Thursday, May 31, 2012

Saudi Auction Sells Suicide Bombers for Syria

Activists have released video footage showing alleged potential suicide bombers being presented at an auction in western Saudi Arabia before being shipped off to Syria.

The video, leaked in early May, shows the auction taking place in a hotel in the Saudi port city of Jeddah, according to Press TV.

It shows a father putting his would-be suicide bomber son up for auction in exchange for the compensation he expects to be offered by the highest bidder.

The father, Abu-Salah, receives 1.5 million Saudi riyals (roughly USD 400,000), for offering his son, Khaled, as “sacrifice.”
Some sources say that among the bidders were high-ranking officials from the ruling Al Saud clan.


Time Bomb? Banks Pressured to Buy Government Debt

US and European regulators are essentially forcing banks to buy up their own government's debt—a move that could end up making the debt crisis even worse, a Citigroup analysis says.

Regulators are allowing banks to escape counting their country's debt against capital requirements and loosening other rules to create a steady market for government bonds, the study says.

While that helps governments issue more and more debt, the strategy could ultimately explode if the governments are unable to make the bond payments, leaving the banks with billions of toxic debt, says Citigroup strategist Hans Lorenzen.

"Captive bank demand can buy time and can help keep domestic yields low," Lorenzen wrote in an analysis for clients. "However, the distortions that build up over time can sow the seeds of an even bigger crisis, if the time bought isn't used very prudently."

"Specifically," Lorenzen adds, "having banks loaded up with domestic sovereign debt will only increase the domestic fallout if the sovereign ultimately reneges on its obligations."

The banks, though, are caught in a "great repression" trap from which they cannot escape.

"When subjected to the mix of carrot and stick by policymakers...then everything else equal, we believe banks will keep buying," Lorenzen said.

Institutions both in the U.S. and abroad have been busy buying up their national sovereign debt for years, he found.

Spanish banks bought 90 billion euros worth while Italian firms picked up 86 billion euros just between November and March. Even in the UK, which has avoided a debt crisis as it is outside the euro zone and able to set its own monetary policy, banks have increased holdings of gilts by 100 billion pounds over the past few years.

And in the U.S., banks, though having "comparatively low holdings" of Treasurys, have bought $700 billion of American debt since 2008.

"Ask the simple question: Why are banks buying sovereign debt when yields are either near record lows, or perhaps more interestingly, when foreign investors are pulling out?" Lorenzen wrote.

He thinks he has the answer.

For one, the European Central Bank's Long-Term Refinance Operations provided guarantees for the debt, which Lorenzen deems a "heavily sweetened form of financial repression given the pressure banks were under" to buy.

"Banks have ended up buying bonds at yields where they would happily have sold them only a few months prior," he said.

Moreover, banks are allowed to not count the sovereign debt against their Basel capital requirements. Also, Lorenzen argued, European banks have escaped the onus of stress tests this year, a less-than-subtle hint that authorities are willing to tolerate a bit of looseness in banks so long as they are helping to stave off a full-blown debt crisis.

"One doesn’t have to be too cynical to hypothesize that all the disclosures on sovereign exposure have become a bit of a political liability at a point in time where the only buyers in size of periphery sovereign debt are periphery banks funded by the ECB," he said.

"As long as funding for sovereigns in markets remains in jeopardy, and as long as there is no clear move towards proper fiscal solidarity in Europe, we reckon there will be a strong political incentive to make banks captive buyers. That implies a move away from marking sovereign debt to market, away from raising risk weights, away from capital ratios that don't risk weight assets and away from stress tests incorporating government bonds."

For investors in bank bonds, the news is good — for now.

"As long as policy remains to sustain the status quo, bondholders should come out fine. Conversely, if the burden becomes too great, then the alternative will most probably involve a radical departure from current convention — to the detriment of bondholders," Lorenzen said.

"We suspect this binary outcome requires a political judgement that many funds are not particularly well placed to make." he added. "Instead of those economics, accounting and finance degrees perhaps you should have done political science after all."


Court says marriage law discriminates against gay couples

A federal appeals court in Boston found on Thursday that a U.S. law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman unconstitutionally denies federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples in a ruling that promises to push the issue of gay marriage to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ruling on the 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act, marked a victory for gay rights groups and U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration announced last year it considered the law unconstitutional and would no longer defend it.

In its 3-0 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit concluded that the law discriminates against gay couples. Eight of the 50 U.S. states permit gay marriage, including Massachusetts, which became the first in 2004, and Maryland, which became the most recent in March.

"Congress' denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest," Judge Michael Boudin wrote for the three-judge panel.

The issue of gay marriage is an emotional and divisive one in the United States. Polls show U.S. public support of gay marriage rising.

Obama on May 9 said he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, marking the first time a U.S. president publicly expressed support for gay marriage. Republican activists and conservative Christian leaders condemned Obama's stance.

Two of the three judges who made Thursday's ruling were appointed by Republican presidents and the third by a Democrat.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the ruling "is in concert with the president's views" that the law is unconstitutional. Obama is seeking re-election on November 6.

Mitt Romney, who has clinched the Republican nomination to challenge Obama, opposes gay marriage, saying marriage should be limited to a union between one man and one woman.

Gay rights advocates hailed Thursday's ruling while conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage condemned it.

"For the first time, a federal appeals court has recognized that our Constitution will not tolerate a law that forces the federal government to deny lawfully married same-sex couples equal treatment. The writing is clearly on the wall for the demise of this unjust and indefensible law that hurts real families," said Joe Solmonese, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign.

Plaintiffs, including seven married same-sex couples and three widowers, said the law, which prevents them from filing joint federal tax returns or collecting survivor benefits from the Social Security retirement program, denied them equal protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

Bette Jo Green, one of the plaintiffs in the case, welcomed the decision. Green, 70, has been married to Jo Ann Whitehead, 70, since 2004.

"How thrilling it is for us to know that the court believes in protecting our right to Social Security benefits as with all the other married couples in the country," Green said.

"We're glad to know we fall into the same class as everyone else. We're no longer second-class citizens," added Jonathan Knight, 32, married to Marlin Nabors, 34, since 2006.


Mary Bonauto of the Massachusetts advocacy group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who served as the lead attorney for the 17 plaintiffs, said she expects this case now to go before the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the country.

"We think this is a case that really could appeal to all members of the court because it is not only a double standard ... this law is also a real outlier because it inserts Congress into an area that states govern," Bonauto said.

The 1st Circuit panel recognized that many Americans believe marriage to be a union between a man and a woman. But the panel concluded that federalism permits diversity of governance based on local decisions, and that choice also applied to states' decisions to legalize same-sex marriage.

The panel said the ruling would not take effect until the Supreme Court has had an opportunity to review the law. The plaintiffs' right to receive tax and Social Security benefits will remain on hold pending any appeal.

The Supreme Court has never said that the U.S. Constitution requires states to permit same-sex marriages, the ruling noted. Therefore, the current case was limited to arguments "that do not presume or rest on a constitutional right to same-sex marriage," the panel said.

The ruling also did not address another provision of the law that says that one state does not have to recognize gay marriages performed in states that permit it. "Today's ruling just means that the federal government has to recognize states' marriages. If a married couple from Massachusetts wants to move to Texas, Texas doesn't have to recognize their marriage," said Paul Smith, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, criticized the ruling as an attack on the traditional definition of marriage.

"For a Massachusetts-based court to just audaciously proclaim that the federal government is wrong and has to recognize a unique social experiment in Massachusetts for the purpose of providing benefits is bizarre and a violation of the principles of our federalist system," Mineau said.

Dale Schowengerdt, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian advocacy group that has defended California's gay marriage ban in court, added, "Under this rationale, if just one state decided to accept polygamy, the federal government and perhaps other states would be forced to accept it, too."

In a companion case also on appeal, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley argued that Congress overstepped its authority and violated the 10th Amendment of the Constitution in passing the law because it undermined states' abilities to recognize marriage equality.

"It is unconstitutional for the federal government to create a system of first- and second-class marriages," Coakley said in a statement.

Lawyers for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG) had defended the 1996 law.

A federal judge in Massachusetts declared a key section of the law unconstitutional in 2010, and the appeals court agreed.

