Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Cruising the Web

So Susan Rice is now claiming that, while she did request to know the names of U.S. persons whose names came up during surveillance, but that this was totally normal.
Rice added that it's not unusual to request the identities of people caught on intelligence surveillance.

"There were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to, name not provided, just a U.S. person, and sometimes in that context in order to understand the importance of that report, and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was," she said, without going into specifics.

For example, she said, "if two foreigners were having a conversation" about a possible bombing with an American, they would want to know if that person "was some kook" or a legitimate threat.
who
"It was not uncommon, it was necessary at times to make those requests," she said. "I don't have a particular recollection of doing that more frequently after the election."
Well, this seems like something relatively easy to check. There are supposed to be logs of requests to unmask names from raw intelligence reports. In fact, it was in reviewing the government's past actions on such unmasking that Susan Rice's actions came to light.

It should be possible to see if Susan Rice regularly did so in her time as National Security Adviser. Did she do so relatively as much as other National Security Advisers? How common is it really. Her example seems quite disingenuous. There is nothing about terrorism that has been mentioned in the story about unmasking the names of people connected to Trump. In fact, Devin Nunes has explicitly said that the reports that he saw had nothing to do with Russia. The report from Eli Lake at Bloomberg seems to indicate that there was nothing that should have triggered the special need to know the names of the Americans who were picked up in these surveillance reports.
The intelligence reports were summaries of monitored conversations -- primarily between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, but also in some cases direct contact between members of the Trump team and monitored foreign officials. 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.
If that is true, Susan Rice has to explain why this was such important information that she needed to know in the waning days of the Obama administration, the names of these people connected to the Trump team. Of course, we're just learning about this from dueling leaks from interested parties in painting the story one way or another. That is why it is so important to get Susan Rice under oath to answer such questions.

The WSJ explains why we need to hear Susan Rice under oath.
Her answers make it all the more imperative to hear her under oath before Congress.

Ms. Rice didn’t deny that she had sought the name of a Trump transition official in intelligence reports, though she said she hadn’t done so “for any political purposes.” We’ll take this as confirmation that President Obama’s confidante was receiving summaries of surveilled foreign officials that included references to, or conversations with, Donald Trump’s team.

Ms. Rice insisted that unmasking was a routine part of her job and is necessary to understand the context of some intelligence reports. Perhaps, but why specifically did she need to see intel summaries dealing with Trump transition plans and policy intentions? And what was the context for seeking the name of any Trump official? Unmasking is typically the job of professional intelligence analysts, not senior White House officials.

Ms. Rice was also at pains to say that unmasking is not the same as leaking to the press and that she “leaked nothing to nobody, and never have.” But she hasn’t been accused of leaking the name of the Trump official. She is responsible for unmasking a U.S. citizen, which made that name more widely disseminated across the government and thus could have been more easily leaked by someone else. Michael Flynn lost his job as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser because of leaks about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

Andrew McCarthy explains
why it really shouldn't have been done by the National Security Adviser.
The thing to bear in mind is that the White House does not do investigations. Not criminal investigations, not intelligence investigations.

Remember that.

Why is that so important in the context of explosive revelations that Susan Rice, President Obama’s national-security adviser, confidant, and chief dissembler, called for the “unmasking” of Trump campaign and transition officials whose identities and communications were captured in the collection of U.S. intelligence on foreign targets?

Because we’ve been told for weeks that any unmasking of people in Trump’s circle that may have occurred had two innocent explanations: (1) the FBI’s investigation of Russian meddling in the election and (2) the need to know, for purposes of understanding the communications of foreign intelligence targets, the identities of Americans incidentally intercepted or mentioned. The unmasking, Obama apologists insist, had nothing to do with targeting Trump or his people.

That won’t wash.

In general, it is the FBI that conducts investigations that bear on American citizens suspected of committing crimes or of acting as agents of foreign powers. In the matter of alleged Russian meddling, the investigative camp also includes the CIA and the NSA. All three agencies conducted a probe and issued a joint report in January. That was after Obama, despite having previously acknowledged that the Russian activity was inconsequential, suddenly made a great show of ordering an inquiry and issuing sanctions.

