Barry Eisler

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Our Luminaries in Congress

The rumor is, outgoing CIA Director Porter Goss's replacement will be Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, currently deputy to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.

Representative Pete Hoekstra, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, offered the following insights on Fox News Sunday: "Bottom line: I do believe he's the wrong person, the wrong place at the wrong time."

There might have been some actual thinking behind Hoekstra's "bottom line" commentary. If so, he concealed it well. If Hayden is the wrong person for the job, why not just focus on that? The CIA isn't wrong. The time isn't wrong. It's the person we're talking about... or should be.

Hoekstra added, "I don't think anything I've said is new to the White House."

No, I don't think so either.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic House leader, argued that we shouldn't have a military man leading the civilian CIA.

"There's a power struggle going on between the Department of Defense and the entire rest of the intelligence community," she said, "so I don't see how you have a four-star general heading up the CIA."

I don't know. Sounds like a four-star general in the position might be a way to end that power struggle right quick. Does Pelosi want the power struggle to continue?

Republican senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said he believed that even if General Hayden resigned his military commission, serious conflicts would remain.

"I think the fact that he is part of the military today would be the major problem," Chambliss said on ABC-TV. "Now, just resigning commission and moving on, putting on a striped suit, a pinstriped suit versus an air force uniform, I don't think makes much difference."

Why wouldn't resigning his commission, ending his right to issue orders to those below and obligation to obey orders from those above, and removing himself from the dictates of military law, make a difference? What is Chambliss arguing? That Hayden has too many friends in the Air Force? That military service should be a permanent ban on certain government positions?

I know polls show that 22% of Americans approve of Congress's performance. If you're among that 22%, could you tell me what I'm missing?
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12 Comments:

Blogger JD Rhoades said...

Hoekstra may have been responding to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, who had called Hayden (in equally clche fashion) "the right man ant the right time." But then, they always say that.

To me, the reassons for doubting Hayden go deeper than his being a military officer. That really doesn't bug me all that much.

But Hayden was the guy who ran the NSA domestic eavesdropping program, which even some Republicans believe is operating outside of and in violation of the law. I have a problem with appointing the guy who ran an illegal operation to anything, much less CIA Director.

Understand, I've got no problem with wiretapping actual terrorists, but there's a legal procedure in place, set out by law, to balance out the President's unlimited power to do that, and this White House has basically said, "screw that, we can do anything we want becuase of the Use of Force Authorization. It's within the law because the President does it, so there.".

Monday, May 08, 2006 5:18:00 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Yeah, I can't figure out why Bush would appoint the guy who ran the eavesdropping program. Democrats in the senate will use the confirmation to demonize the program (even Republican Arlan Specter said he'd be looking into it further if Hayden were the nominee, which he now officially is). I think polls show that most Americans support the program, so maybe Bush is gambling that Democrats will make themselves look weak on national security by railing about eavesdropping on terrorists?

Regarding the apparently widespread support, it's interesting that the White House and rightwing commentators have successfully wrongfooted their opponents by framing the issue as, "You've got a problem with our wiretapping AQ?" To me, this is like throwing a hundred random people in jail to snare one murderer, then challenging, "You've got a problem with our jailing murderers?"

The substantive issue is, how much random surveillance can you do to pick up the trail of terrorists. Different people will have different comfort levels on this one. And the legal question is, did the program violate the law. Apparently there are different comfort levels in response to that question, too.

Monday, May 08, 2006 7:59:00 AM  
Anonymous jh from toledo said...

JD, glad you stuck around.

Barry, its gotten to the point that I'm afraid to check some books out of the library in fear I'll end up on some list. I've also warned my kids about using certain "hot words" when on the internet.

Monday, May 08, 2006 9:15:00 AM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

Yeah, I can't figure out why Bush would appoint the guy who ran the eavesdropping program.

Because, as you point out, they want a fight over it. They think it's a "slam dunk", becuase they think it'll make the Democrats look
"squishy" on terror. You've got their framing of the question perfectly: "the Democrats don't want us spying on terrorists." It remains to be seen if the Democrats will ask the logical followup question that the media seems to cowed to ask: terrorists as defined by who? The President, with no checks and balances whatsoever, and limited by no law except himself? And if the answer is "yes," the next question should be: would you give that power to a Democratic President? Clinton? Gore? Dean?

Democrats in the senate will use the confirmation to demonize the program (even Republican Arlan Specter said he'd be looking into it further if Hayden were the nominee, which he now officially is). I think polls show that most Americans support the program, so maybe Bush is gambling that Democrats will make themselves look weak on national security by railing about eavesdropping on terrorists?

So long as they're allowed to spin it as a partisan issue ('The Democrat Party hates bush more than terrorists') they'll probably win. Their early success in this is demonstrated by the fact that even you, Barry, instinctively go first to "the Democrats will use this", even though there is, as you go on to say, Republican opposition as well.
And as for the "polls": the polls I've seen are very skewed in their questioning. They mention only "eavesdropping on terrorist suspects," and hey, who can argue with that? But I haven't seen one yet that asks "who should decide who's a terrorist suspect: the FISA court, the Congress, or the President"?

Monday, May 08, 2006 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Pelosi and would prefer a civilian run the CIA rather than a top military guy. I don't look at it as "power struggle" but more like "balance of power." Without some balance and dissenting voices, extremists will go to extremes.

