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AIPAC threat to free speech

By Ron Forthofer | Dissident Voice | July 26, 2017

There is a Senate bill, along with a companion bill in the House, working its way through Congress with strong bipartisan support, that poses a significant danger to free speech. One would think this bill would be a big deal but, surprisingly, the bill has not received much coverage in the mainstream media.

Fortunately the American Civil Liberties Union is alert to efforts undermining free speech. Thus, in a July 20th article on the ACLU website about S. 720/H.R. 1697, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, Bryan Hauss, Staff Attorney, wrote:

The bill would amend existing law to prohibit people in the United States from supporting boycotts targeting Israel — making it a felony to choose not to engage in commerce with companies doing business in Israel and its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Violations would be punishable by a civil penalty that could reach $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

Hauss continues:

The bill is aimed at advocates of boycotts targeting Israel, most notably the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. Specifically, the bill sponsors intend the act as a response to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 2016 resolution calling on companies to respect human rights, including in occupied Palestinian territories. No matter what you think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one thing is clear: The First Amendment protects the right to engage in political boycotts.

Amazingly, supporters of this bill seem to have a problem with calling on companies to respect human rights! Who would draft such a problematic bill that stifles free speech and nonviolent political action?

The Intercept website carried a July 19th article by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim that said:

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the bill “was drafted with the assistance of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.” Indeed, AIPAC, in its 2017 lobbying agenda, identified passage of this bill as one of its top lobbying priorities for the year.

This AIPAC-influenced bill is consistent with AIPAC’s long-term pattern of advocating for the interests of a foreign nation, Israel. AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C. and many members of Congress seem to automatically toe its line. Thus it is not surprising that 46 senators and 245 representatives have already signed on to the bill originally introduced on March 23rd.

Greenwald and Grim added that cosponsors include liberal Senators Ron Wyden, Richard Blumenthal, Maria Cantwell as well as conservative Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ben Sasse. In the House, cosponsors include conservatives such as Jason Chaffetz, Liz Cheney, and Peter King as well as liberals Ted Lieu, Adam Schiff, and Eric Swalwell. Greenwald and Grim noted that these latter three members, who have built a wide public following by posturing as opponents of authoritarianism, are cosponsoring one of the most oppressive and authoritarian bills that has pended before Congress in quite some time.

Many of the cosponsors claim they were unaware of the penalties that could be applied in the bill whereas a few others state that they have a different reading of the bill, particularly related to the criminal penalties.

In addition to using AIPAC and other groups to lobby Congress, Israel previously directly inserted itself into our legislative process. For example, in 2015 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blatantly campaigned to derail the nuclear agreement with Iran. Also of concern, many U.S. and Israeli political experts thought Netanyahu clearly tried to sway the outcome in the 2012 U.S. Presidential election in favor of the Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

We must protect our free speech by opposing this highly questionable bill designed to benefit a foreign nation. In Colorado this means questioning Senator Bennet and Representatives Lamborn, Coffman and Buck, about their support for this appalling bill. We can also thank the other members of the Colorado delegation for not cosponsoring this terrible affront to free speech and the Constitution.

Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston and was a Green Party candidate for Congress and also for governor of Colorado.

July 27, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

NSA chief admits govt collected cellphone location data

RT | October 02, 2013

The director of the National Security Agency admitted this week that the NSA tested a program that collected cellphone location data from American citizens starting in 2010, but suspended it shortly after.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of both the NSA and the United States Cyber Command, told lawmakers in Washington early Wednesday that the secretive pilot program was taken offline in 2011, but that the intelligence community may someday in the future make plans to routinely collect location data about US citizens.

Alexander briefly discussed the program during a Senate hearing on the Hill early Wednesday that focused on the data provided to the government through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, including programs that were exposed earlier this year by unauthorized disclosures attributed to contractor-turned-leaker Edward Snowden.

Only days earlier, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) asked Alexander during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing if the NSA was collecting location data on American citizens.

“I’m asking, has the NSA ever collected, or ever made any plans to collect, American cell site information?”  Wyden asked last Thursday.

The NSA, Alexander responded at the time, “is not receiving cell-site location data and has no current plans to do so.”

During this Wednesday’s hearing, Alexander explained that, “In 2010 and 2011, NSA received samples in order to test the ability of its systems to handle the data format, but that data was not used for any other purpose and was never available for intelligence analysis purposes.”

According to a written copy of the statement obtained by The New York Times before Wednesday’s hearing, Alexander said that location information is not being collected by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Alexander did not discuss if any other laws are being implemented to otherwise allow for the collection and analysis of location data.

Moments after Alexander revealed the pilot program before the Senate committee, he said that the NSA may someday want to seek approval from Washington to revive that initiative as part of a fully functioning intelligence gathering operation.

“I would just say that this may be something that is a future requirement for the country, but it is not right now,” Alexander said.

Alexander’s statement regarding the new defunct program was expected, and obtained by The New York Times moments before Wednesday’s hearing was underway. Times reporter Charlie Savage wrote that morning that information about the pilot project was only recently declassified by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and that the draft answer obtained by the paper and later read aloud by Alexander was prepared in case he was asked about the topic.

Still unsatisfied by the intelligence community’s explanation about the collection of cellphone location data, Sen. Wyden supplied the Times with a response suggesting that the truth behind the NSA’s activities isn’t being fully acknowledged by the intelligence community.

“After years of stonewalling on whether the government has ever tracked or planned to track the location of law-abiding Americans through their cellphones, once again, the intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret — even when the truth would not compromise national security,” Wyden said.

In March, Wyden asked Clapper to say if the NSA was collecting personal information on millions of Americans. The intelligence director dismissed that allegation, then later apologized to the Senate for offering a “clearly erroneous” response.

“Time and time again, the American people were told one thing about domestic surveillance in public forums, while government agencies did something else in private,” Wyden told the Senate Intelligence Committee panel of witnesses last week, which included Alexander, Clapper, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

During last week’s meeting, Wyden said he “will continue to explore that because I believe this is something the American people have a right to know whether the NSA has ever collected or made plans to collect cell-site information.”

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feinstein’s Senate Committee Defends NSA Phone Surveillance, Pushes Bill to Retain It

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | September 28, 2013
Senator Dianne Feinstein

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee made it clear this week that they see no reason to halt the National Security Agency’s controversial program that collects records of Americans’ phone calls.

Led by the panel’s chair, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), a majority of the committee indicated during a hearing on Thursday that they want the NSA to keep using the once-secret program, but under certain conditions.

Feinstein and the committee’s top Republican, Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, plan to draft new legislation by next week that would require the NSA to file public reports on the calling log database.

