Later On

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

Posts Tagged ‘domestic surveillance

Greenwald: Reap what you sow

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Glenn Greenwald looks at the latest exposé of NSA surveillance of Americans. His column begins:

In The New York Times last night, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau — the reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize for informing the nation in 2005 that the NSA was illegally spying on Americans on the orders of George Bush, a revelation that produced no consequences other than the 2008 Democratic Congress’ legalizing most of those activities and retroactively protecting the wrongdoers — passed on leaked revelations of brand new NSA domestic spying abuses, ones enabled by the 2008 FISA law.  The article reports that the spying abuses are "significant and systemic"; involve improper interception of "significant amounts" of the emails and telephone calls of Americans, including purely domestic communications; and that, under Bush (prior to the new FISA law), the NSA tried to eavesdrop with no warrants on a member of Congress traveling to the Middle East.  The sources for the article report that "the problems had grown out of changes enacted by Congress last July in the law that regulates the government’s wiretapping powers."

In reacting to these leaks, I share Digby’s sentiments entirely:  "It was so inevitable that I can’t even find the energy to get worked up about it."  I also don’t want this news to distract from what ought to be the singular big story of the day — namely, whether Obama will release the 3 key Bush DOJ memos that legalized specific torture techniques (as Andrew Sullivan correctly says, a failure of full disclosure "will betray all [] who supported him to restore the rule of law").  Nonetheless, there are some critical facts that need to be highlighted in order to prevent distortion of the meaning of the Risen/Lichtblau article.

These widespread eavesdropping abuses enabled by the 2008 FISA bill — a bill passed with the support of Barack Obama along with the entire top Democratic leadership in the House, including Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, and substantial numbers of Democratic Senators — aren’t a bug in that bill, but rather, were one of the central features of it.  Everyone knew that the FISA bill which Congressional Democrats passed — and which George Bush and Dick Cheney celebrated — would enable these surveillance abuses.  That was the purpose of the law:  to gut the safeguards in place since the 1978 passage of FISA, destroy the crux of the oversight regime over executive surveillance of Americans, and enable and empower unchecked government spying activities.  This was not an unintended and unforeseeable consequence of that bill.  To the contrary, it was crystal clear that by gutting FISA’s safeguards, the Democratic Congress was making these abuses inevitable.

Opponents of this bill were warning that exactly these abuses would occur if the bill was passed.  Here’s how I summarized some of the opposition to the FISA bill on June 21, 2008 — just a couple of days before its passage: …

Continue reading. It’s definitely worth the click.

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2009 at 10:11 am

Gutting FISA did just what you’d expect

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In today’s NY Times, an article by Eric Lichtblau and James Risen:

The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.

The Justice Department, in response to inquiries from The New York Times, acknowledged Wednesday night that there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved.

As part of a periodic review of the agency’s activities, the department “detected issues that raised concerns,” it said. Justice Department officials then “took comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance” with the law and court orders, the statement said. It added that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. went to the national security court to seek a renewal of the surveillance program only after new safeguards were put in place…

Continue reading and you’ll come across things like this:

… The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court, said the intelligence officials, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because N.S.A. activities are classified. Classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts.

The Justice Department, in response to inquiries from The New York Times, acknowledged Wednesday night that there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved.

As part of a periodic review of the agency’s activities, the department “detected issues that raised concerns,” it said. Justice Department officials then “took comprehensive steps to correct the situation and bring the program into compliance” with the law and court orders, the statement said. It added that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. went to the national security court to seek a renewal of the surveillance program only after new safeguards were put in place…

Written by Leisureguy

16 April 2009 at 10:06 am

NSA’s spying on Americans

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More details emerge:

Last night on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” former analyst for the National Security Agency Russell Tice revealed that the NSA had “monitored all communications” of Americans and specifically targeted journalists:

TICE: The National Security Agency had access to all Americans’ communications — faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. And it didn’t matter whether you were in Kansas, in the middle of the country, and you never made any foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications. […] But an organization that was collected on were U.S. news organizations and reporters and journalists.