Consequently, if unmasking was relevant to the Russia investigation, it would have been done by those three agencies. And if it had been critical to know the identities of Americans caught up in other foreign intelligence efforts, the agencies that collect the information and conduct investigations would have unmasked it. Because they are the agencies that collect and refine intelligence “products” for the rest of the “intelligence community,” they are responsible for any unmasking; and they do it under “minimization” standards that FBI Director James Comey, in recent congressional testimony, described as “obsessive” in their determination to protect the identities and privacy of Americans.

Understand: There would have been no intelligence need for Susan Rice to ask for identities to be unmasked. If there had been a real need to reveal the identities — an intelligence need based on American interests — the unmasking would have been done by the investigating agencies.

The national-security adviser is not an investigator. She is a White House staffer. The president’s staff is a consumer of intelligence, not a generator or collector of it. If Susan Rice was unmasking Americans, it was not to fulfill an intelligence need based on American interests; it was to fulfill a political desire based on Democratic-party interests.
She didn't need to leak the actual information. The Obama administration deliberately made sure that names and intelligence got widely distributed throughout the Obama team and even to members of Congress. She knew that someone else would leak the information.
To summarize: At a high level, officials like Susan Rice had names unmasked that would not ordinarily be unmasked. That information was then being pushed widely throughout the intelligence community in unmasked form . . . particularly after Obama, toward the end of his presidency, suddenly — and seemingly apropos of nothing — changed the rules so that all of the intelligence agencies (not just the collecting agencies) could have access to raw intelligence information.

As we know, the community of intelligence agencies leaks like a sieve, and the more access there is to juicy information, the more leaks there are. Meanwhile, former Obama officials and Clinton-campaign advisers, like Farkas, were pushing to get the information transferred from the intelligence community to members of Congress, geometrically increasing the likelihood of intelligence leaks.

By the way, have you noticed that there have been lots of intelligence leaks in the press?

There’s an old saying in the criminal law: The best evidence of a conspiracy is success.

The criminal law also has another good rule of thumb: Consciousness of guilt is best proved by false exculpatory statements. That’s a genre in which Susan Rice has rich experience.

Two weeks ago, she was asked in an interview about allegations by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) that the Obama administration had unmasked Trump-team members.

“I know nothing about this,” Rice replied. “I was surprised to see reports from Chairman Nunes on that count today.”

Well, at least she didn’t blame it on a video.
It certainly seems that there was a conspiracy here, but we don't know for sure. McCarthy's analysis reminds me of Abraham Lincoln's "House Divided" speech in which he put forth his accusation that there was a conspiracy by Stephen Douglas, Franklin Pierce, Roger Taney, and James Buchanan to spread slavery to the territories and eventually throughout the country through actions such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act which Douglas championed and Pierce signed, and the Dred Scott decision which Taney, the Chief Justice, had written and Buchanan had urged the public to accept. Lincoln's accusation was that Douglas's job in the 1858 Illinois senate race was to prepare public opinion to accept the spread of slavery throughout the territories and from there to the free states. Here is how he explained how we know that there was such a conspiracy.
We can not absolutely know that all these exact adaptations are the result of preconcert. But when we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen -- Stephen, Franklin, Roger, and James, for instance -- and when we see these timbers joined together, and see they exactly make the frame of a house or a mill, all the tenons and mortices exactly fitting, and all the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places, and not a piece too many or too few -- not omitting even scaffolding -- or, if a single piece be lacking, we can see the place in the frame exactly fitted and prepared to yet bring such piece in -- in such a case, we find it impossible not to believe that Stephen and Franklin and Roger and James all understood one another from the beginning, and all worked upon a common plan or draft drawn up before the first lick was struck.
We don't know that there was an actual conspiracy among those four men, but Lincoln was correct that their actions in the 1950s would have led to that result even without having to meet together to agree on what to do. And McCarthy's explanation of what was going on in those last weeks of the Obama administration certainly seem like they had their own framed-timbers conspiracy.

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The MSM, meanwhile, really wants to downplay this whole story and brush it off as simply the Republicans trying to turn attention away from the accusations about the Trump team and connections to the Russians. Why can't we investigate both stories? Why should one cancel out the other? Democrats used to worry about how extensive surveillance can turn into surveillance of American citizens. And if, as as this Susan Rice story implies, that one administration was using intelligence to spy on the incoming administration of another party and then disseminating that information so broadly that it was bound to be leaked, shouldn't people be outraged. Of course, this story is nothing to do with Trump's wild claim that Obama had Trump Tower's "wires tapped," but that doesn't mean that this story isn't extremely important. The MSM might have its own framed-timbers conspiracy to try to smother this story but as T. Becket Adams writes, this is "the exact wrong way to cover" the story.
Telling people "there's nothing to see here," as CNN's Don Lemon, Jim Sciutto and Chris Cuomo have done this week, only makes audiences more curious, and it deepens the trust divide between viewers and the press....

