Belmont Club

Dark Planet

The debate over public policy is often distorted by disinformation.   The true facts are hidden or selectively emphasized in order to shape a narrative. One of the many examples is the Iran nuclear deal.  Before you declare yourself for or against it, ask  yourself: what does the public know about it?  That question turns out to be surprisingly hard to answer.

The Wall Street Journal notes that much of what the deal is about is hidden in Closed Covenants.  “The Obama Administration insists there’s nothing secret about the Iran nuclear deal, even as it claims not to have read two crucial side deals Tehran has struck with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “Confidential agreements, but no secrets” is the way top U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman describes the deals, which are thought to concern the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs.”

Try parsing that distinction. And while you’re at it, consider that there might be additional separate agreements we haven’t heard about. We raise the possibility after speaking with Rep. Mike Pompeo, the Kansas Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, and who more-or-less stumbled on the two side deals when the deputy director of the IAEA disclosed their existence to him and Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) in a meeting in Vienna.

“When you ask [the Administration] if there are other [side deals], you don’t get a yes or no answer,” Mr. Pompeo tells us. The Congressman adds that he and his colleagues have been frustrated by the Administration’s failure to answer their questions even in classified sessions. What does Mr. Pompeo know about the two side deals the Administration does acknowledge? “Nearly nothing,” he says, “and we’ve been briefed four times.”

To the infamous phrase “fake but accurate”, used to describe manufactured news  supposed to prove a “wider truth” has been added “definite but unknown”, otherwise known as “you have to pass it to find out what’s in it”.  Then there’s “unclassified but secret”. Tim Mak of the Daily Beast explains how that works with regard to the Iran deal. (emphasis mine)

The Obama administration delivered 18 documents to Congress on July 19, in accordance with legislation requiring a congressional review of the nuclear deal. Only one of these documents is classified, while the remaining 17 are unclassified. …

Most staffers were hesitant to discuss—let alone share—a number of these documents, even though they’re not classified, because they require security clearances to view. By mixing a classified document with unclassified documents, critics of this arrangement contend, important facts are being kept from the public just as Congress is deciding whether to support or oppose the Iran deal. …

“Many in Congress view the administration’s tactic of co-mingling unclassified documents with classified documents and requiring congressional staffers to have secret clearances just to view certain unclassified documents as an attempt by the administration to limit open debate,” a second senior Republican congressional staffer said.

Similar tactics are being employed to limit the amount of information available in the case of the Planned Parenthood scandal. The abortion organization has obtained an injunction from a California judge prohibiting the release of videos where its employees describe what they do. “StemExpress says the video was recorded illegally; California law prohibits recording “confidential communication” without all parties’ consent. The company filed a lawsuit Monday accusing CMP of invasion of privacy and receiving stolen property, among other claims. It then sought a temporary restraining order, fearing CMP was about to release clips of its meeting with StemExpress.”  The judge has performed the civilian equivalent of classifying the videos.

In the case of the controversy surrounding the propriety of Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server to conduct official business, secrecy is used both as sword and shield. The discovery of four emails containing what government investigators believe is classified information has raised the possibility that Hillary may have mishandled even more sensitive information and set off a hunt to find the rest of them. Hillary denies using her private account for any secret correspondence.

To resolve the problem, someone tried to find the rest, which turns out to be problematic because they are on a secure thumb drive held by Clinton’s private attorney.

Hillary Clinton’s private lawyer has a thumb drive containing classified information from as many as five U.S. intelligence agencies — but the State Department told POLITICO the law firm is taking “appropriate measures” to secure the files.

The agency declined to detail steps made to protect the sensitive information in attorney David Kendall’s possession, but the issue is raising concern among Republicans on Capitol Hill who’ve criticized Clinton’s handling of the email controversy. The thumb drive has copies of emails Clinton kept on a private server while she served as secretary of state, a trove now known to contain classified documents. …

The agency told POLITICO that Clinton “does have counsel with clearance.” Kendall, a prominent Williams & Connolly attorney who defended former CIA director David Petraeus against charges of mishandling classified information, declined to comment.

Now it’s where the public can’t get at it. All the completely “unclassified” information that went through Hillary’s server has now been transformed into something altogether different. The classification vs declassification business has become so busy that sometimes the players get into head-on collisions. Planned Parenthood for example, had access to the mysterious Hillary email account.

