Monday, June 4, 2012

Cyber 'War" Timeline with Iran

How a Secret

Timeline: From Inception to a Leak

  • 2006Iran resumes uranium enrichment at Natanz after negotiations with European and American officials flounder. United States military and intelligence officials propose a top-secret cyberwar program against Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
  •  2007The program begins in earnest, eventually known by the code name Olympic Games. A virtual replica of the Natanz plant is built at American national laboratories. The United States joins Israel in developing a sophisticated computer worm.
  • 2008Centrifuges begin crashing at Natanz, the crown jewel of the Iranian nuclear program. Engineers at the plant have no clue that the facility is under attack. The initial breakdowns are designed to seem like small random accidents, with code variations that prompt different breakdowns.
  • 2009Accounts that President Bush approved new ways to undermine the Iranian program, including cyberattacks, appear just as his administration is leaving office. In a private meeting, Mr. Bush urges President-elect Obama to continue Olympic Games, telling him the program could mean the difference between peace and war. Mr. Obama begins reviewing the plans, and he is given updates every few weeks with the results of attacks.
  • Spring 2010The National Security Agency and Israel’s secretive Unit 8200 decide to swing for the fences. They target a critical array of centrifuges composed of nearly 1,000 machines, whose failure would be a huge setback to Iran. A special version of the computer worm is developed, with the Israelis putting the finishing touches on the program.
  • Summer 2010The creators of the bug realize that copies of the worm have escaped Natanz and are available on the Internet, where they are replicating quickly. In a few weeks, articles appear in the technical press, and then in mainstream newspapers, about a mysterious new computer worm carried on USB keys that exploits a hole in the Windows operating system. The worm is named Stuxnet. Obama decides not to kill the program, and a subsequent attack takes out nearly 1,000 Iranian centrifuges, nearly a fifth of those operating.
  • Late 2010-11After a dip in 2010, Iranian production recovers. The Untied States estimates that Olympic Games delayed Iran’s progress toward a weapons capability by a year and a half or two years. Others dispute the estimate, saying it overstates the effect.
  • 2011-12With the program still running, intelligence agencies in the United States and Israel seek out new targets that could further slow Iran’s progress.

Risk of non-citizen voters at center of election year struggle in Florida and Colorado

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People wait before Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich visits a voting precinct at the First Baptist Church of Windermere January 31, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.
The Justice Department entered the long-running struggle over voter eligibility Thursday, warning Florida that its program to check the citizenship status of registered voters violates both Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.
In a battleground state in a presidential election year, the voter eligibility scuffle may have big implications, especially when you consider that George W. Bush won Florida in 2000 by a mere 537 votes in a case ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state said its initial check found 180,000 potential non-citizens who may be registered voters.
Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch referred to the citizenship verification process as Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s “blatant campaign to suppress the vote immediately in advance of the presidential election.”
The struggle over who should be eligible to vote and who shouldn’t – not only in Florida, but in another battleground state, Colorado, and in other states as well – raises important policy questions:
  • Why is there no national registry of American citizens that state and local election officials could check to see if someone is eligible to vote? Solicitor General Donald Verrilli confirmed in the oral argument before the Supreme Court on the Arizona immigration law that “there is no reliable way in the (DHS) database to verify that you are a citizen, unless you are in the passport database.”
  • Is the attempt to remove non-citizens from the list of voters simply impossible – due to lack of accurate data on citizen status, or is it possible to do, but will have the side effect of inadvertently striking some citizens from the rolls?
  • For those citizens who are mistakenly struck from the list of voters, do states have adequate notice and appeal processes in place to protect their ability to vote?
  • Rather than leaving this task to elected state officials, would it be efficient for Congress to create a federal agency to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a ballot and that non-citizens can’t vote?
Since early May, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, an appointee of Scott’s, has been leading an effort to use data from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to verify that registered voters are U.S. citizens.
Thursday’s letter to Detzner from Christian Herren, chief of the voting section at Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required the state to get pre-clearance from the department or from a federal judge before implementing its citizenship checking program.
Herren also said the NVRA doesn’t allow an effort to remove the names of ineligible people from the list of voters so close to an election – Florida holds its primary on Aug. 14.
Chris Cate, spokesman for the Florida Department of State said his department had not yet had a chance to thoroughly review Herren’s letter.
But he added, “We provided information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security yesterday, and have been doing so for nearly nine months, in hopes that the federal government would help us identify ineligible voters.”
With only 158 days until voters decide whether President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is better equipped to handle the economy each jobs report becomes more important than the last. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.
Having gotten the letter from Herren, he said, “at least we know the federal government knows we take ineligible voters on the voter rolls seriously. We hope the federal government will recognize the importance of accurate voter rolls and support our efforts.”
In his letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Detzner asked her to provide the state access to DHS’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements database to help it verify citizenship of would-be voters. According to an analysis by the Miami Herald, nearly three out of five of those initially identified by the Florida Department of State as potential noncitizens are Latinos. But whether they are citizens or not is still unclear.
Separately, a federal judge Thursday blocked enforcement of new Florida rules on voter registration, saying they imposed “burdensome record-keeping and reporting requirements that serve little if any purpose … .” The League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, and Rock the Vote had filed suit challenging the rules.
In scrutinizing the list of voters, former Kentucky secretary of state Trey Grayson, who is now director of the Harvard University Institute of Politics, said, “We always run this risk of: Which side do we err on? Do we err on the side of leaving a non-citizen or somebody who is ineligible on the voter rolls? Or do we run the risk of removing somebody who otherwise is eligible to vote? And sometimes when you’re trying to do one, you end up doing the other.”
Cate said that as for cases of citizens being mistakenly caught in Florida’s initial screening, “We’re using data based on someone’s last interaction with the Florida Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. We’ve known some of the 180,000 potential non-citizens may have become a citizen since they last updated their driver’s license. But this is the best process we have to remove ineligible voters from our voter rolls, to contact every one of the 180,000 people individually.”
Meanwhile in Colorado, which President Obama won with 53.6 percent of the vote in 2008, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, has also urged DHS to use its databases to help the state verify the citizenship of certain register voters.
Gessler said in a letter to Napolitano that more than 2,000 registered voters had presented a non-citizen document to the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles during a driver’s license transaction.
In a letter last month to Gessler, Alejandro Mayorkas, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a DHS agency, said, “We must further assess serious legal and operational issues” before deciding whether to give Colorado the information it sought.
“I know they have some information that will help us. For example, everyone who is here legally, every green card holder or holder of a student visa, that information is kept” by DHS, said Gessler in an interview Friday. “And that’s information we could use. They also have information on illegal residents here, not all of them of course. I recognize that information is not perfect, but that information could help us as well. I don’t expect the databases that Homeland Security has to solve every problem with 100 percent accuracy, but it could really go a long way to helping us out a lot here in Colorado, and I’m sure in other states too.”
Recommended: Former justice predicts cracks in Citizens United decision
How do non-citizens wind up being registered voters in Colorado? “A lot of times people mistakenly believe they can register to vote even if they’re not a citizen,” Gessler said.
Asked whether 2,000 or so noncitizens being registered to vote is a significant issue in a state where more than 2.4 million people voted in the 2008 presidential election, Gessler said, “Colorado has a history of close races: for example, one of our current congressmen, Jared Polis, won his first election as a member of the Board of Education – an at-large seat which meant he ran statewide, by 90 votes,” Gessler said.
And to those who might impute a political motive to Gessler to scrub the voter rolls in a state which swung from Republican in 2004 to Democratic in 2008, Gessler said, “I’ve got an obligation enforce the law and let the chips fall where they may.”
Election law expert Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law, said, “If we were serious about dealing with non-citizen voting, which does happen on occasion, we should move to national voter registration for federal elections, and check data against citizenship records.”
But he said for Congress to create such a national election agency “is not politically feasible now.”

