Friday, June 10, 2011

The World Doesn’t Belong To NATO. Espionage Charges Flop. Brits Label Palin “Crackpot” and Nuts”.

The World Doesn’t Belong To NATO. Espionage Charges Flop. Brits Label Palin “Crackpot” and Nuts”.  

Drake accepts plea deal to misdemeanor charge in leak case
by Jean Marbella

Former National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake accepted a plea deal Thursday that cleared him of espionage charges stemming from an alleged leak of classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter who wrote about waste and mismanagement at the intelligence-gathering operation at Fort Meade.

Defense lawyers said Thomas Drake leaked information to expose waste at the National Security Agency.Drake, who was scheduled for trial in federal court in Baltimore on Monday, instead is to plead guilty today to a misdemeanor charge that he exceeded the authorized use of a computer. The government dropped 10 more serious felony charges that could have sent him to prison for as long as 35 years, and he is now expected to serve no prison time.

"He feels a profound mixture of emotions after five years of investigation and one year of being under indictment," said Jesselyn Radack, a supporter and a director at the Government Accountability Project, which advocates and seeks to protect whistleblowers. Drake is not allowed to comment until after this morning's appearance before U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett, she said.

The one-time senior NSA manager was indicted last year on charges of taking classified information for the purposes of leaking it to then-Sun reporter Siobhan Gorman, who wrote a series of articles detailing problems with some of the agency's counterterrorism programs. Gorman, who was not named in the indictment, now works at The Wall Street Journal.

Spokeswomen for The Sun and The Journal declined comment on the plea deal.

The Drake case is one of five that the Obama administration has been pursuing against those accused of leaking government secrets — a trend that alarmed advocates of greater transparency in government.

Gorman wrote articles for The Sun in 2006 and 2007 about flawed programs at the NSA, including an expensive antiterrorism technology called Trailblazer that was embraced by the agency but later abandoned.

The "feeble" result of the Drake prosecution does not bode well for the other cases, although in some of those the government has stronger arguments at its disposal, said University of Maryland law professor Michael Greenberger. 

He was critical of the government for applying the "overly broad and vague" Espionage Act, which is generally used against spies like Aldrich Ames, to someone who had exposed problems with NSA programs.

"I think to the extent that the government wants to teach those working in the intelligence infrastructure by using an elephant gun, they've lost a lot of footing," said Greenberger, a former top counterintelligence official with the U.S. attorney's office during the Clinton administration. "This was a very tough case in that it did not evoke the kind of outrage from the public that someone had placed the country in harm."

There had been some signals in the past week that the government's case against Drake might be faltering.

In a letter dated Sunday, prosecutors told Bennett that they would withdraw four exhibits and redact two others that refer to "a particular telecommunications technology."

Prosecutors apparently sought to reword classified documents that were deemed too sensitive to be introduced as evidence. But, as the letter notes, the judge ruled June 3 that those substitutions "would not provide the defendant substantially the same ability to make his defense."

Additionally, supporters of Drake said that prosecutors had previously offered two other plea deals, indicating a desire not to take the case to trial.

"I think it's an acknowledgment on the government's part that they had exceedingly tough sledding ahead," Greenberger said.

"The judge's order that limited their documents obviously hurt them."

The law professor said another case the administration is pursuing, against Bradley Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst accused of providing information to the WikiLeaks website, would be a better test of the boundaries of whistle-blowing.

"The WikiLeaks case is going to be more evident of whether there are deterrents in the law to reckless disclosure of information," he said. "This case did not rise to that level."

"This whole thing was to shut people up," said former NSA mathematician Bill Binney, a Drake ally whose home was raided in July 2007 by federal agents as part of a leak investigation. Binney, who was not charged, claims that the probe was in retaliation for a complaint to the NSA's Inspector General about what he viewed as mismanagement related to contracts for a massive surveillance program.

Others, though, rued the result of the Drake case.

"I think it's sad. It sends all the wrong signals," said Robert Turner, co-founder of the Center for Law and National Security Law at the University of Virginia School of Law.

"I think what he did was a betrayal of trust, and he's essentially walking on it."

Turner said that allowing government employees to leak secrets without facing strong penalties has serious consequences for national security. "If we cannot keep secrets, we will not get many secrets," said Turner, a former intelligence adviser in both the White House and Congress.

