Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bill Would Force Intel Chief to Renounce ‘Secret Patriot Act’

For months, two Senators have screamed bloody murder that the government holds a secret legal interpretation of the Patriot Act so broad that it amounts to a whole different law giving the feds massive domestic surveillance powers. Now, a measure by Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall would force the U.S. intelligence chief, and by extension the entire intelligence community, to admit that they went too far in their Patriot Act interpretations — if they don’t find a way to wiggle out of it.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence meets Thursday to prepare the annual bill authorizing the U.S. intelligence agency’s operations. During that “mark-up” process, Wyden and Udall will ask their colleagues to include a measure compelling the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to produce a “detailed assessment of the problems posed by the reliance of government agencies” (.pdf) on “interpretations of domestic surveillance authorities that are inconsistent with the understanding of such authorities by the public.” Wyden’s staff provided Danger Room with a copy of the proposed amendment.

Specifically, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper would have to produce “a plan for addressing such problems” with secret legal interpretations regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Patriot Act, the government’s two most important domestic spying laws.

The bill, though, doesn’t force Holder and Clapper to roll back those secret interpretations. They’ve just got to basically admit they’ve messed up. Even if Wyden and Udall can get their colleagues to sign on to their effort, it would be naive to think the nation’s top prosecutor and intelligence officer are so thick that they can’t find an artful way of saying they’ve done nothing wrong.

The irony is that this week, Clapper’s office conceded to the Senate panel that they have indeed been secretly re-interpreting the Patriot Act. A letter from a Clapper aide to Wyden and Udall implied as much (.pdf), and pledged to consider making those secret interpretations public. And Tuesday, the Obama administration’s nominee to lead the National Counterterrorism Center, Matthew Olsen, acknowledged that “some of the pleadings and opinions related to the Patriot Act” to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that approves snooping warrants “are classified.”

Olsen, who currently serves as the top lawyer for the National Security Agency, added that “similar” secret interpretations exist for the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which already expanded FISA’s scope for what some consider blanket surveillance.

Under Wyden and Udall’s amendment, Holder and Clapper would have to deliver a public assessment to the intelligence committees in the House and Senate about the perfidies of secret surveillance law within 60 days of passage.

It’s entirely unclear whether they’ve got the votes to get their measure into the intelligence bill. Not many senators on the intelligence panel signed on to Wyden and Udall’s outrage about secret expansions of the Patriot Act when they unveiled their worries in May. A vote on sending the intel bill to the full Senate could happen as early as Thursday. Even if it passes, it’s essentially up to Holder and Clapper to decide how much wrongdoing they want to admit to in the letter.

“It is critical that officials of the United States not secretly reinterpret public laws in a manner that is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of such laws,” Wyden and Udall’s proposal reads, “and not describe the execution of such laws in a way that misinforms or misleads the public.”

Wired Chinese Nuclear Accident Alleged

"A nuclear submarine in the port of Dalian in northern China has suffered an accident and is leaking radiation, according to a former Japanese fighter pilot-turned-blogger.
“The area is strictly closed off by the Chinese military, and the situation is said to be very dangerous,” Mamoru Sato wrote in Japanese of the alleged July 29 incident.

As with all news stories about Chinese military developments, Sato’s account should be read with a healthy dose of skepticism. As of July 31, no major media had reported on the alleged accident. The only corroboration came from Twitter user “28481k(Alan Lai),” who wrote, “Bohai is closed after a suspected nuclear leak occurred on new nuclear submarine building in Dalian.”

Bohai is one of the shipyard complexes in the vicinity of Dalian."
War is Boring

It's a deal: Obama, Congress will avert default

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ending a perilous stalemate, President Barack Obama and congressional leaders announced agreement Sunday night on an emergency deal to avoid to avert the nation's first-ever financial default. The arrangement would cut more than $2 trillion from federal spending over a decade.

The dramatic agreement, with scant time remaining before Tuesday's deadline, "will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America," Obama said. Default "would have had a devastating effect on our economy," the president said at the White House, relaying the news to the nation and to financial markets around the world. He thanked the leaders of both parties.

House Speaker John Boehner telephoned Obama at mid-evening to say the agreement had been struck, officials said.

No votes were expected in either house of Congress until Monday at the earliest, to give rank-and-file lawmakers time to review the package.

But leaders in both parties were already beginning the work of rounding up votes.

In a conference call with his rank and file, Boehner said the agreement "isn't the greatest deal in the world, but it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town."

Obama underscored that point. He said that, if enacted, the agreement would mean "the lowest level of domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president" more than a half century ago.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid provided the first word of the agreement.

"Sometimes it seems our two sides disagree on almost everything," he said. "But in the end, reasonable people were able to agree on this: The United States could not take the chance of defaulting on our debt, risking a United States financial collapse and a world-wide depression."

In his remarks, Obama said there will be no initial cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. But he said both could be on the table along with changes in tax law as part of future cuts.

That was a reference to a special joint committee of lawmakers that will be established to recommend a second round of deficit reductions, to be voted on by Congress before year's end as part of an arrangement to raise the debt ceiling yet again. That is expected to be necessary early next year.

Pending final passage, the agreement marked a dramatic reach across party lines that played out over six months and several rounds of negotiating, interspersed by periods of intense partisanship.

A final stick point had concerned possible cuts in the nation's defense budget in the next two years. Republicans wanted less. Democrats pressed for more in an attempt to shield domestic accounts from greater reductions.

Details apparently included in the agreement provide that the federal debt limit would rise in two stages by at least $2.2 trillion, enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections.

Big cuts in government spending would be phased in over a decade. Thousands of programs - the Park Service, Labor Department and housing among them - could be trimmed to levels last seen years ago.

No Social Security or Medicare benefits would be cut, but the programs could be scoured for other savings. Taxes would be unlikely to rise.

Without legislation in place by Tuesday, the Treasury will not be able to pay all its bills, raising the threat of a default that administration officials say could inflict catastrophic damage on the economy.

If approved, though, a compromise would presumably preserve America's sterling credit rating, reassure investors in financial markets across the globe and possibly reverse the losses that spread across Wall Street in recent days as the threat of a default grew.

Officials familiar with the negotiations said that McConnell had been in frequent contact with Vice President Joe Biden, who has played an influential role across months of negotiations.

In the first stage under the agreement, the nation's debt limit would rise immediately by nearly $1 trillion and spending would be cut by a slightly larger amount over a decade.

That would be followed by creation of the new congressional committee that would have until the end of November to recommend $1.8 trillion or more in deficit cuts, targeting benefit programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, or overhauling the tax code. Those deficit cuts would allow a second increase in the debt limit.

If the committee failed to reach its $1.8 trillion target, or Congress failed to approve its recommendations by the end of 2011, lawmakers would then have to vote on a proposed constitutional balanced-budget amendment.

If that failed to pass, automatic spending cuts totaling $1.2 trillion would automatically take effect, and the debt limit would rise by an identical amount.

Social Security, Medicaid and food stamps would be exempt from the automatic cuts, but payments to doctors, nursing homes and other Medicare providers could be trimmed, as could subsidies to insurance companies that offer an alternative to government-run Medicare.

Officials describing those steps spoke on condition of anonymity, citing both the sensitivity of the talks and the potential that details could change.

The deal marked a classic compromise, a triumph of divided government that would let both Obama and Republicans claim they had achieved their objectives.

As the president demanded, the deal would allow the debt limit to rise by enough to tide the Treasury over until after the 2012 elections.

But it appeared Obama's proposal to extend the current payroll tax holiday beyond the end of 2011 would not be included, nor his call for extended unemployment benefits for victims of the recession.

Republicans would win spending cuts of slightly more than the increase in the debt limit, as they have demanded. Additionally, tax increases would be off-limits unless recommended by the bipartisan committee that is expected to include six Republicans and six Democrats. The conservative campaign to force Congress to approve a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution would be jettisoned.

Congressional Democrats have long insisted that Medicare and Social Security benefits not be cut, a victory for them in the proposal under discussion. Yet they would have to absorb even deeper cuts in hundreds of federal programs than were included in Reid's bill, which many Democrats supported in a symbolic vote on the House floor on Saturday.

As details began to emerge, one liberal organization, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, issued a statement that was harshly critical.

"Seeing a Democratic president take taxing the rich off the table and instead push a deal that will lead to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefit cuts is like entering a bizarre parallel universe - one with horrific consequences for middle-class families," it said.

While politically powerful business groups like the Chamber of Commerce are expected to support the deal, tea party organizations and others have looked disapprovingly on legislation that doesn't require approval of a balanced-budget amendment.

If they keep to that position, it could present Boehner a challenge in lining up enough votes to support a compromise, just as Obama may have to stand down rebels within his own party.


We all get the short end.

Syrians mark bleak Ramadan after 80 killed in Hama

(Reuters) - Syrians began the Muslim Ramadan fast in somber mood on Monday after troops stormed into Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre, in one of the bloodiest days in a five-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Rights activists said 80 civilians were killed in Sunday's tank-backed assault on the central Syrian city where Assad's father crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood revolt 29 years ago, razing neighbourhoods and killing many thousands of people.

Security forces had besieged the Sunni Muslim city of 700,000 for nearly a month before the crackdown on the eve of Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims fast in daylight hours.

