Ledeen Once Again Has His Hand on the Iranian Pulse

Michael Ledeen, who 25 months ago announced to the world that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had died — he got this from such an exclusive source that not even Amir Taheri, another neo-con fantasist, could confirm or deny the story — once again has his hand on the pulse of the Iranian people (and possibly a mind meld on the Supreme Leader himself). In an op-ed published by the reliably hard-core Wall Street Journal editorial page today, Ledeen, who, apparently due to apparently irreconcilable differences with Danielle Pletka, took his “Freedom Chair” at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) front known as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), not only connects last week’s successful Iranian satellite launch with “medieval Shiite texts” heralding the return of the 12th Imam and the end of days, but also reprises his certitude (dating back many years now) that the Iranian people are ready to rise in revolt against their regime.

The argument predictably concludes that “(T)he U.S. must not make the mistake of limiting demands (on Iran) to the nuclear program. A free Iran must be the objective,” and, while the logic of the whole article is a howl — no doubt adding fodder to the Journal’s news staff’s contention that the paper doesn’t need a comics section because you can find it on the editorial pages — what is most interesting is the direct appeal to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the Obama official most likely to argue Ledeen’s position within the administration. So it seems as if even hard-line neo-cons like Ledeen see Clinton as the link in the new power configuration that may be most susceptible to their arguments for aggressive “democracy promotion” abroad.

Do you know Binyam Mohamed?

Two senior British judges accused the U.S. of threatening to stop sharing intelligence with Britain if the British Government released details of the extraordinary rendition of British citizen, Binyam Mohamed.


Perhaps this explains it:


So, while a few die hard “24” fans — and Alberto Gonzales, and Michael Mukasey — might still claim confusion about waterboarding being torture, nearly everyone else would agree that having your penis sliced with razors once a month IS torture.

According to the close-the-barn-door-late theory, should official confirmation of this behavior escape the U.S. establishment cone of silence, it would be a PR disaster. That, not the perennial whine of “National Security,” is the source of the pressure the British Judges felt.

There is a lot of smoke around the L.A. Times article suggesting Barak Obama’s Executive Order ending extraordinary renditions was bogus.

But even if Mr. Obama did end the extraordinary brand of renditions, according to a Democracy Now! interview with Michael Rattner of The Center for Constitutional Rights, there is still a hole big enough to drive tour busses full of victims into the Gulag.

Will this be another big disappointment like Mr. Obama’s plans to double the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan — and his authorization of Predator drone strikes on the tribal people of Pakistan? And will we meet other Binyam Mohameds in the future, this time created by the Obama Administration?

Andrew Sullivan Gets It About Neoconservatism’s Core

As he makes clear in this post, The Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan has finally come to the conclusion that the democracy claptrap that neo-conservatives have spouted since 9/11 has been a facade for their core foreign-policy worldview with Israel at its heart.

“I took neoconservatism seriously for a long time, because it offered an interesting critique of what’s wrong with the Middle East, and seemed to have the only coherent strategic answer to the savagery of 9/11. I now realize that the answer – the permanent occupation of Iraq – was absurdly utopian and only made feasible by exploiting the psychic trauma of that dreadful day. The closer you examine it, the clearer it is that neoconservatism, in large part, is simply about enabling the most irredentist elements in Israel and sustaining a permanent war against anyone or any country who disagrees with the Israeli right. That’s the conclusion I’ve been forced to these last few years. And to insist that America adopt exactly the same constant-war-as-survival that Israelis have been slowly forced into. Cheney saw America as Netanyahu sees Israel: a country built for permanent war and the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty business” of waging it (with a few war crimes to keep the enemy on their toes).”

(Sullivan’s post has predictably infuriated John Podhoretz, the keeper of the neo-con flame at Commentary.)

