Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mexican Cartels and U.S. Gangs

Although the swine flu outbreak has grabbed most of the headlines, intelligence analysts at Stratfor remind us that the Mexican drug cartels and their affiliates retain plenty of potency:
While the Mexican cartels do have people in the United States, they do not have enough people so positioned to handle the increased workload of distributing narcotics at the retail level. A wide range of skill sets is required. Some of the tactics involved in moving shipments across the border require skilled workers, such as pilots, while U.S. gang members along the border serve as middlemen and retail distributors. Other aspects of the operation call for people with expertise in manipulating corrupt officials and recruiting human intelligence sources, while a large part of the process simply involves saturating the system with massive numbers of expendable, low-skilled smugglers who are desperate for the money.
The U.S. gangs are crucial in filling the cartel gap north of the border. Members of these border gangs typically are young men who are willing to break the law, looking for quick cash and already plugged in to a network of similar young men, which enables them to recruit others to meet the manpower demand. They are also typically tied to Mexico through family connections, dual citizenship and the simple geographic fact that they live so close to the border. However, the U.S. gangs do not constitute formal extensions of the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Border gangs developed on their own, have their own histories, traditions, structures and turf, and they remain independent. They are also involved in more than just drug trafficking and distribution, including property crime, racketeering and kidnapping. Their involvement in narcotics is similar to that of a contractor who can provide certain services, such as labor and protection, while drugs move across gang territory, but drug money is not usually their sole source of income.
Click here for the full report, "When the Mexican Drug Trade Hits the Border."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Obama Gives In to ACLU on Detainee Photos

We're all for government transparency, especially in fiscal matters (and we need more transparency for example to combat vote fraud), but what is the point of putting out information that undermines U.S. security and and stature?
In a letter from the Justice Department to a federal judge yesterday [April 23], the Obama administration announced that the Pentagon would turn over to the American Civil Liberties Union 44 photographs showing detainee abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq during the Bush administration.
The photographs are part of a 2003 Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU for all information relating to the treatment of detainees -- the same battle that led, last week, to President Obama's decision to release memos from the Bush Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel providing legal justifications for harsh interrogation methods that human rights groups call torture.
Courts had ruled against the Bush administration's attempts to keep the photographs from public view. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh tells ABC News that "the fact that the Obama administration opted not to seek further review is a sign that it is committed to more transparency."...
But some experts say the move could have a chilling effect on the CIA even beyond President Obama's decision last week to release the so-called "torture memos."
Calling the ACLU push to release the photographs "prurient" and "reprehensible," Dr. Mark M. Lowenthal, former Assistant Director of Central Intelligence for Analysis and Production, tells ABC News that the Obama administration should have taken the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
"They should have fought it all the way; if they lost, they lost," said Lowenthal, who retired from the Agency in 2005. "There's nothing to be gained from it. There's no substantive reason why those photos have to be released."
Maybe the administration will consider setting up a page on FaceBook or MySpace to make it even easier for our adversaries and assorted political opportunists (like this individual) to find documents or images that will damage our nation. Also, do the ACLU minions feel that they are immune or somehow have a force field around them that would provide protection from any future acts of terrorism?

On the subject of transparency in this administration, an excellent blog post here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What Happens in Gitmo, Stays in Gitmo--Maybe

