Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Putin's Secret Weapon!

Russia's swashbuckling military intelligence unit is full of assassins, arms dealers, and bandits. And what they pulled off in Ukraine was just the beginning.

BY Mark Galeotti | JULY 7, 2014

There are two ways an espionage agency can prove its worth to the government it serves. Either it can be truly useful (think: locating a most-wanted terrorist), or it can engender fear, dislike, and vilification from its rivals (think: being named a major threat in congressional testimony). But when a spy agency does both, its worth is beyond question. 

Since the Ukraine crisis began, the Kremlin has few doubts about the importance of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence apparatus. The agency has not only demonstrated how the Kremlin can employ it as an important foreign-policy tool, by ripping a country apart with just a handful of agents and a lot of guns. The GRU has also shown the rest of the world how Russia expects to fight its future wars: with a mix of stealth, deniability, subversion, and surgical violence. Even as GRU-backed rebel groups in eastern Ukraine lose ground in the face of Kiev's advancing forces, the geopolitical landscape has changed. The GRU is back in the global spook game and with a new playbook that will be a challenge for the West for years to come. 

Recent years had not been kind to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, the Glavnoe razvedyvatelnoe upravlenie (GRU). Once, it had been arguably Russia's largest intelligence agency, with self-contained stations -- known as "residencies" -- in embassies around the world, extensive networks of undercover agents, and nine brigades of special forces known as Spetsnaz. 

By the start of 2013, the GRU was on the ropes. Since 1992, the agency had been in charge of operations in the post-Soviet countries, Russia's "near abroad." But Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have seen it as increasingly unfit for that purpose. When the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's domestic security agency, was allowed to run operations abroad openly in 2003, one insider told me that this was because "the GRU doesn't seem to know how to do anything in our neighborhood except count tanks." (It may not even have done that very well. Putin regarded the GRU as partly responsible for Russia's lackluster performance in the 2008 invasion of Georgia.) There was a prevailing view in Moscow that the GRU's focus on gung-ho "kinetic operations" like paramilitary hit squads seemed less relevant in an age of cyberwar and oil politics. 

Political missteps also contributed to the GRU's diminished role. Valentin Korabelnikov, the agency's chief from 1997 to 2009, seemed more comfortable accompanying Spetsnaz assassination teams in Chechnya than playing palace politics in Moscow. His criticisms of Putin's military reforms put him on the Kremlin's bad side too. Korabelnikov was sacked in 2009 and replaced with soon-to-be-retired Col. Gen. Alexander Shlyakhturov, who, within two years, was rarely seen in the GRU's headquarters due to his bad health. In December 2011 the GRU welcomed its third head in nearly three years, Maj. Gen. Igor Sergun, a former attaché and intelligence officer with no combat experience and the lowest-ranking head of the service in decades. By the end of 2013, the Kremlin seemed to be entertaining the suggestion that the agency be demoted from a "main directorate" to a mere directorate, which would have been a massive blow to the service's prestige and political access. 

In many ways, a demotion for the GRU seemed inevitable. Since 2008, the GRU had suffered a savage round of cuts during a period when most of Russia's security and intelligence agencies' budgets enjoyed steady increases. Eighty of its hundred general-rank officers had been sacked, retired, or transferred. Most of the Spetsnaz were reassigned to the regular army. Residencies were downsized, sometimes even to a single officer working undercover as a military attaché. 

What a difference a few months can make. What the Kremlin had once seen as the GRU's limitations -- a focus on the "near abroad," a concentration on violence over subtlety, a more swashbuckling style (including a willingness to conduct assassinations abroad) -- have become assets. 

The near-bloodless seizure of Crimea in March was based on plans drawn up by the General Staff's Main Operations Directorate that relied heavily on GRU intelligence. The GRU had comprehensively surveyed the region, was watching Ukrainian forces based there, and was listening to their communications. The GRU didn't only provide cover for the "little green men" who moved so quickly to seize strategic points on the peninsula before revealing themselves to be Russian troops. Many of those operatives were current or former GRU Spetsnaz

There is an increasing body of evidence that the so-called defense minister of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic, Igor Strelkov, whose real name is Igor Girkin, is a serving or reserve GRU officer, who likely takes at the very least guidance, if not orders, from the agency's headquarters. As a result, the European Union has identified him as GRU "staff" and has placed him on its sanctions list. Although the bulk of the insurgents in eastern Ukraine appear to be Ukrainians or Russian "war tourists" -- encouraged, armed, and facilitated by Moscow -- there also appear to be GRU operators on the ground helping to bring guns and people across the border.
It was only when the Vostok Battalion appeared in eastern Ukraine at the end of May that the GRU's full re-emergence became clear. This separatist group bears the same name as a GRU-sponsored Chechen unit that was disbanded in 2008. This new brigade -- composed largely of the same fighters from Chechnya -- seemed to spring from nowhere, uniformly armed and mounted in armored personnel carriers. Its first act was to seize the administration building in Donetsk, turfing out the motley insurgents who had made it their headquarters. Having established its credentials as the biggest dog in the pack, Vostok began recruiting Ukrainian volunteers to make up for Chechens who quietly drifted home. 
Alexander Khodakovsky, a defector from the Security Service of Ukraine, subsequently announced that he was the battalion's commander. But this only happened a few days after the seizure of the Donetsk headquarters. The implication is that the battalion was originally commanded by GRU representatives. Vostok appears intended not so much to fight the regular Ukrainian forces -- though it has -- but rather to serve as a skilled and disciplined enforcer of Moscow's authority over the militias if need be. 

The Vostok Battalion makes Moscow's strategy clear: The Kremlin has no desire for outright military conflict in its neighbors. Instead, the kind of "non-linear war" being waged in Ukraine, which blends outright force, misinformation, political and economic pressure, and covert operations, will likely be its means of choice in the future. These are the kinds of operations in which the GRU excels. 

After all, while Moscow is not going to abandon its claims to being a global power, in the immediate future Russia's foreign-policy focus will clearly be building and maintaining its hegemony in Eurasia. These are also the areas where the GRU is strongest. For example, in Kazakhstan, whose Russian-heavy northern regions are a potential future target for similar political pressure through local minorities, the GRU is the lead intelligence provider, as its civilian counterpart, the SVR, is technically barred from operating in Kazakhstan or any of the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States by the 1992 Alma-Ata Declaration

The combination of these factors means that the GRU now looks far more comfortable and confident than it did a year ago. Kiev outed and expelled a naval attaché from the Russian Embassy as a GRU officer, and Sergun, the GRU's head, made it onto the list of officials under Western sanctions. But neither of these actions has done the agency any harm. If anything, they have increased the GRU's prestige. 

Talk of downgrading the GRU's status is conspicuously absent in Moscow circles. The agency's restored status means it is again a player in the perennial turf wars within the Russian intelligence community. More importantly, it means that GRU operations elsewhere in the world are likely to be expanded again and to regain some of their old aggression. 

The GRU's revival also demonstrates that the doctrine of "non-linear war" is not just an ad hoc response to the particularities of Ukraine. This is how Moscow plans to drive forward its interests in today's world. The rest of the world has not realized this now, even though Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov spelled it out in an obscure Russian military journal last year. He wrote that the new way of war involves "the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures … supplemented by military means of a covert nature character," not least with the use of special forces. 

