WhoWhatWhy http://whowhatwhy.com Groundbreaking Investigative Journalism Wed, 29 Oct 2014 22:20:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BOSTON UPDATE: Third Tsarnaev Friend Convicted For Lying to Feds http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/29/boston-update-third-tsarnaev-friend-convicted-for-lying-to-feds/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/29/boston-update-third-tsarnaev-friend-convicted-for-lying-to-feds/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:09:22 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11997  

Robel Phillipos, convicted on two counts of making false statements. (YouTube)

Robel Phillipos, convicted on two counts of making false statements. (YouTube)

Few have been paying attention to the “supporting actor” trials now paving the way for the main act in the prosecution of America’s largest terrorist act since 9/11, the Boston Bombing.

They’re worth paying attention to, for what they demonstrate about how the government is ensuring that the official story will stick all the way through to conviction.

The latest development in this blockbuster drama came during the trial and conviction of Robel Phillipos, friend of accused Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. A jury on Oct. 28 convicted him on two counts of lying to investigators, for which he now faces up to 16 years in prison.

Jurors found he’d made false statements during two interviews with the FBI within days of the April 15 bombing. Specifically, he was convicted for lying about his whereabouts on the night of April 18. Phillipos, 19, said he was “stoned out of his mind” on marijuana at the time, and that’s why he gave the conflicting statements, according to his defense attorney.

This trial fits squarely with the particular public image of the Tsarnaevs and their friends that has arisen from media coverage and the government pronouncements in it. Anyone remotely involved with the brothers is immediately judged to be part of a nest of conniving terrorist sympathizers. That’s certainly no presumption of innocence. Phillipos undoubtedly faced this added burden in his trial.


Taken together with a steady stream of leaks about the bombing investigation, it’s clear the government wants to ensure it will have a slam-dunk case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at his trial in January. Yet it doesn’t have to go the extra mile, thanks to a tried-and-true FBI method that was on display in Phillipos’ trial.

Testimony during Phillipos’ prosecution elicited obvious contradictions in the government’s case, and demonstrated how the FBI’s interviewing methods stack the deck in its favor, every time.

First, let’s take a look at the discrepancy in the government’s case, which surfaced during FBI Agent Timothy Quinn’s testimony. Quinn, who interviewed Phillipos, told prosecutors when he testified on Oct.15 that the defendant told him he wanted to help the FBI “nail the mother***ker,” referring to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Quinn then stated that he didn’t believe Phillipos.

That story only lasted until the cross-examination by Phillipos’ attorney, when Quinn said the defendant was highly cooperative. (In point of fact, Phillipos agreed to be interviewed multiple times without a lawyer.)

Off the Record But Don’t Argue It

There was another disparity in the facts that arose, which was central to Phillipos’ case and to understanding how powerful FBI interviews are as prosecutorial weapons.

The dispute hinged on when Phillipos arrived at Dzhokhar’s dormitory room, and who was with him. Prosecutors pointed to a written confession in which Phillipos said he showed up with two Tsarnaev friends. Yet Phillipos’ attorney pointed out that the trial had already established that one of those people was in the room long before the defendant arrived.

What does all that mean? That Phillipos’ confession had factual errors. Moreover, it suggests that the written statement was coerced or included false information colored by what Phillipos’ interrogator told him. At the very least, it does lend credence to the notion that he does not accurately remember the night’s events.

It also tells us something about the tricky issue of “making false statements.” As Phillipos’ defense attorney pointed out numerous times, none of the FBI interviews were recorded electronically, either with video or sound. There’s no way for a third party to verify what actually went on in those interviews.

Hard to believe that in this day and age, right?


Boston area defense attorney and civil liberties advocate Harvey Silverglate has written extensively on the FBI’s non-recording policy and its potential for abuse. He summarizes the inherent problem with the FBI’s policy this way:

FBI agents always interview in pairs. One agent asks the questions, while the other writes up what is called a “form 302 report” based on his notes. The 302 report, which the interviewee does not normally see, becomes the official record of the exchange; any interviewee who contests its accuracy risks prosecution for lying to a federal official, a felony.

So, as Silverglate points out, something as simple as arguing an FBI agent’s interpretation of what was said, or what they think they heard, opens up an individual to threats of prosecution similar to what Phillipos faced.

Not only that, juries must place their faith entirely in the honesty of the testifying agent. Yet lying under oath by law enforcement is so common it’s been given its own name: “testilying.”

Regardless of what transpired in those interviews, 16 years behind bars seems extreme for the charge of “making false statements.” Even The Boston Globe, not known for its evenhanded coverage of the Marathon bombing, recently ran an editorial questioning the wisdom of putting a young man behind bars for that long because of what appeared to be a stupid mistake.

What could possibly be worth the state expending so many resources to prosecute and then incarcerate this individual for as long as 16 years?

Silence, perhaps?


WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on us. Can we count on you? What we do is only possible with your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.



http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/29/boston-update-third-tsarnaev-friend-convicted-for-lying-to-feds/feed/ 3
Bush 45 Push, How to Block Voters, Anti-Halloween Bears—and More Headlines http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/28/bush-45-push-how-to-block-voters-anti-halloween-bears-and-more-headlines/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/28/bush-45-push-how-to-block-voters-anti-halloween-bears-and-more-headlines/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:57:21 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11991
• Amazing video rant against some voters

• Polar bears block Halloween

And more headlines…]]>
1• Jeb positioning to be “Bush 45” (New York Times) No option for readers to leave comments on that one

• Governor vows ‘disruptive change’ on climate denial (TruthOut)

• Brazilian president who catered to poor narrowly re-elected (Reuters)

• More tight gubernatorial races than almost ever (Washington Post)

• Amazing video rant for limiting who can vote

• Shortage of prescription drugs scrutinized (Healthline)

• Leading Congress candidate blames Penn State sex scandal on secularism (Salon)

• Trick or Treating banned because of….polar bears (Castanet)


http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/28/bush-45-push-how-to-block-voters-anti-halloween-bears-and-more-headlines/feed/ 0
The Deep State and the Bias of Official History http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/26/the-deep-state-and-the-bias-of-official-history-2/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/26/the-deep-state-and-the-bias-of-official-history-2/#comments Sun, 26 Oct 2014 11:00:54 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11904 1How do Wall Street, oil companies and the shadow government agencies like the CIA and NSA really shape the global political order?

That’s the question author Peter Dale Scott examines in his forthcoming book “The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil and the Attack on U.S. Democracy,” due out on Nov. 12. Scott, a professor emeritus of English at Berkeley and former Canadian diplomat, is considered the father of “deep politics”—the study of hidden permanent institutions and interests whose influence on the political realm transcends the elected.

In the “American Deep State,” Scott takes a compelling look at the facts lurking behind the official histories of events to uncover the real dynamics in play. In this exclusive excerpt—the first of several we will feature on WhoWhatWhy—he looks at the revolving door between Wall Street and the CIA, and what that demonstrates about where power truly resides. 


In the last decade it has become more and more obvious that we have in America today what the journalists have called… America’s “deep state.” (1)

This expansion of a two-level or dual state has been paralleled by two other dualities: the increasing resolution of American society into two classes—the “one percent” and the “ninety-nine percent”—and the bifurcation of the U.S. economy into two aspects: the domestic, still subject to some governmental regulation and taxation, and the international, relatively free from governmental controls. (2)

All three developments have affected and intensified each other—particularly since the Reagan Revolution of 1980, which saw American inequality of wealth cease to diminish and begin to increase. (3) Thus for example Wall Street—the incarnation of the “one percent”— played a significant role in creating the CIA after World War II, and three decades later the CIA and big oil played a significant role in realigning American politics for the Reagan Revolution.

There is an ambiguous symbiosis between two aspects of the American deep state:

  1. 1. The Beltway agencies of the shadow government, like the CIA and NSA, which have been instituted by the public state and now overshadow it, and
  2. 2.  The much older power of Wall Street, referring to the powerful banks and law firms located there.

Top-level Treasury officials, CIA officers, and Wall Street bankers and lawyers think much alike because of the “revolving door” by which they pass easily from private to public service and back.

But a much larger role for the private sector has come with the increased outsourcing of the government’s intelligence budget. Tim Shorrock revealed in 2007 that “about 70 percent of the estimated $60 billion the government spends every year on . . . intelligence” is now outsourced to private intelligence contractors like Booz, Allen & Hamilton (now Booz Allen Hamilton) and SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). (4)

The Overworld

I shall argue that in the 1950s, Wall Street was a dominating complex. It included not just banks and law firms but also the oil majors whose cartel arrangements were successfully defended against the U.S. government by the Wall Street law firm Sullivan and Cromwell, home to the Dulles brothers. This larger complex is what I mean by the Wall Street overworld.

There seems to be little difference in Allen Dulles’s influence whether he was a Wall Street lawyer or a CIA director. Although he did not formally join the CIA until November 1950, he was in Berlin before the start of the 1948 Berlin Blockade, “supervising the unleashing of anti-Soviet propaganda across Europe.” (5) In the early summer of 1948, he set up the American Committee for a United Europe (ACUE), in support of what became, by the early 1950s, “the largest CIA operation in Western Europe.” (6)

The CIA never abandoned its dependency on funds from outside its official budget to conduct its clandestine operations. In Southeast Asia in particular, its proprietary firm Sea Supply Inc. supplied an infrastructure for a drug traffic supporting a CIA-led paramilitary force, PARU. [Two CIA proprietaries, Sea Supply Inc. and Civil Air Transport (CAT) Inc. (later Air America), initially supplied the KMT 93rd Division in Burma that organized opium mule trains down to Thailand, where opium sales were still legal.

Later, when the USG officially distanced itself from the KMT drug army, the CIA organized an offensive and defensive paramilitary unit, PARU, inside the Thai Border Police (BPP). Like the BPP, PARU financed itself by seizing KMT opium and turning it in to the Thai Government, receiving a bounty payment of 12.5 percent of the retail value.] (7)


The CIA appears also to have acted in coordination with slush funds from various U.S. government contracts, ranging from the Howard Hughes organization to the foreign arms sales of U.S. defense corporations like Lockheed and Northrop. (8)

The international lawyers of Wall Street did not hide from each other their shared belief that they understood better than Washington the requirements for running the world.

