Senator Patrick Leahy: Today, the, uh, Judiciary Committee will scrutinize government surveillance programs conducted on the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act or FISA. In the years since September 11th, Congress has repeatedly expanded the scope of FISA, has given the government sweeping new powers to collect information on law abiding Americans and we must carefully consider now whether those laws may have gone too far. Last month, many Americans learned for the first time that one of these authorities, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, has for years been secretly interpreted -- secretly interpreted -- to authorize the collection of Americans' phone records on an unprecedented scale. Information was also leaked about Section 702 of FISA which authorizes the NSA to collect the information of foreigners overseas.
That was Leahy at this morning's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing -- he is the Chair of the Committee. From there Leahy embarrassed himself by attacking NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden while not naming him. Let's continue with Leahy.
Senator Patrick Leahy: Let me make clear that I do not condone the way these and other highly classified programs were disclosed, and I am concerned about the potential damage to our intelligence-gathering capabilities and national security. We need to hold people accountable for allowing such a massive leak to occur, and we need to examine how to prevent this type of breach in the future. In the wake of these leaks, the President said that this is an opportunity to have an open and thoughtful debate about these issues. And I welcome that statement, because this is a debate that several of us on this Committee in both parties have been trying to have for years. Like so many others, I'll get the classified briefings but then of course you can't talk about them. There's a lot of these things that should be and can be discussed. And if we are going to have the debate that the President called for, the executive branch must be a full partner. We need straightforward answers. Now I am concerned that we are not getting them. Just recently, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March, and his office had to remove a fact sheet from its website after concerns were raised about its accuracy. I appreciate that it is difficult to talk about classified programs in public settings, but the American people expect and deserve honest answers. It also has been far too difficult to get a straight answer about the effectiveness of the Section 215 phone records program. Whether this program is a critical national security tool is a key question for Congress as we consider possible changes to the law. Some supporters of this program have repeatedly conflated the efficacy of the Section 215 bulk meta data collection program with that of Section 702 of FISA even though they're entirely different. I do not think this is a coincidence, when we have people in government make that comparison but it needs to stop. I think the patience of the American people is beginning to wear thin. But what has to be of more concern in a democracy is the trust of the American people is wearing thin.
Leahy is part of the problem. He had to be shamed into holding this hearing and have it thrown in his face repeatedly that the House Judiciary Committee had held a hearing. Forced into holding a hearing, note the crap Leahy offers.
He doesn't approve of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden's actions and "we need to hold people accountable" as he worries about "the potential damage to our intelligence-gathering capabilities and national security."
Contrast that with James Clapper. Leahy says Clapper "acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March."
I'm sorry, where's your outrage over that? Where's your statement about the need for accountability for that?
Has Leahy forgotten what perjury and "contempt of Congress" are?
Has he forgotten that is a crime to provide Congress with false testimony?
That's regardless of whether or not the witness is put under oath.
So the way it works is that Leahy is outraged and wants accountability -- done by others. But Leahy and other members of Congress refuse to exercise their power to punish an official who came before the Congress and lied.
The American people are exhausted, yes. They are tired of the spying but they're most of all tired of the lazy and useless people they voted into the US Congress who refuse to do their jobs or to honor their oaths to uphold the Constitution. As Ranking Member Charles Grassley observed, "We have a Constitutional duty to protect American's privacy. That's a given."
Yes, it is. And maybe we need Grassley to offer a briefer on that to the Committee?
We should actually thank Leahy because, in his opening remarks, he made it clear that he really didn't give a damn about accountability or Congressional oversight. He made it clear how useless he and his Committee are.
He did so by fawning over Dianne Feinstein ahead of the meeting, in fact. The ethically challenged DiFi who has abused her office also heads the Senate Intelligence Committee. DiFi does a lot. When not practicing nepotism and worse, she likes to pretend she's governor of California -- an office she's never held. It's in that delusional capacity that she recently insisted that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner should resign. That's not her damn business and she needs to take her big nose out of it. (As noted Monday, that decision is up to the people of San Diego. I live in District 8, so I offer no opinion on what the 'right' thing to do is. San Diego needs to be having that conversation with one another and they don't need the rest of us telling them what to do.)
It's amazing that she wants to talk about morals when, had Democrats not controlled the Senate, she would have most likely been censured by the Ethics Committee for her actions in giving her husband -- her War Hawk husband -- government contracts.
I think she a lot of gall even showing up for this hearing.
For those who don't know, Dianne Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. So when the NSA spying emerged in May, her tired ass should have been all over this issue with hearings. How many public hearings has DiFi held on this issue?
