Notice the body language of Obama facing away from Netanyahu and Netanyahu almost falling out of his chair trying to get closer. Look at Netanyahu’s face. Obama still parroted the usual line about unshakable ties. Netanyahu plied the plea about what the US owes Israel:
Compare Obama’s relaxed look and his body language while meeting Prime Minister Singh of India. Obama keeps his hands as far away from Netanyahu as possible and does the opposite with PM Singh. At the end of the joint meeting Obama is stiff and stern with Netanyahu. Compare that with the last ten seconds with Singh:
“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."
Monday, September 30, 2013
Danger to economy worries experts weighing potential government shutdown, default
By Zachary A. Goldfarb, Published: September 29
A prolonged government shutdown — followed by a potential default on the federal debt — would have economic ripple effects far beyond Washington, upending financial markets, sending the unemployment rate higher and slowing already tepid growth, according to a wide range of economists.
A shutdown of a few days might do little damage, but economists, lawmakers and analysts are increasingly bracing for a shutdown that could last a week or more, given the distance between Republicans and Democrats. Such an outcome would suck money out of the economy and spread anxiety among consumers and businesses in a way that is likely to hold back economic activity.
And a default on the federal debt, which may occur within 30 days without congressional action, would be much worse, economists say. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would require the government, a major driver of growth, to cut spending by about a third, potentially forcing delays in Social Security checks, military pay and payments to doctors.
There are other risks, too. On Oct. 17, the Treasury is scheduled to ask investors for $120 billion in loans. But if investors grow nervous about whether the United States will be able to pay them back, they are likely to demand higher interest rates, which would cause rates to spike throughout the financial system, leading to more expensive mortgages, auto loans and credit card bills.
Doubt could grow about the safety of parking money in U.S. bonds, the linchpin of the global financial system.
“It’s corrosive on the economy,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. A lengthy shutdown followed by a default would be “the nightmare of the recession all over again.”
Even if lawmakers find a way out of a shutdown or a default, this fall’s brinkmanship — the fourth such crisis in two years — is likely to have negative effects on the economy. With so much uncertainty in Washington, economists say that businesses, flush with cash, have been reluctant to invest and hire.
“The simple story is it creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty,” said Ethan Harris, a top economist with Bank of America. “One of the unfortunate side effects of the brinksmanship is a message to business leaders to delay long-term commitments and wait to see whether something really bad happens.”
There are already signs of intensifying anxiety in the financial markets, which had largely brushed off the fiscal clash previously.
The stock market, as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, was down four of five days last week, and the dollar also fell. More relevant, the cost of a type of insurance that investors use to protect themselves against default in U.S. government bonds has rocketed higher in recent days, suggesting the chances of default are increasing.
Business interest groups, usually aligned with the Republicans, have urged the GOP to abandon their demand for policy concessions, such as delaying President Obama’s signature health-care law, in exchange for funding the government and raising the debt limit.
“It is not in the best interest of the employers, employees or the American people to risk a government shutdown that will be economically disruptive and create even more uncertainties for the U.S. economy,” the nation’s leading corporate lobbying groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wrote Friday in a letter to Congress.
Much of the government will close Tuesday without action by Congress. If the shutdown lasts more than a few days, it would affect the economy in numerous ways, most clearly by cutting spending on contracts and salaries.
But there are likely to be a wide range of indirect effects as well, because government operations provide the launching point for key activities driving economic growth, according to independent economists.
For example, the closure of national parks and museums may hurt hotels, restaurants and the people who work for them. The process of getting approval for a home loan could take much more time, slowing a housing recovery that is one of the few bright spots in the economy.
Headlines about dysfunction in Washington could also sow consumer and business fears even in parts of the economy not directly affected by a shutdown, leading individuals and businesses to cut back on spending and investment.
Economists estimate that the cumulative effect of a prolonged shutdown could trim economic growth in the final three months of the year by up to 1.4 percentage points. Under that scenario, the economy would hardly expand at all — at a time that is usually one of the most important economic periods of the year.
“That would mean a hit to employment and income as we approach the critical holiday season,” economist Diane Swonk of Mesirow Financial wrote in a recent analysis.
