Israeli spies find it increasingly difficult to enter the U.S.

n13-iconIntelNews.org reports: Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed.

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Business as usual: Victoria Nuland back in Kiev

Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Fuck-the-EU Nuland is back in Kiev. Is she there to wave her middle finger in the direction of Russia?

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Chase Madar: The folly of arming Israel

Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Russia’s pledge to sell advanced antiaircraft weapons to Syria, noting that it would have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.”  And really, who could argue that pouring more weapons into a heavily-armed corner of the globe, roiled by conflict, convulsed by civil strife and civil war, could do anything but inflame tensions and cost lives?

Yet Kerry’s State Department, in coordination with the Pentagon, has been content to oversee a U.S.-sanctioned flood of arms and military matériel heading into the region at a breakneck pace.  In December, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), which coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment, announced that it had approved the sale of more than 15,000 Raytheon-produced anti-tank missiles to Saudi Arabia under two separate agreements worth a combined $1 billion.  Last month, potential deals to sell and lease Apache attack helicopters to the embattled government of Iraq were also made public, in addition to an agreement that would send the country $82 million worth of Hellfire missiles.  At about the same time, the DSCA notified Congress of a possible $270 million sale of F-16 fighters to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  All of this was on top of a potential $600 million deal to train 6,000-8,000 Libyan military personnel and a prospective $150 million agreement for Marines to mentor members of the UAE’s Presidential Guard Command, both of which were announced in January.  And let’s not forget that, last month, Congress also turned on the spigot to allow automatic weapons and anti-tank rockets to flow to rebel fighters in — wait for it — Syria.

Of course, Muslim nations around the region aren’t alone in receiving U.S. support.  The U.S. also plies Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, with copious amounts of aid.  Since World War II, the Jewish state has, in fact, been the largest beneficiary of U.S. foreign assistance, almost all of it military, according to the Congressional Research Service.  Yet the topic is barely covered in the U.S.  Today, TomDispatch regular Chase Madar provides a remedy for that collective silence, taking us on a deep dive into what that aid means in Israel, Palestine, and Washington.  In the process, he explains why you’re unlikely ever to hear John Kerry suggest that sending weapons to Israel might have “a profoundly negative impact on the balance of interests and the stability of the region.” Nick Turse

Washington’s military aid to Israel
Fake peace process, real war process
By Chase Madar

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid — nearly all of it military since 2008 — has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming.  In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel — for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse — who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

[Read more...]

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Why does America send so many stupid, unqualified hacks overseas?

o13-iconJames Bruno writes: When hotel magnate George Tsunis, Obama’s nominee for Oslo, met with the Senate last month, he made clear that he didn’t know that Norway was a constitutional monarchy and wrongly stated that one of the ruling coalition political parties was a hate-spewing “fringe element.” Another of the president’s picks, Colleen Bell, who is headed to Budapest, could not answer questions about the United States’ strategic interests in Hungary. But could the president really expect that she’d be an expert on the region? Her previous gig was as a producer for the TV soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. She stumbled through responses to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) like, well, a soap opera star, expounding on world peace. When the whole awkward exchange concluded, the senator grinned. “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” McCain said sarcastically.

For the purposes of comparison, Norway’s ambassador to the Washington is a 31-year Foreign Ministry veteran. Hungary’s ambassador is an economist who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 27 years.

The resumé imbalance, of course, owes to a simple fact: The United States is the only industrialized country to award diplomatic posts as political spoils, often to wealthy campaign contributors in an outmoded system that rivals the patronage practices of banana republics, dictatorships and two-bit monarchies. [Continue reading...]

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One night at a Palestinian land reclamation party

f13-iconDylan Collins reports: We moved off the road and into a large palm grove, walking towards the chants and whistles we heard through the trees. “Fuck, it feels like I’m walking on dinosaur bones,” shouted a friend as we tromped through a graveyard of dead palm branches and into the village of Ein Hijleh.

The wrecked stone structures we arrived at, remnants of Palestinian homes, were occupied by hundreds of Palestinians and a handful of international activists. The protest was coordinated by members of Melh al-Ard – Arabic for “Salt of the Earth” – a newly established direct action collective who have taken it upon themselves to revive the destroyed village. It’s the first step in a series of actions opposing Israel’s growing colonisation of the Jordan Valley and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land at large.