She has not called one hearing. (And she hasn't held a public hearing since March 13, 2013. Someone needs to ask her what 'sunlight' and an 'informed public' mean to her.) President Barack Obama claims a national dialogue needs to take place and Dianne Feinstein goes against that. She's happy to hector and lecture, she just won't due the job required of her and schedule open hearings on this matter.
Today, she fawned over the unconstitutional spying and she also offered a disturbing series of remarks that indicated even she doesn't listen when she speaks.
Senator Dianne Feinstein: Yesterday, at the Intelligence Committee, I outlined some changes that we might consider as part of our authorization bill and let me quickly run through them. Uh, uhm, the number of American phone numbers permitted as queries on a regular basis annually from the data base, the number of referrals made to the FBI each year based on those queries and how many times the FBI obtains probably cause warrants to collect the content of a call which we now know is very few times relatively, the number of times a company, this is at their request -- from the high tech companies -- that any company is required to provide data pursuant to FISA's business record's provision. As you know, the companies who provide information are seeking to be able to speak more publicly about this and I think we should. There's some changes we can make to the business records section. We're looking at reducing the five year retention period that NSA keeps phone records in its data base down to two or three years.
And Sarah Palin was ridiculed for how she spoke? Sarah Palin was mocked in a Saturday Night Live skit for how she spoke? I found that disturbing in real time -- and noted in real time that if you attended Congressional hearings, Palin's manner of speaking wasn't that surprising when compared to other politicians (changing topics -- or subjects or verbs -- mid-sentence, for example). From those remarks above, let's highlight Dianne Feinstein saying this:
Uh, uhm, the number of American phone numbers permitted as queries on a regular basis annually from the data base, the number of referrals made to the FBI each year based on those queries and how many times the FBI obtains probably cause warrants to collect the content of a call which we now know is very few times relatively, the number of times a company, this is at their request -- from the high tech companies -- that any company is required to provide data pursuant to FISA's business record's provision.
Those aren't "changes." They might be 'topics,' but what the hell she's saying who knows?
What's really disturbing is that those remarks weren't made in response to a question from Katie Couric. DiFi made them herself, reading from a list, and never grasped that they didn't make sense. Behavior like that, in our state of California (Dianne and mine), would mean she wouldn't get her driver's license renewed.
Along with her not making sense in the middle of a Senate hearing, there's also the reality that, if she wanted a debate on these topics yesterday, she should have chaired an open hearing and not the closed one Tuesday afternoon
Do we need to speak more slowly for Dianne?
Above you have Dianne Feinstein making ridiculous statement's. It's not until the last sentence quoted that she finally does what she said she was going to do share "outlined" changes.
At the age of 80, would you honestly let her drive the family car on a road trip or even a trip to the grocery store?
No, you probably wouldn't.
So why do we let her remain in the Senate, let alone give her the position of Chair. This dying -- of old age -- in office really needs to be addressed by the Senate. It's time for either term limits or age limits. I do not trust the 80-year-old Dianne Feinstein to chair a Committee on anything.
"I think they will come after us," the dottering and aged fool insisted -- never defining who "they" were but making the case for putting her into assisted-living facilities. We don't need the shut-in CBS viewers in charge of our rights? We don't the need reactionary, elderly -- already spooked by societal changes -- determining what will keep us safe. Repeating: It's time for term limits or its time for age limits. At 80, her fears falling out like busted sofa, Dianne Feinstein is too old to be a Chair of anything and should not be in the US Senate.
Dianne's way of fixing things is to insist that the actions continue but -- embrace this consolation -- the records from the spying will be held "two or three years" and not five.
"I read intelligence regularly, she insisted "and I believe we would place this country in jeopardy if we eliminated these two programs."
Though this morning's hearing served as a setting for various senators to make spectacles of themselves, there were actual witnesses offering testimony. Appearing before the Committee were two panels. The first was made up of Dept of Justice's James Cole, NSA's John Inglis, Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Robert S. Lift and the FBI's Sean Joyce. The second panel was Judge James G. Carr, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and the woefully ignorant Stewart Baker.
Meta data, James Cole wanted to insist, is not classified information. It is private information. Many of us are aware, for example, that in the early hours of Marilyn Monroe's death, the Secret Service grabbed the meta data (then known as "toll slips") from the phone company. So JFK deserves privacy but the American people don't?
Did anyone on the Committee not self-disgrace, is there any member of the Committee do anything worthy of applause? Al Franken.
