Will the US Airways-American Airlines merger, yielding a super American, cost consumers more?
WASHINGTON — Consumer welfare in the balance, US Airways and American Airlines representatives faced a House Judicary subcommittee, as the Justice Department weighs a merger that would see the two airlines become the world’s largest. While consumer advocates warned of increased airfares, US Airways VP Stephen Johnson and American Airlines General Counsel Gary Kennedy touted heavy union support for the merger, announced February 14.
Business Travel Coalition Chair Kevin Mitchell remarked before Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, “If you use the logic that you always have to get bigger to compete with the next biggest carrier, we’re going to end up with two megacarriers,” adding, “the logic is flawed.”
As US Airways and American Airlines currently compete in a Raleigh but not Charlotte, North Carolina hub, Representative George Holding (R-NC) asked American Airlines General Counsel Kennedy about Raleigh-to-Washington travelers’ future rates. If the two airlines were to no longer compete in Raleigh, he asked, “Do you anticipate that the fares would go up significantly?”
Mr. Kennedy replied, “Any discussion about fares or that sort of planning and strategy is something that’s down the road for us.” He said that airline fare discussions would take place “probably not until after the merger.”
In a letter to the attorney general and the Transportation secretary, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT) urged the cabinet members to evaluate the American-US Air merger for Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act compliance, in light of past airline mergers. “It will be important,” they wrote Tuesday, “to determine how these mergers affected consumer prices, baggage and other fees, frequent flier programs, and airline service.” In 2008 Delta and Northwest merged; in 2010, United and Continental; and in 2011, Southwest and AirTran. The senators’ Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights Subcommittee is set to review the proposed merger March 19.
Before the Antitrust Subcommittee, Representative Tom Marino (R-PA) shared pre-congressional professional experience in which, he said, he was told mergers would reduce cost. He then asked the airline representatives, “What’s going to happen in the first six months, in the first year, in the first three years [after the merger] about pricing?”
Mr. Kennedy said that the airlines “don’t know what will happen.”
“The airline industry is, as I’ve mentioned, a highly competitive business,” said Mr. Kennedy, “and with very thin margins. And that’s going to exist after the merger as it is today and that has an effect on pricing and what those levels are. And so I don’t know what will happen with pricing. We’ll simply be competing on price and schedule and future as we do today.”
Complicating weighing airlines’ respective costs per mile is discounts provided for frequent fliers and differing baggage costs.
WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) gesticulated to an applauding crowd as she asked bank regulators about the last time they have “taken the biggest financial institutions on Wall Street all the way to a trial.”
Comptroller Tom Curry replied that he had obtained a large number of consent orders and, when pressed, claimed that he had not had to bring a large Wall Street bank to trial to achieve their “supervisory goals.”
As Securities and Exchange Commission Elisse Walter said she would have to get back to the senator with specific information, on attendee clapped.
Sen. Warren said she was concerned that “too big to fail had become too big for trial.”
Police have still not located the incinerated body.
BIG BEAR, CALIF. — Tuesday Michael Dorner, heavily armed with a .50 caliber anti-vehicle rifle, assault weapons, and a tactical respiration device, shot a police commander down. The cold-blooded killer’s scuba gear rendered tear gas useless for assault, just as David Koresh had strapped gas masks to the faces of his innocent children. The only remaining safe option for police was to burn the building down, yet again, with the use of a camouflaged flamethrower Humvee borrowed from the military. Helicopter cameras spotted this unit arriving at the checkpoint an hour before they were ordered out of the airspace, in an attempt to hide the fact that the building was purposefully burned. Some sources claimed they saw Dorner attempt to surrender, only to be forced back inside the burning building by members of a SWAT team.
Radio host Alex Jones played up the implications of this event, saying:
Dorner was just a freedom-loving Patriot like me and you. This is what happens in a police state, people. Things are gonna get real bad real fast. Be afraid! This is the beginning of something big, something historic. People will look back at Dorner and say, “that was bigger than Waco,” because everyone was watching, this time, and the truth is obvious! This is a more historic event than 9/11. We saw the police brutalizing people just trying to tell the truth at Occupy Wall Street. We saw them beating up innocent people. You try to tell the truth, and they’ll burn you out. The evil forces are closing in, and this is the darkest hour. I AM DORNER. I AM ELIAN GONZALEZ. I AM DAVID KORESH! I am AMANDA TODD!
Anonforecast, one of many leaders of Anonymous, gleefully celebrated Dorner’s killings and hinted Dorner was An Anonymous member cooperating with a cell of Anonymous agents known as #OpLastResort, a subgroup of Anonymous with the stated mission of “undermining the very concept of authority.”
Wired’s Spencer Ackerman at the Committee Press Table Thursday
WASHINGTON — Tuesday the public will not have access to the next round of questions to be leveled against CIA Director Nominee John Brennan before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. However conflicting statements and controversial answers from Thursday’s open hearing provide clues as to what committee members, as well as the nominee himself, can expect in closed session.
