Tuesday, June 30, 2009

More Pathogens Uncovered At Bio-Weapons Lab

Inventory Uncovers 9,200 More Pathogens
Laboratory Says Security Is Tighter, but Earlier Count Missed Dangerous Vials
By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009

Courtesy Of
The Washington Post

An inventory of potentially deadly pathogens at Fort Detrick's infectious disease laboratory found more than 9,000 vials that had not been accounted for, Army officials said yesterday, raising concerns that officials wouldn't know whether dangerous toxins were missing.

After four months of searching about 335 freezers and refrigerators at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, investigators found 9,220 samples that hadn't been included in a database of about 66,000 items listed as of February, said Col. Mark Kortepeter, the institute's deputy commander.

The vials contained some dangerous pathogens, among them the Ebola virus, anthrax bacteria and botulinum toxin, and less lethal agents such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus and the bacterium that causes tularemia. Most of them, forgotten inside freezer drawers, hadn't been used in years or even decades. Officials said some serum samples from hemorrhagic fever patients dated to the Korean War.

Kortepeter likened the inventory to cleaning out the attic and said he knew of no plans for an investigation into how the vials had been left out of the database. "The vast majority of these samples were working stock that were accumulated over decades," he said, left there by scientists who had retired or left the institute.

"I can't say that nothing did [leave the lab], but I can say that we think it's extremely unlikely," Kortepeter said.

Still, the overstock and the previous inaccuracy of the database raised the possibility that someone could have taken a sample outside the lab with no way for officials to know something was missing.

"Nine thousand, two hundred undocumented samples is an extraordinarily serious breach," said Richard H. Ebright, a professor at Rutgers University who follows biosecurity. "A small number would be a concern; 9,200 . . . at an institution that has been the focus of intense scrutiny on this issue, that's deeply worrisome. Unacceptable."

The institute has been under pressure to tighten security in the wake of the 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17. FBI investigators say they think the anthrax strain used in the attacks originated at the Army lab, and its prime suspect, Bruce E. Ivins, researched anthrax there. Ivins committed suicide last year during an investigation into his activities.

Kortepeter noted that since 2001 the lab has imposed multiple layers of security to check people entering and leaving, that there are now cameras in the labs, and that employees are subjected to a reliability program and random inspections.

"The bottom line is, we have a lot of buffers to prevent anybody who shouldn't be getting into the laboratory," Kortepeter said.

Sam Edwin, the institute's inventory control officer, said most of the samples found were vials with tiny amounts of pathogens that would thaw quickly and die once they were taken out of a freezer, making smuggling something off the base difficult.

The probe began in February, when a problem accounting for Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus triggered the suspension of most research at the lab. A spot check in January found 20 samples of the virus in a box of vials instead of the 16 listed in the institute's database. Most work was stopped until the institute could take a thorough inventory of its stock of viruses and bacteria.

Edwin said about 50 percent of the samples that had been found were destroyed. The rest were added to the catalog. Because the lab will now conduct an inventory every year, "it's really less likely that we will be in a situation like this again," he said.

Procedures have changed, too. Scientists who have worked at the lab said that in the past, departing scientists turned over their logbooks to their successors, but records were sometimes incomplete or complex. As generations of scientists passed through, the knowledge of what was in the freezers was lost. With a comprehensive database, every sample is now tracked until it is destroyed or transferred.

But some scientists are skeptical. Unlike uranium or chemical weapons, pathogens are living materials that can replicate and die. A small amount can easily be turned into a large amount. They said the strict inventories slow their work without guaranteeing security.

Subsidies For Israel, Sanctions For Iran

By Grant Smith,
June 29, 2009
Courtesy Of
Anti-War News

President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget request for $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel is proceeding smoothly through the Congress. On June 17 the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs held a “markup” session on the budget. The subcommittee came under pressure from an antiwar group that sought to suspend or condition foreign aid over Israel’s use of U.S. weapons that left 3,000 Palestinians dead during the Bush administration. The subcommittee held its session in a tiny Capitol room, denying activists and members of the press access to determine whether there was any discussion on aid to Israel. The budget quickly passed and is now before the full House Appropriations committee.

Israel enjoys “unusually wide latitude in spending the [military assistance] funds,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Unlike other recipients that must go through the Pentagon, Israel deals directly with U.S. military contractors for almost all of its purchases. This gives the U.S.-based Israel lobby, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), increased influence on Capitol Hill. Large contractors proactively segment many military contracts across key congressional districts to make them harder to oppose. The military contractor fight for Israel’s favor frees up AIPAC from shepherding the massive aid package to dedicate its considerable resources toward Iran sanctions.

Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) sponsored an amendment to the foreign operations bill that would prevent the Export-Import Bank of the United States from providing loan guarantees to companies selling refined petroleum to Iran. According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Kirk is the top 2008 recipient of pro-Israel political action committee (PAC) contributions [.pdf]. Kirk received $91,200 in the 2008 election cycle, bringing his career total thus far to more than $221,000. Kirk’s AIPAC-sponsored sanctions legislation passed the House Appropriations Committee on June 23. While tactically positioned as a rebuke to the crackdown on Iranian election protesters, the measure is only the most recent of a raft of long-term AIPAC-sponsored sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. Israel contends Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons under the auspices of a civilian program, though no hard evidence has emerged. Yet one illicit nuclear arsenal in the region has been positively identified.

The U.S. Army [.pdf], former president Jimmy Carter, and Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller have all recently confirmed that the only country in the Middle East that has deployed nuclear weapons is Israel. The Symington and Glenn amendments to foreign aid law specifically prohibit U.S. aid to nuclear states outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has signed the NPT. Israel hasn’t.

Congress can’t have it both ways on taxpayer-funded sanctions and rewards. If gasoline imports indirectly support Iran’s nuclear ambitions, then $2.775 billion in cash for conventional U.S. weapons and military technology clearly allows Israel to focus on development and deployment of its illicit nuclear arsenal. Recently released CIA files long ago forecast that such an arsenal would not only make Israel more “assertive” but also more reluctant to engage in bona fide peace initiatives. Cutting the massive indirect U.S. subsidization of Israel’s nukes and insisting that Israel sign the NPT would go further in averting a nuclear arms race and conflicts in the region than targeting hapless Iranians at the gas pump. It would also demonstrate to the American public that the president and Congress, even under the pressure of AIPAC, won’t blatantly violate U.S. foreign aid laws by publicly pretending Iran – rather than Israel – is the region’s nuclear hegemon.

Want To Stop Israeli Settlements?

Follow The Dollars

By Ronit Avni
Thursday, June 25, 2009 6:33 PM

Courtesy Of
The Washington Post

This month, both at Cairo University and from the Oval Office, President Obama has called on the Israeli government to stop the expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. He should send the same message to the Americans who are funding and fueling them.

