Friday, June 12, 2015

Lame duck: Democrats clip Obama's wings

Lame duck: Democrats clip Obama's wings

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Story highlights

  • Trade deal is vital to the fruition of President Barack Obama's signature Asia rebalancing policy.
  • White House engages in intensive lobbying that only yielded a strong rebuke from Democrats.
Washington (CNN)It may go down as the day Barack Obama could no longer defy political gravity.
The President went all in Friday, placing his personal prestige on the line in a last-ditch effort to convince globalization-weary House Democrats to give him the power to negotiate the world's biggest trade pact, a vital building block in his legacy. But he came up empty-handed when his own party mostly voted to repudiate the agreement -- a setback that could have profound implications for America's economy and its place in the world, as well as how Obama's two terms are seen by history.
Until now, Obama has defied expectations that he is on an unstoppable slide to becoming a lame duck president, partly through his muscular use of executive power on issues such as immigration and climate change. But the fact that he has only 18 months to go in office and has often seemed loath to go the extra mile to build coalitions on Capitol Hill may have caught up with him.
All that his unusual embrace of in-person lobbying on behalf of the deal -- capped by a trip to Capitol Hill on Friday morning -- got him was an extraordinary personal rebuke from his own party.
"Whatever the deal is with the other countries, we want a better deal for American workers," said top house Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker who helped drive Obama's most enduring domestic victories into law but in her last-minute opposition gave substantial political cover to scores of Democrats to vote against their own president.
Other party stalwarts made clear that Obama's efforts were too little, too late. There is a widespread feeling among Democratic lawmakers that trade deals, like massive pacts with Pacific nations and the European Union that the president is trying to conclude, have resulted only in the loss of millions of American jobs abroad. And they, too, seem to have grown tired of a tone and approach that has rankled many of the President's opponents over the years.
"The President tried to both guilt people and impugn their integrity. I was insulted," Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon told reporters after meeting with Obama.
Another Democrat told CNN's Jake Tapper on condition of anonymity that the president's speech was "fine until he turned it at the end and became indignant and alienated some folks. Bottom line, he may have swayed some Democrats to vote yes, but Pelosi sealed the deal to vote no."
Another Democrat in the meeting agreed that Obama had actually hurt the chances of the bill going through.
"Democrats believe they often are taken for granted and not appreciated," this second House Democrat told Tapper. "There was a very strong concern about the lost jobs and growing income inequality."
The House Democrats' vote against Obama also signals that the traditional political coalition that has seen trade deals with China, Vietnam, South Korea and Panama come into force over the last 15 years is fraying.
It's one that has implications for the wider world as well as for domestic politics. Securing congressional support is crucial to Obama's chances of convincing partners in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership to make concessions on tariffs and regulations. A second deal with Europe is anticipated after the completion of the TPP, which on its own represent more than 40 percent of the world's GDP and 26 percent of global trade.
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The TPP is also vital for the fruition of Obama's signature Asia rebalancing policy. It is particularly key to framing a global set of trading rules that rising China would eventually have little choice but to follow, Obama aides said.
The President's humiliation comes at an especially fraught time for his political legacy. In the next few weeks, Obama will learn whether he can succeed in delicate negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and find out whether the Supreme Court has destabilized Obamacare, his signature domestic achievement.
The White House, however, was quick to scotch the notion that Friday's reverse in Congress was an inexorable sign that Obama's presidential clout is fading in the United States and abroad.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest attempted to paint Friday's events as at just a "procedural snafu" and insisted that a bipartisan consensus remained for free trade on Capitol Hill -- partly thanks to the work of the president.
The vote in the House of Representatives was part of a complicated set of maneuvers that would have given Obama the power to negotiate trade deals to Congress and to submit them for up-or-down votes with no amendments.
The White House took comfort in the fact that, in a symbolic vote, the House did endorse a bill giving Obama Trade Promotion Authority -- the power to negotiate trade deals and submit them to a vote by lawmakers without amendments.
But though a majority of Republicans backed the effort, Obama could not persuade sufficient numbers of his own party to rally to his cause amid fierce resistance from trade unions and Rust Belt communities badly hit by the flight of blue-collar jobs abroad.
The fact Democrats that refused to support another measure, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance -- offering retraining and other help to workers who lose their jobs to globalization -- in sufficient numbers meant the TPA bill cannot move forward because of a procedural rule.
But the president issued a statement calling on Congress to try again to pass TAA, saying the failure to do so could punish 100,000 American workers.
"I urge the House to pass TAA without delay so that more middle-class workers can earn the chance to participate and succeed in our global economy," Obama said.
But prospects for a do-over look uncertain at best. The decision by lawmakers to side with their constituents rather than their president suggests that members of Obama's party may no longer be convinced that their best interests are served by standing with a man who will be out of office in a year and a half.
Friday's vote is also reviving persistent questions that have dogged Obama, and that infuriate the White House, about whether the president's distaste for the grubby business of politics is to blame for his setbacks on Capitol Hill.
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Aides note that Obama made a last-minute visit to Capitol Hill to lobby members Friday; stopped by an annual baseball game involving members of Congress Thursday night; and spent hours on the phone trying to win support for the trade bill.
Jim Manley, a former senior aide to the Senate's top Democrat, Harry Reid, said that although some criticism of the White House's outreach to Capitol Hill was merited in the past, this time Obama pulled out all the stops.
"As far as I can tell, they did everything they could this time, yet they fell short," Manley said.
He acknowledged, however, that the administration could be blamed for not stepping up to sell the deal to the American people earlier on, given that negotiations have been taking place for several years.
He also noted that Obama is not the only one with a political problem. So far, leading Democratic White House contender Hillary Clinton, who was an architect of the TPP as secretary of state and will need union support in her bid, has refused to say whether she supports it or opposes the deal in its present form.
"The politics for her on this issue got a lot trickier," said Manley.
But it's isn't 2017 yet, and if Obama is to continue to defy the lame duck label, the White House will need to engineer a quick political victory to prove his powers are not waning. If not, Obama's vows to mount a strong "fourth quarter" for his presidency could be in doubt.
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CDC Finds Live Anthrax In All Test Samples Shipped By Military, Orders Labs to Destroy Remaining Lots

