In the height of a number of scandals for the Obama administration, a journalist whose coverage gave the president a reason to fire the leader of coalition forces in Afghanistan has died.
Michael Hastings, 33, wrote “The Runaway General” article for Rolling Stone magazine in June 2010 in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his aides said disparaging things about Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Hastings’ body was burned beyond recognition in the single-car crash at 4:25 a.m. in the 600 block of North Highland Ave. in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles, which is a residential area with lanes on either side of a grassy median.
“It sounded like a bomb went off in the middle of the night,” another witness told the TV station. “The house shook, my windows were rattling.” Another witness noted that the engine flew far from the car.
Police said he was driving a brand-new Mercedes.
Obama and McChrystal tangled in 2009 when the general went public with the need for more troops, saying in a leaked report to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “We are going to win.” The White House, meanwhile, had been encouraging the commander to just worry about degrading the Taliban instead of defeating them.
“Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked ‘uncomfortable and intimidated’ by the roomful of military brass,” Hastings wrote in the Rolling Stone piece. “Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. ‘It was a 10-minute photo op,’ says an adviser to McChrystal. ‘Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.’”
Just one day after Hastings’ article appeared online, before the issue even hit the newsstands, Obama called McChrystal to his office to accept his resignation. The four-star general then announced his retirement from the Army.
A subsequent Pentagon inquiry found no proof of wrongdoing by McChrystal and his aides and found no witnesses to corroborate key parts of Hastings’ article.
A new smartphone app from the Federal Railroad Administration tells you if you’re about to be hit by a train.
The Rail Crossing Locator, said the Department of Transportation, provides the public with easy access to safety information about the nation’s more than 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings:
“Safety is our highest priority, and at the Department of Transportation, we believe that giving people better information leads to smarter and safer travel,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “With the Rail Crossing Locator, individuals can use a mobile app to access information wherever they are to improve neighborhood safety and make better personal travel choices.”
The Rail Crossing Locator app works by prompting users to enter a specific location, which then allows them to locate highway-rail grade crossings in their area and retrieve important information, such as the physical characteristics of a crossing and the type of traffic control devices used. The app allows users to report information about grade crossings to the FRA to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is available. This new app is free through Apple’s App Store and can be used on any iPhone or iPad.
Over the past decade, highway-rail incidents have declined by 34 percent, and deaths resulting from these events have fallen 30 percent. However, while the total number of incidents has been trending downward, collisions at highway-rail crossings remain a challenge to safety. Last year alone, highway-rail crossing collisions accounted for nearly 20 percent of all reportable rail accidents and incidents and represented nearly one-third of all rail-related fatalities.
A Montana Democrat introduced a constitutional amendment today that would say “the words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations.”
Sen. Jon Tester said his amendment would effectively overturn the “unpopular” 2010 Citizens United decision that protected campaign contributions as free speech.
“Montanans expect real people and their ideas —not corporations and their money—to decide our elections,” Tester said. “The Citizens United decision undermines Montana values and distorts the democratic process. Montanans rejected corporate control of elections a century ago, and I’m proud to join them in standing up for our long-held values.”
Tester even released a video of himself backdropped by the Constitution to push his amendment, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
Tester has also co-sponsored a constitutional amendment from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that authorizes Congress to regulate the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns.
A constitutional amendment must pass both chambers of Congress by a two-thirds majority before being ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.
The Taliban justified their participation in peace talks as a formality in their continuing jihad to try to gain support in the international community as they try to return Afghanistan to its darkest burqa days.
Senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call today that President Obama supported the opening of a Taliban office in Doha, Qatar, as key to “an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process that provides an opportunity for there to be discussions amongst Afghans and a pursuit of a peaceful resolution of differences among some of the parties within Afghanistan.”
An official said the Taiban must meet the “end conditions” of breaking with al-Qaeda, ending attacks, and accepting Afghanistan’s constitution, “including its protections for women and minorities.”
Another official said “there’s been a lot of personal diplomacy” toward the Taliban from Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The anonymous administration mouthpieces said “the U.S. will have a role in direct talks, but this is a negotiation that will have to be led by Afghans.”
“Everyone is aware that the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has been waging Jihad and working tirelessly to bring an end to the invasion of Afghanistan and establish in it an independent Islamic government and has always utilized every legitimate method to achieve this goal,” the Taliban said in a statement. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has both military as well as political objectives which are confined to Afghanistan. The Islamic Emirate does not wish to harm other countries from its soil and neither will it allow others use Afghan soil to pose a threat to the security of other nations! The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to have cordial relations on basis of mutual respect with all the countries of the world including its neighbors and desires security for its nation as well as security and justice on international level.”
“Undoubtedly the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers it its religious and national obligation to free its country from occupation and has used every legitimate method for this goal which it will keep on doing in the future. Similarly, it considers the struggle of every oppressed nation working for their due rights and independence to be their legitimate right because every nation deserves to secure freedom from imperialism and attain their rights,” the Islamist group continued. “It is due to these objectives that the Islamic Emirate considered it necessary to open a political office in the Islamic country of Qatar.”
Their demands include an agreement that “establishes an independent Islamic government.”
Taliban tweets today naturally displayed something less than a peace partner:
— Abdulqahar Balkhi (@ABalkhi) June 18, 2013
Why is the American General disappointed? http://t.co/DdbNAhF7SS
— Abdulqahar Balkhi (@ABalkhi) June 18, 2013
Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) old partner in campaign finance reform is being shipped off to the Congo.
Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who lost re-election in 2010 to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs from 2001 to 2003 and 2007 to 2011.
Now, President Obama has appointed Feingold special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa — the tumultuous Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Last month the World Bank pledged $1 billion to the region contingent on parties in the region abiding by a peace deal. That hasn’t been easy.
“America can and should be playing a stronger role in the international community’s efforts to achieve peace in the Great Lakes region, stop the human rights violations being committed against Congolese civilians, and promote the establishment of a democratic, accountable government in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), current chairman of the Africa subcommittee.
“Senator Feingold is a superb choice for the first U.S. Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region. Over the last decade, there was no more passionate advocate in the Senate for responsible and constructive U.S. engagement in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Over the past year, more than 650,000 people have been displaced by fighting in North Kivu province.
Coons introduced a resolution last month calling on Obama to appoint a special envoy to “support and strengthen international effort to end conflict in the region; support accountability and justice for human rights violations; expand efforts to develop conflict-free and responsible mining practices; and strengthen the commitment by the DRC and regional actors to end the threat posed by armed groups in the region.”
“The challenges to peace in the Great Lakes region are as complex as they are urgent,” Coons continued. “Having a dedicated, high-level envoy to work with regional governments and the international community is essential to ending the violence and destruction plaguing the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and continuing to confront the threat posed by the LRA.”
“I have enormous confidence that Senator Feingold will make a real difference in this new role. I applaud the President’s selection and look forward to working with Senator Feingold to help advance the prospect for peace in the region.”
Arizona Republicans introduced legislation in response to the Supreme Court striking down the state’s law requiring proof of citizenship to vote.
Writing for the 7-2 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia the simple registration form in the 1993 National Voter Registration Act supersedes a state form not approved by the Election Assistance Commission.
