Author Archive

Weekly Web Watch 12/21/09 – 12/27/09

December 28, 2009

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.

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Weekly Web Watch 11/30/09 – 12/6/09

December 7, 2009

President Obama announced that 30,000 additional troops will be deployed to Afghanistan.  Obama also announced that the U.S. will begin to draw down troop levels in Summer 2011.  The New York Times and Washington Post both have descriptions of the deliberation process.  James Joyner points out that Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates can’t seem to agree on whether the 2011 timeframe is a deadline or a guideline (nor, perhaps, can Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs).  Wired has a neat feature on how the strategy is “sold” to the public.

A couple seeking (what else?) a reality show gig crashed the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  The Secret Service has promised an investigation, but so has Congress.  Now the White House pledges to block the White House social secretary from testifying before Congress, citing separation of powers.  The social secretary’s role in the fiasco is already being questioned.  Sandy Levinson can’t imagine that the Constitution was written to shield the social secretary from questioning by Congress.  Neither can Dana Perino and Bill Burke.  Orin Kerr reviews the possible criminal charges that the couple may face and reminds you that “Crashing a White House state dinner, and then bragging about it on Facebook, is really really dumb.”

The Supreme Court vacated an appellate court ruling on detainee abuse photos.  The Second Circuit, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, had ordered the government to turn over the photos to the ACLU.  However, the court noted that legislation has since been passed concerning the photographs.  The ruling does not end the matter; it was remanded to the district court.

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Weekly Web Watch 11/16/09 – 11/22/09

November 24, 2009

The Senate has reversed position on bringing Guantanamo detainees into the U.S., shooting down an amendment that would have blocked funds from being used for that purpose.  The Washington Post points out, however, that this is more symbolic than practical.  Marc Ambinder points out that the real story is that 75 detainees will neither be charged nor transferred nor released.  Jonathan Hafetz, perhaps the best-known lawyer for Guantanamo detainees, says that detention policy remains “essentially lawless.”  Steve Aftergood, meanwhile, has posted up records from two House Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on military commissions.

Worried that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other accused terrorists might be acquitted by a civilian jury?  Rest assured, Attorney General Eric Holder has “thought about that possibility” and reminds you that, if they are acquitted, they will be put back into military detention.  Adam Serwer provides more details; Eric Posner says that this amounts to a “two-tier” system of justice.  John Yoo launches another critique, claiming that the trial will provide an “intelligence bonanza” to al-Qaeda.  Jack Goldsmith and Jim Comey argue that trial is the right decision, given the problems that commissions and tribunals have faced over the last eight years.  David Feige worries that precedents created by the case will impair future detainees from arguing their rights.  And Pat Buchanan asks whether this means we are no longer at war.

Many of you know that one of the arguments against military contractors is that their higher pay drains the U.S. military of qualified personnel.  USA Today now reports that a similar problem occurs at the top, where generals are often hired back and paid two to three times as much as they were earning while on duty to be “mentors.”  Many of the generals have concurrent jobs with defense contractors.

Time put together a story detailing how White House Counsel Gregory Craig found himself shoved out of the White House.  Also included is the story of how the Obama administration walked back some of their tough talk on transparency and openness in government.

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Weekly Web Watch 11/9/09 – 11/15/09

November 17, 2009

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, will face trial in a civilian court in New York.  Glenn Greenwald laments that only some detainees will be selected for prosecution.  James Joyner fails to see the upside of providing a civilian trial.

President Obama is reportedly unhappy with the Afghanistan strategies that his advisors presented to him and wants them to redo the options to include more information about withdrawal estimates.  Fred Kaplan has some analysis of the president’s concerns, including his aversion to a decades-long counterinsurgency strategy.  Kevin Drum reports that the military may not provide any “light footprint” plans.  Rich Lowry says that second-guessing the military is below the president’s pay grade.  Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Bob Gates is getting upset with the media’s ability to find out about these deliberations.  “Everybody out there ought to just shut up,” he said, referring to leakers.  Of course, possibly the biggest leak occurred this week when U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry sent two cables expressing doubt that Hamid Karzai is the right man for the job in Afghanistan.

