Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
After 9/11, Washington—predictably—underwent a spasm of intelligence reform and reorganized what's called the "intelligence community." The big change came with 2004 legislation that created a director of national intelligence, who was supposed to supplant the director of central intelligence (aka the CIA head) as the top-dog chief of the sprawling intelligence establishment, which includes 13 agencies, including several within the military. Dennis Blair's recent departure as DNI and the subsequent difficulty in replacing him are reminders that the the 2004 reform has not gone so well. Now Secrecy News reports:
The development of the 2004 intelligence reform legislation that created the Director of National Intelligence and attempted to modernize and integrate the U.S. intelligence community was examined in detail last year in an unreleased report (large pdf) from the Office of the DNI.
The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act was supposed to "address institutional obstacles that had complicated the IC's struggle to adapt to new technologies and a changing national security environment. The new act would redraw boundaries between foreign and domestic intelligence, set new rules for intelligence and law enforcement, enhance the interplay between civilian and military intelligence, correct the shortfall in information sharing, and meet the needs of traditional and emergent intelligence functions."
But five years later, many of those original obstacles remain in place.
"The IC continues its struggle to keep up with technological innovations in collection. Other challenges include transforming analysis, anticipating future threats, increasing critical language capabilities, and improving hiring and security clearance processing."
The report itself ironically exemplifies at least two of the enduring defects afflicting U.S. intelligence, namely pointless secrecy and a surprising backwardness in communications and information sharing.
For unknown reasons, the unclassified report has not been publicly released and made available online by ODNI....Limiting distribution in this way tends to diminish whatever value and utility the document might have.
Moreover, the report itself is so extravagantly overproduced that it requires a gargantuan 18 Megabytes to present a mere 25 pages of text. (A word-searchable version of the document is 25 Megabytes.) In such an unwieldy format, the report is the opposite of user-friendly. It is unlikely to be emailed, downloaded--- or read.
Meanwhile, the big problem seems to be that six years after this law was passed, there's no agreement on what the DNI should do. CNN reports:
That might be the crux of the problem. The law that created the position of DNI after the 9/11 terrorist attacks is too "ambiguous," said one of the key people who pushed Congress for intelligence reform. Lee Hamilton, the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, told a congressional hearing last week that "the role of the DNI is not clear ... and as long as you have the ambiguity, you're going to have these agencies fighting for jurisdiction and power."
The DNI needs to be empowered with the budget and personnel authorities to lead the community, otherwise, the director is merely a coordinator, Hamilton said.
And the White House does not appear eager to do that—for good or bad. The intelligence community will continue to stumble and ad hoc its way through the 2004 reforms—until there's another terrorist attack and another round of reform.
Does the right wing finally have an Obama scandal to sink its teeth into?
Conservatives and Republicans are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of snaring the president and his aides in a criminal controversy. The issue: Did the Obama White House offer Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) a job in return for him dropping his primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat? Last week, Sestak defeated Specter, and this has apparently fueled conservative desires to turn the matter into a full-blown criminal investigation. Sean Hannity has called the purported White House promise a "de facto bribe" and an "impeachable offense." Fox News analyst Dick Morris has said this job offer might constitute "a high crime and misdemeanor." Rush Limbaugh terms it a "potential impeachable offense."
Initially it seemed that arguing over how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico thanks to the BP disaster was mostly an academic exercise. BP said about 5,000 barrels a day; others put the figure at perhaps ten times that much. But the critical issue was how to stop the damn leak, whatever the amount.
Yet the size of the leak, it turns out, may matter a lot. Reuters reports:
Just how many barrels of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon spill is a billion dollar question with implications that go beyond the environment. It could also help determine how much BP and others end up paying for the disaster.
A clause buried deep in the U.S. Clean Water Act may expose BP and others to civil fines that aren't limited to any finite cap -- unlike a $75 million limit on compensation for economic damages. The Act allows the government to seek civil penalties in court for every drop of oil that spills into U.S. navigable waters, including the area of BP's leaking well.
As a result, the U.S. government could seek to fine BP or others up to $4,300 for every barrel leaked into the U.S. Gulf, according to legal experts and official documents.
Do the math. At $4,300 a barrel, the difference between 5,000 barrels a day and, say, 20,000 could be $64 million per day in civil fines. And such a fine would be on top of any liability payments. So BP does have a rather direct interest in how the spill is measured. Which also means it has an interest in what information—such as video feeds of the leak—is released.