The bill would also mandate that the agency reduce the number of years that it stores the database’s contents. Currently, the NSA says that it stores the records for five years.

In addition, Feinstein wants the Senate to have confirmation authority over new NSA directors.

At the same time, the Democratic lawmaker is willing to broaden the agency’s power to wiretap without court approval a foreigner’s cellphone for at least one week when that person travels to the United States.

Another provision would demand that the NSA send lists of the phone numbers it searches, along with explanations for doing so, to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for review.

Critics of the NSA’s domestic surveillance have called for ending the phone-records program altogether. These advocates include two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, who have introduced a tougher reform bill.

But it appears unlikely Wyden’s bill will get past Feinstein’s committee, since Feinstein says the call log program is legal and “necessary for our nation’s security,” according to The New York Times.

To Learn More:

Senators Push to Preserve N.S.A. Phone Surveillance (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)

Feinstein Outlines NSA Changes (by Brendan Sasso and Kate Tummarello, The Hill)

“Independent Experts” Reviewing NSA Spying Have Ties to Intelligence Community (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Left and Right Unite to Sue NSA over Telephone Records Surveillance (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

September 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Political Moves: How Dianne Feinstein Cut Off One Of The Few Attempts At Actual Oversight By Senate Intelligence Committee

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | September 27, 2013

We’ve already covered how Dianne Feinstein used the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to play games with the English language, while Senator Dan Coats used it to rant against all you stupid Americans for not trusting the NSA, but there have been some actual attempts to have the Senate Intelligence Committee perform its actual duty of oversight. Both Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall — who have been trying to raise these questions for years — actually had specific questions for the assembled panel, but the panel (mainly Keith Alexander) did its best to completely avoid answering the questions, then used political gamesmanship to block Wyden from asking followups.

Wyden used his question to highlight what he’s been hinting at for years, that it’s almost certain that the NSA has collected bulk data on the locations of Americans (something not yet officially revealed, and which they’ve sort of tried to deny for a while). Wyden has been asking versions of this question for a few years (and trying to pass legislation blocking this kind of thing for nearly as long). But watch how Keith Alexander never actually answers the question:

Wyden: Now with respect to questions, let me start with you Director Alexander, and, as you all know, I will notify you in advance so that there won’t be any surprise about the types of issues we are going to get into. And Director Alexander, Senators Udall, Heinrich and I and about two dozen other senators have asked in the past whether the NSA has ever collected or made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site information in bulk. What would be your response to that?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Senator, on July 25, Director Clapper provided a non-classified written response to this question amongst others, as well as a classified supplement with additional detail. Allow me to reaffirm what was stated in that unclassified response. Under section 215, NSA is not receiving cell-site location data and has no current plans to do so. As you know, I indicated to this committee on October 20, 2011, that I would notify Congress of NSA’s intent to obtain cell-site location data prior to any such plans being put in place. As you may also be aware….

Note the word games: “under Section 215.” He does not say whether they’ve used some other authority to do so. And then he’s just repeating talking points so Wyden flat out cuts him off:

Wyden: General, if I might. I think we’re all familiar with it. That’s not the question I’m asking. Respectfully, I’m asking, has the NSA ever collected or ever made any plans to collect Americans’ cell-site information. That was the question and we, respectfully General, have still not gotten an answer to it. Could you give me an answer to that?

Alexander: We did. We sent that — as you’re also aware I expressly reaffirmed this commitment to the committee on June 25, 2013. Finally, in the most recent and now declassified opinion renewing this program, the FISA court made clear in footnote number five that notice to the court in a briefing would be required if the government were to seek production of cell-site location information as part of the bulk production of call detail records. Additional details were also provided in the classified supplement to Director Clapper’s July 25th response to this question. So what I don’t want to do, Senator, is put out in an unclassified forum anything that’s classified there so I’m reading to you exactly. So we sent both of these to you. I saw what Director Clapper sent and I agree with it.

Wyden: General, if you’re responding to my question by not answering it because you think that’s a classified matter that is certainly your right. We will continue to explore that because I believe this is something the American people have a right to know whether the NSA has ever collected or made plans to collect cell-site information. I understand your answer. I’ll have additional questions on the next round. Thank you, Madam Chair.

First off, Alexander’s answer shows that, contrary to the assertions of some staunch NSA defenders, it is entirely possible to answer a question by saying “there is more information in classified documents that shouldn’t be shared in an open setting.” Some have tried to excuse James Clapper’s lies to Congress by suggesting he couldn’t have said more or less what Alexander said here.

Second, note the doublespeak that Alexander is engaged in here. Even asked, again, to answer the basic question, Alexander pulls an “under this program” type of answer, suggesting (again) that American location data either has been, or is planned, to be collected in bulk. That is worrisome, and should not be classified information. Rather it should be open to public debate as to whether or not it’s appropriate.

But here’s where the political gamesmanship came in. Committee chair Dianne Feinstein gave Senators only five minutes each for their questions. It seemed like a majority of this “oversight” committee didn’t actually ask any questions, but rather, like Coats, simply filibustered angrily at the American public or press for not trusting the NSA. But when actual questions were asked, not enough time was given to get a straight answer. At the very end of the hearing, after most of the other Senators had left, Senator Wyden made a perfectly normal request: could he ask his followup questions. He noted that he just had two questions and both could be asked within an additional five-minute window. Senator Susan Collins, who had similarly filibustered during her own five minutes (focusing mainly on knocking down a complete strawman: falsely insisting that people were upset that the NSA was using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to record all phone calls, when everyone knows that it’s just about call records, not call contents), objected to Wyden’s request because she thought everything would go in order. It was pure political gamesmanship.

So instead of getting to conduct more actual oversight by having the committee ask important questions of the surveillance bosses, the panel, instead, moved on to the “second part” of the hearing, which involved two staunch non-governmental NSA defenders who basically sat down to talk about the awesomeness of being able to spy on everyone. Ben Wittes opened with a “joke” about how the NSA’s director of compliance John DeLong, mocked the level of scrutiny the NSA was under by pointing out that if he had typos in a document he’d have to reveal that to some oversight authority. Har har. This was useless. There was no reason to have them testify, and they were given a hell of a lot more time than the Senators actually asking questions.

That time could have been used to actually conduct oversight. Instead, we got nothing. Throughout the panel Senators pointed out that the American public doesn’t trust the NSA right now (though, they often blamed the public and the press for this, rather than the direct actions and statements of the NSA). If they wanted a lesson in how not to build up that trust, holding a completely toothless “oversight” hearing was a pretty good start.

