National Geographic: Behind all the fanfare around this week’s UN Climate Summit, which will bring 120 heads of state to New York on Tuesday, looms one big question: Will the nations of the world agree on a path to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change, such as dramatic sea-level rise and extreme droughts and storms?
The answer will not come during the official summit. This week’s event is not a negotiating session for the next international agreement; that will happen in December 2015, when countries that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Paris.
But it’s looking increasingly likely that the next big international agreement on climate change will not be a legally binding treaty like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required developed countries to reduce greenhouse gases by specific amounts (and which was rejected by the United States and, more recently, Canada).
Nor will the next global climate deal likely require the deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say would be necessary to prevent catastrophic impacts from global warming, according to current and former Obama administration officials and other observers of ongoing international climate negotiations.
There are lots of reasons why a treaty is unlikely, beginning with the near certainty that the U.S. Senate would not ratify one. [Continue reading...]
McClatchy reports: In their first public briefing since President Barack Obama laid out his new strategy for defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the nation’s two top defense officials on Tuesday provided few details of their plans and no guarantees of success.
Instead, in response to questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, laid out a litany of likely obstacles to the president’s plan that were daunting in their breadth.
There is no guarantee that Iraqi military forces can be reconstituted to become an effective force against the Islamic State, they said. There’s no certainty a U.S.-trained Syrian force will choose to fight the Islamic State ahead of the government of President Bashar Assad, they said.
Indeed, the chances of success are far less in Syria than in Iraq, Dempsey said, as Hagel nodded agreement. “Five thousand alone is not going to be able to turn the tide,” Hagel said, referring to the number of Syrian rebels likely to be trained under a proposed U.S. program.
Even the pledge that no American soldiers would engage in ground combat operations seemed tenuous. Dempsey said he could foresee circumstances where American advisers would join Iraqi troops, for example, if the Iraqis tried to recapture Mosul, in what he called “close combat advising.”
“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told the committee. [Continue reading...]
JTA reports: If the results of a recent focus group and polls are any indication, the gap is growing between Congress and young Americans when it comes to support for Israel.
Polls conducted in late July by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found that support for Israel is weaker among younger Americans and Democrats than among Americans generally. Add to that the results of a recent focus group culled from 12 congressional staffers — a small but very influential cohort — and pro-Israel activists are worried about the long-term sustainability of broad U.S. support for Israel in Congress.
Last Friday, a select group of Jewish institutions was sent a confidential summary of the staffers discussing the recent Gaza conflict. The tone of the summary, which was obtained by JTA, was one of alarm.
“Congress is supposed to be our fortress,” wrote authors Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, the founder and a former top aide, respectively, at The Israel Project. “While Israel faces Hamas tunnels, it appears that the negativity and lack of support among young people is tunneling its way into congressional offices, even while the congressmen and senators remain steadfast on the surface.” Mizrahi and Buren left The Israel Project in 2012.
Among the statements the dozen congressional staffers agreed on: “Israel attacked Gaza in a wild overreaction.” “It’s Groundhog Day every 18 months, perennial conflict, doesn’t seem like anyone wants peace anymore.” [The Israeli government is] “not peace loving.”
Several JTA interviews with staffers for pro-Israel lawmakers suggested that the Mizrahi report’s conclusion is on target.
“On the Hill and with some people with whom I have spoken who are robust Israel supporters, people are concerned if not angry,” one of the staffers, a Democrat, told JTA. [Continue reading...]
Peter Beinart writes: In Chicago, Barack Obama lived across the street from a very unusual synagogue, KAM Isaiah Israel, and its very unusual rabbi, Arnold Jacob Wolf. Wolf had been the founding chairman of Breira, the first American Jewish group to advocate a Palestinian state, and throughout his career, he passionately challenged Israeli settlement policies and the American Jewish organizations that justified them. In 1970, in words that could have been written this morning, Wolf denounced American Jewish leaders who, on the issue of Israel, “do not demand support, but rather submission…Any congregation whose allegiance is the least bit critical, any rabbi who holds independent views of the Middle Eastern situation, is eyed with suspicion, if not with downright hatred.”
