Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Trump Revealed Israeli Commando and Mossad Operation in Syria to Russians

November 23, 2017

Trump allegedly disclosed an undercover Israeli mission to penetrate an Islamic State cell developing bombs that could go through airports undetected

Haaretz — Nov 23, 2017 7:43 AM

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U.S. President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017 JORGE SILVA/REUTERS

When U.S. President Donald Trump revealed Israeli intelligence to senior Russian officials in March, he disclosed details of a covert Israeli mission to penetrate an Islamic State cell deep in Syria, said reports in Vanity Fair on Wednesday.

Israel’s counterterrorism unit, working along with members of the Mossad, obtained information that a Syrian Islamic State cell had developed bombs that could be placed in laptops and then go through airport security undetected. Trump allegedly gave this information to the Russian officials.

According to the report, this discovery prompted the Trump administration as well as the British authorities to ban laptops and other electronics on airplanes until airports could comply with more strict security guidelines.

Trump reportedly passed the intelligence to the Russians without first notifying and discussing the decision with Israeli principals. According to Vanity Fair, this violation of U.S.-Israeli trust implicated the larger Middle East, as Israel assumed Russia would pass this intelligence information to their allies: the Iranians.

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Trump Told Russians of Israeli Operation in Syria in May, Vanity Fair Says

November 23, 2017

 NOVEMBER 23, 2017 07:29


The mission was to gather intelligence on an Islamic State plot to transform computers into bombs undetectable by airport security.


US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, US, November 1, 2017.. (photo credit:KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump informed Russian counterparts of a joint mission between Sayeret Matkal and the Mossad in Syria during a closed-door conversation in May, Vanity Fair reported Wednesday.

The mission was to gather intelligence on an ISIS plot to transform computers into bombs undetectable by airport security.

US Homeland Security officials imposed restrictions on passengers carrying laptops and other large electronic gear in cabins on nine airlines, most of which were Middle Eastern carriers, and British authorities imposed similar restrictions as a result of the intelligence.

The US ban was lifted in July.

On May 10, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office. The meeting was closed to American press outlets but pictures were published by Russian media.

In subsequent days, reports leaked about the discussion topic — Israeli intelligence.

Trump denied that he mentioned Israel during his meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak.

“I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” he said before meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel, in response to a question by a reporter. “They are all saying I did, so you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word Israel.”

Netanyahu told reporters that “intelligence cooperation is terrific, never been better.”

The Vanity Fair report sheds new light on the details of the meeting.



During a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, the president betrayed his intelligence community by leaking the content of a classified, and highly sensitive, Israeli intelligence operation to two high-ranking Russian envoys, Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov. This is what he told them—and the ramifications.
By Alexander Shcherbak/TASS/Getty Images.
On a dark night at the tail end of last winter, just a month after the inauguration of the new American president, an evening when only a sickle moon hung in the Levantine sky, two Israeli Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters flew low across Jordan and then, staying under the radar, veered north toward the twisting ribbon of shadows that was the Euphrates River. On board, waiting with a professional stillness as they headed into the hostile heart of Syria, were Sayeret Matkal commandos, the Jewish state’s elite counterterrorism force, along with members of the technological unit of the Mossad, its foreign-espionage agency. Their target: an ISIS cell that was racing to get a deadly new weapon thought to have been devised by Ibrahim al-Asiri, the Saudi national who was al-Qaeda’s master bombmaker in Yemen.

It was a covert mission whose details were reconstructed for Vanity Fair by two experts on Israeli intelligence operations. It would lead to the unnerving discovery that ISIS terrorists were working on transforming laptop computers into bombs that could pass undetected through airport security. U.S. Homeland Security officials—quickly followed by British authorities—banned passengers traveling from an accusatory list of Muslim-majority countries from carrying laptops and other portable electronic devices larger than a cell phone on arriving planes. It would not be until four tense months later, as foreign airports began to comply with new, stringent American security directives, that the ban would be lifted on an airport-by-airport basis.

In the secretive corridors of the American espionage community, the Israeli mission was praised by knowledgeable officials as a casebook example of a valued ally’s hard-won field intelligence being put to good, arguably even lifesaving, use.

Yet this triumph would be overshadowed by an astonishing conversation in the Oval Office in May, when an intemperate President Trump revealed details about the classified mission to Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and Sergey I. Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Along with the tempest of far-reaching geopolitical consequences that raged as a result of the president’s disclosure, fresh blood was spilled in his long-running combative relationship with the nation’s clandestine services. Israel—as well as America’s other allies—would rethink its willingness to share raw intelligence, and pretty much the entire Free World was left shaking its collective head in bewilderment as it wondered, not for the first time, what was going on with Trump and Russia. (In fact, Trump’s disturbing choice to hand over highly sensitive intelligence to the Russians is now a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s relationship with Russia, both before and after the election.) In the hand-wringing aftermath, the entire event became, as is so often the case with spy stories, a tale about trust and betrayal.

And yet, the Israelis cannot say they weren’t warned.

In the American-Israeli intelligence relationship, it is customary for the Mossad station chief and his operatives working under diplomatic cover out of the embassy in Washington to go to the C.I.A.’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters when a meeting is scheduled. This deferential protocol is based on a realistic appraisal of the situation: America is a superpower, and Israel, as one of the country’s senior intelligence officials recently conceded with self-effacing candor, is “a speck of dust in the wind.”

Nevertheless, over the years the Israeli dust has been sprinkled with flecks of pure intel gold. It was back in 1956, when the Cold War was running hot, that Israeli diplomats in Warsaw managed to get their hands on the text of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s top-secret speech to the Twentieth Party Congress in Moscow. Khrushchev’s startling words were a scathing indictment of Stalin’s three dec­ades of oppressive rule, and signalled a huge shift in Soviet dogma—just the sort of invaluable intelligence the C.I.A. was eager to get its hands on. Recognizing the value of what they had, the Israelis quickly delivered the text to U.S. officials. And with this unexpected gift, a mutually beneficial relationship between the resourceful Jewish spies and the American intelligence Leviathan began to take root.

Over the ensuing decades it has expanded into a true working partnership. The two countries have gone as far as to institutionalize their joint spying. The purloined documents released to the press by Edward Snowden, for example, revealed that the N.S.A., the American electronic-intelligence agency that eavesdrops on the world, and Unit 8200, its Israeli counterpart, have an agreement to share the holiest of intelligence holies: raw electronic intercepts. And the two countries inventively worked in tandem, during the administration of George W. Bush and continuing with President Obama, on Operation Olympic Games, creating and disseminating the pernicious computer viruses that succeeded in damaging Iran’s uranium-enrichment centrifuges. American and Israeli spooks have even killed together. In 2008, after President George W. Bush signed off on the operation, the C.I.A. cooperated with agents from the Mossad’s Kidon—the Hebrew word for “bayonet,” an appropriate name for a sharp-edged unit that specializes in what Israeli officials euphemistically call “targeted prevention.” The shared target was Imad Mughniyah, the Hezbollah international operations chief, and any further terrorist acts he’d been planning were quite effectively prevented: Mughniyah was blown to pieces, body parts flying across a Damascus parking lot, as he passed an S.U.V. containing a specially-designed C.I.A. bomb. But like any marriage, the cozy—yet inherently unequal—partnership between the American and Israeli intelligence agencies has had its share of stormy weather. In fact, an irreparable divorce seemed likely in 1985 after it was discovered that Israel was running a very productive agent, Jonathan Pollard, inside U.S. Naval Intelligence. For a difficult period—measured out in years, not months—the American spymasters fumed, and the relationship was more tentative than collaborative.

