Archive for national security – Page 2

Few Glitches In Republican Shut Down List



Those Republicans have been busy little beavers. They've been working so hard at building a better mousetrap, dam.

Things already checked off their "to do list" according to many sources, including the HUFFPO:

check mark Kids With Cancer Blocked From Clinical Trials...

Thousands Of Airline Inspectors Off The Job... 

Asylum Applications Delayed...

Sexual Assault Investigations On Hold...

Science Stops...

Food Safety Inspections Suspended...  National Parks Closed... 

Head Start Closures... 

100,o00 Furloughed At Joint Bases... 

Grand Canyon Closed...

85,000 Meals For Kids At Risk... 

1,282 Marines Furloughed... 

Fire Management Unit Closed... 

U.S. Attorney's Office Furloughs 40 Staffers... 

500 Furloughed At Air Force Base... 

Mars Spacecraft Launch Preparations Put On Hold... 

3,100 Workers Told To Stay Home... 

Scientific Research Stalled... 

Search For Missing Woman Temporarily Put On Hold... 

National Forest Closes Campgrounds... 

Reduced Staff At Federal Building... 

NASA Work Halted... 

Local OSHA Office Closes... 

State Receives 4,000 Unemployment Benefit Applications Due To Furloughs... 

Gov't Employee Union Official: 95 Percent Of Staff Members In Dept. Furloughed... 

State's $18 Million Per Day Cost... 

Social Security, Medicare Card Snags... 

Supplemental Food Program Shut Down... 

Widow Of Firefighter Killed On The Job Temporarily Denied Survivor Benefits... 

Lady Liberty Closed... 

VA Halts Vocational Rehabilitation Services... 

Naval College Instructors Stay Home... 

Tribal Funds For Foster Care Halted... 

Thousands unable to Pay Taxes At IRS Office... 

Delays In College Financial Aid... 

Supplemental Nutrition Program Halted For 65,000... 

217,000 Pounds Of Food For Hungry Jeopardized

Oil And Gas Leases Halted..

Marlin Stutzman

So now, what's left? Let's ask US Congressman, Marlin Stutzman. He's always good with simple answers to tough questions:

"We're not going to be disrespected," Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told The Washington Examiner. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."


NSA Spying On Significant Others


Stop spyin

Okay, abuses happen in every business. People take home staplers and scotch tape. They might find there was a production overrun or over-shipment to their company and they stash a few products in their trunk. Usually these "abuses," which technically are theft, are overlooked. They're not a big deal.

Oh, but they really are. Here's why...

Everybody has utilized the five-finger discount at some time or another. And usually it's innocent enough. That doesn't make it right. But what's astonishing is according to the AOL Jobs Survey,

Almost half of the respondents (43 percent) admit to taking things from work to keep for personal use, though most of those report taking only small office supplies of relatively low value. A smaller percentage (18 percent) claimed to have stolen items valued over $50.

So how does this tie into the NSA and their abuses?

People are people and their habits don't change because of their job. It's safe to say if employees steal from the May Company, an insurance office or even the post office, they'll steal anywhere.

According to REUTERS just this week:

At least a dozen U.S. National Security Agency employees have abused secret surveillance programs in the past decade, most often to spy on their significant others, according to the latest findings of the agency's internal watchdog.

This should be worrisome to all of us. There's got to be far more than 12 instances. According to the NSA:

The number of NSA employees is officially classified but in 2012, the NSA said more than 30,000 employees work at Ft. Meade and other facilities.

Now if humans are just being humans, then simple math would say that 43% of 30,000 employees would be  12,900 abusers of their privileges. That's if they just do it once. Forget all the serial abusers.

So I would have to say that a report of just 12 instances indicates cover-up. Again, I don't think we're not aware that this could happen, but what I find alarming is that there's a perceived Laissez-faire attitude in overseeing this program. Oversight or a lack of it is what's allowing for these abuses. How much more do we allow before we demand accountability?

Again, from Reuters:

Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the reported incidents of NSA employees' violations of the law are likely "the tip of the iceberg" of lax data safeguards, but that the laws guiding the NSA's spying authority in the first place are a bigger issue.

"If you only focus on instances in which the NSA violated those laws, you're missing the forest for the trees," he said. "The bigger concern is not with willful violations of the law but rather with what the law itself allows."

