Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Dick Cheney, Still Defending America

22.10.2009 (7:46 am) – Filed under: National Security,Politics ::

Here is the full prepared text of former VP Dick Cheney’s most recent speech defending the Bush administration’s record on national security.  It deserves to be read, even studied by every freedom-loving person around the world.  Also see the Weekly Standard’s highlighted excerpts

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Barack Obama Had a Good Day

16.04.2009 (8:01 pm) – Filed under: National Security,Politics ::

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On the day after hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets to protest its economic policies, the Obama administration batted 1.000 today by making 3 good decisions.

First, the administration has released the disputed Office of Legal Counsel memos that authorized the use of torturous interrogation techniques on captured terrorists.

Second, the president agreed with the previous administration’s interpretation of the post 9/11 national security situation enough to declare that intelligence officers responsible for the interrogations would not be prosecuted for their actions.

Third, the president said while in Mexico City that the U.S. will focus on enforcing existing gun smuggling laws rather than attempting to re-institute the lapsed assault weapons ban as part of its effort to halt the alleged flow of guns into Mexico from the north.

Call it a coincidence if you’d like, but I’m seeing a connection between the actions of the Obama administration and those of conservative protesters who came out in force yesterday to protest the proposed Democratic deficit spending plan.

Haters of the Bush administration are predictably unhappy with the decision not to pursue charges against U.S. intelligence officers:

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.

Glen Greenwald sees the connection between the tea parties and the torture decision too, though as looking in a fun-house mirror, as is typical:

These memos describe grotesque war crimes — legalized by classic banality-of-evil criminals and ordered by pure criminals — that must be prosecuted if the rule of law is to have any meaning.  But the decision of whether to prosecute is not Obama’s to make; ultimately, it is Holder’s and/or a Special Prosectuor’s.  More importantly, Obama can only do so much by himself.

Perhaps this is legally accurate; however, in the practical world, Mr. Obama’s statement is a case-closer.  Not only is it the right decision, it is the final one as well.

Glen also attempts to chastise conservatives because their interest in the new administration’s massive spending plans is, he correctly assumes, more focused on economic issues than ethical ones:

More than 250,000 Americans attended protests yesterday (ostensibly) over taxes and budget issues.  If these torture revelations are met with nothing but apathy, then it will certainly be reasonable to blame Holder and Obama if they fail to act, but the responsibility will also lie with a citizenry that responded with indifference.

The memos will certainly be met with apathy in all but the most partisan circles, for most Americans will neither read them nor have any interest in doing so. 

Moreover, the responsibility that we bear for the actions of our intelligence apparatus is too diffuse to engender a guilt response in most of us who have or will read them – not because the stain isn’t felt but because a weighing of the deeds versus our need to know justifies the actions taken on our behalf.

There are undoubtedly those who disagree.  Some of them must work for Barack Obama.  That’s why it’s quite reassuring to see him make the right decision in this case to the eternal disappointment of the radical left that supported him so intensely during the election process.

Similarly, the decision not to pursue an ideologically motivated ban on certain types of guns demonstrates that Mr. Obama received at least part of yesterday’s message and has decided not to pick a fight with voters over the issue.  The assault weapons issue is arguably the least of the issues that conservative voters have with the new administration; still, one dares to hope that listening to the citizenry might become a habit.

North Korea Launches Rocket; Sanctions to Follow?

04.04.2009 (10:48 pm) – Filed under: National Security,World ::

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Defying of an alliance of nations that included the United States and China, North Korea has launched its latest rocket, one believed to be capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii.  Previously, South Korea had called for sanctions to be enforced against the North if the regime there went ahead with the launch, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan saying, “It is common sense to go back into a sanctions mode after North Korea’s rocket launch.  When there is a violation of the UN Security Council resolution, we just cannot go [on] as if nothing happened.”

That Yu’s statement is not true obvious – UN resolutions are routinely ignored, often with good reason considering their content.  While justified in this case, there is no reason to believe that the North Korean government, still led by the megalomaniacal Kim Jong-Il, would be affected by sanctions if they were implemented.

Stephen Bosworth, the U.S.’s special envoy to North Korea says that the U.S. will try to re-engage the North in six-nation talks in order to persuade it to give up its nuclear ambitions.