“No matter what procedural hurdles a State’s own form imposes, the Federal Form guarantees that a simple means of registering to vote in federal elections will be available,” Scalia wrote. If Arizona was able to edit that process, “the Federal Form ceases to perform any meaningful function, and would be a feeble means of increasing the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office.”
Reps. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.), and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation to attempt to give states the flexibility and authority to ask for additional documents to prove U.S. citizenship while registering to vote.
The bill would amend the 1993 act cited by Scalia in the ruling “to require an applicant for voter registration in the State who uses the Federal mail voter registration application form developed by the Election Assistance Commission under such Act to provide documentary evidence of citizenship as a condition of the State’s acceptance of the form.”
“One of the greatest privileges and responsibilities of a U.S. citizen is the right to vote. For these reasons, it is critical that we uphold the integrity of our voter registration system by ensuring only U.S. citizens are permitted to cast a ballot,” Salmon said. “In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, I felt compelled to introduce legislation that ensures states have the right to ultimately decide for themselves whether or not to require additional documentary evidence to prove U.S. citizenship.”
Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, and Tennessee have similar voting requirements to Arizona’s 2004 Proposition 200. Twelve other states are weighing voter ID legislation.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has introduced an amendment to the immigration bill to ensure individuals on work visas or given resident status under the bill are not allowed to vote in federal elections until they become citizens.
The “Secure the Vote” amendment would require new procedures to encourage states to check that individuals gaining status or a work visa are not registered to vote.
“Not only would this amendment prevent voter fraud, it would also clear up the problem created by today’s Supreme Court decision,” Paul said. “My amendment requires states to check citizenship before registering people to vote in federal elections.”
Federal election funding would be conditional on those checks. States that do not implement verification procedure in federal elections within one year will also lose ten percent of their federal highway funds, Paul’s office said.
The Department of Homeland Security would be required to report those states found to have registered noncitizens to Congress.
DHS would have to include a search of voter rolls in processing residency requests.
If a provisional immigrant, work-visa holder or other person ineligible to vote illegally register, he or she will be blocked from attaining residency or citizenship.
Despite longstanding opposition from Congress and human-rights groups that the U.S. shouldn’t be funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to the Syrian regime’s main arms supplier, the Pentagon announced today that it has awarded a contract to Russia’s Rosoboronexport.
The $572,180,894 firm-fixed-price contract modification is for 30 Mi-17 helicopters, spare parts, test equipment, and engineering support services.
The Mi-17 military helicopters will be used by the Afghan National Security Forces Special Mission Wing; work will be performed in Russia and is expected to be complete by Dec. 31, 2014.
Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) most recently urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a March letter to follow the letter of the law and not use the national security waiver in the NDAA amendment to move forward with the sale.
The dollar amount announced today is significantly higher than the $375 million no-bid contract that raised lawmakers’ ire last year.
The Pentagon maintained that the Mi-17 helicopters requisitioned for the Afghanistan Air Force had to come from the sole entity controlling export of the crafts.
Until just three years ago, Rosoboronexport had been the subject of U.S. sanctions for assisting Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Russia is the top arms supplier to Syria, selling more than $1 billion in arms to the regime in 2011 alone.
Russia confirmed at the end of May that it has no intention of curbing its arms deliveries to Damascus.
“I want the U.S. military to stop their business with Rosoboronexport, not expand the relationship,” Cornyn told PJM a year ago.
President Obama announced last week that the administration would be extending military aid to the Syrian opposition.
“Rosoboronexport’s clients should distance themselves from the company until it stops selling arms to Syria,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, last year. “The bottom line is that no one should do new business with any company that may be an accomplice to crimes against humanity.”
Obama met today with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit, after which the White House released a flurry of fact sheets announcing new cooperation between Washington and the Kremlin, including bilateral agreements on threat reduction and information and communications technology.
“Finally, the White House and the Kremlin have authorized a direct secure voice communications line between the U.S. Cybersecurity Coordinator and the Russian Deputy Secretary of the Security Council, should there be a need to directly manage a crisis situation arising from an ICT security incident,” the White House said.
“We also spoke about problem spots on the planet, including Syria. And, of course, our opinions do not coincide, but all of us have the intention to stop the violence in Syria, to stop the growth of victims, and to solve the situation peacefully, including by bringing the parties to the negotiations table in Geneva. We agreed to push the parties to the negotiations table,” Putin said today in a joint appearance with Obama.
Obama called their meeting “an example of the kind of constructive, cooperative relationship that moves us out of a Cold War mindset into the realm where, by working together, we not only increase security and prosperity for the Russian and American people, but also help lead the world to a better place.”
Secretary of State John Kerry appointed the former publisher of Slate magazine as Gitmo czar — a special envoy position meant to guide President Obama’s goal, renewed after extensive lobbying pressure, of closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Cliff Sloan was a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and associate counsel in the Clinton White House before moving on to Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive as vice president of business development and general counsel. He helmed Slate after it was acquired by the Washington Post in 2005.
Sloan is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in D.C. with a focus on litigation, intellectual property, media, and entertainment. He has made six arguments before the Supreme Court, including in a copyright infringement lawsuit as lead counsel for Bon Jovi.
“Special Envoy Sloan brings a wealth of experience as an accomplished litigator, and pragmatic problem solver, a skill set that will prove valuable as he serves as the lead negotiator for the transfer of Guantanamo detainees abroad, and manages a multitude of diplomatic issues related to the president’s directives to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, implement transfer determinations, and conduct a periodic review of those detainees who are not approved for transfer,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at today’s briefing.
“…This just shows a renewed focus on this effort, and renewed commitment to delivering on the president’s directive.”
Sloan was a member of Obama’s transition team in 2008 on the Technology, Innovation & Government Reform Policy Working Groups. He has donated to the campaigns of Obama, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). Members of his firm donated heavily to Obama’s inaugural.
Psaki wouldn’t commit to a timeline on the closure Obama promised long ago.
“But I can tell you that, clearly, when the president of the United States talks about something in his speech, when we’ve taken follow-up steps like appointing this official to work here at the State Department, this is something we are committed to. And we will be driving, moving forward,” said the president’s former campaign spokeswoman, now at Kerry’s side.
“He’s just starting, so I don’t want to get too ahead of what he can already accomplish, you know, within — within just a few — I guess he started today, I believe. I’ll check on that for all of you,” Psaki said when asked whether Sloan have had contact with the Yemenis about transfers. “You know that the reason that we made the decision we did on Yemen was that, of course, the — its circumstances had changed on the ground from when we had put the moratorium in place to begin with. But I don’t have any updates on forward-looking action. Of course, that will be a part of his interesting portfolio moving forward.”
“Mr. Sloan and the work he’ll do, we’re very hopeful about his success in the months ahead,” she added. “…Given, you know, Mr. Sloan’s background as somebody who has been a successful litigator, has been a negotiator; he’s argued before the Supreme Court; he’s worked closely with Congress and a number of the key players here, we felt — the secretary felt and the president certainly supported our efforts to name a high-level official like this to lead the charge moving forward.”
