Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Democracy Now: Harold Wilson; Matthew Rothschild, Kristen Breitweiser, Robert Parry, Steve Rendall, Norman Solomon

FBI Spied on Greenpeace, PETA, Catholic Worker
In Washington, newly released documents show counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been monitoring domestic activist groups including Greenpeace, Catholic Worker, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and PETA, the People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The documents indicate the F.B.I. monitored protests organized by the groups and used confidential informants inside the organizations to gain intelligence. In one case, government records show the FBI launched a terrorism investigation of PETA in Norfolk, Virginia.

Documents Show FBI Agents Tracked PETA For Years
According to the Washington Post, the documents offer no proof of PETA's involvement in illegal activity. But more than 100 pages of heavily censored FBI files show the agency used secret informants and tracked the group's events for years. The FBI also monitored political activities on college campuses. One FBI file included a contact list for students and peace activists who attended a 2002 conference at Stanford University aimed at ending sanctions then in place in Iraq.

Juan Gonzalez: This morning around 3 a.m. the union's executive board finally decided to move forward with the strike. It was after several hours of discussion among the union leaders because they had rejected the last offer of the MTA which would still have required new members of the union to pay into a pension plan, an inferior pension plan. One with a higher retirement age. And despite a slight increase in the contract offer for wages, that issue of creating a 2 tier pension system was the key one that, where the union felt it had to go on strike. However, at the last moment the international parent union of the TWU, Michael O'Brien, the president there, refused to authorize the strike. And that was part of what the delay was. As the parent union, at the final moment, told Roger Tousant and local 100 that they could not endorse or authorize a strike. They would not actively oppose but that they would let the court know that they were not authorizing the strike. It was a difficult situation for Toussaint and the union leadership. Because on the one hand, they were battling the MTA. And on the other hand, their own parent union turned on them at the last moment. Nonetheless, the executive board voted 25 to 10 with 5 abstentions to move forward and organize the first strike in a quarter century here of the transit system. And it is now a battle that the whole organized labor movement will be tested, because Roger Toussant and the union insist that they are fighting not only to defend the pensions of their own members but of thousands and thousands of other public employees who could face similar two tier pension systems in the future.

The above three items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Liang, Rob and Jonah. Democracy Now! ("always worth watching," as Marcia says):

Headlines for December 20, 2005

- 33,000 NYC Transit Workers Stage Strike
- FBI Spied on Greenpeace, PETA, Catholic Worker
- Documents Show FBI Agents Tracked PETA For Years
- Reports Expose Growing Domestic Surveillance
- Bush Defends NSA Domestic Spying
- On Dec. 6 Bush Asked New York Times to Not Run Story
- AG Alberto Gonzalez: Congress Implicitly Authorized Wiretaps

The Story of Harold Wilson: Convicted of Triple Murder, Sentenced to Die, Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we spend the hour with Harold C. Wilson. Convicted of three murders in 1989, Wilson spent more than 17 years in prison, most of that time on death row. In 1999, Wilson's death sentence was overturned due to ineffective counsel. However, his murder convictions were not - and he remained on death row. Finally, on October 31st, 2005, Wilson's final trial began. DNA evidence was presented for the first time. On November 15th, he was acquitted of all charges and set free.

In an extended conversation, Wilson talks about his imprisonment, his trial, his soldier son, who is serving in Iraq, and his daughter, who is a prison guard in Arizona.

For the first three items, the focus is governmental spying. First, Carrie notes Matthew Rothschild's "UMass Dartmouth Investigates Report of Snooping on Student" (McCarthyism Watch, The Progressive):

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is investigating a report of federal snooping on one of its students.

According to the Standard-Times of New Bedford, two agents of the Department of Homeland Security visited a UMass Dartmouth senior at his parents' home after he requested a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book."

The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, talked to two of his professors, who spoke to the Standard-Times. "The professors said the student was told by the agents that the book is on a 'watch list,' and that his background, which included significant time abroad, triggered them to investigate the student further."

The agents allegedly told the student "the book was on a 'watch list,' " the professors told the paper.

The university is at a loss to figure out what happened.