Ranking Member Saxy Chambliss (R-GA) said Thursday, “We know that the 2009 executive order removed the CIA from the detention business, but the current framework is simply not working to get real-time access to intelligence from terrorist detainees.”
In fact the 2009 executive order to which Sen. Chambliss referred did not totally remove the CIA from the detention business. Despite that executive order’s prohibition on CIA “detention facilities,” it also said, “[t]he terms ‘detention facilities’ and ‘detention facility’ in section 4(a) of this order do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.” Biographer for former CIA Director David Petraeus Paula Broadwell said, when publicly addressing the University of Colorado, that the CIA had “had taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner” at the attacked Benghazi, Libya facility, and that the attack on the facility was an attempt to free prisoners.
CIA Spokesperson Preston Golson told CBS News, “Any suggestion that the Agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless,” and despite the executive order’s claims that CIA detention is allowed under certain circumstances, in November CBS News ran with a misleading conclusion:
President Barack Obama issued an executive order in January 2009 stripping the CIA of its authority to take prisoners.
The move means the CIA can no longer operate secret jails across the globe as it had done under the administration of President George W. Bush.
When asked by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Feinstein (D-CA) about waterboarding in connection with 9/11 plotters, Mr. Brennan described the practice as “reprehensible,” saying that as director the practice would “never come back.” But he told the chair that the CIA was still assessing whether it had been effective in helping capture Osama bin Laden, and resisted calling it “torture,” citing his own lack of legal background. That reluctance came despite Mr. Brennan’s noting that Attorney General Eric Holder considered the “enhanced interrogation technique” out of line with the Geneva Conventions.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) expressed exasperation at the limited number of senators with whom the CIA had been willing to discuss the Intelligence Committee’s 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, a program that promoted waterboarding.
“Why was it that they were willing to talk to [former Intelligence Committee Chair Senator] Pat Roberts [(R-KS)] and me or [Intelligence Committee Ranking Member] Saxby Chambliss [(R-AL)] and [Intelligence Committee Chair] Dianne Feinstein but not anybody else until we literally bludgeoned them, [former Intelligence Committee Ranking Member] Kit Bond [(R-MO)] and I, into agreeing to include everybody? Like Carl Levin’s not trustworthy? You know, I mean, it’s amazing.”
Sen. Rockefeller would also comment on Mr. Brennan’s statement to popular misconceptions about the number of harmed innocents in drone strikes. The CIA, said Mr. Brennan, seeks to “make sure that we do not have any collateral injuries or deaths.”
“[A]ny collateral damage,” the West Virginia senator told the nominee, “is unacceptable.”
As she initiated the meeting Sen. Feinstein stated the executive branch offered the committee figures of drone strike collateral damage “typically” in the “single digits” each year. These figures stand in heavy contrast to many estimates, particularly one 2009 figure of 119 from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
At deadline Thursday Wired’s Spencer Ackerman would attribute these estimates to the CIA, not to another possible “executive branch” entity, again, Sen. Feinstein having only cited in the hearing the “branch” as the committee’s source:
During the hearing, Feinstein forcefully insisted that the CIA’s drone strikes kill only “single digits” of civilians annually . . . She suggested that media reports and nongovernmental organization studies claiming larger percentages of civilian deaths from the highly classified program are ignorant. Feinstein emphasized that the CIA has hosted committee staff over 30 times to conduct oversight over the drone program . . . [I]f the CIA misled Congress about torture, how can the committee be confident it’s not misleading Congress about civilian deaths from drones?
Bemoaning a lack of transparency about the Benghazi attack, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) would receive from the nominee a saw about the importance of separation of powers. “I want to be mindful of that separation,” said Mr. Brennan, “but at the same time meet your legitimate interests.”
Sen. Chambliss confronted Mr. Brennan with statements from former CIA Executive Director Alvin Krongard and boss to the nominee. The senator followed up on statements Mr. Krongard gave The Wall Street Journal last month:
Mr. Krongard said CIA officials submitted possible techniques to Justice officials for review and approval, without taking a stand on specific tactics.
“John would have been part and parcel of that process,” Mr. Krongard said in an interview. “These are approved techniques done under the limitations that came along with them.”
However, Mr. Brennan wasn’t involved in the day-to-day decisions carrying out the program, Mr. Krongard said. “John, as far as I am concerned, gets a total, clean pass,” he said. He said he didn’t recall Mr. Brennan voicing misgivings about the program, but added “that doesn’t mean that he did or he didn’t” have any.
Media critics such as Media Matters for America and Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) pointed to statements from a 2007 CBS “The Early Show” interview to disparage the nominee for supporting waterboarding or torture. FAIR’s Jim Naureckas, indicting New York Times reporters for what he deemed a morally relativistic brand of objectivity, said last month Mr. Brennan’s support for torture was “a matter of public record.” Mr. Brennan’s citing the effectiveness of waterboarding, wrote Mr. Naureckas, meant that Times reporter Scott Shane terming characterizations of Mr. Brennan as “accusations” was bordering on sophistry. FAIR highlighted this Brennan quote from that interview, with CBS’s Harry Smith:
There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives.
