bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapons against Iran's nuclear sites. His allies dispute this, but Mr Cheney is understood to be lobbying for air strikes if sites can be identified where Revolutionary Guard units are training Shia militias.
Recent developments over Iraq appear to fit with the pattern of escalation predicted by Pentagon officials.
Gen David Petraeus, Mr Bush's senior Iraq commander, denounced the Iranian "proxy war" in Iraq last week as he built support in Washington for the US military surge in Baghdad.
The US also announced the creation of a new base near the Iraqi border town of Badra, the first of what could be several locations to tackle the smuggling of weapons from Iran.
A State Department source familiar with White House discussions said that Miss Rice, under pressure from senior counter-proliferation officials to acknowledge that military action may be necessary, is now working with Mr Cheney to find a way to reconcile their positions and present a united front to the President.
The source said: "When you go down there and see the body language, you can see that Cheney is still The Man. Condi pushed for diplomacy but she is no dove. If it becomes necessary she will be on board. ...
Miss Rice's bottom line is that if the administration is to go to war again it must build the case over a period of months and win sufficient support on Capitol Hill.
The Sunday Telegraph has been told that Mr Bush has privately promised her that he would consult "meaningfully" with Congressional leaders of both parties before any military action against Iran on the understanding that Miss Rice would resign if this did not happen.
The intelligence officer said that the US military has "two major contingency plans" for air strikes on Iran.
"One is to bomb only the nuclear facilities. The second option is for a much bigger strike that would - over two or three days - hit all of the significant military sites as well. This plan involves more than 2,000 targets."
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Greenspan Tells It Like It Is
Buried in a Bob Woodward article about Alan Greenspan's new book on his years as Fed Chairman:
Without elaborating, he writes, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."
Greenspan has praise for Bill Clinton:
He calls Clinton a "risk taker" who had shown a "preference for dealing in facts," and presents Clinton and himself almost as soul mates. "Here was a fellow information hound. . . . We both read books and were curious and thoughtful about the world. . . . I never ceased to be surprised by his fascination with economic detail: the effect of Canadian lumber on housing prices and inflation. . . . He had an eye for the big picture too."
During Clinton's first weeks as president, Greenspan went to the Oval Office and explained the danger of not confronting the federal deficit. Unless the deficits were cut, there could be "a financial crisis," Greenspan told the president. "The hard truth was that Reagan had borrowed from Clinton, and Clinton was having to pay it back. I was impressed that he did not seem to be trying to fudge reality to the extent politicians ordinarily do. He was forcing himself to live in the real world."
Dealing with a budget surplus in his second term, Clinton proposed devoting the extra money to "save Social Security first." Greenspan writes, "I played no role in finding the answer, but I had to admire the one Clinton and his policymakers came up with."
Greenspan interviewed Clinton for the book and clearly admires him. "President Clinton's old-fashioned attitude toward debt might have had a more lasting effect on the nation's priorities. Instead, his influence was diluted by the uproar about Monica Lewinsky."
The former Fed Chairman doesn't think highly of the current occupant of the Oval Office:
He expresses deep disappointment with Bush. "My biggest frustration remained the president's unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending," Greenspan writes. "Not exercising the veto power became a hallmark of the Bush presidency. . . . To my mind, Bush's collaborate-don't-confront approach was a major mistake."
Greenspan doesn't cut his own party -- the GOP -- any slack either:
Greenspan accuses the Republicans who presided over the party's majority in the House until last year of being too eager to tolerate excessive federal spending in exchange for political opportunity. The Republicans, he says, deserved to lose control of the Senate and House in last year's elections. "The Republicans in Congress lost their way," Greenspan writes. "They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither."
He singles out J. Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who was House speaker until January, and Tom DeLay, the Texan who was majority leader until he resigned after being indicted for violating campaign finance laws in his home state.
"House Speaker Hastert and House majority leader Tom DeLay seemed readily inclined to loosen the federal purse strings any time it might help add a few more seats to the Republican majority," he writes.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Pretty Pathetic Presidential Propaganda
An old rule in creating effective propaganda is that you stick to the truth as much as possible -- it makes the necessary exaggerations and manipulations of fact more believable. Absolutely critical in effective perception management.
Last night, in his address to the nation, President Bush clearly didn't have much positive material to work with, so he (and his speechwriters) made the amateur mistake of excessively padding the presentation with bullshit.
It didn't fly. If even the pro-war Washington Post is calling him on it, this has to be really embarrassing for the White House.