Usually a health club is a non-political venue. But some "expert" at the club claimed over the weekend that Cheney will be indicated by a foreign tribunal even if Obama declines to pursue any charges, and the former VP won't be able to travel overseas for fear of getting arrested. It sounded like just random talk, or wish fulfillment. And at this stage of the game, the former VP probably has had his fill of foreign travel anyway. But it does appear that European ambulance chasers may pursue legal action against Bush administration officials in what would amount to a show trial. Jurisdiction is, of course, another matter entirely.
European prosecutors are likely to investigate CIA and Bush administration officials on suspicion of violating an international ban on torture if they are not held legally accountable at home, according to U.N. officials and human rights lawyers.
In the meantime, Cheney has been making headlines on Fox News Channel:
Now that the memos showing the rulings of interrogation techniques have been released, the Obama administration should release additional documents that show what the interrogations yielded to make it an "honest debate," former Vice President Dick Cheney told FOX News on Monday [April 20].
The CIA Interrogation Memos, continued: Although the Obama administration earlier this week announced it wouldn't throw CIA interrogators to the wolves, in an apparent flip-flop it seems like the same legal immunity may not apply to higher-level policy makers.
President Obama suggested today [April 21] that it remained a possibility that the Justice Department might bring charges against officials of the Bush administration who devised harsh interrogation policies that some see as torture.
He also suggested that if there is any sort of investigation into these past policies and practices, he would be more inclined to support an independent commission outside the typical congressional hearing process.
Both statements represented breaks from previous White House statements on the matter.
When it comes to harsh/aggressive interrogation, or torture, or whatever terminology is currently applied or deemed appropriate, oddly enough it seems like the administration is not on the same page with its own intelligence chief:
President Obama’s national intelligence director told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists.
“High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country,” Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday...
Admiral Blair’s assessment that the interrogation methods did produce important information was deleted from a condensed version of his memo released to the media last Thursday. Also deleted was a line in which he empathized with his predecessors who originally approved some of the harsh tactics after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Further, the CIA continues to maintain that the techniques worked:
The Central Intelligence Agency told today [April 21] that it stands by the assertion made in a May 30, 2005 Justice Department memo that the use of “enhanced techniques” of interrogation on al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM) -- including the use of waterboarding -- caused KSM to reveal information that allowed the U.S. government to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles.
Former Bush administration official Marc Thiessen argues along similar lines in the Washington Post:
In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists "did not make us safer." This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public -- in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.
In a companion piece to the commentary that we referenced in a previous post, Con Coughlin, the London Telegraph columnist, again suggests that the new administration miscalculated in making those legal memos public:
I never bought Mr Obama's claim that his decision to release the former Bush administration's legal opinions justifying the use of robust interrogation methods was aimed at bringing "transparency". This was political point-scoring, pure and simple, and now his naive decision to play politics with the reputation of the CIA is causing him unnecessary grief.
There are always two sides to a story, even a deeply unpleasant one such as waterboarding an al-Qaeda suspect 183 times in a single month. On the face of it that sounds an appalling way to behave. But what if, as Mr Cheney is now suggesting, these brutal interrogation methods actually produced information that saved lives by thwarting potential al-Qaeda attacks?
The Instapundit blog raises a fascinating point: "With Obama talking about going after DoJ lawyers for torture memos, how many senior government lawyers and officials are currently worried that someone will go after them for things they’re doing on TARP and other bailout operations that may later turn out to be illegal?"

Update: In its weekly security update, Stratfor warns of a pre-9/11 mentality in the intelligence services:
Politics and moral arguments aside, the end effect of the memos’ release is that people who have put their lives on the line in U.S. counterterrorism efforts are now uncertain of whether they should be making that sacrifice. Many of these people are now questioning whether the administration that happens to be in power at any given time will recognize the fact that they were carrying out lawful orders under a previous administration. It is hard to retain officers and attract quality recruits in this kind of environment. It has become safer to work in programs other than counterterrorism.
The memos’ release will not have a catastrophic effect on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Indeed, most of the information in the memos was leaked to the press years ago and has long been public knowledge. However, when the release of the memos is examined in a wider context, and combined with a few other dynamics, it appears that the U.S. counterterrorism community is quietly slipping back into an atmosphere of risk-aversion and malaise — an atmosphere not dissimilar to that described by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) as a contributing factor to the intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attacks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

National Security: Put Politics Aside claims that Iran and Venezuela (whose leader appears to be President Obama's new best friend), are partnering up, and not in a good way:
Just two days after US President Barack Hussein Obama shared a controversial and landmark handshake with Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has released a study analyzing the flowering alliance between the increasingly anti-Western Latin America and the virulently anti-Israel Iran.
The study was conducted at the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC), a non-governmental organization dedicated to Israeli intelligence and terrorism issues.
According to the study, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using anti-Western Hugo Chavez as a springboard into several Latin American countries, such as Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador, where he intends to establish a religious, terrorist, political and economic foothold in South America. Iran has already made major inroads in its relationship with Venezuela and Bolivia, largely based on shared anti-American sentiments.
Click here to access the full IICC report.

