Political MoJo

Terror Overhaul at the FBI

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 1:49 PM EDT

From this morning's Washington Post:

The FBI has begun the most comprehensive realignments of its counterterrorism division in six years so it can better detect the growing global collaborations by terrorists and dismantle larger terrorist enterprises, according to senior bureau officials.
The bureau will merge its two international terrorism units -- one for Osama bin Laden's followers and the other for more established groups such as Hezbollah -- into a new structure that borrows both from Britain's MI5 domestic intelligence agency and the bureau's own successful efforts against organized-crime families, Joseph Billy Jr., the FBI's assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview.
The new approach is meant to channel raw intelligence and threat information through "desk officers" with expertise on specific world regions or terrorist groups, allowing those experts to spot trends and set investigative strategies for field agents and joint terrorism task forces that collaborate with local law enforcement, Billy said...
Borrowing from its mob-busting strategies in the 1980s, the bureau will encourage counterterrorism agents to forgo immediate arrests when an imminent threat is not present, allowing the surveillance of terrorism suspects to last longer. The aim is to identify collaborators, facilitators and sympathizers who increasingly span across multiple groups and countries, Billy said.

Could it be that the FBI is finally learning to play this game? It's going to funnel information to people who actually know what they're talking about and who can help make informed decisions about how to proceed? They're going to wait longer to bust people to see if they can catch more and bigger fish? I don't know what was going on there until now, but this has got to be progress.

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India Outsourcing Its Outsourcing

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 1:27 PM EDT

India is, and has been for years, the Third World answer to our First World economy and has fulfilled all of our outsourcing "needs." It is especially known for its call-centers, which as an American you encounter when you call, well, just about anywhere. Currently, India accounts for 60 percent of international back-office services.

Although, recently, there is a new twist in the world of outsourcing. According to the New York Times, Indian firms such as Tata Consultancy Service and Infosys, India's second largest software services outsourcing firm, have set up shops in places like Uruguay, Chile, Mexico, and the Czech Republic. Another Indian IT services firm, Wipro, is contemplating opening up centers in places like Idaho, Virginia, and Georgia, U.S. "states which are less developed," claims the firm's chairman. Well, isn't this ironic? The New York Times article goes on to say that an American company will outsource Indians to "supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border."

Isn't globalization efficient?

—Neha Inamdar

Hilarious Website of the Week: Cops Bitching About Other Cops

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 12:52 PM EDT

Hey, have you heard of copswritingcops.com? If not, you have a new favorite website.

Copswritingcops.com is a forum where cops who have been written (i.e. given a ticket) by other cops bitch and moan about being held to the laws that they are paid to enforce. Just to take the first example off the site:

On June 20, 2007, I was heading to Springfield, Illinois from Chicago on Interstate 55 (I-55) to give a training seminar on LAW ENFORCEMENT defensive tactics . As I am driving, I'm really not paying attention to where I am at or how fast I was going. I was pretty much keeping up with the cars in front of me and next to. Most of the time I had my cruise set at 77-79 in a 65. Up ahead, I saw a few state police units (4 or 5, when you you work in the city a bunch would be 15-20) with people pulled over. Being the cop that I am (and what we all should be), I slowed and then made sure none of them were in any danger or getting their ass kicked.
As I passed a state trooper, she kept her lights on and pulled back onto the highway and got behind me. I pulled over and had my license out when she approached. I figured that she saw the FOP badge on my plate... It's not something that any ordinary person can buy. They're numbered and you have to be the police to get one.
Once she got to my window, she took my license and told me that I was clocked by airspeed doing 84.9 miles per hour. That seemed a little high, but we know not to argue. She asked why the hurry. I told her I wasn't in a hurry and that I was en route to give a LAW ENFORCEMENT defensive tactics training seminar in Springfield. I actually gave her the business card of my contact at the Police Academy. The same academy that trains the state police! I then mentioned that I have been law enforcement for almost 15 years and would appreciate a break. She then told me that she couldn't do that because she was the "catch car". I then rattled off a couple names of who might be flying the plane that was above (Butler, Galvan). I worked with a couple during a DEA detail once and I KNOW they would give me the nod. That didn't even phase her. I then realized that I was getting a ticket. After stopping hundreds of cops on Lake Shore Drive, some state, I was getting a ticket. I have friends in state police districts 2, 5 and of course Chicago. This troop, Trpr Schroder #3512, from district 6 is the only officer to ever give me a ticket while I have been a police officer. Congrats to you. [emphasis in original]

So the guy is ticketed going 85 in a 65 zone, and is pissed because (1) he thought he was only going 77-79 in a 65 zone, and (2) his attempts to name-drop his way out of the ticket didn't work. Consider me, a guy who has gotten more than one bullsh*t ticket in his life, surprisingly unsympathetic.

