If There’s One Thing Attorney General Barr Knows Its Legally Questionable Surveillance Programs

Well this is awkward…

From USA Today (emphasis mine):

Justice under AG Barr began vast surveillance program without legal review – in 1992, inspector general finds

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr launched a vast surveillance program that gathered records of innocent Americans’ international phone calls without first conducting a review of whether it was legal, the department’s inspector general concluded Thursday.

It happened in 1992, the last time Barr served as attorney general.

The secret program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, ultimately gathered billions of records of nearly all phone calls from the United States to 116 countries, with little oversight from Congress or the courts, a USA TODAY investigation found. It provided a blueprint for far broader phone-data surveillance the government launched after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Justice Department’s inspector general said both the DEA and the Justice Department “failed to conduct a comprehensive legal analysis” of its authority to gather those records.

The Inspector General’s report identified areas in which the program would be vulnerable to legal challenges, but did not reach a conclusion about whether it was lawful.

Attorney General Barr is going to be very, very sorry that he came out of retirement. The news media is going to go through his dirty laundry and the Intelligence Community is going to leak. The question is whether he’ll be smart enough to recognize the warning shots or whether he’ll just keeping doing what he was appointed to do: protect the President, not be the Attorney General of the United States.Attorney General Sessions was, amazingly enough, smart enough to get the hint. Is William Barr as smart as Jeff Sessions? Only time will tell.

Open thread!

Just a Quick Note Regarding the President, Members of His Administration, and Operational Security Matters

Anne Laurie covered the details that we currently have regarding the recent security breach at Mar a Lago, but I wanted to add a couple of quick points.

I would not be surprised at all if Zhang was sent by the PRC’s intelligence services specifically to be caught and divert attention from their real infiltration work, which involves, among other things, buying memberships to Mar a Lago and the President’s golf clubs. And my guess is she was used at that moment to provide cover for someone actually penetrating a Trump property, most likely Mar a Lago, but possibly somewhere else, at roughly the same time. This technique is not novel. When Ramzi Youssef entered the US so he could build the bombs for the first World Trade Center bombing, he was a number of people behind one of his co-conspirators who just happened to go through the something to declare customs line and when his carry on was opened, they found circuit boards and other suspicious materials. When Youssef came through about 20 minutes or so later, he went through the nothing to declare line and zipped through because everyone was still focused on the guy they were sacrificing to get Youssef into the country. Zhang is most likely a PRC sacrifice. The real questions are who they actually got in by sacrificing her, how many, and what are they actually doing?

I expect that all of the President’s commercial properties are fully compromised at this point between employees, contractors brought on to do day work like A/C repair or other repair/replace projects, and membership. This ties in to the concerns about the President being compromised. As we know was the case with the pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow, the President, his campaign’s, his business’s, his employees’, his political surrogates’ repeated denials that he was pursuing the deal during the election was the only compromising information that Putin needed. And I would expect that the Chinese, the Israelis, the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Estonians, the Latvians, the Germans, the French, and our Five Eyes Allies all new about this attempted deal too from their own intelligence collection. Regardless, because Putin and the Russian government knew something about the President’s and his business that the President, his business, his campaign, and his surrogates were denying, Putin had compromised the President. Or, more accurately, the President had compromised himself for Putin. Repeatedly lying during and after the campaign about pursuing Trump Tower Moscow gave Putin, his government, his intelligence services, his oligarchs, and his other surrogates leverage over the President because they knew something the President had been lying about. Pursuing Trump Tower Moscow wasn’t illegal. Even pursuing the opportunity during the campaign wasn’t illegal. Trying to conceal it also wasn’t illegal. But by doing so the President compromised himself. And one has to ask why it was necessary to lie about pursuing this opportunity and then lie about when that pursuit stopped. Because those lies just further compromised the President.*

