According to a recent Congressional Research Service report (via Secrecy News), the Obama administration’s working policy is that US officials can disclose classified information (to reporters, and others) so long as it suits the needs of the government.
The CRS report, written by legislative attorney Jennifer K. Elsea, continues: “Nothing in the order provides explicit authority to release classified information that exists apart from the authority to declassify, but it is possible that such discretionary authority is recognized to release information outside the community of authorized holders without formally declassifying it.” Indeed, this appears to be an accurate characterization of actual practice.
In any case, “there is little to stop agency heads and other high-ranking officials from releasing classified information to persons without a security clearance when it is seen as suiting government needs.” Again, an accurate description– particularly since “the Attorney General has prosecutorial discretion to choose which leaks to prosecute.”
If ever there were a clearer indication that the classification process is not about protecting the safety of Americans, but rather about protecting the government from unwelcome facts…
You see, it’s not the unauthorized leaks – which are apparently illegal – that Obama doesn’t like. It’s when those leaks make his administration look bad, or negligent, or criminal.
The most relevant example is the practice of constantly bragging about killing “terrorists” in the drone war, while turning around and claiming they can’t be subject to any public scrutiny on the technically classified program.
In an environment of successive whistleblowers, the Obama administration has driven the conduct of the Executive Branch underground. Consider that the government spent more than $11 billion dollars in 2011 just on keeping secrets from the American public (compared with $4.7 billion in 2001).
There is a radical trend towards over-classification. Document reviews conducted by Information Security Oversight Office in 2009 discovered violations of classification rules in 65% of the documents examined, with several agencies posting error rates of more than 90%. According to the ISOO, the government made a record 76,795,945 classification decisions in 2010, an increase of more than 40% from 2009.
“To me it illustrates the most important problem — namely that we are classifying far too much information,” Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News told the New York Times recently. “The credibility of the classification system is collapsing under the weight of bogus secrets.”
The Israel lobby’s smear campaign against Chuck Hagel is an absoluteoutrage: they are hurling every mudball they can get their hands on at him, and of course the main charge is “anti-Semitism” – because he wont’ kowtow to the Lobby and proudly declares that, while he supports Israel, “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”
To ordinary Americans, of course, such a sentiment is called patriotism: to the Lobby, it’s high treason. Welcome to Bizarro World!
I was on Twitter last night, and I was sickened to see that the “buzz” is that because the evil Washington Post has come out editorially against Hagel, his nomination is supposedly doomed. I thought to myself: Really? Is the editorial page editor of the WaPo, a notorious neocon, really going to dictate the future of American foreign policy? Do these people really have that kind of power – or do we, the people, have the power?
I decided to put this question to the test. So I posted a White House petition on the White House petition web site supporting Hagel’s nomination and urging the administration to fight for him.
We have until January 18, 2013, to get 25,000 signatures – on which occasion the White House will have to respond in some manner.
This is important. If the War Party gets away with this vicious campaign of character assassination, then they can get away with anything. The American people want out of Afghanistan, just like they want out of Iraq – and they overwhelmingly oppose war with Iran, which the War Party is pushing like hell. Hagel opposes their war plans: he has opposed the murderous sanctions on Iran, and has advocated diplomacy over military action. He has consistently and bravely stood up to the Israel lobby, and refused to sign on to their numerous “open letters” urging the administration to kowtow to Tel Aviv.
No, the Washington Post editorial board doesn’t have the last word when it comes to the vital issue of war and peace – not if you speak out and let your voice be heard. Yes, we can have an effect – but only if you act now.
One month – 25,000 signatures. It’s doable – so let’s do it.
Although no one seems to be able to initiate a change, there is widespread acknowledgement that US-backed drug war policies in Mexico have worsened the security situation, enabled human rights abuses by the government, and has not put a dent in the drug market. Washington Post:
A top official in Mexico’s new government on Monday harshly criticized the country’s U.S.-backed attack on drug cartel leaders for causing violence to surge, even as the incoming team offered an alternate security strategy largely devoid of details.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong opened a meeting of the National Security Council saying that under the strategy of former President Felipe Calderon, who left office Dec. 1, “financial resources dedicated to security have more than doubled but unfortunately crime has increased.”
Calderon’s policy to deploy Mexican troops and federal police officers – forces that are trained by the United States – only increased the violence, which has left more than 50,000 dead since about 2006. “George W. Bush backed Calderón’s militarization with a $1.8 billion package of helicopters, police training, and intelligence cooperation,” wrote The New Yorker’s Steve Coll recently. “Obama has continued the program” and “has reportedly sent drones to help Mexico track cartel leaders and traffickers.”