The Pentagon has released a promotional video titled “The U.S. and Israel Relationship — Nothing Like It In the World” to mark Friday’s visit from Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
It even includes an awkward bro hug from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who once famously railed about the Israeli lobby, to his Israeli counterpart.
“Secretary Hagel hosted Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon today at the Pentagon during the minister’s first official visit to Washington since taking office earlier this spring,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement after the closed-door meeting.
“Minister Ya’alon flew to the Pentagon in an MV-22 from Marine Corps Base Quantico and Secretary Hagel greeted him at the Pentagon helo pad. In April, Secretary Hagel announced that the United States would make the V-22 available to Israel as part of an unprecedented package of advance military capabilities that will increase Israel’s qualitative military edge. At Quantico, the minister and his delegation had the opportunity to experience some of the unique capabilities of the Osprey as Israel plans to incorporate the aircraft into future military plannin,” Little continued.
“The leaders discussed the elections occurring today in Iran. They reaffirmed that the United States and Israel will continue to work together to counter threats posed by Iran and remain prepared for a range of contingencies. Secretary Hagel and Minister Ya’alon also discussed the ongoing violence in Syria and condemned the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Both noted the complexities of the situation and resolved to remain in close contact and continue to share information to support the defense of Israel.”
In a live chat on the Guardian website this morning, NSA leaker-on-the-run Edward Snowden claimed he fled because the U.S. government “immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home.”
“Openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime,” Snowden said in the chat hosted by the author of the leak article, Glenn Greenwald. “That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.”
“Let’s be clear: I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target,” Snowden continued.
“Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash. Congress hasn’t declared war on the countries – the majority of them are our allies – but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we’re not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless,” he said.
“All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”
When asked why he didn’t fly to Iceland, his preferred country for asylum, Snowden said “leaving the US was an incredible risk, as NSA employees must declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and are monitored.”
“There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that,” he said. “Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration.”
Snowden checked out of his Hong Kong hotel a week ago and hasn’t been seen since.
When asked whether he lied about his salary — Booz Allen Hamilton said he earned $122,000 in Hawaii, while Snowden told Greenwald he walked away from $200,000 a year — Snowden said he was referring to his “career high” salary. “I had to take pay cuts in the course of pursuing specific work. Booz was not the most I’ve been paid,” he said.
One questioner asked why he waited until President Obama’s term to leak the information about the surveillance programs.
“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly,” Snowden responded. “Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.”
Snowden promised “more detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are [sic] is coming.”
A Republican member of the House’s version of the Group of Eight indicated there’s still some distance to cross before they arrive at a bipartisan agreement in the lower chamber.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said he’s been working with the House immigration reform group, which includes Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), for four years.
Ideally, he said this morning on MSNBC, they “would be able to finalize a bipartisan agreement.”
“That just hasn’t happened yet. So the House is going to continue to move forward,” he said in reference to House Judiciary Committee’s plans to move ahead with standalone immigration bills.
“I’m hoping that we’ll be able to have a bipartisan proposal to bring forward to the House in relatively short order. In the meantime, however, it’s important the House do what it’s gonna do,” Diaz-Balart continued. “And, you, ultimately, hopefully, there’ll be a bill that we can conference on, that we’re — the Senate passes a bill, we’ll pass, hopefully, either a comprehensive bill or a number of different bills, and then we can go to conference.”
The Florida Republicans said they had an agreement at one point, but it was torpedoed by the Dems, not the GOP side.
“We had an agreement once. And then, unfortunately, and I think it’s coming from the Democratic leadership and not from the group that I’m negotiating with, a deal that we had already agreed on and, again, I think it’s coming from Nancy Pelosi, we had to reopen the deal,” Diaz-Balart said.
“We had a second deal what was announced to the press, where we all announced, the bipartisan group, that we had reached an agreement in principle. On a second occasion, we had to reopen the same issue that had already been reached, where we had already reached an agreement on a second time. And, again, I think the problem that we’re running into is — is Nancy Pelosi. I’m not quite sure if she wants a bill.”
He said the negotiators are working on border security, interior immigration enforcement and “a modernized visa” system.
“We’ve only had one outstanding issue, which is the health care issue. We’ve had two agreements on that issue. And both times, the folks that I’ve been negotiating with have had to back track on their agreement. That’s not coming from them; that’s coming from likely a higher pay grade,” continued Diaz-Balart.
“Can we get a bipartisan proposal? That’s where I think Nancy Pelosi has frankly become part of the problem. Then, you’re talking about the issue of can we pass anything in the House. And that’s also gonna be a very difficult issue.”
One hangup is healthcare costs, he added.
“And here’s the issue there that we’re dealing with, is should the taxpayer be stuck with the bill of the health care of the 10 million or 11 million people? Or should those folks who are going to be legalized, earn legalization, should they be responsible for their health care bill? That’s the issue we haven’t solved yet. I think once we do that, we’ll hopefully have a bipartisan proposal,” Diaz-Balart said.
“Then comes the, frankly, the second big hurdle, which is can we pass a bipartisan comprehensive bill through the House? That will be difficult, but I’m optimistic.”
China publicly congratulated “bright idealistic” NSA leaker Edward Snowden for exposing “the bleakest moment yet in the history of the Internet,” and said in the Xinhua editorial that he’s welcome in People’s Republic.
China doesn’t mention that it holds 69 bloggers behind bars, according to the latest Reporters Without Borders statistics.
“The case indicates that through outsourcing and contracting, Big Brother is breaching the fundamental rights of citizens by getting unfettered access to their most personal communications,” says Xinhua.
“As the case unfolds, there are many things to worry about. How do we make sense of the fact that the market and the state colluded in the abuse of private information via what represents the backbone of many modern day infrastructures? How do we rationalize the character of Snowden and his fellow whistleblowers? How do we understand the one-sided cyber attack accusations the U.S. has poured upon China in the past few months? To what degree have foreign users of these Internet services fallen victim to this project?”
The official government mouthpiece called the case “a rare chance to reexamine the integrity of American politicians and the management of American-dominant Internet companies, and it appears that while many of these individuals verbally attack other nations and people in the name of freedom and democracy, they ignore America’s worsening internal situation.”
“We can see, therefore, that when American politicians and businessmen make accusatory remarks, their eyes are firmly fixed on foreign countries and they turn a blind eye to their own misdeeds. This clearly calls into question the integrity of these rich, powerful and influential figures and gives the definite impression that the U.S. bases its own legitimacy not on good domestic governance but on stigmatizing foreign practices.”
Xinhua compared Snowden to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning — adding these men “can be categorized as the ‘bright feathers’ of our time, to borrow some words from the popular American movie The Shawshank Redemption.”
The editorial notably claims that Snowden, who checked out of his Hong Kong hotel a week ago, is still in Hong Kong.
“While human rights activists from developing countries (defined by Western apparatus for sure) are often blessed with a choice of hiding places, we are now seeing the dilemma of Western dissidents. For this reason China, despite the fact that it does not have a good reputation as far as Internet governance is concerned, should move boldly and grant Snowden asylum,” the piece continues.