Many flock to mosque prayers at night, occasions which may provide opportunities for protests to multiply across Syria.

The Syrian state news agency said the military entered Hama to purge armed groups terrorising citizens, an account dismissed as "nonsense" by a U.S. diplomat in Damascus.

U.S. President Barack Obama said he was appalled by the Syrian government's "horrifying" violence against its people in Hama and promised to work with others to isolate Assad.

"Syria will be a better place when a democratic transition goes forward," Obama said in a statement on Sunday.

Britain and France condemned the Hama assault. Italy urged a tough statement by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China have previously opposed any condemnation of Syria.

The European Union plans to extend sanctions on Monday by slapping asset freezes and travel bans on five more Syrians. EU sanctions already target Assad and at least two dozen officials, as well as Syrian firms linked to the military.

Turkey, one of Assad's main allies until the uprising, said it and the rest of the Muslim world were "deeply disappointed" by the violence that belied Assad's earlier reform pledges.

The Syrian human rights organization Sawasiah said the civilian death toll in Hama had risen to 80. The independent group cited medical officials and witnesses in its report.

Syrian authorities have expelled most independent journalists since the anti-Assad unrest began in March, making it difficult to verify reports of violence and casualties.

Assad has increasingly relied on security services and army units dominated by members of his minority Alawite sect, which has dominated power since a 1963 Baath Party coup, to suppress protests in Syria, where most people are Sunni Muslims.

The Muslim Brotherhood accused the Alawite elite of waging sectarian warfare on Sunnis by attacking Hama.

"Syria is witnessing a war of sectarian cleansing. The regime has linked its open annihilation with the crescent of Ramadan. It is a war on the identity and beliefs of the Syrian nation ... on Arab Muslim Syria," it said in a statement.


The 1982 Hama massacre instilled such fear that few Syrians were ready to challenge Assad family rule openly until this year, when many were inspired by the largely peaceful popular uprisings that toppled Arab autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia.

"The authorities think that somehow they can prolong their existence by engaging in full armed warfare on their own citizens," U.S. Press Attache J.J. Harder told Reuters.

Citing hospital officials, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said earlier that the death toll in Hama was likely to rise, adding that dozens had been badly wounded.

A doctor, who did not want to be further identified for fear of arrest, told Reuters that most bodies were taken to the city's Badr, al-Horani and Hikmeh hospitals.

Scores of people were wounded and blood for transfusions was in short supply, he said by telephone from the city.

"Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machineguns randomly and overrunning makeshift road blocks erected by the inhabitants," the doctor said, the sound of machinegun fire crackling in the background.

Residents said irregular Alawite "shabbiha" militiamen had accompanied the attacking forces in buses and put up tents overnight at Qazo roundabout in the city's western quarter.

The state news agency said military units were fighting gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns.

The Syrian leadership blames "armed terrorist groups" for most killings during the revolt, saying that more than 500 soldiers and security personnel have been killed.

Another resident said that in Sunday's assault, bodies were lying uncollected in the streets and so the death toll would rise. Army snipers had climbed onto the roofs of the state-owned electricity company and the main prison, he said.

Tank shells were falling at the rate of four a minute in and around north Hama, residents said. Electricity and water supplies to the main neighbourhoods had been cut, a tactic used regularly by the military when sweeping into restive towns.

In southern Syria, rights campaigners said security forces killed three civilians when they stormed houses in the town of al-Hirak, 35 km (20 miles) northeast of the city of Deraa.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said troops had detained more than 100 people in Mouadamiyah in Damascus. A Western diplomat said he saw several tanks enter the suburb.

In the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, residents said at least 11 civilians had been killed in a weekend crackdown.


Saturday, July 30, 2011

DEBT TO ME: Uncle Sam Writes 212 Million Checks a Month

With a potential government shutdown looming, members of the Obama administration have been frequently warning Americans about just how many people are counting on federal programs and payouts.

During a recent White House briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney noted the payments “include bills to contractors, small businesses, big businesses that do work with the government, the people who manufacture the ammunition that we send to our troops in Afghanistan.”

“We write 80 million checks a month,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on “Fox News Sunday” this week. “There are millions and millions of Americans that depend on those checks coming on time.”

Those 80 million checks are just the ones from the Treasury. In total, the government sends out nearly 212 million checks or electronic payments on a monthly basis. The top five categories are: Medicare claims, Social Security payments to older Americans and the disabled, food stamps and payments to active and retired military personnel.

Irvin Faunce, who served as a Deputy Commissioner of the Financial Management Service within the Treasury Department, worries that the sheer volume of the payments may have dulled lawmakers and agencies in Washington to the reality of exactly what the government is spending.

“I don't believe that there really is a realization that this is really real money,” he told Fox News.

Faunce also notes that once a government check is issued, it’s literally as good as cash. “There is no stop payment capability; it's not like a commercial check that can be stopped.”

Say, for instance, that you take a tax refund check to your bank. According to Faunce, the bank must give you cash – even if it has some institutional worry that the U.S. government doesn’t actually have the funds to reimburse the bank. “Then if it bounces, from the standpoint that the Treasury can’t reimburse banks for the money that they paid, then the banks are out of the money.”

Faunce notes that some banks might be willing to tap into their own reserves, fully believing the government will eventually made good on the debt. However, that would mean the banks couldn’t use the money to earn interest – a move they certainly hope they won’t have to make.

Fox News

Budget, debt worries plague troops

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (AP) - A half a world away from the Capitol Hill deadlock, the economy and debt crisis are weighing heavily on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

And the top question on their minds Saturday even as bombings rocked the city around them, was one the top U.S. military officer couldn't answer.

Will we get paid?

"I actually don't know the answer to that question," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of troops, while at the same time telling them they will continue to go to work each day.

But he offered a bit more optimism than defense officials have acknowledged when those questions have come up in recent weeks.

"I have confidence that at some point in time, whatever compensation you are owed, you will be given," said Mullen, who is making his 15th trip to Afghanistan, just two months before he retires. But, he noted, "There are plenty of you living paycheck to paycheck so if paychecks were stopped it would have a devastating impact very quickly."

Questions on military spending and how the ongoing budget struggles will impact them dominated the morning meeting at the Kandahar base, and it was the first one Marines asked when he moved on to Camp Leatherneck later..

Troops pressed Mullen on how much the Pentagon is spending on contractors, when many tasks could be done by military members. They questioned whether the budget pressures will focus on pay or equipment and other acquisition. They bemoaned what it could cost to implement the new policy repealing the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military. And they wondered if their retirement pay was safe.

For his part, Mullen said the cost of repealing the gay ban was very limited. And he said there were no immediate plans to affect retirement benefits.

Mullen was visiting troops across southern Afghanistan on Saturday, a region that has been pummeled by violence and suicide attacks in recent weeks.

But there were only a smattering of questions on the military strategy or the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which is beginning with a 10,000 drawdown by the end of this year.

Instead, it was all about money and job.

Mullen warned the troops that as time goes on, budget restrictions will pare down the size of the military, and he told them to keep that in mind as they pursue their education and try to further their careers so they will have a better chance of re-enlisting.

But in the end, he punted the questions back to Capitol Hill.

Asked whether Congress members would cut their own benefits if they acted to cut military pay, Mullen triggered chuckles when he recommended the troops e-mail their representatives with that query.

"They're the ones that can answer that particular question," he said at a town hall-style gathering of soldiers in Kandahar.


Moody's: Neither debt plan protects the nation's AAA rating

The "limited magnitude" of both debt plans put forward by congressional leaders would not put the nation's AAA credit rating back on solid footing, Moody's Investors Service announced Friday.

"Reductions of the magnitude now being proposed, if adopted, would likely lead Moody's to adopt a negative outlook on the AAA rating," the credit rating agency said in a new report. "The chances of a significant improvement in the long-term credit profile of the government coming from deficit reductions of the magnitude proposed in either plan are not high."

It added that "prolonged debt ceiling deliberations" have increased the odds of a downgrade, but that the firm is still confident policymakers will avoid a default.

"It remains our expectation that the government will continue with timely debt service," the firm said.
It also clarified that as far as it is concerned, the nation will only default if it misses an interest or principal payment on U.S. debt, not if it misses payments on other obligations like federal employee salaries or Social Security benefits.

The report also gives credence to a claim popular among Republicans: that the government has enough cash to avoid a default even past the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department.

"If the debt limit is not raised before August 2, we believe that the Treasury would give priority to debt service payments and could thus postpone a potential debt default for a number of days," it said. "Revenues would be more than adequate for some period of time to meet those payments, although other outlays would be severely reduced as a result."

Moody's previously put the nation's top credit rating on watch for a downgrade on July 13, as lawmakers continue to fight over a deal to raise the debt limit.

While Moody's is confident it will not have to downgrade the nation's rating because of a default, it maintained that long-term debt and deficit problems will continue to weigh on the AAA mark.

As Republicans and the White House fight over the length of a debt limit increase, Moody's said it would not reaffirm the nation's AAA rating unless there is at least a six-month boost to the debt limit.

However, if the nation were to default for a short period of time, Moody's said it would knock its credit rating down to AA, under the assumption that the default would be quickly rectified and investor losses would be minimized. However, in the "extremely unlikely" situation that investors do lose on Treasury investments, a lower rating could be given.