Human Rights Watch back in November of last year released a report providing evidence that Mexico’s security forces participated in “more than 170 cases of torture, 39 ‘disappearances,’ and 24 extrajudicial killings since Calderón took office in December 2006.” And these are just what they could confirm.
“Instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country,” said José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch.
Despite the open criticisms, it seems unlikely that the new Mexican government will succeed in significantly altering the status quo.
In Foreign Affairs, Michael Bröning makes an impressively weak case for directly arming the Syrian rebels. He acknowledges the unfortunate fact that aid and weapons from Arab Gulf states have “primarily reached the more extreme groups,” but claims that the new National Coalition Opposition, which President Obama and more than 90 countries have officially recognized, “changes the conflict’s parameters.” He argues that “Arming and financing the National Coalition could strengthen the more moderate opposition forces in Syria.”
…the facts on the ground have increasingly overrun the standard arguments against supporting anti-Assad forces, and the case for arming the rebels grows stronger by the month.
Critics of a more active support for the opposition have long bemoaned the lack of a coherent opposition body that could bring together the various political and military opponents of the regime. But now, the newly established Syrian National Coalition for Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which was founded with U.S. assistance in Qatar in November, has done just that.
Actually, it hasn’t. The Coalition is supposed to be made up of Syrian dissidents and opposition groups from across the spectrum. But it is largely another exile group without strong roots inside the country. There little evidence the Syrian people accept it. But there is strong evidence it has been vehemently rejected by the armed rebel groups fighting the Assad regime. And the fact that it was formed as a US initiative grants it even less legitimacy. After all, as Bröning readily admits, arming the rebels would be meant to ”accelerate the end of the Assad regime” for the sake of “Syrian and Western interests” (a redundancy to imperialists).
Bröning acknowledges the aid and weapons already being sent to Syria’s rebels by Arab Gulf states have largely gone to extremist jihadists, some of whom have ties to al-Qaeda. What he doesn’t say is that this occurred despite the CIA’s efforts to facilitate the delivery of these arms towards moderate groups. Going back at least six months, intelligence officials have been telling the press (Washington Post,Los Angeles Times) that the truth is that the US had little control over who received the assistance.
Nor does Bröning explain what is to happen if and when the Assad regime does fall. He argues that fully committed Western support would make moderate elements of the Syrian opposition stronger than the extremists. That is unconvincing. But even if it were true, we’d still have a situation where rebel group was pitted against rebel group and an ongoing proxy war would be likely to result. Furthermore, all the rebels have proven capable of is fighting, not state building, social services, and post-conflict reconstruction. The opposition, despite the hopes and dreams of people like Bröning, is still very fractured and many of these groups would imitate the Libyan rebels and refuse to cede local control and, importantly, their weapons.
The overwhelming fact is that the interventionist policies in Syria are worsening the conflict. UN rights chief Navi Pillay has repeatedly condemned the continued flow of weapons from foreign powers to both sides in the Syrian conflict. “The ongoing provision of arms to the Syrian government and to its opponents feeds additional violence,” she said. “Any further militarization of the conflict must be avoided at all costs.”
And supporting rebel groups in civil wars has a terrible record throughout history. As usual, the rosy picture of the future painted by self-assured interventionists never materializes. A recent study out of Brandeis University concluded “the distillation of historical experience with civil war and insurgency, along with a sober reckoning of conditions on the ground in Syria, make clear” that arming the rebels is “likely to amplify the harm that it seeks to eliminate by prolonging a hurting stalemate.”
Clashes between Syrian rebels and an armed Palestinian group loyal to President Bashar Assad raged inside a Damascus refugee camp Tuesday, as the Syrian military deployed tanks outside, activists said.
…as the civil war deepened, most Palestinians backed the rebels, while some groups — such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command — have been fighting on the government side.
Update II: Beyond the predictable risks and contradictions with getting even more involved in this fight, there is then the practical issue (with heavy moral weight) of what I’ve previously called the fatal conceit of policymakers in Washington thinking they have the knowledge and ability to engineer a particular outcome from this chaotic mess.
The US is going to “substantially increase its military presence in the Philippines, increasing the number of troops, aircraft and ships which routinely rotate through the country,” according to The Diplomat.
For what purpose? Well, the transparent excuse US officials gave was almost laughable: to “serve The Philippines when struggling against natural disasters.”
