Monday, May 11, 2015

DNI Clapper's Lawyer Claiming Clapper Lied To Congress Because He 'Forgot' About NSA Program

From the Department of you can't be serious. The top lawyer for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is making a novel argument as to why Clapper did not technically commit perjury despite saying something he knew to be untrue while testifying under oath before Congress - Clapper somehow "forgot" about a massive and highly controversial secret spying program he oversees. 

Yes, you read that right. The general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Robert Litt, is trying to get his boss out of trouble by claiming that the DNI had some kind of epic brain fart while testifying before Congress. Litt's explanation is that Clapper "mistakenly" thought he was not running a global dragnet program that was vacuuming up private data from American citizens without a warrant when asked by Senator Wyden in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee if he was doing just that.

Seriously, this is the current explanation.
Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper wasn’t lying when he wrongly told Congress in 2013 that the government does not “wittingly” collect information about millions of Americans, according to his top lawyer. He just forgot. 
“This was not an untruth or a falsehood. This was just a mistake on his part,” Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said during a panel discussion hosted by the Advisory Committee on Transparency on Friday. “We all make mistakes.”
Slow clap for Clapper and his intrepid legal team. But just when you thought it could not get any more absurd you remember that Clapper had a completely different explanation for why he lied to Congress just after the Snowden leaks came out. Clapper's first explanation for lying was not that he made a mistake but that he had strategically looked for the "least untruthful" answer to give without damaging intelligence operations.

So did he forget or did he lie to Congress under oath for what he believed was a good cause?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Obama And Clinton Endorse USA Freedom Act After Court Ruling

In the aftermath of yesterday's court ruling and the looming June 1st deadline to reauthorize the section of the PATRIOT Act the court ruled illegal, the Democratic Party establishment appears to have shifted somewhat on domestic spying. President Barack Obama, through a White House spokesman, has said he supports the USA Freedom Act - which would reform the phone collection program.

Hillary Clinton also endorsed the NSA reform bill tweeting: "Congress should move ahead now with the USA Freedom Act—a good step forward in ongoing efforts to protect our security & civil liberties."

One of the USA Freedom Act's biggest promoters is Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner who helped author the PATRIOT Act. Sensenbrenner has been adamant post-Snowden that the NSA was never given the powers it was using under the bill he helped write. After the court decision Sensenbrenner reaffirmed his view saying that Congress never intended Section 215 to authorize bulk collection of phone records and that "This program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law. It's time for Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act in order to protect both civil liberties and national security with legally authorized surveillance."

But the USA Freedom Act is by no means fundamental reform. While the bill would reform NSA's bulk collection practices domestically it would leave in place the massive spying apparatus along with the unrestricted information warfare overseas that will inevitably lead to the agency vacuuming up US citizen's data.

The truth likely is that as long as the US maintains its national security state mentality and massively funds permanent agencies of war like the NSA there will always be these kind of abuses. Ultimately, the greatest impact from the Snowden disclosures may be the public being more vigilant with their private information and more skeptical of the state's claims regarding power.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bernie Sanders Hits Obama For Promoting TPP At Nike Headquarters

Independent US Senator and Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took President Obama to task for shilling for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) at the headquarters of Nike, Inc and told him to cancel his trip as a sign that Obama genuinely cares about workers. Senator Sanders noted in a letter he sent to the president that Nike has outsourced production of its shoes to countries like Vietnam and paid workers 56 cents an hour to produce goods sold in the United States for hundreds of dollars.

The letter also highlights the need for manufacturing jobs like the ones Nike has shipped to Asia to be located in the US with Sanders writing "While manufacturing may not be the most glamorous job, I'm sure that there are workers across America, from Baltimore to Los Angeles to Vermont to Ferguson, who would be more than happy to be paid $15-$20 an hour to manufacture the Nike products they buy."

The tactics used by the Obama Administration to sell TPP to Congress and the American people mirror those used by the Clinton Administration to sell NAFTA - a trade deal that cost jobs and did nothing to improve labor and environmental standards. In the final analysis, NAFTA was a net negative for the country despite all the promises.

