Political MoJo

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 19, 2014

Fri Sep. 19, 2014 9:42 AM EDT

US Marines board the USS Germantown, an amphibious dock landing ship in the Philippine Sea. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Amanda R. Gray)

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10 Fascinating Articles From the CIA's Secret Employee Magazine

| Fri Sep. 19, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

In 2007, Jeffrey Scudder, a veteran information technology specialist at the Central Intelligence Agency, came across the archives of the agency's in-house magazine, Studies in Intelligence. The catch: They were classified. So Scudder filed a Freedom of Information Act request. And then things got messy. "I submitted a FOIA and it basically destroyed my entire career," he told the Washington Post.

As a profile of Scudder in the Post explains:

He was confronted by supervisors and accused of mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request. His house was raided by the FBI and his family's computers seized. Stripped of his job and his security clearance, Scudder said he agreed to retire last year after being told that if he refused, he risked losing much of his pension.

Now, in response to a lawsuit filed by Scudder, the CIA has declassified and released some of the hundreds of journal articles he's requested. Nearly 250 of them have been posted on the CIA's website. Published over four decades, they offer a fascinating peek at the history of US intelligence as well as the corporate culture of "the Company."

Here are 10 that grabbed our attention:

1. "How We Are Perceived": "It came as a shock to learn that there seem still to be large numbers of well read and presumably intelligent US citizens who perceive that we are assassins, blackmailers, exploiters of sex and illicit drugs as well as the creators of our own foreign policy separate and distinct from that of the Department of State," a clandestine service member wrote in this essay from the winter of 1986. "How can it be that perceptions differ so radically from reality?"

Answer: Leaks to the press "together with some of our acknowledged missteps" had fed a trail of Soviet propaganda, which misinformed the American public. Even the State Department and military intelligence harbored "misperceptions" about the work of the CIA, the author continued, listing a half-page of apparent myths—which has not yet been declassified. "We have the option of keeping mum and allowing the misperceptions to grow, or of tackling them head-on. We have only ourselves to blame if we do nothing to set the record straight."

 

2. "11 September 2001: With the President": President George W. Bush's CIA briefer, Michael J. Morrell, recalls the events of 9/11, which he witnessed as part of the executive entourage:

The president asked me who was responsible for the attacks. I said "Sir, I haven't seen any intelligence that would point to responsibility, so what I'm going to say is simply my personal view." The president told me he understood. I said two terrorist states were capable of conducting such a complex operation [REDACTED] I pointed out [REDACTED]; that neither had much to gain and both had plenty to lose from attacking the United States. Rather, I said the culprit was almost certainly a nonstate actor, adding that I had no doubt that the trail would lead to the doorstep of Bin Laden and al-Qa'ida.

 

3. "Leo Theremin—CIA Nemesis": Best known as the inventor of the eponymous instrument used to make UFO noises in B-movies, inventor Leo Theremin was also a Soviet spy. The "Russian Thomas Edison" survived the gulag to become a KGB researcher whose "very existence was a state secret." His biggest coup: Placing an ingenious bug inside a wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States that was given to the American ambassador in Moscow in 1945. The hidden microphone was not found until 1960.

studies in intelligence
Not available on newstands: The CIA's Studies in Intelligence CIA

4. "An Interview With NSA Director Lt. Gen. Michael V. Haydem": In this prescient Q&A from the pre-9/11 and pre-Snowden era, the then-NSA director and future CIA director spoke about his agency's reputation for excessive secrecy:

Everything's secret. I mean, I got an e-mail saying, "Merry Christmas." It carried a Top Secret NSA classification marking. The easy option is to classify everything. This is an Agency that for most of its existence was well served by not having a public image. When the nation felt its existence was threatened, it was willing to cut agencies like NSA quite a bit of slack. But as that threat perception decreases, there is a natural tendency to say, "Now, tell me again what those guys do?" And, therefore, the absence of a public image seems to be less useful today than it was 25 years ago. I don't think we can survive without a public image.

Asked about cooperation between intelligence agencies, Hayden's answer foreshadowed the intelligence failures behind 9/11 and the coming hunt for Osama bin Laden:

Without getting too much into some really sensitive stuff, let's think about conducting operations against a major international terrorist leader…Think about two agencies, for illustrative purposes, 35 miles apart, trying to marry the data to get the son of a gun. And each of them saying, "I'll give you my finished reporting, but not my tickets." You cannot tell me that's the correct approach in the first year of the 21st century. We're like two foreign potentates, negotiating a transfer of prisoners, and we're both wrapping ourselves around our own tradecraft.