This mentality exhibited itself in 1952, when Truman’s Justice Department sought to break up the cartel agreements whereby Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon) and four other oil majors controlled global oil distribution. (The other four were Standard Oil Company of New York or Socony [later Mobil], Standard Oil of California [now Chevron], Gulf Oil, and Texaco. Together with Royal Dutch Shell and Anglo-Iranian, they comprised the so-called “Seven Sisters” of the cartel.)

Faced with a government order to hand over relevant documents, Exxon’s lawyer Arthur Dean at Sullivan and Cromwell, where Foster Dulles was senior partner, refused: “If it were not for the question of national security, we would be perfectly willing to face either a criminal or a civil suit. But this is the kind of information the Kremlin would love to get its hands on.” (9)

Overthrowing Iran

At this time the oil cartel was working closely with the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC, later BP) to prevent AIOC’s nationalization by Iran’s Premier Mossadeq [or Mosaddeq], by instituting, in May 1951, a successful boycott of Iranian oil exports. “In May 1951 the AIOC secured the backing of the other oil majors, who had every interest in discouraging nationalisation. . . . None of the large companies would touch Iranian oil; despite one or two picturesque episodes, the boycott held.” (10)

Mohammad Mossadeq

Mohammad Mossadeq

But Truman declined, despite a direct personal appeal from Churchill, to have the CIA participate in efforts to overthrow Mossadeq, and instead dispatched Averell Harriman to Tehran in a failed effort to negotiate a peaceful resolution of Mossadeq’s differences with London. (11)

All this changed with the election of Eisenhower in November 1952 (with considerable support from the oil industry), followed by the appointment of the Dulles brothers to be Secretary of State and head of CIA.

In November 1952 CIA officials began planning to involve the CIA in the efforts of MI6 and the oil companies in Iran (12)—although its notorious Operation TP/AJAX to overthrow Mossadeq was not finally approved by Eisenhower until July 22, 1953. (13)

Dr. Mossadeq entering court for his trial.

Dr. Mossadeq entering court for his trial.

Nearly all recent accounts of Mossadeq’s overthrow treat it as a covert intelligence operation, with the oil cartel (when mentioned at all) playing a subservient role. However the chronology, and above all the belated approval from Eisenhower, suggest that it was CIA that came belatedly in 1953 to assist an earlier oil cartel operation, rather than vice versa.

In terms of the deep state, in 1951 the oil cartel or deep state initiated a process that the American public state only authorized two years later. Yet the inevitable bias in academic or archival historiography, working only with those primary sources that are publicly available, is to think of the Mossadeq tragedy as simply a “CIA coup.”




 1.          Mike Lofgren, “A Shadow Government Controls America,” Reader Supported News, February 22, 2014, http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/22216 -a-shadow-government-controls.

2.           To take a single telling example, six of Sam Walton’s heirs are now reportedly wealthier than the bottom 30 percent of Americans, or 94.5 million people (Tim Worstall, “Six Waltons Have More Wealth Than the Bottom 30% of Americans,” Forbes, December 14, 2011, www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2011/12/14/six -waltons-have-more-wealth-than-the-bottom-30-of-americans/).

3.           See Kevin Phillips, The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath (New York:     HarperCollins, 1991).

4.           Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 6.

5.           Gordon Thomas, Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside MI5 and MI6 (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin’s Press, 2009), 98.

6.           Richard Aldrich, The Hidden Hand: Britain, America, and Cold War Secret Intelligence (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2001), 343. Dulles also chaired the executive committee of the companion National Committee for a Free Europe (behind the Iron Curtain), whose legal affairs were handled by Sullivan and Cromwell (Wilson D. Miscamble, George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947–1950 [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992], 204).

7.             Scott, American War Machine, 65–67, 87–96.

8.             Norman Mailer, “A Harlot High and Low: Reconnoitering Through the Secret Government,” New York, August 16, 1976 (Hughes); Michael Schaller, Altered States: The United States and Japan Since the Occupation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 294 (Lockheed).

9.             Ovid Demaris, Dirty Business: The Corporate-Political Money-Power Game (New York: Avon, 1974), 213–14.

10.           J. P. D. Dunbabin, International Relations Since 1945: A History in Two Volumes, 
vol. 2, (London: Longman, 1994), 344. The boycott is denied without argumentation in Exxon’s corporate history (Bennett H. Wall et al., Growth in a Changing Environment: A History of Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), Exxon Corporation, 1950–1975, vol. 4 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988), 476:

11.           Mostafa Elm, Oil, Power, and Principle: Iran’s Oil Nationalization and Its Aftermath (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992), 198–99 (Churchill); Robert Moskin, American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2013), 627–28 (Harriman).

12.           William Roger Louis, “Britain and the Overthrow of Mossadeq,” in Mark J. Gasiorowski and Malcolm Byrne, eds., Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004), 168. Cf. William R. Clark, Petrodollar Warfare: Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2005), 125: “The Dulles brothers had already conceived a plot when Eisenhower became president in January 1953;” Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 83: “[In November 1952] “The CIA was setting out to depose [Mossadeq] without the imprimatur of the White House.”