Among the plaintiffs is Dean Hara, the widower of Gerry Studds, a former U.S. congressman who died in 2006. Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, and Hara were married one week after same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts. Hara was not eligible to receive the pension provided to surviving spouses of former members of Congress.

A California federal judge has found the law unconstitutional for denying federal benefits to same-sex couples. Another federal judge in San Francisco reached the same conclusion in a case currently on appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How a U.S. Radar Station in the Negev Affects a Potential Israel-Iran Clash

On a desert hilltop in the remote southwest of Israel stands a compelling argument against any notion that the Jewish state will launch an attack on Iran without the United States. The discreet complex atop Mt. Keren is a U.S. military installation, and the 100 U.S. service members who staff it are the only foreign troops stationed in Israel. Most are guards; a few are support. The technicians are recognizable by the protective suits they wear to shield them from the extraordinary amounts of radiation generated by the no less extraordinary apparatus the base is built around.

The small, rectangular-shaped portable radar peeking around a concrete blast wall is so advanced it can see over the horizon, and so sensitive it can spot a softball tossed in the air from 2,900 miles away. (Tehran is a mere 1,000 miles away to the northwest.) On Mt. Keren, the X-band radar is indeed pointed northwest, toward Iran, where it could detect a Shahab-3 missile launched toward Israel just seconds into its flight — and six to seven minutes earlier than Israel would know from its own radar, called Green Pine.

The extra time means a great deal. Six additional minutes increases by at least 60% the time Israeli officials would have to sound sirens that will send civilians scrambling into bomb shelters. It also substantially increases the chances of launching interceptors to knock down the incoming missile before it reaches Israel, hiking the likelihood its wreckage or warhead falls in, say, the wastes of the Jordanian desert rather than Israel’s heavily populated coastal plain. And should the interceptor miss, the extra time might allow for the launch of a second one.

All this is possible, however, only if U.S. officials choose to share the information, because only Americans have eyes on the radar. And if it’s difficult to imagine a U.S. commander-in-chief choosing to withhold an early warning that could save civilian lives of a close ally, both sides recognize that if the Iranian missiles were launched in retaliation for an Israeli air strike, the onus might be on the Israeli government that set such events in motion. In any event, military officials and outside analysts say that uncertainty can only inhibit any Israeli impulse to “go it alone.”

The setting of the unmarked U.S. compound, in a stretch of desert barely five miles from the Egyptian border, captures the situation. The state-of-the-art radar is tucked into a landscape buzzing with Israeli military posts and training operations. Israeli infantry drill on broken ground to either side of the road approaching the hilltop installation, which is surrounded by a chain link fence and a yellow metal gate. The guards who come out to meet visitors are plainclothes members of the Israeli Ministry of Defense agency responsible for security at Israel’s most sensitive sites, including the Dimona nuclear facility to the north.

Inside the wire, however, the chain of command is American. In the one-story building beside the radar, technically called the Army-Navy Transportable Surveillance Radar, or AN/TPY-2, the data flows first to technicians’ readouts, then on to California, where the U.S. Missile Defense Agency also registers feeds from satellites and sea-borne sensors. If their computers recognize an ascending fireball as a hostile missile launch, U.S. commanders may pass the information to their Israeli counterparts.

The entire system is of course built on the assumption that they will. The American and Israeli militaries have meshed their missile defense systems so snugly that they operate a joint command center, located on an Israeli military base near Tel Aviv. The Arrow interceptor missile that would be launched to knock down the attack is itself a joint-effort of the Pentagon and the Kirya, as Israeli’s defense headquarters is known. Come October, some 5,000 American troops will travel to Israel for their largest joint exercise ever, one constructed entirely around missile defense.

But the Israelis are keenly aware that, in this case, information is power, and Washington has the right to withhold it. “We share a lot, but there’s a valve on the pipeline, and it’s a one-way valve,” says a Western military official involved in the program.

The workaday reality of the U.S. radar — it has been operating since 2009 — also undercuts the notion of Israel launching a surprise attack on Iran that would also take Washington unawares. Not only does it see all traffic at Israeli air bases, it would certainly detect any large scale or other unusual patterns, including preparations for a massive air assault. Allowing the Americans that capability was a trade-off Israeli officials conceded only grudgingly, as TIME reported when the radar installation was announced in 2008.

“It’s about the United States hugging the Israelis,” says an American missile expert outside of government. The intense military cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem, which both sides agree is the closest it’s ever been, not only helps assure Israel’s security. It also tethers Israel’s military to the Pentagon. Sometimes the benefits are frankly political: When Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system won the heart of the Israeli public by downing short-range rockets out of the Gaza Strip, sparing Israeli cities, Congress quickly authorized $200 million to purchase nine more.

But the X-band radar installation offers both obvious advantages and what one Israeli official termed “golden handcuffs.”

“It’s a very sophisticated, eye-watering type of system, with a very powerful capability of precision,” says the U.S. missile expert. “It was an X-band radar which was used in Operation Burnt Frost when we shot down that satellite from an Aegis ship several years back that was in a low, decaying orbit. We didn’t just hit a bullet with a bullet, we hit a spot on a bullet.”

The Negev base was outfitted and staffed by the U.S. European Command, which covers Israel. “For security reasons we can’t talk too much about that gadget,” says Capt. John Ross, a EUCOM spokesman. Declining a TIME reporter’s request to visit the facility, the command insted issued a statement that seems calculatingly bland, at least until the final sentence: “The United States and Israel have a long-standing partnership in addressing issues of regional and global security. Consistent with our partnership and with our commitment to the security of our partners in the region and around the world, and at the request of the Government of Israel, the U.S. military has deployed a defensive radar system to Israel to help maintain regional security and provide a useful deterrent to any missile attacks. The Army Navy Transportable Surveillance Radar (or AN/TPY-2) is considered to be one of the most powerful systems available to track medium- to long-range ballistic missiles. The AN/TPY-2 will remain U.S. owned and operated.”


France to cap top pay in state groups

France’s new socialist government has launched a crackdown on excessive corporate pay by promising to slash the wages of chief executives at companies in which it owns a controlling stake, including EDF, the nuclear power group.

In a departure from the more boardroom-friendly approach of the previous right-of-centre administration, newly elected president François Hollande wants to cap the salary of company leaders at 20 times that of their lowest-paid worker.

According to Jean-Marc Ayrault, prime minister, the measure would be imposed on chief executives at groups such as EDF’s Henri Proglio and Luc Oursel at Areva, the nuclear engineering group. Their pay would fall about 70 per cent and 50 per cent respectively should the plan be cleared by lawyers and implemented in full.

Mr Proglio earned €1.6m last year – 65 times more than his lowest-paid worker.

The government also wants to pressure other companies in which it owns a stake to follow its lead, even though it has no legal power to force such a change.

France is unusual in that it still owns large stakes in many of its biggest global companies, ranging from GDF Suez, the gas utility; to Renault, the carmaker; and EADS, parent group of passenger jet maker Airbus.

Mr Ayrault said he “believed in the patriotism” of company leaders and their willingness to share the country’s economic pain. Mr Hollande and his ministers are taking a 30 per cent pay cut.

Demonstrating the government’s eagerness to flex its muscles over boardroom rewards, Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, said the state also plans to vote against a €400,000 payoff to the sacked chief executive of Air France-KLM at the company’s annual meeting in Paris on Thursday. France owns 15.8 per cent of the struggling Franco-Dutch airline.

Mr Moscovici said the payment to Pierre-Henri Gourgeon did not live up to the standards of “salary moderation and decency” that Mr Hollande wants to impose. Air France is going through a painful restructuring that will entail thousands of job losses.

Louis Gallois, the departing EADS chief executive and socialist supporter, warned that the pay cuts were going to be “steep” for some bosses and that such “crisis measures” must only be temporary, including Mr Hollande’s plan for a 75 per cent tax on yearly wages above €1m.

“We need to be more flexible than that,” he said, adding that it was “best left to companies to fix salaries”.

Pierre-Yves Gauthier of AlphaValue, a Paris-based corporate research group, said the measures “could almost have been put in place to create pressure on Mr Proglio”, whom some socialists would like removed because of his ties to Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president.


I wonder if that includes Airbus too?