Now the Obama Administration and corporate lobbyists are trying to sell NAFTA on steroids as some kind of job and economic stimulus package despite economists detailing that TPP is unlikely to create much growth, if any. The deal has been literally written by transnational corporations for transnational corporations who have zero loyalty to the US, workers, or the environment.

While this deal may be popular with President Obama's former employer, Business International, it is a complete loser for the average American who will not only not see gains from this "trade" deal. In fact, this deal not only offers the 99% nothing but more job losses, it removes sovereign power from the United States and hands it to corporate tribunals. Power that - as Hillary Clinton once noted - is used by corporations like Phillip Morris to subvert public health laws.

So far, Senator Sanders remains the only person running in the Democratic presidential primary to openly oppose TPP.

NSA Metadata Program Revealed By Edward Snowden Ruled Illegal

The Second District US Court of Appeals has ruled that the NSA's bulk collection phone records program “exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized.” The appellate court decision overturns a lower court ruling that upheld the bulk collection program as necessary and legal. The ruling leaves it up to Congress to decide a new "landscape" for the law and noted the likelihood that the Supreme Court would have to weigh in on the constitutionality of the program.

The bulk collection phone records program was revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and is authorized - according to the government - under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The court ruled on statutory not constitutional grounds leaving the more fundamental question over Fourth Amendment concerns ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Congress is set to debate reauthorizing Section 215 later this month as its authority expires on June 1st.
The bulk collection of Americans' phone records by the government exceeds what Congress has allowed, a federal appeals court said Thursday as it asked Congress to step in and decide how best to protect national security and privacy interests. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan permitted the National Security Agency program to continue temporarily as it exists, and all but pleaded for Congress to better define where the boundaries exist. 
"In light of the asserted national security interests at stake, we deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape," the opinion written by Circuit Judge Gerald Lynch said."If Congress decides to authorize the collection of the data desired by the government under conditions identical to those now in place, the program will continue in the future under that authorization," the ruling said. "If Congress decides to institute a substantially modified program, the constitutional issues will certainly differ considerably from those currently raised."
Many members of Congress who voted for the PATRIOT Act claimed ignorance after the Snowden revelations, that they never knew Section 215 would be/was being used in such an expansive way. Now the court has called their bluff and demanded Congress - fully informed thanks to Snowden - decide how far they want state surveillance powers to legally go.

The ruling also sets the stage for the Supreme Court to make a major ruling on domestic spying powers which is far from easy to predict given the variety of views both liberal and conservative justices have shown on Fourth Amendment issues.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fed Chair Yellen Met With Firm Involved In Fed Leak Case

The Department of Justice has now opened a criminal investigation into the leaking of information about a Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMA) meeting. Details of the meeting were disclosed without authorization by a financial consulting firm, Medley Global Advisors, and have led to questions about whether members of the Fed may have made unauthorized disclosures.

Federal Chairwoman Janet Yellen wrote a letter to two members of Congress acknowledging the investigation and noted she had a meeting with Medley Global Advisors. Yellen said that meeting was not relevant to the leak investigation as it occurred during a different time and period and she would never divulge confidential information.

The information contained within a FOMC can be very lucrative for traders given that the decisions made at FOMC meetings undeniably move markets. Knowing about that confidential inside information before it is announced could lead to millions if not tens of millions of dollars in gains for Wall Street speculators.
Ms. Yellen said her own name was among those on the list of Fed officials who had contact with Medley Global Advisors, a firm that sells analysis and reporting to investors. Medley issued a report in October 2012 containing detailed information about the prior meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, or F.O.M.C., in September. Ms. Yellen said, however, that her meeting took place in June. 
“Nothing Medley Global Advisors reported in October about the events of the September 2012 F.O.M.C. meeting could have been conveyed in June, and let me assure you that, in any case, I did not convey any confidential information,” she wrote in the letter, which was posted on the Fed’s website Monday evening.
Of course, if Yellen did not convey any confidential information - what was the point of the meeting? Medley can read public statements just fine, the firm makes its money by providing its clients with information they can not get elsewhere.

