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Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Shocking Tales of 11 of the Most Over the Top US Police Paramilitary Raids and the Innocent People They Victimized

  Civil Liberties  


The Shocking Tales of 11 of the Most Over the Top US Police Paramilitary Raids and the Innocent People They Victimized

The proliferation of SWAT tactics has resulted in wildly disproportionate responses to suspected crimes.

Recently, AlterNet reported on the wrongful police raid of an organic farm suspected of growing marijuana in Arlington, Texas. The massive SWAT team raid lasted for more than 10 hours and resulted in the seizure of vegetables and flowers—but no marijuana was found on the premises.
This is not the first time police have used paramilitary tactics to raid people’s properties to enforce regulatory laws in the absence of any justifiable threat of harm. Here’s a list of the most outlandish SWAT team raids across the county.
1. Armed agents raid animal shelter in search of baby deer—and kill it.
Shelter employee Ray Schulze was working in the barn of the Society of St. Francis animal shelter in Wisconsin, when a swarm of squad cars arrived with a search warrant for a baby fawn.
“[There were] nine DNR agents and four deputy sheriffs and they were all armed to the teeth,” Schulze told WISN 12 News.
A family who thought the animal had been abandoned brought the fawn, named Giggles, to the shelter. The agents told the staff they had come to seize the deer because the law forbids possession of wildlife. Schulze explained that the deer was scheduled to go to the wildlife rehabilitation reserve the following day. He believed the officers were going to take the deer to the shelter, but to his horror, the officers returned carrying the baby deer over their shoulder in a body bag. 
“I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘That’s our policy’, and I said, ‘That’s one hell of a policy,” Schulze said.
The supervisor, Jennifer Niemeyer, claimed the law requires Department of National Resources agents to euthanize animals like Giggles because they may be carrying diseases or be dangerous to humans. However, when questioned why the department didn’t just phone the shelter to advise them of the seizure instead of spending resources on a SWAT team, Niemeyer replied: “If a sheriff's department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don't call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana ... before they show up.”
2. Girl’s home wrongfully raided with flashbangs despite door being open.
In Indiana, a SWAT team raided an 18-year-old girl's house smashing her windows and throwing flashbangs inside, despite the fact that the girl had her front door open and was just watching TV.  In a case of mistaken identity, someone else in the street had signed onto the girl’s open WiFi network and was making threats about police. Once the police realized their error, they advised the girl to secure her WiFi account.
Their target was actually a teenage boy who admitted he had a “smart mouth” and a dislike for cops but denied making any threats. According to Gizmodo, the boy had posted a message that read, “Cops Beware! I’m proud of my country but I hate police of any kind. I have explosives :) made in America. Evansville will feel my pain.”
3. SWAT team raids DJ’s studio to enforce copyright law.
Federal police in Atlanta used a SWAT team to help the recording industry enforce copyright laws despite the fact that the target was not even involved in commercial piracy operations. The local news reported that a famous mixtape DJ was under investigation for piracy, but supporters say he is not a bootlegger. 
Even if the officers had found evidence of piracy, the bigger issue, according to Reason, is why the Recording Industry Association of America was part of the police action in the first place and why a SWAT team was used to raid a professional studio under investigation for a “non-violent white-collar crime.”
4. SWAT squad invades private poker game.
A low-stakes poker game in South Carolina turned gory after a SWAT team tried to gain access into the home resulting in a 20-minute shoot-out between the players and the police. The game host, 72-year-old Aaron Awty, shot through the front door injuring a sheriff.  The players said was hard of hearing and thought the house was being robbed when he began shooting at the door.
Four officers returned fire using high-powered assault weapons, according to Pokerati. The 12 people were ticketed for unlawful betting and released. Among the items police seized were cocaine, money, two poker machines, two poker tables, gambling paraphernalia and cards and chips.
