• ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, April 6

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     A word of caution on two evolving scandals: Russia-Trump and Susan Rice

    • If there is evidence of serious crimes, each of these could become truly major events.
    • But so far we have few hard facts, shrouded in extremely sharp partisan attacks, mimicked and exacerbated by the news media.

    Russia’s role in the US election:

    • The mainstream media continues to say that Russian interference in the US election (a fact) also involved direct collusion with senior Trump officials (a conjecture). So far, top intel officials not associated with Trump have said there is zero evidence of collusion.
    • There is an FBI counter-intelligence investigation of these issues. If it finds some self-dealing from Trump officials, using their positions to make money, that’s bad news for them and certainly newsworthy, but it is not a catastrophic national scandal. If if finds significant collusion between Russians and top Trump officials, that is a truly enormous crime against our democracy.

    Susan Rice:

    • We know Rice lied publicly when she told PBS two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the unmasking of names.
    • Her story has changed. Now, she simply says she did nothing improper.
    • That may be correct. It seems to be very unusual to ask for as many unmasked names as Rice requested, but she will undoubtedly say she needed to know them to understand US intelligence. Whether that is true or false will depend on the scale of her requests and especially on the type of information contained in the intercepted conversations. If they were entirely related to US national security, she’s in the clear, or at least she can plausibly argue that she had good reasons for doing what she did. If the conversations are far removed from US national security issues, she’s in trouble–and so is the country for having a National Security Adviser who used US intelligence resources for domestic political purposes.
    • At this point, we simply do not know enough to discriminate between those two interpretations, one benign and one malign.

     News you haven’t seen about Susan Rice, the Obama Administration, and spying on US Citizens: 

    Lee Smith, writing in The Tablet, says Rice “may have been rifling through classified transcripts for over a year” with info about Trump and associates. 

    Smith focuses on the Iranian Nuclear Deal and says the US spied extensively on Israeli officials (who opposed the deal). No problem there; that is completely within the purview of the intel agencies. Since Israeli officials worked closely with US citizens, including lawmakers, who opposed the deal, their conversations were picked up, too. The question is whether the Obama White House, in possession of this information, restricted its use to national security or went beyond that, abusing the foreign intelligence system.

    Smith reaches a devastating conclusion:

    I believe the spying was real and that it was done not in an effort to keep the country safe from threats—but in order to help the White House fight their domestic political opponents.

    “At some point, the administration weaponized the NSA’s legitimate monitoring of communications of foreign officials to stay one step ahead of domestic political opponents,” says a pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the day-to-day fight over the Iran Deal. “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans engaged in perfectly legitimate political activism—activism, due to the nature of the issue, that naturally involved conversations with foreigners. We began to notice the White House was responding immediately, sometimes within 24 hours, to specific conversations we were having. At first, we thought it was a coincidence being amplified by our own paranoia. After a while, it simply became our working assumption that we were being spied on.”

    This is what systematic abuse of foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes looks like: Intelligence collected on Americans, lawmakers, and figures in the pro-Israel community was fed back to the Obama White House as part of its political operations. –Lee Smith in The Tablet

     Pres. Trump harshly condemns Syria after deadly sarin gas attack, calling it “horrendous” and saying it crossed “several” red lines, deliberately invoking Obama’s language

    Comment: The shift in US policy was abrupt. Only a few days earlier the US had resigned itself to Assad’s continued rule. The change is clearly the result of the chemical attack. Pres. Trump’s language, especially his use of Obama’s term, signals some kind of military strike.

    I would be shocked if the US put troops into this no-win situation. The US can certainly damage the Assad regime from the air, but, even there, a strike runs the risk of conflict with Russia, which (along with Iran) is the main foreign support for Assad’s regime. 

    The larger strategic problem for the US is that there is no way to stand up a pro-western regime there without enormous costs and high risks.

