Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Is Wikileaks violating the Espionage Act?

In an NPR interview early this morning, one of the attorneys who defended the New York Times in the Pentagon Papers case nearly four decades ago opined that Wikileaks may be in violation of the 1917 Espionage Act. This commentator noted that the broad language of the act, while having long ago been declared Constitutional by the Supreme Court, has been narrowed by the requirement of scienter. That is, the leaker of national secrets must intend to harm the nation. He went on to say that the founder of Wilkileaks has said things in the past that might be interpreted as establishing that intent. Problem is, he went on, that the Justice Department may have difficulty finding this fellow.

At ant rate, here is what Wikileaks says about itself:

1.1 About WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box). One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth. We are a young organisation that has grown very quickly, relying on a network of dedicated volunteers around the globe. Since 2007, when the organisation was officially launched, WikiLeaks has worked to report on and publish important information. We also develop and adapt technologies to support these activities.
WikiLeaks has sustained and triumphed against legal and political attacks designed to silence our publishing organisation, our journalists and our anonymous sources. The broader principles on which our work is based are the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history. We derive these principles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In particular, Article 19 inspires the work of our journalists and other volunteers. It states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. We agree, and we seek to uphold this and the other Articles of the Declaration.
1.2 How WikiLeaks works
WikiLeaks has combined high-end security technologies with journalism and ethical principles. Like other media outlets conducting investigative journalism, we accept (but do not solicit) anonymous sources of information. Unlike other outlets, we provide a high security anonymous drop box fortified by cutting-edge cryptographic information technologies. This provides maximum protection to our sources. We are fearless in our efforts to get the unvarnished truth out to the public. When information comes in, our journalists analyse the material, verify it and write a news piece about it describing its significance to society. We then publish both the news story and the original material in order to enable readers to analyse the story in the context of the original source material themselves. Our news stories are in the comfortable presentation style of Wikipedia, although the two organisations are not otherwise related. Unlike Wikipedia, random readers can not edit our source documents.

To me this sounds a lot like the philosophy of Leaderless Resistance espoused by ALF, ELF, Tim McVeigh, Al Qaeda, and other terrorists. Of course, that alone does not make Wikileaks a terrorist organization.

But terrorist or not, is Wikileaks in violation of the Espionage Act? You be the judge (for now, anyway):

(a) whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defence with intent or reason to believe that the information to be obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation, goes upon, enters, flies over, or otherwise obtains information, concerning any vessel, aircraft, work of defence, navy yard, naval station, submarine base, coaling station, fort, battery, torpedo station, dockyard, canal, railroad, arsenal, camp, factory, mine, telegraph, telephone, wireless, or signal station, building, office, or other place connected with the national defence, owned or constructed, or in progress of construction by the United States or under the control or the United States, or of any of its officers or agents, or within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States, or any place in which any vessel, aircraft, arms, munitions, or other materials or instruments for use in time of war are being made, prepared, repaired. or stored, under any contract or agreement with the United States, or with any person on behalf of the United States, or otherwise on behalf of the United States, or any prohibited place within the meaning of section six of this title; or
(b) whoever for the purpose aforesaid, and with like intent or reason to believe, copies, takes, makes, or obtains, or attempts, or induces or aids another to copy, take, make, or obtain, any sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, document, writing or note of anything connected with the national defence; or
(c) whoever, for the purpose aforesaid, receives or obtains or agrees or attempts or induces or aids another to receive or obtain from any other person, or from any source whatever, any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note, of anything connected with the national defence, knowing or having reason to believe, at the time he receives or obtains, or agrees or attempts or induces or aids another to receive or obtain it, that it has been or will be obtained, taken, made or disposed of by any person contrary to the provisions of this title; or
(d) whoever, lawfully or unlawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defence, wilfully communicates or transmits or attempts to communicate or transmit the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it; or
(e) whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, note, or information, relating to the national defence, through gross negligence permits the same to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be list, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment for not more than two years, or both.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

19-year old Somali teenager stung in Portland, Oregon

This yesterday from the Associated Press:

PORTLAND, Oregon — Federal agents stopped a Somali-born teenager from blowing up a van full of explosives at a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland on Friday, authorities said.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, was arrested during a sting operation at 5:40 p.m. just after he dialed a cell phone that he thought would detonate the explosives but instead brought federal agents and Portland police swooping down on him.

Yelling "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — Mohamud tried to kick agents and police as they closed in, according to prosecutors.