But spies are by instinct and profession a pragmatic breed, and so by the 1990s the existence of shared enemies, as well as shared threats, worked to foster a reconciliation. Besides, each had something the other needed: Israel had agents buried deep in neighboring Arab countries, producing “HUMINT,” as the jargon of the trade refers to information obtained by human assets. While the U.S. possessed the best technological toys its vast wealth could buy; its “SIGINT,” or signals intelligence, could pick up the chatter in most any souk in the Arab world.

And so by the time of Trump’s election, despite the snarky, rather personal feud between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama, the two countries’ spies were back playing their old tricks. Together they were taking on a rogues’ gallery of common villains: al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State. “We are the front line,” a high-ranking Israeli military official bragged to me, “in America’s war on terror.” Over recent months, the U.S. intelligence windfall has been particularly bountiful. Israel, according to sources with access to the activities of the Mossad and Unit 8200, has delivered information about Russia’s interaction with the Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah forces taking the field in the Syrian civil war. And there is little that gets American military strategists more excited than learning what sort of tactics Russia is employing.

It was against this reassuring backdrop of recent successes and shared history, an Israeli source told Vanity Fair, that a small group of Mossad officers and other Israeli intelligence officials took their seats in a Langley conference room on a January morning just weeks before the inauguration of Donald Trump. The meeting proceeded uneventfully; updates on a variety of ongoing classified operations were dutifully shared. It was only as the meeting was about to break up that an American spymaster solemnly announced there was one more thing: American intelligence agencies had come to believe that Russian president Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump, he declared without offering further specifics, according to a report in the Israeli press. Israel, the American officials continued, should “be careful” after January 20—the date of Trump’s inauguration. It was possible that sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to the Russians. A moment later the officials added what many of the Israelis had already deduced: it was reasonable to presume that the Kremlin would share some of what they learned with their ally Iran, Israel’s most dangerous adversary.

Currents of alarm and anger raced through those pres­ent at the meeting, says the Israeli source, but their superiors in Israel remained unconvinced—no supporting evidence, after all, had been provided—and chose to ignore the prognostication.

The covert mission into the forbidden plains of northern Syria was a “blue and white” undertaking, as Israel, referring to the colors of its flag, calls ops that are carried out solely by agents of the Jewish state.

Yet—and this is an ironclad operational rule—getting agents in and then swiftly out of enemy territory under the protection of the nighttime darkness can be accomplished only if there is sufficient reconnaissance: the units need to know exactly where to strike, what to expect, what might be out there waiting for them in the shadows. For the mission last winter that targeted a cell of terrorist bombers, according to ABC News, citing American officials, the dangerous groundwork was done by an Israeli spy planted deep inside ISIS territory. Whether he was a double agent Israel had either turned or infiltrated into the ISIS cell, or whether he was simply a local who’d happened to stumble upon some provocative information he realized he could sell—those details remain locked in the secret history of the mission.

What is apparent after interviews with intelligence sources both in Israel and the U.S. is that on the night of the infiltration the helicopters carrying the blue-and-white units came down several miles from their target. Two jeeps bearing Syrian Army markings were unloaded, the men hopped in, and, hearts racing, they drove as if it had been the most natural of patrols into the pre-dawn stillness of an enemy city.

“A shadow unit of ghosts” is what the generals of Aman, Israel’s military-intelligence organization, envisioned when they set up Sayeret Matkal. And on this night the soldiers fanned out like ghosts in the shadows, armed and on protective alert, as the Mossad tech agents did their work.

Again, the operational details are sparse, and even contradictory. One source said the actual room where the ISIS cell would meet was spiked, a tiny marvel of a microphone placed where it would never be noticed. Another maintained that an adjacent telephone junction box had been ingeniously manipulated so that every word spoken in a specific location would be overheard.

The sources agree, however, that the teams got in and out that night, and, even before the returning choppers landed back in Israel, it was confirmed to the jubilant operatives that the audio intercept was already up and running.

Now the waiting began. From an antenna-strewn base near the summit of the Golan Heights, on Israel’s border with Syria, listeners from Unit 8200 monitored the transmissions traveling across the ether from the target in northern Syria. Surveillance is a game played long, but after several wasted days 8200’s analysts were starting to suspect that their colleagues had been misinformed, possibly deliberately, by the source in the field. They were beginning to fear that all the risk had been taken without any genuine prospect of reward.

Then what they’d been waiting for was suddenly coming in loud and clear, according to Israeli sources familiar with the operation: it was, as a sullen spy official described it, “a primer in constructing a terror weapon.” With an unemotional precision, an ISIS soldier detailed how to turn a laptop computer into a terror weapon that could pass through airport security and be carried on board a passenger plane. ISIS had obtained a new way to cause airliners to explode suddenly, free-falling from the sky in flames. When the news of this frightening ISIS lecture arrived at Mossad’s headquarters outside Tel Aviv, officials quickly decided to share the field intelligence with their American counterparts. The urgency of the highly classified information trumped any security misgivings. Still, as one senior Israeli military official suggested, the Israeli decision was also egged on by a professional vanity: they wanted their partners in Washington to marvel at the sort of impossible missions they could pull off.

They did. It was a much-admired, as well as appreciated, gift—and it scared the living hell out of the American spymasters who received it.

On the cloudy spring morning of May 10, just an uneasy day after the president’s sudden firing of F.B.I. director James B. Comey, who had been leading the probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, a beaming President Trump huddled in the Oval Office with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak.

And, no less improbably, Trump seemed not to notice, or feel restrained by, the unfortunate timing of his conversation with Russian officials who were quite possibly co-conspirators in a plot to undermine the U.S. electoral process. Instead, full of a chummy candor, the president turned to his Russian guests and blithely acknowledged the elephant lurking in the room. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” he said, according to a record of the meeting shared with The New York Times. “He was crazy, a real nut job.” With the sort of gruff pragmatism a Mafia don would use to justify the necessity of a hit, he further explained, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Yet that was only the morning’s perplexing prelude. What had been an unseemly conversation between the president and two high-ranking Russian officials soon turned into something more dangerous.

“I get great intel,” the president suddenly boasted, as prideful as if he were bragging about the amenities at one of his company’s hotels. “I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

He quickly went on to share with representatives of a foreign adversary not only the broad outlines of the plot to turn laptop computers into airborne bombs but also at least one highly classified operational detail—the sort of sensitive, locked-in-the-vault intel that was not shared with even Congress or friendly governments. The president did not name the U.S. partner who had spearheaded the operation. (Journalists, immediately all over the astonishing story, would soon out Israel). But, more problematic, President Trump cavalierly identified the specific city in ISIS-held territory where the threat had been detected.

As for the two Russians, there’s no record of their response. Their silence would be understandable: why interrupt the flow of information? But in their minds, no doubt they were already drafting the cable they’d send to the Kremlin detailing their great espionage coup.

So why? Why did a president who has time after volatile time railed against leakers, who has attacked Hillary Clinton for playing fast and loose with classified information, cozy up to a couple of Russian bigwigs in the Oval Office and breezily offer government secrets?

Any answer is at best conjecture. Yet in the search for an important truth, consider these hypotheses, each of which has its own supporters among past and current members of the U.S. intelligence community.

The first is a bit of armchair psychology. In Trump’s irrepressible way of living in the world, wealth is real only if other people believe you’re rich. If you don’t flaunt it, then you might as well not have it.

So there is the new president, shaky as any bounder might be in the complicated world of international politics, sitting down to a head-to-head with a pair of experienced Russians. How can he impress them? Get them to appreciate that he’s not some lightweight, but rather a genuine player on the world stage?