Wolf liked Obama, but considered him timid. One month before Obama’s election, and three months before Wolf’s death, the octogenarian rabbi predicted that although Obama “knows more than most people do about the [Middle East] situation…he’s going to go very cautiously and not do anything that shakes up the Jewish community. I’m not sure I agree with that, but that’s what’s going to happen.”
Wolf was right. Obama has been cautious. He’s put far less pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu to stop settlement growth than George H.W. Bush put on Yitzhak Shamir. He’s been far more indulgent of Netanyahu’s war in Gaza than Ronald Reagan was of Shamir and Menachem Begin’s war in Lebanon.
But although Obama has not changed the American debate over Israel, the Obama coalition has. Look at the polls taken during this war. A majority of Americans defend Israel’s actions and blame Hamas for the violence. But among the demographic groups that backed Obama most strongly, it’s the reverse. First, young people. According to Gallup, while Americans over the age of 65 support Israel’s actions by a margin of 24 points, Americans under 30 oppose them by a margin of 26 points. Second, racial and ethnic minorities. White Americans back the war by 16 points. Non-whites oppose it by 24 points. Third, liberals. According to the Pew Research Center, conservatives are 54 points more likely to blame Hamas for the fighting than Israel. Among liberals, it’s tied. [Read more...]
David Cole writes: On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the revised USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and Internet records. If Congress enacts Senator Leahy’s bill in its current form, it will mark the most significant reform of US intelligence gathering since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enacted in the 1970s in response to the Church Committee’s revelations of abusive spying practices on political dissidents and activists.
This time, of course, the calls for reform were sparked not by a congressional inquiry, but by information leaked by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who risked criminal prosecution and de facto banishment to let Americans know what its most expansive spy agency was doing to their rights in the name of their security. In December 2013, six months after Snowden’s first revelations, the president’s own expert panel recommended changes to the NSA program. In May, the House passed an earlier version of the USA Freedom Act, which unfortunately had been watered down at the behest of Obama administration officials in secret last-minute negotiations. Senator Leahy’s bill would significantly strengthen the House bill.
Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon. Two reports issued on Monday bring into full view the costs of a system that allows its government to conduct dragnet surveillance without specific suspicions of wrongdoing. In With Liberty to Monitor All, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU make a powerful case that mass surveillance has already had a devastating effect on journalists’ ability to monitor and report on national security measures, and on lawyers’ ability to represent victims of government overreaching. And the same day, the New America Foundation issued Surveillance Costs, a report noting the widespread economic harm to US tech companies that NSA surveillance has inflicted, as potential customers around the world take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading...]
Politico reports: In the end, the Senate couldn’t even agree to deliver emergency aid to one of the United States’ closest allies.
A last-ditch effort to deliver aid to Israel during its war with Hamas died on the Senate floor, as Republicans blocked the proposal over concerns that it would increase the debt.
After Senate Republicans blocked Democrats’ $2.7 billion border aid package, which also included $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and $615 million to fight Western wildfires, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to split off the Israel and wildfire money as a standalone bill, hoping to put aside the dispute over border funding and appeal to Republicans’ deep ties to Israel.
Huffington Post: Following reports that Central Intelligence Agency employees improperly accessed computers used by U.S. Senate staff to investigate the agency, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on Thursday called for the resignation of John Brennan as CIA director.
“After being briefed on the CIA Inspector General report today, I have no choice but to call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan,” he said in a statement. “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. This grave misconduct not only is illegal, but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers. These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences.”
According to a CIA Inspector General’s Office report first obtained by McClatchy, agency employees in 2009 hacked Senate computers being used to compile a report on the agency’s infamous detention and interrogation program — a move that some critics have characterized as a significant breach of the separation of powers. Brennan has apologized to Senate intelligence committee leaders, including Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who took the floor earlier this year to excoriate the agency for skirting the law and attempting to intimidate Congress. [Continue reading...]
Politico reports: The Obama administration’s $225 million request to aid Israel during its war with Hamas may not be enough, warned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday afternoon.
