Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Last Call

CIA Director Leon Panetta tells NBC that the world will "eventually see" the photos of bin Laden's body.

"The government obviously has been talking about how best to do this, but I don't think there's -- there was any question that ultimately a photograph would be presented to the public," according to a transcript of the interview. "Obviously I've seen those photographs. We've analyzed them and there's no question that it's Bin Laden."

"I think there's no question that there were concerns and there were questions that had to be debated about just exactly question kind of impact -- would these photos have," Panetta continued. "But the bottom line is that, you know, we got Bin Laden and I think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him."

I agree with Panetta. Now...how long this takes, well that's the rub.

Through The Seal Team Helmet Cam Darkly

David Corn argues that the President put his re-election and arguably a lot more on the line making the final call to get bin Laden, wondering about the consequences if Sunday's operation failed and stating then that Obama's strength of character showed through as a decisive leader.  Republicans would have excoriated him and the Jimmy Carter comparison would have become an indelible mark against him, they would gleefully have torn him to shreds at every opportunity.

But that didn't happen.

A cautious president overly guided by political concerns would have been reluctant to ride into such a cost-benefit equation. Yet Obama signed the order for the mission on Friday—and then proceeded with his schedule, which included trips to Alabama (to meet with Americans who survived tornadoes) Cape Canaveral (for a shuttle launch that was scrubbed) and Miami (for an commencement address), as well as the White House Correspondents' Association shindig, and a Sunday morning game of golf. In retrospect, his joke about Donald Trump's big decisions—whom to fire—is even sharper than it appeared Saturday night. (I spoke with Obama at a small reception minutes before the dinner began; there was no tell.)

It must have been a nerve-wracking series of days—even for such a cool customer. "It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled here yesterday," Brennan said. But the episode demonstrates that this president, who is often accused (on the left) of wimping out of political fights and (on the right) of too often wringing his hands, is willing to act decisively and take political chances. Not in every instance. But for certain stakes at certain times. (Brennan noted that there had been a vigorous debate within the administration over whether to proceed with the operation—why not bomb instead?—prior to Obama giving the green light to the higher-risk option.)

The anti-Obama loudmouths who claim that he's not leadership material or that he isn't sufficiently concerned about threats to the United States (or that he's a secret, Kenyan-born Muslim socialist who wants to destroy the United States in order to gain dictatorial powers) are going to have a tough time selling that swill after this. But they will probably find a pivot point in the future and return to throwing red herrings at the commander in chief. Meanwhile, the president, who once earned the nickname "No-Drama Obama," showed he was willing to put his own future on the line for a high-risk action that he deemed necessary for the good of the nation. And that line was quite a thin one.

Obama made that call, knowing full well that failure here would have ended him.  He still made the call and trusted his intel and his operators.  Corn is correct:  Obama showed decisive leadership here.  Would President McCain, Palin, Trump, Romney, etc. have done the same?

Can we put the "He doesn't have the balls to make the calls!" crap to rest now?  Because he arguably made one of the biggest calls in recent political history, and he nailed it.  To everyone who says that Obama deserves none of the credit, try making a decision of that magnitude.

Pak-ed With Questions

As more and more details about OBL's hideout are firming up, folks in the intel community and in Congress are starting to ask a lot of uncomfortable questions about our nominal "ally", Pakistan.  TPM's Benjy Sarlin:

"They've got a lot of explaining to do," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Monday.

Intelligence officials have long suspected that Pakistan's weak and fractured government may be host to rogue elements either disinterested in catching -- or actively sympathetic to -- anti-Western terrorists. But the presence of Bin Laden's heavily fortified compound in a garrison town near Islamabad magnified concerns that Al Qaeda had help from the inside in concealing its leader's location.

"It's very difficult for me to understand how this huge compound could be built in a city just an hour north of the capital of Pakistan in a city that contained military installations, including the Pakistani military academy, and that it did not arouse tremendous suspicion," Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, said at a press conference on Monday.