There’s also the school of thought that the episode is another unfortunate example of Trump’s impressionable worldview being routinely shaped by the last thing he’s heard, be it that morning’s broadcast of Fox & Friends or an intelligence briefing in the Oval Office. As advocates of this theory point out, the president was likely told that one of the issues still on his guests’ minds would be the terrorist explosion back in October 2015 that brought down a Russian passenger plane flying above Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 people on board. With that seed planted in the president’s undisciplined mind, it’s a short leap for him to be off and running to the Russians about what he knew about an ISIS scheme to target passenger aircraft.

Yet there is also a more sinister way to connect all the dots. There are some petulant voices in official Washington who insist that the president’s treachery was deliberate, part of his longtime collaboration with the Russians. It is a true believer’s orthodoxy, one which predicts that the meeting will wind up being one more damning count in an indictment that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, will ultimately nail to the White House door.

But, for now, to bolster their still very circumstantial case, they point to a curiosity surrounding the meeting in the Oval Office—U.S. journalists were kept out. And, no less an oddity, the Russian press was allowed in. It was the photographer from TASS, the state-run Russian news agency, who snapped the only shots that documented the occasion for posterity. Or, for that matter, for the grand jury.

But ultimately it is the actions of men, not their motives, that propel history forward. And the president’s reckless disclosure continues to wreak havoc. On one level, the greatest casualty was trust. The president was already waging a perilous verbal war with the U.S. intelligence agencies. His sharing secrets with the Russians has very likely ground whatever remnants of a working relationship had survived into irreparable pieces. “How can the agency continue to provide the White House with intel,” challenged one former operative, “without wondering where it will wind up?” And he added ominously, “Those leaks to The New York Times and The Washington Post about the investigations into Trump and his cohorts is no accident. Trust me: you don’t want to get into a pissing match with a bunch of spooks. This is war.”

And what about America’s vital intelligence relationships with its allies? Former C.I.A. deputy director Michael Morell publicly worried, “Third countries who provide the United States with intelligence information will now have pause.”

In Israel, though, the mood is more than merely wary. “Mr. Netanyahu’s intelligence chiefs . . . are up in arms,” a prominent Israeli journalist insisted in The New York Times. In recent interviews with Israeli intelligence sources the frequently used operative verb was “whiten”—as in “certain units from now on will whiten their reports before passing them on to agencies in America.”

What further exacerbates Israel’s concerns—“keeps me up at night” was how a government spymaster put it—is that if Trump is handing over Israel’s secrets to the Russians, then he just might as well be delivering them to Iran, Russia’s current regional ally. And it is an expansionist Iran, one Israeli after another was determined to point out in the course of discussions, that is arming Hez­bol­lah with sophisticated rockets and weaponry while at the same time becoming an increasingly visible economic and military presence in Syria.

“Trump betrayed us,” said a senior Israeli military official bluntly, his voice stern with reproach. “And if we can’t trust him, then we’re going to have to do what is necessary on our own if our back is up against the wall with Iran.” Yet while appalled governments are now forced to rethink their tactics in future dealings with a wayward president, there is also the dismaying possibility that a more tangible, and more lethal, consequence has already occurred. “The Russians will undoubtedly try to figure out the source or the method of this information to make sure that it is not also collecting on their activities in Syria—and in trying to do that they could well disrupt the source,” said Michael Morell.

What, then, was the fate of Israel’s agent in Syria? Was the operative exfiltrated to safety? Has he gone to ground in enemy territory? Or was he hunted down and killed? One former Mossad officer with knowledge of the operation and its aftermath will not say. Except to add pointedly, “Whatever happened to him, it’s a hell of price to pay for a president’s mistake.”

His country a smoldering ruin, but Assad still in his seat

November 21, 2017

In this Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

BEIRUT: His nation is a smoldering ruin, much of it held by rival armed factions, domestic or foreign. Half the population is displaced, hundreds of thousands have died and much of the West regards him as a tyrant and human rights abuser. But Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to have survived the war and is likely to hold onto power for the foreseeable future.

The sides in Syria’s civil war are preparing for what will be the eighth round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva intended to forge a path forward for a political transition to end the conflict. But barring any surprises, no negotiated resolution is likely to lead to Assad’s ouster.
One reason is military. Assad’s forces have had the momentum on the ground the past year, backed by an overwhelming Russian air campaign and fighters from Iran and Hezbollah. Assad’s government now controls more than 50 percent of Syria.
Holding half the country normally wouldn’t be an optimistic sign, but that’s up from 19 percent earlier this year. His troops control Syria’s four largest cities, 10 of Syria’s 14 provincial capitals and its Mediterranean coast. Also, no force on the ground is capable of driving Assad out at this stage.
On the diplomatic front, the top supporters of the opposition, the United States and its allies, long ago backed off demands that any deal involve Assad’s immediate removal. Now they are pushing for a plan for elections that could bring a new leader. But Assad’s ally Russia now dominates the negotiating process, meaning there is little pressure on him to accept real elections. A political solution under his terms would be to incorporate opposition members into a national unity government under his leadership.
Assad’s opposition is in disarray. The top opposition negotiator, Riyad Hijab, resigned on Monday, complaining that foreign powers were carving up Syria and brokering side deals to “prolong the life of Bashar Assad’s regime.” He leaves his post just two days before the opposition was to meet in Saudi Arabia to come up with a unified delegation and negotiating stance. Saudi Arabia has already signaled to the opposition it has to come to terms with Assad’s survival.
Assad looks increasingly confident. On Monday, he traveled to Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the second time Assad has traveled to Russia or left the country in the course of the country’s civil war.
Earlier this month, Assad’s office posted on social media a photo of the president and the first lady, Asma, strolling through their Damascus palace courtyard, smiling at each other. The picture is part of a propaganda campaign to project business as usual and confidence in the future. The presidency’s Instagram account produces daily images of the first couple visiting with students, families of slain fighters, orphanages and bakeries.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in late October repeated Washington’s call for Assad to surrender control, insisting that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”
But turning that call into reality takes leverage that Washington doesn’t appear ready to use.
In a joint statement released earlier this month, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They made vague comments about Assad’s “recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections” as called for under a United Nations Security Council resolution.
There are few scenarios that could bring about Assad’s fall. One would be if the US struck a deal that convinced Russia to force Assad to accept a political transition that ensures his departure from the presidency.
But it is hard to imagine what incentive the US could give Moscow to dump its ally. Another scenario would be if the US or other opposition backers reversed course and launched an all-out military drive against Assad.
“That requires massive escalation, restarting the war from scratch to roll back Assad’s gains and creating an opposition that is both able to govern and acceptable to the international community,” said Aron Lund, a fellow with the New York-based think tank The Century Foundation.
“Looking at the conflict right now and how the opposition’s allies are all backing away — it’s just not going to happen,” he said.
Trump ended a CIA-backed program training rebel forces trying to oust Assad. The United States has been more focused on fighting the Daesh group in Syria, supporting Kurdish-led forces that have successfully rolled back the militants and took control of nearly a quarter of the country.
Turkey, another top supporter of the opposition, is more concerned with thwarting the ambitions of the Kurds in Syria than with ousting Assad. It backs a force of opposition factions holding an enclave of territory in northern Syria and skirmishing with the Kurds.
The main rebel-held area focused on fighting Assad is in the northwestern province of Idlib, but it is dominated by Al-Qaeda-allied factions.
Russia, meanwhile, helped mediate a series of local cease-fires between Assad’s forces and rebels on most fronts around the country. That has allowed Assad and his allies — troops from Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Iraqi Shiite militiamen— to focus on battling the Daesh group in the east.
On Sunday, state-run media announced that Assad’s forces have recaptured the town of Boukamal, the Daesh group’s last significant stronghold in Syria, leaving the militants to defend just strips of desert territory in the country and a besieged pocket outside the capital, Damascus.
“To be sure there will be flare-ups of violence and bombings and unrest,” Lund said. “But he (Assad) holds the center, he holds most of the population, he’s got the economy and the institutions and the UN seat. … He has all the stuff he needs to continue to rule.”
When Syria’s conflict began with mass protests in March 2011, many expected Assad to be quickly toppled like other Arab leaders. Regional and international supporters of the opposition poured in money and weapons and then US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders declared the Assad dynasty finished.
Assad’s determination never wavered throughout the conflict, aided by the opposition’s fragmentation and Russia and Iran’s inerventions.
Nikolaos Van Dam, author of the book “Destroying A Nation: The Civil War in Syria,” said Western countries created false expectations by calling on Assad to step down while only offering half-hearted support for the opposition and underestimating the cohesion of Assad’s leadership.

