Category: Barack Obama

Will the NSA Be “Reformed”?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In the run up to President Barack Obama’s promised decision on reforms the National Security Agency and its surveillance programs, there has been an  unsubstantiated press release, by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers and his Democratic counterpart Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, that the material taken by whistleblower Edward Snowden gravely impacted America’s national security, put the lives of US military personnel at risk and aided terrorists. There are no specifics about these allegations that Snowden had downloaded 1.7 million files or had considerable information on current U.S. military operations because the Pentagon report is, of course, classified.

Meanwhile top NSA officials and their allies are making their public appeals to retain their surveillance powers

In a lengthy interview that aired on Friday on National Public Radio (NPR), the NSA’s top civilian official, the outgoing deputy director John C Inglis, said that the agency would cautiously welcome a public advocate to argue for privacy interests before the secret court which oversees surveillance. Such a measure is being promoted by some of the agency’s strongest legislative critics. [..]

But security officials are arguing strongly against curtailing the substance of domestic surveillance activities.

While Inglis conceded in his NPR interview that at most one terrorist attack might have been foiled by NSA’s bulk collection of all American phone data – a case in San Diego that involved a money transfer from four men to al-Shabaab in Somalia – he described it as an “insurance policy” against future acts of terrorism. [..]

Inglis was bolstered on Thursday by the new FBI director James Comey, who said he opposed curbing the bureau’s power to collect information from businesses through a non-judicial subpoena called a national security letter. The use of national security letters, which occurs in secret, came under sharp criticism from Obama’s surveillance review panel, which advocated judicial approval over them.

Comey told reporters that would make it harder for his agency to investigate national security issues than conduct bank fraud investigations.

What we have learned is that the massive data collection has not led to the prevention of one terrorist attack and that conventional methods using court orders were more effective (pdf).

Activist and journalist Chris Hedges, along with former NSA technical director and NSA whistle-blower William Binney, tell Real News Network‘s Paul Jay that there should be accountability, including the President himself, for the criminal practices used by the NSA against the American people.

This Friday the president will publicly announce the results of his review of National Security Agency surveillance programs at the Department of Justice, not the White House.

Who the President Reads

Cross posted frpm The Stars Hollow Gazette

At the end of each year Salon’s Alex Pareene gives us his list of his top ten journalistic hacks. This year Alex has ranked the columnists that are President Barack Obama top reads. As, he points out in the article, the Internet has made the conversation more “democratized” than in the past when everyone relied on the print media. Today it isn’t so much how many people read a columnist, it’s who.

But as a Politico editor could tell you, it’s not how many you reach, it’s who. Among Friedman’s readers: much of the nation’s executive class. Among Allen’s? Nearly everyone who works in any capacity for every member of Congress. That’s why it’s necessary to criticize them. They really do “drive the conversation,” to use a particularly odious Politico-ism. Both what is considered politically possible and politically desirable in this country depend in large part on what a handful of mainly older, mainly white and overwhelmingly male columnists and pundits say. Who is let into that conversation and who is left out of it has consequences for all Americans. That was made clear 10 years ago, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, which the nation’s premier political opinion makers (what we once called “Thought Leaders”) almost universally supported. The Bush administration was aware of this, too, and devoted more efforts to convincing them than to trying to win over what we vaguely call “the people.”

President Barack Obama. Barack Obama loves newspaper columnists. He reads them, because he thinks they offer smarter commentary than one hears on cable news, and he invites them to the White House regularly, so he can influence their writing.

There in lies the problem, as Alex lays it out. Of the columnists that Pres. Obama has said are his favorite reads and who he has invited to the White House, none are women, all but one is black, most are older than 50 and most supported the Iraq war in 2003.

These are the men whose opinions the president “favors”

12. Eugene Robinson, Washington Post.

11. Jonathan Chait, New York magazine.

10. Josh Barro, Business Insider.

9. Ezra Klein, Washington Post.

8. E.J. Dionne, Washington Post.

7. David Brooks.

6. Gerald Seib, Wall Street Journal.

5. David Ignatius, Washington Post.

4. Jeffrey Goldberg, Bloomberg View.

3. Joe Klein, Time.

2. Thomas Friedman, The Davos Herald-Register.

1. Fred Hiatt, Washington Post Editorial Page editor.

Who do you think the president should be reading more? Why?

