American Elephants


It’s All Falling Apart. Chapter Ten. by The Elephant's Child

The hack of the Office of Personnel Management is far more massive and problematic than has been publicly acknowledged, and not only that, it went undetected for more than a year.. The hackers are believed to be from China. It started with an initial intrusion into the OPM systems more than a year ago, and once they had successfully intruded, they were able to work their way through four different “segments” of OPM’s systems.

At first the breach was said to expose the personal information of approximately four million people, such as Social Security numbers, birthdates and addresses of current and former federal workers.

It’s far worse than that. The hackers accessed what are called SF-86 forms, documents used for conducting background checks for worker security clearances. The forms can contain sensitive data about workers seeking security clearances, but also about their friends, spouses and family members. They can include information about the applicant’s interactions with foreign nationals, information that could be used against those nationals.

Homeland Security initially claimed the government’s EINSTEIN detection program was responsible for uncovering the hack. Not so. The EINSTEIN system failed. The Wall Street Journal reported the breach was actually discovered during a sales pitch demonstration by a security company named  CYTech Services showing the OPM its security program.

This is not just someone accessing your credit card number, but blackmail, diplomats with access to classified information are required to list their contacts.The OPM actually had no IT security staff until 2013. They’re not sure that they have discovered the full extent of the intrusion.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out that that local unions made it harder to protect files. “In early 2011 ICE noticed a significant uptick in “mail infections and privacy spills” in its networks The spike was due to ICE employees accessing their personal webmail accounts from office computers. Senior managers terminated webmail access in September 2011 as a security precaution.

The American Federation of Government Employees promptly filed a grievance with a federal arbitrator, claiming that any change in access to private email must first be collectively bargained with the union

ICE argued security, dangers, Federal Information Security Management Act, security threats, usual arguments, arbitrator said “the Agency may not take any action to reduce security risks to its IT systems without first providing the Union an opportunity to bargain. (the arbitrator’s italics.)

The White House late Friday tried to catch up by launching a “30 day Cyber Security Sprint” to beef up cybersecurity protocol across the government. (Fix everything right now!)

Those steps include: to fix any cybersecurity vulnerabilities immediately; tighten policies and practices for privileged users who can access sensitive information; implement multi-factor authentication procedures for accessing federal networks; and employ electronic “indicators” provided by the Department of Homeland Security that show when there has been a malicious cyberattack.

Well, it’s only fourteen million current and former government employees. This is the same government that could not manage to roll out their health care program, They’ve had a remarkable number of hints that their computer  programs were not up to snuff,  that security procedures were not being followed.Think of all those missing emails and supposedly destroyed hard drives that prevent information required to be produced by Freedom of Information Act requests and nobody can find it. Departments that have installed hugely expensive new computer systems only to find that they don’t work. You would think that someone might notice that they’re not technically apt, and not half as smart as they think they are.

In Britain, the Guardian reports that “Downing Street and the Home Office are being challenged to answer to claims that Russia and China have broken into the secret cache of Edward Snowden files and that British agents have had to be withdrawn from live operations as a consequence.”

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, handed over tens of thousands of leaked documents to the Guardian in Hong Kong two years ago. He left Hong Kong with flights booked to Latin America but was stopped in Russia when the US revoked his passport, and has been living in Moscow in exile since.

He has repeatedly said he handed over all the documents to journalists in Hong Kong and no longer has access to them, making it impossible for either China or Russia to get to them through him. The Sunday Times and BBC do not say where China or Russia allegedly gained access to the files.

A “senior Home Office source” claimed that Putin didn’t give Snowden asylum for nothing. His documents were encrypted but not secure and British agents are being targeted. A British “intelligence source” said Snowden has done incalculable damage, and Russian and Chinese officials will be examining Snowden’s material for year to come.

That’s all very iffy and unconfirmed, but interesting if true. There is a battle going on both in Britain and here between privacy zealots and government secrecy. It would be nice to think that there could be no secrets, but we don’t live in that kind of world. In the real world, the bigger the federal bureaucracy gets, the more it wants to protect itself from embarrassment and from the living proof that it is not composed of smarter, kinder people who are working assiduously on our behalf.

