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Posts Tagged ‘kidnapping’

How FISA protected al Qaeda kidnappers

Posted by Richard on October 17, 2007

Apparently, it's a very small world when it comes to telecommunications. Two people having a cell phone conversation in Iraq are likely to have that call routed through American telecom infrastructure, where it could be intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies. But under the old FISA law (which the Democrats are trying to restore and further tighten this week), they'd need a warrant. It could be granted retroactively, but first someone has to stick their neck out and grant emergency permission based on the belief that the warrant will later be approved. Think bureaucrats and political appointees are eager to do that?

The problem isn't entirely theoretical, according to a New York Post story. On May 12, while the strict FISA rules were still in effect, al Qaeda gunmen in Iraq attacked a U.S. outpost, killing four soldiers and taking three others — Spc. Alex Jimenez, Pfc. Byron Fouty, and Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. — hostage. The subsequent frantic search led to information possibly identifying the kidnappers. U.S. intelligence agents asked for permission to intercept communications that might lead to the kidnappers and their captives:

Starting at 10 a.m. on May 15, according to a timeline provided to Congress by the director of national intelligence, lawyers for the National Security Agency met and determined that special approval from the attorney general would be required first.

For an excruciating nine hours and 38 minutes, searchers in Iraq waited as U.S. lawyers discussed legal issues and hammered out the "probable cause" necessary for the attorney general to grant such "emergency" permission.

Finally, approval was granted and, at 7:38 that night, surveillance began.

"The intelligence community was forced to abandon our soldiers because of the law," a senior congressional staffer with access to the classified case told The Post.

"How many lawyers does it take to rescue our soldiers?" he asked. "It should be zero."

Democrats supporting the tightening of FISA denounced the release of the story as a cynical attempt to politicize the search for the soldiers. Fox News has a fair and balanced presentation of both sides, along with a detailed timeline. The Democrats' House Intelligence Committee staff argued that it shouldn't have taken NSA lawyers five hours to determine that they had probable cause, and it wouldn't have been necessary to track down Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in Texas if three other Justice Dept. officials authorized to approve the request had been available.

Granted, five hours seems like a long time for lawyers to hem and haw over probable cause. But consider the climate. These people knew there was an ongoing surveillance firestorm, complete with leaks to the New York Times, congressional hearings, lawsuits, endless political posturing, and threats of legal action. If you were an NSA attorney, how quickly would you stick your neck out and say, "I recommend going ahead, and I guarantee the FISA court will retroactively approve"? If you were Gonzales or one of the assistant AGs, wouldn't you carefully review the material presented to you before authorizing the intercept, knowing it could land you in front of a hostile committee with the news cameras rolling?  

The Democrats' argument amounts to saying that the restrictions wouldn't have been a problem if the officials involved had just acted without regard for the possible consequences — the consequences that those same Democrats have done their best to hang over the officials' heads.

It's nice that Democrats are so concerned about our privacy now, considering how hard they worked to undermine it for umpteen years (remember Carnivore, "key escrow" encryption, "Know Your Customer," and John Effin' Kerry's repeated attempts to further destroy financial privacy?). But do we have to protect the privacy of what amounts to battlefield communications by our enemies during a war? 

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About Iran’s latest hostages

Posted by Richard on April 2, 2007

Does anybody do this sort of thing better than Scrappleface? I don't think so:

(2007-04-01) — In a fresh, un-coerced video communiqué released today by the Iranian government, 15 British sailors and marines held captive for eight days, said they would seek asylum in Iran, “the only country that really seems to want us.”

The hostages said they have already begun the paperwork to become Iranian citizens, and have started classes to prepare them for conversion to Islam.

“Whatever else you might think about President Ahmadinejad,” said one British sailor under no duress, “at least he took risks to get us, and genuinely desires to keep us in his country; which is more than we can say for Prime Minister [Tony] Blair."

On a more serious note, here's Newt Gingrich's brilliantly simple suggestion for an effective response to the hostage-taking:


Mark Steyn heaped appropriate scorn on the British (and European, and American) alternative plan:

The British ambassador to the U.N. had wanted the Security Council to pass a resolution "deploring" Iran's conduct. But the Russians objected to all this hotheaded inflammatory lingo about "deploring," and so the Security Council instead expressed its "grave concern" about the situation. That and $4.95 will get you a decaf latte. Ask the folks in Darfur what they've got to show for years of the U.N.'s "grave concerns" — heavy on the graves, less so on the concern.