"It was not like a normal house in New Jersey, I can tell you that," Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who has called for a new review of military and economic aid to Pakistan in light of the Bin Laden raid, told TPM.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, also told TPM that the operation raised red flags for her.

"I've had a growing concern that the Pakistani intelligence community is really walking both sides of the street and the question comes what to do about it," she said. "At some point I think there has to be an understanding."

Trying to get out ahead of the emerging attack on his government's credibility, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari published an op-ed Tuesday in the Washington Post claiming credit for helping root out Bin Laden and noting that attacks by Islamic extremists had cost his country thousands of lives, including his late wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

In briefings with the media, U.S. defense officials sought to tamp down speculation as to whether Bin Laden was operating with aid from inside the Pakistani government.

"We have no indications that the Pakistanis were aware that Osama Bin Laden was at the compound in Abbottabad," one senior official told reporters Monday.

But defense and intelligence officials indicated to reporters that the American military carried out a months-long casing of the compound and finally a complicated and dangerous raid all without ever informing their Pakistani counterparts of their interest in the target. "It should tell you a lot that we didn't trust them to help us" take out bin Laden, one U.S. official was quoted as telling the Wall Street Journal. "You think about where he was living, and we didn't want their help."

That last fact, that we completely kept Pakistan out of the loop on this, speaks volumes.  At best, Pakistan's government is so badly compromised with AQ and Taliban sympathizers that we now feel that anything we tell them will end up getting back to the bad guys.  Worst case scenario?  Large parts of Pakistan's controlling powers, namely the Army and elements of the Zardari government, worked to actively hide OBL for years.  As Rachel Maddow pointed out yesterday, it seems like whenever we make a bust of a major AQ/Taliban player, it's in one of Pakistan's larger cities and not the "lawless tribal regions" of North Waziristan or the mountainous Af-Pak border.  These guys aren't being found in caves, they are being found in large heavily guarded compounds in populated areas.

The notion that Pakistan's military or the ISI security service had no prior knowledge of OBL hanging out in this compound for 5+ years either makes Pakistan's leaders the biggest morons on the planet...or it makes us the biggest morons on the planet for being stupid enough to believe them all this time.  Either way, it's far past time to re-evaluate our relationship with the country.

Adjusting The Message

For a long time now, Republicans have been screaming that Democrats are weak on national security and terrorism.  The truth is that Republicans are the party of failure on these issues, no failure larger than 9/11.  Yet they were allowed to get away with claiming they were the only choice if you wanted to avoid having your family killed in their sleep by terrorists, when 3,000 Americans died on Bush's watch.

Now that President Obama has cleaned up Bush's mess on OBL, Republicans are scrambling to keep this silly narrative alive by trying to find any way to credit Bush for Osama's death.  The latest method?  Bush's "enhanced interrogation" gave us the lead we needed to get Osama, so Bush and Republicans get 100% of the credit. 

Only one problem:  it's complete crap.  The deputy national security advisor, John Brennan, admits as much.

White House deputy national security advisor John Brennan Tuesday knocked down the myth that waterboarding provided crucial intelligence that led to the location of Osama bin Laden.

“So we’ve been talking about the different details and methods that lead up to this moment, and obviously there is word out today that waterboarding played a very big role or role in actually getting the information,” MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski told Brennan. “Is that the case?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Brennan explained.

The information that was acquired over the course of nine years or so came from many different sources, human sources, technical sources, as well as information that detainees provided, and it was something that as a result of the painstaking work that the analysts did, they pieced it all together that led us to the Abbottabad compound and led us to the successful operation on Sunday,” he added.

Independently, Marcy Wheeler's timeline of the events involving Khalid Sheik Muhammad giving up the name of the courier confirms Brennan's story.