After Wyden, Udall also asked some specific questions, in which the deputy Attorney General basically just repeated the FISA Court ruling saying that “relevant” has been redefined by the intelligence community to mean basically anything that the intelligence community feels is “necessary” to its investigations, and seems to think that it’s a good thing that this is a “low bar.” He completely ignores the basics of the 4th Amendment, as well as recent Supreme Court decisions on the topic.

I’ve included the video of both Wyden and Udall’s questions below, so you can see the less than 20 minutes of the two-hour session where actual serious questions were asked.

September 28, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Guide to the Deceptions, Misinformation, and Word Games Officials Use to Mislead the Public About NSA Surveillance

By Trevor Timm | EFF | August 14, 2013

It’s been two months since President Barack Obama first said that he welcomes a debate about NSA surveillance, which he once again reiterated last week at his press conference. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to have a real debate about a subject when the administration constantly and intentionally misleads Americans about the NSA’s capabilities and supposed legal powers.

Infamously, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper was forced to apologize for lying to Congress about whether the government was collecting information on millions of Americans, but that was merely the tip of the administration’s iceberg of mendacity and misdirection. At this point, it seems nothing the government says about the NSA can be taken at face value.

NSA’s Bizarro Dictionary

The latest example comes from the New York Times last week, which reported that the NSA is “searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country.” Despite the fact that millions of people’s communications are collected in bulk, the NSA says that this isn’t  “bulk collection.” From the NYT story:

The senior intelligence official argued, however, that it would be inaccurate to portray the N.S.A. as engaging in “bulk collection” of the contents of communications. “ ‘Bulk collection’ is when we collect and retain for some period of time that lets us do retrospective analysis,” the official said. “In this case, we do not do that, so we do not consider this ‘bulk collection.’ ”

In other words, because the NSA does some sort of initial content searches of the bulk communications that they collect, perhaps using very fast computers, then only keep some unknown subset of that greater bulk for a later date, no “bulk collection” occurs. This is ridiculous. No matter how you slice it, the NSA is mass collecting and searching millions of American communications without a warrant.

Keep in mind that officials have previously said communications aren’t even “collected” when they are intercepted and stored in a database for long periods of time, much less “bulk collected.”  Orwell would be impressed.

We’ve long documented the NSA’s unbelievable definitions of ordinary words like “collect,” “surveillance,” and “communications,” publishing a whole page of them last year. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer has added to the NSA’s bizarro dictionary, with words like “incidental,” “minimize” and even “no.”

The fact is, no one should have to read and parse a sentence a half-dozen times, plus have access to a secret government dictionary, in order to decipher its meaning. Yet, that’s apparently how the administration wants this debate to proceed.

Question Misdirection

When government officials can’t directly answer a question with a secret definition, officials will often answer a different question than they were asked. For example, if asked, “can you read Americans’ email without a warrant,” officials will answer: “we cannot target Americans’ email without a warrant.” As we explained last week, the NSA’s warped definition of word “target” is full of so many holes that it allows the NSA to reach into untold number of Americans’ emails, some which can be purely domestic.

“Under this Program” Dodge

Another tried and true technique in the NSA obfuscation playbook is to deny it does one invasive thing or another “under this program.” When it’s later revealed the NSA actually does do the spying it said it didn’t, officials can claim it was just part of another program not referred to in the initial answer.

This was the Bush administration’s strategy for the “Terrorist Surveillance Program”: The term “TSP” ended up being a meaningless label, created by administration officials after the much larger warrantless surveillance program was exposed by the New York Times in 2005. They used it to give the misleading impression that the NSA’s spying program was narrow and aimed only at intercepting the communications of terrorists. In fact, the larger program affected all Americans.

Now we’re likely seeing it as part of the telephone records collection debate when administration officials repeat over and over that they aren’t collecting location data “under this program.” Sen. Ron Wyden has strongly suggested this might not be the whole story.

From Downright False to Impossible to Understand

Some statements by government officials don’t seem to have any explanation.

The night before the New York Times story on “vast” warrantless searches of Americans’ communications came out, Obama told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, “We don’t have a domestic spying program.” Mr. President, what do you call collecting the phone records of all Americans and searching any email sent by an American that happens to cross the border? That sounds a lot like a domestic spying program.

Similarly, Sen. Dianne Feinstein,  chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee,  recently said this: “[T]he government cannot listen to an American’s telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause.” Leaked documents and, honestly, the FISA Amendments Act itself show Feinstein’s statement simply isn’t true—if Americans are talking to a “target” their telephone calls are listened to and their emails can be read without a warrant (and that doesn’t even include the searching of Americans’ communications that are “about a target”). All of those searches are done without a court order, much less a warrant based on probable cause.

Previously, President Obama has called the inherently secret FISA court “transparent,” to the befuddlement of just about everyone. A court that has issued tens of thousands of secret orders, while creating a secret body of privacy and Fourth Amendment law, is not “transparent” by any measure.

Just last week, the president claimed he would appoint an “independent” board of “outside” observers to review the surveillance programs, only to put DNI Clapper—the same man who lied to Congress and the public about the scope of the program—in charge of picking the members. The White House has since backtracked, but the DNI still will report the group’s findings to the President.

These are not all of the misleading statements, merely just a few that stick out at the moment. If the president is serious about transparency, he can start by declassifying the dictionary his administration is using to debate, and start speaking straight to the American public. A one-sided presentation of the facts, without straightforward answers to the public’s questions, isn’t really a debate at all.

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jennifer Hoelzer’s Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks

By Jennifer Hoelzer | Techdirt | August 10, 2013

In a bit of fortuitous timing, this week we had asked former deputy chief of staff for Ron Wyden, Jennifer Hoelzer, to do our weekly “Techdirt Favorites of the Week” post, in which we have someone from the wider Techdirt community tell us what their favorite posts on the site were. As you’ll see below, Hoelzer has a unique and important perspective on this whole debate concerning NSA surveillance, and given the stories that came out late Friday, she chose to ditch her original post on favorites and rewrite the whole thing from scratch last night (and into this morning). Given that, it’s much, much more than a typical “favorites of the week” post, and thus we’ve adjusted the title appropriately. I hope you’ll read through this in its entirety for a perspective on what’s happening that not many have.

Tim Cushing made one of my favorite points of the week in his Tuesday post “Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda,” when he explained that “some of the most ardent defenders of our nation’s surveillance programs” — much like proponents of overreaching cyber-legislation, like SOPA — have a habit of “belittling” their opponents as a loose confederation of basement-dwelling loners.” I think it’s worth pointing out that General Hayden’s actual rhetoric is even more inflammatory than Cushing’s. Not only did the former NSA director call us “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twenty-somethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years,” he equates transparency groups like the ACLU with al Qaeda.