There are more than 450,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Peace Now, an Israeli organization that opposes the settlements. Some of them are Americans. And some of the most influential, militant figures in the settler movement have been Americans, too. Among them were Baruch Goldstein, the doctor from Brooklyn who fired 100 shots at worshiping Muslims in Hebron in 1994, killing 29; Rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the Kach party, which was banned in Israel in 1988 on the grounds that it was racist; and convicted terrorist Era Rapaport, a member of the Land Redemption Fund, which coordinates the acquisition of Palestinian land in areas targeted for settlement expansion.

Before the settlers were removed from Gaza in 2005, I visited a group of them while shooting my last film. Some of the settlements' most passionate advocates spoke about their deep roots in the Gaza Strip even though they were actually Americans. Years earlier, while working as a human rights advocate, I had received reports from colleagues who had been threatened or physically attacked by young settlers as they tried to protect Palestinian farmers during harvest. The attackers often included North American Jews, my colleagues said.

Evangelical Christians in the United States also support the settlements, raising millions of dollars for them, according to a recent National Public Radio report. The Colorado-based Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, for example, encourages churches and ministries to connect with "the pioneers of Biblical Israel" through the "adopt-a-settlement program." Sondra Oster Baras, director of the organization's Israeli office, estimates that more than half of the West Bank settlements receive direct or indirect support from Christians, according to the NPR report.

A handful of wealthy businessmen, including American casino magnate Irving Moskowitz, are widely reported to have donated to groups such as the Brooklyn-based not-for-profit Hebron Fund, which raises money to support residents in the West Bank city of Hebron. According to the donation page on its Web site, the organization aims to "keep Hebron Jewish for the Jewish people." Friends of Itamar, also based in Brooklyn, engages in domestic, tax-deductible fundraising for the West Bank settlement of Itamar. All this comes at the expense of the U.S. government, which loses tax revenue by allowing these groups to operate as not-for-profit entities.

Not all support for the settlements comes through charitable organizations. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that in 2007, the settler organization Amana held "housing fairs" in New York and New Jersey to encourage American Jews to buy property in the West Bank. According to the Jewish Voice and Opinion, a self-described "politically conservative Jewish publication" in New Jersey, approximately 250 people attended and as many as 10 properties were slated for purchase.

Last year the Palestinian village of Bil'in filed suit in Canada against two Quebec-based companies that built and sold residential units in a West Bank settlement. The case is still pending, but it demonstrates that people are beginning to pay attention to non-Israeli influences on settlement growth.

If the courts can't find a way to dissuade settlement expansion, perhaps the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control should intervene. The U.S. government has already designated Kahane's movement a foreign terrorist organization for reasons unrelated to settlement financing, but in doing so, it has prohibited U.S. citizens from providing financial support to this group.

The First Amendment protects the right of the settlement advocates to express their views, and so it should. I am not suggesting that non-profits should lose their tax advantages simply because they are at odds with American foreign policy. But the settlements are widely considered a violation of international law. Thirty years ago, a U.S. State Department legal adviser issued an opinion that called the settlements "inconsistent" with the Fourth Geneva Convention. In recent weeks, officials at State and in the White House have declined to say whether the 1979 opinion reflects official government policy, but President Obama's comments have hardly been ambiguous. "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," he said in Cairo. "It is time for these settlements to stop."

Maybe it's also time for Americans to stop supporting them.

Ronit Avni, an Israeli, U.S. and Canadian citizen, is the director of the film "Encounter Point" and the executive director of Just Vision, an organization that documents Palestinian and Israeli conflict-resolution peace initiatives.

The Making Of A War Criminal

The Trials Of Henry Kissinger

Courtesy Of "Information Clearing House"

"A fascinating, bombshell documentary that should shame Americans, regardless of whether or not ultimate blame finally lies with Kissinger. Should be required viewing for civics classes and would-be public servants alike." -- Brent Simon, Entertainment Today.

Getting Ready For The Wrong War?

The costs of maintaining the armed forces are mounting in both financial and human terms. Yet while budget debates rage, some now argue that spending billions on weapons is outmoded, and that we should be looking beyond weapons for security.

By Gaby Hinsliff and Mark Townsend
Sunday 28 June 2009
Courtesy Of The Observer / Guardian

When Barack Obama sits down to work in the Oval Office each day, at his fingertips lies a reminder of how closely American and British military might are intertwined.

The oak desk used by generations of US presidents was built of timbers salvaged from the British gun-brig HMS Resolute, by craftsmen at Chatham dockyards in Kent - for centuries the cradle of a seafaring nation, launching many of the ships that ruled Britannia's waves. It is a proud history on which Gordon Brown will no doubt have reflected yesterday when he celebrated Britain's first Armed Forces Day in the port.

But they no longer build ships in Chatham: the shipyards that once employed thousands of skilled workers live on only in a museum. The question for Britain's next prime minister is whether its remaining defence manufacturing base will head the same way.

As this week's report by the Institute for Public Policy Research reveals, the recession, combined with changing global threats, means "big ticket" defence projects - from Britain's two new planned aircraft carriers to the F-35 joint strike fighters that go with them, from the Astute hunter-killer subs, the largest and deadliest ever built, to the Type 45 destroyer - are now being challenged at the heart of the military and political establishment.

Such questions are sensitive because they are about Britain's idea of itself. Are we still a front-rank military power? Or is it time to accept that we are a small island which cannot afford big dreams, and seek less conventional routes to influence? "If you talk to senior people in the Royal Navy, they are worried that they are going to be seen as the people in charge when it ceased to be a serious navy in global terms," said Dr Ian Kearns, deputy chair of the National Security Commission, convened by the IPPR. "Well, why isn't our aspiration to be a global leader in cyber warfare capacity, offensive and defensive? National prestige needs to be thought about in different terms."

But the fear within the armed forces is that the unspoken promise built into the Resolute desk - that Britain will always have the clout to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US, and the US will always want it to - now risks being broken.

Lord Robertson, the former Nato secretary general and commission member, argues that Obama is no longer interested in a military special relationship with the UK alone, but with a broader European alliance. "There's no doubt that the Obama administration wants Europe to be acting as a whole. It's not going to have a sweetheart relationship with any individual country."

Worse still, senior American military sources told the commission privately that they regard British forces as neither as reliable nor as good as they once were, after years of underfunding. Tensions became clear during the British withdrawal from Basra, when US marines were sent into the city to restore order while British troops stayed in their barracks. "What happened in Basra at the end did a lot of damage and that was a political decision - to run our forces down too early," said Julian Brazier, the Conservative chair of the all-party reserve forces group. "I know from a number of American colleagues that did damage our image, very unfairly to our armed forces." There are whispers in Whitehall that Brown's refusal to send more troops to Afghanistan, despite pleas from the chief of defence staff, also annoyed Washington - which was last week forced to send US troops to Helmand to reinforce the British instead.

Lord Guthrie, the former chief of defence staff and a commission member, said the fear was that "the US are beginning to wonder whether we have the stomach for it". Or, indeed, the money for it. As a result of the costs of borrowing through a recession, in five years' time the national debt is forecast to reach £1.3 trillion: the interest on that alone would outstrip the entire current defence budget.

While Brown still refuses to discuss cuts in public services, few parts of Whitehall are likely to be spared and senior Labour figures are now starting to think the unthinkable about programmes like Trident. For the Conservatives, such pressures are even more difficult to resolve.

