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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

Why Did it Take So Long for DEA Chief Leonhart to be Forced to Resign?

By Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman | AllGov | April 24, 2015

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s top official, Michele Leonhart, resigned this week, presumably after it came out that many of her agents partied with prostitutes hired by drug cartels. But there is really much more to the story.

“She’s been at the agency for 35 years, and her tenure since taking over in 2007 has been marked by a series of abuses, failures and missteps,” wrote David Graham at The Atlantic. “In fact, the proximate cause for Leonhart’s exit is the eminently more headline-ready case of DEA agents having sex parties with prostitutes.”

Graham cited a number of other reasons why Leonhart should have been forced out of the DEA some time back. Among them:

•     In 2002, the inspector general (IG) of the Justice Department sounded an alarm about weapons losses at the DEA. Six years later, the IG discovered that the rate of those losses had more than doubled.

•     In April 2012, drug suspect Daniel Chong was arrested by DEA agents who locked him in a jail cell without food, water or a toilet and forgot about him for nearly five days. Other agents heard his cries for help but ignored him. By the time Chong was released, his health was so bad he had to be taken to a hospital.

•     In May 2012, the DEA worked on a drug sting in Honduras in which four people, including two women and a child, were shot dead. Witnesses said that all four were innocent.

•     In June 2013, a DEA informant who had received nearly $4 million from the agency was fired for repeatedly committing perjury—but was then rehired later to work on DEA undercover cases.

•     In August 2013, it was revealed that the DEA had been giving information from massive surveillance, wiretaps, and undercover agents to local police, who were told by the DEA to conceal the source of the information from defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

“The contour of the story gives the nagging impression that despite years of issues, the salacious, sexy headline is what pushed Leonhart out, whereas the systemic failures over the last decade received [very little] sanction…” wrote Graham. “It’s not that the outrage in this case is misplaced—it’s that it’s a day late and a trillion dollars short.”

To Learn More:

Why Did It Take a Sex Scandal to Topple the DEA Chief? (by David Graham, The Atlantic)

Why is the DEA Conducting Mass License Plate Tracking and Why was it Allowed to Conduct Mass Surveillance of Americans’ Phones Records? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

DEA Paid Amtrak Secretary $850,000 for Passenger Lists Available for Free (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

DEA Tries to Strongarm Physicians Connected to Marijuana Dispensaries (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

DEA Chief’s Bizarre Defense of Marijuana Prohibition (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

April 24, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption | , , , , | Leave a comment

FOIA Documents Reveal Massive DEA Program to Record American’s Whereabouts With License Plate Readers

By Bennett Stein & Jay Stanley | ACLU | January 26, 2015

The Drug Enforcement Administration has initiated a massive national license plate reader program with major civil liberties concerns but disclosed very few details, according to new DEA documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act.

The DEA is currently operating a National License Plate Recognition initiative that connects DEA license plate readers with those of other law enforcement agencies around the country. A Washington Post headline proclaimed in February 2014 that the Department of Homeland Security had cancelled its “national license-plate tracking plan,” but all that was ended was one Immigrations and Customs Enforcement solicitation for proposals. In fact, a government-run national license plate tracking program already exists, housed within the DEA. (That’s in addition to the corporate license plate tracking database run by Vigilant Solutions, holding billions of records about our movements.) Since its inception in 2008, the DEA has provided limited information to the public on the program’s goals, capabilities and policies. Information has trickled out over the years, in testimony here or there. But far too little is still known about this program.

In 2012, the ACLU filed public records requests in 38 states and Washington, D.C. seeking information about the use of automatic license plate readers. Our July 2013 report, You Are Being Tracked, summarized our findings with regard to state and local law enforcement agencies, finding that the technology was being rapidly adopted, all too often with little attention paid to the privacy risks of this powerful technology. But in addition to filing public records requests with state agencies, the ACLU also filed FOIA requests with federal agencies, including the DEA.

The new DEA records that we received are heavily redacted and incomplete, but they provide the most complete documentation of the DEA’s database to date. For example, the DEA has previously testified that its license plate reader program began at the southwest border crossings, and that the agency planned to gradually increase its reach; we now know more about to where it has grown. The DEA had previously suggested that “other sources” would be able to feed data into the database; we now know about some of the types of agencies collaborating with the DEA.

The documents uncovered by our FOIA request provide additional details, but their usefulness is limited by the DEA’s decision to provide only documents that are undated or years old. If the DEA’s collection of location information is as extensive as the agency has suggested in its limited comments to legislatures, the public deserves a more complete and comprehensive explanation than the smattering of records we have obtained can provide.

These records do, however, offer documentation that this program is a major DEA initiative that has the potential to track our movements around the country. With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that. If license plate readers continue to proliferate without restriction and the DEA holds license plate reader data for extended periods of time, the agency will soon possess a detailed and invasive depiction of our lives (particularly if combined with other data about individuals collected by the government, such as the DEA’s recently revealed bulk phone records program, or cell phone information gleaned from U.S. Marshals Service’s cell site simulator-equipped aircraft ). Data-mining the information, an unproven law enforcement technique that the DEA has begun to use here, only exacerbates these concerns, potentially tagging people as criminals without due process.