Turner said he wasn't faulting the prosecutors, and in fact, praised the Obama administration for going after Drake and others accused of leaking government secrets. The fact that prosecutors had to withdraw and redact documents indicates the level of sensitivity of information that the government must protect, even at the expense of letting Drake off on a much-reduced charge.

"The reality of it is some of the best evidence, they could not reveal," Turner said.

Under the plea agreement signed by both sides on Thursday, Drake admits to exceeding his authorized access and obtaining information from the government. While the maximum sentence for this offense is one year in prison, the U.S. attorney's office agreed not to oppose a "noncustodial sentence" and to dismiss the other counts against Drake.

Drake had rejected the previous settlement offers because he was "adamant that he would not plea bargain with the truth," Radack said.

She said the case could have established "a horrible precedent" had Drake had been found guilty of espionage charges. Whistleblowers who reveal government wrongdoing, she said, are not spies.

"If you paint someone with the word espionage," Radack said, "you paint them with the brush of being a traitor to their country."

Los Angeles Times reporter Ken Dilanian contributed to this article.
'Anonymous' Warns NATO: 'This Is No Longer Your World'

NATO has poked the bear of the internet (which responded by announcing that it's actually a hydra).

Anthropomorphic confusion aside, a NATO security report about "Anonymous"—the mysterious "hacktivist" group responsible for attacks on MasterCard, Visa, PayPal, Amazon and, most recently, Sony—has led the underground group to respond by cautioning NATO, "This is no longer your world. It is our world - the people's world."

NATO's report, issued last month, warned about the rising tide of politically-motivated cyberattacks, singling out Anonymous as the most sophisticated and high-profile of the known hacktivist groups:

"Today, the ad hoc international group of hackers and activists is said to have thousands of operatives and has no set rules or membership. It remains to be seen how much time Anonymous has for pursuing such paths. The longer these attacks persist the more likely countermeasures will be developed, implemented, the groups will be infiltrated and perpetrators persecuted," the report read, also asking, "Can one invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty after a cyber attack? And what response mechanisms should the Alliance employ against the attacker? Should the retaliation be limited to cyber means only, or should conventional military strikes also be considered?"

In response, Anonymous issued a lengthy statement (Google-cached version; the site is having server issues currently) that says, in part:

"We do not wish to threaten anybody's way of life. We do not wish to dictate anything to anybody. We do not wish to terrorize any nation.

We merely wish to remove power from vested interests and return it to the people - who, in a democracy, it should never have been taken from in the first place.

The government makes the law. This does not give them the right to break it. If the government was doing nothing underhand or illegal, there would be nothing 'embarassing' [sic] about Wikileaks revelations, nor would there have been any scandal emanating from HBGary. The resulting scandals were not a result of Anonymous' or Wikileaks' revelations, they were the result of the CONTENT of those revelations. And responsibility for that content can be laid solely at the doorstep of policymakers who, like any corrupt entity, naively believed that they were above the law and that they would not be caught.

A lot of government and corporate comment has been dedicated to 'how we can avoid a similar leak in the future'. Such advice ranges from better security, to lower levels of clearance, from harsher penalties for whistleblowers, to censorship of the press.

Our message is simple: Do not lie to the people and you won't have to worry about your lies being exposed. Do not make corrupt deals and you won't have to worry about your corruption being laid bare. 

Do not break the rules and you won't have to worry about getting in trouble for it."

It goes on to warn, "do not make the mistake of challenging Anonymous. Do not make the mistake of believing you can behead a headless snake. If you slice off one head of Hydra, ten more heads will grow in its place. If you cut down one Anon, ten more will join us purely out of anger at your trampling of dissent."

Quite when Anonymous started modeling itself after fictional terrorist organizations is unclear, but the message is just the opposite: NATO is on warning. How they'll respond to this—if they'll respond—remains to be seen, but I doubt that I'm the only person hoping that any response will be far more measured than bringing up conventional military strikes again.

Wikileaks Wikileaks: Cable Viewer : Cable Viewer -

Rania Khalek: 5 WikiLeaks Hits of 2011 That Are Turning the World on Its Head—And That the Media Are Ignoring

Is 2011 capable of exceeding 2010’s revelations? And what discoveries in 2011 has WikiLeaks unearthed thus far?

By Rania Khalek
By arrangement with Alternet.Org.