Similarly, Media Matters accused the media, particularly the Los Angeles Times, of “downplaying” Mr. Brennan’s support for enhanced interrogation techniques. Media Matters, unlike FAIR, did acknowledge one contravening Brennan quote from the “Early Show” interview, which claimed waterboarding met “the classic definition of torture.”
Waterboarding has critics even among those who claim it is effective. As waterboarding whistleblower and former CIA case officer wrote in his autobiographical The Reluctant Spy:
[E]ven if torture works, it cannot be tolerated — not in one case or a thousand or a million. If their efficacy becomes the measure of abhorrent acts, all sorts of unspeakable crimes somehow become acceptable. Barack Obama got it right when he declassified the [Office of Legal Counsel] memos of 2002 and 2005: “Torture,” the president of the United States said, “corrodes the character of a country.”
Mr. Obama’s opponent in the 2008 election, Senator McCain, also characterized waterboarding as torture, also opposing the practice.
WASHINGTON — City College of San Francisco Computer Science Professor Sam Browne told The Internet Chronicle that whatever NullCrew has planned for the Pentagon on Valentine’s Day, it won’t be hacktivism. Mr. Brown, who teaches ethical hacking and has addressed the DEF CON cybersecurity conference, says that NullCrew acts in violation of the liberal causes they tout.
A NullCrew spokesperson has variously described the hacking group’s motives in terms of nihilistic schadenfreude and activism.
Their real message is: “We are powerful, fear us!” The political slogans they spout are just a paper-thin cover story.
If you want real social change, you do it the way Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. did it–carefully reasoned nonviolent actions, done in the open, accepting the social sanctions they provoke. Hiding in the shadows, stealing data, harming innocent people, and evading justified law enforcement actions, is not the way to influence people to support your cause. It just scares people, as it should, and encourages them to support more Draconian law enforcement measures to stop the scary hackers.
Several Anonymous actions and threats of action have operated under the presumption that, in threatening the online security of randomly chosen individuals, government entities will be inspired to not clamp down on users’ Internet privacy; or users’ redistribution of links to copyrighted content, for whatever end.
The Senate Select Intelligence Committee convened Thursday to question CIA Director Nominee John Brennan
WASHINGTON — Thursday CIA Director Nominee John Brennan answered questions from members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on his relationship to the “enhanced interrogation” program, the company’s targeted killing of Americans, as well as the nominee’s role in advising the media.
A memo leaked to NBC News’ Michael Isikoff, published yesterday, reveals the Justice Department’s rationale for greenlighting the assassination of Americans it deems “co-belligerents” with al-Qaida and the Taliban. In a Page 1 footnote, the memo defers to a 2009 definition from Hamlily v. Obama, in which a district court decided that “lack of combatant status in non-international armed conflicts does not, by default, result in civilian status for all, even those who are members of enemy ‘organizations’ like al Qaeda.” Justice Department internal deliberations appear to have concluded that serving as a “co-belligerent,” a term of international law, need not require that an American be a “combatant” actively engaged in hostilities.
Initiating an eight-minute question period, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, “It’s the idea of giving any president unfettered power to kill an American without checks and balances that’s so troubling. Every American has the right to know when their government believes it’s allowed to right to kill them.”
Mr. Brennan responded by saying “there’s a misimpression on the part of the — some American people who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorist for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives where there’s no other alternative to taking an action that’s going to mitigate that threat.”
In April of last year a district court sentenced Tareq Mehenna, of Massachusetts, to 25 years in prison for “aiding” al-Qaida by translating documents out of Arabic and redistributing them on the Internet. While Massachusetts U.S. attorneys, including Aaron Swartz prosecutor Carmen Ortiz, claimed that Mr. Mehenna had unsuccessfully sought out training as a terrorist, the man’s conviction was ultimately not the product of his having editorialized on the communications he made available in English.
Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said that the targeted killing of Americans has been more “casual than a last-ditch effort,” a practice that “has strayed well beyond focused killings of the ‘senior operational’ leaders against whom strikes are authorized under the DOJ memo leaked earlier this week.”
Protests, which Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) attributed to the “Code Pink organization,” became so frequent both before and during Mr. Brenna’s opening statement that the senator closed the hearing to the general public, directing attendees to an alernate observation area in which the reactions of only of hearing speakers were evident.
The Final Act of Hearing Protest, which drove Chairman Feinstein to Close the Hearing to the Public.
The nominee said that the protesters “have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government.” Protesters, most of whom occupied the public rows closet to the nominee, he stated, underestimate the care the CIA takes to avoid collateral damage, and the agony that officers go through in ensuring it protects innocent bystanders. As the public left Room 216 of Hart Senate Office Building, one protester yelled that she was Pakistani, and that the nominee was “killing my people.”