First we're told we're not being spied on domestically. Then we're told only numbers called or received on our phones is collected. Then we find out that the calls themselves are monitored. After that we're told emails are read, then we find out their actually being stored. Now we're told there's so little oversight at the NSA that spiteful employees are mining and using our private information for selfish reasons? How safe are we from the NSA?

Isn't it enough already? How many lies do we need to buy into before we demand our representatives do something before we can't even take a "rest break" without being recorded on a secret toilet cam?


Sliding Scale Of Justice


crime busters

Make no mistake, I'm not endorsing crime, just mystified by how we punish those who commit it.

Between the Wikileaks exposés, the Bradley/Chelsea Manning leaks or the Edward Snowden releases of classified information, we're experiencing some startling reveals. And to many, these are breaches in national security. Names of people or enough identifying information has been parsed that lives have become in danger. Thousands, perhaps millions of  US tax dollars has been blown by giving up this information.

These are national security risks for sure. Based on the 'secret' information revealed, we now face risks because the Taliban or Al-Qaeda or some other terrorist group knows they've been infiltrated. Our safeguards, our methodology, our agents or double-agents have potentially been exposed.

This is heinous and endangers us all.

A few days ago, according to the NEW YORK TIMES,

Donald Sachtleben

A former F.B.I. agent has agreed to plead guilty to leaking classified information to The Associated Press about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen last year, the Justice Department announced.

Federal investigators said they were able to identify the man, Donald Sachtleben,

Mr. Sachtleben, 55, of Carmel, Ind., who was an F.B.I. agent from 1983 until 2008 and was later hired as a contractor, has agreed to serve 43 months in prison for the leak, the Justice Department said.

Forty-three months, just over 3 1/2 years. I'm not sure how that sentence was calculated considering Bradley/Chelsea Manning, through a military judge last month was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking archives of documents to WikiLeaks.

But back to Sachtleben. By his revealing how we were able to foil the bombing plot, he gave away a secret plan and potentially the identity of the agent working for us. And the reporters who broke this story refused to give up their source.

DOJ went to work to find out who this leaker was and in doing so, tapped the phone records of the reporters at AP. Now that Donald Sachtleben has been revealed, the whole situation has caused quite an uproar. Mining phone data is a big issue as it goes to the heart of news reporters freedom of the press.

Yet this case took an even more obscure turn this week when the DOJ revealed the man's identity

...only after secretly obtaining A.P. reporters’ phone logs, a move that set off an uproar among journalists and members of Congress of both parties when it was disclosed in May.

The Justice Department cross-referenced his phone calls with those of the Associated Press reporters who had written a story that indicated a terrorist attempt was thwarted because of an "inside" source. That news story also let the terrorists know they had a mole on the inside.

Much has been made of the reveal, but not so much has been made of the reason the justice department had access to Sachtleben's private data to start with. His personal computer had been confiscated because he was under investigation for another crime at the time. Possession of child pornography.

Now here's the interesting thing, the part that gets me wondering which crime is worse? A man costs this country millions of dollars in cash, training, assets, time, and potential lives -- crime one; or he has possession of banned material, a non-violent offense -- crime two . Both are awful. Both are clearly criminal. Both are felonies.

So, how do we punish these offenses?

Mr. Sachtleben has separately agreed to plead guilty and serve 97 months in the pornography case.

Sachtleben has agreed to serve 43 months in prison for the leak.

So possession of pornography, in the justice department's eyes, is more than twice as bad as betraying his country -- revealing secrets and putting our whole national security at risk?

Again, I'm not saying either should go unpunished, but is the balance of justice a little askew here? This man is not accused of directly harming a child. This isn't a rape case. It's a possession case. He wasn't making or selling pornographic material. For that he gets over 8 years in prison.

Yet he puts all of our entire country's lives in jeopardy and his punishment for that seems to be a comparative wrist slap.

Should the punishment fit the crime? I could understand those sentences being reversed, but there sure seems to be some unbalanced prison stays being handed out.

Just ask Chelsea Manning.


21st century privacy: The NSA "keeps track of whether, how often and precisely when she called the abortion clinic."


what's the big deal

Today our own David Garber posted "AT&T Tapping Phones For DEA — Especially iPhones." It goes without saying, we're being watched, or as my Twitter buddy and frequent BLUNT video contributor @Francie57 tweeted:

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times reiterates arguments against the intrusive, warrantless monitoring of unsuspecting Americans. As I read the article, all I could think about was if well-meaning Obama supporters, those who trust him so much on this, will feel differently when a Republican again resides in the White House.

