Daily Archive: 12/02/2011

Dec 02 2011

Big Brother is watching you.

Franken Investigates Secret Surveillance Software Loaded onto Smart Phones

By: David Dayen, Firedog Lake

Friday December 2, 2011 10:55 am

Carrier IQ’s alibi is that their software merely oversees and corrects network glitches rather than saves every keystroke you make on your phone. Nobody really buys that. This software has shown up on over 140 million phones nationwide.

Google has disclaimed any association with Carrier IQ. The iPhone includes some iteration of Carrier IQ, and other wireless manufacturers have admitted that the software is on their phones, but claim that the carriers requested them.

If this all sounds creepy, well, you’re paying attention. It also appears to violate US law.

Not that I have any love left for Al after his sell out on Protect IP.

But wait- there’s more.

(h/t CTuttle)

‘Spy Files’ Published by WikiLeaks Detail Massive International Surveillance Industry

By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake

Thursday December 1, 2011 10:10 am

This collection of brochures, manuals, contracts, presentations and catalogs can be broken down into four categories, which the Bureau for Invesitgative Journalism (TBIJ) details.

  1. Location Tracking – Surveillance companies peddle an IMSI catcher, “a popular mobile phone tracking technology” that can intercept mobile phones. TBIJ explains the “highly portable devices” can be “as small as a fist” and are capable of masking as a cell phone tower and emitting a signal that “can dupe thousands of mobile phones in a targeted area.” Users of this device “can then intercept SMS messages, phone calls and phone data.” Ability in Israel, Rohde & Schwarz in Germany and Harris Corp in the US are all companies that market this device. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also uses the device and says it can “without a court order.”
  2. Hacking – TBIJ finds many of the companies sell “Trojan” software and “phone malware that allows the user to take control of a target’s computer or phone.” Companies that offer technology that make this possible include the “Hacking Team of Italy, Vupen Security in France, Gamma Group in the UK and SS8 in the US each offer such products, which they variously claim can hack the Apple iPhone, BlackBerry, Skype and the Microsoft operating system.” Especially alarming, SS8 claims its “Intellego product allows security forces to ‘see what they see, in real time’ including a ‘target’s draft-only emails, attached files, pictures and videos.’ Elaman, according to TBIJ, “says governments can use its products to ‘identify an individual’s location, their associates and members of a group, such as political opponents’.”
  3. Massive Surveillance – US companies like Blue Coat Systems and Cisco Systems “offer corporate and government buyers technology to filter out certain websites.” They sell technology that can “monitor and censor an entire country’s data or telecommunications network.” TBIJ explains this captures “everyone’s activities” whether they are suspects or not. And, the information that is collected can be sifted through to see what is valuable.
  4. Data Analysis – Phone conversations, individuals’ locations and Internet traffic can all be captured with “sophisticated analysis tools” that intelligence agencies, the military and the police are using for criminal investigations and on the battlefield.

Highlighting the kind of electronic surveillance that goes on in countries like Syria, Appelbaum declares during the press conference, “There are people being murdered every day as a result of these surveillance devices.” He adds, “These are exactly the kinds of tools the Stasi wished to us” and strongly urges people to reject the idea of lawful interception. (Lawful interception is what these companies say they are doing to get away with selling spy technology.)

The Washington Post reports many of the companies that sell the technology are “global suppliers.” They target law enforcement agencies and other government buyers. Additionally, the news publication finds, “Of the 51 companies whose sales brochures and other materials were obtained and released by WikiLeaks, 17 have secured U.S. government contracts in the last five years for agencies such as the FBI, the State Department and the National Security Agency, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal procurement documents.

Dec 02 2011

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Paul Krugman: Killing the Euro

Can the euro be saved? Not long ago we were told that the worst possible outcome was a Greek default. Now a much wider disaster seems all too likely.

True, market pressure lifted a bit on Wednesday after central banks made a splashy announcement about expanded credit lines (which will, in fact, make hardly any real difference). But even optimists now see Europe as headed for recession, while pessimists warn that the euro may become the epicenter of another global financial crisis.

How did things go so wrong? The answer you hear all the time is that the euro crisis was caused by fiscal irresponsibility. Turn on your TV and you’re very likely to find some pundit declaring that if America doesn’t slash spending we’ll end up like Greece. Greeeeeece!

Peter van Buren: Thought crime in Washington

Federal employees are the only ones who know what’s happening inside the government and their voices are being silenced.

