Our President

Remember how upset Republicans were when Hillary Clinton perhaps maybe put classified information in her private emails. Wow are they going to go ballistic now:

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

It’s too early to put up the Republican reaction but I’m sure it’s going to be harsh, I’m sure we’ll hear threats impeachment. Ha ha, I jest.

Somebody must have handed him a printout:

Just days earlier, K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, had given Trump a printout of two Time magazine covers. One, supposedly from the 1970s, warned of a coming ice age; the other, from 2008, about surviving global warming, according to four White House officials familiar with the matter.

Trump quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy. But there was a problem. The 1970s cover was fake, part of an internet hoax that’s circulated for years. Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it.

There is universal agreement among Trump advisers on this: The best way to focus the president’s attention on any story is to tell him about it personally, even if it is in one of the papers he’s already thumbed through. But officials say it’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition because Trump’s frustrations at bad stories can easily boomerang against those delivering him the news.

We are so fucked.

Record everything

Wow, this is both amazing and scary:

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

The NSA is doing this in other countries, but I would be amazed if other countries don’t at least try to do the same with the US. Everything, everywhere will soon be recorded, but I’m sure that it will never be misused.

Rand Paul and Chris Christie

It seems there’s a little spat going on between Rand Paul and Chris Christie. It started out with the usual “if you don’t let the government secretly spy on everyone, people will die”:

“I just want us to be really cautious because this strain of libertarianism going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Christie said at an Aspen Institute panel of Republican governors in Colorado Thursday night.

Asked specifically whether he was referring to Paul, Christie said, “You can name any number of people and he’s one of them.”

“These esoteric intellectual debates–I want them to come to New Jersey and sit in front of the widows and the orphans and have that conversation,” Christie said, evoking 9/11. “And they won’t because that’s a much tougher conversation to have.”

Rand Paul, being Rand Paul, couldn’t resist being stupid:

Paul told reporters after speaking at a fundraiser outside Nashville on Sunday that Christie’s position hurts GOP chances in national elections, and that spending priorities of critics like the governor and Rep. Peter King of New York do more to harm national security.

“They’re precisely the same people who are unwilling to cut the spending, and their ‘Gimme, gimme, gimme — give me all my Sandy money now.'” Paul said, referring to federal funding after the hurricane last year. “Those are the people who are bankrupting the government and not letting enough money be left over for national defense.”

Two problems: government spending in a recession helps the economy and let Christie tell us about the other one:

“So if Senator Paul wants to start looking at where he’s going to cut spending  to afford defense, maybe he should start looking at cutting the pork barrel  spending that he brings home to Kentucky, at $1.51 for every $1.00 and not look  at New Jersey, where we get $0.61 for every $1.00,” Christie said, noting his  state pays out more than every federal dollar it receives. “So maybe Senator  Paul could — could, you know, deal with that when he’s trying to deal with the  reduction of spending on the federal side.  But I doubt he would, because  most Washington politicians only care about bringing home the bacon so that they  can get reelected.”

We also find out that Paul has more than a little ego:

“He’s making a big mistake picking a fight with other Republicans, because  the Republican Party is shrinking in — in New England and in the northeast part  of our country,” Paul continued. “I’m the one trying to grow the party by  talking about liberation ideas of privacy and the Internet.  And attacking  me isn’t helping the party.  He’s hurting the party.”

“Why would he want to pick a fight with the one guy who has the chance to  grow the party by appealing to the youth and appealing to people who would like  to see a more moderate and less aggressive foreign policy,” he added.

Really Rand, you’re the one guy who can grow the party?

Anyway, this little tiff has given me reasons why I won’t vote for either of them.

One less gag

If this (go here for more and here for the ruling) is upheld, then the secret security apparatus will be just a bit smaller:

A California district court on Friday ruled that the FBI’s controversial national security letters (NSLs) are unconstitutional.

Two provisions of the federal law governing NSLs violate the Constitution, but because the NSL program cannot exist without those provisions, the court halted the entire NSL program.

