Spooky: Congress and the CIA Get Crosswise

During the Bush “War on Terror” the CIA under George Tenet was completely in the bag for the Cheney war hawks. Evidence of WMDs was trumped up and, as Darth Cheney said, “the dark side” was embraced including Rendition, Detention and Interrogation. In plain language, kidnapping, concentration camps and torture.

“For desperate ills, desperate remedies” is the excuse for this kind of behavior. But as heads cooled, some stomachs turned. It became clear that the program had gone to extremes and had been extremely badly managed including a substantial number of non-terrorists treated as if they were. Not to mention the dubious legality of aspects of the mess.

On taking office, Obama had no enthusiasm for raking over Bush-era excesses and also appears to have been kidnapped himself by John Brennan, first up to his eyeballs in the Bush black arts, then an Obama campaign adviser and now head of the CIA, a classic Washington survivor. Meet the new spook, same as the old spook.

Some Democrats, libertarians and fans of the Constitution always questioned the program and for years there have been attempts by some in Congress to practice actual oversight of the CIA which habitually tries to repel all boarders, stonewalls, and obstructs. Some of that may seem justified in a town that spews leaks, but it leaves the people and their representatives with nothing but an unsatisfactory,” Don’t worry your pretty little heads. Trust me.” Who will watch the watchers, indeed.

Now Sen. Diane Feinstein, who angered a considerable number of her left-leaning constituents by backing the CIA to the hilt, has accused the agency of cyber-spying on the computers of staffers at her Intelligence oversight committee who were tasked with investigating the disputed programs. Her very tough speech on the Senate floor talked of CIA betrayal of constitutional separation of powers, but it was easy to see she was also feeling personally betrayed since she had long fallen for CIA assurances that she was getting the straight story.

Turns out an investigation launched by former CIA chief Leon Panetta was compromised from the outset since some of the supposedly objective truth-seekers were actually deeply involved in conducting the very acts under investigation – a clear conflict. The CIA now claims the report was not really meant to get to the bottom of any policy errors (aka crimes) or make recommendations but just gather data. And interestingly, the entire investigation was scrapped when the Justice Department began trying to determine if laws had been broken. The abrupt halt to internal scrutiny looks a lot like a circling of the wagons and the beginning of a renewed cover-up. If so, the spying on the Senate committee would have been an attempt to find out how much they knew and try to sweep the dark matter back under the rug.

Of course, the CIA says it wasn’t spying but plugging leaks and has accused staffers of being in illegal possession of classified material. But what else would the CIA do if caught spying? Blame the victim and deny they are spies. “Who, us?” It’s easy to predict a period of heat without light, partisan grandstanding, finger pointing and then the short attention span of Washington and the news media will turn to the latest bread and circuses.

It is hard to believe the truth will ever come out voluntarily or that sensible reforms will be undertaken. It has been a truism ever since Watergate that it isn’t the crime but the cover-up that kills you. But Brennan still has Obama’s ear and, with their cloak of national security to hide behind, nobody covers up better than the CIA. Unless some inside whistleblower emerges, we’ll never know what really happened and the CIA will never change.

Postscript: If this turns out to be my final blog post, someone at Langley didn’t like the tenor of my remarks.

A Boy and His Blog

Okay, so this may be a little Meta, but today’s blog post is a kind of interim report on this homemade blog, Podunk Pundit, after a shakedown cruise of several weeks.

As I have previously noted, getting this thing up and running was a little tricky for a complete tech-illiterate, but after a few bumps I have now being venting my spleen almost daily. This is not that great an accomplishment, of course.

George Will when young was offered a chance at a newspaper column and went to talk to his mentor, William F. Buckley, about the opportunity. Will said he didn’t know if he could keep thinking of topics to address to which Buckley replied, “I can think of three things a week that irritate me.” And the rest is history. Of course, as the case of Shakespeare shows, it isn’t so much the material as the style that separates the silk purses from the sows’ ears.

So far my biggest blog surprise is that people are reading the blog at all. How they found it I have no idea. I wouldn’t have. My wife, of course, had no choice. She pretty much has to feign interest. My neighbor Jane is a loyal follower, bless her heart as they say in the South.

