Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Clinton and Obama are far from identical when it comes to Iraq and National Security

Dr. Stephen Zunes of Foreign Policy in Focus fame, has written two must-read editorials on the very real, and very important differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, especially with regards to the continuing Iraq mess. Zunes argues, and I agree, that Obama's track record has so been far superior to Clinton's, and that he has also assembled a better foreign policy team.

Zunes correctly states in the first graph of the first article, (quoting directly from Chomsky): "There are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people."

As far as the differences in their Iraq track records and choices of foreign policy advisors on their respective teams are concerned, Zunes notes:
Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.

Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.

Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.

As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Obama and Clinton promises on NAFTA hard to fulfill"

This analysis by Reuters is, unfortunately, correct. Obama and Clinton can talk all they want on the campaign trail about the need to reform or renegotiate NAFTA and other "free" trade deals, but the bottom line is that neither of them have a track record that would indicate they have either the will or ability to strike at the heart of Neoliberal economic policy. Clinton, of course, was First Lady when her husband Bill pushed through NAFTA on a bipartisan basis and Obama relies on the economic support of heavy hitter donors from Wall Street hedge funds and investment banks.

So while I wholeheartedly disagree with the claims made by the Cato Institute in this piece about NAFTA and other free trade deal like Cafta being a resounding economic success for the US, I do agree with the statement made by its spokesperson that any meaningful changes are essentially a political non-starter.

Chicago Tribune report: Inside the world of war profiteers

>In most cases, I would normally call this> an absolutely breathtaking expose by the Chicago Tribune on Iraqi war profiteering by subcontractors, but in the case of this report, mere adjectives fail to connote the significance of the scope of crimes committed.

According to the Trib: "Hundreds of pages of recently unsealed court records detail how kickbacks shaped the war's largest troop support contract months before the first wave of U.S. soldiers plunged their boots into Iraqi sand. The graft continued well beyond the 2004 congressional hearings that first called attention to it. And the massive fraud endangered the health of American soldiers even as it lined contractors' pockets, records show."

But the key graph is definately: "A common thread runs through these cases and other KBR scandals in Iraq, from allegations the firm failed to protect employees sexually assaulted by co-workers to findings that it charged $45 per can of soda: The Pentagon has outsourced crucial troop support jobs while slashing the number of government contract watchdogs."

There are simply too many damning allegations included in here about Cheney's former employee Halliburton and its former-subsidiary KBR to bother excerpting. Seriously, just read this whole article and tell me that the privatization of the War on Terror is really a great idea. I predict this story will someday soon be a major motion picture.

McCain grossly underestimates cost of Iraq occupation

Joe Conason complains that John McCain isn't practicing his fabled straight-talk when it comes to the like total financial costs of the Iraq War. He is, of course, right to complain, as I think most politicians, pundits and other so-called experts on this war often seem to have no idea or concern for how much this terrible decision will end up costing. Many seem content with simply stating it remains a "mystery".

He bases his criticism, in part, on the argument that the real financial costs will total in the trillions of Dollars, citing a new book by Nobel Prize-Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz. In his new book, Professor Stiglitz argues that "The cost of direct US military operations - not even including long-term costs such as taking care of wounded veterans - already exceeds the cost of the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War."*

Conason also points out that the manner in which this war is continually being financed, namely via deficit spending while cutting taxes, is almost as significant a problem as the price tag itelf, as monstrous a debt that it represents. The fact that the US is borrowing money from China and other foreign nations to continue the war in Iraq is just one issue most experts don't like to mention.

Update: Also, be sure to check out this article by William Hartung in Asia Times Online; he provides some much-needed cotextual analysis.

The price tag continues to rise, and payment will eventually come due.

*I hope to finish The Trillion Dollar War by the end of March-early April and have a book review completed soon after.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What does it really mean to be "pro-Israel"?

Over at The American Prospect a few weeks ago, Gershom Gorenberg raised an important issue: How should American voters decide which presidential candidates are "pro-Israel", as opposed to "bad for Israel". In particular, what does it mean from a foreign policy perspective to evaluate how "supportive" a decision-maker would likely be for the state of Israel?