 

5. "Interview with Erna Flegel": In 1981, future CIA chief Richard Helms spoke with a nurse who was stationed in Adolf Hitler's Berlin bunker as Nazi Germany collapsed in 1945. About her former employer, whom she was a "fanatical admirer," Flegel gushed, "When Hitler was in the room, he filled it entirely with his personality—you saw only him, aside from him nothing else existed. The fascinating thing about him was his eyes; up to the end, it was impossible to turn away from his eyes."

 

A redacted passage in an article about assassination planning in Guatemala. CIA

6. "CIA and the Guatemala Assassination Proposals, 1952-1954": As this heavily-redacted article explains, later reviews of CIA activities in Guatemala in the 1950s turned up documents that had not been disclosed during earlier investigations into CIA assassination plots. What was in those rediscovered files? For example, while it was plotting the overthrow of "Communist" Jacobo Arbenz:

Discussions of assassination reached a high level within the Agency. Among those involved were [REDACTED] was present at least one meeting where the subject of assassination came up. DCI Allen Dulles and his special assistant, Richard Bissell, probably were also aware in general terms that assassination was under discussion. Beyond planning, some actual preparations were made. Some assassins were selected, training began, and tentative "hit lists" were drawn up.

"Yet," the article asserted, "no covert action plan involving assassinations of Guatemalans was ever approved or implemented."

 

7. "Interrogation of an Alleged CIA Agent": This 1983 paper opens with the transcript of the questioning of a suspected American operative by a particularly indefatigable interrogator known as A.I.:

A.l.: Do you work for the American Central Intelligence Agency, Joe?
Hardesty: Hell, no.
A.l.: Why do you persist in lying to me?
Hardesty: I am not lying. You have no right to treat me like this.
A.l.: Of course not.
Hardesty: Since you agree with me, may I go?
A.l.: So you are not lying ... interesting.
Hardesty: May I go now?
A.l.: Who are your superiors at the CIA?
Hardesty: I don't know what you are talking about.
A.l.: You had better think about that statement before I make a record of it.
Hardesty: Go to hell.
A.l.: Why so hostile?

A.I. is short for Artificial Intelligence. The exchange actually took place between a human and a computer, indicating the agency's early interest in the kind of sophisticated computer learning that's since become increasingly commonplace.

 

8. "Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story [REDACTED]": This undated release, apparently from the late '90s, takes on the PR disaster spawned by San Jose Mercury-News reporter Gary Webb, who had accused the CIA of importing drugs into the United States in the '80s. Webb's claims were "alarming," and the agency was particularly stung by the allegation that it had worked to destroy the black community with illegal drugs. Fortunately, the Studies in Intelligence article explains, "a ground base of already productive relations with journalists" helped "prevent this story from becoming an unmitigated disaster." Hostile reporters attacked Webb's work and he eventually became a persona non grata in the newspaper world.

Ultimately, claims the article, part of the problem with the response to Webb's stories was a "societal shortcoming": "The CIA-drug story says a lot more about American society…that [sic] it does about either CIA or the media. We live in somewhat coarse and emotional times—when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community." In 1998, the agency partly vindicated Webb's reporting by admitting that it had had business relationships with major drug dealers. Jeremy Renner stars as the late Webb in a new movie, Kill the Messenger.

 

9. "The Evolution of US Government Restrictions on Using and Exporting Encryption Technologies": During the Clinton administration, the government was powerless to stop the development of open-source encryption tools. This Studies in Intelligence article details the many failed official attempts to control the development and proliferation of encryption tools. In the face of opposition from researchers, the business community, and its own experts, the government eventually eased restrictions on the technology. But, as the author noted, spooks yearned for the golden age of electronic eavesdropping: "The US Government, and NSA in particular, would like to return to the Cold War era of complete government control over strong cryptography and skillful manipulation of the research and corporate communities."

 

10. Par-Faits (And Other Faits): In 1984, a Mr. [REDACTED] compiled quotations from Performance Appraisal Reports (PARs) over the years along with introductory quips. The subjects and supervisors quoted are also, mercifully, anonymous.

Almost flawless—so to speak: "His English is flawless, if not close to it."
The clairvoyant case officer: " ... His operational reporting is often on time, often ahead of time."
His eyes are clear but his prose is measured and smoke-watered: "With the perspective of twenty months of overview of his long march, rather than with the smoke-watered eyes of those who peer too closely into his campfire, I conclude that his pace has been measured."
The hyperactive dog of a case officer: "…He is a man of constant motion—some of it unnecessary…he bloodhounds even the longest odds and opportunities."
Although some may wonder: "All said and done, Mr. S. is human."

