Thursday, May 18, 2006

Democracy Now: NSA, Hayden and more (plus, here, Iraq Snapshot and NSA commentary)

16 Arrested Outside Halliburton Shareholders Meeting
In Oklahoma Wednesday, sixteen people were arrested outside the annual meeting of the oil and gas services company Halliburton. The demonstrators were charged with trespassing after they left the designated protest area to attempt what they called a citizens' arrest on Halliburton chief executive Barry Lesar. Meanwhile, inside the meeting, shareholders rejected a proposal by a group of Texas and Kansas shareholders to adopt a policy based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Senate Votes To Build 370-Mile Border Fence
The Senate has voted to build a fence along parts of the Mexico border to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country. In total, 370 miles of triple-layered barriers would be added near San Diego and in the Arizona desert. Senators also approved a provision that would prevent illegal immigrants from petitioning for a guest-worker permit without the sponsorship an employer. And in a unanimous vote, Senate accepted an amendment that would bar granting work permits to undocumented immigrants convicted of either a felony or at least three misdemeanors. The measure would effect even those who ignored a court-deportation order.

Bush Looks To Military Contractors For "Virtual Fence"
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting the Bush administration is preparing to turn to several military contractors for a planned "virtual fence" along the border. Companies including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have announced they will bid on the multi-billion dollar contracts within weeks. The "virtual fence" would place unmanned aerial vehicles, ground surveillance satellites and motion-detection video equipment in isolated areas along the Mexican and Canadian border. According to the Times, the Bush administration will ask contractors not just to supply equipment but to devise and build a whole new border strategy. Earlier this year, Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson told military industry leaders: "We're asking you to come back and tell us how to do our business."

Jurors Begin Deliberation in Enron Trial
Back in the United States, jurors have begun deliberating in the fraud and conspiracy trial of former Enron executives Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. The two are accused of overseeing one of the worst cases of corporate corruption in US history. On Wednesday, Lay was questioned as he left the courtroom. Ken Lay: "I think we've told a lot of it, it's just too bad that so much of it continues to be distorted and twisted, but I guess that's just all part of our system. But we'll keep working at it. I think we'll get as fair a trial as we're going to get."

The above four items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were noted by Liang, Gina, Sam and Keesha. Democracy Now! ("always informing you," as Marcia says):

Headlines for May 18, 2006

- Senate Votes To Build 370-Mile Border Fence
- Bush Looks To Military Contractors For "Virtual Fence"
- Report: White House Considering North Korea Peace Treaty
- At Least 50 Killed in Afghanistan Clashes
- Aid Groups Warn of Crisis in Congo Province
- Hamas Deploys New Militia Over Abbas' Objections
- Jurors Begin Deliberation in Enron Trial
- Former Deputy Mayor Files Medical Claim For Post 9/11 Illness
- 16 Arrested Outside Halliburton Shareholders Meeting
- BBC Interviews "Wrong Guy"

Confirmation Hearing Opens for CIA Nominee and Former NSA-Head Michael Hayden

For the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks, the full Senate and House Intelligence Committees were briefed Wednesday on the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic surveillance program. The Bush administration agreed to allow the briefing to happen with hopes it would pave the way for the Senate Intelligence Committee to approve the nomination of former NSA Director General Michael Hayden to become the new head of the CIA. Hayden's hearing begins today. [includes rush transcript]

New Internet Legislation Would Force ISPs To Track Customers' Online Activities

Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin is preparing legislation that rewrite Internet privacy rules. Under the proposed legislation, Internet service providers would be required to keep logs tracking what users did online in order to help police to be able to "conduct criminal investigations." We speak the reporter who broke this story, Declan McCullagh, the chief political correspondent for CNET

Will the Public Lose its Right to Know About Toxic Releases by Industry?

Congress could face a vote as early as today on proposed changes by the Environmental Protection Agency that would essentially dismantle its Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) which tracks the amount of toxic chemicals manufacturing facilities release into the environment.

Is the U.S. Government Fueling Civil War in Somalia?