The catalyst for the demonstration was the ongoing “peace” process led by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Although the specifics of his plan are unknown, the general outline is clear; it would allow Israel to maintain a significant military presence – complete with US-funded drones and surveillance equipment – in the Jordan Valley for the next ten years, supposedly to quash any “destabilising” security situation. Unsurprisingly, Kerry isn’t too popular among the crowd of protesters.

“Negotiations under Kerry are a joke,” said Ahmad Nasser, an activist from the Ramallah area. “How can the US, who provide Israel with over $3 billion (£1.8 billion) a year in military aid, be trusted?”

As Obama’s Easter Island-faced colleague blindly marches the two countries down the aisle towards a wedding that will never be consummated, groups like Melh al-Ard are taking matters into their own hands. [Continue reading...]

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The peace process is frozen, but Israel is winning

f13-iconLarry Derfner writes: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected sometime in the coming weeks to weigh in decisively on the Israeli-Palestinian talks he’s been shepherding, and the reports, statements and signs are that he will come down on Israel’s side like no American mediator ever has. Indications are he will present the outline of a deal that’s less forthcoming to the Palestinians than the offers presented them by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 and premier Ehud Barak in 2001. In other words, the emerging American “framework agreement” appears to ask the Palestinians to accept peace terms that are worse than the Israeli ones they already rejected.

This doesn’t mean anything for the chances of a peace agreement, though, because no such chance has ever been sighted, not six months ago when the talks, scheduled for nine months, began and certainly not now, when the bad blood between the Israeli and Palestinian sides has only increased. But seeing as how the talks were hopeless, the goal of each side has been to make sure that the other side ends up with the blame for their inevitable failure. If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes out looking like the rejectionist, it would accelerate the growing boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement against Israel, especially in Europe, and put the wind at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ back in his diplomatic campaign in the United Nations, which envisages bringing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to The Hague. But if, on the other hand, Abbas gets blamed, then the Palestinians would be thrown on the defensive and Israel would be able to breathe much easier.

The import, then, of a heavily “pro-Israel” U.S. proposal is that it would all but compel the Palestinians to reject it, putting the blame – at least in American eyes – on them. The recent momentum of the anti-occupation movement would likely be blunted. Thus, the effect of Kerry’s incredibly dogged efforts and evident good intentions would be to strengthen the status quo – Israel’s 46-year military rule over the Palestinians – weaken the opposition to it and even further darken the dimming prospect of a Palestinian state arising alongside the State of Israel.

This is the opposite of what Kerry had in mind when he set out on his mission. But it’s exactly what Netanyahu has been playing for. And it appears the earnest, optimistic American has been played. [Continue reading...]

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John Kerry in final push to disprove skeptics on Middle East peace deal

AnalysisThe Guardian reports: Kerry announced the start of a new peace process in July – itself the product of intensive negotiations – flanked by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, beneath the chandeliers of the State Department’s Benjamin Franklin Room in Washington. “I believe that history is not made by cynics,” he declared. “It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream.”

The goal Kerry set for the talks had defeated previous secretaries of state and presidents: a peace agreement, based on a resolution of every single major issue that has divided Israel and Palestine for decades. And he wanted it secured within just nine months.

The 68th secretary of state had by then already acquired a reputation for grandiose speeches; privately, some diplomats began asserting that his self-belief could border on hubris.

Now some of his critics say they are being proved right. “It does not seem to me the talks are going well,” said Elliott Abrams, a former White House advisor who worked on the Israel-Palestine conflict under George W Bush’s administration. “The secretary went into this initially with the goal of a final status agreement. It is very clear that that is impossible. He maybe has a rabbit in his hat. But I doubt it.”

Much of the scepticism is born from the fact Kerry’s ambitious talk of the all-encompassing “final status agreement” has, for some months now, been replaced with more modest noises about a getting the sides to endorse a set of basic principles for further talks.

Others say that persuading both sides to agree to a “framework deal” will be a remarkable achievement given the wide gaps between them thus far, and could lead to further progress. “A framework agreement is a logical part of trying to get to a final, comprehensive agreement,” said a senior US administration official close to the process.

