Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dems Get Ready To Give W Another Blank Check

Unless there are clear timetables, then this is nothing but another shameful cave-in to a massively despised and politically isolated President

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Reid Opens Door to Pact With Antiwar Republicans

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 31, 2007; A01

LAS VEGAS -- Saying the coming weeks will be "one of the last opportunities" to alter the course of the war, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he is now willing to compromise with Republicans to find ways to limit troop deployments in Iraq.

Reid acknowledged that his previous firm demand for a spring withdrawal deadline had become an obstacle for a small but growing number of Republicans who have said they want to end the war but have been unwilling to set a timeline.

"I don't think we have to think that our way is the only way," Reid said of specific dates during an interview in his office here. "I'm not saying, 'Republicans, do what we want to do.' Just give me something that you think you would like to do, that accomplishes some or all of what I want to do."

Reid's unwavering stance this summer earned him critics who said he was playing politics by refusing to bargain with antiwar Republicans. In the interview, he said that his goal remains an immediate return of U.S. troops but that now is the time to work with the GOP. He cited bringing up legislation after Labor Day that would require troops to have more home leave, forcing military leaders to reduce troop levels, a measure that has drawn some Republican support.

During the week of Sept. 10, Congress will hear a progress report on the war from the U.S. commander in Baghdad, Gen. David H. Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker. After those hearings and a formal report from President Bush, lawmakers will renew their debate on the war.

That debate screeched to a halt in late July after the most poisonous confrontation since Democrats took control of Congress eight months ago. Reid convened an all-night session that infuriated Republicans, who blocked a Democratic withdrawal measure. Despite antiwar stirrings within the GOP, just four Republican senators broke ranks on the vote, and several chastised Reid, saying he wasted the Senate's time on a publicity stunt.

Reid then dropped the war debate, hoping to highlight Republican obstructionism. But the delay has provided the administration with breathing room to build its case that Bush's strategy is working. Petraeus is expected to report to Congress next month that there are some signs of progress in Iraq and that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal could be disastrous.

"I don't think we had any choice," Reid said, shrugging off past skirmishes. "I have no regrets about the way that I have tried to marshal the troops. It's been hard to keep all the Democrats together, but we've done that."

But looking forward, Reid said he will encourage new coalitions to develop, with a more bipartisan hue. "There is no reason that this be Democrat versus Republican," he said. But his GOP colleagues, he added, must be willing to stand up to Bush, as few have so far. "All these people saying September is here, September is the time -- they're going to have belly up to the bar and decide how to vote," Reid said.

One measure Reid said he will seek to resurrect would tighten rules on the use of troops by requiring soldiers' leave times to be at least as long as their most recent deployment. The proposal, offered by Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), would not set withdrawal terms, but it could effectively limit U.S. force levels. A vote of 56 to 41 in favor of the measure on July 11 fell four votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster, but it had seven Republican supporters.

Another approach, left hanging when Reid terminated the July debate, was a proposal from Sens. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to turn the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group into official U.S. policy. The study group's proposals, offered in December and mostly ignored by the White House, include setting the stage for a new regional diplomatic initiative and transitioning U.S. combat forces to more specific roles, including training and counterterrorism. If progress isn't made, troops would begin withdrawing early next year.

The Salazar-Alexander bill has attracted 12 additional co-sponsors, half of them Republicans. Reid said he is willing to listen to their pitch, but he remains concerned that the language is too cautious and may now be outdated.

Alexander said he and Salazar are discussing tweaks to reflect changing circumstances. But he believes that the study group report contains "the seeds for consensus," and he said of his proposal, "It's not withdrawal with a deadline, but it's finishing the job."

"I respect that some Democrats want us out tomorrow, and some Republicans want a victory like Germany and Japan, but that's not going to happen," Alexander said. But he warned that, given the onset of the 2008 presidential campaign season, "September may be our last best chance" to force a legislative solution.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who works closely with Reid on Iraq policy, noted that with each new phase of the Iraq debate, "we've picked up more votes." But to meet the Democrats' ultimate goal of ending the war, he added, "There's only so many things you can do."

The antiwar community also is warily eyeing the clock, frustrated that Bush remains firmly in control of Iraq policy. Eli Pariser, executive director of Political Action, called the all-night session in July "a good step in the right direction" but said of Reid's efforts to force Republicans to concede, "We'd like to see it go further."

The Senate has proved to be punishing terrain. Although Democrats technically control the chamber 51 to 49, Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) has been absent all year for health reasons, and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), an independent who is a member of the Democratic caucus, votes with Bush on Iraq. Given that controversial Senate bills require 60 votes to pass, Reid starts out 11 votes short.

Reid's friends see the wear on him. "I think he has agonized over this," said Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who has known Reid since she was a teenager. "I can see it. It weighs on his shoulders. But he's approaching this for all the right reasons, and I admire him for that."

Few Democrats have come as full circle on the war as Reid himself. On Oct. 10, 2002, as Senate majority whip, Reid became the most senior Democrat to endorse the war resolution. "They gave us the information, and I accepted what they told us," he explains.

It took a while to let go. "I did not wake up some morning and say, 'I oppose the war.' It built very slowly," Reid said.

One glimmer came when Frederick E. Pokorney Jr., a 31-year-old Marine from Tonopah, died on March 23, 2003; he was the first Nevada resident to be killed in Iraq. Reid called Wade Lieseke, the man Pokorney considered his father, to offer condolences. When Lieseke told him, "This war is worthless," he was taken aback. "I'm not sure that's right," he thought to himself. But with every new call, Reid later said, "I reflected back on that."

Reid also recalled his first visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "I say to this young man -- he's missing part of one leg and the other one's up in a sling, and I try to be nice -- 'I know we need to go get you more armor.' " The young man responded: "We don't need more armor. We need to get out of there." That comment lingered too.

This March, the senator returned to Walter Reed, where he met a young Ohio man recovering from a bomb attack that had "vaporized" his friend. A 22-year Army veteran told Reid she had lost her memory because she'd been knocked unconscious so many times. Reid left the hospital and headed to the Senate floor, where he delivered a passionate speech in favor of Webb's bid for troop-deployment limits.

"That did it for me," Reid said of the Walter Reed visit. "I never looked back. I'm not really proud of the fact that it's taken me so long to realize how bad it's been, but I'm there."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bush Jr's "Escalation", Ever-Changing Mission, Crushing US Troops Morale

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GIs' morale dips as Iraq war drags on

With tours extended, multiple deployments and new tactics that put them in bare posts in greater danger, they feel leaders are out of touch with reality.

By Tina Susman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 25, 2007

YOUSIFIYA, IRAQ — In the dining hall of a U.S. Army post south of Baghdad, President Bush was on the wide-screen TV, giving a speech about the war in Iraq. The soldiers didn't look up from their chicken and mashed potatoes.

As military and political leaders prepare to deliver a progress report on the conflict to Congress next month, many soldiers are increasingly disdainful of the happy talk that they say commanders on the ground and White House officials are using in their discussions about the war.

And they're becoming vocal about their frustration over longer deployments and a taxing mission that keeps many living in dangerous and uncomfortably austere conditions. Some say two wars are being fought here: the one the enlisted men see, and the one that senior officers and politicians want the world to see.

"I don't see any progress. Just us getting killed," said Spc. Yvenson Tertulien, one of those in the dining hall in Yousifiya, 10 miles south of Baghdad, as Bush's speech aired last month. "I don't want to be here anymore."

