Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Although Obama really doesn’t like a free press, as shown by the way his Dept of Justice went after James Risen for publishing a whistleblower’s story, a free press that informs the public of abuses and failures in government and business is vital to a healthy society. Here are a couple of recent examples:
1. I blogged 10 days ago about how the Pentagon didn’t really want to be bothered by the effort of identifying the remains of fallen American troops who died in past wars. That report in ProPublica and on NPR has had a salutary effect: see this interesting follow-up.
2. An on-going story is the way the NHTSA failed in its duties, and the press is exposing that. For example:
It’s long been known that whistleblowers and a free press help keep the government (and businesses) honest. Obama doesn’t seem to get that. His main interest so far has been to cover up government misbehavior and to intimidate the press.
UPDATE: And, of course, there’s the opposite of an investigative press.
Glenn Greenwald points out in The Intercept a peculiar inconsistency in the NSA’s position:
Over the last 40 years, the U.S. government has relied on extreme fear-mongering to demonize transparency. In sum, every time an unwanted whistleblower steps forward, we are treated to the same messaging: You’re all going to die because of these leakers and the journalists who publish their disclosures! Lest you think that’s hyperbole, consider this headline from last week based on an interview with outgoing NSA chief Keith Alexander:
The NSA engages in this fear-mongering not only publicly but also privately. As part of its efforts to persuade news organizations not to publish newsworthy stories from Snowden materials, its representatives constantly say the same thing: If you publish what we’re doing, it will endanger lives, including NSA personnel, by making people angry about what we’re doing in their countries and want to attack us.
But whenever it suits the agency to do so–meaning when it wants to propagandize on its own behalf–the NSA casually discloses even its most top secret activities in the very countries where such retaliation is most likely. Anonymous ex-officials boasted to the Washington Post last July in detail about the role the agency plays in helping kill people by drones. The Post dutifully headlined its story: “NSA Growth Fueled by Need to Target Terrorists.”
And now, Keith Alexander’s long-time deputy just fed one of the most pro-NSA reporters in the country, the Los Angeles Times‘ Ken Dilanian, some extraordinarily sensitive, top secret information about NSA activities in Iraq, which the Times published in an article that reads exactly like an NSA commercial:
FT. MEADE, Md. — In nearly nine years as head of the nation’s largest intelligence agency, Gen. Keith Alexander presided over a vast expansion of digital spying, acquiring information in a volume his predecessors would have found unimaginable.
In Iraq, for example, the National Security Agency went from intercepting only about half of enemy signals and taking hours to process them to being able to collect, sort and make available every Iraqi email, text message and phone-location signal in real time, said John “Chris” Inglis, who recently retired as the NSA’s top civilian.
The overhaul, which Alexander ordered shortly after taking leadership of the agency in August 2005, enabled U.S. ground commanders to find out when an insurgent leader had turned on his cellphone, where he was and whom he was calling.
“Absolutely invaluable,” retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview as he described the NSA’s efforts, which led to the dismantling of networks devoted to burying roadside bombs.
John “Chris” Inglis just revealed to the world that the NSA was–is?–intercepting every single email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time for the entire country of Iraq. Obviously, the fact that the NSA has this capability, and used it, is Top Secret. What authority did Chris Inglis have to disclose this? Should a Department of Justice leak investigation be commenced? The Post, last July, described Alexander’s “collect-it-all” mission in Iraq which then morphed into his approach on U.S. soil (“For NSA chief, terrorist threat drives passion to ‘collect it all,’ observers say”), but did not confirm the full-scale collection capabilities the NSA had actually developed.
What makes this morning’s disclosure most remarkable is what happened with last week’s Washington Post report on the MYSTIC program . . .
Continue reading. Read the whole article. The NSA simply cannot be trusted: its statements and positions are inconsistent and self-contradictory. Later in the article:
. . . This demonstrates how brazenly the NSA manipulates and exploits the consultation process in which media outlets are forced (mostly by legal considerations) to engage prior to publication of Top Secret documents: They’ll claim with no evidence that a story they don’t want published will “endanger lives,” but then go and disclose something even more sensitive if they think doing so scores them a propaganda coup. It also highlights how cynical and frivolous are their claims that whistleblowers and journalists Endanger National Security™ by reporting incriminating information about their activities which they have hidden, given how casuallyand frequently they disclose Top Secret information for no reason other than to advance their own PR interests. It’s the dynamic whereby the same administration that has prosecuted more leakers than all prior administrations combined freely leaks classified information to make Obama look tough or to help produce a pre-election hagiography film. . .
Amy Davidsen has yet another thought-provoking article in the New Yorker. She’s worth following.
Eric Holder, the Attorney General, sounded very proud on Wednesday, after a jury in a lower Manhattan courtroom convicted Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, on three charges of terrorism and conspiracy. “This verdict is a major milestone in the government’s unrelenting efforts to pursue justice against those involved with the September 11 attacks,” Holder said in a statement. He said he could imagine “no more fitting outcome,” and was especially glad to have “proven that proceedings such as these can safely occur in the city I am proud to call home.”
In principle, this is all quite right. Abu Ghaith was arrested a year ago, indicted, and put on trial in open court. The public got to see the evidence against him, including images of him sitting next to bin Laden the day after 9/11, and of a speech from October 9, 2001, in which he said, “The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing, and there are thousands of young people who are as keen about death as Americans are about life.” Abu Ghaith took the stand in his own defense, describing the moment, in a cave in Afghanistan, when bin Laden told him that the World Trade Center had been leveled. He says he did not know about that particular plan beforehand, and prosecutors did not allege that he did. But they also persuaded a jury that he was not, as he argued, merely standing around, talking religion—that he had, as Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, put it, a “position in Al Qaeda’s homicidal hierarchy”—and was involved enough in Al Qaeda’s plans for the future to merit a conspiracy conviction. The jurors reached their verdict on the second day of deliberations. This is how terrorism trials work; this is what the Southern District of New York has accomplished dozens of times.
