TBR News May 3, 2013

May 03 2013

The Voice of the White House


            Washington, D.C. May 1, 2013: “I wrote this two years ago for a novel I have just finished. I am extracting a portion that has some resonance with the current situation in Boston. And that one is gathering steam in the area of gross and throughly incompetent governmental surveillance.

            ‘It would be interesting, Alex thought, to return to Duluth with a large military tank, drive it down to his detested high school, running over more fragile bicycle traffic, the slow elderly and small children in the process, and then  methodically blast the building, contents and all, into smoking rubble.    


            He considered this act of savagery with pleasure.      


            Alex could visualize the Red Cross making urgent appeals for donated blood for very dead and thoroughly dismembered students, which they would then sell, tainted by terrible diseases or not, for top dollar. 

            Television stations would spend at least three weeks on the story of the obliterated school with grave, airhead newsreaders pontificating on the scripted reasons for the Great Duluth Slaughter.


            Congress would swiftly pass badly flawed laws against boys in tanks pumping shells into high schools, while hundreds of grinning and eager grief counselors would flood into Duluth to comfort weeping, hysterical students and parents, while gratefully stuffing their wallets or purses at public expense.

            Morticians, on the other hand, would secretly pray for another such incident and the sidewalks surrounding the ruins of the school would sprout plastic flowers in jelly jars and scrawled, badly spelled messages to the uncaring departed.

            If Alex somehow managed to escape capture, various law enforcement agencies would triumphantly make daily announcements about his imminent apprehension and enterprising telemarketers would merchandise titanium identification bracelets for other students whose families might want prompt future identification of pulverized offspring so as to be able to more rapidly cash in on insurance policies.


            And, of course, there would be a great business in national flags, colored ribbons to be worn on dress or lapel and endless maudlin, and grossly inaccurate, biographies of the slain third period students stuffed into the tattered and shrunken remnants of the national media.


            Music groups, whose careers had long since terminated, would give benefit concerts for their faded reputations and a year later, the Mayor of Duluth, two Minnesota  Senators, a number of other politicians and a group of professionally grieving parents would unveil a bronze plaque in a public park that would commemorate the fragmented dead.

            Two years later, someone would steal the plaque and sell it to a scrap dealer for drug money.


            It would not be missed, having been long forgotten and blotched with pigeon droppings and sprayed obscene and misspelled graffiti


            Such disasters, Alex decided, could be so profitable for everyone but the mangled dead and even they had the envy of oblivion.

            No more ripe zits, faulty cell phones, defective computers, nagging or stingy parents, whining and demanding girl friends, growing sexual frustrations, social rejections, chronic unemployment and the faint but terrible realization that eventually the cloistered world of public education would be replaced by the threatening realities of unrewarding work, failing marriages and expensive children, waiting just outside the exit from the school parking lot.’”


President Backs F.B.I. Handling of Boston Suspect in ’11


April 30, 2013

by Peter Baler and Michael S. Schmidt 

New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama offered his support Tuesday for the F.B.I.’s handling of a Russian intelligence tip about a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings, even as the nation’s intelligence chief announced a review of whether more could have been done to thwart the attack.



Mr. Obama rejected criticism that the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not do enough when the Russian government asked it to investigate one of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in 2011. The F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Tsarnaev at the time but found no evidence that he was involved in radical activities that represented a threat to the United States.


“”It’s not as if the F.B.I. did nothing,” Mr. Obama said at his first news conference since Mr. Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were accused of setting off bombs at the marathon on April 15. “They not only investigated the older brother; they interviewed the older brother. They concluded that there were no signs that he was engaging in extremist activity.”


He added: “Based on what I’ve seen so far, the F.B.I. performed its duties. Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing. But this is hard stuff.”


In response to the Boston bombing, the office of James R. Clapper Jr., who as the director of national intelligence oversees the country’s 17 intelligence agencies, said a review will look at how the F.B.I. and Central Intelligence Agency handled the Russian tip and its aftermath. Mr. Obama and law enforcement officials described the action as standard procedure.


Mr. Clapper’s office said the review was initiated by the Office of Intelligence Community inspector general and will be coordinated with the inspectors general from the Justice Department and C.I.A., a law enforcement official said.


“Director Clapper believes that every agency involved in collecting and sharing information prior to the attack took all the appropriate steps,” his office said in a statement. “He also believes that it is prudent and appropriate for there to be an independent review of those steps to ensure that nothing was missed.”


The F.B.I.’s handling of the Boston case has come under fire from some in Congress. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, has said that “the ball was dropped” because the agency failed to identify Tamerlan Tsarnaev as a threat after the original Russian tip or to continue tracking him when he left to visit his family in Russia and later returned to the United States.


“It’s people like this that you don’t want to let out of your sight, and this was a mistake,” Mr. Graham told CNN last week. “I don’t know if our laws were inefficient or if the F.B.I. failed, but we’re at war with radical Islamists and we need to up our game.”


Mr. Obama responded Tuesday by implying that Mr. Graham was simply seeking attention. “Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although I’m sure it generated some headlines,” the president said.


The Russian government told the F.B.I. in March 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, then a United States resident, “was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer,” according to an F.B.I. statement issued after the Boston bombings. The statement said that Mr. Tsarnaev “had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel” to Russia to apparently “join unspecified underground groups.”