13.           Scot Macdonald, Rolling the Iron Dice: Historical Analogies and Decisions to Use Military Force in Regional Contingencies (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000), 98. Cf. Richard H. Immerman, John Foster Dulles: Piety, Pragmatism, and Power in U.S. Foreign Policy (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1999), 67. Allen Dulles played a personal role in TP/AJAX, by flying to Italy and persuading the frightened Shah to return to Tehran.



IMAGE: Peter Dale Scott

IMAGE: Dr. Mossadeq Waves

IMAGE: Dr Mossadeq enters Court

http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/26/the-deep-state-and-the-bias-of-official-history-2/feed/ 7
White House Security Goes to the Dogs http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/23/white-house-security-goes-to-the-dogs/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/23/white-house-security-goes-to-the-dogs/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 00:02:10 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11888 ManWhite House security has officially gone to the dogs.

Just a month after knife-wielding Army veteran Omar Gonzalez vaulted the fence and sprinted inside the White House’s East Room, another intruder jumped the barricade but was quickly captured. By two canine Secret Service agents named Hurricane and Jordan.

The dogs got Dominic Adesanya, 23, just after he landed on the White House lawn on Oct. 22. Human Secret Service counterparts arrived to arrest Adesanya while he was fighting with the dogs. Initially, the Secret Service was going to charge Adesanya with felony assault on a law officer for the dog fight, but later backed off.

All of this would almost be the punch line to a joke if not for a series of failures by the Secret Service that have come to light, culminating with the resignation of Director Julia Pierson. Adesanya’s is the fourth breach of White House security in barely more than a month.

In fact, it’s getting so common you’d be forgiven for thinking getting past the Secret Service is some kind of fraternity hazing fad gone wild.


Let’s review: There was the Gonzalez breach; the case of Kevin Carr, who drove to a non-public entrance and refused to leave; an incident where an armed security contractor with three assault convictions was let onto an elevator with the president; and a series of revelations about a 2011 shooting incident. In the last case, the most shocking discovery was that the Secret Service took four days to figure out bullets hit the building, and only because a housekeeper found fragments of glass and concrete.

There’s a pattern to these incidents, save the one involving the contractor. In the three others, the suspects were said to have some kind of mental illness— the familiar “Lone Nut” explanation. All three men had been intercepted previously while trying to get into the White House (Adesanya and Carr) or with ample evidence of attempting to do just that (Gonzalez).

On top of that, this latest incident only adds to President Obama’s threat tally, which is three times higher than those of his predecessors.

Resilient Against Reform

It’s little wonder he called Joe Clancy, a trusted former agent, out of private employment to take over after Pierson’s departure. President Obama is doubtlessly aware of the enormous trust he has to place in his praetorian guards, whom in other countries have turned against their masters. He also may be aware of the limits of his power inside an establishment where larger forces shape much of what happens.

Taken together, there is an substantial and growing body of proof that the Secret Service is in desperate need of reform. Remember, this is the agency that let James J. Rowley, the man in charge when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, stay on for another decade. He was later honored despite overseeing the greatest failure a VIP protection unit can make, and some of his successors were similarly rewarded for other disasters. (See here for our story recollecting a few of the more egregious examples.)

Clancy, who’s heading the agency in an acting capacity, will determine whether there is any real reform in the Secret Service now. Yet there are decades of history working against him. So far, the publicly lauded unit has proved resilient against any and all attempts at lasting change.


WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on us. Can we count on you? What we do is only possible with your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.



http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/23/white-house-security-goes-to-the-dogs/feed/ 2
Cuba Ebola hero, atheist scores, GOP con returns—and more headlines http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/22/cuba-ebola-hero-atheist-scores-gop-con-returns-and-more-headlines/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/22/cuba-ebola-hero-atheist-scores-gop-con-returns-and-more-headlines/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 14:42:44 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11883
• $2 million award to atheist who nixed prison religious program

• GOP ‘con’ man surfaces in close CO election

And more headlines…]]>
Cuba leads in doctors sent for Ebola relief

Cuba leads in doctors sent for Ebola relief

• A different view of Syria (NY Review of Books)

• Radioactive waste whistleblower firing coverup? (Washington Post)

• GOP ‘con’ guy O’Keefe shows up in close Colorado election (Mother Jones)

• New test to determine if water contamination was caused by fracking (ThinkProgress)

• Cuba leads in substantive Ebola aid (New York Times)

• Monica Lewinsky’s rare public appearance, talks about having reputation destroyed (The Guardian)

• Atheist awarded $2 million after refusing religious drug treatment program (Redding.com)

• Polish surgical breakthrough offers hopes to millions with spinal injuries (The Guardian)




http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/22/cuba-ebola-hero-atheist-scores-gop-con-returns-and-more-headlines/feed/ 0
America’s Policy: War Now, Justifications Later http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/21/americas-policy-war-now-justifications-later/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/21/americas-policy-war-now-justifications-later/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:36:11 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11876 War on the Imminence Front: A Reaper drone rains down Hellfire missiles

War on the Imminence Front: A Reaper drone rains down Hellfire missiles

In the counterterrorism realm, “imminence” is the magic word these days. The government need only utter it to hand itself a virtual license to kill.