There was, though, one witness the defense wanted to testify but couldn’t bring to Manhattan: Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, who says he masterminded the attack. The problem wasn’t that he’s in a cave somewhere; K.S.M., as he’s known, was captured in September, 2002. He has been detained at Guantánamo since 2006, and before that was held in various secret prisons. Unlike Abu Ghaith, on whom he now has an extra decade in American detention, he has not yet been convicted.
And that is the reality from which Holder’s statement is strangely detached. He went on to say: . . .
Just as the US condemns other nations for cyberspying, so the US condemns harsh dictatorships except for those it likes. Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:
Selecting the year’s single most brazen example of political self-delusion is never easy, but if forced to choose for 2013, I’d pick British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public condemnation of George Galloway. The Scottish MP had stood to question Cameron about the UK’s military support for Syrian rebels. As is typical for Western discourse, criticizing western government militarism was immediately equated with support for whatever tyrants those governments happened to be opposing at the time: “Some things come and go,” proclaimed the Prime Minister, “but there is one thing that is certain: wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have the support of [Galloway].”
What made Cameron’s statement so notable wasn’t the trite tactic of depicting opposition to western intervention as tantamount to support for dictators. That’s far too common to be noteworthy (if you oppose the war in Iraq, you are pro-Saddam; if you oppose intervention in Libya, you love Ghaddafi, if you oppose US involvement in Ukraine, you’re a shill for Putin, etc. etc.). What was so remarkable is that David Cameron – the person accusing Galloway of supporting every “brutal Arab dictator” he can find – is easily one of the world’s most loyal, constant, and generous supporters of the most brutal Arab despots. He has continuously lavished money, diplomatic support, arms and all sorts of obsequious praise on intensely repressive regimes in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Egypt. That this steadfast supporter of the worst Arab dictators could parade around accusing others of supporting bad Arab regimes was about as stunning a display of western self-delusion as I could have imagined . . .
Until this week. Tommy Vietor was President’s Obama National Security Council spokesman during the first term. He left to form a consulting firm (along with Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau) that trades on his White House connections by forming messaging and communications strategies for corporations that have extensive business with the government, although he still literally adorns the walls of his home with multiple large posters of President Obama (see this remarkable 3-minute video profile of Vietor and his new work, which a friend sent with the title “the care and feeding of a young imperial bureaucrat” (it features a bonus pre-Snowden quote angrily condemning the Chinese for hacking)). Vietor’s function, which he performs quite faithfully, is simple: to express and embody the most conventional, defining views of official imperial Washington about itself. . .
The power of the intelligence establishment continues unchecked. The pallid and partial reform suggested by President Obama apparently is apparently the most he was allowed. It seems increasingly likely that the intelligence bureaucracy (combined with the action arms—the CIA, FBI, Border Patrol, and the like—are starting to run the show and call the shots, refusing to be reined in for what doubtless seem good reasons to them. The fiction that they do not spy on commercial interests has already fallen. Ryan Gallagher discusses the latest revelations in The Intercept:
Secret documents newly disclosed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel on Saturday shed more light on how aggressively the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have targeted Germany for surveillance.
A series of classified files from the archive provided to reporters by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also seen by The Intercept, reveal that the NSA appears to have included Merkel in a surveillance database alongside more than 100 others foreign leaders. The documents also confirm for the first time that, in March 2013, the NSA obtained a top-secret court order against Germany as part of U.S. government efforts to monitor communications related to the country. Meanwhile, the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters targeted three German companies in a clandestine operation that involved infiltrating the companies’ computer servers and eavesdropping on the communications of their staff.
Der Spiegel, which has already sketched out over several stories the vast extent of American and British targeting of German people and institutions, broke the news last October that Merkel’s cellphone calls were being tapped by the NSA – sparking a diplomatic backlash that strained US-Germany relations. Now a new document, dated 2009, indicates that Merkel was targeted in a broader NSA surveillance effort. She appears to have been placed in the NSA’s so-called “Target Knowledge Base“ (TKB), which Der Spiegel described as the central agency database of individual targets. An internal NSA description states that employees can use it to analyze “complete profiles“ of targeted people.
A classified file demonstrating an NSA search system named Nymrod shows Merkel listed alongside other heads of state. Only 11 names are shown on the document, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, and Columbia’s Alvaro Uribe – the list is in alphabetical order by first name – but it indicates that the full list contains 122 names. . .
Of course, the NSA and President Obama denounce such actions as terribly wrong and totally unacceptable when done by other nations. The US will not judge itself by the standards it uses to judge other nations.
Say, East Germany back in the Cold War, or the Soviet Union. [UPDATE: More like Israel and Palestine today; the East German guards were firing on their own citizens, not across the border. - LG] Tim Johnson reports for McClatchy:
NOGALES, MEXICO — Sixteen-year-old Jose Antonio Elena got the kind of punishment that those who toss rocks at Border Patrol agents receive with startling frequency: He was shot with a .40-caliber round from an agent’s service weapon.
The bullet hit Elena in the back of the head. He slumped mortally wounded to a sidewalk on the Mexican side, a few paces from the border fence. At least two agents, perched on the U.S. side about 20 feet above the street and shielded by the fence’s closely spaced iron bars, continued to fire, witnesses said. In all, 10 bullets struck Elena, spattering a wall behind him with blood.