“To further understand the likes of Snowden, let us end with a narrative by the character Red from the Shawshank Redemption as he rationalizes the escape of his friend Andy: ‘Some birds are not meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice.’”
Republicans’ version of the National Defense Authorization Act passed today, but it faces little chance of getting past President Obama.
The bill authorizes a $552.1 billion topline for “base” national defense programs, which includes $7.7 billion in mandatory defense spending and $544.4 billion in discretionary spending.
The White House warned on Tuesday that it would veto the bill — for reasons other than just defense. “H.R. 1960 assumes adoption of the House Budget Resolution framework, which would hurt our economy and require draconian cuts to middle-class priorities,” the Office of Management and budget said in the veto threat. “These cuts could result in hundreds of thousands of low-income children losing access to Head Start programs, tens of thousands of children with disabilities losing Federal funding for their special education teachers and aides, thousands of Federal agents who can’t enforce drug laws, combat violent crime or apprehend fugitives, and thousands of scientists without medical grants, which would slow research that could lead to new treatments and cures for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s, and hurt America’s economic competitiveness.”
The 315-108 vote was more bipartisan than the White House would have liked, though, with 18 Republicans and 90 Democrats voting against the appropriations bill.
“The Rules Committee provided for a robust debate of NDAA under an open process – making in order a total of 172 amendments, roughly divided between the parties. This action reflects our Majority’s commitment to enabling the House to work its will on behalf of the American people,” said Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).
“In these times of fiscal restraint, we must continue to prioritize a strong national defense, and we must make the tough choices within our defense budget to make sure we are doing all that we can within our limited resources to secure this nation,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “This bill meets that test.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), sponsor of the House bill, noted that “for the 52nd year in a row, the House has come together – Republicans and Democrats- to do our most important work; support the troops, and provide for our common defense.”
“This bill makes vital investments to repair our crumbling readiness, ensures our troops have the support and benefits they deserve and have earned, and institutes reforms designed to stamp out the incidents of sexual assault within the ranks. Every member can be proud of the work they have done here today,” he said.
McKeon also noted “the Senate Armed Services Committee also got their work done this week.”
The upper chamber finished its markup of the Senate version today. “This bipartisan bill provides for our nation’s defense and upholds our obligations to our men and women in uniform and their families,” Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said. “An important part of keeping faith with service members is addressing the plague of sexual assaults in our military, and the bill includes the strongest, most effective approach to combating sexual assault.”
Levin went to battle with other Dems this week over efforts to remove prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command. That language was eventually stripped from the bill as Levin won.
The House Intelligence Committee held its eighth hearing on the Benghazi attacks — behind closed doors, naturally.
Deputy Director of the FBI Sean Joyce, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matt Olsen, and other senior intelligence officials testified today on the status of the investigation to find and bring to justice those responsible for the attacks that killed four American citizens last September, according to the committee.
“The fact that nine months after the horrific attacks on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, there has still been no one brought to justice is frustrating and disheartening. The world is watching and terrorists are emboldened by our inability to bring those responsible to justice,” Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said.
“We must push forward even more aggressively to hold those responsible accountable and bring them to justice swiftly.”
Rogers made no reference to CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, though. House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) mused in May, after the White House release of more than 100 Benghazi talking points emails, that Morell would be meeting with Rogers’ committee.
Morell’s resignation was announced this week and he leaves the agency Aug. 9.
FBI Director Robert Mueller, testifying in an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, was asked about the progress of the investigation by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
“Is there a reason for — and can you explain to us — and this is a little longer than your usual answer, I’m sure — how it could be that we’ve got videos of them, we’ve got knowledge of who many of these people are — in some cases by name — and yet we haven’t found one of them in Libya or some other country? Isn’t that unusual to have such a cold record as far as we know today?” Issa asked.
“Yes, it is unusual to have such a cold record. As I articulated before, this is a unique situation. We’ve had embassy attacks before. We’ve had our colleagues in law enforcement and the government helping us,” Mueller responded. “There is no government to help us in Libya. We don’t have colleagues we can go to. And so, it is unique.”
“Nonetheless, we have video. We have something there that — to work with. And I can tell you that we have been working with it, and that quite obviously, individuals who may have participated, against whom we may have evidence, whether it be video or otherwise, we are pursuing,” the director added.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chariman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) has asked the State Department’s inspector general to elaborate on the “undue influence” found to have been exerted by higher-ups to interfere with investigations into department misconduct.
The final OIG report that Congress got lacked any references to the specific cases of criminal and other misconduct apparently detailed in an October 2012 OIG memorandum, Royce noted.
After the report was issued in February, Foreign Affairs Committee staff met with and asked OIG staff for specific examples of misconduct and senior-level interference. OIG staff refused to share examples with the committee, the chairman said.
“I am troubled by reports that senior State Department officials may have prevented the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) from investigating instances of administrative and criminal misconduct within the Department,” Royce wrote to Deputy Inspector General Harold Geisel. “I am likewise concerned that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) was reportedly aware of eight separate instances in which senior political appointees within the Department ‘influenced, manipulated, or simply called off’ these cases, yet it failed to disclose this information to Congress.”
Among the cases referenced in the October 2012 memorandum were allegations that a Department security official in Beirut was alleged to have sexually assaulted foreign nationals hired as embassy guards; members of the Secretary’s security detail allegedly “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries”; an “underground drug ring” may have supplied security contractors at Embassy Baghdad with drugs; and a U.S. Ambassador at a “sensitive diplomatic post” was “suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park.”
A Dec. 4 draft of that memo reportedly “watered down the language,” focusing more on the need for investigative independence, Royce noted.
“The final version of the report submitted to Congress in February 2013 was bereft of any reference to these specific cases,” the chairman wrote. On March 14, committee staffers received the briefing with scant details.
“While the Department and OIG deny any wrongdoing, the lack of detail appears to be inconsistent with the OIG’s mission to keep the Congress ‘fully and currently informed,’” Royce added.
“Therefore, I request the immediate production of both the October 23, 2012 memorandum and the draft Inspection report(s), as well as all documents and communications referring or relating to the February 2013 Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Divisions of Special Investigations, Divisions of Special Criminal Investigations, and Computer Investigations and Forensics (ISP-I-13-18). Additionally, we respectfully request a briefing from your Office at the earliest possible convenience to discuss your Office’s knowledge of this entire matter. Finally, please clarify in writing whether, and on what basis, OIG agreed to omit information from this final report pursuant to any State Department official’s request.”
Royce wants the information by June 27.
Blue Dog Democrats are asking President Obama to quit stalling and approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
Members of the fiscally conservative coalition sent a letter to Obama on Wednesday saying “the time to approve the Keystone XL project has come.”
“Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will provide a positive impact to a broad spectrum of the American economy,” wrote coalition co-chair Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Kurt Schraeder (D-Ore.). “An estimated 13,000 direct jobs will be created, with an additional 7,000 direct jobs needed to keep it operational. If the recent jobs report shows us anything, it’s that Americans are still in need of the highly-skilled, good-paying jobs that are created by a project of this magnitude.”
“The security risks we will avoid by construction of this pipeline are notable,” the Blue Dogs continued. “…Construction of this pipeline gives us the opportunity to displace a significant portion of the oil we import from these less-than-friendly nations, whose instability causes severe fluctuations in our gas prices here at home.”