Morale problems come as the Bush administration faces increasing pressure to begin a drawdown of troops.

The Times reported Friday that Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was expected to advise Bush to reduce U.S. force levels next year by almost half because of the strain on the military.

But Pace on Friday said, "The story is wrong, it is speculative. I have not made or decided on any recommendations yet."

Plenty of troops remain upbeat about their mission in Iraq. At Patrol Base Shanghai, flanking the town of Rushdi Mullah south of Baghdad, Army Capt. Matt Dawson said residents used to shoot at troops but now visit them and offer ideas on improving security.

"For the 20-year-old kids here who have been shot at for 10 months in a row, the change is a tremendous feeling," Dawson said last week.

The Army cites reenlistment numbers as proof that morale remains high and says it expects to reach its retention goal of 62,200 for the fiscal year.

"On the 4th of July, we reenlisted 588 service members . . . in Baghdad. That has to be an indicator," said Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill, who visits bases to gauge morale on behalf of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Based on his encounters, Hill said, he would rank morale at 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.

"Units that are having real success are units where troop morale is extremely high," Hill said. "Units that are sustaining losses, whether it be personnel losses, injuries or casualties -- those are organizations where morale might dip a bit."

The signs of frustration and of flagging morale are unmistakable, including blunt comments, online rants and the findings of surveys on military morale and suicides.

Sometimes the signs are to be found even in latrines. In the stalls at Baghdad's Camp Liberty, someone had posted Army help cards listing "nine signs of suicide." On one card, seven of the boxes had been checked.

"This occupation, this money pit, this smorgasbord of superfluous aggression is getting more hopeless and dismal by the second," a soldier in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, wrote in an Aug. 7 post on his blog,

"The only person I know who believed Iraq was improving was killed by a sniper in May," the blogger, identified only as Alex from Frisco, Texas, said in a separate e-mail.

The Army's suicide rate is at its highest in 23 years: 17.3 per 100,000 troops, compared with 12.4 per 100,000 in 2003, the first year of the war. Of the 99 suicides last year, 27 occurred in Iraq.

The latest in a series of mental health surveys of troops in Iraq, released in May, says 45% of the 1,320 soldiers interviewed ranked morale in their unit as low or very low. Seven percent ranked it high or very high.

Mental health trends have worsened in the last two years, said Cindy Williams, an expert in military personnel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "These long and repeated deployments are causing acute mental stress," she said.

Most troops in Iraq expected 12-month deployments. Those were extended in May by three months for the troop buildup. Thousands already were on their second or third deployments.

The result is a fighting force that includes many soldiers who are worn down, just as Petraeus, who took command of the war six months ago, is asking them to adopt intense counterinsurgency tactics. Those strategies emphasize living "outside the wire," in military-speak, in outposts that put troops close to Iraqis. The theory is that people will come to trust the soldiers and share information needed to quell the violence.

But these posts often lack basic amenities such as running water, flush toilets, telephones and Internet access, which troops at the forward operating bases enjoy, along with food courts and athletic facilities. Being on the front lines, troops in outposts also face greater danger than those at bases.

Since the war began, there have been eight months in which U.S. troop deaths topped 100, including three months since the buildup began in February.

In Yousifiya, troops occupy the sun-scorched grounds of a former potato-processing plant. They use pit latrines and get showers only when there is enough water. They jog around a shade-less concrete lot that serves as a helipad and mortar-launching site. Other troops in this area have far less comfortable surroundings.

Army Maj. Rob Griggs believes rough conditions are good for the mission. Without comforting distractions, troops are more driven to complete their jobs, said Griggs, who is on his fifth deployment, including two in Iraq, since enlisting 17 years ago.

"It allows them to focus on why they are here," said Griggs, who sleeps and lives in half of a 20-foot metal shipping container on the Yousifiya base. Having troops live in the same spare conditions as many Iraqis do also helps convince people that the Americans are genuine about wanting to make things better, he said.

But the disparities in living and working conditions among soldiers heighten resentments, chipping away at morale. So does the feeling that the mission is futile, a belief fueled by the Iraqi political stalemate and the unreliability of Iraqi forces.

"There are two different wars," said Staff Sgt. Donald Richard Harris, comparing his soldiers' views with those of commanders in distant bases. "It's a dead-end process, it seems like."

Asked to rank morale in his unit, Harris gave it a 4 on a 10-point scale. "Look at these guys. This is their downtime," he said, as young soldiers around him silently cleaned dust from their rifles at a battle position south of the capital. A fiery wind blasted through the small base, an abandoned home surrounded by sandbags and razor wire.

"It sounds selfish, but if we just had phones and Internet service," said Staff Sgt. Clark Merlin, his voice trailing off.

Their unit was supposed to go home this month but its tour was extended until November. That means three more months of using plastic sacks for toilets, burning their waste and hoping for packages from home.

"I think the extension has been 99% of the reason morale is low," said Merlin, rating it 4 or 5.

Counterinsurgency expert Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations said the "two wars" issue is common in conflict zones as front-line soldiers grow to resent troops at the bases and come to believe their commanders are out of touch with the realities in the field.

"But this kind of war really highlights it," Biddle, who has advised Petraeus, said of Iraq. Soldiers' discomfort is compounded by the task of forging relations with people whom few trust, and who often make clear their dislike of the U.S. presence.

"All war is political, but usually privates and specialists don't have to think much about that part of it. In this conflict they do, to a much greater degree," Biddle said, referring to the community activities that troops have been drawn into. These include negotiating with tribal leaders who once harbored insurgents, striking deals with former insurgents to bring them into the Iraqi security forces, and listening to residents' complaints about lack of services.

"You have to help people despite the strong suspicion that lots of them mean you ill," Biddle said. "We're asking an awful lot of very, very young people."

It is especially difficult for soldiers trained to fight a uniformed enemy but in Iraq face an array of unconventional forces. Most thought their job was finished after Saddam Hussein was ousted. Instead, they found themselves directing traffic in Baghdad's chaotic streets. Four years later, they still are policing and doing community work they did not anticipate.

"You couple that with getting blown up and shot at, and it definitely makes it harder to deliver service with a smile," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Littrell, whose plan to leave the Army in May was thwarted when his unit's tour was extended.

At another patrol base, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of U.S. forces in southern Iraq, was introduced to 1st Lt. Jeff Bess. The young man had just arrived for his first assignment. Asked how he liked the Army so far, Bess made an attempt to be polite. "It's a learning experience, sir," he replied.

Lynch told him: "You're making history here while those back home are watching it on TV."

Times staff writers Julian E. Barnes in Washington and Garrett Therolf, Carol J. Williams and Alexandra Zavis in Iraq contributed to this report.

L.A.U.S.D. Personnel Get The "Support The Troops" Treatment

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L.A. Unified payroll a lesson in agony

Frustrated teachers, aides take out loans as district's troubled $95-million system refuses to pay them.

By Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 25, 2007

Since launching a $95-million computer system six months ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District has been beset by programming glitches, hardware crashes and mistakes by hurriedly trained clerical staff. The result: tens of thousands of teachers, cafeteria workers, classroom aides and others have been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all.

The hardest hit have been the roughly 48,000 certificated employees -- teachers and others who require a credential to perform their jobs. Their complicated, varied job assignments and pay scales have perplexed computer programmers and, this month, an additional 3,900 people received incorrect paychecks.

