TBR News March 14, 2014

Mar 13 2014


The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C. March 13, 2014: “I was recently sent a link for a book published on Amazon.  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IWS0D0O                                    


            This book entiteled “Jesus the Essene by a Dr. Kushner, creates an approach-avoidance conflict. On the one hand, it is very well researched and I can find no fault with the scholarship. On the other hand, the conclusions of the author are, to be conservative, very unsettling. It is true that there are no period writings about the historical Jesus and it is also true that rumors about one of the Dead Sea scrolls have been floating about for some time but the thesis that Jesus was born in Alexandria, that he had two older brothers (effectively demolishing the virgin birth stories) and that Jesus was a practicing member of the Essene religious cult is a very disturbing one indeed. It is fairly well known in scholarly circles that the Essenes were clearly an agricultural and religious community that was exclusively male and without a doubt of a homosexual nature.


            If this scroll in question is authentic to the period, as it appears to be, the entire dogma of the Christian church comes sharply into question. Dr. Kushner, one learns from Internet exploration, has also written a work highly negative to the person of Mohammad but like the current book on Jesus, it is well written and well researched. This is not a book for young people nor those of a strong religious cast of mind. For more reflective persons, I recommend it as a very thoughtful piece of writing.


U.S. Criticized for Lack of Action on Mortgage Fraud


March 13, 2014

by Matt Apuzzo 

New York Times


Four years after President Obama promised to crack down on mortgage fraud, his administration has quietly made the crime its lowest priority and has closed hundreds of cases after little or no investigation, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said on Thursday.


The report by the department’s inspector general undercuts the president’s contentions that the government is holding people responsible for the collapse of the financial and housing markets. The administration has been criticized, in particular, for not pursuing large banks and their executives.


“In cities across the country, mortgage fraud crimes have reached crisis proportions,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a mortgage fraud summit in Phoenix in 2010. “But we are fighting back.”


The inspector general’s report, however, shows that the F.B.I. considered mortgage fraud to be its lowest-ranked national criminal priority. In several large cities, including New York and Los Angeles, F.B.I. agents either ranked mortgage fraud as a low priority or did not rank it at all.


The F.B.I. received $196 million from the 2009 to 2011 fiscal years to investigate mortgage fraud, the report said, but the number of pending cases and agents investigating them dropped in 2011.


“Despite receiving significant additional funding from Congress to pursue mortgage fraud cases, the F.B.I. in adding new staff did not always use these new positions to exclusively investigate mortgage fraud,” the report says.


Mortgage fraud was one of the causes of the 2008 financial collapse. Mortgage brokers and lenders falsified documents, sometimes to make mortgages look safer, other times to make the property look more valuable.


The inspector general focused much of its report and most of its recommendations on fixing internal systems that produced inaccurate data that wildly overstated the government’s results.


Mr. Holder, for example, announced in 2012 that prosecutors had charged 530 people over the previous year in cases related to mortgage fraud that had cost homeowners more than $1 billion.


Almost immediately, the Justice Department realized it could not back up those statistics, the inspector general said. After months of review, it became clear that only 107 people were charged.


The $1 billion figure, it turned out, had been drastically inflated. It was actually $95 million, the inspector general said. Yet Justice Department officials repeated those claims for months, even after it was obvious the figures were wrong, the inspector general said.


The Justice Department contested the inspector general’s findings, noting that the number of mortgage fraud indictments and convictions roughly doubled from 2009 to 2011. In 2012, the government reached a $25 billion civil settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers.


“The facts regarding the department’s work on mortgage fraud tell a much different story than this report,” a department spokeswoman, Ellen Canale, said. “As the report itself notes, even at a time of constrained budget resources, the department has dedicated significant manpower and funding to combating mortgage fraud.”


Last year, the Justice Department announced a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase over the bank’s questionable mortgage practices.


The Justice Department agreed with the recommendations to improve the record keeping that produce such figures.


Members of Congress and others have criticized the Obama administration for going too easy on Wall Street banks and not taking mortgage fraud seriously enough.


“The inspector general’s report sheds light on what looks like an attempt by the Justice Department to pull the wool over the public’s eyes with respect to its efforts to go after the wrongdoers involved in mortgage fraud,” Senator Charles E, Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “According to the inspector general, the department wasted time cooking the numbers



Who loses most in Ukraine?


March 13, 2014

by Ian Bremmer  



            As we march toward Sunday’s Crimean referendum, the result is predetermined. Crimea will vote Russia, and tensions will only escalate. At this juncture, it’s important to take a step back and ask who “lost” here. What could the United States have done differently? What about Russia? Was the outbreak of violence and explosive geopolitical confrontation inevitable? Where does it go from here?


If the United States’ primary goal has been to keep violence in Ukraine and tensions between outside powers to a minimum, it has made a series of significant missteps. The United States failed to offer real economic support to the Ukrainian government before events reached a crescendo. Former President Viktor Yanukovich didn’t want to just work with the Russians; he was looking to strike a balance between Russia and the EU while skirting economic collapse. Europe pushed too hard, and the IMF wasn’t going to step in in time. The lack of support from the West helped push Yanukovich far enough towards Russia that protests in Kiev reached a point of no return.


