‘Full history’: Secret CIA documents now available online

The CIA has published online nearly 13 million pages of declassified records, including papers on the US role in overthrowing foreign governments and the secret ‘Star Gate’ telepathy project.

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The range of documents, known as the CREST (CIA Records Search Tool) database, covers an array of materials related to the Vietnam War, Korean War and Cold War. One example is data on the Berlin tunnel project (code-named Operation Gold), which was a joint CIA and British intelligence scheme to carry out surveillance on the Soviet Army HQ in Berlin during the 1950s.

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In all, more than 12 million documents are accessible, covering the history of the CIA from its creation in the 1940s up to the 1990s – with intelligence officials giving assurances that the half-century of data is in its entirety, with nothing removed.

“None of this is cherry-picked,” CIA spokesperson Heather Fritz Horniak told CNN. “It’s the full history. It’s good and bads.”

For instance, details are provided on the CIA’s participation in the 1973 coup in Chile which saw the rise of the Pinochet regime, as well as on the infamous MK-Ultra project, dubbed the CIA mind control program, which involved experiments – some of them illegal – on human subjects, to develop drugs and procedures for interrogation and torture.

It’s now a couple of decades since the documents were actually declassified, though. The cache was ordered to be released by then-President Bill Clinton in 1995. The papers have been accessible since 2000, but only on four computer terminals at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

“Access to this historically significant collection is no longer limited by geography,” Joseph Lambert, the CIA’s information management director, said in a press release.

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Over the decades about 1.1 million pages from the database were printed out by historians and journalists, but the CIA banned the actual materials from publication.

“Declassifying all the documents in the world doesn’t accomplish anything if people can’t get access to them,” Steve Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told BuzzFeed.

The inability to access the database online prompted outrage, and in 2014, MuckRock, a non-profit news organization, filed a Freedom of Information Act to gain access to the documents, but the CIA said it would take at least six years to release the papers. Journalists and researchers then launched a popular Kickstarter campaign to digitize the documents, collecting over $15,000 – surpassing the stated crowdfunding goal and posting some of the papers online.

The CIA made small redactions to the documents, but solely to protect sources and methods that could damage national security, CIA spokesperson Horniak said.

The agency was aiming to publish the documents by the end of 2017, but finished the work ahead of schedule.

“We’ve been working on this for a very long time and this is one of the things I wanted to make sure got done before I left. Now you can access it from the comfort of your own home,” said outgoing CIA director of information Lambert.

The agency continues to review documents for declassification, so the treasure trove has not been unearthed in full, and there’s definitely more to follow.

OBAMA SNUBS SNOWDEN

Earnest said the “disclosures by Edward Snowden were far more serious and far more dangerous” than those of Manning

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Obama’s actions also raise questions about the future of Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency whose unauthorized revelations in 2013 showed vast surveillance by the U.S. intelligence apparatus, some of it on trusted leaders of allied nations. Snowden’s leaks also underscored how the NSA swept up telephone records within the United States in apparent violation of U.S. law. Snowden is in asylum in Moscow. 

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted recently the “stark differences” between Manning and Snowden, whose supporters who have been pushing for clemency.

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

“So I think the situation of these two individuals is quite different. I can’t speculate at this point about to what degree that will have an impact on the President’s consideration of clemency requests. But I know that there’s a temptation because the crimes were relatively similar to lump the two cases together. But there are some important differences, including the scale of the crimes that were committed and the consequences of their crimes.”

Earnest said the “disclosures by Edward Snowden were far more serious and far more dangerous” than those of Manning.

Supporters hailed the commutation as an act of humanity.

FBI sent planeload of agents to frame Assange in Iceland, got snubbed by minister

The US sent a “planeload of FBI agents” to Iceland in 2011 to frame WikiLeaks and its co-founder Julian Assange, according to a former Icelandic minister of interior, who refused them any cooperation and asked them to cease their activities.

