Later On

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

Archive for November 19th, 2013

NSA repeatedly broke its own rules and court orders

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Jonathan Landay and Ali Watkins report at McClatchy:

The National Security Agency repeatedly violated its own rules and secret federal court orders regulating its immense collection of private Americans’ telephone and Internet data and broke pledges to adhere to strict controls, newly declassified documents show.

The disclosures raise serious questions about repeated assurances given by senior U.S. intelligence officials to Congress that NSA collection programs never “willfully violated” the laws and rules that regulate them and that any compliance issues have been due only to unintentional human or technological errors. [Please: the entire world knows already that NSA simply lies about its activities: to Congress for sure, as James Clapper showed. Why are “serious questions” being raised when we already know the answer: Assurances from NSA are lies, pure and simple. – LG]

For example, in a 2009 ruling denying a request by the agency to “access and use” communications data it wasn’t authorized to have, a secret federal court judge criticized the NSA for “longstanding and pervasive violations” of earlier orders restricting the collections.

“Barring any use of the information would provide a strong incentive for the exercise of greater care in this massive collection by the executive branch officials responsible for ensuring compliance with the court’s orders and other applicable requirements,” wrote Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge John D. Bates in his 117-page opinion.

In another ruling, the date of which was blacked out, Judge Reggie B. Walton, also on the surveillance court, castigated the NSA after the government disclosed that the agency had made available to intelligence and law enforcement agencies email addresses and other information on Americans without a mandatory review to ensure it was terrorism related.

Walton strongly suggested that some of the information included the kind of personal data that senior U.S. intelligence officials repeatedly have insisted wasn’t collected.

“NSA has generally failed to adhere to special dissemination restrictions originally proposed by the government, repeatedly relied upon by the court . . . and incorporated into the court’s orders (redacted) as binding on NSA,” wrote Walton, who added that he was “gravely concerned.”

Despite the findings, however, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed the NSA to restart the Internet and telephone data collection programs after they were suspended, albeit with restrictions. The collections began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and were aimed at uncovering terrorist plots involving Americans.

In a statement, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the Internet data collection program was terminated in 2011 after “an examination revealed that the program was no longer meeting the operational expectations that NSA had for it.” [Of course, Clapper also testified under oath to Congress that the NSA did not have millions of data files on Americans. And in the statement above, he’s not even under oath. I’m just sayin’. – LG] . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2013 at 5:07 pm

Holiday shaving savings

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ShoeboxShaveshop.com is having a holiday sale. The discount/coupon codes:

xmas5 = 5% off orders > $50 & < $100
xmas10 = 10% off orders > $99.99

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2013 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Shaving

Obama’s Secret Attempt to Ban Cellphone Unlocking, While Claiming to Support It

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And, speaking of lying, Derek Khanna exposes in Slate an important lie from President Obama:

Last week, WikiLeaks made public a portion of a treaty that the White House has been secretly negotiating with other nations and 600 special interest lobbyists. The draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty, which is on intellectual property, shows that HealthCare.gov isn’t the only tech topic on which the Obama administration has some serious explaining to do.

The White House claims that it supports copyright reform. Itshould be in favor of remaking the framework, because today’s copyright system is a mess: It grants protection that is too long (70 years or more), fair use is notoriously unclear and vague, and statutory damage laws create amassive deterrent to lawful creation. Economists and scholars argue that modern copyright, as opposed to constitutional copyright, greatly impedes innovation and content creation. But the TPP, which is being negotiated by 11 countries, would be a step in the completely wrong direction.

In its present state, treaty would expand copyright and effectively make real reform impossible. Worse, it would essentially disregard constitutional limitations on copyright and reject pillars like fair use, the first-sale doctrine, and having copyright be for “limited times.” The worst part: While the White House was publicly proclaiming its support of cellphone unlocking, it was secretly negotiating a treaty that would ban it.

Cellphone unlocking is the ability to take a phone and alter its settings so that it can be used on other carriers. Essentially this technology allows a consumer to bring her phone from one carrier to another when her contract expires (if technologies are compatible). In January, following appeals by AT&T/Verizon’s main trade association, the Librarian of Congress issued a ruling making unlocking a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $500,000 fine. This was a terrible idea: Economists and market participants have explained that this ruling would result in reduced competition in the industry, a decimated resale market, and restricted consumer rights. And indeed the impact has been devastating.

At the time, I spearheaded an unpaid national campaign to legalize unlocking, which included a White House “We the People” petition (I wrote a bit about our campaignhere). Our petition reached 114,000 signatures, and the White House responded in favor of cellphone unlocking:

“The White House agrees with the 114,000+ of you who believe that consumers should be able to unlock their cell phones. … It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.”

The FCC came out in favor of our petition, as did numerous outside groups such as Freedomworks, Public Knowledge, R Street and the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Examiner. We were unable to find a single group, or Member of Congress, that was in favor of unlocking being a felony.  But somehow, while a number of bills were introduced, none passed, and the one that had widespread support, H.R. 1892, never received a hearing or was brought up for a vote.