Edward Snowden’s Christmas Message

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Hi, and Merry Christmas. I’m honored to have the chance to speak with you and your family this year.

Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.

Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.

Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance. End mass surveillance. And remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

For everyone out there listening, thank you, and Merry Christmas.

The Ayes Have It, The NSA Went Too Far

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

President Obama’s panel of security and civil liberties experts finished their work giving their recommendations to the president last Friday. The report was released to the public Tuesday. Much to the surprise of the war on terror hawks, it slammed the mass surveillance programs vindicating what critics have been saying since Edward Snowden’s revelations.

A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping limits on the government’s surveillance programs, including requiring a court to sign off on individual searches of phone records and stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data from Americans. [..]

The recommendations include tightening federal law enforcement’s use of so-called national security letters, which give the government sweeping authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval in national security cases. The task force recommended that authorities should be required to obtain a prior “judicial finding” showing “reasonable grounds” that the information sought is relevant to terrorism or other intelligence activities.

In addition, the panel proposed terminating the NSA’s ability to store telephone data and instead require it to be held by the phone companies or a third party. Access to the data would then be permitted only through an order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The panel called for more independent review of what the NSA collects and the process by which it goes about gathering data.

Amid an international furor over NSA spying on the leaders of allied nations such as Germany, the review group recommended that the president personally approve all sensitive methods used by the intelligence community.

President’s Review Group on Intelligence  and Communications Technologies Report On NSA

Marcy Wheeler, at emptywheel, has been pouring over the report and has pulled out what she thinks is pertinent here, here and here.

In a re-published article by Kara Brandeisky of ProPublica, that she wrote for Techdirt back in August, the folks there note that the surveillance reforms the Pres. Obama supported before he was president are remarkably similar to the Task Force’s proposals:

As a senator, Obama wanted to limit bulk records collection.

Obama co-sponsored a 2007 bill, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would have required the government to demonstrate, with “specific and articulable facts,” that it wanted records related to “a suspected agent of a foreign power” or the records of people with one degree of separation from a suspect. The bill died in committee. Following pressure from the Bush administration, lawmakers had abandoned a similar 2005 measure, which Obama also supported. [..]

As a senator, Obama wanted to require government analysts to get court approval before accessing incidentally collected American data.

In Feb. 2008, Obama co-sponsored an amendment, also introduced by Feingold, which would have further limited the ability of the government to collect any communications to or from people residing in the U.S.

The measure would have also required government analysts to segregate all incidentally collected American communications. If analysts wanted to access those communications, they would have needed to apply for individualized surveillance court approval.

The amendment pfailed 35-63 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/… Obama later reversed his position and supported what became the law now known to authorize the PRISM program. That legislation – the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – also granted immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government on surveillance. [..]

As a senator, Obama wanted the executive branch to report to Congress how many American communications had been swept up during surveillance.

Feingold’s 2008 amendment, which Obama supported, would have also required the Defense Department and Justice Department to complete a joint audit of all incidentally collected American communications and provide the report to congressional intelligence committees. The amendment failed 35-63. [..]

The White House has already made it clear that the recommendations are just that and has already said it will not separate the US Cyber Command from the NSA. So basically, as Charles Pierce pointedly put it, “the White House can tell the committee to pound sand.”

And, even if it doesn’t, there is no reason on god’s earth why anyone should believe that the NSA actually would abide by any agreement going forward. The all-too-human, but curiously error-prone heroes of our intelligence community, imbued as they are with a mission mindset that is perilously close to messianic, can be presumed eventually to breach by unfortunate accident almost any new protocol put in place. (And that’s not even to mingle with the wilder fauna in the jungle.)

At Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman and Juan González discuss the panel recommendations with Kirk Wiebe, a retired National Security Agency official who worked there for over 32 years, and Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden’s legal adviser and director of the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.



Transcript can be read here



Transcript can be read here

Let the conversation continue.

Whose Sarin?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Whose sarin?

by Seymour Hersh, London Review of Book

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.

Obama “Cherry-Picked” Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attack to Justify U.S. Strike



Full transcript can be read here

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh joins us to discuss his new article casting doubt on the veracity of the Obama administration’s claims that only the Assad regime could have carried out the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta earlier this year. Writing in the London Review of Books, Hersh argues that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.” The administration failed to disclose it knew Syrian rebels in the al-Nusra Front had the ability to produce chemical weapons. Evidence obtained in the days after the attack was also allegedly distorted to make it appear it was gathered in real time.