In June 2011, Obama administration implied to Iceland‘s authorities they had knowledge of hackers wanting to destroy software systems in the country, and offered help, then-Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson, said in an interview with the Katoikos publication.

However, Jonasson said he instantly became “suspicious” of the US good intentions, “well aware that a helping hand might easily become a manipulating hand.”

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Later in the summer 2011, the US “sent a planeload of FBI agents to Iceland seeking our cooperation in what I understood as an operation set up to frame Julian Assange and WikiLeaks,” Jonasson said.

Icelanders seemed like a tough nut to crack, though.

“Since they had not been authorized by the Icelandic authorities to carry out police work in Iceland and since a crack-down on WikiLeaks was not on my agenda, to say the least, I ordered that all cooperation with them be promptly terminated and I also made it clear that they should cease all activities in Iceland immediately,” the politician said.

So the US were told to leave, and moreover, the politician made things quite clear for them.

“If I had to take sides with either WikiLeaks or the FBI or CIA, I would have no difficulty in choosing: I would be on the side of WikiLeaks,” he said.

Jónasson went on to discuss other whistleblowers like Edward Snowden: the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, debated whether Snowden should have been granted citizenship, but “there hasn’t been political consensus” on the matter.

“Iceland is part of NATO and such a decision would be strongly objected to by the US,” Jonasson said.

Both whistleblowers have spent several years under protection: Assange has been staying in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for about four years, while Snowden was granted asylum in Russia in 2013, and he is still staying at an undisclosed location there.

New rules grant FBI, DEA & CIA access to raw NSA surveillance data

In virtually its last gasp, the Obama administration has quietly given the National Security Agency wider powers to share intercepted surveillance data with 16 other government agencies, including the FBI, DEA and CIA, before applying privacy protections.

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Intelligence officials and the Justice Department finalized new regulations for sharing satellite transmissions, phone calls, emails and other online communications swept up abroad by the National Security Agency with 16 agencies that fall under the Office of National Intelligence.

“In the past, there were strict limits on the NSA’s dissemination of this data to domestic law enforcement agencies,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said about the new rules released on Thursday, according to AP. “The new regulations eviscerate those limits.”

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Lynch signed the new regulations on January 3, after James Clapper, director of national intelligence signed them on December 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the new rules.

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The new rules allow the NSA, with its large information gathering practices, largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws, to share its raw data with other agencies including the Treasury Department, FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and the CIA.
Previously US intelligence agencies could only get data after the NSA filtered it to remove irrelevant names and personal information.

“If the FBI wants to get access to the information, it can make a request to the NSA and say it’s for a counterintelligence investigation and then the NSA can hand it over – without a warrant,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute, told the AP.

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Greene said the changes are a continuation of the September 11, 2001 reform to make sure all agencies are sharing information.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “…Now, domestic agencies get it raw.”

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The ACLU told the New York Times that the move was an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the NSA’s collection methods.

The NSA is an intelligence organization of the US government, responsible for global monitoring, collection, and processing of information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes. Many of its programs rely on “passive” electronic collection but it also engages in clandestine means such as physically bugging electronic systems and alleging engaging in sabotage through subversive software. It has a presence in a large number of countries across the world.

WASH POST Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat…

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BY GLENN GREENWALD

IN THE PAST six weeks, the Washington Post published two blockbuster stories about the Russian threat that went viral: one on how Russia is behind a massive explosion of “fake news,” the other on how it invaded the U.S. electric grid. Both articles were fundamentally false. Each now bears a humiliating editor’s note grudgingly acknowledging that the core claims of the story were fiction: The first note was posted a full two weeks later to the top of the original article; the other was buried the following day at the bottom.

The second story on the electric grid turned out to be far worse than I realized when I wrote about it on Saturday, when it became clear that there was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid” as the Post had claimed. In addition to the editor’s note, the Russia-hacked-our-electric-grid story now has a full-scale retraction in the form of a separate article admitting that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility” and there may not even have been malware at all on this laptop.

