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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dirty Secrets? Say It Isn't So, Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,
More bad news for you on page 1 of today’s NYT: “N.S.A. Spied on Allies, Aid Groups and Businesses” and “Yemeni Deaths Test Claims of New Drone Policy.” The first article, based on the latest Snowden leaks, reveals more widespread spying than previously known, more than a thousand targets in this document, including such threats as Doctors Without Borders, the French oil company Total, Israeli PM Olmert, and a host of other government leaders, humanitarian organizations and businesses. The second article goes back to your May 23 speech promising more transparency and tighter control of drone strikes—another empty promise—and contrasts it to the Dec. 12 atrocity in Yemen: droning a convoy of vehicles in what the U.S. claims was a convoy of Al Qaeda militants including Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, accused of being a leader in the bomb plot that shut down 19 embassies in August. The convoy turned out to be a wedding party en route from the groom’s village to the bride’s but as usual, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Pentagon maintains they were all Al Qaeda militants and not civilians. The link between the two stories is in last week’s New Yorker article, “State of Deception,” which quotes a dissertation by a former CIA analyst, Bridget Rose Nolan, describing the process from NSA surveillance to National Counterterrorism Center analysis to your Kill List to the drone operators launching Hellfire missiles at targets 7,000 miles away. According to Ms. Nolan’s dissertation, a CIA colleague described the process as “You track ‘em, we whack ‘em.” But what if that intelligence is wrong? What if the analysts and drone operators, with no knowledge of Yemeni culture or tradition, can’t distinguish a wedding party from a group of militants? What if they don’t know that an Al Qaeda convoy would never include 11 vehicles? And then back to the first story and examples of the useless information the NSA collects in ‘Alexander’s haystack’ that provides no value, averts no plots and stops no attacks. Even your loyal NYT has given up on you in today’s scathing editorial, saying you continue to defend the secrecy surrounding all this, continue to believe that the problem is nothing more than a matter of PR and “any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate.” I can’t help but wonder if the NSA’s holding some dirt on you, Mr. President. Why else would you defend a rogue agency that undermines democracy?

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