Here’s the First Amendment, in full: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Those beautiful words, almost haiku-like, are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasise that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. Go ahead, re-read it aloud at this moment when the government seems to be carving out an exception to it large enough to drive a tank through. [..]

As the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, like those pepper-sprayed at UC Davis or the Marine veteran shot in Oakland, recently found out, the government’s ability to limit free speech, to stopper the First Amendment, to undercut the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances, is perhaps the most critical issue our republic can face.

If you were to write the history of the last decade in Washington, it might well be a story of how, issue by issue, the government freed itself from legal and constitutional bounds when it came to torture, the assassination of US citizens, the holding of prisoners without trial or access to a court of law, the illegal surveillance of American citizens, and so on. In the process, it has entrenched itself in a comfortable shadowland of ever more impenetrable secrecy, while going after any whistleblower who might shine a light in.

Now, it also seems to be chipping away at the most basic American right of all, the right of free speech, starting with that of its own employees. As is often said, the easiest book to stop is the one that is never written; the easiest voice to staunch is the one that is never raised.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Britain’s Massive Anti-Austerity Strike: Could It Happen Here?

Millions of employees mounted Great Britain’s first General Strike in many years today after the government threatened to impose more cuts in retirement benefits and pay for public workers.

It was a smash success. As many as two million strikers proved that the public’s patience with the unjust fiscal regime known as ‘austerity economics’ has its limits. It highlighted the important role unions can and must play in the fight for a more just and stable economy.

And it raised an important question for the United States: Could it happen here?

Jeffrey L. Fischer: The Bill of Rights Doesn’t Come Cheap

ON Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Williams v. Illinois, the latest in a string of cases addressing whether the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause – which gives the accused in a criminal case the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him” – applies to forensic analysts who produce reports for law enforcement. In other words, should an analyst responsible for, say, a fingerprint report have to show up at trial to face questions about the report?

A logical application of the law produces an easy answer: Yes. The court has defined a “witness against” a defendant as a person who provides information to law enforcement to aid a criminal investigation. That is exactly what forensic analysts do.

Subjecting forensic analysts to cross-examination is also good policy. According to a recent National Academy of Sciences study, forensic science is not nearly as reliable as it is perceived to be. DNA specimens, for instance, are sometimes contaminated; fingerprint, ballistics and even run-of-the-mill drug and alcohol analyses depend on human interpretation and thus are subject to error. Worse, investigations over the past decade have revealed outright incompetence and fraud in many crime labs. So it makes sense to subject the authors of lab reports to cross-examination – a procedure the court has called “the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.”

Jesse Eisinger: Wall Street Is Already Occupied

Last week, I had a conversation with a man who runs his own trading firm. In the process of fuming about competition from Goldman Sachs, he said with resignation and exasperation: “The fact that they were bailed out and can borrow for free – It’s pretty sickening.”

Though the sentiment is commonplace these days, I later found myself thinking about his outrage. Here was someone who is in the thick of the business, trading every day, and he is being sickened by the inequities and corruption on Wall Street and utterly persuaded that nothing had changed in the years since the financial crisis of 2008.

Then I realized something odd: I have conversations like this as a matter of routine. I can’t go a week without speaking to a hedge fund manager or analyst or even a banker who registers somewhere on the Wall Street Derangement Scale.

That should be a great relief: Some of them are just like us! Just because you are deranged doesn’t mean you are irrational, after all. Wall Street is already occupied – from within.

Jason Linkins: Senate ‘Secret Santa’ Effort Won’t Actually Solve America’s Problems, According To Political Science

According to this Reuters report, Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) are trying to set up a “Secret Santa” gift exchange with the members of their august body, and while “no one predicts” the effort “will unleash unprecedented bipartisan tidings of comfort and joy,” it’s still seen as a “political test” of whether senators can do anything at all that does not end in everyone setting fire to one another. So far, Franken and Johanns have signed up 58 members, so this is still two votes short of cloture. [..]

At any rate, I wish our senators all the best in their attempt to manufacture Christmas cheer, but what I’d really like to know is how I can get hooked up with the Federal Reserve’s “Secret Santa” exchange, which seems much, much cooler.

Dec 02 2011

This Week In The Dream Antilles: Lester Maddox Edition

Oh please forgive your Bloguero his excesses and tantrums.

