Trump said Tuesday that Obama knew about Clinton’s email arrangements while she served as secretary of state during the president’s first term in office from 2009 to 2013.
“That’s why he stuck up for Hillary, because he didn’t want to be dragged in. Because he knew all about her private server,” Trump told Reuters. “This means that he has to be investigated.”
The White House did not give any comments about Trump’s accusations, but Press Secretary Josh Earnest said earlier on Tuesday that Obama did not know where Clinton’s server had been located or other details, although he did have her personal email address.
Clinton has said her decision to use the private server installed at her home at Chappaqua, New York, for official government business was a mistake and has apologized.
New documents released last month by the FBI showed at least one State Department official had told investigators that there was pressure by senior department officials to mislead the public about the presence of classified information in Clinton’s emails ahead of their public release.
This added fuel to Republicans’ claims that officials in the Obama administration had sought to protect Clinton from criminal liability as she seeks to succeed Obama.
In a March 2015 television interview, Obama said that he had learned of the private email server through news reports.
On Tuesday, WikiLeaks, which has been releasing hacked emails in chunks for several weeks, disclosed a batch of emails from the account of Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, which showed how her campaign reacted following Obama’s televised interview.
“We need to clean this up – he has emails from her – they do not say state.gov.,” Cheryl Mills, a longtime Clinton aide, wrote in an email to Podesta after Obama made the comments.
“State.gov.” is the State Department’s internet domain name, and its presence in the sender’s email address would prove it came from an official account.
In January, the State Department said it had found 18 instances of messages exchanged between Clinton and Obama among some 30,000 work emails Clinton sent back to the department in 2014.
None have been released due to a law that protects presidential communications from becoming public for years.
In the past week, Burundi and South Africa have joined Namibia in declaring their intention to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC). They are likely to be followed by a parade of other African countries, jeopardizing the future of an international court that has prosecuted 39 officials from eight African countries but has failed to indict a single person who is not African.
Ironically, African countries were among the first to embrace the ICC, so it is a striking turnaround that they are now the first to give up on it.
But it is the United States that has played the leading role in preventing the ICC from fulfilling the universal mandate for which it was formed, to hold officials of all countries accountable for the worst crimes in the world: genocide; crimes against humanity; and war crimes – not least the crime of international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg defined as “the supreme international crime” from which all other war crimes follow.
As the ICC’s founding father, former Nuremberg prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz, lamented in 2011, “You don’t have to be a criminologist to realize that if you want to deter a crime, you must persuade potential criminals that, if they commit crimes, they will be hauled into court and be held accountable. It is the policy of the United States to do just the opposite as far as the crime of aggression is concerned. Our government has gone to great pains to be sure that no American will be tried by any international criminal court for the supreme crime of illegal war-making.”
The U.S. has not only refused to accept the jurisdiction of the ICC over its own citizens. It has gone further, pressuring other countries to sign Bilateral Immunity Agreements (BIA), in which they renounce the right to refer U.S. citizens to the ICC for war crimes committed on their territory.
The U.S. has also threatened to cut off U.S. aid to countries that refuse to sign them. The BIAs violate those countries’ own commitments under the ICC statute, and the U.S. pressure to sign them has been rightly condemned as an outrageous effort to ensure impunity for U.S. war crimes.
Resistance to U.S. Impunity
To the credit of our international neighbors, this U.S. strategy has met with substantial resistance. The European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that BIAs are incompatible with E.U. membership, and urged E.U.- member states and countries seeking E.U. membership not to sign them.
Fifty-four countries have publicly refused to sign BIAs, and 24 have accepted cut-offs of U.S. aid as a consequence of their refusal. Of 102 countries that have signed a BIA, only 48 are members of the ICC in any case, and only 15 of those countries are on record as having ratified the BIAs in their own parliaments.
Thirty-two other ICC members have apparently allowed BIAs to take effect without parliamentary ratification, but this has been challenged by their own country’s legal experts in many cases.
The U.S. campaign to undermine the ICC is part of a much broader effort by the U.S. government to evade all forms of accountability under the laws that are supposed to govern international behavior in the modern world, even as it continues to masquerade as a global champion of the rule of law.
The treaties that U.S. policy systematically violates today were crafted by American statesmen and diplomats, working with their foreign colleagues, to build a world where all people would enjoy some basic protections from the worst atrocities, instead of being subject only to the law of the jungle or “might makes right.”
So current U.S. policy is a cynical betrayal of the work and wisdom of past generations of Americans, as well as of countless victims all over the world to whom we are effectively denying the protections of the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and other multilateral treaties that our country ignores, violates or refuses to ratify.
Avoiding the jurisdiction of international courts is only one of the ways that the U.S. evades international accountability for its criminal behavior. Another involves an elaborate and well-disguised public relations campaign that exploit the powerful position of U.S. corporations in the world of commercial media.
Major Propaganda Funding
The U.S. government spends a billion dollars per year on public relations or, more bluntly, propaganda, including $600 million from the Pentagon budget. The work of its P.R. teams and contractors is laundered by U.S. newspapers and repeated and analyzed ad nauseam by monolithic, flag-waving TV networks.
These profitable corporate operations monopolize the public airwaves in the U.S., and also use their financial clout, slick marketing and the support of the U.S. State Department to maintain a powerful presence in foreign and international media markets.
Foreign media in allied countries provide further legitimacy and credibility to U.S. talking-points and narratives as they echo around the world. Meanwhile, Hollywood fills cinema and TV screens across the world with an idealized, glamorized, inspirational version of America that still mesmerizes many people.
This whole elaborate “information warfare” machine presents the United States as a global leader for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, even as it systematically and catastrophically undermines those same principles. It enables our leaders to loudly and persuasively demonize other countries and their leaders as dangerous violators of international law, even as the U.S. and its allies commit far worse crimes.
Double Standards in Syria/Iraq
Today, for instance, the U.S. and its allies are accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes in east Aleppo, even as America’s own and allied forces launch a similar assault on Mosul. Both attacks are killing civilians and reducing much of a city to rubble; the rationale is the same, counterterrorism; and there are many more people in the line of fire in Mosul than in east Aleppo.
But the U.S. propaganda machine ensures that most Americans see one, in Mosul, as a legitimate counterterrorism operation (with Islamic State accused of using the civilians as “human shields”) and the other, in east Aleppo, as a massacre (with the presence of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the former Nusra Front, virtually whited out of the West’s coverage, which focuses almost entirely on the children and makes no mention of “human shields”).