"Defence is a sacred cow for this party. We could never go into an election without promising to provide our troops with all the kit they're lacking," says a senior frontbencher. And that is an argument that wears an all too human face.

Maureen Shearer's life changed for ever nearly four years ago, when her son, Richard, was killed in a roadside bomb near Basra. The loss, she said, opened her eyes to the human cost of miserly defence spending. "My son had to keep repairing what equipment he had. They were tired and they were being attacked relentlessly and were having to mend their equipment."

Now he is gone and, like many bereaved relatives of those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan she says her life "will never be the same". Nor does she believe her son's experience is unique. "It's not just the army, it's the navy and the air force who are also struggling. We should not fight in other countries unless we equip our forces. Of course there is no bottomless pit, but obviously we need the basics to be supplied. They have to have new vehicles and equipment before we do anything."

Snatch Land Rovers like the one Shearer's patrol was travelling in - offering pitifully flimsy defences against roadside bombs - are now being replaced by more heavily armoured vehicles, but other concerns remain, particularly over a shortage of helicopters. "One thing we should really have requested [for Afghanistan] was more support helicopters along with the training of pilots, which is also an expensive business," said Guthrie.

It is not just equipment that is suffering. The commission argues that diverting resources to the frontline has come at the expense of training: the gaps between operational tours have shrunk, meaning longer periods of separation for service people from their families.

The Ministry of Defence's latest continuous attitudes survey, a snapshot of morale in the armed forces, found that 21% of officers plan leave before the end of their current commission. Nearly half cited overstretch and scale of commitments as a reason to leave the forces: a third felt operational tours were now coming around too often.

Yet, as Guthrie admits, "no government wants to spend more on defence than it has to". The uncomfortable question is whether taxpayers, squeezed by the recession, feel the same.

Cases like that of Sergeant Steven Roberts, shot dead in Iraq days after being asked to give up his flak jacket because there were not enough to go round, raise difficult questions. His widow Samantha's campaign for better body armour aroused deep public sympathy, but also triggers difficult questions. What risks are justifiable in warfare? And how much are we prepared to pay to prevent them?

While the shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox, has tirelessly highlighted the human costs of overstretch, the Tories have not explained in detail how a more generously equipped armed forces could be funded. Labour, meanwhile, shies away from scrapping big defence contracts that cost jobs in its heartlands, including Scotland where the Rosyth dockyards employ some of Brown's constituents. Guthrie believes that while ministers have avoided a real debate, "so too have the opposition".

The commission argues that only a fresh strategic defence review, examining security budgets across Whitehall can rise above such political considerations and answer the big questions.

Kearns said he was struck by how much spending was dictated by fierce inter-service rivalry and not long-term strategic thinking: "They get into a position of saying, 'Well, if the air force is getting a Typhoon then it's the navy's turn next', so they go for the aircraft carriers ... There is a case for knocking heads together." Professor Paul Cornish, head of the international security programme at the Chatham House thinktank, argues such rivalries have also weakened the MoD's ability to plead its case inside government. "You can see the Treasury chiefs thinking, 'They can't decide anything because they are all at each other's throats, so let's decide ourselves'."

Yet the debate, he argues, should be "at the level of ideas and not at the level of the invoice".

While the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has called for Trident to be scrapped to save money, for now Labour and the Tories will admit only to seeking creative ways to do more with less. "Everyone knows they're broke. It's about where the money is spent and what operations we get involved in," said Brazier.

Fox is looking at options, including redeploying service personnel currently "flying desks" in civilian jobs at the MoD to the frontline. Labour seeks efficiency savings but also privately looking to Europe, where Robertson argues that immense theoretical firepower- 2.5 million troops, more fast jets than the Americans - too rarely makes it out of the barracks.

"You have got countries like Germany with 320,000 in their armed forces of whom they can deploy probably 9,000 - the deployment rate in European armies is a scandalous waste," he said.

But what also prevents Europe playing a bigger role is that - not for the first time - some of its governments are still fighting the wrong war. It is a lesson drummed into every fledgling military historian: how Hitler's tanks overran the cavalries at the beginning of the second world war. Seventy years later, Kearns argues that we face another pivotal moment, with the MoD buying weapons devised in another era for another foe.

"We have got to make sure we are not spending all of our resources recruiting the cavalry and then discovering that the opposition have got a whole new load of kit and are fighting in a whole new way," he says. What use is an aircraft carrier against a cyber attack that can cripple a government overnight by crashing the computers controlling its banks, vital utilities, hospitals and other critical state systems - the electronic equivalent of a nuclear bomb?

Wars of the future, the report argues, are likely to be fought among civilians in highly populated cities, rendering weapons designed for the big battlefield useless. The major threat will not be from domineering powers, like Nazi Germany or Soviet-era Russia, but from failing states whose implosion is exploited by others, like modern Pakistan and from non-state actors like terrorists.

And if enemies change, so will allies. Demographic shifts in the US, including an expanding Hispanic population, may cause it to look increasingly south to Latin America, and east, to the emerging powers of China and India, rather than across the Atlantic. So where does that leave Britain's Trident independent nuclear deterrent? The ageing Vanguard submarines that carry it need replacing, at an estimated cost of up to £25bn - although, as Robertson points out, scrapping it would also lead to "massive upfront costs" as a result of the difficulty of decommissioning a nuclear weapons system and its associated bases.

But Labour MPs are preparing for a fight ahead of initial procurement decisions to be made in September, arguing the recession has changed the terms on which parliament backed its replacement. Brown has already signalled Britain will reduce the number of Trident warheads as a gesture towards next year's critical international talks on decommissioning. Ministers argue privately that even if Britain was minded to scrap on the programme, it would wreck our negotiating hand to say so; better to keep it as a bargaining chip to draw concessions from others.

Nonetheless, opposition to Trident extends beyond the far left. Even Des Browne - who as defence secretary pushed it through parliament - hints there may be new room for manoeuvre, citing recent research at Bradford university which has identified possible alternatives. "I was persuaded at the time that it had to be Trident. But I never was a person with a closed mind about this issue," he says. Browne defends the purchase of the two aircraft carriers questioned by the commission as "essential", however, and argues a new defence review could simply be used to kick difficult decisions into the long grass. The Obama administration, he points out, has already started stripping back its defence budget and scrapping expensive contracts.

But the main obstacle to axing any major defence programmes, particularly Trident, is fear. No prime minster wants to be remembered as the one who left the nation defenceless.

James Arbuthnot, chair of the Commons defence select committee and the man tipped by some as a future Conservative defence secretary, warns against complacency in assuming conventional warfare is a thing of the past. He believes the risks from Pakistan in particular - which is a nuclear power - cannot be underestimated.

"In Afghanistan and Pakistan we have the most unstable region in the world, which has because of the Pakistani community in this country a direct link [to Britain] and it also has nuclear weapons - all of that adds up to the most important issue this country is facing today," he says. "Yet we are still devoting only 2% of GDP to defending ourselves. I think that's something the country needs to think about."

