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Retiring White House Prosecutor Says the SEC Is Corrupt

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No real surprise, I think. It seems like much of the government (including much of Congress) is now corrupt and simply working to line their pockets rather than to serve the public. And no one in power seems interested in doing anything about it—certainly not Obama.

Eric Zuesse reports:

Bloomberg News reported, on April 8th, that a Securities and Exchange Commission prosecuting attorney, James Kidney, said at his recent retirement party on March 27th, that his prosecutions of Goldman Sachs and other mega-banks had been squelched by top people at the agency, because they “were more focused on getting high-paying jobs after their government service than on bringing difficult cases.” He suggested that SEC officials knew that Wall Street would likely hire them after the SEC at much bigger pay than their government remuneration was, so long as the SEC wouldn’t prosecute those megabank executives on any criminal charges for helping to cause the mortgage-backed securities scams and resulting 2008 economic crash.

His ”remarks drew applause from the crowd of about 70 people,” according to the Bloomberg report. This would indicate that other SEC prosecutors feel similarly squelched by their bosses.

Kidney’s speech said that his superiors did not “believe in afflicting the comfortable and powerful.”

Referring to the agency’s public-relations tactic of defending its prosecution-record by use of what he considered to be misleading statistics, Kidney said, “It’s a cancer” at the SEC.

Two recent studies have provided additional depth to Kidney’s assertions, by showing that Obama and his Administration had lied when they promised to prosecute Wall Street executives who had cheated outside investors, and deceived homebuyers, when creating and selling mortgage-backed securities for sale to investors throughout the world.

President Obama personally led in this lying.

On May 20, 2009, at the signing into law of both the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act and the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, Obama said: “This bill nearly doubles the FBI’s mortgage and financial fraud program, allowing it to better target fraud in hard-hit areas. That’s why it provides the resources necessary for other law enforcement and federal agencies, from the Department of Justice to the SEC to the Secret Service, to pursue these criminals, bring them to justice, and protect hardworking Americans affected most by these crimes. It’s also why it expands DOJ’s authority to prosecute fraud that takes place in many of the private institutions not covered under current federal bank fraud criminal statutes — institutions where more than half of all subprime mortgages came from as recently as four years ago.”

Then, in the President’s 24 January 2012 State of the Union Address, he said: “Tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.  (Applause.)  This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans. Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy.”

However, two years later, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice issued on 13 March 2014 its “Audit of the Department of Justice’s Efforts to Address Mortgage Fraud,” and reported that Obama’s promises to prosecute turned out to be just a lie. DOJ didn’t even try; and they lied even about their efforts. The IG found: “DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements. For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Investigative Division ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest criminal threat in its lowest crime category. Additionally, we found mortgage fraud to be a low priority, or not [even] listed as a priority, for the FBI Field Offices we visited.” Not just that, but, “Many Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) informed us about underreporting and misclassification of mortgage fraud cases.” This was important because, “Capturing such information would allow DOJ to … better evaluate its performance in targeting high-profile offenders.”

Privately, Obama had told Wall Street executives that he would protect them. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2014 at 12:24 pm

Matt Taibbi talks about who goes to jail

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A video interview with transcript at Democracy Now! Their blurb:

Award-winning journalist Matt Taibbi is out with an explosive new book that asks why the vast majority of white-collar criminals have avoided prison since the financial crisis began, while an unequal justice system imprisons the poor and people of color on a mass scale. In The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, Taibbi explores how the Depression-level income gap between the wealthy and the poor is mirrored by a “justice” gap in who is targeted for prosecution and imprisonment. “It is much more grotesque to consider the non-enforcement of white-collar criminals when you do consider how incredibly aggressive law enforcement is with regard to everybody else,” Taibbi says.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2014 at 12:24 pm

The U.S. Government: Paying to Undermine Internet Security, Not to Fix It

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Excellent article in ProPublica by Julia Angwin:

The Heartbleed computer security bug is many things: a catastrophic tech failure, an open invitation to criminal hackers and yet another reason to upgrade our passwords ondozens of websites. But more than anything else, Heartbleed reveals our neglect of Internet security.

The United States spends more than $50 billion a year on spying and intelligence, while the folks who build important defense software — in this case a program called OpenSSL that ensures that your connection to a website is encrypted — are four core programmers, only one of who calls it a full-time job.

In a typical year, the foundation that supports OpenSSL receives just $2,000 in donations. The programmers have to rely on consulting gigs to pay for their work. “There should be at least a half dozen full time OpenSSL team members, not just one, able to concentrate on the care and feeding of OpenSSL without having to hustle commercial work,” says Steve Marquess, who raises money for the project.