The phrase “aggressive war” is also a no-no in the Western media when the U.S. government launches attacks across international borders. In the past 20 years, the U.S. has violated the U.N. Charter to attack at least eight countries (Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria), and the resulting wars have killed about two million people.
A complex whirlwind of conflict and chaos rages on in all the countries where the U.S. and its allies have lit the flames of war since 2001, but U.S. leaders still debate new interventions and escalations as if we are the fire brigade not the arsonists. (By contrast, the U.S. government and the Western media are quick to accuse Russia or other countries of “aggression” even in legally murky situations, such as after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014 that ousted the elected president of Ukraine.)
Systematic violations of the Geneva Conventions are an integral part of U.S. war-making. Most are shrouded in secrecy, and the propaganda machine spins the atrocities that slip through into the public record as a disconnected series of aberrations, accidents and “bad apples,” instead of as the result of illegal rules of engagement and unlawful orders from higher-ups.
The senior officers and civilian officials who are criminally responsible for these crimes under U.S. and international law systematically abuse their powerful positions to subvert investigations, cover up their crimes and avoid any accountability whatsoever.
When British playwright Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, he bravely and brilliantly used his Nobel lecture to speak about the real role that the U.S. plays in the world and how it whitewashes its crimes. Pinter recounted a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in London in the 1980s in which a senior embassy official, Raymond Seitz, flatly denied U.S. war crimes against Nicaragua for which the U.S. was in fact convicted of aggression by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Seitz went on to serve as Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., and then Vice-Chairman of Lehman Brothers.
As Pinter explained: “this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.
“The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.
“Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.
“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
If in 2016 the world seems to be more violent and chaotic than ever, it is not because the United States lacks the will to use force or project power, as both major party candidates for President and their military advisers appear to believe, but because our leaders have placed too much stock in the illegal threat and use of force and have lost faith in the rule of law, international cooperation and diplomacy.
After a century of commercial dominance, and 75 years of investing disproportionately in weapons, military forces and geopolitical schemes, perhaps it is understandable that U.S. leaders have forgotten how to deal fairly and respectfully with our international neighbors. But it is no longer an option to muddle along, leaving a trail of death, ruin and chaos in our wake, counting on an elaborate propaganda machine to minimize the blowback on our country and our lives.
Sooner rather than later, Americans and our leaders must knuckle down and master the very different attitudes and skills we will need to become law-abiding global citizens in a peaceful, sustainable, multipolar world.
Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq. He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.
Yes, there will be election fraud, and on a grand scale
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | October 23, 2016
It is a virtual certainty that the American establishment will resort to election fraud to help Hillary Clinton. They simply do not know what to do about Donald Trump. America’s election system was not designed to handle a phenomenon like him, a non-politician, a man with some genuinely fresh anti-establishment views, who quickly rides a wave of popularity to do a hostile take-over, as it were, of a major old-line party.
America’s election system is designed to give the theater of democracy with virtually none of the substance, but even in the face of that reality, election fraud in America still has a long history. Even though we are usually talking about two establishment candidates representing two establishment parties, the competitive instincts of the two rival gangs, each eagerly seeking power and privileges and appointed offices for themselves and their adherents, have often resulted in vote fraud. How much greater is the impulse now in that direction to defend against a candidate who actually wants to change something?
Despite an unprecedented spectacle of the press acting as a national public disinformation system united in one goal, to discredit Trump, including even polls deliberately engineered with sampling errors to give a false view of what is happening, and a massive effort to build Hillary up into something she is not, a decent human being, the momentum for Trump continues.
Even if you don’t have reliable numbers, you can just feel it from the very desperation of the establishment. The President spends much of his time flying around making insipid speeches for his party, the newspapers leap to publish every unconfirmed negative report about Trump or such absolute trivia as this or that movie star or pop star saying what an awful man Trump is. And you have to ask where all these voices were during decades of business deals in the great cities of America and other places which saw successful projects springing up all over with fanfare and publicity.
No, it is only now that the establishment actually feels the hot breath of popular revolt against much of what it has done over the last two decades – its uniquely poisonous policy brew of constant war and completely ignoring most Americans – that we get this explosion of rumors, unproved accusations, and Joseph McCarthy-style innuendo. Before that, Trump was a highly productive member of society welcome at public events of every kind. After all, wealth and celebrity are always welcome in America. It is only change that is not.
Critics are right about a lot of unpleasant things in America, and their voices are simply not heard in its tight little press oligopoly. Is America’s establishment right about Syria? About Libya? About Yemen? About Israel? About NATO? About Russia? China? Being right in America today can be quite lonely.
America invented marketing. It is one of its few truly original contributions to culture. And the arts of marketing are intensely at work in politics there, to the extent there is often almost no substance despite all the carefully-packaged words. The immediate period after an American election resembles the experience of a person who has purchased a new product which quickly proves to work nothing like the advertising promises said it would.
American elections closely resemble a marketing battle between two oligopolistic corporations, as between Coke and Pepsi or McDonald’s and Burger King. There are only two parties and that situation is controlled through countless institutional and regulatory gimmicks put into place by the two parties themselves.
America’s campaign financing system is a deliberate and effective method to discourage the birth or growth of any new parties. It is what economists call a barrier to entry into a market, the kind of thing which keeps non-political oligopolistic markets from becoming more competitive. The little ones are allowed to just struggle along on the margins for appearances and owing to the disproportionately high cost of eliminating them too.
Most of the noise and intensity of American elections is just hollow, but it is the kind of stuff to which Americans are exposed in their economic life, day-in or day-out, so for ordinary people without the time to be well-informed, nothing could sound more normal.
That is what is so different about Trump. Despite his flaws and distasteful tendency to be a bigmouth, on some really important matters, matters of life and death, he is speaking truth and speaking it plainly. There is a kind of revolutionary quality in parts of his message. Of course, this in part reflects the fact that he has never before been a politician, only a successful, hard-nosed actor in the economic sphere.
That is something new in American elections, and the establishment is rather shaken by it. Therefore, the American press has created and sustained an unparalleled campaign of highly biased and even vicious reporting and commentary.
People abroad do not realize that about 90% of what Americans hear comes from just six big companies, none of whom, you may be sure, is interested in change and especially anything even slightly revolutionary. National broadcasting and national press have been so consolidated through years of massive mergers that there is no real alternative voice reaching most Americans.
And those huge news corporations – intimate members of the establishment, always supporting the government of the day in its imperial wars and projects – have made a concerted effort to diminish and demean Trump. Equally, they have universally praised and supported Clinton, despite her dark record of unethical personal behavior and violent public acts, despite having been responsible for the deaths of thousands of women and their families.
