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Mainstream Media’s Russian Bogeymen

By Gareth Porter |  Consortium News | January 13, 2017

In the middle of a major domestic crisis over the U.S. charge that Russia had interfered with the U.S. election, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) triggered a brief national media hysteria by creating and spreading a bogus story of Russian hacking into U.S. power infrastructure.

DHS had initiated the now-discredited tale of a hacked computer at the Burlington, Vermont Electricity Department by sending the utility’s managers misleading and alarming information, then leaked a story they certainly knew to be false and continued to put out a misleading line to the media.

Even more shocking, however, DHS had previously circulated a similar bogus story of Russian hacking of a Springfield, Illinois water pump in November 2011.

The story of how DHS twice circulated false stories of Russian efforts to sabotage U.S. “critical infrastructure” is a cautionary tale of how senior leaders in a bureaucracy-on-the-make take advantage of every major political development to advance its own interests, with scant regard for the truth.

The DHS had carried out a major public campaign to focus on an alleged Russian threat to U.S. power infrastructure in early 2016. The campaign took advantage of a U.S. accusation of a Russian cyber-attack against the Ukrainian power infrastructure in December 2015 to promote one of the agency’s major functions — guarding against cyber-attacks on America’s infrastructure.

Beginning in late March 2016, DHS and FBI conducted a series of 12 unclassified briefings for electric power infrastructure companies in eight cities titled, “Ukraine Cyber Attack: implications for U.S. stakeholders.” The DHS declared publicly, “These events represent one of the first known physical impacts to critical infrastructure which resulted from cyber-attack.”

That statement conveniently avoided mentioning that the first cases of such destruction of national infrastructure from cyber-attacks were not against the United States, but were inflicted on Iran by the Obama administration and Israel in 2009 and 2012.

Beginning in October 2016, the DHS emerged as one of the two most important players – along with the CIA—in the political drama over the alleged Russian effort to tilt the 2016 election toward Donald Trump. Then on Dec. 29, DHS and FBI distributed a “Joint Analysis Report” to U.S. power utilities across the country with what it claimed were “indicators” of a Russian intelligence effort to penetrate and compromise U.S. computer networks, including networks related to the presidential election, that it called “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”

The report clearly conveyed to the utilities that the “tools and infrastructure” it said had been used by Russian intelligence agencies to affect the election were a direct threat to them as well. However, according to Robert M. Lee, the founder and CEO of the cyber-security company Dragos, who had developed one of the earliest U.S. government programs for defense against cyber-attacks on U.S. infrastructure systems, the report was certain to mislead the recipients.

“Anyone who uses it would think they were being impacted by Russian operations,” said Lee. “We ran through the indicators in the report and found that a high percentage were false positives.”

Lee and his staff found only two of a long list of malware files that could be linked to Russian hackers without more specific data about timing. Similarly a large proportion of IP addresses listed could be linked to “GRIZZLY STEPPE” only for certain specific dates, which were not provided.

The Intercept discovered, in fact, that 42 percent of the 876 IP addresses listed in the report as having been used by Russian hackers were exit nodes for the Tor Project, a system that allows bloggers, journalists and others – including some military entities – to keep their Internet communications private.

Lee said the DHS staff that worked on the technical information in the report is highly competent, but the document was rendered useless when officials classified and deleted some key parts of the report and added other material that shouldn’t have been in it. He believes the DHS issued the report “for a political purpose,” which was to “show that the DHS is protecting you.”

Planting the Story, Keeping it Alive

Upon receiving the DHS-FBI report the Burlington Electric Company network security team immediately ran searches of its computer logs using the lists of IP addresses it had been provided. When one of IP addresses cited in the report as an indicator of Russian hacking was found on the logs, the utility immediately called DHS to inform it as it had been instructed to do by DHS.

In fact, the IP address on the Burlington Electric Company’s computer was simply the Yahoo e-mail server, according to Lee, so it could not have been a legitimate indicator of an attempted cyber-intrusion. That should have been the end of the story. But the utility did not track down the IP address before reporting it to DHS. It did, however, expect DHS to treat the matter confidentially until it had thoroughly investigated and resolved the issue.

“DHS wasn’t supposed to release the details,” said Lee. “Everybody was supposed to keep their mouth shut.”

Instead, a DHS official called The Washington Post and passed on word that one of the indicators of Russian hacking of the DNC had been found on the Burlington utility’s computer network. The Post failed to follow the most basic rule of journalism, relying on its DHS source instead of checking with the Burlington Electric Department first. The result was the Post’s sensational Dec. 30 story under the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.”

The DHS official evidently had allowed the Post to infer that the Russian’s hack had penetrated the grid without actually saying so. The Post story said the Russians “had not actively used the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter,” but then added, and that “the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”

The electric company quickly issued a firm denial that the computer in question was connected to the power grid. The Post was forced to retract, in effect, its claim that the electricity grid had been hacked by the Russians. But it stuck by its story that the utility had been the victim of a Russian hack for another three days before admitting that no such evidence of a hack existed.

The day after the story was published, the DHS leadership continued to imply, without saying so explicitly, that the Burlington utility had been hacked by Russians. Assistant Secretary for Pubic Affairs J. Todd Breasseale gave CNN a statement that the “indicators” from the malicious software found on the computer at Burlington Electric were a “match” for those on the DNC computers.

As soon as DHS checked the IP address, however, it knew that it was a Yahoo cloud server and therefore not an indicator that the same team that allegedly hacked the DNC had gotten into the Burlington utility’s laptop. DHS also learned from the utility that the laptop in question had been infected by malware called “neutrino,” which had never been used in “GRIZZLY STEPPE.”

Only days later did the DHS reveal those crucial facts to the Post. And the DHS was still defending its joint report to the Post, according to Lee, who got part of the story from Post sources. The DHS official was arguing that it had “led to a discovery,” he said. “The second is, ‘See, this is encouraging people to run indicators.’”

Original DHS False Hacking Story

The false Burlington Electric hack scare is reminiscent of an earlier story of Russian hacking of a utility for which the DHS was responsible as well. In November 2011, it reported an “intrusion” into a Springfield, Illinois water district computer that similarly turned out to be a fabrication.

Like the Burlington fiasco, the false report was preceded by a DHS claim that U.S. infrastructure systems were already under attack. In October 2011, acting DHS deputy undersecretary Greg Schaffer was quoted by The Washington Post as warning that “our adversaries” are “knocking on the doors of these systems.” And Schaffer added, “In some cases, there have been intrusions.” He did not specify when, where or by whom, and no such prior intrusions have ever been documented.

On Nov. 8, 2011, a water pump belonging to the Curran-Gardner township water district near Springfield, Illinois, burned out after sputtering several times in previous months. The repair team brought in to fix it found a Russian IP address on its log from five months earlier. That IP address was actually from a cell phone call from the contractor who had set up the control system for the pump and who was vacationing in Russia with his family, so his name was in the log by the address.

Without investigating the IP address itself, the utility reported the IP address and the breakdown of the water pump to the Environmental Protection Agency, which in turn passed it on to the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, also called a fusion center composed of Illinois State Police and representatives from the FBI, DHS and other government agencies.

On Nov. 10 – just two days after the initial report to EPA – the fusion center produced a report titled “Public Water District Cyber Intrusion” suggesting a Russian hacker had stolen the identity of someone authorized to use the computer and had hacked into the control system causing the water pump to fail.

The contractor whose name was on the log next to the IP address later told Wired magazine that one phone call to him would have laid the matter to rest. But the DHS, which was the lead in putting the report out, had not bothered to make even that one obvious phone call before opining that it must have been a Russian hack.

The fusion center “intelligence report,” circulated by DHS Office of Intelligence and Research, was picked up by a cyber-security blogger, who called The Washington Post and read the item to a reporter. Thus the Post published the first sensational story of a Russian hack into a U.S. infrastructure on Nov. 18, 2011.

After the real story came out, DHS disclaimed responsibility for the report, saying that it was the fusion center’s responsibility. But a Senate subcommittee investigation revealed in a report a year later that even after the initial report had been discredited, DHS had not issued any retraction or correction to the report, nor had it notified the recipients about the truth.