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now believes that there was live anthrax in all of the samples mistakenly sent by the U.S. military to 69 laboratories in 19 states, the District of Columbiaand five countries. It has instructed the labs to destroy any remaining anthrax still in their possession.
CDC testing found low levels of live anthrax in all 22 samples it had received from affected laboratories.
The samples were from labs that had received supposedly inactivated material from the Army Proving Ground in Dugway, Utah.
“We are assuming any samples that were derived from lots prepared at Dugway contain live material,” said CDC spokesman Jason McDonald. “There is no need to test those samples further. The priority is to secure the samples and destroy the material.”
Accordingly the CDC has instructed any laboratories that may have received anthrax sample shipments from Dugway between 2004 and 2015 to destroy their existing samples.
“If the labs are able, destroy the samples in accordance with standard procedures and with an approved method (e.g., autoclave). The destruction must be completed within 7 days and evidence of the destruction provided to CDC,” said McDonald.
If the lab is unable to destroy the samples on their own they are to be transferred to a more capable “”select agent registered site” that can handle and destroy the spores. The CDC and the FBI would assist with the transfer.
A third option would be for labs classified as a select agent registered entity to register their sample with the Federal Select Agent Program and retain it.
Meanwhile the military continues to test the more than 400 lots of supposedly dead anthrax it keeps at four military facilities. Some 11 of 91 lots have tested positive for anthrax, and all of those are from the Dugway facility.
Tracing the distribution path of those lots to laboratories has led to the increasing number of affected laboratories that may have received live anthrax.
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren announced that a shipment of possibly live anthrax had been sent to Japan in 2005. He said that sample was destroyed in 2009.
Pentagon officials stress that there is no threat to the general public from the shipments of live anthrax pointing to the secure packaging of samples which were sent by Fed Ex.
At a Pentagon briefing two weeks ago senior Pentagon officials said that the amounts of anthrax being shipped to laboratories for research purposes contained levels of anthrax that were significantly less than the amount needed to infect a healthy person.
No lab workers have shown any symptoms of possible anthrax infection, though 31 individuals have been protectively receiving antibiotics as a precautionary move.
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Saudi air chief killed in Yemeni rebel Scud attack on Khamis Mushayt air base