At the request of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Senate Democrats folded $225 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system into a larger bill that offers $2.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the influx of Central American migrants to the southern border. But Reid said Israel will need even more help from the United States if the war in Gaza continues, demonstrating the need to pass the funding package this week ahead of a five-week congressional recess.
Reid predicted that Hagel’s aid request for Israel may turn out to be “only temporary” given the steep costs associated with operating Iron Dome, which picks off Hamas’s rockets at a price-tag of $62,000 per missile, according to Reid.
“We should not give the Israeli people the minimum amount of aid and then cross our fingers and hope it all works out in the future,” Reid said. “We can do better and need to go further in protecting Israel.”
McClatchy reports: The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.
The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.
At the time, the CIA was embroiled in a furious behind-the-scenes battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the panel’s investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, including accusations that the CIA illegally monitored computers used in the five-year probe. The CIA has denied the charges.
The email controversy points to holes in the intelligence community’s whistleblower protection systems and raises fresh questions about the extent to which intelligence agencies can elude congressional oversight. [Continue reading...]
“The United States Senate is in Israel’s camp,” said Senator Lindsey Graham as on Thursday evening the Senate expressed its unanimous support for Israel’s assault on Gaza.
What’s new? As Pat Buchanan once said: Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory.
Servile elected representatives, obsequiously following the directions of the Israel lobby might be business as usual in Washington, but that’s not how democracy works everywhere.
Eli Lake reports: Elliott Abrams — a former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush and a leading pro-Israel writer and policy analyst — told The Daily Beast, “My view is over time it would be healthy for the relationship if the aid diminished. Israel should be less dependent on American financial assistance and should become the kind of ally that we have in Australia, Canada, or the United Kingdom: an intimate military relationship and alliance, but no military aid.”
That is also the view expressed by leading Israeli politicians. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister of economics and the leader of the right-wing Israel Home party, said in 2013, “Today, U.S. military aid is roughly 1 percent of Israel’s economy. I think, generally, we need to free ourselves from it. We have to do it responsibly, since I’m not aware of all the aspects of the budget. I don’t want to say, ‘Let’s just give it up,’ but our situation today is very different from what it was 20 and 30 years ago.”
Today Israel is prosperous. In 2000, the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $124.9 billion. In 2013, the Israeli GDP was $291.3 billion. And that is before Israel has seen any real revenue from the fields of natural gas it recently discovered. The country has become so prosperous that legislation is now before the country’s Knesset to create a sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned investment vehicle designed to invest the surplus revenue Israel collects from selling its natural gas.
“I have heard discussions of a sovereign wealth fund, by which the Israelis mean they want to handle the revenues carefully the way Norway does and not waste them,” Abrams said. “But I do not believe a country that has a sovereign wealth fund can be an aid recipient.”
Abrams was careful to say he did not favor cutting the military aid while Obama was still president. “Were there a reduction now, it would be attributed to administration hostility to Israel and be seen as a weakening of U.S. support,” he said. “It should be done only in a context of robust American political support and close relations between American and Israeli leaders.” [Continue reading...]
Foreign Policy reports: Though the United States has yet to secure a final deal to restrain Iran’s nuclear program, an influential pair of hawks in Washington have already devised a way for Congress to unravel any potential agreement after the ink is dry.
The plan, obtained by Foreign Policy, calls on Congress to oppose the lifting of financial sanctions on Iran until it proves that its entire financial sector, including the Central Bank of Iran, has sworn off support for terrorism, money-laundering, and proliferation. Some of those topics haven’t been part of the ongoing U.S.-led talks with Tehran, which means that linking sanctions relief to those conditions after a deal is made would likely drive the Iranians off the wall, say experts. Tehran would likely see any such measures as moving the goalposts and as evidence that the United States wasn’t genuinely interested in backing up its end of the deal.
The two authors of the plan — Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank, and Richard Goldberg, the former senior foreign-policy advisor to Illinois Republican Sen. Mark Kirk — each played pivotal roles in shaping the Iran sanctions debate in the past year. Rather than blowing up an historic agreement, they both insist the paper is simply a guide for how to keep sanctions in place that will deter and punish Iran if it doesn’t comply with a final deal.