Some major findings from the documents

The National License Plate Recognition Initiative includes a massive database containing data from both DEA-owned automatic license plate readers and other readers. Among the findings from the FOIA documents:

  • At the time of an undated slideshow, the DEA had deployed at least 100 license plate readers across the United States (eight states are identified: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey). A 2010 document also explains that the DEA had by then set up 41 plate reader monitoring stations throughout Texas, New Mexico, and California.
  • The DEA is also inviting federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies around the country to contribute location information to the database. For example, the documents show that local and regional law enforcement systems in Southern California’s San Diego and Imperial Counties and New Jersey all provide data to the DEA. The program was “officially opened” to these partners in May 2009. Other agencies are surely partnering with the DEA to share information, but these agreements are still secret, leaving the public unable to know who has their location information and how it is being used.
  • Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is one of the federal agencies that has shared information with the DEA. An undated Memorandum of Understanding explains that the agencies will, “at regular intervals,” provide each other license plate reader data. It also authorizes the two agencies to further share each other’s data with other federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutors as well as to “intelligence, operations, and fusion centers.” This is a lot of location points. CBP collects “nearly 100 percent of land border traffic,” which amounts to over 793.5 million license plates between May 2009 and May 2013, according to CBP’s response to our FOIA request.
  • Additionally, any federal, state, or local law enforcement agent vetted by the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center can conduct queries of the database, located in Merrifield, Va.
  • The same undated slideshow suggests that there were over 343 million records in the database at the date of the slide’s publication (due to redactions, it is impossible to confirm that date from this document).
  • The unredacted parts of the documents and news reports suggest that the DEA recently changed its retention policy to six months for non-hit data. While this is an improvement from previous statements of DEA retention policy, it is still far too long. The government should not collect or retain information revealing the movements of millions of people accused of no crime. But even that long retention period is only meaningful if it comes with strict rules limiting data use, sharing, and access. Like its retention policy, the DEA should make these policies public.
  • The DEA says that the National License Plate Recognition Initiative targets roadways that the agency believes are commonly used for contraband transport. But it’s not clear what this means or what it is based on. Every highway in the United States must be regularly used for contraband transport. Is the DEA using this undefined mandate to target people of color? Without more information from the DEA, we have no idea.
  • One DEA document references steps needed to ensure the program meets its goals, “of which asset forfeiture is primary.” Asset forfeiture has been in the news a lot lately, criticized as a widely abused law enforcement tactic that doesn’t advance public safety but simply enriches police and federal agencies.
  • The program also apparently data mines license plate reader data “to identify travel patterns.” The extent of this data mining is unknown. Is the DEA running all of our license plate reads through a program to predict our likelihood of committing a crime? Are we all suspects if we drive on a certain road? What else does the DEA think it knows about us just from the collection and analysis of our locations via license plate reader data?

More answers are needed

The DEA’s license plate reader programs raise serious civil liberties concerns, and the agency should be open about what it is doing so that those activities can be subject to public debate. Among other questions, the agency should answer these:

  • How many license plate readers does DEA currently own and operate? In which states? And, how much did it spend on these license plate readers?
  • Which policies govern the use of the license plate readers? Which policies govern the use of the license plate reader database? Has the agency done a Privacy Impact Assessment on these programs?
  • How many license plate reader hits have resulted in arrest and prosecution of a serious crime? How many license plate reader hits have not correlated to an alert upon further investigation (a “mis-hit”)?
  • From which local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies does the DEA receive license plate reader data?
  • Which additional agencies does the DEA partner with? How many people have been approved to conduct queries of the DEA database?
  • Has the DEA used or attempted to use Vigilant Solution’s National Vehicle Location Service or a similar privately-run license plate reader database? Does DEA combine information from its own database with records in Vigilant’s, creating a mega-database in a public-private surveillance partnership?

As is the case with most police and federal law enforcement spy technologies, license plate tracking programs have flown under the radar of courts and legislators for far too long, silently collecting records about ordinary Americans in the cover of secrecy. When programs are secret, we have no way of challenging them or ensuring they conform with our values and the law. Before accountability comes transparency. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to release records documenting the federal government’s significant investment in automatic license plate readers and its unregulated and largely unseen location tracking programs.

January 27, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception | , , , , , | 3 Comments

District Court Says DEA’s Warrantless Access Of Oregon’s Prescription Database Is Unconstitutional

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | February 13, 2014

Early last year, the news surfaced that the DEA was bypassing Oregon state law by using administrative subpoenas to get around the state’s warrant requirement for drug prescription database access. “Administrative subpoenas” are yet another government tool that allows agencies to seek information that would normally require a warrant, but without the hassle of running it past a judge or even showing probable cause.

The DEA probably didn’t expect to encounter much resistance to its subpoenas. After all, drugs are bad and the DEA is fighting the good fight. But the state of Oregon wasn’t impressed with the DEA’s warrantless tactics and filed suit with the assistance of the ACLU. The ACLU is now reporting that a federal judge has ruled in its (and Oregon’s favor) and the DEA (along with other law enforcement entities) will no longer be able to skirt the state’s warrant requirement.

