Sunday, December 28, 2008

End of the year national security wrap-up

By Carol Gee

A mixture of celebration and irony -- Sunday posts from me at this blog sometimes focus on celebrating the Constitution and the rule of law in the United States of America. And sometimes we have reason to decry the manner in which the rule of law has been ignored by those in power over us. "Restore the Constitution!" has been a rallying cry for far too many of these recent years of living under a lawless president. Civil liberties remain at risk, Guantanamo remains a shameful place to detain our enemies (and some who are not)**, national security remains insecurely practiced, and our Intelligence community remains fragmented and far too militarized.

As the New Year - 2009 - approaches, there are a number of realities to celebrate. A civil liberties advocate, Tom Head at, reports that President-elect Obama's initial cabinet picks are solid civil libertarians, for the most part. Also, the ACLU's Anthony Romero's Dec. 18 newsletter reported that:

You and the ACLU just dealt another blow to the Patriot Act. This week, a federal appeals court upheld our earlier victory, ruling that the dangerous National Security Letter provision of the Act is unconstitutional.

Irony characterizes many other recent "Sunday" items. For example, an important Vanity Fair feature by David Rose on Dec. 16, is titled "Tortured Reasoning." Rose reveals that "Intelligence experts who analyzed Al-Qaeda detainee's statements about 'links' with Saddam Hussein were never told that he had been tortured." And in another example, like Glen Greenwald at, we lament the manner in which breaches of the law are reported by the mainstream media. And I also found it ironic that the Director of National Intelligence felt it necessary to reveal that a Russian journalist was profiled from "open source" material, intelligence sources to which any of us has access, according to Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News. The story about what will happen to reams of private information required from Obama administration job applicants is also an ironic unintended consequence of our new Constitutional law professor President's transition process. Politico's Eamon Javers asks about "Facebook pages in National Archives?" To quote what an applicant might wonder after hitting the send button:

And then you think: Just who’s going to be reading this? And when similar information from all of the Obama applicants has been gathered, creating one of the largest treasure troves of personal secrets of powerful people in the world, exactly who will own that database?

Don’t ask the Obama team, it’s not saying.

A spokesman for the presidential transition declined to reveal the number of people who’ll have access to the disclosure information, where it will be kept and what will be done with it at the end of the transition. “I can’t comment at all on that,” said Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin.

Civil libertarians remain disturbed or cautiously optimistic about what the next administration's national security initiatives will bring. For whatever reason, it seems significant that President-elect Obama has yet to name his new head of the Central Intelligence Agency or his Director of National Intelligence. There could be many reasons for this dalliance, but one that occurs to me is that our president-to-be wants to get several weeks of daily national intelligence briefings under his belt in order to really "get the lay of the land of spooks, spying and secrecy." Many of us would be very dismayed if there were any appointments of Bush administration operatives, most of whom have dirty hands, in my humble opinion. We shall see; 22 more days of that motley crew!

**Reference from CQ Behind the Lines (sign up for this excellent free newsletter here), by David C. Morrison, on 11/26/08:

Courts and rights: Solving a potential early dilemma for Obama, the U.S. military has repatriated Osama bin Laden’s ex-driver from Guantanamo Bay to Yemen to serve out his brief remaining sentence, The Miami Herald mentions — even as The Toronto Globe and Mail has an Egyptian “who was once bin Laden’s farmer” seeking reincarceration in a Canadian prison because he can no longer handle the 24-hour surveillance. Slate rehearses Obama’s Yemeni detainee problem — while AP has an appeals bench expressing skepticism about a judge’s order releasing 17 Uighur detainees into the United States A federal judge ruled Monday that ethnicity could not serve as justification for the four-hour detention of two Egyptian-born men questioned after a 2004 cross-country flight, The New York Law Journal relates. An appeals court, meanwhile, finds that surveillance of U.S. citizens can be lawfully conducted in foreign countries, The New York Times tells — and Reuters sees another appeals bench upholding the convictions of three sentenced to life in prison for the 1998 U.S. African embassy bombings.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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