Posted on February 12, 2013 in Countdown
You know it’s bad when the SNL skit on the Hagel hearing (warning: not exactly workplace appropriate) seems less ridiculous than reality. We thought the fiasco around Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearing was finally over. After hours of questioning from Senators on both sides of the aisle about Israel, Israel, Iran, and Israel, it looked like Hagel’s confirmation was on its way, and the issue was finally laid to rest. Well, we were wrong, and we apparently we’re part of the new bombshell. Notorious Islamophobe Steven Emerson has apparently uncovered “missing” speeches from Hagel’s record that apparently show his true sinister leanings. Emerson pulled speeches that Hagel gave to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and our own 2007 Kahlil Gibran Gala. Never mind that Hagel was supposed to disclose speeches he’s given in the past 5 years, and 2013 minus 2007 is, well, close enough if you consider the terrible things he said. Here’s the shocking Hagel statement Emerson pulled from our Gibran Gala: “I am a supporter of Israel…why can’t I have a relationship with Israel not at the expense of my friends in the Arab world?” Truly terrifying stuff. For those who prefer less paranoid news, Hagel’s nomination os ex[ected to be voted out of committee shortly and a floor vote is expected this week. Maybe that will finally lay this issue to rest, but somehow, we doubt it.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been prone to the occasional abuse of its authority. If you’ve been subjected to a “Rapiscan” backscatter machine at an airport, we probably don’t need to tell you that. They’ve also implemented counterproductive racial profiling measures, deported thousands of Arabs and Muslims for spurious reasons, and wasted millions on nonfunctioning (and sometimes non-existent) “fusion centers.” Good thing, then, that the Department has an Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which keeps their constitutional excesses in check, and which announced in 2009 that it would conduct a “Civil Liberties Impact Assessment” of DHS’s warrantless search-and-seizure policy in “border areas” within 120 days. Well, last week (if you’re counting, that’s 3 years later), the office finally released an executive summary of their findings, though the report itself is still not available to the public. Their determination? Forcing DHS agents to be suspicious of you before they can search your phones, laptops, and entire electronic history “would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits.” In other words, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t apply at the border, and if you’re thinking, “oh well, it’s just at the border,” remember that DHS defines the width of the “border area” as 100 miles, which includes about 2/3 of all Americans. Better delete those scandalous emails while you can!
Do you remember that episode of “The West Wing” where the Secretary of State and the Director of the CIA decided to cooperate in a plan to arm a group of Middle East rebels, but the President pushed back, then the Secretary was hospitalized for a head trauma, and the CIA director was caught in an illicit affair and forced to resign, causing all their plans to fall apart? Oh wait, that was real life. The New York Times reported last week that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had put together a plan late last year for getting more directly involved in the two-year Syrian uprising, but was rebuffed by the President. Many expected the issue to be taken up again after the election, but between the blood clot and the affair, both architects of the plan were missing at the crucial time. It all seems a bit surreal, but it also adds another level of context to the Obama administrations reluctance to get too involved in arming the Syrian rebels. With revelations earlier this week that former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey both professed similar support for the idea of arming Syrian rebels, it seems like Obama is disagreeing with most of his senior national security staff. That’s making our favorite hawk, Senator John McCain, very mad. Yeah, we know, lots of things do that.
Following last week’s revelations about the Obama Administration’s rather flimsy legal justifications for its drone program, drones have received long-overdue scrutiny in Washington this week. They were one of the major themes of the confirmation hearings last week for John Brennan, an architect of the drone program and President Obama’s nominee for CIA Director. Across the political spectrum, there seems to be broad agreement that giving the executive branch the right to incinerate people from the sky without oversight undermines the Constitution’s separation of powers. Senator John McCain did not go so far as to suggest that Congress oversee the drone program, but he does believe it should be controlled by the military and not the CIA. It’s debatable whether a program housed in the Pentagon would be any more accountable than the current one, but McCain is correct in saying that the function of intelligence should be, well, gathering intelligence, not assassinations-by-drone. Another Republican spoke up this week, saying, “It’s very unseemly that a politician gets to decide the death of an American citizen.” Though that quote could have come from a liberal Senator like Oregon’s Ron Wyden (also a leader on drone issues), it was actually Kentucky’s Rand Paul, one of the few Republicans openly critical of the drone program. Finally, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates also endorsed the idea of judicial and congressional oversight of the drone program, lending some serious establishment credentials to the drone oversight cause. Unfortunately, the only ones not talking about ways to make the drone program more accountable are the people that actually matter: the Obama administration.
Fortunately, for certain members of Congress, intelligence isn’t a prerequisite for service. If it were, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Paul Broun (R-GA) would certainly be out of a job. But sometimes reality is unfortunate, and the fact is that both Bachmann and Broun not only serve in Congress, they belong to committees on intelligence. Broun is Vice Chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. So, what’s his strategy for keeping America safe? Profile people in “Arabian Dress” at the airport. We’ll never forget being told by the opinion editor of a prominent Georgia newspaper that Broun’s stupid comments seldom made news because of their frequency. But if you’re laughing now, you’ll probably have a different reaction when you find out that Broun is now running for Senate. And if you were wondering where Michele Bachmann’s gone after a public rebuking by members of her own party after alleging “deep penetration” of the US government by the Muslim Brotherhood, the answer is: nowhere. She, and her friends who co-signed her letter all retain their positions on the Intelligence Committee. Do you like Bachmann-esque conspiracy theories and the Showtime series Homeland? Here’s one from a former FBI agent who alleges that Mr. Drone, John Brennan is Muslim. We are seriously not making that up.
Despite testifying in front of Congress for more than four hours last week during his confirmation hearings to be Director of the CIA, John Brennan was never asked about the Agency’s support for the NYPD’s surveillance program against Arab Americans and American Muslims. As regular readers of Countdown will know, the NYPD and CIA formed a partnership shortly after 9/11 that embedded CIA officers in the NYPD leadership and sent a police intelligence unit to Langley for training in CIA surveillance techniques. The resulting surveillance program targeted our community without probable cause or even suspicion of criminality. Police staked out hookah bars and shawarma shops in an effort to find camouflaged terrorists but, despite collecting a mountain of data, the program never uncovered a single terrorist plot. During the time, John Brennan served in top leadership roles at the CIA, first as deputy director of the Agency and then as Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. It’s difficult to believe he didn’t know of the budding friendship between the two agencies. So, it surprised no one when Brennan publicly defended the NYPD’s program after it came to light last year. What was disappointing, though, was the total lack of attention paid to this important issue during Brennan’s confirmation hearings. New York Senators Gillibrand and Schumer have not raised a single objection to Brennan’s complicity with the NYPD’s surveillance program. Away from Capitol Hill, though, there was some good news this week, as American Muslims were added as plaintiffs to a long-running class action discrimination lawsuit against the NYPD. And yesterday, The New York Times published a spot-on editorial urging the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee NYPD surveillance. Hopefully, the attention this vital issue is currently getting in New York will soon arrive in Washington. If not, maybe Brennan being Muslim could help (Countdown disclaimer: refer to paragraph above before believing that one.)