Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


Trump Authorized Strike On Iran General In May 2019

Seven months before a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Donald Trump authorized lethal action against him. The revelation continues to erode the Trump administration’s claims that Soleimani posed an “imminent threat” to the United States.

NBC News reported on Monday that Trump authored a presidential directive in June that allowed for a strike on the Iranian general.

A senior administration official told NBC that it was “some time ago” that aides put killing Soleimani in front of Trump as part of the options available in response to Iranian hostility. According to NBC, Trump was urged by John Bolton to make the strike in June after Iran shot down a U.S. drone.

Trump reportedly told aides he would only make the strike after an American life was lost, which happened after a U.S. contractor was killed in Iraq by forces backed by the Iranians.

In the aftermath of Soleimani’s killing, Trump has claimed that the unusual action was undertaken because the general was involved in plots that were an “imminent threat” to U.S. assets and personnel.

But neither he nor senior members of his administration have presented evidence to justify the claim. Instead, they have publicly struggled to answer direct questions on the nature of the purported threat.

Trump claimed in an interview with Fox New’s Laura Ingraham on Thursday that Soleimani was targeting “four embassies,” but on Sunday, Defense Secretary Mike Esper said he hadn’t seen hard evidence of any such threat.

Members of the House and Senate who received classified briefings from the administration have publicly expressed disappointment with the presentations and indicated that the “imminent threat” has yet to be justified.

“No case was made for imminence,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told reporters after the briefing on Wednesday. The sentiment was echoed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who said the information he was given at the briefing was “a far cry from what I consider to be an imminent threat.”

The skepticism about Trump’s decision making, as well as his decision not to inform congressional leaders ahead of the strike, led to a House vote in favor of restraining Trump’s war powers. The measure was supported by members of both parties.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump’s Tsunami Of Lies About War

Donald Trump’s administration has been a fountain of lies from his first day in office. But the U.S. attack that killed a top Iranian commander promises to turn that fountain into a tsunami.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the drone strike on the Baghdad airport was urgent because intelligence indicated Qassem Soleimani presented “imminent threats to American lives.” But Pompeo was curiously unwilling to supply evidence.

The New York Times reported, “According to one United States official, the new intelligence indicated ‘a normal Monday in the Middle East’ — Dec. 30 — and General Soleimani’s travels amounted to ‘business as usual.'” The Washington Post divulged that Pompeo had been pressing Trump to kill Soleimani for months.

Why should anyone believe anything the secretary of state says? He was deliberately misleading Sunday when he scoffed at the idea that Trump might order the destruction of Iranian cultural sites — something the president had threatened before and reiterated even after Pompeo denied it.

Trump himself has been a paragon of dishonesty on Iran, even more than on most subjects. He pulled out of the nuclear deal, which he falsely said Iran was violating. Under the agreement, he said, Iran would “free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons” after seven years. In fact, it stipulated “that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons.”

He tweeted that Barack Obama “gave Iran 150 Billion Dollars and got nothing.” Obama agreed to unfreeze Iran’s own assets, which amounted to a fraction of that amount, in exchange for the effective dismantling of its nuclear program.

Americans should know by now that when our leaders take us into wars, they will do it on the basis of disinformation. President Lyndon Johnson got the authority to escalate in Vietnam by exploiting a minor 1964 naval incident in the Tonkin Gulf to accuse North Vietnam of “open aggression on the high seas” — which was false.

Johnson campaigned that year on a promise not to “send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.” In 1965, he did exactly that. His successor, Richard Nixon, expanded the war with a lengthy bombing campaign in neighboring Cambodia, undertaken in secrecy.

Like Johnson and Nixon, this president and his subordinates believe that deceit is the best way to gain support for military action. Mike Pence said Soleimani’s killing was justified because his Quds Force assisted al-Qaida in the 9/11 attacks — a conclusion firmly rejected by the 9/11 Commission, appointed by George W. Bush.

But Pence took a lesson from the Bush administration, which justified the Iraq War on the spurious claim that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Repetition of the charge soon convinced most Americans, though Bush himself later had to admit it was baseless.

Obama felt no compulsion to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan, which he promised to end in his first 16 months but never did. A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction quoted an Obama National Security Council official on the administration’s repeated claims of progress: “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Obama justified his intervention in the Libyan civil war as a way to prevent the slaughter of civilians, but eventually — without saying so — expanded the mission to regime change.

