Glenn Beck, minion of the great conspiracy

Glenn Beck has revealed himself, finally, as a covert agent of the communist/socialist left-Islamic-fanatic-Code Pink-Obama-fluoridation-currency-abasing-job-killing conspiracy.  While ill-informed and unqualified naïfs like Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow give him the cover of ridicule, Beck advances his masters’ designs  by  describing just enough of the plotters’ workings (and for credibility, sticking assiduously to facts) to conceal the key coordinating element that would allow us to defend ourselves.

What keystone is missing from Beck’s carefully crafted deception? What central coordinating power, preparing across centuries for a simultaneous world coup, has he absolutely refused to recognize or even name? Think back to the small ads with pyramids on the inside covers of comic books and Popular Mechanics, and to matchbooks before these insidious little propaganda messages were blanked out to preserve security: who was secretly recruiting members with these harmless-sounding promises of ancient wisdom?

The Rosicrucians! Alchemists (think it’s an accident that wingers are trying to put us on a gold standard?), Freemasons (the Shriners have a crescent right in their trademark, for Pete’s sake!),  international (what more do you need to know?).  Code Pink? It’s a code alright, but it’s code for Rosae Crucis!

Beck has never once named this central organizing fraternity of menace obviously pulling the strings, and if you think it’s an oversight, you don’t understand what an agent of disinformation is. Why has he never identified a single Rosicrucian agent? Have you even studied Beck’s hand gesture signals when he tells you to look at the chart? How many Rosicrucians are already in place in your company, or the Congress, or planning havoc at Davos,  or blogging to each other in the cipher only they understand?

You don’t know any, right; you’re not supposed to! Do I need a blackboard to explain this? America, wake up!

The Wikileaker should serve some time

Whoever sent a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks should go to jail.

This may be a minority opinion in the blogosphere, but here goes.

I want to see whoever sent a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks go to jail. Our government cannot operate in a dangerous world like this. I’m not just talking about fighting wars and killing terrorists here. I’m talking about the equally important art of quiet diplomacy, which requires candid conversations about sensitive matters within our government, and even more sensitive conversations with foreign officials, intelligence sources, human-rights activists, and countless others with whom a private word is often incredibly valuable.

A free press operates within a generally-implicit, but real tradition of checks and balances under which the government grants journalists broad lattitude to publish leaks and classified information, while journalists exercise some corresponding discretion in weighing the public’s right to know and the government’s legitimate interests in secret-keeping.

WikiLeaks, in particular, has shown troubling disregard for the legal, historical, and political context of this relationship. Dumping huge quantities of virtually unfiltered classified information onto the web that may (though this is a topic of legitimate dispute) endanger specific individuals is wrong and perhaps illegal.

I fear that the end result of episodes like this will be threefold: (1) Our diplomats and soldiers in the field will increasingly self-censor their opinions and operational views out of fear that someone will splash sensitive candid material across the internet. (2) Foreign officials, journalists, informants, and activists will be more reluctant to hold sensitive conversations with American officials, and (3) the American public will become much less supportive of responsible journalists exercising their first amendment rights after witnessing episodes such as this one.

I don’t know the motives of the leaker or leakers who provided this information. Perhaps they were disgusted by the carnage, the official wrongdoing, and the blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps they had more personal motives. Perhaps they acted out of a combination of reasons. Whatever the motive, this was wrong. I’m ready to be convinced otherwise. My gut reaction is that whoever did this needs to serve real time behind bars.

P.S. The incompetence of our computer security is equally breathtaking. The keystone cops aspect of this entire affair is rather depressing.

Should WikiLeaks be closed down?

What the heck were the people at WikiLeaks thinking when they apparently posted identifying information about Afghans fighting the Taliban?

I honestly don’t know. Did the site really release information allowing the Taliban to identify specific informants?

My New York Times says the following:

The disclosure of documents containing the names of Afghan informants, which was reported Tuesday in The Times of London, could further complicate the Obama administration’s efforts to manage the course of the war in Afghanistan.

A search by The New York Times on Wednesday also turned up several examples.