"NO." Scotland Will Not Leave the United Kingdom

| Fri Sep. 19, 2014 12:32 AM EDT

David Cameron has been spared his worst fear: Being the Tory who lost England's hat. The Guardian has called the independence referendum and it appears that voters have declined to strike out on their own. Scotland will not leave the United Kingdom.

"No" was the slight favorite heading into yesterday's vote, but that doesn't mean England isn't breathing a sigh of relief. A few months ago this result would have come as no surprise, but as the polls tightened over the last few weeks, storm clouds set in over Westminster, and the narrative seemed to suggest independence was in the wind. If momentum was in fact on the "Yes" side, it ran out of time.

The referendum was the result of decades of work on the part of Scottish nationalists. And though they lost, it's hard to say that traditional Unionists really won. There will be further devolution. Scotland will have more autonomy than at any time since joining the Union. Indeed, if Labour wins the next election, greater devolution could be coming to Wales and Northern England as well, according to Ed Milibrand. None of that wouldn't be happening had the SNP not made this race so close.

Most everyone outside of Scotland is happy about this because it saves them a lot of messiness, especially in Brussels and DC. As my Welsh godmother said in reference to her Edinburgh-born husband, "I'm glad I'm not suddenly married to a foreigner."

 

Hillary Clinton Threads the Needle: Obama's Done Okay But Economic Benefits Need to Be "Broadly Shared"

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 4:14 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton doesn't think much of her old employer. "Congress increasingly...is living in an evidence free zone," she said Thursday, "where what the reality is in the lives of Americans is so far from the minds of too many." Speaking on a panel about women and economics hosted by the Center for American Progress (a liberal think tank run by Clinton's ex-policy advisor Neera Tanden), Clinton gave a few hints of which domestic policy proposals could anchor her presumed 2016 presidential campaign.

Speaking in non-partisan terms, Clinton slammed Congress for its lack of action on raising the minimum wage, with the former secretary of state saying that a failure to boost the wages of the working poor is particularly damaging for women. She noted that two-thirds of minimum wage jobs are held by women. "The floor is collapsing—we talk about a glass ceiling, these women don't even have a secure floor under them," she said.

Boosting the minimum wage has become a standard Democratic talking point. But Clinton went beyond that standard fare and emphasized the plight of tipped workers, such as restaurant servers, bartenders, and hair stylists. "Women hold nearly three-quarters of the jobs that are reliant on tips," she said. "And in fact, they don't get the minimum wage with the tips on top of it."

Although the federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 per hour since 2009, there is an exemption carved out for workers who receive tips. Employers only have to pay those people $2.13 an hour (steady since 1991); the tips are presumed to make up for the difference. But often times the tips don't suffice, and employers, who are supposed to fill the gap, don't always do so.

These workers are "at the mercy not only of customers who can decide or not to tip," Clinton said. "They're at the mercy of their employers who may collect the tips and not turn them back."

Clinton didn't dive into the policy details on how to fix this problem. But the Center for American Progress released a report right after the event that suggested raising the tipped wage up to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage (which the report proposed bumping to $10.10 per hour).

The general tone of Clinton's speech suggested how she'd thread the needle by supporting President Barack Obama's record while crafting her own agenda when she hits the campaign trail. "The president came in—he deserves an enormous amount of credit for stanching the bleeding and preventing a further deterioration and getting us out of that ditch we were in," she said. "But we know that unless we change our policies, a lot of the benefits are not going to be broadly shared, and that's what we're talking about here."

This Restaurant Is Trying To Be The Worst One on Yelp

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 3:34 PM EDT

Botto Bistro wants to be the worst-reviewed restaurant on Yelp. Fed up with the site's alleged manipulation of consumer reviews, owners David Cerretini and Michele Massimo have been offering a 25 percent discount at their Bay Area Italian eatery for each excoriating Yelp review, the Richmond Standard reports. Here are some recent entries from Botto Bistro's Yelp page:

Yelp has for years been accused of soliciting money from mom-and-pop restaurant owners in exchange for hiding negative customer reviews. In response to a lawsuit over the alleged practice, a court recently ruled that Yelp has the legal right to manipulate reviews and engage in "hard bargaining"—practices restaurant owners have called extortion. Yelp denies that it accepts money to alter or suppress reviews.