“The Blue Dog Coalition agrees with the broad alliance of business, labor, and community leaders that the time for this pipeline has come. The economic impact and national security benefits indicate that this project is clearly in the national interest. We urge the Administration to move swiftly to approve the construction of this pipeline for the benefit of the entire country.”
Republicans have been hammering at Keystone every so often, usually in the context of jobs reports or weekly addresses.
“House Republicans remain focused on job creation and getting our economy back on track. We recently approved legislation to ensure the Keystone XL Pipeline – a project estimated to create thousands of jobs – is built without further delay from the Obama Administration,” Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said in response to the May unemployment report.
A Virginia Democrat made history this week by becoming the first lawmaker to deliver a speech entirely in a foreign language from the Senate floor.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), in his Spanish-language speech on the immigration bill, said it was “appropriate” to spend “a few minutes explaining the bill in Spanish, a language that has been spoken in this country since Spanish missionaries founded St. Augustine, Florida in 1565.”
“Spanish is also spoken by almost 40 million Americans who have a lot at stake in the outcome of this debate,” he added.
Kaine said it was not only necessary to debate the mammoth reform bill in English, but also in other languages that are spoken across the country.
“Let’s show this country and the world that this is not a Republican bill and it is not a Democratic bill but it is a strong bipartisan bill. It is time that we pass comprehensive immigration reform,” said Kaine. “While not perfect – I can confidently stand here today and say this bill will do more for border security, more to improve our current backlog, more to strengthen our employment verification system, and more to put measures in place to deal with the future flow of immigrants – compared to any other immigration bill in history.”
A new website at the National Archives allows people to search the archive of documents from our country’s founders. Here’s how the White House announced the patriotic news yesterday:
After a steady round of Twitter drubbing last night, this morning Ben, George, John A., Tom, Alexander and James have their gender back:
“Now today’s best minds will have the chance to contrast and compare the Founders’ words and ideas through the Internet—a communications medium that none of the Founders could foresee—though all would acknowledge it as a democratizing force. The words of the Founders belong online, where people across the country and around the world can freely read and wonder at their wisdom,” writes Keith Donohue, communications director for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission at the National Archives.
Though noting that his determination to take action is on the tardy side, congressional Republicans said they’re ready to work with the White House on helping Syrian civilians in the fight versus Bashar al-Assad.
“Nearly two years ago, President Obama called for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to go. A year later, the president laid down a clear red line, threatening serious consequences if Assad used or transferred chemical weapons. For months we’ve seen reports of such use, and today the White House finally confirmed it. It’s increasingly clear the president does not have a coherent plan to manage this growing strategic catastrophe,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said.
“Despite the president’s rhetoric and red lines, President Assad’s brutal assault on his own people and the Syrian conflict has only become more violent. I have heard loudly and clearly from our closest partners in the region who are desperate for American leadership. They see the Syrian crisis spinning out of control, empowering Iran, and fueling instability in a critical region,” he continued.
“My colleagues and I stand ready to work with the president. I call on President Obama to explain to the Congress and the American people his plan to bring this conflict to an end in a manner that protects the interests of the United States and our allies.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) encouraged the administration “to begin, in earnest, arming the Free Syrian Army.”
“At this moment, they are struggling against Iranian-backed terrorists and a despotic regime that has attacked its own people with chemical weapons,” Royce said. “I urge the president to make efforts to stem the flow of refugees into neighboring countries.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said he’s “pleased that President Obama’s administration has joined the growing international chorus declaring that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in Syria, crossing the red line drawn by the president last August.”
“As I called for in a USA Today oped earlier this week, the United States should assist the Turks and our Arab League partners to create safe zones in Syria from which the U.S. and our allies can train, arm, and equip vetted opposition forces,” Rogers added.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) noted “red lines are meaningless unless they are backed by action.”
“Tonight, representatives of the National Security Council stated, ‘The President has made the decision to support Syrian opposition. That includes military support.’ I expect to see more details in the coming days from the White House and the Department of Defense,” McKeon said. “I am, however, deeply concerned about our ability to honor and uphold red lines. Our military readiness and our ability to respond is degraded today.”
The chairman referenced units already deeply affected by cuts and those in Congress seeking even more military cutbacks in the defense reauthorization bill.
“To my friends who think there is no risk to ever deeper cuts, I ask you to tell that to the airman and the sailor who may well face down Syrian missiles in the coming weeks. To my friends who are contemplating further cuts when they vote tomorrow, consider that you may be denying that warfighter the hour of training or the piece of hardware that means the difference between life and death. None of us in comfortable putting them into harm’s way at this time, or in that place, but that does not mean they may not have to go. And that does not mean we shouldn’t give them all they need.”
Two days after former President Bill Clinton warned President Obama that he’d look like a “total wuss” if he based his foreign policy decisions on polls, the White House declared that red line had been crossed on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“Our intelligence community now has a high confidence assessment that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale by the Assad regime in Syria,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in a statement.
“The President has said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has. Our decision making has already been guided by the April intelligence assessment and by the regime’s escalation of horrific violence against its citizens.”
However, on a subsequent call with reporters, Rhodes was vague about what action might be taken and even said “we believe Bashar Assad can be a part of the future of Syria” — hoping for a negotiated political settlement despite his use of sarin on his people.
Clinton said at the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Manhattan on Tuesday night that he didn’t “mean that a leader should go out of his way or her way to do the unpopular thing,” according to Politico, who reported on the closed-press event. “I simply mean when people are telling you ‘no’ in these situations, very often what they’re doing is flashing a giant yellow light and saying, ‘For God’s sakes, be careful, tell us what you’re doing, think this through, be careful.”
“The president makes a decision about the implementation of national security options based on our national security interests, not on, you know, what might satisfy critics at any given moment about a policy,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney shot back at the daily briefing today.
Rhodes said “the intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete.”
D.C.’s delegate to Congress today asked the National Park Service to ban smoking on all NPS parks, sites and trails in the District.
In her request, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) cited Department of Interior Director Order #50D that provides superintendents with the authority to ban smoking in NPS units.
“This issue was brought to my attention by several constituents who have expressed concerns about smoking in NPS parks in D.C. I agree with their concern that residents and visitors should be able to enjoy our parks free of health risks, including second-hand smoke, which contributes to asthma, bronchitis, cancer and other severe health conditions. One should not go to an NPS park to enjoy the outdoors and find smoke instead of fresh air. Freedom from second-hand smoke in the outdoors is particularly important in big cities like D.C., where pollution and traffic congestion already contribute to health conditions similar to those caused by second-hand smoke,” Norton wrote to NPS Regional Director Steve Whitesell.
Some residents have been lobbying the D.C. City Council to ban smoking in the city’s parks that are within 25 feet of a playground. The majority of parks in the district, though, are managed by NPS and not the council.