From these dates we can conclude that either KSM shielded the courier’s identity entirely until close to 2007, or he told his interrogators that there was a courier who might be protecting bin Laden early in his detention but they were never able to force him to give the courier’s true name or his location, at least not until three or four years after the waterboarding of KSM ended. That’s either a sign of the rank incompetence of KSM’s interrogators (that is, that they missed the significance of a courier protecting OBL), or a sign he was able to withstand whatever treatment they used with him.

With al-Libi, the connection between whatever torture he experienced and this intelligence is less clear (since he was first detained in 2005), but even with al-Libi, it appears clear he either never revealed the courier’s real name or only did so after he had been in custody for a year, and almost certainly until after he arrived in Gitmo.

Either way,  waterboarding didn't get us the courier...and when we did have the courier's identity in 2007, the Bush administration didn't follow up on it.  It took President Obama's refocusing on getting OBL to turn the courier information into actionable intelligence.

Once again, Republicans dropped the ball on national security.  After Sunday, they should be dismissed out of hand on the subject.  Period.  Republicans strong on national security?  That needs a rewrite.

This Week's WTH - Deaf And Dumb Edition

31-year-old Alfred Stewart, who is deaf and mute, and three others including a bouncer are recovering in hospital from non-fatal wounds suffered at the Ocean's Eleven Sports Lounge and Grill on Federal Highway, where Stewart and his friends were celebrating a birthday.
Police say Barbara Lee became angry when she thought Stewart's party, all of whom are deaf, were throwing gang signs at her.
Lee left and then shortly returned to the bar with a juvenile and 19-year-old Marco Ibanez, who is accused of pulling out a knife and stabbing the men.
In the ensuing melee, the hearing impaired men suffered stab wounds to the torso and back while the intervening bouncer whas struck on the head with a bottle.

So, that is taking stupidity to exciting new levels.  I just don't even really know what to say. I almost feel sorry for the lawyer who is assigned this case.

WTH: Maybe Your Solution Is Part Of The Problem

In a shake-up of the system, new managers were appointed to key positions that oversee the operation of airport towers and regional radar centers that handle planes flying at high altitudes as well as approaches and departures, the agency said in a statement. A new manager was also appointed to run a regional radar center near Cleveland. The previous managers are being reassigned.
Reassigned?  Not fired for failing miserably at managing employees?  The man in charge of operations resigns, and these guys just get moved around?  Sure, the guys who fell asleep were fired (mostly) but this seems a bit like a slap on the wrist when lives are at stake and they were in direct contact with those who dropped the ball.  Mistakes happen, and tragedy always finds us.  But little things like staying awake and looking around with a sweeping motion of the eyes helps keep the odds tipped in our favor.
"This sends a powerful message, and it's the right message," said Gregory McGuirk, an associate professor of air traffic management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. "It's one way to shake up the culture." 
I'm not so sure I get the message.  Gross negligence, absolute lack of oversight or follow-up gets reassigned, and we're supposed to be impressed with their shaking up the culture?  What the hell was the culture like before?  If this is how they take things seriously, I'd hate to see light duty.  Oh wait, we already did.  

Can't Tie Me Down

Android's open source architecture is turning into a real headache for wireless carriers.

US carriers have started blocking an app that allows Android smartphone users free wireless tethering for other Web-ready devices.

The application, “Wireless Tether for Root Users,” is still available on the Android Market. But if you have a phone that’s on the Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile networks, you won’t be able to download or install it.

Try and access the app from the Android Market, and when prompted to choose which device on which to install it, you’ll only be able to select Sprint-carried devices or WiFi only products.

Wired.com attempted to install the application on a number of devices, and was only able to do so on a Sprint-carried Evo 4G and Galaxy Tab, as well as WiFi-only products. Our Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T devices were unable to receive the app for installation.

A spokesperson from Verizon confirmed the application is not available to Verizon Wireless customers. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The problem for the carriers is that there's several ways around the block, and several ways to ding carriers for tethered wi-fi. AT&T has had some experience in this department dealing with jailbroken iPhones, but considering the app makes that $30 monthly tethering charge obsolete, I can see why the carriers are trying to do everything they can to stop this.

