Thursday, 31 December 2015
The president approved the wiretaps.
Privately, Mr. Obama maintained the monitoring of Mr. Netanyahu on the grounds that it served a “compelling national security purpose,” according to current and former U.S. officials.
That’s right; there’s a compelling national interest in stopping the Israel lobby.
Many have said that President Obama lacks spine? Well, it sure looks like the leak to reporters Adam Entous and Danny Yadron came from the administration, and it’s hard to believe that a leak of this magnitude was not approved by the president. Just when the Israel lobby thought that it was starting to get back to business as usual, the Obama administration has reminded them that something has fundamentally changed in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Not only did we beat the lobby and Israel on the Iran Deal, but: we’re exposing your tactics, and patriotic Americans are going to be very upset by what they see.
Remember that Obama in his highlight moment of the Iran Deal told Americans it would be an “abrogation of my constitutional duty” to defer to Israel’s interests on the Iran Deal. You’d think it would be a scandal that the Israeli PM was intriguing with Republicans — and surely some Democrats– in the way the WSJ has documented; but instead the official reaction is likely to be how outrageous it was for Obama and the NSA to be listening in on the supposed only democracy in the Middle East.
Some of the details from the article:
The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears—an “Oh-s— moment,” one senior U.S. official said — that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress…White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign…
Much of the article substantiates the allegations swirling at the time of the deal, that Netanyahu was getting inside information on the secret negotiations. The eavesdropping revealed to the White House:
How Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations — learned through Israeli spying operations — to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.
The notorious Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer was caught on the tapes:
Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations — which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups — on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal…Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”
Again, no names of US legislators, but this article contains the explicit threat that Israel could expose individuals down the road. The practice is sure to anger Americans and drive an even deeper wedge into the Jewish community over the role of the lobby. Patriotic Jewish Americans are going to be embarrassed yet again by the extent to which Israel tries to subvert our government, using American Jewish friends to do so. And many will walk away from the lobby over this kind of business. The large wavering middle of pro-Israel forces is going to be set back. J Street made the right call on the Iran Deal (reluctantly, I’ve heard) but it will reap a dividend.
Scott Horton refers to the last big eavesdropping scandal, when then-congresswoman Jane Harman promised a suspected Israeli agent that she would attempt to stop a federal case against American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) staffers in exchange for that agent’s political influence in getting her a committee chair. Jeff Stein reported the story:Notre Dame professor Michael Desch’s interpretation: “The lobby and Congress will no doubt try to spin it as more evidence of Obama’s anti-Israel animus. But the story constitutes powerful evidence of 1) divergence of US and Israeli interests on important issues like Iran and 2) close coordination of the lobby and Government of Israel in trying to influence US domestic politics.”
Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.
The suspected Israeli agent was inferred (it was the opinion of Josh Marshall and Ron Kampeas) to be Haim Saban, the giant contributor to the Democratic Party. So a “suspected Israeli agent” is also a giant Democratic funder with influence over the Congress? We’re headed for a showdown between the lobby and the grassroots, inside the Democratic Party. And praise to the Obama administration, who we guess is fueling the controversy out of “compelling national” interest.
Trust Me’ might be just the most manipulative thing a politician can say. It means leave me alone in secret to operate without proper challenge.”— Tom Watson, UK Deputy Labour Leader, Dec 18, 2015
Many government policies are advertised as useful for broader safety – till they are reversed to apply to the very officials who create them. The UK Home Secretary is very much of that school. Readers will be aware what Theresa May has done her invaluably bit to undermine privacy on the broader pretext of protecting security.
Central to this is the Home Office’s insistence on the Investigatory Powers Bill that seemingly insists on more intrusion than investigation. The bill, in rather futile fashion, will compel phone and web companies to retain records of every citizen for at least a year, providing a data pool which police and security services could access when required. The legislation goes further, enrolling the relevant service providers in a pseudo-police role that will override encryption if needed.
May has found herself having to sugar coat the bill with some decent premise, and has decided to go the cyberbullying card, aview she outlined to South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge.
The tactic is standard: if people are misbehaving on the internet, those on facilitating its use should be made responsible for moral behaviour. Accordingly, “Internet connection records would update the capability of law enforcement in a criminal investigation to determine the sender and recipient of a communication, for example, a malicious message such as those exchanged in cyberbullying.”
The response by The Independent has been an attempt to pull the history of Theresa May’s browsing history for the last week of October, a freedom of information request that purposely excludes any information directly concerned with security matters.
What is good for the goose of inquiry is also grand for the gander placed under the scrutinising eye of the state. In short, if you are going to be equal before the law, then by golly even ministers should have their browsing history on the internet made available for the public gaze.
Not so, according to the Home Office. The FOI request has been dismissed as vexatious. In other words, the request was dismissed on grounds of an action “brought without sufficient grounds for winning, purely to cause annoyance to the defendant.”