Never mind Trump’s private off-color remarks, here is a woman married for decades to a genuine sexual predator, a man who was having sex with a young intern right in the Oval Office. And she wants to bring him back into affairs in Washington, having promised to give him responsibility for economy?
Why did she tolerate decades of his disgraceful and even criminal behavior? Because it gave her serious leverage over him in office, whether as Governor of Arkansas or President of the United States. We have a hundred voices telling us of her violent temper and demands and the central role she would assume even though elected to no office.
She has always been about one thing only, and that is to enjoy power over others which she has exercised with brutal intensity, all while maintaining a bug-eyed, laughing face in public. She is without question a genuine sociopath.
Even when we see fascinating revelations about her inside political maneuvering and dishonesty from leaks on the Internet, the national press manages largely to ignore them or to diminish them. They do not catch fire. The techniques of public relations and damage control – outgrowths of marketing principles and psychological manipulation techniques – are employed to suffocate any fires.
We do see signs that the Internet is starting to have some real impact with the general population, and to the extent that is true, we also see the establishment working towards suppressing alternate and independent voices on the Internet by a variety of means.
America uses an awkward expression, “controlling the narrative,” to describe what the establishment is quietly undertaking, always trying not to assume the open appearance of old Soviet-style suppression of information or the promotion of heavy-handed disinformation while in fact assuming the substance of their purpose.
In the longer term, I am not convinced they can succeed. The Internet is an almost uncontrollable force, that is unless you actually suppress and control aspects of the Internet itself, something recent remarks by Obama – a man who is a strict disciple of secrecy and inner-sanctum privilege – suggest in vague and politically-correct language, there may well be efforts underway towards that goal.
This fact only adds to the importance of this election. If Trump loses, there can be no doubt, the secretive, manipulative, and ruthless Hillary Clinton will commission whatever efforts are required for information suppression. After all, a person ruthlessly pursuing war and secretive manipulation of world affairs can never be a friend to openness and truth, which are literally enemies of such goals.
The entire business of terror and fighting terror offers a great deal of latitude this way, suppression in the name of fighting terror, the great irony, of course, for America being that it does not consistently fight terror, it frequently employs it as a tool of statecraft. We’ve seen that in my lifetime in everything from the long covert battle against Castro and the hideous, pointless war in Vietnam to the employment of jihadists in Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria.
For some genuine history of American vote fraud, readers should see my lengthy comment on Obama’s recent speech, in which he told Trump to “stop whining.”
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s call for improved relations with Russia during his third debate with rival Hillary Clinton was sneered at as having a “bromance” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Barack Obama said in a speech.
“Your [Republican] party’s nominee for president was kissing up to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, the former KGB officer,” Obama said while campaigning for Clinton at Miami Gardens in Florida on Thursday.
Obama ridiculed Republicans for supporting a presidential candidate who had repeatedly advocated having good relations with Russia and its leader.
“You [Republicans] are OK with your nominee having a bromance with Putin,” he added to cheers from his audience.
In his debate with Clinton on Wednesday night, Trump said he had never met Putin and repeated his previously expressed opinion that good relations between the United States and Russia were desirable. Trump has also called for cooperation with Russia in fighting the Islamic State terror group.
The US military has dramatically increased the number of its airstrikes in Libya in less than a month, new data shows, further cementing President Barack Obama’s record of taking more military action than any other American president.
American fighter jets and drones stationed aboard the amphibious assault vessel USS Wasp off the Libyan coast, have so far carried out 324 airstrikes in the country, according to data by the Pentagon’s Africa Command, which leads the operation.
This is more than two times the 161 air raids that the US had carried out in Libya until September 21.
According to a report by Reuters, American aircraft had conducted more than 30 strikes across Libya between Saturday and Monday.
Washington began the air campaign on August 1, under the pretext of taking out the Daesh (ISIL) Takfiri terrorists, who rose to power in the oil-rich country after the NATO-backed ousting and death of longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Initially, the White House had claimed that the bombing campaign would be focused on the Libyan coastal city of Sirte, which fell to Daesh last year, and would end in a few “weeks.”
However, Obama silently extended the prolonged campaign for another month in late September.
The military intervention is likely to continue over the next months, as indicated by a US military official in a Fox News interview on Monday.
“We continue to work with GNA (the Government of National Accord) aligned forces as they clear through Sirte and we now have better intelligence,” the official told Fox on the condition of anonymity.
In addition to the bombing campaign, US troops have also been “in and out” of Libya, according to Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Gordon Trowbridge.
The Obama administration has set a new record in terms of military intervention abroad, carrying out airstrikes and ground operations in at least seven countries, namely Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Libya.
Earlier this year, Obama regretted meddling in Libya as his “worst mistake,” because it led to a power vacuum that gave rise to terrorist groups in the country.
Despite his repeated public statements opposing “American boots on the ground,” President Barack Obama—just shy of the end of his time in office— has been expanding U.S. military presence in war-torn Somalia as the Pentagon has deployed up to 300 U.S. special forces and increased airstrikes in the African country, the New York Times reported Sunday.
U.S. special operation troops have been “heavily involved” with Somali and African troops, U.S. and African officials told the newspaper, as part of operation “Somalia Campaign” which Obama has quietly and secretly spearheaded in a bid to fight the al-Qaida-aligned Shabab group.
The special forces are carrying out, along with other local troops, more than six raids a month against what they claim are extremist group positions.
Officials told the newspaper that the U.S. troops get to interrogate alleged militants first before they are passed on to local Somali authorities, which brings to mind the countless accounts of torture and brutal interrogation methods carried out by U.S. agents and soldiers in the past.
What’s more troubling is that information about the airstrikes—where hundreds of people are being killed—are not being made public.
One of the deadliest airstrikes by the U.S. in the county came in March when the Pentagon said its military jets killed more than 150 alleged Shabab fighters at what military officials called a “graduation ceremony.”
Another airstrike last month killed more than a dozen Somali government soldiers, who are supposedly U.S. allies against the Shabab, Somali officials told the New York Times.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon admits to very few of the hundreds of operations taking place in Somalia, labeling them as “self-defense strikes.”
However, analysts and observers of the conflict have said “this rationale has become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” meaning that the only reason U.S. forces are facing any threat at all from Shabab group is because of their very deployment into the country in the first place.
This year alone Obama has authorized airstrikes and covert operations in at least seven countries and the Somalia campaign comes as the outgoing president intends to pass on his administration’s model for how to carry out foreign interventions—like in Syria, Iraq and Libya—to his successor.