The bomb was a dud supplied by undercover agents as part of the sting and the public was never in danger, prosecutors said.

As with most sting operations, the question lies out there to be posed by some defense attorney down the road: Did law enforcement cross the line between a legitimate sting and incitement? A website called Intelhub.com comments today:

Notice as the corporate media attempts to paint a picture of a psychotic Arab attacking America in the name of Jihad. This is a 19 year old kid who literally was given fake explosives and we are supposed to believe that without the FBI he could have carried out a major attack?

FBI agents went as far as to test a real explosive with the suspect in Oregon’s back country. Why wouldn’t they just arrest him for planning a terror attack instead of waiting for the fake attack that has scared American’s nationwide? According to Fox News, the FBI was with Mohamud all the way through!

That’s right, the FBI literally made this terrorist. Notice how Fox News pretends that the FBI is just so great, creating terrorism and then looking good from stopping it!

This is an issue that has intrigued me for something like 30 years... ever since I wrote a chapter of my PhD dissertation on the Molly Maguires. The Mollies supposedly were a secret society of Irish terrorists operating in the hard coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania in the 1860s and 1870s. The mine and railroad companies hired Pinkerton detectives to infiltrate the alleged organization and expose it. Detective James McParland, aka Jamie McKenna, supposedly did just that and his testimony was the main ingredient in a serious of successful prosecutions leading to 20 "Mollies" being hanged in Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties in the mid 1870s.

To this day there are those who contend that McKenna instigated acts of murder, arson and assault in order to implicate Irishmen, such as Black Jack Kehoe, a tavern keeper and politician in Girdsville (PA), in order to bust the fledgling union and political organizing efforts of the Irish immigrants. Without a doubt the trials were miscarriages of justice. For instance, President Franklin Gowen of the Phila & Reading RR took a leave of absence in order to act as lead prosecutor in some of the trials.

On the other hand, it also is undisputed that the coal region was rife with violence in that post-Civil War era.

So... was McParland/McKenna a legitimate informant or an instigator? We may never know.

With regard to yesterday's arrest in Portland, available information leads me to a conclusion contrary to IntelHub's. Sounds as if the FBI nipped a dangerous terrorist in the bud. But until we know more about how the agency got onto this guy in the first place, the jury --- as they say --- is still out.

To read more about the Molly Maguires, try:

Or if you're more of a movie buff, there's:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Happy Thanksgiving" from the turkeys at the airport

Watching the news last night, I was amazed to see the story of the cancer survivor whose urine bag got broken, spilling urine all over him, during a search at an airport. Then today I find this story on the Daily Mail's website:

The controversy over 'invasive' pat-downs by Transport Security Administration officials at airports deepened today after footage of a small child being searched was placed online.

More than 650,000 people have watched the 39-second clip in which the youngster can be seen shirtless and surrounded by burly TSA officers who carry out the search.

One officer examines the child's shirt before touching his lower body during the search as his helpless father watches at Salt Lake City International Airport.

This security tail (tale?) is certainly wagging the Thanksgiving dog these days. The radio reported that protesters will be on hand at Philadelphia's international airport tomorrow. I haven't joined a protest since 1969, but I will be there in spirit.

Between these extreme security measures and the disappearance of in-flight amenities for coach passengers, the fun has pretty much gone out of air travel. Luckily my family and I will be driving to our Thanksgiving feast. Hope ya'll are doing likewise.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 draws nearer, recalling the anthrax attacks that followed

Beginning a mere week after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, envelopes packed with anthrax spores started turning up in people’s mailboxes. Two of those people were sitting U.S. Senators, Daschle of South Dakota and Leahy of Vermont. The National Enquirer in Florida and TV network offices in New York also were targeted. The envelopes were all postmarked in the Trenton/Princeton (NJ) area. (See adjoining photo.)

