Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

VA efforts to hide problems so as to get bonuses worked well

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A lot of bonuses were paid based on outright lies and fabrications—lies that led to some patient deaths and much patient suffering. But the latter does not seem to be all that important to the VA bureaucracy.

Truly, why are these people not going to prison? I think that is much more justified than paying them large bonuses.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 8:41 am

CDC faces some serious problems in lab practices

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At least they are being open about it and taking emphatic steps to stop the damage. Here’s the story.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 1:24 pm

Obama’s Reckless German Spy Scandal

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Though it may not be Obama who is restless: Jacob Heilbrunn’s article in The National Interest makes the interesting observation that Obama and the Executive Branch may no longer be able to control the NSA and CIA, which now are operating according to their own agenda and keeping from the president much of what they are doing.

The question in Germany isn’t so much what the United States has been spying on. The real question is why it has felt compelled to gather what appears to amount to trivial information. “So much idiocy and stupidity can only make you cry,” said German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble. If so, there must be a lot of weeping going on in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. Schauble, who has served at the highest levels of government for several decades, is a staunch Atlanticist. But it’s increasingly clear that the Obama administration is either oblivious to the dangers it’s running in antagonizing Berlin or it’s unable to control the intelligence agencies who are running amok–Merkel demanded the expulsion of the CIA station chief at the America embassy on Thursday, a move that she had to take to placate mounting outrage among the German public.

Either way, President Obama has a crisis on his hands. But it’s one he does not appear to be addressing. Instead, the administration and CIA director John Brennan are stonewalling both Congress and Germany.

The Wall Street Journal, for example, reports today:

A top German intelligence official told the German parliamentary committee that oversees intelligence services that a call from Mr. Brennan earlier this week shed little light on the current investigations, according to people present at his briefing. The official said Mr. Brennan offered little but platitudes about the value of the trans-Atlantic alliance and expressed frustration about the bad press, according to the account.

This won’t do. The National Security Agency apparently has at least 150 listening sites in Germany. U.S. intelligence services have also been trying to suborn German officials to turn over secret documents, including, apparently, the results of an investigation into NSA spying itself in Germany.

Ever since Edward Snowden decamped to Moscow, floods of documents that he’s released have indicated that Germany is a prime target of American espionage. The weekly Der Spiegel referred to the American embassy in Berlin as a “nest of spies.” The rooftop of the embassy seems to have been converted into a listening post. Yes, spying goes on all the time between nations. Germans spy as well. But it’s the sheer extent of American efforts that’s causing Germans to rub their eyes in disbelief. They have the feeling that they remain a nation under suspicion. The spying is prompting Germans, already wary of what they regard as American militarism, to reassess the value of ties to America. As I note in the Los Angeles Times today, they tend to see the U.S. as a rogue state that poses more of a threat to global security than either Russia or Iran.

The roots of this antipathy to the U.S. rest in . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that Obama may not be in control of the intelligence agencies. When Obama spoke with Merkel over a week ago, he apparently had not been told by the CIA that the Germans had nabbed an American spy working for their Bundesnachrichtendienst, or federal intelligence service. Was anyone punished for this lapse? At a minimum, Obama should have called Brennan on the carpet. Depending on the extent of the CIA’s follies, Obama may have to consider firing Brennan. Once again the issue of Obama’s competence in running the federal government is at issue.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 1:16 pm

NSA continues its pattern of simply lying to the public, joined by the White House

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Apparently the US government now accepts lying as a standard procedure: there seems to be no feeling that being truthful with the public—the governed—is important, and telling flat-out lies is completely accepted as NSA procedure, with no sanctions applied (even, as in the case of James Clapper, lying while under oath). Unfortunately, the result is whole distrust of the government: people tend not to trust those who lie to them, particularly if the lying is habitual.

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

On July 20, 2013, agents of the U.K. government entered The Guardian newsroom in London and compelled them to physically destroy the computers they were using to report on the Edward Snowden archive. The Guardian reported this a month later after my partner, David Miranda, was detained at Heathrow Airport for 11 hours under a British terrorism law and had all of his electronic equipment seized. At the time, the Obama administration—while admitting that it was told in advance of the Heathrow detention—pretended that it knew nothing about the forced laptop destruction and would never approve of such attacks on press freedom. From the August 20, 2013, press briefing by then-deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest:

Q: A last one on the NSA—The Guardian newspaper, following on everything that was discussed yesterday—The Guardian is saying that British authorities destroyed several hard drives, because they wanted to keep secrets that Edward Snowden had leaked from actually getting out. They were stored in The Guardian‘s—they had some hard drives there at their offices. British authorities went in there and destroyed these hard drives. Did the American government get a heads up about that the way you did about the person being detained?

MR. EARNEST: I’ve seen the published reports of those accusations, but I don’t have any information for you on that.

Q: And does the U.S. government think it’s appropriate for a government, especially one of our allies, to go in and destroy hard drives? Is that something this administration would do?

MR. EARNEST: The only thing I know about this are the public reports about this, so it’s hard for me to evaluate the propriety of what they did based on incomplete knowledge of what happened.

Q: But this administration would not do that, would not go into an American media company and destroy hard drives, even if it meant trying to protect national security, you don’t think?

MR. EARNEST: It’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.

But emails just obtained by Associated Press pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) prove that senior Obama national security officials— including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-NSA chief Keith Alexander—not only knew in advance that U.K. officials intended to force The Guardian to destroy their computers, but overtly celebrated it.

One email, dated July 19 (the day prior to the destruction) bears the subject line “Guardian data being destroyed” and is from NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett to Alexander. He writes: “Good news, at least on this front.” The next day, almost immediately after the computers were destroyed, Alexander emailed Ledgett: ”Can you confirm this actually occurred?” Hours later, under the same subject line, Clapper emailed Alexander, saying: “Thanks Keith … appreciate the conversation today”.

