Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
You may have heard about the protests at the DOJ by foreclosed upon homeowners demanding that Eric Holder prosecute some bankers for their criminal activity. If you haven’t, you can read all about it here.
Unfortunately, I received reports last night that citizens exercising their right to peacefully protest were being casually tasered by the authorities.
This came from my friend Jason Rosenbaum, who was there:
At the start of the action, when the protesters and homeowners arrived at the south entrance of the DOJ, we were greeted by half a dozen police in tactical gear or uniforms and a metal barrier cutting off access to a small courtyard in front of the large DOJ doors. The group of protesters rallied at the barrier and the planters next to it that made up the square and homeowners slowly climbed over the barriers in an attempt to gain an audience at the DOJ and register their complaints. At that point, the police were keeping people from climbing over, but eventually the police retreated and a few homeowners and protesters made it over and sat down to occupy that space. More joined them. After about 10 minutes, as more climbed over the barrier and the crowd occupied more space, the police retreated up the few steps leading to the door, and eventually ceded the square entirely by going inside the DOJ, leaving the protesters and homeowners alone in the square. The protesters took down the barriers at that point and everyone occupied the square, complete with signs, chants, couches, tents, and the like. (There’s video/photos of this on my Twitter feed, @j_ro.)
That was phase one — for the next phase, the protest split into three groups, with one staying at the south entrance and the two others to take entrances on the north and west sides of the building. I went with the group going to the west, and we were met again by police presence at the west entrance. We pushed on through to the north entrance around the block, and again were met by police. After sitting down there for a bit and taking the intersection down the block, we were notified that our brethren needed our help back at the south entrance and we marched over.
When I got there with the crowd in my group, the police had about a dozen homeowners in plastic cuffs on the south steps and had set up a police line around the original square in front of the door. The people in my group rushed through the line to sit down with their fellow protesters and homeowners being arrested, and it was at this point that at least one officer took out his taser gun, pulled the trigger, and started using it to push back those in the crowd coming to the support of those being arrested. That’s what you see in my video. As Matt noted, it was over very quickly, with protesters looking to peacefully support those who were being arrested being tased and pushed back, and those being arrested led into a police van and driven away for processing.
At this point, as the arrests were being loaded into the van, another group of about a dozen sat down inside the police barrier and as far as I know they’re still there (I had to leave about an hour after the initial arrests). So there may be more arrests to come shortly.
There is nothing new about protesters gathering at government buildings. And it has never been a problem for the police to arrest protesters in an orderly fashion, even when the protesters are not cooperating by sitting down and refusing to move. This is the way civil disobedience has worked for many a moon.
Shooting protesters full of electricity in order to get them to fall to the ground in excruciating pain, dazed and compliant, however, is new. And it’s completely unnecessary, not to mention contrary to our long tradition of peaceful protest. I thought this sort of thing went out with the use of firehoses and police dogs.
It happened again today, this time well captured on video:
Note the casual sadism. The young woman is surrounded by three men as she links arms with another protester. She does not appear to be in any way violent or threatening. The big man behind her holds her around the neck and whispers in her ear (who knows what he told her, but if it’s the usual, he says “cooperate right now or you’re going to be tased.”) As a peaceful protester engaged in civil disobedience she naturally refuses. At this point, they would normally pick her up bodily and carry her to the paddy wagon. Instead, they hit her with 50,000 volts of electricity, she crumbles to the ground as her whole body is overwhelmed by pain.
And then . . .
And consider this: We now have instituted two levels of law-enforcement authority in this country: regular laws as we’ve known in the past, and “terrorism” laws, which allow law-enforcement (and military) authority to do pretty much whatever they want, including (as we’ve seen) torturing prisoners to death with no repercussions at all—rather bonuses and rewards. The worrisome thing is that the above is being done under the regular-law rubric; I can only imagine what would happen if the authorities decided that they suspected terrorist-related activity or sentiments. Then it would have become much uglier.
UPDATE: Also see this article.
Funny and sad simultaneously: Obama tries to privatize TVA, GOP fights to keep it in government hands
Gar Alperovitz and Thomas Hanna report at AlterNet:
Buried within the fine print of the 2014 Obama budget is a startling bit of history-changing policy. The government, the administration says, should consider selling off the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the nation’s largest publicly operated—that is, “socialist”—institutions, and the largest public power provider in the country.
The TVA is a non-profi, free-standing public authority established by the Roosevelt administration during the Depression—a very large utility, if you like. It provides 165 billion kilowatt hours of power to 9 million Americans, has $11.2 billion in sales revenue, employs more than 12,500 people, and provides other educational, training and related services (such as navigation and land management, flood control, and economic development) to the people in the states and region around the Tennessee river basin.
Strikingly, it’s the free-market Republicans who object to this proposed privatization. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who has vehemently opposed government tax credits and subsidies for renewable energy, calls the proposal “one more bad idea in a budget full of bad ideas,” and fears that privatization would lead to higher energy costs for his constituents.
Congressman John L. Duncan, Jr., another Tennessee Republican, says privatization is “something that has been proposed in the past and been determined to be a very bad idea.” Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama (a state also served by the TVA), says he will “carefully study any proposals to restructure TVA” in order to make sure that it won’t result in a price hike. And Tennessee’s other Republican Senator, Bob Corker, is clear: “I doubt this idea gains much traction.” . . .