The FBI visited the biology labs on every college campus along the Route One corridor between New York and Philly. The bureau also intensely investigated Uncle Sam’s own bio-weapons facilities, including Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. The investigation proved to be one involving needles and haystacks.
Eventually, FBI suspicions focused on a bio-weapons researcher named Steven Hatfill. Indeed, after years of investigating, the agency’s only “person of interest” was this Fort Detrick alumnus. Although never indicted, Hatfill’s POI status was enough to make him a leper to his profession, essentially unemployable. At last, the government admitted it was trailing the wrong guy. In June 2008, Hatfill received a $5.85 million settlement.
With Hatfill off the (exceedingly short) FBI hit list, old leads were reviewed, witnesses revisited, and a new suspect emerged. On Tuesday, July 29th, amidst rumors that this time indictments would be forthcoming, another Fort Detrick denizen, Bruce E. Ivins, killed himself. Attorneys representing Ivins, age 62, in the government investigation, put their client’s death down to a fragile personality that succumbed to pressure.
“The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people,” Bethesda criminal-defense attorney Paul Kemp commented of the client he had represented for more than a year. “In Dr. Ivins’ case, it led to his untimely death.”
The publicly available evidence against Ivins is circumstantial but somewhat compelling. Of some 33 years as an Army scientist, Ivins’ last 18 were spent at Fort Detrick and apparently were devoted in large part to anthrax. Between December 2001 and April 2002, Ivins secretly swabbed and bleached some 20 work areas that he claimed had been contaminated with anthrax by a sloppy lab technician and then kept his cleanup under wraps. When those illegal activities came to light, he claimed he couldn’t recall whether or not he had gone back to re-swab the contaminated spots to insure that no spores remained. A former co-worked commented in the media, “That’s bull. If there’s contamination, you always re-swab. And you would remember doing it.”
The newspaper reports indicated that the second round of FBI investigations benefited from better genetic technology that made a match between the spores sent through the Postal Service and those with which Ivins had worked.
If Ivins was guilty, one irony in the case is that he earlier had helped the FBI analyze the anthrax sent to the senators’ offices. However, unless the Department of Justice has some direct evidence yet to be made public, we apparently can’t be certain that Ivins’ death closes the case. What, for instance, may have been his motive? Reports I’ve read to date don’t seem to say. Au contraire, the Washington Post reported on August 1st that in 2003, “Ivins and two of his colleagues at the… U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick… received the highest honor given to Defense Department civilian employees for helping solve technical problems in the manufacture of anthrax vaccine.” This doesn’t sound like the same guy whom five years later the DOJ was ready to indict. Yet, added the Post, prosecutors were considering including a request for the death penalty.
Could it be that Ivins and/or colleagues and/or co-conspirators concocted the anthrax attacks in order to enhance the priority of the work they were doing? Perhaps this is no more farfetched than the anthrax attacks themselves. The criminal justice system has recorded earlier cases of health-care workers, who brought their patients to the brink of death in order to come across as heroes when they saved them. Conspiracy theorists have long contended that the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor in 1898 and the Tonkin Gulf incident of 1964 were contrived by the American government to precipitate wars with Spain and North Vietnam, respectively.
Closure of this case, which is older even than the war in Iraq, would add a note of finality to at least one ugly incident in the seven-year-old War on Terror. But I don’t think we are there yet.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Green-card holder in SO-CAL charged with aiding terrorists

The Associated Press

Friday, Nov. 19, 2010 | 3:31 a.m.

A California woman has been charged with conspiring to provide money and people to a Somali terrorist group to help carry out killings in the African nation, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.

Nima Ali Yusuf, a 24-year-old permanent resident of the U.S., conspired in Southern California and elsewhere to aid al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked militia trying to create an Islamic state in Somalia, the indictment states.

Federal prosecutors did not provide further details on the allegations.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New York Jury Acquits Al Qaeda Accomplice of Most Charges

This form this morning's LA Times:

A New York federal jury acquitted alleged Al Qaeda accomplice Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on Wednesday of all major terrorism charges in the 1998 suicide bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.

In the first trial of a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner in civilian court, the Tanzanian was convicted of one count of conspiracy to damage or destroy U.S. property but cleared of 276 counts of murder and attempted murder. The government said it would seek the maximum sentence of life without parole on the conspiracy count.

The verdict could presage trouble for President Obama's plans to close the U.S. military prison in Cuba and bring its remaining detainees to the United States for trial. Officials who want military commissions to try the men argue that terrorism suspects would get too many rights and protections in civilian court.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Death recommended for Major Nidal Hassan

This from CNN this afternoon:

Washington (CNN) -- The investigating officer in the case of the accused Fort Hood, Texas, shooter has recommended that the military pursue the death penalty against Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, according to Hasan's lawyer.

Col. James Pohl, who acted as a judge during the just-completed Article 32 hearing, also recommended a general court martial for Hasan, who faces 13 counts of pre-meditated murder and 32 counts of attempted pre-meditated murder in the shootings at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009.

This will be an interesting trial to watch. Is Hasan a fanatic or a madman? This is the question that must be answered by the proceedings. The answer may determine whether he ultimately is sentenced to death or not.