That total would have been higher had the district not caught "a number of. . . system defects" and "administrative errors," before paychecks were written, acknowledged David Holmquist, the district's director of risk management and insurance.

Anedra Harper knew she would never get rich working as a teacher in Los Angeles' public schools. The trade-off, the 32-year-old figured, was the satisfaction of doing a job that mattered.

But for three months this summer, Harper, who makes about $40,000 teaching learning and emotionally disabled students at a city high school, was not paid. With mortgage payments, bills and grocery receipts piling up, she eventually took out $15,000 in loans to stay afloat.

"I absolutely love teaching and working with kids," she said, "but this has been a nightmare."

The continued payroll problems have become a serious stumbling block for Supt. David L. Brewer, who inherited the Business Tools for Schools technology project when he was hired in November. His early, emphatic promises to fix the mess only exacerbated the situation as district hotlines and an emergency office set up in L.A. Unified's downtown headquarters were immediately overwhelmed.

Union leaders have pounced on the issue, lambasting the district for not doing more. United Teachers Los Angeles took the district to court, unsuccessfully seeking a ruling to force a remedy. No quick fix appears possible: District officials say that several more months are needed and have already set aside an additional $37 million to pay for the repairs.

That does not bode well for employees. With only one payday each month -- as is the case for most district staff -- when something goes awry, carefully laid plans to pay bills and budget for such basics as groceries and gas quickly become complicated.

"All I want to know is whether I am getting a paycheck or not," a calm but weary Rosanna White, an English teacher, told a frazzled payroll staffer who was trying to help determine why she had received a check for less than half of what she was owed for July. White was into her fourth hour of what would turn out to be a seven-hour wild goose chase.

"Do you even see my [teaching] assignment in the computer?" she asked the man, the third person to whom she had repeated her story so far that day.

"No," he said, helplessly.

White, 30, who earns about $43,000 a year as a full-time teacher at Manual Arts High School, said she was first beset by payroll problems in February, when she was working every day as a substitute at the school.

That month, she received no paycheck. With little savings in the bank, White saw her finances spiral out of control. She accepted an emergency advance from the district that estimated her net pay, but did not account for taxes, union fees or other deductions. As the district's system automatically recouped the advance in subsequent checks, White said, she was left scrambling anew and was forced to take more emergency advances. The cycle lasted for months. White said she has taken her credit cards to the limit and gotten about $14,000 in loans to keep afloat.

Her story is a common one. Months of oscillating between underpayments and overpayments, and trying to decipher the system's pay stubs has led to widespread confusion and frustration. White and Harper, the special education teacher, eventually received paychecks for July, but both say they are uncertain whether the amounts are accurate.

"I don't even know what my base pay is anymore!" an exasperated Beverly Ann Ball said recently to a group of teachers who nodded in agreement as they waited for help at the district office. Over the last four months, Ball's paychecks have varied dramatically, fluctuating from $1,033 to $3,269.

Teachers continue to take the brunt of the abuse because they work 10 months out of the year, but are scheduled to be paid 12 times.

The payroll system's software was not designed to correctly spread out, or annualize, the salaries, Holmquist said. Programmers have begun the two- to three-month process of rewriting the software from scratch using more complex programs while district officials consider scrapping the 12-month pay calendar, Holmquist said.

Meanwhile, the district is in talks with Deloitte Consulting, the firm hired to plan and implement the three-phase technology project that began in 2005. District officials are negotiating a possible repayment of some of the more than $55 million the firm has received, or an increase in the resources and staffing it provides to the district. If talks fail, district officials said, a lawsuit is possible.

"All of the potential remedies are on the table," said Holmquist, who oversees the district's efforts to fix the payroll problems. Holmquist took control after the district's chief financial officer, Charles Burbridge, left his post this summer amid increasing dissatisfaction with his performance.

A spokeswoman for Deloitte declined to respond to questions regarding the company's alleged role, saying in an e-mail: "We empathize with those district employees who have been affected by the transition to a new payroll system."

Los Angeles Unified is not alone in its troubles. The Los Angeles Community College District experienced similar problems, albeit on a smaller scale, after implementing the same system in 2005. The state government, meanwhile, has decided to phase in a similar project next year.

The confusion at L.A. Unified seems certain to continue. Next month, the district plans to begin the process of recouping nearly $45 million it has overpaid to more than 28,700 employees -- most of it on the June 5 payday that district officials refer to as "black Tuesday."

Not accounting for new problems that arose from the last payday, Holmquist said, the district had repaid all of the employees who had been underpaid by "any material amount."

Small underpayments, he said, will be corrected in coming months.

In an effort to minimize the inevitable confusion, district and union officials have mailed payroll histories to each affected employee in an attempt to reconcile and explain each person's situation.

Such efforts may help, but they are unlikely to erase employees' built-up aggravation. Several said their experiences in bouncing between school clerks and overwhelmed staff downtown in search of help has been a harsh reminder of the impersonal reality of working in a school district with 90,000 employees.

"It makes you feel like a small person, very insignificant," White said. "This hasn't soured me on teaching. I want to teach, but I don't have to teach at this school district."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

DNI Michael "OMG!!! We're All Gonna Die!!!" McConnell: Telecoms Must Have Legal Immunity To Warrantlessly Spy On Customers

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August 24, 2007

Role of Telecom Firms in Wiretaps Is Confirmed


WASHINGTON, Aug. 23 — The Bush administration has confirmed for the first time that American telecommunications companies played a crucial role in the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program after asserting for more than a year that any role played by them was a “state secret.”

The acknowledgment was in an unusual interview that Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, gave last week to

The El Paso Times in which he disclosed details on classified intelligence issues that the administration has long insisted would harm national security if discussed publicly.

Mr. McConnell made the remarks apparently in an effort to bolster support for the broadened wiretapping authority that Congress approved this month, even as Democrats are threatening to rework the legislation because they say it gives the executive branch too much power. It is vital, he said, for Congress to give retroactive legal immunity to the companies that assisted in the program to help prevent them from facing bankruptcy because of lawsuits over it.

“Under the president’s program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us, because if you’re going to get access, you’ve got to have a partner,” Mr. McConnell said in the interview, a transcript of which was posted by The El Paso Times on Wednesday.

AT&T and several other major carriers are being sued over their reported role in the program, which permitted eavesdropping without warrants on the international communications of Americans suspected of terrorism ties. The administration has sought to shut down the lawsuits by invoking the state-secrets privilege, refusing even to confirm whether the companies helped conduct the wiretaps.

Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is heading up the lawsuit against AT&T, said her group might ask the appeals court to consider Mr. McConnell’s comments in deciding whether the state-secrets argument should be thrown out.

“They’ve really undermined their own case,” Ms. Cohn said.

Mr. McConnell said those suits were a driving force in the administration’s efforts to include in this month’s wiretapping legislation immunity for telecommunications partners. “If you play out the suits at the value they’re claimed,” he said, “it would bankrupt these companies.”

Congress agreed to give immunity to telecommunications partners in the measure , but refused to make it retroactive.

Mr. McConnell, who took over as the country’s top intelligence official in February, warned that the public discussion generated by the Congressional debate over the wiretapping bill threatened national security because it would alert terrorists to American surveillance methods.

“Now part of this is a classified world,” he said in the interview. “The fact we’re doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die.”.

Asked whether he was saying the news media coverage and the public debate in Congress meant that “some Americans are going to die,” he replied: “That’s what I mean. Because we have made it so public.”

Mr. McConnell, though, put new information on the public record in the interview, on Aug. 14 while in Texas for a border conference.