Whatever their motivations, the detailed strategy document is of keen interest to advocates on both sides of the Iran debate given the immense political clout its authors enjoy on Capitol Hill and the significant role Congress will have in approving, modifying, or rejecting a final deal.
“This plan will elicit a lot of support on the Hill,” said Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “They have an enormous amount of sway on the Hill on the issue of sanctions, both because of their expertise and their energetic efforts to advance their case.” [Continue reading...]
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., released the following statement in response to a letter provided by the Office of Director of National Intelligence, which details the number of backdoor searches performed by U.S. intelligence agencies. As this response makes clear, intelligence agencies are searching through communications collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – an authority that Congress intended to be used to target foreigners – and are deliberately conducting warrantless searches for the communications of individual Americans.
“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has now responded to my longstanding question regarding warrantless searches for Americans’ emails and other communications, and I appreciate the candid and straightforward nature of their reply.
When the FBI says it conducts a substantial number of searches and it has no idea of what the number is, it shows how flawed this system is and the consequences of inadequate oversight. This huge gap in oversight is a problem now, and will only grow as global communications systems become more interconnected. The findings transmitted to me raise questions about whether the FBI is exercising any internal controls over the use of backdoor searches including who and how many government employees can access the personal data of individual Americans. I intend to follow this up until it is fixed.
While intelligence officials have often argued that it is impossible to estimate how many Americans’ communications are getting swept up by the government under Section 702, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has noted that the NSA acquires more than two hundred and fifty million Internet communications every year using Section 702, so even if US communications make up a small fraction of that total, the number of U.S. communications being collected is potentially quite large. The scale of this activity seems to be something that could be conducted pursuant to probable cause warrants, particularly given the exceptions that are included in the bipartisan bicameral legislation that I and others have proposed.
I and other reformers in Congress have argued that intelligence agencies should absolutely be permitted to search for communications pertaining to counterterrorism and other foreign threats, but if intelligence officials are deliberately searching for and reading the communications of specific Americans, the Constitution requires a warrant. The bipartisan, bicameral legislation that I and other reformers have supported would permit the government to conduct these searches pursuant to a probable cause warrant or emergency authorization, and it would include an exception for searches for individuals who are believed to be in danger.
Last week the House of Representatives voted 293-123 to require a warrant for these searches, and I’ll be urging my colleagues in the Senate to follow suit. Reformers believe that it is possible to protect Americans’ security and American liberty at the same time, and the American public expects nothing less.”
The Hill reports: A proposal to block intelligence agencies from conducting warrantless and “backdoor” searches of U.S. communications passed in the House late Thursday night.
Adopted 293-123, with one member voting present, the amendment to the 2015 Defense appropriations bill would prohibit the search of government databases for information on U.S. citizens without a warrant. It would further cut off funding for the CIA and National Security Agency to build security vulnerabilities, or “backdoors,” into domestic tech products or services for surveillance purposes. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) was the only member to vote present.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), the chief sponsor of the bipartisan amendment, said it would limit the controversial NSA spying.
“The American people are sick of being spied on,” Massie said. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has said he will not stand down as a condition of US air strikes against Sunni militants who have made a lightning advance across the country.
Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, on Wednesday made a public call on al-Arabiya television for the US to launch strikes, but Barack Obama has come under pressure from senior US politicians to persuade Maliki, a Shia Muslim who has pursued sectarian policies, to step down over what they see as failed leadership in the face of an insurgency.
Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, told a hearing on Wednesday that Maliki’s government “has got to go if you want any reconciliation”, and Republican John McCain called for the use of US air power but also urged Obama to “make very clear to Maliki that his time is up”. [Continue reading...]
Robin Wright writes: On Monday, Iran and the United States, along with envoys from Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia, will meet again in Vienna to work on specific terms for a nuclear agreement. The talks resume just as Washington and Tehran suddenly find that they have common cause in preventing Iraq’s abrupt disintegration. For both, their longtime strategies toward Iraq appear to be failing, as a few thousand thugs in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burn their way across the country.