DHS officials responsible for the false report told Senate investigators such reports weren’t intended to be “finished intelligence,” implying that the bar for accuracy of the information didn’t have to be very high. They even claimed that the report was a “success” because it had done “what it’s supposed to do – generate interest.”

Both the Burlington and Curran-Gardner episodes underline a central reality of the political game of national security in the New Cold War era: major bureaucratic players like DHS have a huge political stake in public perceptions of a Russian threat, and whenever the opportunity arises to do so, they will exploit it.


Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

January 13, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Digital 9/11 If Trump Wins

By Finian Cunningham | SPUTNIK | November 6, 2016

There are disturbing signs that a digital 9/11 terror attack is being readied for election day in the US to ensure that Donald Trump does not win.

Such an attack – involving widespread internet and power outage – would have nothing to do with Russia or any other foreign state. It would be furnished by agencies of the US Deep State in a classic “false flag” covert manner. But the resulting chaos and “assault on American democracy” will be conveniently blamed on Russia.

That presents a double benefit. Russia would be further demonized as a foreign aggressor “justifying” even harsher counter measures by America and its European allies against Moscow.

Secondly, a digital attack on America’s presidential election day this week, would allow the Washington establishment to pronounce the result invalidated due to “Russian cyber subversion”. That option stands to be invoked if the ballot results showed Republican candidate Donald Trump as the imminent victor.

Democrat rival Hillary Clinton is the clear choice for the White House among the Washington establishment. She has the backing of Wall Street finance capital, the corporate media, the military-industrial complex and the Deep State agencies of the Pentagon and CIA. The fix has been in for months to get her elected by the powers-that-be owing to her well-groomed obedience to American imperialist interests.

The billionaire property magnate Trump is too much of a maverick to be entrusted with the White House, as far as the American ruling elite are concerned. The trouble is, however, that despite the massive campaign to discredit Trump his poll support remains stubbornly close to Clinton’s.

The latter has been tainted with too many scandals involving allegations of sleazy dealings with Wall Street, so-called pay-for-play favors while she was former Secretary of State, and her penchant for inciting overseas wars for regime change using jihadist terrorist foot-soldiers.

As one headline from McClatchy News only days ago put it: “Majority of voters think Clinton acted illegally, new poll finds”.

Trump is right. The US presidential election is “rigged”. Despite handwringing condemnations by pundits, it seems obvious that the system is heavily stacked against any candidate who does not conform with the interests of the establishment. The massive media-orchestrated campaign against Trump is testimony to that.

But such is popular disgust with Clinton, her sleaze-ball husband Bill and the Washington establishment that her victory is far from certain. Indeed in the last week before voting this Tuesday various polls are showing a neck-and-neck race with even some indicators putting the Republican narrowly ahead.

Over the weekend, the Washington Post, which has been one of the main media outlets panning Trump on a daily basis, reported this: “The electoral map is definitely moving in Trump’s direction”.

This is where a possible Deep State contingency plan is being readied to scupper a shock win by Trump.

In recent days, American media are reporting a virtual state of emergency by the US government and its security agencies to thwart what they claim are Russian efforts to incite “election day cyber mayhem”.

In one “exclusive” report by the NBC network on November 3, it was claimed that: “The US government believes hackers from Russia or elsewhere may try to undermine next week’s presidential election and is mounting an unprecedented effort to counter their cyber meddling.”

On November 4, the Washington Post reported: “Intelligence officials warn of Russian mischief in election and beyond.”

Apparently, the emergency security response is being coordinated by the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, the National Security Agency and other elements of the Defense Department, according to NBC.

These claims of Russian state hackers interfering in the US political system are not new. Last month, the Obama administration officially accused Moscow of this alleged malfeasance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lambasted American claims that his country is seeking to disrupt the presidential elections as “hysterical nonsense”, aimed at distracting the electorate from far more deep-rooted internal problems.

The Obama administration and its state security agencies have not provided one iota of evidence to support their allegations against Russia. Nevertheless the repeated charges have a tendency to stick.

The Clinton campaign has for months been accusing Trump of being a “pro-Russian stooge”. Her campaign has also claimed that Russian hackers have colluded with the whistleblower organization Wikileaks to release thousands of private emails damaging Clinton with the intention of swaying the election in favor of Trump.

Wikileaks’ director Julian Assange and the Russian government have both rejected any suggestion that they are somehow collaborating, or that they are working to get Trump elected.

But on the eve of the election, the US authorities are recklessly pushing hysteria that Russia is trying to subvert American democracy. Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 is quoted as saying: “The Russians are in an offensive mode and the US is working on strategies to respond to that, and at the highest levels.”

NBC cites a senior Obama administration official as saying that the Russians “want to sow as much confusion as possible and undermine our process”.

Ominously, the news outlet adds that “steps are being taken to prepare for worst-case scenarios, including a cyber-attack that shuts down part of the power grid or the internet.”

Nearly two weeks ago, on October 21-22, the US was hit with a widespread internet outage. The actors behind the “distributed denial of service” were not identified, but the disruption was nationwide and it temporarily disabled many popular consumer services. One former official at the US Department of Homeland Security described the event as having “all the signs of what would be considered a drill”. Could that cyber-attack have been the work of US Deep State agencies as a dress rehearsal for an even bigger outage planned for November 8 – election day?

The Washington establishment wants Clinton over Trump. She’s the marionette of choice for their strategic interests, including a more hostile foreign policy towards Russia in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere.

But Trump might just snatch an election day victory from the jaws of defeat.

In which case, the shadowy forces that really rule America will trigger a “digital 9/11”. It’s not difficult to imagine the chaos and mayhem from internet blackout, power, transport, banking and communications paralysis – even for just a temporary period of a few hours.

Months of fingering Russia as a destabilizing foreign enemy intent on interfering in US democracy to get “Comrade Trump” into the White House would then serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In that event, the US authorities could plausibly move to declare the election of Donald J Trump null and void.

In fact the scenario could be contrived to a far more serious level than merely suspending the election result. The US authorities could easily feign that a state of emergency is necessary in order to “defend national security”.

That contingency catapults beyond “rigged politics”. It is a green light for a coup d’état by the Deep State forces who found that they could not win through the “normal” rigging methods.

November 6, 2016 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US government officially accuses Russia of political hacks

RT | October 7, 2016

The US intelligence community is “confident” that Russia is behind the recent hacks of US officials’ and organizations’ emails, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of National Intelligence said.

According to the joint statement issued Friday, “disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

“We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” says the statement, posted by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The thefts and disclosures are “intended to interfere with the US election process,” the statement said, adding that “the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia” to influence public opinion.

External attempts to access election systems in several states“in most cases originated from servers operated by a Russian company,” the US officials said. “However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government.”

It would be “extremely difficult” for anyone to alter ballot counts or election results through cyberattacks, DHS and DNI said.

DHS has established an Election Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group “with experts across all levels of government” to raise awareness of cybersecurity risks, and urges state and local election officials to seek cybersecurity assistance from the federal authorities.

This is the first time the US government has officially accused Russia of cyberattacks related to the US presidential campaign. The Democratic National Committee blamed Russia for the hack of their email servers in June, though a lone hacker going by the name ‘Guccifer 2.0’ claimed responsibility and denied any ties to Russia.

The statement from Homeland Security and DNI comes just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry said that Russian actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” Moscow has dismissed Kerry’s words as “propaganda” intended to distract from US failure to implement the Syrian ceasefire agreement.

US cybersecurity experts claim that six out of eight IP addresses used by the DNC hackers were hosted on King Servers, a Russian provider. Vladimir Fomenko, owner of the company, told RT that he was never contacted by US law enforcement, however.

“We are ready to assist in probing this crime and consulting the FBI or other services on such issues. Hackers are a common threat and we must fight it together,” Fomenko said.

“If the FBI asks, we are ready to supply the IP addresses, the logs,” he said. “Nobody is asking… It’s like nobody wants to sort this out.”

October 7, 2016 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | 3 Comments

Homeland Security detains US journalist returning from Beirut, tries to confiscate phones

RT | July 22, 2016

A Wall Street Journal reporter returning from Beirut was taken into holding, grilled and asked to hand over her phones by the Department of Homeland Security at Los Angeles International Airport.

