The John Batchelor Show

Thursday 8 August 2013

Air Date: 
August 08, 2013

Photo, above: Embassy-Closing Terror Plot Uncovered on Al Qaeda Conference Call.   For the first time in history, a group of managers were able to sit down and prepare for a major project on a conference call. It's just that all the managers were al Qaeda managers, and the major project was a terrorist attack.  A bizarre story from The Daily Beast, based on clearly targeted leaks from U.S. officials, holds that the communications intercepted by the U.S. government wasn't just any old email or text—it was a full conference call between nearly two dozen representatives from various al Qaeda branches.


Co hosts: Mary Kissel, Wall Street Journal editorial board, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents.

Hour One

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 1, Block A: Kara Brandeisky, ProPublica, in re:  Sen Al Franken has introduced a bill to ask the govt to recalculate some of these numbers, but delay.  Bulk phone record collection program.  Obama's bill was more exigent: records collected must be relevant to the suspect. A senator plays a very different role from that of the president – the president sees a lot more information.  Detailed compare-&-contrast between Senator Obama and President Obama.  The Administration was fighting FOIA; surveillance evidence; bomb-plot prosecution. 

The Obama administration has widely opposed efforts to rein in NSA snooping, but ProPublica reports that just five years ago, Sen. Obama supported substantial reforms. Highlights of the seven ways Obama has flip-flopped his stance on the NSA since coming to the White House.  As a senator, Obama wanted to limit bulk records collection. He co-sponsored a bill in 2007 that would have required the government to demonstrate, with "specific and articulable facts," that it wanted records related to "a suspected agent of a foreign power" or the records of people with one degree of separation from a suspect. "The measure Obama supported in 2007 is actually similar to the House amendment that the White House condemned earlier this month.  . . . That measure. . . . would have ended bulk phone records collection but still allowed the NSA to collect records related to individual suspects without a warrant based on probable cause."

As senator, Obama also co-sponsored an amendment that would require government analysts to get court approval before accessing incidentally-collected American data. "The amendment failed 35-63. Obama later reversed his position and supported what became the law now known to authorize the PRISM program. The legislation -- the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 -- also granted immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government on surveillance."
 Sen. Obama had originally wanted to restrict the use of gag orders related to surveillance court orders, to declassify significant surveillance court opinions, and more.

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 1, Block B: Oshrat Carmiel, Bloomberg, in re: HOUSING WOES.  Manhattan Homes Under $3 Million Never Harder to Buy Listings for nonluxury apartments, encompassing about 90 percent of the Manhattan market, have fallen by more than 36 percent year-over-year in each of the last three quarters, the biggest declines in 12 years of recordkeeping.  /  A million dollars in your hand and you can't buy an apartment in Manhattan. Also, land is very expensive: $70/sq ft; can’t complete a project at less than $1,700/sq ft, so have to sell at $2,000/sq ft.   Overseas buyers trying to park cash safely are also buying in New York (compared to much of Asia and Latin America). The median price of Brooklyn apartments is staggering. There's a little lending for mortgage – but if you come in with a mortgage and another buyer can pay cash in a few weeks, you lose.

Behind the Middle-Class Funk The recession hurt, but some troubles have been simmering for 40 years.    President Obama is working hard to refocus attention on the middle class, and rightly so. While a decent society will provide opportunity and, when necessary, direct assistance to the poor, the long-term health of our economy and our democracy depends on a prosperous, self-confident middle class. That's not what we've had in recent years. Median incomes fell sharply during the Great Recession and have barely begun to recover. Despite recent signs of recovery, housing—the principal source of wealth for middle-class households—remains priced about 25% below its pre-recession peak. Many workers who lost middle-income jobs have found only part-time or low-wage replacements and doubt that they will ever regain their pre-recession standard of living. Not surprisingly, many middle-class parents now doubt that their children will enjoy comparable lives.  The fall in mortgage delinquencies, fewer foreclosure starts and the lower foreclosure inventory rate in Q2 are all encouraging signs that the fundamentals of the housing market are mending. Although these figures are yet to reflect the recent increase in mortgage interest rates, we don’t think that higher rates will dent the delinquency and foreclosure picture particularly . . .   [more]

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 1, Block C: James Paterson, Institute of Public Affairs (Sydney, Australia), in re: Australian Election Set
 for 7 September.  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will face the opposition leader, Tony Abbott.  Australian elections are becoming a bit less like a football scrimmage and more presidential.  Kevin Rudd uses a lot of endearing Australian slang; Tony Abbott is a bit stiffer-sounding.  Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd is very much responsible for the wrong direction that Australia is heading economically: increased regulations, higher taxes, much higher labor costs; not as attractive a place to do business as it was only five years ago.