The U.N. will do nothing for men seized on a U.N.-sanctioned mission. The European Union will do nothing for its "European citizens." But if liberal transnationalism is a post-modern joke, it's not the only school of transnationalism out there. Iran's Islamic Revolution has been explicitly extraterritorial since the beginning: It has created and funded murderous proxies in Hezbollah, Hamas and both Shia and Sunni factions of the Iraq "insurgency." It has spent a fortune in the stans of Central Asia radicalizing previously somnolent Muslim populations. When Ayatollah Khomeini announced the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, it was not Iranians but British, Indian, Turkish, European, Asian and American Muslims who called for his death, firebombed bookstores, shot his publisher, fatally stabbed his translator and murdered anybody who got in their way.

So we live today in a world of one-way sovereignty: American, British and Iraqi forces in Iraq respect the Syrian and Iranian borders; the Syrians and Iranians do not respect the Iraqi border. Patrolling the Shatt al-Arab at a time of war, the Royal Navy operates under rules of engagement designed by distant fainthearts with an eye to the polite fictions of "international law": If you're in a "warship," you can't wage war. If you're in a "destroyer," don't destroy anything. If you're in a "frigate," you're frigging done for.

Needless to say, it's Mark Steyn, so you should read the whole thing.

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What would you do?

Posted by Richard on July 14, 2006

Imagine you’re an Israeli Jew, maybe a resident of Haifa. Maybe you, or your parents or grandparents, fled to Israel from Baghdad or Amman or Cairo more than half a century ago to escape persecution. All of your life, peace and security have been pressing issues. There was always the threat of all-out war, of course, but the day-to-day routine terrorist attacks were the real burden.

In the early years, Palestinian terrorists attacked with guns, shooting as many people as they could — schoolchildren if possible — before attempting to escape. Israel countered by arming large numbers of its citizens, and such attacks became less and less successful.

In response, the Palestinians adopted a new tactic: suicide bombings. They apparently really do love death, as they proudly proclaim. This tactic was terribly effective and difficult to stop. Over time, you and your fellow Israelis simply learned to live with a certain level of random horror.

Recently, though, the situation seemed to improve. Sure, a market, bus, or restaurant occasionally blew up, and you might be unlucky and be in it at the time. Or you might arrive a few minutes later to see the mangled bodies and pieces of flesh in the rubble. But the number of suicide bombings had declined precipitously, especially since large sections of The Wall went up and the Gaza border was secured. You were feeling safer and safer in your day-to-day activities.

In response, however, the Palestinians seemed to be adopting yet another new tactic. This time, maybe two. First, they lobbed more and more rockets into random targets, initially from the safe haven of Gaza, and then from Lebanon as well. They bragged about having thousands and thousands of rockets — and their friends in Tehran, Damascus, and Ryadh will surely buy them more.

But the Palestinians’ second new tactic was the real chiller: kidnappings. Carried out regularly and routinely, on even a modest scale, kidnappings could be a terribly effective terror weapon, in many ways more so than suicide bombings. They leave the friends and families of the victims — and by empathy, every caring person in the country — on the hook day after day after day — hoping, fearing, despairing. They tie up all kinds of military and police resources trying to locate and rescue the victims. And after milking the situation for all the agony they can cause, the terrorists can indulge their murderous, barbaric natures and return their victims’ bodies in this condition to further traumatize the population.

So imagine you’re that Jew in Haifa, huddled in your bomb shelter in case of more Iranian missiles. You’re thinking about the future. It’s not the immediate hostilities that you’re worried about. You’re pretty confident of the IDF’s ability to bring the current intense fighting to a successful conclusion, unless too hobbled by the timidity of the politicians.

No, you’re thinking about what life in Israel will be like over the next 2, 5, 10 years — however long the nation has to put up with a certain level of random rocket and missile strikes, and routine kidnappings and tortures, ending in butchery. However long dismembered bodies on the streets will be something you just have to learn to live with.

Imagine you’re that Jew in Haifa — what would you do?

I know what I’d do. I’d contact every elected official I could reach, every newspaper, TV station, and radio program, every blog and forum. I’d be saying as forcefully as I could to anyone who’d listen: Do not let these new tactics continue for years like the suicide bombings. Do whatever it takes to nip this in the bud, to stop these animals now.

Whatever it takes. 

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