But, clearly, the goalposts have shifted. Gone is the promise of a wide-ranging final agreement, achieved in one go; instead, the US has settled on a step-by-step approach. [Continue reading...]

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America’s confused, half-hearted policy toward Egypt

Shadi Hamid writes: John Kerry felt more threatened by his own administration’s partial aid “cut” to Egypt than Egypt’s generals did. Or so it seemed. In a visit to Cairo on November 3, America’s top diplomat insisted that the “aid issue is a very small issue,” as if to tell Egyptians not to worry—that it was something the U.S. had to do against its will, and that this slap on the wrist, like all the previous ones, too, would pass.

What was more concerning, however, was that Kerry felt the need to heap an inordinate amount of praise on Egypt’s military rulers, suggesting either a great deal of cynicism or the possibility that he hadn’t been briefed on Egyptian politics for weeks on end. “The roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry said, referring to the military’s timetable for drafting a constitution and holding elections. “The roadmap [is moving] in the direction that everybody has been hoping for,” he added. In reality, Egypt, on almost any conceivable political indicator, is more repressive today than it was under the Mubarak regime. The sheer ferocity of the post-coup crackdown continues, with a slate of repressive laws recently announced in the guise of Egypt’s “war on terrorism.”

Presumably, this is why U.S. officials — recognizing the dangerous path Egypt was traveling down — felt compelled to announce some sort of change in the aid relationship. But, even then, the aid “cut”—which is itself a misnomer since the aid was always likely to resume — was largely symbolic, with little meaningful impact on the military. An aid cut, to be effective, needs to change the calculus of Egypt’s generals. But, in this case, there was little at stake: all essential aid would continue to flow (and one of the army’s biggest perks—”cashflow financing” — would be unaffected).

In case there was any doubt, senior U.S. officials went out of their way to belittle the aid cut during the policy rollout, admitting it would have little impact, and perhaps wasn’t even designed to have an impact in the first place. [Continue reading...]

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P5+1 spent more time negotiating with each other than with Iran

The Guardian reports: A meeting in a Geneva hotel room between the US secretary of state and his French counterpart led to an 11th-hour toughening of the west’s position on Iran’s nuclear programme that proved unacceptable to Iranian negotiators, say western officials.

John Kerry’s Saturday-night meeting with Laurent Fabius was a late turning point in three days of intense talks among foreign ministers that resulted only in a decision to resume negotiations at a lower level in Geneva next week.

In the discussion in the US secretary of state’s room at the Geneva InterContinental, Fabius insisted on two key points in the drafting of an interim agreement with Iran: there should be no guarantees in the preamble about the country’s right to enrich uranium; and work would have to stop on a heavy-water nuclear reactor. Iran is building the Arak reactor, capable of producing plutonium, about 130 miles south-west of Tehran.

In the words of one French official: “Kerry was confident enough to accept what Fabius had to say.” The two points were included in a three-page draft proposal put together by the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, who acts as a convenor for a six-nation group involved in the talks.

The draft agreement also imposed limits on Iran’s enrichment capacity and its stockpiles of enriched uranium in return for limited sanction relief.

At 9.20pm on Saturday the agreement was put before foreign ministers from the UK, Germany, Russia and the deputy foreign minister of China, who make up the rest of the “P5+1″ group, which has been negotiating with Iran for seven years.

“Kerry was even more forceful in presenting this draft than Fabius. He got behind it,” the French official said. The P5+1 ministers approved it, and at 10.50pm it was put to the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who had joined the meeting in a conference room in the hotel.

However, in the preamble of a joint statement, Zarif had been seeking language that would at least implicitly recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He had also insisted on construction continuing at Arak, and suggested that international concerns could be assuaged if the work stopped short of putting uranium fuel in the reactor and turning it on.

But at 10 minutes past midnight on Sunday morning, it was agreed that all parties would consult their capitals and try again at a meeting of foreign ministry political directors on 20 November. Ministers would not attend but could be on hand if needed.

Arriving in Abu Dhabi after the meeting, Kerry singled out Iran for the failure to agree. “The French signed off on it; we signed off on it,” he said. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”

Zarif took to Twitter to rebut that claim. “Mr Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of US draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning?” Zarif said in a pointed reference to Fabius’s role. “No amount of spinning can change what happened in 5+1 in Geneva from 6PM Thurs. to 5.45 PM Sat. But it can further erode confidence”

Western officials conceded that unity had been achieved only on the last night of the negotiations, leaving little time for the Iranians to respond; much of the preceding 60 hours of talks had been among the P5+1 group seeking a common position. [Continue reading...]