When the journalist, Maria Abi-Habib, returned from Beirut, it was another ordinary work trip. But after touching down at LAX in Los Angeles, she was treated as a dangerous suspect by the service, which now enjoys broad authority at airports.

She outlined the ordeal in a Facebook post, largely focusing on the dangers of the loss of privacy and the risk to journalistic work emerging out of the DHS practice.

As soon as she joined the line for immigration, a friendly officer walked up, giddily saying “Oh, there you are. I was trying to recognize you from your picture. I’m here to help you get through the line.” The friendly greeting by the female agent was only offset by the fact of how much she already knew. As Abi-Habib explains:

“The DHS agent went on to say she was there to help me navigate immigration because I am a journalist with The Wall Street Journal and have travelled to many dangerous places that are on the US’ radar for terrorism. She independently knew who I worked for and my Twitter account, countries I’d reported from (like Iraq) and even recent articles I’d written — I told her nothing about myself.”

But to a journalist already on the US Immigration list, this was unsurprising. Abi-Habib was put on the list precisely because of her line of work, and it had previously served to help her navigate customs more quickly.

But this time was different. After being escorted to baggage claim, she was led into a closed-off section of LAX into a room, where another DHS agent was already waiting.

“They grilled me for an hour – asking me about the years I lived in the US, when I moved to Beirut and why, who lives at my in-laws’ house in LA and numbers for the groom and bride whose wedding I was attending.”

Although she took this all in high spirits – given her previous work experience with security checks – Abi-Habib’s story quickly took a darker turn when the DHS officers asked her for her two mobile phones, saying they needed to “collect information,” though didn’t say about what.

Abi-Habib tried to explain that this not only violated her First Amendment rights, but exposed the professional sources she was protecting as a journalist. Although the words are nothing out of the ordinary for the profession, the DHS officer questioning her shot back: “Did you just admit you collect information for foreign governments?”

Shocked, Abi-Habib replied: “No, that’s exactly not what I just said,” as she proceeded to protest the confiscation of the phones.

That is when the real shock came. Abi-Habib was promptly handed a DHS document, which outlined that the service could deprive her of her rights as a US citizen at any border, and that the authority extended up to 100 miles (160km) from the border inside the actual country.

“So, all of NY city for instance,” she writes. “If they forgot to ask you at JFK airport for your phones, but you’re having a drink in Manhattan the next day, you technically fall under this authority. And because they are acting under the pretence to protect the US from terrorism, you have to give it up.”

Abi-Habib tried a different tactic – revealing that the phones were the property of the Wall Street Journal, and that the service would need to contact the paper’s attorneys to obtain permission. At that point things became potentially even more dangerous. The DHS now accused her of impeding the investigation.

That is “a dangerous accusation,” she wrote, “as at that point, they can use force.”

“She said she had to speak to her supervisor about my lack of cooperation and would return,” she wrote, as another officer remained.

The female officer returned 30 minutes later and said Abi-Habib was free to go.

“I have no idea why they wanted my phones – it could have been a way for them to download my contacts. Or maybe they expect [sic] me of terrorism or sympathizing with terrorists – although my profile wouldn’t fit, considering I am named Maria Teresa, and for a variety of other reasons including my small child.”

The DHS’ expanded powers are coming under increasing scrutiny in an age when all of one’s most private information is carried in their back pocket – not to mention sensitive work-related information. But as Abi-Habib later found out, the DHS was indeed perfectly within its right to deprive a citizen of their rights for up to 100 miles within US borders – a law that was “quietly passed” in 2013.

“This legislation also circumvents the Fourth Amendment that protects Americans’ privacy and prevents searches and seizures without a proper warrant,” she explains, adding that using encryption is now practically a must – although even then is not a guarantee, seeing as some apps will reveal the identity of the recipient, if not the chat history.

“Never download anything or even open a link from a friend or source that looks suspicious. This may be malware, meaning that they have downloaded software on your phone that will be able to circumvent the powers of encryption,” Abi-Habib warns after speaking to an encryption expert.

She also advises to “travel naked” – an expression which a tech-savvy acquaintance used. That means not taking a sensitive phone with you – only the SIM card – and using it in a ‘clean’ phone. All sensitive numbers should also be written on paper.

Abi-Habib’s story follows a wave of controversy over special powers now afforded to US agencies at the border. A new proposal to ask visitors for their “social media identifier” could help border agents search your background without having to go to the National Security Agency (NSA), it turned out late June.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is part of the DHS, believes having this “identifier” could help it find “possible nefarious activity and connections.”

The public consultation process for that proposal will expire August 22. If successful, the social media information would be gathered in addition to the numerous database checks, fingerprinting, and face-to-interviews that already take place. How it would be processed is not revealed in the proposal and providing the information would be voluntary.

Read more:

Social profiling: US border agents want to know what you’re saying on Facebook & Twitter

July 22, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | 1 Comment

The FBI has been databasing suspicious memes and their creators for five years to silence political dissent

Blacklisted News | March 1, 2016

News has been making rounds across the internet that the FBI in collusion with the National Science Foundation has sunk nearly one million dollars into a program at the University of Indiana:

“The project is aimed at modeling the diffusion of information online and empirically discriminating among models of mechanisms driving the spread of memes. We explore why some ideas cause viral explosions while others are quickly forgotten. Our analysis goes beyond the traditional approach of applied epidemic diffusion processes and focuses on cascade size distributions and popularity time series in order to model the agents and processes driving the online diffusion of information, including: users and their topical interests, competition for user attention, and the chronological age of information. Completion of our project will result in a better understanding of information flow and could assist in elucidating the complex mechanisms that underlie a variety of human dynamics and organizations. The analysis will involve studying meme diffusion in large-scale social media by collecting and analyzing massive streams of public micro-blogging data.

The project stands to benefit both the research community and the public significantly. Our data will be made available via APIs and include information on meme propagation networks, statistical data, and relevant user and content features. The open-source platform we develop will be made publicly available and will be extensible to ever more research areas as a greater preponderance of human activities are replicated online. Additionally, we will create a web service open to the public for monitoring trends, bursts, and suspicious memes. This service could mitigate the diffusion of false and misleading ideas, detect hate speech and subversive propaganda, and assist in the preservation of open debate.

Using their system, dubbed Truthy, the group intends to track and differentiate memetic content made by normal everyday users and that of ‘professional political activists’ with the goal of eliminating false or misleading political information from social media ecosystems. Other research carried out by the project varies from analyses of meme propagation in specific geographical areas to understanding the viral nature of politically secular world affairs like the ongoing migrant crisis or the Occupy Wall Street movement when the average attention span of users is lower than that of a goldfish.

Even more suspiciously, one of the stated endgame goals of the project is to share the machine learning techniques gained from Truthy with future mass social media studies carried out by government and academia.

Curiously missing though from Truthy’s online dating profile is that she’s married to the FBI and LOVES sharing your dirty online secrets with her husband and his friends in Washington. Beginning in the Fall of 2014 Truthy began databasing not only suspicious memes but also the identity of their creators where the information will remain “forever, regardless of their innocence or guilt, or their intentions.” said lead FBI agent Paul Horner. “This database will be shared with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies.”

“forever, regardless of their innocence or guilt, or their intentions. This database will be shared with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other agencies.”

Are we having fun yet?

March 1, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

DHS releases best practices for government drone use, says nothing about warrants

PrivacySOS | January 4, 2015

In late December 2015, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its “Privacy, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Unmanned Aircraft Systems Working Group” best practices recommendations for government drone use. The 11 page document does not contain the word “warrant,” nor any recommendations to federal, state, or local law enforcement about getting judicial approval to use drones to monitor people.

The best practices DHS offers mostly concern basic data security issues, including recommendations to delete data when it’s not needed, to limit collection where possible, to be (a little—not too) transparent with the public about drone acquisitions and operations, to avoid mission creep, and to refrain from spying on people based on their political views or protected class alone.

Those are all good things, but these recommendations are just that—suggestions. The document isn’t legally binding. And it completely avoids tackling a very important issue: judicial oversight and approval of police drone use. There’s little chance that congress will pass legislation mandating that police get warrants to use drones any time soon, so the responsibility for filling in the gap falls to state legislatures and courts.