As an American liberal/progressive who is strongly supportive of Israel and her right of her citizens to live in peace and security with her neighbors, this is an issue that is naturally quite close to my heart. Especially because it seems completely ridiculous to equate carte-blanche approval of any decision made by the Israeli government to act for what they claim is in their best interests with constructive "support." Just as I love America, but frequently object to the actions made by a particular administration, so too am I not a completely uncritical supporter of the Olmert, Sharon or any other Israeli PM.

Here is a fairly long excerpt from Goremberg's article:
I suggest that it's time to talk about what "pro-Israel" should mean. Not because the discussion will change campaign rhetoric: The candidates will stick to cliches. But after the election, one will have to govern. Members of Congress will need to decide how to vote on the usual strident resolutions backed by AIPAC. Debate now on what it means to support Israel might mean that a year from now, elected leaders will be able to refer to publicly recognized ideas to justify acting more sensibly.

Start here: Being pro-Israel does not require backing the most bellicose possible Israeli position, anymore than being "pro-American" requires backing the war in Iraq. To be "pro" means to support, to want a country to survive and flourish. Supporting an ill-considered war (Iraq, Lebanon) is like encouraging a friend to leap into a barroom brawl: a poor form of friendship.

To be pro-Israel certainly doesn't mean basing foreign policy on the alleged conflict of civilizations; the whole West locked in combat with the Islamic world. The perception that the United States is at war with Islam leaves Israel dangerously exposed on the front lines. It is in Israel's interest to get along at least tolerably with as many of its Muslim neighbors as possible.

A pro-Israel policy does not mean refusal to talk to Iran. An Iranian bomb is certainly a serious danger to Israel. Refusing to negotiate with Teheran means giving up in advance on possible ways to reduce the threat. There are hard-nosed strategic analysts in Israel who advocate a diplomatic quid pro quo: U.S. acceptance of the Iranian regime in return for an end to uranium enrichment and support for terror groups. If America resorts to military means, it will further destabilize the Middle East, doubling the damage caused by the war in Iraq.

Being pro-Israel certainly doesn't mean standing in the way of peace negotiations with Syria, as the Bush administration has consistently done. Negotiations might not succeed. If they do, they will probably produce a cold peace-- which is much better than the current reality of cold war, in which Damascus uses Hamas and Hezbollah as proxies to bleed Israel. (If one reads Obama's statement to AIPAC very closely, he said that, "No Israel prime minister should ever feel dragged to or blocked from the negotiating table by the United States." I'd like to believe the "or blocked from" is a hint at ending the veto on peace talks with Syria.)

Most critically, support for Israel does not mean support for West Bank settlement, for the Whole Land of Israel, for endless occupation. The sane, mainstream Zionist vision was and is of a democratic state with a Jewish majority, with full rights for all citizens, a country living at peace with its neighbors. (That's what the country's declaration of independence says.) Rule over the disenfranchised Palestinians of the West Bank undermines democracy. Every additional settler makes withdrawal more difficult.

But I think where Goremberg really hits a home run in his analysis is when he expresses this sentiment, which I agree with 100%:
Israel's most basic strategic interest is a peace agreement and a withdrawal. Avoiding a situation in which the only way out is a one-state solution is also a U.S. interest. Right now, Israel is the one country in the Mideast that can be depended on to stay pro-American. This would not be true of a single state with an inevitable Palestinian majority and a built-in communal conflict. Acting much more energetically to reach a two-state agreement is therefore both pro-Israel and an expression of U.S. self-interest.

A viable two-state solution is in Israel's best interest in terms of security and its international standings in general. Many self-described American Zionists who would normally vote for a Democratic candidate because he or he is fairly liberal on most issues will often times at least consider pulling the lever for a Republican candidate every four years under the mistaken belief that somehow Republican administrations have been more "supportive" of the Jewish State, based mostly on the bellicose rhetoric they typically employ to the public when discussing the Israel-Palestine issue.

But I would argue that pushing for a hard-line position from Israel, for example Bush's backing for Israel's war against Hezbollah in South Lebanon in 2006, i actually counter-productive, whereas pushing for concilliation and working toward a viable two-state solution is really in both America's and Israel's best interest in the long run.