On February 21st, key Ukrainian opposition figures and President Yanukovich signed a deal along with a group of European foreign ministers, only for it to soon break down and Yanukovich to flee. The United States eagerly jumped ship with the new pro-West Kiev government. This was a mistake. Washington could have expressed its reservations and urged that the signed deal at least be respected as a factor in determining political processes moving forward. Showing public support for that position would have been an important acknowledgment to Russia that the United States respects Russia’s interests. In Syria six months ago, the United States was perfectly happy to pretend (as were the Russians) that the chemical weapons deal was a breakthrough that would address the underlying conflict, even though it was just a smokescreen for relieving Obama of his obligation to intervene militarily. The Americans could have offered the Russians a similar face-saving gesture here, but they chose not to.


The United States could also have strongly urged Ukraine’s new government to respect legitimate Russian interests in Ukraine, including the adequate inclusion and representation of ethnic Russians in government, and respect for the sanctity of Russia’s lease on its Crimean military base. Instead, the United States offered eager, blanket support for the new West-leaning government.


When it was clear that the Russians were about to go into Crimea, the Obama administration issued a host of largely empty threats, warning that there would be “costs for any military intervention in Ukraine” and that there was a “huge price to pay” if Russia pushed into Crimea. Of course, the United States has the military capacity to contest Russia’s move into Crimea, but Washington was never going to retaliate on such a level — the only response that could realistically stop Russian incursion. These kinds of unenforceable threats only serve to undermine U.S. credibility abroad. And like a red flag to a bull, these comments goaded Putin on; there was no credible “or else” from Washington that could come close to matching Putin’s resolve in Ukraine. Beyond his country’s borders, Putin’s single biggest priority is retaining influence in Ukraine.


But while the United States has clearly missed its chance to circumvent the escalating tensions that we see today, the stakes for Russia are exponentially higher, and Russia stands to lose vastly more over Ukraine.


Just look at the immediate costs of the Crimean invasion, which didn’t even make Putin blink. After the military incursion, the Russian ruble went into free fall, forcing Russia to implement a significant interest rate hike. The Russian stock market’s one-day losses exceeded the costs of the bloated Sochi Olympics.


Such actions will only hasten the slow, but steady economic decline that we see in Russia. It is an economy with a tremendous over-reliance on energy, and it has been using its natural resources as a crutch. In 2007, Russia needed a Brent oil price of $34 per barrel to balance its federal budget. By 2012, that target had climbed to $117. Last year, oil and gas accounted for more than two-thirds of Russia’s export revenue.


If a “win” for Putin means expanded influence in Ukraine, then his strategy has backfired royally. Just three months ago, he had the ear of a Russia-leaning Ukrainian government. Today, he has…Crimea. But by annexing Crimea, its 1.5 million pro-Russian voters would no longer be a part of the Ukrainian electorate. The remaining Ukrainian voters will remember images of Russian troops on their soil when they next take to the polls. All of this means that Ukrainian elections are more likely to turn pro-West, leading to the prospects of EU Customs Union integration and eventual European Union membership. That is, if we can get that far.


But this is an enormous if — and it reveals who will likely lose the most.


First of all, if Russia sends its forces into Eastern Ukraine — a distinct possibility — everybody loses. We could see the outbreak of a Ukrainian civil war, crippling market volatility, extreme geopolitical shock, and unforeseeable consequences. Events to date have brought us to a point where this is a frighteningly realistic outcome that cannot be ruled out.


But even if Russia doesn’t push further, there is no good outcome for the Ukrainian people for a long time to come. In the best case, they get cash for debt, but the Russians will no longer subsidize their gas. The economy will remain a wreck, and Ukraine’s new president will see a continued need to tack to Russia for economic reasons — but that strategy will become even more politically untenable. In short, Ukraine ends up back in the same stew — but it boils even hotter.


That scenario assumes ongoing economic and diplomatic support from the West. It wasn’t until the crisis truly erupted that the West began to open its pocketbook. What happens when the next global tension flares and the international media’s attention shifts? Will Western diplomatic efforts shift with it? Are the United States and Europe prepared to backstop a Ukrainian economy in free-fall when they have pressing economic concerns back home?


The Ukrainian people have lost the most, and have the most yet to lose. Discussions of America’s blunders should be framed in this context. Of course, it’s not inevitable: with tremendous, sustained outside support, there is a chance for a Ukrainian win over time. Unfortunately, that chance is far too slim.


The Senate-CIA Blowup Threatens a Constitutional Crisis

The allegations of CIA snooping on congressional investigators isn’t just a scandal—the whole premise of secret government is in question.


March. 11, 2014

by David Corn

Mother Jones


This morning, on C-SPAN, the foundation of the national security state exploded.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, took to the Senate floor and accused the CIA of spying on committee investigators tasked with probing the agency’s past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) and detention. Feinstein was responding to recent media stories reporting that the CIA had accessed computers used by intelligence committee staffers working on the committee’s investigation. The computers were set up by the CIA in a locked room in a secure facility separate from its headquarters, and CIA documents relevant to the inquiry were placed on these computers for the Senate investigators. But, it turns out, the Senate sleuths had also uncovered an internal CIA memo reviewing the interrogation program that had not been turned over by the agency. This document was far more critical of the interrogation program than the CIA’s official rebuttal to a still-classified, 6,300-page Senate intelligence committee report that slams it, and the CIA wanted to find out how the Senate investigators had gotten their mitts on this damaging memo.


The CIA’s infiltration of the Senate’s torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources—no names, please—told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill.

Then Feinstein went nuclear. For more than a half hour this morning, she gave what she called a “full accounting.” She began by noting her reluctance to go public:


Let me say up front that I come to the Senate floor reluctantly. Since January 15, 2014, when I was informed of the CIA search of this committee’s network, I’ve been trying to resolve this dispute in a discreet and respectful way. I have not commented in response to media requests for additional information on this matter; however, the increasing amount of inaccurate information circulating now cannot be allowed to stand unanswered.