Digital Afterlife: What happens to your online accounts when you die?

By Jessica Hopper
Rock Center

When Helen and Jay Stassen’s 21-year-old son, Benjamin, committed suicide 19 months ago, he did not leave a note.
If it had been 20 years ago, the Stassens might have looked through diaries, letters or other personal items in an attempt to find clues as to why he decided to end his life. These days, however, young people tend not to keep things on paper; instead, their most intimate thoughts are likely to be online – in emails, social media posts and personal blogs.
So that’s where the Stassens went searching.  They found themselves engaged in a conflict with Facebook and Google as they hunted for answers about their son’s death and the companies sought to honor their contracts with their users.
“We are reeling with the reality of being parents who not only have our son who has died, but a very difficult death on top of it which is not anything we ever saw coming, which has added to our desire to really want to know why,” said Helen Stassen from her home in Prescott, Wis.
The Stassens say that Benjamin, a college student, had hoped to be an entrepreneur one day and was a health food enthusiast who loved to play the drums and practice yoga. To keep his memory alive, they built a free library at a park near their home and their extended family helped get a bench named for him near the Mississippi River.
“Those have been experiences that have helped and have healed in tiny ways that are a contrast to the fight that we’ve been in,” Helen Stassen said.

Courtesy of the Stassen Family
The Stassen family is one of a growing number of families battling online companies to gain access to a deceased loved one’s digital assets.
Digital assets include email, social media accounts, digital photos and online banking accounts and records.  The Stassens think Benjamin’s online life might provide a clue into their son’s last days and as the heirs of his estate, they feel they have a right to get access to his accounts.
“Social media is a major way 21-year-olds interact these days,” Jay Stassen said.  “We thought maybe this could bring us some understanding, maybe some peace. We didn’t know, but we felt it was important to try to understand.”
A local judge recently granted the family a court order directing Facebook to give the Stassen family access to their son’s account. The court order says that the Stassens are the heirs to their son’s estate and are entitled to any of his assets, possessions or records, including the contents of his Facebook account.
Emails provided by the family show that Facebook has received the court order and it’s currently in their legal department. Legally, Facebook can appeal the court order or comply with it.  When asked about the Stassen family’s court order, a Facebook spokesperson said that the company does not comment on specific cases.
Legal experts said that court orders can trump user agreements. Online companies’ user agreements are contracts with the user that usually guarantee privacy and prohibit or limit account access to others beside the user.
“If Facebook is doing business in a jurisdiction and the court orders them to do something, they pretty much have to do it or face the penalty.  If  they don’t follow a court order, they can be held in contempt of court,” said Peter Swire, a law professor at Ohio State University.
Swire, who served as Chief Counselor for Privacy in President Bill Clinton’s administration and as an adviser to President Barack Obama on privacy issues, said that online companies face a “patchwork of state laws” and are usually cautious when it comes to granting access to a deceased user’s account.
What happens to your Facebook account when you die?
“What happens if  a 21-year-old had a safe deposit box at the bank, the answer is the safe deposit box belongs to his estate and whoever controls the estate gets to open the box,” Swire said.  “In the physical world, it’s easy to tell if it’s someone’s parents or child who has the safe deposit key, it’s trickier for Facebook and Google.  Some evil prankster might pretend that a person is dead and try to take control of the account, so the online companies are understandably careful before they turn over the account to someone who says they run the estate.”
Online companies such as Facebook say they are concerned with honoring their contracts with users which require them to protect their users’ privacy. It is possible that a deceased user may not have intended for his online accounts to be accessed by his loved ones after he died.
“I think it’s a good idea for sites not to have a blanket policy to hand this stuff over to survivors.  This information is private and you assume that it’s private, you assume that your Facebook account is private, you assume that your email account is private,” said Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties group.
Jeschke said that the problem is that people often don’t know what their deceased loved one’s wanted to happen to their online accounts.
“What's really important is that your survivors know what it is that you want, to say to your spouse and parents, ‘No, you can't read my email after I die or yes, I want you to.’ I don't think I'm the only person that would be uncomfortable with the idea of someone reading my email after I pass,” Jeschke said.
Naomi Cahn,a  law professor at George Washington University, said that  there is “almost no binding legal precedent out there” when it comes to digital assets.
“It’s a concern of internet service providers being caught between privacy and the meaning of their contracts and being faced with a court order to which there could be quite severe penalties if they don’t comply with it.  It’s something that lawyers, state legislatures, hopefully the federal government, hopefully the internet service providers are all starting to think more about as these issues become common,” Cahn said.
Are digital assets part of your estate?
Cahn said that current laws have yet to catch up with the digital age, leaving families like the Stassens in a frustrating limbo.
“When somebody dies, the person who is responsible for taking care of the individual’s asset is supposed to be complying with what the individual wanted and protecting the individual,” Cahn said.  “Because so many people have not thought about this, we don’t know what the person actually wanted...we can all imagine what’s in internet accounts.  There may certainly be cases where the person who died would not have wanted anyone to get anywhere near the person’s account.”
Only five states currently have estate laws that include digital assets -- Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Indiana and Idaho – and the laws vary among them. Some states’ statutes, for instance, just relate to email, with only Oklahoma and Idaho clearly including social networking and blogging as part of an estate.
“Legally it is unclear exactly what you can do in the 45 states -- and Washington, D.C. -- that do not have these laws that address this situation,” Cahn said. “Even in those states where there are laws, we’re still in the process of testing how those laws operate. They don’t cover all Internet accounts and the laws are new enough that they’re just in the process of being worked out.”
Cahn said that most people don’t think about what will happen to their online accounts when they die, but if they did, they would likely feel differently about different sorts of online accounts.
“Some of the ones that we expect to be passed on, like getting access to online bank account statements, doing online bill paying, those probably we would expect others to be able to take control over.  Many of us probably think that once we die, our Facebook accounts should either be memorialized [left up for only friends to see] or deleted entirely,” Cahn said.
Internet companies such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook have taken the position that the user probably intended for the contents of his or her account to remain private and crafted user agreements to reflect this, Cahn said.
“They do assume that the user wants privacy, there’s all kinds of advice on passwords and password strength to make sure that there’ s no unauthorized use,” Cahn said.  “One of the reasons we have passwords on our accounts, one of the reasons we get so outraged when there’s a hacking is we have certain expectations of privacy when we open accounts.”
There also are liability issues. Some states prohibit internet companies from disclosing information without the permission of the customer. With no clear definition of digital assets in most states, the companies then look to their user agreements and the laws of individual states when a user dies.
“Right now it’s kind of the Wild West in most states. The statutes don’t refer to any kind of digital asset or account,” said attorney Suzanne Walsh, who specializes in wills and estates.
Walsh is a commissioner to the Uniform Law Commission and chairs a committee that’s been formed to consider drafting a uniform law on digital assets that states could adopt.
Gene Hennig, one of Minnesota’s commissioners to the Uniform Law Commission, said that a court order is one of the few options families have in obtaining access to a loved one’s online account.
“You’ve got to hire lawyers. It’s time-consuming.  Some people may go to all that trouble and it took forever to get the order and by the time they got it, the stuff had been destroyed.  It’s just an unworkable and very inefficient way of doing things,” Hennig said.
Family fighting Facebook: ‘We’ll be patient, but persistent’
The Stassens, an attorney and librarian, are fortunate in that their professional skills are there to help them navigate the terrain of digital assets.  In addition, they’ve connected with other families engaged in similar battles and lobbied their congressman for help. In the process, they’ve also obtained two court orders: one directed at Google and another at Facebook.
“Many people don’t have that knowledge, don’t have that experience and unless they have the financial means to hire an attorney to do this for them, they are very likely to feel stuck and not know what to do,” Jay Stassen said.
After submitting a court order to Google in September of last year, they received the contents of Benjamin’s Gmail account, but they are still working to recover access to Benjamin’s Facebook account. In April, they obtained a court order directing Facebook to give them access to Benjamin’s account.
“We’ll be patient, but persistent,” Helen Stassen said.
The Stassen family said that they plan to keep private any information they find from their son’s online accounts.
A spokesperson for Facebook said that their policies do not allow access to a dead user’s account.
“For privacy reasons, we do not allow others to access a deceased user’s account,” a Facebook spokesperson told NBC News. In addition, the spokesperson said, the company's policy prohibits them from commenting on the Stassen family's case or any other specific cases.
Facebook has two options for a dead user’s account, the spokesperson said. The first allows an account to be memorialized, which leaves the profile up so that friends and family can leave posts in remembrance, but restricts the profile and associated content to the Facebook "friends" that the deceased had while alive, the spokesperson said.  A proof of death must be provided for an account to be memorialized. In some instances, Facebook allows family members to have an account deactivated.
Other companies  have different policies regarding a deceased person’s online account. According to Google’s web site, in rare cases, they may provide the content of a deceased person’s account to an authorized representative of the person. Meanwhile, Yahoo says on its site that all accounts are non-transferable and it will delete an account when they receive a death certificate.