You can check out a whole bunch of stories like this at the site. The story in which a cop was most aggrieved by his fellow man in uniform wins the coveted "Dick of the Month" award, which Boing Boing thinks should be renamed "Cops Who Actually Do Their Jobs."

Now that I've written this, I'm going to have cops across the country running my name to see if I have any unpaid tickets. Jonathan Steins from California to Maine shall pay for my cheekiness.

Oh, and PS — The banner on the website is "Cops Writing Cops - Where's the Professional Courtesy? Law Enforcement and Polcie Officers help each other." That's right, a website by cops for cops misspells the word "police."

More stories after the jump.

Doug Brooks: Blackwater's Man in Washington

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 12:46 PM EDT

Laura posted here earlier today that Blackwater is the subject of heated discussions between the State and Defense departments over the company's conduct in last week's shootings in Baghdad. It's not the first time the company has been accused of unauthorized killings. Laura noted that "the mercenaries who provide security to the US embassy in Iraq may be looking for their own sort of protection in Washington." Well, to some extent, they've got it in the form of Doug Brooks, founder and president of the International Peace Operations Association.

IPOA is a trade group representing 42 of the private military industry's biggest players, including Blackwater, MPRI, and DynCorp, among others. Last week, as news of the Blackwater shooting was breaking, I met with Brooks to discuss how he had come to be the unofficial spokesman (and outspoken defender) of the private military industry. He told me of his travels in Africa in the 1990s, during which he had visited Sierra Leone and observed military contractors in action. His favorite story from that period deals with a South African helicopter pilot—a former member of the world's first modern private mercenary army-for-hire, Executive Outcomes—who, for a period of months, almost singlehandedly kept rebel forces at bay until his gunship broke down. Afterward, the rebels advanced and killed thousands of people in Sierra Leone's capital city of Freetown. The lesson to be learned from this, according to Brooks? Private companies can save lives in areas of conflict, particularly where the rest of the world lacks the political will or capability to intervene.

After his return from Africa, Brooks founded the IPOA, which represents the interests of the private military industry, while simultaneously claiming to oversee its activities. Each member company agrees to adhere to IPOA's code of conduct, which is backed up by an enforcement mechanism, ostensibly to guarantee compliance with IPOA standards. Problem is, Brooks' association is funded largely by dues from member companies. To live up to its own rules, IPOA would essentially have to bite the hand that feeds. This, needless to say, has never happened and seems unlikely to do so.

So, is Doug Brooks just a shill for Blackwater? Or is he a privately frustrated idealist, clinging to his hopes for private sector security even in the face of accusations of unauthorized killings in Baghdad? Decide for yourself. Click here to read more.

Secretary of Defense to Ask for $180 Billion for Iraq, Afghanistan Wars

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 12:34 PM EDT

I have officially lost track of all the spending requests.

United Auto Workers Reach Agreement with GM, End Strike

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 10:12 AM EDT

Congratulations to the United Auto Workers, who reached a tentative agreement with General Motors this morning and ended a brief strike that saw 73,000 workers walk off the job around the country. It appears the union received additional job security for its members in exchange for taking over responsibility for the health care costs of GM's retired workers. A union-controlled trust fund will now manage retirees' health care and absorb many of the expenses associated with that health care.

Far more information available here.

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College Students: You've Been F#%'D!

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 10:09 AM EDT

Americans for Fairness in Lending (AFFIL) has gone YouTube in its campaign against predatory lending. Its new video bashes credit card companies for targeting unemployed college students and leading them on the path to financial ruin. Serving on the group's board, incidentally, is Janne O'Donnell, whose son committed suicide after running up $12,000 in credit card debt while in college. O'Donnell appeared in the recent documentary Maxed Out, whose director, James Scurlock, also helped create AFFIL earlier this year to promote the cause (and his movie).

Check out the video here:

(H/T CL&P Blog)

This Man Would Make an Excellent FEC Commissioner - in an Alternate Universe

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 10:02 AM EDT

In an administration known for appointing one-time lobbyists to oversee the industries they so recently shilled for, and selecting other officials based primarily on their partisan fervor, it makes perfect sense that a fellow like Hans von Spakovsky would be tapped for a six-year term on the Federal Elections Commission. Which is to say it makes no sense whatsoever. Von Spakovsky, a recess appointee whose confirmation comes up for a vote today, previously oversaw the Voting Rights section in the DOJ's very troubled Civil Rights division. There, former colleagues wrote in a letter to the Senate Rules Committee opposing his nomination, he was the "point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division's mandate to protect voting rights." Among other things, they point to his support for an overly strict voter ID law in Georgia. (Von Spakovsky, for his part, has said the letter is "inaccurate and wrong.")