In other words, she felt that the spies were leaking false information to nail her and her staffers. So she was upping the ante by taking this dispute out of the shadows.


Feinstein said that the CIA appeared to have violated the Fourth Amendment barring unreasonable searches and seizures—and perhaps other federal laws and a presidential executive order prohibiting the CIA from domestic searches and surveillance. She confirmed that the Justice Department was on the case. She said she has demanded an apology from the CIA and an admission that the agency’s search of the intelligence committee’s computers was wrong. “I have received neither,” she declared.


This unprecedented speech by Feinstein has ramifications beyond the immediate controversy over the CIA search. It undermines the basis for secret government.


The United States is a republic, and elected officials in all three branches are supposed to be held accountable by those famous checks and balances that school kids learn about in civics classes. When it comes to the clandestine activities of the US government—the operations of the CIA, the other intelligence outfits, and the covert arms of the military—the theory is straightforward: These activities are permitted only because there is congressional oversight. The citizenry is not told about such actions because doing so would endanger national security and render these activities moot. But such secret doings of the executive branch are permissible because elected representatives of the people in the legislative branch monitor these activities and are in a position to impose accountability.


That’s how it’s supposed to work. But since the founding of the national security state in the years after World War II, there have been numerous occasions when the spies, snoops, and secret warriors of the US government have not informed the busybodies on Capitol Hill about all of their actions. In the 1970s, after revelations of CIA assassination programs and other outrageous intelligence agency misdeeds, Congress created what was supposed to be a tighter system of congressional oversight. But following that, the CIA and other undercover government agencies still mounted operations without telling Congress. (See the Iran-Contra scandal.) Often the spies went to imaginative lengths to keep Congress in the dark. More recently, members of the intelligence community have said they were not fully in the know about the NSA’s extensive surveillance programs. Of course, there was a countervailing complaint from the spies. Often when a secret program becomes public knowledge, members of Congress proclaim their shock, even though they had been told about it.


Overall, the system of congressional oversight has hardly (as far as the public can tell) been stellar. And it has raised doubts about the ability of a democratic government to mount secret ops and wage secret wars in a manner consistent with the values of accountability and transparency. What was essential to decent governance on this front was the delicate relationship between congressional overseers and the intelligence agencies. The intelligence committees have to be forceful and fierce in monitoring the spooks (a responsibility often not met), and the spies have to be cooperative and forthcoming (again, a responsibility often not met). There has to be trust. The committees have to hold faith that the agencies are indeed coming clean, for there is no way a handful of congressional investigators can fully track all the operations of the massive intelligence establishment, and the agencies have to be assured that secrets they shared with the investigators will not be leaked for political purposes. And at the end of the day, elected representatives have to be able to come to the public and say, “We’re keeping a close eye on all this secret stuff, and we are satisfied that we know what is happening and that these activities are being conducted in an appropriate manner.” If such credible assurances cannot be delivered, the system doesn’t work—and the justification for allowing secret government within an open democracy is in tatters.


Which is where we are today. Feinstein, no firebrand, is in open war with the CIA. Her speech outlined plenty of trouble she had reviewing the CIA interrogation and detention program—before the computer search imbroglio. She decried “CIA interference in our investigation.” And she maintained that her investigators had not hacked the CIA to get the internal review. “We don’t know whether the documents were provided intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally by the CIA, or intentionally by a whistle-blower,” she said, raising the possibility that the CIA itself had failed to maintain a cover-up. And she noted that this internal review—unlike the CIA’s direct response to the intelligence committee’s report—contained “acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.” She reported that the CIA has refused to answer questions she has submitted about the agency’s search of the committee’s computers.


So here we have the person assigned the duty of guaranteeing that the intelligence establishment functions effectively and appropriately, and she cannot get information about how the CIA meddled in one of her own investigations. This is a serious breakdown. And by the way, Feinstein has still not succeeded in forcing the CIA to declassify her committee’s massive report on the interrogation and detention program.


Here is how she summed up the current state of play:


If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.


What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.


Robert Eatinger, Lawyer Who Approved Torture Tape Destruction, Tries to Intimidate Senate Investigators


March 11, 2014 



Dianne Feinstein just gave a barn burner of a speech explaining the CIA/SSCI fight over the Torture Report. There are a lot of details I’ll return to.


But one of the most important issues, in my mind, is the detail that the Acting General Counsel of the CIA, Robert Eatinger, referred the Senate Intelligence Committee investigators to DOJ for investigation. (h/t to DocexBlog for identifying Eatinger) Feinstein correctly interpreted this as an attempt to intimidate her staffers as they complete the investigation.


And, as Feinstein made clear, Eatinger is a key focus of the report. Feinstein revealed that Eatinger (whom she did not name) was named, by name, (if I heard Feinstein’s claim correctly) 1,600 times in the Torture Report.


At least some of those mentions surely describe CIA’s decision to destroy the torture tapes, an act Eatinger sanctioned.


Former CIA clandestine branch chief Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who ordered the destruction of the tapes, has said through his attorney that he based his decision on legal advice from agency lawyers. The lawyers, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger, did not endorse the tapes’ destruction but rather concluded there was “no legal impediment” to disposing of them, according to sources briefed on their advice.


Hermes and Eatinger, who only recently were interviewed by Durham, continue to work at the agency and have retained counsel, the sources said.