Courtesy of Peter Stassen
The Stassen family, though, say they don't want to memorialize or deactivate their son’s Facebook account until they have seen the full contents. The only way they’ve been able to see the public part of their son’s page is because he and his brother, Peter, were friends on Facebook.
Benjamin’s Facebook profile shows a smiling young man with photos showing him skiing with his family and enjoying a beer with his brother, Peter.
Peter Stassen said that it’s been a struggle to watch his parents try to obtain access to Benjamin’s account.
“It’s hard to fully reconcile how I feel about Facebook now,” said Peter Stassen, Benjamin’s brother.  “None of the people on the Facebook side seem to have any realization that my parents are people, that they’re dealing with emotions and that they’re not just an account.”
Facebook’s policy prohibits them from commenting on the Stassen family’s case or any other specific cases, the spokesperson said.
“I think Facebook has to understand that when they push sharing of data, open sharing of data, they also have an obligation not only to be fair with the account owner during their lifetime, they have an obligation to be fair with the account owner after they’ve died,” Jay Stassen said.
How you can protect your digital assets
The growing murkiness over digital assets recently prompted the federal government to post a blog encouraging people to create social media wills.
And Professor Cahn said that people should discuss their online accounts with their loved ones and have a frank conversation about what they want to remain online, what they want to be deleted and what they want their loved ones to have access to.
“We’re in an era of uncertainty,” Cahn said.  “You can certainly tell your loved ones what you want to have happen.  What you have online that’s not private, you can set up a joint account.”
Cahn said couples should consider joint online bank accounts, for example.  In addition, she said, people can include digital assets in their wills, but warns that wills eventually become public documents and that if you list passwords on the will, those will become accessible to the public.
A series of companies have also sprouted up, such as Entrustet and Legacy Locker, that allow you to come up with a plan for the life of your online accounts after you’re gone, Cahn said.
“As a society, we value the privacy of our online account and we want internet service providers to protect our privacy and that means not giving others access.  If we thought about it, we might think differently after we die,” Cahn said.

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will

A Measure of Change

The Shadow War
This is the third article in a series assessing President Obama’s record.

May 29, 2012

WASHINGTON — This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.
President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. It was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day, a reminder that a successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms, often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.
“How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”
It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation. 