While at least 20 states have passed laws to regulate drones, many of them don’t put any restrictions on law enforcement. Maine and Virginia require police to acquire warrants before deploying drones in most circumstances. The Drone Privacy Act in Massachusetts would require that police get a warrant before spying on us with drones, and ban the use of weaponized drones among state and local law enforcement.

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Leak Reveals Obama Regime Ordered NSA, CIA to Spy on Venezuela Oil Firm

By Charles Davis and Andrew Fishman – teleSUR – November 18, 2015

The U.S. National Security Agency accessed the internal communications of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela and acquired sensitive data it planned to exploit in order to spy on the company’s top officials, according to a highly classified NSA document that reveals the operation was carried out in concert with the U.S. embassy in Caracas.

The March 2011 document, labeled, “top secret,” and provided by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, is being reported on in an exclusive partnership between teleSUR and The Intercept.

Drafted by an NSA signals development analyst, the document explains that PDVSA’s network, already compromised by U.S. intelligence, was further infiltrated after an NSA review in late 2010 – during President Barack Obama’s first term, which would suggest he ordered or at least authorized the operation – “showed telltale signs that things were getting stagnant on the Venezuelan Energy target set.” Most intelligence “was coming from warranted collection,” which likely refers to communications that were intercepted as they passed across U.S. soil. According to the analyst, “what little was coming from other collectors,” or warrantless surveillance, “was pretty sparse.”

Beyond efforts to infiltrate Venezuela’s most important company, the leaked NSA document highlights the existence of a secretive joint operation between the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency operating out of the U.S. embassy in Caracas. A fortress-like building just a few kilometers from PDVSA headquarters, the embassy sits on the top of a hill that gives those inside a commanding view of the Venezuelan capital.

Last year, Der Spiegel published top-secret documents detailing the state-of-the-art surveillance equipment that the NSA and CIA deploy to embassies around the world. That intelligence on PDVSA had grown “stagnant” was concerning to the U.S. intelligence community for a number of reasons, which its powerful surveillance capabilities could help address.

“Venezuela has some of the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the world,” the NSA document states, with revenue from oil and gas accounting “for roughly one third of GDP” and “more than half of all government revenues.”

“To understand PDVSA,” the NSA analyst explains, “is to understand the economic heart of Venezuela.”

Increasing surveillance on the leadership of PDVSA, the most important company in a South American nation seen as hostile to U.S. corporate interests, was a priority for the undisclosed NSA division to which the analyst reported. “Plainly speaking,” the analyst writes, they “wanted PDVSA information at the highest possible levels of the corporation – namely, the president and members of the Board of Directors.”

Given a task, the analyst got to work and, with the help of “sheer luck,” found his task easier than expected.

It began simply enough: with a visit to PDVSA’s website, “where I clicked on ‘Leadership’ and wrote down the names of the principals who would become my target list.” From there, the analyst “dumped the names” into PINWALE, the NSA’s primary database of previously intercepted digital communications, automatically culled using a dictionary of search terms called “selectors.” It was an almost immediate success.

In addition to email traffic, the analyst came across over 10,000 employee contact profiles full of email addresses, phone numbers, and other useful targeting information, including the usernames and passwords for over 900 PDVSA employees. One profile the analyst found was for Rafael Ramirez, PDVSA’s president from 2004 to 2014 and Venezuela’s current envoy to the United Nations. A similar entry turned up for Luis Vierma, the company’s former vice president of exploration and production.

“Now, even my old eyes could see that these things were a goldmine,” the analyst wrote. The entries were full of “work, home, and cell phones, email addresses, LOTS!” This type of information, referred to internally as “selectors,” can then be “tasked” across the NSA’s wide array of surveillance tools so that any relevant communications will be saved.

According to the analyst, the man to whom he reported “was thrilled!” But “it is what happened next that really made our day.”

“As I was analyzing the metadata,” the analyst explains, “I clicked on the ‘From IP’ and noticed something peculiar,” all of the employee profile, “over 10,000 of them, came from the same IP!!!” That, the analyst determined, meant “I had been looking at internal PDVSA comms all this time!!! I fired off a few emails to F6 here and in Caracas, and they confirmed it!”

“Metadata” is a broad term that can include the phone numbers a target has dialed, the duration of the call and from where it was placed, as well as the Wi-Fi networks used to access the Internet, the websites visited and the times accessed. That information can then be used to identify the user.

F6 is the NSA code name for a joint operation with the CIA known as the Special Collection Service, based in Beltsville, Maryland – and with agents posing as diplomats in dozens of U.S. embassies around the world, including Caracas, Bogota and Brasilia.

In 2013, Der Spiegel reported that it was this unit of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy that had installed, within the U.S. embassy in Berlin, “sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication.” The article suggested this is likely how the U.S. tapped into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

SCS at the U.S. embassy in Caracas played an active role throughout the espionage activities described in the NSA document. “I have been coordinating with Caracas,” the NSA analyst states, “who have been surveying their environment and sticking the results into XKEYSCORE.”

XKEYSCORE, as reported by The Intercept, processes a continuous “flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network,” storing the data for 72 hours on a “rolling buffer” and “sweep[ing] up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords.”

The NSA’s combined databases are, essentially, “a very ugly version of Google with half the world’s information in it,” explained Matthew Green, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, in an email. “They’re capturing so much information from their cable taps, that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got,” he added, “an analyst has to occasionally step in and manually dig through the data” to see if the information they want has already been collected.

That is exactly what the NSA analyst did in the case of PDVSA, which turned up even more leads to expand their collection efforts.

“I have been lucky enough to find several juicy pdf documents in there,” the NSA analyst wrote, “one of which has just been made a report.”

That report, dated January 2011, suggests a familiarity with the finances of PDVSA beyond that which was public knowledge, noting a decline in the theft and loss of oil.

“In addition, I have discovered a string that carries user ID’s and their passwords, and have recovered over 900 unique user/password combinations” the analyst wrote, which he forwarded to the NSA’s elite hacking team, Targeted Access Operations, along with other useful information and a “targeting request to see if we can pwn this network and especially, the boxes of PDVSA’s leadership.”

“Pwn,” in this context, means to successfully hack and gain full access to a computer or network. “Pwning” a computer, or “box,” would allow the hacker to monitor a user’s every keystroke.

A History of US Interest in Venezuelan Affairs

PDVSA has long been a target of U.S. intelligence agencies and the subject of intense scrutiny from U.S. diplomats. A February 17, 2009, cable, sent from the U.S. ambassador in Caracas to Washington and obtained by WikiLeaks, shows that PDVSA employees, were probed during visa interviews about their company’s internal operations. The embassy was particularly interested in the PDVSA’s strategy concerning litigation over Venezuela’s 2007 nationalization of the Cerro Negro oil project – and billions of dollars in assets owned by U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil.

“According to a PDVSA employee interviewed following his visa renewal, PDVSA is aggressively preparing its international arbitration case against ExxonMobil,” the cable notes.

A year before, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that the U.S. government “fully support the efforts of ExxonMobil to get a just and fair compensation package for their assets.” But, he added, “We are not involved in that dispute.”

ExxonMobil is also at the center of a border dispute between Guyana and Venezuela. In May 2015, the company announced it had made a “significant oil discovery” in an offshore location claimed by both countries. The U.S. ambassador to Guyana has offered support for that country’s claim.

More recently, the U.S. government has begun leaking information to media about allegations against top Venezuelan officials.

In October, The Wall Street Journal reported in a piece, “U.S. Investigates Venezuelan Oil Giant,” that “agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies” had recently met to discuss “various PDVSA-related probes.” The “wide-ranging investigations” reportedly have to do with whether former PDVSA President Rafael Ramirez and other executives accepted bribes.

Leaked news of the investigations came less than two months before Dec. 6 parliamentary elections in Venezuela. Ramirez, for his part, has rejected the accusations, which he claims are part of a “new campaign that wants to claim from us the recovery and revolutionary transformation of PDVSA.” Thanks to Chavez, he added, Venezuela’s oil belongs to “the people.”