This kind of conflict will be fought by spies, commandos, hackers, dupes, and mercenaries -- exactly the kind of operatives at the GRU's disposal. Even after the transfer of most Spetsnaz out of the GRU's direct chain of command, the agency still commands elite special forces trained for assassination, sabotage, and misdirection, as Ukraine shows. The GRU has also demonstrated a willingness to work with a wide range of mavericks. In Chechnya, it raised not just the Vostok Battalion but other units of defectors from guerrillas and bandits. The convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout is generally accepted to have been a part-time GRU asset too. The GRU is less picky than most intelligence agencies about who is cooperates with, which also means that it is harder to be sure who is working for them. 

NATO and the West still have no effective response to this development. NATO, a military alliance built to respond to direct and overt aggression, has already found itself at a loss on how to deal with virtual attacks, such as the 2007 cyberattack on Estonia. The revival of the GRU's fortunes promises a future in which the Cold War threat of tanks spilling across the border is replaced by a new kind of war, combining subterfuge, careful cultivation of local allies, and covert Spetsnaz strikes to achieve the Kremlin's political aims. NATO may be stronger in strictly military terms, but if Russia can open political divisions in the West, carry out deniable operations using third-party combatants, and target strategic individuals and facilities, it doesn't really matter who has more tanks and better fighter jets. This is exactly what the GRU is tooling up to do. 

 Original article located here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/07/07/putins_secret_weapon_military_intelligence_gru_ukraine

Photo by VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sir Nicholas Winton - BBC Programme "That's Life" aired in 1988

Sir Nicholas Winton who organized the rescue and passage to Britain of
about 669 mostly Jewish Czechoslovakian children destined for the Nazi
death camps before World War II in an operation known as the Czech
Kindertransport. This video is the BBC Programme "That's Life" aired in
1988. The most touching video ever.

Sir Nicholas Winton is a humanitarian who organized a rescue operation that saved the lives of 669 Jewish Czechoslovakia children from Nazi death camps, and brought them to the safety of Great Britain between the years 1938-1939.

After the war, his efforts remained unknown. But in 1988, Winston’s wife Grete found the scrapbook from 1939 with the complete list of children’s names and photos. This is a clip of a video where Sir Nicholas Winton is sitting in an audience of Jewish Czechoslovakian people who he saved 50 years before.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Poor Have It Easy? Yup, Conservatives Are Giant Jerks & ClueLESS. Who Is Surprised?

"The Poor Have It Easy? Yup, Conservatives Are Giant Jerks & ClueLESS. Who Is Surprised?"
Author: June 29, 2014 8:42 pm

Poverty is simple. Poor people don’t try hard enough to help themselves and like the good “easy” welfare life.
Democrats don’t get Republicans’ views on poverty. They might as well be speaking Romanian or Ukrainian for that matter. So how about a bit of translation?

In Republicanland there is a village of hyper-lazy people, aka The Lazies. They live in someone else’s house, eat their food, sleep until noon and lay around the rest of the day taking drugs or indulging in some other form of entertainment.

Most of us know someone like that both Democrats and Republicans. The Lazies are too lazy to pick a party – the kid who never wants to leave home or the spoiled sister who sits around eating bon-bons (whatever those are) while her husband works all day and cleans house and the kids all night. We resent them. We have to work, why don’t they? We despise them. After all, lazy people are kind of disgusting. And in a way, we envy them. It would be nice to stay home once in a while. Who doesn’t wish they could get out from under all that responsibility once in a while? And let someone else do the cooking and cleaning!

But Republicanland draws KIS. Not the rock group. No the “Keep It Simple” crowd. Life is busy. There isn’t enough time for family, work and home let alone getting ahead in life and dealing with childhood diseases. So the simple party messages are good. They are easy to remember and sound plausible. They are also convenient lies built upon a shaky foundation of rotten statistics.
That allows lies to run rampant across the Republicanland countryside.
  • Welfare costs $1 trillion. I know, because the Cato Institute tells me so. If the more accurate figure is $212 billion, who is going to quibble?
  • The reason people are poor is that all poor people are lazy. They all have character flaws. If the government would just kick them out, they would have to get a job.
  • Big government is an all-consuming monster throwing the people’s money all over the place. And don’t want to hear that poverty programs are 90-95% efficient programs with minimal overhead costs – even though they are.
  • Free stuff makes people complacent. It is just too disgusting to look too deeply into the poverty pot where the food doesn’t last until the end of the month, the car breaks down and can’t be replace and “never enough” means “never good credit.” And it is too disturbing to believe most people wouldn’t want to live in poverty given the choice.
The problem in Republicanland is that poverty is not simple. It can’t be broken down into “the poor have it easy” and “a lack of effort” causes poverty.

Those who have the real power know that it is wiser to have their minions fighting amongst themselves that with them. So it behooves those in power to have Republicans and Democrats going at it tooth and nail.

What if both parties turned to the real source of their economic strife? What if they figured out how to deal with those who squeeze every spare cent (and half-cent fraction) out of the economy:
  • Who caused the housing bubble to burst?
  • Who is undermining the unions?
  • Who siphoned off all the business and union retirement packages?
  • Who is responsible for the low-end and high-end influx of foreign workers?
  • Who is pricing education out of the reach of most American kids?
  • Who is forcing the minimum wage down to the low-end of the pool?
  • Who is convincing the public that it is okay for them to work 30 hours more per week for a salary than it was three or four decades ago?
  • Who exported all the good jobs and called it NAFTA and is trying for the same deal in the Pacific?
  • Who changed the bankruptcy laws to benefit everyone but the person filing?
  • Who let a stunning infrastructure wither and die when no one was looking?
  • Who thought up contracting out government and business jobs to strip off all benefits?
  • Who is creating the sound-bite simple lies like, “If you work hard, you’ll get somewhere,” or Trickle-down Economics works?”
In the “Leave It To Beaver” age, employees trusted their company to take care of them if they worked hard. When that changed and companies were out for companies, employees were slow to divest themselves of that lie. Maybe it’s time to figure out more. So we can explain it to the Republicans.


Fairness of the Economic System, Views of the Poor and the Social Safety Net!

There is public agreement that the U.S. economic system unfairly favors powerful interests, and even more Americans believe that large corporations in this country are too powerful. But on both issues, Business Conservatives offer strongly dissenting views; they are the only typology group in which a majority sees the economic system as fundamentally fair.

Overall, the public has long been split over government assistance to the poor and needy. Yet while attitudes about the social safety net generally divide the right from the left, the Next Generation Left stand out among Democratically-oriented groups for their opposition to increased assistance to the needy if it means adding to the nation’s debt.

Business Conservatives Stand Out for Belief in Fairness of Economic System

Overall, 62% of Americans say this country’s economic system “unfairly favors powerful interests,” compared with just 34% who think the system “is generally fair to most Americans.” There is variance in opinions about economic fairness among Democratically-oriented groups. For instance, while 88% of Solid Liberals say the economic system is unfair, only about half (51%) of the Faith and Family Left agree.