Yet Jose Antonio Elena may not have tossed any rocks at all. He may have been just walking on a sidewalk on Mexican soil, an innocent passerby.
The Border Patrol has a video of the events that night, Oct. 10, 2012. The video likely shows whether U.S. agents killed an innocent Mexican or shot a member of a marijuana smuggling ring. But the U.S.’s largest law enforcement agency refuses to make the video public. The agents remain on the job, neither publicly identified nor receiving any disciplinary action.
Elena’s killing is one in a string of what critics say are unnecessary killings by Border Patrol agents along the U.S. border with Mexico. At least 21 people have died in confrontations with Border Patrol agents, often out of sight of witnesses or fellow agents, in the past four years.
Those cases include 10 people who’ve been killed for throwing rocks, according to the Border Patrol’s own statistics, and there have been 43 cases since 2010 when agents have opened fire on rock throwers. But there are no known cases where an agent has been disciplined for improperly using force. . .
The reason the Border Patrol will not release the video is, I think, obvious. And clearly the Border Patrol does not expect to face any repercussions or accountability: they understand that this is how the US government now operates.
Later in the article:
. . . The Border Patrol acknowledged then that surveillance cameras had captured the event and that the video had been turned over to the FBI.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona, Cosme Lopez, said he could “neither confirm nor deny” any information about the Elena killing, including whether an investigation was still open.
Critics are skeptical, however, about the Border Patrol’s version. They note that in Elena’s case, witnesses say that at least two agents fired, that both were well above whoever might have been throwing rocks, and that they literally stretched their arms across the border to shoot.
The agents fired between 25 and 30 rounds from their overlook, witnesses said _ some apparently wildly, despite the scene being a busy downtown area. Pock marks can still be seen high on the wall of a nearby residence.
One witness on the Mexican side of the border calls Elena’s death murder. Those tossing rocks ran down a side street, escaping before the shooting started, he said. Elena was walking on the sidewalk when the rock throwers darted past him. . .
And there’s a lot more, including a map. Read the article. What the US is doing is ugly.
One thing about living in a democracy, the birds often come home to roost, even when the government makes every effort to conceal what happened. And, of course, that is often why democracies stop being democracies: those in power have so much to hide that they go at it full time.
The only way to stop the totalitarian slide is to treat the wounds to the body politic as they occur, rather than covering them over and building up an enormous backlog of embarrassing and/or damning secrets. We’re pretty much over Iran-Contra nowadays because the facts came out and some accountability was seen. But now there seems to be a lot to hide: Mandela (which stimulated the post), the CIA’s torture program, the military sexual-assault problem, the SEC failing to hold Wall Street accountable, time and again, the FDA falling apart before our eyes, and so on. Still, the best course is to start coming clean—on the Mandela records, for instance. Also, Obama should turn over to the Senate the documents he’s been keeping secret, and the Senate report should be published. We could then hold strictly accountable any who found guilty of crimes—in particular, war crimes. It will be messy, but at least the wound can begin to heal. (Obviously, some very powerful people argue against this course, but they have an obvious conflict of interest.)
Democracy Now! has a program with the same title as this post. Their description:
In a Democracy Now! exclusive, one of the nation’s most prolific transparency activists, Ryan Shapiro, reveals he is suing the NSA, FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency in an attempt to force them to open their records on one of the country’s greatest secrets: how the U.S. helped apartheid South Africa capture Nelson Mandela in 1962, leading to his 27 years in prison. The U.S. has never confirmed its involvement, but details have leaked out over the years. Shapiro already has a pending suit against the CIA over its role in Mandela’s capture and to find out why it took until 2008 for the former South African president to be removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list. The NSA has already rejected one of Shapiro’s requests for its information on Mandela, citing “national defense.”
In The Intercept Dan Froomkin has a good report on how NSA is pushing back. From the report:
. . . Earlier in the day, New York Times national security reporter James Risen, who has become a symbol of the Obama administration’s assault on national-security journalism, called on his fellow journalists to “stand up against the administration” and its attempt to control the press. Risen is fighting a federal order to testify in the trial of a former CIA official charged with leaking classified information to Risen about a botched plot against the Iranian government. He acknowledged that many journalists shy away from political action, but said the industry is “really confronting a change in the landscape.”
Government officials, he said, are “trying to create a path for accepted reporting — and that if you as a reporter go outside those parameters, you as a reporter will be punished, and those sources will be prosecuted.”
The prospect of Risen’s imprisonment, rather than giving up his source, hung heavy over the gathering. Risen said that government officials “want to narrow the field of national security reporting,” making it more and more difficult for reporters to write stories “outside the boundaries that the administration itself sets down.”
And what is outside those parameters?
“Any story that doesn’t make them look good,” he said. . .
Interesting that Harry Reid is taking some action to get to the bottom of what’s going on, while Obama simply stalls and refuses to release reports. Obama is looking bad in this interaction, and the CIA is looking worse. David Joachim’s report in the NY Times is worth reading. From that report:
. . . In letters sent to Mr. Brennan and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday, Mr. Reid said he had instructed the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to conduct a forensic analysis of the committee’s computers to resolve the question of misbehavior on the part of committee staff members.
“The C.I.A. has produced no evidence to support its claims that Senate committee staff who have no technical training somehow hacked into the C.I.A.’s highly secure classified networks, an allegation that appears on its face to be patently absurd,” Mr. Reid wrote to Mr. Brennan.
In his letter to Mr. Holder, Mr. Reid singled out a former acting general counsel of the C.I.A., Robert Eatinger, for referring the C.I.A.’s claims to the Justice Department even though he was mentioned 1,600 times in the Intelligence Committee’s report on C.I.A. interrogation. Mr. Reid added that the referral “appears to be a transparent attempt to intimidate the committee and undermine its oversight of the agency.”