Is it any wonder that this Heartbleed bug slipped through the cracks? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2014 at 11:13 am

Humor marred by events: The Man with One Red Shoe

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I’m watching The Man with One Red Shoe, an inferior remake of the French The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, and I note that the CIA as a humorous organization falls a bit flat these days. When, for example, a CIA agent yanks every single tooth from a man’s head and it’s the wrong man, that is supposed to be funny. The problem is that we know the CIA has indeed tortured people—and indeed, on more than one occasion has tortured “the wrong man”: totally innocent bystanders detained or kidnapped, tortured, and finally released without so much as a by-your-leave. Moreover, the Senate report states that the CIA lied when it said it observed the torture guidelines (incredible that the US has such things) and the CIA went to great pains to destroy all video records of the interrogations to ensure that no one will ever know what they actually did. Now knowing all that, the tooth-pulling bit in the movie seems uncomfortably close to a harsh interrogation technique to be humorous. For all I know, it was used as a harsh interrogation technique. Certainly it’s harsh. But we will never know because the CIA destroyed the tapes, and they did that because they thought what was on the tapes was much worse than any could imagine. Not funny.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2014 at 11:10 am

It’s official: NSA is free to use (and keep secret) Internet security flaws it finds

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Thus, I imagine, the Heartbleed Bug, which for two years has left an open door for hackers to get data, including passwords, encryption keys, and the link, was discovered and used by NSA for two years before someone else found it and blew the whistle. Our government seems to have no serious interest in protecting consumers and businesses—well, we knew that from the slipshod and even criminal performance of the SEC, NHTSA (which refused to investigated the ignition-switch problem for 8 years), the FDA, and so on. Our Federal government is breaking down rapidly.

David Sanger reports in the NY Times:

Stepping into a heated debate within the nation’s intelligence agencies, President Obama has decided that when the National Security Agency discovers major flaws in Internet security, it should — in most [some? - LG] circumstances — reveal them to assure that they will be fixed, rather than keep mum so that the flaws can be used in espionage or cyberattacks, senior administration officials said Saturday. [But they surely didn't reveal the Heartbleed Bug, did they? - LG]

But Mr. Obama carved a broad exception for “a clear national security or law enforcement need,” the officials said, a loophole that is likely to allow the N.S.A. to continue to exploit security flaws both to crack encryption on the Internet and to design cyberweapons.

The White House has never publicly detailed Mr. Obama’s decision, which he made in January as he began a three-month review of recommendations by a presidential advisory committee on what to do in response to recent disclosures about the National Security Agency.

But elements of the decision became evident on Friday, when the White House denied that it had any prior knowledge of the Heartbleed bug, a newly known hole in Internet security that sent Americans scrambling last week to change their online passwords. The White House statement said that when such flaws are discovered, there is now a “bias” in the government to share that knowledge with computer and software manufacturers so a remedy can be created and distributed to industry and consumers.

Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the review of the recommendations was now complete, and it had resulted in a “reinvigorated” process to weigh the value of disclosure when a security flaw is discovered, against the value of keeping the discovery secret for later use by the intelligence community.

“This process is biased toward responsibly disclosing such vulnerabilities,” she said.

Until now, the White House has declined to say what action Mr. Obama had taken on this recommendation of the president’s advisory committee, whose report is better known for its determination that the government get out of the business of collecting bulk telephone data about the calls made by every American. Mr. Obama announced last month that he would end the bulk collection, and leave the data in the hands of telecommunications companies, with a procedure for the government to obtain it with court orders when needed.

But while the surveillance recommendations were noteworthy, inside the intelligence agencies other recommendations, concerning encryption and cyber operations, set off a roaring debate with echoes of the Cold War battles that dominated Washington a half-century ago.

One recommendation urged the N.S.A. to get out of the business of weakening commercial encryption systems or trying to build in “back doors” that would make it far easier for the agency to crack the communications of America’s adversaries. Tempting as it was to create easy ways to break codes — the reason the N.S.A. was established by Harry S. Truman 62 years ago — the committee concluded that the practice would undercut trust in American software and hardware products. In recent months, Silicon Valley companies have urged the United States to abandon such practices, while Germany and Brazil, among other nations, have said they were considering shunning American-made equipment and software. Their motives were hardly pure: Foreign companies see the N.S.A. disclosures as a way to bar American competitors.

Another recommendation urged the government to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 9:31 am

SEC Prosecutor Says SEC Top Brass Are Corrupt

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The SEC pretty clearly currently sees it job as running interference for Wall Street against the Federal government, becoming an agency that protects rather than regulates Wall Street. The degree to which the SEC studiously avoided investigating Bernie Madoff is one prime example, but the trend continues.

Eric Zuesse has an article in Counterpunch that the SEC is simply corrupt. He spells out the evidence in detail.

Robert Schmidt’s article in Bloomberg News spells out the case an SEC prosecutor made in his retirement speech against SEC leadership. That article begins:

A trial attorney from the Securities and Exchange Commission said his bosses were too “tentative and fearful” to bring many Wall Street leaders to heel after the 2008 credit crisis, echoing the regulator’s outside critics.

James Kidney, who joined the SEC in 1986 and retired this month, offered the critique in a speech at his goodbye party. His remarks hit home with many in the crowd of SEC lawyers and alumni thanks to a part of his resume not publicly known: He had campaigned internally to bring charges against more executives in the agency’s 2010 case against Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)

The SEC has become “an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors,” Kidney said, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by Bloomberg News. “On the rare occasions when enforcement does go to the penthouse, good manners are paramount. Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening.” . . .

And Pam Martens at Wall Street on Parade reviews the corruption of Wall Street and the SEC in a good summary article. From that article:

On June 28, 2006, Gary Aguirre, a former SEC attorney, testified before the U.S. Senate on the Judiciary. During his final days at the SEC, Aguirre had pushed to serve a subpoena on John Mack, the powerful former official of Morgan Stanley, to take testimony about his potential involvement in insider trading. Mack was protected; Aguirre was fired via a phone call while on vacation — just three days after contacting the Office of Special Counsel to discuss the filing of a complaint about the SEC’s protection of Mack.