Yet Business Conservatives are the only group – on the right or left – in which most believe the economic system is fair to most people. Fully 67% say the economic system is fair to most Americans, and 47% of Steadfast Conservatives agree. Among the GOP-leaning Young Outsiders, just 29% think the system is fair while more than twice as many (69%) do not.

As their name implies, Business Conservatives also have much more positive views of major corporations than do other Americans. Fully 57% think that the largest companies do not have too much power; no more than one-in-four in other typology groups share this view. Even among Steadfast Conservatives, 71% say large corporations are too powerful.

Mixed Views of Wall Street 

However, there is greater agreement among the two conservative groups about whether corporate profits are appropriate: Majorities of both Business Conservatives (86%) and Steadfast Conservatives (62%) say “most corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit.”  This view is shared far less widely among other typology groups: Majorities of Solid Liberals (80%), Hard-Pressed Skeptics (79%), and Young Outsiders (66%) say corporations “make too much profit.” But the Faith and Family Left and Next Generation Left are more divided; a narrow majority of the Faith and Family Left (54%) and half of the Next Generation Left (50%) say corporate profits are excessive.

Not only do Business Conservatives have the most positive views of corporations, they also are more likely than other typology groups to say that Wall Street helps more than hurts the U.S. economy. But in this case, they are joined by a 56% majority of the Next Generation Left.

Overall, 45% say Wall Street helps the U.S. economy more than it hurts, while about as many (42%) say it hurts the economy more than it helps. Views of Wall Street have improved since 2012, when more saw it as having a net negative than net positive impact (48%-36%).

Majorities of Business Conservatives (74%) and the Next Generation Left (56%) think that Wall Street does more to help the economy. The most negative views of Wall Street’s effect on the economy come from Solid Liberals (56% hurt more than help) and Hard-Pressed Skeptics (54%). The three other groups have more divided views of Wall Street’s impact.

Government Aid to the Poor

Views of government aid to the poor are much more polarized along partisan lines than attitudes about the fairness of the economic system. Groups on the right overwhelmingly believe government aid to the poor does more harm than good, while those on the left say it has a positive impact.

Fully 86% of Steadfast Conservatives and Young Outsiders, along with 80% of Business Conservatives, say government aid to the poor does more harm than good by making people too dependent on government assistance. Majorities in the three Democratically-oriented groups, as well as the Democratic-leaning Hard-Pressed Skeptics, express the opposite view—that government aid to the poor does more good than harm because people can’t get out of poverty until their basic needs are met.

Next Generation Left See Government Aid to Poor as Doing More Good Than Harm,  But Worry About Impact on Nation’s Debt

However, while most of the Next Generation Left (68%) support government aid to the poor in principle, they balk at the costs to the federal government. Overall, 56% say that the government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy, while fewer (39%) say the government should do more to help the needy even if it means going deeper into debt.

By contrast, majorities of Solid Liberals (83%), Hard-Pressed Skeptics (66%) and the Faith and Family Left (58%) all say the government should do more to help needy Americans even if it results in more debt.

Views of Poverty and the Poor

The public is split in their views of whether government aid to the poor is justified: While 44% say the poor “have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return,” about as many (47%) believe poor people “have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently.”

Wide Differences Between Right and Left Over Why Some People are Poor

Wide majorities of Steadfast Conservatives (86%) and Business Conservatives (77%) say poor people have it easy; they are joined in this view by 81% of the Republican-leaning Young Outsiders. By contrast, 86% of Solid Liberals think the poor have hard lives and that benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently; 71% of Hard-Pressed Skeptics agree. Smaller majorities of the Faith and Family Left (62%) and the Next Generation Left (54%) also say this.

There is a similar pattern in opinions about why a person is poor: Overall, 50% say it is more often because of circumstances beyond an individual’s control; 39% think a lack of effort is more to blame. Majorities of Steadfast Conservatives (61%), Business Conservatives (58%) and Young Outsiders (56%) say a lack of effort is more often to blame for why a person is poor.

Among Democratically-oriented groups, 86% of Solid Liberals and 62% of the Faith and Family Left say that the poor have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently; 71% of Hard-Pressed Skeptics also express this view. But the Next Generation Left are more conflicted in their views: About as many say a lack of effort is usually to blame for why a person is poor (42%) as say poverty is the result of circumstances outside of one’s control (47%).

Does Hard Work Lead to Success?

Solid Liberals, Hard-Pressed Skeptics Doubt that Hard Work Leads to Success  

Americans continue to offer broad support for the idea that hard work leads to success in this country. Nearly two-thirds of the public (65%) say most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard, while just 32% say hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people.

However, majorities of two typology groups – Hard-Pressed Skeptics and Solid Liberals – reject the American ideal that hard work is all it takes to succeed.

Hard-Pressed Skeptics face the most difficult financial circumstances of all the typology groups and 65% say hard work is no guarantee of success, compared with just 32% who say most people can get ahead if they’re willing to work hard.

Solid Liberals are a relatively affluent group, but by a 67%-29% margin, they also do not believe that hard work can guarantee success for most people.

Across the five other typology groups, at least three-quarters say most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard. The Democratically-oriented Faith and Family Left and Next Generation Left are about as likely to hold this view as the three Republican-oriented groups.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Evolve - The Bill of Rights for Dumbasses

Take action. Sign the code: http://www.takeonthecode.com/code.html

Evolve believes that a third voice is needed in the gun debate. Contrary to what some think, there are important common values that resonate with both gun owners and non-gun owners alike. Safety and reduction of gun violence are of paramount importance to both. We focus on voluntary actions, taken on by individuals, to avoid gun preventable firearms deaths and gun violence.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Exclusive: Scapegoating the whistleblower!

Exclusive: Scapegoating the Whistleblower! 

How a former CIA officer’s efforts to get Congress to investigate the rendition and torture of a CIA captive failed!
CIA operative Sabrina De Sousa
CIA operative Sabrina De Sousa, who has been convicted in absentia in Italy of the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in Milan in 2003. De Sousa says she did not know about the incident, and even if she did, she says she should be given immunity because she was a diplomat.
Barbara L. Salisbury / MCT / Landov

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama made many promises. One notable pledge was that, as president, he would strengthen whistleblower-protection laws to make it easier for federal employees to report waste, fraud and abuse in government.
“Often the best source of information … is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out,” Obama said, in a campaign fact sheet entitled “The Change We Need in Washington.” “We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.”
Since then, Obama has signed an executive order and a bill strengthening the rights of whistleblowers. But the new law does not provide the same protections to government employees who work in the intelligence community and want to report wrongdoing. Former undercover CIA officer Sabrina De Sousa found that out the hard way.
In 2005, De Sousa, who was officially listed as a State Department diplomat assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Milan, was implicated in the rendition of a radical Egyptian cleric in Italy named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, better known as Abu Omar. Italy had granted him political asylum in 2001 after the Egyptian government alleged that he was part of a terrorist group. While in Italy, Abu Omar spoke out publicly and vehemently against U.S. military action in Iraq prior to the March 2003 invasion. Italy responded by placing him under surveillance.