Sy Hersh Writing about Politicized Intelligence Again, Syria Edition

Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel

Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books accusing the Obama Administration of cherry-picking intelligence to present its case that Bashar al-Assad launched the chemical weapons attack on August 21.

To be clear, Hersh does not say that Assad did not launch the attack. Nor does he say al-Nusra carried out the attack. Rather, he shows that:

   At some unidentified time since the beginning of the Civil War, Assad had discovered and neutralized wiretaps on his inner circle, leaving US intelligence blind to discussions happening among his top aides

   Sensors planted to detect any movement of Assad’s CW immediately had not been triggered by the August 21 attack

   By June, some intelligence entity had concluded that an Iraqi member of al-Nusra had the capability to manufacture sarin in quantity

A lot of the story serves to establish that two days after the attack, the US had yet to respond to it, presumably because it did not have any intelligence Syria had launched the attack, in part because nothing had triggered the sensors that had worked in the past. To develop its intelligence on the attack days afterwards, the NSA performed key word searches on already-collected radio communications of lower level Syrian military figures.

Hersh On Obama’s Lies About Syrian Chemical Weapons

Moon of Alabama

A month ago Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, wrote about CIA analysts who threatened to resign over the Obama administration allegations about the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government:

   With all evidence considered, the intelligence community found itself with numerous skeptics in the ranks, leading to sharp exchanges with the Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. A number of analysts threatened to resign as a group if their strong dissent was not noted in any report released to the public, forcing both Brennan and Clapper to back down.

Now Seymour Hersh writes about the case and finds that the CIA knew that Jabhat al-Nusra, a fundamentalist gang fighting the Syrian government, was capable of producing Sarin, the toxic chemical weapon that was used in a suburb of Damascus:

   In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

   …

   [I]n recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening.

MoA has maintained since the very first reports of the chemical weapon use that this attack was likely a false flag event. We also criticized allegations by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch about the origin of the rocket debris found after the attack. The new Hersh report now completely debunks those allegations.

New Yorker, Washington Post Passed On Seymour Hersh Syria Report

By Michael Calderon, Huffington Post

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh accused the Obama administration Sunday of having “cherry-picked intelligence” regarding the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Syria that served as evidence for an argument in favor of striking President Bashar Assad’s government. [..]

Hersh is a freelancer, but he’s best known these days for his work in The New Yorker, where he helped break the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. While Hersh is not a New Yorker staff writer, it was notable that his 5,500-word investigative piece landed in the London Review of Books, a London literary and intellectual magazine, rather than the publication with which he’s most closely associated.

In an email, Hersh wrote that “there was little interest” for the story at The New Yorker.

A New Yorker spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hersh then took the story to The Washington Post. The Post intended to publish it, as BuzzFeed first reported.

Hersh told HuffPost that he went to the Post because of the paper’s reporting on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The Agreement with Iran: How the US Finally Got There

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The agreement reached early Sunday morning in Switzerland with Iran over its nuclear program is nothing short of historic. It will expand inspections of nuclear sites and loosen some of the sanctions, worth some $7 billion to Iran. It also signals a shift in American foreign relations from military might to diplomacy, something that candidate Barack Obama had said he was going to do.

(T)he flurry of diplomatic activity reflects the definitive end of the post-Sept. 11 world, dominated by two major wars and a battle against Islamic terrorism that drew the United States into Afghanistan and still keeps its Predator drones flying over Pakistan and Yemen.

But it also reflects a broader scaling-back of the use of American muscle, not least in the Middle East, as well as a willingness to deal with foreign governments as they are rather than to push for new leaders that better embody American values. “Regime change,” in Iran or even Syria, is out; cutting deals with former adversaries is in.

For Mr. Obama, the shift to diplomacy fulfills a campaign pledge from 2008 that he would stretch out a hand to America’s enemies and speak to any foreign leader without preconditions. But it will also subject him to considerable political risks, as the protests about the Iran deal from Capitol Hill and allies in the Middle East attest.

“We’re testing diplomacy; we’re not resorting immediately to military conflict,” Mr. Obama said, defending the Iran deal on Monday in San Francisco. “Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically,” he said earlier that day, “but it’s not the right thing for our security.”