5. SWAT team raids man’s home in search of stolen koi fish.
An Austin SWAT team destroyed the home of a man in a search for missing koi fish which had been stolen from the Zilker Botanical Gardens. Eric Philippus said 10 to 12 officers came to his house knocking down the door and drawing guns on his 17-year-old son and his girlfriend. Philippus, who has a koi fishpond in his backyard but wasn’t home at the time of the incident, said he did not steal the fish.
“They’re looking for koi in strange places—in the bedroom, in the closet, places that can’t hold water or fish,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. I love my koi fish more than anything but I never point a loaded gun at anybody over a fish without even checking the information,” he told Stateman.
6. Sex toys, condoms and pajamas seized in drug/prostitution SWAT team raid.
In a suspected drug and prostitution raid in Boston, police seized an unusual number of items including $13 from a bathroom, green pajamas worn by a suspect during a drug deal, sex toys, a vibrator and condoms, lubricant and a hotel card. Before raiding the building at 5am the Boston SWAT team detonated “distraction devices” like bright flashes and loud bangs to disorient the occupants of the premises.
7. Peaceful monks arrested in SWAT team action.
According to KETV TV, Tibetan monks on a peace mission were apprehended by a SWAT team of immigration officials, in Iowa. The monks had come to the U.S. on a church-sponsored mission to spread the word about the plight of the Tibetan people. However, when they refused to recognize their sponsoring leader as the reincarnation of Jesus Chris and Buddha, they were abandoned. 
The monks then traveled to Iowa not realizing that their immigration visas had been terminated, before immigration officials showed up at the door with a SWAT team to arrest them. The monks were able to stay out of jail thanks to an immigration officer who arranged for them to stay in Carter Lake pending an immigration hearing.
8. Feds raid Amish dairy farm—twice—for selling unpasteurized milk.
SWAT agents stormed a Pennsylvania Amish dairy farm wrongfully accusing the owner of selling raw milk interstate. The agents arrived at 4.30am while the owner Dan Allgyer’s family was still asleep and he was preparing to milk the cows. A warrant was served upon him claiming the police had “credible evidence” he was involved in interstate commerce.
When Allgyer questioned the warrant which stated it was valid only at “reasonable times during ordinary business hours,” one of the officers replied that “ordinary business hours for agriculture start at 5am,” according to NaturalNews.
9. Police unlawfully invade a series of barbershops without warrants.
In Florida, up to 14 armed police raided over 50 barbershops in predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods without warrants.  The police were in SWAT gear armed with masks and guns and police dogs, according to Reuters. Over 30 barbers were handcuffed, in front of customers, on criminal charges of barbering without an active license.
Following the incident, a number of officers were fired for acting unlawfully, with many of the barbers seeking compensation for the mistreatment.
10.Police forcibly search and detain 19 patrons in gay bar.
In Georgia, a federal lawsuit was filed against Atlanta police by a gay rights group after 20 to 30 officers dressed in SWAT team attire raided a gay bar forcing patrons to lie on the floor amongst spilled beer and broken glass while running background checks on everyone. The police were looking for illegal activity but found no evidence of public sex, drugs or weapons.
According to the CNN report, the officers included the “Red Dog Unit,” a special force providing “aggressive police presence.” Many of the patrons were threatened with violence and physical harm and subject to anti-gay slurs. No patrons were charged with any crime.  The city of Atlanta eventually agreed to a $1 million settlement with customers and employees of the nightclub.
11. SWAT team confiscates wood used to make instruments during illegal raid.
In Tennessee, federal marshals raided the Gibson Guitar Corporation manufacturing facilities in an effort to charge the owner with trafficking illegally obtained "foreign" wood in its production of guitars. The armed federal agents seized millions of dollars worth of imported wood and ebony without proper notice or a warning or a valid reason:
“We had a raid with federal marshals that were armed, that came in, evacuated our factory, shut down production, sent our employees home and confiscated wood,” CEO Henry Juszkiewicz told NPR.
Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stop saying “support the troops”