“Implementing this policy in our parks here is particularly important at a time when the D.C. population is growing by over 1,000 residents per month and when many of these residents are young parents with children. The well documented health risks associated with second-hand smoke converge with D.C.’s unfortunate number of smoking-related health risks and deaths. Our city has long benefited from our many NPS parks, and my constituents reap the benefits of the nature that NPS parks provide,” Norton continued, asking for an “early response” to her request.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) slammed FBI Director Robert Mueller for not sweeping through Boston mosques after receiving tips about the radicalization of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, while the bureau’s chief told the House Judiciary Committee that his agency did visit the Chechens’ mosque for “outreach.”
Mueller appeared before the committee for a regular oversight hearing, but members bombarded him with questions ranging from operation PRISM to IRS targeting of conservative groups and government snooping on reporters.
“You said the FBI ‘did an excellent job,’ ‘did a thorough job,’ ‘don’t know what else we could have done.’ And according to the Russians, there’s a great deal more that could have been done,” Gohmert said.
“The FBI never canvassed Boston mosques until four days after the April 15th attacks. If the Russians tell you that someone has been radicalized and you go check and see the mosques that they went to, then you get the articles of incorporation, as I have, for the group that created the Boston mosques where these Tsarnaevs attended and you find out the name al-Amoudi, which you’ll remember, because while you were FBI director this man, who was so helpful to the Clinton administration with so many big things, he gets arrested at Dulles airport by the FBI and he’s now doing over 20 years for supporting terrorism,” the congressman said in reference to Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, the founder of the American Muslim Council who is serving a 23-year sentence on financial and conspiracy charges.
“This is the guy that started the mosques where your Tsarnaevs were attending, and you didn’t even bother to go check about the mosque? And then when you have the pictures, why did no one go to the mosque and say, ‘Who are these guys? They attend — may attend here?’” Gohmert continued. “Why — why was that not done since such a ‘thorough’ job was done?”
“Your facts are not altogether –” Mueller began before Gohmert interjected, “Sir, if you’re gonna call me a liar you need to point out specifically where any facts are wrong.”
“We went to the mosque,” Mueller said. “Prior to Boston happening we were in that mosque talking to imams several months beforehand as part of our outreach efforts.”
“So were you aware that those mosques were started by al-Amoudi?”
“I’ve answered the question, sir,” the FBI director tersely responded.
“You didn’t answer the question, were you aware they were started by al-Amoudi?” Gohmert pressed.
“No,” Mueller replied.
Democrats are in an internal spat over the effort to take sexual assault prosecutions and appeals out of the chain of military command.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), along with Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Angus King (I-Maine), offered an amendment to the defense reauthorization bill to strike Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) and keep sexual assaults under the purview of military justice.
It passed in committee 17-9.
The Levin amendment requires an independent review by the next higher level of the chain of command in those cases when a commander decides not to prosecute a sexual assault allegation.
“I do not support removing the authority of commanders to prosecute sexual assault cases and putting that decision in the hands of military lawyers outside of the chain of command, as the Personnel Subcommittee provision would do. I believe that doing so would weaken our response to sexual assault and actually make it less likely that sexual assaults would be prosecuted,” Levin said. “The provision in question would also unwisely remove the power of the commander to prosecute other kinds of serious crime, including allegations ranging from homicide to barracks larceny.”
“Removing prosecution decisions from the chain of command would likely weaken our response to sexual assault by taking the responsibility for prosecution away from military commanders – who are actually more likely to prosecute – and instead transferring the responsibility to military lawyers – who are less likely to do so,” the chairman added. “…Removing disciplinary authority to prosecute an offense from commanders would also take away an important tool that they need to change a culture that surely needs change.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), speaking on MSNBC, called it “a bad day for the opportunity that we have to finally get things right here.”
“You know what Carl Levin and his friends did, it’s very disappointing. He’s my friend but I have to tell you, what they did today is embrace the status quo instead of embracing the victims and using this as an opportunity to bring needed change. They kept the commanders in charge. The commander not only decides whether there will be a prosecution, the commander also decides when and where the court martial will be if it goes forward. And they even pick the jury,” Boxer said.
“This is a nightmare, and it has to change, and I predict we’re going to have a real donnybrook on the Senate floor, because we’re not going to let this go by easily, gently into the night.”
Boxer said she, Gillibrand, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) will revive the language on the full Senate floor outside of committee.
“My fear is that passing the Chairman’s amendment will look to victims as though we are simply tinkering with the process. The system will essentially remain a black box for them,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.
Gillibrand said she was “deeply disappointed the voices of the victims of sexual assault have been drowned out by the military leaders who have failed to combat this crisis.”
“While, in my view, we did not take all the steps required to solve the problem, there is no doubt we have taken several significant steps forward with the current version of the bill. I will continue to fight to strengthen this bill by offering the Military Justice Improvement Act as an amendment when the Defense bill is on the full Senate floor for a vote,” she said. “Our advocacy on this issue to remove the sole decision making of the chain of command in serious crimes has only just begun.”
Gillibrand’s proposal is opposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“I don’t think you can fix the problem or have accountability within the structure of the military without the command involved in that,” Hagel told the Senate Budget Committee.
Levin said that his language, though, expresses “the sense of Congress that commanding officers are responsible for establishing a command climate in which a victim can report criminal activity, including sexual assault, without fear of retaliation, and should be relieved of command if they fail to do so.”
“This is not an issue on which there is division between those who advocate strong action to address sexual assault in the military and those who don’t,” he said. “…The message we must send to our military is that it has no more important mission today than purging the plague of sexual assault from the ranks, and that we are calling on them and counting on them to win this battle. If we give them the tools they need, they can and will win it.”
A senior Democrat wants to extend Title IX reporting requirements on female athletic opportunities to elementary and high schools as well as colleges.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced an amendment that passed in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s markup of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) “as part of a major U.S. Senate education overhaul,” according to Murray’s office.
“Forty years ago, Congress passed Title IX and paved the way for women to get involved in athletics at the college level, but we still don’t do enough to ensure that girls of all ages have equal opportunities to get involved in sports,” said Murray. “We know that girls who play sports live healthier lives and succeed in the classroom and their careers, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t have the chance to get involved with sports at an early age.”
Colleges and universities are required to report information on opportunities for women to participate in athletic programs. There aren’t any federal requirements for grades kindergarten through high school to do the same.
“Despite the growth of female athletic participation since Title IX was enacted forty years ago, schools are providing 1.3 million fewer chances for girls to play sports in high school as compared to boys. Federal law requires colleges to make gender equity in sports information publicly available each year, but elementary and secondary schools are not required to report this data, making it hard to ensure fairness at the elementary and secondary school levels,” Murray’s office said in a fact sheet on the legislation.
“At the same time, we know that access to sports can have a significant positive impact on girls. Research shows girls who had opportunities to play sports have a lower risk of obesity later in life, lower rates of pregnancy, lower incidence of depression, and more positive body image compared to non-athletes. Additionally, young women who play sports are more likely to graduate from high school, have higher grades, and score higher on standardized tests than non-athletes.”
The deputy director of the CIA is leaving the agency and being replaced by a White House lawyer who has never worked at the agency.
