Daily Archive: 12/09/2013

Dec 09 2013

Whose Sarin?

Whose sarin?

by Seymour Hersh, London Review of Book

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.

Obama “Cherry-Picked” Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike



Full transcript can be read here

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.” The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra Front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.

Sy Hersh Writing about Politicized Intelligence Again, Syria Edition

Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel

Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books accusing the Obama Administration of cherry-picking intelligence to present its case that Bashar al-Assad launched the chemical weapons attack on August 21.

To be clear, Hersh does not say that Assad did not launch the attack. Nor does he say al-Nusra carried out the attack. Rather, he shows that:

   At some unidentified time since the beginning of the Civil War, Assad had discovered and neutralized wiretaps on his inner circle, leaving US intelligence blind to discussions happening among his top aides

   Sensors planted to detect any movement of Assad’s CW immediately had not been triggered by the August 21 attack

   By June, some intelligence entity had concluded that an Iraqi member of al-Nusra had the capability to manufacture sarin in quantity

A lot of the story serves to establish that two days after the attack, the US had yet to respond to it, presumably because it did not have any intelligence Syria had launched the attack, in part because nothing had triggered the sensors that had worked in the past. To develop its intelligence on the attack days afterwards, the NSA performed key word searches on already-collected radio communications of lower level Syrian military figures.

Hersh On Obama’s Lies About Syrian Chemical Weapons

Moon of Alabama

A month ago Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, wrote about CIA analysts who threatened to resign over the Obama administration allegations about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government:

   With all evidence considered, the intelligence community found itself with numerous skeptics in the ranks, leading to sharp exchanges with the Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public, forcing both Brennan and Clapper to back down.

Now Seymour Hersh writes about the case and finds that the CIA knew that Jabhat al-Nusra, a fundamentalist gang fighting the Syrian government, was capable of producing Sarin, the toxic chemical weapon that was used in a suburb of Damascus:

   In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

   …

   [I]n recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.

MoA has maintained since the very first reports of the chemical weapon use that this attack was likely a false flag event. We also criticized allegations by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch about the origin of the rocket debris found after the attack. The new Hersh report now completely debunks those allegations.

New Yorker, Washington Post Passed On Seymour Hersh Syria Report

By Michael Calderon, Huffington Post

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh accused the Obama administration Sunday of having “cherry-picked intelligence” regarding the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Syria that served as evidence for an argument in favor of striking President Bashar Assad’s government. [..]

Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.

In an email, Hersh wrote that “there was little interest” for the story at The New Yorker.

A New Yorker spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hersh then took the story to The Washington Post. The Post intended to publish it, as BuzzFeed first reported.

Hersh told HuffPost that he went to the Post because of the paper’s reporting on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Dec 09 2013

On This Day In History December 9

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 9 is the 343rd day of the year (344th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 22 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1861, The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War is established by the U.S. Congress.

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was a United States Congressional investigating committee created to handle issues surrounding the American Civil War. It was established on December 9, 1861, following the embarrassing Union defeat at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, at the instigation of Senator Zachariah T. Chandler of Michigan, and continued until May 1865. Its purpose was to investigate such matters as illicit trade with the Confederate states, medical treatment of wounded soldiers, military contracts, and the causes of Union battle losses. The Committee was also involved in supporting the war effort through various means, including endorsing emancipation, the use of black soldiers, and the appointment of generals who were known to be aggressive fighters. It was chaired throughout by Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, and became identified with the Radical Republicans who wanted more aggressive war policies than those of Abraham Lincoln.

History

Union officers often found themselves in an uncomfortable position before the Committee. Since this was a civil war, pitting neighbor against neighbor (and sometimes brother against brother), the loyalty of a soldier to the Union was simple to question. And since Union forces had very poor luck against their Confederate counterparts early in the war, particularly in the Eastern Theater battles that held the attention of the newspapers and Washington politicians, it was easy to accuse an officer of being a traitor after he lost a battle or was slow to engage or pursue the enemy. This politically charged atmosphere was very difficult and distracting for career military officers. Officers who were not known Republicans felt the most pressure before the Committee.

During the committee’s existence, it held 272 meetings and received testimony in Washington and at other locations, often from military officers. Though the committee met and held hearings in secrecy, the testimony and related exhibits were published at irregular intervals in the numerous committee reports of its investigations. The records include the original manuscripts of certain postwar reports that the committee received from general officers. There are also transcripts of testimony and accounting records regarding the military administration of Alexandria, Virginia.