No, thanks: Stop saying “support the troops”

Compulsory patriotism does nothing for soldiers who risk their lives -- but props up those who profit from war

Topics: Support the troops, War, Military-industrial complex, Editor's Picks, , , ,                        
No, thanks: Stop saying Enlisted military and veterans hold the american flag during the national anthem prior to the Los Angeles Dodgers' baseball game (Credit: AP/Mark J. Terrill)

My 16-month-old son was having a bad day. When he doesn’t sleep in the car, he usually points and babbles his approval of all the wonderful things babies notice that completely escape adult attention. On this afternoon, though, he was teething and hungry, a lethal scenario for an energetic youngster strapped into a high-tech seating apparatus (approved and installed, of course, by the state).

When it became clear he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, sleep it out, my wife and I stopped at a nondescript exit, the kind one finds every six miles in the South, with two gas stations and three abandoned buildings (if you’re lucky, you also get a Hampton Inn and Cracker Barrel). While she tended to the baby, I entered a convenience store — one of those squat, glass and plastic rectangles that looks like a Sears & Roebuck erector set — praying it would have something other than beer, cigarettes and beef jerky.
I settled on two Kraft mozzarella sticks, resisting the urge to purchase for myself a shiny red can of Four Loko.
“That’ll be $1.82,” the lady at the counter cheerily informed me. After I handed her two ones, she asked, “Would you like to donate your change to the troops?” I noticed a jar with “support our troops” taped to it in handwritten ink.
“No, thank you,” I answered firmly.
“Well … OK, then, sir,” she responded in subtle reproach, her smile not quite so ascendant anymore. “You have a good day now.”
She had good reason to be disappointed. The vast majority of customers, I imagine, spare a few dimes and pennies for so important a cause. Her response evinced more shock than anger. She wasn’t expecting a refusal of 18 cents, even from a guy who looks very much like those responsible for the danger to our troops.
Besides, nobody likes to have their altruism invalidated by a recalcitrant or ungrateful audience.
I could have asked how the donations would be used, but no matter the answer I would have kept my 18 cents. I don’t consider patriotism a beneficent force, for it asks us to exhibit loyalty to nation-states that never fully accommodate their entire populations. In recent years I’ve grown fatigued of appeals on behalf of the troops, which intensify in proportion to the belligerence or potential unpopularity of the imperial adventure du jour.
In addition to donating change to the troops, we are repeatedly impelled to “support our troops” or to “thank our troops.” God constantly blesses them. Politicians exalt them. We are warned, “If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” One wonders if our troops are the ass-kicking force of P.R. lore or an agglomeration of oversensitive duds and beggars.
Such troop worship is trite and tiresome, but that’s not its primary danger. A nation that continuously publicizes appeals to “support our troops” is explicitly asking its citizens not to think. It is the ideal slogan for suppressing the practice of democracy, presented to us in the guise of democratic preservation.
I returned to the car, wondering if it will ever be possible to escape the inveterate branding of war as a civic asset in the United States. My son happily grabbed his snack and giggled as I jingled the change before dropping it into the ashtray.
* * *
The troops are now everywhere. They occupy bases and war zones throughout the Arab world and Central Asia and have permanent presence in dozens of countries. They also occupy every tract of discursive territory in the United States. The troops are our omnipresent, if amorphous, symbols of moral and intellectual austerity.
No televised sporting event escapes celebration of the troops. Networks treat viewers to stars and stripes covering entire football fields, complementing the small-but-always-visible flags the studio hosts sport on their lapels. The national anthem is often accompanied by fighter jets and cannon blasts. Displays of hypermasculine prowess frame the reciprocal virtues of courage and devotion embedded in American war mythology.
Corporate entities are the worst offenders. On flights, troops are offered early boarding and then treated to rounds of applause during the otherwise forgettable safety announcements. Anheuser-Busch recently won the Secretary of Defense Public Service Award and in 2011 “Budweiser paid tribute to America’s heroes with a patriotic float in the Rose Parade®.” The Army’s website has a page dedicated to “Army Friendly Companies”; it is filled with an all-star lineup of the Forbes 500 as well as dozens of regional businesses.
I do not begrudge the troops for availing themselves of any benefits companies choose to offer, nor do I begrudge the companies for offering those benefits. Of greater interest is what the phenomenon of corporate charity for the troops tells us about commercial conduct in an era of compulsory patriotism.
It tells us, first of all, that corporations care far less about the individuals who happen to have served in the military than they do about “the troops” as an exploitable consumer category. Unthinking patriotism, exemplified by support of the troops (however insincere or self-serving), is an asset to the modern business model, not simply for good P.R., but also for the profit it generates.
Multinational corporations have a profound interest in cheerleading for war and in the deification of those sent to execute it. For many of these corporations, the U.S. military is essentially a private army dispatched around the world as needed to protect their investments and to open new markets. Their customers may “support our troops” based on sincere feelings of sympathy or camaraderie, but for the elite the task of an ideal citizenry isn’t to analyze or to investigate, but to consume. In order for the citizenry to consume an abundance of products most people don’t actually need, it is necessary to interject the spoils of international larceny into the marketplace.
* * *
“Support the troops” is the most overused platitude in the United States, but still the most effective for anybody who seeks interpersonal or economic ingratiation. The platitude abounds with significance but lacks the burdens of substance and specificity. It says something apparently apolitical while patrolling for heresy to an inelastic logic. Its only concrete function is to situate users into normative spaces.
