All posts by James Bovard

Barack Obama’s Return Just Reminds Us How He Fueled the Distrust That Led to Donald Trump

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Former president Barack Obama is back. He kicked off a series of campaign appearances last week with a blistering attack on the Trump administration and said the Republican Party had “embraced a rising absolutism.” President Donald Trump deserves plenty of harsh criticism, but Obama’s indictment is akin to the kid who killed his parents and then sought mercy from the judge because he was an orphan.

Obama declared that “the biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.” He also called for “a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.” But his eight years as president fueled the distrust of Washington that Obama now condemns.  

How can Obama blame Americans for being cynical after repeating dozens of times his false promise that “If you like your doctor, you’ll be able to keep your doctor,” despite the dozens of mandates in Obamacare? How can he blame Americans for being cynical after his 2015 assertion that “it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book”? How can he castigate cynics after he campaigned in 2008 on a peace platform and then proceeded to bomb seven nations? How can he complain about distrust after he flip-flopped on illegal surveillance and unleashed the National Security Administration to target anyone “searching the web for suspicious stuff”?

Obama created the problems he lists

Obama declared Friday that Americans are “supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them.” But Trump won in 2016 in part because many Americans considered the federal government the biggest bully in the land. Obama relied on “bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency,” according to The New York Times, issuing 50% more “major regulations” than the George W. Bush administration.

“Most of you don’t remember a time before 9/11, when you didn’t have to take off your shoes at an airport,” Obama told the students. Did they realize that the Transportation Security Administration became far more punitive and intrusive during Obama’s presidency? Obama appointees brought in Whole Body scanners across the nation and entitled TSA agents to aggressively touch travelers’ genitals and breasts. But despite all that additional power, TSA remained the poster boy for incompetence and TSA checkpoints still failed to detect 95% of smuggled guns and bombs.

“Democracy depends on transparency and accountability,” Obama said, and “It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like.” But, despite boasting of “the most transparent administration ever,” Obama expanded federal secrecy and prosecuted more journalists and whistleblowers than any previous administration.

When Obama took office, the United States had the 20th-most-free press in the world, according to the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. By 2016, it had fallen to 41st — worse than South Africa and barely ahead of Botswana. Obama appointees severely undermined the Freedom of Information Act.

“It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel,” the former president said. Trump’s declarations about federal prosecutions are appalling. But while the FBI was investigating the legality of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Obama repeatedly publicly declared that she had committed no crime.

The Inspector General report released in June revealed that, after a half-hearted probe, the FBI planned to absolve Clinton unless she openly confessed to wrongdoing when FBI agents finally talked to her. The stifled investigation of her email shenanigans helped assure her the Democratic Party presidential nomination and, indirectly, paved the way to a Trump presidency.

Obama handed Trump a loaded weapon

Obama is correct that Americans should be on guard against any “absolutism” from the Trump administration. But don’t forget that Obama administration lawyers asserted a right to kill US citizens who it labeled terrorist suspects without trial, without notice, and without any chance for the marked individuals to legally object. Drone strikes increased tenfold under Obama, and he personally chose who would be killed at weekly “Terror Tuesday” White House meetings which featured PowerPoint parades of potential targets. 

Americans should be alarmed at Trump’s power grabs. But Obama helped establish an Impunity Democracy in which rulers pay no price for their misdeeds. As the New York Times noted after the 2016 election, the Obama administration fought in court to preserve the legality of defunct Bush administration practices such as torture and detaining Americans arrested at home as “enemy combatants.” “Obama’s failure to rein in George Bush’s national security policies hands Donald Trump a fully loaded weapon," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero lamented.

Who cares if an ex-president belatedly cheers for transparency and accountability? Obama has never admitted how his policies made the federal government more dangerous at home and abroad. Nothing that Trump can do or say should be permitted to expunge Obama’s derelictions.

James Bovard is author of "Attention Deficit Democracy." Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard.

Reprinted with author's permission from USAToday.

Have you gained or lost weight? Congrats, TSA is now tracking you for suspicious activity.

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If you fall asleep or use the bathroom during your next flight, those incriminating facts could be added to your federal dossier. Likewise, if you use your laptop or look at noisy children seated nearby with a “cold, penetrating stare,” that may be included on your permanent record. If you fidget, sweat or have “strong body odor” — BOOM! the feds are onto you.

Welcome to the latest profiling idiocy from the Transportation Security Administration. TSA’s Quiet Skies surveillance program is spurring federal air marshals to target dozens of Americans each day on the flimsiest of pretexts. The secret program, first exposed by Jana Winter in The Boston Globe, is security theater at its best. 

What does it take to become a Quiet Skies target? “The criteria for surveillance appear fluid. Internal agency emails show some confusion about the program’s parameters and implementation,” The Globe noted. 

Anyone who has recently traveled to Turkey can apparently be put on the list — as well as people “possibly affiliated” with someone on a terrorist watchlist (which contains more than a million names). The program is so slipshod that it has targeted at least one airline flight attendant and a federal law enforcement agent.

After a person makes the Quiet Skies list, a TSA air marshal team is placed on his next flight. Marshals receive “a file containing a photo and basic information” and carefully note whether the suspect’s “appearance was different from information provided” — such as whether he has “gained weight,” is “balding” or “graying,” has a beard or “visible tattoos” (bad news for Juggalo fans of the Insane Clown Posse). Marshals record and report any “significant derogatory information” on suspects.

Unjust targeting of innocent Americans

TSA air marshals follow travelers targeted by this program, even writing down their license plates. Marshals must ascertain whether a “subject was abnormally aware of surroundings.” Does that include noticing the undercover G-men who are stalking them in the parking lot? No wonder the president of the Air Marshal Association, John Casaretti, considers the program unjustified.

