CIA Agents Fear Their Work is Illegal

Add CIA agents to the long list of people who question the legality fo the Bush Administration’s tactics. Many are taking out legal insurance. This is hardly the position in which the Bush Administration should be placing CIA agents. The Washington Post reports:

CIA counterterrorism officers have signed up in growing numbers for a government-reimbursed, private insurance plan that would pay their civil judgments and legal expenses if they are sued or charged with criminal wrongdoing, according to current and former intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the program.

The new enrollments reflect heightened anxiety at the CIA that officers may be vulnerable to accusations they were involved in abuse, torture, human rights violations and other misconduct, including wrongdoing related to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They worry that they will not have Justice Department representation in court or congressional inquiries, the officials said.

New Blog Features

I’ve added a few new blog features recently. The subscribe box allows you to receive a daily email of all the new posts here. Technorati users can click the line above the box to easily add Liberal Values to their Technorati favorites. Making a list of Technorati favorites allows you to go to Technorati and see the latest posts from your latest blogs.

If you prefer one of the many social bookmarking systems beyond Technorati, I’ve added a TagBlitz icon to each post. Clicking this allows you to add the post to Digg,, Tailrank, MySpace, Fark, and many other bookmarking sites. You can also use this icon to send material to Blogger, bookmark a post, or sent the post to a friend by email or AIM.

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, another useful feature which has been here from the beginning is the ability to subscribe when you leave a comment so that you will receive notice by email if anyone else responds. Another older feature here is the list of icons to allow you to easily add Liberal Values to many popular rss readers.

Bill Clinton Didn’t Allow bin Laden to Escape at Tora Bora

I’ve posted about Bush’s failure to capture bin Laden when he had the chance at Tora Bora several times, but on the eve of 9/11 it deserves to be noted again, especially as right wingers are enjoying their propaganda on ABC which falsely blames Clinton. Paul Krugman reviewed this in today’s column:

The path to this strategic defeat began with the failure to capture or kill bin Laden. Never mind the anti-Clinton hit piece, produced for ABC by a friend of Rush Limbaugh; there never was a clear shot at Osama before 9/11, let alone one rejected by Clinton officials. But there was a clear shot in December 2001, when Al Qaeda’s leader was trapped in the caves of Tora Bora. He made his escape because the Pentagon refused to use American ground troops to cut him off.

No matter, declared President Bush: “I truly am not that concerned about him,” he said about bin Laden in March 2002, and more or less stopped mentioning Osama for the next four years. By the time he made his what-me-worry remarks — just six months after 9/11 — the pursuit of Al Qaeda had already been relegated to second-class status. A long report in yesterday’s Washington Post adds detail to what has long been an open secret: early in 2002, the administration began pulling key resources, such as special forces units and unmanned aircraft, off the hunt for Al Qaeda’s leaders, in preparation for the invasion of Iraq.

At the same time, the administration balked at giving the new regime in Kabul the support it needed. As he often does, Mr. Bush said the right things: the history of conflict in Afghanistan, he declared in April 2002, has been “one of initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We’re not going to repeat that mistake.”

But he proceeded to do just that, neglecting Afghanistan in ways that foreshadowed the future calamity in Iraq. During the first 18 months after the Taliban were driven from power, the U.S.-led coalition provided no peacekeeping troops outside the capital city. Economic aid, in a destitute nation shattered by war, was minimal in the crucial first year, when the new government was trying to build legitimacy. And the result was the floundering and failure we see today.

Keith Olbermann: Bush and Rumsfeld Have “Wandered Further From Reality”

Salon has interviewed Keith Olbermann. Here’s a couple of his answers to questions on the Bush Administration’s statements on terrorism and on the tone of his commentaries.

You’re obviously rather upset with the statements that President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and other officials have been making recently about the war on terror.

It, in many respects, is accomplishing — as I said on the air the other night — that which the terrorists are supposed to be looking to do, which is to divide us, make us fearful, change our way of life. I believe Mr. Bush said they hate us for our liberty, and the government seems to be intent on reducing many of those freedoms and liberties. It’s been building; this is not the first time I’ve said anything about this, about the administration or about its conduct. Pretty much this has been constant since this newscast went on the air. As they have wandered further from reality and our history and what I think all of us — liberals and conservatives and everybody else — were taught as far as our way of life. The further they wander away, the harder you have to reach out to try and grab them and pull them back.

Why did you decide to start making your commentaries so harsh?

I didn’t, actually. These are just the first ones — well, I wouldn’t say the first ones — that got prominent play. I did one a year ago that was necessitated by the administration’s reaction to Katrina, in particular the Homeland Security secretary’s rather Freudian slip, when he said, “Louisiana is a city that is largely under water,” which I thought summarized their whole problem with it. I think that was five or six minutes long.