Clichés aren’t usually meant to be analyzed, but this one illuminates imperialism so succinctly that to think seriously about it is to necessarily assess jingoism, foreign policy, and national identity. The sheer vacuity and inexplicability of the phrase, despite its ubiquity, indicates just how incoherent patriotism is these days.
Who, for instance, are “the troops”? Do they include those safely on bases in Hawaii and Germany? Those guarding and torturing prisoners at Bagram and Guantánamo? The ones who murder people by remote control? The legions of mercenaries in Iraq? The ones I’ve seen many times in the Arab world acting like an Adam Sandler character? “The troops” traverse vast sociological, geographical, economic and ideological categories. It does neither military personnel nor their fans any good to romanticize them as a singular organism.
And what, exactly, constitutes “support”? Is it financial giving? Affixing a declarative sticker to a car bumper? Posting banalities to Facebook? Clapping when the flight attendant requests applause?
Ultimately, the support we’re meant to proffer is ideological. The terms we use to define the troops — freedom-fighters, heroic, courageous — are synecdoche for the romance of American warfare: altruistic, defensive, noble, reluctant, ethical. To support the troops is to accept a particular idea of the American role in the world. It also forces us to pretend that it is a country legitimately interested in equality for all its citizens. Too much evidence to the contrary makes it impossible to accept such an assumption.
In reality, the troops are not actually recipients of any meaningful support. That honor is reserved for the government and its elite constituencies. “Support our troops” entails a tacit injunction that we also support whatever politicians in any given moment deem the national interest. If we understand that “the national interest” is but a metonym for the aspirations of the ruling class, then supporting the troops becomes a counterintuitive, even harmful, gesture.
The government’s many appeals to support the troops represent an outsourcing of its responsibility (as with healthcare, education and incarceration). Numerous veterans have returned home to inadequate medical coverage, psychological afflictions, unemployment and increased risk of cancer. The free market and corporate magnanimity are supposed to address these matters, but neither has ever been a viable substitute for the dynamic practices of communal policymaking. A different sort of combat ensues: class warfare, without the consciousness.
As in most areas of the American polity, we pay taxes that favor the private sector, which then refuses to contribute to any sustainable vision of the public good. The only serious welfare programs in the United States benefit the most powerful among us. Individual troops, who are made to preserve and perpetuate this system, rarely enjoy the spoils. The bonanza is reserved for those who exploit the profitability of warfare through the acquisition of foreign resources and the manufacture of weapons.
Supporting the troops is a cheerful surrogate for enabling the friendly dictators, secret operations, torture practices and spying programs that sustain this terrible economy.
* * *
My wife and I often discuss what our son might grow up to accomplish. A consistent area of disagreement is his possible career choice. She can think of few things worse than him one day joining the military (in any capacity), while I would not object to such a decision.
Those who know me might be surprised by my position, but it arises from a belief consistent with my political outlook, that the power of institutions can never overwhelm the simple act of thinking. In other words, even if the military as an institution often does bad things, the individuals that comprise the military do not have to become bad people. Soldiers can certainly be awful human beings, but so can professors, clerks, musicians, executives, landscapers and athletes.
This way of thinking also inversely demystifies the troops, who are burdened with untenable narratives of heroism the vast majority (like those in all professions) do not deserve. I am neither smart nor foolish enough to define “heroism,” but I am comfortable saying the mere fact of being a soldier doesn’t automatically make one a hero, just as the mere fact of being in prison doesn’t necessarily make one evil.
If we recognize that the troops are in fact human beings, then we simultaneously accept that they are too complex to be reduced to patriotic ephemera. Such recognition is unusual, though. People speak frequently of “our troops,” highlighting the pronoun as if it is imperative to their sense of national belonging. It is an act of possession that projects fantasies of virtue onto an idealized demographic in the absence of substantive virtuous practices that might otherwise foster national pride. Plutocracy ravages the state; we rebuild it with narratives of glory and selflessness, the troops acting as both the signifier and the signified in this nationalistic uplift.
The selflessness of our troops is particularly sacred. Not only do they bring order and democracy to lesser peoples; they also risk (and sometimes give) their lives for the good of others, so that civilians might continue driving, shopping, dining and watching movies, the hallmarks of American freedom. That these notions of sacrifice connote a Christ-like narrative of individual-death-for-collective-pleasure only endows them with even greater cultural power.
Whether or not our son ever joins the military, questions about the deployment of mythological slogans in the service of socioeconomic iniquity need to be addressed. His joining or not joining will have no effect on that need, which will remain even if he becomes a teacher or doctor. I want him to enter into adulthood in a world where people impeach and diminish the mystification of corporate plunder. More than anything, I want him to participate in the process, whether he does it from a barrack, a cubicle or a corner office.
It would be wise to avoid countervailing slogans, such as the assertive but nonetheless meager Support Our Troops, Bring Them Home! One goal is to disrupt and rethink, something much easier to accomplish in the absence of shibboleths. Another goal is to continue exploring why support for troops as prescribed by sports leagues and conglomerates actually does a great disservice to the human beings who comprise the military and reinforces a plutocratic imperium for those who do not.
Next time you are asked to “support our troops,” then, remember that in a country where wealth decides the fate of so many communities, such an uncritical gesture isn’t even worth the change from a broken dollar.
Steven Salaita Steven Salaita is an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech. He tweets at @stevesalaita.

