Weekly Web Watch 12/21/09 – 12/27/09

By Ryan Caldwell

Actually, we’ll be going back a little further than Dec. 21 to make up for lost time.

A man attempted to bring down an airliner traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit by setting off explosives attached to his legs.  He was unsuccessful and had to be arraigned in the hospital where he is being treated for burns.  ABC News reports that the attack was fairly sophisticated and organized by al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen.  The Transportation Security Agency issued a new set of guidelines for passengers on international flights (no policies have changed for domestic flights, though existing precautions may be enforced more rigorously), which Professor Bainbridge reviews and lampoons here.  Meanwhile, Stewart Baker, former Assistant Secretary of Policy for the Department of Homeland Security, raises some other questions about breakdowns in security policy.  IOZ cautions, however, that this may be a problem of too much information, rather than too little.  And Josh Gerstein says that the episode could complicate plans to close the detention center at Guantanamo.

The Democrats secured enough votes to force cloture on the health-care bill before the Senate.  Ben Nelson (D-Neb) will cast the final vote.  Mark Murray had been arguing that it was time for President Obama to “get mean” in order to whip Senate Democrats into line behind the bill.  Brendan Nyhan sighs at the belief that presidential willpower is all that’s needed to accomplish legislation and coins a neat new phrase: The Green Lantern theory of the presidency.  Hat tip to James Joyner.

The U.S. either backed or supported an attack in Yemen that targeted Anwar al-Aulaqi and two al-Qaeda leaders.  Initial reports suggested that al-Aulaqi, who had been implicated in the Fort Hood shootings, was killed, but that now appears doubtful.  At least 30 people, all suspected militants, were killed.

In December, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security raised the terror alert level to orange, warning of possible attacks that could exceed 9/11 in terror and damage.  As it turns out, the “chatter” that led to that heightened state of alert was, at least in part, drummed up by a Nevada man who conned the CIA into believing that he could detect “bar codes” in Al-Jazeera broadcasts, even though he could not explain how he was doing so.  Kudos to the French intelligence services, who eventually convinced the CIA that Dennis Montgomery was a con man (though they did not convince the Air Force, which gave Montgomery $3 million this January).  The original story is in Playboy, for those of you who don’t mind only reading the articles (advertisements don’t have nudity but may be NSFW depending on your sensitivities), and has been confirmed by former Homeland Security advisor Frances Townsend.

Prof. Orin Kerr questions why targeted assassinations of suspected terrorists are less controversial than detention of members of the same population.  Read the post and stay tuned through the comments.  See Glenn Greenwald for a more heated take on the strategy

Scott Horton interviews Kal Raustiala about the history and limits of extraterritorial jurisdiction.  Raustiala has just published a book asking Does the Constitution Follow the Flag?

Also, one of the most hair-raising claims made in the days before the invasion of Iraq may have come from a cabbie.  According to British MP Adam Holloway, the claim that Saddam Hussein had missiles that he could launch in 45 minutes came  a taxi driver who claimed to have overheard a discussion two years previously.  UK intelligence officials had deemed the claim as “demonstrably untrue,” but it still found its way into a government white paper.  The British may also start questioning U.S. citizens as they investigate Britain’s role in the invasion.

The Wall Street Journal reported that insurgents in Iraq are using $26 software in order to intercept U.S. military drone video feeds.  At least one Air Force officer feels that these feeds have been used to give insurgents “early warning.”  Also, the security liability may not be limited to drones, it may extend to warplanes.  Meanwhile, debate has started about expanding the scope of drone operations in Pakistan.

Harvey Silverglate, well-known defense attorney, has been blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy about the range of crimes that federal attorneys have the authority to prosecute.  Silverglate is especially concerned about obstruction of justice and honest services fraud statutes, which he contends can be used to launch a federal investigation of just about anybody, including him.

The Obama administration promised further assistance to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, allowing the two companies to receive up to $400 billion in federal assistance and giving the administration the ability to use the companies to influence the housing markets through 2012.

A parliamentary inquiry in Lithuania ended after disclosing that the United States operated two “black sites” in the country in order to detain and interrogate suspected terrorists.

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2 Responses to “Weekly Web Watch 12/21/09 – 12/27/09”

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