It may not be a debate either of the two major parties seems anxious to have before the election. But when the Iraq war inquiry begins, and the families of dead soldiers tell their stories, a debate about the true cost of defending Britain may no longer be contained.

Poor Provision

Sue Smith's son, Philip Hewitt, was 21 when he was killed near Basra in July 2005. His mother believes that no armed forces should be asked to fight wars if recruits do not have the necessary equipment and protection.

You can't do a job without the tools. There has to be better investment or the decision has to be made not to go to other conflicts," she says. "There will always be other conflicts going on somewhere, and the government might have to resist sending troops in the future."

Smith, from Tamworth, Staffordshire, believes her son's death could have been avoided had British troops been better equipped. She has threatened to take legal action against the government for sending troops to Iraq without the right equipment.

The inquest into Hewitt's death revealed the bomb that killed her son entered his Snatch Land Rover through a window covered only with steel mesh. More than 35 soldiers have been killed in Snatches in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

"I am very disappointed. Our soldiers are too quickly forgotten. Boys have died who might be alive if they had better funding. The attitude remains that a soldier is just a soldier. Action men might look the part, but simply looking good is not nearly enough.

The Defence Bill

• Britain spends just over 2% of its GDP on defence, down from over 4% in the mid-1980s, following the Falklands war. America spends just over 3%.

• In 2007-08, defence spending totalled over £37.4bn.

• The MoD's most infamous big-ticket project was probably the Eurofighter jet. Delivered 10 years late and £5.4bn over budget, it was outdated by 2006.

• Troop numbers fell from 101,360 full time personnel in 1997 to 99,460 in 2007: the Navy has lost eight destroyers and six frigates.

• Trident alone swallows up to 5.5 % of the defence budget.

• Since Labour came to power the British armed forces have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, plus peacekeeping duties in Northern Ireland and anti-piracy operations in Somalia.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How The FBI Broke Saddam

By James Gordon Meek
June 26, 2009

Courtesy Of
The New York Daily News

Part 1

Where were Iraq’s WMD? How close was Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, really?

These were vital - but still unanswered - questions when the Iraqi despot was yanked out of a spider hole in December 2003 and placed in U.S. military detention. Lives were at stake - along with the entire political rationale for the U.S.-led coalition invading Iraq.

Saddam Hussein al-TikritiOnly one man could say for sure, and now that the U.S. finally had him in custody, they had to find out.

There was only one way: Break Saddam.

The FBI’s newly-declassified interrogation files on Saddam Hussein, reported exclusively in yesterday’s Daily News, stand in contrast to the dark view espoused by Team Bush: only extreme interrogation techniques extract confessions from “high-value” detainees who resist questioning.

The CIA and FBI were intent on getting Saddam to explain what happened to the missing weapons of mass destruction, his operational ties - if any - to Al Qaeda and admit his own crimes against humanity by gassing and slaughtering his own people. CIA WMD hunter David Kay had resigned in frustration in late January 2004, and the missing arsenal was vexing Team Bush just as special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was beginning his probe of the White House over leaks in retaliation against Iraq war critic Joe Wilson.

The Pressure Was Intense.

A young, Arabic-speaking, Lebanese-American FBI agent named George Piro was picked to get Saddam to confess. Detailed interrogation plans were drawn up, and Piro sat down with one of the most brutally ruthless world leaders of the late 20th century, prepared to play mental chess with a master of manipulation, whose intelligence ranged from cunning street smarts to quirky political intuition.

Learn about the intense first meetings between Saddam and the G-man who broke him after the jump.

The first FBI interrogation of Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti - in a program codenamed “Desert Spider” - took place Feb. 7, 2004, in a dingy cell at Baghdad International Airport. Memos obtained by The News through a 2006 Freedom of Information Act request for Saddam’s file show that top FBI and Justice Department officials had decided Feb. 6 not to read high-value detainees Miranda rights or to identify interrogators to detainees in any way other than as “representatives of the United States Government” or “U.S. Government agents.” Saddam assumed Piro was a top Bush aide - not a low-ranking street agent.

Sizing up the G-man, Saddam observed that Piro (an FBI supervisory special agent) was “smart,” and predicted, “Perhaps a conversation between two such educated people will not be useful or successful.” He decreed that it was only important to him what people say or think about him “in the future, 500 or 1,000 years from now.”

The ex-leader ranted about all he had done for Iraq, which “barely had anything” when he came to power in a bloodbath 40 years ago. Piro asked if he had ever failed in his decades as Iraq’s leader, but Saddam countered, “Do you think I would tell my enemy if I made a mistake?”

His ego as yet undiminished by captivity, Saddam gloated that “the only political parties existing in Iraq are the ones with the weapons” - a reference to the growing lethality of the Sunni insurgency - and said it made no difference what anybody thought about him. “Hussein believes people will love him more after he passes away than they do now,” Piro wrote in his first FBI “302” report back to Washington.

Piro wasted no time in asking about Saddam’s crimes against humanity, testing the captive dictator’s emotions and pride. The next day, he brought up the ghastly chemical weapons Saddam’s army used against its neighbor Iran in the 1980s war.

“I am not going to answer,” he said defiantly. Asked again, Saddam lectured the FBI agent that he would “not be cornered or caught on some technicality - it will not do you any good.” But Piro persisted, pointing out that the UN had documented chemical attacks. “History is written and will not change,” Saddam said, smugly. “I am not going to answer, no matter how you put the question.”

This Feb. 8 report by Piro - in effect - framed the challenge facing the FBI to higher-ups back in Washington, including the President: Flipping Saddam into turning witness against himself would not be easy.

In his third meeting with Saddam on Feb. 10, Piro asked about Iraq’s aid and hospitality to Palestinian terrorists. Saddam boasted: “We accepted them as guests.”

While indirectly denying helping the Palestine Liberation Organization or Palestine Liberation Front leader Abu Abbas, which maintained Baghdad offices, Saddam reasoned that, “At any time, we have the ability and the right to help in the struggle” of Palestinians against Israel. When pushed about reports he gave cash to Abbas - the mastermind of the Achille Lauro boatjacking, who killed passenger Leon Klinghoffer - Saddam grew testy. “I didn’t say I helped Abbas. Don’t put words in my mouth,” he barked, insisting it “was not wrong” if his intelligence services helped the terrorist.

Saddam, still assuming he was in the driver’s seat, advised Piro, “I think the questions should be in the context of a dialogue, not an interrogation.”

What would come next would be a case study in how to extract a confession from a tyrant, resonating five years later as the debate over torture - which Saddam mastered, and which Dick Cheney and George W. Bush now, arguably, defend - rages anew. Piro’s team decided to simply have a conversation.

How the FBI Broke Saddam - Part 2

June 27, 2009

Saddam Hussein was defiant in his first meetings with his American captors. But soon it was time to begin whittling down his ego, bloated by decades of absolute power in Iraq. Brute force, however, was not in the gameplan.