Senator Al Franken: I want to be clear at the outset, I think that these programs protect our country and have saved lives. But I do think there is a critical problem at the center of this debate and that's the lack of transparency around these programs. The government has to give proper weight to both keeping America safe from terrorism and protecting American's privacy. But when almost everything about these programs is secret and when the companies involved are under strict gag orders, the American public has no way of knowing whether we're getting that balance right. I think that's bad for privacy and bad for democracy. Tomorrow, I'm introducing a bill to address this, to fix this. It will force the government to disclose how many Americans have had their information collected under key authorities in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and it will give force -- it will also force the government to disclose how many Americans have had their information actually reviewed by federal agents. My bill would also allow private companies to disclose aggregate figures about the number of FISA orders they're receiving and the number of their users that these orders have effected.
That may not be enough for you. Sitting through the hearing -- the awful hearing -- you can argue lowered my expectations. But I don't think so.
I've held Al accountable here and at Third. I've known Al since the 70s. I don't dislike him. You wouldn't get that impression here. That's because Al cheerleaded the Iraq War and that's reality that can't be avoided at a site that covers Iraq. He shut out voices against the war on his own Air America program. That's reality. It's not surprising reality to me. Again, I've known him since the 70s. He is not of The Great Left. He can relate to issues like farming and low income workers. He can lead on those issues. But I found him politically disappointing in the 80s (when he'd justify Reagan, for example). On the Democratic scale, he falls in the middle. (I fall on the far left.) So maybe I'm grading him on a curve?
Could be. But I haven't felt the need to cut him slack prior. And I'm fine with going after everyone on the Committee. But I do think he's the only one who showed common sense and the only one who appeared to not just know the Constitution but also to grasp its meaning.
I would give points to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse for refusing to be bullied or intimidated despite repeated claims from the panel that the hearing itself was harming national security. Whitehouse wouldn't back down, "My point is that the American people is an important part of this debate and we would probably be better off if there is not such a strong instinct in terms of classifying and keeping things classified and we'd develop information for the American public in a way that minimized that intelligence collection loss and allowed us to have this debate."
Senator Richard Blumenthal had a moment or two on FISA that Ava will cover tonight at Trina's site. Wally's covering Leahy at Rebecca's site tonight. Wally's "THIS JUST IN! RUSS FEINGOLD WHERE ARE YOU NOW!" and Cedric's "Punchline: US Senate" already went up earlier today after the hearing ended. Ann's going to follow Kat's lead and offer general impressions.
This morning, Ava and I wrote "Tough Talk For The Left (Ava and C.I.)" -- if you don't get how true that is, please note that George Zimmerman is in the news cycle, the top story on Google as I dictate this.
(CBS) FORNEY, Texas - George Zimmerman, the former Florida neighborhood watch leader cleared of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, was pulled over for speeding in North Texas on Sunday, CBS DFW reports.
He's in the news because? He was pulled over for speeding and given a verbal warning -- three days ago. And he had a gun on him. Not a problem in the state of Texas, where he was. So why is this news? It's not news. But there were real issues today -- Bradley Manning, this morning's hearing, the US government's release of documents on the spying right before the hearing started, another major report from Glenn Greenwald, etc. But instead, Google wants to steer you to a non-story about a person pulled over for speeding. What? Google couldn't find a story about someone in America having a flat tire today?
Here's the opening to the latest reporting by Glenn Greenwald (Guardian):
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.
Despite claims today in the hearing, including by James Cole, that there is oversight, there isn't. The report notes that there is no review -- not by the courts, not by the NSA -- of requests to do the above, you just fill in a little form online and, boom, you've got the info. James Cole insisted this wasn't the case and that there was oversight. Pressed about accountability for recent lapses in security, Cole couldn't answer -- there's an investigation going on so he needs to wait for the results.
Yes. yet again Glenn Greenwald is providing actual reporting about an actual issue that effects millions of people. As a result of that news -- actual news -- that Glenn Greenwald reported the ACLU issued the following:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW YORK – The government can easily see the content of Americans' Internet communication and web browsing activities, according to a report published today in The Guardian.
"The latest revelations make clear that the government's surveillance activities are far more extensive and intrusive than previously understood, and they underscore that the surveillance laws are in desperate need of reform," said American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today about NSA surveillance. "These documents also call into question the truth of some of the representations that intelligence officials have made to the public and Congress over the last two months. Intelligence officials have said repeatedly that NSA analysts do not have the ability to sift indiscriminately through Americans' sensitive information, but this new report suggests they do."
The revelations today come at a time when public opinion has begun to shift in favor of strengthening Americans' privacy rights and a growing bipartisan group in Congress works to rein in NSA surveillance of Americans' communications.