The F.B.I. investigated Mr. Tsarnaev and ultimately told the Russians they found no links to extremists. The C.I.A. conducted a similar review later in 2011 in response to a similar request from the Russians.


At his news conference, Mr. Obama said that because of the pressure put on Al Qaeda and other networks, the danger to the United States seemed to be shifting more toward individuals who become radical without ties to outside organizations. “Those are in some ways more difficult to prevent,” he said.


But he said the intelligence agencies were examining what happened in the case of the Tsarnaev brothers to see if changes in policy would make a difference in a future case. “We want to leave no stone unturned,” he said. “We want to see is there in fact additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that could further improve and enhance our ability to detect a potential attack.”


He praised the cooperation American authorities have received from the Russian government since the attacks, noting that he spoke just Monday with President Vladimir V. Putin. But he said that the two sides remain divided by distrust born out of years of geopolitical tensions.


“Obviously old habits die hard,” he said. “There are still suspicions sometimes between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that date back 10, 20, 30 years, back to the cold war. But they’re continually improving.”


The inspector general review in the Boston case will begin as the F.B.I. is still trying to unravel how the bombing suspects were radicalized and how the attacks were pulled off.


As part of that investigation, the authorities are closely scrutinizing the activities of Mr. Tsarnaev in the days before and after the attacks.


The authorities are looking at a range of possibilities, two senior law enforcement officials said, including that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife, Katherine Russell, could have — wittingly or unwittingly — destroyed evidence, helped the bombers evade capture or even played a role in planning the attacks.


As part of the investigation, F.B.I. agents are trying to determine whether female DNA found on a piece of a pressure cooker used as an explosive device in the attacks was from Ms. Russell.


One of the officials said that a fingerprint had also been found on a bomb fragment and that investigators had tried to collect DNA and fingerprint samples from several people whom the authorities are scrutinizing in addition to Ms. Russell.


Federal authorities took a sample of Ms. Russell’s DNA on Monday in Rhode Island, where she has been staying with her parents, the officials said.


Her lawyer, Amato A. DeLuca, has said that Ms. Russell was shocked when she learned that her husband and brother-in-law were suspected of involvement in the attack. “We want to state what we stated before: Katie continues to assist in the investigation in any way that she can,” he said Monday in an e-mail.


The focus on Ms. Russell is part of the wider effort by the F.B.I. to determine who else may have played a role aiding the suspects. While the authorities do not believe the suspects were tied to a larger terrorist network or had accomplices, they remain skeptical that others did not know of their plans or did not help them destroy evidence. A law enforcement official said that authorities were investigating individuals who may have helped the suspects in some way after the bombings. The official would not elaborate.


Meeting with reporters in the White House briefing room, Mr. Obama also repeated his position that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a “game changer” while saying he wanted more information before deciding whether recent attacks were in fact committed by the Syrian government.


“We don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them,” he said. “We don’t have chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapons use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts.”


He added: “That’s what the American people would expect. If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in the position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do.”


Mr. Obama declined to say whether military action would be among the options he might take should he become convinced that the government was behind the attacks in Syria. “We would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us,” he said.


His hesitation in using force comports with the American public, which shows little interest in getting involved in another war in the Middle East. A New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday found that 62 percent of the public say the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria, while just one-quarter disagree.


On other topics, the president rejected the suggestion that his influence has waned with his defeat in pushing through the Senate a gun control measure with 90 percent public support.


“Maybe I should just pack up and go home,” the president said sarcastically, when a reporter asked about such assertions. He went on to paraphrase Mark Twain, saying, “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”


Mr. Obama was asked about reports that the State Department has blocked an employee from talking about last year’s attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but he said he was “not familiar” with the situation. “What I’ve been very clear about from the start is that our job with respect to Benghazi has been to find out exactly what happened,” he said.


He also repeated his support for closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in response to a question about a hunger strike by inmates there.


“This is a lingering problem that is not going to get better,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. It’s going to fester.”


Mr. Obama made a point of praising Jason Collins, the N.B.A. player who declared this week that he is gay. The president had finished with his news conference and was walking away from the lectern when a reporter called out a question about Mr. Collins. Mr. Obama, who usually does not respond after finishing, swiveled around and returned to the microphone.


“I had the chance to talk to him yesterday,” Mr. Obama said. “He seems like a terrific young man, and you know, I told him I couldn’t be prouder of him.”


He added that it was inspiring to children struggling with their own sexual orientation to learn that Mr. Collins could still be “a great competitor” and be “still 7 feet tall and can bang with Shaq” while being openly gay.


“Everybody’s part of a family and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance and not their sexual orientation,” Mr. Obama added. “And so, I’m very proud of him.”



Russia had elder Boston suspect under surveillance

April 30, 2013

by Arsen Mollayev and Lynn Berry 


MAKHACHKALA, Russia (AP) — Russian agents placed the elder Boston bombing suspect under surveillance during a six-month visit to southern Russia last year, then scrambled to find him when he suddenly disappeared after police killed a Canadian jihadist, a security official told The Associated Press.