For the first time, a federal judge has ruled that patients have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their drug prescription records, and that law enforcement must obtain a warrant in order to search such information…

“This is a victory for privacy and for the constitutional rights of anyone who ever gets drug prescriptions,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Nathan Freed Wessler, who argued the case last month. “The ruling recognizes that confidential medical records are entitled to the full protection of the Fourth Amendment. The court rightly rejected the federal government’s extreme argument that patients give up their privacy rights by receiving medical treatment from doctors and pharmacists.”

As the ruling points out, citizens have long associated privacy with medical treatment, something that has gone hand-in-hand dating back to the 4th century B.C.E. and the origin of the Hippocratic Oath. It also points out the obvious: federal law itself (HIPAA) contains built-in privacy protections. (Hence the form you have to sign, the privacy info sheet you’re handed on every visit, and signs everywhere telling you to stand behind them for the privacy of the patient in front of you.)

The judge’s decision also notes that stripping away this expectation of privacy will have a chilling effect on those seeking medical care, something that could have very adverse effects on the health of people who might avoid seeking treatment because they fear their medical records will be exposed.

As the ACLU notes in its press release, it’s not exactly happy the state of Oregon has chosen to create a centralized database of drug prescriptions, but, if it is going to do so, it has at least chosen to take the privacy of those contained in the database very seriously.

This decision strikes a small blow against the government’s routine abuse of “exceptions” to warrant requirements as well as against its even more routine abuse of the “third party doctrine,” which the DEA actually used to claim that talking to a doctor is no different than dialing a phone. The DEA knows there’s a huge difference between these two “third parties” but applying that knowledge means showing probable cause and getting a judge to sign off on the warrant, two aspects it apparently feels only hampers its War on Drugs.

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on District Court Says DEA’s Warrantless Access Of Oregon’s Prescription Database Is Unconstitutional

War on Drugs Ends with a Fizzle

By Kelley Vlahos • The Unz Review • February 4, 2014

Thanks to an accelerating trend towards ending the prohibition of marijuana in this country, the entire construct of the ‘War on Drugs’ as we know it is about to change and there is no one more frightened of this than the drug war establishment itself.

What happens next is a war for war: with billions of dollars in government investment and corporate profits at stake, it would be naive to expect the vested interests to take such a hit lying down. This is about survival. So get ready, the war to end the Drug War, or save it, has already begun.

“It scares us,” James L. Capra, head of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operations, told congress on Jan. 15, when asked about the new marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington state.

“Every part of the world where this has been tried, it has failed time and time again.”

Capra did not bother backing up this bold statement with any facts, but he did let his emotions do the talking – what The Washington Post account of this exchange did not capture but the raw CSPAN video (around the 50-minute mark) clearly does, is Capra’s attempt to appeal to the senators’ inherent fear of the drug. First, he proclaims his fealty to government service, then his fatherhood (six kids), then his voice, nearly trembling, enumerates the shock at recent developments:

“Going down the path of legalization in this country is reckless and irresponsible. I am talking about long-term impact … it scares us. The treatment people are afraid, the education people are afraid, law enforcement is worried about this … the idea that this is somehow good for us as a nation, sir … is wrong.”

But what Capra really seems exasperated about is this has been a popular shift in policy voted in by the people across the country, and not just by small pot interests with deep pockets. Sure, the efforts to promote the successful legalization referendums in Washington and Colorado had significant funding, but proponents tapped a diverse range of support, and made it an issue of fairness and economics, and about treatment over punishment. It’s a reality 55 percent of Americans are now willing to accept: prohibition just doesn’t work.

“Ten years ago, a DEA official talking like this would be like, well, duh,” said Mike Krause, director of the Justice Police Initiative at the Independence Institute in Colorado. “Now all of a sudden people are mocking him. I think what you are going to see is the drug war establishment really freak out.”

To call it an “establishment” might even be understating the situation. Even the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower would acknowledge that something akin to a Drug War Industrial Complex (DWIC) has been constructed like a sprawling empire around the criminalization of drugs, beginning in 1970, when marijuana was first declared a federal Schedule I narcotic and President Richard M. Nixon began to funnel money into expanded law enforcement efforts against pot and harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. The DEA was created in 1973.

Since then, both the public and private prison industry has swelled with millions of non-violent drug offenders, fueled by a seeming endless pipeline of policing and prosecution resources, and the advent of broader mandatory and “three-strikes” sentencing. The CIA and military have staked out their own turf in international interdiction. The DEA, beyond its domestic purview, has become a paramilitary force executing its own expensive missions all over Latin America and Afghanistan, i.e., Plan Columbia and the Merida Initiative. After launching the latest front — “Operation Anvil” – in Honduras, the DEA, working with U.S military, has been criticized for killing civilians in botched operations as recently as 2012.

Capping it off is the White House Office for National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), led by a series of “drug czars,” some more zealous than others. It serves as a command center and generous trough for all government anti-drug measures, from questionably effective national media campaigns to the billion-dollar military operations more recently accelerated by the War on Terror. In fact, the DEA doubled its presence worldwide (87 offices in 63 countries) after the 9/11, developing a robust intelligence and law enforcement network all over the Americas and in Afghanistan, according to documents published by WikiLeaks two years ago.