Between Collateral Murder, the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diary, and Cablegate, it appeared as though 2010 would go down in history as the most shocking year in WikiLeaks revelations. Americans discovered that trigger-happy soldiers who have been trained to kill are likely to shoot innocent civilians, including journalists and children.

They learned that the U.S. military handed over detainees they knew would be tortured to the Iraqis, and as a matter of policy, failed to investigate the hundreds of reported torture and abuse by Iraqi police and military.

The Afghanistan logs showed many more civilians killed than previously known, along with once-secret U.S. assassination missions against insurgents. And Cablegate shed light on a U.S. foreign policy that values self-interest over democracy and human rights at all costs, perpetuating anti-American sentiment in the process.

Is 2011 capable of exceeding 2010’s revelations? And what discoveries in 2011 has WikiLeaks unearthed thus far?

The leaks illustrate a frightening reality, where world leaders are greedily awaiting the opportunity to exploit the oil and natural gas that lie beneath the melting Arctic ice.

1)   The Arab Spring: Information Is Power. 

In January of this year, the north African country of Tunisia captured the world’s attention, as a relentless and inspiring democratic uprising managed to overthrow the autocratic President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in just a matter of weeks. Protests were initially sparked by food price inflation and staggering unemployment, as demonstrated by the self-immolation of a disillusioned young man named Mohamed Bouazizi.

But we should never underestimate the power of information when it comes to stirring things up. The role of the WikiLeaks Embassy cables, which revealed the U.S. government’s view of the president and his ruling circle as deeply corrupt, cannot be overlooked.

Of course, Tunisians were well aware of their government’s corruption long before Cablegate. However, the Tunisian government felt threatened enough by the leaks to block access to the Lebanese news Web site Al-Akhbar after it published U.S. cables depicting Ben Ali and his government in an unflattering light. They went on to block not just WikiLeaks, but any news source publishing or referencing leaked cables that originated or referenced Tunisia. Their repressive reaction to the leaks pushed protesters over the brink, as it epitomized the country’s utter lack of freedom of expression.

And if there’s anything the hacktivists at Anonymous hate, it’s censorship, which is why they retaliated by shutting down key Web sites of the Tunisian government, an effort they dubbed “OpTunisia.”

The Tunisians were the first people in the Arab world to take to the streets and oust a leader for a generation. There is no denying that WikiLeaks acted as a catalyst in that effort, supplying more fuel to a fire that eventually toppled a regime. This helped inspire the revolt in Egypt and beyond, as uprisings against brutally repressive regimes extended to Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. As the protests spread, WikiLeaks cleverly released key cables revealing government abuse and corruption in those nations, which intensified the protesters’ demand for democracy.

Amnesty International recently drew a link between the protests in the Arab world and the release by WikiLeaks of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic documents. In fact, the United Nations recently declared Internet access a basic human right in a report that cites WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring as driving factors.

2) The “worst of the worst” included children, the elderly, the mentally ill, and journalists.

In April of this year, WikiLeaks released the Guantanamo Files, which included classified documents on more than 700 past and present Guantanamo detainees. These files paint a stunning picture of an oppressive detention system riddled with incoherence and cruelty at every stage.

The documents expose the complicity of senior Pakistani officials in U.S. drone strikes that have maimed and killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including children.

They shed new light on the persecution of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, who was caged at the camp for more than six years and then abruptly released without ever being charged. His crime was working for Al Jazeera.

It was also revealed that almost 100 of the inmates sent to Guantanamo were listed by their captors as having had depressive or psychotic illnesses. Many went on hunger strikes or attempted suicide.

Officials in charge also found it appropriate to detain children and old men, including an 89-year-old Afghan villager suffering from senile dementia, and a 14-year-old boy who had been an innocent kidnap victim.

Authorities heavily used unreliable evidence obtained from a small number of detainees under torture to justify due-process free detentions.

They continued to maintain this testimony was reliable even after admitting that the prisoners who provided it had been mistreated. Despite President Obama’s promise to close it, the shameful, legal black hole that is Guantanamo is still open for business: 172 detainees remain imprisoned at Guantanamo, about 50 of whom are being subjected to indefinite detention.

3) U.S. allies are among the leading funders of international terrorism. 

Following the secret raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, WikiLeaks released the Pakistan Papers, a batch of previously top secret State Department cables specifically dealing with theU.S. relationship with Pakistan. The cables were published in Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest and most widely-read English-language newspaper.