Democratic senators have claimed that the Panetta review, which is still classified, is broadly consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s voluminous report about the C.I.A.’s now-defunct detention and interrogation program.
According to several people who have read the committee’s report, it concludes that the agency gained little valuable intelligence from its brutal questioning of Qaeda detainees, and that C.I.A. officials repeatedly misled the White House, Congress and the public about the value of the program. . .
An interesting comment at The Intercept from Glenn Greenwald:
Several members of the august “US Journalists Against Transparency” club are outraged by revelations in yesterday’s New York Times (jointly published by der Spiegel) that the NSA has been hacking the products of the Chinese tech company Huawei as well as Huawei itself at exactly the same time (and in exactly the same way) as the US Government has been claiming the Chinese government hacks. Echoing the script of national security state officials, these journalists argue that these revelations are unjustified, even treasonous, because this is the type of spying the NSA should be doing, and disclosure serves no public interest while harming American national security, etc. etc.
True to form, however, these beacons of courage refuse to malign the parties that actually made the choice to publish these revelations – namely, the reporters and editors of the New York Times – and instead use it to advance their relentless attack on Edward Snowden. To these journalists, there are few worse sins than “stealing” the secrets of the US government and leaking them to the press (just as was true in the WikiLeaks case, one must congratulate the US Government on its outstanding propaganda feat of getting its journalists to lead the war on those who bring transparency to the nation’s most powerful factions). But beyond the abject spectacle of anti-transparency journalists, these claims are often based on factually false assumptions about how these stories are reported, making it worthwhile once again to underscore some of the key facts governing this process:
(1) Edward Snowden has not leaked a single document to any journalist since he left Hong Kong in June: 9 months ago. Back then, he provided a set of documents to several journalists and asked that we make careful judgments about what should and should not be published based on several criteria. He has played no role since then in deciding which documents are or are not reported. Those decisions are made entirely by media outlets that are in possession of those documents. Thus, calling a new NSA story “Snowden’s latest leak” or asking “why would Snowden decide to publish this now?” – as though he’s doling out documents one by one or deciding which documents should be published – is misleading in the extreme: those decisions are made exclusively by the journalists and editors of those news outlets.
(2) Publication of an NSA story constitutes an editorial judgment by the media outlet that the information should be public. By publishing yesterday’s Huawei story, the NYT obviously made the editorial judgment that these revelations are both newsworthy and in the public interest, should be disclosed, and will not unduly harm “American national security.” For reasons I explain below, I agree with that choice. But if you disagree – if you want to argue that this (or any other) NSA story is reckless, dangerous, treasonous or whatever – then have the courage to take it up with the people who reached the opposite conclusion: in this case, the editors and reporters of the NYT (indeed, as former DOJ official Jack Goldsmith observed, the NYT‘s Huawei story was “based on leaks other than the Snowden documents”). In most other cases where critics claim reckless disclosures, the decision to publish was made by the Washington Post. The judgment to which you’re objecting – that this information should be made public – was one made by those newspapers, not by Edward Snowden.
(3) Snowden has made repeatedly clear that he did not want all of the documents he provided to be published.
The NSA has breached Chinese servers just as China has breached US servers. The US government see one action as perfectly justified and legal and the other as a perfidious and criminal act. Same thing. I have, of course, seen this sort of behavior before, but generally in young children. Shouldn’t the US government grow up a bit? If the US government wants to hold nations to some standard of behavior, should it not itself observe that standard of behavior? And if the US government decides to behave in a certain way to other nations, should it not expect that they will reciprocate?
David Sanger and Nicole Pearlroth report in the NY Times:
American officials have long considered Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, a security threat, blocking it from business deals in the United States for fear that the company would create “back doors” in its equipment that could allow the Chinese military or Beijing-backed hackers to steal corporate and government secrets.
But even as the United States made a public case about the dangers of buying from Huawei, classified documents show that the National Security Agency was creating its own back doors — directly into Huawei’s networks.
The agency pried its way into the servers in Huawei’s sealed headquarters in Shenzhen,China’s industrial heart, according to N.S.A. documents provided by the former contractor Edward J. Snowden. It obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.
One of the goals of the operation, code-named “Shotgiant,” was to find any links between Huawai and the People’s Liberation Army, one 2010 document made clear. But the plans went further: to exploit Huawai’s technology so that when the company sold equipment to other countries — including both allies and nations that avoid buying American products — the N.S.A. could roam through their computer and telephone networks to conduct surveillance and, if ordered by the president, offensive cyberoperations.
“Many of our targets communicate over Huawei-produced products,” the N.S.A. document said. “We want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products,” it added, to “gain access to networks of interest” around the world.
The documents were disclosed by The New York Times and Der Spiegel, and are also part of a book by Der Spiegel, “The N.S.A. Complex.” The documents, as well as interviews with intelligence officials, offer new insights into the United States’ escalating digital cold war with Beijing. While President Obama and China’s president, Xi Jinping, have begun talks about limiting the cyber conflict, it appears to be intensifying.
The N.S.A., for example, is tracking more than 20 Chinese hacking groups — more than half of them Chinese Army and Navy units — as they break into the networks of the United States government, companies including Google, and drone and nuclear-weapon part makers, according to a half-dozen current and former American officials.
If anything, they said, the pace has increased since the revelation last year that some of the most aggressive Chinese hacking originated at a People’s Liberation Army facility, Unit 61398, in Shanghai.
The Obama administration distinguishes between the hacking and corporate theft that the Chinese conduct against American companies to buttress their own state-run businesses, and the intelligence operations that the United States conducts against Chinese and other targets.