For the sake of full disclosure, it's worth noting Sciutto is a former Obama administration appointee. He served for a time as chief of staff to the U.S. ambassador to China....

It may be that the "unmasking" of Americans was perfectly legal, and that the role Rice played was minuscule. Once the facts come out, it may be that the entire story has been overblown, and that nothing unusual or unethical occurred.

However, the facts are still being collected.

Reporters are wrong to blow off the story as a "diversion." There are legitimate questions that need to be answered. Audiences deserve that much. Dismissing the story outright as a "distraction" before all the facts are in rightly raises additional concerns – and suspicion.

Of course, Susan Rice has forfeited any faith that the American people might have in what she says when she goes on TV and makes a claim that exonerates her administration after her performance on Benghazi. And her statement a month ago on PBS that she didn't know anything about what Devin Nunes was claiming and now she says that this was totally normal behavior. The woman has a history of going on TV and lying.

And add in that the Obama administration had a history of using surveillance for its own purposes. Remember the Obama DOJ collecting James Rosen and his parent's phone information by alleging the Fox reporter was a possible co-conspirator. They also got the phone records of AP journalists The CIA under Obama spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I'd forgotten that, in addition to spying on Angela Merkel, the Obama NSA was also spying on the German media and then telling the German government about which government officials were talking to German media. And I'd forgotten about this story.
In 2013, it was revealed how the Obama administration and NSA were facilitating a secret government mass surveillance program called Prism, because the name Orwell would have been too obvious, I guess.

Prism was created to access private communications of internet subscribers through several IP providers. This was done without the knowledge (or at the very least, the denial) or permission of the leaders of the targeted companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook. Defenders of the program, including President Obama suggested that Americans were not intentionally being caught up in Prism’s net and that the program was only to monitor actively from outside the united states coming into the country as part of the FISA authorization.

This is the same claim that is being made in the Flynn case. Director of Intelligence James Clapper while under oath denied any American citizens were currently under surveillance. When pressed again, Clapper hedged his answer by saying “Not intentionally.” The Washington Post hammered Obama himself for a misleading claim in a press conference he gave post discovery, titled “Remember when Obama said the NSA wasn’t “actually abusing” its powers? He was wrong.”
So why should Susan Rice and the Obama White House get a free pass?

Let's investigate both stories. We deserve to know what both the Obama and Trump people were doing to abuse power.

Rich Lowry summarizes the Democrats' plans to filibuster Neil Gorsuch.
Throughout its history, the United States Senate has experienced disgraceful filibusters (Strom Thurmond against the 1957 Civil Rights Act), entertaining filibusters (Huey Long in 1935 reciting a fried-oyster recipe) and symbolic filibusters (Rand Paul making a point about drone strikes in 2013). But the filibuster that Chuck Schumer is about to undertake against Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court is perhaps the institution’s dumbest.

It won’t block Gorsuch, won’t establish any important jurisprudential principle, and won’t advance Democratic strategic goals — indeed the opposite. A Gorsuch filibuster would be an act of a sheer partisan pique against the wrong target, with the wrong method, at the wrong time.
It's rather like General Omar Bradley said of the idea of extending the Korean War into China that it was "The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

While Schumer is trying to portray a Republican move to get rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations as something totally unprecedented. Baloney!
First, a partisan filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee is unprecedented (Lyndon Johnson’s nominee for chief justice, Abe Fortas, was successfully filibustered by a bipartisan coalition). Second, Democrats already nuked the filibuster for other nominations besides the Supreme Court back in 2013, with Chuck Schumer’s support at the time. Finally, Democrats talked openly about how they’d use the nuclear option if Republicans filibustered a Supreme Court nomination from a prospective President Hillary Clinton.

In short, Democrats are departing from the Senate’s longtime practices and excoriating the GOP for responding with a tactic that Democrats themselves pioneered. Process questions are always a festival for partisan hypocrisy. This is still a bit much. Regardless, Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes that there isn’t much of a rationale for keeping the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees if it has already been eliminated for all other nominations.

