Sunday, January 13, 2013

January 13

No need for geniuses

I didn't know Aaron Swartz personally, but I certainly knew of him, through friends and acquaintances and, of course, his work. It's immeasurably sad to see someone so brilliant and so young choose to end his own life. 

I'm not sure anyone is capable of figuring out all the elements that go into making such a final decision. But I'm pretty sure that one of the main ones was the fact that he was being pursued with single-minded, Javert-like obsession by the US Justice department over an alleged crime that hurt no one and which was not even being pursued by the alleged victim.

If you're unfamiliar with what they were doing, this will fill you in on the details. I suspect it was this that animated their idée fixe, more than anything:

...the feds found someone with enough "hacking" activity under their belt that they feel comfortable turning the defendant into an "example."
That's how they roll. As we've seen with RIAA, the Manning case and Wikileaks, the government seems to be overreacting to "computer crime" much like the authorities in the Salem Witch trials overreacted to some hysterical teen-age behavior. One can only assume that they fear the penetration of their "secrets" as something akin to being possessed by the devil. But the fact is that we are supposed to be a democracy in which the government works for us, not the commercial enterprises and national security apparatus that apparently has the government obsessively chasing citizens who have the talent and the ideals to expose their crimes and shortcomings. 

This is a very ugly, very shameful episode. I hope the US Attorney who decided that this was a worthwhile pursuit sleeps well tonight. It's not as if the world needs idealistic geniuses, right?


You've probably heard there's some controversy about Obama's nominating John Brennan as head of the CIA, but you may not be clear why. While we know he's a big booster of drone strikes and torture, we don't know the rest of his history. Over at WhoWhatWhy, which does some fascinating original investigative journalism, they've taken a good hard look at the background of the man who would be CIA king:

As Obama's counterterrorism adviser, Brennan played a central role in two episodes that provided the President with much needed image-boosts. In one, Navy SEALs bagged the numero uno prize, Osama bin Laden. In the other, Navy SEALs rescued a young American woman from Somali pirates.

As we noted here previously, neither of these operations is free of controversy. You can see some of the issues we raised on the Abbottabad raid, shortly after it took place, hereherehere, and later here.

With the bin Laden operation, Brennan has provided a shifting panoply of details concerning what went on that have never been rationalized, and that raise fundamental questions. In that linked article, we reported that Brennan…was the principal source of incorrect details in the hours and days after the raid. These included the claim that the SEALs encountered substantial armed resistance, not least from bin Laden himself; that it took them an astounding 40 minutes to get to bin Laden, and that the White House got to hear the soldiers' conversations in real time.

[...] Almost all that turns out to be hogwash—according to the new account produced by The New Yorker three months later. An account that, again, it seems, comes courtesy of Brennan. The minutes did not pass like days. Bin Laden was not armed, and did not take cover behind a woman. And the commandoes most certainly were not on the ground for 40 minutes. Some of them were up the stairs to the higher floors almost in a flash, and it didn't take long for them to run into and kill bin Laden.

Perhaps the most troubling of many troubling assertions was the final explanation Brennan provided for why Osama bin Laden's body was hastily dumped in the ocean—rather than being made available for autopsy and identification procedures, or buried somewhere unknown to the public but where the body could later be exhumed if necessary (a common occurrence when identity issues arise). Here's what Brennan said: he consulted the Saudison what to do with the body, and they said sure, good idea to toss the terror leader into the deep.

Brennan, it should be noted, has close ties to the Saudi leadership from his years running the CIA station in Riyadh, 1996 to 1999. (He then returned to Washington and was CIA deputy executive director at the time of the September 11 attacks.)

There's a great deal of irony in taking advice from the Saudis ondeep-sixing a valuable piece of evidence, given questions about the Saudi leadership's knowledge of what was afoot with the 9/11 hijackers. For one thing, there's the well-known rapid departure of Saudi royals from around the United States immediately following the carnage in New York and Washington.

But there's a meatier, documented Saudi connection. If you're not familiar with it, be sure to read our multi-part piece here. As we reported, in the weeks prior to the attacks the alleged hijackers were hanging out at the Florida house owned by a top lieutenant in the Saudi hierarchy. Is Brennan not interested in that? Shouldn't some Senator ask him about it?

And why did the SEALs kill the unarmed bin Laden, when it would have seemed strategically wiser to exert every effort to capture him alive? Imagine what stories this Saudi black sheep could tell! To explain why he was summarily killed, we were first told that he was armed, then we learned he was not, then that his fate was left up to the SEALs themselves.)

Brennan—who ran the National Counterterrorism Center for George W. Bush while Bush was seeking re-election in 2004 and pushing the "terror alerts" button like crazy—has plenty of questions to answer.

There's more, for those of you who actually want to know what our intelligence community is up to.


Oh, goody. Once again, Paul Ryan's fetal personhood bill makes it possible for rapists to sue victims to keep them from having abortions.


Why are so many Jesus-y extremists actually secret perverts?



Jim Fallows latest is a post titled "The Two Sentences That Should Be Part of All Discussion of the Debt Ceiling,"

They are:

 1) Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.

2) For Congress to "decide whether" to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to "decide whether" to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.

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