Feinstein described Eatinger’s key role as the Counterterrorism Center’s chief lawyer (presumably after Jonathan Fredman left). Some things CTC lawyers did were:


Approved the use of sleep deprivation before DOJ considered the question


Altered the record of the original briefing to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss


Used a John Yoo freelanced memo as the basis of advice to CIA on torture


Collaborated with John Yoo to write a “Legal Principles” document that authorized otherwise unauthorized torture techniques


Lawyers probably associated with CTC also lied about the treatment of Hassan Ghul in 2004.


Eatinger also contributed to a CIA cover-up attempt in a key State Secrets case.


There’s a lot that’s amazing about this story. But I find it particularly telling that a lawyer trying to protect his own ass — trying to hide details of the 1,600 mentions of his name in the Torture Report — has targeted Senate Intelligence Committee staffers.


Update: Given that Eatinger is apparently the person who referred the Senate staffers, it is significant that Feinstein started her speech by raising the torture tape destruction.


The origin of this study: The CIA’s detention and interrogation program began operations in 2002, though it was not until September 2006, that Members of the Intelligence Committee, other than the Chairman and Vice Chairman, were briefed. In fact, we were briefed by then-CIA Director Hayden only hours before President Bush disclosed the program to the public.


A little more than a year later, on December 6, 2007, a New York Times article revealed the troubling fact that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of some of the CIA’s first interrogations using so-called “enhanced techniques.” We learned that this destruction was over the objections of President Bush’s White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence.


After we read about the tapes’ destruction in the newspapers, Director Hayden briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee. He assured us that this was not destruction of evidence, as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper in the form of CIA operational cables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations.


The CIA director stated that these cables were “a more than adequate representation” of what would have been on the destroyed tapes. Director Hayden offered at that time, during Senator Jay Rockefeller’s chairmanship of the committee, to allow Members or staff to review these sensitive CIA operational cables given that the videotapes had been destroyed


White House withholds thousands of documents from Senate CIA probe, despite vows of help


March 12, 2014

by Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor

McClatchy Washington Bureau 


 WASHINGTON — The White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the now-defunct CIA detention and interrogation program, even though President Barack Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege.In contrast to public assertions that it supports the committee’s work, the White House has ignored or rejected offers in multiple meetings and in letters to find ways for the committee to review the records, a McClatchy investigation has found.The significance of the materials couldn’t be learned.


But the administration’s refusal to turn them over or to agree to any compromise raises questions about what they would reveal about the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons.


The dispute indicates that the White House is more involved than it has acknowledged in the unprecedented power struggle between the committee and the CIA, which has triggered charges that the agency searched the panel’s computers without authorization and has led to requests to the Justice Department for criminal investigations of CIA personnel and Senate aides.“These documents certainly raise the specter that the White House has been involved in stonewalling the investigation,” said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School.


The committee and the CIA declined to comment.In a statement to McClatchy, the White House confirmed that “a small percentage” of the 6.2 million pages of documents provided to the committee were “set aside because they raise executive branch confidentiality interests.”The White House also said that it had worked closely with the committee “to ensure access to the information necessary to review the CIA’s former program.”Speaking to reporters earlier during a White House event, Obama said that the administration has worked with the committee to ensure that its study is “well informed” and that he was committed to seeing the report declassified once a final version is completed. He said it wouldn’t be proper for him to comment directly on the battle between the CIA and the committee, except to say that CIA Director John Brennan had referred the issues to the “appropriate authorities and they are looking into it.


”The Democrat-controlled committee has largely kept silent about the tussle with the White House, even as some members have decried what they contend has been the CIA’s refusal to surrender key materials on the agency’s use under the Bush administration of interrogation methods denounced by the panel chairwoman as “un-American” and “brutal.”The chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, made no mention of the White House documents during a blistering floor speech Tuesday in which she charged that the CIA may have undermined the Constitution and violated the law by searching computers used by her staff to compile the study. Brennan has denied her allegations and the White House has expressed continued confidence in his leadership of the CIA.In question are some 9,400 documents that came to the committee’s attention in 2009, McClatchy has learned.


It’s unclear whether the CIA first gave the committee staff access to the materials before the White House withheld them.Obama, however, still hasn’t formally decreed that the documents are protected by executive privilege, McClatchy learned. Although the doctrine isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, the Supreme Court in 1974 recognized a limited power by the White House to withhold certain communications between high officials and close aides who advise and assist them.The withholding of the documents “may not be a smoking gun” proving White House obstructionism, said Goitein, a former Senate Judiciary Committee legal adviser.


Among the other explanations: The White House might have determined that the documents are not relevant to the inquiry or that they are indeed covered by executive privilege but that the president has not yet been forced to assert the claim, she said.“The most nefarious explanation is that they are not privileged and the White House simply doesn’t want to hand them over,” Goitein said. “Executive privilege is generally asserted after negotiations and brinksmanship behind the scenes.


People put on paper what they want to be formalized, and these negotiations by their very nature are very informal.”The committee, the CIA and the White House have held periodic talks on the materials since 2009. Their apparent failure to resolve the standoff prompted Feinstein to write several letters last year to Obama’s chief legal adviser, Kathryn Ruemmler, seeking a resolution, McClatchy has learned.A White House official, who declined to be further identified as a matter of administration policy, said that Ruemmler responded to Feinstein’s letters, although information obtained by McClatchy indicated that she hadn’t.


It was not known if the materials came up during a visit that Ruemmler and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough paid to Feinstein and the committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., on Tuesday after Feinstein delivered her speech.