U.S. law enforcement officials have been trying to determine whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev was indoctrinated or trained by militants during his visit to Dagestan, a Caspian Sea province that has become the center of a simmering Islamic insurgency.


The security official with the Anti-Extremism Center, a federal agency under Russia’s Interior Ministry, confirmed the Russians shared their concerns. He told the AP that Russian agents were watching Tsarnaev, and that they searched for him when he disappeared two days after the July 2012 death of the Canadian man, who had joined the Islamic insurgency in the region. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.


Security officials suspected ties between Tsarnaev and the Canadian — an ethnic Russian named William Plotnikov — according to the Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which is known for its independence and investigative reporting and cited an unnamed official with the Anti-Extremism Center, which tracks militants. The newspaper said the men had social networking ties that brought Tsarnaev to the attention of Russian security services for the first time in late 2010.


It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if the men had met. Both were amateur boxers of roughly the same age whose families had moved from Russia to North America when they were teenagers. In recent years, both had turned to Islam and expressed radical beliefs. And both had traveled to Dagestan, a republic of some 3 million people.


The AP could not independently confirm whether the two men had communicated on social networks or crossed paths either in Dagestan or in Toronto, where Plotnikov had lived with his parents and where Tsarnaev had an aunt.


After Plotnikov was killed, Tsarnaev left suddenly for the U.S., not waiting to pick up his new Russian passport — ostensibly one of his main reasons for coming to Russia. The official said his sudden departure was considered suspicious.


Plotnikov’s father told the Canadian network CBCNews on Monday that his son had broken off contact when he returned to Russia in 2010 and he had no way of knowing whether his son knew Tsarnaev.


In an August interview with the Canadian newspaper National Post, Vitaly Plotnikov said his son, who was 23 when he died, had converted to Islam in 2009 and quickly became radicalized. But he said he fully understood what his son was up to in Russia only when he received photographs and videos after his death.


In one photo, a smiling William Plotnikov is shown posing in the woods, an automatic rifle slung over his shoulder and a camouflage ammunition belt around his waist. In the videos, which the National Post reporter watched with the father, the younger Plotnikov talked openly of planning to kill in the name of Allah.


Plotnikov had been detained in Dagestan in December 2010 on suspicion of having ties to the militants and during his interrogation was forced to hand over a list of social networking friends from the United States and Canada who like him had once lived in Russia, Novaya Gazeta reported.


The newspaper said Tsarnaev’s name was on that list, bringing him for the first time to the attention of Russia’s secret services.


Novaya Gazeta, which is part-owned by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and wealthy businessman Alexander Lebedev, has regularly criticized the Kremlin. One of its best known reporters, Anna Politkovskaya, angered the Kremlin with her reporting from Chechnya, and her 2006 murder in a Moscow elevator was widely presumed to have been in connection with her journalistic work.


The Islamic insurgency in Dagestan grew out of the fierce fighting between Russian troops and separatists in neighboring Chechnya that raged in the 1990s. Attacks now are carried out almost daily in Dagestan against police and security forces, who respond with special operations of their own to wipe out the militants.


As recently as Sunday, two suspected militants were killed in a shootout after being cornered in a house in the Dagestani village of Chontaul, according to police spokeswoman Fatina Ubaidatova.


Plotnikov was among seven suspected militants killed on July 14 during a standoff with police in the Dagestani village of Utamysh, according to the official police record.


After Plotnikov’s death, Russian security agents lost track of Tsarnaev and went to see his father in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, who told them that his son had returned to the U.S., Novaya Gazeta said.


The agents did not believe the father, since Tsarnaev had left without picking up his new Russian passport, and they continued to search for him, the newspaper reported.


The Russians later determined that Tsarnaev had flown to Moscow on July 16 and to the United States the following day, the newspaper said. Tsarnaev arrived in New York on July 17.


Russian migration officials have said they were puzzled that Tsarnaev applied for the passport but left before it was ready.


His father, Anzhor Tsarnaev, said last week that his elder son stayed with him while waiting for the passport to be processed. He could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the Novaya Gazeta report.


The Tsarnaev family had lived briefly in Dagestan before moving to the United States a decade ago. Both parents returned to Dagestan last year.


The official with Russia’s Anti-Extremism Center said Tsarnaev was filmed attending a mosque in Makhachkala whose worshippers adhere to a more radical strain of Islam. The official would give no further details about what the Russian security services knew about Tsarnaev’s activities in Dagestan or about any possible connection to Plotnikov.


The AP was unable to determine whether the official was the same one who provided the information to Novaya Gazeta.


Plotnikov had settled in Utamysh, a small village about 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Makhachkala. It was not known whether he had spent any significant amount of time in Dagestan’s capital.


Novaya Gazeta said Tsarnaev was also seen in the company of Mahmud Nidal — a man who was both Palestinian and Kumyk, one of the dozens of ethnic groups living in Dagestan — and who was believed to have ties to Islamic militants in the southern Russian region.


Nidal was killed in May 2012 after refusing to give himself up to security forces that had surrounded a house in Makhachkala, according to official police records.


Shortly after Plotnikov identified Tsarnaev during his December 2010 interrogation, the Russian secret services, the FSB, studied Tsarnaev’s pages on social networking sites and asked the FBI for more information, the Russian newspaper said.