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The Saudi Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Muhammad bin Ahmed Al-Shaalan was killed in a Scud missile cross-border attack by Yemeni Houthi rebels on the big King Khalid Air Base at Khamis Mushayt in the southwestern Asir region of Saudi Arabia, debkafile reports. The attack took place on June 6, but his death was concealed under a blanket of secrecy until Wednesday, June 10.
The largest Saudi air base, it is from there that the kingdom has for last two and a half months waged its air campaign to end the Yemeni insurgency. Saudi and coalition air strikes, directed against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, their allies from the Yemeni army and from local tribes, have killed an estimated 2,000 people, some of them civilians, including women and children.
debkafile’s military sources in the Gulf remarked that even the tardy official disclosure of Gen. Al-Shaalan’s death Wednesday left more questions than answers. The terse three-line announcement said: “The Commander of Saudi Royal Air Forces Lieutenant General Mohammed bin Ahmed Al-Shaalan died Wednesday during a working trip outside the kingdom from a heart attack.”
No information was provided about the nature of his putative “working trip,” its destination and purpose - or even the date of his funeral.
Our military sources report that the Houthis’ Scud attack caught the Saudis unawares. The only reaction from the air base came from the American teams operating Patriot counter-missile batteries. They tried to shoot down the incoming missiles and managed to intercept only two or three out of a barrage of 15.
The US has deployed Patriots at Khamis Mushayt to shield the special operations units and drones fighting Al Qaeda in Arabia (AQIP). But since the start of the Yemen civil war, American drones have been feeding the Saudi Air Force with intelligence about Houthi targets and movements.
The Yemen assault on the Saudi air base represented a major escalation in the Yemeni war, with effect on the complex US relationship with Iran in the context of the Yemen conflict.
debkafile’s military sources assert that the Houthi Scud crews undoubtedly received precise data from Iranian intelligence about the whereabouts of Gen. Al-Shalaan and his top staff on the day of their attack. With this information, they were able to time their attack for 3 am before dawn and target the base’s living quarters and aircraft hangars.
Tehran most likely put the Houthis up to the Scud attack, both to damage the base from which air strikes are launched against them and as payback for the intelligence US drones are providing for those strikes.
Riyadh concealed the circumstances of the air chief’s death to avoid affecting the morale of Saudi combatants taking part in the Yemen war. The Obama administration also had in interest in drawing a discreet veil over the incident so as not to jeopardize the nuclear negotiations with Iran as they enter the final lap before the June 30 deadline.
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Clinton administration bankrupted CIA ahead of 9/11, ex-director says

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The Clinton administration had bankrupted the intelligence community and refused to let the CIAprioritize anti-terrorism over other major priorities in the late 1990s, leaving the agency stretched too thin in the days ahead of the 2001 terrorist attacks, former Director George J. Tenet said in a 2005 document declassified Friday.
Mr. Tenet, who was head of the agency at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks and has taken severe criticism for not anticipating and heading them off, said in the document that he took the threat ofOsama bin Laden very seriously, and put major effort into trying to penetrate al Qaeda, beginning as far back as 1998.
In one revelation, Mr. Tenet says those efforts averted off an earlier “major attack” planned by al Qaeda for some time in 1999 or 2000. The document gives no other details.
The document was a response to an inspector general’s draft report that had accused Mr. Tenet of failing to give al Qaeda enough attention in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. But Mr. Tenet said he did take steps, amid all the other work CIA was also required to do.
“Your report does not adequately address the context of an intelligence community that had to respond to wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, the prospect of war between India and Pakistan, China’s military buildup and threat to Taiwan, the requirements of policy makers, particularly in Congress, to pursue narco-traffickers in Central and South America, and numerous other such requirements,” Mr. Tenet wrote. “Despite all of these stresses, despite the fact that we had effectively been in Chapter 11 as an intelligence community, we continued on a path to methodically increase both CIA and intelligence community resources and our personnel base devoted to terrorism.”
In addition to Mr. Tenet’s response document, which had originally been classified “top secret/codeword sensitive,” the CIA released more full versions Friday of several other documents that had been released earlier.
The documents came in a Friday afternoon dump — though according to the notations, they’d been approved for release as far back as March.
“The events of 9/11 will be forever seared into the memories of all Americans who bore witness to the single greatest tragedy to befall our homeland in recent history,” the CIA said in a memo accompanying the new documents. “The documents released today reflect differing views formed roughly a decade ago within CIA about the Agency’s performance prior to 9/11.”
The inspector general’s nearly 500-page report, issued in June 2005, found that agency employees “worked hard” to combat al Qaeda, and said Mr. Tenet himself was “actively and forcefully engaged” in counterterrorism. But the investigators said Mr. Tenet didn’t follow up enough on his own warnings and admonitions, and allowed the agency to get bogged down in tactical debates rather than setting an overarching strategy for getting bin Laden.
Mr. Tenet, though, details the follow-up efforts he made and lists the number of times he asked for more money for counterterrorism, and the nine occasions he said he sent memos to senior officials in both the executive branch and Congress warning of terrorist plots.
“Even though senior policy makers were intimately familiar with the threat posed by terrorism, particularly those in the previous administration who had responded to major attacks, they never provided us the luxury of either downgrading other high priority requirements we were expected to perform against, or the resource base to build counterterrorism programs with the consistency that we needed before September 11,” Mr. Tenet wrote.
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CIA Declassifies Report On 9/11, Blanks Out Saudi Section

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President Bush meets with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2005 Eric Draper / ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — A newly released report from the CIA blocked out all but a few sentences of the section related to investigating Saudi Arabia’s potential ties to the September 11 attacks.
Following the release of the 9/11 Commission Report in 2004, the CIA charged its inspector general with producing its own report on the failures in the lead-up to the al-Qaeda attacks.
When the 435-page report — which was finished in 2005 — was dropped on Friday evening, the section titled “Issues Relating to Saudi Arabia” was mostly redacted. Just a few sentences remain, including: “[T]he team encountered no evidence that the Saudi Government knowingly and willingly supported al-Qa’ida terrorists.” It also says that a few individuals within the CIA did speculate that “dissident sympathizers within the government may have aided al-Qaida.”
Read the full report here.