The Home Office’s response, drawing upon section 14(1) of the Act, insisted that the department had “decided that your request is vexatious because it places an unreasonable border on the department, because it has adopted a scattergun approach and seems solely designed for the purpose of fishing for information without any idea of what might be revealed.”
The response provides a suitable template for critics of the surveillance state, if only because it demonstrates the hopeless rationale for the entire metadata retention regime. If the request by The Independent was, by its nature, scattergun, one could hardly assume that the security state’s behaviour in this regard is anything but scattergun.
This legal excuse remains one of the least convincing in the area of information law. It is, however, used repeatedly by states who have freedom of information regimes, providing slivers when asked, but generally withholding the bulk of what is deemed too sensitive for release.
The point is often the same: we will have a regime to allow information for the public precisely because we are intent on disallowing much of it. Regulation, in other words, is constriction, measured in the name of protecting that great, inscrutable fiction known as the public interest. You are kept in the dark because ignorance is necessary bliss.
In the case of the Home Office, there could be few things more fundamentally vexatious than a metadata retention regime premised on the nonsense of combating trolls and bullies on the world wide web.
The efforts on the part of The Independent have at least demonstrated to British citizens that this regime has other purposes, managing to get some egg onto the faces of Home Office officials. It is by no means the only quarter targeting the potential consequences of the bill. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson has argued that the bill’s supposed self-guarding mechanisms and oversight simply do not go far enough in protecting privacy.
In Watson’s mind, there was merely a “very limited review of the Home Secretary’s warrants by a judge appointed by a Commissioner who is appointed by the prime minister.” It was a “false choice to say that these massive extensions of state power must be introduced without checks and balances.”
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook finds its provisions similarly repellent for privacy. “We believe it would be wrong,” went a company statement, “to weaken security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers so that it will also be weaker for the very few who pose a threat.” Given this government’s supposed love of the corporate sector, big business and all, David Cameron and his Home Secretary have their work sharply cut out for them.
Erdoğan’s Turkey is angry. It feels repressed and hated unjustly. It is hungry for respect but insatiable in its demands. It brought down a Russian jet unwarrantedly and militiamen fired on its parachuting pilot, but Erdoğan’s Turkey believed it was protecting itself. Despite its supposed sensitivity to questions of sovereignty, it sent troops across the border to Iraq against the wishes of the Iraqi government, supposedly to train anti-ISIS fighters. No one believes this. It is engaged in a bloody crackdown against the Kurdish Workers Party guerrilla group (PKK) inside Turkey resulting in a bloodbath, which may very well be only the beginning. Erdoğan’s Turkey views itself as a victim of Russia, the “killer of Sunnis.” But it is Erdoğan’s Turkey which is aiding and trading with the Islamic State while presenting itself as a victim of false accusations. To view the invasion of Iraq in isolation is to miss the point. Erdoğan’s Turkey is hoping to regain the pre-1917 Ottoman lands across the border and/or to reunite with its brothers the Turkmen in Syria. It is only a question of time before Erdoğan’s Turkey invades Syrian territory illegally, just as it did in Iraq, under the full protection of NATO. It is expansionist by nature.
Many prefer to view Erdoğan’s actions as whimsical or as contrary to the wishes of the United States or NATO. According to this narrative, Erdoğan is a madman but he is acting on his own. This is a mistake. Let one who claims so answer candidly the following questions:
Did the United States or NATO denounce the toppling of the Russian Jet? -No. On the contrary. It was claimed Turkey has the right to “defend itself.”
Did the United States or NATO demand an immediate withdrawal of Turkish forces from northern Iraq following the illegal invasion on December 4? Did it denounce it at once? –No. Only two weeks later did the US ask Turkey to withdraw its forces from Iraq. There was no condemnation.
Did the United States or NATO hold Erdoğan accountable for his trading with and support for ISIS? –No. In fact, NATO-Turkish cooperation and EU-Turkish collaboration has only intensified.
Did the United States condemn Erdoğan for his bloody campaign against the Kurds in Turkey? –No.
Erdoğan’s Turkey is very convenient for NATO. It serves as the tool by which to assert both Turkish and NATO’s strategic objectives. Both NATO and Turkey wish to bring down the government of Bashar al Assad. Both NATO and Turkey seek to confront Russia. Both the US and Turkey have been working to weaken the Iraqi state, even by a direct attack. Erdoğan’s Turkey is the spearhead of NATO’s campaign and strategic objectives. If Russia attacks Turkey or responds to a Turkish provocation, NATO will intervene. It is obligated to do so under NATO’s Article 5. Turkey is both the provocateur and the bait. If Turkish actions were whimsical and undesirable, would the US and NATO not condemn them at once rather than offer Erdoğan their backing?
Erdoğan has been enriching himself from ISIL’s oil and keeping the revenues in his pocket while leaving his people in poverty. He has served his own interests and the interests of NATO, not of the Turkish people. All under the banner of “Neo-Ottomanism.” As I wrote earlier, Erdoğan enjoys popular support by a impoverished public who sees him as a genuine representative. He has been intentionally stirring resentment and feelings of national humiliation and Russia should have therefore sought to drive a wedge between Erdoğan and the people.