After the Reuters report came out, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) emailed it to reporters with a succinct explanation: "here's one of the big reasons why Sen. Nelson and others push so hard to get the video of the leaking oil from BP." Indeed.
UPDATE: On Tuesday night, BP, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), agreed to keep the video flowing, when it tries to plug the Gulf of Mexico oil leak. Markey noted, "BP made the right decision to allow the public to see this potentially historical event for themselves. The hopes of millions of Americans rest on this effort, and the world deserves a first-hand view of the top kill attempt.BP should now take the next step and make the full 12 possible video feeds available to the public, not just one single feed.”
It took several weeks for BP to make public the live feed of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. But now the oil company, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), plans to shut down the video during its next attempt to seal the well, which is scheduled to happen on Wednesday. Is this due to performance anxiety on the part of BP? What could be more gripping reality TV? Markey, understandably, is not happy. Here's a press release from his office:
Markey: BP to Kill Top Kill Video Feed; BP Says to American People ‘The Solution Will Not Be Televised’
After Releasing Public Video Feed, BP Blackout for Well Termination Attempt
WASHINGTON (May 25, 2010) – After pushing BP into providing a live feed of the spill at the bottom of the ocean, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today learned that BP will terminate the live feed during BP’s pivotal attempt to seal the well this week. BP informed Rep. Markey’s office that the live feed would be terminated some time early Wednesday morning, and would continue to be offline until after the attempt at the so-called “top kill” is completed.
“It is outrageous that BP would kill the video feed for the top kill. This BP blackout will obscure a vital moment in this disaster,” said Rep. Markey, who chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in the Energy and Commerce Committee. “After more than a month of spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP is essentially saying to the American people the solution will not be televised.”
“No one wants to interfere with the operations during the top kill. With those preparations mostly done, now the world should see whether or not this strategy works, and we should see it in real time,” said Rep. Markey.
Rep. Markey yesterday had also asked BP to provide all 12 available feeds from the accident site, and yesterday released a YouTube video showing the differences between the one feed the public has been allowed to see and the 12 possible feeds available to BP. To view this video, click HERE.
When Mexican President Felipe Calderon addressed the US Congress on Thursday, he called for the United States to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004 under the Bush administration. Calderon noted that a ban on these weapons, which are flowing south across the border to violent drug cartels, could help Mexico reduce the horrific violence that has seized parts of that country.
Calderon might be forgiven for assuming that this would be a reasonable request to make to the Obama administration. While campaigning for the presidency, candidate Barack Obama backed permanently reinstating the ban. After he assumed office, his administration quickly announced it would proceed on this front. On February 25, 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder declared,
As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons.
Holder specifically noted that resurrecting the ban would reduce the number of guns pouring into Mexico and fueling the violence there.
Compare Holder's unequivocal statement to how the White House these days addresses the matter. Hours after Calderon's appearance on Capitol Hill, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about this issue. Here's the full exchange:
Q: Robert, speaking of President Calderón, this morning in his address to Congress, he asked lawmakers to reinstate the assault weapons ban, something the President has supported in the past. Does the President still support that and does he plan to lean on Congress to make progress?
GIBBS: I would — because the President largely got asked this question yesterday about both drugs and weapons moving across the border, I’d point you to the answer that he gave about increased inspections on cargo that’s moving from the north to the south.
You know the rest. At Obama's joint press conference with Calderon the previous day, this is what the president said,
Through increased law enforcement on our side of the border, we’re putting unprecedented pressure on those who traffic in drugs, guns, and people. We’re working to stem the southbound flow of American guns and money, which is why, for the first time, we are now screening 100 percent of southbound rail cargo.
Nothing about an assault weapons ban. A Mexican journalist followed up and asked Obama, "Shouldn’t there be an initiative that will regulate guns as they are sold? Is there going to be a ban?" Obama again talked about interdiction efforts and didn't address the assault weapons ban.
Not only will the White House not make good on candidate Obama's promise to revive the ban or Holder's announced decision to do so, it won't even talk about the assault weapons ban. Not a word. The reason is obvious: Obama and his aides don't want to spark a backlash from the NRA and voters who cling to their guns—especially as Democrats ride toward a difficult mid-term election. On this dicey topic, Obama cares most about ducking a political bullet.