Everybody wants to know the other guy’s secrets. The dividing line between what can be public and what cannot is very fuzzy. The government needs to seriously protect that which will harm the public if released, and to stop trying to make everything that might embarrass a little into a state secret. Clearly a case of wishful thinking.



It’s All Falling Apart. Chapter One by The Elephant's Child
June 3, 2015, 4:35 pm
Filed under: Intelligence, National Security, Terrorism | Tags: , ,

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It is all falling apart. Incompetence is demonstrably in charge. But there is a bright spot in the gloom. The Transportation Security Administration just demonstrated that even beyond the inconvenience, the personal degradation of humiliating whole-body scans or pat-downs, the efforts of the agency to keep us safe is a total flop. Ninety-five percent of explosives and weapons intentionally sent into the TSA detection apparatus went undetected. TSA has a success rate of a bare 5%! Kevin D. Williamson, who just gets better and better, takes the agency apart in a scathing column today. Do read the whole thing.

But the “bright spot”? The bright spot is that in an increasingly incompetent government, there is a “Red Team” testing the efficiency and efficacy of an agency tasked with keeping the nation safe. There was no cover-up. On Monday, the acting chief of the TSA, Melvin Carraway, was transferred to Homeland Security’s office of state and local law enforcement. imagesIt’s only a small bright spot, for Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security could not summon the gumption to just fire Carraway, but Carraway was reassigned. It is possible to embarrass the Obama administration.

Kevin Williamson also offers up the solution: Make the airlines corporately responsible for their own security, and put the airlines themselves in charge of screening. No one has a deeper concern about flight security.



The Left Gears Up For The Coming Campaign by The Elephant's Child

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We have one declared candidate for President of the United States, but the media cannot wait. They want the contest on now, because campaigns always make for better opportunities for stories, and that’s easier than trying to understand the ups and downs of daily policies and events.

This time it’s PolitiFact, and whatever it is they are going to fact check it! Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker said in January, before a New Hampshire audience, that he paid just $1 for his sweater at Kohl’s. He said there was a time when the word “thrift” was not in his vocabulary. He said he had bought something at the price on the tag, and his wife couldn’t believe he didn’t understand the concept of bargain hunting. He learned his lesson.

Now, we grant this is not the most important topic in politics today. But we decided to fact check it for two reasons,” PolitiFact’s James B. Nelson wrote. “First, we heard from readers from around the country who thought it was an unbelievable story — as in, literally impossible to believe. Second, it goes to what has been a major theme of Walker’s visits to some of the early primary states — that he is just an average guy.”

PolitiFact, a division of the Tampa Bay Times, noted that Walker’s reputation for being a regular Joe contrasts nicely with the more “well-heeled” GOP 2016 hopefuls, particularly former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

They called the Kohl’s in Hooksett, NH, and an employee in menswear said all of their Henley sweaters were on the clearance racks. Based on photos of Walker in the sweater, it appeared to be a “Chaps twisted button Mock Sweater” in ‘walnut twist.’ Unable to find it on the Kohl’s’ website they went to the local store and found plenty of Chaps sweaters marked between 80 and 90 percent off, even more than Walker had claimed. Some were originally priced at $70 and marked down to $7, but Walker said he used his “Kohl’s Cash” a store discount card based on previous purchases.

Politifact was forced to hand Gov. Walker a “true” rating for his claim. Dang! No big story there. But you see what I mean.



Manipulating Domestic Opinion. Do You Believe Him? by The Elephant's Child

What was going on yesterday? A media frenzy so focused on the possibility that someone might be offended that it wiped all other news off the page? A full-throated attack by the Big Gay Hate Machine to discourage anyone from objecting to their choices? Oddly enough, the RFRA laws that were passed did not even mention sex, Gays, intolerance, or anything else related to discrimination, but merely said that religious beliefs needed to receive consideration.

Or was this media frenzy called out by the White House to take media attention off the nuclear discussions in Switzerland? Was it a mere coincidence that Senator Menendez (D-CT) (who was a sponsor of two different bills, one putting the sanctions back on Iran if they didn’t fully allow inspections, and the other forcing any agreement to come to the Senate for confirmation) was suddenly indicted for supposed corruption just when his bills might come to the attention of the public?