In his speech last night, President Bush made a case for progress in Iraq by citing facts and statistics that at times contradicted recent government reports or his own words.
For instance, Bush asserted that "Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done," such as "sharing oil revenues with the provinces" and allowing "former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions."
Yet his statement ignored the fact that U.S. officials have been frustrated that none of those actions have been enshrined into law -- and that reports from Baghdad this week indicated that a potential deal on sharing oil revenue is collapsing.
In a radio address to the nation less than a month ago, the president himself complained that the Iraqi government was failing to address these issues. "Unfortunately, political progress at the national level has not matched the pace of progress at the local level," Bush said on Aug. 18. "The Iraqi government in Baghdad has many important measures left to address, such as reforming the de-Baathification laws, organizing provincial elections and passing a law to formalize the sharing of oil revenues."
Bush also asserted that Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, was once an al-Qaeda stronghold but that "today, Baqubah is cleared." But in a meeting with reporters on Aug. 27, the head of the State Department team in Diyala said the security situation was not stable, hampering access to food and energy, though he acknowledged that commerce was returning to Baqubah.
"Everything is based around security; if we have security, then we can bring in agencies like USAID," John Melvin Jones said, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Development. "It's going to take a while before the security situation gets stable enough so that you can have a lot of these other agencies involved."
Bush also thanked "the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq." But the State Department's most recent weekly report on Iraq said there are 25 countries supplying 11,685 troops -- about 7 percent of the size of the U.S. forces.
At one point, the president cited a recent report by a commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, saying that "the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police."
But the report said Iraq's army will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven." It also described the 25,000-member national police force as riddled with sectarianism and corruption, and it recommended that it be disbanded.
The commission also recommended that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning responsibility for security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies -- advice the president did not follow in last night's speech.
The president also painted a relatively favorable picture of Baghdad, saying that a year ago much of it "was under siege" but that today "ordinary life is beginning to return." He did not mention that much of the once-heterogeneous city has been divided into Shiite and Sunni enclaves.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
CIA General Counsel Nomination Blocked
Members of the Senate intelligence committee have requested the withdrawal of the Bush administration's choice for CIA general counsel, acknowledging that John Rizzo's nomination has stalled because of concerns about his views on the treatment of terrorism suspects.
The decision followed a private meeting this week in which committee leaders concluded that the troubled nomination could not overcome opposition among Democratic members. It comes less than a month after a key member, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), announced his intention to block the nomination indefinitely.
Rizzo, a career CIA lawyer, has drawn fire from Democrats and human rights groups because of his support for Bush administration legal doctrines permitting "enhanced interrogation" of terrorism detainees in CIA custody.
Two U.S. officials familiar with the committee's decision said the request for Rizzo's withdrawal has been conveyed to Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA's director. The officials, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the committee's discussions, said lawmakers had hoped to avoid the formality of a negative vote on Rizzo's nomination out of respect for his long service at the intelligence agency. Rizzo has served with the CIA since 1976 and acted as interim general counsel from 2001 to 2002 and from August 2004 to the present. ...
During his confirmation hearing in June, Rizzo testified that he did not object to an administration memo in 2002 that deemed legal some extremely harsh interrogation techniques for CIA detainees. According to the memo, a technique was not considered to be torture unless it inflicted pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of body function, or even death." Rizzo testified that the legal opinion "on the whole was a reasonable one."
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
No Moderates Need Apply
The White House is closing in on a nominee to replace Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, with former Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson considered one of the leading candidates, administration and Congressional officials said Tuesday.
Reports of Mr. Olson's candidacy suggested that President Bush, in choosing the third attorney general of his presidency, might defy calls from Democrats and choose another Republican who is considered a staunch partisan to lead the Justice Department. Mr. Gonzales is departing after being repeatedly accused of allowing political loyalties to blind him to independently enforcing the law.
"Clearly if you made a list of consensus nominees, Olson wouldn't appear on that list," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who led the Judiciary Committee effort to remove Mr. Gonzales. ...
Mr. Olson’s wife, Barbara K. Olson, a conservative television commentator, died aboard the hijacked airliner that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11. Mr. Olson has since remarried.
Other candidates said to remain in contention include George J. Terwilliger III, a former deputy attorney general under Mr. Bush’s father.