Checks on Trump’s Court Picks Fall Away

November 20, 2017

Move to curtail ‘blue slips’ gives the president, and successors, wide leeway in picks for federal bench

The Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee has curtailed one of the last legislative limits on a president’s power to shape the federal courts, giving Donald Trump more freedom than any U.S. president in modern times to install his judges of choice, legal experts said.

Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) reined in a tradition that empowered senators to block federal appeals-court nominees from their home state. His decision came about four years after Democrats, citing Republican filibusters of President Barack Obama’s circuit-court nominees, eliminated a Senate rule that required the majority party to mount 60 votes to advance a nominee to a confirmation vote.

Together, the threat of a filibuster—or delaying tactic—and use of “blue slips”—so-named because senators indicate support or opposition to nominees on blue slips of paper—guarded against lifetime appointments for nominees deemed far outside the mainstream, court experts said. Getting rid of these checks could foment distrust in judges’ work if Mr. Trump and later presidents prioritize ideology over experience or legal talent, some of the experts said.

“When judges lose legitimacy in the public eye, they lose the ability to enforce unpopular decisions,” said Arthur Hellman, an expert on the federal judiciary and law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “And that’s when you see an unraveling in the rule of law.”

Others said the changes were part of a natural progression away from Senate traditions that allowed the minority party to stall nominations for partisan reasons.

“If you’re not a fan of the Senate-wide filibuster, you’re probably not a fan of a filibuster by one senator,” said Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, referring to the practice of senators blocking nominees from their states.

So far, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee has approved two nominees pronounced unfit to serve by the American Bar Association, including Brett Talley, a Justice Department lawyer who has never argued a motion in federal court and whose wife is the chief of staff for the top White House lawyer.

“If Senate Republicans will confirm him, then there is no realistic sense of checks and balances,” said Christopher Kang, who worked on judicial nominations in the Obama White House.

The White House declined to address criticisms of Mr. Talley.

The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has deemed two other Trump nominees “not qualified”—ratings Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee dismissed as the product of what they called a liberal advocacy group.

The ABA has rejected that criticism, saying it has rated potential judges for more than 60 years, drawing on dozens and sometimes hundreds of interviews with a nominee’s colleagues and other peers.

Hogan Gidley, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Trump has delivered on his promise to nominate “highly qualified judges.”

“We appreciate the hard work of Chairman Grassley and Leader McConnell, and we urge the Senate to confirm all of the remaining nominees because it’s what the American people deserve,” he said in an emailed statement.

Mr. Grassley said on Thursday that he would hold a hearing on two nominees—David Stras, a nominee to the midwestern Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Kyle Duncan, a nominee to the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans—over the objections of home-state senators Al Franken of Minnesota, a Democrat, and John Kennedy of Louisiana, a Republican.

The blue-slip practice began in the 1910s and, for a large portion of its history, “gave Senators the ability to determine the fate of their home-state judicial nominations,” the Congressional Research Service, a research arm Congress, said in a 2003 report.

Mr. Grassley said that after his recent move, a negative blue slip would be a “significant factor” for the committee to consider but wouldn’t prevent a hearing, a break with the practice of Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen since at least 2005.

He blamed the Democrats for abusing the blue slip after eschewing the filibuster.

“The Democrats seriously regret that they abolished the filibuster, as I warned them they would. But they can’t expect to use the blue-slip courtesy in its place. That’s not what the blue slip is meant for,” he said on the Senate floor last week.

Mr. Grassley also has parted with common practice by stacking two circuit court nominees in a single confirmation hearing, reducing time for preparation and questions, and holding hearings before the ABA finished its judicial evaluations.

“Taken together, it’s clear that Republicans want to remake our courts by jamming through President Trump’s nominees as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in an emailed statement.

The median time from nomination to Senate confirmation for circuit-court nominees was less than a month in the administrations of presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies federal courts. That number rose through the 1980s and 1990s and ballooned to 229 days during President Barack Obama’s two terms, he said.

Write to Joe Palazzolo at and Ashby Jones at

Court rejects bid to restore Australia refugee camp services

November 7, 2017


© BEHROUZ BOOCHANI/AFP/File | This handout photograph taken and provided to AFP by Behrouz Boochani shows refugees and asylum-seekers at the Manus Island camp

SYDNEY (AFP) – A Papua New Guinea court Tuesday rejected a refugee’s appeal to restore water, electricity and food supplies to a shuttered Australian detention camp where hundreds of men have barricaded themselves in.

The remote camp on Manus Island — one of two offshore centres that holds asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat — was closed a week ago after the PNG Supreme Court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional.

But some 600 men have refused to leave despite having no basic services, saying they feared locals outside would be hostile.

One refugee, Iranian Behrouz Boochani, sought an injunction to restore water, power and food supplies, but his application was rejected.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Salamo Injia said in his judgement that there was “no real good reason why they should not voluntarily move” to three transition facilities.

Injia said while some constitutional rights may have been breached when the services were withdrawn, the refugees had “brought those upon themselves” by refusing to leave the camp.

Boochani’s lawyer Ben Lomai told AFP he would appeal the decision.

Boochani, speaking on behalf of the refugees in the camp, said the court ruling showed “how we are forgotten people and there is no justice for us”.

“We are used to the court decisions going against us”, he told AFP.

He added that depriving refugees of basic services was “completely against humanity”.

Australia’s harsh immigration policy against boatpeople, which Canberra says is necessary to stop deaths at sea, has been widely criticised by the United Nations and human rights advocates.

Asylum-seekers are sent to Manus and Nauru, but the camps’ conditions have been slammed by human rights groups, which have also campaigned to have them shut amid reports of widespread abuse, self-harm and mental health problems.

Amnesty International said Tuesday the court decision “jeopardises lives”.

“The decision is an abhorrent attack on the right to life,” the group’s Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said in a statement.

“If authorities don’t act immediately, there is a real risk that the situation will catastrophically deteriorate.”

There were rallies in several cities over the weekend against the detention of the refugees, with protesters calling for them to be brought to Australia instead.

Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States.

But so far just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to the US in September, under a deal struck with former US president Barack Obama and bitterly criticised by his successor Donald Trump.

© 2017 AFP

Is Saudi Arabia Pushing Israel Into War With Hezbollah and Iran?

November 6, 2017


By Daniel B. Shapiro

What connects Lebanese PM Saad Hariri’s sudden resignation and Hezbollah’s assassination threat with Saudi Arabia and Israel? It’s all about Iran. But Israel must not be maneuvered by an impatient Riyadh into a premature confrontation

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Is Saudi Arabia pushing Israel into war with Hezbollah and Iran? Pictured: Israeli paratroopers walk a dirt road on their way to a Lebanese village during the second Lebanon War, Aug. 12, 2006 Emilio Morenatti / AP


Saad Hariri, who resigned Saturday as Prime Minister of Lebanon, always faced a no-win situation trying to serve in that role. His departure heralds the latest ratcheting up of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran playing out across the region, with significant implications for Israel.

Hariri is a good man, but not a natural political leader. His role as the leader of Lebanon’s Sunni bloc was thrust upon him by the assassination of his father, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in 2005.