It's hard to fathom how so many on the left seem to be okay with snooping by a Democratic administration, or how a president is automatically trustworthy because of his/her party affiliation.

So that leads us right back to the inevitability of being stuck with a Republican president whom we don't trust. Then what? A public change of heart? An awakening? Regret? Will Americans who currently shrug off the current NSA activities because a Dem is in charge suddenly rethink living in the (Democratic) moment?

And to those who feel invulnerable, think about the unlucky ones who have been wrongly accused and/or convicted of crimes they didn't commit. That happens. A lot.

As for the unlikeliness of being targeted, as easy it is to dismiss the chances of that happening, it only takes being that one person that one time to fully grasp what a nightmare one's life can become.

Foresight is a good thing. (So is ample oversight, by the way.) Substitute the name "Bush" for "Obama" and see if that doesn't offer a disturbingly different perspective, perhaps a more objective one. What would another Bush administration do with the information the NSA collects?

As the ACLU's brief puts it: "Each time a resident of the United States makes a phone call, the [National Security Agency] records whom she called, when the call was placed and how long the conversation lasted. The NSA keeps track of when she called the doctor, and which doctor she called; which family members she called, and which she didn't; which pastor she called, and for how long she spoke to him. It keeps track of whether, how often and precisely when she called the abortion clinic, the support group for alcoholics, the psychiatrist, the ex-girlfriend, the criminal defense lawyer, the fortune teller, the suicide hot-line, the child services agency and the shelter for victims of domestic violence." [...]

In its lawsuit, the ACLU argues that the NSA's collection of metadata is much more objectionable than the warrantless monitoring of phone calls upheld by the court in 1979. That's true.... [Justice] Sotomayor added: "I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the government of a list of every website they had visited in the last week or month or year."


VIDEO: NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year. "That ain't no kind of checks and balances that I'm familiar with."


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chart NSA violations

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To those who don't think more oversight is in order, WaPo:

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

Alex Wagner:

While the documents do not reveal how many Americans were affected, they do appear to directly contradict what President Obama said just last week.

Michael Tomasky, these checks don't actually seem to be in place.

Michael Tomasky:

This is a really problematic story for the administration.

I think this is going to swing public opinion which so far has more or less held in the support of the view that we do need a balance and I do care about being protected and that some of this activity is perfectly fine as long as it keeps me safe.

I think we'll see public opinion start to switch a little bit.

It will be interesting to see what we hear on Capitol Hill about this. Are the Republicans -- is the right wing party in the United States really going to hold hearings and investigate the liberal administration over questions of surveillance and intelligence abuse? I suppose it's possible.

Karen Finney:

If there is that kind of an audit going on and the president doesn't know about it, and you're going to send him out in front of cameras to say something that contradicts that audit, that is a major problem. Not only for -- in terms of safeguards and transparency and security, that's a huge communication problem for the president.

So even Republicans aren't going to be able to ignore -- maybe that's the way they'll go after it and question the difference between the statements that have been made and what these documents are telling them. But I think you're going to see some strange bedfellows on this one, because how can you ignore that?


Now the Post reveals that the leader of the FISA court that is supposed to provide critical oversight of the government, that spying program, says its ability to do so is limited and that it must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans.

That ain't no kind of checks and balances that I'm familiar with.


This Man Determines if Your Privacy Matters


Reggie Walton

Meet Reggie Walton, the complicated guy in charge of FISA, the secret court.  Well, FISA isn't exactly a secret, but their actions are, for the most part, kept separate from public scurrility. This court is the one who says whether or not the burden of proof has been met by the government to spy on you. We need someone to check on the Big Brother and these are the folks who are entrusted to do so. And Reggie's their boss.

According to  Jacob Fischler:

Reggie Walton is the Presiding Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose 11 members are appointed directly by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. With all of the Edward Snowden talk about spying and the spotlight on the collection of telephone numbers and emails tagged by the National Security Agency this Court, ithas created huge interest because they are the secret body giving the National Security Agency it's power.

So who's this guy running things -- the John Roberts under the "invisible robes?" Not a lot is know about him but some information has been gathered. He is colorful, if nothing else. And if his past actions are any indication of his mind set, he's perhaps more of  worthy of the title of maverick than good ol' John McCain.

Here's some high and low lights.