Mr. McConnell said, for instance, that the number of people inside the United States who were wiretapped through court-approved warrants totaled “100 or less” but on the “foreign side, it’s in the thousands.” The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves national security wiretaps, told Congress it approved 2,181 eavesdropping warrants last year. The court and the administration have not been willing to break out how many Americans were in those orders.

Mr. McConnell did not make clear the time frame for his estimate, nor was it clear whether he was referring to the security agency’s program of eavesdropping without warrants, which was brought under the oversight of the intelligence court in January. Officials in his office refused to clarify what he meant.

Mr. McConnell also offered the administration’s first public discussion about a classified series of rulings by the intelligence court that he said had restricted the agency’s ability to collect foreign intelligence.

He said one judge this year gave broad approval for the agency’s eavesdropping program. But another judge, he said, ruled in the spring that the administration would have to obtain a warrant for any “foreign to foreign” communications that passed through an American telecommunications center.

The administration obtained a stay of that ruling until May 31, he disclosed, but after that date he intelligence officials had “significantly less capability” to track foreign communications. The ruling sent the administration “in the wrong direction,” he added.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has petitioned the intelligence court to make public its secret wiretapping rulings, expressed frustration on Thursday with the timing of Mr. McConnell’s comments.

“If this ostensibly sensitive information can be released now, why could it not be released two months ago, when the public and Congress desperately needed it?” asked Jameel Jaffer, director of the group’s national security project.

Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said the interview “was quite striking because he was disclosing more detail than has appeared anywhere in the public domain.”

“If we’re to believe that Americans will die from discussing these things,” Mr. Aftergood said, “then he is complicit in that. It’s an unseemly argument. He’s basically saying that democracy is going to kill Americans.”

McConnell's Absurd FISA Spin

This is the El Paso Times interview that's getting so much play nationally, with Director Of Intelligence Michael McConnell

Transcript: Debate on the foreign intelligence surveillance act

By Chris Roberts / ©El Paso Times
El Paso Times
Article Launched: 08/22/2007 01:05:57 AM MDT
The following is the transcript of a question and answer session with National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell.

Question: How much has President Bush or members of his administration formed your response to the FISA debate?

Answer: Not at all. When I came back in, remember my previous assignment was director of the NSA, so this was an area I have known a little bit about. So I came back in. I was nominated the first week of January. The administration had made a decision to put the terrorist surveillance program into the FISA court. I think that happened the 7th of Jan. So as I come in the door and I'm prepping for the hearings, this sort of all happened. So the first thing I want to know is what's this program and what's the background and I was pretty surprised at what I learned. First off, the issue was the technology had changed and we had worked ourselves into a position that we were focusing on foreign terrorist communications, and this was a terrorist foreigner in a foreign country. The issue was international communications are on a wire so all of a sudden we were in a position because of the wording in the law that we had to have a warrant to do that. So the most important thing to capture is that it's a foreigner in a foreign country, required to get a warrant. Now if it were wireless, we would not be required to get a warrant. Plus we were limited in what we were doing to terrorism only and the last time I checked we had a mission called foreign intelligence, which should be construed to mean anything of a foreign intelligence interest, North Korea, China, Russia, Syria, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, military development and it goes on and on and on. So when I engaged with the administration, I said we've gotten ourselves into a position here where we need to clarify, so the FISA issue had been debated and legislation had been passed in the house in 2006, did not pass the Senate. Two bills were introduced in the Senate, I don't know if it was co-sponsorship or two different bills, but Sen. (Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) had a bill and Sen. Specter had a bill and it may have been the same bill, I don't know, but the point is a lot of debate, a lot of dialogue. So, it was submitted to the FISA court and the first ruling in the FISA court was what we needed to do we could do with an approval process that was at a summary level and that was OK, we stayed in business and we're doing our mission. Well in the FISA process, you may or may not be aware ...

Q: When you say summary level, do you mean the FISA court?

A: The FISA court. The FISA court ruled presented the program to them and they said the program is what you say it is and it's appropriate and it's legitimate, it's not an issue and was had approval. But the FISA process has a renewal. It comes up every so many days and there are 11 FISA judges. So the second judge looked at the same data and said well wait a minute I interpret the law, which is the FISA law, differently. And it came down to, if it's on a wire and it's foreign in a foreign country, you have to have a warrant and so we found ourselves in a position of actually losing ground because it was the first review was less capability, we got a stay and that took us to the 31st of May. After the 31st of May we were in extremis because now we have significantly less capability. And meantime, the community, before I came back, had been working on a National Intelligence Estimate on terrorist threat to the homeland. And the key elements of the terrorist threat to the homeland, there were four key elements, a resilient determined adversary with senior leadership willing to die for the cause, requiring a place to train and develop, think of it as safe haven, they had discovered that in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now the Pakistani government is pushing and pressing and attempting to do something about it, but by and large they have areas of safe haven. So leadership that can adapt, safe haven, intermediate leadership, these are think of them as trainers, facilitators, operational control guys. And the fourth part is recruits. They have them, they've taken them. This area is referred to as the FATA, federally administered tribal areas, they have the recruits and now the objective is to get them into the United States for mass casualties to conduct terrorist operations to achieve mass casualties. All of those four parts have been carried out except the fourth. They have em, but they haven't been successful. One of the major tools for us to keep them out is the FISA program, a significant tool and we're going the wrong direction. So, for me it was extremis to start talking not only to the administration, but to members of the hill. So from June until the bill was passed, I think I talked to probably 260 members, senators and congressmen. We submitted the bill in April, had an open hearing 1 May, we had a closed hearing in May, I don't remember the exact date. Chairman (U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas) had two hearings and I had a chance to brief the judiciary committee in the house, the intelligence committee in the house and I just mentioned the Senate, did not brief the full judiciary committee in the Senate, but I did meet with Sen. (Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.) and Sen. (Arlen Specter, R-Pa.), and I did have an opportunity on the Senate side, they have a tradition there of every quarter they invite the director of national intelligence in to talk to them update them on topics of interest. And that happened in (June 27). Well what they wanted to hear about was Iraq and Afghanistan and for whatever reason, I'm giving them my review and they ask questions in the order in which they arrive in the room. The second question was on FISA, so it gave me an opportunity to, here I am worrying about this problem and I have 41 senators and I said several things. The current threat is increasing, I'm worried about it. Our capability is decreasing and let me explain the problem.

Q: Can't you get the warrant after the fact?

A: The issue is volume and time. Think about foreign intelligence. What it presented me with an opportunity is to make the case for something current, but what I was really also trying to put a strong emphasis on is the need to do foreign intelligence in any context. My argument was that the intelligence community should not be restricted when we are conducting foreign surveillance against a foreigner in a foreign country, just by dint of the fact that it happened to touch a wire. We haven't done that in wireless for years.

Q: So you end up with people tied up doing paperwork?

A: It takes about 200 man hours to do one telephone number. Think about it from the judges standpoint. Well, is this foreign intelligence? Well how do you know it's foreign intelligence? Well what does Abdul calling Mohammed mean, and how do I interpret that? So, it's a very complex process, so now, I've got people speaking Urdu and Farsi and, you know, whatever, Arabic, pull them off the line have them go through this process to justify what it is they know and why and so on. And now you've got to write it all up and it goes through the signature process, take it through (the Justice Department), and take it down to the FISA court. So all that process is about 200 man hours for one number. We're going backwards, we couldn't keep up. So the issue was ...