The Fed FOMC leak case comes just a short time after the New York Federal Reserve was involved in the leaking of confidential information to Goldman Sachs. The head of the New York Fed, William Dudley, is the former Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs. The incestuous nature of Wall Street and its "regulators" has proven to be problematic again and again - it will be interesting to see how far DOJ takes this case.

#BlackLivesMatter: Ethiopian Jews Take To Streets In Israel To Protest Discrimination, Police Brutality

Israel continues to be rocked by protests by Ethiopian Israelis claiming to be facing discrimination in the country due to being black. Protesters and police clashed as protesters blocked roadways and surrounded government buildings leading to multiple arrests and injuries. The protests have drawn international attention to an issue long bubbling beneath the surface of Israeli society.

Ethiopian Israelis, though Jewish, encounter widespread discrimination and police harassment and brutality in Israel due to their racial background according to the protesters. The protests appear to have been influenced by the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and come on the heels of the Baltimore riots.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the "lawlessness" of the protesters other figures from serving in Israel's national government conceded demonstrators had a valid point even if they disagreed with the confrontational tactics.
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said on Sunday evening that the police will bring to justice anyone who hurt civilians and policemen, adding that the rally "was not a legitimate protest in a democratic state" and blaming a handful of agitators for harming the Israeli Ethiopians' struggle. He added that "most of the claims made by Ethiopian Israelis are not police-related at all. There is a deeper problem here of their assimilation. I do take responsibility and I think we have a problem with some of the cases mentioned, and we will handle it." 
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitz said that "some of the complaints against the police were justified. There were events that need to be examined, and the police also has to check itself. All government and municipal offices need to provide a comprehensive solution."
Organizers of the protest, while expressing solidarity with black protesters in the United States, claim the disorder and violence that resulted from the protest was completely the result of the police with one protester telling Haaretz "The police documented every moment of the demonstration and I want to see the documentation, whether we really started the violence as the police claim. We marched in the streets and they fired stun grenades at us."

Whether the protests will lead to any immediate change is difficult to say, but the issue can no longer be ignored.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Secrecy Around TPP Causing Problems For Obama In Congress

The Most Transparent Administration In History is running into problems in Congress promoting fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) thanks, in part, to the secrecy around the trade deal. Member of Congress are reportedly uneasy about the lack of transparency and discussion around a trade agreement that will have a major impact on the American economy and government.

Given what has already been leaked about the deal, it is becoming increasingly obvious why President Obama needs fast-track authority - the deal will include all sorts of terrible provisions and he will want to force members of Congress to vote on the entire bill up or down without amendments.

Members of Congress will undoubtedly face a lobbying campaign both by President Obama and multinational corporate interests to vote yes when the time comes - there will be no substantive "debate" on the bill just loud cries about trade in aggregate being important.
If you want to hear the details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal the Obama administration is hoping to pass, you’ve got to be a member of Congress, and you’ve got to go to classified briefings and leave your staff and cellphone at the door. If you’re a member who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving. And no matter what, you can’t discuss the details of what you’ve read. 
“It’s like being in kindergarten,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who’s become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. “You give back the toys at the end.”
One of the most important agreements in recent years and member of Congress can not even discuss it with the public? Since when does the White House get to classify a trade agreement anyway? This is not a matter of national security, people won't get killed.

In truth, TPP is exactly the kind of legally binding deal that needs to be publicly scrutinized before Congress throws away its power to make amendments. And if the deal is so good why won't Obama let the public see it?

ISIS Claims Responsibility For Shooting In Texas

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a shooting that occurred in Garland, Texas on Sunday outside a Prophet Mohammad Cartoon contest. Two shooters, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, opened fire on a security guard at the event and were both killed by police.