I would also note that George W. Bush, who I think is generally believed by American Zionists to have been better for Israel than Bill Clinton was (or a John Kerry presidency would have been) was the first US president to call for a two-state solution for the I-P conflict. The fact that he has expended absolutely none of his political capital to make this goal a reality is, of course, a different issue.

Update: Based on his recent speech about Israel, I would argue that Barack Obama is in fact the most pro-Israel of all of the presidential candidates.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Do bad wars hurt economic confidence?

The answer is no. But then again, neither does the pessimistic media.

Paul Krugman makes several important points here. First off, having spent a few years analyzing business cycles at an economic research firm, I can tell you that the economy is driven mainly by other exogenous factors besides public perception. The real estate market throughout most of the country is soft. There is a unresolved credit crisis that has evolved far beyond the subprime mortgage mess. Unemployment is up and job creation is expected to be soft in 2008. These are real macroeconomic phenomena.

The second point is the transparent hypocrisy of conservatives like Rove blaming a vulnerable economy somehow on the "liberal media", as if conservatives didn't blame Clinton for the recession and bubble bursting the year he left office. Is the "liberal media" also responsible for the historically weak dollar? One wonders. . .

A third point: As Krugman shows, the "bad" war known as Vietnam created very different economic conditions on the homefront that this comparatively short occupation of Iraq has.

The bottom line: Things as complicated, and difficult to control, as the US economy are beyond the purview of the President, the Fed, Secretary of Treasury, consumer confidence, etc. And this is most certainly true with the media. If corporate profits are up and payrolls are expanding, no amount of negative drum-beating from CNN or the New York Times is going to soften these employment prospects.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Analysis: "Cul de Sac: 9/11 and the Paradox of American Power"

I highly recommend perusing the latest policy briefing authored by Carl Conetta, the Co-Director of the Project for Defense Alternatives, here. Full of insight into the sea-change that has occurred in US military policy vis-a-vis its allies in Europe and its enemies after the geopolitical re-alignments that transpired in the wake of both World War II and the Cold War (i.e.: from Nazism and Fascism, on to Communism and presently so-called rogue/failed states such as Afghanistan and Iraq.)

It's sort of like reading any of Noam Chomsky's recent books - particularly Hegemony or Survival - with the exception that it's only 12 pages long and I think written in language so that an international relations layman such as myself can understand the contours of the arguments being made. I highly recommend spending the 15-20 minutes or so it took me to read the monograph in its entirety, and I have gone ahead and taken the liberty of pasting a few paragraphs, which I think represent the most salient arguments:
The outcome of America’s post-9/11 surge in military spending and activity is a testament to the limits on the utility of war and other coercive means. Unintended, unanticipated, and chaotic consequences have predominated. The principal missions – operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom – have run aground, spreading not democracy but instability throughout several regions. America’s military campaigning has seriously weakened its standing in the world, pushed Muslim populations toward Islamist politics, and helped energize and unify the most radical Islamist elements. While unsettling America’s alliances, this activism has accelerated “balancing behavior” on the part of potential “big power” competitors [. . .]

A key indicator of the success of current policy is progress in counter-terrorism efforts. On a global scale, terrorist activity and violence has grown worse, not better since 11 September 2001. Average levels of terrorist violence that would have been considered extreme in the period prior to 9/11 have become the norm in the years since. And there is no sign that this trend
is abating [. . .]

During the 1990s and since, every US military involvement and initiative has entailed significant contention between the United States and key European allies. In this, Robert Kagan has seen a parting of ways between the United States and its long-time allies in “Old Europe.” He detects a difference “on the all-important question of power - the utility of power, the morality
of power...” [8] The power at issue is military, specifically. And its use (or the threat of using it) is what most divides us from those we propose to lead. But the dispute is not purely a philosophical one. It is grounded in different assessments of the risks and putative gains that attach to war and its alternatives.

What the “new imperialists” prescribe is not an explicitly exploitative or extractive enterprise. Rather they see US hegemony as the best or only guarantor of a relatively peaceful global system and the most reliable agent for the stable advance of market democracy. According to [Head of the Council of foreign Relations Richard] Haass, the effort would entail America enacting “a foreign policy that attempts to organize the world along certain principles affecting relations between states and conditions within them” – a new rule set. [. . .]

