Sunday, June 30, 2013



Did Obama's Favorite General Betray Him?

By Fred Kaplan, Slate Magazine
30 June 13

Why retired Gen. James Cartwright is facing allegations - and could be the first higher-up to go down.

n one way, it's a big surprise that the Justice Department is investigating retired Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright for allegedly leaking classified information about the Stuxnet computer virus, which briefly disabled Iran's nuclear program a few years back.
In another way, though, it's not a surprise at all.
It's surprising because four-star generals, active or retired, aren't the usual targets of such probes. This is especially so of a general like Cartwright, who, from 2007-11, was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - the U.S. military's second-highest-ranking officer - and who, in his final years, was known as "Obama's favorite general." Officers of this stature tend to build layers of insulation around themselves.
But Cartwright was unusual in that respect. As one former senior defense official described him, he was "a lone wolf." He was very smart, a policy intellectual on the level of Gens. David Petraeus and James Mattis, but he had no protective layers, no inner circle of loyalists, and no talent (or desire) for building alliances with his fellow officers. To the contrary, he would often work up his own ideas, his own position papers, and brief them to his civilian superiors outside the military chain of command. As vice chairman, several officials say, he would sometimes brief Obama himself - the two had a similar style of crisp, analytical thinking - then come back to the Pentagon without telling his boss, the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, what he'd said.
The big rupture came in the fall of 2009, during the National Security Council meetings on how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan. President Obama kept asking the chiefs for more options on troop levels, something in between Vice President Joe Biden's pitch for just 10,000 more troops and Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendation of at least 40,000 more. Mullen never provided them. Cartwright wrote a paper, on his own, for what could be done with 20,000 more and 30,000 more. Mullen suppressed the study and chewed Cartwright out for doing it. In an end-run, Cartwright gave the study to one of Biden's aides. Mullen and the other chiefs were furious.
Two things drove Cartwright to take that step. First, he was a straight shooter (he was nicknamed "Hoss," after an honest character named Hoss Cartwright on the old TV show Bonanza). He thought the military should respond to a president's request, and since nobody else was doing it, he did it himself. But most other generals in his position would first try to get other officers, or maybe the secretary of defense, to buy in. Cartwright, the lone wolf, didn't do that.
As a result, whenever Cartwright got into trouble, there was nobody who felt compelled to stand up for him. Around the same time as the flap over Afghanistan policy, the military's inspector general investigated Cartwright on charges of having an affair with a female subordinate. The IG report accused him of misconduct. The secretary of the Navy, a civilian, took no disciplinary action, but the report alienated Cartwright still further from his military colleagues, many of whom regard such behavior as a serious breach of the military code.
When Mullen prepared to step down as JCS chairman in 2011, rumors flew that Obama would appoint Cartwright as his successor. But several advisers, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, warned the president that Cartwright had no support from the other chiefs and no ability to craft consensus on military policy. Obama appointed Gen. Martin Dempsey to be chairman instead. Cartwright retired from the Marine Corps after a 40-year career.
Here's the biggest problem now with being the lone wolf: If the Justice Department continues its probe and winds up indicting Cartwright for violating his security oath, it's unlikely that any officers will leap to his defense in this crisis either. It's a fair guess, in fact, that some of those officers may have pointed prosecutors in his direction.
No evidence of his possible guilt or innocence has been publicized (Cartwright's lawyer issued a no-comment on the news reports), but the charge is not implausible. Cartwright was chief of U.S. Strategic Command, in Omaha, Neb., from 2004-07. (For the story of how a Marine general came to be head of StratCom - an unprecedented appointment, since StratCom deals mainly with the nuclear arsenal and the Marines have no nuclear weapons - click here.) At the time, the military's main cyber-warfare unit was embedded in StratCom. (In 2009, an independent U.S. Cyber Command was created at Fort Meade, Md., alongside the National Security Agency.) Operation Olympic Games, aka Stuxnet, was created in 2006. Cartwright was involved in its creation and briefed the program to Presidents Bush and, later, Obama.