Aguirre told the Senate hearing that the SEC had thrown a “roadblock” in his investigation because the suspected insider trader had “powerful political connections.” Aguirre returned on December 5, 2006 to testify further before the Senate Judiciary Committee, providing the following additional insights: . . .

These three articles are worth reading to understand how utterly our institutions (and the Obama Administration) have failed us in reining in Wall Street. Of course, Obama got a substantial amount of campaign money contributed from Wall Street. I assume letting Wall Street do as it wants was the quid pro quo.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 8:55 am

The NSA has indeed been using Heartbleed

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Timothy Lee reports at Vox.com:

Bloomberg is reporting that the National Security Agency has known about the Heartbleed Bug for two years. And rather than alerting the OpenSSL team so they could fix the problem, the NSA simply added the Heartbleed attack to its arsenal of tactics used to compromise targeted computers. Update: In a tweet, the NSA has denied that it knew about Heartbleed before it became public this month. [But we know from experience that the NSA is perfectly willing to lie about its operations, even lying under oath---and this deniall was not made under oath. I simply don't trust anything the NSA might claim. - LG]

This won’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to how the National Security Agency operates. The agency has an entire department, known as Tailored Access Operations, devoted to offensive hacking. TAO combs popular software for security vulnerabilities it can use to introduce sophisticated malware into computers it wants to spy on. Once compromised, these computers can be re-programmed to spy on their users and divulge their private files, all without users knowing about it.

But the Bloomberg’s reporting, if true, will further damage the already strained relationship between the nation’s top electronic spying agency and the civilian security community. In the past, the private sector has sometimes relied on the NSA’s technical expertise to help them better secure their products. Yet it now appears that securing the American Internet against online threats is far from the agency’s top priority. When the agency discovers a flaw in popular software, the agency is more interested in preserving its ability to attack others than in alerting Americans to the problem.

If the NSA were the only intelligence agency in the world, that might not be a bad strategy. The problem is that America’s adversaries have intelligence agencies too. If the NSA was able to discover the Heartbleed bug two years ago, there’s a good chance that Chinese, Russian, or other intelligence services have too, exposing Americans and American companies to foreign eavesdropping.

Continue reading.

If the NSA did know about the Heartbleed Bug two years ago (and they obviously have teams constantly looking for such access opportunities), then their silence shows that they truly are not interested in security, despite their name. An organization that wanted to increase overall US security would immediately fix a security flaw. The “S” in “NSA” must stand for “spying,” not “security. A spying agency would not report the security problem because it is not concerned with security, only with spying.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 8:54 pm

Boy, that was quick! Obvious propaganda counteroffensive to reports on US UXOs in Iraq and Afghanistan

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You’ll recall this recent story in the Washington Post on how dozens of children are dying or being maimed each year because the US won’t bother to clean up UXOs in civilian areas. The US knows, of course, that many will die, but so what? (and that seems to be the attitude).

The story (which you definitely should read) puts the US in a pretty ugly light, so it seems very much as if the US military launched a propaganda campaign (which, BTW, would be illegal: no propagandizing in the US). The response the military has choose is not to clean up the UXOs, but to sell the idea that, actually, UXOs do come with some benefits: take or make a victim success story and let everyone know. This one, for example: we not paid for her new prosthetic and fixed up her missing eye, she also discovered a new talent, and she’s extremely good at it. So, though it’s perhaps not all good, there’s at least some good—thanks to the US medical team and our medical technology!!

It’s not hard to imagine some general demanding that his staff find a silver lining to that cloud, or else. The cost of the surgery for one victim is more than repaid by the value of the publicity and propaganda.

But assuming it is in fact a good-faith effort. But even if the US military pays for surgery, buys prosthetics, and conducts physical therapy and rehabilitation not for one but for all victims (except, of course, for those killed on the spot or died later from wounds), that truly is minuscule compared to the trauma inflicted on the innocent children who survive—even if not physically harmed, many are doubtless traumatized by seeing their friends or family members blown to bits.

In the meantime,  the US public is all up in arms because GM’s ignition switch design (and cover-up) may have caused 13 deaths over the past eight years. Of course, those are deaths of US citizens and thus of much greater importance and higher value than the deaths of foreign children we’ve never even met, children we’re killing simply because we don’t want to bother to clean up the mess that we left behind.

That sounds harsh, but isn’t that exactly the attitude? It would sure look that way from a different vantage point—say, Europe, China, Japan, or … well, just about everywhere.

Here’s the actual note, from a column in the current issue of The Week, titled “It wasn’t all bad” (that is the actual title—I am not making this up):

A 7-year-old Afghan girl who lost her arm to an explosive has been enjoying her newfound talent for painting.Less than a year ago, Shah Bibi Tarakhail was playing outside when she picked up what she thought was a rock and threw it on the ground. The resulting explosion took her right arm and right eye. She was brought to the U.S. and fitted with a prosthetic, which she soon began using to create colorful works of abtract art. Arist Davyd Whaley compared her “mind-blowing” paintings to the work of Jackson Pollock.

Two obvious points: First, not all the maimed will turn out to have world-class talent—if, second, Davyd Whaley is to be believed at all. And even if he is spot-on, see the first point in the previous sentence. Wait!—no, three obvious points: Third, none of this surgery/talent show excuses (or is relevant to) the wholesale abandonment of UXOs that will inevitably kill and maim many civilians and the US military’s continuing refusal—even now, even today—to take the first step to clean up the minefields they created.