In light of America’s misadventure in Iraq – its great costs and poor results – it seems unlikely that the US public will be easily won to attempt similar experiments on a grander scale. Not even the “war on terrorism” or the notion of a “global Islamic insurgency” seem sufficient motivators. Certainly, our allies are less ready today, not more, to follow the United States down
an imperial path, liberal or otherwise. Thus, even should the prospect capture the US public’s imagination, it would further erode American influence abroad, adding to cost and friction. The fact that the imperial option should gain a respectful hearing at this late date in human history is the best indicator that American policy has worked itself into a maddening cul de sac. [. . .]

As anyone who has driven into one knows, the way out [of a cul de sac] is to reverse course. In terms of policy, this may mean trying something less ambitious than what we have attempted recently – and of an entirely different sort.

Conetta is arguing that regardless of the actual motives of US foreign policy architects, whether they envision America as being a "necessary" hyper-power that serves a necessary role on the world stage as a benevolent yet unipolar hegemon, or rather acts merely as a "facilitator for other aligned powerful nations to act in concert to protect their own military and economic interests, such posturing is both unsustainable and putting Americans at an increased risk from the disastrous consequences of imperialism and empire-building.

It needs to be emphasized, despite the fact that most observers are quite aware of this reality, that the centrist leaderships of both major political parties in the US are actually much closer together in their views on foreign policy than the US is with our allies in the European Union. He drives hope this point by noting where Bill Clinton's interventionist foreign policy maneuvers sat on the ideological spectrum as compared with the Neoconservative American empire enthusiasts in the current Bush administration.

The Clinton administration's foreign relations rhetoric under Secretary of State Madeline Albright, for example, sat in sharp contrast compared Bush's messaging under Powell and Rice; but the reality of the situation remains that both administrations assumed similar core beliefs regarding the US's necessary role in organizing world affairs (and ensuring military and economic "stability" for itself and its allies) by preemptively overthrowing regimes that behave in such a way as to give the appearance of representing a threat. The fact that countries such as Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime did not represent an actual threat to the US or any of its regional neighbors/client states was apparently judged to be a relatively unimportant detail, as the fictitious casus belli of Hussein's supposed possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction was ably swept under the rug by both a compliant media and politicians alike.

Conetta is quite right, I believe, to warn the drivers of this country's foreign policy apparatus that its unipolar foreign policy orientation held for the last two decades is nothing but a dead end trap, leading to an imperialistic temptation and necessitating ever-increasing levels of insecurity, instability and resentment. However, his own analysis unfortunately points out that this is not just the province of Republicans, but of Democrats as well. His prescription for committing to an about face in US foreign policy orientation is quite persuasive, but there is no persuasive evidence that it isn't too late for the US to commit to making the necessary reforms.

The "War on Terror" is more similar, I would argue, to Washington's failed "War on Drugs" than the successfully prosecuted Cold War - and it is a conflict that is both unwinnable on purely military grounds and is creating the sad reality of drawing the US inexorably deeper into a tragic, deadly "long war" that will outlast several generations.

Friday, February 08, 2008

And the "War on Terror" means what, exactly?

This essay by Andrei Cherny in Democracy is one of the worst pieces of piddle I've read in a fair time. The piece start off promising enough, analyzing the ridiculous assumptions and agendas behind naming US military operations against Afghanistan, Iraq and several terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah as "The Global War on Terror."

Cherny notes that Obama and Hillary Clinton both agree we are currently engaged in a "War on Terror", whereas former Presidential candidate John Edwards disagreed, stating that GWOT formulation is nothing more than a "bumper sticker" slogan. I have to agree with Edwards here, as the "terror" noun of the phrase is easily morphed into anything the Chief Executive of this country wants it to mean at any given juncture.

Thus, Iraq features in the "War on Terror" because, well, Saddam Hussein is terrorizing the US with his hidden stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, etc. But why doesn't the GWOT then naturally carry over into military action in Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, for example? After all, these nations are run as dictatorships with atrocious human rights records and harshly limited freedoms - and the regimes secure relative stability by making outlandish concessions to the same "Islamofascists" (to borrow a phrase from Neocon Iraq war architect Norman Podhoretz) we agree are a direct threat to this country.