  • One former clerk described as “fair but harsh” in his sentences.
  •  he has a liberal streak on social policy from incarceration to drug crime
  • has been dismissive of questions about the limits of executive power.
  • a man who views the law and government as having a sweeping role in creating “social change.”
  • a Bush appointee and a registered Republican.
  • since his appointment to the court in 2007, the FISA Court has dramatically expanded the ability of the federal government to use controversial techniques to gather intelligence on Americans both at home and abroad .
  • has also taken an unsympathetic view towards complaints about the expansion of executive branch authorities during the Obama administration.
  • Walton is renowned for his tough criminal rulings. He's thought of as a fair, but harsh judge especially on the criminal cases whose punishments were normally at or near the maximum recommended under sentencing guidelines.

Well, that sounds relatively benign, perhaps a bit conservative for my tastes, but it's not my tastes this court was set up  to  please.  It's the American public and our bill of rights, specifically our first and fourth amendments.

What you might find interesting though is he's a criminal. As a poor, young Pennsylvanian, a young Walton found himself on the wrong side of the judge’s bench on more than one occasion. According to Walton, while “admittedly, on a couple of occasions, I wasn’t falsely accused” of a crime, in a number of instances he was. His phraseology, "I wasn't falsely accused" indicates he was self-professed guilty, and I like that he's honest. We all made mistakes and he's human. That's a good quality in a jurist. Perhaps that's why he's demonstrated a willingness to push back against what he believes to be bad policy or illegal efforts by law enforcement

As a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, Walton pushed unsuccessfully for less of a focus on incarceration for drug offenders. In the 1990s, he did lock horns with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, which he viewed as bending the rules in order to win cases. While yes, we have an obligation to vigorously prosecute people, we don’t do it at all costs," he was quoted as saying.

Hopefully that's in insight to Judge Walton's ruling style. He doesn't seem the type who would rubber stamp the DOJ’s requests.

His clerks have warned, though, as for the question of transparency and greater public scrutiny of the court’s activities, don’t look for Walton to become a champion of openness. Walton said that there are certain circumstances under which judges on his court can release their opinions and committed to ensuring they know of those opportunities. But Walton is clearly not going to push the boundaries of the classification process, bluntly warning  Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein that “I would not anticipate many such cases given the fact-intensive nature of [these] opinions.”

Time will tell. But at least we now know a bit more about the leader of the gang that determines our privacy. Putting that in the open is stage one.


BuzzFlash: "Mainstream Corp. Media More Interested in Capturing Snowden Than Condemning Abuses He Exposed"


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H/t: @Knishette for video link

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Chris Hayes:

"I do feel conflicted..."

Me too. But not about outsourcing to private contractors.

Your Daily Dose of BuzzFlash at Truthout, via my pal Mark Karlin:

The basic premise is the same: Snowden is a traitor who has done the US grievous harm.

But what about what Snowden has revealed, along with former NSA and other intelligence agency whistleblowers, that basically every US citizen is a target or potential target for spying, without sufficient oversight of America's vast infrastructure of spying agencies?  Isn't this a fundamental constitutional issue?

If you look at the government DC "conventional wisdom" that Snowden gave the Guardian UK, through Glenn Greenwald, information that harmed the national security of the United States, what exactly is it that makes us more vulnerable that he revealed?

If you haven't seen "Zero Dark Thirty," rent it.  It's worth noting that what is detailed in the film about the CIA and NSA tracking down Osama bin Laden through his most trusted courier provides enormous information to "our enemies" about the operations and methods used to locate terrorists.  And the script, as we reported yesterday was written with the full cooperation of the CIA and its affiliated agencies, as well as the Pentagon.

Then you have the book written by a member of the SEALs team that killed Osama bin Laden.  Was that soldier in any way threatened with prosecution?

But the mere notion, whatever Snowden's motivations, that revealing a spying apparatus that is the intelligence gathering version of a permanent war on the privacy of Americans and citizens abroad is worthy of debate apparently has escaped the attention of the Washington Post. [...]

[W]ho can possibly think that it won't be long, if is not currently happening, that other nations (think of China's advance computer hacking and encryption capabilities) will be ferreting out the NSA's "secret" information on Americans and others? [...]

How long does one think any of this massive database of information and phone recordings are going to remain secret with widely dispersed access...? I read the other day -- whether 100 percent accurate or not it indicates the enormity of the challenge of keeping widespread secrets secret -- that more than a million government employees and private consultants have high-level security clearance.

Please read the entire post here.