"At this point, it is difficult to ascertain how Homeland Security obtained the information about the students' borrowing of the book," the school said in a statement on December 19. "The UMass Dartmouth library has not been visited by agents of any type seeking information about the borrowing patterns or habits of any of its patrons and did not handle the request for the book in question. The student has indicated that another university library processed the request."

UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack said, "It is important that our students and our faculty be unfettered in their pursuit of knowledge about other cultures and political systems if their education and research is to be meaningful. We must do everything possible to protect the principles of academic inquiry."

Now taking on Bully Boy's false claims of how he just has to spy, Brady notes Kristen Breitweiser's "The King's Red Herring" (The Huffington Post):

Recently, President Bush has admitted to carrying out surveillance on U.S. citizens in the interest of national security. He unabashedly admits to doing it. He offers no apologies. With his bellicose swagger, he once again uses 9/11 as his justification for breaking our constitutional laws. The President's justification of 9/11 to carry out such surveillance begs a closer examination.

President Bush should be stopped in his tracks with regard to his use of 9/11 scare tactics to circumvent constitutional laws that are meant to protect U.S. citizens. His justification for doing so -- the inability to conduct surveillance on the 9/11 hijackers -- is a red herring. History will bear out the truth -- our intelligence agencies held a treasure trove of intelligence on the 9/11 hijackers, intelligence that was gathered through their initially unencumbered surveillance. President Bush should busy himself by investigating why that information was then stymied and not capitalized upon to stop the 9/11 attacks.


When it comes to the FBI and Zaccarias Moussaoui, one must understand that the FBI met all evidentiary standards to both apply for and be granted a FISA warrant. The information the FBI had to support their FISA request was two files on Moussaoui that were given to the FBI by the French and British intelligence services. Inexplicably, FBI lawyers and supervisors at FBI HQ "misunderstood" the evidentiary standards needed to apply for and receive a FISA warrant, and they refused the FISA request from the FBI agents in Minneapolis. Thus, the Moussaoui search warrant paperwork was never submitted to the FISA court. One need only read Colleen Rowley's memorandum to confirm these facts.

Had FBI HQ not denied the FISA request, the FISA court would have issued the search warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings. Whether gaining access to Moussaoui's belongings would have stopped the 9/11 attacks remains unknown at this time. Hopefully, Moussaoui's upcoming penalty phase hearing will reveal more information as to what the FBI/CIA/DOD/NSA already knew about Moussaoui during the summer of 2001 and whether getting the FISA warrant to search Moussaoui belongings would have even made a difference.

None of the FBI lawyers and/or supervisors responsible for this glaring error and "misjudgment" has been held accountable.

From refuting the lies of the Bully Boy to raising interesting issues, Martha notes Robert Parry's "The New Madness of King George" (Consortium News):

Bush's assertion of his unilateral authority to wiretap anyone he wishes also raises questions about whether some of his eavesdropping is aimed at political opponents or journalists, rather than terrorists.

While Bush claims his wiretaps were vital to the national security, they came at a time when the FISA court was approving record numbers of warrants for secret surveillance. According to FISA's annual report for 2004, there were a record 1,758 applications for spying authorization that year and none was denied by the special court.

The administration's explanation for why additional secret wiretaps were needed is that Bush's order saves time when a quick wiretap is required, such as when a foreign terrorist is captured and his phone records are seized.

But the FISA court can clear warrants in a few hours -- or Bush could exercise emergency powers under the law to conduct wiretaps for 72 hours before obtaining approval from the court. That emergency provision was inserted in the law to give presidents leeway when the threat was a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviet Union with the potential of wiping out nearly the entire U.S. population.

Even during the Cold War, the FISA provisions were acceptable to Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. But now, with a much less severe threat from al-Qaeda terrorists, George W. Bush has decided that the law must be waived at his discretion, bypassing the court on hundreds and possibly thousands of surveillance orders.

That suggests other motives may exist for some of these wiretaps, such as the possibility that some intercepted conversations would be rejected by even the rubber-stamping FISA court, like requests to spy on activists, politicians or journalists.