I guess I’m a little emotional about this, but I think that’s because of having to simply sit here while the slow-motion massacre continues, unable to do anything at all to stop it (see this post). I imagine this is how opponents of abortion feel. I don’t share their feelings because I don’t view the embryo as a person, so that situation is for me very different from this. (I do understand that people disagree on whether an embryo is a person or not, but that discussion will be held separately, if at all. In the meantime, consider this situation: a deadly fire is about to consume a room, and you can save either a 12-year-old girl in the room or a try of a dozen human embryos. Which do you choose?)

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 4:30 pm

Whistleblower advocate under attack

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I wonder what Obama will do, if anything. Recall his various promises regarding transparency (which turned into a wholehearted embrace of secrecy and stonewalling) and protection of whistleblowers (which turned into vindictive persecution including attacks on the press and inappropriate actions against reporters). Now Obama’s distaste for whistleblowers makes the situation reported in McClatchy by Marisa Taylor all the more interesting:

The Pentagon’s inspector general is trying to suspend and possibly revoke the top secret access of the Defense Department’s former director of whistleblowing, triggering concerns in Congress that he’s being retaliated against for doing his job.

If the recommendation is acted on, Daniel Meyer would no longer be able to work in his current job as the executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing at a time when President Barack Obama’s reforms of the system are supposed to be underway .

The controversy over Meyer’s fate comes at an awkward moment for the Obama administration. Meyer, the Pentagon inspector general’s whistleblower advocate until last summer, was well-known for aggressively investigating whistleblower allegations. In his current job, he was supposed to have a key role in the president’s initiative to improve the intelligence whistleblowing system.

The administration pointed to those reforms after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked details on the agency’s then-classified mass collection of Americans’ email and phone records. Snowden has said he was prompted to disclose the details because he believed the whistleblowing system was broken.

“Dan Meyer has been a relentless advocate for whistleblowers in making sure they don’t fall through the cracks,” said one congressional staffer, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter. “If action is taken against him, it could have a chilling effect on whistleblowers coming forward.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, raised the possibility that a whistleblower might have been involved in the recent clash between her committee and the CIA.

Feinstein accused the CIA of interfering with her staff’s work on assembling a scathing report on the spy agency’s now-defunct interrogation and detention program. Feinstein has suggested that a whistleblower may have put classified documents into a CIA computer database that her staff was permitted to use in reviewing more than 6 million documents for the Senate’s report.

The CIA blocked access to those documents, prompting Feinstein to accuse the agency of illegal monitoring of the oversight staff’s work. CIA officials have denied any wrongdoing.

Meyer’s current office hears appeals and oversees investigations into whistleblower retaliation complaints from intelligence community employees and contractors, including the NSA and the CIA.

While Meyer’s predicament is not connected to the CIA interrogation report, it appears connected to his representation of whistleblowers’ interests, said three people with knowledge of the matter, including one former and one current U.S. official.

The proposed action against Meyer stems from a controversy over whether the Pentagon inspector general mishandled an investigation into whether the filmmakers of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” received classified information about the Osama bin Laden raid, according to documents reviewed by McClatchy. . .

Continue reading.

We (through the press) could ask Obama about it, but he doesn’t hold press conferences, apparently because he dislikes being questioned.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 1:41 pm

U.N. Human Rights Council votes to probe legality of drone strikes

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The US objects, naturally enough. And yet the high civilian death toll and questionable legality of the attacks makes the inquiry perfectly natural. The US generally adopts a one-sided view of things and seems disinclined to approach things with equity—equal treatment—in mind, part of the idea of US exceptionalism, I suppose: “We can do as we want, and we reserve the right to condemn strongly and even punish other nations who do as we do.” What would the US think of some other nation kidnapping a US citizen from within the US, spiriting him out of the country, torturing him for months, and then releasing him in some backwoods spot? Would we think that was okay, particularly if the citizen was innocent of any wrongdoing? The US seems to think it was fine when we did it, but I bet the US would object to being on the receiving end.

For example, the US is (petulantly) refusing to issue a visa to Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, so he will be unable to travel to the UN. (This also shows the lack of wisdom in placing an international body on territory controlled by one government, which can then restrict access as it pleases.) TIME magazine notes:

Under a 1947 treaty establishing the headquarters of the UN in New York, the U.S. is generally required to expeditiously approve visa requests for UN diplomats. But on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said visas can still be denied on “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” grounds.

However, neither Psaki nor Carney would expand on the reasons for denying Aboutalebi’s visa.

It’s very strange that the US refuses to provide a reason for its refusal, but presumably the Ambassador either represents a security threat, or is a terrorist, or it’s a foreign policy reason (though the US is in fact attempting to negotiate an agreement with Iran). But the (unanimous) Congressional vote offers a clue:

Outraged by his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans in Tehran, the House unanimously passed the bill Thursday. That followed Senate passage on Monday, which was also unanimous. If signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would bar representatives to the United Nations from entering the U.S., where the U.N. is headquartered, if such persons have engaged in espionage or terrorist activities against the United States.

And the NY Times reports:

The vote sent what sponsors called a blunt rejoinder to the Iranian government for having selected a nominee who played a role, however minor, in the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran.

Let’s think about that. In 1953 the US, using the CIA, covertly overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran. The US deliberately destroyed their government and put in place puppets (in effect). The reason: we wanted their oil, and we were willing to destroy their government to get it.

