Category: Barack Obama

Are the Embassy Threats Exagerated? Or Manufactured?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Strange, the US intelligence agencies didn’t intercept any communications warning of the prison breaks but have info on alleged “imminent attacks.”

Yemen on ‘high alert’ over warning of imminent al-Qaida attack

by Ian Black, The Guardian

US personnel flown out of country as reports claim ‘extraordinary and unprecedented’ security measures in force in capital Sana’a

Yemeni security forces have been put on high alert amid warnings of an imminent attack by al-Qaida in Sana’a, as the US and Britain withdrew embassy staff and urged their citizens to leave the country.

BBC Arabic quoted a Yemeni security source as saying that “extraordinary and unprecedented” security measures had been put in place, with armoured vehicles deployed at the presidential palace and other sensitive government and foreign installations in Yemen’s capital.

Dozens of al-Qaida operatives were said to have streamed into Sana’a in the last few days, apparently to take part in a terrorist attack, the BBC said. The Yemeni claim could not be independently confirmed.

US embassy closures used to bolster case for NSA surveillance programs

by Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts, The Guardian

Congress told that NSA monitoring led to interception of al-Qaida threats but privacy campaigners fear ulterior political motives

US embassies in the Middle East are to remain closed for the rest of the week as supporters of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance powers used the unspecified terror alert to bolster the case against reining in the controversial measures.

The closures follow the alleged interception of al-Qaida communications in Yemen, which intelligence committee members in Congress have been told were collected overseas using powers granted to the NSA under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – not the bulk surveillance programs disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden.

A privacy group questioned the publicity given to the latest alert after the State Department announced on Sunday evening that the number of embassies and consulates closed “out of an abundance of caution”

would be increased, with some remaining shut for up to a week.

Rebublican senator Saxby Chambliss said the NSA had identified threats that were the most serious for years and akin to levels of “terrorist chatter” picked up before 9/11.

On Democracy Now!, journalist for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald discusses the latest terrorist treats and the closings ogf US embassies int the the region.



Transcript can be read here

The Obama administration has announced it will keep 19 diplomatic posts in North Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to fears of a possible militant threat. On Sunday, Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the decision to close the embassies was based on information collected by the National Security Agency. “If we did not have these programs, we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys,” Chambliss said, in a direct reference to increasing debate over widespread spying of all Americans revealed by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. “Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks,” Greenwald says.

The Drone Wars: No, We Won’t ; Yes, We Will

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

If I were the Secretary of State, I would resign.

Despite his statements to the Pakistan government that drone strikes were winding down, Secretary of State John Kerry was contradicted by his own department:

There were more drone strikes in Pakistan last month than any month since January. Three missile strikes were carried out in Yemen in the last week alone. [..]

Most elements of the drone program remain in place, including a base in the southern desert of Saudi Arabia that the Central Intelligence Agency continues to use to carry out drone strikes in Yemen. In late May, administration officials said that the bulk of drone operations would shift to the Pentagon from the C.I.A.

But the C.I.A. continues to run America’s secret air war in Pakistan, where Mr. Kerry’s comments underscored the administration’s haphazard approach to discussing these issues publicly. During a television interview in Pakistan on Thursday, Mr. Kerry said the United States had a “timeline” to end drone strikes in that country’s western mountains, adding, “We hope it’s going to be very, very soon.”

But the Obama administration is expected to carry out drone strikes in Pakistan well into the future. Hours after Mr. Kerry’s interview, the State Department issued a statement saying there was no definite timetable to end the targeted killing program in Pakistan, and a department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said, “In no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat if it arises.”

And, we are not suppose to know about the secret CIA run drone base in Saudi Arabia that was first used for the operation that killed Anwar al-Awlaki. The Saudi government is opposed to US troops operating on their soil but the CIA assassins are OK.

A couple of questions:

Who is in charge at the State Department?

Does anyone in the Obama administration talk to each other?

Does the Obama administration really think the world is all that ignorant of what they are doing?

Who’s zooming who here?

XKeyscore: Another NSA Program Exposed

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

As a hearing on reining in the secret surveillance program was taking place, another “tool” in the NSA’s collection of on-line data was revealed to the public.

Senate Panel Presses N.S.A. on Phone Logs

by Charlie Savage and David E. Sanger, The New York Times

Senators of both parties on Wednesday sharply challenged the National Security Agency’s collection of records of all domestic phone calls, even as the latest leaked N.S.A. document provided new details on the way the agency monitors Web browsing around the world.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the chairman, Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, accused Obama administration officials of overstating the success of the domestic call log program. He said he had been shown a classified list of “terrorist events” detected through surveillance, and it did not show that “dozens or even several terrorist plots” had been thwarted by the domestic program.