Mr. Terwilliger, now in private practice, is said to be favored by influential lawyers in Bush legal circles, like William P. Barr, attorney general when Mr. Terwilliger was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department. But Mr. Terwilliger, who is from Vermont, may have detractors, including Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who leads the Judiciary Committee and is said to be cool to his appointment.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
"Character Assassination Tactics" Decried
The party of toe-tapping toilet snipes is taking aim at MoveOn.org:
House Republican leaders introduced a resolution Monday condemning a full-page newspaper ad from MoveOn.org that criticizes the character of Gen. David Petraeus, the commanding general of U.S. troops in Iraq.
The resolution, authored by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), is cosponsored by 11 Republicans, including Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs panel.
"The despicable attack MoveOn.org launched against General Petraeus today should be condemned by all Members of Congress, including the Democratic leadership," Boehner said. "I urge Members on both sides of the aisle to join in support of this resolution so the House speaks with one voice rejecting the character assassination tactics employed by this extremist group."
The full-page ad in the New York Times features a large black and white picture of Petraeus speaking into a cluster of microphones and includes a caption that says: "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" The ad then alleges that the testimony of Iraq’s leading general will play politics with the facts.
Monday, September 10, 2007
We Are Never Going To Leave Iraq
In 12-18 months, we will be asked to give the next U.S. commander in Iraq enough time and the benefit of the doubt that his plan will work.
And then the one after him.
The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has recommended that decisions on the contentious issue of reducing the main body of the American troops in Iraq be put off for six months, American officials said Sunday.
General Petraeus, whose long-awaited testimony before Congress will begin Monday, has informed President Bush that troop cuts may begin in mid-December, with the withdrawal of one of the 20 American combat brigades in Iraq, about 4,000 troops. By August, the American force in Iraq would be down to 15 combat brigades, the force level before Mr. Bush’s troop reinforcement plan.
The precise timing of such reductions, which would leave about 130,000 troops in Iraq, could vary, depending on conditions in the country. But the general has also said that it is too soon to present recommendations on reducing American forces below that level because the situation in Iraq is in flux. He has suggested that he wait until March to outline proposals on that question. ...
A White House official said Mr. Bush and General Petraeus had not spoken since they saw each other in Anbar Province last Monday. But the general’s recommendations on how to proceed on reducing the force have been outlined to Mr. Bush and senior officers. ...
Mr. Bush has said he intends to address the nation this week about the recommendations by General Petraeus and Mr. Crocker. From the start, General Petraeus, more so than many lawmakers, has viewed the attempt to bring security to Iraq as a long-term effort. The classified campaign plan he prepared with Mr. Crocker calls for restoring security in local areas by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established nationwide by the summer of 2009.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Questions About Domestic Use of Spy Satellites
The administration is moving ahead in its plan to use spy satellites for "Homeland Security." (See also, National Technical Means To Be Used Domestically.)
Saying they had been left in the dark about Bush administration plans to expand domestic access to spy-satellite surveillance technology, lawmakers questioned the legal basis of the program and asked that it be stopped until the Department of Homeland Security provided them with more information. ...
The objections are unlikely to stop the rollout of the program next month, administration officials said. "This program and its capabilities are too important for an all-hazards agency like the department to be pushed aside by politics," said DHS spokesman Russ Knocke. ...
[Lawmakers] questioned whether the plans would hold up to the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure by the government. A few Republicans sought specific guarantees the program wouldn't use thermal imaging to snoop on people in their homes.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and two Democratic subcommittee chairmen jointly asked the Department of Homeland Security to provide the legal framework for the domestic use of classified and military spy satellites, and to allow Congress to review privacy and civil liberties protections.
"You let this thing go, it may be another blank check to the executive. It may morph into things that will terrify you if you really understand the capabilities of satellites," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), former ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee. ...
Administration officials say the program can help domestic authorities deal with a variety of threats, from illegal immigration and terrorism to hurricanes and forest fires, by providing access to high-resolution, real-time satellite photos. Military sensors can peer through clouds and tree canopies, detect underground bunkers and penetrate buildings.
Charles Allen, Homeland Security's chief intelligence officer, told the committee that overhead satellite imagery has been used legally for decades to support domestic, federal, scientific, law enforcement and security uses. It has been used to create maps, monitor volcanoes and scout sports events.
The new program, he said, does not require additional laws or authority, and would relieve the need for other agencies to rely on ad hoc means of accessing powerful data tools.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Homeland Security Gets Bad GAO Review
If Katrina wasn't a big enough hint about DHS, a new report makes it official. (Click to enlarge chart.)