According to Inside Scoop SF, Yelp's only response to Botto Bistro has been a boilerplate email from its customer service division (see below), to which the restaurant sent a tongue-in-cheek rejoinder:

Inside Scoop SF

 

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 18, 2014

Thu Sep. 18, 2014 9:26 AM EDT

US Marines prepare to conduct a simulated raid in Hawaii, part of their pre-deployment training cycle.(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Matthew Callahan)

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The Walmart Heirs Give a Measly Amount to Charity

| Thu Sep. 18, 2014 6:30 AM EDT
Jim, Alice, and Rob Walton at 2012 Walmart shareholders' meeting

The Walmart heirs are infamous for their wealth and penny-pinching. Christy, Jim, Alice, and Rob Walton wouldn't be the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-richest Americans, respectively, if not for Walmart's relentless exploitation of its low-wage workers. But the Waltons' stinginess also extends to their philanthropy. According to a new analysis by the union-backed Making Change at Walmart campaign, the Walton scions give way less money to charity than other über-rich Americans. In fact, the six other richest Americans have each donated many times more money to philanthropic causes than all four Walton heirs combined:

Making Change at Walmart

Typically, the extremely wealthy give a higher portion of their incomes to charity than middle and upper-middle income Americans. After all, you can only buy so many yachts, vacation homes, and Teslas before you start to look for other ways to spend money. But that doesn't seem to be true for the Waltons, who've redefined what it means to be a Scrooge. Americans' average net worth is about $650,000 per household (the median is only about $70,000), and the average annual charitable donation is about $3,000 per household. Meanwhile, the average Walton has a net worth of $36 billion and gives about $730,000 to charity each year. This means that the four richest Waltons have, on average, a net worth that's 55,000 times higher than that of the average American household, yet give, as a percent of that wealth, about 1/230th as much to charity in a typical year:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 17, 2014

Wed Sep. 17, 2014 9:43 AM EDT

US Army soldiers prepare to board a CH-47F Chinook with the Flying Dragons task force, which searches for illegal weapons in compounds in Afghanistan. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)

This Republican Tried To Stop North Carolina From Apologizing For A Racist Massacre. He’d Like Your Vote, Please.

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 4:37 PM EDT
North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis with state Rep. Ruth Samuelson.

In 1898, furious that a mixed-race coalition had swept the city's municipal elections, white supremacists burned down a black-owned newspaper in Wilmington, North Carolina; overthrew the local government; and killed at least 25 black residents in a week of rioting. It was one of the worst single incidents of racially motivated violence in American history. But in 2007, when a nonpartisan commission recommended that the state legislature pass a resolution formally apologizing for the massacre, Republican Senate nominee Thom Tillis, then a first-term state representative, rose to block it.

"It is time to move on," he wrote in a message to constituents. "In supporting the apology for slavery, most members felt it was an opportunity to recognize a past wrong and move on to pressing matters facing our State. HB 751 and others in the pipeline are redundant and they are consuming time and attention that should be dedicated to addressing education, transportation, and immigration problems plaguing this State."

But at the time, Tillis—who showed up in Wilmington on Tuesday with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in tow—offered another explanation for opposing the measure: Not all whites had participated in the riots. So Tillis pushed for an amendment introduced by a fellow state representative that would have added language to the bill commemorating the heroic white Republican lawmakers who had opposed the violence. "The proposed amendment would have acknowledged the historical fact that the white Republican government joined with black citizens to oppose the rioters," he argued. The amendment failed, and Tillis ended up voting no on the final version.

Although North Carolina has been targeted by the GOP as a top pickup opportunity, Tillis has struggled to gain traction—in part because of his leadership role in the unpopular state legislature. In the most recent poll, he trailed Kay Hagan, the Democratic incumbent, by nine points.

Even Liberia's Legislature Can't Escape the Ravages of Ebola

| Tue Sep. 16, 2014 4:30 PM EDT
The chambers of the Liberian legislature

Of all the countries doing battle with Ebola, Liberia has been dealt the gravest blow. According to the World Health Organization, the impoverished West African nation now accounts for about half of all documented cases. And more than 1,200 residents are known or suspected to have died from the disease. In late August, the government quarantined an entire neighborhood for ten days to prevent the outbreak from spreading.

Now the virus is forcing Liberian lawmakers to put their own work on hold.

On Monday, Liberia's legislature announced that the House of Representatives had canceled an "extraordinary sitting" to discuss the outbreak because its own chamber had been tainted by "a probable case of Ebola" and was being sprayed down with chlorine. The statement didn't specify the source of the infection, but it noted that one of the chamber's doormen had recently died after a "short illness."

Liberia is ill-equipped to fight off the Ebola outbreak. Its entire national budget for 2013-2014 was $553 million, with only $11 million allotted for health care—about what Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are estimated to have spent on their Bel Air mansion in 2012.

Despite its meager resources, last month Liberia's legislature allocated $20 million to battle the virus. But the nation had already burned through a quarter of that money by the first week of September. On Tuesday, United Nations officials pleaded with the international community to step up assistance to Liberia and neighboring countries, saying it will take $1 billion in aid to keep the number of cases in the region confined to the "tens of thousands."