WhoWhatWhy http://whowhatwhy.com Groundbreaking Investigative Journalism Fri, 24 Oct 2014 00:05:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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 a 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.


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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)




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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.


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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.


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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.


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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)

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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.


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A Trillion Ways To Build a New Military Industrial Complex http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/11/a-trillion-ways-to-build-a-new-military-industrial-complex/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/11/a-trillion-ways-to-build-a-new-military-industrial-complex/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 11:00:54 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11613 Nearly a trillion dollars have been invested in the Security-Industrial Complex, above.

Nearly a trillion dollars have been invested in the Security-Industrial Complex, above.

Just when did the United States government start referring to the country as the “homeland?”

If you were to answer “after 9/11,” you would be wrong. That’s the surprise. What is not at all surprising is the exponential expansion of what some call the “security-industrial complex” since that day in September thirteen years ago.

What’s happening now—the government’s search for self-justifying excuses to claim broader powers against a menace it says is ubiquitous—is a cycle that’s been repeated since America launched its first “War on Drugs” in the 1930s.

Today’s on-going proliferation of the national security state has created a new profit center for a large number of American companies with deep ties to military and intelligence agencies. And as bureaucracies and profits have grown, personal liberties have suffered their biggest contraction in a century, thanks to the Patriot Act and other legislation designed to increase surveillance in the name of eternal vigilance.

1And here’s the irony: It all began before 9/11, with the kind of bipartisan commission usually convened to bury a hot-potato issue beneath a slurry of platitudes.


In 1998, President Bill Clinton tasked former Senators Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat, and the late Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican, to chair the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. The Commission panel was a cross-section of the military-industrial-media complex. Its members included Leslie Gelb, longtime New York Times correspondent and editor; Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed-Martin; and Army General John Galvin.

Not If, but…  When

The panel gave its report and recommendations in January 2001. Both Senators Rudman and Hart concluded that it was not a matter of “if” the U.S. would suffer a mass-casualty terrorist strike but “when.”  Among the panel’s recommendations was the massive integration of all of the nation’s domestic security, disaster planning and recovery functions into one behemoth called the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

After 9/11, President George W. Bush faithfully executed the Hart-Rudman blueprint and President Obama and the Congress have continued to commit hundreds of billions to it. And so it was that the envisioned “peace dividend” cutbacks—which the end of the Cold War was supposed to have brought to the defense budget (and the bottom line of defense contractors)— were buried for good.

Report on the Surveillance-Industrial Complex, which parallels the Security-Industrial Complex.

Report on the Surveillance-Industrial Complex, which parallels the Security-Industrial Complex.

By 2011, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the total cost for post-9/11 Homeland Security had already reached $649 billion and annual spending since then is running at about $70 billion a year.

At that rate, the price tag for the entire post 9/11 Homeland Security domestic undertaking is only a year or two away from reaching a trillion dollars. So what’s the return been on that investment?

Spreading War and Terror

Indeed, and of supreme irony, the main effect of the War on Terror, as executed so far, has been  not to eliminate terror, but to spread it—and to generate a state of perpetual war.

Although the government swears it’s just airstrikes, the fact is that the U.S. is back in combat in Iraq. It took the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria just a matter of months to undo years of American efforts to rebuild a nation the U.S. had previously destroyed.

President Obama, a civilian who like most presidents can’t be expected to know what to do in these situations, logically put the blame on the vaunted U.S. intelligence establishment for both underestimating the formidable nature of the threat posed by ISIS and overestimating the Iraqi military’s ability to contain it.

Yes, that’s the same intelligence establishment that got WikiLeaked and Snowdened. The same cluster of agencies that the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan angrily blamed for missing the implosion of the Soviet Union, as well as  both World Trade Center attacks. The very same subset of departments that’s claimed ever-increasing amounts of the public treasury even as Congress retrenched on food stamps and long-term unemployment benefits. The same intelligence establishment that insists on its right to monitor virtually all electronic communications here and abroad in the name of counter-terrorism.

3The post-9/11 incompetence of the nation’s security machinery has been highlighted by the Keystone Kops-style misadventures of the Secret Service that have put the President and his family repeatedly at risk.

This series of fiascoes recently led to the sacrificial-lamb resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson—though so far, there is no indication of substantive changes. Perhaps the most egregious of these failures was Army veteran Omar Gonzalez’ sprint across the lawn and into the White House while carrying a knife. This breakdown of security at what may be the most closely guarded residence in the country harked back to the curiously lackadaisical approach of John F. Kennedy’s protection detail in Dallas.