The Hill

The tide is turning and the crazy don't sound so crazy no more

Friday, July 29, 2011

Riding A Dead Horse

I thought you might all appreciate some Afghan humor today. I found this on the website Who is Who in Afghanistan, which is a great site to check out if you want dirt on Afghan politicians and power brokers. Most of the content on the site seems to be provided by Afghans themselves, and although it’s quite biased sometimes, I have found most of the entries to be mostly accurate.

I enjoyed this post’s combination of folklore from the Middle East and Native American wisdom. So there’s your dose of multiculturalism for the day. On an admin note, my OCD got the best of me and I cleaned up the original post’s spelling a bit.

Afghan Nasreddin tells how to ride the dead horse:...

7. Reclassifying the horse as “living-impaired.”

In Defense of Embedding

Two comic journalists, David Axe and Ted Rall, have both reported from Afghanistan multiple times–and in very different ways. Axe embeds with the military, while Rall travels on his own, studiously avoiding them. Cartoon Movement has published two opposing columns by the authors on the practice of embedded reporting. Rall's column was published Monday.

By David Axe

In a storm of dust and noise, the blue-painted helicopter belonging to an anonymous military contractor settled onto the playground-size landing zone of a U.S. Amy outpost in eastern Afghanistan, just a few miles from the border with Pakistan. I tumbled onto the loose gravel and, bowed under the weight of my backpack, body armor and cameras, lurched toward a beckoning sergeant. The Taliban had kept this outpost, just outside the town of Margah in eastern Paktika province, under steady rocket bombardment. We had to get under cover.

It was the first of 10 days that I, a reporter for Wired, C-SPAN and Voice of America, would spend living with the platoon of Army paratroopers occupying the Margah outpost. The troopers planned, trained, killed time, patrolled around the outpost and, twice during my stay, set out on long missions into the mountains, where they immediately came under attack. I was there for everything, cameras rolling, notepad quickly filling up, dodging bullets and rockets just like the soldiers did.

In quieter moments, the young paratroopers recalled an incident in October when as many as 300 Taliban attacked in the middle of the night, nearly overrunning the base. The Americans fought heroically -- and as luck would have it, all survived. When the sun rose, 92 dead Taliban littered the field. One kid named Timothy James held back tears as he described the experience. "I'm just glad to be alive," he said. His 19-year-old face was, for a moment, a perfect snapshot of the traumas of the decade-old Afghanistan war.

The reporting I did in my time in Margah was some of the best of my so-far seven-year career as a war correspondent. And it was work I could not have done without the support of the U.S. military. The Army provided all my transportation, lodging and protection in a remote, lethal environment. Technically, it was an "embed" -- an arrangement that some critics have characterized as reporters cozying up to the military, or the military "buying" favorable coverage.

But to me, the category is incidental, and the criticism often off-base.

For one, embedding is not new. What we now call an "embed" is, in fact, an old way of reporting on war. Ernie Pyle did it in World War II; he even wore a uniform. In Vietnam, Larry Burrows shot some of the most moving, and important, images of the war while living and traveling with American troops. Both men hated war. Both died in combat. I've faced mortal danger on many occasions while embedded; living inside a military unit does not necessarily make a reporter safer.
Embedding is not unique to the U.S. military or even to full-scale war. I've worked in conflict zones across the world, from Somalia, to Congo and Iraq. The logistics of traveling to these countries can be daunting. My personal security is often tenuous. To make it work, I've sometimes accompanied organizations accustomed to and equipped for operating in difficult environments; often, these organizations are also my subjects.

In Somalia in 2007, I lived in a hotel but enjoyed security courtesy of some off-duty government soldiers (whom I paid) and patrolled with Ugandan peacekeepers. In Congo, I lived and traveled with the U.N. In Iraq, I was sometimes alone; other times, I tagged along with: British and U.S. diplomats; British, American, Dutch, Australian and Iraqi soldiers; Kurdish elders and members of their Peshmerga militia.

In every case, I made it clear that the organizations would not be permitted to censor my reporting. In only one case did anyone -- the British Army -- even attempt to do so, and they relented after I complained loudly. My stories have often been highly critical of the armies, agencies and nonprofit groups that helped facilitate my coverage. My reporting from Margah clearly reflected my personal conviction that James and the other Americans on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border are out-numbered, in serious danger and fighting an unnecessary war that they cannot win.

An embedded reporter is not automatically a propagandist. Now, critics of embedding might say that it's not necessary for an organization to practice outright censorship in order to influence the stories an embedded reporter produces. That's true: there are more subtle means of influence. Namely, a journalist might be reluctant to publish negative news about people he has grown to like on a personal level. But that kind of favoritism is not an exclusive product of embedding. Rather, it's the result of bad journalism -- and can happen whenever a reporter and his source spend more than 30 seconds talking to each other. That is to say, every time.

Honestly, the only valid criticism of embedded reporters also applies to those who never live inside an organization they are also writing about. Bad journalists produce bad journalism, regardless of the details of their access and logistics.

Moreover, I'm at a loss for how one might report on war from the perspective of the combatants, without accompanying the combatants. Granted, for Western reporters, that usually means traveling with U.S. and allied forces, though English-speaking reporters have succeeded in embedding with the Taliban and other "enemy" extremist groups -- albeit rarely, as these groups are usually more interested in killing reporters than showing them around.

Perhaps what the critics of embeds are really trying to say is that they want to read more reports about war that don't portray the conflict from the perspective of American soldiers. That's a perfectly valid point. But as long as Americans and their allies are fighting, someone needs to tell stories about these soldiers. To do that, you have to go where the soldiers are, get close and stay there long enough to understand them, their motives, their successes and their failures. If you want to call that an "embed," fine. But don't call it wrong. It's just journalism.

Cartoon Movement

Is Your Senator Using The Distraction Of The Debt Ceiling To Support The Feds Secret Interpretation Of Spying Laws?

We were just reporting on how Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was tap dancing around some specific questions about how much warrantless spying on Americans US federal intelligence agencies do. Much of that discussion revolved around the controversial FISA Amendments Act (recursively called the FAA) of 2008, which you may recall as the law that both made warrantless wiretapping officially legal (despite the fact that the federal government had been doing it for years under a very questionable legal theory) and granted telecom companies retroactive immunity for having helped the feds get such wiretaps despite the lack of warrants (and, in some cases, nothing more than a post-it note asking for it).

The FAA is set to expire in 2012, but, as we've seen with any law that grants the federal government more power to spy on Americans without oversight, there is no way the folks in power want to give up such things. Now come reports that, while most of Congress is focused on that whole debt ceiling thing, some have decided this is the perfect cover to quickly and secretly re-up the FAA. It's been reported that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is likely meeting behind closed doors today in an effort (by some) to re-up the FAA now, before anyone even realizes it's being debated. The last thing they want is pesky civil libertarians to re-start the discussion about the general constitutionality of spying on Americans without a warrant (believing in the 4th Amendment is sooooo old fashioned).

In trying to hunt down more details about what's going on, we found out that Senators Wyden and Udall -- who, as we've been discussing, have been trying to stop the federal government from secretly interpreting these laws in ways that seem contrary to what most believe the laws say -- are trying to add an amendment to this attempt to reauthorize the FAA. It's difficult to see how anyone can, in good conscience, vote against this. It includes such basic truths as:

In democratic societies, citizens rightly expect that their government will not arbitrarily keep information secret from the public but instead will act with secrecy only in certain limited circumstances.

The amendment specifically says that the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence would need to explain "the problems posed by the reliance of government agencies and departments on interpretations of domestic surveillance authorities that are inconsistent with the understanding of such authorities by the public."

Who could possibly vote against that?

Well, tragically, since this supposed meeting is "closed" (though not classified), the Senators get to hide from view for a while. It's one of those arcane Senate rules that are all too often used to allow Senators to avoid public scrutiny for their actions. While no members of the public or press are allowed in the room, and those in the room cannot tell what anyone else says (or votes) in the room... since it's not classified the Senators who are in the room can absolutely say what they said or did in the room. The specific votes on this particular amendment will be made public three weeks after the markup occurs, buying anyone voting against it three weeks of cover (and when the votes come out, they can pretend this is "old news"). The amendment itself is not secret or classified. Senators cannot reasonably claim that they can't say how they voted for "national security" reasons (a popular cop out) because their votes are going to be made public. The only reason to not answer the question of how they voted is because they want to avoid scrutiny.

So... if your Senator happens to be on the Senate Intelligence Committee now would be the time to call, email, tweet, fax, carrier pigeon, etc. to ask them whether they voted to let Americans know how the government is secretly interpreting its own laws... or if they voted against your basic fundamental rights to know how the government interprets its own laws. The list of Senators on the Committee are as follows:

Dianne Feinstein, California (chair)
Saxby Chambliss, Georgia (vice chair)
John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia
Olympia J. Snowe, Maine
Ron Wyden, Oregon
Richard Burr, North Carolina
Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland
James Risch, Idaho
Bill Nelson, Florida
Daniel Coats, Indiana
Kent Conrad, North Dakota
Roy Blunt, Missouri
Mark Udall, Colorado
Marco Rubio, Florida
Mark Warner, Virginia

If any of these Senators represent you, please reach out to them as soon as possible to ask them how they voted on the amendment embedded below, and please report back to us with what you hear. Let's not let certain Senators allow the government to make up its own rules and not tell the American public what those rules are.