Understanding how language can be marshaled for controversial and even bloody purposes requires the ear of a linguist and the mind of a contracts lawyer.

But the time to go back to school is now—with “imminence” seemingly exploding everywhere.

In the past few years, the term has been invoked again and again in reference to the thousands targeted by the United States drone program. And it pops up just about every time the U.S. plans another drone attack or military commitment.

Consider the repetition of the word in the latest round of justifications for more air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned that the U.S. must be ready for stronger commitments to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria because it poses an “imminent threat to every interest we have.” The Khorasan group—a purported al-Qaeda “super” cell—landed on the American targeting list because it was planning an “imminent attack” against the West, said Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby.

So in light of the continued use of the word, it may be worthwhile to take a closer look at what U.S. officials actually mean when they use it.

Imminence: Wassat?

Under international law, targeted killings may be justified if the attacking party acts in self-defense. That’s pretty understandable criteria. But disagreement abounds over what constitutes self-defense.

According to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, member states have an inherent right to self-defense if an armed attack occurs against them. But many politicians and intellectuals see this understanding of self-defense as restrictive. That’s because it only allows states to react after an attack takes place.

The newfound pre-eminence of “imminence” springs from a desire to give the notion of self-defense a more flexible, modern definition.

An imminent threat is typically understood to involve urgency. In other words, it refers to a situation in which “the necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.” That standard, known as the Caroline test, has for years been the guiding definition for the international community.

But this more lenient construction wasn’t permissive enough for the U.S. The Justice Department, seeking elbow room, invoked imminence in an internal memo justifying the killing of Americans who are senior leaders of al-Qaeda or an associated group. It argued that such citizens could be killed legally because they present a threat of imminent attack.

License to Kill

Yet the definition of imminent, in the logic of that particular memorandum, is a flabby one at best. It “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

International experts harrumph at this. That viewpoint “is deeply contested and lacks support under international law,” according to Philip Alston, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.

So the solution is simple: flout international law, and you have a virtual license to kill. Indeed, says Alston, the U.S. viewpoint advocates for a more “robust” form of self-defense that ignores established legal frameworks and “reflects an unlawful and disturbing tendency in recent times to permit violations of (international humanitarian law).”

The new-look imminence principle owes much to the “Bush Doctrine” of preemptive strikes. The latter policy declared that the U.S. is willing to take “anticipatory action to defend” itself “even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”

The Obama administration’s definition of “imminence” appears to be little more than an expanded continuation of the Bush-era’s indulgent interpretation of “preemption.”

Droning on About Pakistan

And it gets worse.

We have already seen how America’s very liberal interpretation of imminence has given rise to the “license to kill” that experts like Alston warned it would.

On top of that, there’s proof that the imminence doctrine has been twisted around to suit immediate political and diplomatic needs. In the process, the flimsiness of the excuses required to declare something or someone an imminent threat has been exposed.

The evidence comes from one of the lowest points in Pakistani-American relations. In 2011, an attack by U.S.-led NATO forces killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. In the ensuing diplomatic ruckus, Pakistan demanded that the U.S. stop drone strikes on its territory. Washington tried to sooth tensions by halting the drone campaign for a few months.

But wait a minute: how could the U.S. suddenly stop an urgent campaign—then in its seventh year—to destroy the myriad national security menaces roaming the wilds of Pakistan? Did all the imminent threats just dry up overnight, even though hundreds had been found and killed since 2004?

This becomes an especially perplexing riddle when one considers this: there were more drone attacks in Pakistan in the year before the program’s hiatus than in any one before or since. If the pause in U.S. drone strikes was a political maneuver, then the imminent nature of the U.S.-described threats can and should be questioned.

Good-Will Kills

That’s not the only time the government has used the cover of imminence to suit political ends. The New York Times reported in 2013 that “American officials have at times tried to placate Pakistani officials by killing militants who pose a greater threat to Pakistan than they do the United States.” Some officials in Washington called such strikes “good-will kills.”

If that’s the case, then it means that international political and diplomatic considerations figure into the American calculus. Yet how can the U.S. justification of its targeted killing program—striking imminent threats to the United States—apply to the defense of other nations?

Many international observers predicted that the imminence doctrine would only encourage more war. They’ve been proven right. And since international law is only as strong as the weakest of the most powerful nations enforcing it, America’s respect for its letter and spirit will have an enormous global impact.

So the U.S. adoption of this bold new “imminence” may set precedent for other nations to follow. If it becomes the norm, the threshold for justifying state violence and war will be lowered significantly.


WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on us. Can we count on you? What we do is only possible with your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.



http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/21/americas-policy-war-now-justifications-later/feed/ 1
What Venezuela’s UN Seat Illuminates About US Hypocrisy http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/17/what-venezuelas-un-seat-illuminates-about-us-hypocrisy/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/17/what-venezuelas-un-seat-illuminates-about-us-hypocrisy/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 00:07:00 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11743 Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro at the UN. (UN photo)

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro at the UN. (UN photo)

The impending arrival of Venezuela on the United Nations Security Council is provoking a firestorm of media criticism in the U.S. Virtually all the stories focus on the human rights record of this South American nation with an avowedly leftist government.

