The Secret Service's Open Secrets

DDIt was clear she had been a dedicated agent and administrator, but Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was in over her head. She spent her years in the Service as a field agent in Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida, and except for four years from 1988 to 1992, she was never directly involved in Presidential Protections or White House duty except for oversight.

From her resumé:

In 1996, Ms. Pierson entered the agency’s supervisory ranks with her selection as Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Protective Operations. Later that year, she was transferred to the Tampa Field Office where she served as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge and was responsible for directing Secret Service investigative and protective activities in western Florida. Ms. Pierson established an Electronic Crimes Task Force to investigate cyber crimes in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2005, Ms. Pierson returned to the Office of Protective Operations as Deputy Assistant Director. In this position, Ms. Pierson oversaw the agency’s Presidential Protective Division, Vice Presidential Protective Division, Special Services Division, as well as budgetary operations for 1,200 employees.

Since June 2006, she has held the position of Assistant Director of the Office of Human Resources and Training. As Assistant Director, she was responsible for all human resource programs and training for the Secret Service, including policy development and management of the agency’s Personnel Division, Security Clearance Division, Workforce Planning, Work-Life Programs, and the James J. Rowley Training Center.

Good jobs. But do any of them sound like the kind of hands-on innovation and knowledge of drills required of the world’s most important Master Chief or Sergeant Major, responsible for the daily details and lightning responses, piersonafter long, numbing periods of maudlin ennui, to thwart potential threats against a President from an ever-growing list of crazies?

Did her resumé really prepare her for a laser focus on carrying out the policies and standard of the performance, training and conduct of the Secret Service’s Presidential Protection Division?

One Congress member at Tuesday’s House hearing pointed out that protection detail agents had received no training in 2013 and only one class the year before. Pierson acknowledged different segments of the Service can’t communicate because they use different radio frequencies. But most telling was an inspector general’s report that indicated the rank and file had little trust (less than 50%!) in the bosses, a vital tell that signaled the problems that kept reoccurring and the reasons why they are not fixed.

The breach of the White House and the other recent failures in protection and agent misconduct begin with the loss of personal and professional integrity, apparently widespread among the Protection Division, according to an earlier Inspector General report. That 2012 report reviewed agents soliciting sex workers in Cartagena, Columbia ahead of a Presidential visit, and noted such incidents were numerous. Continue reading The Secret Service’s Open Secrets

Obama's Ukraine Affair

DDPresident Obama faced his own Ukraine affair last week. He ordered military action against foreign assets controlled by an unstable interim government facing its own domestic factional opposition after deposing a former corrupt leader. Without NATO approval, the President took action on local officials’ requests. The short-term action was successful. The US military didn’t fire a shot.

Did you know about it? I didn’t.

A continual subtheme of “Digging Deeper” is the media’s tragic fail: at a time when news and information really counts, the media has collectively decided to abandon journalism for sensationalism. The media collective pursues profits and revenue as its main purpose; stories rise and fall with the sun. Ratings and rants count for more than facts or the public’s interest. So much so that the media collectively ignored a dramatic use of force in the Mediterranean Sea by a US President already faced with a military crisis in the same geopolitical theatre, albeit further east.

To me, that’s news.

Anytime the US authorizes the use of military force beyond our national borders, it is a real confrontation and situations can rapidly escalate and spiral out of control. Recent history is replete with small operations turned long-term. In fact we are still unwinding two wars that transferred billions annually to private contractors and corrupt governments without achieving any central policy aims.

Drones are cruel, but they are cheaper. They don’t require the massive movement of troops and materiel, the building of bases, the horrendous cost in lives that marked the warfare of the last decade.

Last week, the President ordered his favorite go-to force, a team of Navy SEALs, to board and seize control of a rogue ship, an oil tanker, the Morning Glory, sailing illegally under a North Korean flag, loaded with oil pumped from Libyan facilities at Sidra (in eastern Libya), after it illegally loaded at the Es-sider oil terminal.

Sidra and the terminal are blockaded on the ground and controlled by a rival faction to Libya’s interim government. This is one of several factions that oppose the recognized governing coalition and, with other dissident groups, has crippled Libya’s oil industry by strikes and sporadic fighting.

In fact, Sidra has 19 storage tanks with total capacity of 6.2 million barrels, mainly owned by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and a trio of US companies: Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. According to one industry analyst, diminishing confidence in reliable local production may motivate Marathon to sell its stake in the joint venture.

Somehow, the Morning Glory was loaded with $20 million worth of oil (some estimates say $34 million) from the NOC storage facility and it sailed away from Sidra toward an unknown destination. Morning Glory was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt against the central government in Tripoli erupted in July 2013.