The deal has been the reactions have been hailed by many as good move for the region and the world but it has it’s critics on both sides of the political aisle.

University of Michigan Mideast scholar Juan Cole argues on his blog, Informed Comment, that “the decade-long Neoconservative plot to take the United States to war against Iran appears to have been foiled” by the deal. Unsurprisingly, congressional Iran hawks on both sides of the aisle aren’t pleased, according to Bernie Becker at The Hill. Critics accuse the administration of “capitulation,” which The Daily Beast‘s Peter Beinhart says is a gross misreading of history. Siobhan Gorman reports for The Wall Street Journal that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that Congress may try to impose even more sanctions, which the White House calls a path to war. [..]

Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports for The Guardian that the Iranian public appears to be very happy about the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is outraged by the deal, but Israeli journalist Gershom Gorenberg writes in The American Prospect that his reaction says more about him than the deal itself. And at 972 Magazine, Larry Derfner notes that the Israeli security community is a lot more optimistic about the deal than the country’s elected officials. The BBC taps its extensive network of reporters to bring mixed reactions from around the region. And Mark Landler reports for The New York Times that the deal could “open the door” to diplomatic solutions of other regional issues.

As Juan Cole points in his article at Informed Consent, the agreement is actually an agreement to negotiate and build confidence between all the parties for the hard bargaining to come. It also is a good history of how we got from post 9/11 to now.

In 2003, the Neocon chickenhawks, most of whom had never worn a uniform or had a parent who did, joked that “everyone wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran.” When people have to talk about being “real men,” it is a pretty good sign that they are 98-pound weaklings.

The “everyone” who wanted to go to Baghdad was actually just the Neocons and their fellow travelers. Most of the latter were hoodwinked by the Neocon/Cheney misinformation campaign blaming Saddam Hussein of Iraq for 9/11. A majority of Democratic representatives in the lower house of Congress voted against the idea of going to war. The Iraq War, trumped up on false pretenses and mainly to protect the militant right wing in Israel from having a credible military rival in the region and to put Iraqi petroleum on the market to weaken Saudi Arabia, cost the United States nearly 5000 troops, hundreds more Veterans working as contractors, and probably $3 or $4 trillion- money we do not have since our economy has collapsed and hasn’t recovered except for wealthy stockholders. Perhaps George W. Bush could paint for us some dollars so that we can remember what they used to look like when we had them in our pockets instead of his billionaire friends (many of them war profiteers) having them in theirs. [..]

The irony is that in early 2003, the reformist Iranian government of then-President Mohammad Khatami had sent over to the US a wide-ranging proposal for peace. After all, Baathist Iraq was Iran’s deadliest enemy. It had invaded Iran in 1980 and fought an 8-year aggressive war in hopes of taking Iranian territory and stealing its oil resources. Now the US was about to overthrow Iran’s nemesis. Wouldn’t it make sense for Washington and Tehran to ally? Khatami put everything on the table, even an end to hostilities with Israel.

The Neoconservatives threw the Iranian proposal in the trash heap and mobilized to make sure there was no rapprochement with Iran. David Frum, Bush’s speech-writer, consulted with eminence grise Richard Perle (then on a Pentagon oversight board) and Irv Lewis “Scooter” Libby (vice presidential felon Richard Bruce Cheney’s chief of staff), and they had already inserted into Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech the phrase the “axis of evil,” grouping Iran with Iraq and North Korea. Iran had had sympathy demonstrations for the US after 9/11, and, being a Shiite power, feared and hated al-Qaeda (Sunni extremists) as much as Washington did. But the Neoconservatives did not want a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda or against Saddam Hussein. Being diplomatic serial killers, they saw Iran rather as their next victim.

In many ways, Washington politics is still stuck in that neoconservative world.

MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes discusses the agreement with several guests  Iranian-American journalist and author, Hooman Majd, Ambassador Christopher Hill and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY).

In another segment, Chris and his guest Matt Duss, Middle East policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, discuss how diplomacy with Iran is just the latest blow to the neoconservatives.

When George W. Bush was appointed as president in 2001, there was a moderate government in Iran. If it had not been for the Supreme Court, this would have been resolved 10 years ago and so many would not have needlessly died.

Obama’s Drone War is not working

   Even Congress doesn’t want us to know the details of the Drone War.

