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Peter Van Buren

Does Over-Classification Matter With the Hillary Emails?

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Rules are for fools, and in this case the fools in question are you, me, and what’s left of the American democratic system. Obama, in an interview, basically made it clear nobody is going to indict Hillary Clinton for exposing classified material via her unclassified email server, even if it requires made-up rules to let her get away with it.

The president’s comments in an interview last Sunday that “there’s classified and then there’s classified” made clear he imagines national security law allows for ample, self-determined fudge room when exposing classified material.

Does Over-Classification Matter?

In case you are still not sure, nope, that is not the way the law works, and everyone (including me, for 24 years) who has held a security clearance knows it.

Obama’s and Clinton’s defenders claim that much of what Hillary exposed was over-classified, and perhaps some should never have been classified at all. Maybe. After reading documents at the Top Secret level and above over more than two decades I can say, sure, sometimes it seemed odd that something was regarded as as secret as it was.
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John Kerry, and the Legacy of Hiroshima

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US Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow envoys from the G7 visited Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park on the margins of their summit meeting this week.

Kerry was the highest ranking American government official to visit the Peace Park, the memorial dedicated to the victims of the world’s first nuclear attack on August 6, 1945.

U.S. officials are considering a visit to Hiroshima by Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama during his trip to Japan for the G7 in late May. Obama, in 2011, expressed some interest in being the first sitting American president to visit the city, but never purused the plans.

Fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter did visit Hiroshima in 1984, albeit as a private citizen after leaving office. Other high-level American visits have been scattered only over recent years; _then-U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos attended the annual August 6 commemoration in Hiroshima in 2010, the first US ambassador to ever do so. In 2011, in another first, the United States sent a (lower ranking) official representative to the annual memorial service in Nagasaki. Current ambassador Caroline Kennedy attended the Hiroshima memorial service to mark the attack’s 70th anniversary last year.
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‘The Boys Who Said No!’: New Documentary About War Resisters

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Evil is participatory, says interviewee David Harris at the beginning of a documentary in progress about Vietnam-era draft resisters, The Boys Who Said No!

Evil continuing depends on people joining in, and the first step to stopping it, he continues, is withdrawing your own participation. So Harris said no to the Vietnam-era draft, and went to jail for it.

The Boys Who Said No!

The Boys Who Said No! is set during the late 1960s and early 70s, when thousands resisted conscription at the risk of federal prison. Unlike those who evaded the draft by fleeing to Canada, getting various deferments, or resorting to violent protest, the subjects of this film chose civil disobedience.

It was a costly decision.
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Back to the Future: The Unanswered Questions from the Debates

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The nuances of foreign policy do not feature heavily in the ongoing presidential campaign. Every candidate intends to “destroy” the Islamic State; each has concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korea, and China; every one of them will defend Israel; and no one wants to talk much about anything else — except, in the case of the Republicans, who rattle their sabers against Iran.

In that light, here’s a little trip down memory lane: in October 2012, I considered five critical foreign policy questions — they form the section headings below — that were not being discussed by then-candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney today is a sideshow actfor the current Republican circus, and Obama has started packing up his tent at the White House and producing his own foreign policy obituary.

And sadly, those five questions of 2012 remain as pertinent and unraised today as they were four years ago. Unlike then, however, answers may be at hand, and believe me, that’s not good news.  Now, let’s consider them four years later, one by one.
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You Should Care About Apple, Your iPhone, and the FBI

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Yep, you should care. Very much. Hang up the phone and listen.

What This is All About

The FBI wants Apple to help unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers who killed 14 people in the December San Bernardino shooting. Specifically, the Bureau wants Apple to create new software that would override a security system on the phone designed to erase its contents after ten unsuccessful password tries. The new software would also eliminate the built-in pause required between tries.

The software on the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, after ten tries, will automatically destroy any data on it as a security measure. The FBI needs that ten try limit, plus the required pauses between tries, taken away so that they can run a “brute force” attack against the password. A brute force attack runs an unlimited number of passwords (a1, a2, a3… aa1, aa2, aa3…) at high speed against the system until one works.


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US Military Contractors Return In Droves to Iraq

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America’s mercenaries smell the blood (and the money) and are returning to Iraq.