Given their long-established affinity for “friendly authoritarian” regimes, I never understood why so many foreign-policy and other intellectuals were gulled by the neo-cons’ efforts to dress up their Arabo- and Islamophobia in the guise of Wilsonianism and democracy promotion (although I accept that Wolfowitz — a neo-con who is not a Likudnik — may have been sincere). The contradictions in their arguments, let alone with their historical record, always seemed so glaringly obvious. (How can you be a Wilsonian and indefinitely deny self-determination to Palestinians or condition it on their becoming Finland, as one of Ariel Sharon’s closest advisers suggested?) Just this past week, I attended a presentation by Council on Foreign Relations fellow Stewart Patrick, the author of a new book on the origins of U.S. multilateralism, who described them as Wilsonians who disdain multilateral institutions. The sooner people disabuse themselves of the notion that the spread of Wilsonian democracy is a core tenet of neo-conservativism, the more realistic any discussion of the movement and its contribution to the disastrous situation both the United States and Israel now face in the Middle East will be.

A Concrete Gesture Toward Iran?

As pointed out in this post by Rasmus Christian Elling of the University of Copenhagen, the U.S. Treasury – notably Stuart Levey, whose zeal in trying to make it difficult for Iranian banking interests to do business outside their borders has been widely remarked – just designated the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) a terrorist group, or, more accurately, a group controlled by the better known Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of Turkey. PJAK, of course, was named by Seymour Hersh, among others, as a likely beneficiary of alleged U.S. covert aid designed to harass the Islamic Republic two years ago after it claimed responsibility for a number of deadly attacks against Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and other regime targets. Tehran itself has long claimed that PJAK is supported by the U.S. and Israel. Like the PKK, it is based in Iraqi Kurdistan.

While designating PJAK a terrorist group is unlikely to have any immediate practical impact on its operations, it raises the question, as noted by Dr. Elling, whether this marks the first concrete gesture – or token of good faith – by the Obama administration toward Iran or whether this was simply the coincidental fruition of a bureaucratic process that may have been set in motion by the publication by the New York Times of a front-page article on the relationship between PJAK and the PKK back in October, 2007. I don’t have a clear answer as yet, but the timing and the fact that Levey, who is being retained by the Obama administration in his current position as Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has strong political instincts argues in favor of the more purposeful interpretation.

Here’s the release put out by Treasury:

February 4, 2009

Treasury Designates Free Life Party of Kurdistan a Terrorist Organization

Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK), a Kurdish group operating in the border region between Iraq and Iran, under Executive Order 13224 for being controlled by the terrorist group Kongra-Gel (KGK, aka the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK).

“With today’s action, we are exposing PJAK’s terrorist ties to the KGK and supporting Turkey’s efforts to protect its citizens from attack,” said Stuart Levey, Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Designated in December 2002 under E.O. 13224, KGK has been involved for more than 20 years in targeting Turkish government security forces, local Turkish officials, and villagers who oppose the KGK in Turkey. Turkish authorities have confirmed or suspect that KGK is also responsible for dozens of bombings since 2004 in western Turkey.

The KGK leadership authorized certain Iranian-Kurdish KGK members to create a KGK splinter group that would portray itself as independent from but allied with KGK. PJAK was created to appeal to Iranian Kurds. KGK formally institutionalized PJAK in 2004 and selected five KGK members to serve as PJAK leaders, including Hajji Ahmadi, a KGK affiliate who became PJAK’s General Secretary. KGK leaders also selected the members of PJAK’s 40-person central committee. Although certain PJAK members objected to the KGK selecting their leaders, the KGK advised that PJAK had no choice.

As of April 2008, KGK leadership controlled PJAK and allocated personnel to the group. Separately, PJAK members have carried out their activities in accordance with orders received from KGK senior leaders. In one instance, PJAK’s armed wing, the East Kurdistan Defense Forces, had been acting independently in Iran. KGK senior leaders immediately intervened, however, and recalled the responsible PJAK officials to northern Iraq.

Under E.O. 13224, any assets PJAK has under U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with PJAK.

Identifying Information
Kurdistan Free Life Party
Party of Free Life of Kurdistan Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistane

Location: Qandil Mountain, Irbil Governorate, Iraq
Alt, Location: Razgah, Iran

James Bamford & The Spy Factory on NOVA

On PBS tonight, NOVA is presenting “The Spy Factory,” based on James Bamford’s excellent book, The Shadow Factory.

