The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: “Security” and “Intelligence” Page 1 of 2

The Espionage Act Is Bad Law Even When It Is Used Against People I Despise Like Trump

Back in June 2019, the New Yorker wrote an article lambasting the Espionage Act.

The George W. Bush Administration pursued several government insiders for leaking classified information, but it was the Obama Administration that normalized the use of the Espionage Act against journalists’ sources. Among its targets were Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer, who was sentenced to three and a half years for supplying the Times with classified information about U.S. efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program; Donald Sachtleben, a former F.B.I. agent who was sentenced to three and a half years for providing the Associated Press with information about a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen; and Chelsea Manning, a former military-intelligence analyst who was sentenced to thirty-five years for providing Assange’s WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of pages of classified government documents…

…(about the Trump admin) Later that year, Sessions told Congress that the Justice Department was engaged in twenty-seven investigations into classified leaks — a dramatic escalation over previous years. In the two and a half years since Trump complained to Comey, the Justice Department has indicted three people under the Espionage Act for providing information of public concern to the press.

Now, the New Yorker is concentrating on people who were prosecuted for supplying information to the press, or in the case of Assange, for publishing information (acting as the press himself.) And one can easily say “This isn’t the same thing — Trump isn’t a whistleblower.”

And I agree. If Trump has taken information and given it to a foreign power, then it’s one of the few semi-legitimate uses of the Espionage Act to go after him.

But if it’s just sat in some boxes, well, the truth is that for senior people, like Clinton (yes, a junior person would have had their career destroyed and likely gone to prison for using their own private server the way she did) and General Petraeus (who avoided indictment under the act), the law is usually an empty letter.

One might then say, well, but these are nuclear secrets and much more serious.

But all of this caviling and caveats brings out the essential point: The Espionage Act is so widely written that it’s a prosecutor’s cudgel, and the choice of whether to use it or not is a political decision, not a matter of whether someone violated the letter of the law. For most of the 20th century, after the original proscriptions (used against communists and people who opposed the draft), it was rarely used, and the choice to use it was clearly a political choice.

It’s a bad law. It shouldn’t be on the books. If it is on the books, it should be applied evenly, and in all cases, for the simple reason that using it against people with power is how it would be repealed and replaced with something much less prone to abuse. If it had actually been used against Clinton, there would have been massive pressure to repeal it.

And that’s the good thing, here. If it’s used against Trump, well, perhaps the Republicans, next time they’re in a position to do so (which could be as early as 2024), will repeal it.

Or, instead, maybe they’ll go tit-for-tat and continue with its weaponization, going after Democrats and left-wingers.

That would be bad, but it would also have the potential for good. You get rules of war and politics when both or all sides have been monsters, and they finally realize that mutual monstrosity is bad.

As for Trump, I have little sympathy. He used the law badly, and for him to be hoist on it amuses. It’s a pity that Obama, who really weaponized it, is smart enough to have not laid himself open. But if I were Clinton, I’d be concerned after 2025.


Jeremy Corbyn’s Electile Dysfunction

(POST BY MANDOS, just in case you didn’t notice)

I have a theory about why Jeremy Corbyn seems so unpopular in the UK, despite the fact that he represents a lot of policy positions that are in themselves popular. My theory is that, deep down, in their collective subconscious (if not their actual consciousness), the British public doesn’t think that Corbyn will send fighter jets to bomb people in foreign countries on under-substantiated suspicions.

Oh, to be sure, there are lots of other problems faced by Corbyn worth discussing, like an extremely disloyal caucus (although disloyalty is probably not the right word as it presumes that they had once been loyal, and they’d made it clear from the beginning how little they thought of him). But the antiwar thing is basically a deep psychological show-stopper in terms of the electability of leader in any medium-to-major military power.  People may not precisely articulate this discomfort with a leader who doesn’t seem like he’d attack small countries on a small suspicion when world politics suggests that said lethal use of military force is a diplomatic, strategic thing to do.

Now there are actually other things you can do to satisfy this urge. For example, Theresa May already proved her willingness to harm innocents with a pathologically, maniacally, cruel immigration policy, for which she was responsible. That policy has made her credible, governmental. You know that May will send fighter jets to foreign countries when the media requires it.

Now, you may ask, why is being bombing-credible, or at least cruelty-capable so important for the election of a leader? The reason why is that the leader is supposed to Protect Our Children. (I’m using “our” figuratively here, since I’m not British.) You’d do anything for your child, right? If you’re an upstanding, caring parent, that is.  So consider the very slim chance that someone in a foreign country may concoct a successful global takeover plot when you’re dead and your children are old people.  Surely avoidance of such demands a low threshold for long-distance war. After all, it’s either your children or theirs, right?