    Two big Thursday events: Chinese leader Xi meets Trump in Florida, US Senate moves to end debate and vote on Gorsuch for Supreme Court

    Comment: More on them tomorrow when we have real news.

     McMaster asserts his control over the National Security Council

    • All news outlets are reporting Steve Bannon is out (he should never have been in);
    • What many are not noticing is that McMaster is filling out his organization with skilled professionals.

    Good report at Politico.

     

     

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 5

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     The big news day this week will be Thursday, when

    • Pres. Trump meets with China’s Xi for two days in Florida, and
    • Senate decides how to move forward on Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

    Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that Gorsuch will get an up-or-down vote, which he will win, and I have no reason to doubt him. By Monday, Justice Gorsuch.

     There are three big issues in the Trump-Xi talks, but I suspect they will focus on only 2.

    • Will China stop North Korea’s nuclear/missile program (done in close cooperation with Iran)?
    • What happens to US-China’s bilateral economic ties?
    • Will China stop its territorial aggression in the South China Sea?  (I suspect this will get less attention)

    Comment: Trump will likely tell Xi that the US intends to sanction Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea and that the US will work toward regime change in North Korea. China can go along, and have a say, or do nothing.

    On economic issues, China’s economy has slowed and is vulnerable to US pressure, which Trump will apply. He will also highlight China’s systematic, state-sponsored theft of US intellectual property. These are high-stakes issues and Trump’s nationalist position on trade makes his threats credible. So far, no word on what he is proposing or how flexible Xi will be.

     Huge jobs increase in March  Over 260k, compared to 180k estimate. Widespread gains in private payrolls. (CNBC)

    Comment: Optimism about US growth taking root.

     That red line Pres. Obama drew in Syria? It is a Code Red Line after another deadly chemical attack. Russia denies the Assad regime is involved, naturally (CNN)

    A chemical weapons expert, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that all signs showed the chemical used was sarin gas and that Russia’s versions of events was “completely unsustainable.”
    “I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies. Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin you destroy it,” he said. –CNN

    Comment: A vast human tragedy in Syria unfolding over years, with perhaps 500,000 civilians dead.

    Pressure is building to get a full explanation of what Susan Rice did, why she needed the unmasked names of US citizens, and who she shared that information with. Her record of public dissembling does not help her.

    Senate intel committee says Ms. Rice “may be of interest” to us.  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Well, duh.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 4

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     St. Petersburg, Russia hit by deadly Islamacist terrorist attack, probably retaliation for Russian action in Syria. (Washington Post)

    At least 11 dead, 30+ injured.

    No one has claimed responsibility yet, but everyone suspects Islamic terrorists associated with the fighting in Syria.

    A crackdown by Putin is certain.

     Democrats have enough votes to filibuster Gorsuch. (New York Times)

    Comment: Mitch McConnell won’t let it prevent Gorsuch’s confirmation. For D’s in purple and red states, this opposition is perilous. Their base loves it, their donors love it, but the general public does not.

     President of Northern Arizona Univ. rejects idea of “safe spaces.” Students now demand her resignation.  (Heat Street)

    Rita Cheng had the courage to tell students they had to confront ideas they don’t like.

    Comment: Well, they didn’t like that idea.

     White House says mainstream media not showing interest in Obama-era spying (Washington Post)

    Comment: Absolutely right. In a separate post (here), I show screenshots from CNN, NYT, and WaPo that completely ignored the revelations about Susan Rice on Monday.  That’s worse than spin. 

     CNN’s chief national security correspondent say Susan Rice story is a “distraction” that the Trump Administration “ginned up” (Daily Caller)

    Comment: CNN is the name of a former news organization

     Odd, new job titles: “Sales Enablement Associate” Yes, someone just emailed me with that title.

    Comment: Like all right-thinking people at universities, I object to Enableism.

     

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Free Tip for Susan Rice: Do NOT Go on Television. It never ends well

    Or Radio. Or Podcasts. Or Smoke Signals.