Hobbled by inadequate funding, unclear priorities, continuing reorganizations and the absence of an overarching strategy, the Department of Homeland Security is failing to achieve its mission of preventing and responding to terrorist attacks or natural disasters, according to a comprehensive report by the Government Accountability Office.
The highly critical report disputes recent upbeat assessments by the Bush administration by concluding that the DHS has failed to make even moderate progress toward eight of 14 internal government benchmarks more than four years after its creation. ...
Analysts from across the political spectrum have complained that the DHS has spent $241 billion over four years without performing a disciplined analysis of threats and implications.
The GAO report is the most exhaustive and independent look at the department since its creation, drawing on more than 400 earlier reviews and 700 recommendations by congressional investigators and the department's inspector general, as well as the goals set by the Sept.11 commission, the Century Foundation, congressional legislation and spending bills, and the administration's own plans and internal strategic documents, such as the White House's National Strategy for Homeland Security from July 2002. ...
The DHS met only five of 24 criteria for emergency preparedness, failing to implement a national response plan or develop a program to improve emergency radio communications. The department met just one of six science and technology goals, such as developing research and development plans and assessing emerging threats; and two of 15 computer integration targets, the report says.
Moderate progress, which the GAO defined as taking action on more than half of identified goals, was made in only five of 14 areas -- immigration enforcement; aviation, land and transportation security; securing critical facilities such as bridges, power plants and computer networks; and property management -- and substantial progress in just one, maritime and port security.
Department of Homeland Security: Progress Report on Implementation of Mission and Management Functions (328-page PDF)
Department of Homeland Security: Progress Report on Implementation of Mission and Management Functions -- Comptroller's Statement for Congress (32-page PDF)
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks
The GAO report on the progress made by the Iraqi government with the breathing room given them by the surge has just been released.
As the earlier draft report indicated, the Iraqi government failed to meet most of the benchmarks.
Securing, Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks (100-page pdf).
The January 2007 U.S. strategy seeks to provide the Iraqi government with the time and space needed to help Iraqi society reconcile. Our analysis of the 18 legislative, security and economic benchmarks shows that as of August 30, 2007, the Iraqi government met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks. ...Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds. These results do not diminish the courageous efforts of coalition forces.
The Iraqi government has met one of eight legislative benchmarks: the rights of minority political parties in Iraq’s legislature are protected. The government also partially met one other benchmark to enact and implement legislation on the formation of regions; this law was enacted in October 2006 but will not be implemented until April 2008. Six other legislative benchmarks have not been met. Specifically, a review committee has not completed work on important revisions to Iraq’s constitution. Further, the government has not enacted legislation on de-Ba’athification, oil revenue sharing, provincial elections, amnesty, or militia disarmament. The Administration’s July 2007 report cited progress in achieving some of these benchmarks but provided little information on what step in the legislative process each benchmark had reached.
Two of nine security benchmarks have been met. Specifically, Iraq’s government has established various committees in support of the Baghdad security plan and established almost all of the planned Joint Security Stations in Baghdad. The government has partially met the benchmarks of providing three trained and ready brigades for Baghdad operations and eliminating safe havens for outlawed groups. Five other benchmarks have not been met. The government has not eliminated militia control of local security, eliminated political intervention in military operations, ensured even-handed enforcement of the law, increased army units capable of independent operations, or ensured that political authorities made no false accusations against security forces. It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased—a key security benchmark--since it is difficult to measure the perpetrator’s intent and other measures of population security show differing trends.
Finally, the Iraqi government has partially met the economic benchmark of allocating and spending $10 billion on reconstruction. Preliminary data indicates that about $1.5 billion of central ministry funds had been spent, as of July 15, 2007. As the Congress considers the way forward in Iraq, it must balance the achievement of the 18 Iraqi benchmarks with the military progress, homeland security, foreign policy, and other goals of the United States. Future administration reporting to assist the Congress would be enhanced with adoption of the recommendations we make in this report.
The Surge as Holding Tactic in a Losing Cause
Lest you fall for the orchestrated "the surge is working" perception management program, be aware that the political goals of the U.S. troop buildup have not been achieved.
And military "successes" -- especially those as ephemeral as are being currently bragged about -- without consequent political effects are not successes at all, but holding tactics in a losing cause.
The U.S. military buildup that was supposed to calm Baghdad and other trouble spots has failed to usher in national reconciliation, as the capital's neighborhoods rupture even further along sectarian lines, violence shifts elsewhere and Iraq's government remains mired in political infighting.