How Tehran is outflanking Obama

Last week’s talks in Baghdad between Iran and the P5-plus-1 — the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — yielded no agreement. Paradoxically, however, both Washington and Tehran are likely to view the negotiations as successful, but for vastly different reasons.

There is an interest that both Iran and the United States hold in common: staving off military action, whether by the U.S. or Israel. From there, however, U.S. and Iranian motivations diverge; understanding this divergence is key to understanding why the talks thus far have failed.

Iranian officials publicly dismiss but likely privately worry about the consequences of war, while U.S. officials often seem more worried about the consequences of military action than about the Iranian nuclear program a strike would be designed to destroy.

Indeed, for many within the United States and other P5
-plus-1 countries, the mere fact of “intensive” talks about Iran’s nuclear program is itself a success. There is a narrative, espoused by then-candidate Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, that at the root of the Iran nuclear crisis is U.S.-Iran conflict, and that the root cause of that conflict is mistrust.

As a candidate, Obama pledged to meet personally with Iranian leaders and predicted that
the Iran
ians “would start changing their behavior if they started seeing that they had some incentives to do so.” And as President, in his famous June 4, 2009, speech in Cairo, Obama spoke of the need to “overcome decades of mistrust.”

In this narrative, talks are successful insofar as they end not in collapse but in a sustained negotiating process — that is, more talks.

For Iran, meanwhile, there is little indication that the talks are aimed at building confidence or opening up the broader possibility of U.S.-Iran rapprochement. Indeed, there is ample evidence that the Iranian regime views normal relations with the United States as undesirable, even threatening, while it views a nuclear weapons capability as strategically vital.

Giving up the latter for the former would make little sense to Tehran.

Prolonging the talks serves a threefold purpose for Iran beyond merely buying time or delaying an attack: first, to enhance Iranian prestige by sitting as co
-equal with the world’s great powers and discussing the great regional and global issues of the day; second, to secure tacit acceptance of nuclear advances once deemed unacceptable and third, to gain relief from sanctions without making major concessions.

In this round, Iran appears to have made progress toward the first and second goals, but not the third. Regarding the first, Iran reportedly included in its proposals items relating to Syria and other regional issues — clearly legitimizing its role as a regional power player.

Regarding the second, Iran’s low-level uranium enrichment appears off the table for discussion, and Western analysts now frequently assert that insisting on the full suspension of enrichment and reprocessing by Iran is “unrealistic,” even though it is called for in a series of UN Security Council resolutions.

The focus instead is now on Iran’s 20% enrichment. While the recent discovery of 27%-enriched uranium at Iran’s Fordo facility may have an innocent explanation, it would come as little surprise were Iran to pocket the P5
-plus-1 concessions and move the goalposts once again.

While Iran failed to meet its third likely objective — sanctions relief — it has little reason to rush. It is true that oil sanctions have had a harmful effect on the Iranian economy, but history suggests that authoritarian regimes are willing to allow their people to endure severe hardship for the furtherance of the regimes’ own survival.

For any negotiation to succeed, one must begin by understanding the interests of the other side. The fundamental bargain offered by the U.S. asks Iran to trade something it apparently values enormously — the ability to produce nuclear weapons — for something in which it has no demonstrable interest and likely regards as threatening
, closer ties with the West.

To change this and give negotiations a chance of succeeding, Iran must be presented with a different bargain: end its nuclear weapons work or face devastating consequences. Iran must be convinced that continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability will threaten, rather than ensure, the regime’s ultimate survival, and that talks are not a substitute for but a complement to a broader strategy, which includes ratcheting up the pressure on Tehran and bolstering the credibility of the U.S. military option.

The true failure of Baghdad and previous rounds of talks is not the failure to reach an agreement, but the failure to correctly apprehend Iranian ambitions and implement a strategy to counter them.


Christians Should "Convert, Pay Tribute, or Leave," Says Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Candidate?

According to the popular Egyptian website, El Bashayer, Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, just declared that he will "achieve the Islamic conquest (fath) of Egypt for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam, or else pay the jizya," the additional Islamic tax, or financial tribute, required of non-Muslims, or financial tribute.

In a brief report written by Samuel al-Ashay and published by El Bashayer on May 27, Morsi allegedly made these comments while speaking with a journalist at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, adding "We will not allow Ahmed Shafiq [his contending presidential candidate] or anyone else to impede our second Islamic conquest of Egypt."

After his interviewer pointed out that the first Muslim conquest of Egypt was "carried out at the hands of Amr bin al-As [in 641]," he asked Morsi, "Who will the second Islamic conqueror be?" Morsi, replied, "The second Muslim conqueror will be Muhammad Morsi," referring to himself, "and history will record it."

When asked what he thought about many Christian Copts coming out to vote for his secular opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, Morsi reportedly said, "They need to know that conquest is coming, and Egypt will be Islamic, and that they must pay jizya or emigrate."

If this interview is accurate, certainly Morsi would not be the first political Islamist in Egypt to say he wants to see the nation's Christians subjugated and made to pay jizya (see here for more examples).

However, considering that the English language media are currently reporting that Morsi is trying to woo Egypt's Christians and women to win more votes, it is difficult to imagine that he actually made those comments: one does not doubt that he favors the idea of a "second Islamic conquest" and the subjugation of Christians; one doubts that he would be so foolish as to reveal his mind now, publicly, and thereby jeopardize his chances of winning the presidency.

Then again, his remarks are reported in the context of a private meeting at the headquarters of the Brotherhood's political party. Perhaps Morsi thought he was speaking to a fellow Islamist who would not expose him? Perhaps he was frustrated at having to win Copts over and was "venting"? Stay tuned.


Dennis Ross: Saudi king vowed to obtain nuclear bomb after Iran

Former senior U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross confirmed for the first time on Tuesday night that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has explicitly warned the U.S. that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will seek to do so as well.

“If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons,” Abdullah told Ross during a meeting between the two in April 2009. Ross said he responded to the King’s assertion with a lengthy appeal against nuclear proliferation, but after hearing him out, the king responded by repeating the same line: “If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.”

Ross’ on-the-record confirmation of Abdullah’s threat was made in a joint public appearance with Washington Institute researcher David Makovsky at New York’s 92nd Street Y. The two co-authored a book on the Middle East peace process entitled Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.

Ross’ direct quote of the Saudi king appears to be the first public confirmation of the Saudi position and the threat of a Middle East nuclear arms race if Tehran acquires a nuclear bomb. It was reported previously, though not confirmed, that Abdullah had made a similar assertion in his February 2007 summit in Riyadh with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In June 2011, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, warned senior NATO military officials that the existence of an Iranian bomb "would compel Saudi pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences."

In February of this year, the London Times quoted a “senior Saudi official” as saying that Riyadh would launch a “twin-track nuclear weapons program” should Tehran realize its ambition of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The Saudi threat is one of the prime factors motivating Washington’s campaign to stop Tehran’s nuclear program. Extending the non-proliferation regime is one of U.S. President Barak Obama’s most cherished foreign policy and national security goals, analysts in New York said Tuesday night.

Ross said that while it would be “unrealistic” to expect serious progress in the nuclear talks with Iran after only two rounds of negotiations, the U.S. and the other P5+1 countries should set a deadline for the conclusion of diplomatic contacts – and make Tehran aware of it.

He added that recent public statements, including those made by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, about the U.S. being “militarily ready” for an attack on Iran “are not coincidental” and are aimed at increasing pressure on Tehran. According to Ross, Iran is much more concerned about an American military attack than an Israeli one because “an Israeli attack is not regime-threatening, while an American attack is.”

Ross also laid out a four-point plan for resolving the situation in Syria and reaching a “tipping point” that would see the ouster of President Assad. Ross said the Russians need to be brought on board to participate in the effort; the Alawites must be assured that there will be no acts of revenge by the Sunnis in a post-Assad era; the opposition Syrian National Council should be recognized as the alternative to the regime; and the U.S., together with Turkey and NATO, should set up “safe haven” areas in northern Syria.

Both Ross and Makovsky appeared to be impressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement on Tuesday to the INSS think tank that his aim is to prevent the establishment of a binational state, saying this new formula gives rise to optimism that Netanyahu will use his 94-seat majority in the Knesset to advance the peace process.