    I’m just glad CNN, NBC, the Washington Post, and New York Times take her word for it.

    Of course, the more serious question is whether Rice will talk when the FBI and the House and Senate committees come calling. My hunch, and it is only that, is that she will release statements saying she did nothing wrong and then decline to answer questions. We need to know what legitimate, national-security purpose she had for unmasking the names on each document she requested. We need to know, under oath, if she spoke about any of this with Valerie Jarrett. We can assume that she will never say she spoke about this to President–and we can assume that she is as truthful as always.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Kudos, once again, to William Jacobson and Legal Insurrection.

     

  • UPDATE: Who Unmasked Names of American Citizens? Bloomberg News reports Susan Rice repeatedly sought real names that were properly hidden in raw intelligence

    The Trump allegation that he was “wiretapped” is still unproven, but there is increasing evidence that the Obama Administration was using intelligence collected on foreigners to keep tabs on the Trump team.

    In surveilling foreigners, which can be done without court warrants, some US citizens’ names and conversations are inevitably overheard. Since there are no warrants to collect information on these US citizens, these “collaterally-collected” names are supposed to be “masked” (kept secret). Only a small number of senior officials have the authority to find out the names behind those masks.

    We know, too, that one name, Michael Flynn, was not only unmasked but deliberately (and feloniously) leaked to the press, ultimately costing him his job as National Security Adviser.

    Today, the news on this story advanced when Bloomberg’s Eli Lake reported that Susan Rice, Pres. Obama’s National Security Adviser, repeatedly sought names of Trump Associates masked in raw intelligence. That does not prove she leaked the information–someone else may have done so–but it puts her in a difficult spot.

    The pattern of Rice’s requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government’s policy on “unmasking” the identities of individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally. Normally those names are redacted from summaries of monitored conversations and appear in reports as something like “U.S. Person One.” . . .

    One U.S. official familiar with the reports said they contained valuable political information on the Trump transition such as whom the Trump team was meeting, the views of Trump associates on foreign policy matters and plans for the incoming administration.

    Rice did not respond to an email seeking comment on Monday morning. Her role in requesting the identities of Trump transition officials adds an important element to the dueling investigations surrounding the Trump White House since the president’s inauguration. –Eli Lake reporting for Bloomberg.com

    For a summary of this and two other scandals currently being investigated, see my column at Real Clear PoliticsA Quick Guide to the Three-Ring Circus of Scandals

  • A Quick Guide to the Three-Ring Circus of Scandals (op-ed at Real Clear Politics)

    The goal is to distinguish among the 3 overlapping, but distinct, scandals consuming Washington, and to explain what we do know and don’t know about their murky details.
    The focus is on
    1. Russian interference in the 2016 election;
    2. Collusion, if any, between the Kremlin and senior Trump people, before and after the election;
    3. Surveillance, if any, of Trump transition officials by the Obama White House and intelligence agencies, and the internal dissemination of materials not related to national security.
     
    Please feel free to share and comment here, at Facebook, or at Real Clear Politics.
  • ZipDialog for Saturday, April 1: Three Scandals–What Do We Know?

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Single topic today: Explaining the Three Scandals Consuming Washington

    Key Point: There are Three Distinct Scandals (or purported scandals). They overlap but are distinct.

    One reason it is so hard to follow the Washington/FBI/Intel/Congress/Trump administration scandals is that there are

    • So many players,
    • Several separate scandals, and
    • Very little public information. 

    The opposing parties emphasize different scandals

    American citizens should be interested in all three as they unfold.

    1. Russian interference in 2016 election
    2. Team Trump’s Connections to Russians Before and After the Election
    3. Obama White House spying on Team Trump and “unmasking” secret name(s)

    What do we know about each and why does it matter?

    What do we know about each and why does it matter?