In its piece on the accusations against him, The Wall Street Journal notes that during Ramirez’s time in office PDVSA became “an arm of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution,” with money made from the sale of petroleum used “to pay for housing, appliances and food for the poor.”

The former PDVSA president is not the only Venezuelan official to be accused of corruption by the U.S. government. In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Diosdado Cabello, president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, of being involved in cocaine trafficking and money laundering. Former Interior Minister Tarek El Aissami, the former director of military intelligence, Hugo Carvajal, and Nestor Reverol, head of the National Guard, have also faced similar accusations from the U.S. government.

None of these accusations against high-ranking Venezuelan officials has led to any indictments.

The timing of the charges, made in the court of public opinion rather than a courthouse, has led some to believe there’s another motive.

“These people despise us,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said in October. He and his supporters argue the goal of the U.S. government’s selective leaks is to undermine his party ahead of the upcoming elections, helping install a right-wing opposition seen as friendlier to U.S. interests. “They believe that we belong to them.”

Loose Standards for NSA Intelligence Sharing

Ulterior motives or not, by the NSA’s own admission the intelligence it gathers on foreign targets may be disseminated widely among U.S. officials who may have more than justice on their minds.

According to a guide issued by the NSA on January 12, 2015, the communications of non-U.S. persons may be captured in bulk and retained if they are said to contain information concerning a plot against the United States or evidence of, “Transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion.” Any intelligence that is gathered may then be passed on to other agencies, such as the DEA, if it “is related to a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed.”

Spying for the sole purpose of protecting the interests of a corporation is ostensibly not allowed, though there are exceptions that do allow for what might be termed economic espionage.

“The collection of foreign private commercial information or trade secrets is authorized only to protect nation the national security of the United States or its partners and allies,” the agency states. It is not supposed to collect such information “to afford a competitive advantage to U.S. companies and U.S. business sectors commercially.” However, “Certain economic purposes, such as identifying trade or sanctions violations or government influence or direction, shall not constitute competitive advantage.”

In May 2011, two months after the leaked document was published in NSA’s internal newsletter, the U.S. State Department announced it was imposing sanctions on PDVSA – a state-owned enterprise, or one that could be said to be subject to “government influence or direction” – for business it conducted with the Islamic Republic of Iran between December 2010 and March 2011. The department did not say how it obtained information about the transactions, allegedly worth US$50 million.

Intelligence gathered with one stated purpose can also serve another, and the NSA’s already liberal rules on the sharing of what it gathers can also be bent in times of perceived emergency.

“If, due to unanticipated or extraordinary circumstances, NSA determines that it must take action in apparent departure from these procedures to protect the national security of the United States, such action may be taken” – after either consulting other branches of the intelligence bureaucracy. “If there is insufficient time for approval,” however, it may unilaterally take action.

Beyond the obvious importance of oil, leaked diplomatic cables show PDVSA was also on the U.S. radar because of its importance to Venezuela’s left-wing government. In 2009, another diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks shows the U.S. embassy in Caracas viewed PDVSA as crucial to the political operations of long-time foe and former President Hugo Chavez. In April 2002, Chavez was briefly overthrown in a coup that, according to The New York Times, as many as 200 officials in the George W. Bush administration – briefed by the CIA – knew about days before it was carried out.

The Venezuelan government was not informed of the plot.

“Since the December 2002-February 2003 oil sector strike, PDVSA has put itself at the service of President Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution, funding everything from domestic programs to Chavez’s geopolitical endeavors,” the 2009 cable states.

Why might that be a problem, from the U.S. government’s perspective? Another missive from the U.S. embassy in Caracas, this one sent in 2010, sheds some light: Chavez “appears determined to shape the hemisphere according to his vision of ‘socialism in the 21st century,’” it states, “a vision that is almost the mirror image of what the United States seeks.”

There was a time when not so long ago when the U.S. had an ally in Venezuela, one that shared its vision for the hemisphere – and invited a U.S. firm run by former U.S. intelligence officials to directly administer its information technology operations.

Amid a push for privatization under former Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera, in January 1997 PDVSA decided to outsource its IT system to a joint a company called Information, Business and Technology, or INTESA – the product of a joint venture between the oil company, which owned a 40 percent share of the new corporation, and the major U.S.-based defense contractor Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, which controlled 60 percent.

SAIC has close, long-standing ties to the U.S. intelligence community. At the time of its dealings with Venezuela, the company’s director was retired Admiral Bobby Inman. Before coming to SAIC, Inman served as the U.S. Director of Naval Intelligence and Vice Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. Inman also served as deputy director of the CIA and, from 1977 to 1981, as director of the NSA.

In his book, “Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government,” author Gregory Wilpert notes that Inman was far from the only former intelligence official working for SAIC in a leadership role. Joining him were two former U.S. Secretaries of Defense, William Perry and Melvin Laird, a former director of the CIA, John Deutsch, and a former head of both the CIA and the Defense Department, Robert Gates. The company that those men controlled, INTESA, was given the job of managing “all of PDVSA’s data processing needs.”

In 2002, Venezuela, now led by a government seeking to roll back the privatizations of its predecessor, chose not to renew SAIC’s contract for another five years, a decision the company protested to the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which insures the overseas investments of U.S. corporations. In 2004, the U.S. agency ruled that by canceling its contract with SAIC the Venezuelan government had “expropriated” the company’s investment.

However, before that ruling, and before its operations were reincorporated by PDVSA, the company that SAIC controlled, INTESA, played a key role in an opposition-led strike aimed at shutting down the Venezuelan oil industry. In December 2002, eight months after the failed coup attempt and the same month its contract was set to expire, INTESA, the Venezuelan Ministry of Communication and Information alleges, “exercised its ability to control our computers by paralyzing the charge, discharge, and storage of crude at different terminals within the national grid.” The government alleges INTESA, which possessed the codes needed to access those terminals, refused to allow non-striking PDVSA employees access to the company’s control systems.

“The result,” Wilpert noted, “was that PDVSA could not transfer its data processing to new systems, nor could it process its orders for invoices for oil shipments. PDVSA ended up having to process such things manually because passwords and the general computing infrastructure were unavailable, causing the strike to be much more damaging to the company than it would have been if the data processing had been in PDVSA’s hands.”

PDVSA’s IT operations would become a strictly internal affair soon thereafter, though one never truly free from the prying eyes of hostile outsiders.

November 19, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Hampshire library to implement Tor above DHS objections—and how

PrivacySOS | September 16, 2015

A few weeks ago the Department of Homeland Security tried to intervene in a local library’s privacy program. Last night, the community roundly rejected those calls, explicitly choosing freedom over fear. Library board meetings don’t usually attract crowds, media, or protest. But something highly unusual—and extraordinarily encouraging—happened last night in a small town on the New Hampshire/Vermont border.

The drama unfolded in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where dozens of residents attended a library board meeting and spoke passionately about privacy and freedom before a gaggle of reporters and even some out of town activists. People in the room told me the energy was incredible. Some people cried. At the end of the meeting, the crowd that had gathered to passionately discuss issues at the heart of civic action and democracy erupted in cheers, elated at their collective success and lived commitment to the state motto: Live Free or Die.

The question before the public at the meeting last night was whether or not the Kilton Library in Lebanon should implement a Tor middle relay. Doing so would make the library a part of a global network of internet anonymity nodes offering users some measure of security and safety to people living under the terror of despotic regimes and abusive boyfriends alike. Weeks prior, the cops and the feds had managed to pull the plug on the project, a collaboration among the library, the Tor Project, and the Library Freedom Project.

But despite the Feds’ backroom fear mongering, the people of Lebanon, New Hampshire were not scared—and unlike DHS, which was mysteriously nowhere to be found last night, the people did their lobbying in full public view.

Nearly everyone who attended spoke in favor of the library’s plan to participate in Tor’s global internet freedom network. The only people who voiced opposition were the police chief and the town manager. But in the face of overwhelming community support, to include a local newspaper’s editors, even these few opponents were quick to temper their criticism of Tor, stressing that they would never tell the public it couldn’t do something like this if people want to.