Continue reading. Shame on Obama for the drive to privatize, and shame on the GOP for demonstrating so clearly their utter hypocrisy (and logically incoherent positions).
Andrew Rosenthal points out the direction the inquiry should take:
The American public, Greg Sargent pointed out this morning, does not find a presidential scandal in either the Benghazi talking points or the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of right-wing groups seeking a tax-exempt and disclosure-free status.
In a C.N.N. poll released over the weekend, 61 percent of Americans say President Obama’s comments about the I.R.S. investigation were mostly or completely true, and 55 percent say the I.R.S. acted on its own. On Benghazi, 50 percent believe that early statements about the attack reflect what the administration believed at the time, compared with 44 percent – 76 percent of them Republicans – who say officials intentionally misled the public.
But Republicans are clinging to the idea of scandal, especially Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, who is desperately trying to find someone to blame for the murders of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. Most recently, Mr. Issa subpoenaed Thomas Pickering, the former United Nations ambassador, who co-authored a review of the Benghazi attacks with Admiral Michael Mullen, the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mr. Issa’s committee should interview Mr. Pickering, and Mr. Issa is justified in demanding access to a classified version of the Pickering/Mullen report. But he wants to do it behind closed doors and Mr. Pickering wants to have his say in public. So Mr. Issa issued the subpoena, for a private deposition only.
It’s not clear why this all has to take place in private – other than the rather obvious notion that it could allow Republicans to leak Mr. Pickering’s answers selectively.
It is certainly odd that the Pickering-Mullen review team did not interview Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her deputies, but Mrs. Clinton and several other senior State Department officials have testified before Congress.
Mr. Issa could instead focus on the C.I.A.’s role in the Benghazi tragedy. . .
The US is closing down as a free society at an amazing rate. James Fallows has given three recent examples of how pilots of small aircraft are treated as potential terrorists despite having done nothing wrong: authoritarian agencies simply like to exercise their power over citizens—and there is no accountability, so it will get worse. Read Fallows’s post today, which begins:
Over the weekend I related the story of Gabriel Silverstein, a businessman and pilot who for no apparent reason was subjected to a two-hour detention and invasive search by Homeland Security officials as he traveled across the country in his small plane. The picture above is not from that episode; it’s an official DHS photo of its emergency-response agents being trained.Below and after the jump are two additional stories of the same sort. The first is a long account from Larry Gaines, a small-plane pilot from California who had a similar episode last year. The story is long and detailed, and will be riveting for those in the aviation world. The summary for general readers is this.
- A private pilot set out from an airport in the Sierra foothills of California, headed to Oklahoma;
- He made the trip “VFR” — under visual flight rules, choosing his own path and knowing that he did not need to check in with air-traffic controllers as long as he stayed out of certain kinds of airspace (around big airports, in military zones, or subject to other restrictions).
- He eventually landed at a tiny little airport in rural Oklahoma, where a friend met him and took him home for dinner.
- The pilot realized that he had dropped his eyeglass case at the airport and went back to retrieve it.
- At which point all hell broke loose, as he describes in detail. In short, local, county, and federal enforcement agents were there to inspect him and his plane — and when he asked why, they said that his “suspicious” profile was “flight west to east, from California.”Again to put this in perspective for people outside the airplane world, a person who was doing absolutely nothing illegal and was embarked on a perfectly normal trip from place to place, became the object of an extensive and costly manhunt — on grounds of general “suspicion.” As he says at the end of his account (taken from an email to a friend):The whole episode lasted about 2 hours. While the officers who questioned me were not overtly or personally threatening, the situation was intimidating and threatening. I was never told details of the “profile”, so I don’t know how to prevent this from happening again, aside from talking to federal employees at all times while flying. I am concerned that DEA and DHS now have files on me. This distresses me GREATLY. I am equally concerned that my plane’s tail number is now suspicious in the eyes of law enforcement….[He adds this caveat in a follow up note:] Although my adrenaline gets going when I think about this whole mess, and I can read the US Constitution, I have ENORMOUS respect for the rule of law and for the men and women who put their asses in harm’s way to help assure my safety. That includes local, state, & federal law enforcement agents, as well as our military. The people who should answer for this crap are the cowardly bureaucrats who sent all those men, vehicles, airplanes, dogs, and guns out there – not the men dispatched to the scene.
His full account after the jump. After that is the second case, from Clay Phillips, a retired Navy officer who had a similar experience.
To say it again: I am not contending that the aviation world is being inordinately picked-upon. Overall it is a privileged part of society — and demographically it skews toward older white males who are politically conservative, have money, and often have military experience. Ie, these are people who are not generally the object of police profiling for terrorist or other criminal tendencies. So if the security state is leaning heavily on them, you can extrapolate to other groups. The stories begin below.
____Here is the first story. . .
The above diagram (click to enlarge) shows some of the connections described in this (peer-reviewed) article ‘To quarterback behind the scenes, third-party efforts’: the tobacco industry and the Tea Party. Pam Martens in Wall Street on Parade discusses the article and why the DoJ is uninterested in pursuing the matter:
The Justice Department is investigating the investigators of the Tea Party at the IRS while leaving a 29-year criminal conspiracy against the American people by the Tea Party cabal untouched. That’s not surprising, given that the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, and the former head of his criminal division, Lanny Breuer, came from the law firm Covington and Burling which played a seminal role in the conspiracy.