Q: How many calls? Thousands?

A: Don't want to go there. Just think, lots. Too many. Now the second part of the issue was under the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us. Because if you're going to get access you've got to have a partner and they were being sued. Now if you play out the suits at the value they're claimed, it would bankrupt these companies. So my position was we have to provide liability protection to these private sector entities. So that was part of the request. So we went through that and we argued it. Some wanted to limit us to terrorism. My argument was, wait a minute, why would I want to limit it to terrorism. It may be that terrorists are achieving weapons of mass destruction, the only way I would know that is if I'm doing foreign intelligence by who might be providing a weapon of mass destruction.

Q: And this is still all foreign to foreign communication?

A: All foreign to foreign. So, in the final analysis, I was after three points, no warrant for a foreigner overseas, a foreign intelligence target located overseas, liability protection for the private sector and the third point was we must be required to have a warrant for surveillance against a U.S. person. And when I say U.S. person I want to make sure you capture what that means. That does not mean citizen. That means a foreigner, who is here, we still have to have a warrant because he's here. My view is that that's the right check and balances and it's the right protection for the country and lets us still do our mission for protection of the country. And we're trying to fend off foreign threats.

Q: So are you satisfied with it the way it is now?

A: I am. The issue that we did not address, which has to be addressed is the liability protection for the private sector now is proscriptive, meaning going forward. We've got a retroactive problem. When I went through and briefed the various senators and congressmen, the issue was alright, look, we don't want to work that right now, it's too hard because we want to find out about some issues of the past. So what I recommended to the administration is, 'Let's take that off the table for now and take it up when Congress reconvenes in September.'

Q: With an eye toward the six-month review?

A: No, the retroactive liability protection has got to be addressed.

Q: And that's not in the current law?

A: It is not. Now people have said that I negotiated in bad faith, or I did not keep my word or whatever...

Q: That you had an agenda that you weren't honest about.

A: I'll give you the facts from my point of view. When I checked on board I had my discussion with the president. I'm an apolitical figure. I'm not a Republican, I'm not a Democrat. I have voted for both. My job is as a professional to try to do this job the best way I can in terms of, from the intelligence community, protect the nation. So I made my argument that we should have the ability to do surveillance the same way we've done it for the past 50 years and not be inhibited when it's a foreigner in a foreign country. The president's guidance to me early in the process, was, 'You've got the experience. I trust your judgement. You make the right call. There's no pressure from anybody here to tell you how to do it. He did that early. He revisited with me in June. He did it again in July and he said it publicly on Friday before the bill was passed. We were at the FBI, it's an annual thing, we go to the FBI and do a homeland security kind of update. So he came out at noon and said, 'I'm requesting that Congress pass this bill. It's essential. Do it before you go on recess. I'm depending on Mike McConnell's recommendations. And that was the total sum and substance of the guidance and the involvement from the White House with regard to how I should make the call. Now, as we negotiated, we started with 66 pages, were trying to get everything cleaned up at once. When I reduced it to my three points, we went from 66 pages to 11. Now, this is a very, very complex bill. I had a team of 20 lawyers working. You can change a word in a paragraph and end up with some major catastrophe down in paragraph 27, subsection 2c, to shut yourself down, you'll be out of business. So when we send up our 11 pages, we had a lot of help in making sure we got it just right so it would come back and we'd say wait a minute we can't live with this or one of the lawyers would say, 'Wait we tried that, it won't work, here's the problem.' So we kept going back and forth, so we sent up a version like Monday, we sent up a version on Wednesday, we sent up a version on Thursday. The House leadership, or the Democratic leadership on Thursday took that bill and we talked about it. And my response was there are some things I can't live with in this bill and they said alright we're going to fix them. Now, here's the issue. I never then had a chance to read it for the fix because, again, it's so complex, if you change a word or phrase, or even a paragraph reference, you can cause unintended ...

Q: You have to make sure it's all consistent?

A: Right. So I can't agree to it until it's in writing and my 20 lawyers, who have been doing this for two years, can work through it. So in the final analysis, I was put in the position of making a call on something I hadn't read. So when it came down to crunch time, we got a copy and it had some of the offending language back in it. So I said, 'I can't support it.' And it played out in the House the way it played out in the House. Meantime on the Senate side, there were two versions being looked at. The Wednesday version and the Thursday version. And one side took one version and the other side took the other version. The Thursday version, we had some help, and I didn't get a chance to review it. So now, it's Friday night, the Senate's voting. They were having their debate and I still had not had a chance to review it. So, I walked over, I was up visiting some senators trying to explain some of the background. So I walked over to the chamber and as I walked into the office just off the chamber, it's the vice president's office, somebody gave me a copy. So I looked at the version and said, 'Can't do it. The same language was back in there.'

Q: What was it?

A: Just let me leave it, not too much detail, there were things with regard to our authorities some language around minimization. So it put us in an untenable position. So then I had another version to take a look at, which was our Wednesday version, which basically was unchanged. So I said, well certainly, I'm going to support that Wednesday version. So that's what I said and the vote happened in the Senate and that was on Friday. So now it rolled to the House on Saturday. They took up the bill, they had a spirited debate, my name was invoked several times, not in a favorable light in some cases. (laughs) And they took a vote and it passed 226 to 182, I think. So it's law. The president signed it on Sunday and here we are.

Q: That's far from unanimous. There's obviously going to be more debate on this.

A: There are a couple of issues to just be sensitive to. There's a claim of reverse targeting. Now what that means is we would target somebody in a foreign country who is calling into the United States and our intent is to not go after the bad guy, but to listen to somebody in the United States. That's not legal, it's, it would be a breach of the Fourth Amendment. You can go to jail for that sort of thing. And If a foreign bad guy is calling into the United States, if there's a need to have a warrant, for the person in the United States, you just get a warrant. And so if a terrorist calls in and it's another terrorist, I think the American public would want us to do surveillance of that U.S. person in this case. So we would just get a warrant and do that. It's a manageable thing. On the U.S. persons side it's 100 or less. And then the foreign side, it's in the thousands. Now there's a sense that we're doing massive data mining. In fact, what we're doing is surgical. A telephone number is surgical. So, if you know what number, you can select it out. So that's, we've got a lot of territory to make up with people believing that we're doing things we're not doing.

Q: Even if it's perception, how do you deal with that? You have to do public relations, I assume.

A: Well, one of the things you do is you talk to reporters. And you give them the facts the best you can. Now part of this is a classified world. The fact we're doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die, because we do this mission unknown to the bad guys because they're using a process that we can exploit and the more we talk about it, the more they will go with an alternative means and when they go to an alternative means, remember what I said, a significant portion of what we do, this is not just threats against the United States, this is war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Q. So you're saying that the reporting and the debate in Congress means that some Americans are going to die?

A. That's what I mean. Because we have made it so public. We used to do these things very differently, but for whatever reason, you know, it's a democratic process and sunshine's a good thing. We need to have the debate. The reason that the FISA law was passed in 1978 was an arrangement was worked out between the Congress and the administration, we did not want to allow this community to conduct surveillance, electronic surveillance, of Americans for foreign intelligence unless you had a warrant, so that was required. So there was no warrant required for a foreign target in a foreign land. And so we are trying to get back to what was the intention of '78. Now because of the claim, counterclaim, mistrust, suspicion, the only way you could make any progress was to have this debate in an open way.