Another protester, who attended 2010 protests at CIA headquarters, held up a sign with the name of 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, targeted along with his father, Anwar, in Yemen. Before the meeting he remarked that the United States was turning into the “Third Reich.”
Go to 1:56 in the above clip to see Sierra Adamson pose a question to White House Adviser Robert Gibbs,as he speaks to the targeted killing of Abdulrahman al-Alwaki. Mr. Gibbs said that the elder Mr. al-Awlaki was an al-Qaida commander “hoping” to inflict harm on Americans. When Ms. Adamson pressed the former press secretary about the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Mr. Gibbs responded that the younger Mr. al-Awlaki “should have [had] a far more responsible father.” He added that if Anwar al-Awlaki was “truly concerned about the well-being of [his] children, I don’t think becoming an al-Qaida jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.”
The United States, says Human Rights Watch counterterrorism counsel Andrea Prasow, “has never disclosed the legal framework in which it claims to operate [when conducting targeted killing], adding, “It should specify whether it believes it has authority to conduct targeted killings under the laws of war, or some other framework.”
Wednesday Boy Scouts of America decided to hold off until May a decision on whether to allow gay scouts or scout masters. The May vote, to take place in Grapevine, Texas among 1,400 national council members, will decide a potential religious and ethical turn for the federally funded youth organization. For decades the Boy Scouts have been encumbered by debates about the meaning of their public support in relationship to values that critics see as springing exclusively from the domain of religion.
Six years ago this reporter interviewed the unsuccessful plaintiff in a suit regarding the religiosity of the Scouts’ oath, which calls on members to be “morally straight” as well as theistic, in relationship to the organization’s federal funding. Scout leadership has decided that that oath prohibits homosexuality among the ranks. The report was filed in relationship to a Virginia beat.
At least someone among the federal authorities funding the Boy Scouts long ago began to imagine that they could pin God down like a frog under academic dissection – any confounding or appealing mystery to the whole matter officially sliced into ribbons by the magistrate. Though it has left the womb of the state, religion has hung onto the establishment by a seemingly indestructible umbilical cord.
The cord’s transfusion flows strongest at times like the beginnings of legislative or city council meetings, wherein a preacher or other religious authority is called in by custom to ceremonially unite representatives through their faith in a mortality-transcending god or gods.
In 2007 Rajan Zed, a Hindu cleric from the Reno-based Indian Association of Northern Nevada, appeared as Senate guest Chaplain, to jeering:
That same year, 2007, Attorney General Bob McDonnell — now the governor of the purple Commonwealth of Virginia — sent an advisory brief to an Illinois Federal District Court, his public relations efforts chalking up his intended influence as defending “traditional understanding of religious freedom” and halting “the possible loss of the direct and substantial impacts [a military base Boy Scout event] has on the Commonwealth.” Mr. McDonnell’s intended consequence was to defend the the Defense Department’s monetary and logistical support for the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill, near Bowling Green, Virginia. By email, he expressed his pleasure to the press that a Chicago decision indicting the Defense Department had been overturned.
Then Governor Tim Kaine, now a senator, voiced his understanding that the case was a federal, as opposed to a commonwealth, funding matter. “It’s not one that I have really focused on at all,” he said. Though, he alluded to having supported the Boy Scouts in one way or another while Richmond mayor.
Mr. McDonnell’s press secretary, Justin Tucker Martin, explained the governor’s advisory brief to me as this: “The Boy Scouts of America are a theistic organization, not a religious one.” Mr. Martin advised me that the Boy Scout Jamboree’s standing congressional support did not constitute a violation of the establishment clause, which prohibits the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Soon after the federal trial had wound down in early April, I conversed with Eugene Winkler, the primary plaintiff on the suit against the defense secretary. Winkler was at the time the head of Gary United Methodist Church in Wheaton, Illinois. We spoke on the phone for a few minutes.
Tyler Bass: What was your personal stake in preventing the federal funding from going to the Jamboree?
Eugene Winkler: The Boy Scouts discriminate. I am not only a religious man, a pastor. I was an Eagle Scout, and have served on regional Boy Scout councils. So all of those are in my favor in terms of the Boy Scouts, OK? I am not antagonistic toward the Boy Scouts, but the Boy Scouts have a very limited understanding of what it means to believe in God. On their authority, if you don’t believe in their concept of God, you can’t be a Scout. Their concept of god is — it is my concept of god, certainly — a Judeo-Christian concept of God, but if you don’t accept that concept of God, you can’t get into the Scouts. And they’re a discriminatory organization and federal funding is being spent on the Jamboree to further that kind of discrimination. That’s why the suit was filed.
