S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

National Intelligence Review


National Security -- Director of National Intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, replaced Adm Mike McConnell and is the person responsible for the President's daily intelligence briefing. Testifying before a Congressional committee, Blair gave his annual threat assessment. The Financial Times (2/13/09) reported that the U.S. Intelligence Chief warned of a security threat. To quote:

. . . the global economic crisis posed the greatest near-term threat to US national security as the risk of “regime-threatening instability” grows around the world. . . as the economic and financial crisis continued.

. . . Adm Blair noted that a quarter of countries in the world were already experiencing “low-level instability” because of the economic crisis. He added that much of Latin America, the former Soviet states and sub-Saharan Africa lacked cash, or access to international financial aid, that would help them overcome the crisis.

. . . The threat assessment marked a stark contrast with previous years when the focus was on terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq. On terrorism, Adm Blair sounded a note of optimism, pointing out that public opinion in the Muslim world was turning against al-Qaeda. He said that, though a threat, it was less capable because of the pressure the US had put on its leadership inside Pakistan.

Rule of law -- Wired - Threat Level (2/13/09) revealed in an update that in a spy case Obama's Justice Department held fast to the state secrets privilege, for the second time this week. Judge Walker rejected the claim and asked the government to declare how it wished to proceed by Feb. 27. The case weighs whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress and establish an eavesdropping on Americans without warrants. The post concludes:

The legal brouhaha in the spy case concerns Walker's decision to admit as evidence a classified document allegedly showing that two American lawyers for a now-defunct Saudi charity were electronically eavesdropped on without warrants by the Bush administration in 2004.

The document's admission to the case is central for the two former lawyers of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation charity to acquire legal standing so they may challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless-eavesdropping program Bush publicly acknowledged in 2005.

Restore the Constitution -- "Congress takes first step to impose limits on Obama's executive power" is the (2/12/09) title of Glenn Greenwald's important post at about the State Secrets Protection Act. The ACLU endorsement of the two bills that were reintroduced seems significant. In related news, Wired - Threat Level reported (2/11/09) that bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to "make it more difficult for federal judges to scuttle lawsuits in which the government claims state secrets might be exposed. It concluded that,

The House version (.pdf) of the State Secrets Protection Act was introduced by Reps. John Conyers (D-Michigan), Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), Thomas Petri (R-Wisconsin), William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts) and Zoe Lofgren (D-California.)

The Senate version was unveiled by Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island).

Intel Oversight -- The Senate is revisiting the issue of GAO oversight of intelligence, reintroducing the Intelligence Community Audit Act, according to Secrecy News. It would "strengthen the authority of the Government Accountability Office to oversee intel agency programs and activities." A bit earlier the DoD said that auditors might be granted access to classified foreign intelligence, and Adm. Blair also seemed to endorse a role for GAO in intel overisght at his confirmation hearing.

State Secrets -- ProPublica's (2/2/09) newsletter headlined that AG Eric Holder suggested that there are far more secret Bush OLC memos relating to warrantless wiretapping than previously understood and that change may be coming. Before being confirmed, Holder responded in writing to questions from Senator Russ Feingold, according to Steven Aftergood, saying,

"Once the new Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel [Dawn Johnsen] is confirmed, I plan to instruct that official to review the OLC's policies relating to publication of its opinions with the [objective] of making its opinions available to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns."

Civil Liberties -- Blogger "emptywheel" raises a big question (1/30/09). It appeared with whistleblower Russell Tice's bombshell revelations about the nature of the U.S. warrantless wiretapping program. Why has the media (except MSNBC) been almost silent since his recent report? She concluded with another key question, ". . . I do wonder whether the process of sweeping up journalists' phone records is just the first step in acquiring some very complacent journalists?"

Telecom immunity -- Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, supports continuing the efforts to provide retroactive immunity to companies being sued for their alleged role in the NSA warrantless surveillance program, CQ Politics reports (1/27/09). In written answers to Senator Kit Bond after his confirmation hearing, the DNI was unequivocal on the subject.

Few Facts -- Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), according to Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News (1/21/09), asserts that a new FISA Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of warrantless intelligence surveillance was acting on an incomplete factual record. Without the benefit of an effective discovery process, the company was barred from crucial information because of a claim of national security. To quote further:

In any case, Sen. Feingold stressed, the new decision “in no way validates or bolsters the president’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. The decision, which only addressed surveillance authorized by the Protect American Act (PAA) enacted in August 2007, did not support the President’s claim of constitutional authority to violate the law. Nor did the decision uphold the constitutionality of the PAA in all cases, but rather it upheld only the Act’s application in this particular case.”

Privacy protection -- Aftergood also reveals (1/16/09) that there are new guidelines that took effect 11/4/08, that define National Counterterrorism Center access to non-terror databases in order to acquire information needed for counterterrorism purposes. Mainly it would be to check for common criminal activity that might have helped suspected terrorists support themselves. The memo makes the ODNI Civil Liberties Protection Officer responsible fro insuring that the NCTC complies with privacy guidelines in accessing these records.

See also Behind the Links, for further info on this subject.

(Cross-posted at The Reaction.)

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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