Thursday, January 30, 2014

St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs looks to bolster local interest in global issues

The wide-ranging conference returns to St. Pete to up our international I.Q.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 30, 2014 at 3:44 PM

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Hey, U.S., it’s your old pal Europe
“Europe and America Can Go Their Separate Ways,” Fri., Feb. 14, 10:20 a.m.
For the past few years there has been talk that the U.S. plans to pivot its military focus to the Asia-Pacific. That’s led to great concern from some of our European allies, worried that we might be abandoning them.

Panelist Judith M. Heimann is a retired senior foreign service officer and a non-fiction writer who has spent most of her adult life abroad — chiefly in Western Europe but also in Southeast Asia and Central Africa.

“Europeans are, understandably, pretty allergic to war,” she says. The horrors of the two world wars, combined with the fact that NATO effectively became the West’s police force post-WWII, gave Europe little incentive to bulk up its military, says Heilman.

That relationship allowed Western Europe, unlike the U.S., to concentrate on building up its domestic social safety net through such programs as government-controlled health care. “They just have a different conception of where the priorities should be,” says Heilman, adding that only the United Kingdom and France have any military presence to speak of.

As for Obama’s relationship with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Heinemann is uncertain of how deep the connection goes, but says it’s fair to assume it isn’t on par with FDR-Churchill, Reagan-Thatcher or even the Clinton-Blair alliance. But Obama hasn’t taken a big personal role with any country overseas, allowing Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, to lead the way. Heilman thinks the reported tension between the U.S. and its allies (particularly Germany’s Angela Merkel) over the Edward Snowden leaks has been “blown up” by the media.

Her biggest concern is the status of our diplomatic corps, which she says is now filled up more and more with political appointees rather than career diplomats. “We have over the past 25 years gradually removed more and more of the career professionals from embassies abroad,” she complains. “Now we have two thirds of the senior jobs of the state department who are rank amateurs” with no particular credentials for diplomacy.

click to enlarge Edward Snowden - WIKIPEDIA
  • Wikipedia
  • Edward Snowden
The damage done
“Snowden and Manning — Traitors?” Sat. Feb. 15, 9 a.m.

Usually when this question is posed, there’s the option of calling Edward Snowden a whistleblower. But that omission may reflect exactly where this discussion will go, judging by the comments of panelist Charles Campbell. Campbell worked for 40 years for the CIA before retiring in 2004. Since then he’s consulted with several companies related to counterterrorism and counterintelligence programs. And like virtually everyone else who’s been interviewed in the wake of the Snowden revelations about NSA spying, he’s not willing to cut the former Booz Allen Hamilton consultant any slack when it comes to criminal prosecution.

“My own view is that his revelations have been severely damaging,” Campbell told CL from his home in Washington D.C. last week. “In my mind there’s no doubt that what he did significantly betrayed the trust that the U.S. government placed in him by giving him access to this sensitive information.”

Two reports have been released in recent months taking stock of the NSA revelations. In December, the presidential commission made 46 different recommendations. One of the most significant was that the logs of all American phone calls collected — so-called metadata — should remain in the hands of telecommunications companies or a private consortium, and a court order should be necessary each time analysts want to access the information of any individual “for queries and data mining.”

Last week a report produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said that the bulk collection of such metadata violated the statute that the Obama Administration has cited to justify it, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and called for the program to be halted.

CL asked Charles Campbell if he would grant that the man did a service for everyone in lifting the veil of secrecy from the NSA’s domestic surveillance operations.

He said it was a difficult question to answer, but he feels comfortable that our civil liberties have not been damaged. “Neither of those reports has basically indicated that there’s any evidence that anybody was involved in any sort of abuse of power of these programs.” He says that the congressional oversight committees put in place after the revelations of the FBI and CIA surveillance programs in the mid-1970s have played a “very active role over the years” in informing Congress about what our intelligence organizations are doing, though comments by lawmakers since Snowden went public challenge that assertion.

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