TB: Why exactly did they decide that you didn’t have standing? Because it’s not like they weren’t acknowledging many of the facts that you’re presenting to me right now; for example, that they recognize a monotheistic, Judeo-Christian, Islamic-even concept of God. Why is it that they rule that you don’t have standing to make this suit as a taxpayer?
EW: Two words: beats me. If you read there right on the first page, second page of the brief, they admit that they are ignoring the other issues, and that they are just simply saying that I don’t have standing, which is a chicken way out of it.
TB: They said –
EW: Let me just say one other thing. These are three old Republican guys.
TB: The judges?
EW: These judges. They just didn’t want to deal with the issue.
TB: When you were a Boy Scout, did you ever question this when you were younger? Did you have atheist colleagues or associates or people who were polytheistic? Did you raise the question in your own youth?
EW: No, of course not. I wasn’t aware of those kinds of issues when I was in the Boy Scouts. I mean, I was 12 years old!
TB: Do you know of Boy Scouts who are atheist or polytheistic who are just like you – you’re a monotheist? When did it first start to occur to you that it was perhaps discriminatory to have this sort of oath?
EW: Well, I guess when I became an adult and was a scout master and was working in regional Scout councils, it became apparent to me that there was a very limited understanding in the Scouts of what it means to be — what the Scout motto means for them.
TB: Do you guys plan to appeal the decision?
EW: I’m not sure yet because our ACLU lawyer is traveling and we won’t be talking this week. You know, I’m confident, from my point of view, that I want to appeal certainly. Because I think it’s a vital issue that has to be faced.
TB: Would you still raise the issue even if the feds or the Congress weren’t funding the Boy Scouts, and the Boy Scouts were simply discriminatory?
EW: Oh, we’ve already raised it in a number of other venues, with the Chicago Board of Education. We’ve already won other suits on this same matter.
TB: I noticed. I mean, if the Boy Scouts were a private organization, and you clearly have –
EW: They are a private organization!
TB: But they receive funding from the Congress, do they not?
EW: Well, that’s why they shouldn’t receive funding from the Congress, and, certainly, they shouldn’t receive that kind of blessing because it’s an issue of church and state really.
TB: So you would rather see the Boy Scouts as a separate organization that still kept their [religious] motto?
EW: Oh, sure!
TB: I was trying to see if you were opposed to the motto itself.
EW: Oh, no, no, no. Not at all. They can do whatever they want with the motto, or they can discriminate against whomever they want as long as they don’t get federal funding for it.
Former CIA Case Officer John Kiriakou, Earnest, Goes to Jail (Screenshot: Democracy Now!, Wednesday)
WASHINGTON — An unidentified journalist’s ethical breach with whistle-blowing source John Kiriakou resulted this week in the former case officer and father of five’s being sentenced to 30 months in prison. Although promising Mr. Kiriakou anonymity, the journalist redistributed CIA torture information from his or her source to Guantanamo Bay defense attorneys, helping direct the Justice Department investigation that led to Mr. Kiriakou’s undoing.
Former CIA legal chief John Rizzo and former Director Michael Hayden addressed an American Enterprise Institute forum Tuesday to offer their take on Kathryn Bigelow’s film “Zero Dark Thirty,” a dramatic interpretation of the bin Laden hunt, as well as the interrogation tactics it entailed. Forum host Marc Thiessen said that as early as 2006 Mr. Hayden had assisted him in drafting a speech for President George Bush revealing the “existence” of the CIA’s interrogation program.
President Bush’s speech read, “I cannot describe the specific [interrogation] methods used — I think you understand why — if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country,” adding that methods “were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.”
“We never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to,” said Mr. Hayden at the AEI forum, “while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques were not designed to elicit truth in the moment.” If a prisoner would confirm the known knowns, he said, agency operatives could reinforce to the prisoner their current level of trust in him. “Zero Dark Thirty” showed CIA case officers water-boarding a prisoner while inquiring about what were to them total mysteries, such as the location of Osama bin Laden.
Despite laws purporting to protect whistle-blowers in the event of genuine government wrongdoing, motivation and success in prosecuting them does not have to do with conscience pangs’ particular depths but with ultimately the consequences and nature of that information leaked. Throughout history the legislative and judicial branches have wavered in their interpretations of “cruel and unusual” punishment, for decades at a time placing moratoriums and then restarting even the federal death penalty for American nationals.
“Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow’s big-budget portrayal of the decade-long bin Laden hunt, like Mr. Kiriakou himself, reinforces the viewpoint torture may have been effective in encouraging 9/11 suspects to reveal further information about their organization and tactics. Mr. Kiriakou claims however that whether torture encouraged suspects to reveal information is irrelevant to their appropriateness. Former Vice President Dick Cheney saw torture as protecting American citizens, reasoning that whatever damage was done to the country’s reputation due to aggressive tactics would not outweigh lives saved and terrorist attack thwarted due to those tactics. Meanwhile other voices, such as interrogator “Matthew Alexander,” have spoken of many individuals attacking U.S. service people in Iraq, attackers who felt that brutal interrogation tactics, such as those utilized at Abu Ghraib, ultimately justified their actions. Furthermore Mr. Alexander, who has written under that pseudonym a book and various columns, has said that torture is ineffective at acquiring information in the first place.