 The House Intelligence Committee on Thursday rejected 15 to 5 what supporters call a “modest” proposal to require that the Obama administration publicly report those killed by U.S. drone strikes overseas.

 Why would they not want us to know how many “enemies” we killed, unless there is something about this War on Some Terror that we wouldn’t approve of?

 Fortunately there is enough information out there that we can piece together an approximate picture of what is happening.

Yellen Opposed to Fed Audit

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Even as President Barack Obama’s nominee to chair the Federal Reserve is committed to transparency, Janet Yellen is opposed to an audit of the central bank’s monetary policy decisions.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has proposed legislation that would subject the Federal Reserve to a full audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), offering Congress a look at the internal operations of the famously opaque institution. Tea partiers like Paul aren’t the only people who support an audit: the proposal has also garnered support among labor leaders such as AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, progressive economists like Dean Baker, and Congressional liberals such as Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla.

Paul has threatened to block Yellen’s nomination unless his proposal for a Fed audit gets a vote in the Senate. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Yellen’s remarks.

Yellen, who currently serves as vice chair of the Federal Reserve, also indicated during the confirmation hearing that her tenure would not represent a significant break from that of outgoing chair Ben Bernanke. She defended the Fed’s policy of buying Treasury bonds as a form of economic stimulus and hinted that she would continue with policies in that vein if confirmed.

The Federal Reserve has only been audited once in 2010 after the proposal for a one time only audit, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, was attached to the Dodd-Frank Finance Reform bill. That audit revealed trillions in secret bailouts to banks around the world.

“This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else,” U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said in a statement.

The majority of loans were issues by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY). [..]

The report notes that all the short-term, emergency loans were repaid, or are expected to be repaid.

The emergency loans included eight broad-based programs, and also provided assistance for certain individual financial institutions. The Fed provided loans to JP Morgan Chase bank to acquire Bear Stearns, a failed investment firm; provided loans to keep American International Group (AIG), a multinational insurance corporation, afloat; extended lending commitments to Bank of America and Citigroup; and purchased risky mortgage-backed securities to get them off private banks’ books. [..]

Some of the financial institutions secretly receiving loans were meanwhile claiming in their public reports to have ample cash reserves, Bloomberg noted.

The Federal Reserve has neither explained how they legally justified several of the emergency loans, nor how they decided to provide assistance to certain firms but not others.

TPP Moves Toward Fast Track in the Senate

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Late last month in the midst of the media obsession over the failure of a web site, the Senate Finance Committee called on congress to pass fast-track legislation aimed at smoothing the passage of any future trade deals that would include the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Panel Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said during a trade hearing that they are working on crafting trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation and are expecting the Obama administration to work with them toward gaining its approval in Congress.

Baucus said it is time to “pass TPA and do it soon.”

He noted that President Obama has asked Congress to craft legislation and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is encouraging lawmakers to move forward so “it’s time for us to do our part, introduce a bill and do it quickly.” [..]

The hearing’s witnesses placed a high level of importance on completing TPA because it they argued that it will strengthen the negotiating hand of U.S. trade officials who are working on the U.S.-European Union trade deal as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is a 12-nation Asia-Pacific trade agreement that Obama and Froman, along with many of the other negotiators, are aiming to complete by the end of the year.

What does “fast track” mean? I think Charles Pierce summarized it nicely

Sometime very soon, the Congress is likely to pass — with limited, if any debate and no amendments possible — a massive trade deal that was negotiated in secret, and the terms of which remain largely secret, and which, if the past is any kind of prologue, will drop a thousand-pound stink bomb on American jobs.

Debate (theoretically) cannot ever end on Mel Watt and his middling level federal job.

Debate cannot even begin on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Check the umpire because somebody’s screwing us.

The umpire is President Barack Obama and his merry band of corporate thieves.

Time is getting short. Take Action Now. Write your congress members. Tell them to stop this undemocratic process. Sign the petition to stop back room deals for the 1%.

NSA: “Electronic Omnivore”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

“Yes, I believe it is in the nation’s best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search.”

