• ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, June 7

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     ISIS attack at the heart of Iran’s government is stunning. ISIS, a Sunni group, has been under attack by the Iranian-led Shia forces in Iraq and Syria, and now they’ve struck back.

    The spectacular event is designed to humiliate the Iranians and show that ISIS can strike anywhere, even hard targets in a hostile country.

    Comment: More as it develops. 

     Qatar Qrisis: Trump suggests he led Saudis to act against Qatar’s support of terror (New York Times)

    Comment: True and dumb. True because Trump’s meetings in Saudi Arabia were a key to the new pressure the Arab states are putting on Qatar. Not smart to trumpet the US role when you are relying on others to lead. Makes them look like lap-dogs. 

     Two big stories broken by ABC News:

    1. Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered to resign because Trump was furious Sessions had recused himself in Russian investigation
    2. Former FBI Director Comey will not say Trump tried to obstruct justice

     Sessions offer to resign (ABC) Jonathan Karl reports:

    The relationship between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has become so tense that Sessions at one point recently even suggested he could resign.

    The friction between the two men stems from the attorney general’s abrupt decision in March to recuse himself from anything related to the Russia investigation — a decision the president only learned about minutes before Sessions announced it publicly. Multiple sources say the recusal is one of the top disappointments of his presidency so far and one the president has remained fixated on. –ABC News

    At a White House press briefing, Sean Spicer would not say whether Trump still supported AG Sessions.

    Comment: First, Sessions was right to recuse himself.

    Second, it’s over; he’s already done it; let it go, Donald.

    Third, if your earliest and strongest supporter from the Senate is not comfortable in the Cabinet, who will be?

    Four, this is still more evidence that, in this ship of state, everybody is rowing in different directions and the captain keeps changing course. What’s missing: self-discipline and a solid staff, given some authority to create order.

     Comey will stop short of saying Trump obstructed justice in Flynn probe (ABC)

    Although Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice, he will dispute the president’s contention that Comey told him three times he is not under investigation.

    The president allegedly said he hoped Comey would drop the Flynn investigation, a request that concerned Comey enough that he documented the conversation in a memo shortly after speaking with the president. In the memo, according to sources close to Comey who reviewed it, Trump said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” during a February meeting.

    The request made Comey uncomfortable, but the source tells ABC News that Comey has told associates he will not accuse the president of obstructing justice.

    “He is not going to Congress to make accusations about the president’s intent, instead he’s there to share his concerns,” the source said, and tell the committee “what made him uneasy” and why he felt a need to write the memo documenting the conversation. –ABC

    Comment: Here’s how I read that. Comey cannot say the president tried to obstruct justice without creating big problems for himself. He would be legally required to report it and, if he had any integrity, would have resigned. Also, he subsequently testified to Congress that no one had tried to obstruct his investigation.

    Given those constraints, he will do everything in his power to destroy Trump.

     Comey himself is being sued over an alleged coverup; a whistleblower says he gave Comey evidence of a huge, illegal surveillance operation on Americans by the CIA (using FBI computers) during the Obama administration (Circa)

    A former U.S. intelligence contractor tells Circa he walked away with more than 600 million classified documents on 47 hard drives from the National Security Agency and the CIA, a haul potentially larger than Edward Snowden’s now infamous breach.

    And now he is suing former FBI Director James Comey and other government figures, alleging the bureau has covered up evidence he provided them showing widespread spying on Americans that violated civil liberties.

    The suit, filed late Monday night by Dennis Montgomery, was assigned to the same federal judge who has already ruled that some of the NSA’s collection of data on Americans violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, setting up an intriguing legal proceeding in the nation’s capital this summer.

    Comment: Circa’s Sara Carter and John Solomon have done first-rate reporting on potential violations of civil liberties by US intel agencies.

     Why did Trump decline to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as he promised during the campaign?

    Because he thought it would hamper his goal of an “ultimate deal” between the Israelis and Palestinians, says Eytan Gilboa  (Begin-Sadat Center, Bar-Ilan University)

    Trump completely reversed the attitude of Obama, which verged on hostility, towards both the pro-American Arab states and Israel. –Eytan Gilboa

     Excellent news: One of the country’s staunchest, most experienced advocates for free speech, Adam Kissel, has been to head the Dept. of Education’s higher ed programs  (Inside Higher Ed)

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday June 6, 2017

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ D-Day: 73 years ago today. The US, Britain, and Canada opened a second front against the Nazis.
    A young, low-level intelligence contractor is first person charged with leaking, re Russian interference in 2016 election 
    (New York Times)

    She’s a big Bernie Sanders supporter and may have thought this was part of the “Resistance,” which she has supported online.