Details about Stuxnet were first revealed on June 1, 2012, in a New York Times story by David Sanger. Cartwright was one of the few officials involved in the program that Sanger identified by name. In a book that Sanger subsequently wrote, Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, this intriguing passage appears on Page 269:
One of the creators of the government's offensive cyber strategy, Gen. James Cartwright, makes a compelling case that the secrecy [of the cyber program] may be working against American interests. "You can't have something that's a secret be a deterrent," he argued shortly after leaving his post as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Because if you don't know it's there, it doesn't scare you."
This doesn't prove that Cartwright was a source - and certainly not that he was the sole, or even main, source. In fact, Sanger wrote that his Times story was "based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts."
Nor is it clear what impact the Times story had on U.S. security. Jane Harman, a former California congresswoman who served on the House Intelligence Committee, said at the time that the leak was "very damaging" and had "devastating consequences." It is true, the Iranians eventually discovered and disabled the bug. More than that, they unleashed a retaliatory cyber-strike, known as the Shamoon virus, which destroyed the hard drives of 30,000 computers at the headquarters of Aramco, the global oil company based in Saudi Arabia, and beamed on all of its computer screens an image of a burning American flag.
But did the Iranians find the Stuxnet bug and unleash their own strike as a result of the Timesstory, whoever its source or sources might have been? Doubtful.
First, Sanger reports in his book that, as the result of an Israeli programming error, the Stuxnet virus leaked out across the global Internet in the summer of 2010 - two years before the Times story. Second, right after the intriguing passage in Sanger's book, where Cartwright says the cyber program shouldn't be kept secret, there is the following, equally intriguing paragraph:
An intelligence officer disagreed [with Cartwright]: "Everybody who needs to know what we can do, knows," he said. "The Chinese know." And the Iranians, he added, "are probably figuring it out."
One former cybersecurity official told me today, in response to a question about the impact of the leak, "Iran already figured it out" - that is, the Iranians knew about Stuxnet and figured out how to defeat it - before the Times story appeared.
The chronology tends to support that view. The Iranians launched the Shamoon virus on Aug. 15, 2012, only two and a half months after the Times story. It's possible that they could have found the Stuxnet bug, deactivated it, and planned an ambitious counterpunch in that short time span - but not likely.
None of this speaks to Cartwright's legal situation. If he did what the Justice Department suspects him of doing, he's in trouble, regardless of whether his actions damaged national security.
However, the whole episode should raise serious questions - it should prompt a real national debate - about the larger subject of leaks. As every Washington insider knows, the government runs on leaks. They operate on various levels. Presidents and their aides leak to float balloons or rally support for their positions. (Many people thought at the time that the Stuxnet leak came from the White House, to show that Obama was wrecking Iran's nuclear program without having to drop bombs.) Opponents leak to dampen support for those programs. Mid- to high-level bureaucrats leak to push their programs over competing programs. Finally, whistle-blowers or low-level functionaries, with no links in the power chain, leak for personal reasons or to call attention to activities that they think are wrong.
The whistle-blowers tend to get prosecuted. The higher-ups almost never do. If Cartwright is indicted, that will change, and it will mean that you can have power and still get hammered for freelance leaking. The key term here, though, is "freelance." The highest-level leaks will still get a pass, will still be a vital tactic in the Washington power games. Should the bar be raised higher? Should it be lowered? Should the whole enterprise be reassessed?
One thing that everyone knows: Way too much information is classified, and way too many people have clearances. Rosa Brooks, a former Pentagon official, recently wrote in Slate sister publication Foreign Policy that she once asked a colleague why some innocuous memo he'd written was classified Top Secret. He replied that if it weren't, no one would read it. This is the culture that's stifling debate, that's keeping the cloak of secrecy on matters that should be open - or at least open to discussion on whether they should be kept secret, and on what really is vital to national security and what isn't.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


 Over 100,000 military service members were discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” because they were gay. Many of those discharges were dishonorable or other than honorable. Please join Daily Kos and the DCCC in urging Congress to pass the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, which would restore honorable status to the thousands of Americans who were discharged because of their sexual orientation.

