The Cable

How the NSA Scandal Is Roiling the Heritage Foundation

Ever since ex-senator and Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint took over the Heritage Foundation earlier this year, mainstream Republicans have been fretting that he'd turn the prominent conservative think tank into a political proxy for the most extreme elements of the GOP. The debt-deniers and defund-Obamacare die-hards who propelled the government into a shutdown have found a political, if not quite intellectual center of gravity at Heritage. Now, hawkish Republicans who have long embraced strong national security authorities have reason to believe that Heritage is mounting an opposition on that front, too.

Recently, Heritage refused to publish two papers about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs written by a prominent conservative attorney. Why? Because he concluded that the programs were legal and constitutional, according to sources familiar with the matter. It was a surprising move for a think tank that has supported extension of the Patriot Act -- which authorizes some of NSA's activities -- and has long been associated with right-of-center positions on national security and foreign policy.

But the paper's conclusions did not sit well with DeMint, the sources said, who worried about offending or alienating more libertarian lawmakers such Sen. Rand Paul, a DeMint ally and leading critic of NSA's collection of Americans' phone records, as well as Tea Partiers, who according to a recent poll think that government counterterrorism policies have gone "too far" in restricting civil liberties. It's those groups that brought DeMint his greatest influence as a lawmaker and made him a national political heavyweight.

It was not clear that DeMint personally ordered the papers be spiked, but sources who would not speak on the record strongly implied that it was his call.

The decision not to publish the papers is even more surprising because of whom Heritage had asked to write them: Steven Bradbury, who ran the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel during the second half of the Bush administration. It was a logical choice, since Bradbury was intimately familiar with the complicated statutory issues in play and had provided his analysis of national security law to President Bush and other administration officials, some of whom had helped launch and run the NSA operations and other counterterrorism programs. David Addington, the former legal counsel and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and one of the key architects of early NSA surveillance operations, is a vice president at Heritage.

But the think tank's decision not to publish Bradbury's opinions did not bury them.

Cully Stimson, a senior Defense Department official in the Bush administration who now runs Heritage's national security law program, called Benjamin Wittes, the editor in chief of the national security blog Lawfare and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Stimson "asked me whether Lawfare might be interested in [the papers], and I was delighted to publish them," Wittes told The Cable. "We asked Steve to consolidate them into a single paper, and there were some subsequent revisions as well because of the document release that took place in the intervening period," Wittes said, referring to the government's decision in August to declassify a large number of documents about NSA programs.

Wittes said the final paper "had its origins in a project that did not come to fruition at Heritage." He referred all questions to the think tank "about what the dispute was internally."

Attempts to reach Bradbury and Stimson for comment were unsuccessful.

For some Republicans who describe themselves as closer to the party's center, or to its traditional roots in strong executive branch security authorities, Heritage's decision not to publish Bradbury's NSA defense was just another example of the hard-right turn the group has taken since DeMint became its president.

"The Heritage Foundation used to be a place where you had a debate of ideas. Now it's much more tactical, how to raise money," said John Feehery, the president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and the longtime spokesperson for ex-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

A former intelligence official who recently met with members of the Heritage staff about national security issues says he came away feeling that "they were looking for a hard right agenda. Anything that the administration did was wrong. And they had that right wing paranoia with regards to intelligence. What the NSA was doing and how they were doing it."

Libertarians and Tea Party members are hardly the only groups outraged over NSA spying, of course. A legislative attempt to significantly curtail NSA's authorities nearly passed the House this summer, drawing rare bipartisan support.

But Heritage's critics say DeMint is using his platform to launch a conservative insurgency, seizing on controversial and often divisive policy arguments. Several sources contacted for this story, who spoke on the condition of anonymity when discussing Heritage's inner workings, said they were uncomfortable with DeMint's involvement with Heritage Action for America, the nonprofit political advocacy arm of the foundation that is run by a separate group of leaders. DeMint speaks frequently at Heritage Action events.

Critics also pointed to the recent departure of some Heritage staff as signs of an exodus prompted by DeMint's leadership. Mike Franc, who ran congressional relations at Heritage, left the organization this year to work for Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip and a key member of the leadership team with which Tea Party members have been locked in internecine warfare. Derek Scissors, an expert on Asian economic issues, left Heritage for another conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute. And Matthew Spalding, a Constitution scholar, recently stepped down as the head of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at Heritage. He's now an adjunct fellow with the Kirby Center in Washington.

"DeMint is trying to run a rogue operation over there," Feehery said. "There's going to be an effort to crack down on ideas that don't fit his narrow definition of what a conservative is."

Feehery added that the shift in positions would not be limited to national security matters and predicted that Heritage would continue to abandon fundamental positions with which it has long been associated. "I guarantee they won't be [pro] free trade when DeMint is done with them."

Another prominent conservative, who spoke anonymously, described the evolution at Heritage more bluntly: "The lunatics have taken over the asylum."