There is a public platform afforded to you. If you spend your entire time on it trying to bend the ordinary rules of news to encourage people to ask what’s really going on, if you do that nonstop, it necessarily becomes an act. You really should have that weapon close to you, but you should keep it holstered as much as possible. If you don’t have it, or you don’t ever use it, you might as well be a trained monkey doing the news, which unfortunately is the case in a lot of places.

My skepticism — I think that’s the right word, as opposed to “cynicism” — toward the administration has been evident from — I think the day it started was May 1 of 2003, the flight-suit story. I can remember interviewing several people that day and saying, “Isn’t this a little premature? Isn’t this a little theatrical? Isn’t this a little staged?” and being assured that my opinion was ridiculous and alone and this was George Bush’s historic moment, all the rest of that.

I’m not saying I come out and beat anybody over the head on a regular basis, but when it’s merited — it sounds almost like a tautology, almost too simple to be true — when it’s merited, this is the sort of stuff people on television ought to be doing, and it doesn’t matter who’s running the country. The country belongs to the people, not to the government that happens to be in charge at the moment. We should remind ourselves of that fact periodically.

What the Bush Administration Should Be Doing to Keep Americans Safe

A few days ago I posted the Top Ten Abuses of Power Since 9/11 as compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has also compiled a list of what the Bush Administration should be doing to keep America safe. The eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 attack seems like a good time to examine this list.

The Road Not Taken


9/11: Five Years Later
> Abuses of Power: Assaults on civil liberties
> Victories for Democracy: Successes in the fight for freedom
> The Road Not Taken: Security measures the Bush Administration has ignored
> Voices: ACLU staff on 9/11 and the fight for freedom since 2001

> The Challenge to Illegal Spying
> Torture: Seeking Truth and Accountability
> Secret CIA Kidnappings: El-Masri v. Tenet
> Reform the Patriot Act
> Video: Stop the Abuse of Power

Get Involved in Washington, D.C.
Make your voice heard at the ACLU Membership Conference

What the Bush Administration Should Be Doing to Keep Americans Safe

In the five years since September 11, the Bush administration approach to national security has been marked by one defining characteristic: watching everyone. Instead of working to shore up the many gaps that exist in our security infrastructure – from our virtually defenseless rail system to our porous cargo ports, or focusing on improving human intelligence, or concentrating on capturing Osama Bin Laden — our government has chosen spying on innocent Americans as its principal approach to preventing another terrorist attack. That approach has included data mining, watch lists, NSA spying, passenger profiling systems, and national identity card systems.

The Bush administration’s wrong-road approach to security has created unprecedented threats to our privacy and civil liberties, failed to make us safer, and diverted resources from more effective avenues of protecting against terrorism and other threats to our well-being.

Many security experts, including former government officials, are urging a different approach to security that is likely to be both more effective and less damaging to Americans’ freedoms.

The Right Road

The ACLU believes that these strategies can help keep Americans safe without violating our fundamental freedoms:

  • Physical security, not identity-based checks. Identity-based checks are inherently unreliable, because the bare facts of a person’s identity do not reveal terrorist intent (and can actually obscure it, as in the case of a decorated military veteran like Timothy McVeigh). Furthermore, democratic societies neither have nor want (nor are capable of instituting) airtight identity systems, making this approach futile. Basic, commonsense physical security measures equally applied are far more effective. More has been done to improve airline security since 9/11 through physical measures like reinforced cockpit doors than would ever be gained by government sweeps through passengers’ personal data.
  • Traditional investigations, not dragnets. The best way to stop terrorism is still through old-fashioned investigatory techniques that rely on working outward from known leads and suspects. Attempting to work inward by narrowing suspect lists down from the entire U.S. population to a handful of terrorists is too unreliable and inefficient a means of finding true terrorists, whether that process is based on crude profiling techniques or cutting-edge data-mining analysis. The principle of individualized suspicion not only protects individuals, but also imposes a necessary discipline on police investigators, who can be tempted at times to engage in wasteful and inefficient fishing expeditions.
  • A whole-view, not an airline-centric approach. Airline security understandably remains a very high priority, but enormous resources are already devoted to it and experts must carefully evaluate how much more security can realistically be achieved and at what cost. Hijacking airplanes is not the only way to kill civilians or attack buildings. It would not make sense for us to devote vast resources to bring the security level of one target from 98 percent to 99 percent when another, equivalent target is only 30-percent protected.