“If this program is not effective it has to end. So far, I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen,” Mr. Leahy said, citing the “massive privacy implications” of keeping records of every American’s domestic calls.

XKeyscore: NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’

by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

• XKeyscore gives ‘widest-reaching’ collection of online data

• NSA analysts require no prior authorization for searches

• Sweeps up emails, social media activity and browsing history

• NSA’s XKeyscore program – read one of the presentations

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its “widest-reaching” system for developing intelligence from the internet.

The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian’s earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

XKeyscore, the documents boast, is the NSA’s “widest reaching” system developing intelligence from computer networks – what the agency calls Digital Network Intelligence (DNI). One presentation claims the program covers “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.

Analysts can also use XKeyscore and other NSA systems to obtain ongoing “real-time” interception of an individual’s internet activity.

All In host Chris Hayes talks about the new efforts at transparency and the latest NSA revelations courtesy of Edward Snowden with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian.

With the crackdown on whistleblowers and failure to pursue the crimes they revealed, one wonders just how far is the US from becoming the Soviet Russia of the 21st century.

The Slow Death of Democracy

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

“Well, Doctor, what have we got-a Republic or a Monarchy?”

 “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

~Benjamin Franklin~ 1787

While Bradley Manning awaits sentencing that could bring up to 136 years in prison, the perpetrators of the war crimes that he exposed and those who authorized those crimes remain free, some still have been appointed to high positions in the government. War crimes apologists hail Manning’s conviction but are silent about prosecution of the likes of George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzalez, John Brennan, James Comey, and hundreds of others.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange spoke with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on this morning’s Democracy Now!



Transcript can be read here

“Bradley Manning is now a martyr,” Assange says. “He didn’t choose to be a martyr. I don’t think it’s a proper way for activists to behave to choose to be martyrs, but these young men – allegedly in the case of Bradley Manning and clearly in the case of Edward Snowden – have risked their freedom, risked their lives, for all of us. That makes them heroes.” According to numerous press reports, the conviction of Manning makes it increasingly likely that the U.S. will prosecute Assange as a co-conspirator. During the trial, military prosecutors portrayed Assange as an “information anarchist” who encouraged Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents.

Statement by Julian Assange on Verdict in Bradley Manning Court-Martial

30 July 2013, 19:30 UTC

Today Bradley Manning, a whistleblower, was convicted by a military court at Fort Meade of 19 offences for supplying the press with information, including five counts of ‘espionage’. He now faces a maximum sentence of 136 years.

The ‘aiding the enemy’ charge has fallen away. It was only included, it seems, to make calling journalism ‘espionage’ seem reasonable. It is not.

Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures have exposed war crimes, sparked revolutions, and induced democratic reform. He is the quintessential whistleblower.

This is the first ever espionage conviction against a whistleblower. It is a dangerous precedent and an example of national security extremism. It is a short sighted judgment that can not be tolerated and must be reversed. It can never be that conveying true information to the public is ‘espionage’.

President Obama has initiated more espionage proceedings against whistleblowers and publishers than all previous presidents combined.

In 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama ran on a platform that praised whistleblowing as an act of courage and patriotism. That platform has been comprehensively betrayed. His campaign document described whistleblowers as watchdogs when government abuses its authority. It was removed from the internet last week.

Throughout the proceedings there has been a conspicuous absence: the absence of any victim. The prosecution did not present evidence that – or even claim that – a single person came to harm as a result of Bradley Manning’s disclosures. The government never claimed Mr. Manning was working for a foreign power.

The only ‘victim’ was the US government’s wounded pride, but the abuse of this fine young man was never the way to restore it. Rather, the abuse of Bradley Manning has left the world with a sense of disgust at how low the Obama administration has fallen. It is not a sign of strength, but of weakness.

The judge has allowed the prosecution to substantially alter the charges after both the defense and the prosecution had rested their cases, permitted the prosecution 141 witnesses and extensive secret testimony. The government kept Bradley Manning in a cage, stripped him naked and isolated him in order to crack him, an act formally condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for torture. This was never a fair trial.

The Obama administration has been chipping away democratic freedoms in the United States. With today’s verdict, Obama has hacked off much more. The administration is intent on deterring and silencing whistleblowers, intent on weakening freedom of the press.

The US first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. What part of ‘no’ does Barack Obama fail to comprehend?

