February 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM

LAUGHINGSTOCK:

Nunes: Fine, the FBI Didn't Lie, But Its Font Was Too Small (Jonathan Chait, 2/05/18, New York)

As the [Post's] Ellen Nakashima reported, the application to wiretap Page did disclose that one of the sources of intelligence to generate suspicion that Page might be acting illegally came from a political source. It was mentioned in a footnote on the FISA application. Nunes was asked about this on Fox & Friends. He did not deny the point. Instead he insisted that it wasn't good enough because the disclosure was merely a footnote.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM

DONALD LOVED HIM FOR HIS PRO-PUTIN VIEWS:

Why Carter Page Was Worth Watching: There's plenty of evidence that the former Trump campaign adviser, for all his quirks, was on suspiciously good terms with Russia. (LUKE HARDING February 03, 2018, Politico)

This was a strange business--Kremlin officers careening around Manhattan, spycraft involving fake umbrellas, and an American intelligence source who spent more time in Moscow than his Russian handlers. Plus espionage professionals who turned out to be suffering from ennui.

The American willing to provide information to Putin's foreign intelligence officers rented a working space at 590 Madison Avenue. The building was linked by a glass atrium to a well-known New York landmark, Trump Tower. The atrium had a pleasant courtyard, with bamboo trees, where you could sit and drink coffee. Next door was a franchise of Niketown.

From the atrium you could take the elevator up to the Trump Tower public garden on the fourth floor, with its sparrows and maple trees. The din from West 57th Street meant the garden wasn't exactly tranquil. Or you could queue up with Japanese and German tourists at the Trump Tower basement restaurant and salad bar. Failing that, there was Starbucks on the first floor.

Male-1 had a name. At this point few had heard of him. He was Carter Page. 

***

Page is a balding figure in his mid-forties, with buzz-cut hair and the super-lean physique of a cyclist or fitness fanatic. When not on his Cannondale mountain bike, he is typically dressed in a suit and tie. When he is nervous, he grins. One person who met him around this period described the encounter as "excruciating." Page was "awkward" and "uncomfortable" and "broke into a sweat."

Page's résumé was curious, too. He spent five years in the navy and served as a Marine intelligence officer in the western Sahara. During his navy days, he spent lavishly and drove a black Mercedes, according to a friend from his academy class, Richard Guerin.

He was smart enough to get academic qualifications: fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, master's from Georgetown University, a degree from New York University's business school. And a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

This, it transpired, was hard won. Page's British academic supervisors failed his doctoral thesis twice, an unusual move. In a report they described his work as "verbose" and "vague". Page responded by angrily accusing his examiners of "anti-Russian bias".

Page's apparent Russian sympathies were evident from much earlier. In 1998 Page spent three months working for the Eurasia Group, a strategy consulting firm. Its founder, Ian Bremmer, later described Page as his "most wackadoodle alumnus." Page's vehemently pro-Kremlin views meant that "he wasn't a good fit," Bremmer said.

In 2004 Page moved to Moscow, where he became an energy consultant with Merrill Lynch. As Page tells it, it was while working as an investment banker that he struck up a relationship with Gazprom. He advised Gazprom on transactions, including a deal to buy a stake in an oil and gas eld near Sakhalin, the desolate island on Russia's Pacific coast. He bought Gazprom shares.

According to Politico, few people in Moscow's foreign business community knew of him. Those who did were underwhelmed. "He wasn't great and he wasn't terrible," his former boss, Sergei Aleksashenko, said, adding that Page was "without any special talents or accomplishments," "in no way exceptional," and "a gray spot."

Three years later, Page returned to New York and to his new office next to Trump Tower. From there he set up a private equity business, Global Energy Capital LLC. His partner was Russian--a wealthy former Gazprom manager called Sergei Yatsenko. Did Yatsenko know Podobnyy and Sporyshev? Or indeed other members of Russia's underground espionage community?

In the worsening dispute between Putin and the Obama administration, Page sided with Moscow. He was against US sanctions imposed by Obama on Russia in the wake of Crimea. In a blog post for Global Policy, an online journal, he wrote that Putin wasn't to blame for the 2014 Ukraine conflict. The White House's superior "smack-down" approach had "started the crisis in the first place," he wrote.

Page's rampant pro-Moscow views were at odds with the US State Department under Clinton and with almost all American scholars of Russia. After all, it was Putin who had smuggled tanks across the border into eastern Ukraine. Not that Page's opinions counted for much. Global Policy had a small circulation. It was edited out of Durham University in the north of England.

His relationship with the journal fizzled out when he wrote an opinion piece lavishly praising a pro-Russian candidate ahead of the U.S. presidential election--Trump.