But Corbyn is perceived as a repudiation of Blair. And there’s nothing that defined Tony Blair more as a politician, nothing that placed him more in history than his willingness to go to war on thin evidence. Corbyn and his core support base are visibly angry at that. And that is, at a ground, atavistic level, killing Corbyn’s candidacy. (As I said, among other things.) Blair may be unpopular now, but most people are willing to issue negative judgements after the fact, having voted for the man before the fact. Blair already Protected Our Children, was believed to be credible on this front, and won elections.

You may protest: There are lots of other things that threaten people’s children, like lack of health care, unemployment, impending global enviropocalypse, and other very real but rather imperceptible problems like those. My experience of watching how the European refugee crisis unfolded, particularly in anglophone media and public opinion watching from outside, is that people perceive threats very differently, and react more viscerally to a low-probability threat from other individual humans than they do from higher-probability things like their own potential poverty or workplace safety and suchlike. An incident of lawlessness in Cologne, perpetrated by a tiny fraction of the refugees and not only them, overshadowed in Western media all of the other things that humans, including refugees, face. Because we have to Protect Our Children.

To be sure, lest someone object, a lot of this attitude descends and is transmitted by certain sorts of elite opinion-makers like newspaper columnists and so on. Yes, that is so. But they are working with a public that is highly primed for this visceral syllogism.

Does my theory about Corbyn’s unpopularity demand that this situation remain so forever? No: I don’t counsel despair. My theory is about explaining what has happened so far. People always have the possibility to choose otherwise. Maybe even in time for the next British elections. You never know.

Election Interference

So, Obama put sanctions on Russia, ostensibly for interfering in American elections.

The argument has been made that keeping them under these sanctions “disincentivizes” Russia interfering in other countries’ elections.


I think this falls to the level of schoolyard ethics.

Russia should stand down when the US stands down. The US has interfered in multiple elections, and recently helped the Maidan overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government in a coup.

As for electronic spying, what is known is this: Americans were tapping the German Chancellor’s phone.

There is nothing that Americans want Russians to stop doing that they themselves do not do, with the possible exception of annexation. (And there’s a strong argument that the US still annexes what it wants, de facto, if not de jure.)

The schoolyard bully telling others, “Only I get to hit people” doesn’t go across really well.

It is simply impossible to take the US seriously on any form of “don’t spy,” “don’t fight,” or “enforce human rights.” Just impossible. Of course Russia will try to get friendly governments elected when the West has it under economic sanctions. Of course Russia will try and get friendly governments in power: Just like America does.

Two wrongs may not make a right, but people who unilaterally disarm and refuse to fight get a lot worse done to them than having their faces shoved in the dirt.

America supported a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. There is no question about this. Then, when the Russians intervened in the Ukraine, they insisted on punishing the Russians.

Think this through a little.

At most, Russian interference in the US election involved the selective release of real, true, information.

The rest of the world wishes American interference stayed at that level.

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Fools Russians Where Angels Fear to Tread

(NB: post by Mandos.)

Recent events suggest that, whatever they may have originally thought, the Trump administration is in the process of being pulled back into the overall historical attractor of US policy regarding Russia. The Russian establishment had made no secret of its preference for Trump and its belief that Trump was a person with which they could deal on a more even footing, a politician in a mold they understood, etc.

I’m not here to argue whether or not Trump (or Flynn) is some kind of Russian plant, an issue that seems to be occupying many others.  I gather that conclusive evidence on this matter has yet to be produced and that it so far lies in the realm of (negative) wishful thinking.  However, Russian policy-makers are already voicing disappointment that Russia-favorable entities in the Trump administration are increasingly weakened. The US state, particularly its intelligence community, are deeply set up for conflict with Russia, for better or for worse, and it turns out that the White House is only part of a large infrastructure, and any fantasies of an election resulting in a vast purge and house-cleaning were just that: fantasies. The intelligence community still believes to its core in the necessity of containing Russia.

However, one thing that is different now is the position of Western social liberals. Unfortunately, Russia had decided to back in spirit, if not always materially, movements that are identified with various strains of nationalist conservatism that are hostile to the goals and beliefs of social liberals. This is not only in the USA, but especially so in Europe, with the on-going rise of the Le Pens, the Wilders, and other groups in the world. Once upon a time, social liberal groups were principally parochial movements which were relatively indifferent on foreign policy questions regarding Russia, and to a very large extent also overlapped with anti-war movements — and so were once at odds with the intelligence community.

