Archive for July, 2006

The Counterterrorism Blog offers some insight into a disturbing potential development in the current violence in the Middle East, attributed to news first reported by the Jerusalem Post: that Hezbollah sleeper cells set up outside of Lebanon with backing from Iran have been placed on standby to possibly carry out terror attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world.

I’m copying and pasting their analysis here, but if you want to read the relevant excerpts of the original Jerusalem Post story, head over to their site.

A word of caution: At this point, there’s no source for the claim that Hizballah cells have been put on standby. The first paragraph states that the Jerusalem Post learned this today, but leaves out any mention of who the Post learned this from. Although the second paragraph cites Shin Bet as a source, this is only for confirmation that it “instructed embassies, consulates and Jewish institutions it was responsible for abroad to raise their level of awareness” — it doesn’t state that Shin Bet told the Post that Hizballah cells were put on standby. Putting these institutions on alert seems a wise move even if there were no evidence that Hizballah cells were on standby.

Counterterrorism consultant Dan Darling comments in an e-mail to me: “I expect that Hezbollah cells, sleeper or otherwise, were put on notice that they might be called upon to carry out attacks in the event that things started to get nasty. If you’re running an international terrorist organization, this would seem to me to be a prudent move before you engage in an unprovoked cross-border raid and kidnapping that seems almost certain to spark a regional conflict. I’ve been operating under the assumption that they had cells in place to carry off attacks at least in Europe should they desire to utilize them since the conflict first started . . . .”

This story is worth following, as Hizballah’s activation of sleeper cells would substantially raise what are already large stakes.

This is not the plot to an episode of 24. This is a very real and disturbing possibility which if true, could escalate the violence even further in the hornet’s nest that is now the Middle East. Given their background and track record (see pages 8-9 of the file), and more info available here, I would not take this lightly if I were involved in any counterterrorism, intelligence, or diplomatic circles working on a solution to this crisis.

The Associated Press has an interesting story on how convicted former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham used the classified appropriations process in his capacity as a member of the House Intelligence Committee to steer appropriations money for projects of his choice that would “benefit him or his associates.”

Here’s the basics of the AP story:

An independent investigation has found that imprisoned former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham took advantage of secrecy and badgered congressional aides to help slip items into classified bills that would benefit him and his associates.

The finding comes from Michael Stern, an outside investigator hired by the House Intelligence Committee to look into how Cunningham was able to carry out the scheme. Stern is working with the committee to fix vulnerabilities in the way top-secret legislation is written, said congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee still is being briefed on Stern’s findings.

Cunningham’s case has put a stark spotlight on the oversight of classified – or “black” – budgets. Unlike legislation dealing with social and economic issues, intelligence bills and parts of defense bills are written in private, in the name of national security.

That means it is up to members of Congress and select aides with security clearances to ensure that legislation is appropriate.

Speaking from personal experience at my previous job where on a few occasions I had to go through similar documents and trying to fact check or analyze the data they contain, government budget documents which are available to the public generally tend to be monstrous in size and mind-numbingly dull in scope and detail to begin with. What makes this budget bill different is that anything dealing with the intelligence community budget is classified, because the U.S. government does not want to give any hints to foreign governments or intelligence agencies any ideas about what the CIA, NSA, NRO, NGA, DIA, or other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community alphabet soup might be up to based on how much money they’re getting from Congress.

As the AP story points out, pork projects buried in classified budgets are nothing new, citing Senators Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) as examples. However, given all of the recent controversies involving the practice of earmarking, as well as some of the projects which were going to receive congressional funding (i.e. the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska), it would not be surprising to me if at some point in the future, a massive overhaul of the appropriations and earmarking process will be necessary.

Finally, the article also adds that when dealing with classified budgets the judgment is strictly up to the committee members and a handful of aides who have the appropriate security clearances. Because of this, no outside interest groups (i.e. Citizens Against Government Waste or POGO) or the media can go through it and look for possible evidence of pork projects, wasteful spending, conflicts of interest, or corruption.

Bringing Out the Big Guns

Posted: July 20, 2006 in 2006 Elections

From the Hotline, we find out that Joe Lieberman is calling in the heavy artillery:

Lieberman Campaign Announces Former President Bill Clinton to Campaign for Sen. Joe Lieberman

Will Make Campaign Stop Next Monday in Waterbury
July 20, 2006

Hartford, CT- The Lieberman Campaign announced today that Former President Bill Clinton will make a campaign stop for Sen. Joe Lieberman next Monday, July 24 in Waterbury.

“We are thrilled to have President Clinton come to the state to campaign for Sen. Lieberman,” said Marion Steinfels, Lieberman campaign spokesman. “It is not only a big day for our campaign, but it is a big day for Waterbury and Connecticut.”

Clinton and Lieberman have known each other since Clinton worked on Lieberman’s first campaign for State Senate in 1970 while he was in school at Yale in New Haven. Years later, Lieberman was the first Senator outside the South to endorse Clinton in his 1992 Presidential Campaign.

