Category Archive 'National Security'

19 Apr 2010

NSA Bows to Court on Data Collecting

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We don’t know exactly what information the National Security Agency has ceased collecting , and we don’t know what legal issue persuaded which judge that collecting it was a problem. But the Washington Post tells us that there will be a hiatus for some time in the surveillance of terrorist communications. If it should happen that they are able to exploit this particular security gap, we will probably one day learn just who was responsible.

A special federal court that oversees domestic surveillance has raised concerns about the National Security Agency’s collection of certain types of electronic data, prompting the agency to suspend collecting it, U.S. officials said.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which grants orders to U.S. spy agencies to monitor U.S. citizens and residents in terrorism and espionage cases, recently “got a little bit more of an understanding” about the NSA’s collection of the data, said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because such matters are classified.

The data under discussion are records associated with various kinds of communication, but not their content. Examples of this “metadata” include the origin, destination and path of an e-mail; the phone numbers called from a particular telephone; and the Internet address of someone making an Internet phone call. It was not clear what kind of data had provoked the court’s concern.

Some House Republicans have argued that the suspension of collection creates an intelligence gap that undermines the government’s ability to track and identify terrorist networks, according to officials familiar with the matter. Frustrated about waiting for a remedy, these Republicans say the gap can be closed with a technical fix to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the officials said.

“This is a basic tool we used to have, and it’s now gone,” said one intelligence official familiar with the impasse. “Every day, every week that goes by, there’s just one more week of information that we’re not collecting. You sit there and say, ‘This is unbelievable that we have this gap.’ ”

The data could be used to help analysts learn whom a suspect was working and communicating with, and to “detect and anticipate” a plot, the official said. “It’s not a concern over what was being collected,” he said. “It’s just a question about whether the law was written in a way that allowed the information to be collected in a way that they were collecting it.” …

The NSA voluntarily stopped gathering the data in December or January rather than wait to be told to do so, the officials said. The agency had been collecting it with court permission for several years, officials said.

22 Oct 2009

“Politics Before Security”

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Last night, Dick Cheney gave a speech at the Center for Security Policy in which he surveyed the Obama Administration’s short and dismal foreign record. He condemned the cancellation of the missile defense of Central Europe, strongly criticized what he referred to as “turning the guns on” US Intelligence officers, and called upon Barack Obama to stop dithering and keep his word on Afghanistan.

Every time I hear Dick Cheney speak, I regret that he was occupying the second position on the Republican ticket in 2000 and 2004 instead of the first.

Most anyone who is given responsibility in matters of national security quickly comes to appreciate the commitments and structures put in place by others who came before. You deploy a military force that was planned and funded by your predecessors. You inherit relationships with partners and obligations to allies that were first undertaken years and even generations earlier. With the authority you hold for a little while, you have great freedom of action. And whatever course you follow, the essential thing is always to keep commitments, and to leave no doubts about the credibility of your country’s word.

25:03 video

23 May 2009

President Above-It-All

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“In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.”

–Dick Cheney

Rich Lowry hits Obama’s nail right on the head.

Put Barack Obama in front of a Tele PrompTer and one thing is certain — he’ll make himself appear the most reasonable person in the room.

Rhetorically, he is in the middle of any debate, perpetually surrounded by finger-pointing extremists who can’t get over their reflexive combativeness and ideological fixations to acknowledge his surpassing thoughtfulness and grace. …

It’s natural, then, that his speech at the National Archives on national security should superficially sound soothing, reasonable and even a little put upon (oh, what President Obama has to endure from all those finger-pointing extremists).

But beneath its surface, the speech — given heavy play in the press as an implicit debate with former Vice President Dick Cheney, who spoke on the same topic at a different venue immediately afterward — revealed something else: a president who has great difficulty admitting error; who can’t discuss the position of his opponents without resorting to rank caricature, and who adopts an off-putting pose of above-it-all righteousness.

Read the whole thing.

22 May 2009

Cheney Puts Obama on the Defensive

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Toby Harnden thinks yesterday’s speeches by Barack Obama and Dick Cheney represented a major public competition to mold national opinion and that the former Vice President won.

The spectacle of two duelling speeches with a mile of each other in downtown Washington was extraordinary. I was at the Cheney event and watched Obama’s address on a big screen beside the empty lectern that the former veep stepped behind barely two minutes after his adversary had finished.

So who won the fight? (it’s hard to use anything other than a martial or pugilistic metaphor). Well, most people are on either one side or the other of this issue and I doubt today will have prompted many to switch sides.