One of the most colorful series of committee hearings followed the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, where Union Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles, a former congressman, accused Maj. Gen. George G. Meade of mismanaging the battle, planning to retreat from Gettysburg prior to his victory there, and failing to pursue and defeat Robert E. Lee‘s army as it retreated. This was mostly a self-serving effort on Sickles’s part because he was trying to deflect criticism from his own disastrous role in the battle. Bill Hyde notes that the committee’s report on Gettysburg was edited by Wade in ways that were unfavorable to Meade, even when that required distorting the evidence. The report was “a powerful propaganda weapon” (p. 381), but the committee’s power had waned by the time the final testimony was taken of William T. Sherman on May 22, 1865.

The war it was investigating completed, the committee ceased to exist after this last testimony, and the final reports were published shortly thereafter. The later Joint Committee on Reconstruction represented a similar attempt to check executive power by the Radical Republicans.

Dec 09 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: The Punishment Cure

Six years have passed since the United States economy entered the Great Recession, four and a half since it officially began to recover, but long-term unemployment remains disastrously high. And Republicans have a theory about why this is happening. Their theory is, as it happens, completely wrong. But they’re sticking to it – and as a result, 1.3 million American workers, many of them in desperate financial straits, are set to lose unemployment benefits at the end of December.

Merry Christmas.

Now, the G.O.P.’s desire to punish the unemployed doesn’t arise solely from bad economics; it’s part of a general pattern of afflicting the afflicted while comforting the comfortable (no to food stamps, yes to farm subsidies). But ideas do matter – as John Maynard Keynes famously wrote, they are “dangerous for good or evil.” And the case of unemployment benefits is an especially clear example of superficially plausible but wrong economic ideas being dangerous for evil. [..]

So the odds, I’m sorry to say, are that the long-term unemployed will be cut off, thanks to a perfect marriage of callousness – a complete lack of empathy for the unfortunate – with bad economics. But then, hasn’t that been the story of just about everything lately?

Robert Kuttner: Economy on the Mend: Good News or Bad News?

Three pieces of seemingly good economic news dominated the headlines last week.

The official unemployment rate dropped to 7.0 percent, its lowest level since 2008, reflecting the fact that the economy has created upwards of 200,000 jobs for each of the past two months.

The GDP growth rate for the third quarter was revised upwards to an impressive 3.6 percent.

And while money markets briefly lurched downward out of fear that the good news would cause the Federal Reserve to slow down its program of massive bond purchase, quite possibly raising interest rates and aborting a stronger recovery, the markets quickly shook off those fears. Investors and traders evidently concluded that the economy had found a Goldilocks spot of not too cold and not too hot. Stock indexes closed the week only a shade below their historic highs.

Should we be encouraged? Is this, at long last, the recovery of broadly shared prosperity we’ve been waiting for?

Not yet, I’m afraid.

Robert Reich: JP Morgan Chase, the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, and the Corruption of America

The Justice Department has just obtained documents showing that JPMorgan Chase, Wall Street’s biggest bank, has been hiring the children of China’s ruling elite in order to secure “existing and potential business opportunities” from Chinese government-run companies. “You all know I have always been a big believer of the Sons and Daughters program,” says one JP Morgan executive in an email, because “it almost has a linear relationship” to winning assignments to advise Chinese companies. The documents even include spreadsheets that list the bank’s “track record” for converting hires into business deals.

It’s a serious offense. But let’s get real. How different is bribing China’s “princelings,” as they’re called there, from Wall Street’s ongoing program of hiring departing U.S. Treasury officials, presumably in order to grease the wheels of official Washington? Timothy Geithner, Obama’s first Treasury Secretary, is now president of the private-equity firm Warburg Pincus; Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag is now a top executive at Citigroup.

Or, for that matter, how different is what JP Morgan did in China from Wall Street’s habit of hiring the children of powerful American politicians?

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Democrats’ “Third Way” Quarrel Could Change Your Future

There was a big dust-up in the Democratic Party last week, triggered by a somewhat incoherent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from the leaders of a Wall Street-funded “think tank”/lobbying group called Third Way. Many of the responses dealt with the op-ed’s attack on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but don’t be distracted by that. As Sen. Warren would undoubtedly agree, the issues involved are much more important than the personalities.

As politicians affiliated with Third Way hasten to distance themselves from the op-ed, the question remains: Why are Democrats affiliated with a group which works so strenuously to gut Democratic programs? Voters deserve more than platitudes from these politicians. They deserveclear answers about the issues.

Juan Cole: Solar Would Be Cheaper: US Pentagon Has Spent $8 Trillion to Guard Gulf Oil

It has cost the United States $8 trillion to provide military security in the Gulf since 1976. According to Roger Stern, a Princeton economist, the US has spent as much on Gulf security as it spent on the entire Cold War with the Soviet Union! In recent years through 2010 it has been $400 billion a year, though the US withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 and the gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan this year and next presumably means that the figure is substantially reduced. Still, we have bases in Kuwait, Qatar and elsewhere, and a Naval HQ in Bahrain, none of which is cheap. If it were $200 billion a year, that is a fair chunk of the budget deficit the Republican Party keeps complaining about. And if we could get that $8 trillion back, it would pay down half of the national debt. [..]