OLBERMANN: To what purpose? I mean, is there a file somewhere full of every e-mail sent by all the reporters at the “New York Times?” Is there a recording somewhere of every conversation I had with my little nephew in upstate New York? Is it like that?

TICE: If it was involved in this specific avenue of collection, it would be everything. Yes. It would be everything.

Tice, a major whistleblower who helped reveal President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program to the New York Times in 2005, also told Olbermann that the agency sought specifically “to be deceptive” to prevent congressional committees from learning more about the program, calling it “a shell game”:

TICE: The agency would tailor some of their briefings to try to be deceptive for — whether it be, you know, a congressional committee or someone they really didn’t want to know exactly what was going on. So there would be a lot of bells and whistles in a briefing, and quite often, you know, the meat of the briefing was deceptive.

Watch portions of the interview (full interview here):

In October, two other whistleblowers told ABC News that the NSA “routinely” listened in on Americans’ phone calls and agents would often share “salacious or tantalizing” intercepted calls with each other. All this despite Bush’s frequent protestations that his illegal wiretaping program was “limited,” that it targeted only “a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect,” and that he ensured “that our civil liberties of our citizens are treated with respect.”

To the end, Bush and Cheney defended the program. In his final days in office, Cheney declared that “it always aggravated” him that the NY Times won a Pulitzer for exposing his administration’s illegal spying program.

Update:  Olbermann will interview Tice again on his program tonight, airing on MSNBC at 8 pm EST. ThinkProgress is interested to know whether Tice ever experienced political interference while working for the agency. What questions do you have?

Written by Leisureguy

22 January 2009 at 12:33 pm

Lying about spying

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From Dan Froomkin today:

… I wrote in yesterday’s column about the ABC News report that first broke the story.

Here’s an excerpt from Brian Ross’s interview with Adrienne Kinne, one of the two linguists who went public.

Ross: “But the law’s very specific, and President Bush has reassured Americans again and again.”

Ross plays a clip from a 2006 Bush speech: “It’s a phone call of an al Qaeda, known al Qaeda suspect making a phone call into the United States.”

Kinne: “Well, I would say that that is completely a lie. I would call it a lie because we were definitely listening to Americans who had nothing to do with terrorism.”

Justin Rood writes for ABC News about the reaction from administration critics: “‘This outrageous episode is a reminder that government spying powers can be used to invade the most intimate thoughts of even the most trustworthy people,’ noted Lisa Graves of the Center for National Security Studies, and a former Justice Department official.

“‘Today’s report is an indictment not only of the Bush administration, but of all of those political leaders, Democratic and Republican, who have been saying that the executive branch can be trusted with surveillance powers that are essentially unchecked,’ charged Jameel Jaffer, director of the national security program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

“‘When they say trust us, we’re not listening in on Americans — this shows that they are,’ said Jennifer Granick of the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Her group is suing the federal government to stop warrantless eavesdropping programs and hold government officials accountable. ‘This should be of concern to everybody.'”

Supporters of warrantless wiretapping have argued that the public should trust government eavesdroppers to follow minimization rules. As Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: “Under so-called minimization rules, an eavesdropper who inadvertently picks up an American’s private call is required to cut off the monitoring immediately and not to transcribe or keep a recording of the call.”

Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post: “The chairman of the Senate intelligence committee is looking into allegations that a U.S. spy agency improperly eavesdropped on the phone calls of hundreds of Americans overseas, including aid workers and U.S. military personnel talking to their spouses at home.” [Don’t expect much from this: Sen Jay Rockefeller is a worthless waste of space—the Democratic version of Arlen Specter. – LG]

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon: “There is one reason and one reason only these abuses occurred: because George Bush broke the law — committed felonies — by ordering the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. . . .