Advertising Jeremy Scahill’s new documentary on America’s post-9/11 military agenda, the website of “Dirty Wars,” a movie which premiered this week at Sundance film festival, references American CIA human intelligence operatives as “agents,” as Democracy Now! did Mr. Kiriakou (above). The “Dirty Wars” website advertises its sources as “the CIA agents, Special Forces operators, military generals, and U.S.-backed warlords who populate the dark side of American wars go on camera and on the record, some for the first time.”
As Jeffrey Richelson’s The US Intelligence Community makes clear, in the world of human intelligence “agents” are “foreign nationals recruited by U.S. intelligence officers to collect information either in their home country or in a third nation.” Lindsay Moran, a former case officer herself, put it a bit more blithely in Blowing My Cover:
Contrary to popular jargon, a CIA agent is not the actual employee of the CIA but rather the hapless schlub who has been recruited by a CIA case officer to spy on behalf of the United States, usually in exchange for money. The whole process of spotting, assessing, developing, and enlisting foreign agents is called “The Recruitment Cycle.”
The terminology of the “Dirty Wars” and Democracy Now! website is imprecise, relying on a perception of Mr. Kiriakou as “used” by the CIA. The term “agent” implies that Mr. Kiriakou was unwittingly exploited by the agency, a paramilitary and intelligence infrastructure whose implementation of extra-legel interrogation practices is decades old.
Once Mr. Kiriakou first revealed the use of water-boarding in a 2007 interview with ABC’s Brian Ross, perhaps he was surprised that CIA leadership, along with the White House, came out in defense of water-boarding, as opposed to having to backpedal on the policy or attempt to obscure the practice. President Barack Obama, despite stating in his first inaugural address that torture would not be used, had expressed a desire to “look forward,” meaning at least that his priority was his stopping further abuses, not making examples of those complicit in the previous administration’s abusers. An executive order from the 1980s banned the use of torture, it being in addition to supranational prohibitions to which the United States is bound by force of treaty.
Yesterday Mr. Kiriakou said that his ABC interview — in which he opined water-boarding constituted torture, and that torture was official government policy — had dire consequences:
Within 24 hours, the CIA filed what’s called a “crimes report” against me with the Justice Department, saying that I had revealed classified information, which was the torture program, and asking for an investigation with an eye toward prosecuting me. The Justice Department decided at the time that I had not revealed classified information, that the information was already in the public domain. But immediately, within weeks, I was audited by the IRS. I’ve been audited by the IRS every single year since giving that interview in 2007.
In conversation with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman yesterday morning, Mr. Kiriakou said, “You know, we haven’t — we haven’t even investigated the torturers, as [Kiriakou attorney] Jesselyn [Radack] said.” Last August Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing of a CIA torture investigation resulting from the agency’s interrogation tape destruction, the investigation that revealed a journalist’s betrayal of Mr. Kiriakou. All along the Obama administration never hinted at prosecuting operatives for water-boarding, though Mr. Kiriakou himself considered water-boarding torture.
A March 2010 Washington Times article said that the Holder investigation yielded “signs that the senior al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo gained intelligence on CIA interrogators through their lawyers that could be used in future legal proceedings.”
CIA counterintelligence officials have “serious concerns” that the information will leak out and lead to the terrorists targeting the officers and their families, if the identities are disseminated to terrorists or sympathizers still at large, said one official.
“They have put the lives of CIA officers and their families in danger,” said a senior U.S. official about the detainees’ lawyers.
Naturally, interrogators who abused the terms of the Geneva Conventions, in addition to fearing terrorist retribution, might have wished to avoid nonviolent, domestic stigma, daresay legal civil or criminal repercussions. Whether water-boarding per se constitutes torture has long been the subject of popular debate; in some polls, majorities of respondents supported “torturing” 9/11 suspects, either way. Despite Mr. Kiriakou’s touting logistical support for the neutralization of violent Islamist operatives bent on killing Americans, many of his countrymen and women not sharing his outrage over water-boarding is key to understanding why public pressure will not keep him out of prison.
WASHINGTON — Following days of Anonymous defacement and deactivation of the U.S. Sentencing Commission website, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote a letter Monday to the attorney general requesting a briefing on attempts to prosecute late Internet activist Aaron Swartz for computer fraud and theft.
As to whether Anonymous computer fraud spurred the letter, the committee majority’s staff had not responded to requests for comment, and minority press staff say they have “no comment” beyond the letter itself. Meanwhile members of the hacktivist collective are likely to claim the timing of the letter as a success in their “OpLastResort” campaign to draw attention to overzealous copyright enforcement, particularly by former Swartz prosecutor Carmen Ortiz. To the end of drawing that attention, operation participants have loaded a whimsical, custom game of “Asteroids” onto the Justice Department’s Sentencing Commission website, or employed Structured Query Language injection causing its total inaccessibility, such as at the time of this writing.