In the light of that, and of the atrocities visited on Iranians by the SAVAK, is it any wonder that the average Iranian had little love for the US. Possibly the US citizenry, if a foreign power overthrew our government and put in place a puppet government to seize our national resources, would have no objection and would welcome the rape of their country. But Iranians apparently didn’t like it, and in 1979 seized the US Embassy and held the occupants hostage for 444 days. None were killed. (8 servicemen died by accident in a rescue attempt; one Iranian was killed.)

So: a reasonable provocation, no deaths, and 33 years later the US bars the Iranian Ambassador because he was one of the students who particpated in that uprising. He was 22 years old at the time. Have you ever heard of college-age youth rising in protest about a cause they see as important? (Cf. Occupy Wall Street.)

A lot has happened since then, and holding the Ambassador responsible for understandable actions more than 30 years ago seems excessive, especially given the US’s own responsibility in creating the situation (by illegally overthrowing a democratically elected government).

You can see how other nations might view the US in a negative light, in part because the US tends to skip over its own faults and its responsibility for bad actions.

Now, back to the UN Human Rights Council: John Zorocostas reports in McClatchy:

The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed Friday, over the strong objections of the United States, to study whether American drone strikes comply with international law.

The resolution, which was drafted by Pakistan and co-sponsored by Yemen, both countries where the U.S. has undertaken multiple drone strikes, was adopted on a 27-6 vote, with 14 abstentions. The United States, Great Britain and France all voted no, but several NATO allies abstained.

Human rights advocacy groups, led by New York-based Human Rights Watch, mounted a strong campaign to garner support for the the motion.

In a letter circulated to the 47-members of the council on Thursday, the advocacy group argued that while currently only the U.S., Great Britain and Israel use armed drones in operations against alleged terrorists, it cautioned “that other states, and non-state actors, may acquire them in the future.”

Human Rights Watch also said it has “serious concerns that some if not many U.S. drone attacks may violate international law.”

A report published earlier this month, by Ben Emmerson, the U.N. independent expert on the promotion and protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms found that a U.S. drone strike in October 2006 at a religious seminary in Chenagai in the Bajaur tribal region of Pakistan killed up to 80 people instantly, 69 of whom were children.

The report also said that in December, a U.S. drone strike on a convoy of vehicles making their way to a wedding celebration outside the city of Rada in Yemen killed as many as 15, the majority of whom may have been civilians.

The resolution urges that all “states” using drones should ensure that they are complying “with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular, the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality.” . . .

Continue reading.

US drone strikes are killing civilians in countries who, naturally enough, object to a foreign power arbitrarily dealing out death to citizens simply because it has the power. It seems perfectly logical to bring the issue to the Human Rights Commission, and the only reason the US objects is that in this case the US is the transgressor. (If another nation were doing such things to the US or US allies, the US would certainly demand a review and action.)

The utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy is repugnant. And yes, I know that doubtless there are other nations who are worse. That does not lessen, and is not relevant to, the US idea of fairness, justice, and international law, which seems to be mostly “might makes right,” and anything the US does is good. This is a child’s view.

Toward the end of Zorocostas’s report, he notes:

But a large number of U.S. allies abstained rather than oppose the resolution, including Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania, Austria, and Montenegro.

Moreover, neutral European Union member Ireland, and neutral Switzerland voted in support of the motion, along with China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

The EU does not have a common position on the use of armed drones, but there is growing political opposition to them.

In February, the European Parliament, voted 534 to 49 to declare drone strikes “outside a declared war” to be “a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country.”

The US response seems unreasonable, unfair, and inappropriate. In a word, the US does not play well with others. If the nations were children in a sandbox, the US would definitely be the bully.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 1:19 pm

The CIA’s criminal actions

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I have occasionally remarked that “CIA” stands for “Criminals In Action,” and that certainly seems to be the case in their kidnapping and torture program, which also resulted in some homicides. Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay, and Marisa Taylor have a report at McClatchy of some sections leaked from the Senate report. Well worth reading. The report begins:

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

The 6,300-page report is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 5:31 pm

Cancer and cannabis

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A hopeful report by Randy Robinson. Although one case doesn’t establish efficacy, it certain suggests that research is justified—and Obama will not budge on reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I. Randy Robinson writes in Culture:

At 14 years old, Alysa Erwin was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  As it would with any family, the news hit hard. “When the doctor called me to tell me Alysa had cancer, she said there wasn’t a good outcome. There was no success rate whatsoever,” said Carly, Alysa’s mother.

“She told me all we could do was have hope.”

But that was in 2011.

In 2014, Alysa is cancer-free, and her family believes cannabis oil saved her life. At the time, the Erwins’ outlook appeared grim. Doctors call her condition Grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, an inoperable cancer with a near-zero survival rate. Alysa’s disease, caused by uncontrolled neuron growth, had spider-webbed throughout her brain. There were no individual tumors to target. A wiry network of cancerous cells penetrated so far into her skull that surgery was impossible. That meant Alysa would have to undergo aggressive chemo—and radiation therapies, a choice which leaves many terminal patients incapacitated during their final days. In Alysa’s case, even with traditional medical treatment, doctors expected she’d survive for only another one or two years. The situation became desperate, and the Erwins sought out another choice.