The NSA has lost the benefit of the doubt


 The Washington Post

 WP Opinions


 The NSA is losing the benefit of the doubt

  By , Published: August 22

Footnote 14 should scare every American. Even the parts that aren’t blacked out.


The footnote is contained in the just-declassified 2011 opinion by U.S. District Judge John Bates, then the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  

In the ruling, Bates found that the government had been sweeping up e-mails before receiving court approval in 2008 and, even after that, was illegally collecting “tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications.”

That’s not the really scary part. This is: “The court is troubled that the government’s revelations . . . mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program,” Bates wrote in Footnote 14.

He cited a 2009 finding that the court’s approval of the National Security Agency’s telephone records program was premised on “a flawed depiction” of how the NSA uses metadata, a “misperception . . . buttressed by repeated inaccurate statements made in the government’s submissions, and despite a government-devised and Court-mandated oversight regime.

“Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the required standard for querying. The Court concluded that this requirement had been ‘so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall . . . regime has never functioned effectively.’ ”

Followed by two full paragraphs of redactions. We can only imagine what that episode entailed.

To judge the significance of Bates’s footnote, it helps to know something about the judge. This is no wild-eyed liberal. Bates spent almost two decades in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington. He served as deputy to independent counsel Kenneth Starr during the investigation of President Bill Clinton. He was named to the bench by President George W. Bush.

If Bates is worked up about being misled by the government — and the sober language of that footnote is the judicial version of a severe dressing-down — people should listen.

Security demands secrecy. The Constitution demands that secrecy be coupled with oversight. In theory, that oversight is twofold, from Congress and the judiciary, through the mechanism of the surveillance court.

In practice, oversight necessarily depends on some measure of good will from the overseen. No matter how well-intentioned and diligent the overseers, particularly in an area as technologically murky and politically fraught as surveillance, the intelligence experts tend to hold the cards.

Their deeply ingrained institutional bias is to reveal only what is absolutely necessary, to trust their secrets and secret methods to as few outsiders as possible. When that instinct for secrecy edges into a willingness to mislead, tacitly or explicitly, effective oversight collapses.

We have already seen this phenomenon on display before Congress, in the person of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. In March, Sen. Ron Wyden asked Clapper whether the NSA collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s answer, “No . . . not wittingly.”

This was, as Clapper acknowledged, “clearly erroneous.” His belated apology rings hollow. Clapper was not only forewarned about the question, he refused to correct his misrepresentation for months, until it was proved false.
His subsequent explanations for responding in the “least untruthful manner” are unconvincing and contradictory: He had a different understanding, perhaps “too cute by half,” of “collect” — he thought the Oregon Democrat was asking about the contents of phone records, not simply archiving them. Actually, Clapper wasn’t thinking of telephone records at all; he thought Wyden was referring to the separate program to intercept foreigners’ e-mail.

So when Clapper, in announcing the documents’ release, asserts that they demonstrate “the government’s serious commitment to getting it right,” he hauls along a mountain of baggage.

It is possible to construct a happier narrative. After all, Bates’s rebuke was prompted by the intelligence community’s own disclosures. The government then cleaned up its act, with court-approved procedures to minimize privacy invasions. Congress was informed of the program, the court’s problems with it and the fixes being made. The relevant documents were declassified and released (albeit in the face of a lawsuit). President Obama has proposed additional oversight mechanisms, such as building adversary procedures into the surveillance court.

These are hopeful signs, but they do not erase the ugly history: “repeated inaccurate statements” to the court, “clearly erroneous” congressional testimony. Current assurances, made under the duress of unauthorized disclosure, must be judged in light of past performance. An intelligence community consistently too cute by half ends up harming itself, along with the country it strives to protect.

Read more from Ruth Marcus’s archive, follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her updates on Facebook.

NSA gathered thousands of Americans’ e-mails before court ordered it to revise its tactics

The Washington Post

National Security

NSA gathered thousands of Americans’ e-mails before court ordered it to revise its tactics

Video: Barton Gellman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, first reported for the The Washington Post on the National Security Agency's extensive surveillance programs. Nia-Malika Henderson sat down with Gellman for “On Background.”
 , Published: August 21

For several years, the National Security Agency unlawfully gathered tens of thousands of e-mails and other electronic communications between Americans as part of a now-revised collection method, according to a 2011 secret court opinion.

The redacted 85-page opinion, which was declassified by U.S. intelligence officials on Wednesday, states that, based on NSA estimates, the spy agency may have been collecting as many as 56,000 “wholly domestic” communications each year.
In a strongly worded opinion, the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court expressed consternation at what he saw as a pattern of misleading statements by the government and hinted that the NSA possibly violated a criminal law against spying on Americans.

“For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe,” John D. Bates, then the surveillance court’s chief judge, wrote in his Oct. 3, 2011, opinion.

The court, which meets in secret, oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law authorizing such surveillance in the United States. It has been criticized by some as a “rubber stamp” for the government, but the opinion makes clear the court does not see itself that way.

Bates’s frustration with the government’s lack of candor extended beyond the program at issue to other NSA surveillance efforts.

“The court is troubled that the government’s revelations regarding NSA’s acquisition of Internet transactions mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program,” Bates wrote in a scathing footnote.

The Washington Post reported last week that the court had ruled the collection method unconstitutional. The declassified opinion sheds new light on the volume of Americans’ communications that were obtained by the NSA and the nature of the violations, as well as the FISA court’s interpretation of the program.

The release marks the first time the government has disclosed a FISA court opinion in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought a year ago by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy group.
“It’s unfortunate it took a year of litigation and the most significant leak in American history to finally get them to release this opinion,” said foundation staff attorney Mark Rumold, “but I’m happy that the administration is beginning to take this debate seriously.”