In one 2007 report, for instance, a military officer discussed meeting with a person who was named in the report, who claimed to have worked with allied forces and wanted to continue doing so. The Times withheld details that could identify the man.

In another 2007 report, American troops met privately with an Afghan official, who was named in the report, who told the Americans about the recent movements of a local militant leader and his heavily armed force. The report also identified several other informants who were part of the official’s network.

For the record, I am a liberal Democrat. I am also a strong believer in the first amendment.

This case has me wondering about that amendment’s proper boundary. It’s one thing to leak classified policy details and debates. Such leaks are often justified to inform the public and to hold government accountable. It’s quite a different thing to reveal operational intelligence details that threaten the safety of particular human beings or that reveal sensitive tactical information while we fight an enemy that specifically targets people for suicide bombings and other forms of grisly intimidation.

We live in a new media age in which the internet facilitates open-source intelligence and allows sites such as Wikileaks to collect and disgorge thousands of raw documents with little careful gatekeeping. I don’t know enough about Afghanistan to have a strong policy view. I do know that we made promises to people there who help us at real personal risk. We have to protect them.

The Pentagon may well be exaggerating the threat to people’s safety here. If these leaks did put people in danger, some legal action is appropriate: against the leakers, but maybe against WikiLeaks itself, too. I’m not very comfortable going down this road, but the subject warrants discussion.

What the heck were they thinking?

Birthers, meet tyrants

The tyrannical origins of civil registration, and a private war on death certificates.

Apart from being loons, it seems birthers like Lou Dobbs don’t understand what a birth certificate is. They think of it as a precious, unique document like a will, indenture or contract that is given you at birth. If they knew the truth, they’d be even more upset, so let’s give it a try.

There are no original birth, death, and marriage certificates in the birther sense. The originals are entries in master registers, kept by the government under lock and key, and you can’t see them. You have the right to ask politely at any time for any number of certified copies of all or part of your entries, and in the USA and UK of other people’s, but no duty to ask for any. In Britain genealogists complain they can’t even see 172-year-old original registers for 1837 when civil registration replaced the earlier parish registers. If this sounds a bit Orwellian, it’s because that’s exactly where it comes from: compulsory registration is an exercise of coercive state power, and its creation marks the beginnings of the surveillance state 500 years ago.

The pioneers of this intrusive and systematic instrument of State and Church control were the lovable Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros, later Grand Inquisitor of Spain, who introduced baptismal registers in 1497 in his province of Toledo. He was so proud of his invention that he campaigned for the system to be adopted all over Catholicism. He was followed by the equally cuddly Protestant statist Thomas Cromwell, who introduced compulsory registration of baptism, marriages and funerals by all parish priests in England and Wales in 1538, after the suppression of the Catholic rising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. Cromwell’s scheme was maintained and tightened by Henry VIII’s children – down to keeping the registers under triple key security, one more than for the launch codes in US missile control bunkers. The purpose, for Catholic and Protestant rulers alike was to monitor and control sexual and religious deviants of whatever stripe. Any benefits to the subject, like proofs of descent, age or nationality, were entirely accidental. SFIK there was no system of standard certificates in England before 1837.

George III and Louis XVI were decent duffers stigmatised as tyrants by revolutionary propagandists, cheapening the insult. Ferdinand and Henry were the frightening real deal. Birthers, Rex magnus vigilat omnes.


I’ve a small campaign on these certificates of my own: not on births but deaths.

Continue reading “Birthers, meet tyrants”

A quiet hero, under siege

The FBI still has an agent working hard to put Thomas Tamm in prison for revealing the Bush Administration’s illegal wiretapping.

Hilzoy points to Mike Isikoff’s really heartbreaking story on Thomas Tamm, the government lawyer who blew the whistle on illegal wiretapping. While the Republican Congress and the Bush Administration have ensured that none of the people who broke the law will suffer for it, the FBI is still trying to get Tamm sent to prison for revealing it. Attorney General Eric Holder’s first official act should be to tell the FBI Director to reassign Agent Lawless (c’mon, could I make this up?) to some more useful activity.

The curious incident of the dog …

MI5’s culture and the 42-day detention row in Britain.

…. that didn’t bark in the night-time.