White House Counsel Gregory Craig will step down early next year.  Craig, who was charged with closing Guantanamo Bay this year, had been under fire for his lack of progress with detainee issues and seeming lack of political awareness.

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Weekly Web Watch 11/2/09 – 11/8/09

November 10, 2009

The White House will ask Congress for supplemental war funding, continuing a practice that the Bush administration used to break up the full cost of the war.  Furthermore, McClatchy reports that the White House is planning to deploy an additional 34,000 troops to Afghanistan but is waiting for PR support before making an announcement.  Meanwhile, Andrew Exum has found three alternative strategies to the McChrystal plan that he supports and has posted them up.  For quicker thoughts, see Robert Farley’s pithy comments on the coming choice of defense strategy, or the Economist’s quick hit on why Afghanistan is not Iraq.

An Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik, opened fire at Fort Hood, killing at least a dozen soldiers.  Malik was scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan.  Speculation abounds about his motives; Malik is still in the hospital after being shot four times during the attack.  Kevin Drum forwards on a firsthand account of the shooting.

23 Americans, some or possibly all CIA agents, will find themselves in prison if they ever return to Europe.  The agents, along with 2 Italians, were convicted in absentia of kidnapping a terrorism suspect from Italy and “rendering” him to Egypt.  “Ishmael Jones” claims that this is actually a sign of a risk-averse CIA.

Off-year elections delivered two governors’ offices into Republican hands, though the GOP also lost a House seat in New York that had been held for more than a century.  Analysis trends towards the belief that this shows the beginning of a backlash against President Obama and the Democrats, though others claim that three races don’t provide an adequate sample.  Victor Davis Hanson counsels “wait-and-see.”

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Weekly Web Watch 10/26/09 – 11/1/09

November 3, 2009

Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the run-off election against President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rushed to assure everyone that this would not affect the vote’s legitimacy.  Meanwhile, the New York Times discovered that Karzai’s brother is not only a major player in Afghanistan’s thriving drug trade but also involved with the CIA.  Congress is displeased that, again, they are learning about CIA operations only by reading their newspapers.  But The Economist says that this is nothing new and Philip Giraldi says this is something good.

The economy may be emerging from the recession.  Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner cautioned against excessive optimism but confirmed reports that GDP grew during the last quarter.  Geithner credits the administration and Congress for the growth; so does Steve Verdon, who worries that the governmental stimuli are providing false indicators of recovery. Kevin Drum says that little of the growth is going towards wages.  And Sam Staley may have the best point: It took almost a year for economists to declare that we had been in a recession; it will likely take a similar amount of time for them to discover that we have recovered.

Ali Al-Marri, who was held as an enemy combatant in the United States for six years, has been sentenced to more than eight years in civilian prison for providing material support to a terrorist organization.  The judge said that the sentence, which could have been for as long as fifteen years, was shortened to reflect time that Al-Marri spent in military detention.

Robert J. Delahunty has prepared a paper defending John Yoo’s 2001 OLC memorandum (which he co-authored) that stated that the Fourth Amendment would not apply to any military operations taken against terrorists, even on U.S. soil.  Orin Kerr responds, arguing that Delahunty is constructing an overbroad scheme that provides no guidance for interpretation of current law nor for the interpretation of specific fact scenarios.

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Weekly Web Watch 10/12/09 – 10/18/09

October 19, 2009

Shepard Fairey has admitted that he lied about which photo he used to make his “Hope” poster of then-candidate Barack Obama.  Both photographs in question were taken by the same photographer and both were covered by AP copyright.  However, Fairey’s  work was more transformative of the first photograph than of the one that, well, looks exactly like his poster.  That added transformation would aid him in his fair use claim.  Fairey’s lawyers have filed notice that they intend to withdraw from his suit as a result of his misleading them.

