Military & Security

Pentagon Plans Army Reductions to Pre-World War II Level

New York Times: “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force” since 1940.

“The proposal … takes into account the fiscal reality of government austerity and the political reality of a president who pledged to end two costly and exhausting land wars.”

“Officials said that despite budget reductions, the military would have the money to remain the most capable in the world and that Mr. Hagel’s proposals have the endorsement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

“The new American way of war will be underscored in Mr. Hagel’s budget, which protects money for Special Operations forces and cyberwarfare.”

Under Mr. Hagel’s proposals, the entire fleet of Air Force A-10 attack aircraft would be eliminated” and retiring the U-2 spy plane in “favor of the remotely piloted Global Hawk.”

Holder: No Clemency for Snowden But Agrees to ‘Conversation’

Amidst increasing pressure to grant clemency for NSA leaker Edward Snowden, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that he would “engage in conversation” with Snowden as long as he pleaded guilty first.

New York Times: “Mr. Holder, speaking at a question-and-answer event at the University of Virginia, did not specify the guilty pleas the Justice Department would expect before it would open talks with Mr. Snowden’s lawyers.”

The Attorney General refused to offer clemency but “instead, were he coming back to the U.S. to enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.”

Senator John McCain is ‘Absolutely Right’ on Drones

John Firestone agrees with the Senator: “We don’t get to say this very often on The Times editorial page, but Senator John McCain was absolutely right last week to decry a secret deal in the 2014 spending bill. He pointed out that the bill contained a classified section that prohibited the Pentagon from taking over the C.I.A.’s role in carrying out drone strikes, as President Obama has proposed.”

“What’s really at issue in this dispute isn’t military competence; it’s the competing goals of secrecy and accountability.”

“As long as the drone strikes are never discussed outside the sealed hearing room of the Intelligence Committee, the country doesn’t have to be accountable for the success or failure of the program, and neither do the lawmakers who authorize it.”

“There’s a strong faction on Capitol Hill that prefers keeping the public in the dark about the country’s endless secret war against terrorists, and this time it won.”

Majority of Americans Disapprove of NSA Program

USA Today: “Most Americans now disapprove of the NSA’s sweeping collection of phone metadata, a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll finds, and they’re inclined to think there aren’t adequate limits in place to what the government can collect.”

“The poll … shows a public that is more receptive than before to the arguments made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.”

“By nearly 3-1, 70%-26%, Americans say they shouldn’t have to give up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism.”

“Attitudes toward the surveillance program have turned more negative since last June and July, when the Snowden revelations were new. In polls in June and July 2013, more Americans approved of the program than disapproved. Now, by 53%-40%, a majority disapproves.”

Cheat Sheet For Obama’s NSA Speech

Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan provide a guide to the important questions President Obama needs to address in his speech on the National Security Agency and its surveillance programs:

Does he mention Edward Snowden by name? Slamming Snowden might not be a bad idea for Obama since six in 10 Americans in a November Washington Post-ABC News poll said they believed Snowden had harmed U.S. security with his leaks.

Does Obama say “sorry” (or something like it)? It’s clear he has evolved from his forceful insistence in June 2013 of the necessity of what the government was doing. But it’s unlikely he’ll offer an apology now.

How strongly will Obama defend the necessity of much of this data gathering? Obama also quite clearly believes that these programs work and that the solution is not to end them but rather to give the public more of a voice in them.

Are privacy advocates/liberals in the Senate placated? No. That fact alone will be enough to doom the speech in the eyes of many privacy advocates.

Does Obama go far enough to appease foreign allies angered by the extent of U.S. spying? At his press conference at the end of 2013, Obama acknowledged that “we’ve got to provide more confidence to the international community” but it remains to be seen whether (and how) he does that in his speech.

 

Obama’s NSA Reforms: Just Cosmetic?

President Obama plans to unveil his intelligence reform plan on Friday. Early reports indicate that the president will shy away from implementing the more comprehensive policy proposals of his surveillance review group in favor of a watered down reform of the nation’s intelligence framework.

Wall Street Journal: “Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is also attempting to pose as a ‘reformer’ without doing as much damage as the true reformers would prefer. Thus some of his changes are merely cosmetic. Others are more appropriate for peacetime in a fantasy world without terror and other overseas threats.”

Julian Sanchez: “Americans could be forgiven for wondering whether there was any point to appointing a group of experts to conduct such an extensive analysis if the president is going to ignore their advice, except when it matches what he’d already decided to do.”

Peter Baker: Obama, “the onetime constitutional lawyer is now the commander in chief presiding over a surveillance state that some of his own advisers think has once again gotten out of control.”

Justice Department to Expand Limitations on Racial Profiling

“The Justice Department will significantly expand its definition of racial profiling to prohibit federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations,” according to the New York Times.

“It is not clear whether [Attorney General] Holder also intends to make the rules apply to national security investigations, which would further respond to complaints from Muslim groups.”

“While the rules directly control only federal law enforcement activities, their indirect effect is much broader … For instance, immigration bills in Congress have copied the Justice Department profiling language. And civil rights groups can use the rules to pressure state and local agencies to change their policies.”

NSA Uses Radio Pathways to Monitor Offline Computers

According to the New York Times, “The National Security Agency has implanted software in nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the United States to conduct surveillance on those machines and can also create a digital highway for launching cyberattacks.”

The secret technology, code-named Quantum and used by the N.S.A. since 2008, allows access to computers even when they are not connected to the Internet.