I appreciated this post for two reasons:

First of all, it does a great job of illustrating a point that I’ve long made when asked for advice on communicating tech issues, which is that the online community is as diverse and varied as the larger world we live in. Of course, we are more likely to come across the marginal opinions of twenty-somethings with social anxiety online because, unlike the larger world, the Internet gives those twenty-somethings just as much of an opportunity to be heard as a Harvard scholar, a dissident protesting for democracy or General Hayden himself.

Sure, it can be infuriating to read scathingly hostile comments written by troubled individuals who clearly didn’t take the time to read the post you spent countless hours carefully writing (not that that has ever happened to me) but isn’t one of the things that makes the Internet so darn special its unwavering reminder that free speech includes speech we don’t appreciate? Of course, that’s a point that tends to get lost on folks — like General Hayden — who don’t seem to understand that equating the entirety of the online world with terrorists is a lot like posting a scathing comment to a story without reading it. You can’t expect someone to treat you or your opinion with respect — online or anywhere else — when you’re being disrespectful. And I can imagine no greater disrespect for the concepts of transparency and oversight than to equate them with the threats posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

But my main reason for singling out Tim’s post this week is that Hayden’s remark goes to the heart of what I continue to find most offensive about the Administration’s handling of the NSA surveillance programs, which is their repeated insinuation that anyone who raises concerns about national security programs doesn’t care about national security. As Tim explains this “attitude fosters the “us vs. them” antagonism so prevalent in these agencies dealings with the public. The NSA (along with the FBI, DEA and CIA) continually declares the law is on its side and portrays its opponents as ridiculous dreamers who believe safety doesn’t come with a price.”

To understand why I find this remark so offensive, I should probably tell you a little about myself. While the most identifying aspect of my resume is probably the six years I spent as U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s communications director and later deputy chief of staff, I started college at the U.S. Naval Academy and spent two years interning for the National Security Council. I had a Top Secret SCI clearance when I was 21 years old and had it not been for an unusual confluence of events nearly 15 years ago — including a chance conversation with a patron of the bar I tended in college — I might be working for the NSA today. I care very deeply about national security. Moreover — and this is what the Obama Administration and other proponents of these programs fail to understand — I was angry at the Administration for its handling of these programs long before I knew what the NSA was doing. That had a lot to do with the other thing you should probably know about me: during my tenure in Wyden’s office, I probably spent in upwards of 1,000 hours trying to help my boss raise concerns about programs that he couldn’t even tell me about.

Which brings me to my next favorite Techdirt post of the week, Mike’s Friday post entitled “Don’t Insult Our Intelligence, Mr. President: This Debate Wouldn’t Be Happening Without Ed Snowden,” which is a much less profane way of summing up my feelings about the President’s “claim that he had already started this process prior to the Ed Snowden leaks and that it’s likely we would [have] ended up in the same place” without Snowden’s disclosure.

“What makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation,” Obama said. “It’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.”

I hope you won’t mind if I take a moment to respond to that.

Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed to those things, your Administration wouldn’t have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorize these programs came up for reauthorization, which — correct me if I am wrong — is when the democratic process recommends as the ideal time for these debates.

For example, in June 2009, six months before Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Obama Administration claims gives the NSA the authority to collect records on basically every American citizen — whether they have ever or will ever come in contact with a terrorist — Senators Wyden, Feingold and Durbin sent Attorney General Eric Holder a classified letter “requesting the declassification of information which [they] argued was critical for a productive debate on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

In November 2009, they sent an unclassified letter reiterating the request, stating:

“The PATRIOT Act was passed in a rush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sunsets were attached to the Act’s most controversial provisions, to permit better-informed, more deliberative consideration of them at a later time. Now is the time for that deliberative consideration, but informed discussion is not possible when most members of Congress – and nearly all of the American public – lack important information about the issue.”

Did President Obama jump at the opportunity to embrace the democratic process and have an open debate then? No. Congress voted the following month to reauthorize the Patriot Act without debate.

In May 2011, before the Senate was — again — scheduled to vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, Senators Wyden and Udall — again — called for the declassification of the Administration’s secret interpretation of Section 215. This time, in a Huffington Post Op-Ed entitled “How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law?” they wrote:

Members of Congress are about to vote to extend the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for four more years, even though few of them understand how those provisions are being interpreted and applied.

As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch’s classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people — including many Members of Congress — think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.

Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is — stunningly –classified.

What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.

During the debate itself, Wyden and Udall offered an amendment to declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of its Patriot Act surveillance authorities and, in a twenty minute speech on the Senate floor, Wyden warned that the American people would one day be outraged to learn that the government was engaged in surveillance activities that many Americans would assume were illegal, just as they were every other time the national security committee has tried to hide its questionable activities from the American people.

Fun aside: As you can see in the video, to underscore the point that hiding programs from the American people rarely goes well for the Administration, I had my staff make a poster of the famous image of Oliver North testifying before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearing. I really wanted to replace North’s face with the words “insert your photo here,” but we didn’t have the time.

Did President Obama welcome an open debate at that time?

No. Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years and the only point we — as critics — could raise that might be confused with debate was a hypothetical argument illustrated with a twenty-year-old picture of Oliver North. And, again, Senator Wyden couldn’t even tell me what he was so concerned about. In strategy meetings with me and his Intelligence Committee staffer, I had to repeatedly leave the room when the conversation strayed towards details they couldn’t share with me because I no longer had an active security clearance. “You know, it would be a lot easier if you could just tell me what I can’t say?” I’d vent in frustration. They agreed, but still asked me to leave the room.

And that was just the Patriot Act. Did the President — who now claims to welcome open debate of his Administration’s surveillance authorities — jump at the opportunity to have such a debate when the FISA Amendments Act came up for reauthorization?

No. Not only did the Administration repeatedly decline Senator Wyden’s request for a “ballpark figure” of the number of Americans whose information was being collected by the NSA last year, just a month after the Patriot Act reauthorization, the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to quietly pass a four year reauthorization of the controversial surveillance law by spinning it as an effort to: “Synchronize the various sunset dates included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to June 1, 2015;” So, I guess if this was part of the Administration’s plan to publicly debate the NSA’s surveillance authorities, the plan was for the debate to take place in 2015?