Unfortunately, Americans have no idea how many other secret profiling programs TSA is conducting. The New York Times recently revealed that TSA has a covert watchlist for troublesome passengers, including anyone whose behavior is “offensive” to TSA agents. Anyone who “loitered” near a TSA checkpoint could make that list, as could any woman who pushes a screener’s groping hands away from her breasts. In reality, anyone who refuses to kowtow to any command a TSA agent issues could be labeled a troublemaker.

TSA’s previous secret profiles have spurred agents to unjustifiably target legions of innocent Americans and disrupt their travel. Thousands of TSA behavior detection officers have lurked in airports, seeking to detect would-be terrorists by their yawning, hand-wringing and gazing down. A secret TSA list of terrorist warning signs included anyone who expresses "excessive complaints about the (TSA) screening process.” 

More than 30 TSA agents complained in 2012 that the behavior-detection program at Boston’s Logan International Airport had become “a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities,” The Times reported. The agents relied on “terrorist profiles,” such as black guys wearing baseball caps backward or Hispanics traveling to Miami.

In Honolulu, TSA agents were nicknamed “Mexicutioners” for harassing Mexican travelers, while TSA agents in Newark, New Jersey, were derided as “Mexican hunters” by their colleagues.

Americans shouldn't have to forfeit dignity

The Government Accountability Office walloped the Behavior Detection Program last year, scoffing at the notion that TSA agents could spot terrorists by “assessing the way an individual swallows or evaluating the degree to which an individual’s eyes are open.”

TSA insisted the program was justified because agents watched for “unusual exposed wires or electrical switches on a person” seeking to board a plane. The agency assumes would-be terrorists are as boneheaded as TSA policymakers.

Unfortunately, few people in official Washington are willing to recognize or admit TSA’s most absurd terrorist profile: the assumption that average Americans are so perilous that they must forfeit their privacy and dignity at TSA checkpoints. Then-TSA chief John Pistole admitted in 2014 that “the vast majority of people pose little to no threat to aviation.”

This has not deterred the TSA from endlessly concocting lists of terrorist warning signs that fail the laugh test. To justify its $7.9 billion budget and its 43,000 federal screeners waiting to peruse shoes, belts and carry-on snacks, the TSA must continue the fable that every grandmother in a wheelchair and every child poses a dire threat that justifies endless pawing.

After nearly 17 years of follies and floundering, TSA has forfeited its right to domineer the American people. 

James Bovard, author of Attention Deficit Democracy, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard.

Reprinted with permission from USA Today.

That Time the Media Cheered for Gestapo Immigration Tactics

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Every Trump voter is effectively "standing at the border, like Nazis, going 'you here, you here,'" MSNBC guest Danny Deutsch declared on Friday. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden also compared the Trump administration's immigration crackdown with Nazi concentration camps. The media is showcasing the anguish of parents and children forcibly separated at the southwestern border.

Eighteen years ago, the media had a mirror-image reaction to perhaps the most famous immigration raid in American history. Though some critics back then complained of Gestapo-like federal raid, much of the media downplayed or whitewashed the alleged brutality.

On April 22, 2000, 130 federal agents conducted a pre-dawn raid in Miami’s Little Havana section to seize Elian Gonzalez, a six-year-old Cuban boy. The raid shattered doors, broke a bed, roughed up Cuban-Americans, and left two NBC cameramen on the ground, writhing in pain from stomach-kicks or rifle-butts to the head. The raid seemed to go off without a hitch until a photo surfaced taken by Associated Press stringer Alan Diaz showing a Border Patrol agent pointing his submachine gun toward the terrified boy being held by the fisherman who rescued him six months earlier from the Atlantic Ocean.

While Trump administration’s falsehoods on immigrations have been widely hammered, few people recall the Clinton administration’s rhetorical backflips. A few hours after the Elian raid, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder asserted in a press conference that the boy "was not taken at the point of a gun." When challenged about the machine gun in the photo, Holder explained: "They were armed agents who went in there who acted very sensitively ."

Attorney General Janet Reno, when asked about the photo, stressed that the agent's "finger was not on the trigger." But that is scant consolation when a highly agitated person is holding a Hechler and Koch MP-5 that sprays 800 rounds a minute. Two days later, Reno declared, "One of the things that is so very important is that the force was not used. It was a show of force that prevented people from getting hurt." This would be news to the people kicked, shoved, and knocked down by federal agents.

When White House spokesman Joe Lockhart was asked whether federal agents had used excessive force, he stressed that the agents "drove up in white mini-vans" - as if the color of the vehicles proved it was a mission of mercy. Lockhart implored the media: “It's certainly my hope that those who are in the business of describing such things to the public will use great care and great perspective" in how they presented Diaz's photo.

After film footage showed a female Immigration and Naturalization Service agent carrying Elian out of the house with a look of horror on the boy's face, one cynic commented that she looked like a vampire excitedly carrying away her breakfast. However, INS Chief Doris Meissner dismissed concerns about the boy's well-being and stressed that Elian was quickly given Play-Doh after he was taken into custody. Meissner explained, "The squeezing of Play-Doh is the best thing that you can do for a child who might be experiencing stress." Meissner did not disclose which color of Play-Doh is the best antidote for facing a machine gun.

The news media buttressed the Clinton administration storyline. Less than three hours after the raid, CBS news anchor Dan Rather interrupted the televising of Reno's press conference to assert: "Even if the photographer was in the house legally... there is the question of the privacy, beginning with the privacy of the child." Rather was more concerned about the photographing of the boy's terror than about the terrorizing itself.