Manning Verdict: Slow Death for Democracy

by David Gespass, Common Dreams

Hypocrisy and criminality are rife in the United States government and, in its eyes, the worst criminals are those who expose such evils. Among the many documents Manning released, for example, was the notorious “collateral murder” video, showing U.S. pilots killing a Reuters journalist, his driver and several others. Some have argued that, although unfortunate, the killing was justified in the heat of battle but the U.S. denied any knowledge of how the reporter, Namir Noor-Eldeen, died until the video was released. Reuters had simply asked how such events could be avoided in the future and was stonewalled. It is only thanks to Manning that the world knows exactly what happened.

There are two ways in which any government can seek to control security leaks. The first is by honesty and transparency, by allowing the public to know enough to make democratic decisions about how far is too far. That is the path that the United States, and this president, claims to follow. The second is by threatening draconian consequences to anyone who exposes questionable policies and practices to the light of day. That is the path the United States, and this administration, has chosen with the prosecution of Bradley Manning and others. No amount of sophistry can hide that truth, try as the administration might. The result, for Bradley Manning, is many years in prison. The result for democracy is a slow death.

The highest obligation we, as citizens, have is to protect the Constitution and the laws of this country. This is what two young men, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, have courageously done. They don’t deserve prosecution. They deserve medals and praise.

Manning Acquitted of Aiding the Enemy But . . .

Pfc. Bradley Manning was acquitted of the most serious charges of aiding the enemy , which carried the death sentence but was found guilty of multiple counts of violating the Espionage act of 1917. Manning faces up to 132 years in prison for, as emptywheel‘s Marcy Wheeler notes, “alerting you to what your government does in your name:

Today, (Colonel Denise) Lind found Manning guilty of 20 charges for that effort to inform the American people of the policies pursued in their name. But, in a hugely significant development, she also ruled that he was not guilty of the charge of aiding the enemy. The verdict was revealed with silence and a delay, as the Army imposed new reporting rules on the press, citing earlier “shenanigans.”

That Lind found Manning guilty of 20 charges is not a surprise. Manning himself had pled guilty to 10 lesser offenses the day he read his statement, pleading to “unauthorized possession” and “willful communication” of most, but not all of the items he was accused of leaking. On several of the charges – notably, Manning’s leak of a video of Americans shooting a Reuters journalist – Lind accepted Manning’s lesser pleas.

Moreover, Lind had refused to throw out charges – including the aiding the enemy charge – that Manning’s defense argued the government had not substantiated. Lind had also changed the wording of three charges against Manning after the end of the trial, adjusting them to the evidence the government had actually submitted at trial. [..]

But the big news – and very good news – is that Manning is innocent of the aiding the enemy charge. That ruling averted a potentially catastrophic effect on freedom of speech in this country.

This was a kangaroo court from start to finish with no court stenographers allowed, harassment of the press in and out of the courtroom and the judge changing the rules as the trial progressed, even changing the charges after closing arguments

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who represents Wikileaks and Julian Assange in the U.S, released this statement upon hearing the verdict:

   While the “aiding the enemy” charges (on which Manning was rightly acquitted) received the most attention from the mainstream media, the Espionage Act itself is a discredited relic of the WWI era, created as a tool to suppress political dissent and antiwar activism, and it is outrageous that the government chose to invoke it in the first place against Manning. Government employees who blow the whistle on war crimes, other abuses and government incompetence should be protected under the First Amendment.

   We now live in a country where someone who exposes war crimes can be sentenced to life even if not found guilty of aiding the enemy, while those responsible for the war crimes remain free. If the government equates being a whistleblower with espionage or aiding the enemy, what is the future of journalism in this country? What is the future of the First Amendment?

   Manning’s treatment, prosecution, and sentencing have one purpose: to silence potential whistleblowers and the media as well. One of the main targets has been our clients, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, for publishing the leaks. Given the U.S. government’s treatment of Manning, Assange should be granted asylum in his home country of Australia and given the protections all journalists and publishers deserve.

   We stand in solidarity with Bradley Manning and call for the government to take heed and end its assault on the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Senate confirmed torture advocate and war criminal James Comey as Director of the FBI by a vote of 93 to 1. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) was the only no vote. Oregon’s Democratic Senators Merkley and Wyden voted present; Senators Chiesa (R-NJ); Heitkamp (D-ND); Murkowski (R-AK); and Rubio (R-FL) did not vote.

Obama: Killing Children Is Above The Law

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The government has killed a 16-year-old American boy. Shouldn’t it at least have to explain why?  

~Nasser al-Awlaki~

Nasser al-Awlaki: “My Grandson Was Killed by His Own Government”

by Jim White, emptywheel

While the nation grieves over the senseless death of Trayvon Martin and the missed opportunity to hold his killer responsible for that death, there is another senseless death of an American teenager of color where an attempt is continuing, after previous failures, to hold accountable those responsible for the lawless way in which this life was arbitrarily ended.

