Archive for the ‘surveillance’ tag
Too much data, indiscriminately accumulated, is just as much a problem as too little intelligence data, if not worse. Remember when we were America, land of the Free?
It has been demonstrated that when officials must establish before a court that they have reason to intercept communications — that is, that they know what they are doing — we get better intelligence than through indiscriminate collection and fishing expeditions.
The failure of the U.S. Government to detect the fairly glaring Northwest Airlines Christmas plot — despite years and years of constant expansions of Surveillance State powers — illustrates this dynamic perfectly. As President Obama said [Janurary 5th, 2010], the Government — just as was true for 9/11 — had gathered more than enough information to have detected this plot, or at least to have kept Abdulmutallab off airplanes and out of the country. Yet our intelligence agencies — just as was true for 9/11 — failed to understand what they had in their possession. Why is that? Because they had too much to process, including too much data wholly unrelated to Terrorism. In other words, our panic-driven need to vest the Government with more and more surveillance power every time we get scared again by Terrorists — in the name of keeping us safe — has exactly the opposite effect. Numerous pieces of evidence prove that.
Today in The Washington Post, that paper’s CIA spokesman, David Ignatius, explains that Abdulmutallab never made it onto a no-fly list because there are simply too many reports of suspicious individuals being submitted on a daily basis, which causes the system to be “clogged” — overloaded — with information having nothing to do with Terrorism. As a result, actually relevant information ends up obscured or ignored. Identically, Newsweek’s Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball report that U.S. intelligence agencies intercept, gather and store so many emails, recorded telephone calls, and other communications that it’s simply impossible to sort through or understand what they have, quite possibly causing them to have missed crucial evidence in their possession about both the Fort Hood and Abdulmutallab plots:
This deluge of Internet traffic — involving e-mailers whose true identity often is not apparent — is one indication of the volume of raw intelligence U.S. spy agencies have had to sort through as they have tried to assess Awlaki’s influence in the West and elsewhere, said the officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information. The large volume of messages also may help to explain how agencies can become so overwhelmed with data that sometimes it is difficult, if not impossible, to connect potentially important dots.
Newsweek adds that intelligence agencies likely possessed emails between accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — as well as recorded telephone calls between al-Awlaki and Abdulmutallab — but simply failed to analyze or understand what they had intercepted.
[Click to continue reading Glenn Greenwald - Backfiring of the Surveillance State : Salon.com]
Pretty pathetic. And the solution is simple: start being much more targeted with information collection so there is less noise and more actionable signal. Allowing 8 year old kids like Mike Hicks to remain on the No-Fly List for seven years is just idiotic
Mikey, who would rather talk about BMX bikes and his athletic trophies than airport security, remains perplexed about the “list” and the hurdles he must clear. “Why do they think a kid is a terrorist?” Mikey asked his mother at one point during the interview.
Mrs. Hicks said the family was amused by the mistake at first. But that amusement quickly turned to annoyance and anger. It should not take seven years to correct the problem, Mrs. Hicks said. She applied for redress in December when she first heard about the Department of Homeland Security’s program.
“I understand the need for security,” she added. “But this is ridiculous. It’s quite clear that he is 8 years old, and while he may have terroristic tendencies at home, he does not have those on a plane.”
[Click to continue reading Mikey Hicks, 8, Can’t Get Off U.S. Terror Watch List - NYTimes.com]
and he’s not alone
For every person on the lists, hundreds of others may get caught up simply because they share the same name; a quick scan through a national phone directory unearthed 1,600 Michael Hickses. Over the past three years, 81,793 frustrated travelers have formally asked that they be struck from the watch list through the Department of Homeland Security; more than 25,000 of their cases are still pending. Others have taken more drastic measures. Mario Labbé, a frequent-flying Canadian record-company executive, started having problems at airports shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, with lengthy delays at checkpoints and mysterious questions about Japan. By 2005, he stopped flying to the United States from Canada, instead meeting American clients in France. Then a forced rerouting to Miami in 2008 led to six hours of questions.
“What’s the name of your mother? Your father? When were you last in Japan?” Mr. Labbé recalled being asked. “Always the same questions in different order. And sometimes, it’s quite aggressive, not funny at all.” Fed up, in the summer of 2008, he changed his name to François Mario Labbé. The problem vanished.
Boy, that makes me feel so much safer – just change your name, and voila, no problems!
The mind-set doesn’t appear to be ending soon, if Massachusetts Police policy is any indication:
A report from the New England Center For Investigative Reporting has chronicled a pattern of what civil liberties advocates say is a misuse of police powers: Massachusetts police are using the state’s stringent surveillance laws to arrest and charge people who record police activities in public.
It’s a situation that is pitting new technologies against police powers. With recording equipment now embedded into cellphones and other common technologies, recording police activities has never been easier, and has resulted in numerous cases of police misconduct being brought to light. And that, rights advocates argue, is precisely what the police are trying to prevent.
In October, 2007, Boston lawyer Simon Glick witnessed what he said was excessive use of police force during the arrest of a juvenile. When he pulled out his cellphone to record the incident, he was arrested and charged with “illegal electronic surveillance.”
In December, 2008, Jon Surmacz, a webmaster at Boston University, was attending a party that was brok
[Click to continue reading Massachusetts cops can arrest you for making them famous | Raw Story]
Even the Chicago Transit Authority is getting into the action
The Chicago Transit Authority is so “committed to safety,” that it is urging commuters to report people committing “excessive photography/filming.”
The sign posted inside the train stations places photographers on the same level as, say, a non-CTA employee walking the tracks or an unattended package or “noxious smells or smoke.”
In other words, it accuses photographers of being possible terrorists or just suicidal maniacs.
The problem is that these signs not only encourage commuters to dial 911 when seeing someone taking photos, which will tie up real emergencies, it contradicts the CTA’s own policy on photography and videography within train stations.
[Click to continue reading Chicago Transit Authority urges commuters to report photographers | Photography is Not a Crime]
More data, more clutter in the system for intelligence to sort out, or the already overloaded judicial system, and for what reason? We need a change in direction, and soon.
Either Rupert Murdoch is too close a friend of most US media conglomerate CEOs, or else they are scared of incurring Murdoch’s wrath. What other explanation for the lack of coverage of the juicy Guardian UK scoop regarding Murdoch illegality?
But so far the Guardian, which last Wednesday broke the news of how two newspapers belonging to Rupert Murdoch illegally hacked into the mobile phone accounts of “two or three thousand” people, as well as “gaining unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemized phone bills [belonging to] Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars” has the story pretty much to itself.
On the surface this is surprising. Here, after all, is a story that combines boldface names like Gwyneth Paltrow, Elle MacPherson, Nigella Lawson and George Michael with the official spokesman of the Conservative Party (Andy Coulson, media strategist for Tory leader David Cameron, was editor of the News of the World when the paper allegedly paid private investigators for access to the celebrities’ accounts) and Rupert Murdoch, the world’s most powerful media baron. The BBC put the story at the top of its world news lineup, and followed up the next day with a story about how some of famous targets were contemplating lawsuits. So why has the Guardian’s incredible scoop turned out to be a 2 day wonder?
[Click to continue reading The Dog That Didn't Bark]
Quite curious, no?
Rupert Murdoch’s News Group News papers has paid out more than £1m to settle legal cases that threatened to reveal evidence of his journalists’ repeated involvement in the use of criminal methods to get stories.
The payments secured secrecy over out-of-court settlements in three cases that threatened to expose evidence of Murdoch journalists using private investigators who illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures as well as gaining unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills. Cabinet ministers, MPs, actors and sports stars were all targets of the private investigators.
Today, the Guardian reveals details of the suppressed evidence, which may open the door to hundreds more legal actions by victims of News Group, the Murdoch company that publishes the News of the World and the Sun, as well as provoking police inquiries into reporters who were involved and the senior executives responsible for them.
[Click to continue reading Murdoch papers paid out £1m to gag phone-hacking victims | Media |The Guardian]
When the high court last summer ordered the News of the World to pay damages to Max Mosley for secretly filming him with prostitutes, the paper was furious. In an angry leader column, it insisted that public figures must maintain standards. “It is not for the powerful and the influential to run to the courts to gag newspapers from publishing stories that are TRUE,” it said. “This is all about the public’s right to know.”
Even as those words were being published, lawyers and senior executives from News International’s subsidiary News Group were preparing to run to court to gag Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, who was suing the News of the World for its undisclosed involvement in the illegal interception of messages left on his mobile phone.
By persuading the high court to seal the file and by paying Taylor more than £400,000 damages in exchange for his silence, News Group prevented the public from knowing anything about the hundreds of pages of evidence which had been disclosed in Taylor’s case, revealing potentially criminal behaviour by journalists on its payroll. It also protected some powerful and influential people from the implications of that evidence.
[Click to continue reading Trail of hacking and deceit under nose of Tory PR chief guardian.co.uk ]
Scotland Yard disclosed only a limited amount of its evidence to Taylor. The Guardian understands that the full police file shows that several thousand public figures were targeted by investigators, including, during one month in 2006: John Prescott, then deputy prime minister; Tessa Jowell, then responsible for the media as secretary of state for culture; Boris Johnson, then the Conservative spokesman on higher education; Gwyneth Paltrow, after she had given birth to her son; George Michael, who had been seen looking tired at the wheel of his car; and Jade Goody.
When Goodman, the News of the World’s royal editor, was jailed for hacking into the mobile phones of Palace staff, News International said he had been acting without their knowledge. One of the investigators working for the paper, Glenn Mulcaire, was also charged with hacking the phones of the Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes, celebrity PR Max Clifford, model Elle MacPherson and football agent Sky Andrew as well as Taylor. At the time, the News of the World claimed to know nothing about the hacking of these targets, but Taylor has now proved that to be untrue in his case. Others who are believed to have been possible targets include the Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan, who has previously accused the News of the World of bugging his car; Jeffrey Archer, whose perjury was exposed by the paper; and Sven-Göran Eriksson, whose sex life became a tabloid obsession.
A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama, Canadian researchers have concluded.
In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved.
The researchers, who are based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China regularly denounces, to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, or malware.
Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.
The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, and other parties use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information.
[Click to read more of Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries - NYTimes.com]
Amusing that this front page article doesn’t once mention the operating system the target computers ran. Did Microsoft agree to purchase full page advertisements in the Sunday New York Times for the next ten years in order to keep Windows and Outlook from being mentioned in the story? Why do governments use Windows in sensitive networks anyway? Even if they didn’t use Macs, perhaps they could use Linux machines instead.
Kim Zetter of Wired adds:
Infected computers include the ministries of foreign affairs of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, and the Philippines and embassies of India, South Korea, Germany, Pakistan and Taiwan. Thirty percent of the infected computers could be considered “high-value” diplomatic, political, economic and military targets, the researchers say.
The largest number of infected computers in a single country were in Taiwan (148), followed by Vietnam (130) and the U.S. (113). Seventy-nine computers were infected at the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA). One computer at Deloite & Touche in New York was among those infected in the U.S.
The earliest infection the researchers found occurred May 22, 2007; the most recent infection at the time they wrote their report was March 12, 2009. Each computer was infected for various amounts of days, with the average being about 145 days. There were significant spikes in the number of systems infected in December 2007 (113 of 320 infections in December occurred at TAITRA in Taiwan) and August 2008.
The researchers found the network after examining computers at the Dalai Lama’s office and found that the system had gained control of mail servers for the Dalai Lama’s offices, allowing the spies to intercept all correspondence.
The computers were infected either after workers clicked on an e-mail attachment containing malware or clicked on a URL that took them to a rogue web site where the malware downloaded to their computer. The spy network continues to infect about a dozen new computers in various places each week, according to the researchers, who are based at the University of Toronto’s Munk Center for International Studies.
The malware includes a feature for turning on the web camera and microphone on a computer in order to secretly record conversation and activity in a room.
They write that e-mails that OHHDL workers received that contained the infected attachments appeared to come from Tibetan co-workers. In some cases, monks received infected e-mails that appeared to come from other monks. The attackers seemed to target their infected correspondence at key people in the OHHDL office, including network administrators. In this way, the attackers likely gained login credentials for the mail server. Once they had control of the mail server, they were able to infect more computers by intercepting legitimate e-mail in transit and replace clean attachments with infected .doc and .pdf attachments that installed rootkits on the recipient’s computer that gave the attacker full control over the computer.
One monk reported that he was looking at his screen when his Outlook Express program launched on its own and began sending out e-mails with infected attachments.
[Click to continue reading Electronic Spy Network Focused on Dalai Lama and Embassies | Threat Level from Wired.com]
Fascinating stuff. China is very serious about keeping Tibet under their thumb.Footnotes:
- unfortunately, to download the document as a PDF, you have to give up an email account, and other personal data [↩]
My paranoid self wonders if this is why the TSA always opens my suitcase every time I travel, and why I used to always get marked for special searches of my person and luggage (up until recently). Maybe, maybe not, but of course, I’ll never know.
NSA whistleblower Russell Tice was back on Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC program Thursday evening to expand on his Wednesday revelations that the National Security Agency spied on individual U.S. journalists, entire U.S. news agencies as well as “tens of thousands” of other Americans.
Tice said on Wednesday that the NSA had vacuumed in all domestic communications of Americans, including, faxes, phone calls and network traffic.
Today Tice said that the spy agency also combined information from phone wiretaps with data that was mined from credit card and other financial records. He said information of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens is now in digital databases warehoused at the NSA.
“This [information] could sit there for ten years and then potentially it marries up with something else and ten years from now they get put on a no-fly list and they, of course, won’t have a clue why,” Tice said.
In most cases, the person would have no discernible link to terrorist organizations that would justify the initial data mining or their inclusion in the database.
The NSA started large – accumulating as much information from as wide a source as they could get. Theoretically, once their database was seeded, they culled out non-terrorists, but I’m skeptical. The data is still being held, waiting for some future reason to utilize it.
“This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream-up scenarios that might be information that is associated with how a terrorist could operate,” Tice said. “And once that information gets to the NSA, and they start to put it through the filters there . . . and they start looking for word-recognition, if someone just talked about the daily news and mentioned something about the Middle East they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says ‘potential terrorist’.”
Scary stuff. Scary fracking stuff indeed.
Using data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the ACLU has determined that nearly 2/3 of the entire US population (197.4 million people) live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.
The government is assuming extraordinary powers to stop and search individuals within this zone. This is not just about the border: This ” Constitution-Free Zone” includes most of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.
We urge you to call on Congress to hold hearings on and pass legislation to end these egregious violations of Americans’ civil rights.
The ACLU has compiled a FAQ which begins:
- Normally under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American people are not generally subject to random and arbitrary stops and searches.
- The border, however, has always been an exception. There, the longstanding view is that the normal rules do not apply. For example the authorities do not need a warrant or probable cause to conduct a “routine search.”
- But what is “the border”? According to the government, it is a 100-mile wide strip that wraps around the “external boundary” of the United States.
- As a result of this claimed authority, individuals who are far away from the border, American citizens traveling from one place in America to another, are being stopped and harassed in ways that our Constitution does not permit.
- Border Patrol has been setting up checkpoints inland — on highways in states such as California, Texas and Arizona, and at ferry terminals in Washington State. Typically, the agents ask drivers and passengers about their citizenship. Unfortunately, our courts so far have permitted these kinds of checkpoints – legally speaking, they are “administrative” stops that are permitted only for the specific purpose of protecting the nation’s borders. They cannot become general drug-search or other law enforcement efforts.
- However, these stops by Border Patrol agents are not remaining confined to that border security purpose. On the roads of California and elsewhere in the nation – places far removed from the actual border – agents are stopping, interrogating, and searching Americans on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.
- The bottom line is that the extraordinary authorities that the government possesses at the border are spilling into regular American streets.
The ACLU has also written a bit about the technology innovations which are enabling this massive and un-American database project.
Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post wrote recently:
The U.S. government has quietly recast policies that affect the way information is gathered from U.S. citizens and others crossing the border and what is done with it, including relaxing a two-decade-old policy that placed a high bar on federal agents copying travelers’ personal material, according to newly released documents.
The policy changes, civil liberties advocates say, also raise concerns about the guidelines under which border officers may share data copied from laptop computers and cellphones with other agencies and the types of questions they are allowed to ask American citizens.
In July, the Department of Homeland Security disclosed policies that showed that federal agents may copy books, documents, and the data on laptops and other electronic devices without suspecting a traveler of wrongdoing. But what DHS did not disclose was that since 1986 and until last year, the government generally required a higher standard: Federal agents needed probable cause that a law was being broken before they could copy material a traveler was bringing into the country.
and added this in an earlier article on the same topic:
The notice states that the government may share border records with federal, state, local, tribal or foreign government agencies in cases where customs believes the information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws or regulations, or if the information is relevant to a hiring decision.
They may be shared with a court or attorney in civil litigation, which could include divorce cases; with federal contractors or consultants “to accomplish an agency function related to this system of records”; with federal and foreign intelligence or counterterrorism agencies if there is a threat to national or international security or to assist in anti-terrorism efforts; or with the news media and the public “when there exists a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of the information.”
Homeland Security is proposing to exempt the database from some provisions of the 1974 Privacy Act, including the right of a citizen to know whether a law enforcement or intelligence agency has requested his or her records and the right to sue for access and correction in those disclosures.
A traveler may, however, request access to records based on documents he or she presented at the border.
The notice is posted at the Government Printing Office‘s Web site.
Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times wrote of one such occurrence in 2007:
Layla Iranshad, 27, was headed to her job at Peninsula College. She says the agent asked her if she was a U.S. citizen (yes, she answered), then asked where she was born.
“I said in England. Then he asked how I got my citizenship. He also wanted to know where I lived and where I was going.
“It freaked me out. Since when in this country do we get stopped on the street and questioned about our citizenship?”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last week it will stop drivers at a series of random checkpoints on the Olympic Peninsula in the coming months.
“The primary purpose of the temporary checkpoints is to support enhanced national-security efforts to deter, detect and prevent the threat of terrorist attacks against the American people,” says a statement from the Border Patrol.
The agency, which guards the international boundary, can set up “interior checkpoints” up to 100 miles from any border. The checkpoints have been used before near the Blaine crossing, but never on the Olympic Peninsula.
Forks is 30 miles from the border, which lies in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By these rules, the agency could set up a checkpoint in downtown Seattle, which is 70 miles from the border off Port Angeles.
Remind me again what country we live in? I’m writing my Senators1 and my Congress-critter about this crazy, totalitarian, government insanity. How about you?Footnotes:
- one of whom should become President, and one of whom probably will become President [↩]
Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email account was apparently hacked by the Anonymous gang of internet pranksters. Glenn Greenwald is amused that the Rethuglicans suddenly care about privacy.
Still, it’s really a wondrous, and repugnant, sight to behold the Bush-following lynch mobs on the Right melodramatically defend the Virtues of Privacy and the Rule of Law. These, of course, are the same authoritarians who have cheered on every last expansion of the Lawless Surveillance State of the last eight years — put their fists in the air with glee as the Federal Government seized the power to listen to innocent Americans’ telephone calls; read our emails; obtain our banking, credit card, and library records; and create vast data bases of every call we make and receive and every prescription we fill and every instance of travel andother vast categories of information that remain largely unknown — all without warrants or oversight of any kind and often in clear violation of the law.
The same political faction which today is prancing around in full-throated fits of melodramatic hysteria and Victim mode (their absolute favorite state of being) over the sanctity of Sarah Palin’s privacy are the same ones who scoffed with indifference as it was revealed during the Bush era that the FBI systematically abused its Patriot Act powers togather and store private information on thousands of innocent Americans; that Homeland Security officials illegally infiltrated and monitored peaceful, law-abiding left-wing groups devoted to peace activism, civil liberties and other political agendas disliked by the state; and that the telephone calls of journalists and lawyers have been illegally and repeatedly monitored.
And the same Surveillance State Worshipper leading today’s screeching –Michelle Malkin — spent the last several years deriding those who objected to the President’s illegal spying program as “privacy crusaders” and “constitutional absolutists” and “civil liberties absolutists”
Shouldn’t these same people be standing up today and insisting that if Sarah Palin has done nothing wrong, then she should have nothing to hide? If Sarah Palin isn’t committing crimes or consorting with The Terrorists, then why would she care if we can monitor her emails? And if private companies such as Yahoo can access her emails — as they can — then she doesn’t really have any “privacy” anyway, so what’s the big deal if others read through her communications, too? Isn’t that the authoritarian idiocy that has been spewed since The Day That 9/11 Changed Everything — beginning with the Constitution — to justify vesting secret and unchecked surveillance powers in our Great and Good Leaders?
[Click to read more of this great rant: What does Sarah Palin have to hide in her Yahoo e-mails? - Glenn Greenwald - Salon.com]
Surprising nobody, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff mouthed statements that could be considered misleading in polite company, or out and out lies here in the Big Potato. Senator Russ Feingold calls Chertoff on Chertoff’s bs.
[Pip investigates a laptop]
Secretary Chertoff’s description of the newly published DHS policy on laptop searches was not just misleading – it was flat-out wrong. In an interview with Wired.com, the Secretary stated that “[w]e only do [laptop searches] when we put you into secondary [screening] and we only put you into secondary [screening] … when there is a reason to suspect something.”
But the actual policy that DHS published says the exact opposite. It does not even mention secondary screening, let alone limit laptop searches to those cases, and it expressly states that Americans’ laptops may be searched “absent individualized suspicion.”
Secretary Chertoff’s blatant mischaracterization of the DHS policy contradicts his claim to be engaging in greater “openness and transparency” on this important issue. His statements make it clearer than ever that as we work to protect our national security, Congress must also act to protect law-abiding Americans against highly intrusive searches.
I’m glad Senator Feingold didn’t run for President – he wouldn’t have won, and instead he can concentrate on doing good in the Senate.
bonus, and totally unrelated, except in a vague sort of totalitarian way:
How to properly pronounce the Chinese capital, Beijing.
Senior lawmakers are launching an investigation into potential privacy problems stemming from companies that tailor Internet advertising to consumers’ Web surfing.
Four top Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to 33 companies asking detailed questions about how they serve Web ads to customers and whether they collect or store data on people’s Internet searches.
The letters went to large companies such as Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. as well as smaller companies such EarthLink Inc.
The letters were signed by John Dingell (D., Mich.), Joe Barton (R., Texas), Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Cliff Stearns (R., Fla.).
Two Republicans, two Democrats. Hmm, apparently non-partisanship can occur, if need be.
Tim Shorrock writes in Salon:
The last several years have brought a parade of dark revelations about the George W. Bush administration, from the manipulation of intelligence to torture to extrajudicial spying inside the United States. But there are growing indications that these known abuses of power may only be the tip of the iceberg. Now, in the twilight of the Bush presidency, a movement is stirring in Washington for a sweeping new inquiry into White House malfeasance that would be modeled after the famous Church Committee congressional investigation of the 1970s.
While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.
Salon has also uncovered further indications of far-reaching and possibly illegal surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency inside the United States under President Bush. That includes the alleged use of a top-secret, sophisticated database system for monitoring people considered to be a threat to national security. It also includes signs of the NSA’s working closely with other U.S. government agencies to track financial transactions domestically as well as globally.
The proposal for a Church Committee-style investigation emerged from talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress, according to sources involved. (Pelosi’s and Conyers’ offices both declined to comment.) Looking forward to 2009, when both Congress and the White House may well be controlled by Democrats, the idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror to undermine the Constitution and U.S. and international laws. The goal would be to implement government reforms aimed at preventing future abuses — and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials.
“If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal and has been involved in several high-profile congressional investigations.
“You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.”
[Click to read more of Salon.com News | Exposing Bush's historic abuse of power]
Troubling, frightening, disturbing, pick your adjective. There is apparently a database called Main Core which contains the names of over 8,000,000 American citizens who are considered to be persons of interest to the state, and who would be imprisoned, or worse, if a national emergency occurred.
A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration’s alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores — without warrants or court orders — the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.
According to several former U.S. government officials with extensive knowledge of intelligence operations, Main Core in its current incarnation apparently contains a vast amount of personal data on Americans, including NSA intercepts of bank and credit card transactions and the results of surveillance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. One former intelligence official described Main Core as “an emergency internal security database system” designed for use by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law. Its name, he says, is derived from the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”
An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”
For some reason, this bothers me1 .
The U.S. spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year hiring pilots, mechanics, and military and police trainers to combat the drug trade in South American countries, as well as Afghanistan and other Central Asian states. Lockheed Martin Corp. also supports peacekeeping forces in Darfur.
Last year, the Defense Department tapped Northrop as one of five to lead a five-year contract focused on fighting terrorism and the drug trade. The contract could be worth as much as $15 billion if fully funded, but the work, under the Counter Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office, will be assigned through small contracts depending on the government’s needs. Others given a shot at competing for the work include Blackwater, Raytheon Co., Lockheed and Arinc Inc.
“The military is not enamored of these other missions,” said Brian Jenkins, a senior adviser at Rand Corp. and former Army Special Forces officer.
The Pentagon has awarded Northrop Grumman Corp. seven smaller contracts as part of the larger counterdrug contract, but details are classified. Northrop spokesman Randy Belote said the company is making greater inroads into that line of business as such efforts become more high-tech. “It’s moving more into the electronic surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance realm, so it’s perfectly aligned with our business,” he said.
Why are we outsourcing electronic surveillance to the Northrop Grummans of the world? Why are we spending $15,000,000,000 with minimal oversight on drug wars in third world countries? Doesn’t seem like a good use of limited tax resources.Footnotes:
Reposted from my old blog: I haven’t heard back from Senator Durbin regarding my most recent anti-telecom immunity email. If I do, I’ll be sure to note any interesting language. I wonder if Obama has asked Durbin to dial down his opposition?
Senator Richard Durbin (or more precisely, his staff’s email-bot) just emailed me an interesting response to my inquiry re: the criminal Telecom Immunity bill which I’ve been yammering about for a while.
Here it is, in its entirety (with a few paragraph breaks added for readability. Senator Durbin’s staff took the text-only email dictum a bit too far)
Subject: Message From Senator Durbin
Date: Thu, 1 Nov 2007 14:26:50 -0400
November 1, 2007
Mr. Seth Anderson
Dear Mr. Anderson:
Thank you for your message regarding the surveillance of American citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA). I appreciate hearing from you on this important issue and share your concerns. Protecting both the security and the freedom of the American people is among my highest priorities. I share an obligation with my fellow senators to ensure that the federal government protects and defends the people of the United States while preserving the civil liberties that have helped make the United States the greatest and most enduring democracy in the world. President Bush has stated that he authorized the NSA to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance of communications made by American citizens living within the United States.
At the time of the President’s authorization, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) required the government to seek a warrant from a special court in order to conduct electronic surveillance of communications between American citizens and anyone outside the country. The NSA did not obtain approval from the FISA court or from any other court before initiating its domestic surveillance program. For most of its existence, the NSA’s program has operated without meaningful oversight. Few members of Congress were briefed about the program until its existence was revealed by the media, and those members were sworn to secrecy. The majority of the members of Congress still have not been fully briefed about the program’s operational details.
The Administration has also shut down its own Department of Justice internal investigation into the NSA’s program. In essence, the Administration has attempted to operate this program without any supervision or oversight. The lack of a mechanism for correcting potential abuses in the program undermines our Constitutional system of checks and balances and raises serious concerns about the possibility of excessive intrusion. In addition to the disclosure of the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program, it has been alleged that the NSA has undertaken a massive effort to gather the telephone records of tens of millions of innocent Americans into a searchable database. Again, this program has been conducted without court approval or Congressional oversight.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued subpoenas to the Justice Department, the White House, the Office of the Vice President, and the National Security Council for documents relating to the legal justification for the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program. Although Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chairman of the committee, has extended the deadline for subpoena compliance on two separate occasions, the Administration has failed to comply. Congress has tried to work with Administration officials to update FISA in light of technological advances in communications. Too often, however, the Administration has taken advantage of the program’s secrecy in its negotiations with Congress. In Augst 2007, the Administration proposed a bill to amend FISA. I believe the bill provided too much opportunity for excessive intrusion and potential abuse by the NSA and other intelligence officials. I voted against the measure, as did Chairman Leahy and the Intelligence Committee Chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.
Nonetheless, Congress passed the bill and the President signed it into law. Fortunately, the law will expire six months after the date it was signed. When the President and his Administration order actions such as the surveillance of American citizens, these actions must be conducted in a manner consistent with the rule of law and the Constitution’s commitment to civil liberties. I am deeply concerned about the manner in which the Executive Branch has initiated and conducted the NSA surveillance programs. I will continue to work to ensure that government surveillance of American citizens is conducted in a manner consistent with the Constitution, the rule of law, and our security needs.
Thank you again for sharing your views on this issue with me.
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator RJD/tf
P.S. If you are ever visiting Washington, please feel free to join Senator Obama and me at our weekly constituent coffee. When the Senate is in session, we provide coffee and donuts every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. as we hear what is on the minds of Illinoisans and respond to your questions. We would welcome your participation. Please call my D.C. office for more details.
Feingold and Dodd are doing the nations work here, the FISA bill is a travesty. Durbin will probably come on board, he’s reliably rational, and liberal, but Obama might vote “present” only, not willing to stand up for the constitution.
In a last-ditch attempt to fix a surveillance bill critics say would essentially legalize President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) have promised to filibuster the bill as long as it offers telecommunications companies retroactive immunity.
“This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans,” the senators said in a joint statement Tuesday.
“If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immu
You can read (or watch video) of Dodd’s impassioned remarks at his Senate web site
Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post online adds:
A senior Democratic statesman took to the Senate floor yesterday and delivered a jeremiad against President Bush and his lawlessness the likes of which I’m not sure we’ve ever heard there before.
What set off Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) was the warrantless surveillance bill sent over from the House this week and seemingly assured of passage in the Senate. The bill significantly broadens Bush’s spying powers and essentially guarantees civil-lawsuit immunity for the telecommunications companies that cooperated in earlier surveillance efforts.
But to Dodd, it’s just the latest indignity from a president who has come to expect a corrupted political system to jettison the rule of law on his say-so.
“Retroactive immunity is on the table today; but also at issue is the entire ideology that justifies it, the same ideology that defends torture and executive lawlessness,” Dodd said.
I can’t believe this stupid bill has gotten as far as it has. Whatever happened to rule of law?
McCain flip-flops on whether civil liberties are important. Now he’s against them, just like his mentor, George Bush.
If elected president, Senator John McCain would reserve the right to run his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans, based on the theory that the president’s wartime powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight, according to a statement released by his campaign Monday.
McCain’s new tack towards the Bush administration’s theory of executive power comes some 10 days after a McCain surrogate stated, incorrectly it seems, that the senator wanted hearings into telecom companies’ cooperation with President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, before he’d support giving those companies retroactive legal immunity.
As first reported by Threat Level, Chuck Fish, a full-time lawyer for the McCain campaign, also said McCain wanted stricter rules on how the nation’s telecoms work with U.S. spy agencies, and expected those companies to apologize for any lawbreaking before winning amnesty.
But Monday, McCain adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin, speaking for the campaign, disavowed those statements, and for the first time cast McCain’s views on warrantless wiretapping as identical to Bush’s.
[N]either the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001. [...]
We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.
The Article II citation is key, since it refers to President Bush’s longstanding arguments that the president has nearly unlimited powers during a time of war. The administration’s analysis went so far as to say the Fourth Amendment did not apply inside the United States in the fight against terrorism, in one legal opinion from 2001.
Constitution, begone, says McCain, if it was good enough for Stalin, it’s good enough for Republicans.
Bush’s buddies, the telecom giants, are still worried they might have to answer for their crimes.
From the Senate floor, Ted Kennedy just cut through all the crap:
“The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retro-active immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he’s willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies.”
Isn’t misleading Congress an impeachable offense? Just wondering.
From the Sunday NYT we read, and laughed:
The Spy Chief Speaks – New York Times:
After Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush ordered the National Security Agency to intercept communications between people in the United States and people abroad without a warrant. That is a violation of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA.
Now we know the law was broken thousands of times. In 100 or so cases, the unlawfully intercepted calls led agents to believe that the person in the United States was a bad actor (Mr. McConnell implied, sort of, that they were terrorists), and the government’s lawyers obtained a warrant. We are still looking for that loophole in the Fourth Amendment.
Mr. McConnell told The El Paso Times that it was necessary to rush through major changes to FISA before Congress went on vacation because warrants require pesky paperwork — 200 hours’ worth each.
Really? The government applied for 2,181 FISA warrants in 2006, which the blog Threat Level translated to 436,200 hours. Figuring a 40-hour workweek with two weeks off, that’s more than 218 top-secret-cleared officials doing nothing all year but writing out FISA applications.
Mr. McConnell said telephone companies turned over call data to the National Security Agency without a court order, which may be illegal. He revealed this while praising Congress for giving the telecoms immunity from lawsuits or criminal sanctions if they continue doing that. Now, he said, Congress should absolve the companies retroactively. That would be a nice twofer: protect a deep-pockets industry that may have broken the law, and cut off judicial scrutiny of Mr. Bush’s decision to ignore FISA in the first place.
Other parts of Mr. McConnell’s interview were bewildering, like his claim that debating wiretapping in Congress will cause American deaths. It was odd that he spoke at all about matters the intelligence community still considers classified. But there was a secret Mr. McConnell was determined to keep. He was asked why the White House bitterly fought reasonable Congressional proposals to give spies a bit more needed flexibility to use modern technology. Mr. McConnell said there was “untenable” language in the bills and lawmakers refused to fix it. The White House then stampeded Congress into passing a bill it wanted, one that shredded FISA.
What was the language? Sorry, that’s classified.