Abu Omar in Cairo
Abu Omar at an Amnesty International press conference in 2007. He was kidnapped in Milan in February 2003 and taken to a high-security prison outside Cairo, where, he says, he was subjected to torture.
Khaled Desouki / AFP / Getty Images

On Feb. 17, 2003, while walking to his local mosque, Abu Omar was approached by an Italian police officer and longtime CIA informant named Luciano Ludwig Pironi, who asked to see his passport. Moments later, a white van pulled up and Abu Omar was shoved inside. He was then flown to Egypt, where, he said, he was subjected to brutal torture techniques, such as electric shocks, for four years. When Italian authorities tried to locate Abu Omar, U.S. officials told them he had disappeared into the Balkans.
Italy launched an investigation into Abu Omar’s abduction in 2005, and in 2007 more than two dozen Americans suspected of being involved in the rendition, including De Sousa, who Italian law enforcement officials alleged was one of the masterminds of the operation, were indicted. Nineteen of the Americans whom Italy indicted and convicted, De Sousa says, were not working under their true identities. This meant she was one of the few “real” operatives accountable for the rendition.
But De Sousa insists she never played an active role in the execution of the rendition. She says she worked as a translator between the CIA rendition team and the Italian military-intelligence-and-security service, which was involved in the early stages of planning the rendition. In November 2009, she was sentenced in absentia to a five-year prison term in Italy.
Abu Omar was released from detention in Egypt in 2007 and remains there with his family. He has filed a civil claim against De Sousa. Last year, Italy convicted him in absentia on terrorism charges in what appears to be an attempt to cover up the Italian government’s own role in his rendition.
Last year, for the first time, De Sousa revealed that she was a CIA operative working for the National Clandestine Service (NCS). For nearly a decade, she had been working behind-the-scenes firing off letters to members of Congress and executive branch officials, informing them that the U.S. violated international laws when the CIA decided to kidnap Abu Omar.
De Sousa has never publicly discussed all the efforts she undertook to alert government officials and lawmakers that the Abu Omar’s kidnapping was a “colossal mistake” and convince them to investigate her claims of wrongdoing, which implicate top CIA officials. She told Al Jazeera that she first contacted top Bush administration officials, but received no response. In 2009, hoping the response would be different under Obama, she disclosed to then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton what she says are troubling details about her treatment by the U.S. government in the aftermath of her whistleblowing. But, like the Bush administration officials before them, they also ignored her pleas, De Sousa says, and the CIA turned her into a “scapegoat” while the executive branch looked away.

Blowing the whistle -

Though she was aware of the plans to capture Abu Omar, De Sousa says, she was eventually “cut out” because she did not get along with the CIA station chief in Milan, Robert Lady, and that on the day of the operation she was skiing with her family.
There was nothing definitive in the classified cables, De Sousa says, about the threat the CIA said Abu Omar posed to national security as the rendition operation was being planned. “The cable was full of ‘suspected of,’ ‘alleged to.’ Nothing that said ‘he was responsible for.’ Nothing definitive,” De Sousa says.
De Sousa describes her CIA colleagues in Rome and Cairo as acting like keystone cops in the aftermath of Abu Omar’s rendition, trying to figure out who had the evidence against him to present to Egypt so he could be prosecuted.
“The CIA station chief in Cairo said to Jeffrey Castelli [CIA station chief in Rome] ‘Where’s the evidence?’ Castelli said, ‘I thought you had the information.’ And Cairo said, ‘We don’t have it. We thought you had it.’ Castelli says, ‘We don’t have it.’ Then Cairo says, “We issued this arrest warrant on your behalf. So where is the evidence?" The blunder ultimately forced Egypt to set Abu Omar free.
“This is exactly when the whole cover-up started,” she says. “It turns out there was a big miscommunication between Cairo Station and Rome Station. There wasn’t any prosecutable evidence against Abu Omar. It’s why he was never picked up by the Italians. But Castelli decided he wanted a rendition and he got one.”
De Sousa alleges that Castelli was gunning for a promotion to a coveted CIA position in New York City and to land it someone had to be subjected to extraordinary rendition. “Who could he pick out from this target list of 10 people he had. Abu Omar because it was the easiest. Why was it the easiest? Because he was already under surveillance by the Italians and they were sharing information [with the CIA],” De Sousa says.
Castelli, who now works at a private security firm in Arlington, Virginia, called Endgame, did not respond to requests for comment.
“Abu Omar was a nobody,” De Sousa says. “The renditions are meant for imminent, very dangerous threats and [are meant to be used in]countries that are incapable of laws that would allow them to pick up people who pose threats to national security. They’re not meant for a country like Italy already following the guy around.”
De Sousa says that, based on her reading of classified CIA cables, there were “four people responsible for this thing”: Castelli; a shadowy figure identified as “Agent X,” whom De Sousa would not discuss further and who told Lady to make sure the Abu Omar rendition was executed; Tyler Drumheller, former chief of CIA covert operations in Europe; and Pironi, the CIA informant and Italian police officer.
But De Sousa says Italy demanded that people be held accountable for the embarrassing mistake and the CIA chose her and several of her colleagues. “Despite the circumstantial charges against me, the CIA scapegoated me to deflect attention from those who authorized the rendition and also prevent further investigations into the operation,” De Sousa says. “Also, I believe I was left out of the initial immunity deal [Italy agreed to for other, more senior officers] in retaliation for my interaction with Congress.”

A policeman stands during the first trial over the secret US
The first trial over the secret U.S. "extraordinary rendition" program, in Milan in 2007, with 25 CIA agents among the defendants charged with the kidnapping of Abu Omar.
Giuseppe Cacace / AFP / Getty Images