The FBI has acknowledged receiving the request. The U.S. agency said it opened an investigation, but when no evidence of terrorism was found and no further information from the Russians was forthcoming, the case was closed in June 2011.


Berry reported from Moscow.



Report: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s Repeated Requests for a Lawyer Were Ignored

There is zero legal or ethical justification for denying a suspect in custody this fundamental right


April 30, 2013 

by Glenn Greenwald

The Guardian/UK


The initial debate over the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev focused on whether he should be advised of his Miranda rights or whether the “public safety exception” justified delaying it. In the wake of news reports that he had been Mirandized and would be charged in a federal court, I credited the Obama DOJ for handling the case reasonably well thus far. As it turns out, though, Tsarnaev wasn’t Mirandized because the DOJ decided he should be. Instead, that happened only because a federal magistrate, on her own, scheduled a hospital-room hearing, interrupted the FBI’s interrogation which had been proceeding at that point for a full 16 hours, and advised him of his right to remain silent and appointed him a lawyer. Since then, Tsarnaev ceased answering the FBI’s questions


But that controversy was merely about whether he would be advised of his Miranda rights. Now, the Los Angeles Times, almost in passing, reports something which, if true, would be a much more serious violation of core rights than delaying Miranda warnings – namely, that prior to the magistrate’s visit to his hospital room, Tsarnaev had repeatedly asked for a lawyer, but the FBI simply ignored those requests, instead allowing the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group to continue to interrogate him alone:


“Tsarnaev has not answered any questions since he was given a lawyer and told he has the right to remain silent by Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler on Monday, officials said.


“Until that point, Tsarnaev had been responding to the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, including admitting his role in the bombing, authorities said. A senior congressional aide said Tsarnaev had asked several times for a lawyer, but that request was ignored since he was being questioned under the public safety exemption to the Miranda rule.”


Delaying Miranda warnings under the “public safety exception” – including under the Obama DOJ’s radically expanded version of it – is one thing. But denying him the right to a lawyer after he repeatedly requests one is another thing entirely: as fundamental a violation of crucial guaranteed rights as can be imagined. As the lawyer bmaz comprehensively details in this excellent post, it is virtually unheard of for the “public safety” exception to be used to deny someone their right to a lawyer as opposed to delaying a Miranda warning (the only cases where this has been accepted were when “the intrusion into the constitutional right to counsel … was so fleeting – in both it was no more than a question or two about a weapon on the premises of a search while the search warrant was actively being executed”). To ignore the repeated requests of someone in police custody for a lawyer, for hours and hours, is just inexcusable and legally baseless.


As law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky explained in the Los Angeles Times last week, the Obama DOJ was already abusing the “public safety” exception by using it to delay Miranda warnings for hours, long after virtually every public official expressly said that there were no more threats to the public safety. As he put it: “this exception does not apply here because there was no emergency threat facing law enforcement.” Indeed, as I documented when this issue first arose, the Obama DOJ already unilaterally expanded this exception far beyond what the Supreme Court previously recognized by simply decreeing (in secret) that terrorism cases justify much greater delays in Mirandizing a suspect for reasons well beyond asking about public safety.


But that debate was merely about whether Tsarnaev would be advised of his rights. This is much more serious: if the LA Times report is true, then it means that the DOJ did not merely fail to advise him of his right to a lawyer but actively blocked him from exercising that right. This is a US citizen arrested for an alleged crime on US soil: there is no justification whatsoever for denying him his repeatedly exercised right to counsel. And there are ample and obvious dangers in letting the government do this. That’s why Marcy Wheeler was arguing from the start that whether Tsarnaev would be promptly presented to a federal court – as both the Constitution and federal law requires – is more important than whether he is quickly Mirandized. Even worse, if the LA Times report is accurate, it means that the Miranda delay as well as the denial of his right to a lawyer would have continued even longer had the federal magistrate not basically barged into the interrogation to advise him of his rights.


I’d like to see more sources for this than a single anonymous Congressional aide, though the LA Times apparently concluded that this source’s report was sufficiently reliable. The problem is that we’re unlikely to get much transparency on this issue because to the extent that national politicians in Washington are complaining about Tsarnaev’s treatment, their concern is that his rights were not abused even further:


“Lawmakers were told Tsarnaev had been questioned for 16 hours over two days. Injured in the throat, he was answering mostly in writing.


“‘For those of us who think the public safety exemption properly applies here, there are legitimate questions about why he was [brought before a judge] when he was,’ said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), a former federal prosecutor who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.


“Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the committee, wrote Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. asking for a full investigation of the matter, complaining that the court session ‘cut off a lawful, ongoing FBI interview to collect public safety information.'”


So now the Washington “debate” is going to be whether (a) the Obama DOJ should have defied the efforts of the federal court to ensure Tsarnaev’s rights were protected and instead just violated his rights for even longer than it did, or (b) the Obama DOJ violated his rights for a sufficient amount of time before “allowing” a judge into his hospital room. That it is wrong to take a severely injured 19-year-old US citizen and aggressively interrogate him in the hospital without Miranda rights, without a lawyer, and (if this report is true) actively denying him his repeatedly requested rights, won’t even be part of that debate. As Dean Chemerinsky wrote:


“Throughout American history, whenever there has been a serious threat, people have proposed abridging civil liberties. When that has happened, it has never been shown to have made the country safer. These mistakes should not be repeated. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be investigated, prosecuted and tried in accord with the US Constitution.”


