President Obama is about to play defense, for three years.
Nov 4, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 08
BY FRED BARNES
President Obama is facing the abyss. It’s that moment when a president’s plans are overwhelmed by his problems, and he’s relegated to playing defense for the rest of his White House term. Obama’s agenda already lingers near death. His poll numbers have slipped to new lows. His speeches are full of alibis and accusations.
Obama hasn’t reached the point of no return, but he’s close. His biggest problem is the collapse of Obamacare on its launching pad as the entire country watched. And there’s worse trouble ahead. More likely than not, Obamacare will be the dominant issue in the final three-plus years of his presidency. From that, there’s no recovery.
Years on defense—impotent years—have beset even the strongest of presidents. After the Iran-contra scandal broke in November 1986, the Reagan presidency was essentially over. He served two more years and made a triumphant trip to the Soviet Union, but his power was gone. The low point was the overturning of his veto of a highway bill.
Jimmy Carter’s presidency was hardly a powerhouse. Still, it had one shining moment, when the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt was signed in September 1978. What clout Carter had vanished after the “malaise” speech in July 1979. It made him a target of ridicule.
Impeachment in 1998 forced President Clinton into retreat. His popularity remained high, but he abandoned an agenda that included entitlement reform. Even an unexpected Democratic victory in the midterm elections in his second term couldn’t revive his presidency.
In George W. Bush’s case, problems in his second term quickly engulfed his administration. The Iraq war became a bloodbath, his plan for overhauling Social Security had few takers, and he was blamed, unfairly, for the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina. A troop buildup and adoption of a counterinsurgency strategy saved Iraq from disaster, but otherwise Bush’s second term was marked by futility.
Now, with his presidency in peril, Obama seems unprepared to avert paralysis. The failed startup of Obamacare, its website a “joke” in the view of 60 percent of America in a Fox News poll, caught the president by surprise. He refused to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, conceding only that healthcare.gov wasn’t working as “smoothly as it was supposed to.” Neither is his presidency.
From all appearances, Obama sees the Obamacare mess as partly a political headache. A headline in Politico last week captured this: “White House works to flip Obamacare narrative.” It’s as if Obama and his advisers think they’re dealing with a faux pas to be smoothed over with political spin. Commentary’s Peter Wehner calls this attitude “detachment from reality.”
True, Obamacare will be a campaign issue in the 2014 midterm elections and no doubt a significant factor in the presidential election two years later. But that’s not because Obamacare is merely a matter of politics. It’s because Obamacare is now the official health care system for 310 million people and represents one-sixth of the American economy.
And it’s a national embarrassment whose troubles are only beginning. Unpleasant shocks loom for a majority of Americans who tap into Obamacare exchanges. Those 40 years of age and younger will discover next year their insurance premiums are “a lot higher than they would pay in today’s market,” says health care expert James Capretta. That will create a furor.
So, too, some lower-middle-income and middle-class Americans will find their access to doctors is limited. Why? Because many of the country’s biggest and best hospitals and some doctors have not agreed to take on this category of patients. Also, patients will be forced to endure longer waits as a result of a doctor shortage. In 2015 and 2016, the popular Medicare Advantage program will shrink.
Low-income folks and those with preexisting conditions will prosper under Obamacare. But how will middle-income Americans feel when they learn they’re paying considerably more for the same insurance? Not happy, I suspect. Or those under 30 who chose a “catastrophic-only” policy with high deductibles? They won’t be thrilled when told they are ineligible for a subsidy, whatever their income.
The point is that as Obamacare is rolled out over the final years of this presidency, there will be numerous occasions when Obama’s promises about the new health insurance scheme are exposed as untrue. If these incidents don’t provoke a crisis, they’ll at least keep Obamacare from fading as a prominent and fiercely debated issue.
And the president will pay a price. He’ll be stuck on defense, unable to change the subject. His agenda won’t help. A $9 minimum wage, universal preschool, immigration reform, global warming legislation, more infrastructure spending, higher taxes—there’s nothing close to a national consensus in support of these liberal leftovers.