Q. So you don't think there was an alternative way to do this?

A. There may have been an alternative way, but we are where are ...

Q. A better way, I should say.

A. All of my briefs initially were very classified. But it became apparent that we were not going to be able to carry the day if we don't talk to more people.

Q. Some might say that's the price you pay for living in a free society. Do you think that this is necessary that these Americans die?

A. We could have gotten there a different way. We conducted intelligence since World War II and we've maintained a sensitivity as far as sources and methods. It's basically a sources and methods argument. If you don't protect sources and methods then those you target will choose alternative means, different paths. As it is today al-Qaida in Iraq is targeting Americans, specifically the coalition. There are activities supported by other nations to import electronic, or explosively formed projectiles, to do these roadside attacks and what we know about that is often out of very sensitive sources and methods. So the more public it is, then they take it away from us. So that's the tradeoff.


Q: I wanted to ask you about the diversity question. This has major ramifications here, we have this center of excellence program that's recruiting high school kids, many of whom wouldn't qualify if first generation American citizens weren't allowed.

A: So you agree with me?

Q: It does sound like something that would benefit this area that would also allow you to get people from here who are bicultural and have an openness to seeing things ...

A: You're talking about Hispanics?

Q: Yes.

A: Hispanics are probably the most under-represented group if you think of America, what the ethic makeup of America, Hispanics are the most under-represented group in my community. Now, that said, and should increase that Hispanic population and programs like this will do that. That's why the outreach. But also we need, particularly with the current problem of terrorism, we need to have speakers of Urdu and Farsi and Arabic and people from those cultures that understand the issues of tribes and clans and all the things that go with understanding that part of the world. Varying religions and so on. Because it is, it's almost impossible, I've had the chance to live in the Middle East for years, I've studied it for years, it's impossible to understand it without having some feel for the culture and so on. So while I'm all for increasing the diversity along the lines we talked about, I'm also very much in favor of first generation Americans from the countries that are causing issues and problems.

Q: What is the status of that program.

A: It is not in statue. It is not in policy. It has been habit. So we've stated, as a matter of policy, that we're not going to abide by those habits.

Q: And that's already the case?

A: Yes, and are we making progress? Not fast enough, but we will make progress over time.

Q: How do you measure that?

A: Very simple, you get to measure what are you and where are you trying go and are you making progress. I wrestled with this years ago when I was NSA ....

Q: You don't want quotas, though?

A: Quotas are forbidden so we set goals. My way of thinking about it is what is your end state? Now some would say that federal governments should look like America, whatever that is. OK, that sounded like a reasonable metric, so I said, 'Alright, what does America look like?' So I got a bunch of numbers. I said, 'Alright, what do we look like?' and it didn't match, and as I just told you, the one place where there's the greatest mismatch is Hispanic. It's much closer, as matter of fact, people would be surprised how close it is across, at least my community among the other minorities. Now, that said, numbers don't necessarily equal positioning in the organization. So that's another feature we have to work on, is placement of women and minorities in leadership positions.

Q: So, you're quantifying that as well?

A: Yes.


Q: There seems to be very little terrorist-related activity on the Southwest border, which is watched very closely because of the illegal immigration issue. Can you talk about why it's important to be alert here?

A: Let me go back to my NIE, those are unclassified key judgements, pull them down and look at them. You've got committed leadership. You've got a place to train. They've got trainers and they've got recruits. The key now is getting recruits in. So if the key is getting recruits in. So, if you're key is getting recruits in, how would you do that? And so, how would you do that?

Q: I'd go to the northern border where there's nobody watching.

A: And that's a path. Flying in is a path. Taking a ship in is a path. Coming up through the Mexican border is a path. Now are they doing it in great numbers, no. Because we're finding them and we're identifying them and we've got watch lists and we're keeping them at bay. There are numerous situations where people are alive today because we caught them (terrorists). And my point earlier, we catch them or we prevent them because we've got the sources and methods that lets us identify them and do something about it. And you know the more sources and methods are compromised, we have that problem.

Q: And in many cases we don't hear about them?

A: The vast majority you don't hear about. Remember, let me give you a way to think about this. If you've got an issue, you have three potential outcomes, only three. A diplomatic success, an operational success or an intelligence failure. Because all those diplomatic successes and operations successes where there's intelligence contribution, it's not an intelligence success. It's just part of the process. But if there's an intelligence failure ...

Q: Then you hear about it.

A: So, are terrorists coming across the Southwest border? Not in great numbers.

Q: There are some cases?

A: There are some. And would they use it as a path, given it was available to them? In time they will.

Q: If they're successful at it, then they'll probably repeat it.

A: Sure. There were a significant number of Iraqis who came across last year. Smuggled across illegally.

Q: Where was that?

A: Across the Southwest border.

Q: Can you give me anymore detail?

A: I probably could if I had my notebook. It's significant numbers. I'll have somebody get it for you. I don't remember what it is.

Q: The point is it went from a number to (triple) in a single year, because they figured it out. Now some we caught, some we didn't. The ones that get in, what are they going to do? They're going to write home. So, it's not rocket science, word will move around. There's a program now in South America, where you can, once you're in South American countries, you can move around in South America and Central America without a visa. So you get a forged passport in Lebanon or where ever that gets you to South America. Now, no visa, you can move around, and with you're forged passport, as a citizen of whatever, you could come across that border. So, what I'm highlighting is that something ...

Q: Is this how it happened, the cases you're talking about?

A: Yes.

No-Bid Outsource Contract Winners Help Outsource Government No-Bid Contracts

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Federal No-Bid Contracts On Rise
Use of Favored Firms A Common Shortcut

Wednesday, August 22, 2007; A01

Under pressure from the White House and Congress to deliver a long-delayed plan last year, officials at the Department of Homeland Security's counter-narcotics office took a shortcut that has become common at federal agencies: They hired help through a no-bid contract.

And the firm they hired showed them how to do it.

Scott Chronister, a senior official in the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement, reached out to a former colleague at a private consulting firm for advice. The consultant suggested that Chronister's office could avoid competition and get the work done quickly under an arrangement in which the firm "approached the government with a 'unique and innovative concept,' " documents and interviews show.

A contract worth up to $579,000 was awarded to the consultant's firm in September.

Though small by government standards, the counter-narcotics contract illustrates the government's steady move away from relying on competition to secure the best deals for products and services.

A recent congressional report estimated that federal spending on contracts awarded without "full and open" competition has tripled, to $207 billion, since 2000, with a $60 billion increase last year alone. The category includes deals in which officials take advantage of provisions allowing them to sidestep competition for speed and convenience and cases in which the government sharply limits the number of bidders or expands work under open-ended contracts.

Government auditors say the result is often higher prices for taxpayers and an undue reliance on a limited number of contractors.

"The rapid growth in no-bid and limited-competition contracts has made full and open competition the exception, not the rule," according to the report, by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Keith Ashdown, chief investigator at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said that in many cases, officials are simply choosing favored contractors as part of a "club mentality."

"Contracting officials are throwing out decades of work to develop fair and sensible rules to promote competition," Ashdown said. "Government officials are skirting the rules in favor of expediency or their favored contractors."

In the case of the counter-narcotics office, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department said it was not unusual for a contractor to tell agency officials how to arrange no-bid contracts because contractors sometimes know federal procurement regulations better than federal program managers.

Chronister and the former colleague, consultant Ron Simeone, declined to be interviewed for this article. The director of the counter-narcotics office, Uttam Dhillon, defended his office's decision to use the consultants, saying ethics officials at the Department of Homeland Security had been informed of the arrangements and approved them, as long as Chronister did not supervise his former colleagues.