There is no legal or ethical justification for refusing the request for someone in custody to have a lawyer present. If this report is true, what’s most amazing is not that his core rights were so brazenly violated, but that so few people in Washington will care. They’re too busy demanding that his rights should have been violated even further.


In March of last year, the New York Times’ Editorial Page Editor, Andrew Rosenthal – writing under the headline “Liberty and Justice for Non-Muslims” – explained: “it’s rarely acknowledged that the [9/11] attacks have also led to what’s essentially a separate justice system for Muslims.” Even if you’re someone who has decided that you don’t really care about (or will actively support) rights abridgments as long as they are applied to groups or individuals who you think deserve it, these violations always expand beyond their original application. If you cheer when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s right to counsel is denied, then you’re enabling the institutionalization of that violation, and thus ensuring that you have no basis or ability to object when that right is denied to others whom you find more sympathetic (including yourself).

In wake of Boston tragedy, right to privacy at risk

April 30, 2013

by Shane Krauser



Two weeks after the tragic bombings in Boston, our elected officials are offering the American people a stark choice: liberty or security. Arguing for more security cameras in public spaces, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has declared that our dangerous times call for a reinterpretation of the Constitution itself. Privacy — and presumably any other rights that could someday be construed as “dangerous” — must take a back seat to security. What Bloomberg proposes would be devastating to America. If we trade our liberty for security, the very idea of America will disappear.


Within hours of the Boston bombings, Michael Toscano, president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, was arguing that unmanned drones could have been useful to first responders. Others, like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spoke on “CBS This Morning” after the attacks, are calling for increased use of security cameras in public areas.


The Fourth Amendment presumptively requires law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant in order to seize private information. However, the government has convinced the American people that because instruments like drones and cameras operate in the public sphere, they do not violate a person’s right of privacy. Not so fast! James Madison said, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.” Many of the framers noted their objections to a standing army or a police state, and for good reason. A free society doesn’t tolerate such an imposition.
            The Air Force deploys drones over U.S. airspace to identify survivors of natural disasters, observe actions in and around military bases, and monitor the environment. What happens when these drones accidentally record information in the public sphere? According to the Air Force Instruction Manual for Oversight of Intelligence Activities, the government has 90 days to decide if the information is relevant to government interests. In other words, the government tells us it is not interested in domestic spying, but if it happens to spy on us and uncover information that it deems relevant, it can potentially use that information.


What would George Washington have done if England had passed the Drone Act of 1770, permitting the British government to place drones over the colonies to ensure they were complying with the Navigation Act and the Townsend Act? I’m sure we would have been awe-struck by the colonists’ response to such a proposal. They wouldn’t have tolerated it for a single moment.


What about cameras on every street corner? Even though people stroll about in public, isn’t there a certain sense of anonymity that protects our sense that we’re not being watched? Most Americans would probably not consent to audio recording devices being placed along our streets to listen to our conversations, yet we are not crying out against something that is just as intrusive: video cameras.


Our elected officials are capitalizing on tragedy after tragedy and, in the process, running roughshod over the oaths they took to uphold and defend the Constitution. Where are the people in government who are opposed to this? There aren’t many of them. Why? Because it’s easier to win elections saying you stopped a future tragedy by infringing on people’s liberties than it is to win elections admitting a tragedy happened while protecting those liberties.


If individuals and private businesses wish to place video cameras and audio recorders on their property, that’s their decision. However, if we allow the government to do so in public areas, we will be facilitating the continuing onslaught against our freedom of movement, our right to be left alone, and the expectation that government will make preserving those liberties a high priority.


May Bostonians know that America stands with them in the midst of tragedy. May government stand with liberty in the face of continued attacks on our Constitution and our right to privacy.


Shane Krauser is a partner with the law firm of Davis Miles McGuire Gardner, the chief instructor of K-Force Vanguard, and the director of the American Academy for Constitutional Education.

As FBI expands Boston investigation, Obama defends law enforcement efforts

April 30, 2013

by Sari Horwitz and Greg Miller

Washington Post


President Obama on Tuesday defended U.S. law enforcement’s efforts in scrutinizing the Boston Marathon bombing suspects as federal officials said the FBI has broadened its investigation into possible links between one of the suspects and foreign militants.


In his first news conference since the Boston attack, Obama said law enforcement agencies had performed in “exemplary fashion” in the hunt for the bombers and in investigating one of the suspects before the bombings. He accused critics of chasing headlines.


“Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties,” Obama said. “Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing. But this is hard stuff.”


Obama’s remarks came as the FBI expanded its investigation of the people who had contact with the two brothers suspected of carrying out the April 15 bombings. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a shootout with police four days after the bombings. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was captured later the same day and faces federal charges that could lead to the death penalty.


Federal investigators are trying to trace the handgun, a 9mm Ruger, that the elder Tsarnaev used in the shootout. Two law enforcement officials said that an attempt was made to erase the serial number on the gun and that experts have been unable to restore all eight digits.