The Bush administration has been accused of funding warlords in the Somali capital of Mogadishu as part of the "war on terror." Since May 7th, battles between the warlords and Islamic militants have killed at least 150 people and wounded more than 300. It is the worst fighting the city has seen in 15 years. We speak with the Executive Director of the Somali Justice Center and an Africa specialist at the Congressional Research Service.

Iraq snapshot.

Chaos and violence was the rule on Wednesday and remains so today. Wednesday, as noted by Bassam Sebti and Debbi Wilgoren, car bombs and gun shots resulted in the death of at least 16 people. As noted by Sabrina Tavernise and Qais Mizher, two corpses ("handcuffed . . . shot in the head") were discovered in Baghad and "[f]ifteen members of the Iraqi Olympic Tae Kwon Do team were kidnapped." The BBC notes that $100,000 is what kidnappers have set as the ransom for the release of the atheletes and CNN notes that the kidnapping took place on "a road between Ramadi and Falluja." The AFP reports Peter Pace (general), testifying to Congress yesterday, stating that "No, sir," there is no prospect of American troops being "withdrawn from even Iraq's most stable regions."


In Baghdad, the BBC reports, at least three police officer are dead and at least four civilians wounded from a roadside bomb. CNN, in a later report, notes that seven have died and four are wounded. Another roadside bomb has killed at least four and CNN identifies them as "4 U.S. soldiers" in the headline but as "Four Multi-National Division" in the text. AFP identifies them as American soldiers -- an Iraqi interpreter died in the bombing as well. CNN reports the death of "six car mechanics" who were attacked by assailants while on their way to work.

The AFP reports that, in Kirkuk, "local leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Nejmeddin Abdullah" is dead from a drive by shooting as he left "his Kirkuk party headquarters" while "a teacher and a student" were also dead as a result of a drive-by.
The Associated Press notes the discovery of a corpse ("beheaded"; "woman labor activist affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party").

A high school teacher was killed in Karbala, Reuters notes.

In Baqouba, the Associated Press reports the destruction of "a small Sunni shrine" as a result of bombing.

In Basra, the Associated Press notes that "police chief Gen. Hassan Swadi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb hit his convoy as he was heading to work." This would be the same Basra that Des Browne, England's new defense minister, visisted yesterday to declare, "Basra is calm, and British forces are working hand in han with their Iraqi and colation partners. Suggestions that the city is, in some way, out of control are ridiculous." Browne made those comments on Wednesday, the same day, as Reuters notes, that Nazar Abdul-Zahra ("former member of Iraq's national soccer team") was killed.

Though the American press apparently doesn't give a damn about the death of troops in Iraq who aren't American, the issue of Jake Kovco's death and what followed is still a big issue in Australia. Kovco's father-in-law said, regarding the latest developments, "Because of the way everything has been bungled, Shelley and her two kids have had to go through this death three times." So what's the latest? The investigation into the events of Jake Kovco's death and the time afterward (when another body, Juso Sinaovic's body, was shipped to Australia instead of Kovco) someow resulted in "[h]ighly sensitive information about the bungled repatriation . . . [being] left in a computer at an airport."

The report "ended up in the hands of broadcaster Derryn Hinch" and has resulted in John Howard (Australia's prime minister) issuing yet another apology to the family (from Chicago, which is where Howard is currently). As a result of all that Shelley Kovco is being put through (not just 'has been,' is being), the Federal Opposition is saying that "extra compensation to the family of Private Jake Kovco" should be paid.

Jake Kovco's body, following the mix up, was finally laid to rest on May 2nd. Kovco died in Iraq on April 21st. The investigation is supposed to help determine the cause of the death and to help determine how his body and Sinaovic's were mixed up.

NSA hearings?

KPFA is providing live coverage on the Michael Hayden confirmation (or not) hearing for the CIA -- Larry Bensky and Mitch Jesserich are anchoring. Quick impressions?

Mike DeWine is the Joe Biden of his party (DeWine is a Republican). He demonstrated a grand love affair with his own voice this morning. Hayden needs to be probed as to the responsibilities he has to citizens. That's who they all work for.