It’s hardly surprising that the Obama Administration was fully informed in advance: It’s virtually inconceivable that notoriously subservient London officials would ever take any meaningful action without the advance knowledge and permission of their Washington overseers. There are, however, several notable points from these new disclosures:

Continue reading. Greenwald points out more instances of outright lies made to the public by NSA and the Obama Administration.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 11:24 am

How the War on Drugs and the War on Terror Merged Into One Disastrous War on All Americans

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Alex Kane reports at AlterNet:

It was 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy number one in the United States.” With those words, Nixon ushered in the “war on drugs,” the attempt to use law enforcement to jail drug users and halt the flow of illegal substances like marijuana and cocaine.

Thirty years later, another president, George W. Bush, declared war on another word: terrorism. But the war on drugs hadn’t ended yet. Instead of one failed war replacing another soon-to-be-failed war, both drugs and terrorism remain targets for law enforcement and military action that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and have cost billions of dollars.

In fact, the war on terror and the war on drugs have merged to form a hydra-headed monster that rapaciously targets Americans, particularly communities of color. Tactics and legislation used to fight terrorism in the U.S. have been turned on drug users, with disastrous consequences measured in lives, limbs and cash. And money initially used to combat drugs has been spent on the war on terror. From the Patriot Act to the use of informants to surveillance, the wars on drugs and terror have melted into one another.

On Oct. 26, 2011, after remarkably little debate, President Bush signed the USA Patriot Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) into law. Some elected officials admitted they hadn’t read the entire legislation before voting on it. The Patriot Act was renewed in 2011 by President Barack Obama.

The purpose of the legislation was “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world [and] to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools.” Buried in the act is a hint that the wars on terror and drugs were being paired. The Patriot Act appropriated $5 million to the Drug Enforcement Administration to train Turkish forces in anti-drug measures and to increase the apprehension of drugs in South and Central Asia.

Even more significant was Section 213 of the act, which legitimizes what are known as “sneak and peek warrants.” These warrants, approved by a judge, allow the police to enter into a home without notifying the suspect in that home for at least 30 days—90 days if a judge is convinced the police need it. The 90-day extensions can be repeatedly re-authorized. Authorities are able to enter a home or office, rifle through private property and take photographs all without the suspect knowing, which is contrary to how normal warrants work. While “sneak and peek” authority was allowed in limited cases before the 2001 legislation, the Patriot Act has dramatically expanded its use. And the vast majority of cases where it’s used had nothing to do with terrorism, despite the FBI’s claim that the warrants are an “invaluable tool to fight terrorism.”

From October 2009 to September 2010, law enforcement agents executed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2014 at 12:32 pm

Should the NSA be spying on innocent people?

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Amy Davidson has a good column in the New Yorker:

 What counts as an American name? A report by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain, at the Intercept, says that the N.S.A. and F.B.I. have “covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans,” and names five of them. They are real Americans—men like Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers. Then there is a fake name that appears in another document cited in the Intercept piece, apparently related to N.S.A. training—someone’s idea of a useful example of a potential surveillance target: “Mohammed Raghead.”

The Intercept found the addresses of the Americans on a spreadsheet called “FISA Recap.” The document’s title suggests that the N.S.A. at least got warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which operates in secret, before it tracked and, presumably, read e-mails connected to these addresses. That raises some questions about the court and its standards. The N.S.A. is meant to spy on foreigners, not those whom are designated as “U.S. persons” (citizens and legal residents). The exception is when the agency has enough evidence to persuade the FISA judges that its American targets are involved in illegal foreign-terrorism activities. As the Intercept notes, we do not know what evidence the government did or did not have. We are often told that the FISA court is extraordinarily careful. Here is a measure of that care: one of the headings on the spreadsheet is “nationality.” For an address belonging to Faisal Gill, a veteran of the Navy and the Bush Administration, who has been a U.S. person since childhood, that entry was “unknown.” The spreadsheet contained fifty-five hundred and one entries; four hundred and eighty-two were identified as “unknown.”

“Unknown” can sound mysterious; or maybe it’s just another word for reckless disregard for the privacy of Americans. In a report in the Washington Post over the Fourth of July weekend, Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani examined a “large cache of intercepted communications.” (Like the “FISA Recap,” they were among the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor.) In this cache, which “came from domestic NSA operations,” the Post found that nearly half the files “contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.” The N.S.A. is supposed to “minimize” the harm when it “incidentally” spies on Americans; the Post found nine hundred instances, in this sample, in which that was not done. And even minimizing can leave plenty in the government’s files—never mind that some agent may have already read about your views on your boss or your friends or your political associations before having the belated revelation that you are an American.

“Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality,” according to the Post. “The daily lives of more than ten thousand account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.” (Some other information did look very useful, but came with “collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.”) The cache contained chat transcripts, medical records, and “academic transcripts of schoolchildren”: “Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers.” Do acts of intimacy have to double as performances of innocence for the N.S.A.?

The activities that expose Americans to surveillance are explicitly not supposed to include actions related to the First Amendment, like speech or advocacy, or, say, running for office, which Faisal Gill was doing at the time he was spied on. (He got the Republican nomination for a seat in Virginia’s legislature.) A couple of the men have sued the government or were involved with groups that did, or have been the attorneys for foreign governments in U.S. courts. Nihad Awad has been viewed as controversial because of statements, years ago, seen as sympathetic to Hamas. None of this, according to what we’ve been told are FISA’s extraordinary standards, is supposed to be enough to let someone in the government read the e-mails that people send at work, or to clients, or to someone they love. A reason for the standards is the miserable experience that the United States has had with domestic spying; some relevant names there are Martin Luther King, Jr., and J. Edgar Hoover.