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 1, Block D:  Eli Lake, senior national security correspondent, Newsweek/Daily Beast, in re: a virtual board meeting on the phone of al Qaeda global: many leaders of affiliates communicating with the top leader.   The notion that Zawahiri and others are on the run or are incapable of running a global operation is obliterated.  During this mtg,  the leader of the Yemini affiliate was being promoted to general manager, have access to the resource s of al Q's many affiliates. He'd been hard to catch by CIA or JSOC. It’s been a long time since 9/11, and the US  has got good at intercepting; but al Q has got very good at adapting.  The expert community has thought that the situation was [milder] than it turns out. Note esp: al Qaeda in the Sinai.  Started with the release of individuals from prison – many Salafists released in the Egyptian "Spring."  Mohammed al Zawahiri – head of al Q in Libya. 

“This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom.”

Exclusive: Al Qaeda Conference Call Intercepted by U.S. Officials Sparked Alerts  It wasn’t just any terrorist message that triggered U.S. terror alerts and embassy closures—but a conference call of more than 20 far-flung al Qaeda operatives. The intercept provided the U.S. intelligence community with a rare glimpse into how al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, manages a global organization that includes affiliates in Africa, the Middle East, and southwest and southeast Asia.  Several news outlets reported Monday on an intercepted communication last week between Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen. But The Daily Beast has learned that the discussion between the two al Qaeda leaders happened in a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of the top leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates calling in from different locations, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. All told, said one U.S. intelligence official, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call.  To be sure, the CIA had been tracking the threat posed by Wuhayshi for months. An earlier communication between Zawahiri and Wuhayshi delivered through a courier was picked up last month, according to three U.S. intelligence officials. But the conference call provided a new sense of urgency for the U.S. government, the sources said.  Al Qaeda members included representatives or leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch. Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The presence of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sinai was one reason the State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, according to one U.S. intelligence official. “These guys already proved they could hit Eilat. It’s not out of the range of possibilities that they could hit us in Tel Aviv,” the official said.  Al Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to . . . [more]

Map, below: al Qaeda in the Sahel.

Hour Two

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 2, Block A: Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Wall Street Journal, in re:   The Castro Brothers Get Caught in the Act  No evidence of Cuban 'reform' in an arms shipment to North Korea.    Colombia's Bet on Peace with Guerrillas   President Santos explains why he is negotiating with the FARC.


Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 2, Block B: Sid Perkins, Science SCIENCENOW, in re: What Role Do Beavers Play in Climate Change? Beaver wetlands store plenty of carbon, but may produce a lot, too. 

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 2, Block C:  Abe Katsman, Daily Beast, in re: Why Did Netanyahu Release Palestinian Prisoners?   Israel’s Right and Left are finally unified. Nearly a week after Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu forced his cabinet to approve the release of 104 convicted Palestinian terrorists, public outrage continues to reverberate across the political spectrum. Newspaper editorials continue to excoriate Netanyahu, even calling for his resignation—editorials written by his supporters. Bitter feelings will only intensify next week, as the first terrorists are . . .  [more]

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 2, Block D:  Robert Zimmerman,,  in re: Curiosity’s first year on Mars, in video in two minutes.   An update on the effort to bring Kepler back to life.   An update on Dawn in its journey from the asteroids Vesta to Ceres. Dawn is 18 million kilometers (11 million miles) from Vesta and 50 million kilometers (31 million miles) from Ceres. It is also 3.47 AU (519 million kilometers, or 322 million miles) from Earth, or 1,310 times as far as the Moon and 3.42 times as far as the Sun today. Radio signals, traveling at the universal limit of the speed of light, take 58 minutes to make the round trip

Hour Three

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 3, Block A:  Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents, in re: Iran. Egypt: the only functioning organization at present is the Army. Al-Sisi may be an Islamist.  Secy Kerry.  Abbas's son is also a kleptocrat; all PLO parties but Fatah have rejected joining in negotiations. [more]