And, as I explained in an interview with Brian Beutler earlier this summer, that is just a fraction of the ways the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Communities ignored and even thwarted our attempts to consult the public on these surveillance programs before they were reauthorized. In fact, after the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in which Wyden attempted to close the FAA’s Section 702 loophole, which another important Techdirt post this week explains, “gives the NSA ‘authority’ to run searches on Americans without any kind of warrant,” I — as Wyden’s spokesperson — was specifically barred from explaining the Senator’s opposition to the legislation to the reporters. In fact, the exact response I was allowed to give reporters was:

“We’ve been told by Senator Feinstein’s staff that under the SSCI’s Committee Rule 9.3, members and staff are prohibited from discussing the markup or describing the contents of the bill until the official committee report is released. The fact that they’ve already put out a press release does not lift this prohibition.

That’s right, supporters of a full scale reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act put out a press release explaining why this was a good thing, while explicitly barring the Senator who voted against the legislation from explaining his concerns.

Months later, the FISA Amendments Act, which the Administration contends authorizes its PRISM program, passed without the open debate that the President now contends he wanted all along. And, again, I’m only touching on a fraction of the efforts just Senator Wyden made to compel the administration to engage the American people in a democratic debate. I, obviously, haven’t mentioned the Director of National Intelligence’s decision to lie when Wyden “asked whether the NSA had collected ‘any type of data at all on millions of Americans.'” (Btw: Given that Wyden shared his question with the ODNI the day before the hearing, I am highly skeptical that Clapper’s decision to lie was made unilaterally.) Or the fact that the Obama Administration repeatedly fought lawsuits and FOIA requests for, again — not sources and methods — but the Section 215 legal interpretation that the Administration claims authorizes its surveillance authorities.

The below is an excerpt from a March 2012 letter that Wyden and Udall sent the Obama Administration urging them to respect the democratic process:

The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss these Freedom of Information Act lawsuits argues that it is the responsibility of the executive branch to determine the best way to protect the secrecy of intelligence sources and methods. While this is indeed a determination for the executive branch to make, we are concerned that the executive branch has developed a practice of bypassing traditional checks and balances and treating these determinations as dispositive in all cases. In other words, when intelligence officials argue that something should stay secret, policy makers often seem to defer to them without carefully considering the issue themselves. We have great respect for our nation’s intelligence officers, the vast majority of whom are hard-working and dedicated professionals. But intelligence officials are specialists — it is their job to determine how to collect as much information as possible, but it is not their job to balance the need for secrecy with the public’s right to know how the law is being interpreted. That responsibility rests with policy makers, and we believe that responsibility should not be delegated lightly.

But, as Mike’s last post on Friday explains, “President Obama flat out admitted that this was about appeasing a public that doesn’t trust the administration, not about reducing the surveillance.” Mike’s insight continues:

Even more to the point, his comments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of why the public doesn’t trust the government. That’s because he keeps insisting that the program isn’t being abused and that all of this collection is legal. But, really, that’s not what the concern is about. Even though we actually know that the NSA has a history of abuse (and other parts of the intelligence community before that), a major concern is that scooping up so much data is considered legal in the first place.

I’d go even further than that and argue that a big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?

I think it’s understandably hard for the American people to trust the President when he says his Administration has the legal authority to conduct these surveillance programs when one of the few things that remains classified about these programs is the legal argument that the administration says gives the NSA the authority to conduct these programs. This is the document that explains why the Administration believes the word “relevant” gives them the authority to collect everything. It’s also the document I’d most like to see since it’s the document my former boss has been requesting be declassified for more than half a decade. (A reporter recently asked me why I think the Administration won’t just declassify the legal opinion given that the sources and methods it relates to have already been made public. “I think that’s pretty obvious,” I said. “I believe it will be much harder for the Administration to claim that these programs are legal, if people can see their legal argument.”)

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust the President when his administration has repeatedly gone out of its way to silence critics and — again — treat oversight as a threat on par with al Qaeda. As another great Techdirt post this week — US Releases Redacted Document Twice… With Different Redactions — illustrates, many of the Intelligence Community’s classification decisions seem to be based more on a desire to avoid criticism than clear national security interests. And as Senator Wyden said back in 2007, when then CIA Director Hayden (yes, the same guy who thinks we’re all losers who can’t get laid) attempted to undermine oversight over his agency by launching an investigation into the CIA’s inspector general, “people who know that they’re doing the right thing aren’t afraid of oversight.”

Which reminds me of the Techdirt post this week that probably haunted me the most. Ed Snowden’s Email Provider, Lavabit, Shuts Down To Fight US Gov’t Intrusion. Mike uses the post to explain that Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Labavit — the secure email service that provided Edward Snowden’s email account — decided to shut down his email service this week.

Not much more information is given, other than announced plans to fight against the government in court. Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It’s also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.

The part that haunted me, though, was a line Levon included in his email informing customers of his decision:

“I feel you deserve to know what’s going on,” he wrote. “The first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this.”

He’s right, isn’t he? If these aren’t the moments the First Amendment was meant for, what are? Moreover, if the Administration is so convinced that its requests of Labavit are just, why are they afraid to hold them up to public scrutiny?

In his book, Secrecy: The American Experience, former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan included a quote from a 1960 report issued by the House Committee on Operations which I believe provides a far better response than anything I could write on my own:

Secrecy — the first refuge of incompetents — must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society for a fully informed public is the basis of self government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than its people.

Which brings me to my final point (at least for now) I think it’s awfully hard for the American people to trust the President and his administration when their best response to the concerns Americans are raising is to denigrate the Americans raising those concerns. Because, you see, I have a hard time understanding why my wanting to stand up for democratic principles makes me unpatriotic, while the ones calling themselves patriots seem to think so little of the people and the principles that comprise the country they purport to love.

August 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Won’t They Tell Us the Truth About NSA Spying?

By Ron Paul | August 4, 2013

In 2001, the Patriot Act opened the door to US government monitoring of Americans without a warrant. It was unconstitutional, but most in Congress over my strong objection were so determined to do something after the attacks of 9/11 that they did not seem to give it too much thought. Civil liberties groups were concerned, and some of us in Congress warned about giving up our liberties even in the post-9/11 panic. But at the time most Americans did not seem too worried about the intrusion.

This complacency has suddenly shifted given recent revelations of the extent of government spying on Americans. Politicians and bureaucrats are faced with serious backlash from Americans outraged that their most personal communications are intercepted and stored. They had been told that only the terrorists would be monitored. In response to this anger, defenders of the program have time and again resorted to spreading lies and distortions. But these untruths are now being exposed very quickly.