People clearly want to. The room was so festive and pro-privacy that at the end of the meeting, the library board appeared unsure of what to do. It was so obvious that for a moment they just looked around. The people had spoken, and they weren’t scared, despite what DHS had told the local police, and what the local police had told the library. The library director stood up and proclaimed: the Tor node will return! The crowd cheered.

There were many remarkable moments during the public testimony. One woman, a library employee originally from Colombia, said that she wished a technology like Tor had existed in her country during a period of extreme repression in the early 2000s. It could have helped people, she said.

Library board chairman Francis Oscadal got philosophical, saying, “With any freedom there is risk. It came to me that I could vote in favor of the good … or I could vote against the bad. I’d rather vote for the good because there is value to this.” Please mark that quote and return to it; it’ll be endlessly relevant.

The Kilton Library and the community of Lebanon, New Hampshire have put the world on notice: privacy isn’t shameful and we don’t have to apologize for wanting to be free. We’d all do well to take heed, and gain some courage from their collective wisdom. Instead of fearing the bad in the world, and reacting based on those fears, we should vote for the good.

September 17, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Israel’s Agent of Influence

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • September 15, 2015

“An agent of influence is an agent of some stature who uses his or her position to influence public opinion or decision making to produce results beneficial to the country whose intelligence service operates the agent.” So goes the book definition but any experienced intelligence officer will note that there are degrees of cooperation and direction in such a relationship. The agent might be fully controlled and on a salary or he or she might be very loosely guided, ideologically motivated but cautious and reluctant to receive any favors in return. The key is that the agent has to be acting on behalf of the interests of the foreign government, which will at least some of the time mean working directly against the interests of his own.

I thought of how an agent of influence operates on the morning of September 9th when I opened the Washington Post and read two letters to the editor, both written by constituents, regarding Maryland Senator Benjamin Cardin’s refusal to support President Barack Obama’s Iran deal.

The first, from Carole Anderson of Bethesda said that “my U.S. senator, Benjamin L. Cardin, has forgotten that he represents Maryland — not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, not a portion of the Jewish community, not Israel. His constituents expect him to vote based on the best interests of the United States, which in this case also is in Israel’s long-term interest, not based on what his rabbi says. He has demonstrated that he is incapable of doing his job.”

The second, from Stephen O. Dean of Gaithersburg observed that “Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin’s plan to oppose the Iran nuclear deal is an embarrassment to the people of Maryland. Though a Democrat, he allied himself with the Republicans in Congress, the Republican presidential contenders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the powerful pro-Israel lobby. He turned his back on President Obama and rejected the long, difficult work of Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his counterparts from five other major countries. The alternative he offered is a bill he will introduce to send more U.S. taxpayer money to Israel. One wishes he took the path to peace with Iran, instead of to potential war.”

Cardin’s position was not unexpected even though he is reliably liberal on any issue but Palestine and a solid Democratic Party water boy. As an elected official, Cardin has frequently framed himself as being personally responsible for delivering benefits to his Jewish constituents. He sponsors the Senator Ben Cardin Jewish Scholars Program and also has been active in steering Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants to what he calls “high risk” Jewish organizations in Baltimore. Due to the assiduous efforts of Congressmen like Cardin fully 97% of all DHS grants go to Jewish groups.

But as complete deference to Israel is all too common inside the beltway, I was, to put it mildly, shocked that two letters expressing such dissident views regarding Cardin actually appeared in the Post, a haven of neoconservatism on its editorial page. One might enthuse that it is perhaps a welcome sign that popular views on the extremely damaging Israel relationship really have begun to shift.

I have previously written that the so-called Corker-Cardin bill that reportedly gave Congress a chance to safely vent over the Iran deal was actually a Trojan horse in that it was intended to lead to eventual defeat of the agreement. I noted at the time that Cardin was the snake in the woodpile as he was pretending to give a lifeline to his party and president while all the time intending to vote no and do everything in his power to overturn any rapprochement with Iran.

Now what I predicted has come about. And Cardin has even admitted that he discussed with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) how he should vote. AIPAC, for all its posturing about American interests, is not a source of objective information on the Middle East as it often pretends to be. It actively and aggressively lobbies on behalf of the Israeli government and would be listed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 but for the fact that it is politically powerful and no White House has been willing to take it on. Cardin was also heavily lobbied by his rabbi, who called him repeatedly.

Cardin justified his opposition to the agreement based on alarmist talking points that could have been, and maybe were, written by AIPAC to include, “…there cannot be respect for a country that actively foments regional instability, advocates for Israel’s destruction, kills the innocent and shouts ‘Death to America.’” And Cardin has also gone on record pledging to back up his “no” vote by introducing legislation that he is already working on that will allow congress to overturn the agreement while also sending 30,000 pound penetrator bombs to Israel that will enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Iran, which would clearly not be in America’s interest.

The Cardin supported initiative to undermine the Iran agreement through further congressional meddling and delaying tactics is being referred to in some circles as “Plan B.” There are a number of aspects to it, but it involves creating new legislation and imposing other conditions that will permit additional congressional review of both the deal itself and, more particularly, Iran’s compliance. It has become axiomatic to refer to Iranians as “liars and cheaters,” setting the stage for any number of contrived revelations about their behavior.

As has often been the case in the past where friends of Israel have sought either military action or other punitive measures, the planned new congressional initiatives will likely seek to create red lines or tripwires that will mandate congressional or presidential action. In the past, these red lines have been described in a way that permits them to be interpreted subjectively, meaning that there will be a push to find fault with Tehran and that evidence might easily be manufactured to suit or even provided by Israel. Cardin appears to be the driving force behind this effort if one is to go by his own words and the praise that has been heaped upon him by organizations like Christians United for Israel.

So who does Cardin actually represent? I would suggest that he fits the mold of the classic agent of influence in that his allegiance to the United States is constrained by his greater loyalty to a foreign nation. I do not believe that he does it for money or other material favors and I would not imagine that Mossad actually gives him his marching orders, but I would bet that his contact with the Israeli Embassy and AIPAC to both obtain and synchronize with their views is frequent and ongoing. One has to hope that Cardin will both fail in his new legislative efforts on behalf of Israel and also that he will be turned out of office in the next cycle by his constituents for his failure to support actual American and Marylander interests.

The question of what to do about the Cardins of this world is, of course, clouded by the broader issue of “dual loyalty,” a label that has rightly been of particular concern for many diaspora Jews because it often is employed as a classic anti-Semitic canard. Those who promote it think that some or even most Jews can never be truly loyal to the country that they reside in, that they will always have a higher allegiance to their tribe. Since the founding of Israel that alleged supranational allegiance has also embraced the Jewish state, with questions raised regarding whether it is possible to actively promote all-too-often uncritical support for a foreign nation while living and working in another country that will inevitably have quite different national and international interests.

In reality, of course, it is not so simple. Some Jews will relate to their “tribe” more than to their non-Jewish fellow citizens but most will not and many will even regard that kind of sentiment as completely unacceptable. But all of that given, the issue of where one’s loyalty as a citizen of a nation should lie and to what degree is something that just will not go away. Nearly all of the neoconservatives who cajoled Americans into the disastrous war against Iraq were Jews and they were at least in part motivated by perceived Israeli interests. Bush Administration senior official Philip Zelikow subsequently even claimed that the Iraq war was primarily fought to eliminate a threat to Israel. And if that is not convincing enough, there is the “Clean Break” policy document that was presented to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 recommending inter alia the systematic break-up of Israel’s Arab neighbors into tribal groups to “secure the realm” of Israel. Many of the signatories were the very same American Jews who later promoted the war with Iraq and are now orchestrating the agitation vis-a-vis Iran, which itself is being overwhelmingly funded by Jewish groups.

Because of the potential problem posed by divided loyalty, many Americans now believe that no citizen should hold any foreign passport in addition to that of the United States. An increasing number are beginning to understand that competing parochial loyalties of various kinds have been detrimental to the viability of the United States as a nation and destructive of Teddy Roosevelt’s once proud assertion that it doesn’t matter where we came from but “we are all Americans.”