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Iran’s FM challenges Kerry’s claim on P5+1 unity

Robert Mackey writes: As my colleague Mark Landler reports, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Monday that it was unfair to blame last-minute objections from his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, for scuttling a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear energy program last weekend in Geneva. “The French signed off on it, we signed off on it,” Mr. Kerry said of the final proposal presented to Iran’s negotiating team. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”

Shortly after these remarks were reported, Iran’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, pushed back on Twitter, claiming that the draft proposal from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1, changed drastically after the French intervention on Saturday, as the Guardian diplomatic correspondent Julian Borger reported.


Since Mr. Zarif did not mention Mr. Kerry’s name or Twitter handle in that message, it fell into a category of gibe known as a subtweet on the social network, which is the rough equivalent of talking behind someone’s back, but doing so in such a loud stage whisper that you expect them to hear the criticism.

Just to make sure that his message was heard, however, Mr. Zarif addressed the secretary of state by title in a follow-up missive, in which he also appeared to complain about public comments from Mr. Fabius disparaging an early draft of the deal as “a fool’s bargain.”


The minister, who says that he enjoys reading comments posted on his Persian-language Facebook page, ended his brief flurry of Twitter diplomacy on Monday on a more positive note.
[Continue reading...]

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In Afghanistan, interpreters who helped U.S. in war denied visas; U.S. says they face no threat

The Washington Post reports: A growing number of Afghan interpreters who worked alongside American troops are being denied U.S. visas allotted by Congress because the State Department says there is no serious threat against their lives.

But the interpreters, many of whom served in Taliban havens for years, say U.S. officials are drastically underestimating the danger they face. Immigration attorneys and Afghan interpreters say the denials are occurring just as concerns about Taliban retribution are mounting due to the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“There are tons of Talibs in my village, and they all know that I worked with the Americans,” said one interpreter, Mohammad, who asked that his last name not be published for security reasons. “If I can’t go to the States, my life is over. I swear to God, one day the Taliban will catch me.”

Mohammad received a U.S. form letter saying he had failed to establish that there was a “serious threat” against his life. He had explained in his application that the Taliban had spotted him on the job and spread word in his village that he was a wanted man. [Continue reading...]

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Morsi calls trial in Egypt ‘illegitimate,’ and case is delayed

When America’s obsequious Secretary of State John Kerry met Egypt’s ruling generals yesterday, he claimed they appear to be following a “road map” back to democracy — even though they have not pledged to lift emergency rule. Neither did he raise the issue of Morsi’s trial.

The New York Times reports: As Egypt’s new military-led government consolidates its power, Mohamed Morsi, the deposed president, went on trial on Monday, facing charges of inciting the murder of protesters, but he rejected the court’s authority and proclaimed himself to be the country’s legitimate ruler.

The trial got off to a late start, and the case was soon adjourned until Jan. 8.

The trial’s brief opening was Mr. Morsi’s first public appearance since his removal from office on July 3 and, in a dizzying turn for Egypt, the second criminal trial of a former head of state in less than three years. Former President Hosni Mubarak, ousted in February 2011 and now under house arrest in a military hospital, is facing a retrial at the same site, the auditorium of a police academy.

According to the website of Al Ahram, Egypt’s flagship state newspaper, the trial got under way as Mr. Morsi and 14 other Islamist defendants appeared in a caged dock and court officials called out their names. But news reports said the hearing was first delayed and then suspended after Mr. Morsi refused to dress in prison clothing and chants by his co-defendants drowned out the proceedings.

Journalists who were allowed into the courtroom were not permitted to take telephones or other communications devices, limiting the flow of information. But witnesses in the courtroom said that Mr. Morsi declared, “This trial is illegitimate,” and said he was still Egypt’s lawful president.

Mr. Morsi’s Islamist allies in the Muslim Brotherhood had called for major protests against the trial, and the Interior Ministry said it had deployed thousands of riot police officers to secure the streets. Shortly before 11 a.m., as the trial began, the streets remained quiet, but the number of demonstrators began to grow from only a few dozen to perhaps 100 in two locations outside the court.