In a Senate hearing this March, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Senator Ron Wyden that the NSA did not collect phone records of millions of Americans. This was just three months before the revelations of an NSA leaker made it clear that Clapper was not telling the truth. Pressed on his false testimony before Congress, Clapper apologized for giving an “erroneous” answer but claimed it was just because he “simply didn’t think of Section 215 of the Patriot Act.” Wow.

As the story broke in June of the extent of warrantless NSA spying against Americans, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers assured us that the project was strictly limited and not invasive. He described it as a “lockbox with only phone numbers, no names, no addresses in it, we’ve used it sparingly, it is absolutely overseen by the legislature, the judicial branch and the executive branch, has lots of protections built in…”

But we soon discovered that also was not true either. We learned in another Guardian newspaper article last week that the top secret “X-Keyscore” program allows even low-level analysts to “search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

The keys to Rogers’ “lockbox” seem to have been handed out to everyone but the janitors! As Chairman of the Committee that is supposed to be most in the loop on these matters, it seems either the Intelligence Community misled him about their programs or he misled the rest of us. It sure would be nice to know which one it is.

Likewise, Rep. Rogers and many other defenders of the NSA spying program promised us that this dragnet scooping up the personal electronic communications of millions of Americans had already stopped “dozens” of terrorist plots against the United States. In June, NSA director General Keith Alexander claimed that the just-disclosed bulk collection of Americans’ phone and other electronic records had “foiled 50 terror plots.”

Opponents of the program were to be charged with being unconcerned with our security.

But none of it was true.

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday heard dramatic testimony from NSA deputy director John C. Inglis. According to the Guardian:

“The NSA has previously claimed that 54 terrorist plots had been disrupted ‘over the lifetime’ of the bulk phone records collection and the separate program collecting the internet habits and communications of people believed to be non-Americans. On Wednesday, Inglis said that at most one plot might have been disrupted by the bulk phone records collection alone.”

From dozens to “at most one”?

Supporters of these programs are now on the defensive, with several competing pieces of legislation in the House and Senate seeking to rein in an administration and intelligence apparatus that is clearly out of control. This is to be commended. What is even more important, though, is for more and more and more Americans to educate themselves about our precious liberties and to demand that their government abide by the Constitution. We do not have to accept being lied to – or spied on — by our government.

August 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Senators say the NSA is still lying to Congress – NSA removes fact sheets

RT | June 25, 2013

Two Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence say the National Security Agency provided “inaccurate” and “misleading” information to the American public about the government’s vast surveillance operations.

Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall sent a letter to NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander on Monday asking him to make revisions to a set of fact sheets that were released by his agency to quell concerns about domestic surveillance in the wake of leaked documents attributed to former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden earlier this month.

The Guardian newspaper has been publishing top-secret documents provided by Snowden that he says proves the NSA operates secretive spying programs that retain information on United States citizens under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Snowden claims those two statutes are abused in order to surveil American citizens, an argument Gen. Alexander’s office recently attempted to counter by releasing a four-page set of bullet points outlining what the US government can and can’t do under federal law.

According to Sens. Wyden and Udall, the NSA’s response isn’t in-tune with what they’ve been told of the programs. “We were disappointed to see that this fact sheet contains an inaccurate statement about how the Section 702 authority has been interpreted by the US government,” they write Gen. Alexander. “In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are.”

But while the fact sheets have been made available online, Wyden and Udall can’t explain in their public letter what their allegations are in reference to since the lawmakers’ own knowledge of the clandestine operations are not allowed to be discussed, even among the constituents who elected them to the Senate. Instead, they wrote that they’ve “identified this inaccurate statement in the classified attachment” sent to Alexander.

Elsewhere, the lawmakers rejected the NSA’s claim that, “Any inadvertently acquired communication of or concerning a US person must be promptly destroyed if it is neither relevant to the authorized purpose nor evidence of a crime.”

“We believe that this statement is somewhat misleading,” replied the senators, “in that it implies that the NSA has the ability to determine how many American communications it has collected under Section 702, or that the law does not allow the NSA to deliberately search for the records of particular Americans. In fact, the intelligence community has told us repeatedly that it is ‘not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority’ of the FISA Amendments Act.”

In a tweet sent out Monday evening, Sen. Wyden again said the FISA fact sheet included a “significant inaccuracy.”

Nowhere does the senators’ response include allegations of any discrepancies in the Section 215 fact sheet, but both Wyden and Udall have raised questions about how the government interprets that provision previously. “We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted Section 215,” they wrote in a joint letter to Attorney General Eric Holder last year. “As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when they public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”

In their letter to Gen. Alexander this week, both Udall and Wyden wrote that they believe the US government should have “broad authorities to investigate terrorism and espionage,” and that it’s possible to “aggressively pursue terrorists without compromising the constitutional rights of ordinary Americans.”

“Achieving this goal depends not just on secret courts and secret congressional hearings, but on informed public debate as well,” they wrote.

But while Sens. Udall and Wyden have been long critical of surveillance powers provided through FISA and the PATRIOT Act, their take on the revelations exposed by Mr. Snowden differs drastically with that of President Barack Obama and many leading figures of his administration. Mr. Obama, Gen. Alexander and Mr. Holder have all defended the practices used by the NSA and say that no constitutional violations occur due to privacy safeguards in place, as have Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” President Obama said earlier this month.

With respect to Section 702 and Section 215, Obama said, “These are programs that have been authorized by broad bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006. And so I think at the onset it is important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.”

Edward Snowden revealed himself as the contractor responsible for the leaks published by The Guardian less than one week after the paper first began releasing information on the programs. He gave several interviews in Hong Kong before flying to Moscow where he remains today, according to both the US and Russian presidents. The anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks announced Monday that Snowden has asked for asylum from several countries, including Iceland and Ecuador.

June 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government Says Secret Court Opinion on Law Underlying PRISM Program Needs to Stay Secret

By Mark Rumold and David Sobel | EFF | June 7, 2013

In a rare public filing in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the Justice Department today urged continued secrecy for a 2011 FISC opinion that found the National Security Agency’s surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act to be unconstitutional.  Significantly, the surveillance at issue was carried out under the same controversial legal authority that underlies the NSA’s recently-revealed PRISM program.

EFF filed a suit under the Freedom of Information Act in August 2012, seeking disclosure of the FISC ruling.  Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall revealed the existence of the opinion, which found that collection activities under FISA Section 702  “circumvented the spirit of the law” and violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. But, at the time, the Senators were not permitted to discuss the details publicly. Section 702 has taken on new importance this week, as it appears to form the basis for the extensive PRISM surveillance program reported recently in the Guardian and the Washington Post.