A Measure of Change

The Shadow War
This is the third article in a series assessing President Obama’s record.
President Obama inherited the drone program but drastically increased the number of strikes. In late 2009, as plots increasingly emanated from Yemen, the president began a broader aerial campaign there.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”
Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.
In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.
They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”
His first term has seen private warnings from top officials about a “Whac-A-Mole” approach to counterterrorism; the invention of a new category of aerial attack following complaints of careless targeting; and presidential acquiescence in a formula for counting civilian deaths that some officials think is skewed to produce low numbers.
The administration’s failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy. And Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said.
Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.
But the strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda — just since April, there have been 14 in Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan — have also tested both men’s commitment to the principles they have repeatedly said are necessary to defeat the enemy in the long term. Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”
Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.
Mr. Blair’s criticism, dismissed by White House officials as personal pique, nonetheless resonates inside the government.
William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, said the president and his advisers understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, from ever lower on the Qaeda totem pole. What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough.
“One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. Daley said, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”
‘Maintain My Options’
A phalanx of retired generals and admirals stood behind Mr. Obama on the second day of his presidency, providing martial cover as he signed several executive orders to make good on campaign pledges. Brutal interrogation techniques were banned, he declared. And the prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.
What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.
It was a pattern that would be seen repeatedly, from his response to Republican complaints that he wanted to read terrorists their rights, to his acceptance of the C.I.A.’s method for counting civilian casualties in drone strikes.
The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.
“The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.
Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of “detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term, transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.
“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.
Even before he was sworn in, Mr. Obama’s advisers had warned him against taking a categorical position on what would be done with Guantánamo detainees. The deft insertion of some wiggle words in the president’s order showed that the advice was followed.
Some detainees would be transferred to prisons in other countries, or released, it said. Some would be prosecuted — if “feasible” — in criminal courts. Military commissions, which Mr. Obama had criticized, were not mentioned — and thus not ruled out.
As for those who could not be transferred or tried but were judged too dangerous for release? Their “disposition” would be handled by “lawful means, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.”
A few sharp-eyed observers inside and outside the government understood what the public did not. Without showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.
But a year later, with Congress trying to force him to try all terrorism suspects using revamped military commissions, he deployed his legal skills differently — to preserve trials in civilian courts.
It was shortly after Dec. 25, 2009, following a close call in which a Qaeda-trained operative named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had boarded a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb sewn into his underwear.
Mr. Obama was taking a drubbing from Republicans over the government’s decision to read the suspect his rights, a prerequisite for bringing criminal charges against him in civilian court.
The president “seems to think that if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war,” former Vice President Dick Cheney charged.
Sensing vulnerability on both a practical and political level, the president summoned his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., to the White House.
F.B.I. agents had questioned Mr. Abdulmutallab for 50 minutes and gained valuable intelligence before giving him the warning. They had relied on a 1984 case called New York v. Quarles, in which the Supreme Court ruled that statements made by a suspect in response to urgent public safety questions — the case involved the location of a gun — could be introduced into evidence even if the suspect had not been advised of the right to remain silent.
Mr. Obama, who Mr. Holder said misses the legal profession, got into a colloquy with the attorney general. How far, he asked, could Quarles be stretched? Mr. Holder felt that in terrorism cases, the court would allow indefinite questioning on a fairly broad range of subjects.
Satisfied with the edgy new interpretation, Mr. Obama gave his blessing, Mr. Holder recalled.
“Barack Obama believes in options: ‘Maintain my options,’ “ said Jeh C. Johnson, a campaign adviser and now general counsel of the Defense Department.
‘They Must All Be Militants’
That same mind-set would be brought to bear as the president intensified what would become a withering campaign to use unmanned aircraft to kill Qaeda terrorists.
Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser recounted.
In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.
The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.
It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.
“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
‘A No-Brainer’
About four months into his presidency, as Republicans accused him of reckless naïveté on terrorism, Mr. Obama quickly pulled together a speech defending his policies. Standing before the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington, he mentioned Guantánamo 28 times, repeating his campaign pledge to close the prison.
But it was too late, and his defensive tone suggested that Mr. Obama knew it. Though President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate, had supported closing the Guantánamo prison, Republicans in Congress had reversed course and discovered they could use the issue to portray Mr. Obama as soft on terrorism.
Walking out of the Archives, the president turned to his national security adviser at the time, Gen. James L. Jones, and admitted that he had never devised a plan to persuade Congress to shut down the prison.
“We’re never going to make that mistake again,” Mr. Obama told the retired Marine general.
General Jones said the president and his aides had assumed that closing the prison was “a no-brainer — the United States will look good around the world.” The trouble was, he added, “nobody asked, ‘O.K., let’s assume it’s a good idea, how are you going to do this?’ “
It was not only Mr. Obama’s distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting, but also part of a deeper pattern, said an administration official who has watched him closely: the president seemed to have “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen.”
In fact, both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the attorney general, Mr. Holder, had warned that the plan to close the Guantánamo prison was in peril, and they volunteered to fight for it on Capitol Hill, according to officials. But with Mr. Obama’s backing, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, blocked them, saying health care reform had to go first.