Ross, who resigned at the end of the year from his position in the Obama administration’s National Security Council, lavished praise on the president’s “unprecedented support” for Israel’s security. Israel’s security is “inviolable” in Obama’s eyes, he said, adding that as someone who has worked with five previous U.S. administrations, he is of the opinion that Obama’s level of support and cooperation with Israel is “better than all of his predecessors."


Worst kept secret

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chagas Disease, an incurable infection, called the ‘new AIDS of the Americas': report

Experts have dubbed it the “new AIDS of the Americas.”

A parasitic infection called Chagas Disease has similarities to the early spread of HIV, according to research published recently in the journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Like AIDS, Chagas is hard to detect and has a long incubation period before symptoms emerge, the study said, according to the New York Times.

As many as 8 million people are infected in the Western Hemisphere, mainly in Bolivia, Mexico, Colombia and Central America, as well as some 30,000 people in the U.S., the newspaper reported. Chagas infects people in areas of poverty, and most U.S. cases are found in immigrants.

Because Chagas is often left untreated, it spreads easily, either genetically or through blood transfusion. If caught early, it can be treated with intense medication, but the drugs are scarce in poor countries and very little money is invested in searching for new treatments, the paper said.

Chagas is usually transmitted from the bite of blood-sucking insects that release a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi into the victim’s bloodstream. The parasite can eventually make its way to the heart, where it can live and multiply.

Infections often stay dormant for years, and then emerge as heart arrhythmias and heart failure. About a quarter of victims develop enlarged heart or intestines that can lead to sudden death if they burst, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New research suggests Chagas may have led to the death of Charles Darwin — one of the great medical mysteries.

Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine believe Darwin suffered from three different illnesses, including a Chagas infection contracted on a voyage to the Andes in South America, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month.

Darwin wrote in his diary that he was bitten by a “great wingless black bug” during the trip in 1835. He died 47 years later of heart failure.


Iran, China condemn 'terrorist action' in Syria's Houla

Iran and China on Monday condemned killings in the Syrian town of Houla, blaming them on "terrorist actions" rather than its Damascus ally and calling for the perpetrators to be punished.

Iran "condemns the terrorist actions in the Houla area in Homs in Syria. The killing of a number of innocent people in the area has distressed the Islamic nations," the foreign ministry said in a statement relayed by official media.

It denounced the "suspect act" and urged authorities "to identify and punish those responsible."

Iran's statement followed strong condemnation on Sunday by the UN Security Council of a massacre, confirmed by UN observers in Syria, of at least 108 people, nearly half of them children, in Houla.

The Security Council text implicated Al-Assad's regime, saying the killings "involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood," and called "such outrageous use of force" against civilians a violation of international law.

Iran's arch-foe Israel charged that Iran and its Lebanese militia ally Hezbollah were "an inseparable part of the Syrian atrocities" and called for international action against them.

The statement by Iran's foreign ministry implicitly rejected that accusation and appeared to place the blame for the Houla massacre on Syrian rebels, who Damascus has characterised as "terrorists".

Syria is Iran's chief ally in the Middle East, and Iran has been providing political and material support to Assad's goverment as it fights the rebels. Tehran, however, has denied US allegations that it is providing Assad's forces with weapons and military advisers.

The United Nations says more than 10,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict since it started 15 months ago. Syrian activists put the toll at more than 13,000.

The Chinese foreign ministry said it was "deeply shocked" by the killings and urged the swift implementation of UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan, a day after the UN condemnation statement.

But it stopped short of pointing the finger directly at the Syrian government, after Russia questioned whether Damascus was behind the violence.

"China is deeply shocked and strongly condemns the incident," said foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin.

"China... calls for an immediate investigation into this issue and to find the perpetrators. This incident again shows that Syria should waste no time to implement the ceasefire and end the violence," he added.

Beijing and Moscow – both long-standing allies of Damascus – drew international criticism earlier this year for vetoing two UN Security Council resolutions against Al-Assad's regime.

They have since backed Annan's efforts to bring peace to Syria. But the peace envoy's six-point blueprint, which was supposed to begin with a ceasefire from April 12, has been broken daily.

"We hope Annan will continue to play an active role and relevant parties will continue to provide support toward Annan's six-point proposal," Liu said.

"We urge relevant parties in Syria to immediately and comprehensively uphold relevant Security Council resolutions and Annan's six-point proposal, stop all violence, properly protect innocent civilians, ease tensions there and push forward the political resolution of the Syrian issue."

Syrian authorities have denied their forces carried out the Houla killings, which have sparked an international outcry, with a spokesman blaming "terrorists" and saying the government had opened an investigation.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in Syria since an anti-regime revolt broke out in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog group.


US responsible for Houla massacre: Iran Majlis

The new Iranian Majlis (parliament) has strongly condemned the ruthless massacre of defenseless Syrians in Houla, saying the US is responsible for the attack.

“The barbaric massacre of the innocent people of Houla, in Homs, is reminiscent of the merciless terrorist atrocities in Sabra and Shatila and is a blatant symbol of terrorist acts and mass murder in this juncture of human history,” the 9th Majlis lawmakers said in a statement Monday.

On May 25, deadly clashes broke out between Syrian forces and armed groups in Houla, located in the central province of Homs.

Head of the UN observer mission in Syria Major General Robert Mood said in a briefing via video from Damascus to an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday that UN observers in Houla estimate 108 people were killed, including 49 children and 34 women.

The Iranian lawmakers said there is no doubt the terrorists responsible for such atrocities are armed and trained by the West and its regional allies and are dispatched into Syria by some of its neighbors.

“The US should be held accountable for its incorrect policies in Syria,” they said.

The lawmakers called on the United Nations Security Council to prevent the shipment of weapons into Syria.

Earlier, Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also condemned the ‘‘suspicious attack” in the village of Houla and stressed the necessity of identifying and punishing the perpetrators.

“The attack has been carried out in order to create chaos and instability in Syria and its perpetrators are trying to block the way to a peaceful resolution,” Mehmanparast said on Sunday.


The APU, they'll believe anything

Spain runs out of money

El Mundo reports that the country can no longer resist the bond markets as 10-year yields flirt with 6.5pc again, and the spread over Bunds – or `prima de riesgo' — hits a fresh record each day.

Premier Mariano Rajoy and his inner circle have allegedly accepted that Spain will have to call on Europe's EFSF bail-out fund to rescue the banking system, even though this means subjecting his country to foreign suzerainty.

Mr Rajoy denies the story, not surprisingly since it would be a devastating climb-down, and not all options are yet exhausted.

"There will not be any (outside) rescue for the Spanish banking system," he said.

Fine, so where is the €23.5bn for the Bankia rescue going to come from? The state's Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring (FROB) is down to €5.3bn, and there are many other candidates for that soup kitchen.

Spain must somehow rustle up €20bn or more on the debt markets. This will push the budget deficit back into the danger zone, though Madrid will no doubt try to keep it off books – or seek backdoor funds from the ECB to cap borrowing costs. Nobody will be fooled.

Meanwhile, Bankia's shares crashed 30pc this morning. JP Morgan and Nomura expect a near total wipeout. Investors who bought the new shares at flotation last year may lose almost everything.

This all has a very Irish feel to me, without Irish speed and transparency. Spanish taxpayers are swallowing the losses of the banking elites, sparing creditors their haircuts.

Barclays Capital says Spain's housing crash is only half way through. Home prices will have to fall at least 20pc more to clear the 1m overhang of excess properties. If so, the banking costs for the Spanish state are going to be huge.

The Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels puts likely write-offs at €270bn. We could see Spain's public debt surge into triple digits in short order.

As I wrote in my column this morning, the Spanish economy is spiralling into debt-deflation. Monetary and fiscal policy are both excruciatingly tight for a country in this condition. The plan to slash the budget deficit from 8.9pc to 5.3pc this year in the middle of an accelerating contraction borders on lunacy.

You cannot do this to a society where unemployment is already running at 24.4pc. Either Europe puts a stop to this very quickly by mobilising the ECB to take all risk of a Spanish (or Italian) sovereign default off the table – and this requires fiscal union to back it up – or it must expect Spanish patriots to take matters into their own hands and start to restore national self-control outside EMU.