If madness, rather than fanaticism,was the cause of his horrific acts, then this will go down as yet another instance of workplace violence, a phenomenon that has become far too common in the U.S. It goes hand in hand with school violence in making our day-to-day lives far more dangerous and deadly than any actual terrorists, Islamic or domestic, have ever been able to do.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Happiness, Anger and Terrorism

Scientists in England and the U.S. are studying happiness: who is happy, why are they happy? Here's an excerpt from one new story on the subject:

Track Your Happiness.org is a recent project from a group of Harvard scientific researchers. The project’s goal is to, “investigate what makes life worth living.” Specifically, to see how the wandering mind and happiness correlate.
But how could this type of a survey really be effective when you would need the ability to invade the mind of your participant throughout the day for effective results?
Researchers were able to do something that traditional physiology methods have not allowed in the past: to intrude on the lives of their participants in a non-threatening and targeted way. What better means to prick the wandering mind than through what is the usual cause of a wandering mind- the smartphone.
This specific way of data collecting was made possible through (you guessed it) the iPhone…
The people behind “Track Your Happiness” explain their research,
“For thousands of years, people have been trying to understand the causes of happiness. What is it that makes people happy? Yet it wasn’t until very recently that science has turned its attention to this issue.
Track Your Happiness.org is a new scientific research project that aims to use modern technology to help answer this age-old question. Using this site in conjunction with your iPhone, you can systematically track your happiness and find out what factors – for you personally – are associated with greater happiness. Your responses, along with those from other users of trackyourhappiness.org, will also help us learn more about the causes and correlates of happiness.”
This intriguing research project is the brainchild of Matt Killingsworth, and is part of his doctrinal research at Harvard.
The research team has already conducted an official survey, based on samples from 2,250 adults. Of those 2,250, 58.8% were male and 73.9% of them live in the U.S. The average age of the surveyed was 34 years old.

According to NPR the British study is government sponsored. That's not as far fetched as it may seem at first blush. After all, our founders claimed that everyone is entitled to pursue happiness. Perhaps if we focused more on happiness and less on money and all the stuff it buys, we might not have all the anger that other observers see all around us. Witness these words from the editor of Vanity Fair Magazine in its November issue;

"Well, anger certainly continues to be all the rage in the corridors of American politics. Not to mention American corridors in general.... The general Obama rage out there is palpable.... What makes today's fury more worrying is the fact that angry right-wing extremists tend to carry guns in disproportionate numbers to their liberal counterparts."

He adds, "A distinguished colleague of mine likens the wiggy mood of the nation to that of a hormonal teenager."

And he goes on to contend, "This anger-fest is in no way confine do America. Indeed, in Europe it is becoming even uglier."

On the other side of the divide are the angry Islamic extremists.

Indeed, a colleague of mine has plotted the patterns of global rage in the internet age:

Here's a question: Are both sides POed at the same thing? ANd, if not, should they be?

Let me draw an historical analogy. Politicians in the Deep South for generations kept poor whites and poor blacks at each other's throats, while the political/economic elite profited and prospered.

Tim McVeigh felt rage. The 9/11 terrorists felt rage. The ELF and ALF eco-terrorists feel rage. That's the one thing all these terrorists seem to have in common.

The other thing they may have in common is that they feel oppressed by Big Government and Big Business.

In the 1960s many of my contemporaries tried to turn their backs on "Big Brother." They sought Nirvana. Not to many found it. But it was a good idea, all the same... at least in theory.

At least they didn't usually hurt anyone... except sometimes themselves.

So... happiness... rage... terrorism... time to pull back from the precipice?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Recalling an encounter with a killer