But the very fact that Obama chose to schedule his speech (Cheney’s was announced first) at exactly the same time as the former veep was a sign of some weakness.

The venues for the speeches said something. Obama showily chose the National Archives, repository for many of the founding documents of the US, and spoke in front of a copy of the Constitution – cloaking himself in the flag, as Republicans were often criticised for doing.

To hear Cheney speak, we were crammed into a decidedly unglamourous and cramped conference room at AEI, favourite think tank of conservative hawks.

The former veep’s speech was factual and unemotional and certainly devoid of the kind of hokey, self-obsessed, campaign-style stuff like this, from Obama’s address today: “I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to these shores in search of the promise that they offer. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn their truths when I lived as a child in a foreign land.”

In terms of Obama’s purported aim for his speech – to present a plan for closing Guantanamo Bay aimed at placating Congress – he failed. The reception on Capitol Hill was lukewarm with even Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Cheney’s speech wasn’t stylish, there were no rhetorical flourishes and the tone was bitingly sarcastic and disdainful at times. But it was effective in many respects and Cheney showed that Obama is not invulnerable.

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The Politico agrees that Obama is on the defensive.

For the first time in his presidency, Americans are getting a glimpse of Barack Obama on defense.

Over the past few weeks, Obama has been back on his heels over torture and terror, issues on which he surely thought he had the upper hand.

And he spent Thursday battling charges from a man he surely thought he had vanquished in November, former Vice President Dick Cheney.

It took some worried calls from Capitol Hill Democrats, congressional aides said, to convince him otherwise – that he needed to give a speech defending his plan for closing the terror prison at Guantanamo Bay, and rebutting Republican claims that the move would endanger Americans where they live.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others made clear “that we’re going to need a lot more cover if we’re going to be able to deal with this issue,” said one Democratic leadership aide.

So on a day when Obama would have rather been anywhere else – remaking the auto industry or cheerleading an economic recovery – he was sharing TV screens with Cheney. …

“The White House didn’t want to do it — they want to drive the agenda, they want to be focused on health care right now,” said Heather Hurlburt, the executive director of the National Security Network, a Democratic think tank. “The Hill asked him to do this and he did it.”

That forcing of Obama’s hand marks a remarkable turnabout for a president who holds the most commanding position in American politics in two decades.

The most popular politician in the country found himself pushed up against a wall by one of the least popular in Cheney – the leading voice in a budding Republican attack on Obama over national defense, one of the GOP’s oldest (and most successful) cudgels against Democrats.

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Obama’s speech

Cheney’s speech

21 May 2009

Not Governing as Advertised

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Karl Rove notes that now that he’s in office Americans are getting basically the opposite of what Barack Obama promised during the campaign. Obama has continued some of his campaign rhetoric, but has again and again contradicted himself by continuing Bush Administration national security policies.

Barack Obama inherited a set of national-security policies that he rejected during the campaign but now embraces as president. This is a stunning and welcome about-face.

For example, President Obama kept George W. Bush’s military tribunals for terror detainees after calling them an “enormous failure” and a “legal black hole.” His campaign claimed last summer that “court systems . . . are capable of convicting terrorists.” Upon entering office, he found out they aren’t.

He insisted in an interview with NBC in 2007 that Congress mandate “consequences” for “a failure to meet various benchmarks and milestones” on aid to Iraq. Earlier this month he fought off legislatively mandated benchmarks in the $97 billion funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama agreed on April 23 to American Civil Liberties Union demands to release investigative photos of detainee abuse. Now’s he reversed himself. Pentagon officials apparently convinced him that releasing the photos would increase the risk to U.S. troops and civilian personnel.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Mr. Obama excoriated Mr. Bush’s counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, insisting it could not succeed. Earlier this year, facing increasing violence in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama rejected warnings of a “quagmire” and ordered more troops to that country. He isn’t calling it a “surge” but that’s what it is. He is applying in Afghanistan the counterinsurgency strategy Mr. Bush used in Iraq.

On the other hand, during the campaign, Obama promised fiscal moderation, and in that department, too, he is delivering the exact opposite of those campaign promises.

Mr. Obama campaigned on “responsible fiscal policies,” arguing in a speech on the Senate floor in 2006 that the “rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy.” In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he pledged to “go through the federal budget line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work.” Even now, he says he’ll “cut the deficit . . . by half by the end of his first term in office” and is “rooting out waste and abuse” in the budget.