The New York Times refrained from running the AP photo on the front page, instead giving it the treatment usually reserved for propaganda images from Communist regimes. The photo appeared on page 16 along with a side article by a Times media critic to help readers “put in context” the apparent violence.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, in an article headlined, "Reno for President," declared that the machine gun photo "warmed my heart" and symbolized that "America is a country where the rule of law rules. This picture illustrates what happens to those who defy the rule of law and how far our government and people will go to preserve it." But since the Clinton administration’s attempt to seize Elian had been rebuffed by a federal appeals court two days earlier, the legality was shaky and rejected even by liberal icons such as Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe .

For much of the press corps, the real peril was that the Diaz picture "will ignite all the crazies,” fretted James Warren, Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune. Author Garry Wills, writing for the New York Times op-ed page, portrayed the feds as victims of citizens’ distrust: “The readiness of people to deplore 'jack-booted' tactics reveals the intransigence that made the rescue necessary."

It is difficult to believe that such sentiments occurred in the same nation or even the same century as the ongoing backlash against ICE enforcement tactics. Is it a sign of progress that the news media no longer automatically cheers heavy-handed crackdowns by federal agents? The jury will remain out on that question at least until January 2021.

James Bovard is the author of ten books, including 2012’s Public Policy Hooligan, and 2006’s Attention Deficit Democracy. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Playboy, Washington Post, and many other publications.

Reprinted with permission from Mises.org.

Pro-War Media Deserve Criticism, Not Sainthood

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The media nowadays are busy congratulating themselves for their vigorous criticism of Donald Trump. To exploit that surge of sanctimony, Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg rushed out The Post, a movie depicting an epic press battle with the Nixon administration. Critics raved over the film, which the New York Post enthusiastically labeled “journalism porn of the highest order.” Boston Public Radio station WBUR called it the “most fun you’ll ever have at a civics lesson.”Spielberg, touting his movie, claimed that “the free press is a crusader for truth,” But the media hoopla around The Post is akin to geezers boasting of having shown moments of courage when they were almost 50 years younger.

The Post is built around the Pentagon Papers, a secret study begun in 1967 analyzing where the Vietnam War had gone awry. The 7000-page tome showed that presidents and military leaders had been profoundly deceiving the American people ever since the Truman administration and that the same mistakes were being endlessly repeated. Like many policy autopsies, the report was classified as secret and completely ignored by the White House and federal agencies, which most needed to heed its lessons. New York Times editor Tom Wicker commented in 1971 that “the people who read these documents in the Times were the first to study them.”

Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official, heroically risked life in prison to smuggle the report to the media after members of Congress were too cowardly to touch it. The New York Times shattered the political sound barrier when it began courageously publishing the report despite a profusion of threats from the Nixon administration Justice Department. After a federal court slapped the Times with an injunction, the Washington Post and other newspapers published additional classified excerpts from the report.

The Post ignores the fact that U.S. government policy on Vietnam did not become more honest after the Pentagon Papers disclosure. In such cases, the government’s notion of “repenting” is merely to substitute new and often more-ludicrous falsehoods. Besides, as retired State Department whistleblower Peter van Buren noted, “The Post has no real interest in the Pentagon Papers except as a plot device, almost an excuse needed to make this movie.”

Because the Washington Post had a female publisher, Spielberg made it, rather than the Times, the star of the show. Van Buren suggested, “Spielberg might as well have costumed Meryl Streep (who played Post publisher Katherine Graham) in a pink pussy hat for the boardroom scenes.” The movie fails to mention Graham’s cozy relationship with President Lyndon Johnson. A few weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, a secret tape made by the Johnson White House captured Johnson and Graham (whom he called “sweetheart”) flirting up a storm during a phone call. She later flew to his Texas ranch for a personal visit.

Spielberg’s movie portrays Post editor Ben Bradlee denouncing dishonest government officials to Graham: “The way they lied — those days have to be over.” Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who deluged the media with falsehoods about battlefront progress, did more than anyone else (except perhaps Lyndon Johnson) to vastly increase the bloodbath for Americans and Vietnamese. McNamara’s disastrous deceits did not deter the Washington Post from appointing him to its board of directors. As Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death, recently observed, “The Washington Post was instrumental in avidly promoting the lies that made the Vietnam War possible in the first place.”

The Pentagon Papers proved that politicians and their tools will brazenly con the American public to drag the nation into unnecessary wars. But that lesson vanished into the D.C. Memory Hole — conveniently for bootlicking journalists such as Post superstar Bob Woodward. The late Robert Parry, a Washington correspondent for Newsweek in the late 1980s, declared that he saw “self-censorship because of the coziness between Post-Newsweek executives and senior national security figures.”

Post-Vietnam coziness

Perhaps the memory of winning the Pentagon Papers showdown with the feds helped make the media overconfident about their ability to resist the temptation to become political tools. New York Times columnist Flora Lewis, writing three weeks before the 9/11 attacks, commented in a review of a book on U.S. government lies on the Vietnam war, “There will probably never be a return to the discretion, really collusion, with which the media used to treat presidents, and it is just as well.” Within months of her comment, the media had broken almost all prior kowtowing records. CNN chief Walter Isaacson explained, “Especially right after 9/11 … there was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in wartime.”