Washington, D.C., May 29, 2008--- He seems to be a nice young man: age 27, a winning smile and an easy going sense of humor that quickly charms his audience. I’m attending, along with 9200 others from around the globe, the 60th annual convention of NAFSA, the top international-education organization. This particular event is a speech by Ishmael Beah, who last year published “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.” The grand ballroom of the Washington Convention Center is full to overflowing for Beah’s talk.
Wisely, young Ishmael focuses his address on his experiences since leaving Sierra Leone to live in the U.S., where he attended a United Nations high school in New York, then Oberlin College. He alludes only obliquely to the dark days of his country’s civil war, when, as a child of 13, he was recruited into the army and transformed into a teenaged killing machine.
Beah’s book tells that earlier story. After losing his family to rebel atrocities, Beah and his boyhood buddies roamed from village to village, until finally being conscripted into a unit of the national armed forces. Issued an AK-47, he was fed a seemingly endless supply of cocaine, marijuana, something he calls “brown brown” (a concoction which he claims contained gun powder), and unidentified white capsules that probably were “uppers” (since he says he seldom slept).
Following a few weeks of “basic training” Beah and his buds were deployed into action. Action, one gathers from his book, typically involved raiding villages, shooting everyone in sight and looting whatever was found of value, be it food, drugs, or munitions. He describes in gory detail cutting the throats of prisoners and burying wounded rebels alive. Summing up, he says he killed “too many people to count.”
Eventually, Beah and many another boy soldier were rescued and rehabilitated by UNICEF in cooperation with various NGOs operating in the war-torn, West African nation, situated between Liberia (an equally blood-soaked and diamond rich state), and Guinea. So thoroughly was Beah reformed that he was picked from among his comrades to address the United Nations in New York on the plight of Africa’s children. There he met the woman who would adopt him, once he managed to make good his final escape from Sierra Leone. All this occurred before he was even out of his teens.
Pondering the war crimes Beah describes in “A Long Way Gone” and trying to connect them up with the pleasant young fellow at the podium, I am reminded of the late philosopher, Hannah Arendt. In the words of Wikipedia, “The Banality of Evil is a phrase coined in 1963 by Hannah Arendt in her work ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem.’ It describes the thesis that the great evils in history generally, and the Holocaust in particular, were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.”
Arendt’s premise fits the West African experience of the 1990s and early years of the new century as snuggly as it fits the Holocaust. If “A Long Way Gone” isn’t a good fit on your summer reading list, try the film “Blood Diamond” on for size. You’ll get the idea. Today, the sub-Saharan traveling horror show described in Beah’s book and depicted in the Leo DiCaprio movie has moved to the Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, here I am in line outside the convention center’s massive ballroom, standing in a long line to get my copy of “A Long Way Gone” autographed by its author. When it’s finally my turn, I watch as Ishmael Beah inscribes his large and rather elegant signature on the title page. As he hands the book back to me, I say, “Hell of a book, man. Thanks a lot.” Ours eyes meet momentarily and he beams back at me… the boyish smile of a lad who never could have pulled the wings from a fly.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Is a new Al Qaeda "Fu Manchu" emerging?

Back in 2006 I published this column concerning Osama bin Laden:

Osama bin Laden Is Our Sci-Fi Nightmare
[Mr. Castagnera, a Philadelphia journalist and attorney, is the Associate Provost at Rider University and author of the weekly newspaper column Attorney at Large.]

The future is now. We live in a Sci-Fi world: supersonic flight and space travel; cloning and organ transplants; computers and artificial intelligence; weapons of mass destruction and stealth bombers. The best evidence of our having entered the realms of fantasy and science fiction is Osama bin Laden.

Our Western world imagined Osama bin Laden long before he was born. He is Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty. He is Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. He would like to become Marvel Comic’s Ming the Merciless.

Professor Moriarty is described by his chief antagonist, Sherlock Holmes, as “the Napoleon of Crime.” Moriarty lurks in the shadows, masterminding murder and mayhem, and even influencing world affairs. In The Final Solution the two opponents finally meet face to face atop Switzerland’s 200-foot Reisenbach Falls, apparently falling together to their deaths. The U.S. armed forces hoped for such a final solution for Osama among the craggy peaks of Afghanistan, but so far our modern-day Napoleon of Crime has apparently not obliged.

Fu Manchu prefigures Osama. A villain out of the mysterious East --- albeit Far, not Middle, East --- he is described in The Insidious Fu Manchu as “a person, tall, lean and feline, high shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present…. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.” I don’t know about Shakespeare’s brow or the cat-green eyes, but otherwise, couldn’t this fit our image of bin Laden?

Last is Ming. Flash Gordon’s nemesis is our worst nightmare… Osama bin Laden triumphant, the leader of a fundamentalist-Islamic empire arrayed in undying enmity against our “decadent” West. Ming’s empire, “Mingo,” intent upon enslaving the galaxy, is armed with rocket ships, robots and death rays. Ming, whose name sounds Asian, resembles Fu Manchu. In the 1980 movie “Flash Gordon,” Max Von Sydow (of all people) captures the Asian-super-villain look perfectly: shaved head, angular jet-black eyebrows and goatee, slanting eyes that stare right through you.