The Obama administration may scrap the pre-emptive war part of the “Bush Doctrine.”  Hat tip to Julian Ku.  Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S. both continue to claim the right to use nuclear weapons in a first-strike capability.

Peter J. Wallison penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he points a finger at the federal government for the mortgage crisis.  Wallison points out that the predatory lending theory only tells half the story: Someone had to buy all these toxic assets; often as not, the buyers were government-backed agencies.  Ilya Somin concurs and extends: Not only did government back the purchase of these bad mortgages, they also encouraged excessive risk-taking by the private sector.  Kevin Drum is angered not because of this, but rather because the banks are recovering faster than the rest of the economy because of further government intervention.  And Matthew Yglesias says that we are repeating the pattern.

The Justice Department issued guidelines (.pdf) to prosecutors instructing them to deprioritize the investigation and prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries.  Jonathan Adler explains that this is a valid exercise of power and thus, like, totally legit, man.

The military is currently meeting all of its recruiting goals.  The Pentagon credits the recession, along with marketing, for the success.  Fred Kaplan, however, says that the Pentagon is fudging.

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Weekly Web Watch 10/5/09 – 10/11/09

October 12, 2009

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel

This happened.  Michael Russnow, a general Obama supporter, is irritated by the “cheapening” of the award.  Jonathan Adler argues that this event is not terribly extraordinary; the Prize has often been awarded to people prospectively.  John Miller explains the differences between Obama and other American presidents who have received a Nobel.  Jacob Heilbrunn runs through the list of reasons that Obama deserved the award.  Eugene Volokh questions whether Obama can accept the $1.4 million prize personally or whether the Emoluments Clause requires that he donate it to the country.  As it turns out, he will donate it to charity.  Jonah Goldberg explains why Obama should not decline the award.  And Anne Applebaum finds it bemusing that we care so much about what five Norwegians think (see also John Podhoretz).  On a more abstract level, I agree with Julian Sanchez that the initial reaction was agreement between right and left that this was an odd choice.  However, it quickly turned into a partisan litmus test, aided by the DNC’s claim that questioning the award means that you support the terrorists.

President Obama ruled out any reduction in the number of troops in Afghanistan.  Fellow Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger approves, but says that the U.S. still needs to pursue more engagement with Afghanistan’s neighbors.

James Joyner takes a break from his vacation to give a nice roundup of the tensions developing between President Obama and his top generals.  Obama was reportedly furious at Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley’ McChrystal’s comments last week in which he called for more troops; now Gen. David Petraeus is becoming more involved in the White House decision-making process.  David Greenberg, however, cautions that we should not read too much into the situation.

The Federal Trade Commission issued a set of guidelines for bloggers and users of social media.  The guidelines are ostensibly directed at viral marketers who try to ensure that blogs and social media sites give positive press; the rules, however, are written so broadly that any blog could run afoul of the regulations if they do not include an “adequate” notice that they are being compensated.  An Arnold & Porter blog gives a summary of the regulations.  Walter Olson notes the overbreadthSlate’s Jack Shafer calls it a “mad power grab.”  And Ken at Popehat warns that trying to pump up your page views could land you in the FTC’s crosshairs.

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Weekly Web Watch 09/28/09 – 10/4/09

October 5, 2009

Analysis of President Obama’s speech to the United Nations continues.  Kenneth Anderson has one of the most well-developed critiques, arguing that the administration is more concerned with multilateralism than with peace.  Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Lugar offered his thoughts on the future of NATO, the senator called for more troops to be deployed to Eastern Europe.