Second OPM Hack Exposed Information About Military, Intelligence Workers

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A second breach of the Office of Personnel Management by hackers believed to be associated with China exposed sensitive security-clearance information of intelligence and military personnel, officials confirmed Friday, potentially creating an intelligence disaster for U.S. spies stationed abroad.
During the investigation into the cyber intrusion of OPM that compromised personnel records of current and former Federal employees announced last week, OPM along with its interagency partners became aware of the possibility of a separate intrusion affecting a different set of OPMsystems and data,” a senior administration official said in a statement.
Officials investigating the OPM hack that was announced last week discovered the second breach on Monday, the official said.
On June 8, as the investigation proceeded, the incident response team shared with relevant agencies that there was a high degree of confidence that OPM systems containing information related to the background investigations of current, former, and prospective Federal government employees, and those for whom a federal background investigation was conducted, may have been exfiltrated,” the official said. “Since the investigation is ongoing, we are in the process of assessing the scope of the information that has been compromised, but we expect OPM will conduct additional notifications as necessary.”
Multiple reports Friday said that hackers retrieved files holding Standard Form 86, which requires applicants to provide a comprehensive and personal portrait of their lives, including information about emotional disorders, drug and alcohol problems, and a listing of relatives and contacts.
The second intrusion could have potentially left vulnerable deeply sensitive and personal information of employees working at the CIA, the National Security Agency, and the Pentagon.
Shortly after officials confirmed the breach late Friday, the State Department announced it was “experiencing technical problems with our overseas passport and visa systems” and would not rule out a hack as a potential source of the problem.
We are working urgently to correct the problem and expect the system to be fully operational again soon,” the department said on its website.
On Friday afternoon, the White House announced that National Security Adviser Susan Rice had sat down for a meeting with Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. Among the topics discussed were “narrowing areas of disagreement, including … cyber issues.”
The White House refused to provide additional information about Rice’s meeting when asked.
OPM announced last week that some 4 million current and former federal employees had personal data exposed during a breach that began last year but wasn’t detected until April. But it was previously thought that sensitive data of intelligence personnel would not have been as widely affected, as those agencies typically do not have their records maintained at OPM.
Joel Brenner, a former senior counterintelligence official, told The Washington Post that the second intrusion was “potentially devastating from a counterintelligence point of view.”
These forums contain decades of personal information about people with clearances,” Brenner added, “which makes them easier to recruit for foreign espionage on behalf of a foreign country.”
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Does Obama Know There's a Cyberwar Going On?

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Hacking: Chinese hackers apparently stole far more data on more federal employees than first suspected, creating a huge national security problem. Worse, the Obama administration knew this database was being targeted.
When the Obama administration admitted that Chinese hackers had breached the Office of Personnel Management's network, it initially claimed that the hackers made off with 4 million employee records over four months.
That's disturbing enough. But now it appears that hackers may have had access to the OPM network for a full year before they were caught, that they stole up to 14 million employee records and that they likely gained access to highly confidential background checks on employees seeking security clearances.
It's hard to underestimate the damage that this breach could cause to national security.
American Federation of Government Employees union president David Cox says that the stolen data include things like Social Security numbers, military records, the names of relatives, and foreign contacts.
In other words, these hackers clearly have something bigger than identity theft in mind. And the more data that cyberwarriors accumulate, the more networks they can breach down the road, potentially giving them access to the nation's power grid, major financial systems, air traffic control, etc.
What's worse is that the OPM, and the rest of the Obama administration for that matter, should have seen it coming long ago.
Last July, the Department of Homeland Security discovered that hackers had breached OPM's network and "appeared to be targeting the files on tens of thousands of employees who have applied for top-secret security clearances."
Less than a month later, USIS, a major federal contractor that does background checks for security clearances, reported that its network had been breached.
Then, in December, the OPM had to alert 48,000 federal employees about a cyberattack on KeyPoint Government Solutions, another private contractor that does background checks on federal employees.
Didn't it occur to anybody in this administration that maybe, just maybe, these attackers would keep trying?
If it's true that the latest OPM breach had lasted a year, it means that either there was a second attack on OPM's network last July or that the hackers came right back after their previous attempt had been detected.
Either way, it's inexcusable that the OPM was so lackadaisical over the ensuing months. Even now, it keeps downplaying the scale of the latest attack.
Like it or not, there is a cyberwar against the U.S. under way. It would be good if President Obama and his top executives acted like it.
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AP Top News at 6:26 p.m. EDT

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