Somalia will be remembered as another large stain in Obama’s record as the country is considered one of the largest targets for Washington’s drone program that has been accused of killing civilians, with very loose guidelines on collateral damage.
The world seems to be sleepwalking its way into a geopolitical maelstrom as the US, increasingly paranoid over Russia, said it is considering a cyber-attack against the Kremlin in retaliation for purported Russian meddling in the US election process.
NBC News, citing those conveniently omnipresent “anonymous sources,” reported that the CIA is preparing to deliver ideas to the White House for “a wide-ranging ‘clandestine’ cyber operation designed to harass and ‘embarrass’ the Kremlin leadership,” as if dragging the Kremlin through the mud of the 2016 presidential campaign wasn’t embarrassing enough.
The report went on to say that the covert action plan, which is certainly no longer covert, “is designed to protect the US election system and insure that Russian hackers can’t interfere with the November vote (…) Another goal is to send a message to Russia that it has crossed a line.”
Before continuing, it is important to note that America’s electronic voting machines have long been vulnerable to hackers and vote riggers. And with all due respect to Russian ingenuity and resourcefulness, it was not the Russians who revealed that information to the Americans. In 2006, a group of computer programmers from Princeton University said they successfully created “vote-stealing software” that could be easily installed on a Diebold AccuVote-TS (the programmers, incidentally, admitted they acquired the voting machine “at a party”).
NBC then interviewed former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell about Washington’s alleged plans to conduct a cyber-attack against Russia. Morell was against the covert cyber plan, but for all the wrong reasons.
“Physical attacks on networks is not something the US wants to do because we don’t want to set a precedent for other countries to do it as well, including against us,” he said. “My own view is that our response shouldn’t be covert – it should overt, for everybody to see.”
Incidentally, it was Morell who told Charlie Rose in August that“we need to make the Russians pay a price” – i.e. kill them – apparently for the Russian military’s actions in Syria, which came as a shock given its success in routing Islamic State forces in the war-stricken Arab Republic.
NBC, as well as every other media outlet that has reported on the “Russian hacks,” failed to provide any concrete evidence of Russia “tampering in the US election process.” The NBC article, however, did prove that the Democrats, in a desperate bid to keep their Oval Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, will do whatever it takes to ‘help’ Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump next month, even to the point of staging a zero-sum, take-no-prisoner poker game with Russia, the possible implications of which simply boggle the mind.
Political high stakes
Hunting season against the big, bad Russian bear opened in July this year, as WikiLeaks dumped a batch of incriminating emails showing that Hillary Clinton had received favorable treatment by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) over other presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders. The scandal led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the now-disgraced DNC chair.
Before WikiLeaks gleefully dumped the emails, the FBI had just concluded an investigation against Clinton for using her private server while handling thousands of government documents, many of them stamped ‘classified.’ The FBI, admitting the former Secretary of State had been “extremely careless” with her computer, recommended that no charges be filed against her. At this point, the reader may be asking: Okay, what does any of this have to do with Russia? That’s a very good question, and one that Russia is asking as well.
In fact, the only evidence is circumstantial, via a remark uttered by Donald Trump, who suggested – sarcastically – that Russia might want to help US authorities locate thousands of Clinton emails that mysteriously vanished in the ether.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump quipped at a news conference in late July. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
The Clinton campaign failed to see the irony of the comments, of course. Instead, it took Trump’s words quite literally, peddling to a gullible public the story of deep collaboration between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. From there, rumors of a budding ‘bromance’ between Putin and Trump provided the necessary diversion to distract attention away from the explosive content of Clinton’s emails, and to the fantasy land of “Russian aggression.”
The Clinton campaign’s readiness to do whatever it required to win the White House was brought out in stark relief with the latest batch of leaked emails. The Young Turks, for example, found that Clinton was actually tipped off regarding a question on the death penalty that would be asked at the CNN Town Hall Debate against Donald Trump. The email in question was sent by Donna Brazile, who was then employed at CNN before becoming interim DNC Chair.
When Brazile was confronted with the allegations, she reacted by casually dismissing them. “I refuse to open them,” she remarked, talking about the proof of the leaks that had been sent to her email, of all places. “And I’ve asked the staff at the DNC and all of our Democratic allies, don’t open up that crap, because it’s postmarked from Russia.”
Clinton officials echoed Brazile’s comments, dubbing the popular whistleblower website a “propaganda arm of the Russian government.”
So just like that, yet another case of Clinton political chicanery, worthy of a Watergate-style investigation, is swept under America’s carpet, while WikiLeaks and Russia are accused of working in tandem to stain the squeaky clean electoral process. And now here we are, with the Obama administration suggesting some sort of cyber-attack on Russia – a nuclear-armed country, by the way – over what really amounts to extreme misconduct at the highest levels of the Clinton campaign, with Russia being dragged in as scapegoat.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s dogged insistence that Russia is somehow responsible for the hacked emails, which even the media has admitted it cannot prove, is forcing the outgoing Obama administration to act as if it is doing something about it.
On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden met “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd for an interview that has raised serious concern in Russia.
Without bothering to question the validity of the claims, Todd took the allegations of Russian hacking at face value, opening his interview with a loaded question: “Why haven’t we sent a message yet to Putin?”
After a moment of deafening silence in which it was possible to hear the gears grinding in Biden’s brain, the VP responded: “We’re sending a message. We have the capacity to do it and it will be at the time of our choosing, and under the circumstances that will have the greatest impact.”
When Todd asked if the public will know a message was sent, Biden replied, “Hope not.”
Now just try and square that. Biden tells Todd on national television that the United States will “send a message” to Russia that has the “greatest impact,” yet he hopes the American public will not connect the dots and discover whodunnit.
The inherent danger of NBC News posting this story and interview is obvious. First, as has been said a hundred times already, there is zero proof to connect Russia to the alleged hacks; and if the Obama administration is sitting on evidence it defies logic not to provide that to the public. Furthermore, should Russia be hit one day by a cyber-attack in the near or distant future, the obvious temptation will be to pin the blame on the United States, and regardless of the state of bilateral relations at that time. So in that respect, the Obama administration is doing future US and Russian administrations a terrible disservice by uttering such mindless threats that will hang over US-Russia relations for as long as our technological societies are dependent on computer systems, i.e. a very long time.