On March 17, 2003, George W. Bush justified invading Iraq by invoking UN resolutions purporting to authorize the United States “to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.” A year later, he performed a skit at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ annual dinner featuring slides showing him crawling around the Oval Office peaking behind curtains as he quipped to the poohbah attendees, “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere…. Nope, no weapons over there…. Maybe under here?” The crowd loved it and the Post headlined its report on the evening, “George Bush, Entertainer in Chief.” Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor and Publisher, labeled the press’s reaction that night as “one of the most shameful episodes in the recent history of the American media and presidency.”

Most of the media had embedded themselves for the Iraq war long before that dinner. The Post blocked or buried pre-war articles exposing the Bush team’s shams on Iraq; their award-winning Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks complained, “There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war; why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?’” Instead, before the war started, the Post ran 27 editorials in favor of invasion and 140 front-page articles supporting the Bush administration’s case for attacking Saddam. The New York Times printed a barrage of false claims on WMDs while axing articles by Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter James Risen demolishing “the administration’s claims of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.” The New York Times also refused to publish classified documents showing pervasive illegal National Security Agency spying on Americans prior to the 2004 election, even though it had received the proof of vast wrongdoing. If theTimes had not flinched, George W. Bush might have been denied a second term.

Broadcast media were even quicker to grovel for the war effort. PBS NewsHour host Jim Lehrer explained, “It would have been difficult to have had debates [about invading Iraq]…. You’d have had to have gone against the grain.” Lehrer neglected to say exactly how kowtowing became patriotic. News anchor Katie Couric revealed in 2008 that there was pressure from “the corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of” the Iraq war.

And now, Syria

Despite the role of media gullibility (or worse) in helping the Bush administration sell the Iraq war, the press showed scant skepticism about subsequent U.S. attacks abroad. The media behave at times as if government lies are dangerous only when the president is a certified bad guy — like Richard Nixon or Donald Trump. Barack Obama’s semi-sainthood minimized media criticism of his Syrian debacle — a civil war in which the United States initially armed one side (Syrian rebels who largely turned out to be terrorists) and then switched sides, a flip-flop that resulted in far more dead Syrians. But Americans have received few insights into that bellicose schizophrenia from the media. Historian Stephen Kinzer wrote in the Boston Globe, “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.” Even in the Trump era — when the press is openly clashing with a president — bombing still provides push-button presidential redemption. Trump’s finest hour, according to much of the media, occurred in April 2017 when he attacked the Assad regime with 59 cruise missiles, raising hopes that the U.S. military would topple the Syrian government.

When Trump announced he was sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the Washington Post editorial page hailed his “principled realism” — regardless of the futility of perpetuating that quagmire. At a time when Trump is saber-rattling against Iran and North Korea, the media should be vigorously challenging official claims before U.S. bombs begin falling. Instead, much of the coverage of rising tensions with foreign regimes could have been written by Pentagon flacks.

Richard Nixon’s henchman H.R. Haldeman warned Nixon that the Pentagon Papers might make people believe “you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment. And the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this.” Unfortunately, much of the media continue to presume that presidents are infallible — as long as they are killing enough foreigners.

One of the starkest lessons of the Pentagon Papers was that politicians and their henchmen will tell unlimited lies — and ignore stark warnings — to plunge the nation into unnecessary foreign wars. And forgotten falsehoods almost guarantee new political treachery. Politicians don’t need to provide strong evidence as long as the media continue treating them as if they were Delphic oracles. Truth delayed is truth defused because there is no way to rescind bombs that have already detonated.

Media tub-thumpers were crestfallen when The Post struck out on Academy Awards night (it was nominated for Best Picture and other categories). But that worked out well for history, since it leaves the path more open for subsequent documentaries or movies that provide more honest exposure of how wars get started and perpetuated. Future movies might even venture into the forbidden ground of media docility regarding systemic violations of human rights.

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, in his 1971 opinion on the New York Times’s right to publish the Pentagon Papers, declared, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.” Unfortunately, the media often choose to trumpet official lies instead of fighting them. Permitting glorious tales from eight presidencies ago to absolve subsequent media kowtowing would be as foolish as forgetting the lessons of the original Pentagon Papers.Worshipping the media is as foolish as worshiping politicians.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

Inspector General’s Report on FBI and Clinton’s Emails Shows Secrecy Threatens Democracy

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The inspector general report on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton contained plenty of bombshells, including a promise by lead FBI investigator Peter Strzok that “we’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president. The report reveals how unjustified secrecy and squirrelly decisions helped ravage the credibility of both Clinton’s presidential campaign and the FBI. But few commentators are recognizing the vast peril to democracy posed by the sweeping prerogatives of federal agencies.

The FBI’s investigation of Clinton was spurred by her decision to set up a private server to handle her email during her four years as secretary of State. The server in her mansion in Chappaqua, N.Y., was insecure and exposed emails with classified information to detection by foreign sources and others.

Clinton effectively exempted herself from the federal Freedom of Information Act. The State Department ignored 17 FOIA requests for her emails before 2014 and insisted it required 75 years to disclose emails of Clinton's top aides.

A federal judge and the State Department inspector general slammed the FOIA stonewalling.

Clinton’s private email server was not publicly disclosed until she received a congressional subpoena in 2015. A few months later, the FBI Counterintelligence Division opened a criminal investigation of the “potential unauthorized storage of classified information on an unauthorized system.”

The IG report gives the impression that the FBI treated Clinton and her coterie like royalty — or at least like personages worthy of endless deference. When Bleachbit software or hammers were used to destroy email evidence under congressional subpoena, the FBI treated it as a harmless error. The IG report “questioned whether the use of a subpoena or search warrant might have encouraged Clinton, her lawyers ... or others to search harder for the missing devices (containing email), or ensured that they were being honest that they could not find them.” Instead, FBI agents worked on “rapport-building” with Clinton aides.