During World War I, the leftist writer Randolph Bourne argued that “war is the health of the state.” What has become clear since then is that war depends on deception – about the reasons for committing to combat, the reasons for continuing to fight when it goes badly and the reasons the effort was necessary despite its ultimate failure.

Politicians realize that if citizens are to be mobilized in support of wars of choice, they must be fed a diet of lies. Even that may not work: Last summer, a Gallup Poll found that only 18 percent of Americans favored military action against Iran. A HuffPost/YouGov survey found that only 43 percent approved of the strike against Soleimani.

But if public support doesn’t materialize, we can be sure the administration will concoct more fictions. There is a long history of presidential mendacity when it comes to matters of war. No one is better suited to uphold that tradition than Trump.

Steve Chapman blogs at Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Voting System Executives Defend Their Products In Congressional Testimony

The nation’s three largest voting system vendors told a congressional committee that they would welcome closer partnerships with the federal government on probing cybersecurity threats, but pushed back against independent investigators examining the electronics inside their wares.

“We have not involved academics who haven’t been pre-screened with the coordinated vulnerability disclosure program that we are working on with our colleagues,” said Tom Burt, president and CEO of Elections Systems and Software (ES&S). “The idea is to have a firm be able to manage a network of white-hat ethical hackers, to broaden the access to our firm’s systems without making this information open to the public.”

“Congressman, we have done that in the past, as far back in New York as 2009, and we found that the exercise was useful,” said John Poulos, president and CEO of Dominion Voting Systems, to Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland. “We are looking forward to doing more of that within the confines of a reality-based scenario of testing.”

“We would support the appropriate disclosure of that information,” said Julie Mathis, president and CEO of Hart InterCivic. “It’s important that we not undermine voter confidence in ensuring that we actually evaluate and assess the types of disclosures necessary.”

The CEOs’ comments welcoming controlled collaborations on detecting security vulnerabilities in their voting systems—while dismissing outside assessments as often unhinged—was indicative of the stance put forth by the nation’s top voting system vendors in their first joint testimony in Congress.

The CEOs welcomed closer partnerships with federal agencies, including a wider role in the testing and regulation of voting infrastructure—not just the machines recording a voter’s ballot. But the CEOs downplayed security and transparency concerns raised by public-interest critics who had prodded the Committee on House Administration to hold the hearing on whether more vendor oversight was necessary as new systems are being deployed.

For example, the three CEOs repeatedly said that there was no evidence that any of their products had been hacked in the 2016 election, even as Russian agents accessed statewide voter rolls in a few states. They said they would welcome new federal security standards for electronic precinct poll books and voter registration databases (which are not their primary products).

In short, their message was that their systems were very secure, their efforts were vigilant and they—not their critics in academia—should be trusted. That schism and narrative are not new in the election world, even as the congressional testimony by the three CEOs was unprecedented.

“Our effort is as strong as we are capable of,” said ES&S’s Burt. “We are always looking to find ways to improve our effort and to partner with other agencies to improve our ability to mitigate any risks that might be there.”

But when North Carolina’s Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat, pushed into more detailed questioning about security risks, all three CEOs said that they sold a key piece of machinery—the devices that count votes at precincts—which used modems, either connected to internet or cell phone bands, to report their “unofficial” results on election night. (That pathway could be targeted to disrupt or corrupt the reporting of results, academics and activists have said.)

However, there was no follow-up on that line of questioning or further responses, just as other potentially dicey topics were broached and quickly bypassed. Those topics were the ownership of the three biggest voting system manufacturers by private equity firms, the fact that those companies’ executives are barred from contributing to local officials’ political campaigns while their lobbyists aren’t restricted, and other questions probing their earnings strategies.

Two Panels, Two Views

The hearing was promoted as a likely grilling of the CEOs, but that was not what transpired. Instead, the critical comments were confined to witnesses on a second panel that followed the CEOs and didn’t interact with them.

Matt Blaze, a Georgetown University law professor, picked up the thread that Butterfield referred to by explaining that modems on precinct tabulators—which were designed to quickly report results to election officials in central offices and the press—were a weak link and thus a security risk. Stepping back, he noted that tabulation systems, which are where local results are compiled into overall totals, have escaped the scrutiny paid to voting stations used by the public.

“We give most of the attention to vulnerabilities in voting machines, but that’s not the whole story,” Blaze said. “Each of the more than 5,000 jurisdictions responsible for running elections across the nation must maintain a number of critical information systems that are attractive targets for disruption by adversaries. Most important of these are voter registration databases, [and] the systems that report final results, and so forth. Unfortunately, there are even fewer standards for how to secure these systems.”