American officials have repeatedly said that the N.S.A. breaks into foreign networks only for legitimate national security purposes.
A White House spokeswoman, Caitlin M. Hayden, said: “We do not give intelligence we collect to U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line. Many countries cannot say the same.”
But that does not mean the American government does not conduct its own form of corporate espionage with a different set of goals. Those concerning Huawei were described in the 2010 document.
“If we can determine the company’s plans and intentions,” an analyst wrote, “we hope that this will lead us back to the plans and intentions of the PRC,” referring to the People’s Republic of China. The N.S.A. saw an additional opportunity: As Huawei invested in new technology and laid undersea cables to connect its $40 billion-a-year networking empire, the agency was interested in tunneling into key Chinese customers, including “high priority targets — Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kenya, Cuba.”
The documents offer no answer to a central question: Is Huawei an independent company, as its leaders contend, or a front for the People’s Liberation Army, as American officials suggest but have never publicly proved?
Two years after Shotgiant became a major program, the House Intelligence Committee delivered an unclassified report on Huawei and another Chinese company, ZTE, that cited no evidence confirming the suspicions about Chinese government ties. Still, the October 2012 report concluded that the companies must be blocked from “acquisitions, takeover or mergers” in the United States, and “cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence.”
Huawei, which has all but given up its hopes of entering the American market, complains that it is the victim of protectionism, swathed in trumped-up national security concerns. Company officials insist that it has no connection to the People’s Liberation Army.
William Plummer, a senior Huawei executive in the United States, said the company had no idea it was an N.S.A. target, adding that in his personal opinion, “The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us.”
“If such espionage has been truly conducted,” Mr. Plummer added, “then it is known that the company is independent and has no unusual ties to any government, and that knowledge should be relayed publicly to put an end to an era of mis- and disinformation.” . . .
That last statement is interesting. We know, of course, that NSA (American officials) have lied repeatedly, including lying under oath to Congress. And we know that NSA took information from a hack into Petrobas, a large oil company in Brazil. That sure looks like spying on a commercial operation. The fact is that we cannot trust NSA’s statements, nor the statements from the Obama administration: too often those statements have been shown to be false. We need independent investigations conducted openly.
Here’s a Change.org petition I just signed. At the link:
My name is Sargeant Ryan Begin United States Marine Corps (Ret). I served two tours in Iraq. During my second tour on August 1, 2004, I was hit by an improvised explosive device, also known as a roadside bomb. I lost my right elbow and endured over 30 surgeries. On that day my elbow saved my life in two seperate ways. First it physically saved me by absorbing the shrapnel and blocking my vital organs from being ripped apart. The second way it saved me would not reveal itself until last winter, seven years later. It qualified me for medical marijuana in the state of Maine due to the intractable pain. I have also been diagnosed with severe PTSD, and although people with PTSD do not “qualify” for medical marijuana, it was my PTSD condition that received the greatest benefit from medical marijuana.
Every day veterans are returning home from combat and once they return they face their biggest battle, dealing with the PTSD they now suffer from. We know it works and we want research to be done so that we can find out how and why. Sadly, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and DEA refuse to allow research to be done on medical marijuana and PTSD.
The FDA has approved a protocol to study the therapeutic potential of marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD. But amazingly, NIDA has a monopoly on the cannabis used for research in the U.S. and they continually refuse to allow researchers to purchase their marijuana for this study. Their decision is clearly political, and it’s impending research and prolonging suffering for America’s troops who have sacrificed so much for their country.
NIDA’s refusal also comes at a time when physicians themselves are recognizing the medical value of medical cannabis. Recently, the California Medical Association told the Los Angeles Times that the question of whether marijuana is a medicine “can only be answered once it is legalized and more research is done” (“California Medical Assn. calls for legalization of marijuana”, October 15, 2011).
Scientists, veterans, physicians, public health officials, and state governments are now calling for an end to the U.S. government’s blockade of medical marijuana research. I hope you’ll join us and sign this petition. . .
I wish Obama were more interested in fixing the Executive Branch of the government. He seems mainly focused on enabling it to continue as it is (cf. NSA, CIA, FDA, SEC, DOJ, and so on). Read Brady Dennis’s article in the Washington Post:
The tourists flocking to the French Riviera or Spain’s Costa del Sol this summer will slather on sunscreen containing the latest ingredients for protecting against the sun’s most harmful ultraviolet rays.But American beachgoers will have to make do with sunscreens that dermatologists and cancer-research groups say are less effective and have changed little over the past decade.
That’s because applications for the newer sunscreen ingredients have languished for years in the bureaucracy of the Food and Drug Administration, which must approve the products before they reach consumers.“We have a system here that’s completely broken down, and everybody knows that it has broken down,” said Wendy Selig, president of the Melanoma Research Alliance, the largest private funder of melanoma research.Her group and others, along with dermatologists and sunscreen manufacturers, have joined forces to make a public push for the FDA to approve at least some of the backlogged applications.The agency has not expanded its list of approved sunscreen ingredients since 1999. Eight ingredient applications are pending, some dating to 2003. Many of the ingredients are designed to provide broader protection from certain types of UV rays and were approved years ago in Europe, Asia, South America and elsewhere.
The FDA noted that U.S. consumers “have access to a great number of sunscreen products,” but said in a statement to The Washington Post that it recognizes the public health importance of sunscreen and has prioritized its review of the long-pending applications. The agency said “it is proceeding as quickly as practicable given available review resources and competing public health responsibilities.”
In the meantime, advocates for newer sunscreens have grown increasingly frustrated.