In fact, this is not the first time that the brilliant idea of talking up a cyber strike on Russia has happened. In August, the influential Atlantic Council released a paper calling for Poland to ‘reserve the right’ to attack Russian infrastructure, including Moscow’s public transport and RT’s offices, via electronic warfare. One of the authors of that diabolical piece is an adviser to BAE Systems, Europe’s largest company in the Defence Sector. Go figure.
So whether Joe Biden is simply uttering election-year rhetoric to sway voter opinion no longer matters to Russia. Unsubstantiated claims of Russian hacking is one thing, but when the second-ranking US official not only joins the blame game, but asserts that Russia will be on the receiving end of a cyber-attack, well, we’ve clearly entered an entirely new dimension – a parallel reality, if you like.
On Sunday, Vladimir Putin emphasized that US threats of cyber-attacks do not correspond to the norms of international relations.
“The only novelty is that for the first time, on the highest level, the United States has admitted involvement in these activities, and to some extent threatened [us] – which of course does not meet the standards of international communication,” the Russian leader said.
“Apparently, they are nervous,” he added.
“One can expect just about anything from our American friends. After all, what did he (Biden) say that we didn’t already know? Didn’t we know that US authorities are spying and eavesdropping on everyone?”
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks expressed reservations over the seriousness of a covert cyberwar on Russia.
“If the US ‘clandestine’ pending cyberwar on Russia was serious: 1) it would not have been announced 2) it would be the NSA [National Security Agency] and not the CIA,” WikiLeaks wrote on Twitter.
Aside from the leaked emails from WikiLeaks, which are tossing a monkey wrench into the Democrat’s election plans, there are many other issues affecting the cantankerous American campaign. Donald Trump, for example, has promised to severely scale back America’s military footprint around the world, as well as end military campaigns that are drying up US finances. This is the very last thing the elite and the powerful military-industrial complex want, and they are willing to do anything – including lying through their teeth about Russian hacking – to ensure that Clinton gets into the White House and maintain the status quo.
Regarding the claims of a possible cyber-attack on Russia, there are also grounds for taking this report with a generous handful of salt. First, Barack Obama is presiding over the remaining lame-duck days of his 8 years in office. And lately there have been disturbing signs of a mutiny of sorts inside his administration.
In June, for example, dozens of State Department diplomats, apparently upset with Russian military’s successes in Syria, signed an internal memo calling the United States to carry out military strikes against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which sounds curiously like the position many predict Clinton will take should she reach the White House.
Since the NBC News report of an alleged plan to conduct a cyber-attack on Russia contained not a single named source, not to mention the futility of publicly declaring a “covert” operation, this may be nothing more than a case of the US mainstream media unilaterally poking the hornets nest, agitating Russia, while creating a perfect smokescreen to conceal the misconduct of their obvious favorite candidate – Wall Street-approved, Neocon-supported, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Just a geography question. Or maybe it’s a different sort of question.
Do a web search for “USS Mason” and you will find countless “news” reports about how this poor innocent U.S. ship has been fired upon, and fired upon again, and how it has fired back “countermeasures” in self-defense.
But you might stumble onto one article from CNN (don’t watch the totally misleading video posted just above the text) that says:
“Officials Saturday night were uncertain about what exactly happened, if there were multiple incoming missiles or if there was a malfunction with the radar detection system on the destroyer.”
So, was the poor wittle innocent destroyer fired at or not?
The simple but apparently impossible point to grasp is that it does not matter. The United States destabilized Yemen with a massive killing spree known as a “drone war.” The United States armed Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen with jets, supplied the jets, supplied the bombs (and cluster bombs), refueled the jets midair, provided the targeting information, provided the cover at the United Nations, and deployed its ships to the coast of Yemen as part of its effort to achieve U.S./Saudi power in Yemen through mass murder and devastation. If one group or another or nobody in Yemen fired some harmless shots at a U.S. ship the outcome is the same: zero legal or moral or practical justification to continue or escalate the killing, and zero logic in calling such escalation “defensive.”
Likewise, speculation — including in the CNN video posted just above its article — that Iran was behind the possibly fictional attacks on the U.S. ship does not matter. The conclusions that can be drawn are identical whether or not such baseless and wishful theories are true.
This is the point of my use of examples of past similar (non)-incidents like the Gulf of Tonkin Non-Incident in my book War Is A Lie. The point is not that because the U.S. military lied about Tonkin it’s likely to be lying again next time (though that’s a fair conclusion). The point is actually completely different. The point is that when you put U.S. ships on the coast of Vietnam and use them to fire on Vietnam, the question of whether anyone ever fires back is not a question of aggression against the United States of America.
Let’s recall what (didn’t) happen on August 4, 1964. U.S. war ships were on the coast of North Vietnam and were engaged in military actions against North Vietnam. So President Lyndon Johnson knew he was lying when he claimed the August 4 (non)-attack was unprovoked. And any ordinary person could have known he was lying without awaiting any classified leaks. One simply had to check to see which coast of the United States the Gulf of Tonkin was on. (Same with the Red Sea.)
Had the Gulf of Tonkin Incident happened, it could not have been unprovoked. The same ship that was supposedly attacked on August 4 had damaged three North Vietnamese boats and killed four North Vietnamese sailors two days earlier, in an action where the evidence suggests the United States fired first, although the opposite was claimed. In fact, in a separate operation days earlier, the United States had begun shelling the mainland of North Vietnam.
But the supposed attack on August 4 was actually, at most, a misreading of U.S. sonar. The ship’s commander cabled the Pentagon claiming to be under attack, and then immediately cabled to say his earlier belief was in doubt and no North Vietnamese ships could be confirmed in the area. President Johnson was not sure there had been any attack when he told the American public there had been. Months later he admitted privately: “For all I know, our navy was just shooting at whales out there.” But by then Johnson had the authorization from Congress for the war he’d wanted. There the parallel breaks down, of course, as President Barack Constitutional Scholar Obama cannot be bothered with Congressional authorizations. Yet he still requires a certain level of public tolerance.
In a 2003 documentary called The Fog of War, Robert McNamara, who had been Secretary of “Defense” at the time of the Tonkin lies, admitted that the August 4 attack did not happen and that there had been serious doubts at the time. He did not mention that on August 6 he had testified in a joint closed session of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees along with Gen. Earl Wheeler. Before the two committees, both men claimed with absolute certainty that the North Vietnamese had attacked on August 4.
McNamara also did not mention that just days after the Tonkin Gulf non-Incident, he had asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide him with a list of further U.S. actions that might provoke North Vietnam. He obtained the list and advocated for those provocations in meetings prior to Johnson’s ordering such actions on September 10. These actions included resuming the same ship patrols and increasing covert operations, and by October ordering ship-to-shore bombardment of radar sites (exactly what the U.S. just did in Yemen).