Tech Dirt
They got old booner chasing his tail

Russia builds missile shield

Russia has built a missile defence shield covering two-thirds of the country, said a top military commander.

The new system will provide protection against missile attacks on Moscow and central Russia, where most of the industry is located, said Lieutenant General Valery Ivanov, commander of the newly formed air-and-space forces.

The missile defence system, which features S-300 and S-400 long-range anti-missiles, is undergoing tests and will become operational by December 1, he told reporters on Friday.

The S-400 system boasts more advanced jamming resistance features, more target engagement channels and enhanced capabilities to hit high-speed targets than its predecessor, S-300, according to specialists.

By 2015 the air-and-space command will begin inducting a new missile system, S-500, said General Ivanov. It is a fifth-generation surface-to-air missile capable of intercepting hypersonic ballistic targets flying in near space at a speed of 5 km per second.

The news was announced on the same day Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin met senior U.S. officials in Washington to discuss possible cooperation on missile defence. Moscow is seeking legal guarantees that the missile shield the U.S. is building for Europe will not target Russian strategic missiles. Mr. Rogozin said if the sides reach agreement Russia will accordingly modify its own missile defence system. Otherwise, the Russian missile shield will target U.S. missiles deployed in Europe.

The Hindu

Turkey's Entire Armed Forces Resign En Masse

Just to make things a little more interesting, and better for Greece, we have learned of a shocking mass resignation by virtually all of Turkey's armed forces. According to Reuters: "The head of the Turkish armed forces General Isik Kosaner along with the heads of the ground, naval and air forces have resigned, broadcaster CNN Turk reported on Friday. The reason for their resignations was not immediately clear. Tensions between the military and the government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have been high in recent years and the Supreme Military Council was due to hold a major meeting next week." We have also learned that the Turkish AKP government is planning to hand over its struggle against the PKK to local police forces. In essence, Turkey is now effectiely defenseless. This is the perfect time for Greece to invade Turkey, and promptly flip it to the Fourth Reich in exchange for some debt forgiveness. There you go: we can spin idiotic things like the best of CNBC too.
Zero Headge

House panel approves broadened ISP snooping bill

Internet providers would be forced to keep logs of their customers' activities for one year--in case police want to review them in the future--under legislation that a U.S. House of Representatives committee approved today.

The 19 to 10 vote represents a victory for conservative Republicans, who made data retention their first major technology initiative after last fall's elections, and the Justice Department officials who have quietly lobbied for the sweeping new requirements, a development first reported by CNET.

A last-minute rewrite of the bill expands the information that commercial Internet providers are required to store to include customers' names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses, some committee members suggested. By a 7-16 vote, the panel rejected an amendment that would have clarified that only IP addresses must be stored.

It represents "a data bank of every digital act by every American" that would "let us find out where every single American visited Web sites," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who led Democratic opposition to the bill.

Lofgren said the data retention requirements are easily avoided because they only apply to "commercial" providers. Criminals would simply go to libraries or Starbucks coffeehouses and use the Web anonymously, she said, while law-abiding Americans would have their activities recorded.

To make it politically difficult to oppose, proponents of the data retention requirements dubbed the bill the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011, even though the mandatory logs would be accessible to police investigating any crime and perhaps attorneys litigating civil disputes in divorce, insurance fraud, and other cases as well.

"The bill is mislabeled," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the panel. "This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It's creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes."

Supporters of the measure characterized it as something that would aid law enforcement in investigating Internet crimes. Not enacting it "would keep our law enforcement officials in the dark ages," said its primary sponsor, House Judiciary chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

"Both Democratic and Republican administrations have called for data retention for over a decade," said Smith, who noted that groups including the National Sheriffs' Association, the Major County Sheriffs' Association, and the Fraternal Order of Police have endorsed the concept.

For a while, it seemed like opposition from a handful of conservative members of Congress, coupled with Democrats concerned about civil liberties, would derail the bill.

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and previous chairman of the House Judiciary committee, had criticized it at a hearing earlier this month, and again in the voting session that began yesterday and continued through this morning.

"I oppose this bill," said Sensenbrenner. "It can be amended, but I don't think it can be fixed... It poses numerous risks that well outweigh any benefits, and I'm not convinced it will contribute in a significant way to protecting children."

So did Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who has made privacy a signature issue and introduced a geolocation bill last month after trying to curb the use of airport body-scanners two years ago.

The original version of the bill, introduced in May, required Internet providers to "retain for a period of at least 18 months the temporarily assigned network addresses the service assigns to each account, unless that address is transmitted by radio communication." The wireless exemption appeared to be the result of lobbying from major carriers, but drew the ire of the Justice Department, which says it didn't go far enough, and was removed in a revised draft.

The mobile exemption represents a new twist in the debate over data retention requirements, which has been simmering since the Justice Department pushed the topic in 2005, a development that was first reported by CNET. Proposals publicly surfaced in the U.S. Congress the following year, and President Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said it's an issue that "must be addressed." So, eventually, did FBI director Robert Mueller.

In January 2011, CNET was the first to report that the Obama Justice Department was following suit. Jason Weinstein, the deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division, warned that wireless providers must be included because "when this information is not stored, it may be impossible for law enforcement to collect essential evidence."

Smith introduced a broadly similar bill in 2007, without the wireless exemption, calling it a necessary anti-cybercrime measure. "The legislation introduced today will give law enforcement the tools it needs to find and prosecute criminals," he said in a statement at the time.

"Retention" vs. "preservation"
At the moment, Internet service providers typically discard any log file that's no longer required for business reasons such as network monitoring, fraud prevention, or billing disputes. Companies do, however, alter that general rule when contacted by police performing an investigation--a practice called data preservation.

A 1996 federal law called the Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act regulates data preservation. It requires Internet providers to retain any "record" in their possession for 90 days "upon the request of a governmental entity."

Because Internet addresses remain a relatively scarce commodity, ISPs tend to allocate them to customers from a pool based on whether a computer is in use at the time. (Two standard techniques used are the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol and Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet.)

In addition, an existing law called the Protect Our Children Act of 2008 requires any Internet provider who "obtains actual knowledge" of possible child pornography transmissions to "make a report of such facts or circumstances." Companies that knowingly fail to comply can be fined up to $150,000 for the first offense and up to $300,000 for each subsequent offense.


Great, bigger government, next they will tell you how the money was already spent, we are just paying for contracts and services already rendered....Pile upon pile of bull shit.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

US House panel OKs $47.2 billion in foreign aid

WASHINGTON: A House of Representatives panel has approved a $47.2 billion bill that would cut US foreign aid and restrict assistance to Pakistan.

Members of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations unanimously approved the legislation Wednesday.

The bill would provide money for the next budget, beginning Oct. 1, and is $8.6 billion less than the current amount.

Lawmakers are increasingly frustrated with Pakistan’s effort in combating terrorism, especially after Osama bin Laden lived for years, undetected, deep inside the country.

The bill would require the administration to certify to Congress that Islamabad is cooperating in the fight before the aid can be provided.

Republican Rep. Kay Granger, subcommittee chairwoman, said Congress wants to account for every dollar invested in Pakistan. The full Appropriations Committee will consider later.


Hey it's working!

Without Tea Party Votes, Boehner Speakership Hits Rough Waters

Just as the Washington narrative had started to shift a bit from "House Speaker John Boehner doesn't have the juice to get his conference to support him" to "Boehner is getting his fellow Republicans to rally around him" it shifts back to the former.

That's because he was unable to get enough members of the Republican conference to commit to voting for his debt-ceiling increase.

It should go without saying, this is a signal setback for the speaker, who in recent days had pleaded, cajoled and demanded that his conference get behind him if, for no other reason, to show solidarity as he confronts the Democrats who control the Senate and the White House.

Aides in the speaker's office are telling reporters that they still expect a vote Thursday night. But that doesn't minimize the fact that after raising expectations for a vote that was seen as a test of his persuasive powers as speaker, Boehner was forced to order a strategic retreat.

The message many analysts are bound to take away from this episode is that the tail is wagging the dog to a degree a large degree in the House Republican conference, namely members linked to the Tea Party, including freshmen.

Those members have little allegiance to Boehner. In fact, many of them eye him suspiciously as a card-carrying member of the Washington establishment that's part of the problem, not the solution.

They felt burned by the budget deal Boehner negotiated with President Obama earlier this year to prevent the government shutdown in March, that Boehner told them there were more spending cuts in that package than there actually were.

They vowed they wouldn't be fooled again and that was reflected, in part, in Boehner's failure to get enough votes for his debt-ceiling bill by the time of the scheduled vote, 6 pm eastern time Thursday.

It should be said that not all House Republicans with Tea Party connections were against Boehner. Some held a news conference for his bill Thursday. Unfortunately for Boehner, not enough supported him.

So the question is, now what? Again, the speaker's office may be able to take another stab at a floor vote Thursday evening if leaders can find the votes they need.

But if they come up short, that leaves no clear path in Congress to solving the debt-ceiling crisis.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, had hoped that if the House passed the Boehner legislation and sent it to the Senate, he could use it as a vehicle to move his alternative proposal. That can't happen if Boehner can't get the bill out of the House.