The leaked treaty draft shows that while the White House was championing restoring free market principles to phones, the U.S. proposed that the TPP lock in the process that allowed the Librarian of Congress to rule this technology as illegal through international law. This would make potential reforms like H.R. 1892 impossible.* It should be noted that Canada did submit an amendment proposal that could allow unlocking, but neither the United States nor any other country supported it.

But the TPP draft doesn’t stop there. It would ban . . .

Continue reading.

I really do not like it when our elected officials flat-out lie to the public. But now I understand why James Clapper still has a job after lying to Congress: apparently Obama sees nothing wrong in lying.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2013 at 8:37 am

The US has shown nations that they are free to use drones in other countries

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Drones are mere technology, so that other nations can easily enough create their own drone fleets. Iran already has a Predator equivalent, as Juan Cole points out at Informed Comment:

It was foreseeable that when the United States began deploying drones wherever it likes, its rivals would also develop that capability. In fact, you wonder if sending the drones around doesn’t create an opportunity for others to capture them and reverse-engineer them. Iran captured a US Predator drone last winter and claimed to have gotten data from it.Instead of being cautious and prudent about a technology that could harm US citizens, the US government has rushed to deploy drones in several countries with which the US is not at war.

So now Iran has announced a new “Fotros” drone in the same class with the Predator, with a 1200-mile range (2000 km). You wonder how the US will feel if Iran deploys it in nearby countries of the Middle East, just as Washington itself has done.

Iran’s PressTv reports:

BBC Monitoring paraphrases Iran’s Tasnmim News Agency from the Persian on Nov. 18, 2013 regarding Iran’s new long-distance drone:

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2013 at 8:33 am

Posted in Technology

The Pentagon hemorrhages money

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Reuters has a couple of lengthy and fact-filled (and extremely damning) reports on the Pentagon. Thanks to Jack in Amsterdam for pointing them out.

We’re familiar with “too big to fail”; the Pentagon seems to be an example of  “too big to succeed”—not success in winning wars (though the track record since Vietnam hasn’t been particularly good: Grenada, not exactly a world power, was handled easily enough, and Panama, and the first Gulf War—other than those, we’ve seen a trail of broken hopes for the past 40 years of so), but rather success in running an efficient and effective operation.

Scot Paltrow and Kelly Carr have a two-part article: Part 1 (“”How the Pentagon’s payroll quagmire traps America’s soldiers”) and Part 2 (“Behind the Pentagon’s doctored ledgers, a running tally of epic waste”). To give you an idea, Part 1 begins:

As Christmas 2011 approached, U.S. Army medic Shawn Aiken was once again locked in desperate battle with a formidable foe. Not insurgents in Iraq, or Taliban fighters in Afghanistan – enemies he had already encountered with distinguished bravery.

This time, he was up against the U.S. Defense Department.

Aiken, then 30 years old, was in his second month of physical and psychological reconstruction at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, after two tours of combat duty had left him shattered. His war-related afflictions included traumatic brain injury, severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abnormal eye movements due to nerve damage, chronic pain, and a hip injury.

But the problem that loomed largest that holiday season was different. Aiken had no money. The Defense Department was withholding big chunks of his pay. It had started that October, when he received $2,337.56, instead of his normal monthly take-home pay of about $3,300. He quickly raised the issue with staff. It only got worse. For all of December, his pay came to $117.99.

All Aiken knew was that the Defense Department was taking back money it claimed he owed. Beyond that, “they couldn’t even tell me what the debts were from,” he says.

At the time, Aiken was living off base with his fiancee, Monica, and her toddler daughter, while sharing custody of his two children with his ex-wife. As their money dwindled, the couple began hitting church-run food pantries. Aiken took out an Army Emergency Relief Loan to cover expenses of their December move into a new apartment. At Christmas, Operation Santa Claus provided the family with presents – one for each child, per the charity’s rules.

Eventually, they began pawning their possessions – jewelry, games, an iPhone, and even the medic bag Aiken used when saving lives in Afghanistan. The couple was desperate from “just not knowing where food’s going to come from,” he says. “They just hit one button and they take your whole paycheck away. And then you have to fight to get the money back.”

Aiken’s injuries made that fight more difficult. He limped from office to office to press his case to an unyielding bureaucracy. With short-term and long-term memory loss, he struggled to keep appointments and remember key dates and events. His PTSD symptoms alienated some staff. “He would have an outburst … (and) they would treat him as if he was like a bad soldier,” says Monica. “They weren’t compassionate.”

They were also wrong. The money the military took back from Aiken resulted from accounting and other errors, and it should have been his to keep. Further, even after Aiken complained, the Defense Department didn’t return the bulk of the money to Aiken until after Reuters inquired about his case.

The Pentagon agency that identified the overpayments, clawed them back and resisted Aiken’s pleas for explanation and redress is the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, or DFAS (pronounced “DEE-fass”). This agency, with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, has roughly 12,000 employees and, after cuts under the federal sequester, a $1.36 billion budget. It is responsible for accurately paying America’s 2.7 million active-duty and Reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

It often fails at that task, a Reuters investigation finds. . .