A 2000-2001 National Security Agency (NSA) report concluded there had been no attack at Tonkin on August 4 and that the NSA had deliberately lied. The Bush Administration did not allow the report to be published until 2005, due to concern that it might interfere with lies being told to get the Afghanistan and Iraq wars started.
On March 8, 1999, Newsweek had published the mother of all lies: “America has not started a war in this century.” No doubt Team Bush thought it best to leave that pretense undisturbed.
When the United States was lied more deeply into the Vietnam War, all but two senators voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. One of the two, Wayne Morse (D-OR), told other senators that he had been told by the Pentagon that the alleged attack by the North Vietnamese had been provoked. Obviously any attack would have been provoked. But the attack itself was fictional, and that’s the point people seem to latch onto, missing the more important understanding that it does not matter.
Senator Morse’s colleagues did not oppose him on the grounds that he was mistaken, however. Instead, a senator told him, “Hell, Wayne, you can’t get into a fight with the president when all the flags are waving and we’re about to go to a national convention. All [President] Lyndon [Johnson] wants is a piece of paper telling him we did right out there, and we support him.”
Hell, Swanson, you can’t raise scruples about blowing people up in Yemen when traitors are failing to stand during the National Anthem and Hillary Clinton took big bucks from Saudi Arabia and Boeing into her family foundation to get those jets there and the Democrats are trying to paint Donald Trump as too dovish.
The desert town of Agadez in Niger is currently best known as a stop on the people-smuggling route between West Africa and Europe, but it is about to take its place in the geopolitical stage as the American military has announced it will build a drone base on its outskirts. Reportedly costing U.S. taxpayers as much of $100 million, the base is just the latest American play for military supremacy in Africa — Niger is the only country in that volatile region of the continent prepared to risk allowing Washington a base for its MQ-9 Reapers, the even more lethal successor to the notorious Predator drone.
While the U.S. is strengthening its military capabilities in the region, it is also forging deeper ties with Niger’s repressive government. President Mahamadou Issoufou was re-elected in March with a laughably high 92% of the vote. Suspicions about the legitimacy of the landslide win are warranted, considering the run-up to the election was marred by the jailing of a pro-opposition pop singer, the barring of nearly a quarter of voters from the race, and the fact that the opposition coalition withdrew its candidate, Hama Amadou, from the contest. The opposition cited unfair treatment between the two candidates, not least because Amadou was put in jail on spurious charges of “baby trafficking” and forced to campaign from behind bars. Issoufou’s American partners, however, promptly issued a laughable press release congratulating Issoufou on his win and reaffirming the US’s commitment to its “partnership with Niger on security, development, and democratic governance.”
The people of Niger have less to be pleased about. While President Issoufou and his military enjoy the lucrative revenue that comes with inviting the American military to pursue the endless War on Terror on Nigerien soil, everyday Nigerians continue to suffer. As the United Nations Human Development Index makes clear, Niger is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Issoufou, for his part, seems to forget who he is meant to be representing, especially as he continues to grant French energy company Areva tax breaks as it mines uranium in the north of the country. No matter that the local population is affected by radiation without benefiting from the extraction taking place in their midst.
Far from being the exception, Niger is simply the latest in a long line of countries happy to take greenbacks in exchange for allowing the U.S. to pursue its hegemonic designs for Africa. Across the continent in Djibouti, to take just one example, Ismail Omar Guelleh has turned his tiny country – barely bigger than the state of New Jersey – into a massive multi-nation military base, with U.S. and Chinese warships nestled alongside each other. It is, according to American ambassador Thomas Kelly, a modern day equivalent of Casablanca in the 1940s. Specifically, he cites “all the different nationalities elbowing each other” and “all the intrigue”.
Like Niger, Djibouti exploits the “island of stability” narrative to make itself indispensable to international partners. Sadly, the money earned from all the military bases in the country does not trickle down to the population. 42% of Djiboutians live in extreme poverty, and another 48% are unemployed. Meanwhile, the U.S. turns a blind eye to “electoral hold-ups” like Guelleh’s re-election earlier this year. Washington said little in 2010, when President Guelleh amended the constitution to permit himself to seek his third and now fourth term in office. In the U.S. foreign policy calculus, it seems allegiance to autocrats will always trump the democratic commitment to human rights and popular sovereignty from the moment fuzzy words like “terrorism” or “security” come into play.
Sadly, this pattern goes back decades in Africa. The Reagan administration helped Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré – dubbed ‘Africa’s Pinochet’ – into power and helped keep him there with millions of dollars in military aid and training for his bloodthirsty secret police. Habré, of course, was put on trial in Senegal in 2015 for crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes, and his historic conviction this year marked one of the rare instances when an African dictator has truly faced justice for their actions. In 2011, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak enjoyed $1.3 billion in aid from American partners and was seen as “an ideal partner for the United States, as long as Washington focused on stability in the present without much thought about long term implications.”
The “long term implications” are where Washington’s one-track mindset ends up burning American policymakers time and time again. Instead of helping to reinforce stability in any part of the world, be it West Africa, Central America, or the Middle East, US-backed dictators eventually fall. Their abuses, combined with the collateral damage wrought by U.S. actions (especially drone strikes), help stoke and perpetuate the grievances that allow the very terrorist groups Washington is targeting to thrive. As American aid and support goes to leaders that crush dissent and subvert the democratic order, as Issoufou is doing in Niger, the invariable result is widespread resentment against the U.S. and the West more generally.
Blaise Compaoré, the former president of Burkina Faso – a “key hub of the U.S. spying network” – is only one of the most recent to fall. Despite the fact that Compaoré’s early years in power were marked by a cozy relationship with Muammar Gaddafi and accusations that he sent mercenaries to fight United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, the U.S. security community embraced him as a partner. After a popular uprising in the streets of Ouagadougou blocked Compaoré’s attempt to extend his 27 years in power, the onetime army officer fled to Ivory Coast, leaving behind not only a tumultuous political legacy but also an impoverished country not altogether [free] from terrorist attacks like those conducted by al-Qaeda in January.
By getting into bed with African dictators, the U.S. simply sets up future problems for itself while ensuring life gets no better for the continent’s most vulnerable populations.
An American arms dealer, previously indicted for arming Libyan rebels, accused the US of using him as a scapegoat to protect Hillary Clinton. He says the government used his plan to ship weapons to Libya, some of which wound up in terrorists’ hands.