ONDCP also directs teams of agents planted in High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) in U.S counties and states (covering about 60 percent of the population, according to its own website) for intelligence sharing, law enforcement assistance and prevention. Or as Rolling Stone put it last year, they are budgeted $238 million a year “to meddle in state-based marijuana policy reform.” That proved true during the run up to last year’s Colorado referendum. And don’t forget, President George W. Bush’s longtime czar, John Walters, spent most of the 2000’s campaigning in states against legalization and medical marijuana initiatives.

Who’s Panicking?

So today’s picture for Capra, and to some extent the latest DEA Director Michele Leonhart, and a score of ex-czars and other directors who have been scolding Attorney General Eric Holder for not getting tougher on the renegade states, must be stark. Brutally stark, when one looks at how much is at risk from the DWIC point of view if marijuana were ever federally legalized.

For example, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report, there are 19 federal agencies getting billions in anti-drug funding today. That’s a lot of programs and administrators and staff dependent on the status quo. Some beneficiaries are obvious, like the Department of Justice, the Pentagon and Department of Health and Human Services. But one wonders when the Agriculture Department, Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service got on the front lines of the War on Drugs.

All told, $24.5 billion was appropriated to these agencies in 2013, a slight increase over 2012 numbers. Some $15.1 is allocated to “supply side” (law enforcement), while $9.3 billion is going to treatment and prevention. Add that to state and local funding and the country spends about $51 billion a year on the drug war, says the pro-decriminalization Drug Police Alliance.

Prosecutions and incarceration rates are humming, probably the only part of the drug war one could call “working” (if only they were bringing down abuse rates, keeping bad guys off the streets, or improving society, which they’re not). According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there were 1.5 million people in US arrested on non-violent drug charges in 2012. Of them, 749,825 were related to marijuana, and of that number, 658,231 were for possession only. Pot smokers are costing the system alright, but think of all the money they are paying into it, by way of court fees and fines, bail bondsman bondsmen and attorneys to defend them. Quite a tidy business.

Not surprisingly, those pot offenders unlucky enough go to jail (and we know they are disproportionately black), make up more than 10 percent of the state and federal incarcerated population today. In fact, one could say their absence would have a somewhat of radical effect.

For example, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, “Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004,” which uses the most recent data available, an estimated 333,000 Americans were imprisoned then on drug offenses (27 percent were for possession). Of all drug offenders behind bars, 12.7 were there on a marijuana rap (the majority, 60 percent, were there for cocaine/crack violations).

Crunching the numbers at the time, Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), wrote, “Multiplying these totals by U.S. DOJ prison expenditure data reveals that taxpayers are spending more than $1 billion annually to imprison pot offenders.”

Writing for Reason magazine in 2012, Mike Riggs charged that beer and alcohol, addiction services, drug testing and the private prisons industries had the most to lose when the drug war ends and they know it.

“Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the country’s largest private prison company, has donated almost $4.5 million to political campaigns and dropped another $18 million on lobbying in the last two decades,” he wrote. “The company, and others like it, is up to its elbows in drug war spending.”

Howard Wooldridge, a retired police officer who lobbies the government for marijuana decriminalization, told reporter Lee Fang that next to police unions, the “second biggest marijuana opponent on Capitol Hill is big PhRMA (Pharmaceutical lobby),” because pot can replace “everything from Advil to Vicodin and other expensive pills.”

The only front in this war that stands to survive might be the international theater – the DEA FAST and military operations — because they can pretend they were focusing the stronger stuff — heroin, cocaine — all along. But they might find, too, that a shift toward treatment over punishment might be shrinking their budgets and political capital back home (and the $7 billion failures in Afghanistan don’t help).

Meanwhile, noises toward full legalization in countries like Uruguay, Ecuador, Chile and even Mexico, might soon yank the welcome mat right off the front porch.

“Peer Pressure”

Could this be the end?

“The answer is categorically, yes. We are going to look back on this year down the road and say this is where it all started,” proclaims Jim P. Gray, who served as a Superior Court Judge in Orange County from 1989 through 2009 and adjudicated enough drug cases to make his own assessments about the dangers of prohibition. He wrote the book, Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed: A Judicial Indictment Of War On Drugs in 2001, and served as Gov. Gary Johnson’s running mate on the Libertarian Party ticket for president in 2012.

During an unsuccessful bid as a Republican for US Senate in 1998, Gray recalled a trip he made to Washington to meet with conservative leaders on Capitol Hill. On the issue of drugs, “they brought up the subject and almost literally, said ‘Jim, most people in Washington realize the drug war is lost … but this is money.’”

The political winds, however, have been blowing against the War on Drugs, and “if politicians are really good at any one thing, it’s followership, and they are starting to come out,” Gray said.

Bottom line, the “peer pressure” is growing. Consider that just in the last two weeks, Eric Holder has said that lawful marijuana businesses should have access to the American banking system. Meanwhile, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, former UN Secretary Kofi Annan and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, called for a rising up against drug prohibition.

They were joined on stage by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who said in reference to the marijuana question, “states should be allowed to make those decisions.”

Four thousand miles away, a once uptight Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was telling reporters, “we waste a lot of time and law enforcement going after these guys that are smoking marijuana.”