And then something odd happened.

In March 2016 candidate Trump met with the Washington Post's editorial board. At this point it seemed likely that Trump would clinch the Republican nomination. Foreign affairs came up. Who were the candidate's foreign policy advisers? Trump read five names. The second was "Carter Page, PhD." Given Trump's obvious lack of experience of world affairs, this was a pivotal job.

One former Eurasia Group colleague said he was stunned when he discovered Page had mysteriously become one of Trump's foreign policy advisers. "I nearly dropped my coffee," he told me. The colleague added: "We had wanted people who could engage in critical analysis of what's going on. This is a guy who has no critical insight into the situation. He wasn't a smart person."

Page's real qualification for the role, it appeared, had little to do with his restless CV. What appeared to recommend him to Trump was his boundless enthusiasm for Putin and his corresponding loathing of Obama and Clinton. Page's view of the world was not unlike the Kremlin's. Boiled down: the United States' attempts to spread democracy had brought chaos and disaster.




Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM

THE rIGHT IS THE lEFT:

The Nunes memo wasn't meant to win over everyone -- just 34 senators (Max Boot, 2/04/18, Washington Post)

The case against the FBI that's being assembled by Trump and his minions is not designed to convince dispassionate observers. It's only supposed to give the thinnest of cover to true believers -- and at least 34 senators -- to do what they are predisposed to do anyway, i.e., protect the president at all costs.

The Nunes memo is a modern-day version of the jury nullification that O.J. Simpson's legal team sought to inspire. (I'm grateful to Eric Felten of the Weekly Standard for the analogy.) Johnnie Cochran and company spun an elaborate conspiracy theory about how the Los Angeles Police Department supposedly framed their client. They were helped by minor procedural errors in the handling of evidence and by previous racist remarks from one of the detectives, just as Trump is helped by minor FBI missteps such as the Strzok texts and the alleged failure to alert a judge about Steele's Democratic Party funding.

It was never clear why the LAPD would be eager to frame a local celebrity for murder, just as it's not clear why the FBI -- full of white, middle-age, conservative agents -- would want to frame a Republican president. And, of course, the supposed police conspiracy could not possibly account for the mountain of evidence against Simpson, just as the supposed FBI conspiracy cannot possibly account for the undeniable reality that the Russians really did intervene in the election to help elect Trump and that there are numerous documented links between the campaign and the Kremlin.

But in Simpson's case, it didn't matter: The overwhelmingly African American jury bought the argument because jurors knew the experience of police brutality and sympathized with the defendant. Likewise, today it doesn't matter to the president's acolytes that the case for an anti-Trump conspiracy is so flimsy. They are simply looking for an excuse to exonerate him, evidence be damned. 

Donald is identity politics for ofays.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM

INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE:

The Times Asks Court to Unseal Documents on Surveillance of Carter Page (CHARLIE SAVAGE and ADAM GOLDMAN, FEB. 5, 2018, NY Times)

 The New York Times is asking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to unseal secret documents related to the wiretapping of Carter Page, the onetime Trump campaign adviser at the center of a disputed memo written by Republican staffers on the House Intelligence Committee.

The motion is unusual. No such wiretapping application materials apparently have become public since Congress first enacted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. That law regulates electronic spying on domestic soil -- the interception of phone calls and emails -- undertaken in the name of monitoring suspected spies and terrorists, as opposed to wiretapping for investigating ordinary criminal suspects.

Normally, even the existence of such material is a closely guarded secret. While applications for criminal wiretaps often eventually become public, the government has refused to disclose the contents of applications for intelligence wiretaps -- even to defendants who are later prosecuted on the basis of information derived from them.

But President Trump lowered the shield of secrecy surrounding such materials on Friday by declassifying the Republican memo about Mr. Page, after finding that the public interest in disclosing its contents outweighed any need to protect the information. Because Mr. Trump did so, the Times argues, there is no longer a justification "for the Page warrant orders and application materials to be withheld in their entirety," and "disclosure would serve the public interest."

Secrets almost never serve the public interest.  It's not the breaking of the Enigma device they're hiding.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM

KNOWING YOUR ALLIES:

Half of Iran wants to drop headscarf laws: government report (Deutsche-welle, 2/05/18)

President Rouhani released a study showing how drastically public attitude towards mandatory Islamic dress has changed in the past decade. Nearly half of Iranians believe that wearing a hijab should be a private choice. [...]

The study compares data from 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2014 -- and illustrates the staggering decline in support for the legal restrictions on women's clothing, one of the major changes pushed during the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

According to the Center for Strategic Studies, which operates as part of the Iranian president's office, in 2006, 34 percent of Iranians believed that the government should not be allowed to dictate what women wear. [...]