Just to be clear to new readers, I am not "calling for" a German bail-out of Spain or any such thing. My view has always been that EMU is a dysfunctional and destructive misadventure – for reasons that have been well-rehearsed for 20 years on these pages.

My point is that if THEY want to save THEIR project and avoid a very nasty denouement, such drastic action is what THEY must do.

If Germany cannot accept the implications of this – and I entirely sympathise with German citizens who balk at these demands, since such an outcome alienates the tax and spending powers of the Bundestag to an EU body and means the evisceration of their democracy – then Germany must leave EMU. It is the least traumatic way to break up the currency bloc (though still traumatic, of course).

My criticism of Germany is the refusal to face up to either of these choices, clinging instead to a ruinous status quo.

The result of Europe's policy paralysis is more likely to be a disorderly break-up as Spain – and others – act desperately in their own national interest. Se salve quien pueda.

I fail to see how Spain gains anything durable from an EFSF loan package. The underlying crisis will grind on. Yes, the current account deficit has dropped from 10pc to 3.5pc of GDP, but chiefly by crushing internal demand and pushing the jobless toll to 5.6 million. The "unemployment adjusted current account equilibrium" — to coin a concept – is frankly frightening.

The FT's Wolfgang Munchau suggested otherwise last week, saying Spain's competitiveness gap has been exaggerated. I can see what he means since Spain's exports are growing even faster than German exports. But this is from a low base. It is not enough to plug the gap.

Spain is quite simply in the wrong currency. That is the root of the crisis. Loan packages merely drag out the agony.

A Spanish economist sent me an email over the weekend after the Bankia details came out saying:

"It looks like game over for the sovereign and the financial sector at the same time. Unless we get a Deus ex Machina, we'll be discussing much more seriously the benefits of a return to the peseta in no time."

It begins.


Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will

WASHINGTON — This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.

President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. It was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day, a reminder that a successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms, often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.

“How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.

They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”

His first term has seen private warnings from top officials about a “Whac-A-Mole” approach to counterterrorism; the invention of a new category of aerial attack following complaints of careless targeting; and presidential acquiescence in a formula for counting civilian deaths that some officials think is skewed to produce low numbers.

The administration’s failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy. And Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said.

Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.

But the strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda — just since April, there have been 14 in Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan — have also tested both men’s commitment to the principles they have repeatedly said are necessary to defeat the enemy in the long term. Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”

Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.

Mr. Blair’s criticism, dismissed by White House officials as personal pique, nonetheless resonates inside the government.

William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, said the president and his advisers understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, from ever lower on the Qaeda totem pole. What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough.

“One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. Daley said, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”

‘Maintain My Options’

A phalanx of retired generals and admirals stood behind Mr. Obama on the second day of his presidency, providing martial cover as he signed several executive orders to make good on campaign pledges. Brutal interrogation techniques were banned, he declared. And the prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.

What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.

It was a pattern that would be seen repeatedly, from his response to Republican complaints that he wanted to read terrorists their rights, to his acceptance of the C.I.A.’s method for counting civilian casualties in drone strikes.

The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.

“The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.

Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of “detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term, transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.

Even before he was sworn in, Mr. Obama’s advisers had warned him against taking a categorical position on what would be done with Guantánamo detainees. The deft insertion of some wiggle words in the president’s order showed that the advice was followed.

Some detainees would be transferred to prisons in other countries, or released, it said. Some would be prosecuted — if “feasible” — in criminal courts. Military commissions, which Mr. Obama had criticized, were not mentioned — and thus not ruled out.

As for those who could not be transferred or tried but were judged too dangerous for release? Their “disposition” would be handled by “lawful means, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.”

A few sharp-eyed observers inside and outside the government understood what the public did not. Without showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

But a year later, with Congress trying to force him to try all terrorism suspects using revamped military commissions, he deployed his legal skills differently — to preserve trials in civilian courts.

It was shortly after Dec. 25, 2009, following a close call in which a Qaeda-trained operative named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had boarded a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb sewn into his underwear.

Mr. Obama was taking a drubbing from Republicans over the government’s decision to read the suspect his rights, a prerequisite for bringing criminal charges against him in civilian court.

The president “seems to think that if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war,” former Vice President Dick Cheney charged.

Sensing vulnerability on both a practical and political level, the president summoned his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., to the White House.

F.B.I. agents had questioned Mr. Abdulmutallab for 50 minutes and gained valuable intelligence before giving him the warning. They had relied on a 1984 case called New York v. Quarles, in which the Supreme Court ruled that statements made by a suspect in response to urgent public safety questions — the case involved the location of a gun — could be introduced into evidence even if the suspect had not been advised of the right to remain silent.

Mr. Obama, who Mr. Holder said misses the legal profession, got into a colloquy with the attorney general. How far, he asked, could Quarles be stretched? Mr. Holder felt that in terrorism cases, the court would allow indefinite questioning on a fairly broad range of subjects.

Satisfied with the edgy new interpretation, Mr. Obama gave his blessing, Mr. Holder recalled.

“Barack Obama believes in options: ‘Maintain my options,’ “ said Jeh C. Johnson, a campaign adviser and now general counsel of the Defense Department.

‘They Must All Be Militants’

That same mind-set would be brought to bear as the president intensified what would become a withering campaign to use unmanned aircraft to kill Qaeda terrorists.

Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser recounted.

In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.

The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.

It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

‘A No-Brainer’

About four months into his presidency, as Republicans accused him of reckless naïveté on terrorism, Mr. Obama quickly pulled together a speech defending his policies. Standing before the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington, he mentioned Guantánamo 28 times, repeating his campaign pledge to close the prison.

But it was too late, and his defensive tone suggested that Mr. Obama knew it. Though President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate, had supported closing the Guantánamo prison, Republicans in Congress had reversed course and discovered they could use the issue to portray Mr. Obama as soft on terrorism.

Walking out of the Archives, the president turned to his national security adviser at the time, Gen. James L. Jones, and admitted that he had never devised a plan to persuade Congress to shut down the prison.

“We’re never going to make that mistake again,” Mr. Obama told the retired Marine general.

General Jones said the president and his aides had assumed that closing the prison was “a no-brainer — the United States will look good around the world.” The trouble was, he added, “nobody asked, ‘O.K., let’s assume it’s a good idea, how are you going to do this?’ “

It was not only Mr. Obama’s distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting, but also part of a deeper pattern, said an administration official who has watched him closely: the president seemed to have “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen.”

In fact, both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the attorney general, Mr. Holder, had warned that the plan to close the Guantánamo prison was in peril, and they volunteered to fight for it on Capitol Hill, according to officials. But with Mr. Obama’s backing, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, blocked them, saying health care reform had to go first.

When the administration floated a plan to transfer from Guantánamo to Northern Virginia two Uighurs, members of a largely Muslim ethnic minority from China who are considered no threat to the United States, Virginia Republicans led by Representative Frank R. Wolf denounced the idea. The administration backed down.

That show of weakness doomed the effort to close Guantánamo, the same administration official said. “Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the guy,” he said. “That’s not what happened. It’s like a boxing match where a cut opens over a guy’s eye.”

The Use of Force

It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.

The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.

“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges. “If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.

The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.

Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.

“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”

But the control he exercises also appears to reflect Mr. Obama’s striking self-confidence: he believes, according to several people who have worked closely with him, that his own judgment should be brought to bear on strikes.

Asked what surprised him most about Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon, the national security adviser, answered immediately: “He’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.”

In fact, in a 2007 campaign speech in which he vowed to pull the United States out of Iraq and refocus on Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama had trumpeted his plan to go after terrorist bases in Pakistan — even if Pakistani leaders objected. His rivals at the time, including Mitt Romney, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mrs. Clinton, had all pounced on what they considered a greenhorn’s campaign bluster. (Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had become “Dr. Strangelove.”)

In office, however, Mr. Obama has done exactly what he had promised, coming quickly to rely on the judgment of Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Brennan, a son of Irish immigrants, is a grizzled 25-year veteran of the C.I.A. whose work as a top agency official during the brutal interrogations of the Bush administration made him a target of fierce criticism from the left. He had been forced, under fire, to withdraw his name from consideration to lead the C.I.A. under Mr. Obama, becoming counterterrorism chief instead.