The dual loyalty question becomes more serious when one is considering the roles of government officials, both elected and as members of the federal bureaucracy, as they are in a position where they can actually do damage. The United States is currently wrestling with problems posed by Christian officials who believe that what they are told by God preempts what they are obligated to do as bureaucrats. This type of deference to tribe and culture is also where Cardin is both tone deaf and dissimulating. He is the stereotype of what has frequently been disparagingly described as an “Israel firster.” There is absolutely no reasonable argument to be made against the Iran agreement from a U.S. perspective and the mere fact that it is opposed by Israel should have no weight, but Cardin clearly does not see things that way.

One might reasonably object that Cardin is far from unique and to be sure there are many in Washington that are feckless in their relationships with Israel’s government. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who has declared himself to be the “shomer” or guardian of Israel in the U.S. Senate, is a case in point and undoubtedly many of the criticisms leveled against Cardin would fit just as well with Schumer. One might also note the unanimous Republican opposition to the Iran deal but that is a bit of a red herring. In many cases the attachment is more likely than not based more on politics than on any genuine affinity towards Israel. A frequently cynical kowtowing to perceived Zionist and evangelical demands is coupled with the expectation that Israel’s most powerful and wealthy backer in the U.S. Sheldon Adelson will shower his billions on the GOP and its preferred presidential candidate as long as the whole campaign is in key areas subordinate to Israeli interests. The Republican hard line is also a reflexive rejection of Obama foreign policy to create a wedge issue for 2016 and is not linked to any rational assessment of the merits of the Iran agreement.

On balance, Senator Ben Cardin in his apparent collusion with both the Israeli government and its powerful domestic Lobby appears to cross lines that should not be crossed by any American elected official. My contention that he may be a de facto agent of influence for Israel is, of course, somewhat conjectural. I would imagine that Cardin rationalizes his behavior by choosing to believe that Israeli and American interests are identical, which is, of course, not true. If he claims that he is not in fact preemptively guided by Israeli interests it would be interesting to have him reveal full details of the frequency and nature of his encounters with Israeli officials and also with the components of the Israel Lobby, most particularly AIPAC, which are established conduits for relaying Israeli perspectives to accomplices in the U.S. government. I would also be interested in hearing Cardin’s views on how a war with Iran would possibly benefit the people of Maryland.

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Corruption, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mississippi’s All Up in Your Google Activity

By Samia Hossain, William J. Brennan Fellow & Esha Bhandari | ACLU | August 3, 2015

An overzealous attorney general is trying to police online speech by capitalizing on the reams of data Google stores about its users.

James Hood, Mississippi’s attorney general has issued a whopping 79-page subpoena to Google asking for a massive amount of data about the identities, communications, searches, and posts of people anywhere in the United States who use its services, including YouTube and Google+.

The kicker? The state is asking for all this information for anyone speaking about something “objectionable,” “offensive,” or “tangentially” related to something “dangerous,” which it defines as anything that could “lead to physical harm or injury.” You read that right. The attorney general claims that he needs information about all of this speech to investigate Google for state consumer protection violations, even though the subpoena covers such things as copyright matters and doesn’t limit itself to content involving Mississippi residents.

Earlier this year, a District Court judge froze Mississippi’s investigation into Google. The state appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where we filed a brief today against the attorney general’s attempt to violate the First Amendment rights of the millions of people who use the Internet.

The case has already gotten attention because of Google’s claims that Mississippi is attempting to censor its editorial choices, by dictating what can appear in search results or on YouTube, for example. Our brief attempts to highlight an overlooked aspect of the case – that millions of people’s rights to free speech, anonymity, and privacy are also at stake.

The government is well aware of all the personal information that’s being stockpiled online and often serves subpoenas on private companies for information about individuals and groups under investigation. But the Constitution has established protections that keep the government from getting into our business without just cause, especially when our First Amendment rights to express ourselves freely and anonymously are at stake.

Yet as we’re seeing in Mississippi, the government doesn’t always play by the rules.

We are increasingly seeing efforts by law enforcement to engage in wholesale monitoring of certain groups online. Just a couple of weeks ago, we learned the Department of Homeland Security has been scrutinizing #BlackLivesMatter for constitutionally protected activity. This kind of surveillance chills the exercise of our First Amendment freedoms, especially considering how much sensitive and important speech – like political or human rights advocacy – takes place on the Internet.

Needless to say, “objectionable,” “offensive,” or “tangentially” related to something “dangerous,” are terms that are so broad that they could encompass a huge swathe of content on the Internet – and result in information about millions of people’s online activity being handed over to the government. Virtually any topic could be said to “tangentially” lead to physical harm or injury in certain cases –  from organizing protests to skydiving. Most importantly, the First Amendment protects the right to speak about dangerous, objectionable, and offensive things without fear that the government will be scrutinizing your speech or trying to find out your identity.

And let’s not assume it’s innocuous YouTube videos of skateboarding 6-year-olds, football highlight reels, or fireworks displays that the attorney general wants to waste his office’s time looking through – even though these would be covered by the subpoena. History has shown us that politically dissident and minority groups have been targeted for monitoring, and those are the groups that are most likely to be chilled from speaking. Politically active movements online, such as #BlackLivesMatter, often discuss strategy, organize protests, and post videos of police brutality (which certainly meets the attorney general’s definition of “dangerous”) online.

Not only that, but the right to online anonymity is threatened. Domestic violence support groups can provide a safe space online for victims to speak anonymously and honestly, including about the dangers of violence they face. Yet these activities could be seriously harmed if Mississippi is allowed to collect information about the people who engage in them. It’s no stretch to imagine that people will speak less freely if things like their email addresses, login times, and IP addresses could be handed to law enforcement whenever they say something that could be considered dangerous or offensive.

For these reasons, we’re asking the 5th Circuit to order the state to back off and keep the Internet a place where people can speak freely, without fear of government harassment or investigation.

August 4, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Policing and Defending Then and Now

The military and police have become two sides of the same coin

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • June 16, 2015

Inevitably the debate over issues that relate to both national security and domestic law enforcement often become mired down in wrangling over legal or constitutional niceties, which the public has difficulty in following as it fixates instead on the latest twist in the Bruce Jenner saga. That means that the punditry and media concentrate on easily digestible issues like potential bureaucratic fixes, budgeting, equipment and training, which presumably are both simpler to understand and also more susceptible to possible remedies. But they ignore some basic questions regarding the nature and viability of the actual threat and the actual effectiveness of the response even as the dividing line between military and law enforcement functions becomes less and less evident.

There has been a fundamental transformation of the roles of both police and the armed services in the United States, a redirection that has become increasingly evident since the 1990s when the conjoined issues of national security and crime rates became political footballs. Response to terrorism and “tough on crime” attitudes frequently employ the same rhetoric, incorporating both political and social elements that place police forces and the military on the same side in what might plausibly be described as a version of the often cited clash of civilizations.

A nation’s army traditionally exists to use maximum force to find and destroy enemies that threaten the homeland. A police force instead serves to protect the community against criminal elements using the minimum force necessary to do the job. Those roles would appear to be distinct but one might reasonably argue that the armed forces and the police in today’s America have become the two major constituents of the same organism more-or-less connected by a revolving door, dedicated to combating a new type of insurgency that comprises both global and domestic battlefields and is no respecter of borders. This has meant at its most basic that there has been a major shift in perception on the part of the security community. Community policing and national defense have abandoned relatively reactive interactions with the community and world for more assertive preemptive roles that see their areas of operation as theaters of conflict analogous to war zones, suggesting to some law enforcement officers that Baltimore is at least occasionally somewhat like Fallujah.

That means that some police forces have allowed considerable space to develop between themselves and the communities they are supposed to guard. Many now see themselves less as crime solvers and protectors of the public, instead increasingly embracing their role as a first line of defense against terror and social unrest. As a consequence, police in today’s America are inevitably tasked with maintaining public order in a fashion that once upon a time would have likely been the responsibility of the military equipped and trained as well as far more numerous National Guard.