Pro-Morsi demonstrators gathered in larger numbers at the Supreme Constitutional Court in the Maadi district of southern Cairo, witnesses said.

BBC News reports on the changing tactics among Muslim Brotherhood protesters.

Protesters gather in small numbers in many different locations rather than holding mass rallies in one location like that of the Rabaa al-Adawiya or al-Nahda squares.

It’s been a little over two months now since security forces cracked down on those two squares where supporter of former President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood gathered in their thousands.

Since then almost all the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its supreme guide, have been arrested.

Many supporters have also been rounded up and thrown in jail. A recent incident in Alexandria saw more than 20 women supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood arrested in clashes with residents of one of the city’s most crowded neighbourhoods.

But all of that doesn’t seem to deter supporters of the ousted president from taking to the streets.

“It’s important to keep the momentum going,” said Yomna, a university student in her final year.

Yomna didn’t want her last name revealed. She said that as a Morsi supporter, she had to be careful not to reveal her identity. That alone shows how different things have become here in Egypt.

Despite what happened in Rabaa or even because of it, many Muslim Brotherhood supporters insist that the only way for them is the street.

“We’re tired but we are not defeated, we’re still in the street because people know that this is where they should be,” Yomna said.

“This trial will be a chance for us to regroup and unite again,” she added.

“Seeing that they have put our president on trial will make us even more determined.”

Despite this determination, Yomna admits that these past few months have been extremely difficult for her and many like her who still want Mohammed Morsi to be returned to office.

“Look what happened to those girls,” she said, referring to the women who were arrested in Alexandria recently.

“As a Morsi supporter I feel vulnerable to arrest at any time now. I’ll keep protesting but I know next time it could be me.

“Sometimes I feel like I no longer live in my own country.”

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Peter Van Buren: America’s top diplomat is lost in space

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium — the title of a 1969 romantic comedy — could now fit two intertwined phenomena: the madcap global travels of Secretary of State John Kerry and the nonstop journey of the latest revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.  In mid-August, there was Kerry in Brazil, lamely defending the NSA’s surveillance program, even as he tried to pacify local ire over reports that the agency was monitoring phone calls and emails on a mass scale there.  (And this was before the news even broke that the NSA had hacked into President Dilma Rousseff’s emails and spied on Brazil’s major oil company.) “We’re not surprised and we’re not upset that Brazil would ask questions. Absolutely understandable,” Kerry said at the time. “Brazil is owed answers with respect to those questions and they will get them. And we will work together very positively to make certain that this question — these issues — do not get in the way of all the other things that we talked about.” As it happened, no answers were forthcoming.  A month later, Rousseff would cancel a long-planned visit to Washington and denounce the NSA’s spying at the U.N.

Skip two months to late October, and there Kerry was again, this time in France trying to pacify an angry ally over another revelation of a massive NSA eavesdropping operation.  (“We will have ongoing bilateral consultations, including with our French partners, to address this question of any reports by the U.S. government gathering information from some of the agencies and those consultations are going to continue.”)  Meanwhile, he was still trying to defend that agency’s basic program in similarly foggy language.  (“Protecting the security of our citizens in today’s world is a very complicated, very challenging task… because there are lots of people out there seeking to do harm to other people.”)  And then, in a no-rest-for-the-weary world, on he went to Italy, whose population had just been outed as the latest victim of NSA spying, and whose foreign minister was demanding “clarity” on the issue.  With much of Europe up in arms over America’s expanding global security state, he once again resorted to his rope-a-dope technique, taking the local punches while offering public pabulum about our dearest allies and how much the Obama administration cares for them and how Americans nonetheless have to be protected from the evil doers, etc., etc.  Only as October ended, two and a half months after his Brazilian trip, did the secretary of state become the first Obama administration official to admit that “in some cases, some of these actions have reached too far.”