    The case showed the department’s willingness to crack down on leaks, as Mr. Trump has called for in complaining that they are undermining his administration. His grievances have contributed to a sometimes tense relationship with the intelligence agencies he now oversees.

    The Justice Department announced the case against the contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, 25, about an hour after the national-security news outlet The Intercept published the apparent document, a May 5 intelligence report from the National Security Agency. –New York Times

    Comment: Good. A first step.

    Now, go after the big boys and girls, who aren’t as careless as kids still on their parents’ insurance.

     Chicago’s free fire zone: 3 dead, 3 wounded in eight hours (Chicago Tribune)

    “I always see this on TV,” [the uncle of 23-year-old-victim Devonta Scott] said looking at frantic relatives holding each other splashed in strobing police lights. “I just never thought it would happen to me.” –Chicago Tribune

    And then, the most common ending to all this shootings in poor, black neighborhoods.

    Police reported no arrests. –Chicago Tribune

    Comment: The problems are extremely serious and just as hard to manage.

    • The city needs a lot more police but cannot afford them.
    • The worst neighborhoods know who the criminals are, but they don’t cooperate with the police, either because they don’t trust the cops or they fear the bad guys, or both
    • The gangs have splintered, so dozens and dozens of gangs are fighting lethally for each street corner.
    • The gang members have no fathers, no education, and no jobs

    The headlines mislead outsiders in one important respect. The crime and killing is largely a product of–and confined to–very poor neighborhoods. Occasionally, it spills out as members try to escape their enemies or rob the rich, but that’s uncommon.

     The sanctions against Qatar are beginning to bite.  

    Qatar flight ban begins as Gulf crisis grows (BBC) The Saudis and Egyptians are leading this move.

    Several countries have cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism in the Gulf region.

    Qatari nationals in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been given two weeks to leave.

    Qatar denies backing militants and its foreign minister has called for “a dialogue of openness and honesty”.

    Egypt said it was closing off its airspace to Qatar from 04:00 GMT on Tuesday “until further notice”. –BBC

    Comment: The sanctions are a very good idea against a very bad actor, one the US has coddled for years because we have bases there. No more. And the shift in US policy made it easier for the Arab states to form this coalition.

    The question is whether it’s a first step or a showy diversion to avoid taking others, such as staunching the local donations to terrorists.

    Additional Reading:

    For a magazine-length piece on Qatar’s controversial history, this new article in The Atlantic is very good.

     Over 130 British Imams have refused to perform burial services for the attackers  (CBS)

    The ritual is normally carried out for every Muslim, regardless of their actions.

    In what is a highly unusual move, Muslim religious leaders from different schools of Islam — both Sunni and Shia — issued a statement late Monday saying their pain at the suffering of the victims of Saturday’s attacks had led to their decision, and they called on others imams to follow suit. –CBS

    Comment: Good. Also good: it seems like several Muslims who knew the attackers told the police about them, but the officials dropped the ball.

    One reason why important things slip through the cracks: the UK current has 500 active terror investigations, plus another 3000 top-tier subjects of interest, and 20,000 more one tier below that. Those numbers are overwhelming.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, May 27

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Comment: Trump’s Trip in a Nutshell 

    • Saudi: Completely reverses Obama’s disastrous tilt toward Iran, reorients US policy to fight Iran and terrorism, makes a promising effort to incorporate a large coalition of Muslim states in the fight; good speech, too
    • Israel: Hard to say whether the Palestinian-Israel talks will go anywhere; what Trump did in Saudi does set a positive context, but it is still a stretch; the negatives are that Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas will do everything they can to stop it, and the Palestinians have no effective government to make peace with, nor has their population come to grips with the far-reaching and permanent concessions they will have to make; the Israelis have no confidence that a peace deal would be adhered to or give them more security
    • NATO: Telling the Europeans the hard truth that they need to pay up is good. What’s bad is Trump’s failure to restate the core principle of NATO, that an attack on one is an attack on all (Article 5). That omission could send a catastrophic signal to Russia about the vulnerable Baltic states, which are NATO members. The only reasonable explanation is that Trump is signaling the Europeans that, if you don’t pay up, you cannot expect us to treat you as full alliance partners. Very risky business.