In general, it is understandable that a new administration would want to make a clean break from its predecessor. However, whether or not the above study has validity, the London Telegraph reminds the Obama administration that when dealing with adversaries on the world stage, U.S. national security requires more than mere political grandstanding:
Whether it is his appeal to Iran's fundamentalist mullahs to unclench their fists, his reluctance to confront North Korea's nuclear activities or his "new beginning" with Cuba, the President wants to be everybody's friend, as he was on last year's campaign trail. But a change of leadership at the White House does not mean the world has suddenly become a safer place...
So Mr Obama must take care when he attempts to score cheap political points on national security issues, as he did last week with his unnecessary decision to release previously classified details of the legal opinions authorising the use of the extreme interrogation techniques – torture, to you and me – that were drawn up by the Bush administration...
So why did Mr Obama reopen old wounds by publishing the Justice Department's legal opinions? The answer lies more with the President's desire to heap humiliation on his predecessor than his stated aim of transparency on this dark episode. Playing party politics with sensitive security issues might work well on the campaign trail, where candidates can do so without consequences. But in office it is another matter, and runs the risk of compromising the effectiveness of intelligence and security agencies

State Dept. Nominee Infatuated With International Law

It comes as no surprise that the New York Post would be non-supportive of Harold Koh, the Yale Law School Dean nominated to be the top State Department lawyer, a job that might be a stepping-stone to the Supreme Court. But Obama-worshipping Newsweek magazine surprisingly also registers certain reservations about the selection:
To show regard for "the opinions of mankind," he asserted in a 2002 law review article, the death penalty "should, in time, be declared unconstitutional." Were his writings to become policy, judges might have the power to use debatable interpretations of treaties and "customary international law" to override a wide array of federal and state laws affecting matters as disparate as the redistribution of wealth and prostitution...The international legal norms they wish to inject into American law by and large reflect the values of Social Democratic Europe and liberal American academics.
Question: What is the endgame for lawyers who seek to undermine America's security and sovereignity?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dude, Where's My Teleprompter?

One late night, years ago, we were channel surfing and stumbled across of all things a rerun of Barbara Walters interviewing former President Reagan about his Hollywood career. Okay, it was fluff, but enjoyable. Why? Perhaps because deep into the Clinton administration, seeing the former president--a respected statesman with a unique and rich background in both the private and public sectors--seemed very reassuring.

Recall that the media bias in favor of the Clinton candidacy was palpable in 1991. In many ways the media gave the relatively inexperienced governor from Arkansas a free ride. Perhaps if the media, for example, examined the allegations detailed in Roger Morris' book Partners in Power, there never would have been a Clinton presidency.

But the dominant media cheerleading (which also extends to Hollywood, academia, and elsewhere in the information stream) for Obama in 2008 was like a free ride on rocket fuel. Journalists who, for instance, had no problem finding their way to remote areas of Alaska didn't lift a finger insofar as the Chicago candidate's background, qualifications, or agenda.

As we noted in a previous post, this celebrity- and media-driven candidacy turned the presidency into an entry level job for a fundamentally unqualified, albeit charismatic individual. Forget political party or ideology, if any; the American people deserve a highly experienced man or women in the White House. A big spending, limelight-obsessed machine politician--enabled by a large staff and a compliant media--on the ultimate ego trip...what could possibly go wrong? Well, we've already seen many miscues and broken campaign promises by this president and his roster of ineffective bureaucrats. The London Telegraph points out that during the campaign, Obama's campaign speeches evidently convinced crowds that he could make the world a better place, "while giving precious little indication as to how precisely he intended to achieve this messianic goal." [Television news bias is pervasive in the UK (and elsewhere around the world), too: See The BBC can't kick its addiction to bias.]

Apparently many voters were drawn in merely by Obama's powerful but non-substantive oratorical skills. There is a lot to be said for the rhetorical presidency, the bully pulpit, and all that--provided there is substance to back it up. But when the American Spectator website published an item that Obama can't or couldn't make a move without instructions from his teleprompter, even during campaign town hall events, we thought (actually hoped) the Spectator was exaggerating.

But news reports about Obama's inability to function on his own at the podium have gone mainstream. So it turns out that all that soaring oratory is also a sham; just marketing. As someone said on another blog, the clothes have no emperor.

We can, however, look forward to a series of taxpayer-underwritten photo-ops, such as the superficial and gushing reporting of the president's recent European trip. There are even suggestions that Obama's meeting with the troops in Baghdad was rigged.