Just a week before, President Obama made headlines when he recalled his own dalliance with pot as a youth, and said, “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol,” and, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”

Apparently, the DWIC is responding to this latest salvo in kind, and perhaps, there’s no going back. Reports from The Boston Herald say Obama’s own DEA Chief Michele Leonhart, “slammed him” over the comments in a speech she made before like-minded cops on Jan. 21.

“This is a woman who has spent 33 years of her life fighting drug abuse in the DEA, her entire life,” said attendee Donny Youngblood, a county sheriff and president of the Major Counties Sheriffs’ Association. He called the president’s comments “a slap in the face” to everyone in the room.

“I think the way that she felt was that it was a betrayal of what she does for the American people in enforcing our drug laws. … She got a standing ovation.”

Let the war to end the war begin.

February 4, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

What President Obama’s Surveillance Speech Should Have Addressed

By Frank Pasquale · Concurring Opinions · January 21, 2014

In his recent speech on surveillance, President Obama treated the misuse of intelligence gathering as a relic of American history. It was something done in the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover, and never countenanced by recent administrations. But the accumulation of menacing stories—from fusion centers to “joint terrorism task forces” to a New York “demographics unit” targeting Muslims—is impossible to ignore. The American Civil Liberties Union has now collected instances of police surveillance and obstruction of First Amendment‐protected activity in over half the states. From Alaska (where military intelligence spied on an anti-war group) to Florida (where Quakers and anti-globalization activists were put on watchlists), protesters have been considered threats, rather than citizens exercising core constitutional rights. Political dissent is a routine target for surveillance by the FBI.

Admittedly, I am unaware of the NSA itself engaging in politically driven spying on American citizens. Charles Krauthammer says there has not been a “single case” of abuse. But the NSA is only one part of the larger story of intelligence gathering in the US, which involves over 1,000 agencies and nearly 2,000 private companies. Moreover, we have little idea of exactly how information and requests flow between agencies. Consider the Orwellian practice of “parallel construction.” Reuters has reported that the NSA gave “tips” to the Special Operations Division (SOD) of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which also shared them with the Internal Revenue Service.

The legal status of such information sharing is murky at best: the national security data is not supposed to be used for law enforcement purposes. Apparently the SOD sidestepped these niceties by re-creating criminal investigations from scratch, fabricating alternative grounds for suspecting the targets. Thus the “parallel construction” of two realities for the law enforcers: one actual, secret record of how targets were selected, and another specially crafted for consumption by courts. Two senior Drug Enforcement Administration officials defended the program and called it legal, but did not disclose their reasoning. At present, the practice looks like little more than intelligence laundering. Five senators asked the Department of Justice to assess the legality of “parallel construction;” it has yet to respond.

I have little doubt that the DEA used parallel construction in cases involving some pretty nasty characters. It must be tempting to apply “war on terror” tactics to the “war on drugs.” Nevertheless, there are serious legal and ethical concerns here. One of the American revolutionaries’ chief complaints against the British Crown was the indiscriminate use of “general warrants,” which allowed authorities to search the homes of anyone without particularized suspicion they had committed a crime. Thus the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution decrees that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” Law enforcers aren’t supposed to set up “dragnet surveillance” of every communication, or use whatever data stores are compiled by the National Security Agency, unless there is a true security threat.

Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program engaged in domestic covert action designed to disrupt groups engaged in the civil rights, antiwar, and communist movements. As Lawrence Rosenthal has observed, “History reflects a serious risk of abuse in investigations based on the protected speech of the targets,” and politicians at the time responded. Reviewing intelligence agency abuses from that time period, the Church Committee issued a series of damning reports in 1975-76, leading to some basic reforms. If a new Church Committee were convened, it would have to cover much of the same ground. Moreover, it would need to put in place real safeguards against politicized (or laundered) domestic intelligence gathering. Those are presently lacking. I have yet to find a case where the parties involved in any of the intelligence politicization (or laundering) were seriously punished. Nor have I seen evidence that the victims of such incidents have received just compensation for the unwarranted intrusion on their affairs.

Before we can develop better surveillance policy, we need something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to review (and rebuke) the politicization of intelligence gathering post-9/11. Too many privacy activists have been unwilling to admit the persistence of catastrophic threats that may only be detected by spies. But the US government has been even less moored to reality, unwilling to admit that a runaway surveillance state has engaged in precisely the types of activities that the Bill of Rights is designed to prevent. To have a debate about the proper balance between liberty and security, we need to confront the many cases where misguided intelligence personnel spied on activists with neither goal in mind.

Frank Pasquale is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland. His research agenda focuses on challenges posed to information law by rapidly changing technology, particularly in the health care, internet, and finance industries. Frank accepts comments via email, at pasqresearch@gmail.com.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Comments Off on What President Obama’s Surveillance Speech Should Have Addressed

When Will the Government Officially Correct the False Claims It Made to the Supreme Court About NSA Surveillance?

By Trevor Timm | EFF | October 22, 2013

We’ve documented again and again how the government has refused to tell the truth about NSA surveillance to news organizations, Congress, and the American public. Now it seems clear we can add the Supreme Court to that list.