Waterbury has been the site of several high profile political visits including a visit by then Sen. Kennedy on the eve of the 1960 presidential election.

On Tuesday, former Christian Coalition organizer Ralph Reed became the first victim of the Jack Abramoff scandal at the ballot box.

According to Rich Lowry at the Corner, in trying to explain his loss Reed’s people point the finger directly at John McCain and the press (emphasis is mine):

Cagle v. Reed [Rich Lowry]

Here’s the view of what happened from the Reed camp: Once the Abramoff stuff exploded, it was going to be a very tough road for Reed. Glen Bolger did a poll for the campaign in January showing that it was possible for Reed to win, but his negatives were very high and he would have to squeak by. Reed had a choice to make, and decided to stay in the race and try to make it happen. In the end, soft Republicans appear to have broken very strongly against him in the suburbs. There may have been some cross-over Democratic votes in the open primary, but that alone can’t account for a 54-46% loss. Reed’s connection to the Abramoff stuff had broken back in the summer of 2004, so it couldn’t have been predicted that it would be such a huge deal even now. But it was. The Reed camp blames John McCain for playing payback for his 2000 primary defeat with a campaign of leaks, and the press, of course, was happy to pile on. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran dozens and dozens of stories about the scandal. Outside liberal groups might have spent upwards of a quarter-million on the race. The Reed team felt good at the close of the race, but, in the end, they just couldn’t scratch it out.

Reed has gone a long way from this:

Time Magazine cover boy in 1995:

The New Hampshire senate, which usually deigns to listen only to would-be Presidents, paid close attention to his message. The ranks of conservative Christians, Reed said, are now “too large, too diverse, too significant to be ignored by either major political party.” Not long ago, America’s Christian right was dismissed as a group of pasty-faced zealots, led by divisive televangelists like Jerry Falwell, who helped yank the Republican Party so far to the right that moderates were frightened away. But Reed has emerged as the movement’s fresh face, the choirboy to the rescue, a born-again Christian with a fine sense of the secular mechanics of American politics. His message, emphasizing such broadly appealing themes as support for tax cuts, has helped make the Christian Coalition one of the most powerful grass-roots organizations in American politics. Its 1.6 million active supporters and $25 million annual budget, up from 500,000 activists and a $14.8 million budget just two years ago, hold a virtual veto on the Republican nominee for President, and will exert an extraordinary influence over who will occupy the Oval Office beginning in 1997.

To this:

(Abramoff is the one furthest to the left wearing the black shirt and baseball cap. Reed is the one to Abramoff’s immediate left, wearing khakis and a long sleeve shirt.)
From the Washington Post:

[Abramoff] looked to Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader who operated several consulting companies. Reed has acknowledged receiving as much as $4 million from Abramoff and his associate, Scanlon, to organize grass-roots anti-gambling campaigns in Louisiana and Texas. The money came from casino-rich Indian tribes, including the Coushattas, but Reed said that although he knew of Abramoff’s connection to the tribes, he did not know until media accounts surfaced last summer that his fees came from gambling proceeds.

Reed then turned to Dobson to marshal his vast network of evangelicals, Abramoff’s e-mails show.

If you thought that arrangement sounded bad, their own words in e-mails obtained by investigators and the press make it sound even worse. Again, from the Washington Post (emphasis is mine):

Among those e-mails was one from Reed to Abramoff in late 1998: “I need to start humping in corporate accounts! . . . I’m counting on you to help me with some contacts.” Within months, Abramoff hired him to lobby on behalf of the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, who were seeking to prevent competitors from setting up facilities in nearby Alabama.

In 1999, Reed e-mailed Abramoff after submitting a bill for $120,000 and warning that he would need as much as $300,000 more: “We are opening the bomb bays and holding nothing back.”

In 2004, when the casino payments to Reed were disclosed, Reed issued a statement declaring “no direct knowledge of their [Abramoff’s law firm’s] clients or interests.” In 2005, however, Senate investigators released a 1999 e-mail from Abramoff to Reed explicitly citing the client: “It would be really helpful if you could get me invoices [for services performed] as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks ASAP.”

One of the most damaging e-mails was sent by Abramoff to partner Michael Scanlon, complaining about Reed’s billing practices and expenditure claims: “He is a bad version of us! No more money for him.” Scanlon and Abramoff have pleaded guilty to defrauding clients.

And finally to this:

(Photo from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

I recommend reading the entire AJC article linked above, but here’s a key passage:

Reed often blamed “the liberal media” for focusing on the his dealings with Abramoff, but in fact many evangelical Christians were also disaffected.

Clint Austin of Marietta is a former Reed employee who ran Reed’s successful bid to become state Republican Party chairman in 2001. On Monday, Austin, now a state Capitol lobbyist, posted on the Internet an article in which he explained why he would not vote for Reed.

“My reason for abandoning my support of Ralph is simple: Ralph Reed’s words and actions do not match up,” Austin wrote.