If the British press is to be believed, President Sarkozy of France (for his own reasons, of course) was able to see through the mist:
Mr Sarkozy is pouring cold water on President Obama's efforts to recast American leadership on the world stage, depicting them as unoriginal, unsubstantial and overrated. Behind leaks and briefings from the Elysée Palace lies Mr Sarkozy's irritation at the rock-star welcome that Europe gave Mr Obama on his Europan tour earlier this month…."The [French] President is annoyed by what he sees as the naivety and the herd mentality of the media," said a journalist who is privy to Elysée thinking.
Question: Would a first-term U.S. Senator without any real-world work experience have even qualified for, let's say, The Celebrity Apprentice?

Update: Subsequent to this posting, Donald Trump entered "the No-Spin Zone" and claimed he would hire Obama in an economic or financial capacity. Despite the name of the venue, we think that Trump was indeed spinning--perhaps to preserve his organization's viability for a future federal bailout or some other consideration from the administration.

Switching gears slightly, but not entirely...For a compelling portrayal of the obsessive quest for fame and the associated bankruptcy of the media, we give you the wonderful, but short-lived HBO comedy series The Comeback, starring Lisa Kudrow.

Kudrow (who created the show with Michael Patrick King) plays Valerie Cherish, a semi-delusional former TV star who is trying to revive her career with a minor part in a mindless sitcom. We've been told by a television industry insider that the series gives a very accurate picture of what really goes on behind the scenes in a sitcom production.

The twist is that Cherish is also being shadowed by a TV crew filming a reality show about her comeback efforts. It quickly turns out that Cherish only got the part on the sitcom to provide fodder for the so-called reality series. The reality show producers in turn heartlessly seek to manipulate events to make the content more provocative and heap further humiliation Cherish in the process. And Cherish makes it very easy for them!

The HBO summary describes the television environment as follows: "wrenchingly 'real' and ridiculously surreal, it's a world where success and failure are often determined by age, looks, and (perhaps less frequently) sheer determination."

Kudrow's character played is her own worst enemy. The hilarious and simultaneously sad events in the series practically make your skin crawl. Her efforts among other things to ingratiate herself with the cast and producers who tend to disrespect her, and to attract media attention to her new career aspirations, usually blow up in her face.

The self-important Cherish is oddly likeable yet infuriating at the same time. (Out of the blue, there is one bit of compelling dialogue in which Kudrow's character says she attended every field hockey practice in high school despite an injury that kept her off the playing field. But she almost breaks into tears on recalling that she wasn't allowed to appear in the team picture.)

So in the face of numerous humiliations on and off the set, the character keeps plugging away. As Wikipedia describes, the Cherish character "is willing to completely sacrifice her dignity to return to the spotlight."

Kudrow gave an outstanding and dare we say it, nuanced, performance, as did the many excellent supporting players, particularly "Mickey" (Robert Michael Morris), Valerie's loyal and eccentric hair stylist/gopher.

Sadly, The Comeback was not renewed for a second year, but the entire 13-episode run is out on DVD.

Further update: Obama's teleprompter crashes:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Justice Dept. Won't Prosecute 9/11 Interrogators

CIA officers who used harsh interrogation techniques with terror suspects are off the hook:
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, CIA operatives were allowed to shackle, strip and waterboard terror suspects. Now, President Barack Obama has assured these operatives that they will not be prosecuted for their rough interrogation tactics.
At the same time, Obama's attorney general offered the operatives legal help if anyone else takes them to court over the harsh interrogation methods that were approved by the Bush administration.
The offer of presidential support, however, did not extend to those outside the CIA who approved the so-called enhanced interrogation methods or any CIA officers who may have gone beyond what was allowed in four legal memos written in 2002 and 2005 that the Obama administration released Thursday.
As far as those memos are concerned, two high-level Bush administration officials--former Attorney General Mukasey and CIA Director Hayden--write in the Wall Street Journal that declassifying the material showed poor judgment because "the release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy. Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past." Another former unnamed Bush administration official says that the release of the memos (which are available online) "does grave damage to our national security."

Update: Stratfor, the global intelligence clearinghouse, published an even-handed analysis of the decision to release the memos against the backdrop of what it describes as a massive intelligence failure reaching back a decade. The report concludes:
U.S. President Barack Obama has handled this issue in the style to which we have become accustomed, and which is as practical a solution as possible. He has published the memos authorizing torture to make this entirely a Bush administration problem while refusing to prosecute anyone associated with torture, keeping the issue from becoming overly divisive. Good politics perhaps, but not something that deals with the fundamental question.
The fundamental question remains unanswered, and may remain unanswered. When a president takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” what are the limits on his obligation? We take the oath for granted. But it should be considered carefully by anyone entering this debate, particularly for presidents.
The full report can be accessed here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DHS Demonizes Political Opponents?