In addition to the five permanent members of the Security Council – the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China—the U.N. General Assembly votes to fill 10 other seats, on a rotating basis, for two-year terms.

On Oct. 16, Venezuela won the seat reserved for a Latin American or Caribbean nation unopposed. The last time Venezuela was up for a seat, in 2006, the U.S. succeeded in blocking its bid.  This time, U.S. officials have had to be content with issuing dire warnings about a dangerous new player on the international community’s most prestigious and powerful panel.

An article in the New York Times suggested the newly appointed country “may well use its perch on the Council for delivering anti-American diatribes.” A Foreign Policy story entitled “Venezuela’s Revenge” described the Venezuelan delegation as cult followers of late president Hugo Chavez, then quoted Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations:

Venezuela’s conduct at the U.N. has run counter to the spirit of the U.N. charter and its violations of human rights at home are at odds with the [U.N.] charter’s letter.

The Christian Science Monitor uncritically repeated American officials’ condemnations, and added that some “conservative critics say” Venezuela has “provided Iran with entree into the Western Hemisphere.”

But is Venezuela really an unrivaled human-rights monster, worthy of universal condemnation?

A look at some established human-rights metrics offers a more nuanced view:


The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights gives protection from the deprivation of life as well as cruel punishment. “The death penalty violates both of these fundamental rights,” Amnesty International said.

Venezuela abolished the death penalty in 1863, although security forces have been involved in extrajudicial killings and have often gotten away with it.

The U.S. has executed 30 people this year. Last year, it executed 39, the fifth most in the world, according to Amnesty. Police killings of unarmed “suspects” have made headlines in the American press all too frequently.


The Universal Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including… medical care.”

Venezuelans are guaranteed the right to health care under the country’s constitution. While the system is plagued by shortages of medicine, patients are not turned away based on their inability to pay.

The U.S., despite its position among the richest societies in the world, scores poorly in terms of healthcare among its peers. The U.S. charges high fees to the uninsured, resulting in a situation in which the majority of bankruptcies filed by U.S. citizens are caused by medical debt.

Hand-in-hand with this trend, American citizens are far more likely to forego medical care because of cost than citizens of comparably prosperous societies.  It’s too soon to tell how Obamacare will affect this situation.


Thanks to an excessive police response, Amnesty International sent an observation team to Ferguson, Missouri, during the unrest—the first time Amnesty has deployed observers in the United States. It has been estimated that routine practices at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp may violate as many as 19 of the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration.

In Venezuela, police abuse and prison violence—the worst in Latin America—remain serious problems. Security forces enjoy impunity for extrajudicial violence, according to Human Rights Watch.


Venezuela’s government has routinely targeted TV stations, websites and publications critical of the government with administrative enforcement actions. It has yanked TV stations with opposing political views off the air with little or no warning, or threatened their licenses.

Despite occasional harassment (and even imprisonment) of reporters who fail to cooperate with courts by revealing the names of sources, the United States is generally rated a bastion of press freedom. An issue that has generated increasing controversy is whether freelance investigators deserve the same Constitutional protections as credentialed journalists for mainstream publications.


The U.N. in resolution 64/292 declared the right to safe water and sanitation an essential human right.

In June, a group of experts who report to the UN called the cut-offs of water supply to Detroit families unable to pay water bills a violation of human rights. “In other words, when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections,” said Catarina de Albuquerque, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to safe drinking water and sanitation.

About three-fourths of Venezuelans living in rural areas had access to potable water in 2007, according to the World Bank. Venezuela claims it has given water access to 96 percent of the public, but the latest World Bank reports have no correlating data.


None of this is to say that Venezuela is not a large-scale violator of human rights, as it most certainly is. Even the United Nations has taken it to task for attacks by security forces on university students and protesters. Rather, the facts demonstrate a selective national blindness on the part of many Americans toward their own government’s human rights record.

To the mainstream American media, the term “human rights violations” refers to events in which a country commits violations that the United States does not.

Samantha Power’s diplomatic rhetoric is to be expected, and hypocrisy is part of the game in such a setting. What is more telling is the American media’s complacency with a double standard that pretends to objectivity where there is none.

To ignore the very real criticisms coming from the U.N. and other countries about human-rights violations in the U.S. is to perpetuate a failure to see ourselves as others see us—a failure that can prove self-defeating to any nation that seeks to advance its interests in an international forum it does not control.


WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on us. Can we count on you? What we do is only possible with your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.



http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/17/what-venezuelas-un-seat-illuminates-about-us-hypocrisy/feed/ 4
fbiPhone: This Violates Your Privacy. Again. http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/fbiphone-this-violates-your-privacy-again/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/fbiphone-this-violates-your-privacy-again/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 22:38:04 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11734 The FBI says it can’t crack the iPhone.

The FBI says it can’t crack the iPhone.

FBI Director James Comey is no fan of the latest iPhones.