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During his first term as prime minister, from 2009 to 2011, Saad chose, by design, to operate in his father’s imposing shadow. When I visited his compound in Beirut, I was struck not only by the opulent wealth and suffocating security arrangements, but by the extreme deference to Rafik’s memory. In the salon where he received guests, Saad sat in the second chair on the Lebanese side. The first was reserved for a black ribbon-draped portrait of his father.

But there was another force that thrust him into that role: his Saudi patrons. Saudi Arabia had long backed the Sunnis in Lebanon’s multi-sectarian political system and during the civil war. But they also provided a base and financial backing for the Hariri business empire. Hariri could not move right or left without Saudi support, nor could he rebuff their orders that he return to Lebanon as prime minister.

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Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s now former prime minister, at a joint press conference with U.S. President Donald Trump, at the White House in Washington, D.C. July 25, 2017Zach Gibson/Bloomberg
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During Hariri’s first term, he faced no end of headaches: Hezbollah-affiliated ministers in the cabinet who could bring down his government at any time; the unfinished business of the Special Tribunal investigating his father’s murder; and the taunts and bullying of Hezbollah’s ally, Bashar Assad in Syria. The certain knowledge that Hezbollah, backed by Assad, were the culprits in his father’s killing must have made each day a special kind of torture.

Those ressures all reflected Iran’s ongoing attempt to retain its influence in Lebanon, and recover the ground they had lost when the March 14 popular uprising following Hariri senior’s assassination resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian troops after 30 years.

With sustained support from Saudi Arabia and the United States, Saad Hariri withstood these pressures for a time. But Saudi support wavered in 2010, when Prince Abdulaziz, the son of then-King Abdallah, pursued a rapprochement with Assad. When Hariri refused to play along, Hezbollah withdrew its ministers from his government, bringing it down in humiliating fashion while Hariri met with President Barack Obama in Washington in January 2011.

As I watched his face across the Oval Office that day, Hariri seemed almost relieved.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) poses while meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. July, 23, 2017/AP

Knowing that history, I was frankly surprised when he returned to the premiership late last year, following a protracted government stalemate, so bad that even the Lebanese trash was not being collected. The logjam was only broken when Michel Aoun, a Christian ally of Hezbollah, ascended to the presidency.

Why would Hariri return under an even tougher set of circumstances than those that prevailed during his first term? Once again, because the Saudis made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

But this was a new breed of Saudi rulers. King Abdallah had no love for Iran, whom he described as the head of the snake spreading poison throughout the Middle East. But he picked his spots for confronting his rivals, and cut his losses in Lebanon in 2011. His successor, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, and his son Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), seem determined to contest Iran from Yemen to Syria to Lebanon. Getting their man, Hariri, back to Beirut at least gave them a player on the field.

Hariri faced a truly impossible task. Hezbollah’s dominance of Lebanese politics has only increased. Despite continued U.S. support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, ostensibly a multi-confessional counterweight to the Shia forces, is has become increasingly clear that Hezbollah can intimidate, infiltrate, and when called upon, dominate them.

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Rescue workers and soldiers stand around a massive crater after a Hezbollah bomb attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon. Feb. 14, 2005/AP

The winding down of the Syrian civil war made it even worse. As long as the fighting raged, Hezbollah’s priority was shoring up the Assad regime, which has facilitated the conveyance of Iranian weapons into Hezbollah’s hands. As Assad’s future has been assured, under Russian and Iranian sponsorship, Hezbollah fighters have been returning home to Lebanon, and their leadership has been able to refocus on internal Lebanese battles.

Hariri has long known that as prime minister, he lived on borrowed time. At Hezbollah’s whim, at any moment, his father’s fate could become his own. It’s fair to say that the assassination attempt he alluded to in his resignation announcement represented a death threat he always faced. It was only a question of when Hezbollah would choose to operationalize it.

The bigger question is whether his resignation is a sign that the Saudis withdrew their support for him once again. At first blush, that would not seem consistent with King Salman and MBS’s overall desire to confront Iran’s proxies on every front.

But it is plausible that the Saudis are trying to create the context for a different means of contesting Iran in Lebanon: an Israeli-Hezbollah war.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah delivers a video link message during Ashura, a 10-day ritual commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. Sept. 30, 2017Hassan Ammar/AP

With Assad clearly having survived the challenge posed by Saudi-backed rebels, the Saudi leadership may hope to move its confrontation with Iran from Syria to Lebanon. By pulling Hariri out of his office, they may hope to ensure that Hezbollah gets stuck with the blame and responsibility for Lebanon’s challenges, from caring for Syrian refugees to mopping up Al Qaida and ISIS affiliates.

That could, the Saudis may believe, lead Hezbollah to seek an accelerated confrontation with Israel as a means of unifying Lebanese support for their dominance. As indicated in a different context – this week’s arrests of Saudi princes in a putative corruption crackdown – King Salman and MBS have little patience to establish their desired order.

Israeli leaders have been preparing for the next war with Hezbollah since 2006. Iran’s increasing assertiveness across the region makes clear that, even more than the last war, it will be a fight to diminish the Iranian threat on Israel’s borders. Israel and Saudi Arabia are fully aligned in this regional struggle, and the Saudis cannot help but be impressed by Israel’s increasing assertiveness to strike at Iranian threats in Syria.

Israel will have to make its own decision when the time is right for that fight. When the moment of truth arrives, Israel’s allies, with the United States in the lead, should give it full backing. An act of Iranian or Hezbollah aggression may well be the spark, as their malign intentions are perfectly clear.

But Israeli leaders will want to take care not to find themselves backed into a premature confrontation by the maneuvers of their allies who sit in Riyadh.

Daniel B. Shapiro is Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council, during the Obama Administration.

Twitter: @DanielBShapiro

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Hillary Clinton’s election loss, dirty tricks sparks civil war between Democrats — Autopsy of 2016 campaign is painful, necessary, overdue — Party has outsourced agenda-setting to the activist base

November 5, 2017

By Noah Rothman | Fox News

“An opaque and corrupt party exposed.”

Donna Brazile, the former interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, is in search of absolution. In a cloyingly self-pitying article for Politico Magazine excerpted from her upcoming book, she reveals the extent to which the DNC willingly surrendered control of the organization to Hillary Clinton’s campaign well before Clinton became the party’s presidential nominee.

In the article, Brazile scolds her predecessors at the DNC and scolds President Obama and his allies for allowing the party’s fundraising apparatuses to atrophy. But most of all, she attacks Hillary Clinton.

Brazile alleges that the joint fundraising agreement the DNC signed with the Clinton campaign in August was “unethical,” a claim disputed by DNC Chairman Tom Perez. And she confesses to being disturbed by her inability to confirm that the DNC was not trying to “throw the primary” to Clinton.

Finally, Brazile reveals that she knew all along that the polls couldn’t be trusted, even if the Democratic Party’s elected representatives and pollsters had no idea. “I found a lack of enthusiasm for her (Clinton) everywhere,” she confessed to Bernie Sanders alone.

Brazile could endure the shame of secretly relaying Democratic primary debate questionsto Hillary Clinton when the Clintons were the powers that be. But those days are over. Now it’s Bernie Sanders’ party, and Brazile is surely hoping her offering to the new overlords will be satisfactory.

It’s not necessary to buy every detail of Brazile’s account to see the writing on the wall. When asked about Brazile’s confessional and whether that meant that the primary was rigged against Sanders, progressive darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., replied flatly, “yes.”

This is no country for a Clinton.

Brazile’s self-serving effort to expose the Democratic Party’s skeletons is a step toward recovery. It demonstrates that the party’s efforts to avoid conducting an “autopsy” on its failed effort in the 2016 election can only be suppressed for so long.