Censorship, Boycotts and the Mouse

I’ve had numerous posts criticizing The Path to 9/11 and have receive some email accusing me of censorship for such criticism. Claims of censorship also dominate the conservative blogoshere (despite their similar complaints about an earlier mini-series on Ronald Reagan). Criticizing an inaccurate television show is hardly an act of censorship. There are several reasons why I am entitled to post my criticism of the show:

  • Support of the truth: Republicans have been playing politics with the 9/11 attack, fabricating charges that Democrats are weaker on defending the country. The facts are the opposite. Democrats warned about terrorism well before 9/11. John Kerry wrote a book warning about the threat, and Bill Clinton attempted to take action which was blocked by the Republicans. It was George Bush who ignored multiple warnings about the threat prior to 9/11, and chose to play politics rather than take real effective action afterwards.
  • Financial interests as a stockholder: As a Disney stockholder I have a financial interest in the future of the company. Until recently this was a country split 50:50 and it would make little sense to alienate half the country in this manner. Recent polls show the split may be approaching 2:1 against the Republicans. As a stock holder I feel it is a mistake financially as well as ethically for Disney to have allowed this right wing group to make this documentary, and am entitled to express this view both here and in my communications to investor relations.
  • Interest in the public airwaves: Material broadcast on the public airwaves is held to different standards than something published in a book or newspaper, or even broadcast on cable. The public has a right to comment on material which is not in the public interest, such as a show as misleading as this.

I’ve also received email alleging it is hypocritical to not also attack Michael Moore. I’ve never understood the obsession of the right wingers with Michael Moore. Michael Moore is an independent film maker. I personally have nothing to do with him, and he is neither a spokesman for or leader of the Democratic Party. In the past he has been a supporter of the Green Party which I have no support for. I’ve criticized comments by Michael Moore on several occasions, while also agreeing with him at other times. Most importantly, Michael Moore produces documentaries, not shows which are intended for broadcast over the public airwaves in first run as history. Everyone knows Michael Moore’s biases. A mini-series which was initially promoted as being based upon fact is far more harmful than a documentary we know to be someone’s opinion.

I have also never called for a boycott against Disney as some have. (Obviously I have some bias here being a stock holder, but I also have the option of selling the stock and boycotting if I really considered Disney to be an overall right wing threat). Disney is clearly wrong in broadcasting this show, but their overall record must be kept in perspective. Disney typically promotes liberal values, and is far more often the target of conservatives for attitudes such as being gay-friendly. Despite Michael Moore’s inaccurate account (one of the many cases where I’ve criticized him), Disney kept their end of the bargain in the production of Fahrenheit 9/11 while choosing not to distribute the film, and should receive credit for their role in the making of this documentary. Disney has consistently donated more money to Democrats than Republicans.

Disney made a mistake here, but I have also found that Disney does an excellent job of making up for their errors. Rather than concentrating on boycotts, I would suggest starting with suggestions such as those made at Firedoglake:

We must demand that ABC give equal time to critics of “Path to 9/11.” We can propose programming with historians and investigators, and those who were there as a counter-balance in the coming weeks. We must push ABC News to bring a balanced account of the controversy over their network.

My suspicion is that Disney realizes they have made a mistake and we would have far better chances at success in making suggestions for realistic ways for them to remedy this than to call for boycotts which will probably be no more successful than the boycotts against Disney regularly called for by conservative and ultra-religious groups.

Kerry or Gore in 2008?

John Kerry was interviewed by Wolfe Blitzer on CNN’s Late Edition within the past hour following his speech at Faneuil Hall yesterday. Highlights include Kerry explaining how the Democrats a proposing a foreign policy which can keep this country safe, as opposed to the failed policies of the Republicans. Blitzer tried to play gotcha journalism by cherry picking a small portion of Kerry’s Senate floor statement on the Iraq War Resolution to claim Kerry supported going to war, contradicting his current opposition to Bush’s policies. Kerry pointed out that if Blitzer had played more of the statement it would have been clear that he has been entirely consistent. Kerry supported giving Bush the “big stick” to allow him to get the inspectors back in following a number of promises from Bush as to how he would handle the situation in Iraq. This included going to war only as a last resort and building an international coalition if war became necessary. Kerry warned at the time that if Bush did not keep his word he would oppose him. (Kerry’s position on Iraq was previously discussed here and here).

I wonder if it was coincidence or intentional, but when Blitzer was asking Kerry the usual questions as to his plans on 2008 (interested but no final decision), the crawl on the bottom of the screen reported Al Gore’s statement in Australia that he hasn’t ruled out running for President in the future. I’ve noted that whenever Gore has stated he didn’t plan to run, he’s always left open some wiggle room.

If Gore should run he would bring many of the same strengths as John Kerry, including foreign policy knowledge, early opposition to the Bush’s foreign policy, year’s of experience in government, and experience in a Presidential campaign. It would be interesting to see if any issues should arise to separate the two. I would find both far preferable to the current Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton, and any political debates between Kerry and Gore could be fascinating for those interested in the details of policy as opposed to debating slogans.

Update: Transcript of the interview is now available here. Video available here.