Prior to his coming to the Civil Rights Division in 2001, Mr. von Spakovsky had vigorously advocated the need to combat the specter of voter fraud through restrictive voter identification laws. In testimony before legislative bodies and in his writings, Mr. von Spakovsky premised his conclusions upon the notion - not well-supported at the time and now discredited - that there was a widespread problem with ineligible voters streaming into the polling place to influence election outcomes. In this same period, starting in 1994, the Voting Section had on several occasions reviewed other voter ID laws pursuant to its responsibility under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act, to determine if they had a negative impact on the ability of minority voters to participate in elections. Precedent from these prior reviews was clear: changes requiring voters to provide government-issued photo identification without permitting voters to attest to their identity if they did not have the required ID have a greater negative impact on minority voters than white voters because minority voters are less likely to have the government issued photo identification required by these laws.

Despite his firm position on voter ID laws and his partisan ties to his home state of Georgia, Mr. von Spakovsky refused to recuse himself from considering a Georgia law that would be the most restrictive voter identification law in the country. To the contrary, he was assigned the task of managing the process by the front office. Most disturbing was that just before the Department began consideration of the Georgia law, Mr. von Spakovsky published an article in a Texas law journal advocating for restrictive identification laws. Possibly understanding the impropriety of a government official taking a firm stand on an issue where he was likely to play a key role in the administrative decision concerning that issue, as the Department does under § 5, Mr. von Spakovsky published the article under a pseudonym, calling himself "Publius." Such a situation—where the position he espoused in an article that had just been published is directly related to the review of the Georgia voter ID law—requires recusal from Section 5 review of this law, either by Mr. von Spakovsky or by his superiors. No such action was taken.

(For more on von Spakovsky, Dahlia Lithwick has a nice rundown of his storied career over at Slate. Tagline: "He doesn't want Democrats to vote—unless it's to appoint him to the Federal Election Commission.") As it stands, Senate Dems have expressed concern over the nominee but have stopped short of signaling that they are poised to vote him down. Stay tuned.

Congressional Hip-Hop Hearings Not as Fun as PMRC Hearings

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 9:18 AM EDT

Rappers and music executives gave testimony Tuesday at the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on "stereotypes and degrading images" in hip-hop music. Attendees were treated to a guilt-wracked Master P ("I just made the music that I feel, not realizing I'm affecting kids for tomorrow") and a mildly irritated David Banner ("If... hip-hop was silenced, the issues would still be present"), along with slimy CEOs, none of whom seem to have ever seen Martin Short's old Nathan Thrum sketches. Mostly, though, the hearings were about Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who managed to corral all the execs to his little show, proving that despite his liberal credentials (a former Black Panther!) he can exploit fear of art with the best of the conservatives, tossing in some accusations of damaging the black community for added liberal guilt.

To read the full post, see MoJo's badass arts/music/film/culture blog, The Riff.

U.S. Military Officials Say Blackwater Eroding Their Efforts with Iraqis

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 9:07 AM EDT

The Washington Post reports that U.S. military officials are blaming the State Department for letting Blackwater operate lawlessly in Iraq:

In high-level meetings over the past several days, U.S. military officials have pressed State Department officials to assert more control over Blackwater, which operates under the department's authority, said a U.S. government official with knowledge of the discussions. "The military is very sensitive to its relationship that they've built with the Iraqis being altered or even severely degraded by actions such as this event," the official said.
"This is a nightmare," said a senior U.S. military official. "We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we're trying to have an impact for the long term." The official was referring to the prison scandal that emerged in 2004 in which U.S. soldiers tortured and abused Iraqis.

Military officials also summed up how detested Blackwater is in Iraq:

"It's not necessarily a bad thing these guys are being held accountable. Iraqis hate them, the troops don't particularly care for them, and they tend to have a know-it-all attitude, which means they rarely listen to anyone -- even the folks that patrol the ground on a daily basis."

Pushing back, the State Department told the Post that the Pentagon has more contracts with Blackwater than Foggy Bottom.

Yesterday, the office of Congressman Henry Waxman informed the press that Blackwater indicated it was being ordered by the State Department to withhold documents from his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Here is the letter from Blackwater's attorney to Waxman's committee indicating the State Departmtent was ordering it to withhold cooperation (.pdf), and here is the State Department letter to Blackwater ordering it to not turn over requested documents (.pdf; it's worth noting that the name of the State Department Security Office contracting officer who signed the letter ordering Blackwater to stay mum is, in one of those out-of-central-casting events, named Kiazan Moneypenny).

All in all, the mercenaries who provide security to the US embassy in Iraq may be looking for their own sort of protection in Washington.