Image result for Hillary Clinton, campaigning, summer 2016, photos

Associated Press/Steve Helber

Democratic lawmakers and party insiders have gone to great lengths to ensure that any postmortem on the 2016 race is kept under wraps. But rather than controlling the direction in which the party’s post-2016 debate will flow, the Democratic Party has inadvertently let activists and pollsters perform the dissections on the party’s 2016 corpse.

A study conducted by the Democratic political research firm Global Strategy Group, for example, found that the Democratic Party’s base voters actually did turn out to vote. But the problem for Democrats was that many of them turned out to vote for Donald Trump.

“Those Obama-Trump voters, in fact, effectively accounted for more than two-thirds of the reason Clinton lost,” the report said.

Another study conducted by the super PAC Priorities USA learned that voters in swing states, including many Democrats, thought the Democratic Party was more likely than the GOP to favor the wealthy, and voted accordingly.

It’s all rather confusing and often conflicting. Now, nearly a year later, the Democratic Party is awash in competing narratives. In a comprehensive New York Times Magazine piece, Robert Draper examines a party at war with itself – not over policy, but over tone and tactics.

For example, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped engineer a Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006 by hunting for conservative Democratic prospects to run in conservative districts.

“When I was recruiting candidates, I’d get yelled at,” Emmanuel confessed. “‘Why is he getting all these sheriffs and military guys?’ It’s because they were running in red districts!”

Emmanuel is still getting yelled at. Progressive Change Campaign Committee founder Stephanie Taylor attacked Emanuel’s “50-state strategy” for, of all things, only being able to maintain control of the House for four years. Had the party run true-blue progressives in those red districts, she said, the Democrats might have enjoyed more “lasting success.”

The impulse to impose ideologically progressive homogeneity on the Democratic Party is evident in how the progressive activist base responded to Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie’s foray into immigration-related issues.

Gillespie’s decision to make the matters of the MS-13 gang and sanctuary cities an issue in the Virginia gubernatorial campaign has offended the sensibilities of his Democratic opponents. They claim, correctly, that MS-13’s presence in Virginia is, while not negligible, numerically modest. They add that there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia.

To even raise this issue is to inflame cultural tensions toward no higher purpose than dividing the electorate against itself and stoking racial anxieties. But it wasn’t until the Democratic candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, confirmed that he would sign an anti-sanctuary city bill if one crossed his desk that the progressive left truly revealed its capacity for inchoate rage.

“Northam caves to opponent’s racist ads on sanctuary cities,” the progressive blog Think Progress barked.

Ezra Levin, one half of a team of activists lauded in Politico as responsible for crafting the “playbook for stonewalling the Trump presidency,” attacked his favored candidate, writing that “parroting Gillespie’s hateful xenophobia is despicable.”

The Nation’s Washington editor, George Zornick, mourned the Northam campaign’s validation of “Gillespie’s racist narrative.”

The activist organization Democracy for America went a step further and dubbed the Northam campaign itself a “racist” organization.

This isn’t political analysis; it’s a primal scream. Moreover, it has blinded progressives to the fact that local candidates know best how to appeal to their constituents.

Monmouth University survey released Oct. 17 found Gillespie’s message on crime and immigration resonating with voters. Gillespie’s image on crime had improved markedly over the course of one month, coinciding with a decline in overall support for Northam.

“This is a game of inches right now, so any small advantage counts,” said Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray.

Northam’s struggles are indicative of a broader problem with a party that has outsourced agenda-setting to the activist base. Longtime Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg recently warned his party that the Democratic brand is “weakening” and the opportunities the party could enjoy in 2018 will be forfeited if Democrats do not develop a concise agenda.

Greenberg advised Democrats to hammer away on the GOP’s failure to preserve access to health insurance, preserve entitlement programs, or protect the little guy from abuse. Greenberg’s firm found that the message that tests best with voters is a familiar one: “Trickle-down has failed and the richest need to pay their fair share of taxes.”

The dirty secret is that the Democratic Party’s activist base is not animated by messages like these. The activists get out of bed in the morning ready to do cultural battle with pro-Trump forces, not over economic issues but cultural concerns. And they, not Stanley Greenberg, are writing the Democratic Party’s talking points.

Say what you will about the GOP’s 2012 “autopsy,” at least the Republican Party engaged in an open display of introspection in the wake of a humiliating defeat. The autopsy galvanized a Republican activist base resentful of what it saw as the false elite consensus around diversity and immigration, and vowed to show the party leaders why they were wrong.

Perhaps mindful that Donald Trump’s nomination represented a repudiation of that Republican autopsy’s recommendations, Democrats have opted to pass on the public self-flagellation. In the process, though, they’ve only hastened the same reckoning that Republicans endured.

The Democratic activist class does not trust its elite representatives; they were sold out to by an opaque and corrupt party. They do not share their representatives’ enthusiasm for road-worn talking points about Reaganomics. They see the rise of Trump as an urgent threat, but their representatives do not appear to share their burning apprehension.

Democrats didn’t make anything better by performing the autopsy on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 prospects behind closed doors. Now, instead of controlling events, events are in control of them.

Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee

November 4, 2017

By Philip Rucker
The Washington Post
November 4, 2017 — 2:00 PM

Former Democratic National Committee head Donna Brazile writes in a new book that she seriously contemplated replacing Hillary Clinton as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee with then-Vice President Biden in the aftermath of Clinton’s fainting spell, in part because Clinton’s campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”

In an explosive new memoir, Brazile details widespread dysfunction and dissension throughout the Democratic Party, including secret deliberations over using her powers as interim DNC chair to initiate the removal of Clinton and running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) from the ticket after Clinton’s Sept. 11, 2016, collapse in New York City.

Brazile writes that she considered a dozen combinations to replace the nominees and settled on Biden and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the duo she felt most certain would win over enough working-class voters to defeat Republican Donald Trump. But then, she writes, “I thought of Hillary, and all the women in the country who were so proud of and excited about her. I could not do this to them.”

Brazile paints a scathing portrait of Clinton as a well-intentioned, historic candidate whose campaign was badly mismanaged, took minority constituencies for granted and made blunders with “stiff” and “stupid” messages. The campaign was so lacking in passion for the candidate, she writes, that its New York headquarters felt like a sterile hospital ward where “someone had died.”

Hillary Clinton at a rally at Arizona State University in Tempe on Nov. 2, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Brazile alleges that Clinton’s top aides routinely disrespected her and put the DNC on a “starvation diet,” depriving it of funding for voter turnout operations.

As one of her party’s most prominent black strategists, Brazile also recounts fiery disagreements with Clinton’s staffers — including a conference call in which she told three senior campaign officials, Charlie Baker, Marlon Marshall and Dennis Cheng, that she was being treated like a slave.

“I’m not Patsey the slave,” Brazile recalls telling them, a reference to the character played by Lupita Nyong’o in the film, “12 Years a Slave.” “Y’all keep whipping me and whipping me and you never give me any money or any way to do my damn job. I am not going to be your whipping girl!”

Brazile’s book, titled “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House,” will be released Tuesday by Hachette Books. A copy of the 288-page book was obtained in advance by The Washington Post.

Perhaps not since George Stephanopoulos wrote “All Too Human,” a 1999 memoir of his years working for former president Bill Clinton, has a political strategist penned such a blistering tell-all.

In it, Brazile reveals how fissures of race, gender and age tore at the heart of the operation — even as Clinton was campaigning on a message of inclusiveness and trying to assemble a rainbow coalition under the banner of “Stronger Together.”

A veteran operative and television pundit who had long served as DNC’s vice chair, Brazile abruptly and, she writes, reluctantly took over in July 2016 for chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Florida congresswoman was ousted from the DNC on the eve of the party convention after WikiLeaks released stolen emails among her and her advisers that showed favoritism for Clinton during the competitive primaries.