“As much as I would selfishly like to keep Michael right where he is for as long as possible, he has decided to retire to spend more time with his family and to pursue other professional opportunities,” CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement announcing Michael Morell’s departure. “In many respects, Michael has come to personify the strengths and qualities of this great organization, and it is difficult for me to imagine CIA without Michael’s exceptionally sharp mind, tremendous energy, and absolute dedication to mission. But I am comforted by the fact that Michael will be able to spend more time with his wonderful family.”
Morell has been at the CIA since 1980 and worked his way up the ranks. He was passed over twice by President Obama for the top job despite running the agency for two gap periods between Obama’s three CIA directors.
Brennan said he was “extremely pleased” that Deputy Assistant to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council Avril Haines will take Morell’s place.
The switch seems sudden because Obama just nominated Haines to another post in mid-April, when he named her to be the next legal adviser to the State Department. Before her White House job, Haines was the State Department’s assistant legal adviser for treaty affairs.
“She has published in the area of private international law and the law of war, has taught classes as an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University Law School, and has represented the United States in international negotiations at the Hague Conference, the United Nations, and elsewhere,” Brennan said. She hasn’t served at the CIA.
Morell said his last day will be Aug. 9.
“Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the ‘real reason.’ But when I say that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that,” he said in a statement.
“…From being the PDB briefer at the side of President Bush on that horrific day in September 2001 to being at President Obama’s side as the United States brought Bin Ladin to justice in May 2011—and all the ups and downs in between—few Americans have been as privileged as I have been to work at, and to represent, such an extraordinary organization.”
Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton emerged from a closed-door National Security Agency briefing this morning still skeptical about the broad use of surveillance techniques described to lawmakers.
“The limited collection and use of data are authorized by the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and I supported both of those laws because they establish constraints. However, the National Security Agency violated the spirit of the law when it started collecting data from everyone in the country just because technology now makes that possible,” Barton said.
Barton said that during the briefing, which was called in reaction to the leak scandal, “representatives from the NSA went to great lengths to explain that they are only going after terrorists and they are very conscientious in exercising their authority – and I believe them.”
“They have foiled terror plots by tracking their communications,” the congressman added.
“However, in America, you are considered innocent until proven guilty. You don’t target everyone and violate their 4th Amendment rights just because of a handful of threats,” Barton continued. “But that is exactly what is happening at the NSA, at the IRS, at the Justice Department and we are just supposed to accept it. Well, it is wrong and it needs to stop now.”
“To fix this, Congress needs to focus on properly balancing national security and the protection of people’s Constitutional rights.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is continuing his advocacy for punishment of the reporters involved in publishing the stories about NSA surveillance programs.
King told CNN yesterday that Edward Snowden, the contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton who leaked the information to the Guardian and Washington Post, is “a defector or traitor — I guess take your pick.”
“What he’s done is incredible damage to our country. He’s going to put American lives at risk. I don’t know how he can live with himself. A traitor is as good as a term as any. I think he’s violated the Espionage Act. In my mind, yes, that would make him a traitor, yes,” he said.
The former Homeland Security Committee chairman said the “general” harm from the leaks “is that al-Qaeda and its allies now know …what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
“They were not aware of all the details that are out there, and they monitor everything we do on a day to day basis. They were not aware — or could not have been aware of the number of details that have come out, and that to me is certainly putting American lives at risk by giving the enemy such detail about what we are doing that enables them to adjust their tactics and strategies, and that is very damaging to America,” he said.
Snowden’s whereabouts are unknown since he checked out of a Hong Kong hotel this week.
King said if the reporters involved “willing knew that this was classified information” they should be subjected to punishment.
“I know the issue of leaks, I think something on this magnitude, there is an obligation both legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something, which would so severely compromise national security. As a practical matter, I guess there have been in the past several years, a number of reporters who have been prosecuted. So the answer is yes,” he said.
King said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans, should say “we’re not collecting information on individuals. We’re collecting information on phone numbers. I realize that’s a technicality.”
“This has already been discussed in the classified setting,” he said. “When you’re asked something in public about something so classified and so sensitive, it really put the director in an unwinnable position.”
Fresh off the Internal Revenue Service’s confession that it targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, Congress is now looking into a March 2011 IRS search and seizure of as many as 60 million medical records from a California health care provider.
House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders sent a letter to IRS Acting Administrator Daniel Werfel expressing concern that Americans’ health records will be protected as the IRS moves into its ObamaCare role.
Chair emeritus Joe Barton (R-Texas), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations and Health Subcommittees Michael Burgess (R-Texas), and full committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wrote asked Werfel to outline the IRS’ policies and procedures for requesting and examining protected healthcare information, and keeping it private.
“The Committee on Energy and Commerce is investigating allegations that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), in the course of executing a search warrant at a California health care provider’s corporate headquarters in March 2011, improperly seized the personal medical records of millions of American citizens in possible violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” they wrote.
The unnamed health care provider is now suing the IRS and 15 unnamed agents in California Superior Court alleging that the agents stole more than 60 million medical records from more than 10 million American patients during a search conducted March 11, 2011, the lawmakers noted.
“The warrant authorizing that search was apparently limited to the financial records of a former employee of the company and in no way authorized the sweeping confiscation of the personal medical records of millions of Americans who had no connection to the initial IRS investigation,” the letter continues.
“In light of these allegations and in anticipation of the IRS’s increased role in implementing health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we are writing to request information regarding your agency’s ability to both protect the confidential medical information of millions of Americans and respect the safeguards imposed by HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act].”
According to news reports, the lawsuit alleges that the medical records included “information on psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual and drug treatment, and other sensitive medical treatment data.”
Committee leaders requested that Werfel respond by June 25.
Gun-control advocates will double-team the Hill next week as families of victims in last week’s Santa Monica College shooting join Newtown families for a meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The Santa Monica gunman who killed five, John Zawahiri, was kicked out of a continuation high school in 2006 for “disturbing behaviors” centering “around his discussion of weapons and violence,” the Los Angeles Times reported today. Police officials said the 23-year-old carried an AR-15 and .44 revolver and had 40 magazines packed with 30 rounds each strapped to his body and in a bag he was carrying.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) laughed talking to reporters yesterday on the Hill when asked if there’s “a snowball’s chance” of gun-control being successfully revived in the House.
“I’m very doubtful what with the House leadership has any intention of bringing a bill to the floor. I think that’s unfortunate. I think background checks — 85 to 90 percent of Americans believe that having a background check for somebody to purchase a weapon makes common sense. The NRA supported it 10 years ago and, opposes it now. I don’t know what their rationalization is. I’m sure they have one,” Hoyer said.
When asked about the meeting with victims’ families, Hoyer said he believes Boehner is “an empathetic person.”
“I mean I think that you know he’s not a hard-hearted person. I think these folks have sustained a loss, they want to meet with the Speaker and I think it shows respect for them that he will listen to them. But I don’t know that they will move him to action,” Hoyer said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said recently that he wants to revive gun control in the upper chamber.
“Every single time something like this happens, I think this does give us wind at our back,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said on MSNBC after the Santa Monica shooting.
“Whether it’s with staunch opponents or senators on the fence, they can be powerfully persuasive, and show that this bill is very much alive and well,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on the visit by victims’ families. “We’re not standing down. The bill will be brought back. The majority leader has promised that it will be. And I think we’ll have another vote before the end of the year.”