Were the hijackers on 9/11 from Iraq? Or Iran? Or Syria? No, they were comprised of suicidal jihadists from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two of the US's closest allies in the Middle East. The royal house of Saud ambiguously makes piecemeal efforts to reign in elements of the Jihadi opposition to their regime while at the same time they continue to fund Madrasas that train these radicals.

Cherny is right to note that WWI, WWII and the Cold War were equally ambiguously named. But in those conflicts, the American people understood who the enemies were, the threat they posed to the homeland and what constituted victory. By definition, these wars had limited, albeit extremely difficult, objectives such as defeating the Nazi regime in Germany, Totalitarianism in Japan, Fascism in Italy, the Communist threat in Vietnam or Cuba or anything else the foreign policy deciders said (whether propaganda or real).

But this GWOT is an unlimited war with a battleground consisting of the entire globe, with the sole criterion of whether someone is an enemy or not is if there is a small chance they could pose a threat to us in the future. (A second criterion might perhaps be whether the individual or state in question is Islamic, with a prominent exception made for major oil-producing allies like Saudi Arabia)

Cherny's argument that GWOT is indeed the proper terminology for this conflict, and that what is most important is to win the war of global public perception are equally misguided. The people of Europe, Asia and South America are not so easily fooled by slick PR campaigns, but rather are angry with the US for our human rights violation and military occupations of Third World nations.

America can forget about waging, let alone winning a protracted image award against our amorphous enemies. The real threat to our public standing is our schizophrenic foreign policy which labels countries and dictators as "imminent threats to be destroyed immediately" and "allies" depending on then fake Realpolitik of who the Administration chooses to do business with.

Update: Wired's Danger Room blog has an interesting dispatch on the "Strategic Communications" front of the GWOT. It notes that according to a new report issued by a "senior-level" Pentagon advisory panel, the US needs to figure out how better to communicate its victories in the GWOT.

But as blogger Sharon Weisberger correctly notes:
Some of the recommendations are interesting, such as the proposed creation of a RAND-like organization to study "strategic communication." But what is strange about this report (and perhaps the majority of reports I've seen on strategic communication) is that it discusses the issue as if convincing people to like the United States is a matter of simply crafting the right messages. While more effective strategic communication is a worthy goal, it's mystifying that there is little or no discussion in reports such as this about that actual implications of policy choices for how the rest of the world perceives the United States. (emphasis added)

On the Death of Bush's Ownership Society

Writing in The Nation, Naomi Klein offers a brief window into the history of the Ownership Society meme used first by Margaret Thatcher and the Tories in the UK and then by George W. Bush and Conservative Republicans here in the US. To put it simply, under the theory that most voters cast their votes based on their perceived best economic interests, and since in many wealthy countries the average citizen makes considerably less than the average income (since billionaires and millionaires skew the average much higher than the mean income) - some psychological chicanery was necessary on the part of politicians to convince working class voters to identify their interests with capital as opposed to labor. The ownership society, promising all workers a piece of the American dream via ownership of assets such a home, stock or a pension, neatly shifted workers' identification with labor rights toward the same concerns as their bosses or managers. Or, as Klein puts it more eloquently:
Well before the ownership society had a neat label, its creation was central to the success of the right-wing economic revolution around the world. The idea was simple: if working-class people owned a small piece of the market--a home mortgage, a stock portfolio, a private pension--they would cease to identify as workers and start to see themselves as owners, with the same interests as their bosses. That meant they could vote for politicians promising to improve stock performance rather than job conditions. Class consciousness would be a relic.

It was always tempting to dismiss the ownership society as an empty slogan--"hokum" as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich put it. But the ownership society was quite real. It was the answer to a roadblock long faced by politicians favoring policies to benefit the wealthy. The problem boiled down to this: people tend to vote their economic interests. Even in the wealthy United States, most people earn less than the average income. That means it is in the interest of the majority to vote for politicians promising to redistribute wealth from the top down.