The pressure to release the opinion was heightened by a series of recent revelations about government surveillance based on documents leaked to The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Over the past 21 / 2 months, those revelations have reignited a national debate on the balance between privacy and security, and President Obama has promised to assuage concerns about government overreach, in part through more transparency.

The document was released along with several others related to a controversial collection program approved by Congress in 2008 under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. Through that program, the NSA may target for collection the e-mails and phone calls of foreigners “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

Under Section 702, the NSA collects more than 250 million Internet communications each year, the opinion said. The vast majority — 91 percent — are obtained from Internet providers such as Google, Yahoo and AOL through a program code-named PRISM.

At issue here was the less voluminous “upstream” collection that takes place as communications flow across Internet hubs — not from service providers such as Google. Under that program, the NSA diverted international data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States into a repository where the material could be stored temporarily for processing and for the selection of foreign communications, rather than domestic ones. But in practice, because of technological difficulties, the NSA was unable to filter out the “wholly domestic” communications between Americans.

Officials stressed that it was the NSA that brought the collection method to the court’s attention as part of its regular reporting process. “This was not in any respect an intentional or wholesale breach of privacy of American persons,” Robert S. Litt III, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told reporters Wednesday.
Still, Bates noted that it was not until May 2011 — several years after Section 702 was approved — that the NSA told the court that its upstream collection of Internet communications may contain entire Internet “transactions” not related to the target. In other words, the agency may be collecting e-mails between two Americans or people inside the United States in violation of FISA.

In June 2011, the NSA informed Bates that an Internet transaction may be a single communication or it may include “multiple discrete communications,” including those that are not to, from or about a target. That means instead of one e-mail, a string of Americans’ e-mails could be inadvertently picked up. “That revelation fundamentally alters the Court’s understanding of the scope of the collection conducted pursuant to Section 702,” Bates said.

“By expanding its Section 702 acquisitions to include the acquisition of Internet transactions through its upstream collection, NSA has, as a practical matter, circumvented the spirit of [the law],” Bates wrote. “NSA’s knowing acquisition of tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications through its upstream collection is a cause of concern for the court.”

He ordered the collection to stop until the NSA could propose an acceptable remedy. In November 2011, Bates signed an order approving the fix, which included a new technical means to segregate transactions most likely to contain U.S. persons’ communications and reducing the retention period from five to two years.

In April 2012, the NSA decided to conduct a purge of all upstream data collected since Section 702’s inception in 2008, senior intelligence officials said. They could not estimate the quantity, but one official said it was “lots.” Said another: “It would have been everything.”

The newly released opinion also reflects Bates’s frustration with the court’s inability to independently verify the NSA’s assertions, a sentiment underscored in a recent statement made to The Post by the current chief judge, Reggie B. Walton.

Because of the “sheer volume” of transactions acquired by the NSA, “any meaningful review of the entire body of the trans­actions” was not feasible, Bates wrote. “As a result, the court cannot know for certain the exact number” of wholly domestic communications but was reliant on the NSA’s samples of data. “Even if the court accepts the validity of conclusions derived from statistical analyses, there are significant hurdles in assessing NSA’s upstream collection,” he wrote.

He also stated in a footnote that the government’s revelations about the scope of the NSA’s upstream collection “implicate” a law that criminalizes unauthorized electronic surveillance. He said that he would address that issue in a separate order.

In another footnote, he also noted that in March 2009 the court concluded that its authorization of the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone-call records was “premised on a flawed depiction of how the NSA” uses the data. He also wrote: “This misperception by the FISC existed from the inception of its authorized collection in May 2006, buttressed by repeated inaccurate statements made in the government’s submissions, and despite a government-devised and court-mandated oversight regime.”

In that program, which was disclosed through a document leaked by Snowden to the Guardian, the NSA amasses a database of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone-call records. That includes numbers dialed and the time and duration of calls — also known as metadata — but no content.

Bates continued: “Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the required standard. . . . The Court concluded that this requirement had been ‘so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall . . . regime has never functioned effectively.’ ”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sued after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) got the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to acknowledge in July 2012 that the NSA’s surveillance had at least once violated the Constitution.

“The FISA Court has noted that this collection violates the spirit of the law, but the government has failed to address this concern in the two years since this ruling was issued,” Wyden said Wednesday. “This ruling makes it clear that FISA Section 702, as written, is insufficient to adequately protect the civil liberties and privacy rights of law-abiding Americans and should be reformed.”

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Doctor’s Warning: Whistleblowing is Bad for Your Health

Dissident Voice: a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice

Why Snowden didn’t stick around to face the music

Doctor’s Warning: Whistleblowing is Bad for Your Health

There are a wide variety of leakers, some of them from the corporate world, government workers, public servants, military personnel or security contractors. Different avenues are taken regarding the vetting process, the platform chosen to express indignation and the logistics behind the leak itself. Most stay behind to act within the judicial framework. Some, like Edward Snowden, leave the ship in a bid for self preservation. One common theme we can all agree on is the gravity of the consequences faced by whistleblowers.

In contrast with both Assange, holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and Snowden relieved with temporary asylum in Russia, Chelsea Manning has just been sentenced to 35 years in prison. They are not alone in feeling the wrath of the state for their actions. Bringing light to systemized behavior which is legitimately deemed unethical (e.g., breach of the constitution, war crimes…) results in a bevy of reaction from the establishment.

Take, for example, John Kirikaou, former CIA analyst and case officer who is now serving 30 months in prison for denouncing the use of torture; i.e., water-boarding. Kirikaou has personally warned Edward Snowden: “DO NOT, under any circumstances, cooperate with the FBI.” This warning captures the current political landscape whistleblowers are now facing. The message is clear to future potential truth tellers. The reality is undeniable when considering that Obama’s administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers then all administration before combined. Recent events have set a precedent and the national security state’s narrative is reinforced.

The current trend amongst politicians and pundits alike has been a constant rebuttal in regards to the Snowden leaks. And so I quote Obama to demonstrate the party line which has been parroted by mainstream media’s “expert panelists”: “If, in fact, he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case.”

For those denigrating Snowden’s right to seek asylum abroad and his leaving the state, those who say he should have stayed home and taken the “traditional route”, or in other words, faced the full force of the law; there are a few key facts to take into consideration. Oddly enough, Snowden is in the same legal predicament as Manning. Both have been prevented from presenting a whistleblowing defense. In Manning’s case, Judge Lind simply ruled that “issues of motive were not relevant to his trial.”

As for Snowden, it is legally debatable that he exposed illegal conduct since FISA signed off on the spying/data-mining operations taking place at the NSA, thus making it “legal”. This negates his whistleblowing protection. Snowden also faces a second hurdle. The federal whistleblower protection act protects the public disclosure of violations only if the disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law. Basically, Snowden could claim this protection only if he took his concerns to the NSA’s inspector general or to a member of the congressional intelligence committee.

Essentially, the only avenue for leakers is the “traditional route” (i.e., sounding the alarm internally), with its obvious limitations due to the irony of self-regulation/oversight, often time with neglected protections against repercussions: loss of revenue, loss of job, the inherent plight of trying to secure further employment, as well as the obvious health and quality of life ramifications.

Regarding Chelsea Manning, considering the military context, her persecution is beyond compare. Some would say she is being made an example of. PFC Manning was imprisoned for a thousand plus days, without trial or sentencing, putting to question the notion of due process. I don’t mention the verdict because like in all show trials it had already been determined long ago. At Quantico, from July 29th 2010 to April 20th, 2011, Manning was kept in an 8 by 6 foot cell for 23 hours a day. Kept in POI (prevention of injury order), although deemed ”not posing a threat to himself” from August onward by an in-house psychiatrist. Why then was she singled out and persecuted? Stuck in solitary confinement, having all possessions withheld, light left on overnight, stripped of all her clothes and watched over incessantly. That’s not even mentioning the vilifying from prison guards. The justifications put forth by Daniel Choike (then commander of the Quantico marine base) for Manning’s ’special treatment’ seemed unfounded in that he blamed her erratic behavior (dancing, playing peek-a-boo…), her poor judgment in the past and poor family relationships. I’ll let the readers judge the validity of commander Choike’s rationalizations.

Lastly, if you need more convincing that whistleblowing under all its guises faces grave consequences, an Australian study from the early nineties demonstrated that out of 25 men and 10 women from various occupational backgrounds who had exposed corruption or danger to the public, all of them had suffered dire consequences. For 29 of them, victimization had started immediately after their first, internal complaint. Victimization at work was quite extensive: dismissal for 8 subjects, demotion in 10 cases and resignation or early retirement because of poor health related to victimization in 10 instances.
Long term relationships broke up in seven cases, and 60 of the 77 children of 30 subjects were adversely affected. Twenty nine subjects had a mean of 5.3 stress related symptoms initially, with a mean of 3.6 still present. Fifteen were prescribed long term treatment with drugs which they had not been prescribed before. Seventeen had considered suicide. Income had been reduced by three quarters or more for 14 subjects. Total financial loss was estimated in hundreds of thousands of Australian dollars in 17. Whistleblowers received little or no help from statutory authorities and only a modest amount from workmates. In most cases the corruption and malpractice continued unchanged. CONCLUSION–Although whistleblowing is important in protecting society, the typical organisational response causes severe and longlasting health, financial, and personal problems for whistleblowers and their families.
I’ll go one step above in my conclusion on the current state of affairs. If we continue on this track, admonishing whistleblowers, there will be no one left to fill the role. It seems those who put the common good first, defending our collective welfare, are already representing a minute percentage of the populace. The recent repressions by the state will surely intimidate potential leakers into subservience, which will stifle any chance we have for real transparency within the existing framework. If the repression keeps increasing, with the bleakest of outcomes for those concerned, then even in those with the greatest ethical courage, willingness will surely be thwarted. Like Peter Kropotkin states in his book, Ethics – Origin and Development,: “We need moral progress, but without moral courage no moral progress is possible”. The impending danger is clear.  If we continue ostracizing the Ellsbergs, the Kirikaous, the Sowdens and the Mannings of this world, the notion of civic duty will potentially be relegated to the back burner of society. Leaving us in a reality where looking away when we see an injustice is but the normality.