Another interesting data point shows the drop in support for even more restrictive religious clothing. In 2006, 54 percent of those questioned thought that women should wear a chador, a garment that wraps around the entire body, revealing only the face.

By 2014, however, that number had dropped to 35 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM

HEAT BREEDS LASSITUDE:

5 charts show why the South is the least healthy region in the US (Jay Maddock, February 5, 2018, The Conversation) 

Top 10Bottom 10
1. Massachusetts41. Georgia
2. Hawaii42. Kentucky
3. Vermont43. Oklahoma
4. Utah44. South Carolina
5. Connecticut45. Tennessee
6. Minnesota46. West Virginia
7. Colorado47. Alabama
8. New Hampshire48. Arkansas
9. Washington49. Louisiana
10. New York50. Mississippi


Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM

IRAN AND QATAR ARE OUR ALLIES AGAINST THEM:

Iran could be winner, U.S. a loser from UAE-Qatar tensions (Noah Browning, 2/04/18, Reuters) 

The increase in tension, seven months after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed travel and trade sanctions on Qatar over accusations -- denied by Doha -- that it supports terrorism and regional rival Iran, has alarmed Washington.



Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM

DONALD WHO?:

McCain, Coons to introduce new immigration bill that omits wall funding: report (JULIA MANCHESTER,  02/04/18, The Hill)

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.) will introduce immigration legislation on Monday in an effort to reach a budget deal before the federal government's current funding runs out on Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The bipartisan piece of legislation provides recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, commonly known as "Dreamers," an opportunity for citizenship while ordering a study to figure out what border security measures are needed, according to the Journal.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 AM

INDEFENSIBLE:

After Embarrassing Memo Flop, Trump White House Goes Into Hiding (Tommy Christopher, February 4, 2018, Shareblue)

[T]here were conspicuously few White House officials willing to defend that view on Sunday.

Just days after Trump's first State of the Union address, not a single White House official was booked to appear on any of the five major Sunday news programs, a rarity for any weekend. Even rarer, though, is the fact that no other Cabinet official, agency representative, or spokesperson appeared on any of the shows.

The only appearance by a Trump official anywhere on cable news this weekend was Kellyanne Conway, who only ventured as far as the friendly turf of Fox & Friends Sunday, where she still managed to make a mess of her interview.

Devin Nunes tried to discredit the FBI. Instead, he proved it's onto something. (Asha Rangappa February 4, 2018, The Washington Post)

The point of the memo written by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and released Friday afternoon was supposed to be to expose corruption at the highest levels of the FBI. But what the memo actually did -- albeit surely not intentionally -- was exactly the opposite. In a brief 3½ pages, Nunes managed to confirm that the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties with Russia has a very solid basis and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III must keep looking into the case.

As a former special agent for the FBI working on counterintelligence, I used to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, so I'm familiar with the procedures Nunes implies the FBI abused in this case. To initiate surveillance on former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page in October 2016, the government would have had to demonstrate that Page was "knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of" Russia. Importantly, the "knowingly" requirement applies only to "U.S. persons" such as Page, not to foreign nationals -- which means the government had a slightly higher burden in his case. It takes months and even years to obtain enough relevant evidence for a FISA application, which can include details from physical surveillance, phone and financial records, items recovered from the target's trash and intelligence obtained from other sources. So the FISA application would probably have outlined the bureau's efforts going all the way back to 2013, when Page was approached by the FBI, which warned him, based on recordings of Russian intelligence officers, that he was being targeted for recruitment as a Russian spy. (That same year, Page also reportedly wrote in a letter to an academic publisher that he was an "informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.") In counterintelligence investigations, this kind of interview would have been intended to "neutralize" the Russians: The idea is that anyone who was being unwittingly developed as a spy, as Page appeared to be, would be dismayed to realize what was happening and would immediately cease further contact with their intelligence contacts.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 AM

GREATEST WAR EVER:

Islamic State threatens Iran from 'Tora Bora' borderlands (Babak Dehghanpisheh, 2/05/18, Reuters) 

Islamic State may be on the wane in Iraq and Syria but for Iran, the threat is still strong, centered on Kurdish communities along the Iraq-Iran border where militants have operated in recent years.

The locals even have a nickname for the area, "Tora Bora", after the mountain hideout al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden fled to after the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, a senior Iraqi security official in the border region said. [...]

The clash and discovery indicate that Islamic State still has the ability to penetrate the tightly controlled security net of the Islamic Republic, which has largely managed to avoid the devastation wrought by the group in neighboring countries.