The key difference between Reid's plan and Boehner's is that the senator would raise the debt ceiling enough so that the next debt ceiling vote wouldn't take place until after the 2012 election.

Boehner's proposal calls for two votes, one immediately, another in six months, pushing it into the general election season. That is unacceptable to Democrats who say it would just extend economic and financial uncertainty into next year, definitely no help to an economy in a slow-motion recovery.

Reid's legislation is unlikely to get the 60 votes it would need to proceed to a Senate floor vote.

Which leaves us exactly where we've been, except with even less time before a possible U.S. default — stalemate.

And it leaves Boehner appearing weakened, the incredible shrinking speaker. His speakership appears to have hit the Tea Party iceberg and is taking on water.


They are planning to overspend by 10 trillion in the next ten years, and we are the crazies.

Call anyone and everyone but don't let them raise that limit one cent. Tell them NOT ONE MORE CENT

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Last Of The Independents

"Two comic journalists, David Axe and Ted Rall, have both reported from Afghanistan multiple times–and in very different ways. Axe embeds with the military, while Rall travels on his own, studiously avoiding them. Today Cartoon Movement publishes the first of two opposing columns by the authors on the practice of embedded reporting, with David Axe's following on Wednesday.
By Ted Rall

It was the early '80s. The USSR had recently invaded Afghanistan and the British journalist Robert Fisk was there to cover the occupation.

After he heard about fighting north of Kabul Fisk asked the Soviet authorities for permission to travel to the battle zone. They said no. He went anyway.

Russian troops arrested him and headed back to Kabul. On the way they were ambushed by mujahideen. The situation became desperate. A Soviet officer pushed a gun into Fisk's hands. Faced with a choice between journalistic objectivity and a hail of bullets, Fisk did what anyone would do: he took the gun and started firing. It's not like the Afghans were asking to see press credentials."
Cartoon Movement

New Loyalties and Old Feuds Collide in Syria

HOMS, Syria — On the birth of his daughter this month, a young activist in this central city bestowed on her a name that had little resonance until not so long ago. Dara’a, he called her, the namesake of the southern Syrian town where the antigovernment uprising began.

Syria is awash in such stories of solidarity these days, bridging traditional divides that have colored the country’s politics for generations. But far from disappearing, the old divisions of geography, class and, in particular, religious sect are deepening.

Syrians offer different explanations. Protesters blame the cynical manipulation of a government bent on divide and rule, and the government points to Islamist zealots seeking to impose a tyranny of the majority.

Which prevails — new loyalties born of revolution, or old rivalries entrenched in smaller identities — may decide the fate of Syria’s four-month revolt.

Colliding along the front lines of the uprising, and especially here in Homs, these forces suggest a grim reality of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad: the longer his government remains in power, the less chance Syria has to avoid civil strife, sectarian cleansing and the kind of communal violence that killed at least two dozen people in Homs last week. Unlike in Egypt, and despite the protesters’ hope and optimism, time is not necessarily on their side, a point that some of them admit.

“If the government keeps playing the sectarian card, they’re going to get what they want,” said Iyad, 27, the activist who named his daughter after the cradle of the uprising. “If this regime lasts, there’s absolutely going to be a civil war, absolutely.”

That is not to say that anyone really knows what kind of state the protesters want. In Homs last week, pious activists debated the differences between an Islamic and civil state, both of which they said should rely on religious law. Minorities fear militant currents within the Sunni Muslim majority. Sunnis seethe at the injustice of living for decades under a state endowed with a remarkable capacity for violence and led by the Alawite minority, a heterodox Muslim sect. Even some activists celebrating the unity that the revolt has brought warn that repression is breeding strife.

“The government is going to push us in the direction of violence,” said a former Republican Guard officer who has joined the ranks of protesters in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, with a Sunni majority and Alawite minority. “A lot of guys think it’s almost over, but I don’t. The situation, very regrettably, is going to become a crisis,” by which he meant bloodshed.

As was the case in Iraq, a sectarian lens is often unfairly imposed on Syria’s diversity, with its sizable communities of Christians, Alawites and ethnic Kurds. Other divisions are no less pronounced — between cities like Damascus and Aleppo, among classes, between the countryside and urban areas and within extended clans, especially in eastern Syria. Residents of Hama said they long felt discriminated against, especially in the military, which carried out a brutal crackdown there in 1982. Hama and Homs were traditional rivals in central Syria.

These days, chants ring out in protests that suggest a growing sense of nationalism, often reinforced by virtual communities that disseminate information.

At the Khalid bin Walid mosque, a center of dissent in Homs, protesters chant, “With our souls and blood, we sacrifice for you, Dara’a.” Solidarity with Homs, the scene of a persistent crackdown, is heard in Hama, where activists say they have sometimes traveled back and forth in an effort to build what one activist called “a culture of protest.”

“This is the beauty of the revolution,” said Ahmed, a 28-year-old smuggler and protester, sitting with others in a safe house near Homs. “He didn’t know him, he didn’t know him and he didn’t know him before the protests,” he said, pointing to his friends. “This is the result of the regime’s oppression. Now we’re ready to defend each other.”

Activists often repeat that Syria’s uprising is “a revolution of orphans,” and young activists take pride in the fact that they are organizing themselves by neighborhood for the fight against Mr. Assad’s leadership. But the term also points to divisions that are emerging, where sectarian tension intersects with other resentments.

Many in Homs and Hama feel anger at what they see as American, European and Turkish acquiescence to Mr. Assad staying in power. They often express resentment at Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, which has remained relatively quiet.

“There’s anger at Aleppo, there really is,” said a young activist in Hama who gave his name as Mustafa. A friend, Bassem, nodded, as they sat in a clubhouse turned hideout. “Aleppo benefits from the regime and business with the leadership,” he said.

Perhaps most pronounced is the anger at Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militant movement in Lebanon that has bluntly supported Mr. Assad’s government. Hezbollah was widely popular in Syria, where sentiments against Israel and longstanding American dominance of the region run deep. But Hezbollah’s backing for Mr. Assad has unleashed a sense of betrayal at a movement that celebrates the idea of resistance. At times, it has also given rise to chauvinism among Syrian Sunnis against Hezbollah’s Shiite constituency.

“We’ve started to hate them more than we hate Israel,” said Maher, a young father and protester in Hama, sitting with a friend who gave his name as Abu Mohammed.

Abu Mohammed said that in the 2006 war fought between Hezbollah and Israel, which forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, he sheltered 40 Shiite families for as long as a month. “Food, drink, and I accepted nothing in return,” he said. “Now they’re with the regime, but it wasn’t the regime who opened the doors of their homes to them.”

In almost every conversation, Syrians stress that their country lacks the sectarian divisions of neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, which both fought brutal civil wars. In Hama, residents last week were still celebrating a visit in June by six Alawites from nearby villages, who joined their huge demonstrations in Assi Square. The Alawites offered lines of a song, known to everyone.

“I take your hand in mine,” they declared to the jubilant crowd. “I kiss the ground under the soles of your shoes, and I say I will sacrifice myself for you.”

To many residents in Homs and Hama, the government is behind every incitement, its hand visible in any provocation, however convoluted the conspiracy. Residents insisted that after an especially bloody Friday in June, security forces dropped off bags of Kalashnikovs and ammunition in the streets of Hadir, a neighborhood in Hama home to most of the victims, trying to goad residents into an armed fight they would lose.

“No one came close to them,” said a young activist who gave his name as Abdel-Razzaq. “They knew to leave them alone. They knew this was the regime’s game.”

A few weeks later, the government helped organize a pro-Assad demonstration in a city where nearly every family claims someone killed, wounded, arrested or disappeared in the crackdown of 1982, ordered by Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez. Several residents insisted that the loyalists chanted, “Oh Hafez, repeat 1982. They didn’t learn their lesson.”

“When they said this, no one could control themselves,” another activist recalled.

Within minutes, residents said, enraged crowds who had kept their distance set upon the demonstrators’ vehicles, burning cars and a bus that helped bring them to the city.

But even protesters themselves acknowledge the way sectarian tensions have deepened, especially along fault lines of Sunni and Alawite communities, as in Homs, especially in its countryside. Some Facebook pages, ostensibly affiliated with the uprising, give voice to vulgar bigotry against Alawites, who are far from monolithic in their support for the government and, historically as peasants, were the most exploited and downtrodden of Syria’s people.

Protesters speak of the importance of reaching out to Christians and Alawites, while in the same conversation warning that Alawites in the countryside will face retribution from Sunnis insistent on exacting revenge for the security forces’ crimes. Complaints are rife in Homs that government agents search only Sunni homes.

In the bloodletting in Homs this past week, which bore an indelible sectarian stamp, another incident went largely unnoticed. An Alawite was killed Sunday in the town of Aqrabiyah, near the Lebanese border. In the ensuing hours, security forces poured into the region, and Sunnis from nearby Burhaniyya stayed indoors. Though joined by a road, no one dared to drive through the other’s village. Everyone seemed to expect more killing.

“One death is enough to create hatred,” said Iyad, the young father of Dara’a.


Top US officer sees Kadhafi end

WASHINGTON — Top US officer Admiral Michael Mullen on Monday acknowledged NATO was in a "stalemate" in its Libya campaign but still voiced optimism the strategy would lead to the departure of Moamer Kadhafi.