Contracting officials at the department also determined that the no-bid arrangement was okay because Simeone and his subcontractor were uniquely qualified to do the work, in part because they intended to replicate some work they had done for the White House drug office, he said.

"Every step of the way, we followed the advice and guidance of our ethics officer," Dhillon said. "We did everything we're required to do by law and then some."

Dhillon said he was comfortable hiring Simeone after Chronister and another office official described the consultant as a counter-narcotics expert. He said the firm performed well.

"My goal was to get this done as quickly and efficiently as possible," he said. "He obviously had experience with this and was knowledgeable about this."

Homeland Security's counter-narcotics office was formed in 2004 to develop policies that unify various drug-enforcement programs. With fewer than a dozen employees, the office has struggled with deadlines for its budget, annual reports and the development of a system for measuring the effectiveness of drug-control efforts, Dhillon said.

After Dhillon was confirmed as the office's director in May 2006, he made the development of the measure system "one of my highest priorities," he said. He said Congress and the White House had made multiple requests for information that the office could not provide.

A senior manager at the counter-narcotics office had been assigned to the task. But Dhillon said he "came to the conclusion the office was not really in a position" to finish the work.

In July, Chronister asked Simeone for help in developing a system to measure the impact of government interdiction efforts. Simeone in turn decided to hire another consultant, John Carnevale, for help.

Chronister, Simeone and Carnevale had worked together over the years, including at the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Chronister later worked as a senior policy analyst at Carnevale Associates, a policy consulting firm owned by Carnevale, before joining the counter-narcotics office.

Simeone, too, worked at Carnevale Associates. He is listed as chief scientist, on the firm's Web site. At the same time, Simeone ran his own company, Simeone Associates. Carnevale is listed on that company's Web site as a senior associate.

Carnevale said Chronister sought the meeting with Simeone last July "to explain the problems they were having related to pulling together a performance-measurement system and asked him for advice."

"Simeone suggested an approach, which he turned into a sole-source proposal," Carnevale said in an e-mail.

On Sept. 20, about a week before the contract was awarded, Chronister was given responsibility for overseeing the work, according to an e-mail obtained by The Washington Post.

That changed five days later, when Chronister first told Dhillon about his ties to the consultants, Dhillon said in an interview. On advice from ethics officials at the department, Dhillon told Chronister not to work with Carnevale.

"Chronister was walled off from dealing with the contractor and subcontractor before the contract was signed," Dhillon said. "We made the decision with an abundance of caution."

But contact didn't cease between Chronister and the contractors.

Dhillon eased the prohibition on Chronister's contact with Simeone when the office expanded the demands of the contract, and Dhillon asked the contractor to also help prepare the office's annual report to Congress, which was months overdue. He said an ethics official approved the arrangement.

An Oct. 18 e-mail shows that Chronister was also included in communication involving the original project and a planned conference that included Simeone and Carnevale.

In November, the office organized a meeting with other drug enforcement agencies to present an outline of its plan, called "Performance Measures for United States Counternarcotics Enforcement Efforts." Both Simeone Associates and Carnevale Associates are listed on the documents.

Carnevale said he did not answer to Chronister for his work, which focused on budget matters. "Technically and legally speaking, Simeone was my supervisor," Carnevale said.

Chronister and Carnevale also maintained a close professional tie outside the office: They are listed as the authors of a March 2007 paper, "An Assessment of the U.S. Drug Control Budget." Chronister is listed on the paper as working at Carnevale Associates, and it includes an e-mail address for him at the firm.

Carnevale said the paper was actually written in 2004. He said Chronister was listed as a Carnevale employee because that was his job at the time. Carnevale said Chronister is no longer a paid employee.

Guess What's Not Surging In Baghdad? The Electricity

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Militias Seizing Control of Iraqi Electricity Grid

BAGHDAD, Aug. 22 — Armed groups increasingly control the antiquated switching stations that channel electricity around Iraq, the electricity minister said Wednesday.

That is dividing the national grid into fiefs that, he said, often refuse to share electricity generated locally with Baghdad and other power-starved areas in the center of Iraq.

The development adds to existing electricity problems in Baghdad, which has been struggling to provide power for more than a few hours a day because insurgents regularly blow up the towers that carry power lines into the city.

The government lost the ability to control the grid centrally after the American-led invasion in 2003, when looters destroyed electrical dispatch centers, the minister, Karim Wahid, said in a news briefing attended also by United States military officials.

The briefing had been intended, in part, to highlight successes in the American-financed reconstruction program here.

But it took an unexpected turn when Mr. Wahid, a highly respected technocrat and longtime ministry official, began taking questions from Arab and Western journalists.

Because of the lack of functioning dispatch centers, Mr. Wahid said, ministry officials have been trying to control the flow of electricity from huge power plants in the south, north and west by calling local officials there and ordering them to physically flip switches.

But the officials refuse to follow those orders when the armed groups threaten their lives, he said, and the often isolated stations are abandoned at night and easily manipulated by whatever group controls the area.

This kind of manipulation can cause the entire system to collapse and bring nationwide blackouts, sometimes seriously damaging the generating plants that the United States has paid millions of dollars to repair.

Such a collapse took place just last week, the State Department reported in a recent assessment, which said the provinces’ failure to share electricity resulted in a “massive loss of power” on Aug. 14 at 5 p.m.

It added that “all Baghdad generation and 60 percent of national generation was temporarily lost.” By midnight, half the lost power had been restored, the report said.

With summer temperatures routinely exceeding 110 degrees, and demand soaring for air-conditioners and refrigerators, those blackouts deeply undermine an Iraqi government whose popular support is already weak.

In some cases, Mr. Wahid and other Iraqi officials say, insurgents cut power to the capital as part of their effort to topple the government.

But the officials said it was clear that in other cases, local militias, gangs and even some provincial military and civilian officials held on to the power simply to help their own areas.

With the manual switching system in place, there is little that the central government can do about it, Mr. Wahid said.

“We are working in this primitive way for controlling and distributing electricity,” he said.

Mr. Wahid said the country’s power plants were not designed to supply electricity to specific cities or provinces. “We have a national grid,” he said.

He cited Mosul and Baquba, in the north, and Basra, in the south, as being among the cities refusing to route electricity elsewhere. “This greatly influenced the distribution of power throughout Iraq,” Mr. Wahid complained.

At times the hoarding of power provides cities around power plants with 24 hours of uninterrupted electricity, a luxury that is unheard of in Baghdad, where residents say they generally get two to six hours of power a day.

Mr. Wahid said Baghdad was suffering mainly because the provinces were holding onto the electricity, but he said shortages of fuel and insurgents’ strikes on gas and oil pipelines also contributed to the anemic output in the capital.

Although a refusal by provincial governments to provide their full quotas to Baghdad could easily be seen as greedy when electricity is in such short supply, many citizens near the power plants regard the new reality as only fair; under Saddam Hussein, the capital enjoyed nearly 24 hours a day of power at the expense of the provinces that are now flush with electricity.

Keeping electricity for the provinces, said Mohammed al-Abbasi, a journalist in Hilla, in the south, “is a reaction against the capital, Baghdad, as power was provided to it without any cuts during the dictator’s reign.”

Other Iraqis are just grateful for anything that brings more comfort to their families and neighborhoods.