However, Mr. Obama’s fiscally conservative words are betrayed by his liberal actions. He offers an orgy of spending and a bacchanal of debt. His budget plans a 25% increase in the federal government’s share of the GDP, a doubling of the national debt in five years, and a near tripling of it in 10 years.

On health care, Mr. Obama’s election ads decried “government-run health care” as “extreme,” saying it would lead to “higher costs.” Now he is promoting a plan that would result in a de facto government-run health-care system. Even the Washington Post questions it, saying, “It is difficult to imagine . . . benefits from a government-run system.”

Making adjustments in office is one thing. Constantly governing in direct opposition to what you said as a candidate is something else. Mr. Obama’s flip-flops on national security have been wise; on the domestic front, they have been harmful.

In both cases, though, we have learned something about Mr. Obama. What animated him during the campaign is what historian Forrest McDonald once called “the projection of appealing images.” All politicians want to project an appealing image. What Mr. McDonald warned against is focusing on this so much that an appealing image “becomes a self-sustaining end unto itself.” Such an approach can work in a campaign, as Mr. Obama discovered. But it can also complicate life once elected, as he is finding out.

Mr. Obama’s appealing campaign images turned out to have been fleeting. He ran hard to the left on national security to win the nomination, only to discover the campaign commitments he made were shallow and at odds with America’s security interests.

Mr. Obama ran hard to the center on economic issues to win the general election. He has since discovered his campaign commitments were obstacles to ramming through the most ideologically liberal economic agenda since the Great Society.

Mr. Obama either had very little grasp of what governing would involve or, if he did, he used words meant to mislead the public. Neither option is particularly encouraging. America now has a president quite different from the person who advertised himself for the job last year. Over time, those things can catch up to a politician.

11 Sep 2008

It’s Not Only Palin

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David From explains that Americans are still concerned about a president’s ability to protect the United States in a dangerous world, and that the public has not failed to recognize the democtrats’ record of insincerity and opportunism.

Democratic populism is destroying Democratic credibility on national security.

Let’s go to the numbers.

Republicans have owned the national security issue since the late 1960s. After 9/11, the Republican advantage on poll questions spread to an astounding 30 points.

But since 2005, the Republican advantage has dwindled. By the fall of 2007, the two parties had reached near parity on the issue, only 3 points apart—the best Democratic result since Barry Goldwater led the Republican party!

That parity did not last. Over the past year, Republican standing on the issue has revived while Democratic credibility has tumbled. In Greenberg’s latest polling, the Republicans now hold a 14-point lead, 49-35, a return to the kind of advantage they held in the 1980s.

What’s going on?

Greenberg advances three reasons, but here is the most important and provocative:

When asked to choose why they think Democrats are weak on security, the number one reason—picked by 33% of all respondents—is that Democrats” change positions depending on public opinion.”

“Moreover, when we ask respondents to compare the two parties, likely voters choose Democrats over Republicans as the party “too focused on public opinion” by a 27-point margin. Even Democratic base voters agree: liberal Democrats point to their own party as the one “too focused on public opinion” by an 18-point margin, and moderate/ conservative Democrats say this by 25 points.

In 2001-2002, Democrats chased public opinion in a hawkish direction. In 2004-2007, they chased public opinion in a dovish direction. In 2006, when the war seemed hopeless, that reversal paid off for Democrats. But as conditions have improved in Iraq, Republicans have been vindicated—and Democrats look weak and opportunistic.

Now when Bob Shrum talks of “populism,” he has something very specific and highly ideological in mind. But most Americans—and most working politicians—use the word “populism” in a more general sense. They use it to mean, “doing what is popular.”

You might think that doing what is popular is always good politics. That would seem true almost by definition!

And in the very short term, it has been true for Democrats.

But there is a longer term too. Voters remember. They compare results. They recall who stayed firm in the moment of decision and who flinched. And if the person who stood firm is also proven right—voters reward it.

Don’t misunderstand. There are prizes for the vacillating and the time-serving. John Kerry is still senator from Massachusetts after all. But there is a price to be paid too for too obvious vote-catching—and on national security, the Democrats have already begun to pay it. Just how high that price will go, we must wait until November to know.

29 Jul 2008

Iran Plotting Nuclear Electromagnetic Pulse Attack on the US?

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We didn’t read about any of this in the Times or the Post.

But George Hulme, author of Information Week’s Security Weblog, earlier this month (7/9) took this potential threat to US National Security seriously.

Congress will be hearing testimony on a potential attack that could shut down most every electronic device, everywhere, and render the entire U.S. power grid dysfunctional for months, if not for more than a year.