A dishonorable discharge can have a huge effect on a person’s life. Because some states treat dishonorable discharges as felonies, these service members may have trouble getting work or be prohibited from voting, collecting unemployment, or veterans benefits because they were gay.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in 2010, now we need to undo some of the damage this corrosive policy caused to people’s lives before that happened.

Please join Daily Kos and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to help pass the Restore Honor to Service Members Act: Sign the petition now.

Keep fighting,
Michael Langenmayr
Campaign Director, Daily Kos






The Top Six Examples of Dirty Republican Politics From This Week

Posted: 06/28/2013 3:23 pm

One of the major takeaways from the series of dramatic political events that occurred in the space of 48 hours this week is quite simply that the Republicans will do anything to win. Almost literally anything. Chicanery and complex scheming in politics isn't anything new (see also House of Cards), but the intensity and frequency -- not to mention the broad-daylight hubris of it all -- by the Republicans this week has been extraordinary to behold.
It's surely symptomatic of the Republican Party's current status on the endangered species list, but that's also what makes the party's collective fealty to far-right bigotry and oppression even more peculiar, given how the policy areas at issue this week have almost exclusively impacted women and minorities.
We were told the party was endeavoring to reach out to the demographic groups that helped doom its electoral chances last November. Clearly not, and it's disintegrated into apredictably failed outreach effort. There was never any doubt that the extremists who occupy the far-right base, as well as the fire-eaters in the conservative entertainment complex, would never allow the party to soften its posture. And so it goes.
Here now are the top six examples of Republican cheating, racism, hypocrisy and general insanity from Tuesday and Wednesday of this week:
6) They contradicted their own opinions on the judicial review role of the Supreme Court from day-to-day.
On Tuesday, Justice Antonin Scalia decided with the majority to strip a key provision out of the Voting Rights Act, a law that Congress passed and the president signed, most recently in 2006. Then, on Wednesday, he decided with the minority on DOMA, a law that Congress passed and the president signed. In this case, however, he ranted and raved in his opinion about the how the DOMA decision "is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people's Representatives in Congress and the Executive." He said, "We have no power to decide this case."
Uh. What?
The day before, he decided to do that exact thing -- in every way. On Tuesday he decided to contravene a law. Yet on Wednesday, 24 hours later, he said the Supreme Court has "no power" to do so.
Did he honestly believe no one would notice the gaping contradiction between his two opinions? Does the judicial review role of the Court, established in the landmark Marbury v Madison case, only apply on Tuesdays and not the rest of the week? Perhaps Antonin Scalia isn't totally opposed to Marbury. Perhaps he's just Marbury-curious.
5) Big government intrusions on reproduction, marriage and election laws are fine and dandy even though the Republicans claim to hate big government.
This is almost self-explanatory. Republicans would prefer to drown big government in the bathtub -- except, of course, when it comes to telling women what they can and can't do with their reproductive organs (see the Texas anti-choice law as one of many examples); except when it comes to telling same-sex couples whether they're allowed to get married (see DOMA and Prop 8); and except when it comes to adding more government bureaucracy to the voting process (see Voter ID and the Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act decision).
4) They made wild claims about marriage equality, and how it could lead to bestiality.
I guess I have to say this again: Rand Paul is not your friend, liberals. Yesterday, Rand Paulappeared on the Glenn Beck Show -- another reason why he's not your friend -- and agreed with Beck that same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy. Interesting idea coming from Beck, who's a Mormon. Worse yet, Rand Paul volunteered the idea that same-sex marriage could lead to bestiality.
Rand Paul wondered, "[I]f we have no laws on this people take it to one extension further. Does it have to be humans?"