    1. Russian interference in 2016 election
      • We know the Kremlin used disinformation and other dirty tricks. We also know they didn’t change the vote count but may have influenced voter opinions.
      • To me, their attack on the integrity of our election is a fundamental attack on our democracy. It ought to be investigated throughly so we can understand what they did, how they did it, and how to counter, deter, and punish in the future.
      • This should be a bipartisan goal, but Republicans have been reticent. Why? Two reasons. First, they think Democrats are using Russian interference as a way of saying “we didn’t lose fair and square.” Republicans think that’s delegitimating their success. Second, they fear the Democrats are trying to link Russian interference to Trump’s team.
    2. Team Trump’s Connections to Russia
      • So far, senior intel officials have testified publicly that there is nothing there.
      • BUT there is an open FBI counter-intelligence investigation into this.
      • The Senate Intel Committee is looking into this and Russian interference (item 1) but the parallel House investigation is stalled over Democrats’ accusations about Chairman Devin Nunes’ partisan connection to Trump
      • We know that Michael Flynn did foreign lobbying for Turkish entities, for which he belatedly registered as a lobbyist
      • Allegations have been made that other Trump team members had business connections to Russian-related entities. Democrats and media outlets have focused on Paul Manafort and Carter Page
    3. Team Obama Spying on Trump Transition
      • We know Trump tweeted about “wiretapping,” an antiquated term
      • It appears that senior Obama officials did receive information about the Trump transition from intel intercepts directed at foreign nationals. Names of US nationals uncovered in such surveillance is supposed to be masked
      • We know that one of the senior Obama appointees unmasked and leaked Michael Flynn’s name; that is a felony
      • We do not yet know who leaked the name
      • We do not know what legitimate reasons, if any, the Obama White House had for circulating information among its officials about internal Trump planning
      • We do not know if the “collateral” information collected on these Trump officials was actually a hidden goal of US spy agencies, tasked by the Obama White House

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 30

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     State Department official arrested; accused of economic spying for China  (Los Angeles Times)

    A longtime State Department employee [Candace Claiborne] was arrested Wednesday and charged with repeatedly lying about her contacts with Chinese businessmen who had plied her with thousands of dollars in cash and gifts to glean inside information about U.S. economic policy, U.S. officials said. . . .

    The case offers a window into Beijing’s efforts to gain an advantage in its economic jockeying with the United States, and how business owners in China often double as agents for state intelligence. –Los Angeles Times

     FBI director Comey wanted to publicly expose Russian spying before the election; Obama White House blocked him  (Newsweek)

    Comey pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the Russian campaign during a meeting in the White House’s situation room in June or July. . . .

    [The op-ed] would have included much of the same information as the bombshell declassified intelligence report released January 6, which said Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to influence the presidential election, the source said.–Newsweek

     Federal Reserve says the US economy is finally back to normal  (CNN Money). Unemployment is officially under 5% and adding 200k jobs monthly, which the Fed considers full employment for its purposes. This data is why the Fed is gradually raising interest rates, hoping to keep the economy from overheating.

     Attorney General for Mexican state of Nayarit arrested in San Diego on drug trafficking charges  (San Diego Union-Tribune)

    Comment: You hate to see their courts and law enforcement system besmirched.

     Dead: The misanthrope who wrote “The Anarchist Cookbook” in the late 1960s. It featured recipes for bombs, gun silencers, and all sorts of weapons. It sold over 2 million copies and 

    is believed to have been used as a source in heinous acts of violence since its publication in 1971, most notably the killings of 12 students and one teacher in 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. –New York Times

    Comment: Oddly, given his contributions to this world, he died of natural causes.  I have deliberately omitted his name.

     Headline: “This Chicago man saved $1 million by the time he was 30. Here’s how he did it.” (Chicago Tribune)

    Let me explain how he did it:

    1. He made pretty good money, though not fantastic amounts
    2. He didn’t spend very much.

    Honestly, that’s what the article says. And, frankly, it is good advice if you want to accumulate resources and can restrain your consumption.