In 2005, after the investigation in Italy began, the CIA instituted a travel ban for the officers connected to the rendition because arrest warrants had been issued for them in Europe. De Sousa, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born and raised in India and whose family still lives there, was concerned she would not be able to see her elderly parents. She was able to make one trip back home in September 2005 (the CIA approved it as long as she could avoid traveling through Europe) to see her father, who was hospitalized and later passed away. The following year, she asked the agency if it would pay for her mother to the U.S. for Christmas. But CIA officials balked. (De Sousa’s family was unaware of her employment with the CIA).
“They said, ‘You don’t qualify for the funds.’ They told my attorney they didn’t want to set a precedent,” she recalls. “We’re talking about $8,000. They were spending millions on this cover-up.” De Sousa says she saw the writing on the wall. “They wanted me out,” she says. “They knew what my limit was. They knew that the minute they tried to force me to sign memos saying I wouldn’t travel overseas they knew I would resign.”
But it didn’t happen as quickly as the agency would have liked. De Sousa spent three years trying to work through internal channels to bring a resolution to her case, at first raising questions about why the agency had not invoked diplomatic immunity for her and then calling attention to the rendition and alleged torture of Abu Omar by the Egyptians.
“I went through the whole thing internally,” De Sousa says. “I started off by approaching my supervisor, and then I went to the ombudsman at CIA. He was a great guy. He tried to go to bat for me and he was told to lay off. He said, ‘I can’t communicate with you anymore due to a seventh-floor edict [at the agency’s Langley headquarters where the director and other top officials work].’ I then went to the inspector general. The IG said, ‘It’s not part of our charter or mission to deal with this.”
Yet after she approached the watchdog’s office, the inspector general at the time, John Helgerson, said he wanted to launch an investigation into the rendition, De Sousa says, an assertion confirmed in a 2008 report published byThe New York Times. But the head of the NCS, Jose Rodriguez, who would later come under federal investigation for his role in ordering the destruction of nearly 100 interrogation videotapes of two high-value detainees held at black-site CIA prisons, said no. NCS would conduct its own review, Rodriguez said. In other words, the division of the CIA that De Sousa says screwed up would investigate itself.
Then-CIA Director Michael Hayden also convened an accountability-review board to look into the rendition. De Sousa asked to see the results but was told she was not authorized because she wasn’t involved in the rendition, despite the fact that she had been indicted and convicted for it.
“So I went to Congress informally,” De Sousa says. “I went to Linda Cohen, the liaison with CIA [for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence]. I said, ‘Linda, did you see this review-board report?’ She said, ‘Oh, they’re smart. They sent this to committee. They put a such a high classification on it none of the staffers could see it.’” Cohen did not respond to requests for comment.
De Sousa wrote to Rodriguez and Hayden. But they did not respond to her inquiries either. “So then I started sending letters to Congress,” she says. De Sousa sent letters to members of Congress who sat on the House and Senate intelligence committees, including Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Kit Bond and Reps. Pete Hoekstra, Silvestre Reyes and Jan Schakowsky. But she says Rockefeller, Bond, Hoekstra and Reyes did not respond and Schakowsky, whose staff she met with, did not help her.
In February 2009, De Sousa resigned from the CIA, forfeiting her retirement. “I get up every morning and say, ‘Why?’ In 16 years I never saw anything like this,” she says. “I didn’t sign up for this. If they told me when I signed up ‘By the way, just to let you know, it’s possible if something happens we’re going to disavow and you may not see your family again,’ I would have said, ‘I’m not doing this.’”
She continued firing off letters. On May 18, 2009, she wrote to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. “For three years, I tried every option for resolution available to me, both with my employer and in letters to the heads of several Departments and Agencies, as well as Congress and the Senate in both administrations without success,” she wrote.
Powell was Secretary of State when the Abu Omar rendition took place. He responded a couple of weeks later. “Thank you for your letter. I regret the situation you are in, but since the matter is in litigation, I am unable to be of any help,” Powell wrote. “Further, I have no knowledge about any of these matters that would give me a basis to comment or intercede.”
De Sousa says Powell’s State Department would have had to have authorized Abu Omar’s rendition, because Italy is a NATO member and the rendition took place on Italian soil.
In 2009, De Sousa sued the State Department for failing to invoke diplomatic immunity, which she argued she was entitled to as a State Department diplomat. The U.S. government retorted during a federal court hearing that it was not responsible for the actions of a foreign court. A federal district-court judge dismissed De Sousa’s case but the judge described her treatment by government officials in the Obama administration as “appalling.”
A year after she wrote to Powell, however, De Sousa secured two important meetings: one with Schakowsky’s staff and another with Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s staff.

The intelligence committees -

Schakowsky is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). She had initially expressed interest in attending the meeting, but never showed up, De Sousa says. Prior to the meeting, Adam Lurie, the staff director and counsel for HPSCI’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations, asked De Sousa’s attorney, Mark Zaid, if she would be invoking the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. Zaid replied that she wouldn’t.
When De Sousa met with Schakowsky’s staffers, she says, they did not believe her claims. “They asked how did I know [about the mistakes the CIA made in rendering Abu Omar]? I said I read the cables,” De Sousa recalls. She says Schakowsky’s office never followed up. Lee Whack, a spokesman for Schakowsky, told Al Jazeera, “We are unable to comment on this issue. The congresswoman takes very seriously the privacy of anyone who brings issues to the committee. That said, we cannot discuss classified work conducted by the committee.”
De Sousa also met with Feinstein’s staff. The powerful chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), has publicly proclaimed her support for whistleblowers and urged intelligence-community employees to air their grievances with select members of Congress. De Sousa enlisted the human rights organization Human Rights First to help set up the meeting. The organization sent a letter to David Grannis, the staff director for SSCI.
De Sousa communicated via email with Grannis in August 2010 after he expressed interest in hearing what she could disclose about Abu Omar’s rendition. Grannis told her the best way for her to share the information with him “is either by hard-copy delivery” or “via secure fax.” De Sousa prepared a memo and hand delivered it to the SSCI’s security director, Jim Wolfe. She never heard from Grannis or anyone else on the intelligence committee again, she says.
An SSCI staffer, however, denies that the panel did not investigate De Sousa’s claims. The staffer says De Sousa met with “SSCI staff multiple times on subjects that I cannot confirm openly but that she was raising at the time as concerns with CIA actions.”
“Committee staff followed up with CIA independently to seek CIA’s views and explanations,” the staffer says. “Any contention that the SSCI did nothing is simply factually untrue.” De Sousa says she was never informed about any inquiries the committee made about her with the CIA.
At the time De Sousa disclosed details about the Abu Omar rendition to Grannis, the SSCI was one year into a review of the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The committee prepared a voluminous report on the program, the executive summary of which is currently undergoing a declassification review, and concluded that the approximately two dozen “war on terror” suspects were illegally rendered and secretly held by the CIA.
For years, De Sousa believed Abu Omar’s case would be included in the committee’s report. “It has to be,” she says. “It’s such a bungled case and it also involves torture by proxy governments [Egypt].” But the SSCI staffer told Al Jazeera in an email that the “executive summary and findings and conclusions of the committee’s report,” that is the portions due to be declassified, “do not reference Abu Omar.”
“There are passing references to him elsewhere in the report, but I wouldn’t want you to have the impression that the report focuses on him or alleged CIA actions involving him to any significant degree,” the aide said.
The CIA would not comment on the allegations De Sousa leveled against the agency or respond to questions about the Abu Omar rendition.

False promises -

Recently, Feinstein said that former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden could have and should have come to her with evidence of the agency’s mass surveillance of Americans instead of handing over a trove of highly classified documents to journalists.
De Sousa believes Feinstein would have ignored Snowden, just as her staff did, according to De Sousa, when she came to them with evidence of alleged wrongdoing by the CIA in the Abu Omar case.
And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told NPR’s Terry Gross that Snowden could have “expressed his concerns” in other ways, such as “reaching out to some of the senators” about the legality of NSA spy programs.
But when De Sousa’s attorney, Mark Zaid, wrote to Clinton at the State Department to raise concerns about her treatment and Abu Omar’s rendition and torture he never received a reply.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed an intelligence-spending bill that included new whistleblower protections for intelligence personnel that are supposed to codify Obama’s 2012 policy directive that strengthened whistleblower laws for federal workers. But the bill comes too late for De Sousa. She is now using the Freedom of Information Act in an effort to clear her name. She says she will aggressively try to pry loose government documents to reveal internal discussions about the Abu Omar rendition, whose case is pending before the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, there is still an international arrest warrant out for her. That makes traveling to visit her mother and siblings difficult.
CIA operative Sabrina De Sousa, photographed in her home, July 19, 2013, in Washington, D.C., who has been convicted in absentia in Italy of the kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, in Milan in 2003. De Sousa is now speaking out about the incident, which she claims she did not know about, and even if she did, she says she should be given immunity because she was a diplomat.
CIA operative Sabrina De Sousa, photographed in her home in Washington, D.C., in July 2013.
Barbara L. Salisbury / MCT / Landov

She hasn’t given up on trying to hold government officials and her former colleagues accountable. “Castelli’s chain of command who approved the rendition — James Pavitt [former CIA deputy director of operations], Stephen Kappes, [a close confidante of Feinstein who was the agency’s deputy director], Tenet, Drumheller, Rodriguez and Rizzo [former CIA general counsel]. Here are the guys I wish to hold accountable,” she says. “Hayden, Rice, Feinstein and Schakowsky also have to be held accountable for the subsequent cover-up and refusal to investigate an issue that is a violation of international law and torture.”
Zaid says that during one of the oversight committee meetings he attended with De Sousa to discuss the Abu Omar case, she had told congressional staffers that she had been unable to secure a job because of the conviction. “One of the staffers actually told her to go back to India and get a job there,” Zaid says. “Can you believe that?”