But for all the worry about a shutdown, economists are far more concerned about a potential default on the federal debt. The Treasury Department has warned that it will have only about $30 billion in cash on hand by the middle of next month, and estimates are that it will run out of money by the end of the month.
If it is low on cash, the government is likely to hold back on payments until enough money comes in by way of tax revenue, according to a Treasury Department inspector general’s report.
Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits and active-duty military pay could be delayed two weeks, according to estimates. Such delays would not only disrupt lives but also cause an economic contraction because that money often flows directly into the economy through grocery shopping, car sales and staple purchases.
Until recent weeks, many economists and investors have seen the prospect of a debt default as unthinkable because so many people around the world rely on the safety of U.S. Treasury bonds. But people close to the process now say it is all too possible.
“This Congress is dysfunctional, and I can no longer predict what it’s going to do,” said Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.). “I can’t tell you for sure we’ll avoid a debt default. That’s mind-blowing.”
Steve Bell, a former senior Republican budget staffer and a top analyst with the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the issues surrounding the congressional battles this fall leave little room for error.
“What is different this time . . . is going to be the direct conflation of the debt ceiling and continuing resolution for appropriations,” he said. “That’s when the stakes are highest.”
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Women's rights supporters condemn Saudi Arabia as activists ordered to jail
Supporters condemn length of sentences as bid by authorities to silence criticism
The Observer, Saturday 28 September 2013
Two prominent female rights activists who went to the aid of a woman they believed to be in distress are expected to go to jail in Saudi Arabia on Sunday after the failure of their appeal against a 10-month prison sentence and a two-year travel ban.
Wajeha al-Huwaider, a writer who has repeatedly defied Saudi laws by driving a car, and Fawzia al-Oyouni were arrested for taking a food parcel to the house of someone they thought was in an abusive relationship. In June they were found guilty on a sharia law charge of takhbib – incitement of a wife to defy the authority of her husband, thus undermining the marriage.
Campaigners say they are "heroes" who have been given heavy sentences to punish them for speaking out against Saudi restrictions on women's rights, which include limited access to education and child marriage as well as not being able to drive or even travel in a car without a male relative being present.
In 2007 a Saudi appeal court doubled a sentence of 90 lashes to be given to a teenager because she had been in a car with a male friend when they were abducted and gang-raped by seven men.
Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an activist for the group Equality Now , said the authorities had been trying to silence the two women for years and their sentence "is unfortunate and scandalous". It marked a dangerous escalation of how far Saudi authorities were willing to go.
"These women are extremely brave and active in fighting for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, and this is a way for the Saudi authorities to silence them," she said. "If they are sent to jail, it sends a very clear message to defenders of human rights that they should be silent and stop their activities – not just in Saudi Arabia, but across Arab countries. These women are innocent – they should be praised for trying to help a woman in need, not imprisoned. They now find themselves at the mercy of the system they have fought so tirelessly to change."
According to reports, this is also the first time in Saudi legal history that a travel ban has been imposed in a case involving domestic issues.
"This case and the system of lifelong male guardianship of women in Saudi Arabia shows that protecting a husband's dominant, even abusive, position in the family is far more important than his wife's wellbeing," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh.
The women themselves believe they may have been set up, that they were contacted by text message by a woman claiming to be the mother of Natalie Morin, a Canadian national married to a Saudi who has herself been campaigning for several years to be allowed to leave the country with her three young children – something she says the authorities will not allow her to do.
The text, in June 2011, said she had been abused by her husband, an unemployed former Saudi intelligence officer, who had then left for a wedding and left her and her children locked in their apartment in the eastern city of Dammam for a week and that they were running out of food and water. When the two women arrived in Morin's street they were immediately arrested.
"Actually when we went to there, the minute we arrived a police car arrived," said Wajeha al-Huwaider. "I'm sure the judge knows that it was a trap and they meant to catch us at that time in order to make a case against us."
At first they were charged with trying to aid Morin escape to the Canadian embassy in Riyadh, but the intervention of a local member of the Saudi royal family led to those charges being dropped, because, said Huwaider, even he was embarrassed at the obvious nature of the set-up.
Morin was also arrested and held for several hours. It was not until a year later that the two women were told they were to face the new charge of takhbib, a law that effectively puts all aid workers and activists helping Saudi women in need of protection from domestic violence, at risk.