“We support any step that provides us with power,” said Ahmed Abdul Hussein, an ironsmith in Najaf, in the south.

The precision with which militias control electricity in the provinces became apparent in Basra on May 25 when Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army carried out a sustained attack against a small British-Iraqi base in the city center, and turned that control to tactical military advantage.

“The lights in the city were going on and off all over,” said Cpl. Daniel Jennings, 26, one of the British defenders who fought off the attack.

“They were really controlling the whole area, turning the lights on and off at will. They would shut down one area of the city, turn it dark, attack us from there, and then switch off another one and come at us from that direction.

“What they did was very well planned.”

The electricity briefing began with Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commanding general of the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps of Engineers, saying the United States had finished more than 80 percent of the projects it planned for rehabilitating the Iraqi grid.

He said that even though Baghdad now got no power from either the south or north, about a third of its electricity was still supplied by the national grid.

But General Walsh said he knew people in Baghdad were far from satisfied.

“I understand people’s impatience,” he said. “Certainly when you flip the light switch and nothing happens, you can get angry.”

Of Course We're Not Being Spied On, Of Course The 4th Amendment's Not Gutted

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Concerns Raised on Wider Spying Under New Law

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 — Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns from Democrats in Congress recently, and that there was a continuing debate over the meaning of the legislative language. But they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation.

They also emphasized that there would be strict rules in place to minimize the extent to which Americans would be caught up in the surveillance.

The dispute illustrates how lawmakers, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought.

It also offers a case study in how changing a few words in a complex piece of legislation has the potential to fundamentally alter the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a landmark national security law. The new legislation is set to expire in less than six months; two weeks after it was signed into law, there is still heated debate over how much power Congress gave to the president.

“This may give the administration even more authority than people thought,” said David Kris, a former senior Justice Department lawyer in the Bush and Clinton administrations and a co-author of “National Security Investigation and Prosecutions,” a new book on surveillance law.

Several legal experts said that by redefining the meaning of “electronic surveillance,” the new law narrows the types of communications covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, by indirectly giving the government the power to use intelligence collection methods far beyond wiretapping that previously required court approval if conducted inside the United States.

These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns.

For instance, the legislation would allow the government, under certain circumstances, to demand the business records of an American in Chicago without a warrant if it asserts that the search concerns its surveillance of a person who is in Paris, experts said.

It is possible that some of the changes were the unintended consequences of the rushed legislative process just before this month’s Congressional recess, rather than a purposeful effort by the administration to enhance its ability to spy on Americans.

“We did not cover ourselves in glory,” said one Democratic aide, referring to how the bill was compiled.

But a senior intelligence official who has been involved in the discussions on behalf of the administration said that the legislation was seen solely as a way to speed access to the communications of foreign targets, not to sweep up the communications of Americans by claiming to focus on foreigners.

“I don’t think it’s a fair reading,” the official said. “The intent here was pure: if you’re targeting someone outside the country, the fact that you’re doing the collection inside the country, that shouldn’t matter.” Democratic leaders have said they plan to push for a revision of the legislation as soon as September. “It was a legislative over-reach, limited in time,” said one Congressional Democratic aide. “But Democrats feel like they can regroup.”

Some civil rights advocates said they suspected that the administration made the language of the bill intentionally vague to allow it even broader discretion over wiretapping decisions. Whether intentional or not, the end result — according to top Democratic aides and other experts on national security law — is that the legislation may grant the government the right to collect a range of information on American citizens inside the United States without warrants, as long as the administration asserts that the spying concerns the monitoring of a person believed to be overseas.

In effect, they say, the legislation significantly relaxes the restrictions on how the government can conduct spying operations aimed at foreigners at the same time that it allows authorities to sweep up information about Americans.

These new powers are considered overly broad and troubling by some Congressional Democrats who raised their concerns with administration officials in private meetings this week.

“This shows why it is so risky to change the law by changing the definition” of something as basic as the meaning of electronic surveillance, said Suzanne Spaulding, a former Congressional staff member who is now a national security legal expert. “You end up with a broad range of consequences that you might not realize.”

The senior intelligence official acknowledged that Congressional staff members had raised concerns about the law in the meetings this week, and that ambiguities in the bill’s wording may have led to some confusion. “I’m sure there will be discussions about how and whether it should be fixed,” the official said.

Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the office of the director of national intelligence, said the concerns raised by Congressional officials about the wide scope of the new legislation were “speculative.” But she declined to discuss specific aspects of how the legislation would be enacted. The legislation gives the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales broad discretion in enacting the new procedures and approving the way surveillance is conducted.

Bush administration officials said the new legislation, which amends FISA, was critical to fill an “intelligence gap” that had left the United States vulnerable to attack.

The legislation “restores FISA to its original and appropriate focus — protecting the privacy of Americans,” said Brian Roehrkasse, Justice Department spokesman. “The act makes clear that we do not need a court order to target for foreign intelligence collection persons located outside the United States, but it also retains FISA’s fundamental requirement of court orders when the target is in the United States.”

The measure, which President Bush signed into law on Aug. 5, was written and pushed through both the House and Senate so quickly that few in Congress had time to absorb its full impact, some Congressional aides say.

Though many Democratic leaders opposed the final version of the legislation, they did not work forcefully to block its passage, largely out of fear that they would be criticized by President Bush and Republican leaders during the August recess as being soft on terrorism.

Yet Bush administration officials have already signaled that, in their view, the president retains his constitutional authority to do whatever it takes to protect the country, regardless of any action Congress takes. At a tense meeting last week with lawyers from a range of private groups active in the wiretapping issue, senior Justice Department officials refused to commit the administration to adhering to the limits laid out in the new legislation and left open the possibility that the president could once again use what they have said in other instances is his constitutional authority to act outside the regulations set by Congress.

At the meeting, Bruce Fein, a Justice Department lawyer in the Reagan administration, along with other critics of the legislation, pressed Justice Department officials repeatedly for an assurance that the administration considered itself bound by the restrictions imposed by Congress. The Justice Department, led by Ken Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, refused to do so, according to three participants in the meeting. That stance angered Mr. Fein and others. It sent the message, Mr. Fein said in an interview, that the new legislation, though it is already broadly worded, “is just advisory. The president can still do whatever he wants to do. They have not changed their position that the president’s Article II powers trump any ability by Congress to regulate the collection of foreign intelligence.”

Brian Walsh, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who attended the same private meeting with Justice Department officials, acknowledged that the meeting — intended by the administration to solicit recommendations on the wiretapping legislation — became quite heated at times. But he said he thought the administration’s stance on the president’s commander-in-chief powers was “a wise course.”

“They were careful not to concede any authority that they believe they have under Article II,” Mr. Walsh said. “If they think they have the constitutional authority, it wouldn’t make sense to commit to not using it.”

Asked whether the administration considered the new legislation legally binding, Ms. Vines, the national intelligence office spokeswoman, said: “We’re going to follow the law and carry it out as it’s been passed.”

Mr. Bush issued a so-called signing statement about the legislation when he signed it into law, but the statement did not assert his presidential authority to override the legislative limits.

At the Justice Department session, critics of the legislation also complained to administration officials about the diminished role of the FISA court, which is limited to determining whether the procedures set up by the executive administration for intercepting foreign intelligence are “clearly erroneous” or not.

That limitation sets a high bar to set off any court intervention, argued Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who also attended the Justice Department meeting.

“You’ve turned the court into a spectator,” Mr. Rotenberg said.


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