When the administration floated a plan to transfer from Guantánamo to Northern Virginia two Uighurs, members of a largely Muslim ethnic minority from China who are considered no threat to the United States, Virginia Republicans led by Representative Frank R. Wolf denounced the idea. The administration backed down.
That show of weakness doomed the effort to close Guantánamo, the same administration official said. “Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the guy,” he said. “That’s not what happened. It’s like a boxing match where a cut opens over a guy’s eye.”
The Use of Force
It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.
This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.
The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.
“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges. “If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.
The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.
“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”
But the control he exercises also appears to reflect Mr. Obama’s striking self-confidence: he believes, according to several people who have worked closely with him, that his own judgment should be brought to bear on strikes.
Asked what surprised him most about Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon, the national security adviser, answered immediately: “He’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.”
In fact, in a 2007 campaign speech in which he vowed to pull the United States out of Iraq and refocus on Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama had trumpeted his plan to go after terrorist bases in Pakistan — even if Pakistani leaders objected. His rivals at the time, including Mitt Romney, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mrs. Clinton, had all pounced on what they considered a greenhorn’s campaign bluster. (Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had become “Dr. Strangelove.”)
In office, however, Mr. Obama has done exactly what he had promised, coming quickly to rely on the judgment of Mr. Brennan.
Mr. Brennan, a son of Irish immigrants, is a grizzled 25-year veteran of the C.I.A. whose work as a top agency official during the brutal interrogations of the Bush administration made him a target of fierce criticism from the left. He had been forced, under fire, to withdraw his name from consideration to lead the C.I.A. under Mr. Obama, becoming counterterrorism chief instead.
Some critics of the drone strategy still vilify Mr. Brennan, suggesting that he is the C.I.A.’s agent in the White House, steering Mr. Obama to a targeted killing strategy. But in office, Mr. Brennan has surprised many former detractors by speaking forcefully for closing Guantánamo and respecting civil liberties.
Harold H. Koh, for instance, as dean of Yale Law School was a leading liberal critic of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. But since becoming the State Department’s top lawyer, Mr. Koh said, he has found in Mr. Brennan a principled ally.
“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”
The president values Mr. Brennan’s experience in assessing intelligence, from his own agency or others, and for the sobriety with which he approaches lethal operations, other aides say.
“The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things.”
Yet the administration’s very success at killing terrorism suspects has been shadowed by a suspicion: that Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been taken into American custody, and the president has balked at adding new prisoners to Guantánamo.
“Their policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value targets,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the intelligence committee. “They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing.”
Mr. Obama’s aides deny such a policy, arguing that capture is often impossible in the rugged tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen and that many terrorist suspects are in foreign prisons because of American tips. Still, senior officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon acknowledge that they worry about the public perception.
“We have to be vigilant to avoid a no-quarter, or take-no-prisoners policy,” said Mr. Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief lawyer.
The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets, and their reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency to reject what he called the Bush administration’s “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”
But he has found that war is a messy business, and his actions show that pursuing an enemy unbound by rules has required moral, legal and practical trade-offs that his speeches did not envision.
One early test involved Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The case was problematic on two fronts, according to interviews with both administration and Pakistani sources.
The C.I.A. worried that Mr. Mehsud, whose group then mainly targeted the Pakistan government, did not meet the Obama administration’s criteria for targeted killing: he was not an imminent threat to the United States. But Pakistani officials wanted him dead, and the American drone program rested on their tacit approval. The issue was resolved after the president and his advisers found that he represented a threat, if not to the homeland, to American personnel in Pakistan.
Then, in August 2009, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, told Mr. Brennan that the agency had Mr. Mehsud in its sights. But taking out the Pakistani Taliban leader, Mr. Panetta warned, did not meet Mr. Obama’s standard of “near certainty” of no innocents being killed. In fact, a strike would certainly result in such deaths: he was with his wife at his in-laws’ home.
“Many times,” General Jones said, in similar circumstances, “at the 11th hour we waved off a mission simply because the target had people around them and we were able to loiter on station until they didn’t.”
But not this time. Mr. Obama, through Mr. Brennan, told the C.I.A. to take the shot, and Mr. Mehsud was killed, along with his wife and, by some reports, other family members as well, said a senior intelligence official.
The attempted bombing of an airliner a few months later, on Dec. 25, stiffened the president’s resolve, aides say. It was the culmination of a series of plots, including the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex. by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam.
Mr. Obama is a good poker player, but he has a tell when he is angry. His questions become rapid-fire, said his attorney general, Mr. Holder. “He’ll inject the phrase, ‘I just want to make sure you understand that.’ “ And it was clear to everyone, Mr. Holder said, that he was simmering about how a 23-year-old bomber had penetrated billions of dollars worth of American security measures.
When a few officials tentatively offered a defense, noting that the attack had failed because the terrorists were forced to rely on a novice bomber and an untested formula because of stepped-up airport security, Mr. Obama cut them short.
“Well, he could have gotten it right and we’d all be sitting here with an airplane that blew up and killed over a hundred people,” he said, according to a participant. He asked them to use the close call to imagine in detail the consequences if the bomb had detonated. In characteristic fashion, he went around the room, asking each official to explain what had gone wrong and what needed to be done about it.
“After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States,” said Michael E. Leiter, then director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Even John Brennan, someone who was already a hardened veteran of counterterrorism, tightened the straps on his rucksack after that.”
David Axelrod, the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and achievements.
In the most dramatic possible way, the Fort Hood shootings in November and the attempted Christmas Day bombing had shown the new danger from Yemen. Mr. Obama, who had rejected the Bush-era concept of a global war on terrorism and had promised to narrow the American focus to Al Qaeda’s core, suddenly found himself directing strikes in another complicated Muslim country.