On February 8 of this year, the peer-reviewed health professionals’ journal, Tobacco Control, published an exhaustive study of the roots of the Tea Party dating back to the 1980s. Researched and written by Amanda Fallin, Rachel Grana and Stanton A. Glantz, the study was funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and titled ‘To Quarterback Behind the Scenes, Third Party Efforts’: The Tobacco Industry and the Tea Party.
The authors explain how Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), which split into Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks in 2004, “was co-founded in 1984 by David Koch, of Koch Industries, and Richard Fink, former professor of economics at George Mason University, who has worked for Koch Industries since 1990.” According to the study, “CSE supported the agendas of the tobacco and other industries, including oil, chemical, pharmaceutical and telecommunications, and was funded by them.”
Long before the Tea Party had gained traction in the media, CSE started the first online Tea Party in 2002, calling it the US Tea Party. The federally funded NIH study shows that between 1991 and 2002, Philip Morris and other tobacco companies gave CSE at least $5.3 million.
CSE, a Koch created organization, was considered an integral part of Philip Morris’ strategy to thwart Federal regulation of cigarettes and second hand smoke. The authors write that Philip Morris designated CSE a “Category A” organization for funding and it was assigned its own Philip Morris senior relationship manager. They cite a 1999 internal email at Philip Morris which asked if CSE was worth its current level of funding. Philip Morris’ vice president of federal government affairs, John Scruggs, replied: . . .
Nancy Goldstein writes in The American Prospect:
What a drag it’s been these past few weeks to watch the military brass—those kings of accountability, at least when it comes to other people’s behavior—huffing and bluffing and outright lying about what they knew and when they knew it. First we had to endure the sight of them gaping over the news that the sexual-violence crisis they’ve done nothing to squelch since the assault of 83 women and seven men at the Tailhook Air Force convention in 1991 has worsened. Now those same Pentagon officials are shocked, simply shocked, by the military’s spiking suicide rates, despite the fact that those numbers, which have been rising steadily for the past 12 years, come from their own reporting system (and some claim are still an undercount).
The only thing worse than the Pentagon’s faux surprise has been the complicity of news organizations willing to echo its talking points. Shame on The New York Times for last week’s “Baffling Rise in Suicides Plagues the U.S. Military.” Disturbing, yes. But there’s nothing “baffling” about the news that more active-duty troops killed themselves in 2012 than were killed in combat in Afghanistan in the same year, and that the number of suicides has doubled from a decade ago.
As the Government Accountability Office (GAO)—Congress’s nonpartisan investigative wing—and a variety of media outlets attest, there’s been only one thing better documented than the military’s unwillingness over the past 25 years to throw any real muscle into ending its culture of widespread sexual assault. And that’s the military’s unwillingness to acknowledge the prevalence of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) and other mental-health issues plaguing service-members and to enact serious reforms aimed at curbing and treating mental illness in its ranks. The military’s systemic incompetence on this issue continues despite years of analysis and criticism, not only from service-member advocacy organizations, but also from within the Beltway.
Consider the drubbing administered to both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Veteran’s Administration (VA) by the GAO last November. The report cited “a lack of leadership, oversight, resources, and collaboration” as contributing to the military’s “inability” to “address a host of problems for wounded, ill, and injured servicemembers as they navigate through the recovery care continuum.” All of those issues came under greater congressional scrutiny in the wake of the public uproar that followed the Washington Post’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning investigative series on conditions at Walter Reed Army Military Center, the VA’s flagship in D.C. The GAO concluded that the military had utterly failed to rectify the conditions the series had cited: Mold-stained and cockroach-filled outpatient facilities; byzantine paperwork mazes and overlong wait times to receive care; inadequate resources for soldiers with diagnoses of PTSD.
Despite the fact that Walter Reed has the largest psychiatric department in the Army, the Post’s reporters found it still lacked “enough psychiatrists and clinicians to properly treat the growing number of soldiers returning with combat stress.” Earlier that year, the head of psychiatry had “sent out an ‘SOS’ memo desperately seeking more clinical help. … Individual therapy with a trained clinician, a key element in recovery from PTSD, is infrequent, and targeted group therapy is offered only twice a week.”
But surely these are problems that money can solve. So did the $2.7 billion dollars that Congress poured into the Pentagon’s maw in the three years following thePost’s series do anything to change the way that the DOD and VA address treatment and research for “the signature wounds of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”—psychological health (PH) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment? That’s hard to say, because the GAO’s January 2012 report found “that DOD programs supporting P.H. and TBI treatment and research are poorly coordinated, and the department has failed to provide reliable and comprehensive data on how more than $2.7 billion in funds for such programs have been used in recent years.” In other words, there’s no way of knowing what, if anything, went into patient care.
There is, by the way, no good reason why the DOD or VA should have been caught flat-footed by the waves of veterans that flooded their facilities in 2006, more than a third of whom reported symptoms of stress or other mental disorders as they returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least two of its own top people—the chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed and the Executive Director of the VA’s National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—had published pieces in a 2004 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine predicting the crisis. . .