That possibility seems remote given repeated instances of North Korea negotiating in bad faith.  Moreover, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun has quoted Japanese Defense Ministry sources as saying that a group of Iranian missile experts were in North Korea to help Pyongyang with the recent launch.

Axis of Evil, anyone?

Obama Takes Guns Out of Pilots’ Hands, Risks Public Safety

18.03.2009 (11:17 am) – Filed under: Gun Control,National Security ::

Despite the obvious benefits of having weapons in the right hands during airline flights, the Obama administration is reportedly ending that policy.  There is no justifiable reason for this reduction in public safety.  In fact, the Washington Times reports that there are exactly zero cases of on-board officers improperly using their weapons.

I’ve been willing to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt on some of his ill-advised policies thus far.  Call it a honeymoon gift if you like.  But the insipid stupidity behind this move, stealthily carried out while the public eye is turned away, is too much to bear, even for a person who rarely flies. 

Think we’ll be hearing more about this issue from the men and women who are most directly affected, the flight deck officers themselves? 

Think again.

Pilots cannot openly speak about the changing policies for fear of retaliation from the Transportation Security Administration. Pilots who act in any way that causes a “loss of confidence” in the armed pilot program risk criminal prosecution as well as their removal from the program. Despite these threats, pilots in the Federal Flight Deck Officers program have raised real concerns in multiple interviews.

For those who would put their faith in the Sky Marshall program, be aware that they secure less than 3% of domestic flights, a far cry from universal coverage.

It has been said many times already that the Obama administration must act, must do something now, in regard to various issues.  Perhaps this urgency is advisable in some cases.  However, the first principle of responsibility is to first do no harm.  That principle has been violated in regard to air safety.

This is, perhaps, a minor issue at this point in history.  It is also revealing of a lack of common sense on the part of an allegedly cerebral administration and one that truly deserves to be met with an expression of public outrage that is out of proportion with the importance of the issue itself.

No Crime in Doing What They Had to Do

07.03.2009 (11:54 pm) – Filed under: National Security,Privacy ::

John Yoo’s name has become synonymous with what some on the left consider egregious unethical and illegal behavior on the part of the recently departed Bush administration.  Today Yoo fired back, saying that the administration did what it had to do to protect the nation and what happened in Mumbai in November might have happened here if not for vigilant executive action.

Addressing the claim that the Bush administration’s actions violated the 4th Amendment, Yoo wrote:

The military does not have the time to obtain warrants before soldiers fire upon enemy targets and personnel; the battlefield does not provide the luxury to collect evidence needed to meet probable cause standards in civilian courts. Even if the Fourth Amendment applied, we believed that courts would judge military action under a standard of “reasonableness” — as they might review a police officer who fires in self-defense — rather than demand a warrant to use military force to stop a terror attack.

In all probability the Bush administration’s actions violated the intent of the 4th Amendment.  But what of it?  Bush, Yoo, and others did what had to – literally, had to – be done.  Mumbai proves that to all but the densest of souls.

The key takeaway from the Bush years is simply this: No further terrorist actions were taken on American soil during the last 7+ years of his administration.  It’s typical of the opposition, of whatever party, to second-guess any controversial action.  It’s particularly easy to do so in the safety afforded by that action.  It’s also foolish and detrimental to the future security of this and other western countries.

Yoo again:

if the administration chooses to seriously pursue those officials who were charged with preparing for the unthinkable, today’s intelligence and military officials will no doubt hesitate to fully prepare for those contingencies in the future. President Obama has said he wants to “look forward” rather than “backwards.” If so, he should not restore risk aversion as the guiding principle of our counterterrorism strategy.

Again Yoo is dead-on accurate.  If Bush officials are ever charged with any sort of crime, the future aggressiveness of the nation’s security forces will be compromised and public safety will be diminished as a result.

John Yoo and company should get medals for what they did, not be subjected to politically motivated investigations aimed at feeding the Truthers’ cannibalistic appetite for the blood of the Bush administration.

Then, after they’ve been rewarded for keeping the country safe, their work should be undone.