Indictment justified

FBI investigators shrugged off brazen deceit. An unnamed FBI agent on the case responded to a fellow FBI agent who asked how an interview went with a witness who worked with the Clintons at their Chappaqua residence: “Awesome. Lied his a-- off. Went from never inside the scif (sensitive compartmented information facility) at res (residence), to looked in when it was being constructed, to removed the trash twice, to troubleshot the secure fax with HRC a couple times, to every time there was a secure fax i did it with HRC. Ridic.” When his colleague replied that “would be funny if he was the only guy charged n this deal,” he replied, “aint noone gonna do s--t” as far as filing charges.

Perhaps the most frequent phrase in the IG report is “According to the FD-302 ...”  This refers to the memo an FBI agent writes after interviewing targets or witnesses in an investigation. Relying on Form 302s (instead of recordings interviews) maximizes the discretion of FBI officials — allowing them to frame issues, create a narrative, or buttress charges of lying to a federal agent.

The FBI waited until the end of the investigation to interview Clinton and had decided to absolve her “absent a confession from Clinton,” the IG report noted.

There was no recording and no transcript. Instead, a 302 report allowed FBI Director James Comey to proceed with the preordained “not guilty” finding. Clinton had received numerous classified emails, some of which were marked with a (C) on her private email server. The IG report notes, “According to the FD-302 from Clinton’s interview, Clinton told the FBI that she did not know what the ‘(C)’ meant and ‘speculated it was a reference to paragraphs ranked in alphabetical order.’ ”

The IG noted, “Witnesses told us, and contemporaneous emails show, that the FBI and Department officials who attended Clinton’s interview found that her claim that she did not understand the significance of the ‘(C)’ marking strained credulity. (FBI) Agent 1 stated, ‘I filed that in the bucket of hard to impossible to believe.’”

Comey told IG investigators that “by her demeanor, she was credible and open and all that kind of stuff.” But a video recording of the showdown (especially the alphabet line) would have been invaluable to Americans who doubted Clinton and the FBI.

Anti-Trump texts spurred the IG to refer five FBI employees for possible disciplinary penalties. One FBI agent labeled Trump supporters as “retarded” and declared “I’m with her” (Clinton). Another FBI employee texted that “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS.” One FBI lawyer texted that he was “devastated” by Trump’s election and declared “Viva la Resistance!” and “I never really liked the Republic anyway.” The same person became the “primary FBI attorney assigned to (Russian election interference) investigation beginning in early 2017,” the IG noted.

Lack of transparency

The IG report deals briefly with a kerfuffle over the FOIA release of Clinton Foundation documents a week before the 2016 election. Regrettably, the IG overlooked FBI’s horrendous record on FOIA compliance, spurring bitter complaints even from its former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

A federal judge slammed the agency for claiming it would require 17 years to fulfill a FOIA request on surveillance of anti-war activists in the 1960s.

The FBI also makes ludicrous redactions to FOIA releases — such as deleting the names of Clark Kent and Lois Lane from a theatrical adaptation of Superman because disclosing them would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

The IG report illustrates the vast sway that federal agencies sometimes seek over what Americans are permitted to know about candidates and their government. Unfortunately, this coroner’s inquest into 2016 chicaneries will do nothing to prevent covert federal meddling from tilting future elections. 

And as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wisely warned in 2012: “Lack of transparency eats away like a cancer at the trust people should have in their government.”

James Bovard is author of Attention Deficit Democracy.

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

A Politically Weaponized FBI is Nothing New, But Plenty Dangerous

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The Justice Department Inspector General is expected to release on Thursday its report on alleged FBI misconduct during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump supporters and opponents are already pre-spinning the report to vindicate or undercut the president. Unfortunately, the report will not consider fundamental question of whether the FBI’s vast power and secrecy is compatible with American democracy.

According to some Republicans, the FBI’s noble history was tainted by its apparent favoritism for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Democrats have gyrated over the past 18 months, first 
blaming the FBI for Clinton’s loss and then exalting the FBI (along with former FBI chief and Special Counsel Robert Mueller) as the best hope to save the nation.

In reality, the FBI has been politically weaponized for almost a century. The FBI was in the forefront of the notorious Red Scare 
raids of 1919 and 1920. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer reportedly hoped that arresting nearly 10,000 suspected radicals and immigrants would propel his presidential campaign. Federal Judge Anderson condemned Palmer’s crackdown for creating a “spy system” that “destroys trust and confidence and propagates hate.” He said, “A mob is a mob whether made up of government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals, loafers, and the vicious classes.”

Fair Use Excerpt. Read full article here.

After pointlessly groping countless Americans, the TSA is keeping a secret watchlist of those who fight back

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"I need a witness!" exclaimed the security screener at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Because I had forgotten to remove my belt before going through a scanner, he explained, I must undergo an "enhanced patdown." I told him that if he jammed his hand into my groin, I'd file a formal complaint. So he summoned his supervisor to keep an eye on the proceedings.

I thought of this exchange last week when the New York Times revealed that the Transportation Security Administration has created a secret watchlist for troublesome passengers. The TSA justified the list by saying that its screeners were assaulted 34 times last year, but did not release any details about the alleged assaults.

Naturally, the TSA's official definition of troublemaking goes well beyond punching its officers. According to a confidential memo, any behavior that is "offensive and without legal justification" can land a traveler on the list, as can any "challenges to the safe and effective completion of screening." Anyone who has ever "loitered" near a checkpoint could also make the list. So could any woman who pushes a screener's hands away from her breasts.