The Senate Judiciary Committee met to mark up proposed amendments to the PATRIOT Act.  The original matchup was between a moderate bill sponsored by Patrick Leahy and one with significantly heightened privacy protections sponsored by Russell Feingold.  However, the first act in the hearing was the replacement of Leahy’s bill with one sponsored by Diane Feinstein that might increase the ability of the FBI to gather intelligence without warrants.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kevin Bankston liveblogged the hearing here.  Meanwhile, the Justice Department released guidelines that confirm that the FBI is still allowed to conduct “assessments” of groups or individuals without any individualized belief that the target has committed a crime.

Iran’s nuclear facility at Qum continues to perplex some analysts.  Gary Milhollin wrote in the New York Times that the facility must be evidence of an as-yet undiscovered network of nuclear sites.  The Economist says that this ignores how irrationally governments sometimes act.  IOZ is even unkinder as he points out that Milhollin may have already decided Iran is guilty of making nuclear weapons and is taking all evidence to point that way.  The Economist also points out that this marks the third time that Iran has been caught playing fast and loose with the rules of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  Nathan Hodge says that we may never know the exact capabilities of the Qum reactor.  Christopher Beam has more information on how nuclear inspections work.  The Express (UK) reports that Saudi Arabia has greenlighted an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities; I have not been able to find a confirming source for that story, however.

Last week, we reported that Vice President Joe Biden had suggested that we move from a counter-insurgency strategy to a counter-terrorism strategy in Afghanistan.  This Thursday, Gen. Stanley McChrystal told the Institute for Strategic Studies that such a strategy would lead to chaos (video and .pdf at the link).  Bruce Ackerman wonders whether the general’s intervention in a policy matter violates the principle of civilian control of the military.  Jonathan Adler thinks that Ackerman (and Michael Cohen) worry too much; this is not disagreement with announced policy, but rather an attempt to influence the formation of a policy that McChrystal, presumably, has valuable experience with.  James Joyner concurs.  Peter Baker points out that President Obama speaks with his theater commanders less than Bush did.  Mark Grimsley says that, historically, Obama’s policy is the more common.  And an attempt by GOP senators to force McChrystal to testify before congress failed on a party-line vote.

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Weekly Web Watch 09/21/09 – 09/27/09

September 29, 2009
Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Gen. Stanley McChrystal

The White House is considering a drastic change in Afghanistan strategy, according to the New York Times.  President Obama is, apparently, exploring the feasibility of drawing down the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and getting out of Afghani politics, leaving the Taliban alone in order to focus exclusively on al-Qaeda.  Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent a memo to the President warning that, if he does not receive more troops, the mission in Afghanistan is doomed to failure.  The memo is available here (.pdf).  Dave Schuler points out that, under conventional counter-insurgency doctrine, more than 400,000 troops are necessary to secure Afghanistan.  Spencer Ackerman finds that figure in the memo and reminds us that Afghanistan is supposed to supply at least that many troops and police to the effort.  And Andrew Exum points out that counter-insurgency tactics will increase the number of U.S. casualties.  If you visit that link, however, be aware that Exum has several other posts up with arguments and links supporting a counter-insurgency strategy.

The Justice Department concluded that Congress does not need to pass additional legislation regarding the detention of alleged terrorists.  The DoJ claims that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force provides the administration all the detention power that it requires.  Adam Serwer points out that this is considered a victory for civil libertarians.  Meanwhile, the administration is preparing to miss the self-imposed deadline for the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

President Obama delivered a speech to the U.N. on Wednesday.  Reaction to the speech has been fairly quiet.  The New York Times was pleased by the greater multilateralism on display, but concerned about the absence of any discussion of Afghanistan.

William Schambra penned an essay claiming that many of President Obama’s political problems can be traced to his affinity for large-scale policy proposals.  David Broder read the essay and pushed it to a wider audience, claiming that Schambra’s analysis pinpoints why Obama’s is unlikely to be a successful presidency.  Joe Klein takes issue with this and accuses Broder of being overly selective with his historical examples.  Stephen Griffin offers additional thoughts, including ways to amend the Constitutional structure in order to make this type of large-scale policymaking easier.

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