Of course, nobody actually believes that. Long before this decision to substantially increase US military presence in the Philippines was finalized, the US had been building up the Philippines’s military and security forces, offering funding and weapons in exchange for greater American presence in the country. The Philippines is just one of the many countries the Obama administration has been courting to greater client state status as part of their ‘strategic pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific region, which is aimed at containing China’s rising military and economic sway. Essentially, to maintain U.S. hegemony.
Washington has been building new military bases and refurbishing old ones in the region in order to lay the ground-work for an “air-sea battle” with China. The idea is to have enough US bases peppered throughout the region so that China would be too surrounded to safely attack.
The nationalistic, Great Game geo-politicking has its own grim consequences for the US relationship with China, but very separate consequences for the Philippines. Unfortunately, it follows a very similar pattern of Washington enabling human rights abuses in exchange for using the country as geo-political leverage.
In July, Human Rights Watch is again called on President Aquino of the Philippines to prosecute and put a stop to the rampant torture, extra-judicial killings, and disappearances of “leftist activists, journalists, and clergy.” Just since Obama took office, taxpayers have sent almost $700 million to the Filipino government, making it one of the biggest recipients of US military aid in all of Asia, at a time when numerous embassy cables released by WikiLeaks acknowledge systematic extrajudicial killings, abduction, and false arrests perpetrated by the US-supported security forces. That aid is likely to increase now that this new deal has been secured.
It also looks like the US is lumping in the Philippines in the war on terror. Apparently there is a small cadre of Islamic militants there, but they don’t appear to present any threat to the US. In February, Washington launched a drone strike in the southern Philippines that reportedly killed 15 people associated with these groups. It looks very much like how the US launched drone strikes at the behest of the Saleh regime in Yemen when it was clear Saleh was using the US drone war to eliminate his own domestic political enemies.
Ilagan also called for a probe into what she referred to as the “extensive and intensive intrusion of the US military in Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) operations.” She added, “If these reports are true, then US troops are participating in and conducting operations beyond what is allowed in the Visiting Forces Agreement and directly transgressing our sovereignty. More importantly, their participation in these operations is a potential magnet for the Philippines’ participation in a brewing US-instigated regional conflict.”
The US is once again using its military muscle to occupy a foreign country for the sake of its own hegemony, to the detriment of the Philippines and the security of the entire region.
Since the election, President Obama has again embarked on the Washington establishment’s version of diplomatic coercion on Iran. It’s sometimes referred to as “dual-track.” Negotiations and a supposed grand bargain are in the works, but the administration continues to impose harsh economic sanctions and continues to issue well-publicized threats of the military option. You know, just in case Iran thinks we’re foolin’.
But the Obama approach to Iran has also been characterized by a change in policy towards the overall Persian Gulf. Obama’s ‘leading from behind’ strategy has essentially come to mean that Washington presses its allies to do more of it’s fighting. And that’s what Obama intends: with unprecedented amounts of weapons technology flowing to the Middle East, Washington is arming Arab dictators in the Persian Gulf with assurances that they will take part in any potential war against Iran.
Noting U.S. sales of air defense-penetrating F-16s and F-15s, satellite-guided bombs and a pending order for ordnance that can burrow deep and then explode, analysts say Gulf nations could participate in a U.S. air campaign to strike Iran’s nuclear sites.
These American-armed nations could either be part of an overall war plan or be forced to enter the battle once Iran counterattacks, as expected, with missile launches.
“It’s perfectly possible the UAE could be asked to try to bomb aircraft shelters, hardened aircraft hangars’ stockpiles, coastal missile sites that are hardened,” Mr. [Kenneth] Katzman [a Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service] said. “There are a range of targets that coalition partners like UAE could be asked to take out as part of strike package, if it comes to that.”
Embedded in the “dual-track” approach is the recognition that credible threats of military attack will force Iran to submission when presented with face-saving diplomatic alternatives. If you ask an Obama official, I’m sure they’d tell you that arming Arab autocrats to the teeth is meant only to demonstrate “credibility.”
“Our presence in Kuwait and throughout the Gulf helps advance the capabilities of partnering nations, deters aggression and helps ensure we’re better able to respond to crisis in the region,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters when visiting Kuwait last week.
And seriously, how could this go wrong?
The Arab monarchies have deep-seated hatred for Iran, for both religious and geo-political reasons. Arming them to a degree unequaled in any previous time, with the explicit purpose of challenging Iran militarily provides what Washington likes to call “stability.” Yes, that’s what they call it when the state employs the military industrial complex to weaponize ruthless Arab dictators, making Iran more guarded and conflict more likely. Stability.