Seen in this light, it is not such a surprise that Bush's plans for instituting an Ownership Society in the US as a legacy of his two terms in office died a quiet death - really before it was ever really implemented in the first place.

January shows signs of backslide in Iraq security gains

More interesting data about how ineffective the surge has been in lowering casualties of US soldiers, courtesy of a great article by Ex-TNR reporter Spencer Ackerman in the newWashington Independent. Analyzing data for the last few months, Ackerman writes in his article published last week:
Iraq security statistics over the past 13 weeks, obtained exclusively by The Washington Independent, tell the tale. In Baghdad, improvised-explosive device (IED) detonations explosions in Baghdad have ticked up slightly to 131 in January from 129 in December—and the last week of January is not included in these latest figures. Countrywide, there was an increase in IED explosions to 2,291 in December from 1,394 in November, followed by a dip to 1,270 in the first three weeks of January. But the week ending on January 25 saw seven suicide explosions Iraq-wide, the most since the week ending Dec. 21, 2007.

It is too early to conclude that the security gains of the surge are unwinding. But they’re being put under stress in a manner not seen since the so-called "Surge of Operations" began in mid-June. Some speculate that the insurgency, knocked on its heels by the changing tactics of U.S. forces in mid-2007, is beginning to adjust, a few months before the surge draws to a close. "I think there’s some credibility to that argument," said Brian Katulis, a national-security expert at the liberal Center for American Progress. "It all begs the question of what’s the grand endgame."

Colin Kahl, a counterinsurgency expert at the more hawkish Center for a New American Security, said something similar. "The violence came down for four reasons," Kahl said, "what we’re doing, the decision the Sunni combatants made to turn against al-Qaeda, Moqtada Sadr’s ceasefire and the prior ethnic cleansing of 2006 and early 2007. All those things could unwind. We’re unsurging. The talk is that for the next couple of months, if the Maliki government doesn’t do enough to appease the Sunni groups [that have turned against al-Qaeda] and incorporate them into the Iraqi security forces, they could go game-on again," meaning they could resume attacks on U.S. troops. Kahl continued, "This kind of—pick your metaphor—ticking clock, or closing window, gives a reason to believe that if there isn’t a series of political compromises by when the surge brigades leave we’ll be in real trouble."

Political reconciliation—again, the entire rationale for the surge—has rarely looked like a more distant goal.
In that case, bet on "real trouble." Political reconciliation—again, the entire rationale for the surge—has rarely looked like a more distant goal.

The fact that so called military and foreign policy "experts" among the Neocons continue to claim the surge somehow qualified as a victory or a turning of tide in the continued violent occupation of Iraq is pretty breathtaking considering the evidence, but I guess not so surprising considering how they first sold the war in the first place.

The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: InfraGard and the FBI

I've written a fair amount about what I and others have termed the "Surveillance-Industrial Complex" utilized by the US in service of the GWOT. Simply put, the NSA, FBI, CIA and other Federal agencies tasked with winning the info-war against al Qaeda et. al have developed some very secretive, very shady connections with large telco and security firms in the private sector in what can only be described as a "One-Hand-Washes-The-Other" relationship.

Take, for example: Corporation X provides intel to the Feds they "suspect" may be of significance in fighting terrorism, and the agency offers to help them deal with their own issues. Separately, the relation between big-Telco and the Feds is a confusing, fascinating and little understood history on its own merits.

For some background, see these previous posts:
The Surveillance-Industrial Complex
A link between domestic spying and telecommunication policy?
When telecom executives are hostile toward customer privacy

Now, blogger Valtin has some further information on this troubling convergence between US spy agencies and corporate America which has perilous implications for Constitutionally-protected privacy. He notes that "the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have recruited tens of thousands of members of corporate America to be the "eyes and ears" of the government. In return, they receive secret briefing on terrorism."

There are a lot more details in the original post, but this looks a lot like what I've been writing about in years past; except this seems to be a scheme between the FBI and DHS, as opposed to the NSA.

He also links to the original ACLU report from 2004 (here) that got be interested in covering this issue in the first place. Needless to say, it remains an indispensable reference for individuals desiring a basic backgrounder on the issues and privacy issues implicated.