Posted on May 15, 2016 in Countdown

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When Leahy Wants Oversight, Leahy Gets Some Oversight

The U.S.-Egypt relationship is a pricey affair, about $1.3 billion worth of military aid annually, to be acceptably inexact. Hoping to be more exact in our assurances about how that cool billion is being used, the U.S. Government Accountability Office drew up a report at the behest of Congress. To the surprise of no one, the security equipment U.S. military dollars buy for Egypt aren’t always used for noble purposes or by noble people; the President admitted as much last year when he proposed removing human rights conditions from aid to Egypt entirely. We’re glad for this small measure of oversight from Leahy vetting – and the Members of Congress who continue to hold the line on the U.S. human rights agenda abroad – but we’re left wanting. Senator Leahy (the man behind the Leahy Law) recently sent a letter asking for an investigation into Egypt AND Israel’s compliance with his vetting standards. Now that we have a Leahy report on Egypt, we’re sure it’s not presumptuous to think that the GAO is also reviewing Israel’s compliance. Can’t wait to read that one, especially since in the House’s latest version of the 2017 appropriations bill, Israel would receive $601 million for its antimissile program – three times more than the White House requested.


Take Us to Church (the Committee Kind)

On the recent occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Church Committee’s investigation into U.S. domestic intelligence operations, we’re adding our voice to the call for a Church Committee for the 21st Century. Remember when the FBI Director was called to testify before Congress and accountability actually happened? The FBI is still doing reputational cleanup duty for one of its appalling decisions to surveil (and arguably conspire against) Martin Luther King, Jr. Nowadays, when an intelligence boss is called to testify before Congress the veracity of their testimony is questionable. Who can forget James Clapper’s denial of mass surveillance that turned out to be a blatant lie, or the repeated “misleading” testimony about torture techniques used by the CIA? Given all of that on top of the knowledge that domestic spying has once again blurred the line between credible national security needs and interference in social movements like Black Lives Matter, we whole-heartedly agree: it’s time for intelligence agencies to go to Church.


This Week at the CIA: Snowballs, Accidents, and a Book

Offering a not-so-subtle reminder of just how much we still don’t know about the activities of U.S. intelligence agencies, this week more Snowden files were released for public treasure hunting. A series of monthly in-house newsletters have already managed to illuminate the inner workings of a top surveillance program overseas including the rendition of the “Algerian Six” to Guantanamo Bay. Ensuring that we know as little as possible about secretive (but undoubtedly necessary) intelligence activities, the CIA this week “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of the US Torture Report that detailed the agency’s torture techniques at places like the Guantanamo facility. One person willing to talk (not counting the whistleblowers who are facing no legal protections) is former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who published his memoir recounting and defending the intelligence activities that Snowden and the Torture Report detail. We’d say that it’s ironic timing, but we’re not entirely sure there’s anything that Hayden wouldn’t offer a full-throated defense of – well, maybe President Trump’s orders.


The Debatable vs. The Undebatable Catastrophes in the Middle East

How could we not cover the 100-year anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement that has made the Middle East the beacon of peace and stability that it currently is? Yes, we are joking. There really isn’t a debate about how nonsensical the arbitrary borders imposed by Sykes-Picot are in the region. Unfortunately, that is us joking again because there is (unbelievably) a debate about that. Blaming a piece of paper for modern conflicts or suggesting different borders would have averted many of the conflicts over the past century is not the point – the point is that western meddling and post-colonial king-making hasn’t worked out so well. Condemning Sykes-Picot to be eternally regretted by first year college students and policymakers alike is entirely appropriate.


….And About Those Elections

We can’t call it a Countdown without serving a weekly dose of presidential election news. We only(!?) have 172 days left to go until the nation picks our next POTUS, and the choices are getting pretty clear - - for the Republicans, that is. So clear in fact, Donald Trump will very likely secure the 1,237 delegates he needs to wrap up the nomination when California goes to vote on June 7th. And now that Trump has Sheldon Adelson’s money and bully pulpit, there’s only a few Trump holdouts left in the Republican upper echelons (Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney being the obvious, but a death bed apology is giving us hope). What’s becoming crystal clear for the Republicans is increasingly cloudy for the Democrats. Long-assumed to be headed for an easily triumphant convention, the Clinton campaign is still fending off victories and outright opposition from the Bernie Sanders campaign and its fiery followers. Despite the newsworthiness of the Oregon-Kentucky-Nevada results, the real drama is unfolding from the self-inflicted wounds the Democratic Party continues to hemorrhage from. Defiance is the word, as Bernie refuses to back down and the DNC Chairwoman keeps alienating Sanders as well as his base. With all the drama, it seems like there might be more interest in winning the blame game than winning the White House in November.