Yesterday your Bloguero was vexed and found himself exploding when Noot Gingrich proposed yet again that poor children (read: poor, urban children of color) work as assistant janitors and that they mop floors and clean bathrooms. These children, Noot told us, don’t have good work habits, and neither do their parents. They need to learn them, he opined, and that dollars must be earned solely by the sweat of their brows and not from engaging in the illegal activities that are so very pervasive in their neighborhoods. Your Bloguero imagines that this “idea” will eventually emerge in Congress as the “Poor, Urban Children’s Mandatory Work Act of 2012,” and that it will void child labor laws and make degrading manual work a pre-requisite to receipt of school nutrition programs if not elementary school attendance itself.

When your Bloguero was a child in Newark, his school didn’t have a course in brooming so that he could be channeled into a life of required, permanent manual work, showing up on Monday mornings for inadequate pay, and submissive obedience to the straw boss. Your Bloguero wasn’t asked to trade his pens and pencils and crayons for brooms and mops. No. Back then, it was a world of upward mobility. For everyone.  And it was fervently asserted, everybody could become President, and the elementary school was everybody’s first station on the trip toward a good life. The good life, your Bloguero was always told, was built on merit. And education. And hard work. And desire. Your Bloguero notes that there could have been far worse things to tell him, including that he should start sweeping now because that was his station in life.

Noot is an experienced politician. He is far from congenitally tone deaf. And he knows how to whistle for the dogs. Let’s recall that he’s from Georgia. And let’s also recall that it wasn’t that long ago that Governor Lester Maddox was passing out ax handles in Atlanta. And so, dear reader, this ain’t no dog whistle. It’s blatant racism.  Just look at Noot’s characterization of the neighborhoods in which poor children are raised. This isn’t code; it’s Noot mashing the black keys on the electoral piano with his elbow.

These neighborhoods and their residents, Noot would have us believe, are dominated by shiftlessness, by drug dealing, by welfare queens, by benefits fraud, by crime, by illegal activities of all descriptions. Your Bloguero spares you a repetition of the litany of historic grievances against the urban poor encapsulated in Noot’s remarks. So Noot’s resurrecting the pre-integration Georgia of 1953. And he’s saying that the children who are raised in these ghetto neighborhoods need to be put in their place because their families won’t do it. And the rest of the populace shouldn’t have to pay for it. And the place where these children belong, less you forget it, is as assistant janitors while they are in elementary school. Who are they to aspire to be president?

Your Bloguero is enraged. He notes in passing that this isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time that a presidential candidate plays the race card before November, 2012. Your Bloguero just wonders why there is a storm about Herman Cain’s affair and his serial sex harassments, but so far blatant racism seems to be getting a hall pass.

This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Sometimes, like now and for several of the past weeks, it isn’t actually a digest of essays posted at The Dream Antilles. For that you have to visitThe Dream Antilles.

Dec 02 2011

On this Day In History December 2

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 2 is the 336th day of the year (337th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 29 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 2001, Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a New York court, sparking one of the largest corporate scandals in U.S. history.

An energy-trading company based in Houston, Texas, Enron was formed in 1985 as the merger of two gas companies, Houston Natural Gas and Internorth. Under chairman and CEO Kenneth Lay, Enron rose as high as number seven on Fortune magazine’s list of the top 500 U.S. companies. In 2000, the company employed 21,000 people and posted revenue of $111 billion. Over the next year, however, Enron’s stock price began a dramatic slide, dropping from $90.75 in August 2000 to $0.26 by closing on November 30, 2001.

As prices fell, Lay sold large amounts of his Enron stock, while simultaneously encouraging Enron employees to buy more shares and assuring them that the company was on the rebound. Employees saw their retirement savings accounts wiped out as Enron’s stock price continued to plummet. After another energy company, Dynegy, canceled a planned $8.4 billion buy-out in late November, Enron filed for bankruptcy. By the end of the year, Enron’s collapse had cost investors billions of dollars, wiped out some 5,600 jobs and liquidated almost $2.1 billion in pension plans.