“None of these revelations of abuse is even remotely surprising, and anyone who feigns surprise — in the administration, in Congress, in the media — is simply lying to conceal their own culpability. Since the Church Committee, we have known that the U.S. Government, no matter which party is in control, will inevitably abuse eavesdropping powers if those powers can be exercised in secret and without oversight. The temptation to abuse eavesdropping powers is too great to be resisted. That was why [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] was enacted — because judicial oversight is the only way to prevent that abuse. Abuse of this sort is inevitable when a Government is allowed to spy on its own citizens without checks and oversight.” …

Written by Leisureguy

10 October 2008 at 11:56 am

You can see the direction DHS is going

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Neighbor spying on neighbor, anonymous tips, midnight raids without warrants, and so on. They’ve taken another step in that direction:

Firefighters in major cities are being trained to take on a new role as lookouts for terrorism, raising concerns of eroding their standing as American icons and infringing on people’s privacy.

Unlike police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel don’t need warrants to access hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings each year, putting them in a position to spot behavior that could indicate terrorist activity or planning.

But there are fears that they could lose the faith of a skeptical public by becoming the eyes of the government, looking for suspicious items such as building blueprints or bomb-making manuals or materials.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans have given up some of their privacy rights in an effort to prevent future strikes. The government monitors phone calls and e-mails; people who fly have their belongings searched before boarding and are limited in what they can carry; and some people have trouble traveling because their names are similar to those on terrorist watch lists.

The American Civil Liberties Union says using firefighters to gather intelligence is another step in that direction. Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now national security policy counsel to the ACLU, said the concept is dangerously close to the Bush administration’s 2002 proposal to have workers with access to private homes — such as postal carriers and telephone repairmen — report suspicious behavior to the FBI.

“Americans universally abhorred that idea,” German said.

The Homeland Security Department is testing a program with the New York City fire department to share intelligence information so firefighters are better prepared when they respond to emergency calls. Homeland Security also trains the New York City fire service in how to identify material or behavior that may indicate terrorist activities. If it’s successful, the government intends to expand the program to other major metropolitan areas.

Let’s take a deep breath, and think about this. First, suppose you are a terrorist or terroristically inclined, and a fire breaks out in your apartment. Are you going to call the fire department? No, you’ll leave the building and let it burn down.

Suppose your hobby is photography and you have a darkroom with chemicals. Is that going to trigger a visit from the DHS police? What about if your hobby is chemistry and you have a little lab? Another police visit, where you have to justify your private activities because a firefighter was nervous?

And what if you have a very grouchy neighbor, who stays inside a lot? Report him? Or perhaps he reports you? (Remember, if you’re a suspect you can be imprisoned without charges and without access to lawyers for an indefinite period and tortured to a fare-thee-well—or sent to some other country under cover of night and kept there for torture. You better hope that no one ever suspects you.)

And God help you if you read or write a foreign language, especially one that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet. And if you have any materials around in Arabic, you might as well put out your hands for the cuffs.

To continue:

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Written by Leisureguy

27 November 2007 at 2:12 pm

The telecom amnesty

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More from Glenn Greenwald:

Leading telecom advocate Fred Hiatt this morning turned over his Washington Post Op-Ed page today to leading telecom advocate Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, to explain why it is so “unfair and unwise” to allow telecoms to be sued for breaking the law. Just as all Bush followers do when they want to “justify” lawbreaking, Rockefeller’s entire defense is principally based on one argument: 9/11, 9/11, 9/11. Thus he melodramatically begins:

In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, the Bush administration had a choice: Aggressively pursue potential terrorists using existing laws or devise new, secret intelligence programs in uncharted legal waters. . . . Within weeks of the 2001 attacks, communications companies received written requests and directives for assistance with intelligence activities authorized by the president. These companies were assured that their cooperation was not only legal but also necessary because of their unique technical capabilities. They were also told it was their patriotic duty to help protect the country after the devastating attacks on our homeland.