But while these debacles are embarrassing for the paper, they are also richly rewarding. That’s because journalists — including those at the Post — aggressively hype and promote the original, sensationalistic false stories, ensuring that they go viral, generating massive traffic for the Post (the paper’s executive editor, Marty Baron, recently boasted about how profitable the paper has become).

After spreading the falsehoods far and wide, raising fear levels and manipulating U.S. political discourse in the process (both Russia stories were widely hyped on cable news), journalists who spread the false claims subsequently note the retraction or corrections only in the most muted way possible, and often not at all. As a result, only a tiny fraction of people who were exposed to the original false story end up learning of the retractions.

Baron himself, editorial leader of the Post, is a perfect case study in this irresponsible tactic. It was Baron who went to Twitter on the evening of November 24 to announce the Post’s exposé of the enormous reach of Russia’s fake news operation, based on what he heralded as the findings of “independent researchers.” Baron’s tweet went all over the place; to date, it has been re-tweeted more than 3,000 times, including by many journalists with their own large followings:

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But after that story faced a barrage of intense criticism — from Adrian Chen in the New Yorker (“propaganda about Russia propaganda”), Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone (“shameful, disgusting”), my own article, and many others — including legal threats from the sites smeared as Russian propaganda outlets by the Post’s “independent researchers” — the Post finally added its lengthy editor’s note distancing itself from the anonymous group that provided the key claims of its story (“The Post … does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings” and “since publication of the Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list”).

What did Baron tell his followers about this editor’s note that gutted the key claims of the story he hyped? Nothing. Not a word. To date, he has been publicly silent about these revisions. Having spread the original claims to tens of thousands of people, if not more, he took no steps to ensure that any of them heard about the major walk back on the article’s most significant, inflammatory claims. He did, however, ironically find the time to promote a different Post story about how terrible and damaging Fake News is:

But after that story faced a barrage of intense criticism — from Adrian Chen in the New Yorker (“propaganda about Russia propaganda”), Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone (“shameful, disgusting”), my own article, and many others — including legal threats from the sites smeared as Russian propaganda outlets by the Post’s “independent researchers” — the Post finally added its lengthy editor’s note distancing itself from the anonymous group that provided the key claims of its story (“The Post … does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings” and “since publication of the Post’s story, PropOrNot has removed some sites from its list”).

What did Baron tell his followers about this editor’s note that gutted the key claims of the story he hyped? Nothing. Not a word. To date, he has been publicly silent about these revisions. Having spread the original claims to tens of thousands of people, if not more, he took no steps to ensure that any of them heard about the major walk back on the article’s most significant, inflammatory claims. He did, however, ironically find the time to promote a different Post story about how terrible and damaging Fake News is:

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WHETHER THE POST’S false stories here can be distinguished from what is commonly called “Fake News” is, at this point, a semantic dispute, particularly since “Fake News” has no cogent definition. Defenders of Fake News as a distinct category typically emphasize intent in order to differentiate it from bad journalism. That’s really just a way of defining Fake News so as to make it definitionally impossible for mainstream media outlets like the Post ever to be guilty of it (much the way terrorism is defined to ensure that the U.S. government and its allies cannot, by definition, ever commit it).

But what was the Post’s motive in publishing two false stories about Russia that, very predictably, generated massive attention, traffic, and political impact? Was it ideological and political — namely, devotion to the D.C. agenda of elevating Russia into a grave threat to U.S. security? Was it to please its audience — knowing that its readers, in the wake of Trump’s victory, want to be fed stories about Russian treachery? Was it access and source servitude — proving it will serve as a loyal and uncritical repository for any propaganda intelligence officials want disseminated? Was it profit — to generate revenue through sensationalistic click-bait headlines with a reckless disregard to whether its stories are true? In an institution as large as the Post, with numerous reporters and editors participating in these stories, it’s impossible to identify any one motive as definitive.