The documents expose the complicity of senior Pakistani officials in U.S. drone strikes that have maimed and killed hundreds of innocent civilians, including children. A cable from late 2009 reveals Pakistani officials actively encouraging the bombing missions. Despite longstanding denials, the documents disclose that the U.S. has been conducting special ops inside Pakistan and taking part in joint operations with the Pakistanis since 2009.

The most disturbing, though not surprising, reports show that the Saudis, our supposed allies, are among the leading funders of international terrorism. It appears Saudi Arabia and the UAEhave been financing jihadist groups in Pakistan for years. A cable written in 2008 by Bryan Hunt of the U.S. consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, reads: “financial support estimated at nearly 100 million USD annually was making its way to Deobandi and Ahl-i-Hadith clerics in south Punjab from organizations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ostensibly with the direct support of those governments.”

Hunt outlines the process of recruitment for militancy, describing how “families with multiple children” and “severe financial difficulties” were exploited for recruitment purposes. The cable details the recruitment of children, who are given age-specific indoctrination and would eventually be trained according to the madrassah teachers’ assessment of their inclination “to engage in violence and acceptance of jihadi culture” versus their value as promoters of Deobandi or Ahl-i-Hadith sects or recruiters.

Recruits “chosen for jihad” would then be taken to “more sophisticated indoctrination camps, after which “youths were generally sent on to more established training camps in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and then on to jihad either in FATA, NWFP, or as suicide bombers in settled areas.”

Therefore, the U.S. government, well aware for years of Saudi Arabia’s disgusting exploitation of children, has remained a steadfast ally of the world’s biggest financier of terrorism.

4) World leaders are practically lighting a fire under the Arctic.

 As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton met with the Arctic Council last month to discuss oil exploration, WikiLeaks, with impeccable timing, published a new trove of cables highlighting a race to carve up the Arctic for resource exploitation. Nations battling to poison the arctic with oil drilling include Canada, the U.S., Russia, Norway, Denmark, and perhaps even China, which all have competing claims to the Arctic.

The leaks illustrate a frightening reality, where world leaders are greedily awaiting the opportunity to exploit the oil and natural gas that lie beneath the melting Arctic ice, even arming themselves for possible resource wars. A least that’s what the Russian Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin hinted in a 2010 cable that reads, “The twenty-first century will see a fight for resources. Russia Should not be defeated in this fight.”

A 2009 cable suggests U.S. paranoia about Russia: “Behind Russia’s policy are two potential benefits accruing from global warming, the prospect for an [even seasonally] ice-free shipping route from Europe to Asia, and the estimated oil and gas wealth hidden beneath the Arctic sea floor.” Russian Navy head Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky is quoted in a 2008 cable as saying, “While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention.”

Clearly, banking on the melting of the polar ice caps has taken priority over halting or even reversing the catastrophic effects of climate change. The Arctic contains as much as one quarter of the world’s gas and oil reserves, once hidden under huge masses of ice and inaccessible through frozen seas.

However, ice is melting faster than predicted, presenting profitable business opportunities which are leading the Arctic countries to lose sight of longer-term climate issues. Greenpeace oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe underscores the danger of this mentality:

“These latest Wikileaks revelations expose something profoundly concerning. Instead of seeing the melting of the Arctic ice cap as a spur to action on climate change, the leaders of the Arctic nations are instead investing in military hardware to fight for the oil beneath it. They’re preparing to fight to extract the very fossil fuels that caused the melting in the first place. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.”

5) Washington would let them starve to protect U.S. corporate interests. 

The Nation has teamed up with the Haitian weekly newspaper Haiti Liberté, to analyze some 2,000 Haiti-related diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks. The cables will be featured in a series of Nation articles posted each Wednesday for several weeks.

The first in the series, “PetroCaribe Files,” reveals, among other things, how the United State, with pressure from Exxon and Chevron, tried to interfere with an oil agreement between Haiti and Venezuela that would save Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, $100 million per year or 10 percent of the country’s budget.

The second piece, set to publish this week, “Let Them Live on $3/Day,” reveals Washington’s willingness to keep Haitian sweatshop wages at near slave labor levels to save American corporations a few bucks. U.S. clothing makers with factories in Haiti, such as Hanes and Levi Strauss, were infuriated after the Haitian government raised the minimum wage from a puny slave wage of 24 cents an hour, to a slightly less puny slave wage of 61 cents an hour.