Glad we had balance when the military Joint Chiefs came up with Operation Northwoods, for example.
http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92662

Monday, May 08, 2006 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger JA Konrath said...

Barry, its gotten to the point that I'm afraid to check some books out of the library in fear I'll end up on some list. I've also warned my kids about using certain "hot words" when on the internet.

Why? Do you honestly belive that if you use the words "assasinate" and "Bush" on your cell phone that you'll be whisked away to a black site and interrogated without due process?

Do you think the government is so all-powerful that checking out a copy of 'Anarchist's Cookbook' or 'Poor Man's James Bond' at the library will lead you to being executed as a traitor?

So they might be watching you. So what?

If I buy a handgun, or 5000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, or belong to an organization that preaches hate, or travel to the Middle East a lot, maybe the government should be watching me.

There are a lot of people who want to do harm to this country. If you aren't one of them, why worry?

It might be a slippery slope. It might be the beginning of Orwellian 1984.

But, knowing people, I really doubt that anyone (CIA, NSA, FBI, GOP, PTA) wants so badly to make arrests that a recorded cell phone conversation with the flagged words "Al Queda" and "payload" leads to your arrest and incarceration for copying Star Wars DVDs or possession of a nickel bag of Mexican Brown.

Here's the deal: the ones who are most paranoid about being arrested are the ones who usually have the most to hide, and they take appropriate steps to conceal their tracks.

The government really doesn't care about your dirty little secrets, as long as they don't involve blowing anything up. And even then, they probably won't catch on.

Monday, May 08, 2006 12:21:00 PM  
Anonymous jh from toledo said...

It remains to be seen if the Democrats will ask the logical followup question that the media seems to cowed to ask: terrorists as defined by who? The President, with no checks and balances whatsoever, and limited by no law except himself? And if the answer is "yes," the next question should be: would you give that power to a Democratic President? Clinton? Gore? Dean?

Didn't we make that mistake once when Clinton was offered Osama's head on a platter by Sudan? Obviously we don't want to use his definition.

Monday, May 08, 2006 2:01:00 PM  
Anonymous jh from toledo said...

Why? Do you honestly belive that if you use the words "assasinate" and "Bush" on your cell phone that you'll be whisked away to a black site and interrogated without due process?

What usually follows this sort of thing is the zero tolerance. Surely you’ve heard of the first grader that was thrown out of school for pointing his finger at someone and saying bang. Yes, if you told me that story ten years ago, I would have laugh. Not now.

No, it shouldn’t worry you, but you should be worried.

Monday, May 08, 2006 2:04:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

Why? Do you honestly belive that if you use the words "assasinate" and "Bush" on your cell phone that you'll be whisked away to a black site and interrogated without due process?

Considering what's happened to people like Khaled al-Masri, who didn't even go that far, yes.

Even without that...well, Joe, I guess I'm one of those ornery sonsabitches who gets a little cheesed off at the thought that the Yankee guvmint might be listening into my phone calls, even if all I'm talking about at the moment is whose turn it is to drive in the carpool.

I'm funny like that.

Monday, May 08, 2006 7:55:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Excellent article on the Hayden nomination:

http://www.slate.com/id/2141283/nav/tap1/

Tuesday, May 09, 2006 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous james@4h.com said...

(Barry feel free to delete my previous comment because this one is the same one edited for clarity. I promise to use the preview button next time.)


Patrick Kennedy is a politician: a person who craved power probably in addition to other things more benevolent, learned how to get it, holds it instinctively, and is surely being coached on how best to keep it. When VIPs screw up badly enough, they typically do this kind of song and dance if they wish to continue doing what they're doing. A handful of people end up supporting them, while a few decide to outright praise them. Many more complain. But few of these unhappy individuals have the ears of the right people. Even the tiny displeased group on top of the food chain like everyone else have their priorities and sometimes plain laziness. Most Americans when such incidents occur barely react.

They don't really have to. Feeling uncomfortable in this country is almost always no big deal compared to what it means elsewhere in the world. A celebrity screws up, issues an apology, and we let her move on because it doesn't affect us directly enough--and also, typically, because we either admire her or don't have an opinion. Our senses fool us into believing the same holds true for our elected officials, who likewise are well-known strangers. But even when we remain cognizant that politicians are shaping the boundaries of our lives, what are we actually going to do about it when one of them displays a serious character issue?

We most likely don't know, don't feel like it, figure someone else will, or can't. If no one does something about it, did you judge too harshly? By the way, the converse of this habit of assuming the other guy is going to handle the ball is also the reason occasionally innocent men end up on death row. At best, we whine in unison. The many safeguards in our government--the checks and balances, the democratic republic, the bureacracy itself--do a decent job of keeping any one person or group from having too much of an impact on this nation. But, in the rare case someone does get hold of a bit too much power, this same Internet-like structure makes it extremely difficult to loosen that perpetrator's grip. Kennedy, Bush, and huge tech co.'s skate nearly wherever they want. Sure, we can say things, but DO what?

Saturday, May 13, 2006 10:09:00 PM  
Anonymous james@4h.com said...

dammit, commented on wrong post! please delete this & above. sorry.

Saturday, May 13, 2006 10:12:00 PM  

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