Exactly one year ago today, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit (pdf) on behalf of Nasser al-Awlaki (father of Anwar al-Awlaki and grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki) and Sarah Khan (wife of Samir Khan). The defendants in the case are former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Commander of Special Operations Command William McRaven, Commander of Joint Special Operations Command Joseph Votel and former CIA Head David Petraeus. The complaint cites violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments as well as violation of the Bill of Attainder Clause in the targeted killings of Anwar al-Awlaki, Abdulrahaman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. [..]

Given what is known about the role of Barack Obama in these killings and his personal authorization of the “kill list” in his Terror Tuesday meetings, I find it perplexing that he is not also a defendant in this case.

The complaint seeks damages in an amount to be determined at the trial and any other relief the court deems just and proper.

Coincident with the filing of the complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia a year ago, the video above was released.

Sadly, we can state with confidence that even before the proceedings open the government will argue that it does not have to explain why it killed Abdulrahman. Because terror. Even more sadly, it is quite likely that the court will side with this senseless and lawless argument. Because terror.

What has our country become?

US government argues drone strikes are above the law

by David Sirota, Salon

A new lawsuit challenges whether counterterrorist officials should be allowed to operate without fear of litigation

Court cases are often cures for insomnia, but every so often a lawsuit is an eye-opening journey through the looking glass. One of those is suddenly upon us – and we should be thankful because it finally provides an unfiltered look at our government.

You may not know about this case, but you should. Called Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, it illustrates the extremism driving the policies being made in the public’s name. [..]

But perhaps the most important thing to know about this case is what the government is arguing about the law itself. In defending the administration, Hauck asserted that such suits should not be permitted because they “don’t want these counterterrorism officials distracted by the threat of litigation.”

The radical message is obvious: Yes, the government now claims that America should not want public officials to have to consider the constraints of the law.

If this harrowing doctrine sounds familiar, that’s because the sentiment behind it has been creeping into our political dialogue for years. [..]

Consider, though, what’s more dangerous: a government that has to momentarily think about following the law when using violence or a government that gets to use such violence without having to think at all?

Government officials pretend they have the only answer to that question. But Nasser Al-Aulaqi’s dead grandson suggests there is a far more accurate answer than the one those officials are offering.

 

Yemeni Journalist Freed Over Obama’s Objections

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Yemeni journalist who reported US missile strike is released from jail

by Tom McCarthy, The Guardian

Abdulelah Haider Shaye, imprisoned on charges of being an al-Qaida operative, reportedly had pardon revoked by US request

A Yemeni journalist who was kept in prison for years at the apparent request of the Obama administration has been released in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, according to local reports.

Abdulelah Haider Shaye was imprisoned in 2010, after reporting that an attack on a suspected al-Qaida training camp in southern Yemen for which the Yemeni government claimed responsibility had actually been carried out by the United States. Shaye had visited the site and discovered pieces of cruise missiles and cluster bombs not found in Yemen’s arsenal, according to a Jeremy Scahill dispatch in the Nation. [..]

Jeremy Scahill Condemns White House Opposition To Freeing Of Abdulelah Haider Shaye

by Jack Mirkinson, The Huffington Post

Jeremy Scahill blasted the Obama administration on Thursday for its opposition to the release of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye from prison. [..]

Shaye was finally freed on Tuesday; the White House said it was “concerned and disappointed” about the release.

Speaking on “Democracy Now,” Scahill said that Shaye had been imprisoned “because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children, and the United States had tried to cover it up.” He harshly criticized Obama for pressing for his continued imprisonment.

“My question for the White House would be you want to co-sign a dictator’s arrest of a journalist, beating of a journalist, and conviction in a court that every human rights organization in the world has said was a sham court?” he said. “That’s the side that the White House is on right now. Not on the side of press freedom around the world. They’re on the side of locking up journalists who have the audacity to actually be journalists.”



Transcript can be read here

How Obama’s Drones Spread a Deadly Disease

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

American’s were so proud that Pres. Barack Obama had found and killed Osama bin Laden in an Abbottabad, Pakistan and continues to defend its illegal drone program that kills more innocent civilians than it does terrorists. The killing of bin Laden and the drone program have had an impact on a deadly disease that was about to be eradicated world wide, polio. The distrust in the vaccination program was created when the brilliant minds came up with an appallingly bad scheme to set up a fake vaccination program to find bin Laden:

As reported by the Guardian and subsequently by the New York Times, intelligence operatives funded a sham vaccination program in hopes of obtaining a sample of DNA to prove that bin Laden, then rumored to be in the area, was actually living in the compound where he was subsequently found and killed. From the Guardian:

   DNA from any of the Bin Laden children in the compound could be compared with a sample from his sister, who died in Boston in 2010, to provide evidence that the family was present.