Beck didn't even mention this -- Rand Paul came up with it himself, clearly channeling Rick Santorum who infamously said that same-sex marriage would lead to "man on dog." What's also astonishing is that Rand Paul, who claims to be libertarian, was also suggesting that there needs to be government laws against marriage equality -- another indication that he's just an opportunist and not a legitimate libertarian.
3) The Supreme Court's decision to undermine the Voting Right Act brought into renewed focus the Republican Party's transparently obvious racism and, specifically, the conspiracy that exposes it: the rigging of elections by disenfranchising voters.
Yes, the Republicans will absolutely block minorities from voting if it means winning more votes. I wrote extensively about the impact of the Supreme Court's Shelby County v Holderdecision on Wednesday, but one aspect I failed to mention was John Roberts' laughable blindness in the face of continued American racism, both societally (Paula Deen is the most visible example right now) and specifically as a major facet of Republican politics.
Are we seriously expected to believe that Roberts and the other conservative justices are unaware of the Southern Strategy and racial dog-whistles employed as recently in the 2012 election (Romney's welfare falsehood and his 'Obama Isn't Working' slogan were just two of many examples)? And are we seriously expect to believe that the Supreme Court doesn't see the inherent racism involved in Voter ID laws, voter purges and other obstructions predominantly impacting minorities and minority precincts?
Clearly not, because they chose to declare unconstitutional the aspect of the Voting Rights Act that's tasked with preventing such atrocities.
2) The Republicans intend to hold hostage the Voting Rights Act in order to preserve Jim Crow style Voter ID laws.
On Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said the Republicans might oppose a new and updated version of Section 4 (the section of the VRA that was struck down by the Court) unless they secure a deal from the Democrats that would allow them to continue to -- get this -- retain and pass Voter ID laws. The irony is nauseating. The section of the act that's supposed to weed out laws like Voter ID is being held hostage in the name of passing more Voter ID laws.
By the way, has anyone noticed how rabidly obsessed the Republicans are with their precious Voter ID laws? I wonder why that is, considering how the only legitimate reason to have Voter IDs has been thoroughly debunked by, among other outfits, the Bush Justice Department. So... why the IDs? Obviously as a means of preventing minorities from voting for Democratic candidates, in the spirit of poll taxes and Jim Crow.
1) The Texas Republicans held a vote on SB5, a notoriously misogynistic anti-choice law, after the special session ended, essentially undermining all Senate rules.
Yes, the Texas Republican lieutenant governor cheated. Following a heroic 13-hour filibuster by Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) and several pathetic Republican attempts to derail her effort to block a bill that would've virtually closed all abortion clinics in Texas, the lieutenant governor held a roll call vote on SB5 after the midnight deadline, and even apparently changed the vote's timestamp to the previous day to cover his tracks. If he hadn't retracted his scam several hours later, the Republicans would have essentially rendered the rules of the Texas Senate irrelevant. Why have rules when the president of the Senate can simply ignore the rules and proceed however he chooses? It certainly would've nuked the filibuster, given how the president could simply hold a vote after a session had ended.
This is what they do. No matter how many times I've observed Republican shenanigans like this, it was shocking to see it happen in the light of day and in front of 200,000 internet viewers, to say nothing of the cheering Davis-supporters in the gallery as well as the entire body of the Texas Senate.
And by the way, Governor Rick Perry announced Wednesday that he's calling another special session to vote on SB5. He'll keep doing it and doing it until it passes, proving this: never stand between a white Republican man and his fetus fetish.
That's all... for now. It's an astonishing record of treachery, especially knowing that it was all packed into a 48-hour span. Just two days in the life of the Republican Party -- an outfit that continues to out-do itself with shameful tactics, transparent bigotry and an increasingly discordant message.
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