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Russian intelligence operatives for years lived in Ukraine under false identities. | EUROMAIDAN∙PRESS

Russian intelligence operatives for years lived in Ukraine under false identities. 

2014/04/25 • News, Opinion & Analysis • 


Despite the agreement between Ukraine and Russia, Russian secret services have long lead subversive and intelligence activities on the territory of Ukraine. This statement was made by to the Channel 5 by the acting Deputy Head of Presidential Administration of Ukraine Andriy Senchenko.

“When we talk about Russian presence… We have 25 employees of Russian Central Intelligence in our custody alone. Moreover, there are people there who lived in Ukraine under false identities for 2 to 3 years, and against the agreement between Ukraine and Russian Federation, were conducting subversive and intelligence activities on the Ukrainian territory,” he said, responding to Russian State Duma MP Ilya Ponomarev that was present in the studio, who alone voted against the secession of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia.

Senchenko believes that the main task of the Russian agents embedded in Ukraine and their local wards was to disrupt the presidential elections and undermine the Ukrainian state.

“For Putin, the number one task is to disrupt the stabilization process in Ukraine, to disrupt presidential elections, it is obvious… and the only tool for achieving this are those separatists who disrupt peace in Donbas first of all and in our country in whole; they are instrumental for the destabilization of the political situation in the country for a long time ahead,” he explained.
Responding to criticism against the Ukrainian government, he stated: “We were criticized for the sluggish start of the anti-terrorist operation. But the beginning of this operation was tied to disentangling the protests in the region. And we managed to do this almost across the entire Donbas, in order to protect the innocent people who came to protest against living in poverty, total corruption, against injustice… We managed to pull them away from the protests, we, as the authorities, have reached out to these people, telling them that we are their partners in building a new Ukraine,” said Senchenko.

“Who is left there today? Those who came there for money of the ‘Family’ [Yanukovych's clan], for the money of those who want to maintain total control over the Donbas region, over its resources, who are trying to grip tightly the right to exploit Donbas’s 10 million residents. And we will speak with them in another tone,” he added.

“And even then – we will try to dissuade those who are not tainted by crime, and don’t have blood on their hands… We say: “Leave, we are ready to grant amnesty to you,” said the acting deputy head of the Presidential Administration.

Source: ukrinform.ua. Translated by Crimea_SOS, edited by Alya Shandra

Help Ukrainian Army: please send binoculars! | EUROMAIDAN∙PRESS

Iraqi Freedom 
 2014/06/24 • War in Donbas

A message from the EuroArmyMaydan group that are gathering Medicine kits for Ukrainian soldiers.
Our dearest friends abroad! Thank you so much for sending all of these wonderful packages with Celox and Israeli bandages.
You are definitely guarding our back!
Please, remember that we are asking for help only with the items that are unavailable or ridiculously expensive in Ukraine.

And the next very important item on the list is BINOCULARS!
They are an essential component to the soldier’s security on par with body armor and helmet. Especially given the current circumstances

There is a devastating shortage of Binoculars at the moment at ALL of our check-points. This is the list of what we need. The price range is $13-$30 dollars on the most common models.
  1. Celestron UpClose G2 16×32 Roof Binocular Mfr # 71234 (200 needed)
  2. Tasco 12×25 Essentials Binocular Mfr # 178BCRD (200 needed)
  3. Celestron UpClose G2 20×50 Porro Binocular Mfr # 71258 (150 needed)
  4. Celestron SkyMaster 25×70 Binocular Mfr # 71008 (70 needed)
  5. Barska 15-40×50 Colorado Spotting Scope Mfr # CO11500 (70 needed)
  6. Sakura Super Zoom & High Resolution Binocular 20 – 180 x 100 (30 needed. Should be about $40-80 apiece)

To answer your questions of where to buy and how to ship please email our Binocular Angel Expert nycmonitor@gmail.com or call him directly +17189091834.

Please ship them via Meest. We’ll receive your precious packages here and use our “special” ways to transfer them directly to the hot spot. And of course will publish photo reports after the mission is accomplished.

Olesya Favorska - EuroArmyMaydan Coordinator


Source:  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152198773262849&set=gm.529759840484746&type=1&theater

Iraq's Destruction Is a Reminder of the Ugly Face of American Empire!

Iraqi Turkmen pose with their weapons as they ready to fight against militants led by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on June 21, 2014, in the Iraqi village of Basheer, south of Kirkuk

The black-clad fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sweeping a collapsing army and terrified Iraqis before them as they advance toward Baghdad, reflect back to us the ghoulish face of American empire. They are the specters of the hundreds of thousands of people we murdered in our deluded quest to remake the Middle East. They are ghosts from the innumerable roadsides and villages where U.S. soldiers and Marines, jolted by explosions of improvised explosive devices, responded with indiscriminate fire. They are the risen remains of the dismembered Iraqis left behind by blasts of Hellfire and cruise missiles, howitzers, grenade launchers and drone strikes. They are the avengers of the gruesome torture and the sexual debasement that often came with being detained by American troops. They are the final answer to the collective humiliation of an occupied country, the logical outcome of Shock and Awe, the Frankenstein monster stitched together from the body parts we left scattered on the ground. They are what we get for the $4 trillion we wasted on the Iraq War.

The language of violence engenders violence. The language of hate engenders hate. “I and the public know what all schoolchildren learn,” W.H. Auden wrote. “Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.” It is as old as the Bible.
There is no fight left in us. The war is over. We destroyed Iraq as a unified country. It will never be put back together. We are reduced—in what must be an act of divine justice decreed by the gods, whom we have discovered to our dismay are Islamic—to pleading with Iran for military assistance to shield the corrupt and despised U.S. protectorate led by Nouri al-Maliki. We are not, as we thought when we entered Iraq, the omnipotent superpower able in a swift and brutal stroke to bend a people to our will. We are something else. Fools and murderers. Blinded by hubris. Faded relics of the Cold War. And now, in the final act of the play, we are crawling away. Our empire is dying.
We should have heeded, while we had a chance, the wails of mothers and fathers. We should have listened to the cries of the wounded. We should have wept over the bodies of Iraqi children lined up in neat rows in the morgues. We should have honored grief so we could honor life. But the dance of death is intoxicating. Once it begins you whirl in an ecstatic frenzy. Death’s embrace, which feels at first like sexual lust, tightens and tightens until you suffocate. Now the music has stopped. All we have left are loss and pain.