There are similar issue regarding the President’s late night phone calls from the residence with Deity knows whom from his unsecured phone. Everyone and their brother is collecting on those calls. And since there’s no readouts, no notes, no note takers, all of this is just more and more compromising information on the President created by the President. Does anyone think that Sean Hannity or Lou Dobbs wouldn’t break under even the mildest forms of forceful interrogation? And the same issue exists with whomever Jared is texting with, regardless of whether he’s using WhatsApp, which is insecure. It doesn’t matter whether he’s texting MBS or MBZ or Bibi or Ron Dermer, or his dad – all of that data is being collected by allied, partner, competitor, and hostile foreign state actors. I would also expect that whomever the President is speaking with from his unsecured phone or whomever Jared is texting with are also keeping a record – either recording, transcript, or both – of those phone and text message conversations. I have no doubt that Kislyak and Lavrov’s photographer made a recording of what was actually said when the President was alone with them in the Oval Office, which, of course, produces more compromising material. Just letting them in with their own photographer with his own equipment was a major security breach in and of itself. And I’m sure that a similar situation surely occurred in his one on one meetings with no note takers, interpreters, and/or aides with Putin in Helsinki, with Putin at the G20 meeting, as well as in his two one on one meetings with Kim. I’d put good money on the fact that Putin and Kim surreptitiously made recordings of those meetings, just as I’d be very surprised to find out that Kislyak and Lavrov had not done so.

These are two very, very serious and significant operational security issues. Because the President has refused to divest himself from his commercial interests, those interests – from Mar a Lago to his golf clubs and golf resorts – are all targets for infiltration and collection by foreign intelligence services. And because the President and his senior advisor and son in law Jared Kushner continually compromise themselves because of who they are in communication with and how they communicate with those people, they continually put themselves as representatives of the United States and the United States at risk by giving foreign actors leverage that can be used over them and against the best interests of the US.

Open thread.

* This is similar to one of the really big unanswered questions from the Special Counsel’s investigation: why did LTG (ret) Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, Attorney General Sessions, Erik Prince, George Papadopolous, Roger Stone, and many others lie about meetings and contacts with the Russians. Why was Jared Kushner seeking to establish an off the books back channel to the Russians housed in the Russian Embassy in DC? If there was no there there, if nothing illicit, illegal, or even unethical was going on, then why lie about it to Federal investigators, Congress, or both?

Separating the News Wheat from the Chaff: Bibi Promises (Threatens?) To Annex Israeli Settlements in the West Bank if Reelected

A whole lot of people are focusing on all the bizarreness and insanity from the President’s speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition that once again conflated American Jews with Israelis, as well as former Senator Norm Coleman’s equally bizarre, as well as idolatrous response. While it is important to pay attention to this stuff, including the obsequiousness and boot licking of those toadying up to the President like Norm Coleman, there is important actual news coming out of Israel. And news that has the possibility, if it actually plays out, to light Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the Levant aflame!

As part of his bid to hold on to power and be reelected, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised to annex the Israeli settlements in the Israeli occupied West Bank into Israel proper.

On Saturday, Netanyahu told Israeli TV he would annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins, a last-minute promise likely to enrage Palestinians and the Arab world.

I cannot state just how incendiary a promise this is, despite it clearly being the endgame of the hard to extreme right coalition that Netanyahu has assembled over the past decade to rule Israel regarding the occupied territories.

Right now the Israeli occupied West Bank is divided into three zones of control: A, B, and C under the Oslo II Accords. Zone A is under full Palestinian civilian and security control and comprises about 18% of the West Bank. Zone B is under Palestinian civilian control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control and makes up about 22% of the West Bank. Zone C is under full Israeli civilian and military (administrative and security) control and accounts for almost 63% of all land in the West Bank, much of which is being occupied by the Israelis in violation of the Oslo II and Wye River Accords. Under the Oslo II Accords all Israeli settlements are, officially, in Zone C. The portions of Zone C that are not settlements, legal or otherwise, are off limits to Palestinians as the Israelis require it for “strategic depth” in case one or more Arab state attacks across the Jordan River. In the map below Zone C is demarcated in the light and slightly darker green:


(Map 1: The Israeli occupied West Bank)

This State Department map from 2015, while being less detailed, shows how Israeli settlements and check points have turned the West Bank into an archipelago of sorts, with Palestinian villages, towns, and cities isolated and cut off from each other. The non-contiguous white areas (Zones A and B) are Palestinian in that they are under Palestinian civilian control (both zones) and security control (Zone A).