   So agents approached [Shakil] Afridi, the health official in charge of Khyber, part of the tribal area that runs along the Afghan border.

   The doctor went to Abbottabad in March, saying he had procured funds to give free vaccinations for hepatitis B. Bypassing the management of the Abbottabad health services, he paid generous sums to low-ranking local government health workers, who took part in the operation without knowing about the connection to Bin Laden. Health visitors in the area were among the few people who had gained access to the Bin Laden compound in the past, administering polio drops to some of the children…

   In March health workers administered the vaccine in a poor neighbourhood on the edge of Abbottabad called Nawa Sher. The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given in three doses, the second a month after the first. But in April, instead of administering the second dose in Nawa Sher, the doctor returned to Abbottabad and moved the nurses on to Bilal Town, the suburb where Bin Laden lived.

There is no evidence the “vaccinations” produced DNA that helped identify bin Laden. The physician named in the article has been arrested by the Pakistani security forces. The CIA has understandably refused any comment. But the allegation that a vaccine program was not what it seemed – that it was not only suspect, but justifiably suspect – has been very widely reported.

This is awful. It plays, so precisely that it might have been scripted, into the most paranoid conspiracy theories about vaccines: that they are pointless, poisonous, covert shields for nefarious government agendas meant to do children harm.

This unethical scheme had its deadly consequences in more ways than one. The rumor that the vaccine program was a covert campaign by Western powers to sterilize and kill Muslim children. It’s also put health care workers with the vaccination program at risk:

Foreign Policy has the exact numbers. Up to 22 workers may have been killed-one of the incidences was a roadside bomb, so it might have just happened to catch vaccinators-while 14 others have been bombed, taken for ransom, tortured, or otherwise injured. The violence likely stems from the Pakistani Taliban’s opposition to vaccination, Foreign Policy reports.

Taliban leaders have a variety of reasons they’re suspicious of the polio vaccine. They think vaccinators could be spies for the U.S. military–more on this later–or that they could be part of a plot to sterilize Muslims. Last year, Pakistani Taliban groups questioned why Americans fund both fatal drone strikes and life-saving vaccination programs. Leaders said they would ban vaccinators from reaching them until the U.S. stops using drone strikes. [..]

One doctor, a Muslim, took a journalist on a tour in April and talked about a fatwa placed upon him. In May, a gunman killed him and injured his one-year-old daughter.

Despite all of this, the battle to eradicate polio in Pakistan continues but the impetus is a rivalry with India, where polio was eliminated two years ago

After India’s success and hints from the World Health Organization that it might issue travel warnings, Pakistan’s government went on an emergency footing. A cabinet-level “polio cell” was created. Vaccinators’ routine pay doubled to $2.50. More than 1,000 “mobilizers” were hired to visit schools and mosques to counter the ever-swirling rumors that the vaccine contained pork, birth control hormones or H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

Mullahs were courted to endorse vaccination. They issued 24 fatwas, and glossy booklets of their directives were printed for vaccinators to carry.

Perhaps most important, local command was given to deputy commissioners, who have police powers that health officials lack.

Pakistan is closer than ever. Although cases will not peak until after the summer monsoons, there have been only 21 so far this year. A few years ago, 39 substrains of the polio virus circulated; now only two do. About 300,000 children live in areas too dangerous for vaccinators, but almost all the sewage samples from those areas are clear of the virus.

Ultimately, though, success will depend on more than political will and the rivalry with India. In the wake of the recent killings, it will rely most of all on individual acts of courage, like those by prominent imams who pose for pictures as they vaccinate children.

This is an uphill fight, especially in the Peshwar region where anti-American sentiments are very high due to the barrage of drone strikes on the isolated mountain villages where just about every adult male has an AK-47. Lack of sanitation and clean water supplies, along with few government services such as health clinics, garbage pick up and schools add to the complicated picture.

Peshawar worries even Dr. Elias Durry, a normally optimistic polio specialist with the W.H.O. “You can get 90 percent vaccine coverage, and come back a few months later, and it’s 50 percent,” he said. “People just move so quickly.”

Shaheen’s sewers are concrete trenches about a foot deep, into which wastewater, rendered milky white by dish soap, flows from pipes exiting mud-brick houses. A child reaching into one for a stick to play with showed how easily the virus, carried in fecal matter, could spread.