Obama’s unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers is having its effect: stifling some, sending others to prison, and stimulating technical solutions. Natasha Lennard reports in Salon:
This week has been a disquieting one for journalists concerned about protecting their sources. The revelation that the Justice Department had been spying on AP reporters’ phone records, although it came as no surprise to those attuned to this government’s attitude to First Amendment protections, reinforced the importance of enabling the unsurveilled free-flow of information.
It was the right moment then, for the New Yorker to launch Strongbox, an open-source drop box for leaked documents, co-created by late technologist and open-data activist Aaron Swartz with Wired editor Kevin Poulsen.
“With the risks now so high – not just from the U.S. government but also the Chinese government that is hacking newsrooms in the West – it’s crucial that news outlets find a secure route for sources to come to them,” said Poulsen on Thursday.
The code, designed by Swartz and Poulsen, is called DeadDrop; Stongbox is the name of the New Yorker’s program that uses it. The magazine announced that this means “people can send documents and messages to the magazine, and we, in turn, can offer them a reasonable amount of anonymity.” Appropriate to the open-data activism to which Swartz dedicated many of his considerable talents, the DeadDrop code is open for any person or institution to use and develop.
DeadDrop lets users upload documents anonymously through the Tor network (which essentially scrambles IP addresses). With Stongbox, the leaked information is uploaded onto servers that will be kept separate from the New Yorker’s main system. Leakers are then given a unique code name that allows New Yorker journalists to contact them through messages left on Strongbox. Like any system, it is not perfectly unbreakable, but it has already received high praise in reviews.
The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington commented on the importance of DeadDrop in the context of the government’s persecution of whistle-blowers and ever-expanding spy dragnet: . . .
Paul Waldman at The American Prospect:
In case you’ve forgotten, what took Benghazi from “a thing Republicans keep whining about” to “Scandal!!!” was when some emails bouncing around between the White House, the CIA, and the State Department were passed to Jonathan Karl of ABC last Friday. The strange thing about it was that the emails didn’t contain anything particularly shocking—no crimes admitted, no malfeasance revealed. It showed 12 different versions of talking points as everybody edited them, but why this made it a “scandal” no one bothered to say. My best explanation is that just the fact of obtaining previously hidden information, regardless of its content, is so exciting to reporters that they just ran with it. They’re forever trying to get a glimpse behind the curtain, and when they do, they almost inevitably shout “Aha!” no matter what.
But then the problem comes. The White House decided to release a whole batch of emails related to the subject, and when they were examined, it turns out that what was given to Karl had been altered. Altered by whom, you ask? Altered by Karl’s source: Republican staffers on the House Oversight Committee, which had been given the emails by the White House (CBS’s Major Garrett confirmed this yesterday).
Let me just explain quickly in case you haven’t been following this, and then we’ll discuss what it means. Two changes to the emails were made, one in an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, and one from State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. Rhodes actually wrote, “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.” That was changed to, “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.” In the Nuland email, she actually wrote, “the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency [CIA] warnings so why do we want to feed that either?,” which was changed to, “The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”
So the changes have the effect of making it look like 1) the CIA was tying the attack to al Qaeda, but the State Department wanted to play that down publicly, and 2) the White House was taking special pains to protect the State Department. Neither of these things appear to be true, but there’s a logic to the Republican staffers wanting to paint that picture. Their argument, after all, is that the wrongdoing here consists of the White House (Obama!) and State Department (Clinton!) trying to fool everyone in America into thinking Benghazi wasn’t a terrorist attack, because Obama’s re-election hinged on the false belief that he had defeated al Qaeda forever, and if there’s any al Qaeda left then Mitt Romney would have won. And yes, that’s ridiculous, but it’s what many conservatives seem to believe. . .
George W. Bush famously explained the reasons why terrorist act: They hate our freedoms. An alternative motivation becomes available with the explicit written explanation by one of the Boston bombers. Ray McGovern at ConsortiumNews.org:
Quick, somebody tell CIA Director John Brennan about the handwriting on the inside wall of the boat in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding before Boston-area police riddled it and him with bullets. Tell Brennan that Tsarnaev’s note is in plain English and that it needs neither translation nor interpretation in solving the mystery: “why do they hate us?”
And, if Brennan will listen, remind him of when his high school teachers, the Irish Christian Brothers, taught him the meaning of “handwriting on the wall” in the Book of Daniel and why it became an idiom for predetermined, imminent doom.
CBS senior correspondent John Miller, who before joining CBS served in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, broke the handwritten-note story Thursday onCBS This Morning. He described what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scribbled on the side of the boat as he lay bleeding “from multiple gunshot wounds” in the boat. Here, according to Miller’s sources, is what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s note said:“The [Boston] bombings were in retribution for the U.S. crimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan [and] that the victims of the Boston bombing were collateral damage, in the same way innocent victims have been collateral damage in U.S. wars around the world. Summing up, that when you attack one Muslim you attack all Muslims.”
My experience with now-CBS-This-Morning’s Charlie Rose is that he does listen closely. Thus, I believe it is to his credit that he seemed determined, with his follow-up question, to drive home what I think is by far the most important point:
Co-anchor Charlie Rose: “Does it [the note] answer questions about motives?”