The judgment will not go into effect for 90 days, pending appeal.

The FBI can issue an NSL to a telecom company or bank to obtain identifying information about a subscriber, and the agency has the power to demand that the recipients of the letters remain silent.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), acting on behalf of an unnamed telecom company, sued over these NSLs in May 2011, arguing that they were unconstitutional. Today, the court found that the gag order aspect of the NSLs violates the First Amendment, while the fact that the FBI can issue NSLs without court approval violates separation of powers.

According to the EFF, the first NSL statute was passed in 1986, but the constitutionality of the program has only been challenged once before 2011. Between 2003 and 2006 alone, the FBI issued more than 200,000 requests for customer information via NSLs.

But it’s a secret

Despite threatening to take away documents from a judge, despite defying a judge’s orders, the Obama administration lost its argument that the Al Haramain case should be dismissed because it involved ‘state secrets’ (I put it in quotes since the Bush administration had inadvertently given the group evidence that they had been illegally wiretapped and the whole program had been exposed in 2005).

Given the ferocity of the defense, it’s hard to believe this:

A Justice Department spokeswoman, Tracy Schmaler, noted that the Obama administration had overhauled the department’s procedures for invoking the state-secrets privilege, requiring senior officials to personally approve any assertion before lawyers could make it in court. She said that approach would ensure that the privilege was invoked only when “absolutely necessary to protect national security.”

This is a good result, but still leaves lots of room for future excesses and does nothing to punish the people who broke the law (Congress passed laws that made most of the procedures legal and made telecoms immune from lawsuits against them, which the same judge ruled legal). The reason it has limited scope is because it still agrees that one has to be able to prove the government did something illegal and the government doesn’t have to turn over any documents it calls secret.

Glenn Greenwald has a more thorough examination here and Time has a quick one here.

Obama and State Secrets

In this morning’s speech, President Obama mostly hit the right notes but basically called groups like the ACLU stupid:

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants – provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

This might sound better if his administration hadn’t argued in some cases that the entire case should be dropped because of ‘State Secrets’ even when the information was already out there.

And he uses the old Republican standby, that their policies will lead to deaths:

On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004. Individuals who violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and held accountable. There is no debate as to whether what is reflected in those photos is wrong, and nothing has been concealed to absolve perpetrators of crimes. However, it was my judgment – informed by my national security team – that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion, and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning and inaccurate brush, endangering them in theaters of war.

I really don’t understand this. He has basically said that the actions in the photos are terrible, won’t that information already inflame anti-American opinion (it is easier to exploit actual photos, but couldn’t people say something like: ‘the actions are so bad that the US won’t allow their release’?). Also, Obama has been arguing that the US will regain credibility if they’re open, but here he’s against it here because … umm … well it would look bad for the US. It’s not being open if you only do so when it looks good.

More on Binyam Mohamed

Back in February, the Obama administration had argued that a case against Boeing should be dropped because it might reveal state secrets. They lost that argument with an appropriate judicial rebuke:

The court said the government could ask judges to conduct a case-by-case review of whether the disclosure of specific documents would jeopardize national security. But allowing the executive branch to shut down an entire lawsuit whenever an official says its subject is classified would be a “concentration of unchecked power” and lead to abuses, it said.

“According to the government’s theory, the judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law,” wrote Judge Michael Daly Hawkins.

Now it seems the Obama administration has again mirrored the Bush administration, this time by threatening to withhold secret information if a British court makes US interrogation procedures public:

The letter warned that if the British government “is unable to protect information we provide to it, even if that inability is caused by your judicial system, we will necessarily have to review with the greatest care the sensitivity of information we can provide in the future.”

The letter also said the “seven paragraphs at issue are based upon classified information shared between our countries,” and that “public disclosure of this information reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the United Kingdom’s national security” if the United States withheld intelligence information in the future.

Since it would inevitably do damage to the US, the Obama administration is putting state secrets above public safety. This is all very weird for a president that says he wants transparency.

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