To date, the most explicit public reference to documents being withheld by the White House appears to have been made last August by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., an Intelligence Committee member who has led calls for a full disclosure of the CIA interrogation program.In written questions that he submitted for the confirmation process of former CIA General Counsel Stephen W. Preston to be the Pentagon’s top lawyer, Udall asked Preston what role he’d played in an agency decision to withdraw documents that initially had been provided to the committee staff.


“During the CIA’s document production of more than six million pages of records, the CIA removed several thousand CIA documents that the CIA believed could be subject to executive privilege claims by the president,” Udall wrote. “While the documents represent an admittedly small percentage of the total number of records produced, the documents – deemed responsive – have nonetheless not been provided to the committee.


”Preston responded that “a small percentage of the total number of documents was set aside for further review. The agency (CIA) has deferred to the White House and has not been substantially involved in subsequent discussions about the disposition of those documents.”In a related episode in 2010 as described by Feinstein in her speech on Tuesday, the committee staff discovered that it was no longer able to access hundreds of documents that it previously had been able to read.“This was done without the knowledge or approval of committee members or staff and in violation of our written agreements,” she said.CIA personnel initially accused computer technicians of removing the documents and then asserted that they were pulled on the White House’s orders, Feinstein said.


The White House denied issuing such orders, she said, and “the matter was resolved” with renewed administration and CIA pledges that there would be no further intrusions into the staff’s database.Feinstein, however, did not say what happened to the documents.The records being held by the White House are separate from materials generated by an internal CIA review of some 6.2 million pages of operational cables, emails and other top-secret documents made accessible to committee staff in a secret CIA electronic reading room in Northern Virginia.


The committee approved a final draft of the $40 million, 6,300-page study in December 2012.In his first significant comments on the scandal, Chambliss took to the Senate floor late Wednesday afternoon to launch an apparent counterattack on Feinstein’s speech.“Although people speak as though we know all the pertinent facts surrounding this matter, the truth is, we do not,” said Chambliss, who pointed out that the committee’s Republican staff didn’t participate in investigating the detention and interrogation program.“We do not have the actual facts concerning the CIA’s alleged actions or all of the specific details about the actions by the committee staff regarding the draft of what is now referred to as the Panetta internal document,” Chambliss said.


“Both parties have made allegations against one another, and even speculated (on) each other’s actions, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions that must be addressed.”“No forensics have been run on the CIA computers . . . at the CIA facility to know what actually happened either regarding the alleged CIA search or the circumstances under which the committee came into possession of the Panetta internal review document.”


Lesley Clark and William Douglas of the Washington Bureau contributed.



Blessed Prozac moments: ‘Frozen’ lambasted as pro-gay propaganda by Christian pastor

Disney animation accused of indoctrinating five-year-olds into lesbianism and bestiality on Colorado-based Christian radio show



March 12, 2014

by Andrew Pulver



‘Frozen’, the Oscar-winning Disney cartoon adapted from Hans Christian Andersen, is a vehicle for pro-gay propaganda as well a promoting bestiality, according to a Christian radio show in Colorado.


Pastor Kevin Swanson of the Reformation Church, who hosts Generations Radio, denounced the film as “very evil”, and that Disney was “one of the most pro-homosexual organisations in the country”.


Swanson said: “You wonder sometimes if maybe there’s something very evil happening here … I wonder if people are thinking: ‘You know I think this cute little movie is going to indoctrinate my 5-year-old to be a lesbian or treat homosexuality or bestiality in a light sort of way.'”


He also characterised Disney as a satanic company, saying: “If I was the Devil, what would I do to really foul up an entire social system and do something really, really, really evil to 5- and 6- and 7-year-olds in Christian families around America?… If I was the Devil, I would buy Disney in 1984.”


Swanson’s broadside was inspired by a blog on the National Catholic Register entitled So, How Gay IS Disney’s Frozen? in which the NCR’s film critic Steven D Greydanus had argued the film is full of “gay-culture themes”. These include the solitary nature of the protagonist Elsa, her lack of interest in her male suitors, and the Oscar-winning song Let It Go. which shows Elsa “celebrating her acceptance of her true identity”. Greydanus also points to a brief glimpse of a “gay family”, that belonging to trading post owner Oaken.


Bestiality was identified by Greydanus in the relationship between hunter Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, as contained in a line from The Fixer-Upper Song: “His thing with the reindeer/That’s a little outside of nature’s laws!”


This latest controversy follows suggestions that Frozen might be Disney’s most pro-Christian movie of recent times. Swanson has a long record of decrying what he sees as pro-gay and lesbian culture, including claiming that Christians will be burned at the stake as a result of same sex marriage.


How the NSA Plans to Infect ‘Millions’ of Computers with Malware


March 12, 2014

by Ryan Gallagher and Glenn Greenwald




Top-secret documents reveal that the National Security Agency is dramatically expanding its ability to covertly hack into computers on a mass scale by using automated systems that reduce the level of human oversight in the process.


The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.


The covert infrastructure that supports the hacking efforts operates from the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, and from eavesdropping bases in the United Kingdom and Japan. GCHQ, the British intelligence agency, appears to have played an integral role in helping to develop the implants tactic.


In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.


The implants being deployed were once reserved for a few hundred hard-to-reach targets, whose communications could not be monitored through traditional wiretaps. But the documents analyzed by The Intercept show how the NSA has aggressively accelerated its hacking initiatives in the past decade by computerizing some processes previously handled by humans. The automated system – codenamed TURBINE – is designed to “allow the current implant network to scale to large size (millions of implants) by creating a system that does automated control implants by groups instead of individually.”


In a top-secret presentation, dated August 2009, the NSA describes a pre-programmed part of the covert infrastructure called the “Expert System,” which is designed to operate “like the brain.” The system manages the applications and functions of the implants and “decides” what tools they need to best extract data from infected machines.


Mikko Hypponen, an expert in malware who serves as chief research officer at the Finnish security firm F-Secure, calls the revelations “disturbing.” The NSA’s surveillance techniques, he warns, could inadvertently be undermining the security of the Internet.


“When they deploy malware on systems,” Hypponen says, “they potentially create new vulnerabilities in these systems, making them more vulnerable for attacks by third parties.”


Hypponen believes that governments could arguably justify using malware in a small number of targeted cases against adversaries. But millions of malware implants being deployed by the NSA as part of an automated process, he says, would be “out of control.”


“That would definitely not be proportionate,” Hypponen says. “It couldn’t possibly be targeted and named. It sounds like wholesale infection and wholesale surveillance.”


The NSA declined to answer questions about its deployment of implants, pointing to a new presidential policy directive announced by President Obama. “As the president made clear on 17 January,” the agency said in a statement, “signals intelligence shall be collected exclusively where there is a foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purpose to support national and departmental missions, and not for any other purposes.”


 “Owning the Net”


The NSA began rapidly escalating its hacking efforts a decade ago. In 2004, according to secret internal records, the agency was managing a small network of only 100 to 150 implants. But over the next six to eight years, as an elite unit called Tailored Access Operations (TAO) recruited new hackers and developed new malware tools, the number of implants soared to tens of thousands.


To penetrate foreign computer networks and monitor communications that it did not have access to through other means, the NSA wanted to go beyond the limits of traditional signals intelligence, or SIGINT, the agency’s term for the interception of electronic communications. Instead, it sought to broaden “active” surveillance methods – tactics designed to directly infiltrate a target’s computers or network devices.


In the documents, the agency describes such techniques as “a more aggressive approach to SIGINT” and says that the TAO unit’s mission is to “aggressively scale” these operations.


But the NSA recognized that managing a massive network of implants is too big a job for humans alone.


“One of the greatest challenges for active SIGINT/attack is scale,” explains the top-secret presentation from 2009. “Human ‘drivers’ limit ability for large-scale exploitation (humans tend to operate within their own environment, not taking into account the bigger picture).”


The agency’s solution was TURBINE. Developed as part of TAO unit, it is described in the leaked documents as an “intelligent command and control capability” that enables “industrial-scale exploitation.”


TURBINE was designed to make deploying malware much easier for the NSA’s hackers by reducing their role in overseeing its functions. The system would “relieve the user from needing to know/care about the details,” the NSA’s Technology Directorate notes in one secret document from 2009. “For example, a user should be able to ask for ‘all details about application X’ and not need to know how and where the application keeps files, registry entries, user application data, etc.”


In practice, this meant that TURBINE would automate crucial processes that previously had to be performed manually – including the configuration of the implants as well as surveillance collection, or “tasking,” of data from infected systems. But automating these processes was about much more than a simple technicality. The move represented a major tactical shift within the NSA that was expected to have a profound impact – allowing the agency to push forward into a new frontier of surveillance operations.


The ramifications are starkly illustrated in one undated top-secret NSA document, which describes how the agency planned for TURBINE to “increase the current capability to deploy and manage hundreds of Computer Network Exploitation (CNE) and Computer Network Attack (CNA) implants to potentially millions of implants.” (CNE mines intelligence from computers and networks; CNA seeks to disrupt, damage or destroy them.)


Eventually, the secret files indicate, the NSA’s plans for TURBINE came to fruition. The system has been operational in some capacity since at least July 2010, and its role has become increasingly central to NSA hacking operations.


Earlier reports based on the Snowden files indicate that the NSA has already deployed between 85,000 and 100,000 of its implants against computers and networks across the world, with plans to keep on scaling up those numbers.


The intelligence community’s top-secret “Black Budget” for 2013, obtained by Snowden, lists TURBINE as part of a broader NSA surveillance initiative named “Owning the Net.”


The agency sought $67.6 million in taxpayer funding for its Owning the Net program last year. Some of the money was earmarked for TURBINE, expanding the system to encompass “a wider variety” of networks and “enabling greater automation of computer network exploitation.”


 Circumventing Encryption


The NSA has a diverse arsenal of malware tools, each highly sophisticated and customizable for different purposes.


One implant, codenamed UNITEDRAKE, can be used with a variety of “plug-ins” that enable the agency to gain total control of an infected computer.


An implant plug-in named CAPTIVATEDAUDIENCE, for example, is used to take over a targeted computer’s microphone and record conversations taking place near the device. Another, GUMFISH, can covertly take over a computer’s webcam and snap photographs. FOGGYBOTTOM records logs of Internet browsing histories and collects login details and passwords used to access websites and email accounts. GROK is used to log keystrokes. And SALVAGERABBIT exfiltrates data from removable flash drives that connect to an infected computer.


The implants can enable the NSA to circumvent privacy-enhancing encryption tools that are used to browse the Internet anonymously or scramble the contents of emails as they are being sent across networks. That’s because the NSA’s malware gives the agency unfettered access to a target’s computer before the user protects their communications with encryption.


It is unclear how many of the implants are being deployed on an annual basis or which variants of them are currently active in computer systems across the world.


Previous reports have alleged that the NSA worked with Israel to develop the Stuxnet malware, which was used to sabotage Iranian nuclear facilities. The agency also reportedly worked with Israel to deploy malware called Flame to infiltrate computers and spy on communications in countries across the Middle East.


According to the Snowden files, the technology has been used to seek out terror suspects as well as individuals regarded by the NSA as “extremist.” But the mandate of the NSA’s hackers is not limited to invading the systems of those who pose a threat to national security.


In one secret post on an internal message board, an operative from the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate describes using malware attacks against systems administrators who work at foreign phone and Internet service providers. By hacking an administrator’s computer, the agency can gain covert access to communications that are processed by his company. “Sys admins are a means to an end,” the NSA operative writes.


The internal post – titled “I hunt sys admins” – makes clear that terrorists aren’t the only targets of such NSA attacks. Compromising a systems administrator, the operative notes, makes it easier to get to other targets of interest, including any “government official that happens to be using the network some admin takes care of.”


Similar tactics have been adopted by Government Communications Headquarters, the NSA’s British counterpart. As the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported in September, GCHQ hacked computers belonging to network engineers at Belgacom, the Belgian telecommunications provider.


The mission, codenamed “Operation Socialist,” was designed to enable GCHQ to monitor mobile phones connected to Belgacom’s network. The secret files deem the mission a “success,” and indicate that the agency had the ability to covertly access Belgacom’s systems since at least 2010.


Infiltrating cellphone networks, however, is not all that the malware can be used to accomplish. The NSA has specifically tailored some of its implants to infect large-scale network routers used by Internet service providers in foreign countries. By compromising routers – the devices that connect computer networks and transport data packets across the Internet – the agency can gain covert access to monitor Internet traffic, record the browsing sessions of users, and intercept communications.


Two implants the NSA injects into network routers, HAMMERCHANT and HAMMERSTEIN, help the agency to intercept and perform “exploitation attacks” against data that is sent through a Virtual Private Network, a tool that uses encrypted “tunnels” to enhance the security and privacy of an Internet session.


The implants also track phone calls sent across the network via Skype and other Voice Over IP software, revealing the username of the person making the call. If the audio of the VOIP conversation is sent over the Internet using unencrypted “Real-time Transport Protocol” packets, the implants can covertly record the audio data and then return it to the NSA for analysis


But not all of the NSA’s implants are used to gather intelligence, the secret files show. Sometimes, the agency’s aim is disruption rather than surveillance. QUANTUMSKY, a piece of NSA malware developed in 2004, is used to block targets from accessing certain websites. QUANTUMCOPPER, first tested in 2008, corrupts a target’s file downloads. These two “attack” techniques are revealed on a classified list that features nine NSA hacking tools, six of which are used for intelligence gathering. Just one is used for “defensive” purposes – to protect U.S. government networks against intrusions.


 “Mass exploitation potential”


Before it can extract data from an implant or use it to attack a system, the NSA must first install the malware on a targeted computer or network.


According to one top-secret document from 2012, the agency can deploy malware by sending out spam emails that trick targets into clicking a malicious link. Once activated, a “back-door implant” infects their computers within eight seconds.


There’s only one problem with this tactic, codenamed WILLOWVIXEN: According to the documents, the spam method has become less successful in recent years, as Internet users have become wary of unsolicited emails and less likely to click on anything that looks suspicious.


Consequently, the NSA has turned to new and more advanced hacking techniques. These include performing so-called “man-in-the-middle” and “man-on-the-side” attacks, which covertly force a user’s internet browser to route to NSA computer servers that try to infect them with an implant.


To perform a man-on-the-side attack, the NSA observes a target’s Internet traffic using its global network of covert “accesses” to data as it flows over fiber optic cables or satellites. When the target visits a website that the NSA is able to exploit, the agency’s surveillance sensors alert the TURBINE system, which then “shoots” data packets at the targeted computer’s IP address within a fraction of a second.


In one man-on-the-side technique, codenamed QUANTUMHAND, the agency disguises itself as a fake Facebook server. When a target attempts to log in to the social media site, the NSA transmits malicious data packets that trick the target’s computer into thinking they are being sent from the real Facebook. By concealing its malware within what looks like an ordinary Facebook page, the NSA is able to hack into the targeted computer and covertly siphon out data from its hard drive.



The documents show that QUANTUMHAND became operational in October 2010, after being successfully tested by the NSA against about a dozen targets.


According to Matt Blaze, a surveillance and cryptography expert at the University of Pennsylvania, it appears that the QUANTUMHAND technique is aimed at targeting specific individuals. But he expresses concerns about how it has been covertly integrated within Internet networks as part of the NSA’s automated TURBINE system.


“As soon as you put this capability in the backbone infrastructure, the software and security engineer in me says that’s terrifying,” Blaze says.


“Forget about how the NSA is intending to use it. How do we know it is working correctly and only targeting who the NSA wants? And even if it does work correctly, which is itself a really dubious assumption, how is it controlled?”


In an email statement to The Intercept, Facebook spokesman Jay Nancarrow said the company had “no evidence of this alleged activity.” He added that Facebook implemented HTTPS encryption for users last year, making browsing sessions less vulnerable to malware attacks.


Nancarrow also pointed out that other services besides Facebook could have been compromised by the NSA. “If government agencies indeed have privileged access to network service providers,” he said, “any site running only [unencrypted] HTTP could conceivably have its traffic misdirected.”


A man-in-the-middle attack is a similar but slightly more aggressive method that can be used by the NSA to deploy its malware. It refers to a hacking technique in which the agency covertly places itself between computers as they are communicating with each other.


This allows the NSA not only to observe and redirect browsing sessions, but to modify the content of data packets that are passing between computers.


The man-in-the-middle tactic can be used, for instance, to covertly change the content of a message as it is being sent between two people, without either knowing that any change has been made by a third party. The same technique is sometimes used by criminal hackers to defraud people.


A top-secret NSA presentation from 2012 reveals that the agency developed a man-in-the-middle capability called SECONDDATE to “influence real-time communications between client and server” and to “quietly redirect web-browsers” to NSA malware servers called FOXACID. In October, details about the FOXACID system were reported by the Guardian, which revealed its links to attacks against users of the Internet anonymity service Tor.


But SECONDDATE is tailored not only for “surgical” surveillance attacks on individual suspects. It can also be used to launch bulk malware attacks against computers.


According to the 2012 presentation, the tactic has “mass exploitation potential for clients passing through network choke points.”


Blaze, the University of Pennsylvania surveillance expert, says the potential use of man-in-the-middle attacks on such a scale “seems very disturbing.” Such an approach would involve indiscriminately monitoring entire networks as opposed to targeting individual suspects.


“The thing that raises a red flag for me is the reference to ‘network choke points,’” he says. “That’s the last place that we should be allowing intelligence agencies to compromise the infrastructure – because that is by definition a mass surveillance technique.”


To deploy some of its malware implants, the NSA exploits security vulnerabilities in commonly used Internet browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer.


The agency’s hackers also exploit security weaknesses in network routers and in popular software plugins such as Flash and Java to deliver malicious code onto targeted machines.


The implants can circumvent anti-virus programs, and the NSA has gone to extreme lengths to ensure that its clandestine technology is extremely difficult to detect. An implant named VALIDATOR, used by the NSA to upload and download data to and from an infected machine, can be set to self-destruct – deleting itself from an infected computer after a set time expires.


In many cases, firewalls and other security measures do not appear to pose much of an obstacle to the NSA. Indeed, the agency’s hackers appear confident in their ability to circumvent any security mechanism that stands between them and compromising a computer or network. “If we can get the target to visit us in some sort of web browser, we can probably own them,” an agency hacker boasts in one secret document. “The only limitation is the ‘how.’”


 Covert Infrastructure


The TURBINE implants system does not operate in isolation.


It is linked to, and relies upon, a large network of clandestine surveillance “sensors” that the agency has installed at locations across the world.


The NSA’s headquarters in Maryland are part of this network, as are eavesdropping bases used by the agency in Misawa, Japan and Menwith Hill, England.


The sensors, codenamed TURMOIL, operate as a sort of high-tech surveillance dragnet, monitoring packets of data as they are sent across the Internet.


When TURBINE implants exfiltrate data from infected computer systems, the TURMOIL sensors automatically identify the data and return it to the NSA for analysis. And when targets are communicating, the TURMOIL system can be used to send alerts or “tips” to TURBINE, enabling the initiation of a malware attack.


The NSA identifies surveillance targets based on a series of data “selectors” as they flow across Internet cables. These selectors, according to internal documents, can include email addresses, IP addresses, or the unique “cookies” containing a username or other identifying information that are sent to a user’s computer by websites such as Google, Facebook, Hotmail, Yahoo, and Twitter.


Other selectors the NSA uses can be gleaned from unique Google advertising cookies that track browsing habits, unique encryption key fingerprints that can be traced to a specific user, and computer IDs that are sent across the Internet when a Windows computer crashes or updates.



What’s more, the TURBINE system operates with the knowledge and support of other governments, some of which have participated in the malware attacks.


Classification markings on the Snowden documents indicate that NSA has shared many of its files on the use of implants with its counterparts in the so-called Five Eyes surveillance alliance – the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.


GCHQ, the British agency, has taken on a particularly important role in helping to develop the malware tactics. The Menwith Hill satellite eavesdropping base that is part of the TURMOIL network, located in a rural part of Northern England, is operated by the NSA in close cooperation with GCHQ.


Top-secret documents show that the British base – referred to by the NSA as “MHS” for Menwith Hill Station – is an integral component of the TURBINE malware infrastructure and has been used to experiment with implant “exploitation” attacks against users of Yahoo and Hotmail.


In one document dated 2010, at least five variants of the QUANTUM hacking method were listed as being “operational” at Menwith Hill. The same document also reveals that GCHQ helped integrate three of the QUANTUM malware capabilities – and test two others – as part of a surveillance system it operates codenamed INSENSER.


GCHQ cooperated with the hacking attacks despite having reservations about their legality. One of the Snowden files, previously disclosed by Swedish broadcaster SVT, revealed that as recently as April 2013, GCHQ was apparently reluctant to get involved in deploying the QUANTUM malware due to “legal/policy restrictions.” A representative from a unit of the British surveillance agency, meeting with an obscure telecommunications standards committee in 2010, separately voiced concerns that performing “active” hacking attacks for surveillance “may be illegal” under British law.


In response to questions from The Intercept, GCHQ refused to comment on its involvement in the covert hacking operations. Citing its boilerplate response to inquiries, the agency said in a statement that “all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight.”


Whatever the legalities of the United Kingdom and United States infiltrating computer networks, the Snowden files bring into sharp focus the broader implications. Under cover of secrecy and without public debate, there has been an unprecedented proliferation of aggressive surveillance techniques. One of the NSA’s primary concerns, in fact, appears to be that its clandestine tactics are now being adopted by foreign rivals, too.


“Hacking routers has been good business for us and our 5-eyes partners for some time,” notes one NSA analyst in a top-secret document dated December 2012. “But it is becoming more apparent that other nation states are honing their skillz [sic] and joining the scene.”

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