Rana Jawal, with the BBC, offered this analysis:

Washington made clear it supports Libya’s elected authorities with the Navy Seals operation.

The US has sent a clear message to both potential traders of illicit oil and to the armed groups blocking Libya’s terminals that it will not permit the sale of oil from rebel-held areas.

Libya matters to the US partly because a failed state would be viewed as yet another failed US adventure abroad, after it backed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

The intervention will also help to dispel at least one of the many suspicions and rumours among Libyans – that the West will deal with anyone to get hold of crude oil.

It may also restore some of the Libyan government’s credibility with people here, which has been lost over the past year. However, the dangers of this blockade escalating into an armed confrontation remain and it hinges on the government’s next move.

It also cost Libya’s interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan his job. He was replaced by the Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who received a two-week appointment, which was renewed this week. The new Prime Minister was tasked with coming up with a plan to reopen the Libyan’s eastern oil ports. Libya is currently shipping 275,000 barrels a month, down from 1.6 million barrels last July.

Three takeaways: One, Libya, to a degree greater than Ukraine, exhibits the factional fighting and contention for power and revenue seen throughout the region from North Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia Minor. The completing groups attempt to take advantage of regime change or current instability. They are usually centered around Islamists and several nativist parties who seem intent on relying on arms to settle their differences. Ukraine is the first state to be directly exploited by a former super power. Elsewhere, the groups effect more of a standstill (Syria) than clear winners. Even in Egypt, after winning the election, the Islamists were forced to take a step back.

Two, this factionalism is destabilizing a number of domestic economies. As conditions become more perilous, the conflicts may spiral into cycles of violence involving not only the assets of the political economy but also civilian lives and families, as is already the case in Syria, and to a degree, in Egypt.

Three, the US has no magic wand by which to determine its desired outcomes in local fights, nor can it afford to finance or interfere in every insurgency. Yet its commitment, when made, should not be in half steps. Especially in offering non-military aid. The US commitment to food aid is woefully insufficient and is adding to destabilization by placing unsustainable burdens on countries who are neighbors to states in conflict. A model for creating temporary jobs from mobile production facilities is badly needed in refugee camps. Continue reading Obama’s Ukraine Affair

Ukraine: No Rules, No Foul

DDThe real story in Ukraine is what happens when somebody doesn’t play by the rules. It is one of the great examples of conflict resolution unresolved. It is frothed with personalities and political interests, historic sleights and economic targets, military force, diplomacy and big money rolled into a global storm. It’s also an old-fashioned tale. So far, without terrorism.

The old Cold War, which the Ukraine conflict resembles, was always about resources and territory—hegemony—never about markets and state collapse or ideological goals. The old Cold War displayed raw, unvarnished power. The annual military parades in Moscow with the latest Soviet hardware and massed troops in lockstep were designed to reassure its citizens at home and the world abroad of its power and fierceness and its absolute domination within its sphere.

The Soviets’ largest Cold War failure came in Afghanistan. Attempting to prop up a puppet regime, the Soviets were dragged into a long-term fight that proved unwinnable for the same reasons the Americans later discovered.

The December 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, surprisingly, was swift and without violence or troop movements—unlike what we see in Ukraine. Its most notable feature was the orderly transfer of power to new national entities. In less than a month, new governments were in place in the 12 republics that were its former satellites.

The Soviet flag had been taken down, the Russian flag hoisted. Mikhail Gorbachev had resigned and handed power to Boris Yeltsin.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine represent a backward step from the rule of law, the recognition of the democratic rights of people to pursue self-determination, and the right of state sovereignty and inviolate national borders.

The Russians made their move too soon. They showed up in unmarked uniforms like thugs. But I’m getting ahead of the story. It begins with the moral and political failure of the elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Soviet puppet whose gift was greed and a taste for big ticket extravagance, especially palatial residences. His weakness was an utter forfeit of skills for leadership and leveraging Ukraine’s national interests in its courtship by West and East.

To both sides, Ukraine is a vital interest.

He only had eyes for Russia.

The people of the Ukraine saw their future differently. Why be linked to a country whose economy was backwards, mired in the 1930s, without modern manufacturing, no thriving tech sector, no robust consumer sector, and failing infrastructure—and no plans for modernization?

Ukraine, on the other hand, with roughly 30% of Russia’s population, is in the top five global grain producers. With broad plains of fertile farmland, it is attractive to a Russia that still has trouble feeding itself. With modern market reforms, including financing credits, risk insurance, land reform, mechanized farming, this sector could increase its production and economic returns dramatically.

Ukraine also has well established industries in machine goods and aerospace.