Morin was not permitted to testify at their trial earlier this year that she had never met Huwaider and Oyouni. She has declared support for them on her blog writing: "I am sorry for what's happening to madam Wajeha al-Huwaider and her friend." She said the "two Saudi women find themselves in a serious legal problem with jail just for trying to help me … there is no evidence for the charges that are against her and her friend."
Huwaider and Oyouni's conviction has been condemned by numerous human rights organisations, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Equality Now and Pen International.
“All of N.S.A.’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose,” the spokeswoman added. “Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation and cybersecurity.”
September 28, 2013
N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens
By JAMES RISEN and LAURA POITRAS
WASHINGTON — Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.
The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.
N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and e-mails in a “contact chain” tied directly or indirectly to a person or organization overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest.
The new disclosures add to the growing body of knowledge in recent months about the N.S.A.’s access to and use of private information concerning Americans, prompting lawmakers in Washington to call for reining in the agency and President Obama to order an examination of its surveillance policies. Almost everything about the agency’s operations is hidden, and the decision to revise the limits concerning Americans was made in secret, without review by the nation’s intelligence court or any public debate. As far back as 2006, a Justice Department memo warned of the potential for the “misuse” of such information without adequate safeguards.
An agency spokeswoman, asked about the analyses of Americans’ data, said, “All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period.”
“All of N.S.A.’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose,” the spokeswoman added. “Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation and cybersecurity.”
The legal underpinning of the policy change, she said, was a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that Americans could have no expectation of privacy about what numbers they had called. Based on that ruling, the Justice Department and the Pentagon decided that it was permissible to create contact chains using Americans’ “metadata,” which includes the timing, location and other details of calls and e-mails, but not their content. The agency is not required to seek warrants for the analyses from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
N.S.A. officials declined to identify which phone and e-mail databases are used to create the social network diagrams, and the documents provided by Mr. Snowden do not specify them. The agency did say that the large database of Americans’ domestic phone call records, which was revealed by Mr. Snowden in June and caused bipartisan alarm in Washington, was excluded. (N.S.A. officials have previously acknowledged that the agency has done limited analysis in that database, collected under provisions of the Patriot Act, exclusively for people who might be linked to terrorism suspects.)
But the agency has multiple collection programs and databases, the former officials said, adding that the social networking analyses relied on both domestic and international metadata. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the information was classified.
The concerns in the United States since Mr. Snowden’s revelations have largely focused on the scope of the agency’s collection of the private data of Americans and the potential for abuse. But the new documents provide a rare window into what the N.S.A. actually does with the information it gathers.
A series of agency PowerPoint presentations and memos describe how the N.S.A. has been able to develop software and other tools — one document cited a new generation of programs that “revolutionize” data collection and analysis — to unlock as many secrets about individuals as possible.
The spy agency, led by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, an unabashed advocate for more weapons in the hunt for information about the nation’s adversaries, clearly views its collections of metadata as one of its most powerful resources. N.S.A. analysts can exploit that information to develop a portrait of an individual, one that is perhaps more complete and predictive of behavior than could be obtained by listening to phone conversations or reading e-mails, experts say.
Phone and e-mail logs, for example, allow analysts to identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.
“Metadata can be very revealing,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “Knowing things like the number someone just dialed or the location of the person’s cellphone is going to allow them to assemble a picture of what someone is up to. It’s the digital equivalent of tailing a suspect.”
The N.S.A. had been pushing for more than a decade to obtain the rule change allowing the analysis of Americans’ phone and e-mail data. Intelligence officials had been frustrated that they had to stop when a contact chain hit a telephone number or e-mail address believed to be used by an American, even though it might yield valuable intelligence primarily concerning a foreigner who was overseas, according to documents previously disclosed by Mr. Snowden. N.S.A. officials also wanted to employ the agency’s advanced computer analysis tools to sift through its huge databases with much greater efficiency.
The agency had asked for the new power as early as 1999, the documents show, but had been initially rebuffed because it was not permitted under rules of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that were intended to protect the privacy of Americans.