   –Keith B. Alexander, September 2013

Inside the “Electronic Omnivore”: New Leaks Show NSA Spying on U.N., Climate Summit, Text Messaging

The New York Times has revealed new details about how the National Security Agency is spying on targets ranging from the United Nations to foreign governments to global text messages. We are joined by New York Times reporter Scott Shane, who reports that the NSA has emerged “as an electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all the while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations.” The Times article reveals how the NSA intercepted the talking points of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of a meeting with President Obama in April and mounted a major eavesdropping effort focused on the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2007. The Times also reveals the existence of an NSA database called Dishfire that “stores years of text messages from around the world, just in case.” Another NSA program called Tracfin “accumulates gigabytes of credit card purchases.”



Transcript can be read here

As U.S. Weighs Spying Changes, Officials Say Data Sweeps Must Continue

by David E. Sanger, The New York Times

The Obama administration has told allies and lawmakers it is considering reining in a variety of National Security Agency practices overseas, including holding White House reviews of the world leaders the agency is monitoring, forging a new accord with Germany for a closer intelligence relationship and minimizing collection on some foreigners.

But for now, President Obama and his top advisers have concluded that there is no workable alternative to the bulk collection of huge quantities of “metadata,” including records of all telephone calls made inside the United States.

Instead, the administration has hinted it may hold that information for only three years instead of five while it seeks new technologies that would permit it to search the records of telephone and Internet companies, rather than collect the data in bulk in government computers. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., has told industry officials that developing the new technology would take at least three years.

NSA official cites ‘stop and frisk’ in effort to explain searches of phone records

by Ali Watkins, McClatchy Washington Bureau

The general counsel of the National Security Agency on Monday compared the agency’s telephone metadata collection program to the highly controversial “stop-and-frisk” practice used by law enforcement officers, saying the agency uses that same standard to choose which phone numbers to query in its database.

“It’s effectively the same standard as stop-and-frisk,” Rajesh De said in an attempt to explain the evidentiary use of “reasonable and articulable suspicion” to identify which phone numbers to target from the agency’s huge database of stored cellphone records.

De made the comment during a rare hearing of an obscure government body, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress created in 2004 to oversee the government’s expanded intelligence collection operations but which until Monday had never held a substantive hearing. [..]

The comparison was the latest in questionable analogies that intelligence officials have used in an effort to explain the agency’s metadata collection programs since former defense contractor Edward Snowden revealed their existence in June.

Intelligence officials, for example, have said repeatedly that the collection of hundreds of millions of phone records allows them to build a haystack in which to find a needle, apparently missing the irony that “finding a needle in a haystack” is an expression meant to convey that a task is all but impossible.

NSA’s Path to Totalitarianism

by Norman Pollack, Counterpunch

The New York Times, a recipient, along with the Guardian, of Snowden’s disclosures about the illegal activities of Obama and USG, is breaking out, as now, of its reticence about the nation’s profound disregard of constitutional principles AND its related policies of global hegemony at all costs-here Scott Shane’s lengthy article (3 Nov.), “No Morsel Too Miniscule for All-Consuming N.S.A.”  NSA to all intents and purposes appears as a “rogue” organization, extremism in the putative service of liberty, except that the designation is a way of distracting attention, and removing accountability, from its authorization and mission at the highest levels-call it, licensed roguery, official (with Obama’s eyes supposedly averted).  Or better, call it, stripped of all cosmetics, the unerring mark of a Police State, itself become identical  with Fortress America, the National-Security State.

Eavesdropping on foreign leaders speaks to an arrogance of power, in which the US claims for itself every right, unilaterally, to script both sides of the foreign dialogue as well as micromanage to its own advantage the rhythm and content of global events, from regional trade partnerships to the use of military force in shoring up alliance systems against a host of enemies, some terrorist groups to be sure, but, using that as pretext, mounting counterrevolution globally against alternative modes, notably, socialist, of modernization: autonomous national and/or radical aspirations seeking distance from US market penetration, the tarnished necklace of its worldwide military bases and CIA stations, and not least, the ideological saturation (assisted by IMF and World Bank applications of pressure) of market fundamentalism, the property right, unrestricted capital flows, and the honor of serving American industry with the lowest possible labor costs, as meanwhile we see the financialization of capitalism here and the gutting of the manufacturing base.

Eavesdropping, of course, is the polite term for control freak, which translates, in the realm of power politics, into societal desperation to employ any and all means for staying on top, cyber-strategies of disruption as well as information-gathering, campaigns of disinformation, CIA-JSOC paramilitary programs of regime change, and, upping the ante, as here, learning every move in advance of foreign leaders, the better-take no chances, take no prisoners-to orchestrate world politics in our favor.