The memo would be more accurate if it stated that anyone who fails to unquestioningly submit to all the TSA's demands would be found guilty of insubordination. As an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Hugh Handeyside, told the Washington Post, the policy gives the agency wide latitude to "blacklist people arbitrarily and essentially punish them for asserting their rights." Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-New Jersey) expressed similar worry. "I am concerned about the civil-liberty implications of such a list," she said.

The watchlist would seem less perilous if the TSA were not one of most incompetent agencies on Earth. After a series of undercover tests at multiple airports across the country, the Department of Homeland Security concluded last year that TSA officers and equipment had failed to detect mock threats roughly 80% of the time. (In Minneapolis, an undercover team succeeded in smuggling weapons and mock bombs past airport screeners 95% of the time.) An earlier DHS investigation found the TSA utterly unable to detect weapons, fake explosives and other contraband, regardless of how extensive its pat-downs were.

Fair Use Excerpt. Read entire article here.

Your Tax Dollars Bankroll Afghan Child Molesters

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Donald Trump was hailed by the media last August when he announced he was sending more US troops to fight in Afghanistan. A Washington Post editorial praised his “principled realism” and saluted “a rare but welcome story of self-correction” (since Trump had portrayed Afghanistan as a lost cause when he was a presidential candidate). A New York Daily News op-ed praised the president because “Trump said ‘win’ and ‘victory’ more times in 15 minutes than President Barack Obama did in eight years.” CNN cheered that expanding the Afghan war allowed Trump to “stake out a more conventional presidential posture.”

Trump assured the American people that “to prosecute this war, we will learn from history.” But his revised mission to Afghanistan — a low-wattage repeat of Obama’s 2009+ “surge” — ignores the atrocities that the US government has long bankrolled in that sprawling nation.

Since 2002, the United States has spent more than $70 billion financing Afghan security forces, including the Afghan military and police. A law sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) prohibits the Pentagon from bankrolling any foreign military units if there is “credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

But members of Congress have finagled to allow the US military to continue bankrolling Afghan units who are committing atrocities. Congressional appropriations bills have specified that funds for Afghan Security Forces “shall be available to the Secretary of Defense, notwithstanding any other provision of the law.” This provision has allowed the Pentagon to completely ignore the record of Afghan units that the US government supports. This clause, which is referred to by Pentagon policymakers as the “notwithstanding authority,” removes legal and moral limits on US government spending in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon did not provide any guidance to troops on reporting human rights violations until a decade after the US invasion. The US government has long known that US-funded Afghan units routinely engage in bacha bazi — boy play. Afghan military commanders and police kidnap boys and use them as sex slaves. American troops have complained of seeing boys chained to beds and hearing their screams at night as they are assaulted. US. soldiers who forcefully tried to stop the abuse were punished by their superiors. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) complained to the Pentagon, “It is bad enough if the Pentagon is telling our soldiers to ignore this type of barbaric and savage behavior, but it’s even worse if we are punishing those who try to stop it.”

After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, bacha bazi was punished with a death penalty, and the abuse became far less pervasive. But that prohibition ended after the US invasion toppled the Taliban. Army captain Dan Quinn complained that “we were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did — that was something village elders voiced to me.’’ Aaron MacLean, who served in Afghanistan with the Marines, observed that the “Taliban have long used reports of rapes committed by government agents as a recruiting tool. Indeed, among the elements of Mullah Omar’s rise to power was his reputation for taking violent action against those who kidnapped and raped children.”

The Pentagon ignored bacha bazi abuse until a 2015 New York Times exposé of American soldiers’ being punished for protesting atrocities against boys was published. The Times reported that US troops were confounded that “instead of weeding out pedophiles, the American military was arming them in some cases and placing them as the commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children.” Obama White House press secretary Josh Earnest responded to the Times’s bombshell, “The United States is deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of Afghan boys who may be exploited by members of the Afghan national security and defense forces…. Protecting human rights, including by countering the exploitation of children, is a high priority for the US government.” Thanks to the Times report, the US military finally “issued clear guidance and required related training that personnel should report suspected child sexual assault,” according to a recent report — 14 years after the US intervention began.

After the Times’s blockbuster article, 93 members of Congress requested that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) investigate the problem. SIGAR finished and submitted its report in June 2017. In a brief section in its July 31, 2017, quarterly report, SIGAR noted, “Afghan officials remain complicit, especially in the sexual exploitation … of children by Afghan security forces.” But the rest of the report was bottlenecked by the Pentagon. The Washington Post reported on November 26 that the Pentagon was blocking the release of the SIGAR report, instead releasing “its own report offering a far less authoritative review” of the abuses.

But the Pentagon’s report was also damning. The Pentagon Inspector General report revealed that some US troops were “told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it.” Regarding pedophilia, the Navy gave its members training that “advises readers to control and overcome any frustration caused by cultural differences that they may experience during their deployments,” while Marines were told “to be mentally prepared to encounter this attitude, and to ‘move on,’” according to the IG report.

Eleven allegations of child sexual abuse were reported to the Afghan government but the IG refused to disclose whether anything happened to the perpetrators. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said the Pentagon’s secrecy “looks like an attempt to evade public accountability for criminal acts.”

But the Pentagon still found a way to declare victory. Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Robert Karam asserted that the IG report vindicated the Pentagon because it “did not identify official guidance that discouraged DoD-affiliated personnel from reporting incidents of child sexual abuse.” If investigators did not find written proof of government malfeasance, then the Pentagon must be presumed innocent. The fact that no paper trail was discovered was no consolation to the vast number of Afghan boys who were molested.