Switching topics now, Brenda e-mails to note Gregg Zoroya's "Army Allows Reserve Officers to Leave Rather Than Go to War" (USA Today via Common Dreams):

Almost two-thirds of the Army officers in a special Reserve program have been allowed to resign rather than go to war, the Army has disclosed. The 265 officers are among 410 reservists who had orders that likely would have sent them to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Faced with growing unrest among soldiers called back to active duty from the rarely used Individual Ready Reserve, the Army took the unprecedented step last month of granting a way out for officers who had received orders for duty but did not want to go: They could resign.

That option has not been granted to enlisted soldiers who also have been called back to duty from the Ready Reserve. Eighty remain in open defiance of orders to appear. Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, an Army spokesman, said the Army may soon take action against them.

Brenda: I don't know how to say anything on this without sarcasm (or swearing) so I'll just note that enlisted soldiers aren't given this option and that I'm outraged by the preferential treatment.

Tori notes that Ava and I were talking about representation on TV in a recent commentary and suggests everyone be aware of Steve Rendall's "Failing at Its 'No. 1 Goal': Lack of balance at C-Span's Washington Journal" (Extra!)

To test C-SPAN's claims of fairness, Extra! studied Washington Journal's guestlist, tabulating all 663 guests that appeared on the show in the six-month period from November 1, 2004 to April 30, 2005. Guests were classified by gender, ethnicity, party affiliation (if any) and occupation. The study also looked at the think tanks most prominently represented on the show.
Despite C-SPAN's stated goals, Extra!'s study found Washington Journal
skewing rightward, favoring Republican and right-of-center interview subjects by considerable margins over Democratic and left-of-center guests. The study also found that women, people of color and public interest viewpoints were substantially underrepresented.
Overall, people of European ancestry made up 85 percent of Washington Journal's guestlist'563 out of 663. (Extra! was able to identify the ethnic background of more than 99 percent of guests.) People of African (26) and Asian (24) heritage accounted for 4 percent each, while those of Middle Eastern (22) and Latin American (18) descent represented 3 percent each. No Native Americans were identifiable on the guestlist from November 1, 2004 to April 30, 2005.
Looking just at U.S. guests with identifiable
ethnicities (617 in all), European-Americans were even better represented, at 88 percent. African-Americans and Latinos held steady at 4 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Americans of Middle Eastern descent and Asian-Americans were each about 1 percent of guests. According to the U.S. Census, about 70 percent of Americans are white and non-Latino; about 12 percent each are Latinos of all races, and non-Latino African-Americans; about 4 percent are Asian-American and 1 percent are Native American. (Middle Eastern descent is not a census category.)
gender, Washington Journal was even more imbalanced when compared to the general population, with a guestlist that was 80 percent male (533 guests) and 20 percent female (130), a four-to-one imbalance. Furthermore, 69 percent of guests were white males (457), while just 3 percent were women of color.

Carl suspects "we all need a good laugh in these dark days" and suggests Norman Solomon's "The P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2005" (CounterPunch):

OUTSOURCED TO THE PENTAGON AWARD -- New York Times reporter Judith Miller

In October, after pressure built for Miller to explain her prewar reliance on dubious sources while frequently reporting that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction, she agreed to be interviewed by the Times. The newspaper's Oct. 16 edition quoted her as saying: "WMD -- I got it totally wrong. The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong." But easily available sources were not "all wrong." Many experts -- including weapons inspectors Mohamed ElBaradei, Hans Blix and Scott Ritter -- rebutted key White House claims about WMDs month after month before the invasion.


During a Nov. 21 appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live," the famous Washington Post journalist struggled to explain why -- for more than two years -- he didn't disclose that a government official told him the wife of Bush war-policy critic Joe Wilson was undercover CIA employee Valerie Plame. Even after the Plame leaks turned into a big scandal rocking the Bush administration, Woodward failed to tell any Post editor about his own involvement -- though he may have been the first journalist to receive one of those leaks. What's more, in TV and radio appearances, he disparaged the investigation by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.

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[Note: Tags added. After this is republished with tags, the night entry will hopefully be up. I'm half-way thourgh it now.]