Insurgents have been fighting to oust Kadhafi since mid-February, and NATO has been pounding away with air raids, as the Libyan leader continues to hang on. His complex was slammed by NATO warplanes Saturday, when the alliance confirmed seven strikes and said they hit a military command node.

"We are, generally, in a stalemate," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen told a press briefing in Washington billed as his last before retirement.

Referring to NATO raids, Mullen said NATO has "dramatically attrited (reduced) his forces" and "additional pressure has been brought," even if Kadhafi has not been ousted.

"In the long run, I think it's a strategy that will work... (toward) removal of Kadhafi from power," Mullen said.

Regime troops had attacked the western desert hamlet of Gualish on Sunday and shelled the region before pulling back under rebel rocket fire as NATO warplanes flew overhead, an AFP correspondent reported.

The insurgents recaptured Gualish this month and are planning to use it as a springboard for a western assault on Tripoli.

They said their campaign to attack the capital from the east has been slowed by efforts to remove an estimated 45,000 land mines from around the oil town of Brega.

Asked if the United States would arm the rebels, Mullen said there has been "no decision to arm the TNC (Transitional National Council) on the part of the United States."

Kadhafi said in an audio message broadcast on state television late Saturday that the unrest was a "colonial plot," without elaborating.

The strongman also denied accusations by international rights groups of a brutal suppression of dissent and allegations that his regime had killed thousands of protesters.

"They lie to you and say, 'Libya kills its people with bullets, that is why we have come to protect civilians'," Kadhafi said of the UN-mandated NATO air campaign aimed at protecting civilians in Libya.

Obama has nominated General Martin Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Dempsey is due to succeed Mullen, who is retiring at his term's end September 30.


In Afghanistan, US military officials say it's now or never

Bagram, Afghanistan
US military officials in Afghanistan warn that it’s now or never to make key advancements against insurgent fighters, with the surge of US forces at its zenith and the summer fighting season in full swing.

Yet Taliban forces in the east appear to be launching offensives of their own, with no intention of giving up easily, US military officials say.

Rates of violence bear testament to that resolve. Attacks by insurgents in the east nearly doubled between March 2010 and March 2011. That’s not unexpected, US military officials say, given the surge. They add that attacks in the month of July appear to be on a downward trajectory.

In the weeks ahead, however, US commanders expect violent clashes between Taliban and US soldiers to continue apace in the east, where insurgents often make use of sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.

With 10,000 of the 30,000 US surge forces scheduled to return to the United States by year's end – the vast majority of which have been based in southern Afghanistan – there is a sense, too, that the clock is ticking for US commanders here.

“We have more forces [in Afghanistan] right now than we will ever have,” says Col. Clay Hall, commander of the US Air Force’s 455th Expeditionary Operations Group (EOG). “There’s a feeling of, ‘Let’s use them to maximum effect.’ As we pull out,” with fewer and fewer US troops on the ground, “those engagements are going to become less and less effective.”

The US military’s role in Afghanistan was a central point of discussion in at least two congressional hearings Tuesday. Gen. Martin Dempsey fielded questions on the way forward in Afghanistan during his Senate confirmation hearing for serving as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The House Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, was to hear testimony from former military and defense officials about US activity in Afghanistan.

On the ground here, US commanders say they see few signs of violence abating. Military officials point to a hair-raising battle between insurgents and US troops on May 25 in the violent eastern province of Nuristan.

American forces fought for hours after coming to the aid of Afghan security forces to retake a district center in Doab that had been overrun by Taliban fighters. Shortly after some 40 US soldiers arrived, they were surrounded by “about 300 insurgents,” says Lt. Col. Daren Sorenson, deputy 455th EOG commander and an F-15 pilot who was flying overwatch that day.

US troops started taking fire “from all directions.” As pilots spoke with US forces on the ground, “It’s one of those times where you hear in the tone of voice that they don’t know whether they’re going to make it out of there,” Sorenson adds.

The Air Force joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) on the ground was calm at first. “But his voice changed as soon as they began taking fire,” he says. As the F-15 fighter jets scrambled above, “You could see they were in a very, very bad place.”

The US forces were facing nearly 10-to-1 odds, pinned in by fighters on the steep ridges high above them.

Sorenson and his wingman made a low pass through the narrow valley in their F-15s. This is normally enough to encourage enemy fighters to run, he says, but the insurgents seemed unfazed by the show of force. “They just didn’t stop,” he says. “They knew they had our guys pinned down, and they were determined to keep the fight going.”

The US troops were “taking such effective fire” from the Taliban that bullets were whizzing between them and landing at their feet. Rocket-propelled grenades were flying through the air.

Sorenson dropped every bomb he had during the operation – 14 in total. “It’s extremely rare that we find ourselves in a fight where we deploy all of our bombs,” he says. “But that day we dropped everything we had.”

Still, the fighting did not end. “As fast as we could drop one bomb, our JTAC would say, ‘Good hit, next coordinates.’ ”

The fighters had effectively surrounded troops on the ground. “Literally we are dropping a bomb, pushing the afterburner, lining up, and dropping again.”

After dropping his bombs and being replaced by another team of Air Force fighter pilots, Sorenson returned to base and began listening to the battle on the radio.

The fight lasted several hours as Taliban insurgents stopped, regrouped, and returned, he says. But eventually, the fight ended, with no US fatalities and some 200 Taliban killed, according to US military estimates.

“Frankly, if that’s the method they want to use, that’s fine. We very much have the enemy on his heels,” says Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and of Regional Command East. “At the end of the day, the insurgents held the district center for 24 hours and lost somewhere in the vicinity of a couple hundred to do it,” he adds. “It’s a Pyrrhic victory is the bottom line.”

Still, it illustrates the intensity of fighting that US troops must wage, says Sorenson: “Our guys got really close to being overrun.”

IN PICTURES: Battling the Afghan insurgency


Monday, July 25, 2011

After leak, Amnesty's website blocked in Saudi

CAIRO (AP) - Amnesty International said Saudi authorities on Monday blocked the group's website inside the kingdom following criticism of a controversial new anti-terrorism draft law.

The London-based group said the bill, which was reviewed by a Saudi government committee in June and has yet to be passed, allows authorities to prosecute peaceful dissent as a terrorist crime.

Amnesty on Friday posted on its website the full Arabic text of the anti-terrorism draft law along with an internal review of the law by a Saudi security committee.

Hours after the website was blocked Monday, Amnesty moved the text of the bill to another Amnesty-administered website called "Protect The Human Blog", which could be accessed by residents in the kingdom.

"Although the Saudi authorities have blocked our main international site, they haven't yet blocked any Amnesty U.K. site, as far as we know. So we're hosting the Arabic version of the release for all to see," the group said in an online statement.

Although Saudi Arabia has not seen the kind of unrest that has gripped the Middle East, it has taken steps to prevent pro-democracy protests from spilling over into the oil-rich kingdom.

Amnesty did not say how it obtained the draft bill, which labels offenses such as harming the reputation of the state and endangering national unity as terrorist crimes. Such language is typically used to prosecute political opponents of the Saudi monarchy, which has minimal tolerance for dissent and bans political activity.

The law, if passed, would carry harsh punishments, including a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for challenging the integrity of the king, Amnesty said.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia released a statement dismissing Amnesty's criticism and saying the bill is meant to assist security forces in tackling terrorist activity.

The government called Amnesty's concerns "baseless,""mere supposition" and "completely without foundation."

"Regional unrest provides a breeding ground for new threats," said the statement, adding that policies that prevent al-Qaida from taking root in the kingdom are necessary.

Saudi authorities are particularly wary of attempts by the country's minority Shiite residents to emulate Bahrain's protests. Revolts in Tunisia and Egypt inspired a handful of Shiite-led protests in eastern Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Riyadh sent troops to help the Sunni rulers in Bahrain quell the revolt by the nation's Shiite majority, demanding a greater say in politics and more rights.


Revamped Humvee Draws Military’s Eye

An innovative chimney to vent blasts from buried bombs could make the Humvee safer and bring the most popular military vehicle since the Jeep back from the sidelines in Afghanistan.

The Humvee fell out of favor in Iraq and Afghanistan as homemade bombs, the biggest killer of American troops, ripped through its light armor and turned it into a death trap.

But recent blast tests show that Humvees built with the new chimney could provide as much protection as some of the heavier, and more costly, mine-resistant vehicles that have replaced them in many uses.

And if the final tests go well, the invention could save billions in new vehicle costs and restore much of the maneuverability that the Army and the Marines have lacked in the rugged terrain in Afghanistan, military officials say. Engineers say the chimney, which rises through the passenger cabin, releases some of the explosive gases — traveling at twice the speed of a fighter jet — that have mangled and flipped many of the vehicles.

Pentagon officials have said little about the 11 blast tests so far, in which the prototype vehicles are engulfed by a cloud of smoke, dust and fire, but the passenger cabin remains intact.

Dr. Leo Christodoulou, who has overseen the tests for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said in a written statement that the changes represented a “significant improvement” over the classic Humvees.

He said the new design also provided safety levels comparable to the smallest mine-resistant vehicles, which can weigh twice as much as the Humvees, and might be useful in protecting other military vehicles.

John M. McHugh, the Army secretary, recently told a Senate committee that the new approach held “a great deal of promise, and it’s exciting.” He said commanders had been reluctant to send Humvees off bases in Afghanistan “because of the problems with survivability.”