The right argument is that we shouldn’t be using petroleum and nor should our allies. The supreme tragedy is that the US has bankrupted itself ensuring military security for the oil-producing nations of the Gulf when oil production is destroying the world. We need a crash program to get the world off petroleum, some 70% of which is used to power automobiles. People should be given incentives to move back to cities so they don’t have to commute. Better public transport is needed. Portland is an example of how a concerted push can change the urban transportation situation quickly. 8% of commuters in Portland now get to work on bicycle, 10 times more than any other American city. Portland adopted a global warming action plan in 1993 and has renewed it, and demonstrates what can be accomplished in only 20 years if a city puts its mind to it. And, we should move as quickly as possible to hybrid plugins or where practical electric vehicles (EVs).

Michael T. Klare: Rushing for the Arctic’s Riches

WHILE many existing oil and gas reserves in other parts of the world are facing steep decline, the Arctic is thought to possess vast untapped reservoirs. Approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil deposits and 30 percent of its natural gas reserves are above the Arctic Circle, according to the United States Geological Survey. Eager to tap into this largess, Russia and its Arctic neighbors – Canada, Norway, the United States, Iceland and Denmark (by virtue of its authority over Greenland) – have encouraged energy companies to drill in the region. [..]

For Russia, which recently seized a Greenpeace ship and is prosecuting 30 of the group’s activists for attempting to scale an oil platform, the temptation to exploit the Arctic Ocean is especially powerful. Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on exports of oil and gas, and the government relies on these sales for much of its income. Until recently, the Russians could draw on reservoirs in western Siberia to satisfy their needs, but now, with many of these fields in decline, they are counting on Arctic supplies to maintain current production levels. “Our first and main task is to turn the Arctic into Russia’s resource base of the 21st century,” Dmitri A. Medvedev, then the president, declared in 2008.

The Russians have explored drilling options in several offshore areas of the Arctic. In the Pechora Sea, above northwestern Siberia, the Russian energy giant Gazprom has installed its Prirazlomnaya platform – the one protesting Greenpeace activists attempted to board. Further east, in the Kara Sea, the state-owned Rosneft is collaborating with ExxonMobil to develop promising deposits; Rosneft has also teamed up with Statoil of Norway and Eni of Italy to investigate prospects in the Barents Sea.

Dec 09 2013

Sunday Train: Traveling to our deaths and the fatal Metro North derailment

Last Sunday Morning, the 5:45am from Poughkeepsie was running through the Bronx with 100-150 passengers aboard, when it sped through a 30mph speed limit curve at 82mph, derailed, over-turning four cars and killing four people.

This is a story with some differences in detail from the Spanish fatal derailment this summer, but one common feature: the lack of adequate Positive Train Control signaling on the corridor. In the Spanish case, project cost-shaving led to Positive Train Control signaling being installed on the new High Speed Rail corridor but not on connecting corridors that some hybrid services use to reach towns not directly on the HSR corridor. In the Spanish case, full PTC would not have been required to prevent the fatal accident: ‘The Santiago Train Derailment Could Have Been Prevented with a Euro 6,000 beacon’. As later details emerged it became clear that if two analog “ATSFA’ beacons had been replaced with three digital ‘ATSFA’ beacons, at a cost of €6,000 each, that would have prevented the fatal derailment.

The Metro-North connecting from Poughkeepsie through the Bronx into Manhattan is slated to receive Positive Train Control, as required by current Federal Railway Authority policy, but as recounted by Alan Levy:

Metro-North and the LIRR have been trying to wrangle their way out of the PTC mandate, saying it offers “marginal benefits”; a year and a half ago, the New York Post used the word “outrageous” to describe the PTC mandate, saying it would cost over a billion dollars and that the money could go to capacity improvements instead, such as station parking. Lobbying on behalf of Metro-North and the LIRR, Senator Charles Schumer emphasis mine made sure to amend a proposed Senate transportation bill to give the railroads waivers until 2018, so that they could devote resources to more rush hour capacity from the outer suburbs (such as Ronkonkoma) to Manhattan and fewer to safety. According to Siemens, the work will actually take until 2019, and Siemens says it “has developed PTC specifically for the North American market,” in other words built a bespoke system instead of ETCS. (ACSES was developed by Alstom.)

And that is the top-line point: if we had been more serious and committed about putting PTC on the busiest passenger rail corridors in the country, this fatal derailment would not have occurred.

Dec 09 2013

Nights from the Alhambra

Nights from the Alhambra

Nights from the Alhambra was recorded in 2006, before a live audience by Canadian singer, song writer and harpist Loreena McKennitt at the Palace of Charles V, in the Alhambra, Granada, Spain for the PBS series “Great Performances.”