What is most striking about theses five men is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 July 2014 at 12:28 pm

Advice on how the Obama administration can learn from the IRS’s data mess

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Fascinating article about a guy trying to get public records available on-line, and what he ran into at the IRS. Worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2014 at 12:52 pm

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

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Interesting return to targeting people based on their religious beliefs: no other evidence necessary, apparently. Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain report at The Intercept:

The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

  • Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;
  • Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;\
  • Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;
  • Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;
  • Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.

The spreadsheet shows 7,485 email addresses listed as monitored between 2002 and 2008. Many of the email addresses on the list appear to belong to foreigners whom the government believes are linked to Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Among the Americans on the list are individuals long accused of terrorist activity, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, who were killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.

But a three-month investigation by The Intercept—including interviews with more than a dozen current and former federal law enforcement officials involved in the FISA process—reveals that in practice, the system for authorizing NSA surveillance affords the government wide latitude in spying on U.S. citizens.

The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments.

“I just don’t know why,” says Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. “I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2014 at 8:26 am

Interesting adaptation: Taking Oil Industry Cue, Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint

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Coral Davenport has a very interesting article in the NY Times:

In November 2010, three combatants gathered in a sleek office here to build a carbon emissions policy that they hoped to sell to the Obama administration.

One was a lawyer who had been wielding the Clean Air Act since his days at the University of California, Berkeley. Another had turned to practicing environmental law and writing federal regulations to curb pollution after spending a summer on a pristine island off Nova Scotia. The third, a climate scientist who is a fixture on Capitol Hill, became an environmentalist because of postcollege backpacking trips in the Rockies.

The three were as seasoned and well connected as Washington’s best-paid lobbyists because of their decades of experience and the relationships they formed in the capital.

Over the next two years the lawyers, David Doniger and David Hawkins, and the scientist, Daniel Lashof, worked with a team of experts to write a 110-page proposal, widely viewed as innovative and audacious, that was aimed at slashing planet-warming carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants. On June 2, President Obama proposed a new Environmental Protection Agency rule to curb power plant emissions that used as its blueprint the work of the three men and their team.

It was a remarkable victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the longtime home of Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins and, until recently, of Mr. Lashof. The organization has a reach that extends from the big donors of Wall Street to the elite of Hollywood (Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford are on its board) to the far corners of the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins once worked.

The group’s leaders understand the art of influence: In successfully drafting a climate plan that heavily influenced the president’s proposal, the organization followed the strategy used by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industry, to write an energy policy for Vice President Dick Cheney during the Bush administration.

“The N.R.D.C. proposal has its fingerprints throughout this, for sure,” said Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy expert at Resources for the Future, a Washington nonprofit, describing how the council’s work influenced the proposed 650-page environmental regulation.

Representatives of the coal industry agreed. “N.R.D.C. is crafting regulatory policy for the E.P.A. that is designed to advance their agenda at the cost of American businesses and people who will pay the price through much higher electricity rates,” wrote Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group. Scott Segal, who lobbies for the coal industry with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, said in an email that the council’s experts “have unprecedented access to this E.P.A. and are able to project influence down to the details of regulatory proposals and creative legal theories.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was so certain of the council’s sway that it used the group’s proposal as the basis for its economic analysis of what it expected in the E.P.A. rule, before the rule’s actual release. “It is no surprise that N.R.D.C. has a great deal of influence on E.P.A. and the White House,” Matthew LeTourneau, a chamber spokesman, wrote in an email.

Continue reading. Also note the comments and links to related coverage.

One important point inexplicably omitted from the story is the result of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis. Here’s Krugman’s comment on their analysis—and it found that the cost of combatting climate change is remarkably low.

See also this column.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2014 at 8:04 pm

Stating simple common sense about the effects of US drone warfare

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The editors of the NY Times have it right:

For all the slick technology, there are grave moral and legal questions going unanswered in the government’s use of armed drones to kill people considered terrorist threats. The problems involving these secretive executions are ably underlined by a bipartisan panel of military and intelligence veterans who warn in a new report that without adequate controls and public accountability, the United States could be on a “slippery slope” into a form of perpetual warfare that invites other nations to follow suit and never explain themselves.

“The United States should not conduct a long-term killing program based on secret rationales,” the panel cautioned in a 77-page analysis released by the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan Washington think tank specializing in international peace and security.

Targeted killings by drones may be justified at times against terrorist threats to the United States, but the “blow back” from unintended civilian killings in places like Pakistan and Yemen is becoming “a potent recruiting tool for terrorist organizations,” the report noted. The panel, which had experienced specialists from the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations, concluded that there was no indication that drone attacks on suspected terrorists had advanced “long-term U.S. security interests.”

The Obama administration should be addressing these issues with regular reports to the public about the rationale for the use of drones and the numbers of militants and civilians killed. Instead, excessive secrecy shrouds these operations. While the report points out that there may be fewer civilian casualties in a drone strike than in a conventional bombing, drone operations need to be subject to credible oversight.

The report sensibly proposes that . . .

Continue reading.

Congress and the Obama Administration should seriously consider the proposition that there may be problems that cannot be solved by killing people, and that perhaps our drone warfare is trying to solve one of those problems, which would help explain why the problem simply keeps getting worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2014 at 7:18 pm

US seems to think that it has no need of friends

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Check out this story about the German response to US spying.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2014 at 3:21 pm

Snowden data shows more and more NSA lies to the public

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Truly, the NSA simply cannot be believed. Time after time after time the NSA has been shown to have deliberately and consciously lied—to the public, to Congress, and (presumably) to the President. It is not even clear that the NSA has good intentions in much of this. Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani report now in the Washington Post more of the revelations for which we have Edward Snowden to thank. (And, as we saw in a post earlier today about how the CIA and FBI worked to destroy a man simply for filing a perfectly legal FOIA request, the idiocy of those who say that Edward Snowden “should have gone through proper channels” is apparent—as it should have been already: Snowden has reported how he repeatedly tried to go through channels.)