The Washington Examiner reports that the Republicans are pondering another change to nomination rules. Right now, the minority can stretch debate over a nomination to 30 hours. That is after the debate that preceded the vote on cloture. So the proposal the Republicans are considering is to cut the post-cloture debate down to eight hours on a confirmation vote on executive nominations. There are too many openings in the executive branch plus judicial nominations when a new president comes in to spend 30 hours after cloture going through the motions. Eight house should be sufficient.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., pitched his GOP colleagues Tuesday on shortening the amount of time that senators can talk about a nominee post-cloture. Lankford wants to cut that time to no more than eight hours, as Democrats have used the 30-hour rule to delay the confirmation of even non-controversial presidential appointees, such as the incoming secretary of agriculture.

"That gives time to still do post-cloture debate, but the real debate has already ended because you've already had the initial votes," Lankford, who first contemplated the idea as part of a working group on Senate rules last year, told the Washington Examiner. "The founders didn't want us to be efficient, they wanted us to be slow and deliberative. But this is after the deliberation is pretty finished. You should be able to bring it to a close when the outcome is certain."
It is one thing to be slow and deliberative as the Founders intended over legislation and even nominations. But there comes a point when that debate has nothing to be with deliberation and everything to do with scoring partisan points to sell to a party's base. Our Congress can't function as it is. Spending 30 hours on a nomination that is going to go through anyway when there are over 1000 positions to fill is just destructive of trying to accomplish anything at all.

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Charles C. W. Cooke takes a look
at France's upcoming elections. However crazy our electoral system is, I'm glad we don't have the structure that France does with having a first-stage election and then a run-off with the winner having to put together some sort of coalition government. François Fillon had looked to be a lock going against Marine Le Pen until news broke of how he'd provided phony jobs to members of his family so that they could earn huge salaries at the expense of French taxpayers. So his star has been steadily sinking. Marine Le Pen is picking up support and will most likely go through to the second stage. But then anti-Front National voters will coalesce around whomever Le Pen is running against.
And there is Emmanuel Macron, a self-described post-ideological moderate who is a leading contender for Luckiest Man in France.
Macron seems perfectly positioned to ride the French system into office.
Macron, an independent with no party apparatus around him, is a former Rothschild banker who at one point seemed destined to be a footnote but after Fillon’s implosion is now the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing. Perilously untested, chronically vacuous, and ostensibly tarred by his work under the incumbent president, François Hollande (the most unpopular the Fifth Republic has ever had), Macron nevertheless seems set to take the lion’s share of a political middle that is sorely lacking in credible representatives. Cosmopolitan, pro-immigration, and publicly insistent that “there is no such thing as French culture,” Macron is precisely of whom Marine Le Pen is thinking when she lambastes the “savage globalization that has been a nightmare” for France.
There is a lot in France that is creating voter discontent.
Politically, France is in a bad place. Under Hollande’s feckless leadership, the country has been attacked from both without and within and seen an average of 1 percent growth for almost half a decade. Unemployment among 15-to-24-year-olds is now at a staggering 25 percent and has led to an exodus that has rendered London the sixth-largest French-speaking city in the world. The reflexively proud French are no longer sure that they have a future. They are afraid for their economy. They are afraid of immigration. They are afraid of technology. There is, almost everywhere you go, a tangible sense of ennui. It is an uncertainty that does not suit the people that produced de Gaulle.

For the establishment, the consequences have been grim. As The Economist put it, this year’s primaries brought a “bonfire of the elites.” To have a familiar name in 2017 — be it “Hollande,” “Sarkozy,” or “Juppé” — is to carry a heavy weight around your neck. As in America, many voters are in a burn-it-down mood. And without a strong, “safe” option that can hoover up the middle, the extremists and opportunists have pounced.
In such an environment, Le Pen might be able to shock people and win. We've seen unlikely political victories during this past year. Cooke explains why American conservatives should not be cheering on Marine Le Pen even if they see her as a French Donald Trump.
Marine Le Pen is not her father, but she is not much better, all told. Like Nigel Farage in Britain, she has a point on the EU, and she is sensible to express concerns about crime and immigration that nobody else will touch. And yet she has an emetically close relationship with Vladimir Putin, takes skepticism toward immigration and trade to unpalatably farcical levels, and, as a Gaullist admirer of dirigisme, is no friend to the market reforms that France so desperately needs. She is, in short, bad news.

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