Where the heck is Osama bin Laden and what exactly is al-Qaeda? And the biggest question of them all: With all our computers, and supersonic aircraft, and satellites and even a space station, plus our nukes and other assorted weapons of mass destruction… with all our sci-fi gadgets, why can’t America catch and kill this guy?

Perhaps he’s no longer human.

Sure, laugh at me if you must. But I say that in a world where Google can give me 25,700,000 hits on “Osama bin Laden” in .07 seconds (try it yourself); where airliners travel at 600 miles per hour, seven miles high, in air temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees below zero to deliver me from Philly to London in some six hours; and where a futuristic stealth bomber can deliver a nuclear device capable of killing millions in a millisecond and never even be detected by the victims’ radar… in a world like this, our worst recurring nightmares can become reality.

If you can’t buy that hypothesis, then try this one on for size: If Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda didn’t exist, someone would have invented them. This theory has plenty of precedents. In the hard-coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania in the 1870s, every murder and act of arson was blamed on the “Molly Maguires,” an alleged secret society of Irish terrorists. Throughout much of the 20th century organized crime was equated to the “Mafia.” Yet, as Italian writer Luigi Barzini once said, “Almost everything is known about the Mafia except whether or not it really exists.” During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Anarchists assassinated half a dozen western leaders including our own President McKinley. Yet Anarchism is an idea that eschews formal organization. We seem to need labels like these to make some sense of our violent world.

The plot foiled by the Brits last week is a 21st century case on point. The plan was to blow up airliners. The method was seriously sci-fi. Bombs were to be assembled from harmless-looking carry-on items ignited by digital cameras. The culprits are British citizens. None carried an al Qaeda membership card when captured.

In our sci-fi world, Osama bin Laden no longer needs to be alive at all. Digital technology can produce tapes of the legendary terrorist leader talking to his admirers. The messages can be beamed around the globe at the speed of light. Like Moriarty, Fu Manchu, and Ming the Merciless, an imaginary bin Laden can be as effective an enemy of the West as any flesh-and-blood human being… maybe more so. Perhaps he really still exists, but he no longer needs to.
--- See "Attorney at Large"

Four years later, I wonder if we are not witnessing the emergence of an equally insidious successor to bin Laden in either Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, a 28-year-old Saudi national, who is on Saudi Arabia’s most-wanted list --- the Washington Post alleges, “Asiri, 28, who is based in Yemen, is... believed to have built the underwear bomb that a Nigerian man trained in Yemen attempted to detonate last Christmas Day on a commercial aircraft approaching Detroit." --- or Anwar al-Awlaki, whom President Obama purportedly placed on a CIA hit list recently. Also believed to be hiding in Yemen, al-Awlaki is said to be an Internet-savvy jihadist using the tactic of Leaderless Resistance to inspire acts of terror... possibly including last year's Fort Hood massacre.

What's with the Sam Al-Arian Case?

A hearing on Al-Arian's motion to dismiss criminal contempt charges lodged against the former USF Professor had been pending for what seemed like forever. It was supposed to occur on October 29th in a federal courtroom in Northern Virginia. But one day prior, the District Judge issued an order that, depending upon your level of paranoia, is either exemplary or suspicious in its brevity:
The government has filed a Notice, which scheduled a hearing
on October 29, 2010, in which it advises that it will move the
Court to deny defendant's Motion to Dismiss and grant a pending
government Motion for Reconsideration. The Court finds that a
hearing on these issues is not necessary. The parties have fully
briefed their positions and the Court is working on an opinion
which addresses all relevant issues. Accordingly, it is hereby
ORDERED that the hearing scheduled for October 29, 2010 be
and is cancelled.
The Clerk is directed to forward copies of this Order to
counsel of record, United States Pretrial Services, and the
United States Marshals Service.
l:08crl31 (LMB)
Entered this JIB day of October, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Everybody wants to lower the national debt, but nobody wants to make any sacrifices

Thus, President Obama's commission on debt reduction seems doomed out of the gate. This from today's New York Times:
WASHINGTON — By putting deep spending cuts and substantial tax increases on the table, President Obama’s bipartisan debt-reduction commission has exposed fissures in both parties, underscoring the volatile nature and long odds of any attempt to address the nation’s long-term budget problems.
Among Democrats, liberals are in near revolt against the White House over the issue, even as substantive and political forces push Mr. Obama to attack chronic deficits in a serious way. At the same time, Republicans face intense pressure from their conservative base and the Tea Party movement to reject any deal that includes tax increases, leaving their leaders with little room to maneuver in any negotiation and at risk of being blamed by voters for not doing their part.