Whatever the motives, the effects of these false stories are exactly the same as those of whatever one regards as Fake News. The false claims travel all over the internet, deceiving huge numbers into believing them. The propagators of the falsehoods receive ample profit from their false, viral “news.” And there is no accountability of the kind that would disincentivize a repeat of the behavior. (That the Post ultimately corrects its false story does not distinguish it from classic Fake News sites, which also sometimes do the same.)

And while it’s true that all media outlets make mistakes, and that even the most careful journalism sometimes errs, those facts do not remotely mitigate the Post’s behavior here. In these cases, they did not make good faith mistakes after engaging in careful journalism. With both stories, they were reckless (at best) from the start, and the glaring deficiencies in the reporting were immediately self-evident (which is why both stories were widely attacked upon publication).

As this excellent timeline by Kalev Leetaru documents, the Post did not even bother to contact the utility companies in question — the most elementary step of journalistic responsibility — until after the story was published. Intelligence officials insisting on anonymity — so as to ensure no accountability — whispered to them that this happened, and despite how significant the consequences would be, they rushed to print it with no verification at all. This is not a case of good journalism producing inaccurate reporting; it is the case of a media outlet publishing a story that it knew would produce massive benefits and consequences without the slightest due diligence or care.

THE MOST IRONIC aspect of all this is that it is mainstream journalists — the very people who have become obsessed with the crusade against Fake News — who play the key role in enabling and fueling this dissemination of false stories. They do so not only by uncritically spreading them, but also by taking little or no steps to notify the public of their falsity.

The Post’s epic debacle this weekend regarding its electric grid fiction vividly illustrates this dynamic. As I noted on Saturday, many journalists reacted to this story the same way they do every story about Russia: They instantly click and re-tweet and share the story without the slightest critical scrutiny. That these claims are constantly based on the whispers of anonymous officials and accompanied by no evidence whatsoever gives those journalists no pause at all; any official claim that Russia and Putin are behind some global evil is instantly treated as Truth. That’s a significant reason papers like the Post are incentivized to recklessly publish stories of this kind. They know they will be praised and rewarded no matter the accuracy or reliability because their Cause — the agenda — is the right one.

On Friday night, immediately after the Post’s story was published, one of the most dramatic pronouncements came from the New York Times’s editorial writer Brent Staples, who said this:

Now that this story has collapsed and been fully retracted, what has Staples done to note that this tweet was false? Just like Baron, absolutely nothing. Actually, that’s not quite accurate, as he did do something: At some point after Friday night, he quietly deleted his tweet without comment. He has not uttered a word about the fact that the story he promoted has collapsed, and that what he told his 16,000-plus followers — along with the countless number of people who re-tweeted the dramatic claim of this prominent journalist — turned out to be totally false in every respect.

Even more instructive is the case of MSNBC’s Kyle Griffin, a prolific and skilled social media user who has seen his following explode this year with a constant stream of anti-Trump content. On Friday night, when the Post story was published, Griffin hyped it with a series of tweets designed to make the story seem as menacing and consequential as possible. That included hysterical statements from Vermont officials — who believed the Post’s false claim — that in retrospect are unbelievably embarrassing.

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That tweet from Griffin — convincing people that Putin was endangering the health and safety of Vermonters — was re-tweeted more than 1,000 times. His other similar tweets — such as this one featuring Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy’s warning that Putin was trying to “shut down [the grid] in the middle of winter” — were also widely spread.

But the next day, the crux of the story collapsed — the Post’s editor’s note acknowledged that “there is no indication” that “Russian hackers had penetrated the electricity grid” — and Griffin said nothing. Indeed, he said nothing further on any of this until yesterday — four days after his series of widely shared tweets — in which he simply re-tweeted a Post reporter noting an “update” that the story was false without providing any comment himself:

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In contrast to Griffin’s original inflammatory tweets about the Russian menace, which were widely and enthusiastically spread, this after-the-fact correction has a paltry 289 re-tweets. Thus, a small fraction of those who were exposed to Griffin’s sensationalistic hyping of this story ended up learning that all of it was false.