See how suspicious I’m becoming? Obama is a fierce competitor. The Republicans may have won control of Congress, but Obama has no intention of changing his strategy from doing exactly what he chooses by executive orders— to consulting and cooperating with Republicans to try to accomplish something. Obama believes the ends justify the means. Obama wants to be in control of his situation. Obama is dogmatic in his essential positions and does not change his mind.

We are told that Mr. Obama only sees his closest associates. That he requires from his czars and advisers a short list of 3 choices from which he will choose. That sounds like that he does not have the skill set he needs to deal with the complex problems he wants to address.

There is no Iran deal yet, but Obama was speaking of a pact in the past tense, as if it was a done deal. “He claims  ‘It has succeeded exactly as intended’—pretty much what he says about ObamaCare.”

You will notice that today, the media frenzy of yesterday has virtually disappeared. Obama has made his big statement for domestic purposes, and, as Investors says, “Nothing, apparently, will stop Obama from accepting the inevitability of a nuclear Iran and absurdly claiming that it makes the world safer.”



It Isn’t Really About Religious Liberty, That’s Just an Excuse! by The Elephant's Child

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Today’s big Kerfuffle is about the Religious Freedom law that Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence just signed into law. It is simply a state-level version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which imposes a “strict scrutiny” legal standard when state or local governments pass laws that interfere with the free exercise of religion. Governor Pence and Indiana’s legislators have been denounced as gay-hating bigots, a claim never made when President Bill Clinton signed the federal RFRA, or even about the people and officials of the 20 states with a RFRA. There are another dozen or so states that also have constitutional provisions that are similar.

Ssssh!  It’s not about religious freedom. It about Mike Pence who has been a successful and accomplished governor, is nice looking, very likeable, and who is one of a number of outstanding governors who might well run for the office of the President of the United States. This is what today’s far-left progressives do. The issue is never the issue. And this one is about an attempt to attack Mike Pence and disqualify him as a potential Republican candidate.

If you remember, Rick Perry was disqualified as a potential Republican candidate because of the way he melted down in the debates last time. Melted down? Well, not exactly. He went blank on a third agency he wanted to mention and couldn’t think of it. Something that has happened to lots of us. But the actual small blank moment has been boosted into a “complete disqualification.” Who says? Well, all those news people.

Then there was Chris Christie. It was the bridge thing. He was accused of deliberately blocking a bridge in order to influence votes by making commuters angry. He was absolved of the accusation, but the issue has been boosted into a “complete disqualification.”

Then there was Governor Scott Walker. A New York Times writer accused him of slashing the funds for schools and laying off teachers. Ooops! The writer was Gail Collins, and the slashing of funds, such as it was, happened in the previous administration before Scott Walker took office.

Ted Cruz, who just announced his candidacy, has already been accused as being even more unprepared for office than former state senate backbencher who kept voting present, and was a community organizer. He has been tarred with the McCarthy label, and many more drastic accusations will be forthcoming. What could scare the hard left more? He is conservative, has a link to the immigrant community, speaks Spanish, is an accomplished attorney who has argued for the State of Texas before the Supreme Court many times and often successfully, and is admittedly brilliant.

This is the pattern for the Left. Republican candidates will be portrayed as waging war on women and minorities, favoring only the rich, inflicting pain on working families to benefit the wealthy few, not caring about the poor and vulnerable, while Republicans say the left is using class warfare tactics, or being divisive. Democrats go for the throat, Republicans are too polite to do so, and try to explain how lower taxes for everyone will benefit the economy.

So the issue (religious freedom) is not the issue. The real issue is getting rid of Republican candidates who might be attractive to voters. Attacking religious fundamentalists (the anti-religion crowd has never gotten over Hobby Lobby). Distracting national attention from the poisonous Iran deal negotiations. And finding someone to replace Hillary who is building up a huge scandal with her email evasion before she even declares as a candidate.