The government has seeked to block EFF’s FOIA suit by arguing that only the FISC, itself, can release the opinion.  In an effort to remove that roadblock, EFF filed a motion with the FISC on April 22 seeking the surveillance court’s consent to disclosure, should the document be found to be otherwise subject to release under FOIA.  In its response filed with the FISC today, the government offers a circular argument, asserting that only the Executive Branch can de-classify the opinion, but that it is somehow prohibited by the FISC rules from doing so.

The government’s argument is guaranteed to make heads spin. DOJ earlier argued that it lacks discretion to release the FISC opinion without the FISC’s consent, but DOJ now argues that if the FISC were to agree with EFF, “the consequence would be that the Government could release the opinion or any portion of it in its discretion.”  But FISC material is classified solely because the Executive Branch demands that it be, so release of the opinion has always been a matter of Executive discretion.

Frankly, it’s difficult to understand what DOJ is saying. The Government seems to have a knee-jerk inclination towards secrecy, one that often – as in this case – simply defies logic. The government’s bottom line is this: their rules trump the public’s statutory rights. But it’s not the province of the Executive branch to determine which rights citizens get to assert.

The events of the past week have demonstrated that the public is angry about the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. EFF hoped the public outcry might lead the government to rethink it’s position in this case (and, notably, DOJ has in two other EFF cases). But, for now, the government is digging in its heels and refusing to budge. But a democracy demands more. When the government acts unconstitutionally, the public has a fundamental right to review, understand, and correct that government action. Despite the DOJ’s filing today, EFF intends to keep fighting against the government’s secret surveillance practices.

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | 1 Comment

Hanford nuclear waste tanks at risk of explosion

RT | April 03, 2013

US residents near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation may be in grave danger: a nuclear safety board found that the underground tanks holding toxic, radioactive waste could explode at any minute, due to a dangerous buildup of hydrogen gas.

After Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DFNSB) about the risks posed by the nuclear site, board members relayed their concerns about the potential for hydrogen gas buildup within the walls of a tank – particularly those with double walls.

“All the double-shell tanks contain waste that continuously generates some flammable gas,” the board said in a letter received by Wyden on Monday. “This gas will eventually reach flammable conditions if adequate ventilation is not provided.”

The safety board had previously issued a warning about their concerns, which have not yet been addressed. In September, the board sent a letter to the Department of Energy, claiming that there were no adequate safeguards to protect against the buildup of flammable gasses inside Hanford’s waste storage tanks. The letter, which outlines the concerns shared with Sen. Wyden on Monday, was declassified on Tuesday.

If the tanks were to explode, there would be flammable releases that would “have considerable radiological consequences, endanger personnel, contaminate portions of the Tank Farms, and seriously disrupt the waste cleanup mission,” the previously classified DFNSB report states.

Hanford’s double-shelled tanks contain some of the deadliest mixtures of nuclear and chemical waste left over from World War II and Cold War-era plutonium production. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been a serious cause of concern, since six of the facility’s tanks were found to be leaking about 1,000 gallons of nuclear waste each year. The Department of Energy discovered the leaks years ago, but has failed to address the problem.

Last September, the safety board recommended that state and federal officials more closely monitor the tanks and increase ventilation. Federal officials have allegedly taken those recommendations into consideration and are working on a plan to address the board’s concerns, the Associated Press reports.

But despite continuous problems and public health risks associated with the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, construction of a waste treatment plant has been delayed. Such a plant would make the toxic chemicals safe for long-term disposal and would be crucial in preventing all of the radioactive waste from leaking into the ground.

The DFNSB hopes that discussing the very real possibility of an explosion will alarm Department of Energy officials and prompt them to take action. The Hanford site currently holds 56 million gallons of radioactive toxic waste that is  leaking into the soil. Wyden, who chairs the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee, believes there is no time to waste in regards to the cleanup process.

“The next Secretary of Energy – Dr. Moniz – needs to understand that a major part of his job is going to be to get the Hanford cleanup back on track, and I plan to stress that at his confirmation hearing next week,” Wyden said in a statement Tuesday.

The US government spends about $2 billion each year cleaning up the waste generated by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, about one third of which goes towards the flawed design and construction of the plant. The $2 billion also makes up about one third of the federal government’s nuclear cleanup budget, and costs are only expected to rise.

Although the DFNSB and Sen. Wyden have long been emphasizing the risks created by the plant, the Department of Energy has long failed to acknowledge the severity of the problem. And after the latest warnings about the very possible risk of a nuclear explosion, the department countered the report.

“All DSTs are actively ventilated, which means they have blowers and fans to prevent hydrogen gas build-up,” the Department of Energy said in a statement. “These ventilation systems are monitored to ensure they are operating as intended.”

Wyden said he plans to ask tough questions during Moniz’s confirmation hearing regarding the future of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism | , , , , , | Comments Off on Hanford nuclear waste tanks at risk of explosion

Despite Talk of Drones, 3/4 of U.S. Missiles in Afghanistan are Fired by Piloted Airplanes

By Matt Bewig | AllGov | March 26, 2013

(photo: U.S. Air Force)

Apparently stung by mounting criticism of its remote control assassination program, the Obama administration early this month secretly reneged on an Air Force promise to “provide more detailed information on [drone operations] in Afghanistan” by failing to provide data on drone strikes for February. And in an Orwellian twist, the Air Force removed the previously released data on drone strikes from the reports for October 2012 to January 2013.

According to the data, the Air Force actually relies more heavily on piloted aircraft to conduct airstrikes, with drones responsible for only about one-quarter of missiles fired. The data shows that the Air Force conducted 1,366 drone strikes in Afghanistan between 2009 and January 2013. Although casualty figures were omitted, it is known that the U.S. has killed between 3,049 and 4,376 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia during about 500 “covert” drone strikes, including at least 179 children—the equivalent of 9 Newtown child massacres.

Indeed, parents who have seen their children killed by U.S. bombs don’t care if the person who pushed the button that released the bomb was inside an airplane or in a control room thousands of miles away.

The “sanitized” reports without the drone strike data were created on February 22, just two days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) threatened to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA Director over Paul’s concerns that the Obama administration believed it had the authority to use drone strikes inside the U.S. Joined by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Paul filibustered for almost 13 hours, finally getting a denial from Attorney General Eric Holder that this administration believes it has such authority.

Although the Defense Department released a statement claiming the data was removed to make the reports more accurate in light of the unsupported assertion that most drone operations do not include strikes, the Pentagon also took pains to state that it was not involved in the decision to hide the data. That can only mean that the decision came straight from the White House—almost certainly from President Obama himself, who, ironically, promised in 2008 to run the federal government in a more open and transparent manner.