Notably using the passive voice, the Oversight Committee representatives’ letter to Attorney General Eric Holder reads in part:
They ask that Mr. Holder schedule a committee briefing by next Monday and be prepared to answer the following questions:
As of midday Monday the following presentation from the OpLastResort (Operation Last Resort) campaign was the most viewed YouTube video in any category.
The video claims that federal sentencing guidelines are out of keeping with the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. To encourage authorities to institute enforcement and legislative changes, the video encourages members of Anonymous to download and redistribute “warheads,” information files encoded via the same PGP “.aes256″ standard WikiLeaks utilized for its eventually unraveled Cablegate “insurance” file. The video says that activists will release heavily redacted, private government files to a select media outlet. In order for authorities to deter the release of the full information “warheads,” the video makes the following demands:
 There must be reform of outdated and poorly-envisioned legislation, written to be so broadly applied as to make a felony crime out of violation of terms of service, creating in effect vast swathes of crimes, and allowing for selective punishment.
 There must be reform of mandatory minimum sentencing.
 There must be a return to proportionality of punishment with respect to actual harm caused, and consideration of motive and mens rea.
 The inalienable right to a presumption of innocence and the recourse to trial and possibility of exoneration must be returned to its sacred status, and not gambled away by pre-trial bargaining in the face of overwhelming sentences, unaffordable justice and disfavorable odds.
 Laws must be upheld unselectively, and not used as a weapon of government to make examples of those it deems threatening to its power.
While Anonymous has become famous for inciting vigilantism with imagery from the 2005 film “V for Vendetta,” this video also promotes action using scenes and music from the Batman “Dark Knight Trilogy.”
In publishing his tome, Let the Dead Bury the Dead, Indiana-based researcher Matt Janovic documents pervasive corruption, zany paranoia culture and desperate legal harassment. Although he had a list of prostitutes, servicing the capital region’s elites, employed by Jeane Palfrey, former Johns were “going after all of them,” he says, “to shut them up.” For 13 years Ms. Palfrey was able to sell sex to thousands of D.C. clients, including politicians, and well-compensated defense and intelligence contractors.
The Johns’ attempts to shut up their prostitutes worked, far more than the prostitutes’ fear of their own criminal liability. Mr. Janovic, along with the rest of the team working for the cause of defending Ms. Palfrey, “couldn’t find [the former prostitutes].”
Following D.C. Federal Judge Gladys Kessler’s having obtained in late 2007 subpoena power over various law enforcement and intelligence agencies in connection to Ms. Palfrey’s case, Judge Kessler was replaced by Judge James Robertson, who subsequently quashed that subpoena power. “All of a sudden,” says Mr. Janovic, “Judge Kessler is replaced without any explanation, nothing.” It was at this time, he says, that Ms. Palfrey threatened, in front of defense counsel Montgomery Sibley, to kill herself. The author speculates that a suicide threat even in front of Judge Kessler may have been the reason for her replacement.
Mr. Janovic makes clear that he hates conspiracy nuts. These peddlers of fear, he says, are “incredibly irresponsible, dishonest with themselves and everybody.” Their distrust of absolutely all parties to everything, says the author via phone, is “intellectually lazy,” adding that their unhealthy distrust is a “cop-out.” He thinks their basic view of the world is, “like, ‘well, if I don’t have to be a responsible citizen I can just go running to irrationality.’” This is the reason that, despite prostitution ring operator Jeane Palfrey’s radio show assurances that she would not commit suicide, he was entirely certain that her suicide was not the product of any foul play whatsoever.
But after her being investigated for fraud by the Postal Service, and informants turning on her multimillion-dollar sex ring — and receiving numerous, spurious legal threats, intended to intimidate him into silence — Matt Janovic, a former researcher for Ms. Palfrey, has still come to the conclusion that there are practical and ethical limits to unhinged distrust. The Postal Service busted Ms. Palfrey twice in the early ’90s for money laundering. He says, “I was getting the fake cease-and-desists for a while, but now they’ve halted because the book is out,” adding that letter writers were “just trying to fake me out and intimidate me into not putting the book out . . . If anything they emboldened me to do it.”
The evidence that Ms. Palfrey hung herself, as his book’s maccabre cover makes clear, is her “making comments that were filled with absolutes: ‘I will not serve one more day in prison;’ ‘they’re not getting one penny of my money;’ ‘I’m getting it all back.’” Because the “D.C. Madam,” as the press would advertise her, killed herself before sentencing, the government was not able to keep as many of her assets, of which her estate eventually received the majority.