Man The Lifeboats, The Ship of State is Sinking by The Elephant's Child

Why Yemen Matters: Daniel Pipes, Washington Times 3/28/15

Last Thursday, the Middle East Kingdom of Saudi Arabia led a 10-country coalition to intervene in the air and on the ground in the country of Yemen. And they didn’t bother to tell the White House what they were doing because they don’t trust them. Saudi and Egypt have been active in a Yemen war before, but on opposite sides. It is striking that they should join forces, not against Israel, but against Iran.

Uncertain of Obama, Arab States Gear Up for War: David Schenker and Gilad Wenig, Wall Street Journal, 3/29/15

“Few organizations boast a reputation of dysfunction comparable to the Arab League’s. Over seven decades the Arab League has distinguished itself through infighting and fecklessness. But now, with the Obama administration seen as missing in action in the Middle East, the alliance of 22 countries is undergoing a renaissance. Over the weekend, the Arab League met in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and endorsed the creation of an intervention force to fight terrorism in the Middle East.

Regional backing for the force came days after a mostly Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed, nominally Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, who last week sacked the provisional capital of Aden and drove Yemen President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.”

Obama Admin Threatens U. S. Allies for Disagreeing with Iran Nuke Deal: Adam Kredo, Free Beacon, 3/27/15

“LAUSANNE, Switzerland—Efforts by the Obama administration to stem criticism of its diplomacy with Iran have included threats to nations involved in the talks, including U.S. allies, according to Western sources familiar with White House efforts to quell fears it will permit Iran to retain aspects of its nuclear weapons program.

A series of conversations between top American and French officials, including between President Obama and French President Francois Hollande, have seen Americans engage in behavior described as bullying by sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.”

Richard Engel: Military Officials Say Allies No Longer Trust  Us, Fear Intel Might Leak to Iran: Daniel Bassali, Free Beacon, 3/27/15

“Saudi Arabia and other countries simply don’t trust the United States any more, don’t trust this administration, think the administration is working to befriend Iran to try to make a deal in Switzerland, and therefore didn’t feel the intelligence frankly would be secure. And I think that’s a situation that is quite troubling for U.S. foreign policy,” Engel said.

Obama’s Latest Concession Guts What’s Left of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Jonathan Tobin, Contentions 3/26/15

“The Iranians were holding their ground on yet another key point in the negotiations and, to no one’s surprise, the Obama administration is preparing to give in to them again. This time the issue is Iran’s refusal to open its facilities up to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors eager to see how much progress they’ve made on military research for the nuclear program. But instead of threatening to walk away from a process that appears on track to ending sanctions on the Islamist regime over this key point, the administration is preparing to amend the current draft of the deal to allow the Iranians several years’ leeway before they’d be required to give a full reckoning about how close they are to a bomb. What this amounts to is the West waving the white flag on effective verification of Iran’s nuclear activities. And that means that not only will Iran be able to cheat their way to a bomb, but they may very well get there even while observing the agreement that is expected to be finalized by the end of the month.”

Free Fall in the Middle East: Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest, 3/27/15

“But as President Ahab glances around his deck, few of his shipmates are manning their posts—in fact, most seem to be scrambling for the lifeboats. Oh well, there’s always that trusty tar, Unnamed State Department Official, to rely on for a friendly quote in Politico:

“There’s a sense that the only view worth having on the Middle East is the long view. […] We’ve painfully seen that good can turn to bad and bad can turn to good in an instant, which might be a sobriety worth holding on to at moments like this. The truth is, you can dwell on Yemen, or you can recognize that we’re one agreement away from a game-changing, legacy-setting nuclear accord on Iran that tackles what every one agrees is the biggest threat to the region.”…

James Jeffrey, Obama’s former Ambassador to Iraq, cuts through the commentary on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East with a certain pithiness:”

“We’re in a goddamn free fall here.”



Iran Has Declared Victory in Its Contest With the West. by The Elephant's Child

Iran minister says sanctions must be lifted before nuclear agreement “Iran’s foreign minister and chief negotiator in the nuclear talks with the West declared victory for his country, stating that no matter how the negotiations end, Tehran has come out “the winner,” according to remarks made on Tuesday and presented in the country’s state-run press.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke to the country’s Assembly of Experts, declaring that the nuclear negotiations have established Tehran as a global power broker.