By mid-February 2004, FBI Supervisory Special Agent George Piro had sat down with Saddam Hussein three times - as The Mouth reported on Friday - and listened to the toppled tyrant yap away about his great accomplishments leading ragtag Iraq out of the Stone Age.

Saddam Hussein al-TikritiThe FBI prides itself on “rapport-based” interrogations that have a high success rate for yielding confessions from the likes of 1993 World trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and CIA headquarters killer Mir Aimal Kasi. There was no “ticking bomb” scenario with Saddam - just inherent political pressure - so the interrogation proceeded carefully and cautiously over months.

The strategy involved executing a subtle emotional attack, digging out Saddam’s soft spots and exploiting them. Prick his ego.

Saddam had revealed little, so far - and neither had Piro - other than stating he remained in Baghdad until the day before his capital fell to American-led forces in April 2003. He said he instructed his henchmen in a final meeting, “We will struggle in secret.” After fleeing Baghdad, he gradually dispersed his bodyguards one by one to avoid drawing Coalition forces’ attention. Saddam had evaded capture for nine months, until U.S. viceroy Paul Bremer made his famous exultation in December 2003: “Ladies and gentleman, we got him!”

Piro asked if Saddam ever used body doubles, as was widely believed. “No, of course not,” he scoffed. “This is movie magic, not reality.”

But as the fourth interrogation began on Feb. 13, Saddam wanted answers from Piro.

“Let me ask a direct question. I want to ask where … has the information been going? For our relationship to remain clear, I want to know,” he demanded. Piro replied that he was a “representative of the U.S. Government” and told Saddam many U.S. officials saw his reports, and that readership “may include the President of the United States.” Saddam seemed pleased, commenting that he did “not mind” if the interviews were published.

Piro turned to Saddam’s WMD stockpiles but his quarry brushed it off, saying, “We destroyed them. We told you… By God, if I had such weapons, I would have used them in the fight against the U.S.” Hadn’t Saddam’s own decision to defy the UN on WMD inspections led to crippling sanctions and then a war that ousted him from power? “This is your opinion. I answered,” the stonewaller said. “We (Iraqis) are among the few remaining cavaliers.”

More on how the FBI began to whittle away at Saddam’s ego after the jump.

As the meetings continued through February, Saddam grew increasingly insistent on getting news of the outside world, saying he felt like an imprisoned character in “A Tale of Two Cities” deprived of any news. But Piro was intentionally vague, telling him only that “efforts are underway to rebuild Iraq.

“Over time, some things have changed; others have not,” he told the prisoner.

They discussed Saddam’s ascendancy to power in the late 1960s, and Piro listened to him rant about “Zionist” influence over western policies. He often described key dramatic moments in his rise from revolutionary to dictator as being “just like a movie,” pleading with Piro, “I hope you will be just in what history you write.”

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I will have a major impact on your history,” Piro replied.

In their tenth meeting on Feb. 27, Piro pressed Saddam about the 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait and atrocities his troops committed there, describing a litany of horrors to Iraq’s disgraced leader. “This is the first time I have ever heard of this,” the former Iraqi strongman said, shrugging it off.

Then Piro casually - no doubt in a well thought out ploy - referred to Saddam as Iraq’s “ex-president.”

“I am not the ex-president of Iraq,” Saddam snarled. “I am still the President of Iraq.”

Piro also sought the answer to one of the biggest lingering mysteries of the 1991 Gulf war: the fate of Navy Capt. Scott Speicher, a fighter pilot listed at times by the Pentagon as either as missing in action or captured, and whose remains have never been recovered. Saddam said he recalled a “an American prisoner, not a prisoner, excuse me, but an American person. I think an officer,” whose plane went down in the western desert. “The Americans were looking for him,” he said, adding that he had granted permission for a search and told U.S. teams that “they are welcome.”

“Hussein does not remember the pilot’s name, including whether it was Speicher,” the FBI’s Baghdad Operations Center reported back to Washington.

Related Material:

FBI-Baghdad 302 reports from Feb. 13-Feb. 27, 2004

DOWNLOAD the interrogation reports filed by FBI Agent George Piro:

FBI-Baghdad - Desert Spider 302 report, Feb. 7, 2004
FBI-Baghdad - Desert Spider 302 report, Feb. 8, 2004
FBI-Baghdad - Desert Spider 302 report, Feb. 10, 2004

US Has Agents Working Inside Iran

1. US Has Agents Working Inside Iran

UPDATED ON:Thursday, June 25, 2009

04:01 Mecca time, 01:01 GMT
Courtesy Of Al Jazeera

The US has intelligence agents in Iran but it is not clear if they are providing help to the protest movement there, a former US national security adviser has told Al Jazeera.

Brent Scowcroft said on Wednesday that "of course" the US had agents in Iran amid the ongoing pressure against the Iranian government by protesters opposed to the official result of its presidential election.

But he added that he had no idea whether US agents had provided help to the opposition movement in Iran, which claims that the authorities rigged the June 12 election in favour of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent president.

"They might do. Who knows?" Scowcroft told Josh Rushing for Al Jazeera's Fault Lines programme.

"But that's a far cry from helping protesters against the combined might of the Revolutionary Guard, the militias and so on - and the [Iranian] police, who are so far completely unified."

Limited Options

Scowcroft's admission that Washington has agents stationed in Iran comes a day after the US president issued tougher rhetoric against the government in Iran.

In depth

The latest on Iran's post-election unrest

Send us your videos and pictures from Iran
Barack Obama's sterner tone came after days of deadly clashes between the opposition and Iranian security forces and militias.

Obama has been criticised by US conservative politicians for not taking a stronger line against Tehran amid the government crackdown, but Scowcroft, a former adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and the senior George Bush, said the US could only do so much.

"We don't control Iran. We don't control the government, obviously," he said.

"There is little we can do to change the situation domestically in Iran right now and I think an attempt to change it is more likely to be turned against us and against the people who are demonstrating for more freedom.

"Therefore, I think we need to look at what we can do best, which is to try to influence Iranian behaviour in the region."

At least 19 people have been killed in post-election violence in Iran, which broke out at the scene of protests questioning the veracity of the poll results.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main challenger to Ahmadinejad, has rejected the official results of the vote and has called for a fresh election to be held, while Mehdi Karoubi, another defeated candidate in the election, has called the new government "illegitimate".

But the Guardian Council, Iran's highest legislative body, has said that there were no incidences of major fraud in the vote and has declared that the official results will stand.

2. Chavez Sees US, Europe Behind Iran Protests

By Associated Press
2009-06-25 10:22 AM
Courtesy Of The Taiwan Times

President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that he believes the United States and European countries have had a hand in stirring up protests in Iran.

Chavez reiterated his support for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a close ally, and said he is "completely sure" Ahmadinejad fairly won re-election on June 12.

He said protests and violence that have rocked Iran since the contested vote appear part of a recurring strategy by U.S. and European intelligence agencies to destabilize enemy governments.

He didn't offer any evidence but said the unrest follows a pattern seen in various countries, where "behind it is the CIA and the imperial hand of European countries and the United States."