The report begins:

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.

Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid harm to ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.

Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the request of CIA officials, The Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations.

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

In order to allow time for analysis and outside reporting, neither Snowden nor The Post has disclosed until now that he obtained and shared the content of intercepted communications. The cache Snowden provided came from domestic NSA operations under the broad authority granted by Congress in 2008 with amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA content is generally stored in closely controlled data repositories, and for more than a year, senior government officials have depicted it as beyond Snowden’s reach.

The Post reviewed roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.

The material spans President Obama’s first term, from 2009 to 2012, a period of exponential growth for the NSA’s domestic collection.

Taken together, the files offer an unprecedented vantage point on the changes wrought by Section 702 of the FISA amendments, which enabled the NSA to make freer use of methods that for 30 years had required probable cause and a warrant from a judge. One program, code named PRISM, extracts content stored in user accounts at Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and five other leading Internet companies. Another, known inside the NSA as Upstream, intercepts data on the move as it crosses the U.S. junctions of global voice and data networks.

No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects — not only from its targets but from people who may cross a target’s path.

Among the latter are medical records sent from one family member to another, résumés from job hunters and academic transcripts of schoolchildren. In one photo, a young girl in religious dress beams at a camera outside a mosque.

Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers. In some photos, men show off their physiques. In others, women model lingerie, leaning suggestively into a webcam or striking risque poses in shorts and bikini tops.

“None of the hits that were received were relevant,” two Navy cryptologic technicians write in one of many summaries of nonproductive surveillance. “No additional information,” writes a civilian analyst. Another makes fun of a suspected kidnapper, newly arrived in Syria before the current civil war, who begs for employment as a janitor and makes wide-eyed observations about the state of undress displayed by women on local beaches.

By law, the NSA may “target” only foreign nationals located overseas unless it obtains a warrant based on probable cause from a special surveillance court. For collection under PRISM and Upstream rules, analysts must state a reasonable belief that the target has information of value about a foreign government, a terrorist organization or the spread of nonconventional weapons.

Most of the people caught up in those programs are not the targets and would not lawfully qualify as such. “Incidental collection” of third-party communications is inevitable in many forms of surveillance, but in other contexts the U.S. government works harder to limit and discard irrelevant data. In criminal wiretaps, for example, the FBI is supposed to stop listening to a call if a suspect’s wife or child is using the phone.

There are many ways to be swept up incidentally in surveillance aimed at a valid foreign target. Some of those in the Snowden archive were monitored because they interacted directly with a target, but others had more-tenuous links.

If a target entered an online chat room, the NSA collected the words and identities of every person who posted there, regardless of subject, as well as every person who simply “lurked,” reading passively what other people wrote.

“1 target, 38 others on there,” one analyst wrote. She collected data on them all.

In other cases, the NSA designated as its target the Internet protocol, or IP, address of a computer server used by hundreds of people.

The NSA treats all content intercepted incidentally from third parties as permissible to retain, store, search and distribute to its government customers. Raj De, the agency’s general counsel, has testified that the NSA does not generally attempt to remove irrelevant personal content, because it is difficult for one analyst to know what might become relevant to another.

The Obama administration declines to discuss the scale of incidental collection. The NSA, backed by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., has asserted that it is unable to make any estimate, even in classified form, of the number of Americans swept in. It is not obvious why the NSA could not offer at least a partial count, given that its analysts routinely pick out “U.S. persons” and mask their identities, in most cases, before distributing intelligence reports.

If Snowden’s sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested. In a June 26 “transparency report,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year’s collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance. . .

Continue reading. You’ll soon come to the litany of lies that the NSA uses as chaff:

. . . In Snowden’s view, the PRISM and Upstream programs have “crossed the line of proportionality.”

“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” he added, “their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”

For close to a year, NSA and other government officials have appeared to deny, in congressional testimony and public statements, that Snowden had any access to the material.

As recently as May, shortly after he retired as NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander denied that Snowden could have passed FISA content to journalists.

“He didn’t get this data,” Alexander told a New Yorker reporter. “They didn’t touch —”

“The operational data?” the reporter asked.

“They didn’t touch the FISA data,” Alexander replied. He added, “That database, he didn’t have access to.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 7:23 pm

A reprise of a fine Chalmers Johnson column, with a good introduction by Tom Englehardt

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Extremely good; written in August of 2010, republished because it’s still appropriate.

In September 1998, I was handed a submission for a proposed book by Chalmers Johnson. I was then (as I am now) consulting editor at Metropolitan Books. 9/11 was three years away, the Bush administration still an unimaginable nightmare, and though the prospective book’s prospective title had “American Empire” in it, the American Empire Project I now co-run with my friend and TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser was still almost four years from crossing either of our minds.

I remembered Johnson, however. As a young man, I had read his book on peasant nationalism in north China where, during the 1930s, Japanese invaders were conducting “kill-all, burn-all, loot-all” operations. Its vision of how a revolution could gain strength from a foreign occupation stayed with me. I had undoubtedly also read some of Johnson’s well-respected work on contemporary Japan and I knew, even then, that in the Vietnam War era he had been a fierce opponent of the antiwar movement I took part in. If I didn’t already know it, the proposal made no bones about the fact that he had also, in that era, consulted for the CIA.