This tendency to expand and redirect the police role gained momentum in the early 1990s, when law enforcement began to focus on terrorism in the wake of Oklahoma City and the first World Trade Center bombing. After 9/11 it picked up speed when the Bush Administration rushed to adopt a preemptive foreign policy that fit in nicely with a more assertive role by police. Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams were symptomatic of the change. Originating in Los Angeles in the 1960s, SWAT units spread to nearly every major and many minor police departments whether there was or is any need for them or not. Police departments, embracing having an exciting new weapon and looking for excuses to use it, began to allocate tasks that normally had been the responsibility of beat or patrol officers, including serving warrants. SWAT delivery of what are described as “no-knock” warrants that are frequently issued without any real justification and sometimes based on faulty intelligence has consequently become a bete noire for critics of police overreach. The warrants are sometimes served in the middle of the night by heavily armed officers and might well be preceded by the use of battering rams and “flashbang” grenades, resulting in numerous tragedies for those on the receiving end. With SWAT teams attracting the elite police officers, community policing inevitably has suffered, frequently being assigned to new and less experienced officers.

Police and the military now share equipment, training and doctrine. The equipment, most of which is useful for fighting a war but of marginal utility for police work, is frequently highly visible and changes both how local law enforcement is perceived and how it operates. Arizona alone has received 29 armored personnel carriers, 9 military helicopters, 800 M-16 automatic rifles, 400 bayonets, and 700 pairs of night-vision goggles.

Morven, Georgia, population 600 and blessed by a low crime rate, has received over $4 million worth of military equipment. This led to the formation of a SWAT team supported by a Humvee and an armored personnel carrier. Boats and scuba gear came together to form a dive team, even though Morven city limits incorporate no body of water deep enough to exploit that capability. The Morven police chief boasts that the equipment would enable him to “shut this town down” and “completely control everything.”

The direct transfers of $5.4 billion worth of surplus equipment from the Pentagon through program 1033 and the purchase of additional hardware by way of grants from the Department of Homeland Security operate with almost no oversight over the actual need for the equipment and little accountability afterwards regarding where it winds up. It has spawned what some have described as a police-industrial complex, which is frequently justified by the alleged terrorist threat even though the equipment is in fact almost never used in response to terrorism related situations.

Today’s police approach every potential conflict situation with overwhelming force because that is what the military does, considering “force protection” as its number one priority. The army and law enforcement also share employees, guaranteeing that the mindsets within the two organization will be highly compatible. There are no national figures compiled on how many policeman have been in the military, but anecdotal evidence from various departments suggest that the percentage is somewhere between 20 and 60 per cent, many of whom also continue to serve in the Reserves or National Guard. A veterans’ placement service called Hire Heroes estimates that fully twenty per cent of all ex-soldiers seeking civilian employment look for work in law enforcement as a first choice.

The Federal government also encourages police departments to hire veterans through its Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which has provided $114.6 million in incentive grants to 220 cities nationwide. There is frequently a comfortable fit psychologically. The transition from military to police is particularly smooth currently because their self-perceptions as “forces for peace and security” working in environments where they are not appreciated or even welcomed is nearly identical.

On the plus side when turning soldiers into cops, former military are accustomed to operating in a highly disciplined and rule-driven top-down organization, but on the negative side veterans who actually experienced significant combat are much more accustomed to rely on their weapons than are policemen in most working environments, a predilection that sometimes produces avoidable fatal consequences. The window of aggression acceptable to a soldier on a combat patrol is and should be radically different than that of a policeman in an American city.

Returning soldiers who experienced significant combat sometimes come home with mental health issues to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with many veterans conceding that after discharge from the service there are sometimes numerous psychological issues that have to be worked through. Police departments do their best to manage that issue through psychiatric screening, but detection of problems is not always that easy, particularly if the job applicant wants the job and is not being particularly forthcoming. Many concede that for ex-soldiers thus afflicted leaving one environment full of “violence, tension, stress [and] anxiety” and landing into something similar would not exactly be therapeutic.

Law enforcement in the United States has also benefited not only from the surplus weapons it receives from the Pentagon but also from training grants and logistical support from the Department of Homeland Security. Many SWAT teams are trained by and often include former or current Special Forces soldiers. Some departments even use both public and private grant money to send officers to Israel to train with the Israeli National Police and that country’s Defense Force. The training inevitably focuses on counter-terrorism, anti-riot procedures, intelligence gathering and crowd control, reinforcing the impression that such activities that once upon a time might have been regarded as peripheral to police work are now the first priority. There are also reports that some American police forces are interested in buying an Israeli high tech export called “Skunk,” which is a liquid that can be sprayed from water cannons that allegedly smells like raw sewage and putrefying flesh. It has been used on Palestinian protesters.

But perhaps the biggest unanswered question is “Does terrorism in its many guises actually threaten the United States and will that threat be diminished by more equipment and training as well as a more militarized police force here at home?” Addressing the threat issue is critical as it presents a steady drumbeat for action “to defend the nation” and actually provides much of the popular support for an increasingly robust police response. To be sure, there undoubtedly exists a growing critical consensus that the terrorist threat is largely phony, having been inflated by both political parties for political reasons. Certainly the record of terrorism related arrests suggests that the danger is minimal and those detained in the process are often the product of what many would call law enforcement entrapment. There is actually no evidence that a more militarized police has thwarted terrorist attacks or led to any significant arrests, which rather suggests that the real motive for the increasingly assertive profile for law enforcement might just be to have the tools on hand to intimidate or even put down domestic dissent. If that is so, every American should be concerned about what might be coming down the road.

June 16, 2015 Posted by | Militarism, Subjugation - Torture | , | Leave a comment

Department of Homeland Security Accused of Giving Tech Jobs to H-1B Guest-Workers

By JAMIE ROSS | Courthouse News | April 27, 2015

A recent Homeland Security regulation may replace American workers with the spouses of foreign workers in the country with H-4 visas, a group of former computer workers claim in court.

Save Jobs USA, a group made up of former Southern California Edison computer workers who were replaced by foreign workers on H-1B guest-worker visas, filed suit in D.C. Federal Court against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to the lawsuit, DHS implemented the “Employment Authorization for Certain H-4 Dependent Spouses” recently, which grants work authorization to certain spouses of foreign workers in the U.S. on H-4 visas.

“The H-4 Rule extends employment authorization to an alien possessing an H-4 visa who is the spouse of an H-1B alien who is the principal beneficiary of an approved Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, or has been granted H-1B status extending beyond the normal 6-year term,” the complaint states.

As many as 179,600 new foreign workers will be added to the U.S. workforce in the first year of the rule, DHS says, with 55,000 added annually in the following years.

“The H-4 Rule is in excess of DHS authority and directly contradicts several provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the lawsuit says.

The complaint details the struggles of Save Jobs USA member Brian Buchanan to find work after he was displaced by Edison with a H-1B worker supplied to the California energy provider by India-based Tata Consultancy Services. Tata Consultancy is the largest IT provider in India.

Buchanan, an IT specialist, says he was forced to train his H-1B replacement to perform his job after he was told he would be replaced.

“If Mr. Buchanan had not trained his replacement he would have been denied a severance package and could have been terminated with cause, making him ineligible for unemployment benefits,” the complaint states. Buchanan claims he now faces competition from H-1B Workers and soon H-4 visa holders to find a new job in the computer job market.

“This is a slap in the face to the tens of millions of Americans suffering from unemployment and underemployment, especially those who are most vulnerable such as students, seniors, single mothers and minorities,” said Dale L. Wilcox of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which is representing Save Jobs USA. “The law states that foreign work permits cannot adversely affect American wages, but all we’ve seen during this administration is standards of living fall and outsized corporate profits continue to rise.”

Save Jobs USA seeks to stop DHS from authorizing spouses with an H-4 visa to work.

Southern California Edison’s alleged replacement of American workers with workers from India has been subject to criticism, including a bipartisan letter written by 10 U.S. senators asking the Labor Department to investigate into the legality of its actions.

Solicitor General M. Patricia Smith says in a letter to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, that the agency “lacks a basis to initiate an investigation,” because the wage and hour division had not received a complaint. She referred the matter to the Office of Special Counsel.

“We will continue pressing the administration to use its legal authority to stop the displacement of American workers wherever possible and to conduct a thorough investigation of responsible parties,” Durbin and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said in a statement.

Southern California Edison denied that it was acting unlawfully, though, claiming that it is “transitioning some IT operations to external vendors.”

The Office of General Counsel could not be reached for comment.  

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment