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TBR News August 24, 2013

Aug 23 2013

Controlling the News


Washington, D.C. August 23, 2013: “When I worked in the White House, during the Bush administration, I was known as the Voice of the White House. But I soon grew tired of the utter right wing loonies and the Jesus freaks that packed the offices so I resigned and went to work in the Washington media.


I had worked in the print media before but reentering the field was a revelation. Americans who think that we have a free press in this country are sadly in error.


We do not.


While small town papers with their stories about local marriages, loose cattle on Main Street and defective traffic lights are not of any interest to the Power Elite but the mainstream media content certainly is.


It is well known in the trade that the New York Times is “strongly influenced” by the desires of the CIA.


 If something occurs that the CIA does not like to talk about, the NY Times never talks about it or, if it does, gives it a small paragraph back in the truss ads.


If Americans want to read the actual news, I suggest the Guardian and, very often, RIA Novosti.


The former is loathed by the Obama people but has immense courage, and the business sense, to push the Snowden matter to the point where Obama leaves messes on the Oval Office floor.


He has no intention of stopping a massive and all-inclusive domestic surveillance program, which he fully supported, and still does.


The recent attack by the authorities on the Guardian’s computers was the result of many calls by the State Department to the British Prime Minister’s office.


And the controlled media cannot totally ignore such debasing stories as the Snowden papers but they always manage to point to something less interesting.


This is like a mother, trying to keep her children from looking at a squashed kitty on the highway by saying: “Oh, children, look over there at the pretty donkey! See him running around the field? My, isn’t he pretty?”


When Obama gets tired of news about Snowden, the press starts talking about bird flu or a cute kitty trapped in a tree in Buffalo Breath, Montana.


My advise to the reading public who are interested in accurate and valuable reporting to read the foreign press.


I especially recommend the Guardian.”

German Government warns of Dangers of Windows 8


Windows 8 is an unacceptable security risk for companies and authorities, experts warn the government. The so-called Trusted Computing is a back door for the NSA.


August 20, 2013

by Patrick Beuth

Zeit Online


How trustworthy is Microsoft? For the federal and all of the German authorities, businesses and private users who want to continue to work with the Windows operating system, this question is now more than ever because sooner or later they would have to use Windows 8 or its successor. From internal documents TIME ONLINE exist, but it is clear that the IT professionals of the federal Windows 8 deem downright dangerous.. The operating system contains a back door in their view, which can not be closed. This backdoor is called ‘Trusted Computing’ and has the effect that Microsoft can control any computer remotely and control. 

And thus the NSA.


Trusted computing is anything but a new phenomenon. Over the past decade, the technology is on the market, simply put, it’s about trying to protect the computer against manipulations by third parties, for example from viruses and trojans. The user is having to care about anything anymore. To achieve this, first, it needs a special chip that is called a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), and secondly a coordinating operating system. Together, they do not regulate, among other things, the user can install the software on a computer and which.. Exactly how it works and what features are part of the Trusted Computing else, is for example here and explained here .


             The way how the chip and the operating system work together is standardized.. The corresponding specification of the Trusted Computing Group set (TCG). The TCG was founded ten years ago by Microsoft, Intel, Cisco, AMD, Hewlett-Packard and Wave Systems – all U.S. companies.


The current TPM specification is soon replaced by a new one, it is just 2.0 TPM. What is common already in smartphones, tablets, and game consoles, is the combination of TPM 2.0 and Windows 8 on PCs and laptops becoming the norm: hardware and operating system are matched, and the manufacturer of the operating system determines installed the applications on a device may be and which are not.. In other words, trusted computing is a way, a digital rights management (DRM) to enforce.


Microsoft could thus theoretically determine that no word processing program other than Microsoft Word works on Windows 8, but it also has security implications, precisely because the user has no influence on what Microsoft is allowed and what is not.


Three points are decisive:           


First, the TPM in contrast to the current standard in the future is already activated when you first turn on the computer. Who takes care of the computer is in use, so can not decide whether he wants to use the trusted computing functions (opt-in).


Second, no subsequent future, complete disabling the TPM longer possible (opt-out)..


Third, the operating system takes over sovereignty over the TPM, in the case of a Windows computer that is ultimately Microsoft.


No later than 2015 will work with Windows 8.x according to the standard TPM 2.0 virtually every regular computer. What then Microsoft makes updates remotely through the system and thus the whole computer is not completely overlook for the user.


In summary, the user of a trusted computing system lose control of their computer. While this is to some extent the basic idea of trusted computing, explains how the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) here in great detail . The BIS recommends that governments, businesses and private users even if they use this technique to certain conditions met. These conditions include the options but the opt-in and opt-out – and the drop off in the future.


“Confidentiality and integrity is not guaranteed”


Instead, Microsoft could decide which programs can be installed on the computer, make already established programs unusable and subsequently help intelligence to control other computers. The competent professionals in the Federal Ministry of Economics, in the federal and the BSI as well as unequivocally warn against the use of trusted computing the new generation of German authorities.


Thus, according to an internal document from the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the beginning of 2012: “The loss of full sovereignty over information technology” are “the security objectives ‘confidentiality’ and ‘integrity’ is no longer guaranteed.” Elsewhere are phrases like: “Significant impact on the federal IT security can go with it.” The conclusion is therefore: “The use of ‘trusted Computing’ technique in this form … is unacceptable for the federal administration and the operators of critical infrastructure.”


From another document stating that Windows 8 and its successors were not used together with TPM 2.0 “already.”.


 Windows 7 immerhin könne “bis 2020 sicher betrieben werden”.Windows 7 after all, could “be safely operated until 2020.” Danach müssten Lösungen für die IT-Systeme der Bundesverwaltung gefunden werden. Then solutions to the IT systems of the federal administration would have to be found.

Und in einer Bewertung des BSI heißt es, “bedingungsloses, vollständiges Vertrauen” in das Trusted Computing nach Maßgaben von TPM 2.0 sei nicht möglich.

And in a review of the BSI states that “unconditional, complete confidence” in the Trusted Computing by stipulations of TPM 2.0 was not possible.

Die Dokumente belegen, dass die Bundesregierung und die Bundesverwaltung durchaus versucht haben, den künftigen Standard in ihrem Sinne zu beeinflussen.

The documents show that the federal government and the federal government have always tried to influence the future standard in their favor. Das ist in diesem jahrelangen Prozess auch üblich. This is also common in this years-long process. Die Deutschen sind allerdings schlicht abgeblitzt. The Germans, however, are simply rebuffed. Andere haben bekommen, was sie wollten. Others have got what they wanted. Die NSA zum Beispiel. The NSA, for example. Bei einem der letzten Treffen der TCG und anderer Interessensvertretern soll Teilnehmern zufolge der Satz gefallen sein: “Die NSA ist einverstanden.” At the last meeting of the TCG and other stakeholders, according to participants in the set should be like: “The NSA agrees.”

Nun ist der Geheimdienst offiziell auch für die IT-Sicherheit der US-Regierung zuständig, es ist also nicht überraschend, dass er sich einmischt.

Now the secret is officially responsible for the IT security of the U.S. government, so it is not surprising that he intervenes. Dennoch dürften solche Sätze die Vertreter der Bundesregierung alarmiert haben. Nevertheless, should such sentences Representatives of the federal government have alerted. Schließlich gehört Microsoft zu jenen Unternehmen, die neu entdeckte Sicherheitslücken in ihren Produkten zunächst der US-Regierung mitteilen und erst später der Öffentlichkeit. Finally, Microsoft is one of those companies that initially share newly discovered vulnerabilities in their products to the U.S. government and later to the public.

Hintertür für die NSA und die Chinesen

Back door for the NSA and the Chinese

Im Licht der Snowden-Enthüllungen braucht es dementsprechend wenig Fantasie, um TPM 2.0 und Windows 8 als eine Hintertür für die NSA anzusehen, die nur darauf wartet, geöffnet zu werden.

In light of the revelations Snowden accordingly it takes little imagination to see 8 TPM 2.0 and Windows as a back door for the NSA, just waiting to be opened. Rüdiger Weis, Professor an der Beuth Hochschule für Technik in Berlin, hält das für absolut möglich. Rüdiger Weis, a professor at the Beuth University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, a cryptography expert, has been studying  ‘trusted computing’ and provides  new specification with damning testimony: At least three levels of the new trusted computing systems are vulnerable, he says in an interview with TIME ONLINE. Man müsse davon ausgehen, dass die NSA die entsprechenden Rechner problemlos kompromittieren könnte – ebenso übrigens die Chinesen, wenn die TPM-Chips in China gefertigt würden. One must assume that the NSA could compromise the corresponding computers to move painlessly – equally incidentally the Chinese, if the TPM-chips would manufactured in China.

Microsoft verteidigt seinen Ansatz: Das TPM sei standardmäßig aktiviert, weil die meisten Nutzer nun einmal Voreinstellungen akzeptierten.

Microsoft defends his approach: the TPM is enabled by default, because most users now once accepted defaults. Müssten sie die Funktion erst selbst aktivieren, würde das dazu führen, dass viele ein weniger sicheres System nutzen würden. They only need to activate the function itself, which would mean that many would use a less secure system. Regierungsvorgaben, die diese Option vorsehen, seien unklug. Government regulations that provide this option, are now cosidered most unwise. Laut Microsoft könnten die Hardware-Hersteller zudem durchaus Windows-Geräte bauen, in denen das TPM deaktiviert ist. According to Microsoft, the hardware manufacturers could also definitely build Windows devices in which the TPM is disabled. Wer die volle Kontrolle über seinen Computer haben wolle, müsse eben ein solches Modell kaufen. Who wants to have full control of their computer, just had to buy such a model?

Falls die IT-Experten des Bundes keine solchen Geräte finden, die bezahlbar sind und auch sonst ihren Ansprüchen genügen, bleibt ihnen wohl nur der Weg, den zum Beispiel die Münchner Stadtverwaltung eingeschlagen hat.

If the IT professionals of the Covenant, no such devices that are affordable and otherwise meet your expectations, you will probably only the way that, for example, the Munich city administration has taken Auf deren Computern läuft ein Linux-Betriebssystem.on their computers, a Linux operating system. Die schrittweise Umstellung von Windows auf Linux begann vor zehn Jahren und soll Ende 2013 abgeschlossen sein. The gradual transition from Windows to Linux started ten years ago and should be completed in late 2013.


Update : Das BSI hat am 21. Update: The BSI has 21 August eine Stellungnahme veröffentlicht. August, a published opinion. Darin heißt es unter anderem: “Das BSI warnt weder die Öffentlichkeit, deutsche Unternehmen noch die Bundesverwaltung vor einem Einsatz von Windows 8. Das BSI sieht derzeit jedoch einige kritische Aspekte im Zusammenhang mit bestimmten Einsatzszenarien, in denen Windows 8 in Kombination mit einer Hardware betrieben wird, die über ein TPM 2.0 verfügt. Für bestimmte Nutzergruppen kann der Einsatz von Windows 8 in Kombination mit einem TPM durchaus einen Sicherheitsgewinn bedeuten. Hierzu gehören Anwender, die sich aus verschiedenen Gründen nicht um die Sicherheit ihrer Systeme kümmern können oder wollen, sondern dem Hersteller des Systems vertrauen, dass dieser eine sichere Lösung bereitstellt und pflegt.” Die vollständige Stellungnahme findet sich hier . It states in part: “The BSI warns neither the public nor the Federal German company prior to any deployment of Windows 8. The BSI currently provides, however, some critical aspects related to specific scenarios in which Windows 8 is operated in combination with a hardware is that has a TPM 2.0.


For certain groups of users, the use of Windows 8 in combination with a TPM may well mean an increase in safety. This includes users who can not or for various reasons do not worry about the security of their systems want, but the manufacturer of the system trust that this provides and maintains a safe solution. ” full opinion can be found here .


Review of US surveillance programs to be led by panel of intelligence insiders


List of apparent panel members prompts criticism among privacy advocates after Obama promised ‘independent’ review


August 22, 2013

by Paul Lewis in Washington



The review of US surveillance programs which Barack Obama promised would be conducted by an “independent” and “outside” panel of experts looks set to consist of four Washington insiders with close ties to the security establishment.


The president announced the creation of the group of experts two weeks ago, in an attempt to stem the rising tide of anger over National Security Agency surveillance techniques disclosed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.


Obama trumpeted what he said would be a “high-level group of outside experts” tasked with assessing all of the government’s “intelligence and communication technologies”.


However a report by ABC News, which has not been denied by the administration, said the panel would consist of Michael Morell, a recent acting head of the CIA, and three former White House advisers.


The list of apparent panel members prompted criticism among privacy and civil liberty advocates, who said the review would lack credibility and was unlikely to end the controversy over US surveillance capabilities.


When Obama announced the review earlier this month, he said it would “step back and review our capabilities – particularly our surveillance technologies”. The panel would also be asked to ensure there is “absolutely no abuse” government spying programs, Obama added, in order to ensure “the trust of the people”.


The review was one of four concrete proposals laid out by the president, including working with Congress to draft new legislation, to reassure the public about NSA surveillance tactics and bring about reforms.


In addition to Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA until just three months ago, the panel is believed to consist of former White House officials Richard Clarke, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire.


None responded to requests for comment, however sources close to Sunstein and Swire said they understood them to have been selected. A formal White House announcement is expected soon.


Sunstein, a Harvard law school professor who has been described as an intellectual inspiration for Obama, only left his job as White House’s “regulatory czar” last year.


Sunstein is a particularly controversial appointment. In a paper in 2008, he appeared to propose the US government employing covert agents to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and activist websites that advocate theories that are considered false and conspiratorial.


He has also proposed reformulating the first amendment, arguing that in some instances it goes too far in protecting damaging forms of speech.


He is married to Samantha Power, the former White House adviser whom Obama recently appointed as US ambassador to the United Nations.


Richard Clarke, the fourth member of the panel, is a well-known and sometimes outspoken figure in the intelligence establishment who served as a senior White House adviser to the last three presidents.


He now runs a private security company, Good Harbor Security Risk Management, headquartered in Washington.


“This group is very closely related to the White House already,” said Mark Rumold, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “When we go down this road of having executive branch insiders continually placed in charge of reviewing the executive branch, it is more of a fox guarding the henhouse situation.”


He pointed out that the new panel is the second executive body given responsibility for monitoring domestic surveillance operations.


The other oversight committee is the secretive Privacy & Civil Liberties Board (PCLOB), which was asked by the president to review surveillance capabilities in June, shortly after Snowden, a former NSA contractor, made his disclosures.


The EFF has been calling for the creation of a far more wide-ranging congressional inquiry, along the lines of the bipartisan Church Committee, which in 1975 investigated the FBI, CIA and NSA in the wake of the Watergate scandal.


Rumold said that committee was only created after a panel set-up by President Gerald Ford – similar in makeup to the one Obama appears to have chosen –was deemed to be insufficiently independent.


The review will provide an interim report in 60 days and issue a final report by the end of this year. Both reports will address how NSA surveillance programs impact security, privacy and foreign policy.


Of the three White House officials expected to be on Obama’s panel, only one – Peter Swire – is considered by some civil liberty experts to be an appropriate choice.


A recently appointed professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, Swire has is a privacy expert, and fellow at two liberal think tanks: the Center for American Progress and the Center for Democracy & Technology.


Leslie Harris, president of the CD&T, described Swire’s appointment as a “home run” for privacy groups.


“He understand the inside ways in which you can make things happen in government and the range of potential options for enhancing privacy,” she said.


Harris said she also backed the appointments of Cass Sunstein and Richard Clarke, who she believed were sufficiently independent figures who had the experience to know how to navigate the upper echelons of government.


But she added: “They’re not outsiders. That is a fair criticism. Certainly it gave me pause that they all had a prior involvement in the government.”


“It doesn’t look too independent, does it?” said Democratic congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. “It doesn’t give the appearance of independence that was anticipated. Individuals who are not so closely associated with the administration would have been better.”


Lofgren, who said she has had several conversations with voters who are concerned about NSA surveillance since returning to her California district during recess, said the makeup of the panel might backfire.


“The president, I would guess, intended to put the whole surveillance issue to rest with the establishment with an outsider review panel. Well, I don’t think this will be perceived as the kind of independent group as most people had expected,” she said.


“The apparent goal of sorting through the issues, and getting a credible report out there that was reassuring, will not be achieved. And therefore, he [Obama] is going to have to do something else.”


Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that all four reported panel members, with the possible exception of Swire, were “folks are deeply enmeshed in the intelligence community”.


She said she had expected the panel to consist of more independent figures, including known critics of the administration whose “livelihoods depend on the surveillance superstructure”.


“Inside baseball has gotten us to routine spying on everyday Americans,” she said. “Inside baseball has gotten us to routine spying on everyday Americans,” she said. “It has been building up for decades. And the folks on the inside have a lot of skin in the game – these are their pet projects. It is so hard, once you have the authority, to give it up.”


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Brazilians tear strip off NSA in wake of Snowden, mull anti-US-spook law


South Americans demand web privacy as PRISM journalist’s Brazilian boyfriend held

August 21, 2013

the Register/UK


             Businesses selling online to Brazil-based consumers could be forced to store any personal data they collect about those individuals on local servers under proposed new laws under consideration in the country.


According to an automated translation of a report by the Reuters news agency, the federal government in Brazil has proposed amendments to a new civil rights law currently being worked on called the Marco Civil da Internet. Under the amendments, data collected about Brazilian internet users would have to be stored locally.


Google and Facebook have both raised objections with the plans, according to an automated translation of a report by Agência Brasil. Both are in favour of the original proposals.


“We have concerns with the [possible] changes, such as requiring the maintenance of data in Brazil,” said Bruno Magrani, head of public policy at Facebook Brazil, according to the report. “This requirement would entail huge costs and inefficiencies in online business in the country, it will impact small and new technology companies that want to provide services to Brazilians.”


Microsoft already has data centres in Brazil and so sees “the location of data” issue as “irrelevant”, Microsoft Brazil’s director-general of legal affairs and of institutional relations, Alexandre Esper, said, according to the Agência Brasil report.


The amendments may have been prompted by revelations made about a US internet surveillance programme called PRISM, according to William Beer, an information security expert at consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal.


“There are a lot of datacenter-related issues already, such as the high cost of electricity, access to skills and even the temperature, which makes it expensive to run those facilities in Brazil,” Beer said. “Then if you add regulation that will present further obstacles, companies might end up moving their IT operations to other South American countries where the rules are not so strict.”


The PRISM programme, it is claimed, allows the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) to collect data from a number of major technology companies, including Microsoft, Facebook and Google. The revelations came from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and were reported by a number of newspapers, including the Guardian in the UK. They have sparked concerns about the scope and oversight of such surveillance.


The Prism revelations have prompted the European Commission to conduct a review of an existing agreement that governs personal data transfers from the EU to US. In addition, a US think tank has said that US cloud providers could lose out on up to $35 billion in revenues over the next three years as a result of the adverse publicity surrounding the Prism programme.



Britain operates secret monitoring station in Middle East: report


August 23, 2013

by Costas Pitas



             LONDON (Reuters) – Britain runs a secret monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept large numbers of telephone calls, emails and internet traffic that it shares with intelligence agencies in the United States, the Independent newspaper reported on Friday.


The station is part of a 1 billion pound ($1.56 billion) global eavesdropping project run by Britain to intercept digital communications, the newspaper said, citing leaked documents from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.


Snowden’s leaks have sparked a global surveillance scandal that has pitted U.S. President Barack Obama against the Kremlin and prompted British Prime Minister David Cameron’s advisers to demand the return of secrets from the Guardian newspaper.


The London-based Independent, which did not say how it got access to the information from the Snowden documents, said the British had tapped into the underwater fiber-optic cables which pass through the Middle East.


Data gleaned from the monitoring station, whose exact location the Independent said it would not reveal, is then passed onto Britain’s eavesdropping agency (GCHQ) in Cheltenham, England, and shared with the U.S. National Security Agency.


Western intelligence agencies rushed to improve their monitoring of Middle East traffic after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.


Britain’s monitoring station in the Middle East was set up under former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who served in that post between 2007 and 2010, the Independent said.


Britain’s foreign ministry declined comment. A spokesman for GCHQ could not be reached for immediate comment on the report.


Snowden’s leaks have embarrassed both Britain and the United States by laying bare the extent of their surveillance programs. London and Washington say their spies operate within the law and that the leaks have damaged national security.


British police said on Thursday that documents seized from the partner of a Guardian journalist who has led coverage of Snowden’s leaks were “highly sensitive”, and could put lives at risk if it fell into the wrong hands.


Counter-terrorism detectives said they had begun a criminal investigation after looking at material taken from David Miranda, partner of American journalist Glenn Greenwald, during his nine-hour detention at Heathrow Airport on Sunday.


Miranda, a Brazilian citizen who had been ferrying documents between Greenwald and a Berlin-based journalist contact of Snowden’s, was held at Heathrow under anti-terrorism powers, before being released without charge minus his laptop, phone, a computer hard drive and memory sticks. He has since left Britain for Brazil.


($1 = 0.6421 British pounds)


             (Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Jon Boyle)



Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire: And Ten Steps to Take to Do So

by Chalmers Johnson



             However ambitious President Barack Obama’s domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.


             According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there — 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.


            These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony — that is, control or dominance — over as many nations on the planet as possible.


            We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past — including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)


            Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.


            1. We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism


            Shortly after his election as president, Barack Obama, in a speech announcing several members of his new cabinet, stated as fact that “[w]e have to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” A few weeks later, on March 12, 2009, in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington D.C., the president again insisted, “Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world.” And in a commencement address to the cadets of the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22nd, Obama stressed that “[w]e will maintain America’s military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen.”


            What he failed to note is that the United States no longer has the capability to remain a global hegemon, and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster.


             According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism. The University of Chicago’s Robert Pape, author of the important study Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), typically writes:


             “America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today’s world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony.”


            There is something absurd, even Kafkaesque, about our military empire. Jay Barr, a bankruptcy attorney, makes this point using an insightful analogy:


             “Whether liquidating or reorganizing, a debtor who desires bankruptcy protection must provide a list of expenses, which, if considered reasonable, are offset against income to show that only limited funds are available to repay the bankrupted creditors. Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them… He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases.”


            In other words, the United States is not seriously contemplating its own bankruptcy. It is instead ignoring the meaning of its precipitate economic decline and flirting with insolvency.


            Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books, 2008), calculates that we could clear $2.6 billion if we would sell our base assets at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and earn another $2.2 billion if we did the same with Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. These are only two of our over 800 overblown military enclaves.


            Our unwillingness to retrench, no less liquidate, represents a striking historical failure of the imagination. In his first official visit to China since becoming Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner assured an audience of students at Beijing University, “Chinese assets [invested in the United States] are very safe.” According to press reports, the students responded with loud laughter. Well they might.


            In May 2009, the Office of Management and Budget predicted that in 2010 the United States will be burdened with a budget deficit of at least $1.75 trillion. This includes neither a projected $640 billion budget for the Pentagon, nor the costs of waging two remarkably expensive wars. The sum is so immense that it will take several generations for American citizens to repay the costs of George W. Bush’s imperial adventures — if they ever can or will. It represents about 13% of our current gross domestic product (that is, the value of everything we produce). It is worth noting that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the Euro Zone is a deficit no greater than 3% of GDP.


            Thus far, President Obama has announced measly cuts of only $8.8 billion in wasteful and worthless weapons spending, including his cancellation of the F-22 fighter aircraft. The actual Pentagon budget for next year will, in fact, be larger, not smaller, than the bloated final budget of the Bush era. Far bolder cuts in our military expenditures will obviously be required in the very near future if we intend to maintain any semblance of fiscal integrity.


            2. We Are Going to Lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us


            One of our major strategic blunders in Afghanistan was not to have recognized that both Great Britain and the Soviet Union attempted to pacify Afghanistan using the same military methods as ours and failed disastrously. We seem to have learned nothing from Afghanistan’s modern history — to the extent that we even know what it is. Between 1849 and 1947, Britain sent almost annual expeditions against the Pashtun tribes and sub-tribes living in what was then called the North-West Frontier Territories — the area along either side of the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Durand Line. This frontier was created in 1893 by Britain’s foreign secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand.


            Neither Britain nor Pakistan has ever managed to establish effective control over the area. As the eminent historian Louis Dupree put it in his book Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 425): “Pashtun tribes, almost genetically expert at guerrilla warfare after resisting centuries of all comers and fighting among themselves when no comers were available, plagued attempts to extend the Pax Britannica into their mountain homeland.” An estimated 41 million Pashtuns live in an undemarcated area along the Durand Line and profess no loyalties to the central governments of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.


            The region known today as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is administered directly by Islamabad, which — just as British imperial officials did — has divided the territory into seven agencies, each with its own “political agent” who wields much the same powers as his colonial-era predecessor. Then as now, the part of FATA known as Waziristan and the home of Pashtun tribesmen offered the fiercest resistance.


             According to Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, experienced Afghan hands and coauthors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story (City Lights, 2009, p. 317):

            “If Washington’s bureaucrats don’t remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world’s sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States.”


            In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated: “We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers” (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.


            The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of “collateral damage,” or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts, among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.


            When in May 2009 General Stanley McChrystal was appointed as the commander in Afghanistan, he ordered new limits on air attacks, including those carried out by the CIA, except when needed to protect allied troops. Unfortunately, as if to illustrate the incompetence of our chain of command, only two days after this order, on June 23, 2009, the United States carried out a drone attack against a funeral procession that killed at least 80 people, the single deadliest U.S. attack on Pakistani soil so far. There was virtually no reporting of these developments by the mainstream American press or on the network television news. (At the time, the media were almost totally preoccupied by the sexual adventures of the governor of South Carolina and the death of pop star Michael Jackson.)


            Our military operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been plagued by inadequate and inaccurate intelligence about both countries, ideological preconceptions about which parties we should support and which ones we should oppose, and myopic understandings of what we could possibly hope to achieve. Fitzgerald and Gould, for example, charge that, contrary to our own intelligence service’s focus on Afghanistan, “Pakistan has always been the problem.” They add:


             “Pakistan’s army and its Inter-Services Intelligence branch… from 1973 on, has played the key role in funding and directing first the mujahideen [anti-Soviet fighters during the 1980s] and then the Taliban. It is Pakistan’s army that controls its nuclear weapons, constrains the development of democratic institutions, trains Taliban fighters in suicide attacks and orders them to fight American and NATO soldiers protecting the Afghan government.” (p. 322-324)


            The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm are staffed, in part, by devout Muslims who fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan to meet the needs of their own agenda, though not necessarily to advance an Islamic jihad. Their purposes have always included: keeping Afghanistan free of Russian or Indian influence, providing a training and recruiting ground for mujahideen guerrillas to be used in places like Kashmir (fought over by both Pakistan and India), containing Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan (and so keeping it out of Pakistan), and extorting huge amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf emirates, and the United States to pay and train “freedom fighters” throughout the Islamic world. Pakistan’s consistent policy has been to support the clandestine policies of the Inter-Services Intelligence and thwart the influence of its major enemy and competitor, India.


            Colonel Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army (retired), an adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, summarizes our hopeless project in South Asia this way: “Nothing we do will compel 125 million Muslims in Pakistan to make common cause with a United States in league with the two states that are unambiguously anti-Muslim: Israel and India.”


             Obama’s mid-2009 “surge” of troops into southern Afghanistan and particularly into Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, is fast becoming darkly reminiscent of General William Westmoreland’s continuous requests in Vietnam for more troops and his promises that if we would ratchet up the violence just a little more and tolerate a few more casualties, we would certainly break the will of the Vietnamese insurgents. This was a total misreading of the nature of the conflict in Vietnam, just as it is in Afghanistan today.


            Twenty years after the forces of the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, the last Russian general to command them, Gen. Boris Gromov, issued his own prediction: Disaster, he insisted, will come to the thousands of new forces Obama is sending there, just as it did to the Soviet Union’s, which lost some 15,000 soldiers in its own Afghan war. We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives, and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.


            3. We Need to End the Secret Shame of Our Empire of Bases


            In March, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert noted, “Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing.” He continued:


            “New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults — 2,923 — and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan [over the past year]. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them.”


            The problem is exacerbated by having our troops garrisoned in overseas bases located cheek-by-jowl next to civilian populations and often preying on them like foreign conquerors. For example, sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been out of control in Okinawa, Japan’s poorest prefecture, ever since it was permanently occupied by our soldiers, Marines, and airmen some 64 years ago.


            That island was the scene of the largest anti-American demonstrations since the end of World War II after the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor. The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.


            The military itself has done next to nothing to protect its own female soldiers or to defend the rights of innocent bystanders forced to live next to our often racially biased and predatory troops. “The military’s record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it’s atrocious,” writes Herbert. In territories occupied by American military forces, the high command and the State Department make strenuous efforts to enact so-called “Status of Forces Agreements” (SOFAs) that will prevent host governments from gaining jurisdiction over our troops who commit crimes overseas. The SOFAs also make it easier for our military to spirit culprits out of a country before they can be apprehended by local authorities.


            This issue was well illustrated by the case of an Australian teacher, a long-time resident of Japan, who in April 2002 was raped by a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, then based at the big naval base at Yokosuka. She identified her assailant and reported him to both Japanese and U.S. authorities. Instead of his being arrested and effectively prosecuted, the victim herself was harassed and humiliated by the local Japanese police. Meanwhile, the U.S. discharged the suspect from the Navy but allowed him to escape Japanese law by returning him to the U.S., where he lives today.


            In the course of trying to obtain justice, the Australian teacher discovered that almost fifty years earlier, in October 1953, the Japanese and American governments signed a secret “understanding” as part of their SOFA in which Japan agreed to waive its jurisdiction if the crime was not of “national importance to Japan.” The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.


            Since that time the U.S. has negotiated similar wording in SOFAs with Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark. According to the Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces (2001), the Japanese practice has become the norm for SOFAs throughout the world, with predictable results. In Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. In Iraq, we have just signed a SOFA that bears a strong resemblance to the first postwar one we had with Japan: namely, military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes will remain in U.S. custody while Iraqis investigate. This is, of course, a perfect opportunity to spirit the culprits out of the country before they can be charged.


            Within the military itself, the journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007), speaks of the “culture of unpunished sexual assaults” and the “shockingly low numbers of courts martial” for rapes and other forms of sexual attacks. Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009), quotes this figure in a 2009 Pentagon report on military sexual assaults: 90% of the rapes in the military are never reported at all and, when they are, the consequences for the perpetrator are negligible.


            It is fair to say that the U.S. military has created a worldwide sexual playground for its personnel and protected them to a large extent from the consequences of their behavior.  I believe a better solution would be to radically reduce the size of our standing army, and bring the troops home from countries where they do not understand their environments and have been taught to think of the inhabitants as inferior to themselves.


            10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire


             Dismantling the American empire would, of course, involve many steps. Here are ten key places to begin:


            1. We need to put a halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.


            2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the “opportunity costs” that go with them — the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can’t or won’t.


            3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.


            4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters — along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth — that follow our military enclaves around the world.


            5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.


            6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world’s largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army’s infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)


            7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.


            8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.


            9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.


            10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.


             Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.


             Chalmers Johnson was the author of Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006), and editor of Okinawa: Cold War Island (1999).  His final book was Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope (2010).



            [Note on further reading on the matter of sexual violence in and around our overseas bases and rapes in the military: On the response to the 1995 Okinawa rape, see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, chapter 2. On related subjects, see David McNeil, “Justice for Some. Crime, Victims, and the US-Japan SOFA,” Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 8-1-09, March 15, 2009; “Bilateral Secret Agreement Is Preventing U.S. Servicemen Committing Crimes in Japan from Being Prosecuted,” Japan Press Weekly, May 23, 2009; Dieter Fleck, ed., The Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces, Oxford University Press, 2001; Minoru Matsutani, “’53 Secret Japan-US Deal Waived GI Prosecutions,” Japan Times, October 24, 2008; “Crime Without Punishment in Japan,” the Economist, December 10, 2008; “Japan: Declassified Document Reveals Agreement to Relinquish Jurisdiction Over U.S. Forces,” Akahata, October 30, 2008; “Government’s Decision First Case in Japan,” Ryukyu Shimpo, May 20, 2008; Dahr Jamail, “Culture of Unpunished Sexual Assault in Military,” Antiwar.com, May 1, 2009; and Helen Benedict, “The Plight of Women Soldiers,” the Nation, May 5, 2009.]



Spying Scandal Engulfs Other U.S. Agencies


August 23, 2013

by Matthew Charles Cardinale,



Earlier this month, Reuters revealed that a special division within the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been using intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a mass database of telephone records to secretly identify targets for drug enforcement actions.


In the wake of these revelations, a former prosecutor tells IPS he believes he and his colleagues may have been unwitting pawns in the federal government’s effort to deceive defendants and the court system, thereby violating citizens’ constitutional rights.

“None of us had any idea whatsoever there was a secret DEA programme that instructed DEA agents to conceal the source,” Patrick Nightingale, a former prosecutor for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, told IPS.


“My oath as an attorney and as a prosecutor was as an officer of the constitution, and not to win at all costs. This [programme] is a win at all costs mentality: whether it’s constitutional or not we’re going to use it and we can conceal it,” he said.


Called the Special Operations Division (SOD), it is comprised of some two dozen federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency (NSA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the Department of Homeland Security.


Everything about the SOD is secret, including the size of its budget and the location of its offices.


Reuters has also identified the IRS as a recipient of the information, pointing to a former IRS training manual that referenced the SOD programme.


As a routine practice, the SOD secretly provides the information to local authorities across the U.S., allowing them to start investigations against U.S. citizens under false pretenses, in a practice known as “parallel construction”.


For example, under parallel construction, local law enforcement will be instructed to find a reason to stop a particular vehicle – for example, through a routine traffic stop – and then once the drugs are found, the government will falsely state the drugs were found in the traffic stop.



The IRS training document details how government officials are instructed to conceal – from prosecutors, defence attorneys, and even the courts – the methods by which a suspected drug criminal is identified and then targeted for apprehension.


“Special Operations Division has the ability to collect, collate, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate information and intelligence derived from worldwide multi-agency sources, including classified projects,” the 2005 and 2006 IRS training manual says, according to Reuters.


“SOD converts extremely sensitive information into usable leads and tips which are then passed to the field offices for real-time enforcement activity against major international drug trafficking organizations,” the document states.


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a group that defends free speech and privacy issues, calls it “intelligence laundering“.


Since the revelations on Aug. 5, the Justice Department has said it is reviewing the programme, according to reports. But such a review does not address the constitutional violations that appear to have already occurred.


“Our criminal justice system is based on the presumption of innocence and our constitution demands fair play in criminal proceedings. It demands that prosecutors reveal to the defence both the good and the bad,” Nightingale said.


“If the source of this information is so sensitive that a law enforcement agency is told to keep the information from its own team [including federal and local prosecutors] because it knows members of its team are required to divulge it to the other side [the defence], then it’s a problem,” he said.


Nightingale told IPS he had no awareness of the programme as a prosecutor, even though he worked on many cases where he sought court approval for a Title 3 wiretap based on certain evidence. Now he does not know – nor does he have any way of knowing – how many of those cases originated from a secret SOD tip.


“This is changing the rules of the game so they can conceal the source and use tainted information, depriving… defence attorneys and defendants from being able to have a fair trial as defined by the Constitution,” he said.


Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney with EFF, told IPS, “The NSA data is being gathered on purpose, and then directed to a different purpose.” He said the information being gathered by the NSA “should” be something that the FISA Court has been approving, although there is no way to know.


“Those orders have a broad scope. The orders aren’t public, there isn’t insight into what the orders look like, or how the court operates really,” Fakhoury said.


“The big concern is they’re not being forthright about the fact that they’re using the information directed toward a purpose not related to national security, and they’re not telling the court or the defendants the true source of that information.


“It’s yet more proof what is being said publicly [by the NSA] is not all entirely accurate,” he said. “It’s another reason why we have to very carefully scrutinise the government’s justification for these types of programmes.”


Fakhouri says the SOD programme is unconstitutional because of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments combined.


Full and fair disclosure is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as part of the Sixth Amendment, which states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right… to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.”


The Fifth Amendment provides, “No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”


The revelations also raise the possibility that individuals who have been convicted over the last 20 years on drug charges, or perhaps IRS-related charges, will challenge those convictions in court on the basis that secret evidence may have been used in the investigative process.


“I think we’re going to see a lot of those types of arguments. How successful those will be – will be a tough sell. I think it will be an interesting thing to watch,” Fakhoury said.


Inter Press Service



China’s arsenic contamination risk is assessed


August 23, 2013

by Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter

BBC World Service


Nearly 20 million people in China could be exposed to water contaminated with arsenic, a study suggests.


Scientists used information about the geology of the country to predict the areas most likely to be affected by the poison.


The report is published in the journal Science.


Arsenic occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust, but if it leaches into groundwater, long-term exposure can cause serious health risks.


These include skin problems and cancers of the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney.


Geological maps


Until now, estimating the scale of arsenic contamination in large countries has been difficult.


China is thought to have more than 10 million drinking wells, and each needs to be screened to establish whether any toxic compounds are present. This process could take decades.


Instead, researchers from Switzerland and China looked at geological maps of the country.


Dr Annette Johnson, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) and a co-author of the study, explained: “In the last few years the amount of geospatial information – electronic maps – that’s become available is large. You have information such as climate data, land use, and distance to the river or elevation.”


Using this information, and by looking at the types of rocks present in the country, and in particular their age, the researchers pinpointed the regions where the toxic element is most likely to be found.


Their findings suggest that 19.6 million people in China could be exposed to unsafe levels in their drinking water, including some living in areas areas not previously thought to be at risk.


Dr Johnson told the BBC World Service programme Science in Action: “They are areas along river basins where there is irrigation and agriculture, including areas that were known previously such as the Huhhot basin in Inner Mongolia, but there are also new areas in the central Sichuan province and along the east coast.”


The researchers say the findings could help the Chinese authorities with their well-screening programmes.


Dr Johnson explained: “What it is very important to do is to go to the areas that are hotspots and screen those first. The chances are you will find more contaminated wells than wells that are not contaminated.


“And in the other areas, you still have to make sure you do screening for arsenic, but it is probably not such a high priority.”


Wells that are contaminated could be either treated or taken out of use, she added.


The researchers believe this new prediction method could used elsewhere around the world.


Arsenic contamination of groundwater is found in central Europe, South America, parts of the US and Asia.


But one country that could benefit is Bangladesh, where arsenic poisoning has been described by the World Health Organization as a “public health emergency”.


It is estimated that of the 125 million inhabitants of Bangladesh, between 35 million and 77 million are at risk of drinking contaminated water.



Obama’s Snowden Dilemma

How will the Obama Administration handle Edward Snowden’s case in the long term?


August 12, 2013,

by Scott Horton



In a Friday press conference, following months of ill-considered tactics in response to Edward Snowden’s leaking of information about global National Security Agency activities, Barack Obama finally acknowledged that concerns about the expanse of the NSA’s surveillance operations were legitimate, and that an important debate had indeed been triggered by the Snowden disclosures:


Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance⁠—particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives. I’m also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas, because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness—because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation, it’s the way we do it—with open debate and democratic process. In other words, it’s not enough for me, as President, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well.


Obama went on to highlight a series of changes he would support, which include amending the provision of the Patriot Act that the NSA has invoked to support its current surveillance programs and implementing measures to ensure that civil rights concerns are considered when surveillance requests are being reviewed. His administration also released two white papers, one prepared by the DOJ, the other by the NSA, that set out the purported legal basis for NSA surveillance activities, and that attempt to explain the activities themselves. And the administration promised to release, on August 21, a secret 2011 FISA court opinion that found a particular NSA surveillance program to be unconstitutional.


Such concessions had become necessary because of the Obama Administration’s many self-inflicted wounds on the issue. Instead of acknowledging the problems with the NSA programs—by, say, admitting fully what the programs entailed, implementing legitimate privacy standards to keep them in check, or otherwise addressing the critical issue of the NSA’s self-arrogated power to trawl the communications of hundreds of millions of people who aren’t suspected of involvement in terrorism or criminal wrongdoing—the Obama team chose to vilify Snowden and launch a public-relations offensive that was marked by mischaracterizations, oversimplifications, and rank falsehoods. (ProPublica assembled clips of six easily exposed prevarications uttered by senior officials—including Obama himself—in their rushed effort to swat down the initial scandal.)


Meanwhile, public-opinion polls were consistently showing that the American public accepted Snowden as a legitimate whistleblower; allied governments revealed to have been affected by the program were proving implacable; and an international boycott of the American telecommunications and Internet service providers who had acceded to the NSA’s requests loomed. Finally, Russia’s decision to grant Snowden temporary asylum meant that he wouldn’t fall into the net the Americans had been aggressively creating for him.


Obama’s concessions are unlikely to bring the controversy to a close, however. For one, he faces the question of what to do about Edward Snowden in the long term. On June 14, the Justice Department rushed out a series of charges against him for theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act. (The complaint itself is under seal, but its essence can be gleaned from a coversheet that Justice Department attorneys⁠—in a moment of exquisite irony⁠—leaked to journalists.) But the president has now openly acknowledged that Snowden’s leaks paved the way for legitimate democratic dialogue on an issue that his administration had consciously and improperly attempted to keep out of the public’s view. He also admitted that concerns about the program are justified at least to some extent, and that some measure of reform is appropriate. Consequently, Obama has all but officially endorsed Snowden’s claim to being a bona-fide whistleblower⁠—a view that leading political figures on both sides of the aisle have endorsed, and that is shared by a clear majority of the American public. To prosecute Snowden under the Espionage Act would therefore present untenable risks for the government. He stands a chance of being acquitted almost anywhere in the country⁠—even in the Eastern District of Virginia, where the intelligence community would have the advantage of arguing before a prosecution-oriented bench.


And the government’s problems don’t end there. David Pozen, the author of an important recent study of how the U.S. government has historically dealt with leaks, notes that when the government vigorously prosecutes a person who is widely viewed as a legitimate whistleblower, it risks “a greater amount of unlawful disclosures, or at least a greater amount of destructive disclosures” as a result. A Snowden prosecution under the Espionage Act would clearly fit into that category, especially after Friday’s admissions.


This does not mean Snowden should get off scot-free. He violated his undertaking to keep government secrets, and he should never again be permitted to hold a security classification or to work for the government or any other entity that handles sensitive information. He may have forfeited any rights he had to pension and other benefits, and he may be subject to fines and some jail time. But the prosecutorial sledgehammer of the Espionage Act no longer seems appropriate to his deeds.


Once these charges have been withdrawn, Snowden may very well be prepared to return home to face his accusers⁠—and to shed some important light on the newly energized national discussion over the proper mission of the NSA. For Americans concerned about their disappearing rights of privacy, that would be a rare double victory.


Thirteen Things the Government is Trying to Keep Secret from You

August 23, 2013

by Bill Quigley

Common Dreams


“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted…the Patriot Act.  As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.  This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”  – US Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall


The President, the Head of the National Security Agency, the Department of Justice, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the Judiciary, are intentionally keeping massive amounts of information about surveillance of US and other people secret from voters


Additionally, some are, to say it politely, not being factually accurate in what they are telling the public.  These inaccurate statements are either intentional lies meant to mislead the public or they are evidence that the people who are supposed to be in charge of oversight do not know what they are supposed to be overseeing.  Either way, this is a significant crisis.  Here are thirteen examples of what they are doing.


One.  The Government seizes and searches all internet and text communications which enter or leave the US


On August 8, 2013, the New York Times reported that the NSA secretly collects virtually all international email and text communications which cross the US borders in or out.   As the ACLU says, “the NSA thinks it’s okay to intercept and then read Americans’ emails, so long as it does so really quickly.  But that is not how the Fourth Amendment works…the invasion of Americans’ privacy is real and immediate.”


Two. The Government created and maintains secret backdoor access into all databases in order to search for information on US citizens


On August 9, 2013, The Guardian revealed yet another Edward Snowden leaked document which points out “the National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens’ email and phone calls without a warrant.”  This is a new set of secrets about surveillance of people in the US.  This new policy of 2011 allows searching by US person names and identifiers when the NSA is collecting data.  The document declares that analysts should not implement these queries until an oversight process has been developed.   No word on whether such a process was developed or not.


Three.  The Government operates a vast database which allows it to sift through millions of records on the internet to show nearly everything a person does


Recent disclosures by Snowden and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian demonstrate the NSA operates a massive surveillance program called XKeyscore.   The surveillance program has since been confirmed by other CIA officials.   It allows the government to enter a person’s name or other question into the program and sift through oceans of data to produce everything there is on the internet by or about that person or other search term.


Four.  The Government has a special court which meets in secret to authorize access for the FBI and other investigators to millions and millions of US phone, text, email and business records


There is a special court of federal judges which meets in secret to authorize the government to gather and review millions and millions of phone and internet records.  This court, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court), allows government lawyers to come before them in secret, with no representatives of the public or press or defense counsel allowed, to argue unopposed for more and more surveillance.   This is the court which, in just one of its thousands of rulings, authorized the handing over of all call data created by Verizon within the US and between the US and abroad to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.    The public would never have known about the massive surveillance without the leaked documents from Snowden.


Five.  The Government keeps Top Secret nearly all the decisions of the FISA court


Nearly all of the thousands of decisions of the FISA court are themselves classified as top secret.   Though the public is not allowed to know what the decisions are, public records do show how many times the government asked for surveillance authorization and how many times they were denied.   These show that in the last three years, the government asked for authorization nearly 5000 times and they were never denied.   In its entire history, the FISA court has denied just 11 of 34,000 requests for surveillance.


As noted above, two US Senators warned the Attorney General ‘We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act.  As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.  This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should stay when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.”


Six.  The Government is fighting to keep Top Secret a key 2011 decision of the FISA court even after the court itself said it can be made public


There is an 86 page 2011 top secret opinion of the FISA court which declared some of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs unconstitutional.  The Administration, through the Department of Justice, refused to hand this over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation which filed a public records request and a lawsuit to make this public.  First the government said it would hurt the FISA court to allow this to be made public.  Then the FISA court itself said it can be made public.  Despite this, the government is still fighting to keep it secret.


Seven.  The Government uses secret National Security Letters (NSL) issued by the FBI to seize tens of thousands of records


With a NSL letter the FBI can demand financial records from any institution from banks to casinos, all telephone records, subscriber information, credit reports, employment information, and all email records of the target as well as the email addresses and screen names for anyone who has contacted that account.  Those who received the NSLs from the FBI are supposed to keep them secret.  The reason is supposed to be for foreign counterintelligence.  There is no requirement for court approval at all.  So no requests have been denied.  The Patriot Act has made this much easier for the FBI.


According to Congressional records, there have been over 50,000 of these FBI NSL requests in the last three years.   This does not count the numerous times where the FBI persuades the disclosure of information without getting a NSL.  Nor does it count FBI requests made just to find out who an email account belongs to.  These reported NSL numbers also do not include the very high numbers of administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI which only require approval of a member of the local US Attorney’s office.


Eight.  The National Security Head was caught not telling the truth to Congress about the surveillance of millions of US citizens


The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told US Senate on March 12 2013 that the NSA did not wittingly collect information on millions of Americans.  After the Snowden Guardian disclosures, Clapper admitted to NBC that what he said to Congress was the “least untruthful” reply he could think of.    The agency no longer denies that it collects the emails of American citizens.   In a recent white paper, the NSA now admits they do “collect telephony metadata in bulk,” but they do not unconstitutionally “target” American citizens.


Nine.  The Government falsely assured the US public in writing that privacy protections are significantly stronger than they actually are and Senators who knew better were not allowed to disclose the truth


Two US Senators wrote the NSA a letter objecting to one “inaccurate statement” and another “somewhat misleading statement” made by the NSA in their June 2013 public fact sheet about surveillance.  What are the inaccurate or misleading statements?  The public is not allowed to know because the Senators had to point out the details in a secret classified section of their letter.


In the public part of their letter they did say “In our judgment this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are…”  The Senators point out that the NSA public statement assures people that communications of US citizens which are accidently acquired are promptly destroyed unless it is evidence of a crime.  However, the Senators wrote that the NSA does in fact deliberately search the records of American citizens and that the NSA has said repeatedly that it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the US whose communications have been reviewed under the authority of the FISA laws.  The NSA responded to these claims in an odd way.  They did not say publicly what the misleading or inaccurate statements were nor did they correct the record, instead they just deleted the fact sheet from the NSA website.


Ten.  The chief defender of spying in the House of Representatives, the Chair of the oversight intelligence subcommittee, did not tell the truth or maybe worse did not know the truth about surveillance


Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Permanent Intelligence Subcommittee, repeatedly told Congress and the public on TV talk shows in July that there was no government surveillance of phone calls or emails. “They do not record your e-mails…None of that was happening, none of it – I mean, zero.”   Later, Snowden and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian disclosed the NSA program called X-keyscore, which intercepts maybe over a billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications each day.   Now the questions swirl about Rogers, whether he lied, or was lied to by those who engaged in surveillance, or did not understand the programs he was supposed to be providing oversight to.  


Eleven.  The House intelligence oversight committee repeatedly refused to provide basic surveillance information to elected members of the House of Representatives, Republican and Democrat


The House intelligence oversight committee refused to allow any members of Congress outside the committee to see a 2011 document that described the NSA mass phone record surveillance.  This has infuriated Republicans and Democrats who have tried to get basic information to carry out their mandated oversight obligations. 


Republican Representative Morgan Griffith of Virginia wrote the House Committee on Intelligence on June 25, 2013, July 12, 2013, July 22, 2013, and July 23 2013 asking for basic information on the authorization “allowing the NSA to continue collecting data about Americans’ telephone calls.”     He received no response to those requests. 


After asking for basic information from the House Committee about the surveillance programs, Democrat Congressman Alan Grayson was told the committee voted to deny his request on a voice vote.  When he followed up and asked for a copy of the recorded vote he was told he could not get the information because the transcript of the committee hearing was classified. 


Twelve.  The paranoia about secrecy of surveillance is so bad in the House of Representatives that an elected member of Congress was threatened for passing around copies of the Snowden disclosures which had been already printed in newspapers worldwide


Representative Alan Grayson was threatened with sanctions for passing around copies of the Snowden information on the House floor, the same information published by The Guardian and many other newspapers around the world.


Thirteen.  The Senate oversight committee refused to allow a dissenting Senator to publicly discuss his objections to surveillance


When Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) tried to amend the surveillance laws to require court orders before the government could gather communications of American citizens and to disclose how many Americans have had their communications gathered, he lost in a secret 2012 hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  He was then also prohibited from publicly registering or explaining his opposition for weeks. 


These attempts to keep massive surveillance secrets from the public are aggravated by the constant efforts to minimize the secrets and maximize untruths.


Most notably, despite all this documented surveillance, on August 6, 2013, the President said on the Jay Leno show “We don’t have a domestic spying program.”   This is, to say it most politely, not accurate.  Some commentators think the government is perversely tying itself in knots and twisting the real meaning of words with flimsy legal arguments and irrational word games.   Others say the President is engaged in “Orwellian newspeak.”  Finally, more than a few say the President was not telling the truth. 


Others who are defending the surveillance may not actually know what is going on but think they do because the government, like the President, is telling them there is nothing to worry about. For example, Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair of Senate Intelligence Committee, the congressional oversight committee which is to protect people from unlawful spying, and another chief defender of surveillance, publicly responded to Edward Snowden’s claims to have the ability to wiretap anyone if he had their personal email by saying, “I am not a high-tech techie, but I have been told that is not possible.”   How that squares with revelations about the Xkeyscore program is not known.  She also stated her committee’s position about protecting the privacy of people against government surveillance, “We’re always open to change, but that does not mean there will be any.” 




Thomas Paine said eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.


President Obama just promised the nation that he would set up an independent group of outside experts to “step back and review our capabilities – particularly our surveillance technologies.”


Days later Obama appointed the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the same person who has admitted he did not tell Congress the truth about the program, to establish a review group to assess whether surveillance is being done in a manner that maintains the public trust.   After an uproar about the fox guarding the henhouse, the White House reversed itself and said Clapper will not choose the members of the group after all.


Who these members will be has not been made public as of the time this is written.  Another secret?  Stay vigilant!


Bill Quigley is Associate Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans

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