Though the area has clean water from a well, the steel pipe it flows through at times dips inside the sewerage trench. It has dents where trucks have banged it, and it is pierced by connectors, some attached just to rubber hoses. [..]

Pakistani children suffer diarrhea so often that half the country’s young are stunted by it. Polio immunity is low, even in vaccinated children, because other viruses crowd the gut receptors to which the vaccine should attach.

At the clinic in Shaheen, the doctor running the polio drive, an ophthalmologist, complained that he got too little police help.

In the middle of last year, it became known that in 2011, the C.I.A. had paid a local doctor to try to get DNA samples from children inside an Abbottabad compound to prove they were related to Bin Laden. Even though the doctor, Shakil Afridi, who is now serving a 33-year sentence for treason, was offering a hepatitis vaccine, anger turned against polio drops.Leaders of the polio eradication effort could not have been more frustrated. They were already fighting new rumors that vaccinators were helping set drone targets because they have practices like marking homes with chalk so that follow-up teams can find them. Now, after years of reassuring nervous families that the teams were not part of a C.I.A. plot, here was proof that one was.

What Charles Pierce said:

It is possible for the vast United States intelligence apparatus to go 15 minutes without fking up in the most egregious way possible?

Nope.

At Least Obama Now Honest About Trashing the Fourth Amendment

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

On Thursday the White House was mum on whether they would seek renewal of the “secret” court order that allows the NSA to collect the phone records and e-mails of Americans without due process.

Officials declined to discuss what action they intend to take about the order at the center of the current surveillance scandal, which formally expires at 5pm Friday. [..]

On Thursday, the administration would not answer a question first posed by the Guardian six days ago about its intentions to continue, modify or discontinue the Verizon bulk-collection order. The White House referred queries to the Justice Department. “We have no announcement at this time,” said Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon. The NSA and office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to questions.

At a hearing on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee, the top lawyer for the director of national intelligence, Robert S Litt, was asked by the chairman, Bob Goodlatte, if the administration thought if a surveillance program “of this magnitude … could be indefinitely kept secret from the American people?”

Litt answered, “well, we tried.”

Since the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, the White House decided on Friday to come clean that they would continue to violate the Fourth Amendment with impunity:

In an unprecedented move prompted by the Guardian’s disclosure in June of the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of Verizon metadata, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has publicly revealed that the scheme has been extended yet again.

The statement does not mention Verizon by name, nor make clear how long the extension lasts for, but it is likely to span a further three months in line with previous routine orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa). [..]

The decision to go public with the latest Fisa court order is an indication of how the Obama administration has opened up the previously hidden world of mass communications surveillance, however slightly, since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the scheme to the Guardian.

Earlier on Friday, ODNI lawyer, Litt, told the Brookings Institute that the intelligence chiefs would consider NSA data collection changesbut continued defending the unconstitutional program:

“It is, however, not the only way that we could regulate intelligence collection,” Litt said. “We’re currently working to declassify more information about our activities to inform that discussion,” particularly concerning the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. [..]

“That could be a significant problem in a fast-moving investigation where speed and agility are critical, such as the plot to bomb the New York City subways in 2009,” Litt said.

But Litt also noted: “All of the metadata we get under this program is information that the telecommunications companies obtain and keep for their own business purposes.”

He acknowledged in the beginning of his speech: “There is an entirely understandable concern that the government may abuse this power.”

In response to a question about the legality of the program, Litt also suggested that congress could pass a law permitting the NSA to collect the records.

“You’d have to make sure that it enables the kind of flexibility and operational agility that we need to conduct the collection,” Litt said. “We don’t think a new statute is necessary. We think we have the authority. But obviously, if Congress thinks a new statute is appropriate for this, Congress can provide that.”

Brilliant, let’s pass another unconstitutional law. Way to go, Barack.

Pravda on the Potomac

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

One of the many provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 that was signed by Pres. Barack Obama late in the night of December 30, 2012, was the repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. The original act outlined the State Department’s dissemination of information outside the boarders of the United States:

authorizes the U.S. State Department to communicate to audiences outside of the borders of the United States through broadcasting, face-to-face contacts, exchanges (including educational, cultural, and technical), online activities, the publishing of books, magazines, and other media of communication and engagement.

The legislation included three key provision the first, and most important was a prohibition on domestic dissemination of materials intended for foreign audiences by the State Department.