The claim of responsibility includes a warning from that there will be more attacks "We say to the defenders of the cross, the U.S., that future attacks are going to be harsher and worse. The Islamic State soldiers will inflict harm on you with the grace of God. The future is just around the corner." ISIS also referred to Simpson and Soofi as "Al Khilafa" or ISIS soldiers.

How connected to ISIS Simpson and Soofi were remains unclear. While the pair may have seen themselves as part of ISIS there is reportedly little evidence they were directly connected to the group and ISIS may have seen an opportunity after the fact.

One of the shooters, Elton Simpson, had already been under government surveillance for years starting in 2006. Simpson was even convicted in 2011 of lying to the FBI about discussions he had with an FBI informant about traveling to Somalia to wage jihad. Like the Tsarnaev brothers, the government was completely aware of the threat without the need for a surveillance dragnet.

The event the shooting took place at an event organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organization led by Pamela Gellar. Drawing pictures of Mohammad is offensive to many Muslims and Gellar has continuously campaigned against what she believes is the "Islamization" of America.

Monday, May 4, 2015

FEC Chairwoman: FEC Unable To Regulate Money In Politics

It's official, the FEC is a failed government agency. That view, long held by observers of American elections, has now been openly confirmed by the leader of the agency itself. FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel told the New York Times that the FEC is unable to substantively enforce election laws which means the agency is effectively worthless.

This situation is mostly be design, the FEC is split 3-3 between Republicans and Democrats and neither side has an interest in regulating money in politics generally, nor their particular constituencies especially. Throw in new court rulings such as Citizens United and it becomes less clear what the laws the FEC is charged with enforcing even mean.

That dynamic ensures regulatory failure, something the current FEC chairwoman appears to know all too well.
"The likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim,” Ann M. Ravel, the chairwoman, said in an interview. “I never want to give up, but I’m not under any illusions. People think the F.E.C. is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.” Her unusually frank assessment reflects a worsening stalemate among the agency’s six commissioners. They are perpetually locked in 3-to-3 ties along party lines on key votes because of a fundamental disagreement over the mandate of the commission, which was created 40 years ago in response to the political corruption of Watergate... 
The F.E.C.’s paralysis comes at a particularly critical time because of the sea change brought about by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case, which freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds in support of political candidates. Billionaire donors and “super PACs” are already gaining an outsize role in the 2016 campaign, and the lines have become increasingly stretched and blurred over what presidential candidates and political groups are allowed to do..."The few rules that are left, people feel free to ignore,” said Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democratic commissioner.
So here we are, a country with no real restrictions on money in politics. America has solved its bribery problem by legalizing bribery. Perhaps this is why bringing corruption charges is left to the FBI and the minute charges are dropped people scream politics and cite numerous examples of the same behavior by other public officials who aren't being charged with anything.

In any case, having a political system driven first and foremost by money predestines a plutocracy. It would actually be odd if academics studying American politics and government came to some other conclusion. The republic has fallen, now we vote as increasingly minor shareholders for who will serve on America's board of directors and manage state assets on behalf of the 1%. Good times.

Saudi Arabia Committing War Crimes In Yemen With US Weapons

A new report by Human Rights Watch published on Sunday claims that Saudi Arabia has been using near-universally banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes in Yemen. Cluster bombs are notoriously dangerous to civilians and 116 countries signed a treaty in 2008 banning them from use on the battlefield - Saudi Arabia and the United States are not signatories to the agreement.

Just as problematic is the Saudis nonchalant use of US cluster and other munitions on civilian targets such as hospitals leading to the civilian death toll already exceeding 500 including over 115 children. The Saudis blatant disregard for civilian casualties has been met with silence from the Obama Administration even as the killings are carried out with US made and supplied weapons.

While the Saudis are carrying out their killings with US weapons such as cluster bombs to target the Houthis rebels in Yemen the Obama Administration is busy condemning the use of barrel bombs on rebels in civilian areas in Syria - what exactly is the standard again?
Photographs, video, and other evidence have emerged since mid-April 2015 indicating that cluster munitions have been used during recent weeks in coalition airstrikes in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate, the traditional Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch has established through analysis of satellite imagery that the weapons appeared to land on a cultivated plateau, within 600 meters of several dozen buildings in four to six village clusters. 
“Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians.
The US has its own troubling history using barrel bombs, perhaps most notably in the Vietnam war. US forces use barrel bombs to try and start fires in the jungles of Vietnam and used cluster munitions in covert wars in Laos and Cambodia - munitions still endangering civilians to this day.