I’d say Tom DeLay was the first political victim of the Abramoff scandal, but he decided to abandon his re-election effort instead of sticking around to run against Nick Lampson. Both Texas state parties are awaiting a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to see whether they will uphold or overturn the ruling by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks earlier this month forcing DeLay back in the race. However, DeLay has additional problems with the ongoing investigation by DA Ronnie Earle in Austin, so his legal and political problems weren’t only Abramoff-related.

How this will bode for other Abramoff-tainted lawmakers (i.e. Bob Ney, Conrad Burns) remains to be seen, but since the Washington Post reported the first Abramoff story back in 2004 and kept revealing more about his lobbying scheme, the name Abramoff has become politically radioactive in DC. Whether this will matter to their constituents back home when both men are up for re-election in November, we’ll have to keep watching both races as well as any further revelations from Abramoff-related investigations by the government and the media.

For further reference material, check out this section of the Washington Post archiving all of its Abramoff stories, for which they won a Pulitzer Prize.

I suspected this was going to happen, but this AP report confirms it.

Gore/Lieberman was such an odd pairing to go to Hollywood and ask for their money and support, given their well-documented criticisms of the entertainment industry. I think what happened in 2000 was that a lot of the Hollywood scene either held their breath and voted for Gore/Lieberman in spite of whatever disagreements they might have had with either of them (i.e. Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman), or got behind Ralph Nader (i.e. Tim Robbins, Michael Moore).

Given their criticism of the entertainment industry, I was assuming that if Gore/Lieberman got elected, that the PMRC was going to move into the West Wing. Given the well-documented dislike of President Bush in the entertainment industry, and his post-election political moves to the left on issues like Iraq, Gore has endeared himself to the Hollywood crowd. Lieberman has continued to be his usual self, and hasn’t made any friends in Hollywood by supporting the Iraq war.

Blowback

Posted: July 18, 2006 in 2006 Elections, National Security

Be careful where you point those…

Previously, I mentioned as one example the recent Mike DeWine campaign ad attacking Sherrod Brown’s national security credentials which used images of a burning World Trade Center.

The Hotline has the rebuttal ad from the Ohio Democratic Party.

At one point, the voiceover says Senator DeWine “failed us on the Intelligence Committee before 9/11 and on weapons of mass destruction.”

Maybe somebody should tell the Ohio Democratic Party that there are Democrats on the Intelligence Committee as well? How was their performance before 9/11 and on weapons of mass destruction any better?

“Would I lie to you?”
Photo from AP/Sports Illustrated.

The Washington Post is reporting that Major League Baseball is weighing possible courses of disciplinary action to take against San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds if he is indicted by a federal grand jury on potential tax evasion, money laundering, and/or perjury charges.

Anyone who knows the American legal system will tell you that Bonds is innocent until proven guilty, and an indictment in and of itself is not an admission or conviction of wrongdoing on Bonds’ part.

The Post cites an anonymous source saying that he believes MLB Commissioner Bud Selig “believes he may be empowered by baseball’s collective bargaining agreement to suspend him.” They also cite another anonymous source saying that because of a mechanism in the collective bargaining agreement where players can challenge a suspension, “Bonds, with the union’s backing, almost certainly would file a grievance in this case, according to a source familiar with the union’s discussions.”

The Post also points out “No precedent is known to exist for an athlete to be suspended successfully following an indictment.”

Regardless of whether Bonds is or is not indicted, or if he is conclusively proven innocent or guilty of any of the accusations, his personal and professional reputation might as well be flushed down the toilet. Even if he breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record, I think the fans, media, and his peers will either consciously or subconsciously view the accomplishment with a giant asterisk.

There will always be questions of whether or not he was on performance enhancing drugs while he was in his home run-hitting heyday, and those questions will continue to swirl around him for the rest of his career, if not his life. Want proof? Exhibit A: Mark McGwire.

As a witness during last spring’s baseball steroids abuse hearing by the House Government Reform Committee, McGwire destroyed his own reputation and legacy through comments like these in his opening statement:

“Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers no, he simply will not be believed. If a player answers yes, he risks public scorn and endless government investigations. My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family and myself. I intend to follow their advice.”

His response to a question by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) on whether he would plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination:

“I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to be positive about this subject.”

His response to other questions from the Committee, as reported by CBS News:

Asked whether use of steroids was cheating, McGwire said: “That’s not for me to determine.”

To a couple of other questions, all he would say is: “I’m retired.”

Don’t forget about Rafael Palmeiro, whose Clinton-esque “I did not have sexual relations with that steroid” denial in his opening statement resulted in the Committee investigating him for possibly lying under oath.

As a final observation, I think it would be safe to say Bonds should consider himself lucky that he wasn’t subpoenaed to testify at the steroids hearing last year. Regardless of what does or does not happen, Bonds is undergoing a PR death by a thousand cuts, and unless he does something drastic to change public perception of him and try to improve his image, he’s screwed in the court of public opinion.