PBS says the NOVA program:

chronicles the NSA’s role in eavesdropping both before and after 9/11. Drawing on dozens of interviews with agency insiders and probing publicly available sources as well as transcripts of terrorist trials and an FBI chronology of the terrorists’ movements, NOVA assembles a detailed picture of events leading up to the 9/11 attacks.

The program sheds light on the vital data known inside the NSA but only partly relayed to other agencies. The trove of information the NSA had access to in advance included Osama bin Laden’s now-disconnected direct satellite phone, which the NSA tapped starting in 1996. Exclusive footage shows the three-story house in Yemen that served as Al Qaeda’s communications and logistics headquarters. The NSA was listening in on phone communications to and from the house for years prior to the 9/11 attack.

Three times the size of the CIA and far more secret, the NSA is comprised of top linguists, mathematicians, and technologists trained to decipher all kinds of communications—epitomizing the hidden world of high-tech, 21st-century surveillance. To show how this eavesdropping operates, NOVA follows the trail of just one typical e-mail sent from Asia to the U.S. Streaming as pulses of light into a fiber-optic cable, it travels across the Pacific Ocean, coming ashore in California, and finally reaching an AT&T facility in San Francisco, where the cable is split and the data sent to a secret NSA monitoring room on the floor below. This enables the NSA to intercept not only most Asian e-mail messages but also the entire U.S. internal Internet traffic.

Thus, since 9/11, the agency has turned its giant ear inward to monitor the communications of ordinary Americans, many of whom are on the government’s secret watch list, now more than half-a-million names long.

But how effective is this monumental monitoring effort in countering security threats? The NSA is faced with an enormous and ever-expanding archive of phone calls and e-mail messages. Many experts in data mining and analysis are skeptical about the value of collecting so much information without the ability to understand it, as it may lead to critical clues being lost in the static.

Among those interviewed on “The Spy Factory” are former NSA, CIA, and FBI analysts and officials, many speaking publicly for the first time. Among these is Mark Rossini, the senior FBI agent in the CIA’s Osama bin Laden tracking unit. For the first time, Rossini tells how intelligence agency turf wars prevented him from notifying his FBI superiors that Al Qaeda terrorists were heading for the U.S. with valid visas in early 2000.

Surprisingly, the 9/11 Commission never looked closely into the NSA’s role in the broad intelligence breakdown behind the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. If they had, they would have understood the full extent to which the agency had major pieces of the puzzle but never put them together or disclosed their entire body of knowledge to the CIA and FBI. Traditionally, the NSA didn’t share its raw data with those other agencies, an institutionalized reluctance that played a critical role in the failure to stop the 9/11 plotters.

In what Bamford calls “one of the largest ironies in the history of American intelligence,” he notes that weeks before the attacks, the terrorists were staying in a hotel near NSA headquarters in Maryland, almost within sight of the office of then-NSA Director Michael Hayden. Hayden, who was later appointed director of the CIA by President Bush, was never held accountable for his agency’s failure, and after 9/11 he spearheaded the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping activities in the name of making the nation safe from terrorists.

Addressing the question, Are we any safer now than we were before?, Bamford says, “We should have been safe the way it was. NSA had all the information that it needed to stop the 9/11 hijackers. It had laws that allowed it to track the hijackers.” Bamford adds that those same laws also protected the privacy of ordinary Americans in ways that have since vanished.

The show will be repeated throughout the week on most PBS stations. Check your local listings. The show will also be available on the PBS website later this month.

Chinese PM Served Up Some Sole, Too

The bottom of your shoe, not the fish. The fantastic trend of protesters showing their disdain for dictators and other official criminals by tossing a shoe (or two) at them continues in Britain, as an as-yet unidentified “European” man hurls his footwear at Chinese PM Wen Jiabao.

I recognize the advances China has made in freeing its economy and improving its treatment of its citizens, but a show of dissent is always welcome. If you agree, become a Facebook fan of the latest shoe-thrower!