“These sunscreens are being used by tens of millions of people every weekend in Europe, and we’re not seeing anything bad happening,” said Darrell S. Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University and past president of the American Academy of Dermatologists. “It’s sort of crazy. . . . We’re depriving ourselves of something the rest of the world has.”
Even some FDA officials have expressed frustration about how the applications have become mired in a complex regulatory regime, adopted more than a decade ago, that was originally intended to simplify approvals for over-the-counter products used in other countries for at least five years.
“This is a very intractable problem. I think, if possible, we are more frustrated than the manufacturers and you all are about this situation,” Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told lawmakers in November when asked about the agency’s sluggish over-the-counter reviews.
Part of the holdup, she said, is that . . .
Continue reading. Maybe sunscreen makers are lucky: scientists who wanted to study the effectiveness of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD waited 14 years to get approval—14 years.
Increasingly the US government seems to be badly broken, beholden to corporations and big money and unable to function.
NSA truly is an octopus trying to engulf the world. Ryan Gallagher and Peter Maass write at The Intercept:
Across the world, people who work as system administrators keep computer networks in order – and this has turned them into unwitting targets of the National Security Agency for simply doing their jobs. According to a secret document provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the agency tracks down the private email and Facebook accounts of system administrators (or sys admins, as they are often called), before hacking their computers to gain access to the networks they control.
The document consists of several posts – one of them is titled “I hunt sys admins” – that were published in 2012 on an internal discussion board hosted on the agency’s classified servers. They were written by an NSA official involved in the agency’s effort to break into foreign network routers, the devices that connect computer networks and transport data across the Internet. By infiltrating the computers of system administrators who work for foreign phone and Internet companies, the NSA can gain access to the calls and emails that flow over their networks.
The classified posts reveal how the NSA official aspired to create a database that would function as an international hit list of sys admins to potentially target. Yet the document makes clear that the admins are not suspected of any criminal activity – they are targeted only because they control access to networks the agency wants to infiltrate. “Who better to target than the person that already has the ‘keys to the kingdom’?” one of the posts says.
The NSA wants more than just passwords. The document includes a list of other data that can be harvested from computers belonging to sys admins, including network maps, customer lists, business correspondence and, the author jokes, “pictures of cats in funny poses with amusing captions.” The posts, boastful and casual in tone, contain hacker jargon (pwn, skillz, zomg, internetz) and are punctuated with expressions of mischief. “Current mood: devious,” reads one, while another signs off, “Current mood: scheming.”
The author of the posts, whose name is being withheld by The Intercept, is a network specialist in the agency’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, according to other NSA documents. The same author wrote secret presentations related to the NSA’s controversial program to identify users of the Tor browser – a privacy-enhancing tool that allows people to browse the Internet anonymously. The network specialist, who served as a private contractor prior to joining the NSA, shows little respect for hackers who do not work for the government. One post expresses disdain for the quality of presentations at Blackhat and Defcon, the computer world’s premier security and hacker conferences:
It is unclear how precise the NSA’s hacking attacks are or how the agency ensures that it excludes Americans from the intrusions. The author explains in one post that the NSA scours the Internet to find people it deems “probable” administrators, suggesting a lack of certainty in the process and implying that the wrong person could be targeted. It is illegal for the NSA to deliberately target Americans for surveillance without explicit prior authorization. But the employee’s posts make no mention of any measures that might be taken to prevent hacking the computers of Americans who work as sys admins for foreign networks. Without such measures, Americans who work on such networks could potentially fall victim to an NSA infiltration attempt.
The NSA declined to answer questions about its efforts to hack system administrators or explain how it ensures Americans are not mistakenly targeted.
First, the DOJ is being pushed to extradite Swiss bankers who have broken the law. (So far, they haven’t even tried this approach despite the bankers being indicted.)
Second, Bryce Covert writes at ThinkProgress on how the DOJ’s own Inspector General found that the DOJ failed to hold banksters accountable. (I hold Eric Holder, former Wall Street lawyer, as being in part responsible for the inaction.)
The Department of Justice (DOJ) fell down on many of its efforts to hold Wall Street accountable for mortgage fraud after the crisis, according to a new audit from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The DOJ promised the public that it would place a priority on going after mortgage fraud. But the report finds that “DOJ did not uniformly ensure that mortgage fraud was prioritized at a level commensurate with its public statements.” One telling example is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ranked mortgage fraud as the lowest threat in its lowest crime category. The OIG also visited FBI field offices in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York and found that either it was a low priority or not even listed as a priority. Meanwhile, the FBI got $196 million in funding to investigate mortgage fraud between 2009 and 2011, yet the number of agents doing the investigation decreased in the same time, as did the pending investigations.
On top of these findings, the OIG reports that data was so poorly collected at the DOJ that it’s difficult for it to assess what was going on. And this bad data also led to the department misleading about its efforts to the public. In October of 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder announced a press conference that his department had filed 110 federal civil cases that involved more than 73,000 homeowner victims and total losses of more than $1 billion. When the OIG followed up about these numbers, it became clear that there were significant errors with them — the total losses, for example, were $95 million, 91 percent than originally claimed. Yet the department kept referencing these numbers even after it realized its mistakes.
The report does have some praise for the DOJ. It offers two examples of where the department prioritized going after mortgage fraud: “the Criminal Division’s leadership of its mortgage fraud working group and the FBI and USAOs’ participation on more than 90 local task forces and working groups,” it notes.
A spokeswoman for the DOJ also pointed to the fact that the number of mortgage fraud indictments almost doubled between 2009 and 2011 and that the number of convictions rose by more than 100 percent, saying, “As the report itself notes, even at a time of constrained budget resources, the department has dedicated significant manpower and funding to combating mortgage fraud.”