I certainly turned to his submission — a prologue, a single chapter, and an outline of the rest of a book — with a dubious eye, but was promptly blasted away by a passage in the prologue in which he referred to himself as having been a “spear-carrier for empire” and, some pages in, by this passage as well:

“I was sufficiently aware of Mao Zedong’s attempts to export ‘people’s war’ to believe that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam. In that, too, I was distinctly a man of my times. It proved to be a disastrously wrong position. The problem was that I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not enough about the United States government and its Department of Defense. I was also in those years irritated by campus antiwar protesters, who seemed to me self-indulgent as well as sanctimonious and who had so clearly not done their homework [on the history of communism in East Asia]… As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.”

I was little short of thunderstruck. I knew then — and I think it still holds today — that no one of prominence with Johnson’s position on the war and in his age range had ever written such a set of sentences. At that moment, knowing nothing else, I made the decision to publish his book. It was possibly the single most impulsive, even irrational, and thoroughly satisfying decision I’ve made in my 30-odd years as an editor in, or at the fringes of, mainstream publishing.

Though I didn’t have expectations for the book then, the rest is, quite literally, history. After all, its title would be Blowback, a term of CIA tradecraft that neither I nor just about any other American had ever heard of, and which, thanks to Johnson, has now become part of our language (along with the accompanying catch phrase “unintended consequences”). On its publication in 2000, the book was widely ignored. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, it seemed nothing short of prophetic, and so, in paperback, stormed those 9/11 tables at the front of bookstores, and soared to bestsellerdom.

That I ever edited Blowback or Johnson’s subsequent books was little short of a fluke, one of the luckiest of my life. It led as well to a relationship with a man of remarkable empathy and insight, who was then on a no less remarkable journey (on which I could tag along). Now, a new book of his, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, has arrived, focused on the many subjects — from our empire of bases to the way the Pentagon budget, the weapons industries, and military Keynesianism may one day help send us into great power bankruptcy — that have obsessed him in recent years. It’s not to be missed. Tom

The Guns of August
Lowering the Flag on the American Century
By Chalmers Johnson

In 1962, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the start of World War I and called it The Guns of August. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was, of course, looking back at events that had occurred almost 50 years earlier and had at her disposal documents and information not available to participants. They were acting, as Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it, in the fog of war.

So where are we this August of 2010, with guns blazing in one war in Afghanistan even as we try to extricate ourselves from another in Iraq? Where are we, as we impose sanctions on Iran and North Korea (and threaten worse), while sending our latest wonder weapons, pilotless drones armed with bombs and missiles, into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, Yemen, and who knows where else, tasked with endless “targeted killings” which, in blunter times, used to be called assassinations? Where exactly are we, as we continue to garrison much of the globe even as our country finds itself incapable of paying for basic services?

I wish I had a crystal ball to peer into and see what historians will make of our own guns of August in 2060. The fog of war, after all, is just a stand-in for what might be called “the fog of the future,” the inability of humans to peer with any accuracy far into the world to come. Let me nonetheless try to offer a few glimpses of what that foggy landscape some years ahead might reveal, and even hazard a few predictions about what possibilities await still-imperial America.

Let me begin by asking: What harm would befall the United States if we actually decided, against all odds, to close those hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that we garrison around the world? What if we actually dismantled our empire, and came home? Would Genghis Khan-like hordes descend on us? Not likely. Neither a land nor a sea invasion of the U.S. is even conceivable.

Would 9/11-type attacks accelerate? It seems far likelier to me that, as our overseas profile shrank, the possibility of such attacks would shrink with it.

Would various countries we’ve invaded, sometimes occupied, and tried to set on the path of righteousness and democracy decline into “failed states?” Probably some would, and preventing or controlling this should be the function of the United Nations or of neighboring states. (It is well to remember that the murderous Cambodian regime of Pol Pot was finally brought to an end not by us, but by neighboring Vietnam.)

Sagging Empire

In other words, the main fears you might hear in Washington — if anyone even bothered to wonder what would happen, should we begin to dismantle our empire — would prove but chimeras. They would, in fact, be remarkably similar to Washington’s dire predictions in the 1970s about states all over Asia, then Africa, and beyond falling, like so many dominoes, to communist domination if we did not win the war in Vietnam.

What, then, would the world be like if the U.S. lost control globally — Washington’s greatest fear and deepest reflection of its own overblown sense of self-worth — as is in fact happening now despite our best efforts? What would that world be like if the U.S. just gave it all up? What would happen to us if we were no longer the “sole superpower” or the world’s self-appointed policeman?

In fact, we would still be a large and powerful nation-state with a host of internal and external problems. An immigration and drug crisis on our southern border, soaring health-care costs, a weakening education system, an aging population, an aging infrastructure, an unending recession — none of these are likely to go away soon, nor are any of them likely to be tackled in a serious or successful way as long as we continue to spend our wealth on armies, weapons, wars, global garrisons, and bribes for petty dictators.

Even without our interference, the Middle East would continue to export oil, and if China has been buying up an ever larger share of what remains underground in those lands, perhaps that should spur us into conserving more and moving more rapidly into the field of alternative energies.

Rising Power

Meanwhile, whether we dismantle our empire or not, China will become (if it isn’t already) the world’s next superpower.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:37 am

CIA employee’s quest to release information ‘destroyed my entire career’

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The CIA seems to have serious organizational problems, quite apart from their willingness—indeed, their alacrity—to embrace the systematic use of torture for interrogation (and, presumably, punishment). The fact that the CIA suffers no sanctions and faces no accountability for misbehavior simply allows the organization rot to run deeper—and as this report by Greg Miller in the Washington Post reveals, the rot is already there:

His CIA career included assignments in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, but the most perilous posting for Jeffrey Scudder turned out to be a two-year stint in a sleepy office that looks after the agency’s historical files.