The latest embarrassments reflect the increasing dysfunction at the Secret Service since the agency was transferred from the Treasury Department to DHS in 2003, according to author and investigative reporter Ronald Kessler. What happened, says Kessler, is that the agency became more politicized, more responsive to political operatives, and less attentive to its own security protocols and whistle-blowers within its ranks.

Julia Pierson

Julia Pierson

“Agents and officers are afraid to voice their opinion and point out these very obvious problems because they will be punished,” Kessler said in a C-SPAN interview. “That’s how corrupt the agency is.”

When the agency came under DHS control, it “became political, more compliant, more subject to political pressures and that’s when this laxness and corner-cutting began,” Kessler added.

Supporters of the DHS counter that it has clearly succeeded in its primary mission of protecting “the homeland,” because the U.S. hasn’t experienced another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11.

Yet these same supporters cite the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing as proof that America needs still greater vigilance against terrorism at home. That’s despite the dozens of unanswered questions about what really happened in Boston, including serious ones about the FBI’s prior relationship with alleged bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

All of this is somehow resolved in the paradoxical assertion —that DHS is a success, but that  more and more money and power is required to expand its reach and effectiveness.

The War on Whatever’s Handy at the Time

This particular mix of institutional self-congratulation and fear-mongering is not a new story in the United States. Against the backdrop of a newly identified menace to the American Way of Life, new laws are passed and a powerful new entity is added to the government’s law enforcement machinery, with dire effects on the civil liberties of ordinary Americans.

One instructive example comes from a subset of the history of the so-called War on Drugs, the campaign against marijuana.

That particular battle was conjured up in the 1930s to give the ranks of federal agents that had enforced Prohibition in the 1920s something to do after alcohol became legal again. The target became “pot,” which until 1937, was widely available as a patent medicine.

A clever bureaucrat named Harry Anslinger, commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from 1930-1962, painted marijuana as the single greatest threat to U.S. values and morals. He did this through a publicity campaign abetted by a compliant media. Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover were among his strongest allies.

5When Communism became the common enemy in the 1950s, Anslinger declared marijuana and drug trafficking in general to be part of a global conspiracy to advance the Reds’ goal of world domination. In a flight of self-serving rhetoric unconnected to any facts, he blamed “evil masterminds” in Communist China for seeking to hook America’s youth on debilitating substances. Subsequent historical research has thoroughly debunked Anslinger’s geo-political story line.

But the effect of Anslinger’s campaign, best exemplified by the baseless hysteria of the propaganda film-turned-cult classic “Reefer Madness,” was felt for decades. The same sentiments fueled the creation of President Richard Nixon’s War on Drugs; in 1971 Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one.”

6It took nearly 84 years before the federal government’s War on Drugs dogma loosened up enough to allow the legal sale of recreational marijuana, a demonstration of how bureaucratic inertia can prolong policies well past their expiration dates.


More and more people are realizing how badly the U.S. needs to critically re-evaluate the unchecked expansion of the War on Terror and its propagation of an all-encompassing surveillance state. But a veritable army of latter-day Harry Anslingers have a stake in preventing such a public discussion.

They’re the same officials who drafted and executed the Homeland Security strategy in the first place. Many have parlayed their government service into lucrative commercial enterprises and reputation-enhancing sidelines as TV talking heads, discussing national security issues on an endless round of Sunday morning news shows. There, they are mostly identified by their former titles—with no mention of their current involvement in the global counterterrorism industry.

Former DHS head Tom Ridge

Former DHS head Tom Ridge

Examples include DHS’s first leader, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. He formed Ridge Global to offer multinational companies advice on risk management, energy consulting, trade and maritime management. Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff now heads The Chertoff Group, which draws on a bench of former military and intelligence officials from the United States and Europe, such as General Michael Hayden, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In just its first year of business, the Chertoff Group helped facilitate $2.1 billion in deals involving biometrics, personnel protection security training, cyber security and data analytics. And that’s just a tiny fraction of the money in play.

Eisenhower’s farewell warning

Eisenhower’s farewell warning

Occasional voices of reason have been heard above the din of the fear-mongers. The House Committee on Homeland Security has raised a warning flag. It documented that DHS in its first five years racked up $15 billion in failed contracts—or about a third of its contracting budget. Among the committee’s list of costly fiascoes: a deeply flawed $25 billion makeover of the Coast Guard’s aging fleet, and expensive airport and border screening technologies that failed to deliver greater security.