In a clear symbol of who it serves, the U.S. State Department stepped in to exert pressure on Haiti’s president, who duly carved out a $3 a day minimum wage for textile companies. But, according to the Nation’s expose, that was still too much: “Still the U.S. Embassy wasn’t pleased.

A deputy chief of mission, David E. Lindwall, said the $5 per day minimum “did not take economic reality into account” but was a populist measure aimed at appealing to “the unemployed and underpaid masses.”

To understand the barbarity of this behavior, consider that a Haitian family of three (two kids) needed $12.50 a day in 2008 to make ends meet.

More to come?

These revelations are not the only leaks of 2011, just those I have chosen to highlight. WikiLeaks continues to leaks cables all over the globe. Although they have received little attention in the U.S. press, leaks in countries like Peru,Ireland, Malaysia, and El Salvador are generating headlines, controversy and debate.

Perhaps what we have seen from WikiLeaks is just the tip of the iceberg.

Moscow - A Russian ex-army officer convicted of war crimes in Chechnya was shot dead by unknown assailants on a Moscow street on Friday, according to news reports. Yury Budanov died from four silenced pistol shots fired into the head from close range, ...See all stories on this topic »

Judge Allows Chiquita Case to Proceed for Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes ... (press release)
The Law Firm of Jonathan C. Reiter has filed cases on behalf of 726 murder and torture victims, alleging that Chiquita is guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other human rights violations, claiming compensatory and punitive damages in the ...See all stories on this topic »

Qaddafi regime denies war crimes in Libya, says rebels are cannibals
The National
AP GENEVA // The regime of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi yesterday vehemently denied accusations by a United Nations panel and western nations that Libyan government forces had committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. The Libyan diplomat Mustafa ...See all stories on this topic »

Gaddafi daughter files second war crimes charge
Straits Times
PARIS - LIBYAN leader Muammar Gaddafi's daughter filed a second war crimes complaint against Nato and France in Paris on Friday over air strikes that killed family members including three infants, her lawyer said. Aisha Gaddafi filed a similar ..See all stories on this topic »
Making the US Economy "Scream"

Robert Parry, Consortium News: "Obviously, given the wealth of the American elites, the relative proportion of the propaganda funding is derived more domestically in the United States than it would be in a place like Chile (or some other unfortunate Third World country that has gotten on Washington's bad side). But the concept remains the same: Control as much as possible what the population gets to see and hear; create chaos for your opponent's government, economically and politically; blame if for the mess; and establish in the minds of the voters that they're only way out is to submit, that the pain will stop once your side is back in power. Today's Republicans have fully embraced this concept of political warfare, whereas the Democrats generally have tried to play by the old rules, acquiescing when Republicans are in office with the goal of 'making government work,' even if the Republicans are setting the agenda. Unlike the Democrats and the Left, the Republicans and the Right have prepared themselves for this battle, almost as if they are following a CIA training manual." Read the Article 

A firestorm on the US right has erupted after the Guardian reported that Sarah Palin will be denied a meeting with Lady Thatcher on the grounds that it would be "belittling" for her to meet the darling of the Tea Party movement.

Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio host, devoted the opening section of his radio show to denouncing the "preposterous" Guardian report, as Palin supporters accused Thatcher's circle of disgracing the former prime minister.

The US conservative right reacted furiously after the Guardian reported that Thatcher's aides had decided it would be inappropriate for her to meet Palin, who is planning to visit London next month en route to Sudan. Palin has been touring US historical sites (an excursion that saw her slip up this week on the subject of Paul Revere, the American patriot who made a famous "midnight ride" to warn of approaching British forces).

One Thatcher ally told the Guardian: "Lady Thatcher will not be seeing Sarah Palin. That would be belittling for Margaret. Sarah Palin is nuts."
The former prime minister's friends say she will show the level she punches at when she marks the centenary of the birth of Ronald Reagan by attending the unveiling of a statue of the late president outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square on independence day, 4 July. The Thatcher ally added: "Margaret is focusing on Ronald Reagan and will attend the unveiling of the statue. That is her level."
The response from the US right was swift. Limbaugh opened his show on Wednesday with a lengthy denunciation of the Guardian after the New York Daily News and a host of US publications picked up on the comments.