However, the apparent desire of Russia to return to a world of ordinary nation-state politics, and therefore its willing appearance (at minimum) of siding with conservative nationalist movements, have led to many social liberals now viewing Russia as mortal threat to their projects, and therefore, having a plausible motive to try to subvert political movements like that of Trumpism to their aims.  In this situation, social liberals (or “identity politics” movements, or whatever you want to call them) will quite rationally stake out a position that the devil you know (American intelligence forces) are better than the devil you don’t (Vladimir Putin). This is not helped by the appearance of things like Russia loosening its laws on domestic violence.

While social liberals have not lately been winning elections on their platforms (most notably, in the USA due to the Electoral College structure), it would be a mistake to assume that these groups have no power whatsoever. In fact, they have broad and deep bases of popular support (merely electorally inefficient), and those bases are being pushed into the arms of forces hostile to Russian interests. The combination of Cold War-style intelligence community conservatism with popular social liberalism is one that is likely to lead to an even more hostile neo-Cold War posture on the part of the Western establishment in the medium-term, unless in the short term Trumpism can generate the political competence required to coerce the establishment in the other direction.

For its part, Russia has been attempting to play, in the “further abroad”, a soft power role given that its other options are not effective. It is attempting to play the part of a rival global hegemon without actually being a hegemon. It does not currently have the cultural or technological reach to do so.  While it operates a technologically advanced, developed economy, it is still highly dependent on natural resource development and export. That means that the risks accruing from a strategy of using cultural divisions in the currently hegemonic Western social order are high: should social liberals gain the upper hand due to the inability of nationalist populism to operate the levers of state effectively, they will be confirmed in a resolve for further containment and suppression of a Russia that took sides against them.

This Is Why I Always Give the Benefit of the Doubt to Left-wing Opponents of the Regime

Sure, sure, they did that terrible thing.

I mean, they may have.  But this is how the NSA discredits people like hacktivists.  This is their training:

NSA slide on how to discredit troublemakers

NSA slide on how to discredit troublemakers


And this is how they discredit a company:

How the NSA discredits a company

How the NSA discredits a company

Punishment without trial. Note that altering photos and faking emails is fraud.

Though this article doesn’t go into it, I also strongly presume that they have uploaded kiddie-porn onto victims’ computers. The malware, key loggers, and backdoors to which the NSA has access often make it possible for them to not only to see what’s on your computer, but to take control of it.

The hidden state, not to put too fine a point on it, is at war with a good chunk of society. Greenwald, being practically a hacktivist himself, is concerned with their war on hacktivists, but they also go after a wide variety of targets, including war protesters, environmentalists, unions, and left-wingers in general.

Though not new, this does seem to have become worse in the last 25 years or so. It is of a piece with no-fly lists and treasury designations of criminal or terrorist individuals and organizations, which is to say, it is administrative punishment without appeal or transparency. You often don’t know who’s doing it to you, why they are doing it to you, or how to get it to stop; and you certainly were never accused of a crime and given your day in court.

These sorts of actions destroy lives. The people who perpetrate them cause poverty, unemployment, failed businesses, and, ultimately, in the fallout from these, violence, illness and death (as all follow from lack of money and social isolation).

In other words, all of these actions should be considered criminal acts. Some of them probably still are, by the strict letter of the law.

Next time some radical hero is accused of being nasty, consider carefully how credible it really is. Perhaps apply to life that general principle of benefit of the doubt.

The left, in particular, is always easy to split along markers of social identity, and don’t think the NSA and other similar agencies don’t know that, and use it.

Read the entirety of Greenwald’s post. It is important.

On Stratfor

Wikileaks has dumped a bunch of internal Stratfor documents, which they presumably received from Anonymous.  Years ago I used to read Stratfor’s briefs.  After a while I stopped, because their economic analysis was absolutely awful, straight up cookie cutter consensus macro, which missed the important events.  Since Stratfor’s briefs were supposed to give insight into what was going to happen, and since they were wrong about something so important, I decided they weren’t worth reading except as a gloss on what a certain part of the foreign policy establishment was thinking (the guys who think they’re cowboys.)

I think that Michael Brenner’a appraisal of Stratfor themselves, that they’re a immature, unprofessional and hustlers is true.  The incredulity, reading them, is “people pay for this?”