But energy is Ukraine’s sweetest spot. And many of its energy projects and facilities are located in Crimea and UKRAINE_GAS-945Eastern Ukraine, the areas with the largest numbers of ethnic Russians, areas showing support for Russia’s intrusion. Ukraine is a scatterwork of gas and oil pipelines, many leading to Europe, mostly supplied by Russian production in gas and oil. Ukraine is a big buyer of Russian oil and gas, and also a big reshipper through its critical pipelines.

These pipelines are what Putin eyes as the prize. In offering $15 billion to Ukraine before the president turned chicken, left the country while claiming the powers of office, holding press conferences on Russian soil, Russia planned on leveraging its economic assistance for hegemony over Ukraine’s energy sector, especially its pipeline rates. Moreover, Ukraine oil reserves rank it 50th in the world. Yet it imports all of its natural gas supplies from Russia. Already, Putin has ended Ukraine’s pricing discount. Continue reading Ukraine: No Rules, No Foul

Presidential Petitions

DDRep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) wants to impeach the president for unhappiness. “A question I get a lot, ‘If everybody is so unhappy with the president, why don’t you impeach him?’” Farenthold said at a town hall meeting Saturday, as seen in a YouTube video. He went on: “I’ll give you a real frank answer about that. If we were to impeach the president tomorrow, we would probably get the votes in the House of Representatives to do it.”

According to Politico, Farenthold’s odds-making on a hypothetical impeachment of a President whose high crime seems to be the misery of his opponents came after a woman presented Farenthaold with a folder that she says contains proof that Obama’s birth certificate was faked.

Farenthold does not stand alone on impeachment. A White House petition calling for impeachment gathered 49,890 signatures (from all 50 states!), enough for an official response; it demands the President submit himself to impeachment and lists a bill of particulars!

I’m not sure a constitutional mechanism exists for Presidents to submit themselves to impeachment. That indeed would break a longstanding precedent and take the nation into uncharted waters, maybe even precipitate a constitutional crisis—actually demonstrating the indifference and ineptness that the President’s foes are fond of citing. They listed several examples in the petition:

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:

We request that Barack Obama be impeached for the following reasons.

1. He proclaimed war in libya without getting congress approval first. Article I, Section 8- Only congress can approve to start war.

2. Obamacare is unconstitutional. Forcing US citizens to get health insurance whether they want it or not.

3. Obama disrespects our Constitution calling it flawed and trying to change it even after taking this oath:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

4. Appointing agency “czars” without Senate approval.

The White House has also received a petition in Chinese characters (without translation) that has 169 signatures. It addresses human rights. But back to the demand for President Obama’s self-offered impeachment, here’s the White House plain language response. No bureaucratic platitudes or empty promises, no commitment to investigate the matter further, or to appoint a special fact finder, or hold a conference on the matter, it nevertheless applauds democracy and gives a pat on the back to the administration:

The Short Answer is No, but Keep Reading

By The White House

Believe it are not, petitions like the one you signed are one of the reasons we think We the People is such a valuable tool. There are few resources that do more to help us engage directly with people about the issues that matter to them — especially people who disagree with us.

So let us use this opportunity to set the record straight:

President Obama didn’t declare a war in Libya — and the limited military mission he did order was in keeping with decades of historic precedent.

The Supreme Court has ruled on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — and they upheld the law.

The President has deep respect and appreciation for the Constitution — he studied it in law school, he taught students about its principles as a professor, and as a lawmaker and now as President, he’s carried out its precepts.

And let’s be clear, many of those who have been called “czars” have in fact been confirmed by the U.S. Senate as prescribed by federal law, and others hold policy jobs that have existed in Administrations stretching back decades.

So the short answer is that we won’t be calling for the President’s impeachment — and given the fact that you made your appeal to the White House itself, we doubt you were holding your breath waiting for our support.

Here’s the important thing, though. Even though this request isn’t going to happen, we want you to walk away from this process with knowledge that we’re doing our best to listen — even to our harshest critics.

The key is that we can disagree without being disagreeable. That’s the kind of public dialogue Americans deserve.

President Obama has said time and time again that neither party has a monopoly on good ideas. And he’s repeatedly asked that all Americans — those who agree with him, as well as those who don’t — do their part to get involved with their democracy.

That’s why the White House has created a host of new tools and channels to help concerned citizens hear from us, and more importantly, to help President Obama hear directly from you. And the fact you signed this petition means you’ve already found at least one of them.

The White House has also received are six interconnected petitions to stop white genocide. My favorite (but I have not signed!) is the sixth: Continue reading Presidential Petitions

A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense

My first college course in anthropology instilled in me a profound appreciation for best practices. It’s been a personal mission to uncover the best ideas and chart how they work, identifying their structures and functions. One discovery has been that even bad ideas can work well. It sounds strange, but the success of an idea often has nothing to do with its truth or level of insight. Its power and influence has more to do with its context and how it functions with other assumptions and tasks.