After this thinly supported report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, what's next for the agency--helping O.J. find the real killers of Ron and Nicole?

Update: Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on April 14 that he was “dumbfounded” over the report's issuance and demanded an explanation from Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano. The report apparently also failed to go through the normal DHS internal vetting process.

In other news, a Clinton-administration retread is due to take over as the "czar" of southwestern border:
Secretary Napolitano is naming a "border czar" to oversee issues related to drug-cartel violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and the hundreds of thousands of people who try to enter the U.S. illegally through the Southwest.
An Obama administration official says Napolitano on Wednesday will name Alan Bersin, a former federal prosecutor, to fill the new post at the Homeland Security Department. The official would speak only on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement expected in El Paso, Texas.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Prosecution to Nowhere

Ten Stevens is off the hook--except for his reputation and obviously his seat in the U.S. Senate. A criminal verdict against the big-spending former senator from Alaska who achieved some notoriety for the infamous "bridge to nowhere" was thrown out by a federal judge on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate.

To the average American, Stevens is not particularly a sympathetic figure. He seemed arrogant and way out of touch and probably should have not run for reelection in the first place. But his (or anyone else's) reelection should never have been sabotaged by trumped-up charges of malfeasance. His conviction on seven felony counts shortly before the 2008 election caused the safe Republican seat to fall to a Democrat by a few thousand votes. In other words, even with a rap sheet, Stevens almost pulled it off. While nominally under the Bush administration, career civil service federal prosecutors handled (or mishandled) the case in a way that appears to have a political motivation (i.e., pushing the Democrats closer to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate).
A federal judge has dismissed corruption charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens and opened a criminal investigation into prosecutors who mishandled the case.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said the misconduct was the most serious he has ever seen in nearly 25 years on the bench. He appointed attorney Henry Schulke as special prosecutor to investigate the Justice Department team for possible criminal contempt charges.
Sullivan made the unusual move Tuesday [April 7] shortly before dismissing corruption charges against Stevens. Stevens was convicted in October of seven counts of lying about gifts he received from wealthy friends.
"In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said in the opening moments of a hearing.
Sullivan read a stinging summary of the many times the government withheld evidence or mishandled witnesses in the case.
Stevens was convicted of lying on Senate financial forms about gifts he received from wealthy friends. But Attorney General Eric Holder asked that the case be dismissed, saying Stevens did not receive a fair trial.
Stevens narrowly lost re-election just days later, falling to Democrat Mark Begich. He had been in the Senate 40 years, making him the longest-serving Republican senator when he was defeated.
This outcome is yet another reaffirmation that partisan politics should never be "criminalized" (on civil side, an example of judicial partisanship is the ongoing mishandling of Minnesota's U.S. Senate election recount in which a three-judge panel has decided to count only some of the absentee ballots). Alaska Gov. Palin has called for a new election, but there is no mechanism in the law to compel that to happen.

Update: This is a very bad idea!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

ACORN and the 2010 Census

In a previous post, we predicted that the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the organization implicated in widespread vote fraud to help their fellow "community organizer" become president, would participate in the 2010 Census headcount. Guess what?

Why is the Census important? The Washington Times explains:
What is at stake from an accurate census is huge. The allocation of seats in Congress, and ultimately questions of who controls it, depend on an accurate count. Much of the money Congress spends is allocated based on the census. Requiring that the census be non-partisan is the first requirement that must be met.
For this reason, questions are also being raised about the person, a Univ. of Michigan sociology professor who advocates "sampling," tapped to run the Census. The White House's attempt to politicize the process will likely face legal challenges on constitutional and other grounds. Allegations also have now surfaced that the New York Times spiked a story about the Obama campaign's direct involvement with ACORN corruption, according to this report on FNC:And while we're on the subject, other than to facilitate vote fraud, what rational reason do Democrats have for fighting tooth and nail in every jurisdiction against the simple requirement to show a photo ID for voting? Here's a companion FNC video on ACORN vote fraud.