Some critics of the drone strategy still vilify Mr. Brennan, suggesting that he is the C.I.A.’s agent in the White House, steering Mr. Obama to a targeted killing strategy. But in office, Mr. Brennan has surprised many former detractors by speaking forcefully for closing Guantánamo and respecting civil liberties.

Harold H. Koh, for instance, as dean of Yale Law School was a leading liberal critic of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. But since becoming the State Department’s top lawyer, Mr. Koh said, he has found in Mr. Brennan a principled ally.

“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

The president values Mr. Brennan’s experience in assessing intelligence, from his own agency or others, and for the sobriety with which he approaches lethal operations, other aides say.

“The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things.”

Yet the administration’s very success at killing terrorism suspects has been shadowed by a suspicion: that Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been taken into American custody, and the president has balked at adding new prisoners to Guantánamo.

“Their policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value targets,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the intelligence committee. “They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing.”

Mr. Obama’s aides deny such a policy, arguing that capture is often impossible in the rugged tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen and that many terrorist suspects are in foreign prisons because of American tips. Still, senior officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon acknowledge that they worry about the public perception.

“We have to be vigilant to avoid a no-quarter, or take-no-prisoners policy,” said Mr. Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief lawyer.


The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets, and their reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency to reject what he called the Bush administration’s “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

But he has found that war is a messy business, and his actions show that pursuing an enemy unbound by rules has required moral, legal and practical trade-offs that his speeches did not envision.

One early test involved Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The case was problematic on two fronts, according to interviews with both administration and Pakistani sources.

The C.I.A. worried that Mr. Mehsud, whose group then mainly targeted the Pakistan government, did not meet the Obama administration’s criteria for targeted killing: he was not an imminent threat to the United States. But Pakistani officials wanted him dead, and the American drone program rested on their tacit approval. The issue was resolved after the president and his advisers found that he represented a threat, if not to the homeland, to American personnel in Pakistan.

Then, in August 2009, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, told Mr. Brennan that the agency had Mr. Mehsud in its sights. But taking out the Pakistani Taliban leader, Mr. Panetta warned, did not meet Mr. Obama’s standard of “near certainty” of no innocents being killed. In fact, a strike would certainly result in such deaths: he was with his wife at his in-laws’ home.

“Many times,” General Jones said, in similar circumstances, “at the 11th hour we waved off a mission simply because the target had people around them and we were able to loiter on station until they didn’t.”

But not this time. Mr. Obama, through Mr. Brennan, told the C.I.A. to take the shot, and Mr. Mehsud was killed, along with his wife and, by some reports, other family members as well, said a senior intelligence official.

The attempted bombing of an airliner a few months later, on Dec. 25, stiffened the president’s resolve, aides say. It was the culmination of a series of plots, including the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex. by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam.

Mr. Obama is a good poker player, but he has a tell when he is angry. His questions become rapid-fire, said his attorney general, Mr. Holder. “He’ll inject the phrase, ‘I just want to make sure you understand that.’ “ And it was clear to everyone, Mr. Holder said, that he was simmering about how a 23-year-old bomber had penetrated billions of dollars worth of American security measures.

When a few officials tentatively offered a defense, noting that the attack had failed because the terrorists were forced to rely on a novice bomber and an untested formula because of stepped-up airport security, Mr. Obama cut them short.

“Well, he could have gotten it right and we’d all be sitting here with an airplane that blew up and killed over a hundred people,” he said, according to a participant. He asked them to use the close call to imagine in detail the consequences if the bomb had detonated. In characteristic fashion, he went around the room, asking each official to explain what had gone wrong and what needed to be done about it.

“After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States,” said Michael E. Leiter, then director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Even John Brennan, someone who was already a hardened veteran of counterterrorism, tightened the straps on his rucksack after that.”

David Axelrod, the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and achievements.

In the most dramatic possible way, the Fort Hood shootings in November and the attempted Christmas Day bombing had shown the new danger from Yemen. Mr. Obama, who had rejected the Bush-era concept of a global war on terrorism and had promised to narrow the American focus to Al Qaeda’s core, suddenly found himself directing strikes in another complicated Muslim country.

The very first strike under his watch in Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, offered a stark example of the difficulties of operating in what General Jones described as an “embryonic theater that we weren’t really familiar with.”

It killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents. It was hardly the kind of precise operation that Mr. Obama favored. Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.

The sloppy strike shook Mr. Obama and Mr. Brennan, officials said, and once again they tried to impose some discipline.

In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.

But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the C.I.A. for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.

Now, in the wake of the bad first strike in Yemen, Mr. Obama overruled military and intelligence commanders who were pushing to use signature strikes there as well.

“We are not going to war with Yemen,” he admonished in one meeting, according to participants.

His guidance was formalized in a memo by General Jones, who called it a “governor, if you will, on the throttle,” intended to remind everyone that “one should not assume that it’s just O.K. to do these things because we spot a bad guy somewhere in the world.”

Mr. Obama had drawn a line. But within two years, he stepped across it. Signature strikes in Pakistan were killing a large number of terrorist suspects, even when C.I.A. analysts were not certain beforehand of their presence. And in Yemen, roiled by the Arab Spring unrest, the Qaeda affiliate was seizing territory.

Today, the Defense Department can target suspects in Yemen whose names they do not know. Officials say the criteria are tighter than those for signature strikes, requiring evidence of a threat to the United States, and they have even given them a new name — TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes. But the details are a closely guarded secret — part of a pattern for a president who came into office promising transparency.

The Ultimate Test

On that front, perhaps no case would test Mr. Obama’s principles as starkly as that of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and Qaeda propagandist hiding in Yemen, who had recently risen to prominence and had taunted the president by name in some of his online screeds.

The president “was very interested in obviously trying to understand how a guy like Awlaki developed,” said General Jones. The cleric’s fiery sermons had helped inspire a dozen plots, including the shootings at Fort Hood. Then he had gone “operational,” plotting with Mr. Abdulmutallab and coaching him to ignite his explosives only after the airliner was over the United States.

That record, and Mr. Awlaki’s calls for more attacks, presented Mr. Obama with an urgent question: Could he order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

Mr. Obama gave his approval, and Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011, along with a fellow propagandist, Samir Khan, an American citizen who was not on the target list but was traveling with him.

If the president had qualms about this momentous step, aides said he did not share them. Mr. Obama focused instead on the weight of the evidence showing that the cleric had joined the enemy and was plotting more terrorist attacks.

“This is an easy one,” Mr. Daley recalled him saying, though the president warned that in future cases, the evidence might well not be so clear.

In the wake of Mr. Awlaki’s death, some administration officials, including the attorney general, argued that the Justice Department’s legal memo should be made public. In 2009, after all, Mr. Obama had released Bush administration legal opinions on interrogation over the vociferous objections of six former C.I.A. directors.

This time, contemplating his own secrets, he chose to keep the Awlaki opinion secret.

“Once it’s your pop stand, you look at things a little differently,” said Mr. Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s former general counsel.

Mr. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director and now an adviser to Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mr. Romney, commended the president’s aggressive counterterrorism record, which he said had a “Nixon to China” quality. But, he said, “secrecy has its costs” and Mr. Obama should open the strike strategy up to public scrutiny.

“This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable,” Mr. Hayden said. “I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C. memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.”

Tactics Over Strategy

In his June 2009 speech in Cairo, aimed at resetting relations with the Muslim world, Mr. Obama had spoken eloquently of his childhood years in Indonesia, hearing the call to prayer “at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.”

“The United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” he declared.

But in the months that followed, some officials felt the urgency of counterterrorism strikes was crowding out consideration of a broader strategy against radicalization. Though Mrs. Clinton strongly supported the strikes, she complained to colleagues about the drones-only approach at Situation Room meetings, in which discussion would focus exclusively on the pros, cons and timing of particular strikes.

At their weekly lunch, Mrs. Clinton told the president she thought there should be more attention paid to the root causes of radicalization, and Mr. Obama agreed. But it was September 2011 before he issued an executive order setting up a sophisticated, interagency war room at the State Department to counter the jihadi narrative on an hour-by-hour basis, posting messages and video online and providing talking points to embassies.