TPP: Its Real Agenda

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

President Barack Obama is pushing approval of The Trans-Pacific Partnership by the end of the year.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Tuesday that world trade ministers may discuss the U.S.-proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization meeting that starts on December 3, with a goal of reaching a deal by year-end.

But several outstanding issues remain, he told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on the Indonesian island of Bali, citing issues ranging from intellectual property to state-owned enterprises, labor and the environment. The WTO meeting will also be held on Bali.

The three-year-old TPP talks, now involving 12 nations, are aimed at establishing a free-trade bloc that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile to Japan, encompassing 800 million people, about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy.

A major goal of the Obama administration, the TPP would tear down trade barriers in areas such as government procurement and set standards for workers’ rights, environmental protection and intellectual property rights.

In actuality, the TPP has little to do with free trade. In a thirty minute interview with Bill Moyers, investment banking expert Yves Smith who runs the blog naked capitalism and economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research discuss the real agenda of the agreement.

A US-led trade deal is currently being negotiated that could increase the price of prescription drugs, weaken financial regulations and even allow partner countries to challenge American laws. But few know its substance.

The pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is deliberately shrouded in secrecy, a trade deal powerful people, including President Obama, don’t want you to know about. More than 130 members of Congress have asked the White House for greater transparency about the negotiations and were essentially told to go fly a kite. While most of us are in the dark about the contents of the deal, which Obama aims to seal by year end, corporate lobbyists are in the know about what it contains.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Roll Back the Financial Regulations Needed to Avoid Another Crisis

by Expose the TPP

   The TPP would ban capital controls, an essential policy tool to counter destabilizing flows of speculative money. Even the International Monetary Fund has recently endorsed capital controls as legitimate for mitigating or preventing financial crises.

   The TPP would prohibit taxes on Wall Street speculation. That means that there would be no hope of passing proposals like the Robin Hood Tax, which would impose a tiny tax on Wall Street transactions to tamp down speculation-fueled volatility while generating hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of revenue for social, health, or environmental causes.

   The TPP would empower financial firms to directly attack these government policies in foreign tribunals, and demand taxpayer compensation for policies they claim undermine their expected future profits.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists

By Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

There are many other areas where we could envision freer trade bringing real gains to the bulk of the population. However this is not what the TPP is about. The TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries.

For example, we can expect to see limits on the ability of national and sub-national governments to impose environmental restrictions, such requirements that companies engaging in fracking disclose the list of chemicals they use. There may also be limits on the extent to which governments can restrict the sale of genetically modified foods, with rules on labeling. And, the TPP may prevent governments from imposing restraints on financial firms that would prevent the sort of abuses that we saw during the run-up of the housing bubble.

The world has benefited from the opening of trade over the last four decades. But this opening has been selective so that, at least in the United States, most of the gains have gone to those at the top. It is possible to design trade deals that benefit the population as a whole, but not when corporate interests are literally the negotiators at the table. Rather than being about advancing free trade, the TPP is the answer to the question: “how can we make the rich richer?

Another Reason to Hate TPP: It Gives Big Content New Tools to Undermine Sane Digital Rights Policies

by Corynne McSherry and Maira Sutton, Electronic Freedom Foundation

Like the rest of the TPP, we only know what has been leaked. Based on that, it seems the negotiators are poised to give private corporations new tools to undermine national sovereignty and democratic processes. Specifically, TPP would give multinational companies the power to sue countries over laws that that might diminish the value of their company or cut into their expected future profits.

The provision that gives them this power is called “investor-state dispute settlement” (or ISDS for short). The policy was originally intended to ensure that investments in developing countries were not illegally expropriated by “rogue” governments, thereby encouraging foreign investment. But what began as a remedy to a specific problem has since been co-opted to serve very different purposes. Under investor-state, if a regulation gets in the way of a foreign investor’s ability to profit from its investment, the investor can sue a country for monetary damages based on both alleged lost profits and “expected future profits.” There are no monetary limits to the potential award.

Apparently a country’s own courts can’t be trusted to administer this kind of lawsuit, so investor-state also requires the creation of a new court. It would be comprised of three private-sector attorneys who take turns being judge and/or corporate advocate.