And in the same vein Scot Paltrow writes in “Special Report: The Pentagon’s doctored ledgers conceal epic waste”:

Linda Woodford spent the last 15 years of her career inserting phony numbers in the U.S. Department of Defense’s accounts.

Every month until she retired in 2011, she says, the day came when the Navy would start dumping numbers on the Cleveland, Ohio, office of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Pentagon’s main accounting agency. Using the data they received, Woodford and her fellow DFAS accountants there set about preparing monthly reports to square the Navy’s books with the U.S. Treasury’s – a balancing-the-checkbook maneuver required of all the military services and other Pentagon agencies.

And every month, they encountered the same problem. Numbers were missing. Numbers were clearly wrong. Numbers came with no explanation of how the money had been spent or which congressional appropriation it came from. “A lot of times there were issues of numbers being inaccurate,” Woodford says. “We didn’t have the detail … for a lot of it.”

The data flooded in just two days before deadline. As the clock ticked down, Woodford says, staff were able to resolve a lot of the false entries through hurried calls and emails to Navy personnel, but many mystery numbers remained. For those, Woodford and her colleagues were told by superiors to take “unsubstantiated change actions” – in other words, enter false numbers, commonly called “plugs,” to make the Navy’s totals match the Treasury’s.

Jeff Yokel, who spent 17 years in senior positions in DFAS’s Cleveland office before retiring in 2009, says supervisors were required to approve every “plug” – thousands a month. “If the amounts didn’t balance, Treasury would hit it back to you,” he says.

After the monthly reports were sent to the Treasury, the accountants continued to seek accurate information to correct the entries. In some instances, they succeeded. In others, they didn’t, and the unresolved numbers stood on the books.

STANDARD PROCEDURE

At the DFAS offices that handle accounting for the Army, Navy, Air Force and other defense agencies, fudging the accounts with false entries is standard operating procedure, Reuters has found. And plugging isn’t confined to DFAS (pronounced DEE-fass). Former military service officials say record-keeping at the operational level throughout the services is rife with made-up numbers to cover lost or missing information. . .

Continue reading.

The US military is very badly broken, and I see no signs of work on a fix.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2013 at 8:28 am

Germans get testy about US illegal activities

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Matthew Schofield has a story in McClatchy on growing German outrage about US illegal activities:

To appreciate the scope and impact of a joint investigative series by the highly regarded German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and German public television station NDR on the depth of American trespasses in this country, you don’t even have to read a word of the reports, or watch the videos.

All you really have to do is take a look at the U.S. Embassy rebuttal of the series. The multi-part, multi-media series was put on line beginning Friday morning, though some parts weren’t up until evening. And others are said to be coming during the coming weeks. The U.S. Embassy in Germany press office statement came out just after 3 p.m.

The statement:

“Press Office
U.S. Embassy Berlin
November 15, 2013

U.S. Embassy Statement on “Secret War” Allegations

The article in today’s Sueddeutscher Zeitung, ‘The Secret War: Germany and the Role of America,’ is full of half-truths, speculation, and innuendo.  For many decades there have indeed been military facilities in Germany for our mutual security under Status of Forces Agreements, but the fact that they are closed to the public in no way implies that illegal activities are being organized there.   Although we do not comment on specifics, as a matter of policy the United States does not engage in kidnapping and torture, and does not condone or support the resort to such illegal activities by any nation.  Germany is one of the closest allies and partners of the United States, cooperating in areas ranging from counter-terrorism to international economic sustainability.  Outrageous claims like those raised in this article are not helpful to the German-American relationship and to our shared global agenda.”

The newspaper reaction to that reaction: . . .

Continue reading.

The problem with the Embassy’s response is that it contains boldfaced lies that will be quite evident to the German people:

“As a matter of policy the United States does not engage in kidnapping and torture, and does not condone or support the resort to such illegal activities by any nation.”

This statement is not only false, it is well known to be false. Germans in particular will remember the case of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped by the CIA in Macedonia, flown to Afghanistan, and tortured at length until the CIA finally realized that they had picked up the wrong man, an innocent bystander, in effect: El-Masri was on vacation in Macedonia, a vacation that went about as bad as a vacation can go.

Despite the event, the US has refused to allow El-Masri to sue for damages. And the US will not apologize for what it did.

And it’s not the only instance: a team of CIA agents in Italy were actually tried and found guilty of kidnapping Abu Omar and transporting him to Egypt to be tortured.

And there’s the case of the Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was taken at a layover in JFK Airport and, after two weeks in solitary, was taken to Syria for torture and held in prison there for a year. The Canadian government has apologized and awarded damages, but the US has stonewalled any legal action.

These cases are all well known. Why the American Embassy decided to lie when the lie would be evident is unclear, but obvious lying will not increase respect for the US government.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2013 at 8:04 am

Great shave, but didn’t detect grapefruit

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SOTD 19 Nov 2013

BBS result, but with a slant that’s less of a surprise.

I kept seeing this shaving cream, and grapefruit sounded like an interesting fragrance, but I didn’t get much of a grapefruit hit from it. But I did get an excellent lather with the help of my G.B. Kent BK4.

Three quick passes, a rinse, dry, and splash of La Toja.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2013 at 7:45 am

Posted in Shaving

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