Hoyer said he presumed the Republican appointed to temporarily fill the seat of late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, will support gun control.
“Which means that Senator Reed still needs to get five additional votes. I don’t know whether he can do that, I hope he can. I commend him for bringing it back up and, I think it makes sense,” he added. “And I would hope we would move it here, but I don’t see any indication, Republican leadership being that Mr. Boehner or, Mr. Cantor or Mr. Goodlatte — I guess that this committee would be in each committee has any intention of doing so. So we’ll see.”
Appreciate @govchristie‘s thoughtful choice for senator. Gabby and I are hopeful we can work with Sen Chiesa to expand background checks.
— Mark Kelly (@ShuttleCDRKelly) June 6, 2013
As the Obama administration responds to criticism of Guantanamo Bay with fervent vows to close the prison facility in Cuba, the Pentagon announced charges against one of the high-value detainees held there.
Military commissions have been ongoing yet are still very much in the pretrial hearing stage for professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, believed to have masterminded the USS Cole attack.
This week the Defense Department announced that Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, an Iraqi national held by the U.S. since 2006, will face perfidy charges — an offense in which those who are the targets of attack are killed, injured, or captured after the attackers have “invit[ed] the confidence or belief… that [the attackers] were entitled to… protection under the laws of war.”
Abd al Hadi, as a senior member of al-Qaeda, is charged in a series of attacks in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2004.
The government charges that he had joined al-Qaeda by 1996, “that, in furtherance of the group’s hostile and terrorist aims, he served as a high-ranking leader on various senior councils that set al Qaeda’s agenda and policies; that he was a significant al Qaeda liaison to the Taliban, to al Qaeda in Iraq, and to other allied groups; that Abd al Hadi directed his fighters to kill all coalition soldiers encountered during their attacks, thereby denying quarter to potential captive or wounded coalition soldiers.”
“Following his tenure as commander of al Qaeda’s insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the charges allege that Abd al Hadi continued his liaison role with al Qaeda in Iraq and was ultimately assigned by Usama bin Laden to travel to Iraq to assume a position among the leadership of al Qaeda’s insurgency there,” the Pentagon said.
Abd al Hadi faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison.
The convening authority will now weigh the charges to determine if they’ll be referred to a military commission.
The announcement came a day before the White House threatened to veto the House version of the defense reauthorization bill because, in part, because provisions within “would continue unwise funding restrictions that would prohibit the construction or modification of a detention facility in the United States to house Guantanamo detainees, and would constrain our ability to transfer Guantanamo detainees, including those who have already been designated for transfer to other countries.”
“Operating the facility at Guantanamo weakens our national security by wasting resources, damaging our relationships with key allies, and reinforcing propaganda used by al-Qaeda to attack the United States and our values,” OMB said.
The “tell us more” tweet of the evening from South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan, a member of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees:
— Rep. Jeff Duncan (@RepJeffDuncan) June 11, 2013
He hasn’t elaborated yet.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a senior member of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, said today she’ll introduce legislation to limit the use of civilian contractors in gathering intelligence.
“The disclosure of leaked and highly sensitive classified information to the Washington Post and the Guardian raises several very important and disturbing issues. How is possible that a twenty-something high-school dropout and part-time security guard can be hired by the CIA and the NSA and given, or able to gain, access to some of the government’s most sensitive and secret information?” Jackson Lee said.
“Obviously, something went very wrong in the conduct of this individual’s security clearance background investigation, which is troubling enough in itself but particularly alarming given that more than 3 million persons hold similar top secret security clearances.”
Edward Snowden, like more than 483,000 other contractors, had top secret clearance. Another 582,000 contractors have confidential or secret clearance, according to a 2012 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The remainder of clearances in the number Jackson Lee cites belong to government employees and others, such as politicians or staff.
“Congress must hold oversight hearings to identify and repair deficiencies in the security clearance system. At the same time, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community should be review its internal processes and procedures to assess vulnerabilities in the current system, which by the way relies too much on the use of outside contractors in intelligence gathering,” Jackson Lee said. “That is why I am offering an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 requiring the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the use of private contractors to conduct intelligence gathering and analysis activities.”
About 2,000 private companies do top-secret work for the U.S. government, spread out among contracts with 45 agencies.
Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden was employed for less than three months, reaped about $1.3 billion in revenue from intelligence contracts last year.
UPDATE: Jackson Lee said her amendment specifically calls for reducing by 25 percent the number of DoD contractors with top-secret security clearances.
Today, contractor Booz Allen Hamilton didn’t issue a new statement on Edward Snowden but updated the old one to reflect two things: his firing and his real salary. (Underlines done by Booz Allen)
Booz Allen can confirm that Edward Snowden, 29, was an employee of our firm for less than 3 months, assigned to a team in Hawaii. Snowden, who had a salary at the rate of $122,000, was terminated June 10, 2013 for violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy. News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm. We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.
That’s a pretty big difference from what he told Guardian reporters in Hong Kong:
He has had “a very comfortable life” that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”
The company fired Snowden one day after he went public as the source of the leaks about the NSA phone surveillance and operation PRISM.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper used to be an executive at McLean, Va.-based Booz Allen.
There aren’t many initiatives in the Senate that would bring Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) together, but that’s just what the NSA surveillance scandal has done.
Lee and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who last week charged the Obama administration with “clearly” not following the law, today introduced a bill co-sponsored by Sens. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Franken to end to the “secret law” governing controversial government surveillance programs.
This bill would require the attorney general to declassify significant Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions, allowing Americans to know how broad of a legal authority the government is claiming to spy on Americans under the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, according to Merkley’s office.
“There is plenty of room to have this debate without compromising our surveillance sources or methods or tipping our hand to our enemies,” Merkley said. “We can’t have a serious debate about how much surveillance of Americans’ communications should be permitted without ending secret law.”
“This bipartisan amendment establishes a cautious and reasonable process for declassification consistent with the rule of law,” Lee said. “It will help ensure that the government makes sensitive decisions related to surveillance by applying legal standards that are known to the public. Particularly where our civil liberties are at stake, we must demand no less of our government.”
“Of course, ensuring Americans’ safety is one of our government’s most important responsibilities, but there is a careful balance between protecting Americans and honoring the Fourth Amendment,” Heller said. “This legislation is a measured approach that will bring more transparency to the FISA court and respect the American people’s right to know how and when the government may be accessing their personal information.”
It is impossible for the American people to have an informed public debate about laws that are interpreted, enforced, and adjudicated in complete secrecy,” Wyden said. “When talking about the laws governing Intelligence operations, the process has little to no transparency. Declassifying FISA Court opinions in a form that does not put sources and methods at risk will give the American people insight into what government officials believe the law allows them to do.”
Merkley offered the bill last Congress as an amendment to FISA reauthorization. It got 37 votes.
That amendment would have covered declassification of rulings related to the provisions used to authorize the controversial Verizon telephone records metadata collection and the PRISM program collecting information from tech companies, both of which were disclosed last week, Merkley’s office said.