Miller: “Well it does … there it is in black and white – literally.”
Co-anchor Norah O’Donnell: “But they still believe he was self-radicalized and not part of a larger group, right?”
Miller: “That’s right. …”
Note to CIA Director Brennan
If you didn’t understand much about such motives three years ago, after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, here’s a chance to learn. I actually felt embarrassed for you when you – then-White House counter-terrorism adviser – were asked on Jan. 7, 2010, two weeks after the almost-catastrophe over Detroit, to explain why people want to kill Americans. I’m sure you remember; it turned out to be Helen Thomas’s swan song.
It took the questioning of the then-89-year old veteran correspondent Thomas to show how little you were willing to share (or how little you knew) about what leads terrorists to do what they do. As her catatonic White House press colleagues took their customary dictation, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.
She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.” It was a highly revealing dialogue; this is how it went. Remember?
You: “Al-Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al-Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”
Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”
You: “I’m saying it’s because of an al-Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”
You: “I think this is a — long issue, but al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”
Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”
Actually, there is a ton of information explaining why people try, for example, to explode bombs in Times Square, in airliners over Detroit, in remote CIA outposts in Afghanistan just to kill Americans, even when it means killing themselves. [See, for example, Consortiumnews.com’s “Answering Helen Thomas on Why.”]
It was painful to watch you suggest on Jan. 7, 2010, that, apparently in some mysterious way, some folks are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” and your contention that – in the case of Abdulmutallab – al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf was able to jump-start that privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf.
Your words were a real stretch as to how the well-heeled Abdulmutallab, without apparent prior terrorist affiliations, was suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents.
Perhaps no one told you that . . .
Talk about tunnel vision! The FBI is demanding that companies make their communications insecure so that the FBI won’t have to work so hard. Timothy Lee reports in the Washington Post:
The FBI is pushing for expanded power to eavesdrop on private Internet communications. The law enforcement agency wants to force online service providers to build wiretapping capabilities into their products. But a group of prominent computer security experts argues that mandating “back doors” in online communications products is likely to compromise the security of Americans’ computers and could even pose a threat to national security.
The fundamental problem is that eavesdropping facilities are a double-edged sword. They make it easier for the U.S. government to spy on the bad guys. But they also make it easier for the bad guys to hack our computers and spy on us. And, the researchers say, the Internet’s decentralized architecture makes it particularly hard to build effective and secure wiretapping capabilities online.
Since the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), telephone companies have been legally obligated to build wiretapping capabilities into their telecommunications equipment. But CALEA didn’t apply to Internet-based communications technologies. The result, the FBI says, is that its surveillance capabilities are “going dark,” as criminal suspects increasingly shift to digital communications platforms that don’t offer real-time interception capabilities.
In response, the government is reportedly seeking to impose CALEA-type requirements on Internet services. But rather than mandating the implementation of specific surveillance standards, as the original CALEA did, the government’s proposal would fine online service providers who failed to comply with a wiretapping request from the government — leaving it to each individual firm to decide the best way to comply.
Crucially, according to reporting by The Washington Post, the FBI proposal would apply even to “Internet phone calls conducted between two computer users without going through a central company server.” In a paper published Friday by the Center for Democracy and Technology, more than a dozen prominent computer security experts warn that such a requirement would be a disaster for the security of online communications.
If information isn’t flowing through a central server, then the only way to intercept it is to add surveillance software to the user’s PC. But popular software is constantly being probed by hackers seeking vulnerabilities they can exploit. The more complex a system, the more likely programmers are to make mistakes that could provide hackers with an opening. And surveillance features are particularly dangerous, the researchers argue.
“The cleverest and most dangerous cyber-attackers are those who are able to not only compromise a system but also to evade detection,” they write. “That is also precisely the objective of a government surveillance solution.”
Even worse, a huge number of companies could be forced to comply with the government’s proposed regulations. Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton and one of the paper’s authors (and, full disclosure, my graduate adviser) points out that a growing number of companies are adding peer-to-peer communications capabilities to their products. For example, many multi-player video games include built-in facilities for players to communicate with each other in real time. . .
Continue reading. Later in the article:
Worst of all, the researchers say, the proposed mandate is unlikely to even be effective. People who want to evade surveillance will inevitably find ways to modify the software on their computers to deactivate the eavesdropping feature, just as many people today “jailbreak” their smartphones to activate forbidden features. Indeed, some popular communications software is open source, making it trivial to build a version of the software with the wiretapping feature removed. So an Internet wiretapping mandate will do little to help the government spy on the bad guys, while reducing security for everyone else.
The Federal government is starting to become a serious threat—no news to villagers in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and so on.
Kevin Drum helps me understand the response of the Obama Administration—perhaps not an overreaction, but unfortunately Obama has poisoned the well by his vindictive pursuit of whistleblowers so he gets no trust on the subject.
The GOP truly has lost all integrity and any sense of shame—and it’s blatant. This does not auger well: they now recognize no bounds—anything now seems to be acceptable to them. It’s a very ugly situation, IMO.
UPDATE: It seems to be not quite so serious as I thought: an incompetent journalist and some sloppy notetaking seems to account for it. See this backgrounder in the Washington Post.