But the audit’s findings are disturbing given the scope of fraud and how little justice homeowners have seen since the crisis. Prosecutions for financial fraud hit a 20-year low in 2011, in the wake of a crisis created by risk-taking on Wall Street. Lawmakers continually prodded the DOJ over what they felt was an attitude that banks were “too big to jail,” “too big for trial,” or that they had a “get out of jail free” card.
Meanwhile, the national mortgage settlement struck in 2012 over servicing abuses has brought very little relief for homeowners. Two years later, most banks are flouting the terms, as only two were fully in compliance, and servicers are still rampantly abusing homeowners. Meanwhile, little of the money set aside to help homeowners dealing with foreclosure has actually reached them, and some of the checks were so small homeowners refused to cash them.
Other efforts to hold Wall Street accountable after a crisis that took as much as $14 trillion — or perhaps even more — out of the economy haven’t produced many results. Just one financial executive has been held accountable, while most banks have walked away with settlements that aren’t nearly as large as they at first may appear. The Securities and Exchange Commission has won back just $2.7 billion in fines, penalties, and disgorged profits, and while it started demanding that banks admit to wrongdoing in settlements, there is evidence it may be throwing the towel in on prosecutions related to the financial crisis.
The NSA earlier said that they were recording only the metadata. That turns out to be yet another NSA lie. Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani report in the Washington Post:
The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.
A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.
The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.
In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.
The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage.
At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned. [I would imagine that the US is certainly one of the countries. - LG]
No other NSA program disclosed to date has swallowed a nation’s telephone network whole. Outside experts have sometimes described that prospect as disquieting but remote, with notable implications for a growing debate over the NSA’s practice of “bulk collection” abroad.
Bulk methods capture massive data flows “without the use of discriminants,” as President Obama put it in January. By design, they vacuum up all the data they touch — meaning that most of the conversations collected by RETRO would be irrelevant to U.S. national security interests.
In the view of U.S. officials, however, the capability is highly valuable.
In a statement, Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to comment on “specific alleged intelligence activities.” Speaking generally, she said “new or emerging threats” are “often hidden within the large and complex system of modern global communications, and the United States must consequently collect signals intelligence in bulk in certain circumstances in order to identify these threats.”
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines, in an e-mailed statement, said that “continuous and selective reporting of specific techniques and tools used for legitimate U.S. foreign intelligence activities is highly detrimental to the national security of the United States and of our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect.”
Some of the documents provided by Snowden suggest that high-volume eavesdropping may soon be extended to other countries, if it has not been already. The RETRO tool was built three years ago as a “unique one-off capability,” but last year’s secret intelligence budget named five more countries for which the MYSTIC program provides “comprehensive metadata access and content,” with a sixth expected to be in place by last October.
The budget did not say whether the NSA now records calls in quantity in those countries, or expects to do so. A separate document placed high priority on planning “for MYSTIC accesses against projected new mission requirements,” including “voice.”
Ubiquitous voice surveillance, even overseas, pulls in a great deal of content from Americans who telephone, visit and work in the target country. It may also be seen as inconsistent with Obama’s Jan. 17 pledge “that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security,” regardless of nationality, “and that we take their privacy concerns into account.” . . .
Jason Leopold reports for Al Jazeera America:
A still-classified report on the CIA’s interrogation program established in the wake of 9/11 sparked a furious row last week between the agency and Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. Al Jazeera has learned from sources familiar with its contents that the committee’s report alleges that at least one high-value detainee was subjected to torture techniques that went beyond those authorized by George W. Bush’s Justice Department.
Two Senate staffers and a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information they disclosed remains classified, told Al Jazeera that the committee’s analysis of 6 million pages of classified records also found that some of the harsh measures authorized by the Department of Justice had been applied to at least one detainee before such legal authorization was received. They said the report suggests that the CIA knowingly misled the White House, Congress and the Justice Department about the intelligence value of detainee Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah when using his case to argue in favor of harsher interrogation techniques.
The committee’s report, completed in 2012, must go through a declassification review before any part of it may be released, but conflicts between the CIA — the original classification authority for the documents on which the report is based — and the Senate Intelligence Committee have complicated the process. Even if the report was declassified, releasing it would require Senate approval, and it’s not clear that Feinstein, a California Democrat, could muster enough votes to do so. President Barack Obama last week expressed support for releasing the report “so that the American people can understand what happened in the past … That can help guide us as we move forward.”
CIA Director John Brennan delivered a rebuttal to the report last June, more than four months after a deadline imposed by the Intelligence Committee. The 120-page CIA response, which addresses what the agency says are flaws in the Senate report, also remains classified.
The Intelligence Committee probe began in 2009 after allegations that detainees had been tortured in CIA captivity after the 9/11 attacks. Feinstein has said that a CIA internal review contradicts statements previously made by the agency, but Brennan insists that the committee never should have seen documents assembled by former CIA Director Leon Panetta — which Panetta claims was not a review — because they contain sensitive material protected by executive privilege.
The CIA alleges that Senate staffers walked out of a secure facility in Northern Virginia in possession of documents they were not authorized to access. Feinstein and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., have accused the CIA of monitoring the computers the agency had set up for Senate investigators to review the classified documents related to the agency’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The Justice Department and FBI are now reviewing the matter.
Agent’s notes missing
Even before accessing the documents, committee staffers received crucial information in a briefing from former FBI agent Ali Soufan in early 2008, according to Al Jazeera’s sources. Soufan — who now runs a private security and intelligence consultancy — told the staffers that he had kept meticulous notes about the methods used by a psychologist under CIA contract to interrogate Abu Zubaydah at a CIA black site in Thailand after his capture in Pakistan in March of 2002. Soufan’s account, the staffers say, shows that torture techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah even before some had been sanctioned as permissible by the Bush administration.