First, it’s important to remember that just months before Edward Snowden became a household name, the ACLU was before the Supreme Court challenging the FISA Amendments Act—a key pillar designed to justify much of the NSA’s surveillance. The ACLU argued that since their clients—journalists, advocates, and lawyers—were the prime candidates to be subject to this surveillance, the clients should be able to challenge the law as unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, the government successfully convinced the Court that the case should be thrown out on procedural grounds. The Court ruled the ACLU’s clients didn’t have “standing.” Essentially, because they had no definitive proof they were being spied on, so couldn’t challenge the law.

At the time, many thought this reasoning was absurd, including four dissenting Supreme Court Justices. Given the law’s incredibly broad reach, of course surveillance was occurring. “Perhaps, despite pouring rain, the streets will remain dry,” quipped Justice Breyer.

So in order to convince the Supreme Court to throw out the ACLU’s challenge, the government smartly argued someone could have standing to challenge the law.  Otherwise, it may have seemed absurd to at least one more Justice, and the case might have gone the other way.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the Court any defendant charged with a crime would be officially notified if they were subject to NSA surveillance and then someone could challenge it—an actual target. Prosecutors, according to the government, just hadn’t used FISA evidence yet in any court case.

Turned out, that wasn’t true.

As the New York Times reported last week, “Mr. Verrilli’s assurances clashed with the practices of national security prosecutors, who had not been alerting such defendants that evidence in their cases had stemmed from wiretapping their conversations without a warrant.”

In other words, the argument the Solicitor General used to convince the Supreme Court to dismiss a challenge to the FISA Amendments Act was false, and the Solicitor General deceived the Supreme Court, though perhaps not wittingly. When Verrilli confronted the Justice Department’s national security lawyers who briefed him for his argument, they explained away this false statement as “a misunderstanding,” according to the New York Times.

The Solicitor General has apparently convinced the Justice Department to change its policy and they now claim they will start notifying defendants. If the Justice Department follows through, this move should have implications across the board and will be a welcome shift.

Remember, just a few weeks ago Reuters reported that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was receiving tips from the NSA, distributing them to local law enforcement, and then covering them up by then obtaining the same evidence under different pretenses. As we explained at the time, this not only violates the Fourth Amendment, but the Fifth and Sixth Amendments as well, which guarantee defendants a meaningful opportunity to present a defense and challenge the government’s case.

There’s also the enormous “Hemisphere” phone surveillance program, first revealed by the New York Times in August, which the DEA carries out in partnership with the AT&T. EFF just filed an amicus brief in a San Francisco case that looks suspiciously like Hemisphere surveillance was going on as well.

It’s too early to tell if the Justice Department is going to follow through on its promise to tell the truth about spying in criminal cases. Thankfully, the ACLU has sued under the Freedom of Information Act to find out the Justice Department official policies on notifying defendants of NSA surveillance.

This is only a start.  Informing criminal defendants of warrantless wiretaps only exposes illegal spying on a small few, and the Justice Department has made no promises to inform the millions of ordinary American’s caught up in the NSA dragnet. But it’s an important step forward, and could lead to a court to rule on the legality of the program.

ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer has also called on the Solicitor General to file a formal acknowledgement with the Court that the government’s policy was misrepresented to the justices during arguments. As Jaffer explains, there is ample precedent for the government to do so in situations similar to this.

It’s important for the Court to know that the government has not been honest with them, as the Court considers other representations about secret programs. Unfortunately, this is not the only time the government has provided false and misleading information to a court.

The culture of misinformation around the NSA has to stop. EFF also calls on the Solicitor General to formally acknowledge to the Court its misrepresentations and promptly tell every defendant that was subject to NSA surveillance so they can challenge the unconstitutional laws behind it.

October 23, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Comments Off on When Will the Government Officially Correct the False Claims It Made to the Supreme Court About NSA Surveillance?

How Did ATF Lose 420 Million Cigarettes?

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | September 27, 2013

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is in trouble again, this time for losing more than 400 million cigarettes.

ATF agents failed to properly account for 2.1 million cartons containing 420 million cigarettes as part of the agency’s undercover operations, according to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (IG). The missing cartons had a retail value of $127 million.

The IG’s office also reported that ATF paid an informant more than $4.9 million without requiring him to account for his expenses.

“We found a significant lack of oversight and controls to ensure that cash, cigarettes, equipment and other assets used…were accurately tracked, properly safeguarded and protected from misuse,” IG Michael E. Horowitz said in his report (pdf).

The mistakes were discovered after the inspector general’s office reviewed 20 undercover operations targeting cigarette smugglers that generated $162 million in income for ATF over a five-year period.

Like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, ATF is allowed under the law to use proceeds generated from certain investigations to make up for gaps in the agency’s budget.

When asked about the millions of missing cigarettes, ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun told The Washington Post that the inspector general’s numbers were wrong. Colbrun insisted only 447,218 cartons were unaccounted for, not 2.1 million, after ATF conducted its own internal probe of the matter.

ATF has been under fire during the past few years for having lost more than 2,000 guns that it used as part of a Mexican drug cartel sting operation called “Fast and Furious.”