Ezra Klein has a great column in the Washington Post:
The New York Times reported Thursday that President Obama frequently fantasizes to close aides about “going Bulworth,” a reference to the 1998 movie in which Sen. Jay Bulworth, played by Warren Beatty, drops all pretense and begins saying exactly what he thinks. So I asked a number of ex-Obama aides and political consultants what the president would say if he went Bulworth. This post is based on what the people who have heard Obama vent about Washington believe he’d like to say in public, but can’t. That said, this is the Internet so, er, let me be clear: This is a work of fiction. Informed fiction, but fiction nevertheless.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon. As you know, on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Lew asked for and received the resignation of acting IRS director Stephen Miller. I want to reemphasize that my administration will not tolerate this kind of behavior at the I.R.S. or any other agency. But I don’t want to see this whole town get distracted from the other pressing work we have to do, either. The American people deserve a government they can trust. But they also deserve one that makes progress on problems like unemployment and immigration and sequestration. In fact…I mean, I should be clear. [Heavy sigh.] Actually, why don’t I just take some of your questions.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. At this point, though, can the American people actually trust their government? There’s a sense that these issues might just be the tip of the iceberg.
OBAMA: [Long pause.] Are you kidding me?
No, the American people can’t trust their government. They can’t trust their media either, I might add. But that’s not because of a couple of I.R.S. agents out in Cincinnati. We can fix the Cincinnati office. Let me be clear: We’re already fixing the Cincinnati office. This problem was solved a year ago. The guy who solved it just got fired anyway because you all wanted to see some blood on the walls and I’m just political enough to give it to you.
Look, the reason the American people can’t trust their government is here in Washington. Right now sequestration is cutting unemployment checks by 10 or 11 percent. Do you hear anyone talking about that? Or doing anything about it? No. You hear Republicans aides telling Politico, anonymously, that the speaker is quote “obsessed” with Benghazi. You know, I don’t think most of the Republicans screaming about Benghazi could find Libya on a map. I don’t think 10 of them knew our ambassador’s name. And, let me be clear, Speaker Boehner certainly wasn’t obsessed with giving us the money we asked for to keep the embassy’s safe.
But now he’s obsessed with Benghazi. And not even Benghazi. The Benghazi talking points. Are you kidding me? He’s not obsessed with global warming or unemployment or rebuilding our infrastructure. And now that there’s conflict, all of you are obsessed with Benghazi talking points too, and meanwhile, we’re cutting the National Institutes of Health and we’re cutting too deep into the military and we’re making life harder for the unemployed and we’re doing nothing to keep this planet in good shape for our kids.
Look, this is why the American people can’t trust their government. Because this town is obsessed with conflict and political advantage and not with real problems. We worry about the wrong things so much that we don’t even have time to talk to the American people or each other about the right things. And that’s not the I.R.S.’s fault.
Q: Sir, you’ve been criticized in recent weeks for being overly passive. And as you say here, it’s your view the government isn’t doing enough on the problems facing the American people. Isn’t it up to you to lead? . . .
Christian Stork writes at WhoWhatWhy.com:
Several new developments in the Barrett Brown case suggest that the playing field between the cyber-activist/journalist and the government may be starting to even out—at least a bit. But the feds aren’t giving up anytime soon.
On April 28 it was announced that Brown—currently facing upwards of 100 years behind bars for a slew of felonies ostensibly unrelated to his work as a journalist—had retained new defense counsel, including heavyweights certain to draw more attention to his case than ever before.
Brown’s new team will consist of attorneys Ahmed Ghappour and Charles Swift.
Swift’s name should be familiar to legal junkies in the post 9/11-era. A former Lt. Commander in the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, he represented Salim Hamdan in his successful bid to gain Supreme Court recognition of habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo Bay detainees. Swift now focuses on national security and military litigation as a partner in his private practice.
For Brown, the change came not a moment too soon. As the target of what feels like an establishment pile-on, Brown will need the best defense money can buy—that is, if they’ll let him buy it.
On April 17, Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney had ordered the seizure of thousands of dollars in defense funds, solicited and held in an outside account with no connection to Brown. Although the funds were apparently listed in a still-sealed financial affidavit provided by Brown’s former court-appointed attorney, it remains unclear how the money could be legally seized.
However, in a hearing on May 1, Judge Stickney essentially reversed himself, denying the government’s motion to transfer the funds to the court for remuneration to Brown’s original public defender. Stickney then accepted that the cash reserves be used to retain Ghappour and Swift.
The prosecution had seemingly hoped to hobble Brown by depleting his war chest and therefore his ability to defend himself. With the new ruling however, which allows him to spend the money on counsel of his choice—one not overburdened by a public defender’s typically heavy caseload—the court has dealt the prosecution a serious setback.
The hearing came about a month after . . .
Continue reading. Totalitarian governments never like journalists.
I’m sure we’ll all be relieved that the Obama Administration has decided that some of the rules to restrict and restrain banks are too distasteful to banks, and so the rules will be weakened. Just what we need, eh? Ben Protess writes in the NY Times:
Under pressure from Wall Street lobbyists, federal regulators have agreed to soften a rule intended to rein in the banking industry’s domination of a risky market.
The changes to the rule, which will be announced on Thursday, could effectively empower a few big banks to continue controlling the derivatives market, a main culprit in the financial crisis.
The $700 trillion market for derivatives — contracts that derive their value from an underlying asset like a bond or an interest rate — allow companies to either speculate in the markets or protect against risk.
It is a lucrative business that, until now, has operated in the shadows of Wall Street rather than in the light of public exchanges. Just five banks hold more than 90 percent of all derivatives contracts.
Yet allowing such a large and important market to operate as a private club came under fire in 2008. Derivatives contracts pushed the insurance giant American International Group to the brink of collapse before it was rescued by the government.
In the aftermath of the crisis, regulators initially planned to force asset managers like Vanguard and Pimco to contact at least five banks when seeking a price for a derivatives contract, a requirement intended to bolster competition among the banks. Now, according to officials briefed on the matter, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has agreed to lower the standard to two banks.
About 15 months from now, the officials said, the standard will automatically rise to three banks. And under the trading commission’s new rule, wide swaths of derivatives trading must shift from privately negotiated deals to regulated trading platforms that resemble exchanges.
But critics worry that the banks gained enough flexibility under the plan that it hews too closely to the “precrisis status.”
“The rule is really on the edge of returning to the old, opaque way of doing business,” said Marcus Stanley, the policy director of Americans for Financial Reform, a group that supports new rules for Wall Street.
Continue reading. It is difficult not to despair.
Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted an ad hoc hearing on the implications of U.S. drone policy. It was a follow-up of sorts to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in April examining the counterterrorism implications of drone strikes. The two hearings mark the first time Congress has explicitly scrutinized drones as a stand-alone issue; previous discussions were wrapped up inconfirmation hearings and Rand Paul’s dramatic filibuster in March. But in narrowing the focus of the debate over drones to encompass only the moral gray areas of the Obama administration’s targeted killings policy, Congress is failing to ask more important questions.
There’s no doubt that drone strikes can have horrific consequences. Beyond thedisputed numbers of noncombatants killed, there are psychological consequences to consider as well. In the Senate hearing, Farea al-Muslimi, an American-educated Yemeni writer and activist, spoke eloquently of the heartbreak and fear that drones cause in Yemen. News reports from Pakistan suggest something similar: People are deeply afraid of drones. These perspectives matter greatly. But they only scratch at the surface of a much bigger problem with how the U.S. government uses drones. At a basic level, are they effective?
Gauging the effectiveness of drones is not simply a question of body counts. It is a larger evaluation of whether the terrorist threat is affected, whether the countries where drones are used are becoming more stable or less, and whether America’s ability to partner with other governments for future counterterrorism missions is improving or getting worse. The human factor, which Congress has focused on recently, is an important part of that evaluation, but it is only one part. In other words: Can we tally up all the costs and benefits of the drone war?
In Pakistan, it’s clear that drones have dramatically affected the behavior of targeted terror groups. Hassan Abbas, a Senior Advisor at the Asia Society, notedrecently that there is “near consensus” that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are “on the run” because of drone strikes. But, he cautioned, “Anti-U.S. feelings in Pakistan have increased substantially,” which is “weakening U.S.-Pakistan counterterrorism cooperation.”
Other data suggest that drones can be effective at disrupting terror groups. In aworking paper, Patrick B. Johnston, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, and Anoop K. Sarbahi of UCLA perform a quantitative analysis of terrorist violence and drone strikes in Pakistan. By examining the patterns of militant violence and comparing it to a database of known drone strikes, the authors came to a striking conclusion: Drones work. At least, temporarily. They found that drone strikes are strongly correlated with a short-term reduction in suicide terrorism. That does not mean, they caution, that drones caused less militant violence, just that the two seem related.
Though fascinating, Parker and Sarbahi’s paper is not conclusive. Another studyfrom 2011 found that “failed” drone strikes, which miss their intended target and cause unintentional civilian death, dramatically increase militant violence. . .
Andrew O’Hehir points out the depth of Obama’s responsibility for Guantánamo:
Once upon a time, in the long-ago days of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, we may have had the worst and most abusive presidential administration in the history of the United States, but at least there was some moral clarity. You were on their side or you weren’t; you either bought into the idea that the “war on terror” was a special set of circumstances that required an immense expansion of executive power and the indefinite suspension of constitutional norms, or you didn’t. Nothing quite symbolized that division like the military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It was a locked-down and secretive facility in a country that didn’t want us there, where hooded and manacled men – in theory, the most violent and dangerous anti-American militants on the planet – were kept under mysterious conditions, denied the rights we routinely accord to suspected murderers and rapists, and subjected to interrogations we didn’t want to know about.
But as details about the conditions of detainment at Guantánamo began to leak, the place began to look not just abusive and nightmarish but also bureaucratic and buffoonish. Many of those who were being held captive in those egregious circumstances were low-level foot-soldiers, or even bystanders, who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes there was a quality of grim farce about the whole thing, as in Michael Winterbottom’s 2006 film “The Road to Guantánamo,” which tells the true story of a group of British men captured while on their way to a wedding in Pakistan. The men languished in Gitmo for many months, even after it was clear they had no significant connections to al-Qaida or the Taliban. Indeed, of the 779 individuals who have been imprisoned there at one time or another since 2002, more than 600 have been released without ever being charged with anything, still less convicted.
