Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
A good column by the Public Editor of the NY Times, Margaret Sullivan:
Readers of this blog may know that I’m particularly interested in the situation involving James Risen, a Times investigative reporter who is at risk of going to jail to protect a confidential source from his 2006 book, “State of War.”
What’s happened to Mr. Risen is one of the two most telling journalism episodes of the past decade or so, the other being the Edward Snowden leak. They share common themes, of course: the growth of post-9/11 government surveillance in America and the role of the National Security Agency in spying on American citizens, among others. (I interviewed Mr. Risen at his home in suburban Maryland last year about his and fellow Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau’s, extraordinary warrantless-wiretapping story that was delayed for 13 months, finally appearing in 2005; it won a Pulitzer Prize.)
There have been some developments in the Risen story — and some fascinating coverage. I’ll summarize them here and comment only to say that I admire Mr. Risen’s toughness and a great deal of his work.
1. Thomas E. Ricks, in Monday’s Times, gives a generally favorable review to Mr. Risen’s new book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War.” . . .
The second resource she mentions is definitely worth a click:
2. CBS’s “Sixty Minutes” ran a comprehensive story on Mr. Risen’s legal situation over the weekend. It included an interview with Michael Hayden, the former N.S.A. director in which he said he thought the government was overdoing its pursuit of Mr. Risen. “Frankly,” he told the interviewer, Lesley Stahl, “I don’t understand the necessity to pursue Jim.” The transcript, which includes comments from former executive editors Bill Keller and Jill Abramson, is worth reading.
UPDATE: See also this Salon interview with James Risen.
If one has procurement authority for an organization, it’s doubtless tempting to form some corporation (or have your spouse do it) and then order equipment and supplies and services from that company—which, indeed, can simply act as a broker, taking a cut and then passing the orders to third parties. For obvious reasons, most companies do not allow that. The NSA, though?
Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:
A new report suggests that a high-ranking NSA official may have a profitable side-gig in the “electronics” business.
Last month a Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston published a story documenting potential self-dealing by the head NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, Teresa O’Shea. O’Shea happens to be married to the Vice President of DRS Signal Solutions – a company which circumstantial evidence suggests was the beneficiary of significant contracting work from the agency.
Now, it looks as though in addition to her work at the NSA, O’Shea might be a successful businessperson in her own right:
“Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot. This company is called Oplnet LLC.
Teresa Shea, who has been at the NSA since 1984, is the company’s resident agent. The company’s articles of organization….show that the firm was established in 1999 primarily “to buy, sell, rent and lease office and electronic equipment and related goods and services.
Records show Oplnet does own a six-seat airplane, as well a condominium property with an assessed value of $275,000 in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.”
O’Shea’s company has apparently procured a “1972 Beechcraft Bonanza aircraft” which for some reason has been flying all over the country over the past several years. It’s unclear what these flights have been about, but the destinations include Hilton Head, where the condominium is located and which BuzzFeed conspicuously describes as a “resort town.” As of now there is no evidence that O’Shea’s company has done work for the federal government.
The NSA declined to comment to Buzzfeed about this story. But with the potential suggestion of high-level corruption in the agency, it’s clear that that some answers are going to be needed. After all, if top NSA officials are apparently spending their time running secret side-businesses, it’s going to be difficult for them to focus on their day jobs of spying on American citizens and eroding the country’s civil liberties.
Because they never suffer any real punishment. Alan Pyke writes at ThinkProgress:
A high-speed trading company the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) believes committed fraud will pay $1 million to put the matter to rest — without admitting or denying the charges.
Athena Capital Research created a computer program that abused the way Nasdaq calculates the closing price of stocks and resolves outstanding buy and sell orders on each trading day, according to the SEC, in order to manipulate the market and earn fraudulent profits. Despite holding just $40 million in assets in the fund that was allegedly using the fraudulent market-rigging tactics, Athena “dominated the market in the last few seconds of a trading day” thanks to a program it dubbed “Gravy.”
The settlement documents do not say how much Athena netted from the alleged violations or provide any information about how the parties arrived at the one million dollar figure. The agency declined to comment on the sum, on its policies about settlements in cases like this one, and on the decision to allow Athena to pay without conceding that it had broken the rules or even agreeing that the SEC’s version of events is accurate.
Two of the most senior SEC officials labeled Athena’s conduct “fraud” in the press release announcing the deal. “Traders today can certainly use complex algorithms and take advantage of cutting-edge technology, but what happened here was fraud,” Enforcement Division Director Andrew Ceresney said.
Ceresney’s boss, SEC Chair Mary Jo White, has defended high-frequency trading as a business model against high-profile charges that the practice has produced stock markets that are rigged against the average investor. She also condemned Athena’s conduct on Thursday. “When high-frequency traders cross the line and engage in fraud we will pursue them as we do with anyone who manipulates the markets,” she said. . .