Mr. Obama was heartened, aides say, by a letter discovered in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. It complained that the American president had undermined Al Qaeda’s support by repeatedly declaring that the United States was at war not with Islam, but with the terrorist network. “We must be doing a good job,” Mr. Obama told his secretary of state.

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s record has not drawn anything like the sweeping criticism from allies that his predecessor faced. John B. Bellinger III, a top national security lawyer under the Bush administration, said that was because Mr. Obama’s liberal reputation and “softer packaging” have protected him. “After the global outrage over Guantánamo, it’s remarkable that the rest of the world has looked the other way while the Obama administration has conducted hundreds of drone strikes in several different countries, including killing at least some civilians,” said Mr. Bellinger, who supports the strikes.

By withdrawing from Iraq and preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, Mr. Obama has refocused the fight on Al Qaeda and hugely reduced the death toll both of American soldiers and Muslim civilians. But in moments of reflection, Mr. Obama may have reason to wonder about unfinished business and unintended consequences.

His focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.

Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.

Mr. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, said the strike campaign was dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”

But Mr. Blair’s dissent puts him in a small minority of security experts. Mr. Obama’s record has eroded the political perception that Democrats are weak on national security. No one would have imagined four years ago that his counterterrorism policies would come under far more fierce attack from the American Civil Liberties Union than from Mr. Romney.

Aides say that Mr. Obama’s choices, though, are not surprising. The president’s reliance on strikes, said Mr. Leiter, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “is far from a lurid fascination with covert action and special forces. It’s much more practical. He’s the president. He faces a post-Abdulmutallab situation, where he’s being told people might attack the United States tomorrow.”

“You can pass a lot of laws,” Mr. Leiter said, “Those laws are not going to get Bin Laden dead.”


Monday, May 28, 2012

US commandos parachuted into N. Korea: report

US and South Korean special forces have been parachuting into North Korea to gather intelligence about underground military installations, a US officer has said in comments carried in US media.

Army Brigadier General Neil Tolley, commander of US special forces in South Korea, told a conference held in Florida last week that Pyongyang had built thousands of tunnels since the Korean war, The Diplomat reported.

"The entire tunnel infrastructure is hidden from our satellites," Tolley said, according to The Diplomat, a current affairs magazine. "So we send (South Korean) soldiers and US soldiers to the North to do special reconnaissance."

"After 50 years, we still don't know much about the capability and full extent" of the underground facilities," he said, in comments reported by the National Defense Industrial Association's magazine on its website.

Tolley said the commandos were sent in with minimal equipment to facilitate their movements and minimize the risk of detection by North Korean forces.

At least four of the tunnels built by Pyongyang go under the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea, Tolley said.

"We don't know how many we don't know about," he admitted.

Among the facilities identified are 20 air fields that are partially underground, and thousands of artillery positions.

In February, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that had built at least two new tunnels at a nuclear testing site, likely in preparation for a new test.



For Combat Veteran, Following Doctor’s Orders Could Lead to Eviction

After Eugene Ovsishcher returned from a nine-month combat tour in Afghanistan, he suffered what his doctors called symptoms of post-traumatic stress: nightmares, flashbacks and a pervasive anxiety. A psychiatrist advised him to get a dog, and last August he did — a shaggy, mocha Shih Tzu puppy that Mr. Ovsishcher named Mickey because he crawled like a mouse.

The dog proved to be the right medicine, Mr. Ovsishcher said, because Mickey woke him from nightmares by sensing something was wrong and barking. The pet settled him down when he was alone and anxious. Mickey even checked up on him “like a registered nurse” when he had a fever.

“Take a look at his face,” Mr. Ovsishcher said, comparing Mickey to Chewbacca, the hairy character in the “Star Wars” series. “You can’t stay anxious or angry or whatever. You look at that face and you start laughing.”

But now Mr. Ovsishcher is facing eviction from his three-bedroom co-op at Trump Village in Coney Island, Brooklyn, because the housing complex has a no-pets policy. He is wrestling with a kind of Sophie’s Choice: his home or his dog.

In an interview with Mickey resting quietly at his feet, Mr. Ovsishcher said he would rather give up his home, where he lives with his wife, Galina, and their two children, Philip, 15, and Yaffa, 10.

“I can't get rid of a family member,” said Mr. Ovsishcher, 42, who immigrated from Moscow in 1994 and enlisted in the Army five years later. “If they asked me which I want to keep, the kids or the apartment, I would keep the kids. Same thing with the dog.”

Mr. Ovsishcher’s dilemma opens a window on a conflict that regularly crops up in a city that has an ambivalent attitude toward pets, particularly dogs. The image of the New Yorker walking a terrier or a poodle along a row of brownstones or near a fire hydrant has become an endearing Hollywood cliché. Yet many buildings strictly ban dogs, others — like those managed by the New York City Housing Authority — have size limits, and some have no-pet leases that are observed mostly in the breach or when neighbors complain.

There are, of course, sometimes valid reasons for complaints, said Cissy Stamm, co-founder of New York City Area Assistance Dogs, which can lead to the removal of dogs, even those needed by the disabled. An ill-mannered dog that barks for hours, has accidents in the elevator or nips at neighbors may lose its right to remain. Still, said Ms. Stamm, who is aided by an Anatolian shepherd for stress and partial deafness, “The laws are so complicated that very few people understand them.”

Many tenants will not move into a no-dog building; others will try to take advantage of a curious loophole in New York City law: A landlord who learns of a pet on the premises has three months after the discovery to take legal action, or else the pet is there to stay. Indeed, several tenants in Mr. Ovsishcher’s building said that despite the no-pets policy, many residents had dogs, possibly because they got through the 90-day period, or because they persuaded the management that the dogs were needed to assist someone who is blind, uses a wheelchair or has psychological impairments.

Those interviewed said eviction was too harsh a penalty. Lisa Tropp, 70, a Ukrainian-born home care attendant who has lived in Trump Village for 15 years, said she did not approve of tenants' having pets. But, she said, “Many people have dogs, big dogs, but if he lives here, he should stay here.”

The 90-day loophole is one of the issues in the case against Mr. Ovsishcher. He claims that the building staff has seen him with his dog since Mickey showed up in August and that nothing was done to remove him until February, when he received a warning letter. Mr. Ovsishcher next applied to register Mickey with the building as a comfort dog, but he was turned down.

Michael Rosenthal, a lawyer representing Trump Village’s Section 4 — part of a complex of seven brick towers built in 1963 and 1964 by Donald J. Trump’s father, Fred, with support from the state’s Mitchell-Lama affordable-housing program — said exceptions to the no-dogs policy were made for service and comfort dogs. But the letter Mr. Ovsishcher submitted was from his family doctor and not an expert in post-traumatic stress.

“Unless he can show otherwise, the building’s position is that it is not a comfort animal,” Mr. Rosenthal said.

Mr. Ovsishcher, who works as a subway repairman, has a letter from a psychiatrist, but said he did not include it with his application because he was told by building staff that a letter from any doctor would suffice. It is not implausible that a judge who saw the psychiatrist’s letter might decide to end the eviction action. But if Mr. Ovsishcher lost, he could be forced to sell his co-op and leave.

Mr. Rosenthal said the co-op board had been forced to act quickly because under the 90-day rule, if they did not, they would have no recourse.

Mr. Ovsishcher spent seven years in the Army, first with NATO troops in Kosovo, and then as a field artillery sergeant in a unit firing 105-millimeter howitzer cannons in the Kandahar and Bagram areas of Afghanistan, where he was often peppered with enemy rocket fire.

“Remember the words of the anthem: ‘rockets' red glare,’” he said. “I lived that. The rockets were flying all night long, but that flag was still standing.”

His symptoms worsened when he learned that a close friend had been killed by a car bomb in Iraq. In February 2010 he occupied the co-op, having paid $387,500 for it. His wife, a certified public accountant, decided in February to run for the co-op board — around the time the building alerted Mr. Ovsishcher that he could not have a dog — and he said co-op politics might be at play in the eviction effort.

Mr. Ovsishcher’s tenant lawyer, Maddy Tarnofsky, has filed a federal housing discrimination complaint on his behalf.

“The heart of this story is that there is a guy who comes to this country and enlists and puts himself in harm’s way,” Ms. Tarnofsky said. “He didn’t have to do this, and he comes back damaged and they spit on him. A doctor recommends he have a support animal, and for some unknown reason they decide that they’re not doing this for him.”