The very first strike under his watch in Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, offered a stark example of the difficulties of operating in what General Jones described as an “embryonic theater that we weren’t really familiar with.”
It killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents. It was hardly the kind of precise operation that Mr. Obama favored. Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.
The sloppy strike shook Mr. Obama and Mr. Brennan, officials said, and once again they tried to impose some discipline.
In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.
But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the C.I.A. for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.
Now, in the wake of the bad first strike in Yemen, Mr. Obama overruled military and intelligence commanders who were pushing to use signature strikes there as well.
“We are not going to war with Yemen,” he admonished in one meeting, according to participants.
His guidance was formalized in a memo by General Jones, who called it a “governor, if you will, on the throttle,” intended to remind everyone that “one should not assume that it’s just O.K. to do these things because we spot a bad guy somewhere in the world.”
Mr. Obama had drawn a line. But within two years, he stepped across it. Signature strikes in Pakistan were killing a large number of terrorist suspects, even when C.I.A. analysts were not certain beforehand of their presence. And in Yemen, roiled by the Arab Spring unrest, the Qaeda affiliate was seizing territory.
Today, the Defense Department can target suspects in Yemen whose names they do not know. Officials say the criteria are tighter than those for signature strikes, requiring evidence of a threat to the United States, and they have even given them a new name — TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes. But the details are a closely guarded secret — part of a pattern for a president who came into office promising transparency.
The Ultimate Test
On that front, perhaps no case would test Mr. Obama’s principles as starkly as that of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and Qaeda propagandist hiding in Yemen, who had recently risen to prominence and had taunted the president by name in some of his online screeds.
The president “was very interested in obviously trying to understand how a guy like Awlaki developed,” said General Jones. The cleric’s fiery sermons had helped inspire a dozen plots, including the shootings at Fort Hood. Then he had gone “operational,” plotting with Mr. Abdul-mutallab and coaching him to ignite his explosives only after the airliner was over the United States.
That record, and Mr. Awlaki’s calls for more attacks, presented Mr. Obama with an urgent question: Could he order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.
Mr. Obama gave his approval, and Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011, along with a fellow propagandist, Samir Khan, an American citizen who was not on the target list but was traveling with him.
If the president had qualms about this momentous step, aides said he did not share them. Mr. Obama focused instead on the weight of the evidence showing that the cleric had joined the enemy and was plotting more terrorist attacks.
“This is an easy one,” Mr. Daley recalled him saying, though the president warned that in future cases, the evidence might well not be so clear.
In the wake of Mr. Awlaki’s death, some administration officials, including the attorney general, argued that the Justice Department’s legal memo should be made public. In 2009, after all, Mr. Obama had released Bush administration legal opinions on interrogation over the vociferous objections of six former C.I.A. directors.
This time, contemplating his own secrets, he chose to keep the Awlaki opinion secret.
“Once it’s your pop stand, you look at things a little differently,” said Mr. Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s former general counsel.
Mr. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director and now an adviser to Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mr. Romney, commended the president’s aggressive counterterrorism record, which he said had a “Nixon to China” quality. But, he said, “secrecy has its costs” and Mr. Obama should open the strike strategy up to public scrutiny.
“This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable,” Mr. Hayden said. “I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C. memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.”
Tactics Over Strategy
In his June 2009 speech in Cairo, aimed at resetting relations with the Muslim world, Mr. Obama had spoken eloquently of his childhood years in Indonesia, hearing the call to prayer “at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.”
“The United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” he declared.
But in the months that followed, some officials felt the urgency of counterterrorism strikes was crowding out consideration of a broader strategy against radicalization. Though Mrs. Clinton strongly supported the strikes, she complained to colleagues about the drones-only approach at Situation Room meetings, in which discussion would focus exclusively on the pros, cons and timing of particular strikes.
At their weekly lunch, Mrs. Clinton told the president she thought there should be more attention paid to the root causes of radicalization, and Mr. Obama agreed. But it was September 2011 before he issued an executive order setting up a sophisticated, interagency war room at the State Department to counter the jihadi narrative on an hour-by-hour basis, posting messages and video online and providing talking points to embassies.
Mr. Obama was heartened, aides say, by a letter discovered in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. It complained that the American president had undermined Al Qaeda’s support by repeatedly declaring that the United States was at war not with Islam, but with the terrorist network. “We must be doing a good job,” Mr. Obama told his secretary of state.
Moreover, Mr. Obama’s record has not drawn anything like the sweeping criticism from allies that his predecessor faced. John B. Bellinger III, a top national security lawyer under the Bush administration, said that was because Mr. Obama’s liberal reputation and “softer packaging” have protected him. “After the global outrage over Guantánamo, it’s remarkable that the rest of the world has looked the other way while the Obama administration has conducted hundreds of drone strikes in several different countries, including killing at least some civilians,” said Mr. Bellinger, who supports the strikes.
By withdrawing from Iraq and preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, Mr. Obama has refocused the fight on Al Qaeda and hugely reduced the death toll both of American soldiers and Muslim civilians. But in moments of reflection, Mr. Obama may have reason to wonder about unfinished business and unintended consequences.
His focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.
Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.
Mr. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, said the strike campaign was dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”
But Mr. Blair’s dissent puts him in a small minority of security experts. Mr. Obama’s record has eroded the political perception that Democrats are weak on national security. No one would have imagined four years ago that his counterterrorism policies would come under far more fierce attack from the American Civil Liberties Union than from Mr. Romney.
Aides say that Mr. Obama’s choices, though, are not surprising. The president’s reliance on strikes, said Mr. Leiter, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “is far from a lurid fascination with covert action and special forces. It’s much more practical. He’s the president. He faces a post-Abdulmutallab situation, where he’s being told people might attack the United States tomorrow.”
“You can pass a lot of laws,” Mr. Leiter said, “Those laws are not going to get Bin Laden dead.”