“There is no evidence that the N.S.A. has implanted its software or used its radio frequency technology inside the United States. While refusing to comment on the scope of the Quantum program, the N.S.A. said its actions were not comparable to China’s.”

Obama’s NSA Reforms: A Piece of ‘Kabuki Theater’

James Oliphant is not optimistic that President Obama’s plan to reform the National Security Agency will “reshape the nation’s counterterrorism strategy.”

Oliphant contends that Obama is reluctant to make fundamental changes and the president’s speech regarding proposed changes “is going to be a piece of kabuki theater:”

“The president is going to have to look like he’s taking meaningful action to curb the NSA’s reach when he really isn’t. To that end, Obama is expected to tweak the bulk data program rather than overhaul it or, as civil libertarians demand, junk it outright.”

“Any reforms Obama ultimately embraces likely will come from the report released last month by a hand-picked review panel, a group that national security expert Jonathan Turley dismisses as ‘intelligence hawks and Obama loyalists.'”

Inter-Agency Power Plays Hid Vital Clues to Prevent 9/11

Lawrence Wright reveals that “petty” inter-agency power plays prevented the adequate sharing of vital information on Al Qaeda’s planned 9/11 attack, despite the massive metadata collection program:

“Yes, the F.B.I. could have stopped 9/11. It had a warrant to establish surveillance of everyone connected to Al Qaeda in America. It could follow them, tap their phones, clone their computers, read their e-mails, and subpoena their medical, bank, and credit-card records. It had the right to demand records from telephone companies of any calls they had made. There was no need for a metadata-collection program. What was needed was coöperation with other federal agencies, but for reasons both petty and obscure those agencies chose to hide vital clues from the investigators most likely to avert the attacks.”

“Edward Snowden broke the law, and the Obama Administration has demanded that he be brought to justice. No one has died because of his revelations. The C.I.A.’s obstruction of justice in the Cole investigation arguably also was a crime. Its failure to share information from the Al Qaeda switchboard opened the door to the biggest terrorist attack in history. As long as we’re talking about accountability, why shouldn’t we demand it of the C.I.A.?”

Winners and Losers of the Defense Bill

Stars and Stripes summarizes the winners and losers from the defense bill. The highlights:

Winners:

  • Military bases: The final defense bill includes about $1.3 billion more for base operations and maintenance funds than the Defense Department requested.
  • Sex assault prosecutions: the bill does include a host of new provisions designed to protect military sex assault victims.
  • A-10 enthusiasts: Lawmakers included language blocking any Air Force plans to retire the Warthog.

Losers:

  • Troops’ paychecks: a meager 1% pay raise.
  • Medical bill collectors: Congress again rejected Pentagon plans for Tricare fee increases for some military retirees.
  • Littoral combat ship: Congress wants more oversight in the embattled ship building program, and will fence off some funding of new ships until the Pentagon undergoes new reviews.

Panel Seeks to Overhaul Spy Practices

“A presidentially appointed panel reviewing U.S. surveillance programs is recommending a major overhaul of both foreign and domestic spy practices that, if adopted, would amount to a major wing-clipping of the National Security Agency,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The 46 proposals present President Barack Obama with a major test of how far he is willing to push the envelope on reform. The panel would revamp NSA’s phone records collection program as well as the process of foreign spying. Mr. Obama will decide in coming weeks which of the recommendations he will implement. None of the group’s recommendations are binding.”

The New York Times notes the proposed measures would end the government’s systematic collection of logs of all Americans’ phone calls, and to keep those in private hands, “for queries and data mining” only by court order. The panel “also strongly recommended that any operation to spy on foreign leaders would have to pass a rigorous test that weighs the potential economic or diplomatic costs if the operation becomes public.”

Senate Demands CIA Report on Interrogation Practices

The Senate Intelligence Committee acknowledged Tuesday the existence of a secret CIA internal report on the agency’s controversial detention and interrogation program. Committee members believe this CIA report affirms the committee’s findings from its own study.

According to the New York Times, the Senate’s 6,000 page classified report of CIA interrogation practices is “unsparing in its criticism of the now-defunct interrogation program and presents a chronicle of C.I.A. officials’ repeatedly misleading the White House, Congress and the public about the value of brutal methods that, in the end, produced little valuable intelligence.”

“The agency responded to the committee report with a vigorous 122-page rebuttal that challenged both the Senate report’s specific facts and its overarching conclusions.”

“For all his criticisms of the counterterrorism excesses during the Bush administration, Mr. Obama has put the C.I.A. at the center of his strategy to kill militant suspects in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.”

“Human rights groups have tried to pressure the White House to intervene to get the Senate report declassified.”

Would SCOTUS Make the Responsible Decision on NSA Ruling?

Conor Friedersdorf questions whether a Supreme Court ruling on the NSA’s phone sweep program would risk shutting down “a major intelligence program that administrations of both parties have insisted represents a crucial line of defense against terrorism.”

“They’re often more deferential to the executive branch when it invokes national security, so perhaps Supreme Court justices will let speculative fear of future terrorist attacks corrupt their jurisprudence.”

Friedersdorf concludes this would be a catastrophic mistake: “Unless SCOTUS puts a stop to mass surveillance on tens of millions of innocent Americans, its members … will go down in history as the shortsighted SCOTUS that stood by as an Orwellian surveillance state became reality, even as the government presented no compelling evidence it improved safety.”

“The Court is very likely to be considered partly responsible if the executive or legislative branch perpetrates unchecked constitutional abuses … That’s why being remembered for ratifying mass surveillance would be so shameful a legacy for members of the Supreme Court as they take their place in U.S. history.