The Cable

U.N. Declares War on al-Shabab

A U.N.-backed African military force in Somalia must launch a new military offensive against al-Shabab's insurgents if it is to stem the spread of terrorism in East Africa and ensure the survival of Somalia's struggling government, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned the U.N. Security Council.

Ban appealed for a temporary military surge of thousands of additional African troops into Somalia in order to deal a decisive military defeat to al-Shabab. The offensive would aim to deprive the Islamist militant group of the ability to freely recruit new followers and secure the taxes and investments necessary to underwrite its terrorist operations from Mogadishu to Nairobi, Kenya, where the group recently carried out a brazen attack against civilians at the upscale Westgate mall.

Citing the threat posed by a reinvigorated al-Shabab, Ban appealed to the 15-nation Security Council in a letter to provide financial and military support to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), along with attack helicopters and other advanced logistical and intelligence equipment to help take the fight to al-Shabab strongholds in rural southern Somalia.

"The deterioration in the security situation threatens to undermine the fragile Somali political process," he wrote in the letter, which has not yet been made public. "In order to regain momentum and avoid further reversals, there is an urgent need to resume and strengthen the military campaign against Al Shabab."

The strategy endorsed by Ban was first outlined by a joint U.N.-African Union mission that traveled to Somalia in late August and early September to assess the risk posed by al-Shabab. It draws on the military rationale invoked by the United States in past years to justify temporary surges in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan aimed at breaking the back of the insurgency and laying the groundwork for an eventual exit strategy.

Ban asked the council to authorize an increase in the size of the African Union force, dominated by Ugandan and Burundian troops, by as many as 4,400 additional troops and support staff for a period of up to two years. He also called on the U.N. mission in Somalia to provide a limited package of nonlethal support -- including transportation, food rations, and fuel -- to 10,000 front-line Somali troops. A temporary military buildup of forces "should ultimately pave the way for the exit of all international forces," Ban wrote. "Without additional support recommended in this letter, our joint investment is at risk of being derailed by the indefensible actions of the Al Shabab insurgency."

The African Union force was first deployed in Somalia in 2007 to counter the Islamist insurgency and to protect a U.N.-backed transitional government. It is currently staffed by roughly 18,000 troops.

Over the past two years, African forces have driven al-Shabab out of Somalia's main cities, including Mogadishu and Kismayo. But the movement has regrouped, shifting its military strategy from fighting conventional battles and holding major cities to undertaking targeted terrorist operations in Somalia, where it has struck U.N. and foreign diplomatic outposts, and beyond.

On June 19, al-Shabab mounted a bloody attack against the United Nations' humanitarian aid compound in downtown Mogadishu, killing eight U.N. employees. The attack, as well as the threat of further violence, "has significantly curtailed the mobility of U.N. staff in Mogadishu and hampers delivery of critical U.N. programs in support of the federal government," according to a confidential report by the joint U.N.-African Union mission. The report was circulated to U.N. Security Council members along with Ban's letter this week.

The joint U.N.-AU report paints a grim picture of the security situation in Somalia. The military gains of the past two years, it states, are now "at a serious risk of being reversed." Al-Shabab's army "is estimated in the thousands and is increasing through forced recruitment." If it is not stopped, the report warns," al-Shabab is likely to expand its targets beyond Somalia."

The report, which was partially endorsed by Ban, cites "the need to immediately resume the military campaign against Al Shabab" in order to counter the group's increasingly sophisticated use of asymmetric warfare tactics and to curtail its ability to infiltrate urban centers like Mogadishu and Kismayo at will. It proposes that African forces shift from a largely defensive strategy to "an offensive posture necessary for the clearing and holding of additional key rural areas and strategic economic avenues."

"The idea behind the recommendation of the joint mission is to defeat Al Shabab in their major rural hideouts and making it as costly as possible for them to exist and easier for the SNA [Somali National Army] to dislodge elements that melt into the population, forcing an eventual total defeat," the report states. "AMISOM is structured as a conventional fighting force deployed over four sectors in south central Somalia. The forces are holding ground already cleared from Al Shabab, but are unable to expand their operations as they are overstretched, lack force enablers such as combat engineering, signal, logistics and port security capabilities, as well as the critical force multiplier, particularly military helicopters."

Previous efforts by the African Union to introduce attack helicopters into combat have gone horribly wrong. Last year, the U.N. Security Council authorized the use of attack helicopters, setting the stage for the deployment of four Ugandan military aircraft in Somalia in support of offensive military operations. But three of the helicopters -- Russian-made Mi-24s -- crashed into the foggy base of Mount Kenya while en route to Somalia from Uganda.

In his letter to the council, Ban asked for countries outside the region to supply military helicopters to the effort, saying it was "not realistic" to mount a successful offensive against al-Shabab without them.

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