Mr. Janovic’s skill as a researcher, apparent to her by his early comments on the case, made it unnecessary for him to solicit his considerable talents. She hired him directly. The author thinks, in addition to his own blogging, that that philosophical coinage of Sun-Tzu, “keep your friends close but your enemies closer,” also informed her decision to hire him.
“She contacts me after I write these observations, maybe a month after. I think about a week after she contacts me, she starts making comments about suicide. And we started talking about one of her former escorts, Brandy Britton. She was a sociology professor at the University of Maryland. And [Ms. Britton] killed herself the same way. And [Ms. Palfrey] said in an email . . . June 20, 2007, ‘oh, I’ve thought many times of killing myself but apparently I’m a tougher nut than [Ms. Britton] was.’”
In February 2008 Ms. Palfrey sent an email to Jason Leopold and Mr. Janovic’s co-researcher, carbon-copying Mr. Janovic, “kind of like, ‘OK, I want you to bear witness to this.’” While Truthout’s own Mr. Leopold tried to reassure her of her odds in the federal investigation, she responded nonetheless with, “Jason… let’s put it like this, the bastards aren’t going to take me alive.” She struggled with the idea of doing only three years in jail, daresay the far longer, bluffing sentences tossed before her by federal prosecutors.
Actress Mimi Kennedy, who portrayed Jeane Palfrey in an episode of ABC Drama “Scandal” (via: IMDB)
Additionally she made other statements to Mr. Janovic that made him suspect she was on the way self-down — suicidal themes pervading her conversations with the author of this 600-page tell-all. Mr. Janovic relays the story of an acquaintance who met Ms. Palfrey in Florida, the operator of a straightforward escort service, who saw Ms. Palfrey taking anti-depressents, “very casually, popping [them] in front of her.” Ms. Palfrey eventually overdosed on anti-depressants to ensure that she could not be revived following her own hanging. The author says, “She was drugging herself to keep her head on.”
For 10 months after June 2007, the author of Let the Dead Bury the Dead was deeply frightened of an upcoming suicide on the part of Ms. Palfrey, whose clients included Senator David Vitter (R-LA), former USAID Administrator Randall Tobias, political consultant Jack Berkman, and political analyst Dick Morris. Regulars included Mr. Morris, Sen. Vitter, and former Naval Commander Harlan Ullman, author of the Iraq War’s “shock and awe” doctrine, which called for “overwhelming power, dominant battlefield awareness, dominant maneuvers, and spectacular displays of force to paralyze an adversary’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.”
Mr. Janovic says, laughing,”Some of the girls complained about him having problems with bathing hygiene and that he was abusive emotionally.”
Of particular frustration to Mr. Janovic is the continuing power of client Jack Burkman, a former lobbyist for James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, and 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign strategist. The author writes in Chapter Eight:
[Mr.] Burkman was provided supporting fire (cover) by the mainstream press. They let him off the hook completely when it was blatantly obvious that he was in the phone records; published the finding at that time. But the mainstream media can ignore that when it has to, and it did. They wouldn’t touch it.
The Associated Press and ABC’s Brian Ross, says the author in his Internet Chronicle phone interview, “stayed as far away from the true nature of the case as they possibly could.” If Jack Burkman’s claims that he denied to mainstream media sources having purchased sex can be believed, the author blames those (unknown) sources for having taken Mr. Burkman at his word. Gawker, says Mr. Janovic, pulled several links down relating to Mr. Burkman’s own, other sexual foibles, specifically an account two lesbian women posted to a MySpace page, claiming that Mr. Burkman offered them a thousand dollars to have sex in front of him. Mr. Burkman threatened the two women legally, and they pulled the tale. The two had a scan of Mr. Burkman’s business card, which he offered them.
One commenter on Mr. Janovic’s blog, an NPR employee who spoke to the author from her place of work, spoke to the author of dating Mr. Burkman. Mr. Janovic says her story jives with that of the two women from MySpace.
As to why Sen. Vitter escaped the scandal without prosecution, and with re-election, Mr. Janovic blames U.S. attorneys kowtowing to those who place them in power. The author considers these attorneys and assistant attorneys “handlers and fixers” for senators, who “clean up their messes for them.” Sen. Vitter, says the author, had a “favorite” prostitute at Pamela Martin & Associates, who the feds “put on ice,” into protection.
The escort agency’s subpoenaed Verizon phone records, to which the author was privy, he says, are “the smoking gun for Hookergate.” Included in the phone records “was even the archbishop of D.C.” Ms. Palfrey would tell the author that other clients of Pamela Martin & Associates included Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and then Halliburton CEO and future Vice President Dick Cheney.
“She also mentioned Fred Thompson,” says Mr. Janovic. “And then,” he starts to say with a laugh, “– and this is interesting because I started writing about it. You know, I actually started writing about it after she was dead. And then lo and behold I start getting on his mailing list in my email box.” The former senator was at the time launching what would be an ill-fated campaign for the Republican Party presidential nomination.