We would all prefer strong ideas that work well. Alaska’s Iditarod grips my imagination most winters, more than the State of the Union. The long distance grit of lead dogs Andy, Larry, and Granite guiding teams through 50-50-50s—winds 50 miles an hour, temperatures 50 degrees below, with visibility less than 50 feet—across wilderness and glaciers is a test of endurance rarely seen in politics. And the Iditarod offers equal opportunity. Susan Butcher won three in a row and four out of five between 1986 and 1990, and once had two dogs killed mid-race by a pregnant moose.

Last night’s State of the Union had Speaker Boehner making pregnant moose faces; his uncomfortableness with the President’s proposals was obvious—but was it a bad idea that served, from Boehner’s view, a good intent? Did it function to keep the GOP brand alive, apart from the pockets of craziness where they are winning elections, winning not really based on their platform of budgets (most states have laws that require balanced budgets), but more on hot button issues like immigration and race, or winning in one-party states out west?

The President, often criticized as a poor team player, continued to prove he is an effective leader (Susan Butcher’s dog Granite suffered from the same criticism!) with good ideas.  He has also proven he can outrun the lumbering herds of opponents who have not adapted to the new environment and are using outmoded best practices.

The silent test of last night’s State of the Union was to outflank Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama has described Reagan as someone who reset the arc in America’s politics. Yet we forget the circumstances of that reset. Reagan created the meme that all of the problems of society were created by government excess. But what were the problems?

Women pushing for access to opportunity and self-determination, blacks refusing to be exploited, physically intimidated or discriminated against; massive resistance to corporate interests; food purchased from the bins of co-ops rather than on sale in plastic packages and cans stocked by chains. Reagan realized that the government protected those actions and had played a major part in expanding these rights. He coined the idea that government “created” these problems and caused the disturbing sight of school kids being bused and women deciding about pregnancy, and colleges graduating more critical thinkers who challenged the system and the status quo. The government didn’t reflect the will of the people, the people reflected the will of the now all-powerful government. But without the help of government, the gains of the people probably couldn’t be sustained.

In Reagan’s view, stop government, stop the advance of the people. He couldn’t sell an attack against the people—couldn’t demagogue blacks, women, youth as the problem (which for conservatives, they were!)—so he brilliantly assigned blame to government and used exaggerated stereotypes to knock it down. The welfare queen and other non-existent stories were repeated until the bad idea of government’s bad ideas became the Republican best practice for winning elections. Even Reagan’s ideology of cutting taxes to provide greater wealth to the rich didn’t happen during his administration, but the idea survived and is the basis of Republican policy today.

Despite widespread thinking that liberalism (again a code word for blacks, women and youth, packaged as “growing government”) was dead, Barack Obama somehow made it through and revived it in his first term. No matter; the new GOP plan was to blame his success and go after the old groups with a vengeance. If the stimulus succeeded, blame Obama for its size. If the economy recovered, blame entitlements, loudly arguing it could be even better without them. Turn obstruction into patriotism. Sprinkle the discussion with a little of the sour sickness of race—always heretofore cured by blaming the victim. Continue reading A State of the Union Address Filled with Common Sense

An Agenda For Anthony Weiner

Just after the budget deal was announced and promptly trounced by Rep Weiner, he quickly tweeted: “Our fights can’t just be just to stop their horrible ideas. Don’t we need to have our own agenda?”

Well, first, Mr. Weiner, perhaps if you’d done more to support Speaker Pelosi’s agenda in 2009 and 2010, you wouldn’t be in a position to have to worry about stopping “their horrible ideas.” Instead, you and many Democratic Representatives like you decided to try to stop the “horrible ideas” of the Democratic President. Now, isn’t the biggest “horrible idea” you’re trying to stop the repeal of all of the President’s policies that you used to call horrible?

What’s truly horrible, Mr. Weiner, is that you have a national audience that you could use to advance an agenda, any agenda, and yet you choose to shoot spitballs at the President instead.

But since you want an agenda, how about trying this one on for size? How about every time you get on the air or on your Twitter page, you get excited about the Energy Revolution? Don’t think we’re having one because it wasn’t called the Al Gore Eco-Green-Carbon-Free-Utopia Initiative?

Well, think again.

One of the first acts of this President was to support California’s air quality standards, which was followed by an increase in federal fuel efficiency standards directing Detroit to produce cars that can achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020, along with a massive investment in energy programs through the ARRA. This was all in just four months. Continue reading An Agenda For Anthony Weiner