“We are the winner whether the [nuclear] negotiations yield results or not,” Zarif was quoted as saying before the assembly by the Tasnim News Agency. “The capital we have obtained over the years is dignity and self-esteem, a capital that could not be retaken.”

I’m not sure that this is what President Obama has in mind as ‘his legacy.’

When the world’s most powerful nations began their effort to negotiate away Iran’s nuclear program in 2003, the Islamic Republic had 130 centrifuges. These machines convert uranium into a form that can set off a chain reaction. That chain reaction in turn can either create nuclear energy or be set off to explode the most destructive bomb the world has ever seen. By November 2013, when Iran reached a so-called interim accord with the United States and other nations to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the relaxation of tough sanctions, the Islamic Republic had deployed nearly 20,000 centrifuges.

Estimates suggest those centrifuges could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one bomb in as little as 45 days—the so-called breakout period. They have already generated a stockpile of low-enriched uranium sufficient to produce as many as seven nuclear bombs. Some believe that Iran could convert a bomb’s worth of uranium into the payload of a crude nuclear device in perhaps a few months.

Negotiators could not reach a final deal by the initial November 2014 deadline, so extensions were devised. The new deadline comes at the end of June. Press reports and administration statements are providing us with a picture of what America and the other nations in the negotiations are now hoping to achieve. They are trying to use various technical means and human oversight to slow down Iran’s breakout time from a few months to one year and ensure that a deal lasts at least a decade. In exchange for these concessions, they appear ready to enshrine Iran as a threshold nuclear state.

This is what President Obama has in mind as his legacy. All the concessions fit a long-term pattern. “If a nuclear deal is imminent, that is largely because over the past 13 years of on and off negotiations, the great powers of the world have slowly gut surely given in to Iran’s demands. …Instead of ending the threat of Iranian nuclearization, negotiators have apparently limited their ambitions to an attempt to regulate it.” Instead of a “legacy” this can be more accurately called wishful thinking.

The core factor for the past 13 years has been the desire to avoid military confrontation at all costs — and especially during the Obama administration — the fear of even threatening it. With no credible threat, you get nothing, a pretend agreement, collapse, doesn’t matter. You can guess what the Obama response is —Bush’s fault. He left us with no options. Sorry, a president is confronted with the problems that exist. They don’t disappear by blaming your predecessor. You have to deal with what is, not cowardly kick the can on down the road. To understand the three-pronged strategies involved, read the whole thing here. It is an important discussion. As the administration lifted the sanctions, Iran, now able to support its nuclear program again, had refused to reduce its nuclear capacity. We now have no leverage, we gave it all away.

There are those among the Iran Watchers  who believe that the negotiations have worked and a deal could lead to “a more engaged Iran.” Obama’s goal of reconciliation has been constant. He ignored the Green Revolution in favor of a new relationship with Iran that would define regional order and speak to the brilliance of the Obama presidency.

On the other hand, the Green Revolution indicated that ordinary Iranians are not all that happy with the leadership of the Mullahs. Did we ignore that at our peril? I don’t know. The IAEA record with nuclear proliferation is — North Korea, Pakistan and India — all a surprise when they became nuclear states. Iran works closely with North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs.

The Middle East is a hotbed of clashing religious beliefs, including small sects currently being eliminated by ISIS. There is, however, a special danger in the Shiite doctrine held by the leaders of Iran. The return of the hidden Imam will bring the war that ends the world and creates heavenly bliss for believers. Bernard Lewis, America’s leading expert in Mideast Studies, wrote that during the Cold War, Mutual Assured Destruction was a deterrent that worked. Today it is an inducement.

James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies said:

Iran now is either very close to being able to field a nuclear weapon or it should be regarded as already having that capability. …

Consequently, even one nuclear warhead detonated at orbital altitude over the United States would black out the national electric grid and other life-sustaining critical infrastructures for months or years by means of the electromagnetic pulse it would create. The Congressional EMP Commission assessed that a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill nine of 10 Americans through starvation and societal collapse. Islamic State-like gangs would rule the streets.

Just such a scenario is described in Iranian military documents.

I have no sense that the Obama administration has even considered such possibilities. The Arab nations are deeply worried.




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