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Despite Talk of Drones, 3/4 of U.S. Missiles in Afghanistan are Fired by Piloted Airplanes

US Congress approves extension of secret surveillance under FISA

RT | September 12, 2012

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to extend the government’s power to warrantlessly wiretap Americans for another five years by reauthorizing the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Lawmakers in the House agreed from Washington, DC on Wednesday afternoon to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a polarizing legislation that has been challenged by privacy advocates and civil liberties organizations alike around the country. The extension was approved by a vote of 301 to 118.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was first signed into law in 1978 by President Jimmy Carter, but amendments added two decades later under the George W Bush administration provide for the government to conduct widespread and blanketing snooping of emails and phone calls of Americans. The FISA Amendments added in 2008, specifically section 702, specify that the government can eavesdrop on emails and phone calls sent from US citizens to persons reasonably suspected to be located abroad without ever requiring intelligence officials to receive a court order.

If the US Senate echoes the House’s extension of the act, the FAA will carry through for another five years until 2017, ensuring the federal intelligence community that they will be able to conduct surveillance on the correspondence of the country’s own citizens well into the future. If no action is taken, the FAA is slated to expire at the end of 2012.

Earlier this year, a plea from two US senators to see how many times the FAA has been used was refused by the National Security Administration. Last month, San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit against the US Justice Department for failing to adhere to Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to the program.

“The FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008 gave the NSA expansive power to spy on Americans’ international email and telephone calls,” the EFF explained in an official statement made after the suit was filed. “However, last month, in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, a government official publicly disclosed that the NSA’s surveillance had gone even further than what the law permits, with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issuing at least one ruling calling the NSA’s actions unconstitutional.”

Sen. Wyden, a Democratic lawmaker from Oregon who has also sit on the Senate intelligence committee for several years, originally asked for Senate to place a hold on the vote this past June. This week, Sen. Wyden tells Reuters, “My hold is on and it will stay on,” although that plea does not apply to the House, however, where lawmakers appeared eager on Wednesday to power through the vote.

So determined were some lawmakers to proceed, in fact, that the rules of the debates preceding Wednesday’s vote called for no more than one hour of discussion before ballots were cast. Several congressmen, including lawmakers that planned to vote yes on the FAA extension regardless, proposed a two year extension as a compromise, but no new amendments were allowed to be tacked on before Wednesday’s vote.

Despite opposition on and off the Hill, the FAA has received praise from some of Washington’s most elite members of the government, including Attorney General Eric Holder and long-standing lawmaker Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the sponsor of the FAA renewal who also infamously urged Congress to approve the since-defeated Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, a broad and dangerous Internet legislation that threatened to reshape the Web as we know it.

In his address at Northwestern University School of Law this past March, Mr. Holder said section 702 of the FAA “ensures that the government has the flexibility and agility it needs to identify and to respond to terrorist and other foreign threats to our security,” but emphasized the fact that only persons thought to be outside the US — not Americans — can be targeted. When Sens. Wyden and Udall asked to know how often that snooping involved Americans at all, however, they were told by the NSA’s Inspector General that a “review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of US persons.”

On his part, Sen. Wyden has written, “that if no one has even estimated how many Americans have had their communications collected under the FISA Amendments Act . . . Then it is possible that this number could be quite large.”

“Since all of the communications collected by the government under section 702 are collected without individual warrants, I believe that there should be clear rules prohibiting the government from searching through these communications in an effort to find the phone calls or emails of a particular American, unless the government has obtained a warrant or emergency authorization permitting surveillance of that American,” the lawmaker wrote in an official press release earlier this year.

Rep. Smith, the sponsor of both this bill and SOPA, has said, “We have a duty to ensure the intelligence community can gather the intelligence they need to protect our country.”

On Thursday, Rep. Smith claimed, “Foreign nations continue to spy on America to plot cyber-attacks and attempt to steal sensitive information from our military and private sector industries,” and that Congress has “a solemn responsibility to ensure that the intelligence community can gather the information” necessary to hinder these attempts.

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-California) added on Wednesday from the Hill that reauthorizing the FAA is “critical to the protection of the American people,” claiming that the United States, “as a nation had not done enough to connect the dots to warn us sufficiently to protect” against another terrorist attack on par with the ones that devastated America on September 11, 2001.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican congressman from South Carolina, also used the attack on the Twin Towers to justify the necessity of extending the FAA.
“If we could come together to remember 9/11, surely we can come together to prevent another one,” said Rep. Gowdy.

Opponents of the act, however, say that the attempts to do as such come at a cost too great for civil liberties.

“We’ve been told that we can’t even tell how many people are being subjected to this process located in the United States, and that we don’t know and they can’t tell us,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan ) pleaded earlier this year in opposition to the act. “I think we can get a little bit closer. There can be some reasonableness. It’s this kind of vagueness that creates in those of us in the Congress, suspicions that are negative rather than suspicions that are positive.”

“Why can’t we know how many people are affected by FISA amendment act in the US?” Rep Conyers asked. “This kind of vagueness creates suspicions.”

Former Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said on his own part that those suspicions are even more validated since the Justice Department has declined to adhere to a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the FAA, explaining on Wednesday, “Everyone becomes suspect when big brother is listening.”

Rep Hank Johnson (D-GA) also threw his weight behind efforts to reject the act on Wednesday, saying it the FISA amendments allow for “illegal surveillance of an untold number of American citizens” with absolutely no oversight.

“Not even the NSA knows the extent to which FISA amendment acts have potentially been approved,” Rep Earl Blumenhauser (D-Oregon) added from the House floor before the vote.

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that, every day, the NSA intercepts and stores around 1.7 billion emails, phone calls, text and other electronic communications thanks to laws like FISA. To put it into perspective, they add, “that’s equivalent to 138 million books, every 24 hours.”

“After four years, you’d hope that some basic information or parameters of such a massive spying program would be divulged to the public, or at least your rank-and-file member of Congress, but they haven’t,” says Michelle Richardson, a counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “Only a small handful of members have either personally attended classified briefings or have staff with high enough clearances to attend for them.Sen. Ron Wyden — who has been on the Senate Intelligence Committee for years—has even been stonewalled by the Obama administration for a year and a half in his attempts to learn basic information about the program, such as the number of Americans who have had their communications intercepted under the FAA.”

“Can you believe that 435 members of Congress who have sworn to uphold the Constitution are about to vote on a sweeping intelligence gathering law without this basic information?” she asks.

September 12, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Comments Off on US Congress approves extension of secret surveillance under FISA