Well, thank goodness for Barack Obama, right? Even if he hasn’t quite managed to get the place closed down, as he loudly and repeatedly promised he would, at least he got all those innocent or insignificant people released! Except that’s not how it happened. The vast majority of the detainee releases – 530 or so – occurred under Bush. Under Bush’s successor, Guantánamo Bay has become something that’s arguably even more disgraceful than a symbol of hyper-patriotic right-wing zealotry. It’s become forgotten, abandoned and swept under the rug. No one goes in and no one comes out. If the remaining 166 detainees at Guantánamo were originally swept up in a paranoid imperial overreach, that reaction was at least somewhat understandable. Today they are prisoners of political paralysis and political cowardice, which are inexcusable.
So it is that Obama, more than four years after signing an executive order to shut down the Guantánamo prison, found himself a few days ago mumbling defensively to the White House press corps that it might be time to “re-engage with Congress” on the issue. “It is not a surprise to me that we’ve got problems in Guantánamo,” he added. Well, it freakin’ well shouldn’t be, Mr. President. From the moment Obama became a presidential candidate in 2007, he campaigned vigorously against Guantánamo as a pillar of the flawed and failed Bush-Cheney war policy. He won the election and signed that executive order in his third day on the job, and then – once it became clear that House Republicans would be delighted to use the issue to depict him as a crypto-Muslim, terrorist-coddling pantywaist – let the whole thing drop. The rest of us, I’m afraid, mostly assumed that the right guy was in office and the right thing would be done eventually, and moved on.
But decisions made in the name of political expediency have a tendency to come back and bite you in the ass. (If Machiavelli never said that, he should have.) As theEconomist put it this week, , , ,
Another one: first the Air Force, now the Army. I begin to see a pattern—and perhaps part of the reason that the military perpetuates and protects a rape culture. The story, by Abby Olheiser in The Atlantic Wire:
An Army coordinator for a sexual assault prevention office at Fort Hood was accused of “abusive sexual contact” on Tuesday. Think this story sounds familiar? That’s probably because last week, the officer in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office was arrested and charged with sexual battery.
The unnamed coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program has been suspended from all duties while the accusation is investigated. Here’s the Associated Press with more:
The Army said a sergeant first class, whose name was not released, is accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
He had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army’s 3rd Corps headquarters at Fort Hood when the allegation arose.
According to USA Today (citing multiple unnamed sources), the soldier may have been running a prostitution ring:
The solider is being investigated for among other things forcing a subordinate into prostitution and sexually assaulting two others, according to a Capitol Hill staffer who has been briefed on the case and spoke about it on condition of anonymity. Two senior Pentagon officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation, also confirmed that the sergeant is being investigated for running a prostitution ring.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reacted with “frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” according to a statement from the Pentagon’s press secretary. . . .
These are criminals: they are breaking the law. We seem to have a military in which law-breakers are common. Much, we’re beginning to see, like the police—cf. the recently heralded king of stop-and-frisk in New York. “Who will guard the guardians?” is a tough question indeed, especially since those tasked with guarding the guardians are treated with contempt and hatred, as seems to be the rule—the same treatment given to anyone who points out law-breaking and wrong-doing: every possible effort is made to destroy the person.
Now I see this as a very dangerous situation, though it doesn’t seem to attract a lot of attention—individual cases, sure, but not the overall brutalization of those empowered to use force. If we go that direction, it will not end well, because the “them” in “us versus them” tends to grow until “them” is anyone except another soldier/cop/etc.: everyone else is beyond the pale and fair game. We are seeing this in Syria and parts of Africa. It is not a direction the US should take, but given the increasing brutalization of enforcement authority—even including public prosecutors (DAs), as we have seen in several cases (not to mention the 47 homicides “solved” by a detective that are now being investigated)—we are already en route.
Congress seems to be outraged (as am I) over the government’s actions against Associated Press, but Congress rejected the legislation that would have prevented that—and now Obama is sending that legislation back to Congress, since they’re so concerned about it. Charlie Savage writes in the NY Times:
The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.
The official said that President Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, called Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a chief proponent of a so-called media shield law, on Wednesday morning and asked him to reintroduce a bill that he had pushed in 2009. Called the Free Flow of Information Act, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan 15-to-4 vote in December 2009. But while it was awaiting a floor vote, a furor over leaking arose after WikiLeaks began publishing archives of secret government documents, and the bill never received a vote.
The new push comes as the Obama administration has come under fire from both parties amid the disclosure this week that the Justice Department, as part of a leak investigation, secretly used a subpoena earlier this year to obtain a broad swath of calling records involving Associated Press reporters and editors. . .
DemocracyNow! has an excellent interview, video at the link, which begins:
Following last week’s guilty verdict in Guatemala’s historic genocide trial, reporter Allan Nairn says the United States should follow Guatemala’s lead and indict the Reagan administration officials who supported the genocide under General Efraín Ríos Montt. “All of [these crimes] were crimes not just of General Ríos Montt, but also of the U.S. government,” Nairn says. Former President Ronald Reagan once called Ríos Montt “a man of great personal integrity.” After the verdict, Judge Yassmin Barrios ordered the attorney general to launch an immediate investigation of “all others” connected to the crimes.