A 2009 draft of an N.S.A. inspector general’s report suggests that contact chaining and analysis may have been done on Americans’ communications data under the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, which began after the Sept. 11 attacks to detect terrorist activities and skirted the existing laws governing electronic surveillance.
In 2006, months after the wiretapping program was disclosed by The New York Times, the N.S.A.’s acting general counsel wrote a letter to a senior Justice Department official, which was also leaked by Mr. Snowden, formally asking for permission to perform the analysis on American phone and e-mail data. A Justice Department memo to the attorney general noted that the “misuse” of such information “could raise serious concerns,” and said the N.S.A. promised to impose safeguards, including regular audits, on the metadata program. In 2008, the Bush administration gave its approval.
A new policy that year, detailed in “Defense Supplemental Procedures Governing Communications Metadata Analysis,” authorized by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, said that since the Supreme Court had ruled that metadata was not constitutionally protected, N.S.A. analysts could use such information “without regard to the nationality or location of the communicants,” according to an internal N.S.A. description of the policy.
After that decision, which was previously reported by The Guardian, the N.S.A. performed the social network graphing in a pilot project for 1 ½ years “to great benefit,” according to the 2011 memo. It was put in place in November 2010 in “Sigint Management Directive 424” (sigint refers to signals intelligence).
In the 2011 memo explaining the shift, N.S.A. analysts were told that they could trace the contacts of Americans as long as they cited a foreign intelligence justification. That could include anything from ties to terrorism, weapons proliferation or international drug smuggling to spying on conversations of foreign politicians, business figures or activists.
Analysts were warned to follow existing “minimization rules,” which prohibit the N.S.A. from sharing with other agencies names and other details of Americans whose communications are collected, unless they are necessary to understand foreign intelligence reports or there is evidence of a crime. The agency is required to obtain a warrant from the intelligence court to target a “U.S. person” — a citizen or legal resident — for actual eavesdropping.
The N.S.A. documents show that one of the main tools used for chaining phone numbers and e-mail addresses has the code name Mainway. It is a repository into which vast amounts of data flow daily from the agency’s fiber-optic cables, corporate partners and foreign computer networks that have been hacked.
The documents show that significant amounts of information from the United States go into Mainway. An internal N.S.A. bulletin, for example, noted that in 2011 Mainway was taking in 700 million phone records per day. In August 2011, it began receiving an additional 1.1 billion cellphone records daily from an unnamed American service provider under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which allows for the collection of the data of Americans if at least one end of the communication is believed to be foreign.
The overall volume of metadata collected by the N.S.A. is reflected in the agency’s secret 2013 budget request to Congress. The budget document, disclosed by Mr. Snowden, shows that the agency is pouring money and manpower into creating a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion “record events” daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.
The spending includes support for the “Enterprise Knowledge System,” which has a $394 million multiyear budget and is designed to “rapidly discover and correlate complex relationships and patterns across diverse data sources on a massive scale,” according to a 2008 document. The data is automatically computed to speed queries and discover new targets for surveillance.
A top-secret document titled “Better Person Centric Analysis” describes how the agency looks for 94 “entity types,” including phone numbers, e-mail addresses and IP addresses. In addition, the N.S.A. correlates 164 “relationship types” to build social networks and what the agency calls “community of interest” profiles, using queries like “travelsWith, hasFather, sentForumMessage, employs.”
A 2009 PowerPoint presentation provided more examples of data sources available in the “enrichment” process, including location-based services like GPS and TomTom, online social networks, billing records and bank codes for transactions in the United States and overseas.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, General Alexander was asked if the agency ever collected or planned to collect bulk records about Americans’ locations based on cellphone tower data. He replied that it was not doing so as part of the call log program authorized by the Patriot Act, but said a fuller response would be classified.
If the N.S.A. does not immediately use the phone and e-mail logging data of an American, it can be stored for later use, at least under certain circumstances, according to several documents.