    Try to make good money and don’t splurge. If your investments get good returns, that helps, too.

    Comment: Works every time.

    But I would add: as you accumulate, give some to worthy charities. Others less fortunate need your help.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Alleged Russian Hacker picked up in Canada

    0 No tags Permalink 0

    Living the high life

    Indicted in US as part of massive Yahoo! hack

    Here’s the Canadian news report about 22-year-old hacker Karim Baratov and his lavish lifestyle (The Star, Canada)

    Not exactly undercover.

    On Wednesday, the United States Department of Justice announced that Baratov had been indicted, along with two Russian intelligence officers and a Russian man once on the FBI’s Most Wanted Cyber Criminals list, in connection with a hack of 500 million Yahoo accounts. None of the charges have been proven in court. . . .

    If convicted on his most serious charge, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Baratov could face a maximum of 20 years in jail. –The Star (Canada)

    Comment: A twenty-something in deep trouble and looking at decades in jail? I say he talks, unless he fears the guys behind this could hit him with a more lethal penalty.

    Hat tip to Evan Winer about this report

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Thursday, March 16

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Diplomacy with North Korea is a failed strategy, Rex Tillerson, US Sec. of State says in Asia  (Washington Post)

    It’s time to take a “different approach” to dealing with North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Tokyo on Thursday, because 20 years of diplomacy had “failed” to convince the regime in Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

    Tillerson’s comments will fuel fears in the region that military options might be on the table to deter North Korea — an approach that could prove devastating for Seoul, where more than 20 million people live within North Korean artillery range. –Washington Post

    Comment: By far the most dangerous region in today’s world. Tillerson’s message is also aimed at China, since US diplomacy has focused in vain on getting China to use its leverage with North Korea.

     Rachel Maddow: People disappointed by Trump story expected too much (Washington Post)

    The NY Post says parent NBC is none-too-happy with this whiff either.

    Comment: Gee, wonder who hyped it for 20 minutes at the start of her own show (I watched so you didn’t have to). By then, she already knew the hype was false. 

    People have compared it to Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone’s vault and finding nothing. The difference is that Geraldo didn’t already know the vault was empty.

     Kremlin spies orchestrated huge Yahoo! hack, according to US indictment (New York Times)

    If true, the allegations offer an extraordinary case study of Russian cyber espionage, and particularly the symbiotic relationship between identity thieves and spammers and Russia’s elite intelligence services.

    Cybersecurity experts and the F.B.I. have long suspected that Russian spies employed and protected criminal hackers to a striking degree, but evidence has been scarce. The indictment made public on Wednesday describes this collusion in detail for the first time.

    The Washington Post thinks the indictment and investigation could shed light on other hacks.

     When the US spies on foreigners, it sometimes picks up Americans’ communications. It is supposed to “mask them” to cover up their identities. It appears the Obama White House asked for some of those masked names. Now, Congress wants to know who asked and whether they received the answers (CNN) The request is bipartisan.

    The leaders of the House Intelligence Committee asked the three leaders of the intelligence community Wednesday about any time during the last seven months of the Obama administration whenever any of its agents and officials improperly named, or “unmasked,” and disseminated the identities of American citizens picked up in intelligence collection.

    Chairman Devin Nunes, R-California, and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, wrote that they were concerned that members of the intelligence community have not been sufficiently honoring previously established “robust ‘minimization procedures'” to protect the identities of US citizens, including “masking” their names. The letter they sent refers to the disclosure to the public that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had several conversations with the Russian Ambassador. –CNN

    Comment: If White House aides asked for unmasking, they could well be investigated criminally for the subsequent leaks.

     Tesla raises $1.5 billion as it begins testing its much-anticipated, high-volume Model 3  (Daily Mail)

    Comment: A lot hinges on the success of the mass-market Model 3 if Tesla is to move beyond its high-end niche.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