"From my point of view, that's what's happening in Iran," Chavez told allied leaders from Ecuador, Bolivia and other countries at a summit meeting.

The Venezuelan leader has long accused the U.S. government of backing a 2002 coup against him. U.S. officials have denied Washington was involved.

3. Obama Moves To Fund Iranian Dissidents

Despite Claims of Not Meddling, US to Send $20 Million to Opposition

By Jason Ditz,
June 26, 2009
Courtesy Of Anti-War News

Despite President Barack Obama’s persistent claims that the United States is not meddling in the post-election furore in Iran, the administration is moving forward with plans to subsidize Iranian dissident groups to the tune of $20 million in the form of USAID grants.

The program is not new, and the solicitation for the grant applications actually came under the Bush Administration. But with the deadline for submissions just four days away, the administration has a convenient excuse to subsidize opposition and dissident groups under the guise of promoting “the rule of law” in Iran.

The White House and the State Department both defended the program, insisting it did not run counter to the administration’s pretense of neutrality. The administration declined to provide details of exactly which opposition figures it had been funding, however, citing “security concerns.”

There is considerable criticism for this program, not just from the perspective of getting the US involved in the internal affairs of Iran, but also for the taint it places on various opposition groups and NGOs, whether they received any of the grant money or not.

Related Stories

4. CIA Involved In Neda's Shooting?

Fri, 26 Jun 2009 21:54:00 GMT
Courtesy Of Iran's Press TV

The US may have been behind the killing of Neda Agha-Soltan, the 26-year-old Iranian woman who was shot to death in Tehran's post election protest.

"This death of Neda is very suspicious," Iran's Ambassador to Mexico, Mohammad Hassan Ghadiri said. "My question is how is it that this Miss Neda is shot from behind, gets shot in front of several cameras, and is shot in an area where no significant demonstration was being held?" CNN reported on Friday.

He suggested that the CIA or another intelligence service may have been responsible.

"Well, if the CIA wants to kill some people and attribute that to the government elements, then choosing women is an appropriate choice, because the death of a woman draws more sympathy," Ghadiri told CNN.

Ghadiri said that the bullet that was found in her head was not a type that was used in Iran.

"These are the methods that terrorists, the CIA and spy agencies employ," he said. "Naturally, they would like to see blood spilled in these demonstrations, so that they can use it against the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is one of the common methods that the CIA employs in various countries."

But, he added, "I am not saying that now the CIA has done this. There are different groups. It could be the [work of another] intelligence service; it could be the CIA; it could be the terrorists. Anyway, there are people who employ these types of methods."

Asked about his government's imposition of restrictions on reporting by international journalists, Ghadiri blamed the reporters themselves.

"Some of the reporters and mass media do not reflect the truth," he said.

For example, he said that international news organizations have lavished coverage on demonstrations by supporters of Mir Hossein Moussavi, who lost to the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He continued that those same news organizations have not shown "many, many demonstrations in favor of the winner," he said.

Ghadiri went on to say that members of the international news media have failed to report on people setting banks and buses on fire or attacking other people. "The only things they show are the reactions of the police," he said.

In response, CIA spokesman George Little denied the allegations.

5. CIA OverThrow Of Mossadeq

6. Operation Ajax - Iran and The CIA Coup

Part 1


Nixon Pressured Israel On Nukes

AP Diplomatic Writer
Posted on Thu, Jun. 25, 2009 02:18 AM
Courtesy Of Kansas City

Inside the Nixon administration four decades ago, American officials weighed options to pressure Israel to declare that it had a nuclear weapons program.

U.S. officials concluded Israel was "actively working to improve its capability to produce nuclear weapons on short notice."

In an unsigned National Security Council memo, prepared sometime between April 1969 and March 1970, officials worried that the program might make elusive peace with the Arabs even harder to attain.

The memorandum, part of a collection of memos and tape recordings released Tuesday by the Nixon Presidential Library, shows efforts to get Israel to sign the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This would have required Israel to open itself to international inspection and dismantle any nuclear weapons program it had.

Israel resisted, which the memorandum anticipated, "because Israel views its nuclear option on the NPT as an integral part of its national security." Israel would not be easily influenced, the unsigned memorandum predicted.

The treaty requires all but five states - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - not to develop nuclear weapons. A total of 189 countries are parties to the treaty. The four exceptions are Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Next month, President Barack Obama will meet with his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev, in Moscow and again at a summit of world leaders in Italy. Obama will carry with him a determination to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons. He has said it is "absolutely imperative" that the United States take the lead.

Back in the Nixon era, with little sign of progress toward a peace agreement on the horizon, "Israel's leaders have probably decided Israel cannot afford to surrender the nuclear option," the NSC memo concluded.

In fact, the document added, Israel preferred to keep the Arabs guessing as to its power to deter attack, while the program provided bargaining power in negotiating a settlement.

But the longer Israel would hold out against signing the treaty, it also would reduce prospects for settling the Arab-Israeli dispute, the memorandum said.

"We must be prepared whether to make this a crunch issue with Israel and to make it clear that if Israel elects to go the nuclear route it would cause a fundamental change in the U.S.-Israeli relationship."

And that, the memo says, includes "our long-standing concern for Israel's security."

A WithDrawal In Name Only

Erik Leaver and Daniel Atzmon
June 24, 2009
Editor: Jen Doak
Courtesy Of
Foreign Policy In Focus

On November 17, 2008, when Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker signed an agreement for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, citizens from both countries applauded. While many were disappointed about the lengthy timeline for the withdrawal of the troops, it appeared that a roadmap was set to end the war and occupation. However, the first step — withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009 — is full of loopholes, and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers will remain in the cities after the "deadline" passes.

The failure to fully comply with the withdrawal agreement indicates the United States is looking to withdraw from Iraq in name only, as it appears that up to 50,000 military personnel will remain after the deadline.

The United States claims it's adhering to the agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), even with so many troops being left in the cities. But the United States is changing semantics instead of policy. For example, there are no plans to transfer the 3,000 American troops stationed within Baghdad at Forward Operating Base Falcon, because commanders have determined that despite its location, it's not within the city.

The original intent of moving troops out of the cities was to reduce the U.S. military role and send the message to Iraqis that the United States would be leaving the country soon. But troops that are no longer sleeping in the cities will still take part in operations within Iraqi cities; they will serve in "support" and "advisory" roles, rather than combat functions. Such "reclassification" of troops as military trainers is another example of how the United States is circumventing the terms of the SOFA agreement.

The larger loophole in the agreement is the treatment of military contractors. There has been little mention of the 132,610 military contractors in Iraq. Of these, 36,061 are American citizens, according to a recent Department of Defense report.

Since September 2008, only 30,000 troops have left Iraq. The 134,000 soldiers that remain are just slightly below the number of troops that were in Iraq in 2003. These numbers are likely to remain well above 100,000 until 2010.

Instead of sending soldiers stationed in cities home, the military has been expanding and building new bases in rural areas to accommodate soldiers affected by the June 30 deadline. And Congress just passed a war-spending bill that includes more funding for military construction inside Iraq.