Despite all this, Obama could escape a lost presidency. He has a loyal base that’s kept his approval rating in the low 40s. (Carter and Bush dipped into the 20s.) Democrats may be dreaming when they envision a 2014 election in which Republicans suffer badly from the shutdown. But it’s not inconceivable Republicans could lose the House, and their prospects of capturing the Senate are no better than 50-50. Then and only then, Obama’s presidency could be spared an early death and the nation’s attention shifted from a dreadful health plan named after him. That’s a nice scenario, but I’m not buying it. The humiliation of presiding over Obamacare’s debut won’t be soon forgotten.
But ponder this: Had Obamacare been created as a private enterprise with Obama as CEO, it wouldn’t have lasted a week. Not only would the stumbling company have been put out of business, so would its incompetent CEO. And we’d all—well, most of us—be better off.
Fred Barnes is an executive editor at The Weekly Standard.
by TheGreekZen on September 8, 2013.
From Consortium News: Despite the Obama administration’s supposedly “high confidence” regarding Syrian government guilt over the Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus, a dozen former U.S. military and intelligence officials are telling President Obama that they are picking up information that undercuts the Official Story.
By Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, who chaired National Intelligence Estimates and personally delivered intelligence briefings to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, their Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many other senior government officials
MEMORANDUM FOR: The President
FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
SUBJECT: Is Syria a Trap?
We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this. In writing this brief report, we choose to assume that you have not been fully informed because your advisers decided to afford you the opportunity for what is commonly known as “plausible denial.”
We have been down this road before – with President George W. Bush, to whom we addressed our first VIPS memorandumimmediately after Colin Powell’s Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. speech, in which he peddled fraudulent “intelligence” to support attacking Iraq. Then, also, we chose to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt, thinking he was being misled – or, at the least, very poorly advised.
Secretary of State John Kerry departs for a Sept. 6 trip to Europe where he plans to meet with officials to discuss the Syrian crisis and other issues. (State Department photo)
The fraudulent nature of Powell’s speech was a no-brainer. And so, that very afternoon we strongly urged your predecessor to “widen the discussion beyond … the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.” We offer you the same advice today.
Our sources confirm that a chemical incident of some sort did cause fatalities and injuries on August 21 in a suburb of Damascus. They insist, however, that the incident was not the result of an attack by the Syrian Army using military-grade chemical weapons from its arsenal. That is the most salient fact, according to CIA officers working on the Syria issue. They tell us that CIA Director John Brennan is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public – and perhaps even you.
We have observed John Brennan closely over recent years and, sadly, we find what our former colleagues are now telling us easy to believe. Sadder still, this goes in spades for those of us who have worked with him personally; we give him zero credence. And that goes, as well, for his titular boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has admitted he gave “clearly erroneous” sworn testimony to Congress denying NSA eavesdropping on Americans.
Intelligence Summary or Political Ploy?
That Secretary of State John Kerry would invoke Clapper’s name this week in Congressional testimony, in an apparent attempt to enhance the credibility of the four-page “Government Assessment” strikes us as odd. The more so, since it was, for some unexplained reason, not Clapper but the White House that released the “assessment.”
This is not a fine point. We know how these things are done. Although the “Government Assessment” is being sold to the media as an “intelligence summary,” it is a political, not an intelligence document. The drafters, massagers, and fixers avoided presenting essential detail. Moreover, they conceded upfront that, though they pinned “high confidence” on the assessment, it still fell “short of confirmation.”
Déjà Fraud: This brings a flashback to the famous Downing Street Minutes of July 23, 2002, on Iraq, The minutes record the Richard Dearlove, then head of British intelligence, reporting to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior officials that President Bush had decided to remove Saddam Hussein through military action that would be “justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.” Dearlove had gotten the word from then-CIA Director George Tenet whom he visited at CIA headquarters on July 20.
The discussion that followed centered on the ephemeral nature of the evidence, prompting Dearlove to explain: “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” We are concerned that this is precisely what has happened with the “intelligence” on Syria.
There is a growing body of evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East — mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its supporters — providing a strong circumstantial case that the August 21 chemical incident was a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters. The aim is reported to have been to create the kind of incident that would bring the United States into the war.
According to some reports, canisters containing chemical agent were brought into a suburb of Damascus, where they were then opened. Some people in the immediate vicinity died; others were injured.