Remembering 9/11

11.09.2008 (7:47 am) – Filed under: National Security,Politics,Terrorism ::

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Seven years ago terrorists started a fight that they thought Americans would be too soft, too self-indulgent, and too fearful to return.  They were wrong, of course, but they were right as well, as demonstrated by the lack for support here at home for the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s notable that no further terrorist attacks have been carried out on American soil since 9/11.  The Bush administration, for all of its faults, deserves to be acknowledged for this accomplishment, just as those Americans – and the families who still undoubtedly mourn them – who died as a result of Islamic terrorist deserve to be remembered.

Regarding national security, here’s a question to ask yourself – do you think that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi could have handled the last 7 years as well if they’d been in charge?

I don’t think so.

FISA, Obama, and Reality

11.07.2008 (10:55 pm) – Filed under: National Security,Politics ::

A new Newsweek poll shows Barack Obama slipping into striking range of John McCain, 44-41%.  This is good news, first because it means that Obama may not become president after all, second because independent voters like me matter more in a close race, and third because he will be forced to further mis-cast himself as a centrist candidate, something he’s not.

Matt Stoller thinks he knows why this has happened:

That is stunning.  Over half of the public, though perhaps has not heard of the FISA fight specifically, believes he shifts positions for political advantage.  And why shouldn’t they?  He did.

There’s no question about it – he’s changed his positions radically from the ones he used to court the radical progressive vote during the Democratic primaries, stances that were at once unrealistic and the only way he could defeat a better candidate.

Yes, John McCain has committed his share of flip-flops too now that he’s pretending to be a conservative.  But Obama was supposed to be above such things.  Now that he’s demonstrated his true nature, the young voters who agitated Obama past Hillary Clinton may be deserting him.

One issue that’s doing Obama in is his vote in favor of the new FISA bill that included retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped the government after 9/11.  No surprise that he’s made enemies out of friends with that vote – the far left felt like they owned Obama after propelling him to the nomination.  Now they know different.

Whether the FISA bill is a good one is highly questionable.  I’ve written many times about the fact that telecoms do in fact deserve the immunity that the security bill provided for them.  But that is only one aspect of the FISA bill.  There are others that are more important and Obama sided with the administration’s invasive surveillance techniques and practices, essentially neutering a good portion of the left wing of American politics.

The ACLU is undeterred, however, and has filed a lawsuit that may test the constitutionality of some of the new bill’s provisions.  ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero:

"Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval is an abuse of government power – and that’s exactly what this law allows."

In today’s legal challenge, the ACLU argues that the new spying law violates Americans’ rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The new law permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.

This is exactly why I wrote, months ago, that Democrats were barking up the wrong tree by chasing after the telecoms.  That was a red herring and a waste of time and energy.  Democrats would have done much better for America if they’d capitulated on the immunity question straight away and worked to shape the new incarnation of FISA in a way that safeguards personal privacy and provides for the checks and balances Americans expect in their governmental processes.

Sadly, that didn’t happen.  Even Barack Obama, golden boy of the anti-war progressives, went along with Republicans in passing this nightmare.  Now we’re left with the ACLU carrying the load the Democrats dropped.  Strange as it may seem to my readers, I wish the ACLU well on their quest.  Win or lose, they’re doing something good for America, for a change.

Telecom Immunity a Fact of Life

09.07.2008 (4:11 pm) – Filed under: Business,National Security,Politics,Technology,Terrorism ::

PBS says:

The Senate approved a bill Wednesday overhauling the rules on government eavesdropping and granting immunity to telecom companies that assist with government-ordered communications monitoring. The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 69-28.

And the NY Times says that until now:

…more than 40 lawsuits continued churning through federal courts, charging AT&T, Verizon and other major carriers with breaking the law and violating their customers’ privacy by agreeing to the White House’s requests to conduct wiretaps without a valid court order.

The deal approved on Wednesday, which passed the House on June 20, effectively ends those lawsuits. It includes a narrow review by a district court to determine whether in fact the companies being sued received formal requests or directives from the administration to take part in the program. The administration has already acknowledged that those directives exist. Once such a finding is made, the lawsuits “shall be promptly dismissed,” the bill says.

This is just and right, despite the howls of protest that have been coming and will continue to come from out in left field.

While the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW II now seems like a national disgrace, should they have been allowed by Congress to sue the federal government for their incarceration? 

Of course not.  Neither should telecoms who aided the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 be subject to sanctions because they acted in the national defense.