Reince Priebus: Obama's Attacks Are An Excuse for His Poor Record

June 4, 2012
Reince Priebus was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee.
President Obama has absolutely no record to run on, so he and his political advisers have resorted to running a shockingly divisive, negative campaign entirely devoid of substance.
The candidate of "hope and change" has become the president of hype and blame. He has no positive rationale for his candidacy—only a long list of excuses and attacks.
President Obama refuses to take responsibility for the effects of his misguided policies. Instead, he and his allies cast blame elsewhere, attempt to rewrite history, or attack and distort former Gov. Mitt Romney's record. These tactics are hardly what voters expected from the president who ran as a uniter just four years ago.
As last week's jobs report made painfully clear, our economy is stagnating and weak. Americans are struggling to find work, and millions of families can barely make ends meet. Does President Obama hold himself accountable, like he promised to when he took office? No, he blames everything from ATMs and earthquakes to airport kiosks and "bad luck." Seriously.
Among President Obama's many broken promises is his 2009 vow to "cut the deficit in half" by the end of his term. Instead of admitting his failure, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has on at least two occasions cited a dubious column to claim President Obama has shown fiscal responsibility—and attacked those who claim otherwise. The Washington Post fact-checked him and sternly refuted his claim. After all, a president that racks up over $5 trillion in debt could never be called fiscally responsible.
But the worst are President Obama's attacks on free enterprise. In attempting to distort Governor Romney's record in the private sector—a record former President Clinton called "sterling"—the president has actually attacked free market principles. Not only does this underscore the lengths President Obama will go to in order to win re-election, but it also explains why the economy is in such bad shape: He does not understand how the private sector works.
Republicans are committed to running a campaign based on facts, records, and policies for job creation. President Obama is running on division, hoping to pit Americans against each other in a desperate attempt to win at all costs.
It's not going to work. Voters can see right through the distractions to the disappointing record that defines the Obama presidency.
Americans deserve better. They deserve a president that knows how to lead and will stand by his record. That leader is Mitt Romney.