“I would say, 100 percent, I was victimized … to somehow discredit me, to throw me under the bus, to do whatever it took to protect their next presidential candidate,” Marc Turi told Fox News.
He says that he had specifically been targeted by the Obama administration for years. Eventually, he said, he “lost everything – my family, my friends, my business, my reputation.”
Indicted with four felony counts in 2014, Turi’s trial would have start on November 8, but the Department of Justice suddenly dropped charges against him last week.
Turi now says that the abrupt move was not just good luck for him, but rather let the US government avoid unwanted revelations, “especially in this election year.”
“Those transcripts from current as well as former CIA officers were classified,” Turi told Fox’s Catherine Herridge, referring to what would have been the major evidence against the US government. After two years of sparring over the evidence, the DOJ opted to toss out Turi’s case with prejudice.
“If any of these relationships [had] been revealed it would have opened up a can of worms. There wouldn’t have been any good answer for the US government especially in this election year,” he said.
The transcripts Turi referred to reportedly included his email exchange with Chris Stevens, America’s envoy to the Libyan opposition, in 2011. Turi was offering the government to supply Libyan rebels with conventional weapons through Qatar and UAE, to bypass the UN’s ban on direct sales. He called it “a zero footprint scheme.”
However, he told Fox News that he neither ever “shipped anything,” nor “even received the contract.”
“So all I received was an approval for $534 million to support our interests overseas. And it would have been the United States government that facilitated that operation from Qatar and UAE by way of allowing those countries to land their planes and land their ships in Libya,” he said.
Shortly after Turi’s exchange with Stevens, Hillary Clinton wrote in response to her aide Jake Sullivan’s memo, “fyi. the idea of using private security experts to arm the opposition should be considered.”
Turi believes it was not a coincidence that Clinton sent her email that day.
“When you look at this timeline, none of it was a coincidence. It was all strategically managed and it had to come from her own internal circle,” he said.
However, as he also told Fox News, he thinks those emails that contained any information about the weapons programs were deleted by Hillary Clinton and her team.
“It would have gone to an organization within the Bureau of Political Military affairs within the State Department known as PM/RSAT (Office of Regional Security and Arms Transfers.) That’s where you would find Jake Sullivan, Andrew Shapiro and a number of political operatives that would have been intimately involved with this foreign policy,” Turi said.
The email that Clinton sent to Sullivan, dated April, 8, 2011, was declassified and released on May 22, 2015, but that line about “private security experts” was redacted. The Select Committee on Benghazi, however, said it was one of the emails that highlighted “significant investigative questions.”
Nearly two years later, Clinton testified in front of the Senate about the 2012 Benghazi consulate attack, telling Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) that she did not know whether the US was involved in any weapons deals and arms transfers.
“With all the resources that they were throwing at me, I knew there would have to be some type of explanation of the operation that was going terribly wrong in Libya,” Turi said. “It is completely un-American … I was a contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency.”
Turi claims it was Clinton and the State Department that had the lead and people dealing with weapons flowing to Libya and Syria. What’s even more concerning is that, as Turi says, some arms might have ended in the hands of terrorists.
“Some [weapons] may have … [gone]out under control that we had with our personnel over there and the others went to these militia. That’s how they lost control over it,” Turi said. “I can assure you that these operations did take place and those weapons did go in different directions.”
He then did not rule out a possibility that terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda or Ansar al-Sharia and even Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) could have acquired those weapons.
“All of them, all of them, all of them,” he responded to Fox News.
However, with charges against Turi dropped, it is most likely that emails that could have exposed Clinton’s support for his “zero footprint” plan will remain secret.
“Documents that would have come out would be very embarrassing to the administration,” Daniel McAdams, Executive Director of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, told RT. “What happened in Libya is that the US was pretending to send weapons to moderates and it ended up that they are all jihadists, all extremists.”
Conn M. Hallinan, a columnist for Foreign Policy in Focus, also said that if Turi’s case ever made it to trial, Clinton’s campaign would be ruined.
“Of course the United States was supplying weapons to the Libyan rebels. It’s very common for the US to use private contractors,” he told RT. “Libya was Hillary Clinton’s operation, she designed the entire Libya operation. That would have been a complete catastrophe and so she has backed herself away from it.”
The United States has called for trying Russia for committing war crimes in Syria. Secretary of state John Kerry said in Washington on Friday, “Russia and the (Syrian) regime owe the world more than an explanation… These are acts that beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes. And those who commit these would and should be held accountable… We also need to keep the pressure up on Russia with respect to the implementation of the Minsk agreement (on Ukraine). And we… make it clear publicly that if we cannot implement Minsk in the next months or arrive at a clear plan as to exactly how it is going to be implemented… then it will be absolutely necessary to roll over the sanctions (against Russia).”
To be sure, the sub-zero temperature in US-Russia relations has dipped by another ten degrees centigrade. Even in the height of Cold War, when the former Soviet Union used to be an ‘evil empire’, Washington had never sought that the Kremlin officials should be tried for war crimes. Nor had the Soviet Union.
Even after killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi, Libyan and Afghan civilians and the wanton destruction of those countries in the past decade or so, and even though the US is actively taking part in the war in Yemen, Moscow never demanded that George W. Bush or Barack Obama – or even Hillary Clinton – should be tried as war criminals.
What has come over Kerry? He sounds a frustrated man who’s lost his cool. He realizes that his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov outwitted him, whereas he’d thought he’s clever by half.
The US hoped to somehow preserve the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra in order to spearhead one more final push for ‘regime change’ in Syria – if not under the Obama presidency, at least under the next president. Indeed, Lavrov saw through Kerry’s ploy – ultimately, Kerry, a clever politician with some experience in diplomacy, couldn’t be a match for the immensely experienced career diplomat and intellectual in Lavrov. So, Lavrov played along with a poker face and entrapped ‘John’ in a peace agreement that Pentagon would never approve, which actually aimed at making mincemeat out of Nusra.
On the other hand, Kerry feels frustrated that President Barack Obama was not willing to open a parallel track of military intervention in Syria, which, he thought, would have given a much-needed swagger to his diplomatic track. Kerry belongs to the old school of power brokers in Washington, who subscribe to the notion that the Marines lead the way for diplomats. (He was a Marine himself once.)