"The seemingly never-ending NSA disclosures show the frightening power the government has afforded itself without the knowledge of the American people," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. "The recent Amash amendment vote shows that the public has had enough with the blanket, warrantless surveillance of its communications. Without significant reforms to these programs, the government is going to lose them."
Amanda Wills (Mashable via CNN) notes Greenwald's report, "The program gives analysts the ability to search through the entire database of your information without any prior authorization -- no warrant, no court clearance, no signature on a dotted line. An analyst must simply complete a simple onscreen form, and seconds later, your online history is no longer private." On why the spying is an issue, Elizabeth Goitein (Christian Science Monitor) explains:
The most obvious answer is that these programs may be illegal. The government admits it obtains Americans’ telephone records in bulk, but claims officials do not examine them unless there is reason to suspect a terrorist link. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, however, requires the government to establish a record’s investigative relevance before obtaining it – not after. The PRISM program, which collects information from Internet service providers, is ostensibly legal because it “targets” foreigners. But the program tolerates extensive “inadvertent” and “incidental” collection of Americans’ information – including information the government needs a warrant to obtain under the Fourth Amendment.
Yes, a secret court approved these programs. That should not start and end the discussion about their legality. Judges make mistakes, and – as recent reporting on the secret Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) Court has underscored – they are far more likely to do so when they hear only the facts and arguments that one side chooses to present. When citizens have gone to the regular courts to challenge government surveillance, the government has successfully argued that the courts cannot even consider their claims.
The programs also threaten Americans’ privacy. It is disingenuous for officials to characterize the “metadata” being collected as mere phone numbers. Sophisticated computer programs can glean volumes of sensitive information from this metadata about people’s relationships, activities, and even beliefs. The government knows very well how revealing call records can be; that is why it considers the program so valuable.
Alina Selyukh, Patricia Zengerle, Deborah Charles, Alistair Bell, Christopher Wilson and Paul Simao (Reuters) report on the documents the US government released right before the hearing started:
The documents released on Wednesday included 2009 and 2011 reports on the NSA's "Bulk Collection Program," carried out under the U.S. Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism legislation passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
They also included an April 2013 order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which directed communications company Verizon to hand over data from millions of Americans' telephone calls and described how that data should be stored and accessed.
The declassified documents said the telephone and email data would only be used when needed for authorized searches.
"Although the programs collect a large amount of information, the vast majority of that information is never reviewed by anyone in the government, because the information is not responsive to the limited queries that are authorized for intelligence purposes," the 2009 report said.
But the top secret NSA slideshow from 2008, posted by the Guardian on its website, showed that XKeyscore program allowed analysts to access databases that collect and index online activity around the world, including searching for email addresses, extracted files, phone numbers or chat activity.
Again, these documents were released right before the start of the hearing. Why? Senator Al Franken attempted to get answers to that but was stonewalled. NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden came up in today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Marie Harf.
QUESTION: Have you seen the comments made by Mr. Snowden’s father thanking President Putin for protecting his son?
MS. HARF: I have not seen those comments.
QUESTION: You’re not aware of them at all?
MS. HARF: I am not. No, I have not seen them.
QUESTION: Well, let me make you aware of them right now.
MS. HARF: Okay. Thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: Can we stay with that, please?
MS. HARF: We – he’s still --
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m not done yet. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. Sorry about that.
QUESTION: It’s okay.
MS. HARF: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So Mr. Snowden’s father thanked President Putin for protecting his son. What does the Administration make of the fact that the father, a U.S. citizen, the father of a U.S. citizen, is thanking a leader that you’ve routinely criticized for human rights abuses for protecting his son?
MS. HARF: Well, again, I haven’t seen those specific comments and I wouldn’t want to characterize a response to those one way or the other. I would reiterate what we’ve said repeatedly, that Mr. Snowden is not a human rights activist, he’s not a dissident, he’s been accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three very serious felony counts, and must be, should be, returned to the United States to face a free and fair trial as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
MS. HARF: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we stay with --
MS. HARF: On Snowden? Yes.
QUESTION: I have a follow-up too after he’s done.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: The article in the Post also says, among other things, that the U.S. Government, the FBI to be precise, tried to arrange – asked Lon Snowden to fly to Moscow. It doesn’t specify for what reasons. I assume – and it’s only my assumption – to speak to his son and maybe to convince him to come back.
I wanted to ask if you ran this idea with your Russian counterparts at least as a goodwill gesture, that guys, we have these plans, we would like to give you a heads-up on that, would it be fine if we send Snowden, Sr., to Sheremetyevo to meet Snowden, J r.; or this was some kind of a semi-cloak and dagger stuff?
MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t seen that specific report. I would say what we’ve said repeatedly, that we are working through law enforcement channels with the Russian Government to make the point that Mr. Snowden is wanted on serious felony charges and needs to be returned to the United States. We’ve also made the point that we don’t want this issue to have a hugely negative impact on our bilateral relationship. President Putin, I think, has said the same thing. So again, I’m not going to comment on that specific report other than to say that we’ll continue working through law enforcement channels to discuss this with the Russians.
QUESTION: May I ask you to specify if the U.S. Government is still trying to arrange for Lon Snowden to travel to Moscow?
MS. HARF: Well, I don’t believe that I actually confirmed that report because I haven’t seen it, so I don’t have anything additional for you on that.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
QUESTION: Can I just ask more broadly on this and the protection issue? Do you believe that anyone – President Putin or anyone else – let me start again. Do you believe that Mr. Snowden needs protection from President Putin or anyone else for that matter?
MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to venture to make a comment on that one way or the other.
QUESTION: Well, do you – I mean, he has said that he fears persecution, not prosecution. Do you think that he is justified in fearing persecution at the hands of the judicial branch of this government?
MS. HARF: Of the United States Government?
QUESTION: Or the – sorry. Yes, of the Justice Department.
MS. HARF: Well, we’ve made --
QUESTION: The people who have charged him.
MS. HARF: We’ve made it clear --
QUESTION: Do you think that he is – has – do you think that his fears of persecution are grounded?
MS. HARF: Well, no. I think the Attorney General made clear in his letter last week that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States, that he would be treated to a free and fair trial, he would be able to make his case in a court of law, as all – as he is due under due process. So I would disagree with that characterization and again point to the clear comments the Attorney General made last week speaking to this.
QUESTION: Sorry. You would disagree with which characterization? I’m just asking you --
MS. HARF: That he’s going to be persecuted --
QUESTION: Persecuted. Right.
MS. HARF: -- if he returns to the United States.
QUESTION: So you would – so you do not believe then, based on that comment, that he needs protection from anybody?
MS. HARF: We have been clear that if he is returned to the United States, which we believe is the only appropriate course of action, he will be afforded a free and fair trial where he can make his case.
QUESTION: So you don’t believe that he needs the protection of anybody?
MS. HARF: That’s a broadly – I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to. It’s a broadly sweeping statement. Again, we’ve made clear --
QUESTION: It’s really not.
MS. HARF: It is. Well, we’ve made clear there is one appropriate course of action, and that’s being returned to the United States, and that when he is, he will face a free and fair trial, as he’s accorded under the law.
QUESTION: So the only – I mean, the reason that I ask is because his father, in his comment, Mr. Snowden’s father in his comments, seems to think that his son needs protection from the United States Government. And I’m – all I’m asking you is whether or not you agree or disagree with that.
MS. HARF: I do not agree with that statement.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MS. HARF: Strongly disagree with that statement.
MS. HARF: Thank you for being clear.
Ed's father Lon Snowden has been in the news this week. Dana Ford (CNN) notes Ed's father Lon Snowden appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 Monday and declared, "He loves his country. I know my son. I know he loves his country. What he believed is that . . . the American people needed to be aware of what their government was doing to them, spying upon them." From a video at Anderson Cooper 360:
Lon Snowden: Well, I think that probably the large minority of Americans, first of all, have not seen his 12 minute video.
Anderson Cooper: Mmm-hmm.
Lon Snowden: I've spoken to close friends who know this is my son and we talk and I realize they haven't listened to the video. They don't really understand what the Fourth Amendment is. So I-I think that there's much that's unknown. The American people -- the media to be quite honest -- has not done a very good job of laying out the facts in digestible form. There has been a clear effort by those who have been threatened politically and/or embarrassed by these revelations to focus on the so to speak 'sinner,' my son, who's revealed these instead of the 'sins,' the actual revelations.
Anderson Cooper: In a letter to the Justice Dept, to the Obama administration, you describe what your son did as civil disobedience. There are those who say, "Look, is accepting the ramifications of your -- of your actions, of your decision, taking your punishment.' Uhm, why do you see this as civil disobedience?
Lon Snowden: Well-well, first of all, I think he is accepting the consequences. Again, if you look at his 12 minute video and what he said, he's not living a very comfortable life at this point. He's said he's American, he loves his country. I know my son. I know he loves his country. What he believed is that this information, the American people needed to be aware of what their government was doing to them.