It was there that Scudder discovered a stack of articles, hundreds of histories of long-dormant conflicts and operations that he concluded were still being stored in secret years after they should have been shared with the public.

To get them released, Scudder submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act — a step that any citizen can take, but one that is highly unusual for a CIA employee. Four years later, the CIA has released some of those articles and withheld others. It also has forced Scudder out.

His request set in motion a harrowing sequence. He was confronted by supervisors and accused of mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request. His house was raided by the FBI and his family’s computers seized. Stripped of his job and his security clearance, Scudder said he agreed to retire last year after being told that if he refused, he risked losing much of his pension.

In an interview, Scudder, 51, cast his ordeal as a struggle against “mindless” bureaucracy, but acknowledged that it was hard to see any winners in a case that derailed his CIA career, produced no criminal charges from the FBI, and ended with no guarantee that many of the articles he sought will be in the public domain anytime soon.

“I submitted a FOIA and it basically destroyed my entire career,” Scudder said. “What was this whole exercise for?”

The CIA declined to comment on Scudder’s case, citing privacy restrictions and litigation related to his FOIA request. CIA personnel files obtained by The Washington Post accuse Scudder of having classified materials on his home computer and “a history of difficulty in protecting classified information.”

“The CIA does not retaliate or take any personnel action against employees for submitting [FOIA] requests or pursuing them in litigation,” said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd. “Of course, officers at CIA must also exercise their rights consistent with their obligation to protect classified material.”

At a time of renewed debate over the proper balance between secrecy and accountability for U.S. spy agencies, Scudder’s case reveals the extent to which there can be intense disagreement even inside agencies over how much information they should be allowed to withhold from the public and for how long.

Scudder’s case also highlights the risks to workers who take on their powerful spy-agency employers. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly argued that Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, should have done more to raise his concerns internally rather than exposing America’s espionage secrets to the world. Others who tried to do that have said they were punished. [emphasis added - LG]

Scudder’s actions appear to have posed no perceptible risk to national security, but he found himself in the cross hairs of the CIA and FBI.

Scudder’s attorney, Mark Zaid, described the case as an example of “aggressive retaliation against employees who seek to act in the public’s interest and challenge perceived poor managerial decisions. . . . The system is really broken.”

The documents sought by Scudder amount to a catalog of a bygone era of espionage. Among them are articles with the titles “Intelligence Lessons from Pearl Harbor” and “Soviet Television — a New Asset for Kremlin Watchers.”

Scudder said he discovered them after he took an assignment in 2007 as a project manager for the CIA’s Historical Collections Division, an office set up to comb the agency’s archives for materials — often decades old — that can be released without posing any security risk.

In recent years, the division has organized the release of records on subjects including the CIA’s role in the publication of the novel Doctor Zhivago and the historic role of women in the CIA workforce.

Scudder was hired by the CIA as a computer expert in the 1980s and rose through the ranks as a project manager in various departments. Colleagues described him as earnest and energetic, an effective troubleshooter who routinely volunteered for assignments in war zones. He also had a reputation for impatience with agency bureaucracy.

“He was excitable and was in almost constant motion,” said Charles A. Briggs, who served as the No. 3 official in the CIA during the Reagan administration and worked alongside Scudder as a contractor in the Historical Collections Division. “He can’t stand not doing what he thinks is proper.”

Scudder led efforts to upgrade the historical collection, converting thousands of documents to digital files that could be searched electronically. In the process, he said, he discovered about 1,600 articles that were listed as released to the public but could not be found at the National Archives. Further searching turned up hundreds more that seemed harmless but were stuck in various stages of declassification review.

Scudder said he made numerous attempts to get the trove released but was repeatedly blocked by the Information Review and Release Group, the office in charge of clearing materials for the public. In 2010, Scudder took a new assignment in the CIA’s Counterintelligence Center, but couldn’t forget his unfinished historical collections business. Filing a FOIA, he thought, might force the agency’s hand. . .

Continue reading.

Authoritarians resent challenges to their authority, regardless of the merit of the challenge. They do not tolerate dissent.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:10 am

Whose Security?: How Washington Protects Itself and the Corporate Sector

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Noam Chomsky writes at

The question of how foreign policy is determined is a crucial one in world affairs. In these comments, I can only provide a few hints as to how I think the subject can be productively explored, keeping to the United States for several reasons. First, the U.S. is unmatched in its global significance and impact. Second, it is an unusually open society, possibly uniquely so, which means we know more about it. Finally, it is plainly the most important case for Americans, who are able to influence policy choices in the U.S. — and indeed for others, insofar as their actions can influence such choices. The general principles, however, extend to the other major powers, and well beyond.

There is a “received standard version,” common to academic scholarship, government pronouncements, and public discourse. It holds that the prime commitment of governments is to ensure security, and that the primary concern of the U.S. and its allies since 1945 was the Russian threat.

There are a number of ways to evaluate the doctrine. One obvious question to ask is: What happened when the Russian threat disappeared in 1989? Answer: everything continued much as before.

The U.S. immediately invaded Panama, killing probably thousands of people and installing a client regime. This was routine practice in U.S.-dominated domains — but in this case not quite as routine. For first time, a major foreign policy act was not justified by an alleged Russian threat.

Instead, a series of fraudulent pretexts for the invasion were concocted that collapse instantly on examination. The media chimed in enthusiastically, lauding the magnificent achievement of defeating Panama, unconcerned that the pretexts were ludicrous, that the act itself was a radical violation of international law, and that it was bitterly condemned elsewhere, most harshly in Latin America. Also ignored was the U.S. veto of a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning crimes by U.S. troops during the invasion, with Britain alone abstaining.

All routine. And all forgotten (which is also routine).