One 2011 memo, for example, said that after a court ruling narrowed the scope of the agency’s collection, the data in question was “being buffered for possible ingest” later. A year earlier, an internal briefing paper from the N.S.A. Office of Legal Counsel showed that the agency was allowed to collect and retain raw traffic, which includes both metadata and content, about “U.S. persons” for up to five years online and for an additional 10 years offline for “historical searches.”James Risen reported from Washington and New York. Laura Poitras, a freelance journalist, reported from Berlin.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Hassan Rouhani greeted with cheers and protests on return to Iran
Iranian president gets mixed reception on return home following UN trip and historic phonecall with US president
Hassan Rouhani returned to Tehran from New York on Saturday after his historic phonecall with Barack Obama to a mixture of cheers from supporters and protests from hardliners who threw eggs and shoes at his car.
The reception greeting the Iranian president at Tehran airport reflected the precarious tightrope he will have to walk to do a deal with the west. Ultra-conservative protesters chanted: "Death to America" and hurled invective and missiles at Rouhani's car. But his supporters outnumbered his opponents – estimated about 50-strong – and more importantly, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sent his closest foreign policy adviser to greet Rouhani.
The presence of Ali Akbar Velayati gave weight to Rouhani's insistence that he had the highest authority to pursue his diplomatic initiative at the UN general assembly, which culminated in a groundbreaking 15-minute phone conversation with Obama on Friday, conducted on a mobile phone while Rouhani was on the way to John F Kennedy airport.
Iranian state television did not broadcast the hardliner protests at the airport, and the state news agency, Irna, instead played up the fact that the US had presented Rouhani with a 2,700 year-old Persian silver drinking vessel, shaped like a gryphon. It had been seized from an art dealer who had smuggled it out of Iran in 2003 and the state department had been waiting for a thaw in relations in order to return it.
The majority of the official and semi-official Iranian press reports on Rouhani's trip have been supportive or neutral. Even Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards' external operations wing, the Quds Force, a powerful figure in the security apparatus, had positive things to say about the visit. Suleimani acknowledged the respect the world had shown to Rouhani, attributing it to the "resistance and endurance" of the nation.
However, the delicate nature of Rouhani's position was also evident in the careful managing of the coverage of the New York trip. Rouhani contradicted the White House account of his phone call with Obama stressing that the conversation had been an American idea.
"Yesterday, at the moment we were preparing for moving towards the airport, the White House contacted us and expressed the willingness of the US president to have a phone conversation for some minutes," Rouhani told reporters at Tehran's Mehrabad airport according to the Fars News Agency.
A number of tweets put out just after Friday's phonecall by Rouhani's official English-language Twitter account, reflecting the friendly and bantering tone of the conversation, were deleted a few hours later and replaced with a more formal, less detailed version.
Iranian officials have also sought to deny that Rouhani described the Holocaust as reprehensible in a CNN interview, even though the translation was provided by an official Iranian interpreter. A senior member of parliament has even called for the news channel to be sued over the issue.
At a press conference before leaving New York, Rouhani had said the visit had exceeded his expectations, but his team is well aware of the resistance in Tehran that will have to be overcome in order to make the necessary compromises over the nuclear programme on secure an enduring settlement with the west.
A senior official in the Iranian delegation pointed out that hopes of detente with the west had been dashed before during the term of the last moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, as a result of ideological resistance in Tehran and the failure of the Bush administration to response positively to Iranian overtures in 2003.
"We have followed this path before and we know it does not necessarily end well," the official told the Guardian. When it was suggested that there was more chance of a breakthrough now there were presidents in both Washington and Tehran who favoured diplomacy, the official replied: "You need more than for the stars to be in alignment. You need luck too."
The pathetic, lying, cowardly propagandists in the disgraced US media, the comfort girls who service Barack Obama
Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic' American media
Pulitzer Prize winner explains how to fix journalism, saying press should 'fire 90% of editors and promote ones you can't control'
Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.
It doesn't take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as "the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist".
He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.
Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends "so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would" – or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.
Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an "independent" Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. "The Pakistanis put out a report, don't get me going on it. Let's put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It's a bullshit report," he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.
The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.
"It's pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama]," he declares in an interview with the Guardian.
"It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn't happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.
He isn't even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.
Snowden changed the debate on surveillance
He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden "changed the whole nature of the debate" about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government's policy.
"Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we've all written the notion there's constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it's real now," Hersh says.
"Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn't touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game," he adds, before qualifying his remarks.
"But I don't know if it's going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters 'al-Qaida, al-Qaida' and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic," he says.
Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London's summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.