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 3, Block B:  Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents, in re: Photo of Vladimir Putin next to His Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, former Saudi ambassador to Washington and a former friend of Pres Bush.  A very significant meeting, consequences to be known in the coming weeks and months, This a game-changer: re-emergence of Russia in the Middle East. Putting has sent ships through Suez and reinforced Latakia.  Putin is playing off American weaknesses, Putin says to Arabs, "You may not like what we’re doing in Syrian, but we're loyal to our friends."   He's looking t re-establish the reach of he old Soviet empire even if he doesn’t have the territory. Putin is "apoplectic" about Chechnya. Putin is friends with Saudis, Turks, Egyptians, Iranians. "Turkey is still the mouse that scares the elephant." For Putin, Iran means billions a year in weapons sales, bldg reactors, political reach. One hears from Central Asia how Russia is trying to increase its role; Putin wants to recreate Russia's ability to have major influence.  Michael Morel, CIA, said, Note Syria!  [more]


See: rt. com

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 3, Block C: Isaiah Thompson, ProPublica, in re: Rochelle Bing's home was an investment for her family - especially her 18 grandchildren.  So when her son was charged with selling crack cocaine from inside her house, her world was thrown upside down when law enforcement authorities tried to seize her home via civil forfeiture. Over the last two decades, forfeitures have evolved into a booming business for police agencies across the country, from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to small-town sheriff's offices. Although there's no single tally of all this activity - the information is buried in the budgets, court records and annual reports of thousands of individual agencies - the available data make clear that billions of dollars in cash, cars, real estate and other assets are being confiscated nationwide every year via civil forfeitures. 

Civil forfeiture was originally developed to take away the financial fruits of illegal acts from criminals whereby prosecutors could ask a judge to seize the money, vehicles or real estate of a person convicted of a crime. But these forfeitures have grown exponentially over the years, with critics arguing that it's been abused by prosecutors and is creating a new class of collateral victims. "One measure is the growth of a program in which federal law enforcement officials seize property on behalf of local authorities in exchange for a share of the proceeds. In 2000, officials racked up $500 million in forfeitures. By 2012, that amount rose to $4.2 billion, an eightfold increase."  The Philadelphia DA's office has filed forfeiture motions on 300 to 500 private residences every year.  "In 2010, the year the DA went after Bing's house, it acquired 90 houses via forfeiture and auctioned 119 properties for $1.2 million.  The money went directly to the DA's office and to the Philadelphia police department, including the narcotics units involved in raids that resulted in the forfeitures."  ProPublica's article explains how the money from seized properties is used, why most citizens are not represented by lawyers in these forfeiture cases, what makes the process takes so long, how cities across the country are responding to make the process more sensible and fair and whether these situations should be treated more like criminal rather than civil cases.

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 3, Block D: Sohrab Ahmari, asst books editor, WSJ, in re: About that New 'Moderate' Iranian Cabinet . . .  Rouhani's ministers have a history of denouncing 'the arrogance,' aka the U.S. and its allies. Hasan Rouhani's inauguration as Iran's president has renewed the Obama administration's dreams of rapprochement with Tehran. In a Sunday statement, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed hope that "the new Iranian government will heed the will of the voters by making choices that will lead to a better life for the Iranian people." Should the Islamic Republic choose to engage, Mr. Carney added, "it will find a willing partner in the United States."  Mr. Rouhani has already been "making choices" that the U.S. might want to take into account before becoming a "willing partner" in dealing with the regime. Consider the Iranian president's new cabinet, announced on Sunday. His picks were generally hailed in the American media as "reform minded or moderate technocrats" . . .

Hour Four

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 4, Block A:   Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis (Foreign Relations and the Presidency) by David M. Barrett and Max Holland (1 of 4) 

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 4, Block B: Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis (Foreign Relations and the Presidency) by David M. Barrett and Max Holland (2 of 4)

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 4, Block C: Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis (Foreign Relations and the Presidency) by David M. Barrett and Max Holland (3 of 4)

Thursday 8 August 2013 / Hour 4, Block D: Blind over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis (Foreign Relations and the Presidency) by David M. Barrett and Max Holland (4 of 4)

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Hour 1:  Bourne Legacy. Escape from New York.  Mad Max.  Mummy Returns.

Hour 2:  Miami Vice. Mark Twain. Mummy Returns. Battlestar Galactica.

Hour 3:  Ten Commandments. Sin City. Tears of the Sun.

Hour 4:  Die Another Day. Motorcycle Diaries.