(Map 2: 2015 State Department Map of Israel and the Israeli Occupied Territories)

Netanyahu’s announcement that he will annex the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank into Israel proper has been my worry since the President announced last month that the US was recognizing that the Israeli occupied Golan Heights are part of Israel proper. There has also been an official change in US diplomatic language, driven by Secretary Pompeo at the State Department, that the US will no longer refer to the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights as occupied territories. This change only reinforces my concern. While this change in official and diplomatic language only seems to have been noticed in the US news media during Secretary Pompeo’s trip to Israel last month, it actually goes back to 2018. The language change was actually made in the US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018. If Bibi does go ahead with this proposed annexation as campaign promise, I expect that the President, as was the case with his hasty recognition that the Golan Heights are part of Israel and not Israeli occupied, will announce that the US recognizes the Israeli settlements and the rest of Zone C as part of Israel. Should it eventually leak out, I would also not be surprised to find out that Secretary Pompeo gave tacit American approval for this when he visited Israel last month in order to bolster Netanyahu’s reelection bid.

While it is almost impossible to predict what the Palestinians, let alone the other Arab states, will do should Netanyahu officially annex the Israeli settlements and outposts into Israel proper, I would not be surprised if a third intifada were to soon follow such an announcement. The Palestinians will have very little left to lose if Netanyahu does this. But even if there is not a wide scale Palestinian uprising, I would expect a spike in terrorism, which may be what Bibi is counting on. A violent Palestinian response to his remarks this close to the election would allow Bibi to take action that makes him look tough and decisive thereby helping to secure his and the members of his coalition’s reelection. And despite his attempts to build not quite completely under the table and/or back channel relations with the Saudis and the Emiratis, if Netanyahu takes this action, Jared’s nascent and always soon to be, but never announced peace agreement will be dead before arrival.

Open thread.

Full disclosure: From December 2013 through June 2014 I was assigned, under temporary assigned control, as the Cultural Advisor to the Commanding General of US Army Europe in support of US Army Europe’s assignment by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Security Dialogue in the Middle East via US European Command regarding the 2014 US backed Israeli-Palestinian peace process. From June 2014 through August 2014 I was assigned, under operational control, from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Security Dialogue in the Middle East to US Army Europe as the Cultural Advisor to the Commanding General of US Army Europe to assist the Chief of Assessments with finalizing the US Army Europe’s (DOD) report regarding the Palestinian Authority’s capabilities regarding security and stability. I served as the executive editor and the quality assurance/quality control officer for that report, as well as being the primary author of the report’s historical introduction and a separate strategic assessment of the viability of the US’s two state solution policy and strategy.

Puerto Rico: So Close to the Mainland, So Far From the GOP

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Tuesday Evening Election Results

There were a few state and local elections today. The results are in for some, while the Wisconsin Supreme Court race still hasn’t finished. So I thought I’d put a thread up for some of the results.

First up, Chicago’s next mayor is Lori Lightfoot. Mayor-elect Lightfoot is the first African-American woman to serve as mayor and the second woman to serve in that position. She is also an out lesbian. So a lot of glass ceiling shards are currently littering Chicago. Congratulations Mayor-elect Lightfoot. Right now Rahm Emanuel is likely cursing up a storm. Bless his incompetent little heart!

In Pennsylvania the Democrats have flipped another state senate seat, that means they need to only flip three more next year to retake the chamber ahead of the next round of redistricting. Congratulations to state Senator-elect Iovino.

In Madison, Wisconsin Satya Rhodes-Conway defeated longtime incumbent Paul Songlin for mayor. And congratulations to Mayor-elect Rhodes-Conway.

We’re still waiting for the results in the Wisconsin State Supreme Court race. Turnout is way up.

There is, of course, at least one hiccup in the counting:

Speculation seems somewhat muted:

Right now, according to Ballotpedia, Lisa Neubauer has a slight lead.

Hopefully our Wisconsin legal correspondent Omnes Omnibus will be checking in to keep us all informed and up to date in the comments…

Finally, the entire Madison, WI school board will now be all women!

Can’t imagine what might be causing these types of elections results…

Update at 10:55 PM EDT

Updated at 11:05 PM EDT

Updated at 11:12 PM EDT

Update at 11:25 PM EDT

Update at 11:37 PM EDT

Updated at 12:00 AM EDT

Open thread!