Hope of redemption
Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption.
"I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it's not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity."
His story of how he uncovered the My Lai atrocity is one of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism and doggedness. Back in 1969, he got a tip about a 26-year-old platoon leader, William Calley, who had been charged by the army with alleged mass murder.
Instead of picking up the phone to a press officer, he got into his car and started looking for him in the army camp of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he heard he had been detained. From door to door he searched the vast compound, sometimes blagging his way, marching up to the reception, slamming his fist on the table and shouting: "Sergeant, I want Calley out now."
Eventually his efforts paid off with his first story appearing in the St Louis Post-Despatch, which was then syndicated across America and eventually earned him the Pulitzer Prize. "I did five stories. I charged $100 for the first, by the end the [New York] Times were paying $5,000."
He was hired by the New York Times to follow up the Watergate scandal and ended up hounding Nixon over Cambodia. Almost 30 years later, Hersh made global headlines all over again with his exposure of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Put in the hours
For students of journalism his message is put the miles and the hours in. He knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it, having been tipped off by a senior Iraqi army officer who risked his own life by coming out of Baghdad to Damascus to tell him how prisoners had been writing to their families asking them to come and kill them because they had been "despoiled.
"I went five months looking for a document, because without a document, there's nothing there, it doesn't go anywhere."
Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.
"Do you think Obama's been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What's going on [with journalists]?" he asks.
He says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.
"Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It's journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize," he adds. "It's a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don't mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that's a serious issue but there are other issues too.
"Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren't we doing more? How does he justify it? What's the intelligence? Why don't we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don't we do our own work?
"Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here's a debate' our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues. That doesn't happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it's like you don't dare be an outsider any more."
He says in some ways President George Bush's administration was easier to write about. "The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era," he said.
Asked what the solution is Hersh warms to his theme that most editors are pusillanimous and should be fired.
"I'll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can't control," he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don't get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say 'I don't care what you say'.
Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.
If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn't stop with newspapers.
"I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let's start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won't like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that's what we're supposed to be doing," he says.
Hersh is currently on a break from reporting, working on a book which undoubtedly will make for uncomfortable reading for both Bush and Obama.
"The republic's in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple." And he implores journalists to do something about it.
THE AGENDA IN 2008:
THE AGENDA IN 2008:
Friday, September 27, 2013
Iran nuclear: 'Shift in Tehran tone' hailed at UN
The US-Iran meeting in New York represented the highest-level direct contact between the countries in six years
US and European allies have welcomed what they called a "significant shift" in Iran's attitude to its nuclear programme, after high-level UN talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif he was struck by the "very different tone".
But Mr Kerry said Iran still had questions to answer.
Substantive talks with Iran on its nuclear programme are due to take place in Geneva from 15 October.
They will involve the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, Britain, France and China - along with Germany, known as the P5+1.
The US-Iran meeting in New York represented the highest-level direct contact between the countries in six years. Diplomats from the P5+1 were also present.
Continue reading the main story
BBC Middle East editor, New York
Iran has a new president, Hassan Rouhani, and rather than provoke walkouts like his predecessor, he has come to the UN to try to change sceptical minds.
He said he wanted relations with the West based on moderation, peace and wisdom. He said his talks here had convinced him the atmosphere had changed.
The meeting between Iran and the P5+1 started the hard work that will be necessary to get a deal. Both sides said it went well.
If Hassan Rouhani can deliver what he has been saying in New York - and if the world's big powers can reciprocate - than there's a real chance to make progress on the slow-burning but highly dangerous standoff about Iran's nuclear plans.
One of Iran's missions at the UN this week has been to get long-term recognition for its belief that it is a regional power, with its own legitimate security interests.
President Rouhani has managed to create a change for the better in the atmospherics and, considering the outlook in the Middle East is so dismal and dangerous, that has to be a good start.
Mr Kerry said he was pleased that Mr Zarif "put possibilities on the table", but said a lot of work remained to be done and that Iran would have to answer questions about its nuclear programme.
"One meeting and a change in tone, which was welcome, doesn't answer those questions yet," he said.
'Nothing but peaceful'
Mr Zarif called the talks "constructive" and said the diplomats had made progress on resolving international issues in a manner that respected the rights of the Iranian people.