It's going to be a losing battle unless the carriers drop Android altogether, and that's not going to happen with Google's 800-pound gorilla in the room.

Food Stamps For Thought, Part 7

Another month, another record number of people on SNAP:  44.2 million in February, just a smidge higher than January but higher nonetheless.

The number of Americans receiving food stamps rose to a record 44.199 million in February, up from 44.188 million in the previous month, the government said.

Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program subsidies for food purchases jumped 12 percent from a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today in a statement on its website. Participation has set records every month since December 2008. Increases have slowed in recent months as unemployment levels declined. 

The 11,000 person increase is by far the lowest increase in the program in years, suggesting that maybe, finally, we've hit a plateau on this.  But with rising food and gas prices I'm betting that the pace of adding people to the SNAP rolls will continue to gain steam.

We're a long, long way from being out of this mess.

Looking Like Us Up There For A Change

Yesterday's national elections in Canada culminated in a major victory for Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, giving the party a majority in Parliament and booting the Liberals out into the political wilderness as the New Democratic Party came in second to control the opposition for the first time.

The extent of the transformation is startling. The Liberals now hold just four seats west of Guelph, Ont. The Conservatives, formerly shunned by Toronto voters, won nearly half of the seats in that city, twice as many as the Liberals.

The Bloc Québécois, which defined Quebec federal politics for two decades, no longer qualifies for official party status. And Green Party Leader Elizabeth May won the party’s first seat, and the right to a place in the next election’s debates.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe lost his seat and resigned. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff lost his riding. Both defeated leaders were squeezed, like many of their candidates, between growth in Conservative support and Jack Layton’s surging New Democrats.

The night belonged to Stephen Harper, who put his party over the top after five years of minority government and becomes just the third Conservative leader since Confederation to win triple victories.
"We are intensely aware that we are and must be the government of all Canadians, including those that did not vote for us," Mr. Harper said.

Parliament was radically remade. The fragmentation of the 1993 election has been reversed, with the Conservatives and NDP emerging as national parties with support across all regions of the country, although the Tories find themselves in an unusual position, as a majority government with just a handful of Quebec seats.

"I’ve always favoured proposition over opposition," Mr. Layton told a cheering crowd. "But we will oppose the government when it's off track. I will propose constructive solutions focused on helping Canadians."

With almost all polls reporting, the Conservatives were elected in 167 ridings, and the NDP in 102, more than double its best historical tally. The Liberals were reduced to the lowest seat count in their history, elected in just 34 seats. The Bloc had just four. 

The rise of the NDP in Canada is nothing short of amazing.   For years, Canada's left has been divided between the two parties and that has only benefited the Tories.  But the Liberals always led the way on that relationship.  Now that party is at best the new Bloq Quebecois:  a regional party in this case limited to the Atlantic Maritimes.  Quebec itself went to the NDP in droves.

Meanwhile the Tories made massive gains in Canada's urban centers, especially in Ontario.  Even cosmopolitan Toronto woke up this morning to see a number of ridings in Harper's control.  The plains went to the Conservatives easily, enough to give them an outright majority.

So what will Harper do with his majority?  He's promised major cuts, and Canada's citizens gave him a mandate on that promise.  Canada has a virtual two-party system now, with the Liberals resigned to a very distant third.  Keep an eye on our northern neighbors, things are going to get very interesting.

[UPDATE]  Then again, I'm reminded by my Canadian friends that the Progressive Conservative party ran a full slate of candidates in 1993 and managed to win a grand total of two seats as Kim Campbell's government got their asses handed to them, lost offical party status, disintegrated, and ended up merging with the Reformers.  They said the Conservatives were dead then, too.  A lot can happen in 18 years, even in Canadian politics.  We've not heard the last of the Bloc or the Liberals, but some mergers may be in the cards...


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