But Kerry did not realise that the ground beneath the American feet had shifted in the Middle East. The US’ relations with Turkey as well as Saudi Arabia, the two key regional powers who fuelled Syrian conflict, are today embittered to the point that Washington is playing solo in the amphitheatre although the orchestra has walked out on the conductor. (Sabah )
What intrigues me is why Kerry wants only the Russian and Syrian leaders to be tried for war crimes. Why not Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as well, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps? But then, Kerry cannot utter that four-letter word – Iran – because the engagement with that country is supposed to be the finest legacy of Obama presidency. Yet, had it not been for the IRGC, which sacrificed so heavily in blood and treasure, the Syrian government could never have gained the upper hand in the fighting. (Times of Israel )
The third fascinating aspect of Kerry’s apocalyptic remark is that he seems to suggest that the US still intends to win the war in Syria. After all, it is a consistent trait of history that the winner dispatches the defeated to the war crimes tribunal – be it Slobodan Milosevic or Saddam Hussein.
Put differently, does Kerry mean that the US intends to defeat Russia in a war? Is it his prognosis that World War III is round the corner? Doesn’t he comprehend that the total annihilation of his own country in a nuclear showdown with Russia would make all this talk about war crimes irrelevant?
Kerry must be feeling frustrated that the Nobel went to the Columbian president! What a way to end a distinguished career in politics and diplomacy when there is no grand recognition for the good work done! Kerry leaves the stage of international diplomacy an embittered man.
Lavrov is unlikely to respond. What can he say, after all? Kerry overreached to reverse the tide of history and the result was fairly predictable. No matter his valiant attempts, he couldn’t erase the geopolitical reality that the US is a power in retreat. Not only in the Middle East, but also in Asia-Pacific.
The sight of a superpower walking into the sunset is never a pleasant sight. It was the case with Rome, Byzantines, Spain, Portugal, France, Britain. Look at the latest tiding from the South China Sea. (Wall Street Journal )
Since the Snowden disclosures, it has been clear that the NSA conducts unconstitutional, dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international communications. However, it now appears that the NSA is using surveillance authorities to conduct an entirely new type of surveillance: requiring major companies to conduct mass e-mail wiretaps, which involve searching the content of all incoming traffic.
Last year, Yahoo, in response to a classified government order, scanned hundreds of millions of mail accounts for a “set of characters” or digital “signature” of a communications method purportedly used by a state-sponsored terrorist organization. The search was apparently performed on all messages as they arrived at Yahoo’s servers. All of this was done without input from Yahoo’s security team, potentially placing users’ security at risk and ultimately prompting the resignation of the company’s chief security information officer.
It appears that a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), approved the surveillance—or at least approved the general procedures the government used to identify its targets. There are conflicting reports on what authority the government relied on.
Unfortunately, the news stories and Yahoo’s cryptic response leave more questions than answers. Yahoo’s ability to disclose information about this classified government program may be limited. But the Obama Administration owes the public far more information about this spying program, especially if it is going to fulfill its promise of increased transparency. As a start, the Obama Administration and other major tech companies should publicly answer the following questions:
1. What authority did the government rely on in compelling Yahoo to search its customers’ emails?
The million-dollar question – which remains unanswered – is what legal authority the government relied on for its demand to Yahoo. Initial reports suggested that the government may have relied on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a highly controversial provision enacted as an amendment to FISA in 2008. More recently, however, news reports have stated that the government obtained what is known as a “traditional” FISA order under Title I of the statute. In either scenario, the surveillance would reflect a dramatic shift in the public understanding of how these authorities are used. Title I authorizes the government to search the communications of a particular person or entity. But, if news reports are accurate, it would mean that the government is now using this law to require that companies scan the content of all users’ incoming emails.
2. What is the program’s legal justification and has it been reviewed?
Whether government is relying on Section 702 or Title I, it seems to have strayed far from the original congressional intent. What is the government’s legal justification for this type of surveillance? And, if the surveillance was authorized by the FISC, was the court aware that its order required Yahoo to search the emails of hundreds of millions of innocent users?
In the past, the government and FISC have engaged in legal gymnastics to justify mass surveillance. The public and Congress have the right to know if this is happening yet again. The Obama Administration should release all legal memoranda it relied on in conducting the Yahoo surveillance, and it should disclose any relevant FISC opinions regarding the surveillance. If no such FISC opinions exist then the public deserves to know, as that itself is cause for concern.3. What types of content searches does the government believe it has the authority to conduct under Title I and Section 702, and are past statements about these authorities still accurate?
Intelligence officials have argued that surveillance programs conducted on U.S. soil are narrowly targeted because the government searches only for specific communication identifiers (like an email address) and not for keywords (like “bomb”). But the Yahoo story suggests that even this limitation may be falling to the wayside. If Yahoo conducted a broad search of its users’ incoming email for a “set of characters” or digital “signature,” that information may have been found in the content of communications. In other words, individuals may have been targeted not based on any preexisting suspicion about who they are or who they communicate with, but based solely on what they were communicating. Moreover, it is unclear whether this “signature” was used only by the target organization, or also by other wholly unaffiliated individuals. If the intelligence community is now engaging in this type of content-based surveillance, then the Obama Administration has a responsibility to set the record straight.
4. If the government relied on Section 702, did Yahoo attempt to filter out purely domestic communications?
Section 702 does not authorize the government to collect or search purely domestic communications. However, the stories contain no details about whether Yahoo made efforts to filter out purely domestic communications, and if so, how successful those efforts were. If such efforts were not made and the surveillance occurred under Section 702, then the Obama Administration should immediately disclose the number of purely domestic communications that were collected and searched under the order so that the public can fully assess the privacy implications.
5. If the government relied on Section 702, did the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board (PCLOB) know about this type of surveillance when they conducted their examination?
In 2014, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board issued a report on Section 702. While we disagreed with many of the report’s conclusions, there is no doubt that the PCLOB declassified important information about Section 702 to facilitate a more robust debate. However, the PCLOB’s public report makes no mention of the types of demands that were purportedly received by Yahoo. If the PCLOB was unaware that this surveillance was occurring under Section 702, why were they not informed? If they knew, why was this information withheld from the public? Either way, this further calls into question the conclusions in the PCLOB report and the adequacy of existing oversight mechanisms.
6. How are other major companies interpreting their obligations under Section 702 and Title I?
Major companies like Google have issued statements saying they have never received the types of demands described in the Yahoo stories and reaffirming that they would challenge such a demand. While we applaud these companies for their statements, more information is needed to fully understand how the government is using its surveillance authorities. Specifically, we urge major technology companies to make publicly available information on how they interpret Section 702 and Title I, and to describe the types of demands that they believe clearly fall outside the statutes’ purview. In this way, companies can help to fill the information abyss left by the Yahoo story and the intelligence community’s lack of transparency.