Section 501(a) of the Act (care of the Voice of America website) provides that

   “information produced by VOA for audiences outside the United States shall not be disseminated within the United States … but, on request, shall be available in the English language at VOA, at all reasonable times following its release as information abroad, for examination only by representatives of United States press associations, newspapers, magazines, radio systems, and stations, and by research students and scholars, and, on request, shall be made available for examination only to Members of Congress.”

“This means that VOA is forbidden to broadcast within the United States.” In reality, of course, any American with a shortwave receiver or an Internet connection can listen to VOA. That’s incidental, however. VOA cannot direct or intend its programs to be “for” Americans. This distinction is often lost on experts who see the letter of the law but with no real understanding of the media. George W. Bush-era State Department official James K. Glassman has called for directing VOA at American audiences.

The 2013 NDAA ended that restriction on July 2:

(T)he Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was given permission to let US households tune-in to hear the type of programming that has previously only been allowed in outside nations.

The BBG is the independent government agency that broadcasts Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other networks created “to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy” – and a new law now allows the agency to provide members of the American public with program materials originally meant to be disseminated abroad.

Back in 1972, Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright equated those government stories with propaganda when he said they “should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” A couple of current lawmakers were singing a different tune when they proposed the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 last year, though, which became official just two weeks ago.

Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA), who introduced the changes to the Smith Mundt last year argued

“Effective strategic communication and public diplomacy should be front-and-center as we work to roll back al-Qaeda’s and other violent extremists’ influence among disaffected opulations,” [..]

An essential part of our efforts must be a coordinated, comprehensive, adequately resourced plan to counter their radical messages and undermine their recruitment abilities. To do this, Smith-Mundt must be updated to bolster our strategic communications and public diplomacy capacity on all fronts and mediums – especially online.

According to Tim Cushing at Techdirt, there is the good news and bad news of the government’s ability to aim its pre-approved news at US citizens. The “good new”:

BBG spokesperson Lynne Weil says these efforts aren’t simply pro-government hype machines.  [..]

As Weil points out, this will bring a new level of transparency to the BBG as communicating to Americans is no longer prohibited. If nothing else, transcripts of BBG programming will be easier for Americans to get ahold of. A court ruled in 1998 that the limitations of the Smith-Mundt Act exempted the Voice of America from releasing transcripts in response to FOIA requests.

Another possible plus is the fact that the BBG will provide a free, “local” news source for immigrant populations. [..]

However, there is the “bad news”:

(T)he thought of a state-run news agency being allowed to direct its efforts at Americans is still uncomfortable. Despite claims of independence, it’s hard to believe the source is 100% trustworthy when its stated purpose is to run flack for the State Department in foreign nations. (Of course, the mainstream media outlets haven’t shown much reluctance to regurgitate talking points, which almost makes the BBG’s efforts seem redundant.)

While the BBG may provide a less-biased source of news for many foreigners (or at least provide a different bias), the purpose of its broadcasts to its new American audience is less clear. The fact that the State Department is behind the effort doesn’t do much to allay fears that the BBG will become a tool of domestic propaganda. The State Department’s reaction to the leak of diplomatic correspondence by Wikileaks was to block its employees’ access to the site (or any site containing the word “Wikileaks”) and demand the digital documents be “returned.” How will a state-run press react to developments like these? Will it be forced to play by the department’s rules, no matter how illogical, or will it be able to deal with them in a more forthright manner?

In a time where the administration seems to be forced to play defense with increasing frequency, it’s hard to believe it won’t be willing to exploit this addition to its PR arsenal.

In a May 18, 2012 BuzzFeded article, the late Michael Hastings warned that this revision would open the door to Pentagon propaganda:

The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.

In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.

A U.S. Army whistleblower, Lieutenant Col. Daniel Davis, noted recently in his scathing 84-page unclassified report on Afghanistan that there remains a strong desire within the defense establishment “to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to “protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will,” he wrote, quoting a well-regarded general.

Not only is the government creating an state approved press, it will now have its own news agencies within the US to disseminate its own sanctioned news stories, a true Pravda on the Potomac.

Comey Set To Be Confirmed

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

If anyone, at this point, thinks that President Barack Obama would a change from the Bush administration, his nomination of James Comey to be FBI Director should be proof that any change from the past was a delusion. Besides his record of approving torture, indefinite detention and warrantless wiretapping, at his confirmation hearing Comey defended current US surveillance practices.

James Comey defends US surveillance practices at FBI confirmation hearing

by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Former deputy attorney general who famously rebelled against warrantless spying in 2004 declines to criticise current policy

James Comey, the former US deputy attorney general, said Tuesday that the secret surveillance court that approves wiretapping requests is “anything but a rubber stamp”, even though the so-called Fisa court approves nearly every surveillance request by the government.