In the coming days, U.S. military and government leaders will offer Congress their assessment of the 6-month-old plan's results. But a review of statistics on death and displacement, political developments and the impressions of Iraqis who are living under the heightened military presence reaches a dispiriting conclusion.
Despite the plan, which has brought an additional 28,500 U.S. troops to Iraq since February, none of the major legislation that Washington had expected the Iraqi parliament to pass into law has been approved.
The number of Iraqis fleeing their homes has increased, not decreased, according to the United Nations' International Organization for Migration and Iraq's Ministry for Displacement and Migration.
Military officials say sectarian killings in Baghdad are down more than 51% and attacks on civilians and security forces across Iraq have decreased. But this has not translated into a substantial drop in civilian deaths as insurgents take their lethal trade to more remote regions. Last month, as many as 400 people were killed in a bombing in a village near the Syrian border, the worst bombing since the war began in March 2003. In July, 150 people were reported killed in a village about 100 miles north of Baghdad.
And in a sign that tamping down Sunni-Shiite violence is no guarantee of stability, a feud between rival Shiite Muslim militias has killed scores of Iraqis in recent months. Last week, at least 52 people died in militia clashes in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
At best, analysts, military officers and ordinary Iraqis portray the country as in a holding pattern, dependent on U.S. troops to keep the lid on violence.
"The military offensive has temporarily suppressed, or in many cases dislocated, armed groups," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. "Once the military surge peters out, which it will if there is no progress on the political front, these groups will pop right back up and start going at each other's, and civilians', throats again."
There is, however, another possible strategy inherent to the White House PR campaign centered around Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker's upcoming assessment of the situation in Iraq that is part of the ongoing domestic information operation about the progress of the war.
All the happy talk from the administration about the success of the surge, may end up giving them political cover to declare victory and start withdrawing troops.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Season of (Doctored) Reports
Congress's return tomorrow from its August recess marks the end of summer and the beginning of the "season of reports," as outgoing White House spokesman Tony Snow jokingly dubbed it.
On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the Government Accountability Office's Iraqi Government Assessment. That document concludes, according to reports on a draft last week, that Iraq has failed to meet 15 of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress. Comptroller General David Walker will testify.
The following day, Armed Services holds a joint hearing with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, looking forward to the upcoming report on Iraq from the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker. Set as witnesses at the Thursday hearing are former defense secretary William Perry, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste and retired Army Gen. John M. Keane.
Later Thursday, the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the report on Iraqi security forces, written by a commission chaired by retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones. ...
The House takes up the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program in two separate committee hearings. The Judiciary Committee will address civil rights and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Wednesday. A day later, the Homeland Security Committee will consider domestic use of spy technology.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
NASA Using New Security Clearance Rules To Muzzle Global Warming Experts
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center are up in arms over a new requirement by NASA that they submit to detailed FBI scrutiny of their backgrounds in order to obtain clearance to go to work. They are claiming that the agency may be trying to control or silence them about issues like global warming.
The new security clearance requirement, which involves interviews of neighbors and checks into the distant background activities of scientists, many of whom have worked at JPL and Goddard for as long as thirty years, is puzzling because both locations have little or no involvement in secret or national security research. Indeed, by law, NASA's activities and the research its scientists engage in are required to be publicly available.
"Almost nobody at NASA does classified work," says Robert Nelson, a veteran scientist at JPL who heads up the photo analysis unit on the Cassini-Huygens space probe project exploring Saturn and its moons. "I think this is really all about NASA director [Michael] Griffin putting a security wrap around us."
Nelson and 26 other JPL scientists and other employees have retained a Pasadena civil rights law firm to file suit in federal court in California to block the security program.
Attorney Dan Stormer a partner at Hadsell & Stormer, who with Virginia Keeney, is handling the case, says he will be requesting a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the program. A hearing is set for September 24. (To date, Nelson says as many as 20 percent of JPL's 5,000 employees have refused to fill out the security forms, though those who haven't been investigated and received their badges risk being barred from the site after that deadline.)
"This campaign is an egregious invasion of privacy," says Stormer. "These are people who aren't in classified jobs and who don't handle classified information, yet if they don't submit to these investigations, they'll lose their jobs."
Stormer adds, "This is a classic Bush case of controlling information, and I'm sure the information JPL and Goddard are gathering about global warming has a lot to do with it. Do I have the evidence to prove that? No. But I think we'll find it in this lawsuit."