We are unaware of any reliable evidence that a Syrian military rocket capable of carrying a chemical agent was fired into the area. In fact, we are aware of no reliable physical evidence to support the claim that this was a result of a strike by a Syrian military unit with expertise in chemical weapons.
In addition, we have learned that on August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.
Senior opposition commanders who came from Istanbul pre-briefed the regional commanders on an imminent escalation in the fighting due to “a war-changing development,” which, in turn, would lead to a U.S.-led bombing of Syria.
At operations coordinating meetings at Antakya, attended by senior Turkish, Qatari and U.S. intelligence officials as well as senior commanders of the Syrian opposition, the Syrians were told that the bombing would start in a few days. Opposition leaders were ordered to prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government
The Qatari and Turkish intelligence officials assured the Syrian regional commanders that they would be provided with plenty of weapons for the coming offensive. And they were. A weapons distribution operation unprecedented in scope began in all opposition camps on August 21-23. The weapons were distributed from storehouses controlled by Qatari and Turkish intelligence under the tight supervision of U.S. intelligence officers.
That the various groups trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have ample incentive to get the U.S. more deeply involved in support of that effort is clear. Until now, it has not been quite as clear that the Netanyahu government in Israel has equally powerful incentive to get Washington more deeply engaged in yet another war in the area. But with outspoken urging coming from Israel and those Americans who lobby for Israeli interests, this priority Israeli objective is becoming crystal clear.
Reporter Judi Rudoren, writing from Jerusalem in an important article in Friday’s New York Times addresses Israeli motivation in an uncommonly candid way. Her article, titled “Israel Backs Limited Strike Against Syria,” notes that the Israelis have argued, quietly, that the best outcome for Syria’s two-and-a-half-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome. Rudoren continues:
“For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.
“‘This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,’ said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. ‘Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.’”
We think this is the way Israel’s current leaders look at the situation in Syria, and that deeper U.S. involvement – albeit, initially, by “limited” military strikes – is likely to ensure that there is no early resolution of the conflict in Syria. The longer Sunni and Shia are at each other’s throats in Syria and in the wider region, the safer Israel calculates that it is.
That Syria’s main ally is Iran, with whom it has a mutual defense treaty, also plays a role in Israeli calculations. Iran’s leaders are not likely to be able to have much military impact in Syria, and Israel can highlight that as an embarrassment for Tehran.
Iran can readily be blamed by association and charged with all manner of provocation, real and imagined. Some have seen Israel’s hand in the provenance of the most damaging charges against Assad regarding chemical weapons and our experience suggests to us that such is supremely possible.
Possible also is a false-flag attack by an interested party resulting in the sinking or damaging, say, of one of the five U.S. destroyers now on patrol just west of Syria. Our mainstream media could be counted on to milk that for all it’s worth, and you would find yourself under still more pressure to widen U.S. military involvement in Syria – and perhaps beyond, against Iran.
Iran has joined those who blame the Syrian rebels for the August 21 chemical incident, and has been quick to warn the U.S. not to get more deeply involved. According to the Iranian English-channel Press TV, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javid Zarif has claimed: “The Syria crisis is a trap set by Zionist pressure groups for [the United States].”
Actually, he may be not far off the mark. But we think your advisers may be chary of entertaining this notion. Thus, we see as our continuing responsibility to try to get word to you so as to ensure that you and other decision makers are given the full picture.
We hope your advisers have warned you that retaliation for attacks on Syrian are not a matter of IF, but rather WHERE and WHEN. Retaliation is inevitable. For example, terrorist strikes on U.S. embassies and other installations are likely to make what happened to the U.S. “Mission” in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, look like a minor dust-up by comparison. One of us addressed this key consideration directly a week ago in an article titled “Possible Consequences of a U.S. Military Attack on Syria – Remembering the U.S. Marine Barracks Destruction in Beirut, 1983.”
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
Thomas Drake, Senior Executive, NSA (former)
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan
Larry Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)
W. Patrick Lang, Senior Executive and Defense Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)
Todd Pierce, US Army Judge Advocate General (ret.)