Washington and Tehran have started using the same language. President Obama, in his remarks on the South Lawn of the White House on Friday, said, “Nobody has an interest in seeing terrorists gain a foothold inside of Iraq, and nobody is going to benefit from seeing Iraq descend into chaos.” An hour later, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, told me, by telephone, from Tehran, “It is in the interest of everybody to stabilize the government of Iraq. If the U.S. has come to realize that these groups pose a threat to the security of the region, and if the U.S. truly wants to fight terrorism and extremism, then it’s a common global cause.”
Obama said that Washington is “going to pursue diplomacy” across the region. Zarif told me that he’d been working the phones with Iraq’s neighbors for the past two days. Obama warned of the dangers of the Sunni extremists trying to “overrun sacred Shia sites.” Iran is the world’s largest Shiite country, and its interests in Iraq are focussed on protecting the Shiite plurality that was long dominated by a Sunni minority.
Twitter pundits are already speculating about the potential for de facto coöperation between the countries. Among the scenarios: U.S. drones striking ISIS targets and, in effect, providing air cover for Iranian Revolutionary Guards dispatched to help hold back the ISIS jihadis, who have been pushing toward Baghdad. In our conversation, Zarif denied reports that Tehran has already dispatched battalions of Revolutionary Guards to aid and protect Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government, but its élite Quds Force has long had a presence — in various forms — inside Iraq. [Continue reading...]
Graham, a leading foreign policy hawk, also attacked President Barack Obama for what he said was his “delusional and detached” response to the crisis.
The Guardian reports: Senators on the intelligence committee expressed deep doubts about curbing the National Security Agency’s broad data collection powers as the upper legislative chamber begins to consider a landmark surveillance bill that passed the House last month.
Lawmakers attacked the USA Freedom Act as insufficiently protective of both privacy and national security as intelligence and law enforcement officials, who now back the bill, conceded that under its provisions they would still have access to a large amount of US phone and other data.
Deputy attorney general James Cole told the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday that the bill allows the NSA to collect information “two hops“, or degrees removed from a targeted phone account. “It gives us the prospective collection, it gives us a wider range of information that we wouldn’t have under normal authorities,” he said.
That account bothered three Democratic privacy advocates on the panel – Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Colorado’s Mark Udall and New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich – but most of the consternation shown by the panel came from the opposite direction, indicating that a surveillance bill whose privacy protections have been largely weakened will still face a difficult road in the Senate.
The panel’s leaders, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Saxby Chambliss of Georgia – both of whom remain staunch advocates of the bulk domestic phone metadata collection that the bill is aimed at ending – feared that restricting the volume of data to which the NSA has access will leave the US vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
In some cases, the panel, charged with overseeing the intelligence agencies and preventing abuse, advocated greater authorities for the surveillance agency than the NSA itself requested. [Continue reading...]
Rep. Rush Holt and Steven Aftergood write: Who watches the watchmen?
In the U.S. House of Representatives, the answer to that question – in theory, at least – is the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), which is charged with overseeing the nation’s spy agencies: the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and more.
HPSCI was created in 1977 in the wake of Nixon-era surveillance abuses to serve as a powerful counterbalance to the spy agencies’ inclination to spy on everyone, everywhere, all the time.
Because of the sensitive nature of HPSCI’s work, the committee usually meets in secret, deliberates in secret, and even passes legislation in secret. But all this secrecy creates a problem: How do we know that HPSCI is, in fact, watching the watchmen effectively?
Last year, all the world learned it wasn’t. As the explosive revelations from Edward Snowden and others demonstrated, the intelligence community had been collecting the communications of essentially every American.
Now, for the first time since Snowden’s disclosures, HPSCI has brought its annual intelligence authorization bill to the House floor, where it quickly passed by a vote of 345-59 on Friday morning. This should have represented an opportunity for a dramatic overhaul of the intelligence community and for some critical examination of HPSCI’s own role. But it appears that HPSCI has lost sight of its founding principles – that it is, in effect, choosing allegiance to our nation’s spies, rather than to the law-abiding citizens who are being spied upon. [Continue reading...]