Law enforcement officials said several “persons of interest” in the United States and Russia are being investigated in connection with the brothers. One of the primary focuses is the seven months that Tamerlan Tsarnaev spent in Russia in 2012.


During that trip, Tsarnaev may have had contact with two suspected Russian militants in the country’s restive North Caucasus region, according to the law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.


The FBI and other agencies began scrutinizing the elder Tsarnaev in 2011 after the Russian security service warned the bureau and the CIA of concerns that he was becoming increasingly radicalized and might travel to Russia to carry out an attack. He was questioned by FBI agents in Boston, but the inquiry concluded that he posed no threat. In January 2012, he traveled to parts of Russia where there are active Islamic insurgencies. He returned to the Boston area in July.


In the aftermath of the bombings, the FBI and Russian authorities are trying to reconstruct Tsarnaev’s activities in Russia. He spent most of his time with family members in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, a Russian province where there is an active Islamist insurgency. Family members said he was not involved in any unusual activities.


But U.S. officials said the FBI is investigating information that Tsarnaev met with Mahmoud Mansour Nidal, who was suspected of recruiting for Islamist militants in Dagestan who are fighting the Russians. Nidal died in a gun battle with authorities last May in Makhachkala.


According to the officials, another line of inquiry is possible links between Tsarnaev and William Plotnikov, a Russian Canadian suspected of involvement with militants in the North Caucasus. Plotnikov was killed by Russian police in July and Tsarnaev returned to the United States a few days later, leaving behind a new Russian passport.


Authorities now believe Tamerlan Tsarnaev began his preparations for the bombings after his return to the Boston area last year, a period in which he assembled an extensive playlist of jihadist videos online.


Critics have questioned why the initial FBI inquiry on Tsarnaev was not reopened after his trip to Russia. His return to the United States was registered on a low-level watch list, but no action was taken.


The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Tuesday that its inspector general has launched an inquiry into U.S. counterterrorism agencies’ handling of the shards of information they had collected on the brothers in the 18 months leading up to the attacks. The probe will focus on whether information was shared among agencies, including the FBI, the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center.


Acknowledging the inquiry at his news conference, Obama said: “We want to go back and we want to review every step that was taken. . . . We want to see, is there in fact additional protocols and procedures that could be put in place that would further improve and enhance our ability to detect a potential attack?”


A spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said that, while Clapper has instructed U.S. spy agencies to cooperate with the inspector general probe, he does not believe any mistakes were made.


“Director Clapper believes that every agency involved in collecting and sharing information prior to the attack took all the appropriate steps,” said the spokesman, Shawn Turner. “He also believes that it is prudent and appropriate for there to be an independent review of those steps to ensure that nothing was missed.”


Meanwhile, an association of prosthetic companies pledged Tuesday to ensure that people who required amputations as a result of the Boston Marathon bombing would be provided artificial limbs, even if they have no health insurance or inadequate health insurance.


At a news conference, officials from the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association estimated that 20 to 25 people injured in the bombings will need new limbs and that about half would not have sufficient insurance to cover the prostheses and the care and training needed to use them. They said a variety of companies in the field will donate their services to ensure that victims are able to walk and run again.

California to confiscate guns held illegally in firearms crackdown


Governor signs law to allow agents to seize guns from 20,000 Californians who have been disqualified from owning them


May 2, 2013

By Rory Carroll in Los Angeles



California plans to confiscate guns from 20,000 people who bought them legally but have since been disqualified because of criminal or psychiatric problems, boosting the state’s relatively tough approach to gun control.


Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on Wednesday allocating $24m – generated by fees taken from gun buyers at the time of purchase – to the crackdown, the first in a series of gun control bills following the Sandy Hook massacre.


“This bipartisan bill makes our communities safer by giving law enforcement the resources they need to get guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous individuals,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor.


California’s Bureau of Firearms has identified about 20,000 people who illegally possess about 40,000 handguns and assault weapons, a list which grows by 15 to 20 daily.


The bill, known as SB140, directs $24m from the Dealers’ Record of Sale fund, a fee on gun purchases, to the state’s Department of Justice.


The money will pay for an extra 36 agents to help clear a backlog using a a database that cross-references a list of gun owners with those disqualified later from owning guns. Budget cuts had slowed the effort.


The three-year initiative will prioritise the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno and Riverside.


State senator Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, introduced the bill. “We know for the safety of our communities that these people should not possess guns, and our reinvestment in this tracking program gives us the opportunity to confiscate them,” he said in a statement.


Brown is also a Democrat once mocked as Governor Moonbeam for his idiosyncrasies, but he is a gun owner and has built alliances with the beleaguered Republican minority in Sacramento. He vowed action after the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut last December. About a dozen other gun control bills are under discussion.


“California is leading the nation in a commonsense effort to protect public safety by taking guns away from dangerous, violent individuals who are prohibited by law from owning them,” said state attorney general Kamala Harris.


The group Gun Owners of California said it supported confiscating guns from criminals but complained that the bill was “grossly unfair” in forcing lawful gun owners to fund the crackdown.


The conservative journal American Thinker called the coming “dragnet” a disaster waiting to happen.