If those screaming for the heads – and dollars – of telecom companies seek to undo an injustice they should be pursuing the administration itself rather than the companies that cooperated with its strong-arm tactics (though even that description is over-generous given the climate of fear the terrorist attack created).

That will never happen, of  course, and the reason is quite simple:  Democrats in Congress who would be the ones to pursue the action against the Bush administration know full well that they would have done the same thing had they been in power in 2001.  Furthermore, they may well hold the Oval Office when the next strike by Islamic terrorists hits home here in the U.S.  Punishing President Bush as per their rhetoric would bind their hands in ways that future Democratic presidents would not appreciate.

A more appropriate response by Democrats would be a measured reduction in the reach and scope of the FISA act and its amendments.  But even this is unlikely to happen if Democrats ascend to the White House.  The danger, I think, is too real to allow a reduction in readiness, whether Constitutional or not.

Liberals Who Simply Can’t Let Well Enough Alone

24.06.2008 (8:16 pm) – Filed under: National Security,Privacy,Technology,Terrorism ::

Unhappy with the deal reached between the parties about the legal fate of telecom companies who helped the feds in the aftermath of 9/11, two of the looniest of the left are banding together in an attempt to filibuster the bill in the Senate:

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"If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation."

Meanwhile, Pamela Helsey points out that telecom companies give more money to Democrats who support immunity than those who don’t. 

Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint gave PAC contributions averaging:

$9,659 to each member of the House voting "YES" (105-Dem, 188-Rep)
$4,810 to each member of the House voting "NO" (128-Dem, 1-Rep)

The question of whether politicians vote according to whose filling their coffers is a fascinating one and well worth asking.  In this case, however, it’s a bore.  The Democrats being targeted for that special progressive-style love more commonly known as liberal hate are now voting in a fashion I deem correct.  What made them change their tunes is not that interesting to me.

Rather than ramble on, let me leave you with 3 thoughts about what is so irritating about this immunity boondoggle:

  1. If Democrats had been in power in September 2001, it’s highly likely that their administration’s actions would not have differed significantly from those of the Bush administration
  2. Whatever the right and wrong of this issue – and they’re in the wrong, make no mistake – Democrats are ignoring the present to nit-pick at the past.
  3. If Democrats have the balls to truly pursue the Constitutional issues behind the government’s use of telecom companies’ data – doubtful – they should be targeting members of the Bush administration rather than private, heavily-regulated corporations.

FISA Immunity

20.06.2008 (1:37 pm) – Filed under: National Security,Privacy,Technology,Terrorism ::

In what must be a blow for folks like Glenn Greenwald, Democrats and Republicans have come to the logical, inevitable conclusion that telecom firms who aided the Bush administration by compromising records of Americans’ telephony activities shall be immune from prosecution if asked to do so by the government.

Dan Froomkin hates the "compromise", which consisted primarily of Democrats finally acknowledging the reality of the immediate post-9/11 world and shutting their yaps.

What kind of a country is it where, when the head of state asks you to do something that may well be illegal, but assures you that he considers it legal, you can’t be held accountable for doing it?

Welcome to the new U.S. of A.

This is a good question and one that needs to be asked again and again.  Another, even better question for Froomkin to ask would be, "What kind of country is it when national security is breached and nothing is done for fear of offending the sensibilities of the opposition?"

As always I support Mr. Froomkin’s right to think and write as he sees fit and I applaud him for doing so.  Yet I must point out that the Constitutional freedoms he relies on when doing so are protected only by the administration whose actions he now, from the safety of his computer and the arms-length effect of time, decries.

This decision is the right one, at the right time. 

Phillip Carter says:

Absent negligent or intentionally wrong behavior by government contractors (in this case, telecommunications companies), we should not haul these companies into court over these programs. Decisions about surveillance are made by the government — not the telecommunications companies. And to a large extent, because they operate in such a regulated field, these companies have very little choice about whether and how to cooperate with government surveillance requests.

Told ya so, Glenn.

That said, it’s time for Congress to consider taking up the bigger issue at hand, namely under what conditions the continuing domestic spying program can be dismantled.  Thanks to the newfound spirit of compromise there is at least a semblance of due process in the offing.  While this will be an improvement, Americans should not simply accept this state of affairs as inevitable or desirable.  In this Froomkin and Greenwald are quite right.