Sam Provance, former Sgt., US Army, Iraq
Coleen Rowley, Division Council & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)source
Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)
- US Intelligence Officials: Assad not involved in Syria’s chemical attack (theiranproject.com)
- 12 U.S. Intelligence Officials Tell Obama It Wasn’t Assad (washingtonsblog.com)
- US intelligence officials to Obama: It wasn’t Assad (counterpsyops.com)
The National Security Agency has an intelligence problem: It won’t admit how dumb it is.AUGUST 16, 2013 BY SHANE HARRIS
The Obama administration’s claim that the NSA is not spying on Americans rests on a fundamental assertion: That the intelligence agency is so good at distinguishing between innocent people and evildoers, and is so tightly overseen by Congress and the courts, that it doesn’t routinely collect the communications of Americans en masse.
We now know that’s not true. And we shouldn’t be surprised. The question is, why won’t the NSA admit it?
On Thursday night, the Washington Post released a classified audit of NSA’s intelligence-gathering systems, showing they are beset by human error, fooled by moving targets, and rely on so many different servers and databases that NSA employees can’t keep tabs on all of them.
It had been previously reported that the NSA had unintentionally collected the communications of Americans, in violation of court orders, as it swept up electronic signals in foreign countries. But officials had sought to portray those mistakes as limited, swiftly corrected, and not affecting that many people.
One of the reasons that the NSA has been able to gather so much power is that the agency has built a reputation over the years for super-smarts and hyper-competence. The NSA’s analysts weren’t just the brainiest guys in the room, the myth went; they were the brightest bulbs in the building. The NSA’s hackers could penetrate any network. Their mathematicians could unravel any equation. Their cryptologists could crack any cipher. That reputation has survived blown assignments and billion-dollar boondoggles. Whether it can outlast these latest revelations is an open question.
The Post found that the NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authorities thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008…” That’s the year when NSA’s global surveillance system went into hyperdrive. The agency was granted unprecedented authority to monitor communications without individual warrants and to surveil whole categories of people and communications.
Most of the violations affecting Americans’ information were the result what the agency calls “incidental collection.” So how many Americans were caught up in the NSA’s surveillance nets as they were dragged across supposedly foreign targets? The exact number is unclear. But the short answer is: lots and lots of them.
In one instance, a programming glitch collected a “large number” of calls from Washington, D.C, instead of the intended targets in Egypt, according to the audit. Somehow, the area code 202 (for Washington) was keyed instead of 20 (the country code for Egypt.) The NSA’s supposedly discriminating surveillance architecture was undone by a typo.
The audit reveals a recurring problem with human error in the day-to-day operations of global surveillance and shows what a messy and imprecise business it can be. In the first quarter of 2012, 123 incidents of non-compliance with the rules, or 63 percent of those examined, were attributed to human or operator error. These included typographical errors, inaccurate or overbroad search queries, and what the report calls “inaccurate or insufficient research information and/or workload issues.”
Analysts needed more “complete and consistent” information about their targets to avoid errors, the audit found. This suggests that while the NSA’s collection systems are dipping into data streams, the analysts aren’t always equipped to determine who is and isn’t a legitimate target.
The NSA’s systems also have problems knowing when a target is on the move, and possibly has entered the United States. (When he does, different regulations come into play about how the surveillance is authorized and what can be monitored without approval from the court.)
As recently as 2012, NSA was not always able to know when targets using a mobile phone had crossed a U.S. border. These so-called “roamers” accounted for the largest number of technological errors in the violations that were examined.
A problem discovered last year, which appears in the report under the heading “Significant Incidents of Non-Compliance,” helps illustrate how NSA is collecting so much information that it can actually lose track of it and store it in places where it shouldn’t be.
In February 2012, the NSA found 3,032 “files containing call detail records” on a server. A call detail record, or CDR, is analogous to a phone bill. It shows whom was called, when, and for how long. This is metadata, like what’s collected today on all phone calls in the United States.
It’s not clear how many CDRs (each representing an individual) were in each of those files. But they were stored on the server for more than five years, past the cut off point at which the information is supposed to be destroyed, pursuant to NSA rules that are meant to protect the privacy of Americans.
How the records got there is a mystery. The report says they were “potentially collected” under business records orders, which are authorized by the Patriot Act. But that’s not certain.
What is known, however, is that the records were stored with information that shouldn’t have been anywhere near them. It came from the agency’s highly classified Stellar Wind program, which covered the warrantless interception of phone calls and emails (not just their metadata) that was secretly authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001. Joining the CDRs and the Stellar Wind records was data from yet another program that was unrelated to the two.