General Michael V. Hayden, former director, NSA

General Michael V. Hayden, former director, NSA

As recently as May, DHS Inspector General John Roth admitted in Congressional testimony that his agency was still coming up short when it came to contracting. He added that DHS continues “to struggle with acting as an integrated, single entity to accomplish its mission.”

It’s been said that war is too important to be left to the generals. That certainly holds for the War on Terror. It also holds for the metastasizing security-industrial complex, whose evolving surveillance state promises real threats to the American way of life.


Photo Credits:

IMAGE: 3 Stooges

IMAGE: Drinking Coffee

IMAGE: Surveillance-Industrial (ACLU)

IMAGE: Keystone Kops

IMAGE: Julia Pierson

IMAGE: Old Marijuana poster

IMAGE: Reefer Madness

IMAGE: Tom Ridge

IMAGE: Eisenhower’s Farewell

IMAGE: Michael Hayden


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Bid to Solve 9/11 Mystery Via NYC Ballot Ends After Court Ruling http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/09/bid-to-solve-911-mystery-via-nyc-ballot-ends-after-court-ruling/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/09/bid-to-solve-911-mystery-via-nyc-ballot-ends-after-court-ruling/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:03:28 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11599 Building 7 before it collapsed

Building 7 before it collapsed

An effort to put a new investigation into the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 up for vote in New York City won’t be on the November ballot, after a New York State Supreme Court judge upheld a ruling dismissing the proposed referendum.

The High-Rise Safety Initiative, which raised $350,000 and collected about 100,000 signatures to support its effort, decided not to appeal the decision by Judge Paul Wooten. Why? To keep open an avenue to try again at the next election in 2016, according to Ted Walter, the group’s executive director.

“We are going to take a little break, and try to evaluate whether we can redraft the petition to be successful in the future,” he told WhoWhatWhy.

The chances of winning on appeal now are slim and a loss now would foreclose an opportunity to counter the City’s use of a particular technicality to successfully scuttle this attempt, Walter said. That involved a finding that the High-Rise Safety Initiative’s proposed ballot measure was “merely advisory” and therefore not allowed. A special referee assigned to oversee the case (whose findings Judge Wooten upheld) also ruled that the group’s plan to finance the investigation wasn’t legally permissible.

That the High-Rise Safety Initiative made it this far should be considered against this fact: only two proposed referenda have made it to the ballot in New York City in the last 50 years. And neither of those cost money to implement, as the High-Rise Safety Initiative would have. New York City electoral laws are written such that it’s next to impossible to get any similar measures in front of voters.

In a few months, the High-Rise Safety Initiative will discuss whether to try again, considering three factors before proceeding, Walter said.

Those are: 1) Whether it can propose a plan to finance the investigation that can’t be challenged 2) Whether it can surmount the City’s legal argument that the proposed referendum is “merely advisory” and 3) If it can raise the minimum $300,000, especially now that this round in court has demonstrated just how long the odds against success are.

Until that happens, the question of how Building 7 collapsed so swiftly and uniformly will remain a baffling part of the story of 9/11 still unanswered by the official probe.


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.

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Please Subsidize Marriott, Fossil Fuels Doomed, Cost of Destructive Kid—and More Headlines http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/08/please-subsidize-marriott-fossil-fuels-doomed-cost-of-destructive-kid-and-more-headlines/ http://whowhatwhy.com/2014/10/08/please-subsidize-marriott-fossil-fuels-doomed-cost-of-destructive-kid-and-more-headlines/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 14:30:47 +0000 http://whowhatwhy.com/?p=11589
• Marrriott and Shriver want you to subsidize maids

• A destructive (comic) kid’s tab toted up

And more headlines…]]>

Study assesses cost of a destructive six-year old

Study assesses cost of a destructive six-year old

•  Big bank report says fossil fuel industry doomed as solar, other techs grow (CleanTechnica)

• Mexican police accused in mass student murders (New York Times) See WhoWhatWhy on US police issues

• Rich giving less to charity while struggling middle class gives more (Buzzflash)

• Opinion: Right’s election plans–stoke fear with Ebola, immigrants and ISIS (Salon)

• Amazon workers’ lawsuit—standing in long lines to be searched, no compensation (Bloomberg)

• Marriott and Maria Shriver want guests to subsidize hotel’s starvation wages (National Memo)

• Experienced teachers’ low wages chronicled (AmericanProgress.org)

• Actual costs of raising kid in Calvin and Hobbes – a six year old’s destruction tab calculated (PNIS.co)

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