On damage done, he stated that if the NSA is exposed (for violating the rights of citizens) all that happens is "all they lose is a frequency" but that the CIA could lose lives. We all lose a great deal when the rights of citizens are trampled on. For someone who wants to argue that what he did he was legal, it's rather surprising that he told Kit Bond (Repube Senator) that "It was a personal decision" on his part. Ron Wyden did the best job I heard. Probing him and not taking easy answers. Pat Roberts, "scrub" (to use his word of choice today), equated US national security with Israel's.

Hayden kept conjuring up "October 2001" (which I'm sure lap dogs in the media will fix for him to "Sept. 11th") and wanted to whine about the NSA, "They're doing their job . . . during a difficult time." I thought he said the worst that could happen was the NSA lost a frequency? What's so difficult about that?

They should be doing their job. During a difficult time or a good one. That's what they're paid for, that's what they're hired for. Hayden can try to make the Gladys Kravitzes out as heroes but they're doing the job they were hired for. (And quite a bit more since Bully Boy's decided that laws are apparently as "quaint" as conventions.)

He's really doing lousy but he's aided by the fact that Dems are doing a pretty poor job. Such as DiFi who apparently has tried to drop the genteel mask of "miss diane" and come off like a beer commercial with remarks to the effect of "So that's all good." The "BURP" was, apparently implied. (It's all good, DiFi.)

Highlights. Two. First up, NSA development, as noted by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! today (during "Confirmation Hearing Opens for CIA Nominee and Former NSA-Head Michael Hayden") Siobhan Gorman's "NSA rejected system that sifted phone data legally" (Baltimore Sun):

The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze huge amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project - not because it failed to work but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.
The agency opted instead to adopt only one component of the program, which produced a far less capable and rigorous program. It remains the backbone of the NSA's warrantless surveillance efforts, tracking domestic and overseas communications from a vast databank of information, and monitoring selected calls.

[. . .]
In what intelligence experts describe as rigorous testing of ThinThread in 1998, the project succeeded at each task with high marks. For example, its ability to sort through huge amounts of data to find threat-related communications far surpassed the existing system, sources said. It also was able to rapidly separate and encrypt U.S.-related communications to ensure privacy.
But the NSA, then headed by Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, rejected both of those tools, as well as the feature that monitored potential abuse of the records. Only the data analysis facet of the program survived and became the basis for the warrantless surveillance program.
The decision, which one official attributed to "turf protection and empire building," has undermined the agency's ability to zero in on potential threats, sources say. In the aftermath of revelations about the agency's wide gathering of U.S. phone records, they add, ThinThread could have provided a simple solution to privacy concerns.

Second, it's Thursday. Carl notes Margaret Kimberley's "Nazi Ties, Grave Robbing and the Bush Family" (Freedom Rider, The Black Commentator):

It must be very difficult to become a healthy adult in a family with a history of multi-generational pathology. Normalcy must be an impossible goal to reach if your grandfather robbed bones from graves and then made money for and with Hitler’s war machine.
The Bush family has all of the outward appearances of success. They are wealthy, white, except for Jeb's "little brown ones," hold powerful positions and can trace their ancestry back to the bluest blooded New Englanders. Most of them attended Yale, a prestigious institution of higher learning and more importantly a place that can guarantee entry into the rarified world of the American elite.
It has long been rumored that Yale's secret Skull and Bones society held Geronimo's bones. According to recent news accounts, not only does the Skull and Bones society hold Geronimo's remains, but they were stolen by a man named Prescott Bush, the current president's grandfather. Prescott Bush was stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma in 1918. The Apache leader Geronimo was held at Fort Sill at the time of his death and was buried there. A recently unearthed letter from one Skull and Bones member to another alleges that Bush and a group of friends in his unit desecrated Geronimo's grave, stealing his skull and bones.
Prescott Bush went on to become a United States senator and progenitor of two future presidents. He also was a criminal. Granddaddy Bush was a director of Union Banking Corporation (UBC) in New York City. The assets of that bank were seized by the United States government in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemies Act. America's enemy in 1942 was Hitler's Germany.

The e-mail address for this site is

[C.I. note: Post corrected to give Debbi Wilgoren credit for the Washington Post article she co-wrote. My apologies.]