     Jared Kushner’s talk with Russians during transition included possibility of establishing back channel to discuss issues such as Syria  (Washington Post)

    Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports. . . .

    The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

    The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

    Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team. –Washington Post

    Comment: Initial public interest has focused on the idea of a “back channel.” That’s not what’s important here; back channel communications are common. What’s important here is two things. First, the idea of using the Russians’ equipment to communicate this is amazingly amateurish and reckless (or at least at seems that way to me, as a non-professional in secret communications with adversaries). This scheme was probably Flynn’s misjudgment and Kushner’s inexperience. Second, it says the Trump team was extremely concerned the Obama administration was monitoring everything they had to figure out a different way to communicate securely.

    A third issue is bound to come up. What did they want to talk about? If they were talking about Syria, you could criticize them for undermining the sitting president. If they were doing anything that affected the business interests of private parties–and there is no indication they were–then that would be corruption.

     Hillary reappears at Wellesley Commencement, bitter, and attacking Trump (Washington Post)

    Comment: This has to be a Republican plot. It has to be.

    Only the Republicans could possibly gain from having Hillary out there hectoring the crowds, her shrill voice and tone-deaf delivery proving she still cannot give a decent speech, despite her having received tens of millions for giving them. (That’s a cruel joke, of course. She was paid because she and Bill provided access to power. It was a corrupt, rent-extraction game on a vast scale.)

    For Democrats, the real problem is that she reminds people of the none-too-glorious past and makes it harder for the party to develop new faces for the future. To recharge things, the Democrats need some new voices. It would help if they were not yet living in a retirement community on Social Security and a Reverse Mortgage.  

     US, worried about North Korea, plans a test shoot-down of ICBM  (ABC)

    Comment: The dangers from North Korean nukes are real and present. Their last test was a solid-fuel rocket (which means it can be launched quickly) and went to a very high altitude (which means it can already hit targets as far away as Guam).

    To kill these intercontinental missiles, which leave the atmosphere, is different from killing shorter-range missiles.

    The US has been working on this incredibly complex technical task since Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars). The latest iteration is what they will be testing.

    There is a partisan-political dimension here, too, aside from the need to fund the program. Now that America needs a serious anti-missile defense to protect against a North Korean attack on the continental US, people might want to look back and ask who has opposed, undermined, and underfunded that research at every stage over the past three decades. These political opponents, unlike North Korean missiles, won’t be especially hard to identify.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 16

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

     The big stories are all about spying and cyber crime.

     The Washington Post and New York Times lead the reporting on Trump revealing highly-classified information to the Russians. Although the reports are anonymously sourced, they include considerable detail, including the fact that White House people had to clean up after the spill in Aisle 6. They also cite “former intelligence officials,” suggesting Obama’s people are still in the mix, leaking.

    • Washington Post report here.
    • NYT report here
    • The White House has publicly said the reports are false, but they didn’t really say what was false.
    • Every news organization is working on this and I expect plenty more to emerge. 

    Assessment: The anti-Trump left is at DEFCON3, preparing to go nuclear. The anti-Trump right is almost as vocal. Today, their favorite word is treason; tomorrow, it will be impeachment. 

    Those reactions are excessive. At least they are excessive given what we know right now.

    Let’s step back and see what we know.

    Assuming the news reports are largely accurate, Trump told the Russians about a particular kind of terrorist threat that he thought would be of mutual concern. The basic charge against him is that he spoke too freely.

    That’s not illegal, and it’s certainly not treason.

    But it’s not smart, either.

    At this point, we still do not know what damage, if any, his “loose lips” caused–or might cause.

    Although Trump did not disclose “sources and methods” directly, he said enough (according to the WaPo and NYT) that Russian intelligence agencies can walk back the remarks and discover something they shouldn’t know about those sources and methods, particularly about our sources of sensitive human intelligence. We are told that this human intelligence came through an ally, which “owns” the information and will be none-to-pleased. For years, our allies have thought that telling a secret to Washington is pretty close to publishing it.

    Again, assuming these basic facts are accurate, why did Trump do it? My guess: Inexperience, braggadocio, and likely a continued misreading of Russia’s intentions.