Given the course of events and the contradictory public positions the reality appears to be that the US only has a problem with war crimes if the country is not allied with the US. That's not a revelation by any measure but seeing how obvious that truth is becoming perhaps its time for the White House to dial down the "humanitarian" rhetoric. It just looks silly.

Friday, May 1, 2015

FBI's Demand For Backdoors Met With Skepticism In Congress

On Wednesday an FBI official testified before the House Committee On Government Oversight in favor of its proposal to force technology companies to create backdoors for law enforcement to enter computer systems. But the hearing, if anything, proved how unfeasible the proposal was with security experts and members of Congress highlighting that there was no way to create back doors that only the FBI could go through - once a backdoor is created anyone can enter it including bad actors.

Experts testified that the only way to do what the FBI was requesting was to weaken security infrastructure which would make Americans more vulnerable to cyberattacks and make the US tech industry less competitive around the world as fewer countries would want to import products designed to be easily broken into.

Perhaps least impressed with the FBI's argument was Congressman Ted Lieu who slammed the proposal saying: “I do agree with law enforcement that we live in a dangerous world. That’s why our founders put the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution of the United States - because they understood that an Orwellian, overreaching federal government is one of the most dangerous things in the world." Lieu noted that Apple and Google were increasing encryption and security due to privacy concerns by the public in reaction to "government overreach," and that all the government had to do was "follow the damn Constitution."

Lieu echoed a sentiment by other members of Congress and experts on the panel that public distrust of law enforcement was a result of NSA actions that violated the public's rights and even suggested the FBI blame the NSA for the lack of positive reception to its proposal.

No one who testified, not even the FBI witness, believed it was possible to create a backdoor that only law enforcement could access which means the trade off is really between weak cybersecurity that the law enforcement and criminals can easily break through and strong cybersecurity where neither can with ease.

Report: American Psychological Association Secretly Worked With Bush Administration On Torture Program

A new report from progressive psychologists cites the American Psychological Association (APA) as secretly helping the George W. Bush Administration to continue its torture program often referred to officially by the government as its program for "enhanced interrogation." Officials at the APA reportedly even worked with the CIA directly and were kept in the loop on work CIA contractors were doing regarding the torture program.

Members of the APA met with Bush Administration officials in the summer of 2004 after which the APA continue to hold that it was acceptable for its members to be involved in the torture program. The APA is the largest professional organization for psychologists in the United States, if the APA had ruled it was unacceptable for its members to participate in the torture program the Bush Administration would have had a difficult time finding psychologists to help interrogators torture prisoners.

The willingness of the APA to collaborate may be the reason psychologists were often given contract work to monitor interrogations over psychiatrists or other health workers.
To emphasize their argument that the association grew too close to the interrogation program, the critics’ new report cites a 2003 email from a senior psychologist at the C.I.A. to a senior official at the psychological association. In the email, the C.I.A. psychologist appears to be confiding in the association official about the work of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the private contractors who developed and helped run the enhanced interrogation program at the C.I.A.’s secret prisons around the world. 
In the email, written years before the involvement of the two contractors in the interrogation program was made public, the C.I.A. psychologist explains to the association official that the contractors “are doing special things to special people in special places.”
But progressive psychologists are not the only ones looking into the behavior of the APA's involvement with the torture program. Last fall the APA's own board ordered a review of the association's collaboration with the program which is currently ongoing.

Regardless of what the APA review finds it appears unlikely that anyone will be sanctioned for their conduct. The only good that could come out of the review is to implement more specific and binding guidelines for future involvement in torture. Then again, the cognitive dissonance already displayed by the APA might make any rules moot.