Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Ryan Devereaux reports in The Intercept:
In the summer of 2011, the CIA station chief in Berlin asked one of the most powerful intelligence officials in Germany to go on a private walk with him, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reports. The American spy had an important message to convey: one of Germany’s own senior officials was leaking information to the press.
The suspected leaker, Hans Josef Vorbeck, had been in contact with Spiegel, the station chief told the German official, Günter Heiss. Head of Division 6, Heiss is responsible for coordinating Germany’s intelligence services. Vorbeck was his deputy.
At the time, Vorbeck was responsible for managing German counterterrorism efforts. Following the meet up, Vorbeck was discreetly transferred to a less prestigious post, overseeing historical archives for the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence service.
For four years the conversation that led to Vorbeck’s demotion remained secret. It has now become public, thanks largely to a German intelligence inquiry launched in the wake of Edward Snowden’s historic leak of top-secret NSA documents. The walk – and its implications for U.S., German relations – are detailed in today’s report.
Obama administration officials told Spiegel that the disclosure of the alleged communications between Vorbeck and its journalists was prompted by national security concerns. The fact that the Americans were willing to expose an ongoing surveillance operation underscored the seriousness of the threat posed by the leaks, sources in Washington told the magazine. Intentionally or not, the sources said, the disclosure put the Germans on notice – the Americans were watching.
“People around the world – regardless of their nationality – should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security,” Ned Price, spokesman for the National Security Council said in a statement to The Intercept. “We also have made clear that we take their privacy concerns into account.”
“While we are not going to discuss specific targets, we have repeatedly made clear that the United States does not collect intelligence for the purpose of suppressing or burdening criticism or dissent, or for disadvantaging persons based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion,” Price added. “Signals intelligence is collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose to support these missions and not for any other purposes.”
The revelations, the latest in a series of disclosures detailing the fraught and intertwined intelligence relationship between German and American entities, offer an example of how the Obama administration, known for its aggressive approach to national security leaks at home, similarly asserts itself in leak cases abroad.
Spiegel, the same periodical the two officials discussed that summer day in Berlin, describes how it came into the cross hairs of the US government.
Between about 2004 and 2009 the news magazine published several scoops exposing controversial U.S. counter-terrorism operations, such as the CIA’s extraordinary rendition of German Islamic extremist Mohammed Haydar Zammar to Syria, where he was subjected to torture at the hands of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. These reports triggered a political backlash in Germany and prompted a parliamentary committee to investigate the CIA’s practices.
In late 2010, Spiegel cemented its status as a source of irritation for the U.S. government. Along with a number of other major news outlets, the news magazine worked to publish . . .
As the story indicates, the CIA seems particularly to resent news reports that reveal CIA mistakes or misbehavior—as in the CIA’s torturing innocent people.
The Obama Administration continues its bad record with respect to criminal justice and human rights. Adam Winkler reports in Slate:
The Supreme Court just ended its most liberal term in memory. Frommarriage equality to health care to housing discrimination tolegislative districting, the court decided a number of high-profile cases in ways favored by the political left. There was no better reflection of the liberal rout than the photos of President Obama joyously bear-huggingstaff members upon hearing of the health care ruling.
The president’s glee overshadows the relatively poor success rate the administration had this year at the Supreme Court. While the executive branchhistorically wins 60 to70 percent of its cases in the high court, this year the administration won only 38 percent. The court ruled against the administration in 13 of the 21 cases in which the federal government was a party, including Monday’s important decision curtailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate pollution from power plants.
The administration’s low win rate might seem to be the inevitable result of ideological disagreements between a liberal president and a conservative court. Yet the data suggest a more surprising story: The liberal justices voted against the Obama administration more often than the conservatives did.
The two justices who cast the most votes against the administration this term were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, each opposing the administration in 71 percent of the cases. Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t far behind, voting against the administration 67 percent of the time. Who voted the most with the administration? Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy, who each sided with the administration more often than not (in 52 percent of the cases).
A closer look at this term’s lineup suggests a reason: The administration was far more conservative on criminal justice issues than the Supreme Court was. Although a majority of the justices upheld Oklahoma’s right to use unreliable drugs for lethal injections, Justice Breyer’s critique of the death penalty—coupled with Justice Kennedy’s critique of solitary confinement in a case last week—more accurately captures the mood of the Supreme Court’s criminal justice decisions this year.