And where are the voices of sanity? Why are the cheerleaders of slaughter, who have been wrong about Iraq since before the invasion, still urging us toward ruin? Why are those who destabilized Iraq and the region in the worst strategic blunder in American history still given a hearing? Why do we listen to simpletons and morons?
They bang their fists. They yell. They throw tantrums. They demand that the world conform to their childish vision. It is as if they have learned nothing from the 11 years of useless slaughter. As if they can dominate that which they never had the power to dominate.

I sat in a restaurant Thursday in Boston’s Kenmore Square with military historian Andrew Bacevich. You won’t hear his voice much on the airwaves. He is an apostate. He speaks of the world as it is, not the self-delusional world our empire builders expect it to be. He knows war with a painful intimacy, not only as a Vietnam combat veteran and a retired Army colonel but also as the father of a U.S. Army officer killed in a 2007 suicide bombing in Iraq.

“In the 1990s there was a considerable effort made in the military, but also in the larger community of national security experts scratching their heads and [asking] what are the implications of all this technology,” he said. “They conceived of something called the Revolution in Military Affairs—RMA. If you believed in the Revolution of Military Affairs you knew that nothing could stop the United States military when it engaged in a conflict. Victory was, for all practical purposes, a certainty. People like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, and I expect Dick Cheney also, bought this hook, line and sinker. You put yourself in their shoes in the wake of 9/11. An attack comes out of Afghanistan, a country frankly nobody cares about, and you conceive of this grand strategy of trying to transform the Islamic world. Where are we going to start? We are going to start by attacking a country [Iraq]—we had it under surveillance and sanctions for the past decade—where there is a bona fide bad guy to make a moral case and where we are confident we can make short work of this adversary, a further demonstration that the American military cannot be stopped. They utterly and totally miscalculated. Iraq is falling apart. And many of these people, either in government or outside of government, who were proponents of the war are now advocating for a resumption of the American war. Not one of them is willing to acknowledge the extent of that military miscalculation. Once you acknowledge it, then the whole project of militarizing U.S. policy towards the Greater Middle East collapses.”

Bacevich blames the concentration of power into the hands of the executive branch for the debacle. He said that since the Kennedy administration “the incoming president and his team, it does not matter which party, see the permanent government as a problem. If we [the new officials] are going to get done what we want to get done we have to find ways to marginalize the permanent government. This has led to the centralization of authority in the White House and means decisions are made by a very small number of people. The consultation becomes increasingly informal, to the point it is not even documented.”

“I do not think we even know when the decision to go to war with Iraq was actually made,” Bacevich said. “There is no documented meeting where [President George W.] Bush sat down with how many people—six, 10, 25—and said, ‘Let’s vote.’ The decision kind of emerged and therefore was implemented. Why would you operate that way? You would operate that way if you viewed the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the CIA and the State Department as, in a sense, the enemy.”
“The invasion of Iraq was intended to be a catalyst,” he said. “It was supposed to be the catalyst that would enable us ... to change the region. It turned out to be the catalyst that resulted in destabilization. The big question of the moment is not what can we do or is there anything we can do to salvage Iraq. The question is to what degree have our actions resulted in this larger regional mayhem. And to the extent they have, isn’t it time to rethink fundamentally our expectations of what American power, and particularly American military power, can achieve?”

“We need to take a radically different course,” Bacevich said. “There is an analogy to be made with Great Britain in the wake of World War I. It was in World War I that Britain and France collaborated to dismantle the Ottoman Empire to create the new Middle East. While on the one hand there was an awareness that Britain was in decline, at the level where policy was made there was not a willingness to consider the implications of that fact. It took World War II to drive it home—that the [British] empire was doomed. I think that is where we are.”

Out of this decline, Bacevich said, is emerging a multipolar order. The United States will no longer be able to operate as an unchallenged superpower. But, he said, similar to the condition that existed as the British Empire took its last gasps, “there is very little willingness in Washington or in policy circles to take on board the implications multipolarity would call for in terms of adjusting our policy.”
The inability to adjust to our declining power means that the United States will continue to squander its resources, its money and its military.

“By squandering power we forfeit our influence because we look stupid and we bankrupt ourselves,” Bacevich said. “We will spend $4 trillion, not dollars spent in the moment but dollars we will have spent the last time the last Afghanistan veteran gets his last VA check. That money is gone forever. It is concealed because in the Bush administration’s confidence that victory would be easily won the government did not bother to mobilize the country or increase our taxes. We weaken ourselves economically. People complain about our crappy infrastructure. Give me $4 trillion and I probably could have fixed a couple of bridges. And we must never forget the human cost. Lives lost, lives damaged. And in these two wars [Afghanistan and Iraq] there does seem to be this increase in PTSD that we don’t know what to do about. It is a squandering of human capital.”

Bacevich said the “military mind-set” has so infected the discourse of the power elite that when there is a foreign policy problem the usual response is to discuss “three different courses of military action. ... Should it be airstrikes with drones? Should it be airstrikes with manned aircraft? Special operations forces? Or some combination of all three? And that’s what you get.” The press, he said, is an “echo chamber and reinforces the notion that those are the [only] options.”

The disintegration of Iraq is irreversible. At best, the Kurds, the Shiites and the Sunnis will carve out antagonistic enclaves. At worst, there will be a protracted civil war. This is what we have bequeathed to Iraq. The spread of our military through the region has inflamed jihadists across the Arab world. The resulting conflicts will continue until we end our occupation of the Middle East. The callous slaughter we deliver is no different from the callous slaughter we receive. Our jihadists—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Thomas Friedman and Tommy Franks—who assured us that swift and overwhelming force in Iraq would transform the Middle East into an American outpost of progress, are no less demented than the jihadists approaching Baghdad. These two groups of killers mirror each other. This is what we have spawned. And this is what we deserve.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, writes a regular column for Truthdig every Monday. Hedges' most recent book is "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

A Secret Plan to Shut Down Social Security’s Offices and Outsource Its Work!

A Secret Plan to Shut Down Social Security’s Offices and Outsource Its Work | Alternet

Campaign for America's Future / By Richard Eskow

A report suggests that many of the SSA’s critical functions could soon be outsourced to private-sector partners and contractors. 