“Some innocents are going to be deprived of their second amendment rights because of mistakes, or poorly defined criteria for taking someone’s firearm. What recourse will they have then? Bad times ahead for California gun owners.”


At Texas fertilizer plant, a history of theft, tampering


May 3, 2013

by Selam Gebrekidan and Joshua Schneyer



            NEW YORK The Texas fertilizer plant that exploded two weeks ago, killing 14 people and injuring about 200, was a repeat target of theft by intruders who tampered with tanks and caused the release of toxic chemicals, police records reviewed by Reuters show.


Police responded to at least 11 reports of burglaries and five separate ammonia leaks at West Fertilizer Co over the past 12 years, according to 911 dispatch logs and criminal offense reports Reuters obtained from the McLennan County Sheriff’s office in Waco, Texas through an Open Records Request.


Some of the leaks, including one reported in October 2012, were linked to theft or interference with tank valves.


According to one 2002 crime report, a plant manager told police that intruders were stealing four to five gallons of anhydrous ammonia every three days. The liquid gas can be used to cook methamphetamine, the addictive and illicit stimulant.


In rural areas across the United States, the thriving meth trade has turned storage facilities like West Fertilizer Co and even unattended tanks in farm fields into frequent targets of theft, according to several government and fertilizer industry reports issued over the past 13 years.


The cause of the April 17 blast at the plant in the town of West is still being probed, and investigators have offered no evidence that security breaches contributed to the deadly incident. There also is no indication that the explosion had anything to do with the theft of materials for drug making. Anhydrous ammonia has been ruled out as a cause because the four storage tanks remained intact after the blast, said Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office.




Investigators are pursuing about 100 leads, including a call to an arson hotline and a tip that there had been a fire on the property earlier on the day of the explosion, according to Moreno. Authorities have not said whether either tip was credible. About 80 investigators from various state and federal agencies are contributing to the probe. They hope to determine by May 10 what caused the explosion, Texas Fire Marshal Chris Connealy said at a state legislative hearing on Wednesday.


A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of several state and federal agencies that monitor security at chemical plants, declined to answer questions about the breaches of security at West Fertilizer Co. State investigators also declined to comment.


Thefts of anhydrous ammonia are common in McLennan County, where burglars siphon fertilizer from trailer tanks into five-gallon propane containers, said McLennan County Chief Deputy Sheriff Matt Cawthon, who took up the position in January.


After reviewing crime reports from the past 12 years and speaking to deputies who responded to some of the break-ins, Cawthon said security was clearly lax at the plant.


The perimeter was not fenced, and the facility had no burglar alarms or security guards, he said. “It was a hometown-like situation. Everybody trusts everybody.”


Chemical safety experts said the recurrent security breaches at West Fertilizer are troubling because they suggest vulnerability to theft, leaks, fires or explosions. Apart from anhydrous ammonia, the company stored tons of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used in bomb-making. No thefts of that substance were reported to police.


“Regardless of what triggered this specific event, the fact that there were lots of burglaries and that they were after ammonia clearly shows this plant was vulnerable to unwanted intruders or even a terrorist attack,” said Sam Mannan, a chemical process safety expert at Texas A&M University, who has advised Dow Chemical and others on chemical security.




Owners of West Fertilizer, responding through a representative, declined to answer questions about specific instances of theft or the level of security at the plant. The company has encouraged its employees to share “all they know” with investigators, said Daniel Keeney, a spokesman for the company.


The current owners of West Fertilizer are Donald Adair, 83, and Wanda Adair, 78, who bought it in 2004. Calls to a number listed for previous owner Emil Plasek were not returned.


In a 2006 permit application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the company reported it would protect ammonia tanks against theft or tampering and conduct daily equipment inspections. A TCEQ spokesman would not comment about security measures. He said the agency’s responsibility is to regulate emissions from the plant, not to oversee security.


Documents from the Texas Department of State Health Services show the West plant was storing 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia in 2012. Ammonium nitrate was among the ingredients in the bomb used by Timothy McVeigh to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, killing 168 people.


After that bombing, Congress passed a law requiring facilities that store large amounts of the chemical to report to the DHS and work with the agency to ensure proper security measures are in place to keep it out of criminal hands and protect against such attacks.


West Fertilizer did not report to DHS, despite storing hundreds of times more ammonium nitrate than the amount that would require it do so. Depending on the grade of the chemical, companies are required to report if they store at least 400 pounds or 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate.


A 2005 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study identified hundreds of cases in 16 states where anhydrous ammonia was stolen for use in meth production. Some illegal labs mix anhydrous ammonia with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine and sodium or lithium to make methamphetamine, the U.S. Department of Justice reported in 2001.


In dozens of instances, the CDC said, the thefts by meth makers siphoning ammonia from tanks caused injuries or forced evacuations because gas was released into the environment. However, cases of ammonia theft have become less frequent since 2006, when new laws restricted the sale of pseudoephedrine, which is found in some common cold drug remedies, according to The Fertilizer Institute, an industry association.


Police records show West Fertilizer began complaining of repeated thefts from the facility in June 2001, when burglars stole 150 pounds of anhydrous ammonia from storage tanks three nights in a row. Nearly a year later, a plant manager told police that thieves were siphoning four-to-five gallons of the liquefied fertilizer every three days.