The implications of the June 30 pullout are manifest: As Iraqis grapple with increasing responsibility for the security of their country and American military leaders search for avenues to project their influence, withdrawal from urban areas will set important precedents for the proposed full withdrawal of American forces.

The ability of Iraqi and U.S. commanders to subvert the SOFA and extend the stay of U.S. troops in Iraqi cities past the June 30 deadline does not bode well for the other withdrawal deadlines laid out in the agreement. Moreover, the vague language of the agreement lends itself to the possibility that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline.

This all may be for naught, however, as a referendum on the SOFA is scheduled for July 30 in Iraq. Despite attempts by the Iraqi cabinet to postpone the vote, lawmakers think a delay is unlikely. The measure is likely to lose if it goes to popular vote given the widespread opposition to the SOFA in Iraq, which is seen as legitimizing the U.S. occupation until 2011. According to the latest polls, published in the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, 73% of Iraqis oppose the presence of coalition forces. If the SOFA is struck down by the vote, U.S. forces could be forced out of Iraq immediately as the forces would not be legally protected.

The referendum could create big problems for the Obama administration, which has quietly discouraged the Iraqi government from holding it. The pressure from the administration is inconsistent with their goals of promoting democracy in Iraq. The people, who have been forced to live under occupation for the past six years, deserve a chance to have their voices heard.

Obama campaigned on a promise to leave Iraq. Yet the response to the June 30th deadline, the lack of support for the referendum, and the passage of another $70 billion for the war are stark indicators of what the real Iraq policy may be.

Erik Leaver is the Policy Outreach Director for Foreign Policy In Focus and is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Daniel Atzmon is a student at Wesleyan University and an intern at the Institute.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A People's History Of The United States

The 20th Century

By Howard Zinn

The complete audio book.

Who's A Low Level Terrorist?

Are You?

By Emily Spence
June 26, 2009
Courtesy Of "Information Clearing House"

Recently, an American Civil Liberties Union report pointed out, "Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as 'low level terrorism." [1]

Despite that DoD officials removed the offensive section from their educational resources at the urging of ACLU members, the DoD stance is still troubling since a longstanding practice to designate peaceful, law abiding activists as dangerous and treasonable still exists in many government departments and agencies. Indeed the participants of the first antiwar protest against the Vietnam incursion, put together in the mid-1960's by peaceable Quakers and FOR members after having discussed Gandhi's Salt March as a model for a nonviolent demonstration, faced government operatives filming them face by face from rooftops as they moved en masse down Broadway to the UN Plaza. (My mother, a pacifist married to a World War II Conscientious Objector, and I, a child at the time of the march, both were in attendance. When the film crew focused on us, she stood tall, faced the agents with their telephoto lens, glared in disdainful defiance and, simultaneously, throw the corner of her coat over my face. Afterwards, she muttered, "How dare they try to intimidate us!")

This sort of happening in mind, the treatment of Nobel Peace Award winner Aung San Sui Kyi in Myanmar is not necessarily all that different than the response that she'd receive in the USA and, while it's commendable that American spokespersons publicly object to her most recent arrest, they, certainly, might seem to be a bunch of hypocrites. This is due to the fact that a number of Nobel Peace Award recipients, such as American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), have had difficulties of their own on American soil.

For example, "AFSC�s work, always open and resolutely nonviolent, has been under government surveillance for decades. The Service Committee secured nearly 1,700 pages of files from the FBI under a Freedom of Information request in 1976. These files show that the FBI kept files on AFSC that dated back to 1921. Ten other federal agencies kept files on AFSC, including the CIA, Air Force, Navy, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, and the State Department. The CIA has intercepted overseas mail and cables in the 1950s, and some AFSC offices (and even its staff's homes) have been infiltrated and burglarized in the late 1960s into the 1970s." [2]

In relation, AFSC associate general secretary for justice and human rights, Joyce Miller, asked, "How can we speak of spreading democracy in Iraq while dismantling it here at home?" She further remarked, "Political dissent is fundamental to a free and democratic society. It should not be equated with crime."

Add to the AFSC problems, those pertaining to Nobel Peace Award recipient Nelson Mandela, who only a year ago had the designation "terrorist" removed from his name, under protest by the State Department, so that he no longer suffered travel restrictions from the US government. Yet his travel curtailment was not nearly as awful as was Ramzy Baroud's blockage. He, the editor of Palestine Chronicle, had his US passport seized by a consular officer at an overseas American Embassy [3]. Similarly, Senator Edward Kennedy was, also, flagged by the U.S. no-fly list.

Then again, Ted Kennedy received much less harassment than did Nobel Peace Award winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire after her flight from Guatemala had been directed to Ireland through Houston:

"She was probably tired and ready to get back to Belfast, where her attempts to bring about an end to The Troubles in 1976 made her at 32 the youngest Nobel Peace Prize-winner ever. Since then, she's been given the Pacem in Terris Award by Pope John Paul II, and the United Nations selected her (along with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Jordan's Queen Noor and a dozen or so other fellow Nobel Laureates) as an honorary board member of the International Coalition for the Decade.
"Unfortunately for Maguire, her flight back home to Northern Ireland was routed through Houston, where none of that meant diddly. Federal Customs officials were far less interested in any of that than they were in a box on the back of the transit form she filled out on her flight.

"'They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war,' Maguire said later in a statement. 'They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities.'

"Maguire was detained for two hours -- grilled once, fingerprinted, photographed, and grilled again. She missed her flight home. She was only released after an organization she helped found -- the Nobel Women's Initiative -- started kicking up a fuss." [4]

On can add to her troubles countless other ones wherein human rights and environmental supporters have been repeatedly hassled for no other reason than that they're holding views that don't jive with positions at any number of U.S. government institutions. One needn't return in time to the McCarthy Era to find many individuals who have been investigated and persecuted for holding vilified opinions. For example, Stephen Lendman, a peace advocate and writer in his seventies with a permanent knee injury that delimits travel, has been repeatedly investigated by the FBI.

At the same time, he is joined by myriad others such as assorted activists in Maryland whose names were put on federal terrorist lists by state police who infiltrated their groups. [5] As such, their perfectly legal activities, freedom of speech and right to unhindered assembly have been criminalized.

Simultaneously, there's a certain inescapable irony and disingenuous quality presented by the Western government heads who are harshly critical of the Iran crackdown on dissenting citizens while they, themselves, condone similar ironfisted policies in their own lands. Their two-faced position is barely hidden beneath the surface of their mock concern for the well-being of Iranian protesters as they urge their own and allied troops into battle, show little (if any) sincere remorse over the slaughter of masses of civilians that happen in the process and make sure that demonstrators at home are disregarded, denigrated or preemptively rounded up as happened at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Then again, one might find himself in pretty good company if he were singled out as unpatriotic and treacherous for holding viewpoints or undertaking actions that go contrary to the perspectives that a certain hawkish and totalitarian segment of society holds. All the same, every method conceivable might be used to hunt down the offenders and, when taken to the extreme, render their seemingly provocative positions ineffectual by any means possible, including imprisonment and murder.