To Learn More:

ATF Lost Track of 2.1 Million Cartons of Cigarettes in Sting Operations, Report Finds (by Sari Horwitz, Washington Post)

ATF ‘Lost 420m Cigarettes’ in Churning Investigations (BBC News)

Audit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Use of Income-Generating, Undercover Operations (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division) (pdf)

Is This the Most Bungled ATF Sting Operation Ever? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

ATF Program Let Hundreds of Guns go to Drug Cartels (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Largest Seizure of Illegal Cigarettes in History (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

September 27, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , , , | Comments Off on How Did ATF Lose 420 Million Cigarettes?

DEA Conceals Reliance on Surveillance Conducted by Intelligence Agencies

ACLU | August 5, 2013

NEW YORK – The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is using secret surveillance tactics – including wiretaps and examining telephone records – to make arrests while concealing the source of the evidence from judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, according to a story published today by Reuters. In cases where this intelligence is used to make an arrest, the DEA trains law enforcement to recreate the investigative trail in order to conceal the origins of the evidence.

“The DEA is violating our fundamental right to a fair trial,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “When someone is accused of a crime, the Constitution guarantees the right to examine the government’s evidence, including its sources, and confront the witnesses against them. Our due process rights are at risk when our federal government hides and distorts the sources of evidence used as the basis for arrests and prosecutions.”

“When law enforcement agents and prosecutors conceal the role of intelligence surveillance in criminal investigations, they violate the constitutional rights of the accused and insulate controversial intelligence programs from judicial review,” said Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director. “Effectively, these intelligence programs are placed beyond the reach of the Constitution, where they develop and expand without any court ever weighing in on their lawfulness. This is inappropriate, dangerous, and contrary to the rule of law.”

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Comments Off on DEA Conceals Reliance on Surveillance Conducted by Intelligence Agencies

Official Honduran Report on May 11 Shooting Incident is a New Injustice to Victims

By Dan Beeton | CEPR Americas Blog | April 11, 2013

CEPR has released a new paper, along with the human rights organization Rights Action, examining the Honduran Public Ministry’s official report on the May 11, 2012 shooting incident last year in which four local villagers were killed in Ahuas in Honduras’ Moskitia region during a counternarcotics operation involving U.S. and Honduran agents. This is also the first time that the Public Ministry’s report has been made available to the public, posted to Scribd in English here, and Spanish here.

The Honduran Public Ministry’s report deserves special scrutiny because thus far it represents the official version of events according to the Honduran authorities. And since the U.S. government has declined to conduct its own investigation – despite the wishes of 58 members of Congress – it also represents by default the version of events tacitly endorsed by U.S. authorities as well. The DEA and State Department didn’t allow Honduran investigators to question the U.S. agents and contractors that participated in the May 11 operation. At the same time a U.S. police detective working for the U.S. Embassy reportedly participated in the Public Ministry’s investigation, so the U.S. also bears some responsibility for the report’s flaws.

The CEPR/Rights Action paper found that the Public Ministry’s report:

  • Makes “observations” (not conclusions) that are not supported by the evidence cited;
  • Omits key testimony, that would implicate the DEA, from police who were involved in the May 11 incident;
  • Relies on incomplete forensic examinations of the weapons involved, improper forensic examinations of the victims’ bodies and other improperly gathered evidence;
  • Does not attempt to establish who is ultimately responsible for the killings;
  • Ignores eyewitness reports claiming that at least one State Department-titled helicopter fired on the passenger boat carrying the shooting victims;
  • Does not attempt to establish whether the victims were “in any way involved in drug trafficking” as both Honduran and U.S. officials originally alleged;
  • Does not attempt to establish what authority was actually in charge of the operation;
  • Appears to be focused on absolving the DEA of all responsibility in the killings.

The CEPR/Rights Action report represents the first such public critique of the Public Ministry’s report. As we have previously noted, there are significant discrepancies between different accounts of the May 11 events, including those of Honduran police officers who participated in (and say the DEA was in charge of) the operation. These discrepancies – cited in a separate report published by the Honduras National Commission of Human Rights (CONADEH) – are not mentioned in the Public Ministry report. Nor does the report include police testimony indicating that a DEA agent ordered one of the State Department helicopters to open fire on the passenger boat in which four people were killed.

The report concludes by calling for the U.S. government to carry out its own investigation of the Ahuas incident to better determine what occurred and to determine what responsibility, if any, DEA agents had in the killings. It also calls on the U.S. government to cease being an obstacle to an already flawed investigation by making the relevant DEA agents, weapons and documents – including an aerial surveillance video of the Ahuas operation in its entirety – available to investigators.

The new CEPR/Rights Action paper follows the “Collateral Damage of a Drug War” report released last year which was based on eyewitness testimony and other evidence the authors obtained in Honduras and concluded that the DEA played a central role in the shooting incident.

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Official Honduran Report on May 11 Shooting Incident is a New Injustice to Victims

Obama Regime Refuses to Investigate Alleged DEA Killing of Women and Child in Honduras

By Noel Brinkerhoff  | AllGov | February 17, 2013

28029a86-550c-457a-9d42-0868c36b6a7eDemocrats on Capitol Hill want the Obama administration to investigate the deaths of four civilians in Honduras last year during an anti-cocaine raid involving U.S. law enforcement agents. But administration officials have balked at the request.