Randy Plemons, who was chief deputy sheriff during the years when the thefts occurred, declined to discuss specifics of his agency’s response to the repeated break-ins.


“Whenever we were notified of the burglaries and thefts we responded to those,” he said. “I can’t speak to every offense.”


Company owners downplayed security risks in documents submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2006, saying thefts had dropped to zero over the preceding 20 months as meth makers now had found a substitute for anhydrous ammonia available at garden nurseries or major retailers.




Yet burglars and trespassers continued to target the facility. Following a series of break-ins in late 2008 and early 2009, including one where a trespasser visited pornographic websites on a secretary’s computer, police told plant manager Ted Uptmore – who has worked at the company for decades — to install a surveillance system. Later documents show the company complied. Uptmore did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this story.


The last record of tampering was in October 2012, when a 911 caller reported an odor “so strong it can burn your eyes.” The firm dispatched Cody Dragoo, an employee often sent after hours to shut leaking valves and look into break-ins. That night, he shut off the valve but reported it had been tampered with.


Two weeks ago, Dragoo, 50, was among those killed in the blast while responding to the fire.


(Editing By Janet Roberts, Martin Howell)


Washington’s nuclear hypocrisy


April 2009

by Michael Walker

Foreign Policy in Focus


 President Barack Obama gave hope to nuclear disarmament activists around the globe. Speaking in the Czech Republic, he affirmed “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”. It was, and remains, the most laudable of objectives. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe that the president is truly committed to eliminating these terrifying weapons of mass destruction.


This might come as a surprise to those whose knowledge of the issue is limited to Washington’s dealings with North Korea and Iran, for the US government has made it plain that these nations’ purported nuclear activities will not be tolerated. As Secretary of State John Kerry declared during a visit to Seoul this month, “North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power.” Regarding Iran, President Obama emphasized in an interview aired on Israeli television in March that “I have been crystal clear about my position on Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. That is a red line for us.”


These words have been matched by deeds. The Obama administration has been dogged in its efforts to punish these states for their alleged nuclear ambitions. A case in point occurred in March, when US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice led the way in pushing for the imposition of new sanctions on the reclusive North Korean regime following its third nuclear test. Tehran has likewise been targeted with crippling US and international economic sanctions.


However, if we look beyond these two cases, the non-proliferation edifice begins to crumble. It was reported over the weekend, for example, that the United States intends to spend around US$10 billion enhancing its Europe-based nuclear weapons. This plan, which would involve turning the bombs into guided weapons that could be fired by F-35 warplanes, would represent “a significant upgrade of the US nuclear capability in Europe”, according to one expert.


Then there is the matter of Washington’s cozy relations with nuclear weapons states India and Israel. The courting of India, a nation that conducted a so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion” as far back as 1974 and has never signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), is not a new phenomenon. The embrace of this South Asian giant began during George W Bush’s presidency, when his administration signed a 10-year defense agreement with New Delhi and blew a giant hole in the global non-proliferation regime by agreeing to a civil nuclear cooperation deal.


President Obama’s team has been hypnotized by New Delhi’s potential as a buyer of US arms and military hardware. In 2010, the president paid a visit to India where he lobbied on behalf of US defense contractors Lockheed and Boeing, which were at the time bidding for a multi-billion dollar contract to provide the country’s military with 126 new warplanes. Although Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh torpedoed the US bids, preferring to negotiate with the French company Dassault, the Obama administration has continued its efforts to pry open the lucrative Indian market.


Indeed, Andrew Shapiro, a high-ranking State Department official, recently boasted that “we have made tremendous progress in the [US-India] defense trade relationship,” with US military sales to New Delhi hitting roughly $8 billion, up from zero in 2008. He held out the appealing prospect of “billions of dollars more in the next couple of years”. In short, this logic holds that while India may have atomic weapons, what’s more important is that the country is an ally and buys large quantities of US military equipment.


Unsurprisingly, Israel also gets special treatment on the nuclear front. An undeclared nuclear weapons state that has declined to sign the NPT, Israel is presumed to possess an arsenal of several hundred nuclear warheads. Notwithstanding this, the Israelis are showered with US military aid, averaging around $3 billion annually.


The administration’s unstinting support for Israel was recently underlined when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel flew to the Middle East to discuss a multi-billion dollar arms deal for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. As reported in the New York Times, this package is “intended to further increase Israel’s military edge over other powers in the region”. The secretary noted that the deal would send a “very clear signal to Iran”. One signal is certain to have been received loud and clear: while Washington permits its friends to have the ultimate weapon, a different set of rules applies to its enemies.


If President Obama wishes to be taken seriously as an advocate of nuclear non-proliferation, he should be consistent. The US loses credibility when it vilifies North Korea and Iran while at the same time remaining silent about the atomic weapons of its friends.


Here, then, is a policy suggestion for the president: impose sanctions against India and Israel, and end the arms deals with those nuclear states. Alas, such a course of action is unlikely, to say the least. Therefore, the outlook for nuclear non-proliferation and eventual disarmament remains bleak.


Michael Walker has a PhD in international relations from the University of St Andrews.

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