Have we become a nation of fat, self-centered whiners? Don't you just wonder?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A tribute to our veterans

On this veterans day, observed while two wars are being fought by US servicemen and women,here is what President Obama says in his proclamation:

On Veterans Day, we come together to pay tribute to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces. Americans across this land commemorate the patriots who have risked their lives to preserve the liberty of our Nation, the families who support them, and the heroes no longer with us. It is not our weapons or our technology that make us the most advanced military in the world; it is the unparalleled spirit, skill, and devotion of our troops. As we honor our veterans with ceremonies on this day, let our actions strengthen the bond between a Nation and her warriors.
In an unbroken line of valor stretching across more than two centuries, our veterans have charged into harm’s way, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the freedoms that have blessed America. Whether Active Duty, Reserve, or National Guard, they are our Nation’s finest citizens, and they have shown the heights to which Americans can rise when asked and inspired to do so. Our courageous troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the globe have earned their place alongside previous generations of great Americans, serving selflessly, tour after tour, in conflicts spanning nearly a decade.
Long after leaving the uniform behind, many veterans continue to serve our country as public servants and mentors, parents and community leaders. They have added proud chapters to the story of America, not only on the battlefield, but also in communities from coast to coast. They have built and shaped our Nation, and it is our solemn promise to support our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen as they return to their homes and families.
America’s sons and daughters have not watched over her shores or her citizens for public recognition, fanfare, or parades. They have preserved our way of life with unwavering patriotism and quiet courage, and ours is a debt of honor to care for them and their families. These obligations do not end after their time of service, and we must fulfill our sacred trust to care for our veterans after they retire their uniforms.
As a grateful Nation, we are humbled by the sacrifices rendered by our service members and their families out of the deepest sense of service and love of country. On Veterans Day, let us remember our solemn obligations to our veterans, and recommit to upholding the enduring principles that our country lives for, and that our fellow citizens have fought and died for.

I certainly agree.

We might also note that this is not a proclamation praising Blackwater or Haliburton or any of the other private contractors who have grown richer as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

America has always had its war profiteers. Washington and Lincoln had to deal with them. By contrast, Bush and Cheney seemed to embrace them. Indeed, we should recall on this Veterans Day, that Cheney, who never served in the military, was in the employ of Haliburton between his stints as Secretary of Defense under George I and Vice President under (over?) George II. The story is that he left Haliburton with tens of millions of dollars in his bulging pockets when he re-entered politics in 2000. What a surprise, then, that Haliburton won contracts worth billions in the "War on Terror."

So, while we join with President Obama in saluting our vets and our active-duty soldiers, sailors and airmen, let's take a moment to figuratively urinate on those who have lined their pockets during these wars --- a questionable, if not criminal, war in the case of Iraq --- while thousands of young Americans have been maimed and killed in the service of the nation.

Why we are turning into a nation of ignorant idiots

President Barack Obama is traveling across Asia, arguably making history. In India he proposed that that nation be admitted onto the UN security council. In Indonesia he worked to strengthen ties with that huge bastion of moderate Islam. Now he's in Korea for an economic summit and to try to advance US efforts to enter a free trade agreement with Seoul.

And what's the hot story we Americans are being spoon fed this morning: the handshake between an Indonesian government official and the president's wife. Here's an example from a New York Times sponsored blog:

"Immediately after a ceremony on Tuesday welcoming President Obama to Indonesia, the country’s conservative Muslim information minister took to Twitter to argue that America’s first lady, Michelle Obama, was entirely to blame for a televised handshake between the two that has left him open to charges of hypocrisy.
As The Associated Press reports, the vast majority of Indonesians practice a moderate form of Islam, but the minister, Tifatul Sembiring, 'has flaunted his piety, making a point of avoiding contact with women who are not related to him.'
"After footage broadcast on Indonesian television clearly showed Mr. Sembiring reaching out to clasp the first lady’s hand after they were introduced by Mr. Obama, a female journalist whose hand the minister has refused to shake poked fun at him on Twitter.
"Stung, Mr. Sembiring claimed on his Twitter feed that Mrs. Obama had made it impossible for him to avoid touching her hand, writing: 'I tried to prevent [being touched] with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me [so] we touched.'”

Not only is the big news this stupid pseudo-controversy over a handshake. But the major news source is Twitter?!