From El Salvador to the Russian Border

The administration of George H.W. Bush issued a new national security policy and defense budget in reaction to the collapse of the global enemy. It was pretty much the same as before, although with new pretexts. It was, it turned out, necessary to maintain a military establishment almost as great as the rest of the world combined and far more advanced in technological sophistication — but not for defense against the now-nonexistent Soviet Union. Rather, the excuse now was the growing “technological sophistication” of Third World powers. Disciplined intellectuals understood that it would have been improper to collapse in ridicule, so they maintained a proper silence.

The U.S., the new programs insisted, must maintain its “defense industrial base.” The phrase is a euphemism, referring to high-tech industry generally, which relies heavily on extensive state intervention for research and development, often under Pentagon cover, in what economists continue to call the U.S. “free-market economy.”

One of the most interesting provisions of the new plans had to do with . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 July 2014 at 11:46 am

Breakthrough: Border Patrol may not be allowed to murder people at random

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The US Border Patrol has long been an out-of-control agency, with agents free to use deadly force without question. But it may change. From Courthouse News via AlterNet, David Lee reports:

A Mexican teenager who was shot in the face and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent had Fifth Amendment rights though he was in Mexico at the time, the 5th Circuit ruled on Monday.

The parents of Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca sued the federal government, Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa Jr., and his supervisors for wrongful death in 2011. In the original complaint in El Paso Federal Court, the family claimed that Hernandez Guereca was playing a game with friends on a cement culvert separating the two countries when an agent emerged on a bicycle and dragged one of his friends along the concrete.

“Sergio retreated and stood still beneath the pillars of the Paso del Norte Bridge, observing the agent,” the complaint stated. “The U.S. border agent then stopped, pointed his weapon across the border, seemingly taking careful aim, and squeezed the trigger at least twice, fatally wounding Sergio with at least one gunshot wound to the face. Sergio, who had been standing safely and legally on his native soil of Mexico, unarmed and unthreatening, lay dead on his back in his blue jeans and sneakers. He was fifteen years old.”

Mexican police declared Hernandez Guereca dead after the shooter and other Border Patrol agents left him to die, the complaint states. Hernandez Guereca’s parents claimed an FBI spokesman then issued “a false and reprehensible cover-up statement [3]” that accused their son of throwing rocks at the agent.

The trial court dismissed claims against the federal government due to sovereign immunity. Claims against the supervisors were dismissed because of failure to establish they were personally responsible for the alleged violations. Claims against Mesa were dismissed due to qualified immunity.

On Monday, a three-judge panel with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of claims against the United States and Mesa’s supervisors, but reversed dismissal of claims against Mesa, reinstating the lawsuit.

Writing for the court, Judge Edward C. Prado disagreed with Mesa’s argument that aliens beyond the territorial jurisdiction of American courts have no Fifth Amendment rights that protect against arbitrary conduct that shocks the conscience.

“Based on the nature of the border area where the shooting occurred, we cannot say that the United States exercises no control,” the 47-page opinion states. “Unlike both Guantanamo and Landsberg Prison [in Germany after World War II], this is not a case requiring constitutional application in a faraway location. Agent Mesa was standing inside the United States, an area very much within U.S. control, when he committed the act. Border Patrol agents exercise their official duties within feet of where the alleged constitutional violation occurred. In fact, agents act on or occasionally even across the border they protect.”

Citing reports of other Border Patrol agents killing people across the border, Prado said the agents have “hard power” in injuring others in Mexico.

“In sum, even though the United States has no formal control or de facto sovereignty over the Mexican side of the border, the heavy presence and regular activity of federal agents across a permanent border without any shared accountability weigh in favor of recognizing some constitutional reach,” the opinion states.

Prado says a strict territory-based application of such rights would “create zones of lawlessness” that would “establish a perverse rule” that would treat two people differently merely because one crossed into the United States. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 1:11 pm

When will Guantánamo end?

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It has been, like other initiatives by George W. Bush, a monumental failure. David Cole has a good post at the New Yorker:

Ten years ago Saturday, the Supreme Court ruled, in Rasul v. Bush, that foreign “enemy combatants” held at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station had a right to challenge the legality of their detention in court. The decision, the first to extend such a right to the enemy in an armed conflict, was widely and justifiably hailed as a major victory for the rule of law. The Court had rejected President George W. Bush’s claims of uncheckable authority to deprive people of their liberty without review. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, in a companion case issued the same day, “a state of war is not a blank check for the President.”

Ten years later, the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo—a hundred and forty-nine of them—may wonder what all the fuss was about. They obtained the theoretical right to seek judicial review, but in most cases that review has proved virtually meaningless. At first, the district courts ruled that many detainees were unlawfully detained. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which had earlier denied the detainees any review at all, upheld the government in every appeal it filed. Moreover, the detainees themselves cannot see most of the evidence against them, and therefore often cannot participate meaningfully in their own defense. After a decade, not a single detainee has been released because of the government losing or exhausting its appeals. (The Administration chose not to appeal some release orders, but given its record in the court of appeals these releases were, for all practical purposes, voluntary.) The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has repeatedly declined to step in.

In this respect, the Rasul decision recalls another Supreme Court opinion: Brown v. Board of Education. When Brown was decided, in 1954, the Court unanimously declared that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In a ruling on remedies shortly thereafter, however, the Court announced that the problem did not need to be fixed immediately but, rather, “with all deliberate speed.” Segregation persisted for years; practically speaking, it persists to this day. Progress required the active involvement of Congress and the President, through the passage of civil-rights laws in the sixties, and such initiatives as President Eisenhower’s ordering troops to Little Rock to protect newly integrated students.

