Ukraine a Victim of Weak Western Allies

by PSA Staff | March 7th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Paula J. Dobriansky, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, was under secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration. She is also a former member of PSA’s Board of Directors. This article was co-authored by David Rivkin. The article was originally published in USAToday.

Ukraine Must Wish it Had Kept its Nukes

The world seems to have forgotten that Ukraine began its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 as a major nuclear power, possessing the world’s third largest nuclear force, more powerful than Chinese, British and French forces combined. That capability gave Ukraine great foreign policy leverage with Russia and other countries.

No doubt, Ukraine probably wishes that leverage was still available today to resist the aggression of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

by PSA Staff | February 28th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Thomas Pickering is a retired ambassador and former Under Secretary of State. He is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was co-authored by Nicholas Kralev. The article originally appeared in USA Today

Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is easy and anyone can do it. This is the message U.S. presidents of both parties have been sending the American people and the world for decades. They have done so not verbally, but through their actions, giving away ambassadorial posts as rewards to unqualified people only because they were top fundraisers during the presidents’ election campaigns.

As old as that issue is, it has received renewed and greater attention recently, following last month’s embarrassing Senate confirmation hearing of President Obama’s nominees as ambassadors to Norway and Hungary. Sen. John McCain’s public shaming of those nominees, hotel magnate George Tsunis and soap opera producer Colleen Bell, for not knowing basic facts about the country where they are supposed to serve or about U.S. interests in that country, has sparked important media commentary.

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Taking Disability Seriously

by PSA Staff | February 26th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine advises World Learning and is currently a Distinguished Fellow at George Washington University. She served as a member of PSA’s Board of Directors. The article was co-written by Don Steinberg. The article was originally posted in Foreign Affairs magazine.

Taking Disability Seriously

Sefakor Komabu-Pomeyie remembers having to crawl on the ground to enter her school in Ghana because there were no ramps for disabled students. At times, she even had to urinate on the floor; it was just too difficult to make it to the bathroom. Sefakor’s parents understood that their polio-stricken daughter would be out on the streets begging if she didn’t get an education, though, so they pushed her to stay in school. And she did. Today she is a graduate student and Ford Fellow at the School for International Training (SIT) Graduate Institute in Vermont. She also advocates for disability rights, particularly for those held back from education by lack of physical access.

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Lee Hamilton on Congress: An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

by PSA Staff | February 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally published on Glen Rose Current.

An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

In his State of the Union speech to Congress last month, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order.

“Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

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Why 9/11 Can Happen Again

by PSA Staff | February 21st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart is a lawyer and former senator from Colorado. He currently serves on PSA’s Advisory Board. Norman Augustine co-authored the article. This article was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

Why 9/11 Can Happen Again

In February 2001, a bipartisan federal commission on which we served warned that terrorists would acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption. “Attacks against American citizens on American soil, possibly causing heavy casualties, are likely over the next quarter-century,” the Hart-Rudman Commission said. “In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures.” We added: “Congress should rationalize its current committee structure so that it best serves U.S. national security objectives.”

We identified 50 ways to improve national security, none of which was implemented before 9/11. One recommendation — to create a single agency to deal with homeland security — was not acted on until a year and a half after those tragic attacks.

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NSA Spy Technology Placing Privacy Rights in Jeopardy

by PSA Staff | February 21st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and currently directs the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This op-ed was originally published at The Times Herald.

Lee Hamilton: NSA spy technology is placing our privacy rights in jeopardy

We keep learning one more way government’s expanded surveillance powers intrude upon our privacy and civil liberties.

The National Security Agency’s surveillance and monitoring abilities are unprecedented and seem unlimited. So we face the crucial question of how we can we prevent abuse of the capabilities the NSA has been given. Our challenge is to put into place a permanent system to oversee that power.

The agency gained its capabilities over the course of at least a decade with the full knowledge of some members of Congress and the judiciary, and of the White House. This is perplexing. At a time of rising public suspicion of government, did those in the know really believe no public policy debate was necessary?

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Security Is the New Oil

by PSA Staff | February 10th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart served as US Senator of Colorado from 1975-1987 and is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was originally published in the Huffington Post

Security Is the New Oil

The confused debate, such as it is, over the struggle between privacy and security in the era of Snowden reveals again even greater confusion over our attitudes about government. The conservative anti-government party seems more comfortable (or perhaps less uncomfortable) with intelligence agencies listening to their phone calls than the progressive pro-government party which deplores government surveillance.

Put another way, conservatives seem more willing to sacrifice privacy for security than progressives. But this was true in other ways during the Cold War and War on Terrorism eras. Those outraged by government spending did not believe that expensive weapons systems, however questionable, involved government spending. And conservatives came to strongly support entitlement programs from which they benefitted. Though unspoken, the government spending to which they were opposed were by and large public assistance to the poor and unemployed, a relative small portion of the federal budget compared to defense and entitlements.

But the principal conundrum involves defining the “government” which we either support or oppose. The government composed of a vast defense and intelligence network (and “intelligence” broadly defined is now costing more than $70 billion a year–including the controversial telephone monitoring system) receives little criticism, even for its massive surveillance of American citizens, from those who oppose big government. And those who support public assistance to the poor, elderly, and unemployed by and large oppose government intrusion into their lives.