It ought to make thinking Americans weep. But, I fear, we are too busy worrying about whether or not Sara Palin's pudgy daughter will be voted off "Dancing with the Stars" to take time to be outraged about this latest distraction from what the real news is.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The never-ending courtroom saga of Abu-Jamal

In 1982 this guy was convicting of killing a cop. Nearly 30 years later, his case was back in court yesterday... specifically, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Over the years, this case has been up to the U.S. Supreme Court and in all levels of the Pennsylvania appellate court system. The question is not one of guilt. It is whether the jury properly gave him the death penalty as opposed to life in prison. As millions of dollars and countless hours of attorney and judicial time no doubt have been expended on the case, life in prison has pretty much turned out to be the de facto, if not the de jure, sentence for this cop killer.

Here's what the Philadelphia Inquirer says today about yesterday's courtroom event:

"Mumia Abu-Jamal's latest chance to get off death row now depends on whether three federal appellate judges believe they can win a legal argument with the U.S. Supreme Court.
"In January, the high court vacated a 2008 decision throwing out Abu-Jamal's death sentence and ordered a new hearing.
"Tuesday, in a crowded federal courtroom, that hearing was convened. For an hour, lawyers for Abu-Jamal and the Philadelphia district attorney were peppered with questions by the three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. A decision is not expected before 2011.
"Abu-Jamal, convicted in the 1981 slaying of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, remains in a state prison outside Pittsburgh and will likely stay behind bars for years because no matter what the judges decide, an appeal by one side or the other is a given."

Read more: http://www.philly.com/inquirer/local/pa/20101110_Another_hearing_in_Abu-Jamal_saga.html#ixzz14smFjZaW

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's the economy, stupid? Well, yes and no

Although last week's national elections were a referendum on the Obama Administration's handling of the economic crisis, the government should not lose sight of the continuing threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism. The failed attempt to ship exploding printer cartridges from Yemen is a case in point. Here's is an excerpt from a piece posted by the American Enterprise Institute yesterday:

"When the new Congress convenes in January, all eyes will be fixed on the economy. There is, however, another policy crisis: nine years have passed since September 11, 2001 and fourteen years since Osama bin Laden declared war against the U.S., yet the threat from the al Qaeda network continues to grow. Meanwhile, the U.S. response remains ad hoc, lacking an overarching strategy and a clear procedural approach to al Qaeda and its affiliated groups. Congress must help correct this deficit.
In the last week and a half, authorities disrupted a Yemen-based plot to place package bombs on planes destined for the U.S. In two other attacks upon the American homeland in the last year, terrorists linked to the al Qaeda-led network nearly killed hundreds of Americans in New York City in May and over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. A year ago, Nidal Malik Hasan, who al Qaeda propagandist Anwar Awlaki helped inspire and radicalize, opened fire at Fort Hood in Texas. Nor is al Qaeda's network idle abroad: seventy-four Ugandans died in an attack carried out by the al Qaeda-friendly al Shabaab in July. Since September, European security services have been on high alert following intelligence indicating that al Qaeda has been recruiting Westerners for a Mumbai-style attack on the continent.
"The al Qaeda network has improved its ability to strike the West by recruiting more Westerners, who are valuable for their ability to enter and move about Western countries without attracting attention. In recent months, dozens of American citizens and residents in Alabama, California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have been charged for attempting to provide aid to al Qaeda-linked groups like al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (located in Yemen), and the myriad of radical groups based in Pakistan. In just the last few weeks, charges have been brought against two individuals from northern Virginia: Zachary Adam Chesser, who had attempted to travel to fight in Somalia, and Farooque Ahmed, who plotted to blow up several Metro subway stations in Washington, DC. The al Qaeda network has also strengthened its territorial holds in areas such as the Horn of Africa, Yemen, West Africa, and even Pakistan, where al Qaeda-linked groups like Lashkar-e Taiba, the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Omar's Taliban forces operate with relative impunity.
"The al Qaeda-led network has shown itself flexible and resilient enough to retain the capacity to strike at prominent Western targets. We should not accept that danger--the case of Iraq shows terrorists can be defeated and attacks reduced--but rather contest the war more coherently under the umbrella of a comprehensive strategy.
"Rather than playing a largely passive role in the war against al Qaeda, as it often has in the past, Congress can actively ameliorate the President's conduct of the war. Those actions should focus on quickly correcting errors that have become apparent over the last year: the lack of a comprehensive strategy, the inability to preemptively recognize terror groups that strike at the U.S., the failure to take seriously some warnings about terrorists and terrorist groups, and the reduction in support for democratic activists in the Middle East."

Makes sense to me.