Using 9/11 to “justify” telecom amnesty is not only manipulative, but also completely misleading. Telecoms did not merely break the law in the intense days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks. Had they done only that, there would almost certainly be no issue. Indeed, the lead counsel in the AT&T case, Cindy Cohn, said in the podcast interview I conducted with her last week that had telecoms enabled illegal surveillance only in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks — but then thereafter demanded that the surveillance be conducted legally — EFF almost certainly would not have sued at all. But that isn’t what happened. Both the Bush administration and the telecoms jointly broke the law for years. Even as we moved further and further away from the 9/11 attacks, neither the administration nor the telecoms bothered to comply with the law. The administration was too interested in affirming the theory that the President could exercise power without limits, and the telecoms were too busy reaping the great profits from their increasingly close relationship with the Government.

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Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2007 at 12:55 pm

More on telecoms and illegal surveillance

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From The Anonymous Liberal:

Did the Senate Intelligence Committee Disclose Key Evidence of Telecom Illegality?

It sure looks like it. Empty Wheel highlights this important and largely overlooked passage from the Senate Intelligence Committee report that accompanied its proposed FISA bill:

The Committee can say, however, that beginning soon after September 11, 2001, the Executive branch provided written requests or directives to U.S. electronic communication service providers to obtain their assistance with communications intelligence activities that had been authorized by the President.

The Committee has reviewed all of the relevant correspondence. The letters were provided to electronic communication service providers at regular intervals. All of the letters stated that the activities had been authorized by the President. All of the letters also stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Attorney General, except for one letter that covered a period of less than sixty days. That letter, which like all the others stated that the activities had been authorized by the President, stated that the activities had been determined to be lawful by the Counsel to the President. [my emphasis].

In other words, one of the certifications provided to the telecoms (presumably the one issued during the period in 2004 when James Comey refused to sign off on the program) was signed not by the Attorney General, but by then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales.

Why does that matter? Well, as Empty Wheel explains, under the current law, 18 U.S.C. § 2511(2)(a)(ii), telecommunications providers are permitted to provide information and assistance to the government only if they are provided with:

(A) a court order directing such assistance signed by the authorizing judge, or

(B) a certification in writing by a person specified in section 2518 (7) of this title or the Attorney General of the United States that no warrant or court order is required by law, that all statutory requirements have been met, and that the specified assistance is required

And as you’ve probably already guessed, the White House Counsel is not one of the people specified in section 2518(7), which includes the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and various state law enforcement officials in the case of a state-related investigation.

Why couldn’t the Bush administration get the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, or the Associate Attorney General to sign the certification? Because they all thought the program was illegal and were prepared to resign over it. That’s why.

So, unable to get any of the proper people to re-certify the program, the Bush administration appears to have simply provided the telecoms with a facially defective certification. That means that for at least a period of 60 days, the telecoms were providing information to the government without a court order and without a valid certification. Those who have been following this issue closely have long suspected that this was the case, but the Senate Intelligence Committee has confirmed it in no uncertain terms (though nowhere in the report does the committee acknowledge the significance of this fact).

I doubt that the significance of this disclosure was lost on the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the various lawsuits, however. As I write this, they are undoubtedly discussing how best to utilize this new and valuable piece of evidence.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 2:44 pm

Telecom immunity: why it’s a bad idea

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13 October 2007 at 3:03 pm

Qwest CEO: the surveillance started before 9/11

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Interesting: according to the former Qwest CEO, who refused to participate, the illegal domestic surveillance started up months before 9/11. Now why exactly should we give the telecoms immunity from any crimes they committed? Because they have lots of money? The Washington Post:

 A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

Details about the alleged NSA program have been redacted from the documents, but Nacchio’s lawyer said last year that the NSA had approached the company about participating in a warrantless surveillance program to gather information about Americans’ phone records.

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13 October 2007 at 8:14 am

Protecting the telecoms at all costs

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Another great Greenwald piece, and another small extract (and again, the whole thing is definitely worth reading):

Here is what David Ignatius said two weeks ago when demanding that Congressional Democrats give the administration what it wants and stop questioning Mike McConnell:

People who try to occupy a middle ground in these debates find that it doesn’t exist. That reality confounded Gen. David Petraeus this month. . . . . Now the same meat grinder is devouring Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence. He’s a career military intelligence officer who ran the National Security Agency under President Bill Clinton. As near as I can tell, the only ax he has to grind is catching terrorists. But in the vortex of Washington politics, he has become a partisan figure. An article last week in The Hill newspaper, headlined “Democrats question credibility, consistency of DNI McConnell,” itemized his misstatements and supposed flip-flops as if he were running for office.