[jump cut in the clip of the interview]
Anderson Cooper: Do you believe him [Attorney General Eric Holder] when he says no death penalty and the United States does not torture?
Lon Snowden: Well at this point, I believe it would be in the best interest of the Justice Dept -- and we've attempted to work with the Justice Dept and both the people investigating this -- and I just do not believe that that collaboration -- the good faith exists anymore. So I'm very, very disappointed. And we've attempted to get assurances that Ed would receive a fair trial. I have absolutely no faith in Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States.
The 12 minute video refers to the Guardian's interview with Ed Snowden that Glenn Greenwald did (here for part one, the 12 minute video and here for part two). Thomas Gaist (WSWS) reports on Lon Snowden's open letter to Barack Obama:
The letter, dated July 26, 2013, was written together with Lon Snowden’s lawyer, Bruce Fein.
In the letter, Snowden compares the NSA surveillance programs to the Fugitive Slave Act and the Jim Crow laws in the American South and writes that the United States has lessons to learn from “the dynamics of the Third Reich.” The letter further compares the present situation to the post-World War II Nuremburg trials “in which ‘following orders’ was rejected as a defense.”
It comes amid new revelations concerning the expansive scope of the programs. In an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” program on Sunday, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald commented: “The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years.”
Barack's witch hunt of Ed Snowden is part of his war on whistle-blowers -- a war he carries out despite earlier claims to support whistle-blowers. The Sunlight Foundation reports: that Barack's Change.org has suddenly disappeared:
Why the change?
Here's one possibility, from the administration's ethics agenda:
Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.It may be that Obama's description of the importance of whistleblowers went from being an artifact of his campaign to a political liability. It wouldn't be the first time administration positions disappear from the internet when they become inconvenient descriptions of their assurances.
Part of the war includes going after whistle-blower Bradley Manning. Michael Collins (OpEd News) observes:
Snowden, like Manning, had a main target for their whistleblowing -- the citizens of the United States.
We are the enemy Manning and Snowden aided.
We are the people with the absolute right to know what our government is doing in our name and what it is doing to us.
We are the people the leaders who caused and supported the Iraq invasion and Afghanistan quagmire have to fear.
The Iraq invasion was the most disastrous foreign policy decision in our history. The deaths, destruction and cost are devastating. Over $3.0 trillion of our national debt is directly due to the Iraq invasion. Every domestic policy short of funds is short because of this invasion.
We are the people the leaders who authorized PRISM should fear. These programs were never announced, debated, or approved. They were created in secret for God knows what reason. The leaders and politicians who let this happen created the enabling acts for a national security state that can intrude in any life for any reason in secret and without accountability.
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden released information that forms the foundation for a realistic, fact based critique of the ruling class.
Alexa O'Brien (Daily Beast) observes, "Manning's trial has extended the unmatched streak of prosecutions by the Obama administration of unauthorized disclosures to the press using a 1917 statute that was originally intended for spies." Yesterday, Bradley was convicted of 20 out of 22 charges -- over two years after Barack declared (April 21, 2011) -- in his position as commander in chief of the military -- that Barack was guilty. James Nye (Daily Mail) notes, "As the first day of his sentencing hearing began in earnest today, Bradley Manning's defense team and the prosecution agreed with the judge that he will face a maximum jail term of 136 years behind bars. Already reduced in rank from private first class to enlisted private, Manning's team had attempted to file two motions that would have potentially merged several of his 20 convictions and reduced his maximum sentence to 116 years."
Barry Grey (WSWS) offers, "Manning’s court-martial, in the final analysis, arises from Washington’s launching of an illegal war of aggression against Iraq and the attempt of the government to conceal all of the crimes—torture at Abu Ghraib and other US prisons, the destruction of Fallujah and other Iraqi cities, the incitement of a sectarian civil war—that arose from that war." Betty observed last night, "Brad is a hero. This life does not always treat heroes well." Trina shared:
This is appalling. This is not a victory and don't let anyone feed you a s**t sandwich while swearing to you that it's bologna. Brad did a brave and wonderful thing and he did it because he cared. It's no surprise to me that in Barack Obama's world, caring is the greatest of crimes. Ed Snowden is a whistle-blower and he cared as well. He thought the American people had a right to know that they were being spied upon. He thought the American people had a right to know that the Constitution was being shredded. For caring about his country, the Constitution and his fellow citizens, Ed is now the target in an ongoing witch-hunt that Barack leads. Yet again, the greatest crime in the world to Barack is not fleecing the American public (under his watch, the Justice Department advocated for an Enron crook to be released from prison early) and the greatest crime is not lying to Congress (James Clapper has not been called out for lying about the spying -- not called out by Barack). The greatest crime to Barack is the 'crime' of caring.