But where have the rest of you people come from? A pleasant person from Caney, TX said a nice word. Thanks. I really appreciate it. Writers are pretty much like actors except for the good-looking part. They don’t want criticism. They want applause.

Several people wrote to say technical things were screwed up with the blog, often things I didn’t even know the blog had. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it cuts down on the angst.

Canada Goose wrote to say this blog looked like his/her old one in layout and design (it is called Aspen, I believe). And then added, “Great choice of colors.” Actually nobody chose them. They just seem to have happened and Tech Support (Brian) has been trying to figure out how to change them. So far it’s a mystery.

At least one person said they bookmarked Podunk Pundit and another said they had subscribed (after Brian figured out how to get the Subscribe Widget on the page). This is very encouraging, thank you very much. And if you decide you hate it, don’t unsubscribe. It will depress me. Instead, send future posts to spam.

Several comments seemed to be thinly disguised sales pitches for design help, tech support or gadgets like SEO Plug-ins, whatever they are. I forwarded them to Tech Support, though I think he just carried on playing Fable Anniversary on my daughter’s Xbox. They were all Greek to me.

At least one comment really was in not just a foreign tongue but what appeared to be a foreign alphabet, Cyrillic perhaps. Could it have been something I said about Putin? Thanks for sharing, anyway.

Finally, a couple people faulted me for not including contact details. Tech Support and I are trying to figure out what that means. Haven’t you contacted me? I am reading your comments, though I haven’t figured out how to reply other than this.

But I am reading you and will keep expressing my views on whatever the day brings. I’ll also keep trying to figure out what I ought to have learned about blogs before starting one. Hope you all will bear with me, keep reading and continue to chime in.

Is it Safe? The Fragility of Data

My daughter works in the airline industry and when the news of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was reported she offered the notion that the black box recorders were outmoded. “Why isn’t all flight data instantaneously sent to the Cloud?”

Given the fact that the plane is already in the clouds, this would seem logical but experts have said the huge number of daily flights would produce gazillions of bits of data so storing it would be costly.

I have no idea technically what the Cloud is or how it works except that info is stored remotely via the ether rather than on my computer, but my visceral response is to distrust any panacea that purports to permanently archive data.

Like the sinister villain of Marathon Man we kept asking one question: “Is it safe?” And the answer when it comes to houses, cars, possessions, people and data always seems to have been the same — no.

Since record keeping began, record losing has been a problem. It is estimated that the drama-crazy 5th Century BCE Greeks produced 1,600 plays. Forty survive. The great library of Alexandria required every ship that came to its bustling port to permit the copying of any manuscripts aboard as part of the price of doing business. In its day, it was the greatest repository of knowledge the world had ever known. It burned.

In the recent prize-winning history, “The Swerve,” Stephen Greenblatt argues that the rediscovery in the 15th century of a few lost, ancient texts, especially “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius, may have caused a swerve in the course of history ushering in the Renaissance.

The perishable nature of information and the wisdom it contains is not an archaic problem. The 1890 Census of the United States, for example, was a model of modernity, the first ever to be tabulated by labor-saving machines. But in 1921 a fire in the basement of the Commerce Department destroyed almost half the irreplaceable records and a bureaucratic bungle in 1933 led the Library of Congress to discard the rest.

Between 1912 and 1930, 11,000 silent films were produced in America, the quintessential medium of modern times. Today, 70 percent are entirely lost and only 17 percent survive in complete prints. Much the same is true of early television, many early sound recordings and talking pictures.

In “Lapis Lazuli” by W. B. Yeats, one of he greatest 20th Century poems, he calls attention to the endless “civilisations put to the sword./ Then they and their wisdom went to rack.” And by way of example, he names Callimachus a sculptor “who handled marble as if it were bronze” — another Praxiteles or Michelangelo. Yet not a single work of his remains.

Perhaps digital data will be more enduring than every other previous medium devised, but I fear the ephemeral-sounding Cloud will offer no more guarantee of permanence than stone tablets, papyrus, vellum, paper, film or tape. All in time crumbled, oxidized, demagnatized into dust and the data was lost.

Make multiple copies, back it up like crazy, bury it, archive it, share it but I fear it’s still a crap shoot whether your data will outlive you, let alone survive for a more distant posterity.