Claude Coulomb is an independent journalist from Montreal, Quebec. He is also the interim administrator for the Quebec chapter of the International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS). He can be reached at claude.coulomb@yandex.com . Read other articles by Claude, or visit Claude's website.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

13 Things the Government Is Trying to Hide from You

Civil Liberties      

13 Things the Government Is Trying to Hide from You

Our government is intentionally keeping massive amounts of information secret from voters.

“We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted…the Patriot Act.  As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows.  This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.” U.S. senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall
The President, the Head of the National Security Agency, the Department of Justice, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and the Judiciary, are intentionally keeping massive amounts of information about surveillance of US and other people secret from voters.

Additionally, some are, to say it politely, not being factually accurate in what they are telling the public. These inaccurate statements are either intentional lies meant to mislead the public or they are evidence that the people who are supposed to be in charge of oversight do not know what they are supposed to be overseeing. The most recent revelations from the Washington Post, by way of Edward Snowden, indicate the NSA breaks privacy rules or overstep its legal authority thousands of times each year.  Whether people are lying or do not know what they are doing, either way, this is a significant crisis. Here are 13 examples.
1. The government seizes and searches all Internet and text communications which enter or leave the US.

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

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

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

3. The government operates a vast database which allows it to sift through millions of records on the Internet to show nearly everything a person does.

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

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

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

5. The government keeps top secret nearly all the decisions of the FISA court.

Nearly all of the thousands of decisions of the FISA court are themselves classified as top secret. Though the public is not allowed to know what the decisions are, public records do show how many times the government asked for surveillance authorization and how many times they were denied. These show that in the last three years, the government asked for authorization nearly 5,000 times and they were never denied. In its entire history, the FISA court has denied just 11 of 34,000 requests for surveillance.

6. The government is fighting to keep top secret a key 2011 decision of the FISA court even after the court said it could be made public.

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

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

With an NSL letter the FBI can demand financial records from any institution from banks to casinos, all telephone records, subscriber information, credit reports, employment information, and all email records of the target as well as the email addresses and screen names for anyone who has contacted that account. Those who received the NSLs from the FBI are supposed to keep them secret.  The reason is supposed to be for foreign counterintelligence. There is no requirement for court approval at all.  So no requests have been denied. The Patriot Act has made this much easier for the FBI.
According to vcongressional records, there have been over 50,000 of these FBI NSL requests in the last three years. This does not count the numerous times where the FBI persuades the disclosure of information without getting a NSL. Nor does it count FBI requests made just to find out who an email account belongs to. These reported NSL numbers also do not include the very high numbers of administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI which only require approval of a member of the local US Attorney’s office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Rogers, chair of the House Permanent Intelligence Subcommittee, repeatedly told Congress and the public on TV talk shows in July that there was no government surveillance of phone calls or emails. “They do not record your e-mails…None of that was happening, none of it – I mean, zero.” Later, Snowden and Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian disclosed the NSA program called X-keyscore, which intercepts 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other types of communications each day. Now the questions swirl about Rogers, whether he lied, or was lied to by those who engaged in surveillance, or did not understand the programs to which he was supposed to be providing oversight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

13. The Senate oversight committee refused to allow a dissenting senator to publicly discuss his objections to surveillance.

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

These attempts to keep massive surveillance secrets from the public are aggravated by the constant efforts to minimize the secrets and maximize untruths. Most notably, despite all this documented surveillance, on August 6, 2013, the President said on the Jay Leno show “We don’t have a domestic spying program.”  Some commentators think the government is twisting the real meaning of words with flimsy legal arguments and irrational word games. Others say the President is engaged in “Orwellian newspeak.” More than a few say the President was not telling the truth.

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


President Obama just promised the nation that he would set up an independent group of outside experts to “step back and review our capabilities – particularly our surveillance technologies." Days later Obama appointed the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, the same person who has admitted he did not tell Congress the truth about the program, to establish a review group to assess whether surveillance is being done in a manner that maintains the public trust. After an uproar about the fox guarding the henhouse, the White House reversed itself and said Clapper will not choose the members of the group after all. The names of the members have not been made public as of the time of this writing.
Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. He is also a member of the legal collective of School of Americas Watch.