Elaine was also bothered by the verdict Colonel Denise Lind rendered yesterday, "Brad did the right thing when he leaked the truth on Iraq, Afghanistan and more. The failure of Colonel Denise Lind to see that is her failing." Mike pointed out that "Brad's facing the potential of spending over 100 years in prison. That's not a victory." Noting Matthew Rothschild's cry of "victory," Ruth wondered about Rothschild's sanity.
Turning to Iraq where the Nineveh Provincial Council has elected Atheel al-Nujaifi to another term as governor, All Iraq News reports. Atheel has frequently been asked to resign by Nouri al-Maliki (Nouri being a man who refused to leave office even when he lost an election). al-Nujaifi has blown off Nouri repeatedly not only because Nouri has no pull in Nineveh but also because the two come from different coalitions. Nouri created State of Law which came in second in the 2010 parliamentary elections. al-Nujaifi belongs to the Iraqiya coalition -- headed by Ayad Allawi -- which came in first in the 2010 elections. In addition, Atheel al-Nujaiifi is the brother of Osama al-Nujaifi who is the Speaker of Parliament.
On diplomacy, Omer Aziz (Globe and Mail) notes the Canadian government has left itself out of the KRG for whatever reason:
Twenty seven nations have established a consulate in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and Canada is about to join them. Unfortunately, Ottawa has been focusing its efforts – rather belatedly – at charming the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, just as relations between Mr. al-Maliki and the KRG have deteriorated. The time has now come for Canada to establish a fully fledged partnership with Iraqi Kurdistan, a nation that shares our values and interests. A shift in policy would anger Baghdad and rankle Washington, but would give Canada a friendly, pro-Western, prospering ally in a region beset with instability.
Unfortunately, Canada has decided to double-down on ties with Iraq. Then-immigration minister Jason Kenney’s surprise visit to Baghdad in March marked the first time a Canadian cabinet minister visited Iraq in 37 years, and Foreign Minister John Baird’s announcement of a diplomatic office in Baghdad came a full decade after Saddam’s overthrow. Not only is Canada far behind the competition, it is wooing the wrong players.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Anfal Campaign. Saddam Hussein’s genocidal answer to the Kurdish Question took nearly 200,000 lives and forced the Kurds to retreat to their mountains, from which they fought a guerilla war against Saddam led by their secular leaders,
Massoud Barzani, the current President of the KRG, and Jalal Talabani, the first democratically elected president of Iraq. In 1991, exactly two decades before the Arab Spring enraptured a generation of Arabs, the Kurds rose up again, only to be crushed once more.
Barzani and Talabani each head the two major political parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government. On the issue of politics and offices, Miran Hussein (Niqash) reports on KRG President Massoud Barzani:
The current President of Iraq is another Iraqi Kurdish politician, Jalal Talabani. The government of Iraqi Kurdistan is dominated by two major parties, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, the KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, which Talabani heads. The two parties have agreed to share power in the semi-autonomous region, which has its own parliament, military and legislation- and this includes splitting important political positions.
But Talabani, generally considered the elder statesman of Iraqi Kurdish politics, has not been well for some time and locals suggest that Barzani may like to take his place soon.
Having made a big effort to remain in power until Iraq’s next parliamentary elections – slated for 2014 – he will then be able to swap the presidency of Iraqi Kurdistan for that of Iraq. In this way Barzani will retain a senior post for the Iraqi Kurdish people.
“That’s why Barzani was kept in the current job: it’s to keep the position of the Iraqi presidency open for the Iraqi Kurdish,” a senior politician and strategist with the PUK, Fareed Asrad, told NIQASH. “It is also meant to help solve the current political crisis around the region’s presidency.”
After all if Barzani is nominated for the job and has to go to Baghdad, then his old job will open up and this would resolve the conflict around the Iraqi Kurdish presidency: many believe Barzani should not be allowed to keep this job for another two years.
The only problem would be the long standing agreement between the PUK and KDP that says that if one party holds the regional presidency then the other should have the national one. This may need to be renegotiated, Asrad notes.
Out in federal Iraq itself, some Iraqi MPs have already said they’d support the idea of Barzani becoming Iraq’s president.
Last December, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke. The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital. Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany. He remains in Germany currently despite repeated claims of improvement and repeated claims that he's about to return.