Soufan described his briefing of Intelligence Committee researchers in his memoir, “The Black Banners.”
“In early 2008, in a conference room that is referred to as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), I gave a classified briefing on Abu Zubaydah to staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” Soufan wrote. “The staffers present were shocked. What I told them contradicted everything they had been told by Bush administration and CIA officials. When the discussion turned to whether I could prove everything I was saying, I told them, ‘Remember, an FBI agent always keep his notes.’ ”
The committee tried to gain access to Soufan’s notes — then in possession of the CIA and FBI — after it launched a review of the agency’s detention and interrogation program in 2009. But Senate investigators were told, according to Al Jazeera’s sources, that Soufan’s notes were missing and could not be found in either the FBI’s or CIA’s computer system, where other classified records about the interrogation program were stored.
More than a year later, the notes ended up with the Senate Intelligence Committee, although it’s not clear whether they were turned over to committee investigators by the CIA or FBI or if they were in the cache of documents taken by investigators from the secure facility in Northern Virginia in 2010, which Senate staffers refer to as the Panetta review.
Two Senate staffers told Al Jazeera that the Panetta documents question the Bush administration claims about the efficacy of Abu Zubaydah’s torture, and the staffers noted that some of the techniques to which he was subjected early in his captivity had not yet been authorized. . .
The CIA tipped its hand when it deliberately destroyed all 92 videotapes of their interrogations. That was done for one obvious reason: the tapes showed war crimes being committed.
Dan Froomkin reports at The Intercept:
In a February 19 front-page story, the Washington Post appeared to be breaking news of yet another massive federal surveillance program invading the privacy of innocent Americans.
The Department of Homeland Security, the story said, had drawn up plans to develop a national license-plate tracking database, giving the feds the ability to monitor the movements of tens of millions of drivers — a particularly intrusive form of suspicionless bulk surveillance, considering how strongly we Americans feel it’s none of the government’s business where and when we come and go.
The next day, however, the Post called off the alarm. The plan, the newspaper reported, had been canceled. Threat averted. Move along.
But the Post had gotten it all wrong. DHS wasn’t planning to create a national license-plate tracking database — because several already exist, owned by different private companies, and extensively used by law enforcement agencies including DHS for years.
The only thing actually new at DHS — the solicitation for services the Post decided was front-page news — was a different form of paperwork to pay for access.
And far from going away, the databases are growing at a furious pace due to rapidly improving technology and ample federal grant money for more cameras and more computers. Tens if not hundreds of millions of observations per month are streaming into bulging electronic archives, often remaining there indefinitely, for a vast array of clients in both the public and private sector.
So rather than being the tale of an averted threat, the bulk license-plate tracking saga is actually a story about yet another previously unimaginable loss of privacy in the modern information age.
In this case, unlike the telecommunications sector, it’s not the federal government with the “collect it all” mentality; it’s the private sector, arguably doing an even better and more thorough job than the government ever could, potentially with even fewer scruples.
The private companies have figured out how to leverage enormous value out of what has historically been public — but uncollectable and unmanageable — information by gathering it into databases that put incredibly detailed and revealing personal information at a paying user’s fingertips.
In this case, the act of driving through an intersection, being anywhere near a police car, or parking on the street — not to mention passing through a toll booth — now leaves a digital residue that you don’t own, and that someone else can seize, use, and sell.
DHS is not new to the license-plate tracking business — it’s been one of the top federal consumers of such data for a while now. . .
And remember that the Forbidden Fruit came from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: maybe Genesis is warning us about organizations like CIA and NSA who seek suck knowledge by the dredger-load.
David Cole writes in the NY Review of Books:
The old Washington adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime may not apply when it comes to the revelations this week that the Central Intelligence Agency interfered with a Senate torture investigation. It’s not that the cover-up isn’t serious. It is extremely serious—as Senator Dianne Feinstein said, the CIA may have violated the separation of powers, the Fourth Amendment, and a prohibition on spying inside the United States. It’s just that in this case, the underlying crimes are still worse: the dispute arises because the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Feinstein chairs, has written an as-yet-secret 6,300 page report on the CIA’s use of torture and disappearance—among the gravest crimes the world recognizes—against al-Qaeda suspects in the “war on terror.”
By Senator Feinstein’s account, the CIA has directly and repeatedly interfered with the committee’s investigation: it conducted covert unauthorized searches of the computers assigned to the Senate committee for its review of CIA files, and it secretly removed potentially incriminating documents from the computers the committee was using. That’s the stuff that often leads to resignations, independent counsels, and criminal charges; indeed, the CIA’s own Inspector General has referred the CIA’s conduct to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation.
But the crime that we must never lose sight of is the conduct that led to the investigation in the first place. To recall: in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration authorized the CIA to establish a series of secret prisons, or “black sites,” into which it disappeared “high-value” al-Qaeda suspects, often for years at a time, without any public acknowledgment, without charges, and cut off from any access to the outside world. The CIA was further authorized to use a range of coercive tactics—borrowed from those used by the Chinese to torture American soldiers during the Korean War—to try to break the suspects’ will. These included depriving suspects of sleep for up to ten days, slamming them against walls, forcing them into painful stress positions, and waterboarding them.
The program was approved by President Bush himself, as well as Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and CIA Director George Tenet. John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Justice Department lawyers, wrote memos to whitewash the program. These acts were war crimes under the laws of war and grave human rights abuses. Yet no one has yet been held accountable for any of them. And the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation is until now the only comprehensive effort to review the extensive classified CIA records about the program.
Even before the investigation began, the CIA appears to have . . .