“Their [voter rolls and counting systems] administration varies widely. And the threats against these systems are even more acute than the threats against individual voting systems,” he continued. “Just as we don’t expect the local sheriff to single-handedly defend against military ground invasions, we shouldn’t expect county election IT managers to defend against cyberattacks by foreign intelligence services. But that’s exactly what we’ve been asking them to do.”

The comments made by the CEOs and critics like Blaze were not just talking past each other like ships in the night. Blaze is a co-organizer of the DefCon hacking convention’s “Voting Village,” where computer scientists and their students have taken apart commercial voting machines to highlight how they can be hacked to manipulate reported outcomes.

In other words, Blaze is the kind of academic that the CEOs said they would not want to work with to identify security vulnerabilities because they could not be controlled by confidentiality agreements when security issues arise. Instead, the voting systems CEOs said they would work with government agencies in more closeted settings to test and improve their systems.

That stalemate is not new in the voting technology world. The vendors don’t trust that academics and other experts will help them quietly improve their systems—because, as history has shown, some of these experts are publicity hounds. On the other hand, academic critics—including advocacy groups such as Verified Voting—are extremely frustrated that vendors keep on retrofitting their systems with older and less-secure technology as a profit-making strategy, and then the vendors claim that their critics are peddling conspiracy theories.

This stalemate, as seen by reading between the lines at the House hearing, takes on a new urgency as 2020’s federal and state elections loom. When asked by the committee chairwoman, California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, what was the best that could be done in preparation for voting this year, the CEOs cited their partnerships with federal security agencies and their programs.

The public-interest activists had their to-do lists as well—from using more paper ballots, to deploying enough precinct voting machines to avoid delays and lines, to conducting audits of various ballot records to double-check the initially reported results. But realistically, several said that those remedies were not likely to be as widespread as they would like to see in 2020. They counseled more public education for voters using new voting systems.

“What do we do?” asked Congresswoman Lofgren, as the hearing neared its conclusion.

“The best thing we can do is voter education,” said Blaze. “It’s simply a reminder of instructions given to voters, whether they are given a personal reminder to check their ballot selection [on the systems where computers print out a ballot summary card]. Those appear to make a significant—not sufficient—but significant difference in how well they’re verified.”

“The [most recent] studies are saying the people did not verify their ballot. They are not saying that people could not verify their ballot,” said Dr. Juan Gilbert, chair of the computer and information science and engineering department at the University of Florida. “Well, try this [instead]: ‘Would you please verify that your ballot selections were not changed?’ Rather than, ‘Review your ballot.’ Let’s try that.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Trump Falsely Blames Obama For Iran’s Missile Strike On US Bases

Donald Trump on Wednesday delivered an address from the White House in which he tried to blame former President Barack Obama for the attacks Iran carried out against U.S. troops Tuesday night.

In the speech, Trump claimed that Iran paid for the missiles it used to strike Iraqi bases housing American troops with money it had received from the nuclear deal struck under the Obama administration.

“The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration,” Trump said, repeating a false statement he has used previously about Obama giving Iran billions of dollars.

Despite his claims, that exchange, as Trump characterizes it, never actually took place.

As part of the nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran regained access to money that it was blocked from accessing previously.

“There was no $150 billion gift from the U.S. treasury or other countries. Iran was allowed to get its money back,” the Associated Press wrote in August.

Tommy Vietor, a national security aide under Obama, said Trump’s statement this week blaming Obama was “absurd.”

“Trump cannot substantiate his absurd claim that the JCPOA paid for Iran’s missiles. Don’t quote his lying propaganda without factchecking it or you’re part of the problem,” Vietor tweeted following Trump’s remarks on Wednesday.

Trump’s address ultimately gave no more clarity on how the United States will resolve tensions with Iran, which the Trump administration itself exacerbated after withdrawing from the JCPOA in May 2018, against the wishes of other world leaders. Tensions were ramped up further last week after Trump ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, without first informing Congress. Trump and his officials have since justified that strike by claiming Iran was planning an imminent attack on the United States, though they have offered not evidence to back that claim.

Instead, Trump, flanked by military leaders, spoke broadly on Wednesday about the United States’ military might, as well as the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which was unrelated to the current situation with Iran.

“Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal and fast,” Trump said, later saying that he did not want to have to use the military’s equipment.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.