As Niqash notes, Jalal's health is part of the reason Barzani got a two-year extension as president this month. He had to agree not to run for a third term as president. But with Talabani sidelined by the stroke -- still sidelined by the stroke -- there was a sense that continuity was needed. Barzani has also increased an already strong global profile in the last years which was another reason he got a two-year extension. (The KRG's Constitution features a limit on the presidency. You're limited to two terms. The justification for increasing Barzani's current term by two years is that the limiting law was passed half-way into Barzani's first term. Again, he had to agree not to seek a third term for the two years to be tacked on.) As a global representative of the KRG, Barzani is also a leader to many Kurds across the world. Arabic News Digest notes, "Mr Barzani called Kurdish political parties in Syria, Turkey and Iran to a "nationalist convention" to be held in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, in order to discuss the Kurdish situation in these countries and examine the possibility of establishing autonomous rule there, as a prelude to a future territorial unification." Dr. Kemal Kirkuki (Rudaw) notes, "The idea of a National Conference was first initiated years ago by President Barzani, who also heads the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Abdullah Ocalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the late Idris Barzani, and Jalal Talabani, secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Iraq’s president. But political turmoil and different regional and international factors always posed a barrier to making this goal a reality. What is happening now is the revival of the ideas of those four leaders."
Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 941 violent deaths so far this month and today is the last day in the month. How bad has the violence been in July? So bad that the Iraqi ministries -- at least for now -- have given up the pattern of undercounting deaths, realizing how it makes them look like liars possibly. AFP reports the ministries have announced their figures for the month: 989 deaths. AFP states that makes it the most violent month since April 2008 when 1,428 people were killed.
National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baghdad shooting has left two people dead and three more injured, a Tuz Khurmato car bombing left 1 person dead and eleven injured, 3 Sahwa members were shot dead in Hawija, an Abu Ghraib suicide bomber claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldiers and left three more injured, a shooting in Baghdad's al-Amil district left 1 person dead and another injured, an armed attack "northwest of Hilla" by an unknown armed group left 1 Ministry of Defense employee dead, and, dropping back to last night, a Baquba bombing left 8 people dead and twenty more injured.
Dropping back to the July 16th snapshot:
Hence the return of the proposed 'moats.' This time the 'protective trench' would be around dispute Kirkuk. Yerevan Saeed (Rudaw) reports:
Two months ago Kirkuk’s Provincial Council decided in a majority vote to dig a 58-kilometer security trench around the city, in a controversial decision to control entrance into the oil-rich and violence-wracked area which is at the center of a dispute between Iraq’s different ethnic and religious groups.
This plan would leave the city with four main entrances, which are to be monitored by surveillance cameras. The trench itself is to be reinforced with barbed wire and regular police patrols.
Hassan Turhan, a Turkmen official in Kirkuk’s provincial council, first proposed a security trench in 2012. But Kirkuk officials only put the plan into action this year, particularly after a series of deadly bombings that killed dozens and wounded hundreds.
Nouri began proposing the idea of a moat around Baghdad to protect the city. That idea never took off. Whether or not it will take off this time remains to be seen.
At Niqash, Shalaw Moahmmed offers "kirkuk builds a moat: taking a medieval tack against terrorists:"
It seems that the authorities in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk have run out of ideas when it comes to bringing security and peace to the troubled city. So they’ve decided to build a moat around the city.
Kirkuk is one of Iraq’s “disputed territories” – which means that, despite the fact that Kirkuk is outside the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraqi Kurdish say they have historic rights to the city. But the national government in Baghdad disputes this, saying that Kirkuk is part of Iraq proper. In reality though, it is unclear who is in charge with Iraqi Kurdish armed forces controlling some areas while Iraq’s federal troops control others. The mixture of political disputes, militias and different ethnicities in the city make it one of Iraq’s most dangerous places.
So around three months ago the Kirkuk council decided to dig a trench around the city as another form of defence against extremist attacks.
“The decision was a majority decision and it was done in order to protect Kirkuk against violence and to end the ongoing insecurity here,” says Ahmed al-Askari, a Kurdish member of the provincial council and head of the security committee.
The decision was not without controversy. Kirkuk’s council has both Arab and Iraqi Kurdish politicians on it and Arab members, who hold six out of 41 seats on the council, didn’t like the idea at all.
This is because the moat, located in the south of Kirkuk, effectively isolates certain Arab districts like Hawija, Zab and Yayji, from the rest of the city. The Arab council members say this forced isolation is the main motive behind the trench and that it is yet another attempt by the Iraqi Kurdish to change the area’s demography – to make the city more Kurdish than Arab, if you like.
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