The chimney was designed by a small Maryland firm, Hardwire L.L.C., which is working with AM General, an Indiana company that has built 270,000 Humvees since the mid-1980s. Hardwire is run by a colorful group of aeronautical engineers who say they took a fresh approach to evaluating how to make the vehicles safer.

George Tunis, the company’s chief executive, likened the chimney to an exhaust vent on a rocket.

He said that rather than just piling on more armor to absorb the blasts, as has been typical in the past, the idea was to disperse as much of the explosive energy as possible.

Tests show that the explosive gas from a roadside bomb can accelerate to speeds as high as Mach 4 in less than a millisecond, Mr. Tunis said, or far less time than it takes to blink an eye.

Mr. Tunis said he was inspired to work on the vehicle’s safety after a chance meeting with Octavio Sanchez, a Marine staff sergeant who lost a hand and was badly burned when his Humvee blew up in Iraq in 2005.

Sergeant Sanchez said Friday that he told Mr. Tunis that small safety improvements might have saved his hand, “and I think that turned a light bulb on for him.”

Mr. Tunis said the chimney, which is hidden next to a gunner’s turret atop the Humvee, is the biggest change. But like the mine-resistant vehicles, the Humvee prototypes have V-shaped steel bottoms to deflect parts of the blasts.

Mr. Tunis said his engineers were inspired by sports gear in making other changes.

He said that Dyneema, a thin fiber that links surfboard riders to kite sails, is so strong that it is used in bulletproof vests, and that his team sandwiched plates of it between metal panels throughout the vehicles. It also adapted a rock-climbing device to drop the gunner into the vehicle when a blast occurs.

The Pentagon will conduct five more blast tests, and the Army could request bids this fall for a new version of the Humvee.

Several companies, including Oshkosh, BAE Systems and Textron, are expected to bid. Charles Hall, AM General’s chief executive, said his company had also been working with Plasan, an Israeli armor manufacturer, on another prototype.

But he said in an interview that the blast tests “demonstrate very clearly” that the chimney could offer protection well beyond what the Army was expected to seek.


Audit Of The Federal Reserve Reveals $16 Trillion In Secret Bailouts

The first ever GAO(Government Accountability Office) audit of the Federal Reserve was carried out in the past few months due to the Ron Paul, Alan Grayson Amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill, which passed last year. Jim DeMint, a Republican Senator, and Bernie Sanders, an independent Senator, led the charge for a Federal Reserve audit in the Senate, but watered down the original language of the house bill(HR1207), so that a complete audit would not be carried out. Ben Bernanke, Alan Greenspan, and various other bankers vehemently opposed the audit and lied to Congress about the effects an audit would have on markets. Nevertheless, the results of the first audit in the Federal Reserve’s nearly 100 year history were posted on Senator Sander’s webpage earlier this morning.

What was revealed in the audit was startling: $16,000,000,000,000.00 had been secretly given out to US banks and corporations and foreign banks everywhere from France to Scotland. From the period between December 2007 and June 2010, the Federal Reserve had secretly bailed out many of the world’s banks, corporations, and governments. The Federal Reserve likes to refer to these secret bailouts as an all-inclusive loan program, but virtually none of the money has been returned and it was loaned out at 0% interest. Why the Federal Reserve had never been public about this or even informed the United States Congress about the $16 trillion dollar bailout is obvious — the American public would have been outraged to find out that the Federal Reserve bailed out foreign banks while Americans were struggling to find jobs.

To place $16 trillion into perspective, remember that GDP of the United States is only $14.12 trillion. The entire national debt of the United States government spanning its 200+ year history is “only” $14.5 trillion. The budget that is being debated so heavily in Congress and the Senate is “only” $3.5 trillion. Take all of the outrage and debate over the $1.5 trillion deficit into consideration, and swallow this Red pill: There was no debate about whether $16,000,000,000,000 would be given to failing banks and failing corporations around the world.

In late 2008, the TARP Bailout bill was passed and loans of $800 billion were given to failing banks and companies. That was a blatant lie considering the fact that Goldman Sachs alone received 814 billion dollars. As is turns out, the Federal Reserve donated $2.5 trillion to Citigroup, while Morgan Stanley received $2.04 trillion. The Royal Bank of Scotland and Deutsche Bank, a German bank, split about a trillion and numerous other banks received hefty chunks of the $16 trillion.

“This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.” – Bernie Sanders(I-VT)

When you have conservative Republican stalwarts like Jim DeMint(R-SC) and Ron Paul(R-TX) as well as self identified Democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders all fighting against the Federal Reserve, you know that it is no longer an issue of Right versus Left. When you have every single member of the Republican Party in Congress and progressive Congressmen like Dennis Kucinich sponsoring a bill to audit the Federal Reserve, you realize that the Federal Reserve is an entity onto itself, which has no oversight and no accountability.

Americans should be swelled with anger and outrage at the abysmal state of affairs when an unelected group of bankers can create money out of thin air and give it out to megabanks and supercorporations like Halloween candy. If the Federal Reserve and the bankers who control it believe that they can continue to devalue the savings of Americans and continue to destroy the US economy, they will have to face the realization that their trillion dollar printing presses can be stopped with five dollars worth of bullets.

The list of institutions that received the most money from the Federal Reserve can be found on page 131 of the GAO Audit and are as follows..

Citigroup: $2.5 trillion ($2,500,000,000,000)
Morgan Stanley: $2.04 trillion ($2,040,000,000,000)
Merrill Lynch: $1.949 trillion ($1,949,000,000,000)
Bank of America: $1.344 trillion ($1,344,000,000,000)
Barclays PLC (United Kingdom): $868 billion ($868,000,000,000)
Bear Sterns: $853 billion ($853,000,000,000)
Goldman Sachs: $814 billion ($814,000,000,000)
Royal Bank of Scotland (UK): $541 billion ($541,000,000,000)
JP Morgan Chase: $391 billion ($391,000,000,000)
Deutsche Bank (Germany): $354 billion ($354,000,000,000)
UBS (Switzerland): $287 billion ($287,000,000,000)
Credit Suisse (Switzerland): $262 billion ($262,000,000,000)
Lehman Brothers: $183 billion ($183,000,000,000)
Bank of Scotland (United Kingdom): $181 billion ($181,000,000,000)
BNP Paribas (France): $175 billion ($175,000,000,000)
and many many more including banks in Belgium of all places

View the 266-page GAO audit of the Federal Reserve(July 21st, 2011):

FULL PDF on GAO server:
Senator Sander’s Article:

Counter Currents
What a pile of bull came out of O's mouth tonight, balanced approach my ass. Do people out there really believe that pack of lies.
The way I see it is that the debt ceiling seems to be the only way to hold back government spending, seems to be the only tool left in the box. Not even the republicans, their "cuts" are mostly just smoke and mirrors, they still project spending and debt to rise and rise without limits as far as the eye can see. They are only cutting the rate at witch the government grows, not cutting one penny out of any budget. You might notice that the word budget did not appear in any of the speeches..

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Afghan insurgents hang 8-year-old boy

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Insurgents in southern Afghanistan hanged an 8-year-old boy six days after they abducted him, the Afghan government said Sunday.

The boy's captors had demanded that his father, a police officer, supply them with a police vehicle and he refused, said a statement from President Hamid Karzai's office. The militants hanged the boy Friday in Helmand province's Gereshk district.

"President Karzai both strongly condemns this act and rejects it as a brutal and cowardly crime that is not acceptable in any religion or culture," the statement said. It referred to the killers as "terrorists," but did not say if they belonged to the Taliban or another of the insurgent movements fighting foreign forces and their Afghan allies.

Kidnappings have become increasingly common in Afghanistan, both by criminal groups looking for ransoms and insurgents making a political statement. Most abductions are settled out of the public eye, with negotiations and cash payments.

Separately, Afghan officials said NATO forces battling insurgents along an eastern highway accidentally killed three civilians who were caught in the crossfire.

NATO said that local residents presented the bodies of three civilians killed. Spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff said it was unclear whose fire had killed them.

The battle broke out after international troops struck a roadside bomb in Wardak province.

The dead included a woman who was a provincial health official. Wardak government spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said Dr. Aqeela Hekmat and two of her family members were killed in their vehicle, and her husband was injured. Aqeela was the head of gynecology and maternal health for neighboring Ghazni province.

Provincial police Chief Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizai also confirmed three deaths and said it was clear that they were killed by NATO fire.

Karzai's office said it was investigating the allegations.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Six Iran troops killed in clashes with Kurd rebels

A senior officer of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards was among six soldiers killed in clashes with Kurdish rebels on the border with Iraq, Fars news agency reported yesterday.

"General Assemi of the Qom branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was killed along with five of his comrades in clashes with terrorist rebels of the PJAK (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) in the Sardasht area," the agency said, without giving any further details.

Iranian troops launched a major offensive on Saturday against PJAK rebels operating out of rear-bases in neighbouring Iraq.

On Tuesday, the autonomous regional government in Iraqi Kurdistan demanded Iran respect the border after a Guards commander said Iranian forces had taken "full control" of three PJAK camps inside Iraq.