"I am satisfied with this first step," he said. "Now we have to see whether we can match our positive words with serious deeds so we can move forward."
Mr Zarif insisted Iran's nuclear programme was "nothing but peaceful" and pledged to prove it to the international community.
The Iranian foreign minister called sanctions against Iran "counterproductive" and added he hoped all bilateral, unilateral and multilateral sanctions would be lifted in the near future.
Likewise, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said afterwards the tone and spirit of the meeting were "extremely good".
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said there was an agreement to "go forward with an ambitious timeframe".
New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said he wants to reach a deal on the nuclear dispute in three to six months.
But the Americans have said there will be no major concessions on sanctions until the Iranians take concrete steps to reassure the world they are not seeking nuclear weapons.
Iran reaches out
Earlier, President Rouhani told the UN General Assembly that no country should possess nuclear arms.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said there had been a "change in tone" from Iran
Iran has been negotiating over the nuclear issue since 2006 with the P5+1.
Since Mr Rouhani's election in June, Iranian officials have reached out to the West, saying they want to address concerns over Iran's nuclear programme.
On Tuesday, Mr Rouhani told the General Assembly that he was prepared to engage in "time-bound and results-oriented" talks.
On Thursday, he called for stricter controls on nuclear weapons as part of a global effort to eventually rid the world of them.
"No nation should possess nuclear weapons, since there are no right hands for these wrong weapons," he said, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement at the General Assembly.
The P5+1 have asked Iran to halt production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20% - a step away from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.
Hassan Rouhani: "The indefinite possession of nuclear weapons cannot be tolerated"
They also demanded Iran shut down the Fordo underground enrichment facility.
In return, they offered to ease the sanctions that have severely affected Iran's economy.
US President Barack Obama has welcomed the new Iranian president's more "moderate course".
He told the UN on Tuesday that the US wanted to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, but was determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Mr Rouhani has said he is fully empowered by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to negotiate on the issue.
The BBC's Bridget Kendall, who is at the UN, says President Rouhani has signalled a sharp departure from the foreign policy and the tone of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose bombastic pronouncements at the UN in the past resulted in walk-outs.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Fear and Hope - Yes to Peace, No to War - Words of Moderation from Iran, an Anchor of Stability in an Unstable Arena: Iran’s President Rouhani
Iran’s Rouhani Confounds Neocons
September 20, 2013
Official Washington’s still-influential neocons are still hoping they can sabotage progress toward a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement – and thus keep open the option of war – but the reasonable tone of Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani is making the neocons’ job trickier, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar explains.
By Paul R. Pillar
The op ed from Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in the Washington Post should be read carefully on at least four levels.
The first is as one measure of the overall earnestness and seriousness with which the current leadership of Iran is approaching relations with the United States and with the rest of the outside world. Can you find an unreasonable phrase anywhere in the piece? I can’t.
The second is as a contrast with what we had become accustomed to hearing under the eight-year tenure of Rouhani’s predecessor. The contrast is so sharp one would never guess, if we did not already know it was so, that such pronouncements were coming from successive presidents of the same country, separated not by a coup or revolution but instead by a peaceful election.
Rouhani’s piece in the Post adds to the numerous other indications over the past several weeks that his election marks a profound change in attitude and approach in Tehran.
Third, Rouhani’s statements about what Iran wishes to do on issues of high concern to both it and the United States is consistent with what any dispassionate and well-reasoned analysis would arrive at as necessary to facilitate resolution of these issues. On the nuclear question, any resolution will have to recognize — and provide assurances to the West of being limited to — a “peaceful nuclear energy program.”
On the more pressing issue of the Syrian war, Rouhani’s statement of his government’s “readiness to help facilitate dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition” should be acted upon, both because Iran already is a player, for better or for worse, in the Syrian situation and because working together in addressing the Syrian situation can have beneficial spillover effects in dealing with the nuclear question and other issues.
Fourth, the article contains sage advice about other aspects of the American approach to foreign policy, including on matters that do not directly involve Iran. As with Vladimir Putin’s recent missive, Americans ought not to need foreign presidents to point out truths about their own policies and approach toward the world, but they are truths nonetheless.