Anyone who doubts this to be the case needs only to remember about what happened to people like Howard Fast; the slain Freedom Riders Andy Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner; the thirteen shot students at Kent State University at which Ohio National Guardsman fired sixty-seven rounds over a thirteen second period, and scores of others who have stood against mainstream policies.

Meanwhile, stigmatizing dissidents is a fairly common practice. As such, "There are 1.1 million people on the [U.S.] Terrorist Watch List and there is a 35 per cent error rate, minimum, for that list," according to ACLU's Michael German. [6] Furthermore, the overzealous and aggressive surveillance tactics used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to check the public's e-mails, telephone calls and other communications are the same ones as were in use during George W. Bush's administration. Likewise, the amount of spying on personal exchanges is as high as it ever was.

In relation to recent claims by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was unintentional, House representative, Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey and Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, commented "Some actions are so flagrant that they can't be accidental." Additionally, the act of tracking e-mailed transmissions and other interactions has seemed in violation of federal law according to lawyers at the Justice Department. Regardless, the practice continues.

At the same time, the decision to designate social activists as troublemakers, while singling them out for intimidation, threats and investigations, carries serious legal and political implications in democratic societies.The further measure of subjecting them to the sorts of difficulties that Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Ramzy Baroud, AFSC members and innumerable others have endured is clearly based in xenophobic, paranoid and despotic thinking. It embodies the kind of authoritarian mentality and oppressive activities that one finds in the worst types of tyrannical regimes.

As Harry S. Truman suggested, "Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear." Due to this fear, are we, then, to all conform with lock-step in perverse obedience to the State's dictates, outlooks and agendas in an increasingly Orwellian milieu? If not, then we must constantly remind ourselves and each other of US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas's vision: "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."


[1] Pentagon Rebrands Protest as "Low-Level Terrorism" (http://dissidentvoice.org/2009/06/pentagon-rebrands-protest-as-low-level-terrorism/).

[2] American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) (http://www.commondreams.org/news2006/0201-03.htm).

[3] "Punishing activists or pursuing terrorists?" by Maggie Mitchell Salem in Asia Times Online :: Asian News, Business and Economy. (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/GL10Aa01.html).

[4] Nobel Prize Winner Gets Hassled At Bush Intercontinental ... (http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2009/05/29-8).

[5] Police Spied on Activists In Md. - washingtonpost.com (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/17/AR2008071701287.html) and Md. Police Put Activists' Names On Terror Lists - ... (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2008/10/07/AR2008100703245.html).

[6] One third of FBI Terror Watch List are innocent people | Top ... (http://www.russiatoday.ru/Top_News/2009-06-17/One_third_of_FBI_Terror_Watch_List_are_innocent_people.html).

Emily Spence is an author living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved in human rights, environmental and social services efforts.

Hillary Is Wrong About The Settlements

The U.S. and Israel Reached A Clear Understanding About Natural Growth.

June 26, 2009
Courtesy Of The Wall Street Journal

Despite fervent denials by Obama administration officials, there were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. As the Obama administration has made the settlements issue a major bone of contention between Israel and the U.S., it is necessary that we review the recent history.

In the spring of 2003, U.S. officials (including me) held wide-ranging discussions with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. The "Roadmap for Peace" between Israel and the Palestinians had been written. President George W. Bush had endorsed Palestinian statehood, but only if the Palestinians eliminated terror. He had broken with Yasser Arafat, but Arafat still ruled in the Palestinian territories. Israel had defeated the intifada, so what was next?

[Commentary] Getty Images

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, President George W. Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Jordan's King Abdullah, June 4, 2003.

We asked Mr. Sharon about freezing the West Bank settlements. I recall him asking, by way of reply, what did that mean for the settlers? They live there, he said, they serve in elite army units, and they marry. Should he tell them to have no more children, or move?

We discussed some approaches: Could he agree there would be no additional settlements? New construction only inside settlements, without expanding them physically? Could he agree there would be no additional land taken for settlements?

As we talked several principles emerged. The father of the settlements now agreed that limits must be placed on the settlements; more fundamentally, the old foe of the Palestinians could -- under certain conditions -- now agree to Palestinian statehood.

In June 2003, Mr. Sharon stood alongside Mr. Bush, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at Aqaba, Jordan, and endorsed Palestinian statehood publicly: "It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state." At the end of that year he announced his intention to pull out of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. government supported all this, but asked Mr. Sharon for two more things. First, that he remove some West Bank settlements; we wanted Israel to show that removing them was not impossible. Second, we wanted him to pull out of Gaza totally -- including every single settlement and the "Philadelphi Strip" separating Gaza from Egypt, even though holding on to this strip would have prevented the smuggling of weapons to Hamas that was feared and has now come to pass. Mr. Sharon agreed on both counts.

These decisions were political dynamite, as Mr. Sharon had long predicted to us. In May 2004, his Likud Party rejected his plan in a referendum, handing him a resounding political defeat. In June, the Cabinet approved the withdrawal from Gaza, but only after Mr. Sharon fired two ministers and allowed two others to resign. His majority in the Knesset was now shaky.

After completing the Gaza withdrawal in August 2005, he called in November for a dissolution of the Knesset and for early elections. He also said he would leave Likud to form a new centrist party. The political and personal strain was very great. Four weeks later he suffered the first of two strokes that have left him in a coma.

Throughout, the Bush administration gave Mr. Sharon full support for his actions against terror and on final status issues. On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush handed Mr. Sharon a letter saying that there would be no "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Instead, the president said, "a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel."

On the major settlement blocs, Mr. Bush said, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." Several previous administrations had declared all Israeli settlements beyond the "1967 borders" to be illegal. Here Mr. Bush dropped such language, referring to the 1967 borders -- correctly -- as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.

On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth. Mr. Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: "Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements."

Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.

They were not secret, either. Four days after the president's letter, Mr. Sharon's Chief of Staff Dov Weissglas wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that "I wish to reconfirm the following understanding, which had been reached between us: 1. Restrictions on settlement growth: within the agreed principles of settlement activities, an effort will be made in the next few days to have a better definition of the construction line of settlements in Judea & Samaria."

Stories in the press also made it clear that there were indeed "agreed principles." On Aug. 21, 2004 the New York Times reported that "the Bush administration . . . now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward."

In recent weeks, American officials have denied that any agreement on settlements existed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 17 that "in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility."

These statements are incorrect. Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation -- the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step.

It is true that there was no U.S.-Israel "memorandum of understanding," which is presumably what Mrs. Clinton means when she suggests that the "official record of the administration" contains none. But she would do well to consult documents like the Weissglas letter, or the notes of the Aqaba meeting, before suggesting that there was no meeting of the minds.

Mrs. Clinton also said there were no "enforceable" agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?

Regardless of what Mrs. Clinton has said, there was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to break the deadlock, withdraw from Gaza, remove settlements -- and confront his former allies on Israel's right by abandoning the "Greater Israel" position to endorse Palestinian statehood and limits on settlement growth. He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.

Mr. Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, handled Middle East affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009.