CEOs and other very high-level managers—especially the highest-level manager at any location—have a lot of responsibilities—management responsibilities—and as they devote their time and attention to that, their technical skills and knowledge gradually becomes more and more dated. So when the top guy/gal decides to step in and solve a problem, the resulting suggestion is often embarrassingly wrong-headed and tin-eared. The game actually will pass you by if you stay out of it long enough—and even ten years is a long time these days.
Take, for example, James Comey of the FBI commenting way out of his depth on encryption standards. Dan Froomkin and Natasha Vargas-Cooper report in The Intercept:
FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.
In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.
In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.
In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.
And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested a few hours later in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.
Comey described the cases differently. Here’s one:
In Los Angeles, police investigated the death of a 2-year-old girl from blunt force trauma to her head. There were no witnesses. Text messages stored on her parents’ cell phones to one another and to their family members proved the mother caused this young girl’s death and that the father knew what was happening and failed to stop it. Text messages stored on these devices also proved that the defendants failed to seek medical attention for hours while their daughter convulsed in her crib.
Comey was evidently referring to Abigail Lara-Morales, a 2-year old Latina from Lynwood, California who died in 2011 at the hands of her parents. What Comey skipped over was that an independent audit of problems at the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DFCS) found that Abigail’s death was avoidable had any of the three government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents done their jobs. The text messages Comey characterizes as an evidentiary clincher in Abigail’s sad death just added to the prosecutors’ already overwhelming case. . .
The NY Times considers other countries to be a “democracy” if they follow US instructions. Countries that don’t fall in line are not “democracies” (in this meaning) and the US considers it legitimate to undermine or actively overthrow those democratically elected governments. Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:
One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:
With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.
Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”
More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chavez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chavez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”
If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”
The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”
The Editors depict their concern as grounded in . . .
The FBI is weighing in against the right to privacy, because if we allow people to have a right to privacy, it would make the FBI have to work a little harder. (The FBI, let it be noted, also thinks getting warrants is too much trouble.) Jason Koebler has a good post at Motherboard on the FBI’s current whinging about how civilians want privacy:
Everyone is stoked that the latest versions of iOS and Android will (finally) encrypt all the information on your smartphone by default. Except, of course, the FBI: Today, its director spent an hour attacking the companies and the very idea of encryption, even suggesting that Congress should pass a law banning the practice of default encryption.
It’s of course no secret that James Comey and the FBI hate the prospect of “going dark,” the idea that law enforcement simply doesn’t have the technical capability to track criminals (and the average person) because of all those goddamn apps, encryption, wifi network switching, and different carriers.
It’s a problem that the FBI has been dealing with for too long (in Comey’s eyes, at least). Today, Comey went ballistic on Apple and Google’s recent decision to make everything just a little more private.
“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”
In a tightly moderated speech and discussion at the Brookings Institution—not one technical expert or privacy expert was asked to participate; however, several questions from the audience came from privacy-minded individuals—Comey railed on the “post-Snowden” world that has arisen since people began caring about their privacy.
Comey’s speech and thinking was out-of-touch and off on many levels: He continually referred to potential “bad guys” as the only ones using encryption, and suggested that, with default encryption, people who are wrongly arrested won’t be able to unlock data within their phones that could exonerate them. . .
Comey seems to rely on lies. I do not trust him, and I do not trust the FBI: they have too often been caught breaking the law.
UPDATE: A good column on Comey’s position, with some of his contradictions highlighted.
From a good article at Motherboard by Jason Koebler:
Since the beginning of the year, the FAA has:
- Lost a federal court case in which it tried to fine a man $10,000 for operating his drone commercially
- Asserted that the unenforceable guidelines it used to fine the man are still valid
- Let the Catholic Church fly a drone in one of the few places that it actually couldenforce rules
- Issued cease-and-desist letters to dozens of businesses
- Argued in court that its cease-and-desist letters are not legally enforceable
- Got that decision confirmed by a court, therefore invalidating its cease-and-desist letters
- Continued sending these cease-and-desist letters after the court decision
- Demanded that a search-and-rescue team stop flying drones
- Gave permission to the search-and-rescue team to resume flying drones
- Said its new “interpretation” of a law was an enforceable regulation, before public comment was done
- Been sued by three separate entities for its interpretation
- Canceled AC 91-57
- Uncanceled AC 91-57
- Pissed off its only friend in the model aircraft world, the Academy of Model Aircraft (one of the groups now suing it)
So, back to the agency’s latest self-contradiction. . .
This is the agency that regulates the airline your family will be using this Thanksgiving. I’m sure they’re much more competent than that would lead you to believe. They’d almost have to be, wouldn’t they?