Which leads to the question of how much of worth there is in the files.  The main problem isn’t whether the files are really from Stratfor, I believe they are, the problem is that Stratfor seems somewhat clueless.  So, for example, if true, that Russia and Israel sold out those who bought military equipment from them is fascinating and important:

According to the leaked document, Israel gave Russia the “data link codes” for unmanned aerial vehicles that the Jewish state sold to Georgia, and in return, Russia gave Israel the codes for Tor-M1 missile defense systems that Russia sold Iran.

I’m inclined to believe it, but really, who knows.  I should add that countries who are serious about their defence, really should make their own equipment if they can.

How to be a big pundit

Figure out the truth once it’s too late to matter.

Analysis is mostly about noticing the obvious, but for the obvious to do any good it helps to notice it before it’s too late to matter.

Let me reiterate: Republicans understand opposition politics.  Also, policy matters.  As I was saying back during the stimulus debate, if the economy sucks, the incumbent party gets blamed for it,  and that means you have to make it work.  I don’t know if Democrats will lose the House (the consensus amongst the few analysts I trust seems to “no, but they will lose a lot of seats”).  I do know that they’ll be losing more seats than they should be.

The only reason Dems aren’t having a complete meltdown is that a sizable part of the Republican party is mad dog insane.

Even that won’t save them forever if they can’t figure out how to do policy right.

And, sorry to say it, they can’t.

Catching Up with the Obama Dilemma

I haven’t had much to say the last bit, because the rest of the blogosphere and even mainstream pundits are catching up to where I was a while ago.  Let’s see where we are, and where we’re going.

To recap:

1) the stimulus bill was neither big enough, nor well enough put together to do the job.  However many jobs it “saved and created” they weren’t enough.

2) Obama is not in the least interested in doing progressive things unless great pain is inflicted on him, personally.  This is most likely because he is not a progressive.

3) On civil liberties, Obama is probably actually worse than Bush.  Yes, that’s quite an accomplishment, but there you have it.

4) He’s an incompetent leader, who over-centralizes decision making, refuses to delegate, then makes decisions slowly and badly.

5) His courtiers are not the problem (although they’re almost all scum), he is the problem: he chose them.

6) The spring job recovery is already petered out, and around the world virtually every major economy other than China is turning to austerity, including the US.  US cities and States are in a horrible state, gross income is down, and bank lending is still not recovering.  The US economy has become more oligopolistic and more sclerotic than ever before, with the major firms who run the economy making their money by squeezing little people who have nowhere to turn.  Thanks to Bernanke, Paulson, Geither, Bush and Obama’s bailouts, and refusal to engage in meaningful restructuring of the economy or the financial industry, their profits have recovered.  That means, to them, that the crisis is over.

7) Election results in the midterms are looking really bad.  I was warning about this in beginning of 2009, because if Obama’s economic policies didn’t work, and if he continually alienated the base, it was going to cause problems.  The only thing Obama and Congressional Dems have going for them is how bloody awful the Republicans are.  But being the lesser evil isn’t always enough.  Liberals and progressives can’t vote Republican, but they can refuse to donate, not volunteer, and in many cases, not vote.

Going forward Obama is faced with a choice.  He won’t do enough to make the base happy, because he genuinely doesn’t believe in any progressive ideals.  What he can do, however, is goose the economy. He has most of the TARP slush fund to play with.  He could dump it into the economy post-haste in order to rescue the mid-terms.

Whether to do so is a dilemma for him.  On the one hand standard methodologies are still showing that the Dems (barely) hold onto the House, and keep the Senate.  But it isn’t much of a stretch for the Republicans to win the House.

If they do so, Obama’s presidency is effectively over.  The Republicans will Clintonize him, tying him down in a blizzard of subpoenas and fake scandals.  He will get nothing done for the next two years, and will probably lose re-election.

On the other hand, if he spends the money in 2010, it won’t be there in 2012, and after all, Dems might squeeze through without it.

Choices, choices…

I’d feel sorry for him, but he’s made clear that he isn’t a Democratic president, and he isn’t a liberal or a progressive, so I see no point in wasting any angst on personal problems he himself created.  All of this was totally predictable, and was, in fact predicted by multiple people.

Obama never made a sincere effort to fix the economy, to end the wars, to stop civil liberties abuses or to revamp the financial industry.

As he reaps, so he sows.  It is unfortunate Americans have to suffer even more than he does (he’ll be taken care of after he leaves the Presidency, never fear), but such is life.  Maybe it’s time to stop voting for people who say they love Reagan and that they don’t believe in Democratic solutions to problems.

Coming up…

We’re still in a Depression


Why it is never in Congress’s interests to look after Americans

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