Obama’s Unacknowledged Debt to Bowles-Simpson Plan
Obama’s Unacknowledged Debt to Bowles-Simpson Plan
President Obama was aloof to the proposals of a panel he created, but later adopted many of them in a modified form, a sign of his larger struggle with the politics of deficit reduction.
February 27, 2012
Shift on Executive Powers Let Obama Bypass Congress
Shift on Executive Powers Let Obama Bypass Congress
With Congressional Republicans blocking his agenda, the president has been using executive powers to enact measures: on the environment, education, drug shortages and making recess appointments.
April 23, 2012


June 3, 2012, 6:50 am
Update below
Remember all the talk a few years back about how we wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of 1937, when FDR pulled back too soon on support for the economy? Here, from FRED, is the rate of change of real government spending per capita (federal, state, and local):

Gosh, I wonder why the economy is under performing?
Update: Actually, a bit of a longer perspective may be useful. Here’s the same number calculated directly from FRED, using rates of growth: Government current expenditures – GDP deflator (the right measure of inflation) – Growth in civilian noninstitutional population; I’ve left out the immediate post -WWII years because they would spread the scale so much that recent stuff becomes invisible:

So we haven’t seen spending cuts like this since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.

This Republican Economy

What should be done about the economy? Republicans claim to have the answer: slash spending and cut taxes. What they hope voters won’t notice is that that’s precisely the policy we’ve been following the past couple of years. Never mind the Democrat in the White House; for all practical purposes, this is already the economic policy of Republican dreams.
So the Republican electoral strategy is, in effect, a gigantic con game: it depends on convincing voters that the bad economy is the result of big-spending policies that President Obama hasn’t followed (in large part because the G.O.P. wouldn’t let him), and that our woes can be cured by pursuing more of the same policies that have already failed.
For some reason, however, neither the press nor Mr. Obama’s political team has done a very good job of exposing the con.
What do I mean by saying that this is already a Republican economy? Look first at total government spending — federal, state and local. Adjusted for population growth and inflation, such spending has recently been falling at a rate not seen since the demobilization that followed the Korean War.
How is that possible? Isn’t Mr. Obama a big spender? Actually, no; there was a brief burst of spending in late 2009 and early 2010 as the stimulus kicked in, but that boost is long behind us. Since then it has been all downhill. Cash-strapped state and local governments have laid off teachers, firefighters and police officers; meanwhile, unemployment benefits have been trailing off even though unemployment remains extremely high.
Over all, the picture for America in 2012 bears a stunning resemblance to the great mistake of 1937, when F.D.R. prematurely slashed spending, sending the U.S. economy — which had actually been recovering fairly fast until that point — into the second leg of the Great Depression. In F.D.R.’s case, however, this was an unforced error, since he had a solidly Democratic Congress. In President Obama’s case, much though not all of the responsibility for the policy wrong turn lies with a completely obstructionist Republican majority in the House.
That same obstructionist House majority effectively blackmailed the president into continuing all the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, so that federal taxes as a share of G.D.P. are near historic lows — much lower, in particular, than at any point during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
As I said, for all practical purposes this is already a Republican economy.
As an aside, I think it’s worth pointing out that although the economy’s performance has been disappointing, to say the least, none of the disasters Republicans predicted have come to pass. Remember all those assertions that budget deficits would lead to soaring interest rates? Well, U.S. borrowing costs have just hit a record low. And remember those dire warnings about inflation and the “debasement” of the dollar? Well, inflation remains low, and the dollar has been stronger than it was in the Bush years.
Put it this way: Republicans have been warning that we were about to turn into Greece because President Obama was doing too much to boost the economy; Keynesian economists like myself warned that we were, on the contrary, at risk of turning into Japan because he was doing too little. And Japanification it is, except with a level of misery the Japanese never had to endure.
So why don’t voters know any of this?
Part of the answer is that far too much economic reporting is still of the he-said, she-said variety, with dueling quotes from hired guns on either side. But it’s also true that the Obama team has consistently failed to highlight Republican obstruction, perhaps out of a fear of seeming weak. Instead, the president’s advisers keep turning to happy talk, seizing on a few months’ good economic news as proof that their policies are working — and then ending up looking foolish when the numbers turn down again. Remarkably, they’ve made this mistake three times in a row: in 2010, 2011 and now once again.
At this point, however, Mr. Obama and his political team don’t seem to have much choice. They can point with pride to some big economic achievements, above all the successful rescue of the auto industry, which is responsible for a large part of whatever job growth we are managing to get. But they’re not going to be able to sell a narrative of overall economic success. Their best bet, surely, is to do a Harry Truman, to run against the “do-nothing” Republican Congress that has, in reality, blocked proposals — for tax cuts as well as more spending — that would have made 2012 a much better year than it’s turning out to be.
For that, in the end, is the best argument against Republicans’ claims that they can fix the economy. The fact is that we have already seen the Republican economic future — and it doesn’t work.