The court rejected the administration’s argument that fishermen can be prosecuted under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for destroying illegal catch; that people can be prosecuted for criminal threats on Facebook without proof of intent; that police can extend a traffic stop to bring in drug-sniffing dogs; that convicts can’t sell their firearms; that prosecutors don’t have to prove a defendant knew he had a controlled substance analogue; and that aprovision of the Armed Career Criminal Act wasn’t unconstitutionally vague.
Add in the Supreme Court’s expansion of whistleblower protections and itsrefusal to allow the Board of Immigration Appeals to deport someone for unspecified drugs—both contrary to the administration’s arguments—and you have a remarkable number of cases this term promoting more liberal, less law-and-order outcomes than sought by the administration. The dissenters in these cases were an unlikely line-up of administration allies, in the main Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy.
When criminal justice cases are included in the assessment, the Supreme Court was in some ways more liberal than the Obama administration this term.
Jenna McLaughlin reports in The Intercept:
When the official watchdog overseeing U.S. spending on Afghanistan asked the U.S. Agency for International Development recently for details about the 641 health clinics it funds there, the agency readily provided a list of geospatial coordinates for them.
But when the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) went looking for the $210 million worth of clinics, the majority of them weren’t there.
John Sopko, the special inspector general, sent USAID a letter on June 25 asking about the clinics.
“Thirteen coordinates were not located within Afghanistan,” the letter reads. Additionally, 13 more were duplicates, 90 clinics had no location data and 189 coordinate locations had no structure within 400 feet.
One set of coordinates was in the Mediterranean Sea.
“My office’s initial analysis of USAID data and geospatial imagery has led us to question whether USAID has accurate location information for 510 — nearly 80 percent — of the 641 health care clinics funded by the PCH [Partnership Contracts for Health] program,” wrote Sopko.
In his understated conclusion, Sopko noted drily: “To provide meaningful oversight of these facilities, both USAID and MOPH (the Afghan Ministry of Public Health) need to know where they are.” . . .
It’s difficult to trust the FBI. Not only is there the matter of dissembling (describing laughable plots that the FBI had to use paid confidential informants (entrapment artists) to suggest, plan, and support before the FBI arrested the participants and issued press releases), but there’s also the outright incompetence (the FBI forensics lab did an incredibly bad job for years, and the FBI has deliberately avoided scientific testing to determine good procedures).
Now we see the FBI dissembling again, as described in Motherboard by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai:
In the last few months, several government officials, led by the FBI’s Director James Comey, have been complaining that the rise of encryption technologies would lead to a “very dark place” where cops and feds can’t fight and stop criminals.
But new numbers released by the US government seem to contradict this doomsday scenario.
In 2014, encryption thwarted four wiretaps out of 3,554, according to an annual report published on Wednesday by the US agency that oversees federal courts.
The report reveals that state law enforcement agencies encountered encryption in 22 wiretaps last year. Out of those, cops were foiled on only two occasions. As for the feds, they encountered encryption in just three wiretaps, and could not decipher the intercepted communications in two of them.
“This is on a downward trend, not upward.”
“They’re blowing it out of proportion,” Hanni Fahkoury, an attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), told Motherboard. “[Encryption] was only a problem in five cases of the more than 3,500 wiretaps they had up. Second, the presence of encryption was down by almost 50 percent from the previous year.
“So this is on a downward trend, not upward,” he wrote in an email.
In fact, cops found less encryption last year than in the year prior. In 2013, state authorities encountered encryption in 41 cases, versus 22 in 2014. At the federal level, there were three cases of encryption in 2014, against none in 2013. (The report also refers to five federal wiretaps conducted in “previous years” but only reported in 2014. Of those, the feds were able to crack the communications in four of the five.)
The FBI did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Yet, other experts warn that the Wiretap Report is only a small window into the world of government surveillance.
First of all, the FBI has been railing against encryption not just when it’s used for communications, but especially when it’s used to safeguard data on the phone or computer. The whole recent debate was spurred by Apple’s announcement that it wouldn’t be able to unlock phones for the police anymore, and that new iPhones would be encrypted by default. Wiretaps aren’t used to get that kind of data, but cover mostly communications.
Moreover, the FBI has said in the past that it doesn’t apply for wiretaps when it know it can’t intercept the targeted communications, according to Albert Gidari, a lawyer at Perkins Coie who has worked with technology firms on surveillance matters, and Jonathan Mayer, a computer scientist and lawyer at Stanford University.
“The report is suggestive, but hardly conclusive,” Mayer told Motherboard. “Much more telling, in my view, is that law enforcement and intelligence officials remain unable to provide episodes where encryption frustrated an investigation.”
James Fallows continues his series of columns on the Obama speech in Charleston.