"There's a story out there today, and it's an illustration of how things happen, how things are said and reported," Limbaugh told his listeners. "This is preposterous, and I have personal knowledge of this."
Limbaugh said he knew Thatcher well and embarked on a lengthy description of how he had driven her round a Florida golf course on a golf cart: "I have been with her in social and professional settings as well. It's obvious that her health is not today what it was, but back in the day, Margaret Thatcher would in no way allow an aide to refer to anybody, Sarah Palin notwithstanding, as 'nuts'."

La Donna Hale Curzon, the host of Sarah Palin Radio, accused the Thatcher circle of disgracing the former prime minister. "Margaret Thatcher would never call a fellow Conservative, let alone Gov Palin 'nuts'," Hale Curzon tweeted. "Thatcher's handlers have disgraced the Iron Lady."

The ally who criticised Palin said the Thatcher circle would not change their minds despite the backlash. "Margaret will not be meeting Sarah Palin. If necessary we will make sure that Margaret has an off day when Palin is in London."
Critics of Palin revelled in the backlash against Thatcher's circle, whose dismissive views of Palin undermine her claim that she is the victim of a witch-hunt by left-leaning mainstream media. Palin regards Thatcher as one of her heroines.
Andrew Sullivan, of The Dish blog, which chronicles Palin's weaknesses, wrote : "As usual, the tired old bigoted comedian Rush Limbaugh took offence that anyone could call Sarah Palin 'nuts,' even though she is quite obviously a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and her grip on reality is, shall we say, tenuous. And as usual, Limbaugh blamed it on the left, ie the Guardian's Wintour/Watt blog.

"What he doesn't understand is that Palin's nutsiness is not a partisan matter in Britain, or anywhere else in the world. It is an obvious truth marvelled at by all. Palin's emergence as a serious figure in American politics has made the country a laughing stock across the world. The idea that a stateswoman like Thatcher, in advanced dementia, would be used by such a crackpot is simply unseemly." admits it 'hacked' Fox News
The George Soros-funded activist group has admitted it was behind a hoax Youtube video in which it appeared the ticker outside News Corporation's ...

North Africa: Maghreb Uprisings - Truth is 'Impossible to Find'
She would rather not acquaint herself with the truth, it seems--instead, she'd prefer to rub elbows with known war criminals and mass murderers on Libyan State TV.' Sofi misses the point and is so taken with his own position and propaganda that he ...See all stories on this topic »

China Ratings House Says US Defaulting: Report

A Chinese ratings house has accused the United States of defaulting on its massive debt, state media said Friday, a day after Beijing urged Washington to put its fiscal house in order.

"In our opinion, the United States has already been defaulting," Guan Jianzhong, president of Dagong Global Credit Rating Co. Ltd., the only Chinese agency that gives sovereign ratings, was quoted by the Global Times saying.

Washington had already defaulted on its loans by allowing the dollar to weaken against other currencies -- eroding the wealth of creditors including China, Guan said.

Guan did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.

The US government will run out of room to spend more on August 2 unless Congress bumps up the borrowing limit beyond $14.29 trillion -- but Republicans are refusing to support such a move until a deficit cutting deal is reached.

Ratings agency Fitch on Wednesday joined Moody's and Standard & Poor's to warn the United States could lose its first-class credit rating if it fails to raise its debt ceiling to avoid defaulting on loans.

A downgrade could sharply raise US borrowing costs, worsening the country's already dire fiscal position, and send shock waves through the financial world, which has long considered US debt a benchmark among safe-haven investments.

China is by far the top holder of US debt and has in the past raised worries that the massive US stimulus effort launched to revive the economy would lead to mushrooming debt that erodes the value of the dollar and its Treasury holdings.

Beijing cut its holdings of US Treasury securities for the fifth month in a row to $1.145 trillion in March, down $9.2 billion from February and 2.6 percent less than October's peak of $1.175 trillion, US data showed last month.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Thursday urged the United States to adopt "effective measures to improve its fiscal situation".

Dagong has made a name for itself by hitting out at its three Western rivals, saying they caused the financial crisis by failing to properly disclose risk.

The Chinese agency, which is trying to build an international profile, has given the United States and several other nations lower marks than they received from the the big three.

A Moment to Seize With Israel

Those who defend Israel reflexively, and those who criticize Israel as if it—all its component parts, and all (or most) of its people—is singularly evil and without redeeming features, would do well to note this development, as reported by The New York Times:

The man who ran Israel’s Mossad spy agency until January contends that Israel’s top leaders lack judgment and that the anticipated pressures of international isolation as the Palestinians campaign for statehood could lead to rash decisions — like an airstrike on Iran.