The Daily Star

Friday, July 22, 2011

Iraq delays taking militant custody amid US fear

BAGHDAD (AP) - Iraq's government said Friday it would delay taking custody of a top Hezbollah commander from the U.S. military after American senators asked the Pentagon "to take whatever steps" necessary to block the transfer for fear he would escape or be released.

The move puts new pressure on Washington decide whether, and where, to prosecute Ali Mussa Daqduq before a year-end deadline when the U.S. military hands over all detainees it's holding in Iraq.

The U.S. military has been holding Daqduq, a Lebanese militant from that country's Shiite Hezbollah guerrilla group, since he was captured in 2007 in the Iraqi Shiite holy city of Karbala.

Dubbed by a former CIA officer as "the worst of the worst," Daqduq is accused of working with Iranian agents to train Shiite militias who targeted American soldiers in Iraq. He was linked to a brazen 2007 raid in which four American soldiers were abducted and killed in the holy Iraqi city of Karbala.

Several days ago, Iraqi Justice Ministry spokesman Haidar al-Saadi said Daqduq would be handed over to Iraqi custody by the end of the week.

But on Friday, al-Saadi said Baghdad would wait until the U.S. has finished an investigation of Daqduq before taking custody of him - leaving the timing unclear.

"When their investigation ends and he is transferred to the Iraqi side, we will then announce this event," al-Saadi told The Associated Press. "I can't give you an expected date."

Unless the U.S. prosecutes him, the American military must transfer custody of Daqduq and any other detainees to the Iraqi government by Dec. 31 under a 2008 security agreement between Washington and Baghdad. But Congress and the White House have slowed his case by feuding over whether to bring him to the United States for trial or send him to a military court at the Navy base at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If handed over to the Iraqis, U.S. counterterror officials believe Daqduq will soon be out on the streets.

Numerous high-profile terror suspects have escaped from Iraq's prisons, including some whom investigators said likely had inside help. Additionally, Iraq has released tens of thousands of terror suspects who were captured by U.S. forces during the height of the war because of what Baghdad has described as little evidence tying them to crimes.

Or, U.S. officials worry, Iraq's Shiite-led government will simply free Daqduq, given Baghdad's recent efforts to improve diplomatic ties with Iran, which has funded training for Shiite militias. In a slap to the Obama administration, Iraq's government in 2009 released two of Daqduq's acolytes - Laith and Qais al-Khazali, who also were implicated in the Karbala attack - after being lobbied by the Iranian-linked Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia.

In a letter dated Thursday, 20 U.S. senators asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "to take whatever steps you can to block Daqduq's transfer to the Iraqi government and out of U.S. custody."

"If he is released from United States custody, there is little doubt that Daqduq will return to the battlefield and resume his terrorist activities against the United States and our interests," the senators wrote in the letter signed by 19 Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Joe Lieberman, an independent senator from Connecticut, also signed the letter.

They were responding to an Associated Press report on Wednesday about Daqduq's imminent transfer.

For years, the U.S. planned to try Daqduq in an American court, but that has stalled as the White House and Congress clashed over how to prosecute suspected terrorists.

Under President George W. Bush, a Republican, U.S. officials planned for military and intelligence officials to question Daqduq, and then let an FBI team start the questioning over from scratch. That way, he could someday be brought to a U.S. court and his statements could be used against him.

But Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in May refused to let Daqduq and other terrorist suspects be brought to the United States for trial.

Instead, the Republicans wanted Daqduq and other suspected terrorists to be prosecuted at the Guantanamo Bay military base, which the Obama administration has tried to close. Lawyers who have reviewed the case concluded that while prosecuting him at Guantanamo Bay is possible, incarcerating him there is not.

That is because Congress authorized military action against al-Qaida and those who carried out the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Supreme Court has relied on that authorization to allow the military to hold al-Qaida suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militant group, is considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization but is not known to have significant ties to al-Qaida. The Sept. 11 Commission found no evidence that Hezbollah was aware of or involved in the planning for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.


COIN Is Dhimmitude

"This week, the madness of the counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN), which drives the war in Afghanistan, reached new heights -- or depths -- as revealed by two news stories.

In Great Britain, a former Royal Marine told the Sun newspaper after the inquest into the 2010 death of Sgt. Peter Rayner that soldiers were prevented from opening fire at Taliban fighters in the act of laying IEDs so as not to disturb the local population.

So as not to disturb...?

In Iowa, a community mourns the death of National Guard soldier Terry L. Pasker, who, along with contractor Paul Protzenko, was killed last week in yet another attack by an Afghan army soldier. reports: "The U.S. military considered the area so safe that soldiers didn't wear body armor, so as not to offend the friendly locals."

So as not to offend...?"
Diana West
Did O just say that the Feds write 70 million check every month? A quarter of the population is feeding off the rest of us? And he wants more...

16 Die in Norway Shooting and Bombing

OSLO — Norway suffered dual attacks on Friday when powerful explosions shook the government center here and, shortly after, a gunman stalked youths at an island summer camp for young members of the governing Labor Party. The police arrested a Norwegian in connection with both attacks, which killed at least 87 people and stunned this ordinarily placid nation.

The explosions, from one or more bombs, turned Oslo, a tidy Scandinavian capital, into a scene reminiscent of terrorist attacks in Beirut or Baghdad or Oklahoma City, panicking people and blowing out windows of several government buildings, including one housing the office of the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who was unharmed.

The state television broadcaster, citing the police, said seven people had been killed and at least 15 wounded in the explosions, which they said appeared to be an act of domestic terrorism.

Even as the police locked down a large area of the city after the blasts, a man dressed as a police officer entered the youth camp on the island of Utoya, about 19 miles northwest of Oslo, a Norwegian security official said, and opened fire. “He said it was a routine check in connection with the terror attack in Oslo,” one witness told VG Nett, the Web site of a national newspaper.

At least 80 people were killed on the island, some as young as 16, the police said on national television early Saturday.

Terrified youths jumped into the water to escape. “Kids have started to swim in a panic, and Utoya is far from the mainland,” said Bjorn Jarle Roberg-Larsen, a Labor Party member who spoke by phone with teenagers on the island, which has no bridge to the mainland. “Others are hiding. Those I spoke with don’t want to talk more. They’re scared to death.”

Many could not flee in time. The Oslo police said that 9 or 10 people were killed at the camp, but that they expected the toll to rise.

After the shooting the police seized a 32-year-old Norwegian man on the island, according to the police and Justice Minister Knut Storberget. He was later identified as Anders Behring Breivik and was characterized by officials as a right-wing extremist.

The acting chief of police, Sveinung Sponheim, said Mr. Breivik, who is not known to have any ties to Islamic extremists, had also been seen in Oslo before the explosions. The police and other authorities declined to say what the suspect’s motivations might have been, but many speculated that the target was Mr. Stoltenberg’s liberal government.

“The police have every reason to believe there is a connection between the explosions and what happened at Utoya,” the police said. They said they later recovered explosives on the island.

Mr. Breivik had registered a farm-related business in Rena, in eastern Norway, which authorities said allowed him to order a large quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, an ingredient that can be used to make explosives. Authorities were investigating whether the chemical may have been used in the bombing.

As the investigations continued, the police asked people to leave the center of Oslo, stay indoors and limit their cellphone use. They also said they would initiate border checks.

The attacks bewildered a nation better known for its active diplomacy and peacekeeping missions than as a target for extremists.

In Oslo, office workers and civil servants said that at least two blasts, which ripped through the cluster of modern office buildings around the central Einar Gerhardsen plaza, echoed across the city in quick succession around 3:20 p.m. local time. Giant clouds of light-colored smoke rose hundreds of feet as a fire burned in one of the damaged structures, a six-story office building that houses the Oil Ministry.

The force of the explosions blew out nearly every window in the 17-story office building across the street from the Oil Ministry, and the streets on each side were strewn with glass and debris. The police combed through the debris in search of clues.

Mr. Stoltenberg’s office is on the 16th floor in a towering rectangular block whose facade and lower floors were damaged. The Justice Ministry also has its offices in the building.

Norwegian authorities said they believed that a number of tourists were in the central district at the time of the explosion, and that the toll would surely have been higher if not for the fact that many Norwegians were on vacation and many more had left their offices early for the weekend.

“Luckily, it’s very empty,” said Stale Sandberg, who works in a government agency a few blocks down the street from the prime minister’s office.

After the explosions, the city filled with an unfamiliar sense of vulnerability. “We heard two loud bangs and then we saw this yellow smoke coming from the government buildings,” said Jeppe Bucher, 18, who works on a ferry boat less than a mile from the bomb site. “There was construction around there, so we thought it was a building being torn down.”

He added, “Of course I’m scared, because Norway is such a neutral country.”

American counterterrorism officials cautioned that Norway’s own homegrown extremists, with unknown grievances, could be responsible for the attacks.

Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

Still, there was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Norway has about 550 soldiers and three medevac helicopters in northern Afghanistan, a Norwegian defense official said. The government has indicated that it will continue to support the Afghan operations as long as the alliance needs partners on the ground.

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s signature brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”

Muslim leaders in Norway swiftly condemned the attacks. “This is our homeland, this is my homeland,” said Mehtab Afsar, secretary general of the Islamic Council of Norway. “I condemn these attacks, and the Islamic Council of Norway condemns these attacks, whoever is behind them.”