    What concerns me is not treason. You don’t do that in a room full of people, as I have tried to remind some friends.

    What concerns me is an undisciplined personal style combined with a chaotic White House organization. This is no way to run a railroad. Or a superpower.  

     Who executed the ransomware attacks? Clues point to North Korea, says the NYT

    The software uses tools we know the North Koreans used in earlier attacks on Sony Pictures and the Bangladesh Central Bank.

    The indicators are far from conclusive, the researchers warned, and it could be weeks, if not months, before investigators are confident enough in their findings to officially point the finger at Pyongyang’s increasingly bold corps of digital hackers. The attackers based their weapon on vulnerabilities that were stolen from the National Security Agency and published last month. –New York Times

    Comment: The attack on Sony was political, designed to punish them for a comedic film they thought mocked Kim Jong Un. The attack on the Bangladesh Central Bank was simply a robbery. That’s what the latest attack was–a crime to earn money.

    I doubt they will earn much money, and I think they will pay a high price because the Chinese were hit by these attacks. You think Beijing likes that?

    Btw, as China puts more pressure on Pyongyang, who will step in to help the North Koreans. There is already evidence the Russians are interested. We know the Iranians are already helping, too.

     Will the US move its embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital? Fox News’ Connor Powell recently reported that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the US embassy right now. Powell’s report is completely false, according to contemporaneous notes of the meeting by the Israelis. Netanyahu was so infuriated by the story that he released private documents proving it false. The story is here in the Jerusalem Post. Similar story here in the Daily Beast.

    It remains to be seen if Fox will withdraw the report–and the reporter.

     Sharp clash between Trump’s team and Netanyahu after a “senior White House official” said the Western Wall was part of the West Bank and not part of Israeli territory. Story here in the Jerusalem Post.

    It seems that the official was prompted to make the statement after members of Netanyahu’s team asked if Netanyahu could join Trump on the visit to the Western Wall and whether Israeli photographers could document the event, to which the Americans replied that the Western Wall was a “disputed territory.”

    The official allegedly went on to say: “This is not your territory but rather part of the West Bank.”

    A source close to the preparations team in Israel told Channel 2 that the statements made by the White House official were received with utter shock by Netanyahu’s team. –Jerusalem Post

    Reuters reports the Israelis are asking the White House to explain the diplomat’s comment, which contradicts the most deeply held views of nearly all Israelis and the stated views of the US President himself.

    Until the 1967 war, Jerusalem was divided and Jews were prohibited (by Jordan) from visiting the Western Wall. Israel, by contrast, perhaps Christians and Muslims to visit their Holy Sites freely within Israel, including sites within Jerusalem’s Old City.

    Comment: Are the Keystone Cops running the White House? Or are the Arabists still running the State Department, perhaps as holdovers from the Eisenhower Administration?

    Whatever the problem is, somebody needs to come in, clean house, and get these operations running efficiently and working in the same direction.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, May 16

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

     Hospitals, corporations, the world brace for more “ransomware” cyberattacks on Monday  (Financial Times)

    Current data show more than 1.3m computer systems are still vulnerable to infection by WannaCry, which has paralysed hospitals, disrupted transport networks and immobilised businesses, according to cyber security analysts.

    So far, 200,000 computers across 150 countries are known to have been infected in the first wave of the WannaCry cyber attack. ….

    Russia, Ukraine, India and Taiwan were the most seriously affected countries, according to cyber security company Kaspersky Lab. –Financial Times

     How to catch the crooks? Mostly cyber-sleuthing, plus some old-fashioned techniques (New York Times)

    Investigators are following much the same process that detectives in the physical world have used for decades: secure the crime scene, collect forensic evidence and try to trace the clues back to the perpetrator.

    But for all of their similarities to traditional crimes, cyberattacks have major digital twists that can make them much harder to solve and can greatly magnify the damage done.

    Private cybersecurity firms typically help the official agencies, and the official agencies stretch around the world. Some governments pitch in, some don’t, especially authoritarian governments unwilling to see outside investigators search their internal networks.

    The problem is finding “real” clues among the red herrings.

    Criminals are aware their emails contain revealing clues, and they try to cover their tracks. “People use cloakers, which hide your identity, making you look as if you are someone and somewhere else,” she said.