Mr. Rosenthal said he had three pending eviction cases involving animals kept by Trump Village residents.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Revealed: Hundreds of words to avoid using online if you don't want the government spying on you (and they include 'pork', 'cloud' and 'Mexico')

The Department of Homeland Security has been forced to release a list of keywords and phrases it uses to monitor social networking sites and online media for signs of terrorist or other threats against the U.S.

The intriguing the list includes obvious choices such as 'attack', 'Al Qaeda', 'terrorism' and 'dirty bomb' alongside dozens of seemingly innocent words like 'pork', 'cloud', 'team' and 'Mexico'.

Released under a freedom of information request, the information sheds new light on how government analysts are instructed to patrol the internet searching for domestic and external threats.

The words are included in the department's 2011 'Analyst's Desktop Binder' used by workers at their National Operations Center which instructs workers to identify 'media reports that reflect adversely on DHS and response activities'.

Department chiefs were forced to release the manual following a House hearing over documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit which revealed how analysts monitor social networks and media organisations for comments that 'reflect adversely' on the government.

However they insisted the practice was aimed not at policing the internet for disparaging remarks about the government and signs of general dissent, but to provide awareness of any potential threats.

As well as terrorism, analysts are instructed to search for evidence of unfolding natural disasters, public health threats and serious crimes such as mall/school shootings, major drug busts, illegal immigrant busts.

The list has been posted online by the Electronic Privacy Information Center - a privacy watchdog group who filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act before suing to obtain the release of the documents.

In a letter to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counter-terrorism and Intelligence, the centre described the choice of words as 'broad, vague and ambiguous'.

They point out that it includes 'vast amounts of First Amendment protected speech that is entirely unrelated to the Department of Homeland Security mission to protect the public against terrorism and disasters.'

A senior Homeland Security official told the Huffington Post that the manual 'is a starting point, not the endgame' in maintaining situational awareness of natural and man-made threats and denied that the government was monitoring signs of dissent.

However the agency admitted that the language used was vague and in need of updating.

Spokesman Matthew Chandler told website: 'To ensure clarity, as part of ... routine compliance review, DHS will review the language contained in all materials to clearly and accurately convey the parameters and intention of the program.'


AP IMPACT: Almost half of new vets seek disability

America's newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.

A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.

What's more, these new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.

It's unclear how much worse off these new veterans are than their predecessors. Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims - the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds, and more awareness of problems such as concussions and PTSD. Almost one-third have been granted disability so far.

Government officials and some veterans' advocates say that veterans who might have been able to work with certain disabilities may be more inclined to seek benefits now because they lost jobs or can't find any. Aggressive outreach and advocacy efforts also have brought more veterans into the system, which must evaluate each claim to see if it is war-related. Payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.

As the nation commemorates the more than 6,400 troops who died in post-9/11 wars, the problems of those who survived also draw attention. These new veterans are seeking a level of help the government did not anticipate, and for which there is no special fund set aside to pay.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is mired in backlogged claims, but "our mission is to take care of whatever the population is," said Allison Hickey, the VA's undersecretary for benefits. "We want them to have what their entitlement is."

The 21 percent who filed claims in previous wars is Hickey's estimate of an average for Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. The VA has details only on the current disability claims being paid to veterans of each war.

The AP spent three months reviewing records and talking with doctors, government officials and former troops to take stock of the new veterans. They are different in many ways from those who fought before them.

More are from the Reserves and National Guard - 28 percent of those filing disability claims - rather than career military. Reserves and National Guard made up a greater percentage of troops in these wars than they did in previous ones. About 31 percent of Guard/Reserve new veterans have filed claims compared to 56 percent of career military ones.

More of the new veterans are women, accounting for 12 percent of those who have sought care through the VA. Women also served in greater numbers in these wars than in the past. Some female veterans are claiming PTSD due to military sexual trauma - a new challenge from a disability rating standpoint, Hickey said.

The new veterans have different types of injuries than previous veterans did. That's partly because improvised bombs have been the main weapon and because body armor and improved battlefield care allowed many of them to survive wounds that in past wars proved fatal.

"They're being kept alive at unprecedented rates," said Dr. David Cifu, the VA's medical rehabilitation chief. More than 95 percent of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have survived.

Larry Bailey II is an example. After tripping a rooftop bomb in Afghanistan last June, the 26-year-old Marine remembers flying into the air, then fellow troops attending to him.

"I pretty much knew that my legs were gone. My left hand, from what I remember I still had three fingers on it," although they didn't seem right, Bailey said. "I looked a few times but then they told me to stop looking." Bailey, who is from Zion, Ill., north of Chicago, ended up a triple amputee and expects to get a hand transplant this summer.

He is still transitioning from active duty and is not yet a veteran. Just over half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA care have used it so far.

Of those who have sought VA care:

-More than 1,600 of them lost a limb; many others lost fingers or toes.

-At least 156 are blind, and thousands of others have impaired vision.

-More than 177,000 have hearing loss, and more than 350,000 report tinnitus - noise or ringing in the ears.

-Thousands are disfigured, as many as 200 of them so badly that they may need face transplants. One-quarter of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw, one study found.

"The numbers are pretty staggering," said Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who has done four face transplants on non-military patients and expects to start doing them soon on veterans.

Others have invisible wounds. More than 400,000 of these new veterans have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD.

Tens of thousands of veterans suffered traumatic brain injury, or TBI - mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts - and doctors don't know what's in store for them long-term. Cifu, of the VA, said that roughly 20 percent of active duty troops suffered concussions, but only one-third of them have symptoms lasting beyond a few months.

That's still a big number, and "it's very rare that someone has just a single concussion," said David Hovda, director of the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. Suffering multiple concussions, or one soon after another, raises the risk of long-term problems. A brain injury also makes the brain more susceptible to PTSD, he said.

On a more mundane level, many new veterans have back, shoulder and knee problems, aggravated by carrying heavy packs and wearing the body armor that helped keep them alive. One recent study found that 19 percent required orthopedic surgery consultations and 4 percent needed surgery after returning from combat.

All of this adds up to more disability claims, which for years have been coming in faster than the government can handle them. The average wait to get a new one processed grows longer each month and is now about eight months - time that a frustrated, injured veteran might spend with no income.

More than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged - older than 125 days.

The VA's benefits chief, Hickey, gave these reasons:

-Sheer volume. Disability claims from all veterans soared from 888,000 in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2011. Last year's included more than 230,000 new claims from Vietnam veterans and their survivors because of a change in what conditions can be considered related to Agent Orange exposure. Those complex, 50-year-old cases took more than a third of available staff, she said.

-High number of ailments per claim. When a veteran claims 11 to 14 problems, each one requires "due diligence" - a medical evaluation and proof that it is service-related, Hickey said.

-A new mandate to handle the oldest cases first. Because these tend to be the most complex, they have monopolized staff and pushed up average processing time on new claims, she said.

-Outmoded systems. The VA is streamlining and going to electronic records, but for now, "We have 4.4 million case files sitting around 56 regional offices that we have to work with; that slows us down significantly," Hickey said.

Barry Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, called Hickey's efforts "commendable," but said: "The VA has a long way to go" to meet veterans' needs. Even before the surge in Agent Orange cases, VA officials "were already at a place that was unacceptable" on backlogged claims, he said.

He and VA officials agree that the economy is motivating some claims. His group helps veterans file them, and he said that sometimes when veterans come in, "We'll say, `Is your back worse?' and they'll say, `No, I just lost my job.'"

Jesinoski does believe these veterans have more mental problems, especially from multiple deployments.

"You just can't keep sending people into war five, six or seven times and expect that they're going to come home just fine," he said.

For taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning. With any war, the cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later, when diseases of aging are more common, said Harvard economist Linda Bilmes. She estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.

"This is a huge number and there's no money set aside," she said. "Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it's very plausible many people will feel we can't afford these benefits we overpromised."

How would that play to these veterans, who all volunteered and now expect the government to keep its end of the bargain?

"The deal was, if you get wounded, we're going to supply this level of support," Bilmes said. Right now, "there's a lot of sympathy and a lot of people want to help. But memories are short and times change."