Ok, before we go further, let’s contemplate this and contextualize it. Israel is often presented as if “it” is bad, or as if whatever it does is always justified. There is little distinction made between factions, and little awareness of the intense internal battles that are constantly being waged. Knee-jerk backers and impassioned critics of Israel alike seem to lack awareness of who the most responsible and flexible people are in the government, and on strategies for enhancing their power.

The former intelligence chief, Meir Dagan, who stepped down after eight years in the post, has made several unusual public appearances and statements in recent weeks. He made headlines a few weeks ago when he asserted at a Hebrew University conference that a military attack on Iran would be “a stupid idea.”

This week Mr. Dagan, speaking at Tel Aviv University, said that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.” He added, “The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.”

Mr. Dagan went on to complain that Israel had failed to put forward a peace initiative with the Palestinians and that it had foolishly ignored the Saudi peace initiative promising full diplomatic relations in exchange for a return to the 1967 border lines. He worried that Israel would soon be pushed into a corner.

Since just the term “Mossad” is considered in many circles a synonym for evil incarnate, it is interesting to contemplate what it means that such a man as Dagan was appointed to run the organization. And more so that he would come forward with his concerns. For comparison, try and think of CIA directors who have left and then publicly excoriated the government for reckless, overly aggressive behavior.

On Thursday he got more specific, naming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but this time through a leaked statement to journalists. The statement had to do with his belief that his retirement and the retirement of other top security chiefs had taken away a necessary alternative voice in decision making.

In recent months, the military chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the director of the Shin Bet internal security agency, Yuval Diskin, have also stepped down. Mr. Dagan was quoted in several newspapers as saying that the three of them had served as a counterweight to Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak.

“I decided to speak out because when I was in office, Diskin, Ashkenazi and I could block any dangerous adventure,” he was quoted as saying. “Now I am afraid that there is no one to stop Bibi and Barak,” he added, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname.

Journalists recalled that Mr. Dagan, who had refused contact with the media during his time in office, called a news briefing the last week of his tenure and laid out his concerns about an attack on Iran. But military censorship prevented his words from being reported.

“Dagan wanted to send a message to the Israeli public, but the censors stopped him,” Ronen Bergman of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot said by telephone. “So now that he is out of office he is going over the heads of the censors by speaking publicly.”

Mr. Dagan’s public and critical comments, at the age of 66 and after a long and widely admired career, have shaken the political establishment. The prime minister’s office declined requests for a response, although ministers have attacked Mr. Dagan. He has also found an echo among the nation’s commentators who have been ringing similar alarms.

…Nahum Barnea, a commentator for Yediot Aharonot, wrote on Friday that Mr. Dagan was not alone. Naming the other retired security chiefs and adding Amos Yadlin, who recently retired as chief of military intelligence, Mr. Barnea said that they shared Mr. Dagan’s criticism.

“This is not a military junta that has conspired against the elected leadership,” Mr. Barnea wrote. “These are people who, through their positions, were exposed to the state’s most closely guarded secrets and participated in the most intimate discussions with the prime minister and the defense minister.It is not so much that their opinion is important as civilians; their testimony is important as people who were there. And their testimony is troubling.”

The fact that Dagan’s not the only one elevates the gravity and the opportunity.
This concern was backed by a former Mossad official, Gad Shimron, who spoke Friday on Israel Radio.

Mr. Shimron said: “I want everyone to pay attention to the fact that the three tribal elders, Ashkenazi, Diskin and Dagan, within a very short time, are all telling the people of Israel: take note, something is going on that we couldn’t talk about until now, and now we are talking about it.

 Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and that is the decision-making process. The leadership makes fiery statements, we stepped on the brakes, we are no longer there and we don’t know what will happen. And that’s why we are saying this aloud.” ….

This may be a crucial opening for an international dialogue. But it requires more than blanket attacks on Israel, everybody in it and everything about it, or the ritual defenses of anything Israel does. It also calls for a recognition that, just as in the United States, there can and must be spirited debate and new ways forward.

Come to think of it, how spirited, really, is the debate in the US? At those levels? Who questioned the Iraq decision? Who questioned military action in Libya?

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