Donna Brazile talks with CNN correspondent Dana Bash at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 25, 2016. Brazile writes that she reluctantly took over as DNC chairwoman that month. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Brazile describes her mounting anxiety about Russia’s theft of emails and other data from DNC servers, the slow process of discovering the full extent of the cyberattacks and the personal fallout. She likens the feeling to having rats in your basement: “You take measures to get rid of them, but knowing they are there, or have been there, means you never feel truly at peace.”

Brazile writes that she was haunted by the still-unsolved murder of DNC data staffer Seth Rich and feared for her own life, shutting the blinds to her office window so snipers could not see her and installing surveillance cameras at her home. She wonders whether Russians had placed a listening device in plants in the DNC executive suite.

At first, Brazile writes of the hacking, top Democratic officials were “encouraging us not to talk about it.” But she says a wake-up moment came when she visited the White House in August 2016, for President Obama’s 55th birthday party. National security adviser Susan E. Rice and former attorney general Eric Holder separately pulled her aside quietly to urge her to take the Russian hacking seriously, which she did, she writes.

That fall, Brazile says she tried to persuade her Republican counterparts to agree to a joint statement condemning Russian interference but that they ignored her messages and calls.

Here is what you need to know about the political storm sparked by Donna Brazile’s allegations against the Clinton campaign. (Amber Ferguson, Melissa Macaya/The Washington Post)

Backstage at a debate, she writes, she approached Sean Spicer, then-chief strategist for the Republican National Committee, but “I could see his eyes dart away like this was the last thing he wanted to talk to me about.” She asked RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, too, but “I got that special D.C. frost where the person smiles when he sees you but immediately looks past you trying to find someone in the room to come right over and interrupt the conversation.”

There would be no joint statement.

The WikiLeaks releases included an email in which Brazile, a paid CNN contributor at the time, shared potential topics and questions for a CNN town hall in advance with the Clinton campaign. She claims in her book that she did not recall sending the email and could not find it in her computer archives. Nevertheless, she eventually admitted publicly to sending it, believing her reputation would have suffered regardless.

At the Oct. 19 debate in Las Vegas, with the email scandal simmering, the Clinton campaign sat Brazile not in the front row — where she had been at the previous debate — but in bleachers out of view of cameras. She recalls watching the debate with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, “among others whom they had to invite but wanted to tuck away.”

Brazile describes in wrenching detail Clinton’s bout with pneumonia. On Sept. 9, she saw the nominee backstage at a Manhattan gala and she seemed “wobbly on her feet” and had a “rattled cough.” Brazile recommended Clinton see an acupuncturist.

Two days later, Clinton collapsed as she left a Sept. 11 memorial service at Ground Zero in New York. Brazile blasts the campaign’s initial efforts to shroud details of her health as “shameful.”

Whenever Brazile got frustrated with Clinton’s aides, she writes, she would remind them that the DNC charter empowered her to replace the nominee. If a nominee became disabled, she explains, the party chair would oversee the process of filling the vacancy.

After Clinton’s fainting spell, some Democratic insiders were abuzz with talk of replacing her — and Brazile says she was giving it considerable thought.

The morning of Sept. 12, Brazile got a call from Biden’s chief of staff saying the vice president wanted to speak with her. She recalls thinking, “Gee, I wonder what he wanted to talk to me about?” Jeff Weaver, campaign manager for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), called, too, to set up a call with his boss, and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley sent her an email.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), left, poses with his mother, Carolyn Booker, and then-Vice President Biden at a Senate swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol on Oct. 31, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Brazile also was paid a surprise visit in her DNC office by Baker, who, she writes, was dispatched by the Clinton campaign “to make sure that Donna didn’t do anything crazy.”

“Again and again I thought about Joe Biden,” Brazile writes. But, she adds, “No matter my doubts and my fears about the election and Hillary as a candidate, I could not make good on that threat to replace her.”

Brazile writes that she inherited a national party in disarray, in part because President Obama, Clinton and Wasserman Schultz were “three titanic egos” who had “stripped the party to a shell for their own purposes.”

Brazile writes that she inherited Wasserman Schultz’s office — with “tropical pink” walls that she found hard on the eyes — and “ridiculous” perks, such as a Chevrolet Tahoe with driver and a personal entourage that included an assistant known as a body woman.

In her first few days on the job, Brazile writes that she also discovered the DNC was $2 million in debt and that the payroll was stacked with “hangers-on and sycophants.” For instance, Wasserman Schultz kept two consulting firms — SKDKnickerbocker and Precision Strategies — each on $25,000-a-month retainers, and one of Obama’s pollsters was still being paid $180,000 a year.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) at a rally in Coconut Creek, Fla., on Oct. 25, 2016. She resigned as DNC chairwoman on the eve of the party’s national convention that summer. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

“The outgoing president no longer needed to assess his approval ratings or his policy decisions, at least not when the Democratic Party was fighting for its survival against a hostile foreign power,” she writes.

Brazile also details how Clinton effectively took control of the DNC in August 2015, before the primaries began, with a joint fundraising agreement between the party and the Clinton campaign.

She said the deal gave Clinton control over the DNC’s finances, strategy and staff decisions — disadvantaging other candidates, including Sanders. “This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity,” she writes.

An excerpt of this chapter — titled “Bernie, I Found the Cancer” — was published Thursday in Politico, sparking discord and recriminations through the party.

As she traveled the country, Brazile writes, she detected an alarming lack of enthusiasm for Clinton. On black radio stations, few people defended the nominee. In Hispanic neighborhoods, the only Clinton signs she saw were at the campaign field offices.

But at headquarters in New York, the mood was one of “self-satisfaction and inevitability,” and Brazile’s early reports of trouble were dismissed with “a condescending tone.”

Brazile describes the 10th floor of Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters, where senior staff worked: “Calm and antiseptic, like a hospital. It had that techno-hush, as if someone had died. I felt like I should whisper. Everybody’s fingers were on their keyboards, and no one was looking at anyone else. You half-expected to see someone in a lab coat walk by.”

Staffers at Hillary Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn watch a GOP debate on Sept. 16, 2015. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

During one visit, she writes, she thought of a question former Democratic congressman Tony Coelho used to ask her about campaigns: “Are the kids having sex? Are they having fun? If not, let’s create something to get that going, or otherwise we’re not going to win.”

“I didn’t sense much fun or [having sex] in Brooklyn,” she deadpans.

Brazile writes that Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and his lieutenants were so obsessed with voter data and predictive analytics that they “missed the big picture.”

“They knew how to size up voters not by meeting them and finding out what they cared about, what moved their hearts and stirred their souls, but by analyzing their habits,” she writes. “You might be able to persuade a handful of Real Simple magazine readers who drink gin and tonics to change their vote to Hillary, but you had not necessarily made them enthusiastic enough to want to get up off the couch and go to the polls.”

Brazile describes Mook, in his mid-30s, as overseeing a patriarchy. “They were all men in his inner circle,” she writes, adding: “He had this habit of nodding when you are talking, leaving you with the impression that he has listened to you, but then never seeming to follow up on what you thought you had agreed on.”

Brazile’s criticisms were not reserved for Mook. After Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri challenged Brazile’s plan for Kaine to deliver a pep talk to DNC staff at the party convention in Philadelphia, Brazile writes, “I was thinking, If that b—- ever does anything like that to me again, I’m gonna walk.”

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, right, and his lieutenants are described in the book as being so obsessed with voter data that they “missed the big picture.” Mook is seen on the campaign plane on Oct. 28, 2016. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Brazile writes with particular disdain about Brandon Davis, a Mook protege who worked as a liaison between the DNC and the Clinton campaign. She describes him as a spy, saying he treated her like “a crazy, senile old auntie and couldn’t wait to tell all his friends the nutty things she said.”