Absolutely. Why would anyone dare to suggest that our Director of National Intelligence is anything but pure in his motives and deserving of the blindest of faith in his statements? Just because he got caught manipulating and outright lying to Congress by agreeing with Joe Lieberman that the new FISA law was instrumental in disrupting a German terrorist plot, even though that was a complete fabrication, is hardly any reason to question this Good, Decent, Responsible, Serious Leader. And that is to say nothing of his hysterical and incomparably manipulative shrieking back in August that a Terrorist Attack was about to happen at the Capitol and Congress had better pass the FISA law they want or else blood would be on their hands. And then, more importantly still, there is the fact that McConnell has more extensive private sector connections than virtually anyone in the country to the very telecommunication companies for which he is now demanding amnesty, and he has spent the last decade working on behalf of the very companies who would be the prime beneficiaries of this extraordinary legislative gift. In a healthily functioning political system, McConnell would be disqualified from opining on an amnesty bill for companies to which he is so closely tied.

But to our Beltway opinion-makers, the opposite is true — McConnell is the Unimpeachable Source, and if he decrees that National Security requires Amnesty for his friends and colleagues in the telcom industry, then no decent or serious person will question that. Or else they will have Blood on Their Hands.

UPDATE III: I just learned that the FISA bill cooked up by Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s Senate Intelligence Committee does contain full retroactive amnesty for telecoms. Here is a list of all registered Verizon lobbyists, and here is a partial list of some of the lobbying firms working on behalf of AT&T. AT&T was the fifth largest contributor to Rockefeller’s last campaign, followed by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association in Sixth place, Bell South in Ninth Place, and Verizon was in the top 20.

It’s basically legalized bribery and influence peddling — they pour money into the campaign coffers of these Senators from both parties, pay former government officials such as Jamie Gorelick to help them, and then these Senators jump and pass laws providing that they will receive amnesty for serious felonies. And Joe Klein and David Ignatius are all for it.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2007 at 3:15 pm

The Bush Administration in action

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Via ThinkProgress:

Documents released in an insider trading trial yesterday reveal that “the National Security Agency and other government agencies retaliated against Qwest because the Denver telco refused to go along with a phone spying program.” In the documents, former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio is quoted as saying “the request was both inappropriate and illegal, and repeatedly refusing to go along with it.” Nacchio’s lawyer said the CEO “refused to turn over customer telephone records because he didn’t think the NSA program had legal standing.”

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11 October 2007 at 12:27 pm

Big Brother Is Watching YOU

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Especially if you travel. I have to say that the US is going through a very odd phase.

The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s effort to assess the security threat posed by all travelers entering the country. Officials say the records, which are analyzed by the department’s Automated Targeting System, help border officials distinguish potential terrorists from innocent people entering the country.

But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf.

The Automated Targeting System has been used to screen passengers since the mid-1990s, but the collection of data for it has been greatly expanded and automated since 2002, according to former DHS officials.

Officials yesterday defended the retention of highly personal data on travelers not involved in or linked to any violations of the law. But civil liberties advocates have alleged that the type of information preserved by the department raises alarms about the government’s ability to intrude into the lives of ordinary people. The millions of travelers whose records are kept by the government are generally unaware of what their records say, and the government has not created an effective mechanism for reviewing the data and correcting any errors, activists said.

The activists alleged that the data collection effort, as carried out now, violates the Privacy Act, which bars the gathering of data related to Americans’ exercise of their First Amendment rights, such as their choice of reading material or persons with whom to associate. They also expressed concern that such personal data could one day be used to impede their right to travel.

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Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2007 at 9:12 am

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