This past February, the Pentagon finally approved release of the SIGAR report. SIGAR has done superb work exposing the failures and follies of US operations in Afghanistan since 2008. It delivers clear English without the toxic fog of bureaucratese that blights most Washington reports.

Abuses such as bacha bazi have proliferated in part because the Afghan justice system exempts vast classes of offenders. SIGAR reported that an Afghan government official was surprised that there were not more reports of child-molesting and that “‘maybe most of the cases are not reported or investigated’ because the police do not self-report cases, and people often do not report these cases because they feel they will get in more trouble…. Low-level officers and soldiers have been prosecuted for child abuse because senior-level officers have money and power and can easily threaten someone to keep quiet about a crime.” A non-government organization official told SIGAR investigators that “even though her organization receives reports of child sexual abuse, it did not share information on the allegations with the US government because of fear of reprisal toward victims, their families, or those who report incidents.” This is similar to the lawless situation that exists in some American cities where people are afraid to testify against well-known killers for fear of becoming the next homicide victim.

The US government has spent more than a billion dollars specifically to boost the rule of law in Afghanistan. A 2015 SIGAR report concluded that the program was a dismal failure that had produced almost zero visible benefit. Instead, deluges of US aid have helped make Afghanistan one of the most corrupt nations on Earth. And the United States has provided a horrible example to the Afghans with the games played by the “notwithstanding” clause in congressional appropriations. That Congress proudly bans financing of foreign atrocities, and then quietly adds an opaque phrase to appropriations bills permitting such funding, epitomizes why people cannot trust politicians to stand up for decency.

The February SIGAR report warned that “the full extent of child sexual assault committed by Afghan security forces may never be known.” But part of the reason that the “full extent” will never be known is that US government agencies did not want to know. Admitting the “full extent” of Afghan government crimes would have made it more difficult to justify the continued US support of an oppressive Afghan regime. And what the American people didn’t know would not hurt Pentagon appropriations.

In his August speech announcing more troops for Afghanistan, Trump declared that “we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live.” But, similarly, Trump has no right to force Americans to pay taxes for activities that shock their conscience. Americans would never tolerate paying federal funds for a notorious child-rape regime in Cincinnati or Omaha. But your tax dollars are underwriting similar sordid abuses in Kandahar and Kabul. Doctors, teachers, and social workers can be jailed for failing to report child abuse here at home. But, 6,000 miles away, US troops risk their career for protesting pederasty.

Bacha bazi is not the only barbaric Afghan practice countenanced by the US government. In 2009, the US-appointed president, Hamid Karzai, approved a law entitling husbands to starve their wives to death if they denied them sex. That edict did not deter Obama from boasting about America’s having brought “democracy” to Afghanistan.

In his August surge speech, Trump declared, “In every generation, we have faced down evil, and we have always prevailed.”

But too often, US government interventions have merely covered up evil — at the same time that US aid allows the evil to multiply. Americans have been encouraged to believe that US foreign policy is on moral automatic pilot and that good things happen wherever the United States intervenes. But piety too easily obscures atrocities. And the media cheerleaders for US warring cannot be trusted to consistently expose the moral and other carnage abroad.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

Spare me claims Gina Haspel will ‘speak truth to power’. Real truth-tellers go to jail.

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In the Senate Intelligence Committee secret vote today on whether to confirm Trump nominee Gina Haspel as chief of the CIA, she will likely again be praised for promising to “speak truth to power.” This has recently become one of the favorite accolades in the least trusted city in America. But will Americans be as gullible this time around?

Porter Goss muzzled CIA

When 7-term congressman and dutiful Republican functionary Porter Goss was nominated in 2004 to become CIA chief, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) endorsed him after he promised to “always speak truth to power.” Fat chance: after he was confirmed, Goss speedily sent a memo to CIA employees muzzling them, declaring that their job was to "support the administration and its policies in our work.” Goss bungled the CIA so badly that the Bush administration heaved him out after less than two years on the job; Goss later became a lobbyist for the Turkish government.

“Speaks truth to power” had a starring role in the 2005 Senate coronation of John Negroponte, America’s first Director of National Intelligence. While working as Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte perennially denied that the Honduran regime was committing vast atrocities, despite its killing of tens of thousands of its own citizens. (Honduras was aiding the Nicaraguan Contras at the time.) But that did not deter Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and Sen. Mikulski from recycling the “truth to power” phrase in speeches endorsing Negroponte.

When Michael Hayden was nominated as CIA chief in 2006, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) vouched that Hayden would “speak truth to power.” But Hayden profoundly misled Congress regarding the CIA’s torture program and his credibility was demolished in the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the enhanced interrogation program.

James Clapper false testimony

From 2010 to 2016, James Clapper served as Director of National Intelligence. He scored a “speaks truth to power” honorific when Defense Secretary Ash Carter awarded him the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal in 2016. He is much better known for his false 2013 congressional testimony denying that the National Security Agency collected data on millions of Americans.

And now it is Gina Haspel’s turn. The Haspel nomination is perhaps the biggest charade of the season since she, as acting CIA chief, has discretion to determine exactly what details from her 33 year CIA career are disclosed to Congress. The public heard about Haspel meeting Mother Teresa but details on Haspel’s linchpin role in thetorture scandal and the destruction of evidence have been sparse.

Praising nominees’ candor seeks to make Americans believe that honesty has a snowball’s chance in hell inside the Beltway. But people who speak truth to power tend to end up fired, exiled, or imprisoned:

► Lawrence Lindsay was former president George W. Bush’s economic advisor — until he predicted that Bush’s war on Iraq could cost $200 billion. (The actual costs of the war far exceeded $2 trillion.)