For months there have been rumors that the Social Security Administration has a “secret plan” to close all of its field offices. Is it true? A little-known report commissioned by the SSA the request of Congress seems to hold the answer. The summary document outlining the plan, which is labeled “for internal use only,” is unavailable from the SSA but can be found here.
Does the document, entitled “Long Term Strategic Vision and Vision Elements,” really propose shuttering all field offices? The answer, buried beneath a barrage of obfuscatory consultantese, clearly seems to be “yes.” Worse, the report also suggests that many of the SSA’s critical functions could soon be outsourced to private-sector partners and contractors.
Here are five insights from this austerity-minded outline.
1. This is death by jargon.
The Social Security Administration has contracted with an entity called The National Academy of Public Administration, or NAPA, to “conduct a study and submit a high-level plan proposing a long-range strategic vision.” The seven-member panel conducting the study includes current and former employees of government contractors IBM, Cisco, and Grant Thornton, as well as career bureaucrats and the editor of Government Executive magazine.
The panel’s four-page overview lays down a nearly impenetrable barrage of consultant-speak. This is a language in which “smaller workforce” means “layoffs” and “reduced physical infrastructure” is a euphemism for “closing field offices.” It is a language in which goals, objectives, strategies and tactics are reduced to a pulpy mash of undifferentiated “vision elements.” The language is rich in booster-ish phrases like this one: “Stress program integrity in everything we do.” (As opposed to, you know, not doing that.)
For most of its four pages the document’s runic language artfully dodges the question at hand, preferring instead to inform the public of such need-to-know information as the fact that “we embrace change and reward managed risk.” It is not until the final page that the bomb is dropped, surrounded by a cloud of verbal decoys. The key phrase: “Our communication and business practices enable a dispersed workforce that is no longer working in centralized, traditional offices.”
“Centralized, traditional offices.” Or, as the rest of the world calls them, “offices.”
The document suggests that Social Security’s administrative functions will be transferred online, allowing for human contact only “in very limited circumstances.” Even in those cases it appears that the default options will be telephone calls and online chats, together with rare meetings with personnel who may be housed in the offices of other agencies – or, conceivably, private corporations.
2. The SSA isn’t resisting congress’ brutal cuts.
Despite the fact that a Democratic president is running the executive branch, the Social Security Administration appears to be accepting the harsh budget cuts imposed upon it by Congress with an air of surprising passivity. This is puzzling. Social Security is an enormously successful and popular program. Historically only conservative Republicans have urged cuts to its administrative budget. Those cuts are already frustrating the public and undermining public confidence in the program. (For more on this topic see the Special Senate Subcommittee on Aginghref=”http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/20/us-column-miller-social-security-idUSBREA2J1OV20140320″>Mark Miller of Reuters, Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, Hiltzik again, and ourselves.)
And yet, these needless and harmful cuts are being accepted as a fait accompli by both the NAPA panel and the Social Security Administration itself. The SSA’s “Agency Strategic Plan for 2014-2018,” which is published where the “strategic vision” document might logically be found, glosses over current and impending staffing reductions with language like this: “In the coming years, as we prepare for more employee retirements and continued budget constraints, we will develop and implement a strong succession plan to prepare for the new skills, competencies and work styles of a leaner, modern Federal workforce.”
English translation: We are downsizing for budget reasons but would rather not say too much about it.
Then there’s this: “The size of our workforce has declined by about 11,000 employees since the beginning of FY 2011 and we expect this trend to continue … we estimate that more than 21,000 of our employees will retire by FY 2022. A shrinking workforce affects our ability to meet the needs and expectations of our customers and stakeholders.”
English translation: Our staffing budget keeps getting slashed and our service will continue to decline accordingly.
The fact that neither the SSA, the administration, nor the president himself are publicly fighting these brutal cuts is a betrayal of Social Security’s promise. That betrayal is made even more acute by the fact that cuts to Social Security’s administrative budgets do not help the deficit in any way, since the SSA is fully funded from Social Security’s revenues.
3. They intend to do more outsourcing, too.
One of the bitter ironies of the bipartisan austerity craze has been the fact that, while there has been an assault on government jobs, there has been an equal or greater push to transfer government revenues to the private sector using lucrative, cost-inflating “privatization” contracts.
That seems to be what somebody has in mind for Social Security’s future, too. One of the 29 “vision elements” in the Vision 2025 document states that service delivery should be “integrated across SSA programs and with external partners …” It goes on to state that all support functions for SSA should be “provided through a shared services model (e.g., within SSA, across government, and by contract).” (Emphases ours.)
No descriptions are offered for those “external partners” or the recipients of those “shared services” contracts, but the message seems clear: they’re closing the field offices, laying off employees, and shifting the work to other agencies as well as profit-driven (and therefore ultimately costlier) private enterprises.
The choice of private partners thus far isn’t encouraging. The user portal informs people signing up for online access that they may be subject to an eligibility verification by Experian. That’s the credit-rating firm that is currently the subject of a multistate investigation, as well a a lawsuit on behalf of the people of Mississippi. The complaint, which is unrelated to Social Security, alleges that Experian knowingly made “sweeping errors” on consumers’ credit records and repeatedly violated consumer protection laws.
4. They expect people to do everything on the Internet – and their website is terrible.
The “vision” document states it plainly: “We … use online, self-service delivery as our primary service channel.” They also expect to “automate processes to maximize operational efficiency.” “Direct service options (e.g. in person, phone, online chat, video conference)” will only be available “in very limited circumstances.”
That’s a bad idea. Seniors use the Internet far less than other people. Only 57 percent of people over 65 are online, as opposed to a nationwide average of 87 percent, according to a recent Pew study. Disabled people, Social Security’s other major user group, can also experience difficulties accessing the Internet. Minorities and low-income people, many of whom depend on the SSA’s assistance, are also less likely to be web-connected.
This idea gets even worse when one attempts to use the SSA’s website, as we did recently. We will document that tragicomic misadventure in greater detail shortly, but the short version is this: although I have led very large-scale information technology projects, it took me several days to successfully enroll in the SSA website. The delays were caused by a combination of downtime and poor web design.
The website is confusing, even for tech-savvy and (relatively) youthful users. Imagine how daunting it must be those who aren’t comfortable with computers, those whose cognitive skills may be in decline, and those who have lost the full use of one or more senses. To make matters worse, the SSA site explicitly forbids would-be users from allowing others to navigate the process on their behalf.
On the other hand, converting more of Social Security’s functions to website technology could be result in a very lucrative payday for government contractors like… well, like IBM and Cisco.
5. They’re downsizing just as demand grows.
The “Vision 2025” agenda has a number of other problems. For example, it calls for ending the practice of retaining employees with specialized knowledge of specific programs. They are to be replaced with “generalists,” even though applicants and beneficiaries are more likely to obtain useful information from employees with more specific knowledge. And yet, the “vision” calls for “empowering” employees even as it proposes to deprive them of the specialized knowledge they need to use that power wisely.
But the most important takeaway is this: They’re closing field offices, downsizing their workforce, and trying to force everyone through an inadequate Internet portal. That’s all in an effort to reduce Social Security services at a time when the need is about to grow dramatically.
The scare rhetoric about the cost of baby boomers’ benefits is just that: scare rhetoric. Any long-term imbalances are easily rectified through one or two simple and equitable adjustments (like lifting the payroll tax cap). But there is no question that the number of Social Security applicants and recipients is going to increase dramatically, and with them will come a greater administrative workload. The SSA’s own website lays out the numbers: “By 2033, the number of older Americans will increase from 46.6 million today to over 77 million.”
The SSA is perfectly willing to cite that figure as part of an overly fearmongering set of statistics meant to raise false alarms about solvency. But when it comes time to craft an appropriate plan for the program’s administrative future, statistics like that are nowhere to be found. Instead, the SSA continues to close offices and plans even more dramatic cuts to its workforce.
It has become increasingly clear that plans are underway at the SSA to impose more needless cuts on SSA’s budgets and render the program’s benefits increasingly inaccessible to Americans who have earned them. The American Federation of Government Employees iscurrently on a campaign that encourages people to register their objections to this troubling plan.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, a consultant, and a former musician.

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