By now, Kerry’s act had all the charm of a clown fireman putting out a blaze at a circus only to set himself on fire.  If this repetitive scene, in which the Snowden revelations stay just ahead of the eternally globetrotting secretary of state, doesn’t quite add up to a real life version of Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo, it still has to be the spectacle of 2013.  Given the recent Guardian report that the NSA has listened in on at least 35 heads of state (and that’s only phone calls, not emails), Kerry could be an even busier man in the months to come.  As TomDispatch regular Peter Van Buren, former State Department whistleblower and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, points out, Kerry’s already legendary global travels are matched by a legendary cluelessness that reflects a particularly twenty-first-century Washington state of mind. Tom Engelhardt

Ramblin’ man
John Kerry is a figure of his times (and that’s not a good thing)
By Peter Van Buren

In the 1960s, John Kerry was distinctly a man of his times. Kennedy-esque, he went from Yale to Vietnam to fight in a lost war. When popular sentiments on that war shifted, he became one of the more poignant voices raised in protest by antiwar veterans. Now, skip past his time as a congressman, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, senator, and presidential candidate (Swift Boated out of the race by the Republican right). Four decades after his Vietnam experience, he has achieved what will undoubtedly be the highest post of his lifetime: secretary of state. And he’s looked like a bumbler first class.  Has he also been — once again — a true man of his time, of a moment in which American foreign policy, as well as its claim to global moral and diplomatic leadership, is in remarkable disarray?

In his nine months in office, Kerry’s State Department has one striking accomplishment to its name. It has achieved a new level of media savvy in promoting itself and plugging its highest official as a rock star, a world leader in his own right (complete with photo-ops and sophisticated image-making). In the meantime, the secretary of state has been stumbling and bloviating from one crisis to the next, one debacle to another, surrounded by the well-crafted imagery of diplomatic effectiveness. He and his errant statements have become global punch lines, but is he truly to blame for his performance?

[Read more...]

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Kerry paints rosy picture of Egypt moving towards democracy

Reuters reports: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that there are indications Egypt’s generals intend to restore democracy, after an army takeover that prompted Washington to freeze some aid to its long-standing ally.

Kerry, the most senior U.S. official to visit Egypt since the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July, said Cairo was a vital partner, apparently trying to repair ties strained by the partial freeze in U.S. aid, pending progress on democracy.

“Thus far there are indications that this is what they are intending to do,” Kerry said after a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, referring to his recent remarks in Pakistan that Egypt’s military was “restoring democracy”.

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NSA chief Keith Alexander blames diplomats for surveillance requests

The Guardian reports: The director of the National Security Agency has blamed US diplomats for requests to place foreign leaders under surveillance, in a surprising intervention that risks a confrontation with the State Department.

General Keith Alexander made the remarks during a pointed exchange with a former US ambassador to Romania, lending more evidence to suggestions of a rift over surveillance between the intelligence community and Barack Obama’s administration.

The NSA chief was challenged by James Carew Rosapepe, who served as an ambassador under the Clinton administration, over the monitoring of the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone.

Rosapepe, now a Democratic state senator in Maryland, pressed Alexander to give “a national security justification” for the agency’s use of surveillance tools intended for combating terrorism against “democratically elected leaders and private businesses”.

“We all joke that everyone is spying on everyone,” he said. “But that is not a national security justification.”

Alexander replied: “That is a great question, in fact as an ambassador you have part of the answer. Because we the intelligence agencies don’t come up with the requirements. The policymakers come up with the requirements.”

He went on: “One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh: ambassadors.”

Alexander said the NSA collected information when it was asked by policy officials to discover the “leadership intentions” of foreign countries. “If you want to know leadership intentions, these are the issues,” the NSA director said.

The exchange on Thursday night drew laughs from the audience at the Baltimore Council on Foreign Relations, but did not seem to impress the former ambassador, who replied: “We generally don’t do that in democratic societies.” [Continue reading...]

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U.S. surveillance has gone too far, John Kerry admits

The Guardian reports: John Kerry, the US secretary of state, conceded on Thursday that some of the country’s surveillance activities had gone too far, saying that certain practices had occurred “on autopilot” without the knowledge of senior officials in the Obama administration.

In the most stark comments yet by a senior administration official, Kerry promised that a previously announced review of surveillance practices would be thorough and that some activities would end altogether.

“The president and I have learned of some things that have been happening in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there and the ability is there,” he told a conference in London via video link.

“In some cases, some of these actions have reached too far and we are going to try to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.” [Continue reading...]

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