    Like tracing the license plates of a stolen car back to the wrong person, this can lead investigators astray. “But a good detective can track them,” Patricia Lewis [of London’s Chatham House think tank] said. “They always leave digital bread crumbs that can be followed.” –New York Times

     North Korea fires another missile, says (probably falsely) it can launch nuclear weapons.

    ⇒ Australia says it holds China responsible for North Korea  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Russia is not happy either, since the latest missile landed near their port of Vladivostok.

     Today in lawsuits before the Supreme Court! Can a student, arrested for creating mayhem in school by repeated belching, sue the officer who was sent in to arrest him?  (Daily Caller)

    Comment: Our country has a heckuva lot of problems. This is not one of them. Hand it to Judge Judy.

     Congressional Republicans have overturned 14 last-minute Obama regulations and kept one  (Washington Post)

    The 1996 Congressional Review Act gave Republicans the power to reverse end-of-term rules by the president with a simple majority, within a set time.

    The deadline for scuttling the rules that President Barack Obama imposed during his final months in office was last Thursday. –Washington Post

    The regulations overturned affect the coal industry, broadband customers, hunters, and women seeking health care at abortion providers.

    Bloomberg reports: “The US Economy is Back on Track” Steady growth, it says, but not much more.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sat-Sun, May 13-14

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

    SPECIAL, NO POLITICS EDITION

     Another amazing genetic discovery. By accident, cancer researchers seem to have discovered the genes that make you go bald or get gray hair (Fox)

    Comment:  “Now you come up with this,” said the late Yul Brenner.

    A patch to protect your older PC from Ransomeware  (PC Mag)

    Comment: IMO, the crooks who did this should also be changed with harming the hospital patients affected.

    Brockmire (Hank Azaria) interviewed on NPR 

    Comment: As ZipDialog readers know, I’m a fan.

     Pope says Church has sex-abuse backlog of 2,000 cases (AP)

    Comment: Terrible situation, but good the Pope acknowledges it.

     Another university caves, disinvites speaker (Washington Post)

    Comment: Spineless administrators

     RIP, Allen Meltzer: free-market economist who helped end the great inflation of the 1970s  He and Paul Volcker were crucial in that Reagan-era effort.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, May 9

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

     Obama reenters the fray, urging Democrats to stop Trump and the Republicans from repealing-and-replacing Obamacare (NPR) He did not use Trump’s name, but his message about the ACA was unmistakable.

    Comment: This is an unprecedented step for an ex-president, reentering contentious partisan politics so soon after leaving office. Still, it is his signature achievement, and he wants to protect it legally, even as it disintegrates financially.

     FBI paid $900K to break into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone  (Engadget) The company itself famously refused to assist the government.

    Comment:  Apple’s decision was controversial, of course, since this was a high-profile terrorism case  The company wanted to keep its customers’ confidence, obviously, but I think they were also worried that dictatorships like the Peoples Republic of China could demand the same thing from them. If word of that kind of cooperation spread, it would be very damaging, indeed.

    Beyond these calculations, one tech expert told me, was another calculation. Apple feared “they’d be responsible for building a tool to break security for their millions of customers,” with unknown ramifications legally and commercially.

     Russian spying and Michael Flynn discussed in public testimony by senior Obama officials, James Clapper and Sally Yates  The NYT has a brief synopsis with “six takeaways” 

    Comment: To me, the biggest takeaway is that nothing much was revealed. The bigger issues are still lurking, and either could be huge.

    1. Was there any high-level collaboration between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin?
    2. Was the Obama administration actually spying on political opponents by “reverse targeting”? 

     South Korea heads to the polls today to pick a new leader, likely one who wants much closer relations with the North and less cooperation with the US  (CNN). More on this after the results are in.

    Comment: W One reason the US rushed the THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea recently was to have it in place before the election. It’s more difficult politically to tell the US to remove it than it would be to say, “No, you cannot bring it in here.”

     The Trump Travel Ban was heard by the entire Federal appeals court in Richmond.

    At issue: is this a security decision within the President’s purview or do his statements about threats from the Muslim world make it a “religious test.”

    Here’s the Washington Post report.

    Comment: The same issues are being heard in California. This will surely head to the Supreme Court, and quickly.

     Goldman Sachs thinks the current economic expansion could become the longest one on record (CNBC)

    The expansion has already lasted 95 months, making it the third longest expansion since records began in 1854.

     

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  • 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.

     

     

     

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  • 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.

     

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  • 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.

     

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