A notable exception to these confused attitudes toward government is represented by many libertarians who have emerged in the age of Snowden to decry NSA intrusion in their lives. Unlike modern conservatives and liberals who support those government activities they like and oppose those government programs they oppose, libertarians usually demonstrate more intellectual integrity. Big government is bad whatever it is up to. With few exceptions, institutions such as the Cato Institute have deserved respect over the years for this consistency.

Which is the point of this commentary: let’s all be more consistent. Either we are against government spending and bureaucracy in all its forms, including surveillance programs, or we are for some and against others. Consistency in this regard at least has the therapeutic affect of revealing radio talk show rhetoric for what it is…pure rhetoric.

So what can be done to reconcile privacy and security? Require Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) courts to hear privacy advocates, not just security lawyers, before issuing a warrant for surveillance as required by the Fourth Amendment. Require NSA and other intelligence collectors to be more honest with Congressional oversight committees and those committees to be more vigilant in doing their jobs. Require presidents and their administrations to exercise more control over the intelligence collection services. (Will we ever know whether President Obama himself knew of the vast collection being carried out by NSA before the Snowden revelations?) And finally, require applications to FISA courts for surveillance warrants to identify specific targets with specific, but renewable, time limits and very specific showings of probable cause for suspecting those targets.

In the wireless age, cell phone users must understand that their conversations are being broadcast and thus subject to off-the-shelf Radio Shack technology intercepts. One suspects that al Qaeda operatives have figured this out some time ago. Though it seems confusing at best, there is and will be less privacy in wireless communications than those on more secure land lines.

Which points to an ugly truth: government intelligence services are not the only ones hacking our conversations and communications. There is a vast underground network of private hackers intruding on our privacy in massive ways. Shut down the NSA and you have still not secured your privacy. Welcome to the 21st century.

The age of communications, mass social media, ubiquitous technology, and of mass interception (and thus of Snowden) is a new world…and not an especially brave one. Advocates and policy makers on both sides–security and privacy–are staking out their positions and the balance required for an advanced 21st century democracy has yet to be struck. Expect the as-yet not very productive debate to continue. Out of the polarized pro-surveillance/anti-surveillance struggle some new rules will eventually emerge. And hopefully they will work…at least for a while.

But then, some years down the line, there will be a new threat, a new technology, possibly a new government agency, and the cycle will begin again. Security is the new oil. Remember the closing scene in Three Days of the Condor. The CIA man (Cliff Robertson) tells Robert Redford’s Joe Turner that of course the renegade CIA unit was pursuing oil: “The American people want oil and they want us to get it for them. They don’t care how we get it. They just want us to get it.”

Balancing liberty and security

by PSA Staff | February 10th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is co-chair of PSA’s Advisory Board and Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally posted in the Detroit News.

Balancing liberty and security

Every few days, we learn yet one more way in which government’s expanded surveillance powers intrude upon our privacy and civil liberties.

Last week, it was the revelation that spy agencies in the U.S. and Britain have been snagging personal data from the users of mobile phone apps.

Before that came news that the National Security Agency was tracking our social connections and delving into our contact lists.

It appears the agency can do anything it wants when it comes to collecting information on pretty much anyone it wants.

We can take pride in this technological virtuosity, but it has propelled an expansion of government power unlike anything I’ve seen since I joined Congress 50 years ago.

So we face the crucial question of what to do about it. How can we prevent abuse of the capabilities the NSA has been given?

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Sochi is Putin’s moment to show true Olympic leadership on Syria

by PSA Staff | February 7th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Madeleine Albright served as United States Secretary of State and is a current member of PSA’s Board of Advisors . This article was co-authored by Lord Malloch-Brown, Sir John Holmes, Mr Javier Solana, Mr George Soros, and others. Originally posted at the Financial Times.

Sochi is Putin’s moment to show true Olympic leadership on Syria

Sir, The Sochi Winter Olympics will deliver a dazzling spectacle, breathtaking athleticism and shimmering winter beauty. We will witness extreme feats of human bravery and see in the faces of the world’s best athletes the sheer tenacity and commitment that has gone into training for the games. Only 1,000 miles away, a very different spectacle unfolds.

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Face the Assad Reality In Syria

by PSA Staff | January 31st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Frank G. Wisner is a member of PSA’s Board of Advisors as well as a former Under Secretary of State and of Defense and a former Ambassador to Zambia, Egypt, the Philippines, and India. The article was co-authored by Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official. Original article posted at the Daily Beast.

Face the Assad Reality In Syria

U.S. policy is going down the drain in Syria diplomatically and militarily. The choice: deal with Assad or fail.

The Syria conference underway in Geneva to transition from the rule of President Assad will fail, and the Obama team knows it. There is no incentive now in the Assad or rebel camps for diplomatic compromise, and the U.S. knows that. Nothing the U.S. and its allies are doing or planning on the military front will compel President Assad to step aside, and the White House understands that full well. The reality on the ground today is that American-helped moderate rebels continue to flounder, while Assad’s forces and those of the jihadi extremists prosper. Obama officials see this as well and realize that nothing they are doing or are likely to do will alter those facts.

So, if President Obama understands what he is doing will fail, why is he doing it?

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.