A rare insight into just how different MI5’s culture is from the FBI’s (Mark, Amy) came from a rare public statement about the Brown government’s plan to increase the current limit on pre-trial detention for suspects in terrorist crimes from 28 to 42 days. This reads in its entirety:

Since the Security Service is neither a prosecuting authority nor responsible for criminal investigations, we are not, and never have been, the appropriate body to advise the Government on pre-charge detention time limits.

We have not, therefore, sought to comment publicly or privately on the current proposals, except to say that we recognise the challenge posed for the police service by the increasingly complex and international character of some recent terrorist cases.In other words, they are against it, along with Evans’ predecessor Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller (hire her!), the last Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General, and the serving Director of Public Prosecutions.

So who’s in favour?

Continue reading “The curious incident of the dog …”

Snoopery doggedness

Wayward State Department contractors? I’m shocked–shocked!

Information-systems failures are as integral to the State Department as striped pants. The Foreign Service is a fine institution, not well served by successive State Department managements. State is especially unable to get its information systems under control. From the legendary Wang debacle [which would be a good name for a band] to the 2002 Inspector General’s report:

Continue reading “Snoopery doggedness”

“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light”

A special treat for Kafka fans: the recipient of a “National Security Letter” explains how a gag order works.

A special treat for all you Kafka fans: the recipient of a “National Security Letter” explains how a gag order works.

If there’s anything nastier than a warrantless search, it’s a warrantless search the victim is legally forbidden to complain about.

Did SWIFT break European laws?

– by telling all to the Emperor’s stormtroopers with no legal authority from anybody? Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, who knows a lot about privacy policy, thinks probably yes.

Dammit, this means ME – and the same realization is dawning on all those Essex Tory Daily Mail readers on the Costas. The Atlantic just got another league wider. (Update: unfortunately I have no evidence for wider expat outrage, see comments)

Secrecy and cover-up

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility can’t investigate possible misconduct by DoJ personnel in approving the NSA warrantless-wiretapping program, because the NSA has refused the necessary security clearances.

If you doubt that secrecy rules are being used as a means of covering up criminal wrongdoing, consider the latest:

The Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department &#8212 the outfit that investigates when accusations of misconduct are made against DoJ lawyers &#8212 has been denied the security clearances necessary to look into the process by which the NSA wiretapping program was approved. Consequently, OPR has shut down its planned investigation.

There are two criteria for granting someone clearance for access to any particular body of classified material: suitability, and need to know. Suitability has to do with the potential recipient’s reliability in terms of keeping secrets secret. Need to know has to do with the purpose for which the information is sought. If someone has been issued a clearance showing his suitability at a given level (Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret) then the remaining question is merely whether he has sufficient need to know the information to justify the risk of sharing it with him.

Of course OPM investigators have all been through rigorous background checks. Suitability shouldn’t have been an issue. Even if further investigation showed that one or more of the OPM personnel proposed for access had previously undiscovered security risks associated with them, that would justify excluding only them, not their while agency.

So this decision could only have been made on the basis of “need to know.” Since the program in question was an NSA program, presumably the decision on access would have been made within the NSA. So in effect the NSA has decided that the public interest would not be served by having the means by which its program was approved reviewed by an independent set of investigators.

Now couple that with Bobby Ray Inman’s flat declaration that the warrantless-wiretapping program “was not authorized” by law, and what you have isn’t a security decision: it’s a coverup.

Footnote See the Carpetbagger for another blatant White House move, with Congressional Republican connivance, to cover up criminal activity: in this case, theft of reconstruction funds in Iraq. Hat tip: Kevin Drum. It would be a bold prosecutorial theory, but not an utterly implausible one, to charge whoever in the White House pushed for the switcheroo, knowing that doing so would facilitate theft of public funds, as an accessory before the fact in the thefts. But of course that would require changing the law &#8212 or beefing up the State Department IG’s office &#8212 to make those cases in the first place. In the meantime, “The White House and Congressional Republicans decided to make it easier to steal the money intended to rebuild Iraq” isn’t a bad thing for Democrats to add to every speech between now and November 2006. Let’s hope the Senate Democrats dig in their heels on this one.