The Court in Rasul issued no such open invitation to delay, but the effect has been much the same. The Court addressed only the question of whether detainees could have a day in court, but it provided no guidance for how such judicial review should be exercised, or even what the government would have to show to justify continued detention. It rested its decision on statutory grounds, which prompted Congress to amend the law to deny judicial review. It was another four years before the Court invalidated that statute, and held, in Boumediene v. Bush, that judicial review was constitutionally compelled. Even then, it said nothing about what rights detainees might have once they got into court. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 July 2014 at 12:15 pm

Number of Backdoor Searches of NSA Data Too High to Keep Track Of

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Kevin Drum finds that the data that NSA has (illegally, in my view) collected on US citizens is search so frequently and so much that they cannot keep track of it. Read this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2014 at 10:11 am

Workplace secrecy agreements appear to violate federal whistleblower laws

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More use by corporations of agreements designed to muzzle the public and enable corporate secrecy regarding bad practices. Scott Higham and Kaley Belval report in the Washington Post:

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy asked contract employees at the Hanford plutonium processing plant in Washington state to take an unusual oath.

The DOE wanted them to sign nondisclosure agreements that prevented them from reporting wrongdoing at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear facility without getting approval from an agency supervisor. The agreements also barred them from using any information for financial gain, a possible violation of federal whistleblower laws, which allow employees to collect reward money for reporting wrongdoing.

Donna Busche reluctantly signed the agreement.

“It was a gag order,” said Busche, 51, who served as the manager of environmental and nuclear safety at the Hanford waste treatment facility for a federal contractor until she was fired in February after raising safety concerns. “The message was pretty clear: ‘Don’t say anything to anyone, or else.’ ”

The company that fired Busche, URS, has said her termination was unrelated to her whistleblowing. Busche and another employee testified before Congress in March at a hearing called by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to examine the handling of whistleblowers at Hanford.

An Energy spokesman denied that the nondisclosure agreements violated federal law.

“The DOE fully complies with the law,” Brendan Daly said. “We not only encourage but require contractors to report waste, fraud and abuse, with no retaliation.”

Lawyers who represent whistleblowers like Busche say they are seeing a rise in the use of overly restrictive nondisclosure agreements, which prevent employees from reporting fraud, even to government investigators. The agreements incorporate language that goes beyond those that had traditionally protected proprietary information, the attorneys said. In recent months, agreements criticized as overly restrictive have surfaced at Kellogg, Brown and Root, one of the nation’s largest defense contractors, and International Relief and Development, a nonprofit organization in Arlington County, Va. The nonprofit collected more than $1 billion in tax dollars for war-related projects funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the agreements at KBR, and the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is examining the agreements used by IRD. Both companies have denied wrongdoing, and IRD changed the wording of its agreements after they were written about in The Washington Post.

Fear of retaliation for reporting fraud in the workplace is on the rise, according to surveys of federal employees and workers on Wall Street. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs retaliated against 37 workers who had come forward with allegations of wrongdoing. Some of those employees had tried to report problems with the VA’s medical appointment scheduling system, which is now the subject of a growing national controversy. . .

Continue reading.

The problem with the SEC investigating anything is that the SEC seems singularly dedicated to not finding things—cf. Bernie Madoff. The SEC is a cover-up facilitator.

There seems to be a dedicated effort to silence whistleblowers. And it is undoubtedly having an effect.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2014 at 8:40 am

It’s not only the vets: Hospitals for active military constantly making errors that result in death or injury

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Sharon LaFraniere and Andrew Lehren report in the NY Times:

Jessica Zeppa, five months pregnant, the wife of a soldier, showed up four times at Reynolds Army Community Hospital here in pain, weak, barely able to swallow and fighting a fever. The last time, she declared that she was not leaving until she could get warm.

Without reviewing her file, nurses sent her home anyway, with an appointment to see an oral surgeon to extract her wisdom teeth.

Mrs. Zeppa returned the next day, in an ambulance. She was airlifted to a civilian hospital, where despite relentless efforts to save her and her baby, she suffered a miscarriage and died on Oct. 22, 2010, of complications from severe sepsis, a bodywide infection. Medical experts hired by her family said later that because she was young and otherwise healthy, she most likely would have survived had the medical staff at Reynolds properly diagnosed and treated her.

“She was 21 years old,” her mother, Shelley Amonett, said. “They let this happen. This is what I want to know: Why did they let it slip? Why?”

The hospital doesn’t know, either.

Since 2001, the Defense Department has required military hospitals to conduct safety investigations when patients unexpectedly die or suffer severe injury. The object is to expose and fix systemic errors, often in the most routine procedures, that can have disastrous consequences for the quality of care. Yet there is no evidence of such an inquiry into Mrs. Zeppa’s death.

The Zeppa case is emblematic of persistent lapses in protecting patients that emerged from an examination by The New York Times of the nation’s military hospitals, the hub of a sprawling medical network — entirely separate from the scandal-plagued veterans system — that cares for the 1.6 million active-duty service members and their families.

Internal documents obtained by The Times depict a system in which scrutiny is sporadic and avoidable errors are chronic.

As in the Zeppa case, records indicate that the mandated safety investigations often go undone: From 2011 to 2013, medical workers reported 239 unexpected deaths, but only 100 inquiries were forwarded to the Pentagon’s patient-safety center, where analysts recommend how to improve care. Cases involving permanent harm often remained unexamined as well.

At the same time, by several measures considered crucial barometers of patient safety, the military system has consistently had higher than expected rates of harm and complications in two central parts of its business — maternity care and surgery.

More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide, the most recent statistics show. And their mothers were . . .

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Where’s the oversight? Why isn’t Darrell Issa having hearings on this instead of the IRS and Benghazi? Because this is real?

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 1:12 pm


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