In staff meetings, Brazile recalls, “Brandon often rolled his eyes as if I was the stupidest woman he’d ever had to endure on his climb to the top. He openly scoffed at me, snorting sometimes when I made an observation.”

Brazile opens her book by describing the painful days following Clinton’s defeat. She received calls of gratitude from party leaders but still felt slighted.

“I never heard from Hillary,” she writes. “I knew what I wanted to say to her and it was: I have nothing but respect for you being so brave and classy considering everything that went on. But in the weeks after the loss, every time I checked my phone thinking I might have missed her call, it wasn’t her.”

Finally, in February 2017, Clinton rang.

“This was chitchat, like I was talking to someone I didn’t know,” Brazile writes. “I know Hillary. I know she was being as sincere as possible, but I wanted something more from her.”


Bob Mueller’s Sideshow

October 31, 2017

Nunes’s Intelligence Committee plods on with the real Russia investigation.

President Trump's Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17.
President Trump’s Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 17. PHOTO: J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The best way to think of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Monday-morning indictments is as a compliment—backhanded as it may be—to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.

Like the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes and his committee have been investigating the 2016 presidential campaign. Unlike the special prosecutor, Mr. Nunes has unearthed hard evidence about both Russian influence on the election and domestic spying on Trump campaign officials. And if the committee gets the documents it has been demanding for months about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s handling of the salacious Christopher Steele dossier, this week may end even more explosively than it’s begun.

Right now that’s hard to imagine, given how Washington has been overwhelmed by Monday’s indictments of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates, as well as news that another former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. Though a court will determine whether Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, surely it is worth noting that those charges, serious as they may be, have little to do with what Mr. Mueller was supposed to be investigating when he was named special prosecutor, to wit: “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.”

Meanwhile Mr. Nunes and the Republicans on his intel committee plod on. They do so in the face of mockery and contempt from the Beltway press corps, and sabotage and obstruction by Democrats, especially those on the committee. The obstruction includes a manufactured ethics charge against Mr. Nunes that has deliberately been kept unresolved in the House Ethics Committee as part of an effort to keep a cloud hanging over Mr. Nunes so long as he continues to ask real questions about not only the Russians but our own government.

So what has Mr. Nunes’s committee found? Turns out that in the Obama years, especially in 2016, officials made many requests to unmask the identities of Americans, including Trump campaign officials, who were caught up in foreign surveillance.

When asked about it by PBS’s Judy Woodruff back in March, Obama national security adviser Susan Rice claimed she was “surprised” and told Ms. Woodruff “I know nothing about this.” Under oath before Mr. Nunes’s committee, Ms. Rice’s memory returned, and she admitted of unmasking senior figures in the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile the committee learned that Ms. Rice’s colleague at the United Nations, Ambassador Samantha Power, had made hundreds of unmasking requests. During Ms. Power’s appearance before the committee, she oddly claimed others were doing much of the asking—even though her name was on these requests. Did anyone outside the House committee think to ask why a Democratic White House was so free with such sensitive info in an election year?

Then there’s the Russian question. The Steele dossier is at the heart of the narrative that Mr. Trump had colluded with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. Now the same people who pushed this narrative have lost all interest in the document that helped fuel it. When two of Fusion’s three partners invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than reveal who paid for the dossier, it looked as though we might never find out.

But the committee didn’t give up. It subpoenaed Fusion’s bank records, ultimately forcing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to acknowledge they had paid for the dossier, notwithstanding earlier Clinton campaign denials. On Saturday the committee announced a deal over Fusion’s bank records it said would “secure the Committee’s access” to what it needed for its investigation.

Big questions remain for the FBI. The main one requires a simple yes-or-no answer: Did the FBI use the information in the Steele dossier to spy on Trump campaign associates? If so, did it first verify the information in the dossier?

And why would the FBI want to pay for more information from a man doing opposition research for Mrs. Clinton?

Here’s another way to put it: As all eyes remain on Special Counsel Mueller and the men he’s indicted, it may be well to pay more attention to a much-maligned committee on Capitol Hill. Because after months of stonewalling and the public intervention of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the FBI has agreed to provide the documents Congress asked for. Mr. Nunes’s office confirms that the FBI documents it has long sought are supposed to arrive this week.

Messrs. Manafort and Gates may well be guilty of everything they’ve been charged with. But this week, thanks to a congressional committee’s persistence, we may find out the answer to what surely is a much more combustible question: whether a presidential campaign was able to leverage opposition research based on Russian disinformation to bring about an FBI investigation into its rival’s campaign.

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Appeared in the October 31, 2017, print edition.

While the West Was Busy Fighting ISIS, Iran Took Hold of the Region

October 30, 2017

Destroying Islamic State became a primary target, while the consequences of a victory by the coalition against it were studiously ignored in Washington


By Moshe Arens Oct 30, 2017 12:21 PM

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Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces walk past the ruins of destroyed buildings that was liberated from ISIS militants in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017. ERIK DE CASTRO/REUTERS

Keeping Iran from going nuclear was the primary objective of the United States, led by President Barack Obama, and the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany. This, they felt, was achieved after the long negotiations that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in April 2015.


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In fact, Iran was left with the know-how and the basic capability to put together a nuclear warhead. This can still be accomplished within a matter of months at a time of Tehran’s choosing, which might be at the expiration of the agreement or even earlier if the rulers were to decide to take that step.

The threat of a nuclear Iran was left hanging in the air, a threat real enough for the time being to back up Iran’s program of extending its control outside Iran’s borders in the Middle East.

Actually, there are two elements to an Iranian nuclear program – the nuclear warhead and the ballistic missiles that can deliver the warhead. The negotiators focused solely on the nuclear warhead, ignoring the ballistic missile program that is an essential part of a “nuclear Iran.”

In fact, the agreement, which involved the lifting of economic sanctions, left Iran with its basic nuclear capability intact and provided it with resources to proceed with the development of its ballistic missile program and its nefarious activities in the Middle East. No wonder that Israel and the region’s Sunni-majority Muslim states are not impressed. Nix it or fix it, they say.

It was not the only case of the secondary target being mistaken for the primary target, while the primary target was ignored. Islamic State, the “Islamic Caliphate,” was in the past year viewed by the U.S. and Western European countries as the primary enemy, and its defeat was vigorously pursued by an ad hoc coalition. Its forces included the U.S., Russia, the Kurdish peshmerga, Iran, Iraq, Syria’s Assad regime and European powers.

Islamic State terror attacks in European cities together with mass executions in areas under its control that were publicized in the media enraged the civilized world. Destroying the Islamic State became a primary target, while the consequences of a victory by the coalition against it were studiously ignored in Washington.

The Islamic State is by now essentially defeated. Outnumbered and outgunned, it didn’t have a chance. But the spoils of this victory belong primarily to Iran. Its hold on Iraq has been strengthened; its control of Syria goes almost unchallenged; its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, has joined the ranks of the victors; and the hapless Kurds, the true allies of the U.S., have been deserted and seen their hopes of attaining independence dashed. Was this to be the price of defeating the Islamic State?

Little thought had seemingly been given to that outcome when the most unusual coalition was formed aimed at defeating Islamic State. Actually there was no need to include Iran in the coalition. Islamic State could have been easily defeated without the participation of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard. The Kurds need not to have been abandoned. The threat to America’s allies in the Middle East comes from Iran and its proxies. It is the primary target. The Islamic State should have been seen as the secondary target.

In Washington they are beginning to recognize that two serious mistakes were made in dealing with Iran. Late, but not too late.

Moshe Arens
Haaretz Contributor
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