Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Royal news

bahraintowerCalling Bahrain.

As is increasingly the case, the United States is finding that talking pro-democracy is one thing. Dealing with the aftermath of uprisings another.

U.S. officials have been on the telephone with officials in Bahrain urging restraint after police attacked anti-government protesters.

The tiny Gulf kingdom that is home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet becomes another U.S. ally in the Middle East seeing unrest with protesters wanting their leaders gone.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke by telephone with Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa.

Other royal news. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are going to visit the Queen of England in May. (They are not going to THE WEDDING which is in April, they weren’t invited – gasp!)

Washington Extra – Food for thought

The U.S. government strongly supports democratic reforms in the Middle East. Just look at its comments on Egypt. But the American public doesn’t appear to be so gung-ho.

OBAMAA Reuters/Ipsos poll out today found that a solid majority, 58 percent, believe the United States should be cautious about backing democracy in the Middle East because elections could lead to anti-American Islamist governments.

The biggest opposition group in Egypt is the banned Muslim Brotherhood and President Barack Obama has acknowledged that the group’s ideology included anti-American strains.

Republican puts crosshairs on Holder over WikiLeaks

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder  should quit if he can’t stop WikiLeaks from disclosing government documents, Darrell Issa, incoming chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee said Sunday on Fox News.issa

“He’s hurting this administration.  If you’re hurting the administration, either stop hurting the administration, or leave,” Issa said.

As chairman of the oversight panel when the new Congress convenes Wednesday, the California Republican has the authority to investigate the government for waste and fraud and will be able to issue subpoenas to obtain information he believes he needs.

CIA on WikiLeaks — WTF

The CIA gets the prize for the most entertaining acronym in Washington, a city that cannot speak without using at least one in every sentence.

The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) has formed the WikiLeaks Task Force which is being referred to in-house as WTF.

(If you don’t get it, ask a teenager). SECURITY BUSH

TWP (The Washington Post) said the irreverence might be understandable since the agency was fairly unscathed by the WikiLeaks document extravaganza.

Protecting Coke’s secret formula from WikiLeaks

Never mind the WikiLeaks fallout for U.S. foreign policy. Today’s kicker question at a National Press Club luncheon: how do you protect Coca-Cola’s famously secret formula from WikiLeaks, the online site now uncloaking a trove of  previously hush-hush U.S. diplomatic documents.  

“I guess that we have to have better systems than the U.S. State Department,” quipped Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola Co’s chief executive.  The world’s largest soft-drink maker’s efforts to keep the formula secret are a matter of legend. USA/

Kent said Coke’s recipe was known to only a few people and kept in a vault in Atlanta, Georgia, where the company has its headquarters. He said he wouldn’t know what to make of it even if he were to try to figure it out.        

Information-sharing guru becomes chief leak plugger

The U.S. government’s man in charge of efforts to plug future WikiLeaks-style mega-dumps of government secrets is a veteran intelligence officer who previously spent years trying to figure out how government agencies could more widely share sensitive information.

Earlier this week, Russell Travers moved to the White House, where he will head an interagency committee assigned to assess the damage caused by recent WikiLeaks exposures and come up with ways to prevent future large-scale leaks. AUSTRALIA-WATER/

Travers’ previous assignment was as a senior official of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a branch of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) which was set up after 9/11 to ensure that government agencies did more to share sensitive intelligence on terror suspects amongst themselves – an assignment which makes him one of the government’s foremost experts on sharing classified information.

Washington Extra – Chicken and ducks

USA-HEALTHCARE/The wrangling continues over the Bush-era tax cuts. President Barack Obama said he was confident Democrats and Republicans could break the deadlock and reach a deal soon. But with time running out, there is something of a game of chicken being played by the two sides. Each is watching to see who blinks first, and with the economy still struggling, both know the stakes are high.

 

Texas Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling warned of the risks of failure:  “In a lame duck session, a lame duck Congress should not turn our economy into a dead duck economy.”

 

Let’s just hope they don’t duck the issue.

 

Here are our top stories from Washington today…

 

White House memo outlines new anti-leak measures

The White House has set up a special anti-WikiLeaks panel after the embarrassing flood of State Department cables leaked by the website, and its proposals include teams of inspectors who would prowl government agencies looking for ways to tighten security. A four-page draft memo circulated by the White House says President Obama’s national security staff has created an “Interagency Policy Committee for WikiLeaks.”

Washington Extra – Pirate justice

The U.S. government would surely love to get its revenge on Julian Assange, and the Justice Department says a criminal investigation has already begun. But specialists in espionage law tell us that peculiarities of American law make it virtually impossible to bring a successful case against Assange, even if he were to set foot on U.S. soil. Evidence would be needed that defendants were in contact with representatives of a foreign power and intended to provide them with secrets, evidence that has not yet surfaced. SWITZERLAND/

So although the leaked documents may make intelligence sharing harder in the future, and may make foreign governments reluctant to trust the U.S. with sensitive information, retribution could be tough.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took aim at whoever leaked the documents, saying they should be tried for treason and “executed.”  Others might yearn for a bit of pirate justice, for both Assange and the leaker.

Lady Gaga, WikiLeaks and :’(

WIKILEAKSWashington has been buzzing for days about Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst at the heart of the investigation into the leak of a quarter-million State Department diplomatic cables by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

And then there’s the Lady Gaga connection.

Manning said he listened to the flamboyantly-dressed singer’s “Telephone” as he pulled the documents off a military server in Baghdad, according to a transcript of online chats Manning had with a former hacker, Adrian Lamo. The chats, which occurred earlier this year, were posted by Wired.com on June 10. Lamo confirmed details of the chats to Reuters.

“i would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file … no-one suspected a thing. listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in american history,” Manning wrote in the uncapitalized, lightly punctuated style of a webchat.

WikiLeaks spill reveals diplomats’ water cooler gossip

Some of the tidbits from the secret U.S. diplomatic cables unleashed by WikiLeaks show that diplomatic analysis can sometimes sound a whole lot like gossip. 

And just as when any private conversation goes public, it can be embarrassing for all involved. USA-CLINTON/

In the Case of the Compromised Cables, the unflattering descriptions of some of the world leaders will require all the diplomatic skill that U.S. officials can muster to soothe some of the world’s healthiest egos.