I genuinely do not mean to single out these individual journalists for scorn. They are just illustrative of a very common dynamic: Any story that bolsters the prevailing D.C. orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide. And then, as has happened so often, when the story turns out to be false or misleading, little or nothing is done to correct the deceitful effects. And, most amazingly of all, these are the same people constantly decrying the threat posed by Fake News.

 

A VERY COMMON dynamic is driving all of this: media groupthink, greatly exacerbated (as I described on Saturday) by the incentive scheme of Twitter. As the grand media failure of 2002 demonstrated, American journalists are highly susceptible to fueling and leading the parade in demonizing a new Foreign Enemy rather than exerting restraint and skepticism in evaluating the true nature of that threat.

It is no coincidence that many of the most embarrassing journalistic debacles of this year involve the Russia Threat, and they all involve this same dynamic. Perhaps the worst one was the facially ridiculous, pre-election Slate story — which multiple outlets (including The Intercept) had been offered but passed on — alleging that Trump had created a secret server to communicate with a Russian bank; that story was so widely shared that even the Clinton campaign ended up hyping it — a tweet that, by itself, was re-tweeted almost 12,000 times.

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But only a small percentage of those who heard of it ended up hearing of the major walk back and debunking from other outlets. The same is true of The Guardian story from last week on WikiLeaks and Putin that ended up going viral, only to have its retraction barely noticed because most of the journalists who spread the story did not bother to note it.

Beyond the journalistic tendency to echo anonymous officials on whatever Scary Foreign Threat they are hyping at the moment, there is an independent incentive scheme sustaining all of this. That Russia is a Grave Menace attacking the U.S. has — for obvious reasons — become a critical narrative for Democrats and other Trump opponents who dominate elite media circles on social media and elsewhere. They reward and herald anyone who bolsters that narrative, while viciously attacking anyone who questions it.

Indeed, in my 10-plus years of writing about politics on an endless number of polarizing issues — including the Snowden reporting — nothing remotely compares to the smear campaign that has been launched as a result of the work I’ve done questioning and challenging claims about Russian hacking and the threat posed by that country generally. This is being engineered not by random, fringe accounts, but by the most prominent Democratic pundits with the largest media followings.

I’ve been transformed, overnight, into an early adherent of alt-right ideology, an avid fan of Breitbart, an enthusiastic Trump supporter, and — needless to say  — a Kremlin operative. That’s literally the explicit script they’re now using, often with outright fabrications of what I say (see here for one particularly glaring example).

They, of course, know all of this is false. A primary focus of the last 10 years of my journalism has been a defense of the civil liberties of Muslims. I wrote an entire book on the racism and inequality inherent in the U.S. justice system. My legal career involved numerous representations of victims of racial discrimination. I was one of the first journalists to condemn the misleadingly “neutral” approach to reporting on Trump and to call for more explicit condemnations of his extremism and lies. I was one of the few to defend Jorge Ramos from widespread media attacks when he challenged Trump’s immigration extremism. Along with many others, I tried to warn Democrats that nominating a candidate as unpopular as Hillary Clinton risked a Trump victory. And as someone who is very publicly in a same-sex, inter-racial marriage — with someone just elected to public office as a socialist — I make for a very unlikely alt-right leader, to put that mildly.

The malice of this campaign is exceeded only by its blatant stupidity. Even having to dignify it with a defense is depressing, though once it becomes this widespread, one has little choice.

But this is the climate Democrats have successfully cultivated — where anyone dissenting or even expressing skepticism about their deeply self-serving Russia narrative is the target of coordinated and potent smears; where, as The Nation’s James Carden documented yesterday, skepticism is literally equated with treason. And the converse is equally true: Those who disseminate claims and stories that bolster this narrative — no matter how divorced from reason and evidence they are — receive an array of benefits and rewards.

That the story ends up being completely discredited matters little. The damage is done, and the benefits received. Fake News in the narrow sense of that term is certainly something worth worrying about. But whatever one wants to call this type of behavior from the Post, it is a much greater menace given how far the reach is of the institutions that engage in it.