Mercs are a great thing for the US government, in that they aren’t counted as “troops,” or as “boots on the ground,” even while they are both. The Defense Department can disavow any mischief the contractors get up like, such as murdering civilians, and keep the headcount low and the body count low when things are going well, or bad. It only costs money, and that America has a bottomless pool of, as long as it being spent on something violent abroad instead of helping Americans at home (which is socialism, sonny.)

So let’s look at some numbers.

The number of private contractors working for the US Defense Department in Iraq grew eight-fold over the past year, a rate that far outpaces the growing number of American troops training and advising Iraqi soldiers battling Islamic State militants.
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Intel Agencies: Clinton Emails Match Top Secret Documents

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Clinton supporters, erroneously, make much out of the idea that of the many, many emails that passed through her private server, none were “marked” classified. They claim that, when in fact thousands of those same emails are indeed now marked classified, that is just after-the-fact Washington squabbling.

So this new information — that America’s intelligence agencies now say the contents of some of those unmarked emails match the contents of their own classified documents — is a big deal. It also suggests just how Clinton’s unclassified server came to be loaded up with classified material.

Several agencies have told Congress that Hillary Clinton’s home server contained some emails that should have been treated as TOP SECRET because their wording matched sections of some of the government’s most highly classified documents. These reports are the first formal declarations by intel agencies detailing how they believe Clinton violated government rules when highly classified information in at least 22 email messages passed through her unsecured home server.
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Six Years and $17 Billion Wasted in Afghanistan

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What did you get for Christmas these last six years?

The U.S. government was nice enough to gift our loyal friends the Afghans $17 billion of your tax money, and, in the true spirit of giving, asked nothing in return for itself.

What that means in actual dollars and nonsense is that the U.S. government wasted $17 billion in taxpayer money in Afghanistan on various projects that never made it off the ground or were doomed to fail because of incompetence or lack of maintenance, according to a new report.

ProPublica looked at over 200 audits conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) over the last six years and tallied up the costs for the wide range of failed efforts to reach the $17 billion price tag. This greatest hits study only scratched the surface of the estimated $110 billion spent to rebuild the country (the U.S. spent some $47 billion in rebuilding Iraq, and how’d that work out?)
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You Won’t Like It, But Here’s the Answer to ISIS

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How can we stop the Islamic State?

Imagine yourself shaken awake, rushed off to a strategy meeting with your presidential candidate of choice, and told: “Come up with a plan for me to do something about ISIS!” What would you say?

What Hasn’t Worked

You’d need to start with a persuasive review of what hasn’t worked over the past 14-plus years. American actions against terrorism — the Islamic State being just the latest flavor — have flopped on a remarkable scale, yet remain remarkably attractive to our present crew of candidates. (Bernie Sanders might be the only exception, though he supports forming yet another coalition to defeat ISIS.)

Why are the failed options still so attractive? In part, because bombing and drones are believed by the majority of Americans to be surgical procedures that kill lots of bad guys, not too many innocents, and no Americans at all. As Washington regularly imagines it, once air power is in play, someone else’s boots will eventually hit the ground (after the US military provides the necessary training and weapons). A handful of Special Forces troops, boots-sorta-on-the-ground, will also help turn the tide. By carrot or stick, Washington will collect and hold together some now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t “coalition” of “allies” to aid and abet the task at hand. And success will be ours, even though versions of this formula have fallen flat time and again in the Greater Middle East.
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What’s the Real Story Behind Saudi Arabia’s Execution of Shia Cleric al-Nimr?

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The execution of Shi’ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr and 46 convicted al-Qaeda members by the Saudis triggered a still-unfolding crisis between the Kingdom and Iran. Protesters in Tehran set fire to the Saudi embassy, and the Iranian government threatened that the Saudis will face “divine” revenge.

Riyadh responded by severing diplomatic relations and ordering Iran’s ambassador to depart the Kingdom, followed by the cutting off of all commercial ties with Iran. Saudi allies Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates made formal diplomatic protests to Iran. Additional acts of retaliation in a region that embraces the concept will no doubt follow, likely inside the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen or Syria. There will be blood.

But why execute al-Nimr now?

The cleric has been a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family for some years. In 2009 he went as far as threatening Shi’ite secession, provoking a government crackdown in the minority’s eastern heartland. The Saudis have had al-Nimr in custody since 2012, and he was sentenced to death in 2014.
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