In fact, where millions around the world are drooling over Apple’s latest mobile phone, Comey sees a “black hole” where criminals can hide beyond the reach of the FBI. Public safety, of course, is at risk from this phenomenon that Comey dubbed “Going Dark” in the very same speech in which he proclaimed that he is no scaremonger.

The newest hobgoblin we’re being asked to fear is the advanced encryption in the iPhone and Google’s Android devices. It is so strong that the FBI can’t break it and the companies themselves can’t get in, so it’s like a closet that can’t be unlocked, Comey said. And the FBI needs to be able to break it when it has a court order, or else criminals and terrorists might get away.

Apple and Google are reacting to market demand for greater privacy caused by Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA snooping. But “the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate as a country,” he said.

That’s a statement hermetically sealed off from history, since we have been down this road before. And privacy won. It’s also out of touch with the present state of encryption technology, and the FBI’s own prior public stance toward data protection.

The Government’s New Godzilla

Start with this fact—encryption tools exist in myriad forms, free to anyone with an Internet connection. And the FBI is on the record encouraging people and businesses to use it to protect their personal and business data from foreign hackers and governments. As well it should be, since there have been three major data breaches this year including one into the faux Fort Knox cybervaults of J.P. Morgan.

So why target Apple and Google? To make life easier for FBI agents who are stuck with what Comey called inefficient and costly legal means of investigation. If companies build encryption with no means of interception, it would leave “the government at a dead end—all in the name of privacy and network security,” Comey said.

FBI Director James Comey.

FBI Director James Comey.

It’s notable that Comey made this assertion the centerpiece of his first law-enforcement policy speech, delivered today at the Brookings Institution and perfunctorily leaked in advance to the New York Times.

The speech is part of a growing drumbeat from the national security machinery that claims that encryption is, like any threat the government decides to describe as the new Godzilla, a mortal one. Comey is preparing to ask Congress to change the wiretap laws to reflect modern technology, so his motive is abundantly clear.


You’ve got to give Comey credit—he employed the phrase “FOMO,” or fear of missing out, to make his case:

With Going Dark, those of us in law enforcement and public safety have a major fear of missing out—missing out on predators who exploit the most vulnerable among us…missing out on violent criminals who target our communities…missing out on a terrorist cell using social media to recruit, plan, and execute an attack.

Then he described a series of cases where encryption could have prevented arrests. Among the crimes he mentioned were two involving children: a beating death of a two-year-old girl and the murder of a 12-year-old by a known sex offender.

To be sure that never happens, the FBI needs a front door—not a back door—that Google, Apple and others should provide, Comey said.

The notion that the marketplace could create something that would prevent that closet from ever being opened, even with a properly obtained court order, makes no sense to me.

It does make sense, however, to the companies in Silicon Valley, which went through a similar debate two decades ago. Back then, the government proposed the “Clipper chip” backdoor and lost the battle resoundingly. Now, federal law explicitly protects the right of companies to create encryption without a backdoor.

“We have, as a country, decided that people should be able to encrypt their information and should be able to control it,” Jeremy Gillula, a staff technologist with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, told WhoWhatWhy. Comey’s attempt to reopen the debate is unfortunate, he said.

The EFF in the 1990s litigated the landmark case which established that encryption programs are protected speech under the First Amendment. Prior to that, encryption technology was classified a munition subject to government regulation.

Nothing to Fear But FOMO Itself

The stakes for Silicon Valley are higher this time around, because of the impact of the Snowden leaks. The loss of confidence in American companies as a result may cost them as much as $35 billion in the next two years.

And as others have pointed out, if American companies buckle to U.S. government demands to weaken privacy protection, countries with no privacy protections will demand similar access. That would in turn cause an even greater erosion of consumer trust.

That didn’t stop Comey from arguing that the citizenry has nothing to fear from U.S. government privacy intrusions, because they will be lawful and only done with a court order—unlike in the past. The public is now too distrusting of government to have a debate about privacy versus security, he said.

Perhaps it’s time to suggest that the post-Snowden pendulum has swung too far in one direction—in a direction of fear and mistrust.

But what about the government’s role in carrying out wholesale surveillance? Did Comey mention that? No.

Comey closed in asking: “Are we so mistrustful of government—and of law enforcement—that we are willing to let bad guys walk away…willing to leave victims in search of justice?”

It’s a perfect ad hominem argument to deflect blame away from the goverment: is the public willing to give up more privacy to ensure no baby-killers and terrorists get away?

A better question is whether the FBI is willing to work harder to investigate with the ample surveillance arsenal it has, instead of asking for another dilution of privacy in the name of safety.


WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on us. Can we count on you? What we do is only possible with your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.



http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/fbiphone-this-violates-your-privacy-again/feed/ 5
New Fukushima terror, Voter Fraud Fraud, Michelle dances with turnip—and more headlines http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/new-fukushima-terror-voter-fraud-fraud-michelle-dances-with-turnip-and-more-headlines/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/new-fukushima-terror-voter-fraud-fraud-michelle-dances-with-turnip-and-more-headlines/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:43:37 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11725
• “Voter fraud” is…a fraud, says Reagan judge

• Michelle Obama dances with a turnip

And more headlines… ]]>
Michelle Obama dances with turnip. Outrageous!