Emails released Friday by the State Department include one that a Planned Parenthood executive sent to then-Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at her private email address, [email protected]

Laurie Rubiner, the vice president of public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, emailed Clinton on July 31, 2009, asking her to discuss abortion during a state trip to Kenya.

“Kenya has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in Africa — it is illegal unless a woman’s life is at risk and criminalizes both the woman and the provider,” wrote Rubiner, who, before working at Planned Parenthood, served as legislative director on Clinton’s senate staff.

“I went to Kenya last month to work with the coalition that has formed to strategize against the Constitutional amendment and to work toward a less restrictive abortion law,” Rubiner continued in her note to Clinton. “I also visited several of our clinics and providers in Nairobi and in nearby villages where Planned Parenthood has programs to train providers in post abortion care.”…

“I know it is asking a lot, but if there is any way that you could draw attention to this issue when you are in Kenya, you would be even more of my personal hero than you already are,” she said.

Small world, ain’t it? But even though mere mortals are unable to look past the Cone of Silence  it is possible to infer a certain amount from the visible effects on other political players.

One of the methods astronomers used to detect dark objects too faint to be observed directly by telescope was to measure the perturbation of visible objects. In the late 20th century, some authors posited the existence of an unknown planet called Nibiru by the ancient Babylonians, that is lurking behind the sun which might someday collide with earth.

Astronomers could find no gravitational trace of Nibiru and have concluded it does not exist.  But the same cannot be said about the hidden emails. The news cycle was recently shaken by the surprise announcement that vice president Joe Biden might run for president. Time, quoting Maureen Dowd, says  attributes the development to the dying request of his son. “Vice President Joe Biden’s late son Beau told his father to run for president before he died, according to a report.”

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in her weekend column entitled “Joe Biden in 2016: What Would Beau Do?,” describes, in great detail, a conversation that Beau had with his father before dying, urging his father to run for president rather than letting the office fall to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Joseph “Beau” Biden III died of brain cancer at the end of May. Dowd’s source for the anecdote is not clear from the column.

ABC News confirms that the”Vice President Joe Biden’s political operation has entered a more active phase in recent days, with several moves being contemplated to clear the way for him to run for president should he choose to do so.” The New York Times adds, “Mr. Biden’s advisers have started to reach out to Democratic leaders and donors who have not yet committed to Mrs. Clinton or who have grown concerned about what they see as her increasingly visible vulnerabilities as a candidate.”

It looks like there might be a planet hidden in those emails after all.  From the gyrations of the celestial sphere one can reasonably infer that “someone” has concluded that Nibiru is headed at warp speed on a collision course for the planet Hillary. The way the Washington Post puts it is “Hillary Rodham Clinton spent the weekend in Iowa confronting an enthusiasm gap”, i.e. bracing for impact.

One can also use the same method of gravitational effect to deduce that the president’s Iran deal might not be all its cracked up to be. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times notes that if the president faces opposition from Congress he could simply ignore it.

If Congress votes to reject the deal, Obama could still comply with some parts of it.

This scenario was suggested by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in a recent column for Politico. Satloff noted that Congress can’t actually cancel the nuclear deal; it can merely prohibit the president from lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran that were imposed by legislation.

So if Congress votes no and overrides the veto that Obama has promised, the president could still implement some parts of the deal, Satloff wrote. Obama could lift some U.S. sanctions (those imposed by executive action, not legislation). He could even direct the Treasury Department to soft-pedal sanctions enforcement, much as he has directed the Justice Department to defer enforcement of some immigration laws.

This provides a certain amount of indirect information about the unclassified but confidential documents locked in the in camara Congressional strongboxes or squirreled away in the United Nations vaults.  Something in those “side deals” — or shall we call them side bets? — is important.  So important the deal must go through.

One important lesson from examining the entire massive secrecy effort and its ultimate failure to completely suppress perturbations is that the insiders are not invincible. Like battleships, Washington insiders are tough, but not unsinkable. They can lose; and it is to protect against this eventuality that they are so economical with the truth.   Political parties are ultimately factions struggling to survive, and against vicious competition, survival is not guaranteed. If Joe Biden can be regarded as the 3rd term of Barack Obama in the same sense that Hillary represents Bill’s return to the White House, there is something desperately pathetic about it, as captured in the observation that between the three of them: Hilary, Joe and Bernie — they will be collectively 217 years old on Election Day.

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