Alysa’s father David, heard about Rick Simpson’s Phoenix Tears Foundation through Michigan Compassion, a medical cannabis organization. After watching the documentaries What If Cannabis Cured Cancer? and Run from the Cure, the Erwins decided cannabis oil was their best bet for Alysa’s recovery.

“We knew what we wanted,” Carly said, “but we wanted to hear her choice.”

Alysa, presented with the options of chemotherapy or cannabinoids, tried the conventional route first. After just five days of popping Temedor pills—and enduring the debilitating nausea that comes with them—she abandoned chemo and went with cannabis. The Erwins were floored. They saw instant results.

Thirty minutes after she took her first half-teaspoon mix of concentrate and peanut butter, Alysa was laughing again. She was eating. Her pain vanished and she could hold down food. “She was like a regular teenager,” her mother said. . .

Continue reading. Why won’t Obama budge on reclassifying marijuana? It is an action he could take immediately, but he doesn’t and since he doesn’t have press conferences, there’s no way of asking him why. But none of the reasons I can think of are very complimentary to him.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 2:00 pm

A special gift the US provides to third-world countries: Continuing death

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The US seems to be too often criminally irresponsible in its global conduct. Indeed, the entire Iraq War was one enormous criminal action that devastated countless lives, American, Iraqi, and others: families wrecked by the premature and violent death of loved ones, strong and capable individuals being wrecked with wounds and trauma and the psychological costs. And the US continues on its course, seemingly ignoring the costs of its actions. Kevin Sieff reports in the Washington Post:

 As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.

The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.

Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.

“Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’ ” said Maj. Michael Fuller, the head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, referring to the planning.

There are a growing number of tragedies at these high-explosives ranges.

Mohammad Yusef, 13, and Sayed Jawad, 14, grew up 100 yards from a firing range used by U.S. and Polish troops in Ghazni province. The boys’ families were accustomed to the thundering explosions from military training exercises, which sometimes shattered windows in their village.

But as those blasts became less common — a function of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal — the boys started wandering onto the range to collect scrap metal to sell. They did not know that some U.S. explosives do not detonate on impact but can still blow up when someone touches them.

Last month, Jawad’s father, Sayed Sadeq, heard a boom and ran onto the range. He spotted his son’s bloodied torso.

“The left side of his body was torn up. I could see his heart. His legs were missing,” the father said.

One of the boys, it appeared, had stepped on a 40mm grenade, designed to kill anyone within five yards. Both teens died.

“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” Sadeq said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 10:54 am

The Border Patrol has a big problem with excessive force

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If nothing is done about the Border Patrol, then I think it indicates the direction that the US is going. Dara Lind writes at Vox:

The US Border Patrol has a problem. And the face of that problem is Esteban Manzanares.

Manzanares, a Border Patrol agent, was on duty along the Rio Grande in March when he came across a Honduran woman and two girls who had crossed the river illegally. Instead of apprehending them, he sexually assaulted the woman and her 14-year-old daughter, slashed the mother’s wrists, and tried to break the teenager’s neck. Then he abducted the other daughter and tied her up in his home before returning to finish his shift.

By the time the FBI was on his trail, Manzanares had killed himself. But the incident called attention to abuse and violence among Border Patrol agents at the worst possible time for the agency.

A few weeks earlier, the press had gotten hold of the unredacted version of an independent report conducted last year on shooting incidents involving Border Patrol agents. The government had released a censored version last fall, but the leaked, full report showed what the officials who oversee Border Patrol had been trying to hide. There were cases of agents stepping into the path of cars trying to escape custody in order to justify shooting at them, and cases of agents firing across the border at Mexicans who were throwing rocks. [Note the repeated pattern of government agencies trying to conceal their missteps and criminal actions. This is why an independent press is necessary---and where, may I ask, was the Inspector General in all this? - LG]

The resulting outcry in the press forced the Border Patrol to issue a few new directives to its agents. But the policy tweaks couldn’t assuage the worry that has slowly been building among residents of both sides of the border for years. How often do Border Patrol agents escalate situations or initiate violence? And what is the agency doing about it?

More agents, more misconduct

Misconduct among Border Patrol agents, especially on the southwestern border, has become a more pressing concern in the last several years simply because there are so many more agents.

US Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the Border Patrol, was ordered by Congress to put more boots on the ground on the southwest border — both at road crossings to check people entering the country legally (those are called “ports of entry,” and are operated by the agency directly) and along the border between those spots, to catch people entering illegally. The latter is Border Patrol’s job. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 9:05 am

The SEC needs to be melted down and recast

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Right now it sees its mission as assisting the industry it’s supposed to regulate and abandoning the role of protecting investors. Pam Martens writes at Wall Street on Parade:

The fallout from the new book, “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis continues. Yesterday, Jonathon Trugman wrote in the New York Post that “These traders who use the HOV lane to get ahead of investors could not do their trades without the full knowledge and complicity of the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq.”

Trubman went on to compare the two best known stock exchanges in the U.S. to houses of ill repute, writing: “What is clearly unfair and unethical — and, frankly, ought to be outlawed — is how the exchanges have essentially taken on the role of running a high-priced, high-frequency brothel…”

While it’s true that the New York Post might possibly overuse sexual analogies (on August 10, 2011 it ran a front page cover comparing the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a “hooker’s drawers”), in this instance Trugman is spot on.

Not only are the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq allowing high frequency traders to co-locate their computers next to the main computers of the exchanges to gain a speed advantage over other customers at a monthly cost that only the very rich can afford to pay but they’re now tacking on infrastructure charges that price everyone out of efficient use of the exchanges except the very top tier of trading firms.