How did Russia respond to Erdoğan’s trap? It fell straight into it.
First, it declared a boycott against Turkey and Turkish goods which will now send the Turkish people into Erdoğan’s willing arms and blind them to his corruption.
Second, it took the knee-jerk reaction of aligning itself closer with Armenia, which will only reinforce popular Turkish suspicions and increase tensions between Russia and the people of Turkey, precisely what Russia does not want nor need.
Third, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov met with the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey, Selahattin Demirtaş, and said he will support Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq. Lavrov made at least three mistakes here:
He met with a pro-Kurdish political party alone rather than meeting with other Turkish oppositional figures who oppose Erdoğan. Therefore, he increased popular Turkish suspicions of Russia. He did not mention supporting Kurds in Turkey and providing them weapons to protect themselves from the onslaught of the NATO-armed Turkish army. He confused between the Kurds in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds of Syria, as the People’s Defense Units (YPG) in Syria, oppose ISIL and Turkey. The Kurds in autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq, at least those under Masoud Barzani, work with Turkey and trade with it. The Kurds in Turkey, are facing an onslaught. Either way, not everyone wants Russian help and not everyone is against Erdoğan. But Lavrov mistakenly assumed the deeply divided Kurdish people are a single entity with a common goal. His blunders did not end here. To make matters worse, Lavrov added that help for YPG will be provided only via the Syrian government. By saying this, he did not win points with the Syrian Kurds who have long been suspicious of central governments and believed in local autonomy as a matter of ideology. The US had no inhibitions supporting local groups. Assad will be likely to accept this as he already said he is willing to give limited sovereignty to the Kurds in Syria and laws cannot be kept perfectly in times of war. If Russia one day decides to arm the Kurds in Turkey, Lavrov will probably suggest arming them via the Turkish government.
To respond properly to Erdoğan and contain his future inevitable expansion, Russia must realize that Erdoğan thrives on friction, is supported by a majority of the people, and is acting with the full support of NATO. There should be no illusions about Erdoğan. He has to be crushed, and as quickly as possible, before he brings his country and the entire region down, under NATO’s auspices.
How to contain Erdoğan?
First, the Kurds in Turkey need to be supported. Supporting them is not only a moral cause, it also will entangle Erdoğan at home and will impede his meddling in Syria and Iraq. It will drain his army. It may eventually cause the public to turn away from him as it becomes clear that his path leads to destruction and war. Either way, it will draw international attention to the Kurdish issue, will allow the Kurds to defend themselves from slaughter and will move the ball to Erdoğan’s court. One who supported terrorists in Syria should not be surprised when other countries support rebels in his territory.
Second, when and where a future Turkish invasion is expected to occur on Syrian territory, an invading Turkish army should meet Hezbollah and YPG fighters on the other side of the border, rather than Russian soldiers or the Syrian Army. This would serve several goals: It would create a united Sunni-Shiite front against Erdoğan’s expansionism, therefore making it more difficult for him to say that Turkey is fighting “Assad, killer of the Sunnis.” It would prevent a direct clash between Russian and Turkish soldiers, which would inevitably draw in NATO against Russia and allow Erdoğan to present the Russians as the killers of Muslims once again while using his tried and true divide and conquer method. It would create a precedent of collaboration across sectarian and ethnic lines therefore opening the space for broader collaboration between Iran and Sunni states against Saudi-supported terrorism. Of course, forming such a common front is far from easy, but due to the necessity of the hour and with Russia’s generous military support, it is more than possible. Both the Syrian Kurds and Hezbollah are known to be pragmatic. If Turkmen fighters in northern Syria are to be killed in fighting, it would be far better if they are to be killed by Muslim fighters rather than by Russian Orthodox soldiers.
Third, Russia should seek to slowly gain Iraqi Kurdistan to its side. If it manages to win over the YPG in Syria and the PKK in Turkey, the Iraqi Kurds may have to eventually form a closer alliance with Russia too, especially as Erdoğan continues his massacre of Kurds inside Turkey. The Soviet Union supported the short-lived Kurdish republic in Iran following World War II, and it can go back to forming a more vibrant relationship with the Kurds, despite its tendency to work only with state actors. In addition, where possible, better ties should be made both with the Turkish people and with Turkish political parties while circumventing Erdoğan.
Erdoğan thrives on conflict and will seek to expand. A viable response then would be to bring the conflict to his own backyard, work with the Syrian and Turkish Kurds, prevent a direct Russian-Turkish collusion and create a common Hezbollah-YPG defense on the border. The more his hands are full at home, the less he can meddle abroad. Erdoğan’s expansionism should meet resistance by Muslim fighters — both Sunni and Shiites — not by a Russian army who will be portrayed in Turkish media as the enemy from Chechnya.