Mixing or “co-mingling” information obtained from different programs, and under different laws or authorizations, is a dangerous practice in the intelligence profession. Information is segregated to restrict and monitor the number of people who have access to it. An analyst cleared to look at CDRs might not be authorized to listen to phone calls intercepted under Stellar Wind. But if it’s all on the same server, he might be able to do just that.
That may have happened in 2011, according to the audit. Some personnel may have been granted access to a cache of information that was recently modified so that they were no longer allowed to look at it. But not all the employees were informed about the change.
Storing different intelligence streams in one place also increases the risk of revealing valuable sources and methods for how it was obtained–a basic violation of intelligence tradecraft. It also it makes it easier to steal. (Just ask Edward Snowden.)
And segregation creates a bulwark against privacy violations. Information about Americans is generally kept clear of foreign intelligence because the rules on how the former can be used and disseminated are stricter.
But infractions and mistakes weren’t always reported to the NSA’s overseers, either in Congress or at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Partly that’s because the NSA doesn’t view unintentional or “incidental” collection of Americans’ communications as a violation of the rules. It was an accident, the result of what the agency called in a previously declassified document “problems [that] generally involved the implementation of highly sophisticated technology in a complex and ever-changing communications environment…” Translation: Surveillance is hard. Our computers aren’t perfect. We acted in good faith.
Not that the court can verify if that’s true. In a candid admission to the Post, the chief judge, Reggie Walton, said he and his colleagues must “rely upon the accuracy of the information” the government provides, and that the court “does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance…”
In one case where the court did curtail a new kind of surveillance, it was only months after learning that it was put in place. The court deemed the still-undisclosed activities unconstitutional, and the NSA had to make changes before it could restart them.
The NSA is also instructing its employees not to provide full information about infractions to Congress, which is supposed to oversee intelligence collection efforts and ensure they comply with the law.
The newly released documents affirm something we’ve long known: the NSA gathers up large amounts of information on foreigners and U.S. citizens and then tries to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, with imperfect results. That’s alarming, but from a technological standpoint, understandable.
What members of Congress and the public may find more troubling is that the NSA wasn’t honest about these shortcomings. Officials hid them from the same judges and lawmakers that President Obama recently said were engaged in a rigorous process of checks and balances that keeps electronic spying within the bounds of the law.
Perhaps that system, like the NSA’s data vacuums, could use a tune up.
More on NSA
When the president says he is opening up millions of acres for drilling exploration in the United States, Cavuto says you might want to thank the previous presidents instead, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. According to the Bureau of Land Management, the current administration has actually decreased approval of drilling permits by 36 percent. Even under Bill Clinton, his administration increased the approval of drilling permits by 58 percent, and George W. Bush increased approval by 116 percent.
But what about more drilling? Will an increase in domestic production make a dent on oil prices? Some analysts say “yes”. Cavuto showed a graphic of current drilling sites in the United States vs. the amount of land that we ‘could’ drill on. You can decide for yourself:
So how much potential oil-energy does the U.S. really have domestically? Jim Angle reports that some energy analysts say the U.S. could have up to 1.4 trillion barrels of ‘recoverable’ or potential barrels of oil yet to be drilled. This means the U.S. has the potential to have more drill-able oil than Saudi Arabia.
However, these analysts results are at odds with the president’s estimates. The Obama administration says the U.S. only has 21 billion barrels of proven reserves, and drilling more will not lower gas prices.
What do you think? Will more domestic drilling decrease your pay at the pump?
- LOOK Who Is Lying About Drilling (tarpon.wordpress.com)
- Obama officials rip into GOP gasoline bills (mb50.wordpress.com)
- MRC’s Tim Graham and Neil Cavuto Compare Coverage of Gas Prices (Bush vs. Obama) on Fox News (newsbusters.org)
- Critics rip Obama claim that drilling in U.S. won’t drop gas prices – Washington Times (gds44.wordpress.com)
- Obama administration advances plan for seismic research along Atlantic coast (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Insiders: Southern Section of Keystone Pipeline Doesn’t Need Obama (mb50.wordpress.com)
- No Permit, No Drilling, The Soft Spot (tarpon.wordpress.com)