Lewis writes in “Flash Boys” that “both Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange announced that they had widened the pipe that carried information between the HFT [high frequency trading] computers and each exchange’s matching engine. The price for the new pipe was $40,000 a month, up from the $25,000 a month the HFT firms had been paying for the old, smaller pipe.”

By late 2011, according to Lewis, “more than two-thirds of Nasdaq’s revenues derived, one way or another, from high-frequency trading firms.”

And we’ll take Trugman’s analogy one step further: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 8:41 am

“Emotional” about torture

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Amy Davidson writes at the New Yorker:

Who gets “emotional” about torture—or, rather, what is the proper emotional response to a history of torture and lies? On Fox News, on Sunday morning, Chris Wallace asked Michael Hayden, the former director of the C.I.A., about a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sixty-three hundred pages long, that “says the C.I.A. misled the public about the severity and the success of the enhanced interrogation program.” Hayden’s first response was to talk about the feelings of Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the committee, citing an article by David Ignatius: “He said Senator Feinstein wanted a report so scathing that it would ‘ensure that an un-American brutal program of detention and interrogation would never again be considered or permitted.’ ”

Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.

“Deep emotional feelings,” on the part of a woman like Feinstein, are apparently dizzying, especially when it comes to things like our integrity as a nation. But are Hayden and his former colleagues at the C.I.A., in touch with their own emotions on this one? The Senate voted on Thursday to submit the report for declassification; this process may take a while, because the White House and the C.I.A. will be involved, and the agency has fought the report. It has made its objections known feelingly, in a rebuttal that is also classified, in testimony, and in leaks to reporters about how the Senate just doesn’t understand what it was like—doesn’t get it, doesn’t care about what bad days its agents had. Not that the C.I.A. wants to tell. When John Brennan, the current head of the C.I.A., realized that the Senate investigators had some of the agency’s notes to itself—the so-called Panetta papers, in which, according to Senator Feinstein, the agency conceded points it is now denying—he had a bit of a fit. Feinstein said that the committee got the Panetta papers from the C.I.A. in a document dump; the agency said that even if it did, the committee ought to have known that those notes were private. It apparently searched the Senate’s computers and tried to get a criminal investigation started. Calling the cops is, admittedly, a common fantasy when an teen-ager realizes that his journal has been read, but it’s a bit unworthy of an intelligence agency when dealing with its congressional overseers.

Now, not that there’s anything wrong with wanting a scathing report in torture that will shock the conscience, but it’s probably worth noting that the Ignatius line Hayden cited took a Feinstein quote slightly out of context. (Though the layering of emotionalism is on Hayden.) Ignatius wrote that Feinstein “wanted a report so tough that it would ‘ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted,’ as she put it.” She had actually presented this as the reason to make the report public:

If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.

Emphasis added. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one: whatever her “motivation” was, it didn’t shape the writing of the report, but her feelings about who ought to get to read it. (On Saturday, Trevor Timm, of the Press Freedom Foundation, put out a “general plea” for a leak.)

There are really two issues here.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2014 at 5:45 pm

Glenn Greenwald on the “Cuban Twitter” scam

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From The Intercept, a good article by Greenwald:

This week, the Associated Press exposed a secret program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development to create “a Twitter-like Cuban communications network” run through “secret shell companies” in order to create the false appearance of being a privately owned operation. Unbeknownst to the service’s Cuban users was the fact that “American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes”–specifically, to manipulate those users in order to foment dissent in Cuba and subvert its government. According to top-secret documents published today by The Intercept, this sort of operation is frequently discussed at western intelligence agencies, which have plotted ways to covertly use social media for ”propaganda,” “deception,” “mass messaging,” and “pushing stories.”

These ideas–discussions of how to exploit the internet, specifically social media, to surreptitiously disseminate viewpoints friendly to western interests and spread false or damaging information about targets–appear repeatedly throughout the archive of materials provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Documents prepared by NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ–and previously published by The Intercept as well as some by NBC News–detailed several of those programs, including a unit devoted in part to “discrediting” the agency’s enemies with false information spread online.

The documents in the archive show that the British are particularly aggressive and eager in this regard, and formally shared their methods with their U.S. counterparts. One previously undisclosed top-secret document–prepared by GCHQ for the 2010 annual “SIGDEV” gathering of the “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance comprising the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.–explicitly discusses ways to exploit Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media as secret platforms for propaganda.

gchq1

The document was presented by GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG). The unit’s self-described purpose is “using online techniques to make something happen in the real or cyber world,” including “information ops (influence or disruption).” The British agency describes its JTRIG and Computer Network Exploitation operations as a “major part of business” at GCHQ, conducting “5% of Operations.”

Defenders of surveillance agencies have often insinuated that such proposals are nothing more than pipe dreams and wishful thinking on the part of intelligence agents. But these documents are not merely proposals or hypothetical scenarios. As described by the NSA document published today, the purpose of SIGDEV presentations is “to synchronize discovery efforts, share breakthroughs, and swap knowledge on the art of analysis.”

For instance: One of the programs described by the newly released GCHQ document is dubbed “Royal Concierge,” under which the British agency intercepts email confirmations of hotel reservations to enable it to subject hotel guests to electronic monitoring. It also contemplates how to “influence the hotel choice” of travelers and to determine whether they stay at “SIGINT friendly” hotels. The document asks: “Can we influence the hotel choice? Can we cancel their visit?”