Michelle Obama dances with turnip. Outrageous!

• Reagan-appointed judge decries fake “Voter Fraud” alarms (PR Watch)

• Deportations keep growing under Obama (Moyers and Company)

• Mainstream media ignore Fukushima water radioactivity (BuzzFlash)

• Video: Premeditated beating of protester by Hong Kong police (Slate)

• Louisiana’s desperate battle to reclaim land from sea (Guardian)

• List of targeted Al Qaeda-affiliated groups is….classified (Secrecy News)

• Here’s what democracy looks like—Vermont debate all inclusive! (RealClearPolitics)

• Obama-haters’ excuse of the day: Michelle dances with a turnip (Washington Post)

http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/16/new-fukushima-terror-voter-fraud-fraud-michelle-dances-with-turnip-and-more-headlines/feed/ 0
What You Missed About the Secret Service Director’s Resignation http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/14/the-one-thing-you-missed-about-the-secret-service-directors-resignation/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/14/the-one-thing-you-missed-about-the-secret-service-directors-resignation/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 17:37:13 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11710 Former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson in Congress. By NPR.

Former Secret Service Director Julia Pierson in Congress. By NPR.

You’ve probably seen that the Secret Service’s first female director, Julia Pierson, resigned after a series of embarrassing presidential security fiascoes.

At first glance, it looks like Pierson was felled by the most basic rules of Official Washington: don’t make a bigger mess after you were hired to clean up another one. And don’t embarrass the boss, which in her case, can translate to putting his life at literal risk. Professional hara-kiri looks like the obvious choice.

But let’s back up a bit. In Pierson’s case, the disaster she inherited was a scandal over agents enjoying the services of Colombian hookers while preparing for a presidential visit to Cartagena in 2012.

Her predecessor, Mark Sullivan, was allowed to retire with his full 30 years of service despite the revelations of improper revelry. Unknown to the public then was that Sullivan had overseen an utterly bungled investigation into a shooting incident at the White House in 2011. It took the agency four days just to figure out that bullets had hit the presidential residence. Despite getting shouted at by First Lady Michelle Obama and scolded by the president, Sullivan left with accolades.

That kind of graceful exit is indicative of the special logic that seems to apply to the Secret Service, which does have one of the most challenging missions in the world.

Even so, big failures usually don’t attract the biggest punishments. In fact, they seem to attract rewards.

Fail Hard and Prosper

Consider this: James Joseph Rowley was in charge when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He stayed in office for another decade. Rowley’s publicly promoted legacy is that he modernized the agency’s training and methods—after Kennedy’s death. The much-discredited Warren Commission recommended he be given that opportunity, and went easy on him for the staggering negligence and/or malfeasance seen in Dallas.

Rowley’s reward for the ultimate mission failure? The Secret Service emblazoned his name on its agent training center.

The career of H. Stuart Knight, in charge during the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, also survived that near-miss. Instead, it was an internal Treasury Department power struggle that brought him down more than a year later. Like Rowley, he too was credited with improving the agency’s training and methods.

So where, then, does that leave Pierson’s legacy?

She’s already made history by becoming the first woman to lead the Secret Service. She’ll also be remembered for being in charge when a knife-wielding intruder sprinted deep inside the White House, an incident that demonstrated frightening incompetence and inattention—at best.  Not to mention the incident in which an armed felon was allowed into an elevator with President Obama.


Predictably, there are two overarching arguments for why Pierson got the boot, each of which align with a partisan ideology. One says she was treated differently because she was a woman. The other argues that she was fired because she failed to do what she was supposed to do, and in part, bore the burden for the mistakes of her predecessors.

Indeed, there was bipartisan outrage at the fiascoes, and Pierson didn’t acquit herself well during a Congressional grilling.

Both sides agree that there is a great need for reform, and that’s what new acting Director Joe Clancy—who headed President Obama’s personal protective detail—is supposed to do.

It’s an interesting move by the president, because he recalled Clancy from the private sector. So Clancy ought to come without all of the political entanglements and divided loyalties a serving officer would have. And his hiring may show that President Obama understands the deep institutional constraints and risks he faces at the pinnacle of government power.

An Unintended Reform

And then we must consider a big factor that’s often been ignored: the Secret Service, once embedded in the Treasury Department, has for the last 11 years been part of the overstuffed Department of Homeland Security. Agents say that’s subjected the Secret Service to the bureaucratic infighting, political meddling and inefficiency that characterizes DHS. Perhaps that’s why Pierson failed to make any real reforms.

But the Secret Service has needed real changes for more than a half-century. It rewarded one director who oversaw the ultimate failure of the agency’s mission: protecting the president’s life. And it has sent others who oversaw egregious episodes of ineptitude into comfortable retirements.

For that reason, Pierson’s legacy may become one of unintended reform: It’s the first time a Secret Service director has had to pay the real price of failure.


WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on us. Can we count on you? What we do is only possible with your support.

Please click here to donate; it’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.



http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/14/the-one-thing-you-missed-about-the-secret-service-directors-resignation/feed/ 1