Whatever happened to smooth presidential transition Obama vowed?

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BY ANDREW MALCOLM

“You better stop stealing money from your mother’s purse, young man, or I will punish you late this year or perhaps sometime in 2018,” said no parent who was serious about punishment.

Yet that’s pretty much what President Obama did with his old-fashioned expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats over alleged political hacking by Moscow interests going back 18 months.

A very strange retro-response from a president who mocked Mitt Romney for suggesting in 2012 that Russia was America’s worst strategic threat. Obama said: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.”

As has often happened when Obama shoots from the lip sans teleprompter (think his red line in Syria, ISIS is a JV squad), the aloof one is wrong.

Obama’s been golfing and snorkeling in Hawaii since mid-December. But he left orders for a number of last-minute steps, including more ineffective sanctions against Russia and a stunning historic break with Israel. Indeed, these measures smell more of vengeance than practical policy.

Petty political ploys are standard operating procedure back in the Chicago wards that spawned Obama’s career. They’re less expected at the presidential level. In fact,

Russia’s president declined to retaliate.

Anyone needs an oversized ego to see themselves as president of all of Obama’s alleged 57 United States. But Obama’s ego is larger even than the million-acre national monument he recently imposed on Utah.

And when Obama’s ego rubs against those of other, let’s say, non-self-effacing egos like Vladimir Putin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, friction is inevitable.

With Putin, Obama’s actions smack of a jilted suitor. Remember in 2009 when Obama was in full Russia suck-up mode announcing a botched reset in relations with Moscow and even unilaterally canceling a missile defense system within former Soviet satellites, without telling them?

Like most dictatorships getting what they want, Russia reacted predictably, not by cooperating in return but by pushing for more. (See Munich Pact with Hitler, 1938.) The Putin gang did not help restrain Iran, but sold it sophisticated arms in defiance of U.N sanctions.

Russia annexed Crimea, fomented guerrilla war in Ukraine, moved militarily into Syria and the Mideast, seeks to undermine NATO and harassed U.S. military at sea.

And Russians, according to U.S. intelligence sources, also hacked the emails of Democrat organizations and operatives to their extreme political embarrassment during a presidential race.

But wait! Nearly seven years into Obama’s reign and two months before the Ruskies hacked Democrats, the Chinese allegedly broke into the Office of Management and Budget. They got all the personnel files, Social Security numbers, security concerns and clearances for 21.5 million current and former federal employees.

How many Chinese did Obama expel? What other retaliation did he order? None, actually.

We might guess that Obama making an international stink over Chinese hacking would raise the question, of why after all of Obama’s warnings, security commissions and vows about the paramount importance of national security, this federal government’s cybersecurity remains a sieve.

For someone who attended Harvard, Obama often claims a convenient ignorance: Among the examples: The imploded ObamaCare website, the IRS harassment scandal and his unexplained absence during the murderous Benghazi night.

The president claimed ignorance of Hillary Clinton’s insecure email server, though he knew how to message her there. And recall he initially dismissed Edward Snowden as a mere hacker. It took Obama a year to call Syria on using chemical weapons, then he quickly backed down, blaming Congress.

Since Obama vowed to run a smooth presidential transition, what’s the real point of picking a tardy diplomatic scuffle with Putin? What’s the real point of setting Israel (and the annoying Netanyahu) adrift at the United Nations now?

Why issue all these offshore drilling bans and new federal regulations? Why commute more federal prison sentences than a dozen past presidents combined? Why keep releasing Guantanamo terrorists when so many return to their homicidal careers?

Might it be to plant political IEDs for his annoying successor, as Democrats seek to restore their party? For the first time in nearly a century a former president decided to reside in Washington. Obama has rented a mansion and office space where he’ll be easily accessible to media friends for, say, kibitzing his successor – unlike Obama’s predecessor, who went silent for more than a year.