The House Armed Services Committee will be getting an earful of testimony from William R. Graham, who was President Reagan’s science adviser and is the current chairman of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.

Simply put, an Electromagnetic Pulse attack would occur when a nuclear weapon is discharged at a very high altitude. The explosion affects the ionosphere and Earth’s magnetic field in such a way as to cause an electromagnetic pulse to rush down to the surface. That pulse then bakes just about every electronic device within a very wide geographic area. By some estimates, a single device detonated over Kansas could cripple the nation’s entire technical infrastructure.

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Kenneth Timmerman reports that Graham’s testimony was downright alarming.

Iran has carried out missile tests for what could be a plan for a nuclear strike on the United States, the head of a national security panel has warned.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee and in remarks to a private conference on missile defense over the weekend hosted by the Claremont Institute, Dr. William Graham warned that the U.S. intelligence community “doesn’t have a story” to explain the recent Iranian tests.

One group of tests that troubled Graham, the former White House science adviser under President Ronald Reagan, were successful efforts to launch a Scud missile from a platform in the Caspian Sea.

“They’ve got [test] ranges in Iran which are more than long enough to handle Scud launches and even Shahab-3 launches,” Dr. Graham said. “Why would they be launching from the surface of the Caspian Sea? They obviously have not explained that to us.”

Another troubling group of tests involved Shahab-3 launches where the Iranians “detonated the warhead near apogee, not over the target area where the thing would eventually land, but at altitude,” Graham said. “Why would they do that?”

Graham chairs the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack, a blue-ribbon panel established by Congress in 2001.

The commission examined the Iranian tests “and without too much effort connected the dots,” even though the U.S. intelligence community previously had failed to do so, Graham said.

“The only plausible explanation we can find is that the Iranians are figuring out how to launch a missile from a ship and get it up to altitude and then detonate it,” he said. “And that’s exactly what you would do if you had a nuclear weapon on a Scud or a Shahab-3 or other missile, and you wanted to explode it over the United States.”

The commission warned in a report issued in April that the United States was at risk of a sneak nuclear attack by a rogue nation or a terrorist group designed to take out our nation’s critical infrastructure.

If even a crude nuclear weapon were detonated anywhere between 40 kilometers to 400 kilometers above the earth, in a split-second it would generate an electro-magnetic pulse [EMP] that would cripple military and civilian communications, power, transportation, water, food, and other infrastructure, the report warned.

While not causing immediate civilian casualties, the near-term impact on U.S. society would dwarf the damage of a direct nuclear strike on a U.S. city.

“The first indication [of such an attack] would be that the power would go out, and some, but not all, the telecommunications would go out. We would not physically feel anything in our bodies,” Graham said.

As electric power, water and gas delivery systems failed, there would be “truly massive traffic jams,” Graham added, since modern automobiles and signaling systems all depend on sophisticated electronics that would be disabled by the EMP wave.

“So you would be walking. You wouldn’t be driving at that point,” Dr. Graham said. “And it wouldn’t do any good to call the maintenance or repair people because they wouldn’t be able to get there, even if you could get through to them.”

The food distribution system also would grind to a halt as cold-storage warehouses stockpiling perishables went offline. Even warehouses equipped with backup diesel generators would fail, because “we wouldn’t be able to pump the fuel into the trucks and get the trucks to the warehouses,” Graham said.

The United States “would quickly revert to an early 19th century type of country.” except that we would have 10 times as many people with ten times fewer resources, he said.

“Most of the things we depend upon would be gone, and we would literally be depending on our own assets and those we could reach by walking to them,” Graham said.

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Dr. Grahams’s prepared testimony warned:

Several potential adversaries have the capability to attack the United States with a high altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse, and others appear to be pursuing efforts to obtain that capability. A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. For example, an adversary would not have to have long-range ballistic missiles to conduct an EMP attack against the United States. Such an attack could be launched from a freighter off the U.S. coast using a short- or medium-range missile to loft a nuclear warhead to high-altitude. Terrorists sponsored by a rogue state could attempt to execute such an attack without revealing the identity of the perpetrators. Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, has practiced launching a mobile ballistic missile from a vessel in the Caspian Sea. Iran has also tested high-altitude explosions of the Shahab-III, a test mode consistent with EMP attack, and described the tests as successful. Iranian military writings explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States. While the Commission does not know the intention of Iran in conducting these activities, we are disturbed by the capability that emerges when we connect the dots.

22 Jul 2008

Glenn Reynolds Predicts

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Glenn Reynolds has a little prediction for you lefties.


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