“I think folks don’t understand that the FBI operates under a wide variety of constraints,” Comey testified during his confirmation hearing to succeed Robert Mueller as the second director of the bureau since 9/11. The combination of the Fisa court, investigative guidelines from the US attorney general, congressional scrutiny and internal inspectors general are “very effective” at checking FBI abuse, Comey argued.[..]

But Comey declined to criticize the broad, ongoing collection of the phone records when senators asked if they should be scaled back.

Having been out of government since 2005, Comey said that he was “not familiar with the details of the current programs” and did not wish to opine on them. “I do know, as a general matter, the collection and analysis of metadata is a valuable tool in counter-terrorism.”

When questioned about the use of drones, Comey said he did not think drones should be used to kill US citizens in America, but left the door open for cases of “imminent threats.” The precise definition of what circumstances would constitute an “imminent thread” were left unanswered.

Former FBI agent, Colleen Crowley, who was a division legal counsel for 13 years and taught constitutional rights to FBI agents and police, joined Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now! to discuss Comey’s testimony and inevitable confirmation.



Transcript can be read here

At his confirmation hearing to head the FBI, former Bush administration Deputy Attorney General James Comey refused to criticize the broad, ongoing collection of the phone records of Americans and defended the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens deemed to be enemy combatants. Comey also explained why he signed off on a memo authorizing waterboarding while serving under Attorney General John Ashcroft. We get reaction from former special FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who served with the Bureau from 1981 to 2004. The New York Times just published her op-ed titled “Questions for the FBI Nominee.” In 2002, Time magazine named her and two other female whistleblowers as Time’s “Person of the Year,” for warning about the FBI’s failure to help prevent the 9/11 attacks.

What digbt said: What do you have to do to not be eligible for promotion in official Washington?

I’ve always thought it was a mistake for the administration not to pursue prosecutions for the torture regime. It seems like a bad idea for a powerful nation to ignore war crimes. You have to assume that it could blow back on it some time in the future. But since we now know that the presidency is largely a ceremonial position without any power to shape the debate, affect legislation or influence the military industrial complex, it’s clearly awfully tough to do anything at all. Best stick to nice pictures with foreign leaders and leave it at that.

However, even those who view the office as nothing more than a symbol of leadership would have to grant that the president surely has the discretion not to promote the people who signed off on the war crimes.

Global Spying By US Is An Outrage

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

At his blog, Glenn Greenwald posted that he had written an article for O Globo, the large Brazilian newspaper based in Rio de Janeiro revealing that millions of Brazilians emails and calls, too, had been scooped up by the US spy program. This followed on the news in Der Spiegel that gave a detailed account of the mass collection of data from the electronic communications of Germans. The Brazilian government is now demanding an explanation from the US.

The foreign minister, Antonio Patriota, expressed “deep concern” about a report that appeared in O Globo newspaper at the weekend, which detailed how the US National Security Agency (NSA) had conducted extensive spying activities in Brazil.

Based on documents provided by Snowden, the O Globo story showed how the US had been carrying out covert surveillance on ostensibly friendly nations. Similar reports in Europe and Hong Kong have sparked indignation in recent weeks.

After the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, called in cabinet ministers to discuss the issue, the government issued a statement of concern.

After the flight carrying Bolivian president Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria over the suspicion that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was on board, Bolivia and two other Latin American countries, Venezuela and Nicaragua have offered Snowden asylum. The offers spark some rather undiplomatic responses from elected officials on the Sunday talk shows. The most notable was from Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ) who, after calling for sanctions against the three countries, told Meet the Press‘s David Gregory:

“I’m not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum,” Menendez said Sunday. “They like sticking it to the United States.”

The second half of Glenn Greenwald’s interview with Snowden that was taped in Hong Kong by Laura Poitras on 6 June 2013 was posted at The Guardian.

Edward Snowden: ‘The US government will say I aided our enemies’

Juan Cole had this to say about the NSA spying and the Obama administration

The general disappointment with the Obama administration on issues of surveillance, drone warfare, the surge in Afghanistan, extension of the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich, labor issues and the environment felt by anyone to the left of David Brooks appears to be a factor in Snowden’s whistleblowing. He must also have been frustrated to see Senators such as Ron Wyden (D-OR) muzzled and unable to tell the American people forthrightly what was troubling him about the secret interpretation of the USA Patriot Act (which is of course the most unpatriotic piece of legislation ever passed). Muzzling a sitting senator about an issue of clear public concern surely is unconstitutional. You can’t have a democracy that way. Snowden knew this and is trying to restore what we lost to the National Security Super-State.

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