On May 11, 2012, four villagers in a boat on the River Patuca, two pregnant women, a 21-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy, were killed when local police entered the town of Ahuas in northeastern Honduras to conduct a counternarcotics operation. Another four boat passengers were injured by gunfire. It was later learned that members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) participated in the raid, which raised questions of whether Americans were responsible for the killings.

The Honduran government investigated the incident and concluded the DEA was not at fault for the deaths.

But 58 House Democrats were not satisfied with the probe, which they called “deeply flawed” in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. calling for the U.S. to conduct its own examination.

Officials with the State Department and the Department of Justice said their agencies have no intention of reopening the matter, according to The Washington Times.

More:

Government Won’t Probe of DEA Raid in Honduras (by Guy Taylor, Washington Times)

Collateral Damage of a Drug War (Center for Economic and Policy Research) (pdf)

February 17, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Obama Regime Refuses to Investigate Alleged DEA Killing of Women and Child in Honduras

The Drug Trade and the Increasing Militarization of the Caribbean

By Kevin Edmonds | The Other Side of Paradise | February 8, 2013

Given the current controversy surrounding the extent of the U.S. drone program and targeted killings, it is important to revisit that in the summer of 2012, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency announced that unmanned drones would begin patrolling Caribbean airspace as an expansion of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). This is only one aspect of how the War on Drugs in the Caribbean is increasingly looking like the War on Terror.

The U.S.–Caribbean border is the often ignored “Third Border,” which the Department of Homeland Security has referred to as an “open door for drug traffickers and terrorists.” A recent study by the National Defence University has stated that “the region’s nexus to the United States uniquely positions it in the proximate U.S. geopolitical and strategic sphere. Thus, there is an incentive, if not an urgency, for the United States to proactively pursue security capacity-building measures in the Caribbean region.”

While the drones are unarmed for the time being, they will be primarily used to locate drug traffickers operating fishing boats, fast boats, and semi-submarines and would relay information to the Coast Guard, Navy or Caribbean authorities to carry out the interception and arrests. It has been revealed that the drones will be operating out of bases in Corpus Christi, Texas, Cocoa Beach, Florida and potentially the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

The shift towards the use of drones in the region is largely based off of an unconvincing pilot program carried out over 18 months in the Bahamas, in which “During more than 1,260 hours in the air off the southeastern coast of Florida, the Guardian (drones) assisted in only a handful of large-scale busts.” That said, the Caribbean governments increased militarization in the region when they implemented the never-ending War on Drugs without any public consultation or debate. This erosion of regional sovereignty may be a slippery slope to a dangerous future in which Caribbean nationals may very well find themselves on kill lists instead of facing a trial.

Such a conclusion is not baseless, as a November 2012 report by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security recommended that Latin American drug cartels be classified as terrorist organizations “so there is increased ability to counter their threat to national security.” Furthermore, in 2009, the U.S. Military drew criticism for placing 50 suspected Afghani drug traffickers on a “kill list” as part of their ongoing efforts to cut off finance stream of the Taliban. The controversy arose due to the fact that drug traffickers (generally classified as civilians) had now been placed into the same legal category as the Taliban “insurgents” and thus became legitimate targets.

This is especially important in light of how the extradition of Jamaican kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke was handled. In September 2009, the United States requested his extradition to face drug trafficking charges, but Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding blocked the request due to his deep political connections with Coke. It was only after months of intense pressure that Golding caved in May 2010. Jamaican Police and the Jamaican Defense Forces led the bloody operation to arrest Coke, which resulted in the deaths of more than 70 civilians—the vast majority of which were unarmed.

The resulting scandal led to the downfall of Golding as Prime Minister but highlighted the power that drug traffickers and gang leaders have had in Jamaican government and politics. It has since been reinforced that the operation was “assisted by the U.S. government and carried out, to a large degree, at its behest.” Information has emerged which reveals that a U.S. spy plane participated in the raid of Coke’s stronghold of Tivoli Gardens, and a Freedom of Information Act action has recently been levied against the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) by a group of law students to reveal the extent of U.S. involvement.

To prevent such explosive outcomes in the future, there has been a call for closer integration between Caribbean police forces and the U.S. DEA in a clear escalation of the War on Drugs. A September 2012 Senate Report revealed that Jamaica has been floated as a target for a Sensitive Investigative Unit, which consists of a highly trained police that collaborate with the DEA. A similar program exists in Kandahar, where U.S. and British troops have created and participated in a task force made up of Afghan police officers and U.S. DEA agents to disrupt the drug trade and investigate corrupt Afghan officials.

According to a seemingly benign Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release announcing the drone program, the “DHS is partnering with Caribbean nations to enhance border security in the region through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) . . . . The DHS is conducting border security training in conjunction with CBSI to increase partner nation capacity to secure their borders.” The problem with such statements is that there is always more shady business going on behind the scenes. Given the direction of U.S. policy in the region, it will only be a matter of time until the War on Drugs becomes eerily similar to the War on Terror.

February 16, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Drug Trade and the Increasing Militarization of the Caribbean