Previously, der Spiegel and NBC News both independently confirmed that the “Royal Concierge” program has been implemented and extensively used. The German magazine reported that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2014 at 11:14 am

More details on how the stock market is rigged

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Max Ehrenfreund in the Washington Post has a good interview exploring the way the stock market is rigged:

A small group of financial firms are using their technological superiority to skim the top off the market, Michael Lewis claims in his new book “Flash Boys.” There’s an increasingly heated debate over whether the practices, known as high-frequency trading, are harmful or helpful. Lewis, for his part, says the market is “rigged,” and several federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, are now looking into what Charles Schwab recently labeled “a growing cancer.”

Sophisticated and expensive computers allow high-frequency traders to take advantage of minuscule differences in price among the many exchanges where securities are bought and sold. Some firms pay to place their computers on the site of a stock exchange to be sure their access to price data is as fast as possible, a practice known as colocation; others will use technology to obscure their trading intentions for a few crucial thousandths of a second. Lewis’s book tells the story of Brad Katsuyama, a former trader at the Royal Bank of Canada in New York. Katsuyama opened a new stock exchange last year to give investors protection from HFT.

Lewis is not the first to cry foul on these strategies. Eric Scott Hunsader, the founder of Nanex, has made himself immensely unpopular in some circles for his outspoken and persistent criticism of HFT, which he first encountered during the “flash crash” of 2010. Bloomberg called him the “nemesis” and “scourge” of the HFT world.

I asked Hunsader to talk about the book, the new stock exchange, and his long career in financial technology. The conversation focused on the Securities and Exchange Commission ruling in 2007 that allowed what we now know as high-frequency trading. The transcript, edited for length and clarity, is below.
~~~~~~~~~~~
Wonkblog: When I was a kid, I can remember my grandpa showing me how to look up stock prices in the newspaper. And there were exactly three exchanges. Oftentimes the prices were in fractions — one-eighth, three-quarters, and so on. And then, it wasn’t long after that that I was showing him how to look up stock prices online. I’m wondering if you can talk about the transition into electronic trading — and you think that at least initially, it was good for everybody. Is that right? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2014 at 11:28 am

Stupid intelligence tricks: The secret “Cuban Twitter”

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In the New Yorker Jon Lee Anderson has a rightly scathing article on the US Agency for International Development’s hare-brained scheme to foment unrest and civil disturbance in Cuba:

An eye-catching A.P. story, published Thursday, revealed that, in 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.) covertly deployed a social-media program in Cuba in the hope of bringing about a “Cuba Spring.” The network, called ZunZuneo, was offered to Cubans via the country’s mobile-phone network as a free text service, and attracted forty thousand subscribers before mysteriously ending operations in 2012. The contractors who ran the program are said to have concealed its U.S.-government origins via an offshore system of front companies and foreign servers, and to have collected data on subscribers’ “political tendencies” and “receptiveness,” among other useful information. White House spokesman Jay Carney declared that ZunZuneo was a “neither covert nor an intelligence program,” preferring instead to call it a “discreet” form of humanitarian assistance to Cubans who lived in a “non-permissive environment.”

This kind of bald-faced disingenuousness is risible. Whatever it is labelled, there seems to be little doubt that ZunZuneo functioned as a secret intelligence operation aimed ultimately at subversion. The A.P. reported that one of the aims of the program was to help foster a resistance that could stage “smart mobs” to protest Castro’s rule.

That U.S.A.I.D. is now being used for such purposes is not in itself a surprising thing, nor even necessarily a breach of its charter. U.S.A.I.D. was conceived during the Kennedy Administration as a civic-action bolster to the C.I.A.’s underground activities abroad, and in the intervening years some U.S.A.I.D. programs have kept one foot in the shadows. Alan Gross, a U.S.A.I.D. subcontractor who brought in network-communications equipment for political dissidents, has been in jail in Cuba since 2009.

Quite apart from the rights or wrongs of the U.S. government using commercial social media for espionage or to organize political subversion in Cuba, the case presents another troubling issue:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2014 at 10:12 am

Letter Tells of U.S. Searches of Emails and Calls

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James Clapper has now admitted that the NSA have searched, with no warrant, the content of Americans’ email and telephone communications. This is a violation of the law, of course. In the NY Times Charlie Savage has a good article on the issue, which concludes:

Last month, the issue also arose at a hearing by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal watchdog group that is examining how the government is using the FISA Amendments Act.

Brad Wiegmann, a deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, testified that searching the database for Americans’ communications without a warrant did not raise Fourth Amendment concerns because the information had been lawfully collected by the government.

Later in the oversight board’s hearing, one of its members, Patricia Wald, a retired appeals court judge, asked why it would not be appropriate to require analysts to get court approval to pull up Americans’ communications.

Robert S. Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, replied that imposing that rule would be an operational burden and would make the surveillance court extremely unhappy because of the frequency with which analysts query the database.

Judge Wald replied, “I suppose the ultimate question for us is whether or not the inconvenience to the agencies, or even the unhappiness of the FISA court, would be the ultimate criteria.”

Robert Litt’s reason, that it’s too much bother to do it legally, will appeal to, say, those who steal large sums of money because it’s too much effort to earn the money legally. But I don’t think that mere convenience trumps legality. Litt does.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2014 at 8:53 am

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