Among Rouhani’s observations that are too often forgotten, or never appreciated in the first place, in American discourse is that the world is for the most part not a zero-sum place and that dealing with other nations involves simultaneous competition and cooperation. He correctly observes that a unilateral approach that “glorifies brute force and breeds violence” does not solve shared problems such as terrorism and extremism.
He notes that too often “security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences.” A glaring example of this in the Middle East that does not directly involve Iran but is condoned by the United States comes readily to mind. Perhaps the most trenchant of Rouhani’s observations is:
“We and our international counterparts have spent a lot of time — perhaps too much time — discussing what we don’t want rather than what we do want. This is not unique to Iran’s international relations. In a climate where much of foreign policy is a direct function of domestic politics, focusing on what one doesn’t want is an easy way out of difficult conundrums for many world leaders. Expressing what one does want requires more courage.”
This aptly describes how some foreign policy issues — certainly including the Iranian nuclear issue — get addressed in the United States. One of the biggest deficiencies in American discourse about that issue is that it goes little beyond declarations of how badly we don’t want an Iranian bomb, with almost no sense of what we do want other than to hurt Iran and no vision for the future other than, by implication, perpetual hostility.
The new Iranian administration has opened a door to a better relationship, and one better for the United States, about as widely as such doors ever are opened. The United States would be foolish not to walk through it.
Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)
Monday, September 23, 2013
“I and my colleagues will take the opportunity to present the true face of Iran as a cultured and peace-loving country.” - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Kerry to meet Iran's foreign minister as Tehran pushes 'path of talks'
September 23, 2013 1:15PM ET
Iranian president says he will show 'true face of Iran' at UN general meeting in New York
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Monday he would present the "true face of Iran" at the U.N. General Assembly, as Tehran and Washington signaled a renewed willingness to seek a diplomatic solution to the stalemate over Iran's nuclear program.
In comments ahead of his visit to New York, Rouhani branded U.S.-led sanctions against his country "illegal and unacceptable" but suggested that Tehran was willing to cooperate with the West to resolve the nuclear standoff.
The Iranian president's remarks came as U.S. officials confirmed that Secretary of State John Kerry would be involved in a meeting between Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his counterparts from the P5+1 group -- the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia -- aimed at reviving stalled negotiations.
The meeting was announced Monday by E.U. foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has served as lead negotiator for the P5+1.
Iran maintains it is pursuing nuclear technology for peaceful ends, but the U.S. and its allies fear the program may ultimately have military goals.
Rouhani suggested Monday that he would strive to correct what he said was the distorted image of Iran presented in recent years.
"Unfortunately, in recent years the face of Iran, a great and civilized nation, has been presented in another way," Rouhani said Monday, according to comments published on his official website.
"I and my colleagues will take the opportunity to present the true face of Iran as a cultured and peace-loving country."
Rouhani did not make clear whom he blames for any distortion of Iran's image. But the comments suggest he is intent on distancing himself from the controversial, outspoken approach to the West adopted by his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The United States and its allies have imposed increasingly strict economic sanctions on Iran in recent years, partly in response to Tehran's failure to heed U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment until queries about its nuclear work are answered to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Rouhani, a nuclear negotiator under reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who preceded Ahmadinejad, admitted that sanctions against Iran have caused suffering for its people.
"On this trip, I will try to deliver the voice of the oppressed people of Iran to the world, and we should say that sanctions are an illegal and unacceptable path," he told journalists before leaving.
"The West should opt for the path of talks and cooperation and consider mutual interests," he said.
On Monday the U.S State Department said it hoped the new government in Tehran would engage with the international community. Kerry said he welcomed Zarif's "commitment to a serious response" ahead of the pair's meeting.
Engineer a handshake
U.S. officials have left open the possibility that President Barack Obama and Rouhani could meet on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting, and a U.S. official has privately acknowledged the administration's desire to engineer a handshake between the two leaders.
Iranian judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejei told a news conference Monday that Tehran had pardoned 80 prisoners, including some arrested over protests that followed the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad in 2009.
Last week Iran released a dozen prominent political prisoners, including prominent human-rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.
Ejei's announcement suggested that those 12 were among the 80 who were pardoned.
Al Jazeera and wire services