“We Don’t Have a Domestic Spying Program”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

We don’t have a domestic spying program.” That was the statement made by President Barack Obama on the “Jay Leno Show” on August 6, 2013 in the aftermath of the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden. We know now that there was no truth in that. We know, through the NSA program called “PRISM,” the NSA had been collecting internet data since 2007, including encrypted communications, from the tech giants, such as Google, Yahoo and Verizon, under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. That’s the one that Obama said he would filibuster, then voted for with the promise of fixing it later.

The latest revelation is the NSA went beyond PRISM’s front door approach and behind the back of Google and Yahooo to infiltrate links to their data centers world wide. This newest document from Edward Snowden’s stash of NSA files exposed a program called MUSCULAR that was jointly operated with the NSA’s British counterpart, GCHQ. As it was reported by  Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani at The Washington Post, through this program they secretly broke into the main communication links that connect Yahoo and Google around the world enabling them to “collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans.

According to a top-secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, the NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from internal Yahoo and Google networks to data warehouses at the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records – including “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, as well as content such as text, audio and video.

The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters . From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and the GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information among the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants. [..]

Intercepting communications overseas has clear advantages for the NSA, with looser restrictions and less oversight. NSA documents about the effort refer directly to “full take,” “bulk access” and “high volume” operations on Yahoo and Google networks. Such large-scale collection of Internet content would be illegal in the United States, but the operations take place overseas, where the NSA is allowed to presume that anyone using a foreign data link is a foreigner.

Outside U.S. territory, statutory restrictions on surveillance seldom apply and the FISC has no jurisdiction. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has acknowledged that Congress conducts little oversight of intelligence-gathering under the presidential authority of Executive Order 12333, which defines the basic powers and responsibilities of the intelligence agencies.

Needless to say the news that the NSA can collect information sent by fibre optic cable between the two tech giants infuriated them:

In a statement, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company was “outraged” by the latest revelations.

“We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we have continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links, especially the links in the slide,” he said.

“We do not provide any government, including the US government, with access to our systems. We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.”

Yahoo said: “We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.”

It was this slide from the NSA presentation on “Google Cloud Exploitation,” that caused two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing.

NSA Infiltrates Yahoo Google photo GOOGLE-CLOUD-EXPLOITATION1383148810_zpsbdce47a5.jpg

Click on image to enlarge.

The tech giants are now calling for real reforms of the NSA. In a letter sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), they called for passage of the USA Freedom Act  a bill sponsored by Democrat senator Patrick Leahy and Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner that would end the bulk collection of data from millions of Americans and set up a privacy advocate to monitor the Fisa court, which oversees the NSA’s US activities.

“Recent disclosures regarding surveillance activity raise important concerns in the United States and abroad. The volume and complexity of the information that has been disclosed in recent months has created significant confusion here and around the world, making it more difficult to identify appropriate policy prescriptions,” the letter states.

“Our companies have consistently made clear that we only respond to legal demands for customer and user information that are targeted and specific.

“Allowing companies to be transparent about the number and nature of requests will help the public better understand the facts about the government’s authority to compel technology companies to disclose user data and how technology companies respond to the targeted legal demands we receive,” they write. [..]

“We urge the administration to work with Congress in addressing these critical reforms that would provide much needed transparency and help rebuild the trust of Internet users around the world,” the letter said.

The lack of credibility that this administration and congress has on this issue is eclipsed only by the enormity of the Grand Canyon. The sham House Intelligence Committee led by chief NSA apologist Rep. Mike Rogers featured inveterate liars NSA boss General Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, along with  Deputy Attorney General James Cole and number 2 guy at NSA Chris Inglis who were tossed easy questions. When push back from Democratic committee members came, Rogers interrupted, incredibly suggesting that they should just shut up if they’re going to say they weren’t informed:

(Rep. Adam) Schiff quite reasonably, appeared to take offense to this, and challenged Rogers, asking for more details as to when and how the Committee was told about spying on foreign leaders. Rogers without actually answering the question kept “warning” other members not to say something about this. Schiff broke in again (with Rogers trying to stop him from talking) to ask if the Committee was directly informed about this or if it was just a giant data dump of information that he would have had to go through carefully to find out who they were spying on. Rogers again refused to answer the question, and again hinted that those who put in the “effort” would have known about this — and then flat out cut off Schiff [..]

So we are now supposed to trust the liars?

 

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