► Eric Shinseki was U.S. Army chief of staff — until he testified to Congress in 2003 that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be necessary to occupy Iraq after Bush invaded that nation.

► CIA agent Valerie Plame’s career was ruined by leaks by Bush administration officials in retaliation for her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, exposing Bush’s falsehoods on the Iraqi regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons material.

► CIA agent John Kiriakou disclosed that the CIA was waterboarding detainees and was prosecuted by the Obama administration Justice Department — the only CIA official to be sent to prison for the torture scandal.

► Former NSA staffer Edward Snowden exposed a vast NSA illegal surveillance network and remains living in exile in Russia, perhaps because a top congressman and former intelligence agency chief publicly joked about putting him a “kill list.”

The notion that some official will stalwartly tell the truth is supposed to spur Americans’ faith that Washington can be redeemed — as if  we are only two or three nominations away from honest government.  This is why “speaks truth to power” is lathered onto almost any nominee without multiple perjury convictions.  But it is remains the political equivalent of a used car dealer swearing a vehicle was previously owned by a grannie who only drove on Sunday afternoons.

 “Truth delayed is truth defused” is a much better guide on how most political appointees will behave. But, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg declared in a recent commencement address, “When we tolerate dishonesty, we get criminality.” Bloomberg labeled “our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party, and in pursuit of power” as “the greatest threat to American democracy.” Unfortunately, Bloomberg’s warnings will have little or no impact on the Senate’s conduct regarding Haspel or future nominees.

James Bovard is author of Attention Deficit Democracy

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

Spare me claims Gina Haspel will ‘speak truth to power’. Real truth-tellers go to jail.

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In the Senate Intelligence Committee secret vote today on whether to confirm Trump nominee Gina Haspel as chief of the CIA, she will likely again be praised for promising to “speak truth to power.” This has recently become one of the favorite accolades in the least trusted city in America. But will Americans be as gullible this time around?

Porter Goss muzzled CIA

When 7-term congressman and dutiful Republican functionary Porter Goss was nominated in 2004 to become CIA chief, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) endorsed him after he promised to “always speak truth to power.” Fat chance: after he was confirmed, Goss speedily sent a memo to CIA employees muzzling them, declaring that their job was to "support the administration and its policies in our work.” Goss bungled the CIA so badly that the Bush administration heaved him out after less than two years on the job; Goss later became a lobbyist for the Turkish government.

“Speaks truth to power” had a starring role in the 2005 Senate coronation of John Negroponte, America’s first Director of National Intelligence. While working as Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte perennially denied that the Honduran regime was committing vast atrocities, despite its killing of tens of thousands of its own citizens. (Honduras was aiding the Nicaraguan Contras at the time.) But that did not deter Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and Sen. Mikulski from recycling the “truth to power” phrase in speeches endorsing Negroponte.

When Michael Hayden was nominated as CIA chief in 2006, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) vouched that Hayden would “speak truth to power.” But Hayden profoundly misled Congress regarding the CIA’s torture program and his credibility was demolished in the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on the enhanced interrogation program.

James Clapper false testimony

From 2010 to 2016, James Clapper served as Director of National Intelligence. He scored a “speaks truth to power” honorific when Defense Secretary Ash Carter awarded him the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal in 2016. He is much better known for his false 2013 congressional testimony denying that the National Security Agency collected data on millions of Americans.

And now it is Gina Haspel’s turn. The Haspel nomination is perhaps the biggest charade of the season since she, as acting CIA chief, has discretion to determine exactly what details from her 33 year CIA career are disclosed to Congress. The public heard about Haspel meeting Mother Teresa but details on Haspel’s linchpin role in thetorture scandal and the destruction of evidence have been sparse.

Praising nominees’ candor seeks to make Americans believe that honesty has a snowball’s chance in hell inside the Beltway. But people who speak truth to power tend to end up fired, exiled, or imprisoned:

► Lawrence Lindsay was former president George W. Bush’s economic advisor — until he predicted that Bush’s war on Iraq could cost $200 billion. (The actual costs of the war far exceeded $2 trillion.)

► Eric Shinseki was U.S. Army chief of staff — until he testified to Congress in 2003 that “several hundred thousand soldiers” would be necessary to occupy Iraq after Bush invaded that nation.

► CIA agent Valerie Plame’s career was ruined by leaks by Bush administration officials in retaliation for her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, exposing Bush’s falsehoods on the Iraqi regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons material.

► CIA agent John Kiriakou disclosed that the CIA was waterboarding detainees and was prosecuted by the Obama administration Justice Department — the only CIA official to be sent to prison for the torture scandal.

► Former NSA staffer Edward Snowden exposed a vast NSA illegal surveillance network and remains living in exile in Russia, perhaps because a top congressman and former intelligence agency chief publicly joked about putting him a “kill list.”

The notion that some official will stalwartly tell the truth is supposed to spur Americans’ faith that Washington can be redeemed — as if  we are only two or three nominations away from honest government.  This is why “speaks truth to power” is lathered onto almost any nominee without multiple perjury convictions.  But it is remains the political equivalent of a used car dealer swearing a vehicle was previously owned by a grannie who only drove on Sunday afternoons.

 “Truth delayed is truth defused” is a much better guide on how most political appointees will behave. But, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg declared in a recent commencement address, “When we tolerate dishonesty, we get criminality.” Bloomberg labeled “our own willingness to tolerate dishonesty in service of party, and in pursuit of power” as “the greatest threat to American democracy.” Unfortunately, Bloomberg’s warnings will have little or no impact on the Senate’s conduct regarding Haspel or future nominees.

James Bovard is author of Attention Deficit Democracy

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.