Accounting practices

Enron had created offshore entities, units which may be used for planning and avoidance of taxes, raising the profitability of a business. This provided ownership and management with full freedom of currency movement and the anonymity that allowed the company to hide losses. These entities made Enron look more profitable than it actually was, and created a dangerous spiral, in which each quarter, corporate officers would have to perform more and more contorted financial deception to create the illusion of billions in profits while the company was actually losing money. This practice drove up their stock price to new levels, at which point the executives began to work on insider information and trade millions of dollars worth of Enron stock. The executives and insiders at Enron knew about the offshore accounts that were hiding losses for the company; however, the investors knew nothing of this. Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow led the team which created the off-books companies, and manipulated the deals to provide himself, his family, and his friends with hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed revenue, at the expense of the corporation for which he worked and its stockholders.

In 1999, Enron launched EnronOnline, an Internet-based trading operation, which was used by virtually every energy company in the United States. Enron president and chief operating officer Jeffrey Skilling began advocating a novel idea: the company didn’t really need any “assets.” By pushing the company’s aggressive investment strategy, he helped make Enron the biggest wholesaler of gas and electricity, trading over $27 billion per quarter. The firm’s figures, however, had to be accepted at face value. Under Skilling, Enron adopted mark to market accounting, in which anticipated future profits from any deal were tabulated as if real today. Thus, Enron could record gains from what over time might turn out to be losses, as the company’s fiscal health became secondary to manipulating its stock price on Wall Street during the Tech boom. But when a company’s success is measured by agreeable financial statements emerging from a black box, a term Skilling himself admitted, actual balance sheets prove inconvenient. Indeed, Enron’s unscrupulous actions were often gambles to keep the deception going and so push up the stock price, which was posted daily in the company elevator. An advancing number meant a continued infusion of investor capital on which debt-ridden Enron in large part subsisted. Its fall would collapse the house of cards. Under pressure to maintain the illusion, Skilling verbally attacked Wall Street Analyst Richard Grubman, who questioned Enron’s unusual accounting practice during a recorded conference call. When Grubman complained that Enron was the only company that could not release a balance sheet along with its earnings statements, Skilling replied “Well, thank you very much, we appreciate that . . . asshole.” Though the comment was met with dismay and astonishment by press and public, it became an inside joke among many Enron employees, mocking Grubman for his perceived meddling rather than Skilling’s lack of tact. When asked during his trial, Skilling wholeheartedly admitted that industrial dominance and abuse was a global problem: “Oh yes, yes sure, it is.”

Dec 02 2011

Abridging the Sixth Amendment

Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Tonight the US Senate has abridged that amendment with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act that contains a provision that would allow for the indefinite detention of American civilians arrested on American soil suspected of being “enemy combatants” by a vote of 93 -7. It allows for anyone alleged to be an “enemy combatant” anywhere in the world sent to military prisons indefinitely without even being charged with a crime.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was drafted in secret and passed out of committee without a single hearing.

Glen Greenwald at Salon highlights the most alarming aspects of the bill:

   (1) mandates that all accused Terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; it also unquestionably permits (but does not mandate) that even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil accused of Terrorism be held by the military rather than charged in the civilian court system (Sec. 1032);

   (2) renews the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) with more expansive language: to allow force (and military detention) against not only those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and countries which harbored them, but also anyone who “substantially supports” Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces” (Sec. 1031); and,

   (3) imposes new restrictions on the U.S. Government’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo (Secs. 1033-35). [..]

The Levin/McCain bill would require that all accused Terrorists be held in military detention and not be charged in a civilian court – including those apprehended on U.S. soil – with two caveats: (1) it exempts U.S. citizens and legal residents from this mandate, for whom military detention would still be optional (i.e., in the discretion of the Executive Branch); and (2) it allows the Executive Branch to issue a waiver if it wants to charge an accused Terrorist in the civilian system.

As per emptywheel, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) proposed an amendment (pdf) that would have removed the language but it was defeated by a vote of 45 – 55.

Some has forgotten to tell the Senate that Osama bun Laden is dead, we have killed virtually all of Al Qaeda’s leadership and the group is “operationally ineffective” in the Afghan-Pakistan and region and that we are near completion of withdrawal from Iraq and beginning to draw down the troops in Afghanistan. But the absurd view from war hawk, conservatives like Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) who believe Al Qaeda is a threat that requires trashing the Constitution, as Graham said:

“The threats we face as a nation are growing. Homegrown terrorism is going to become a greater reality, and we need to have tools,” Graham argued. “Law enforcement is one tool, but in some cases holding people who have decided to help al Qaeda and turn on the rest of us and try to kill us so we can hold them long enough to interrogate them to find out what they’re up to makes sense.”

“When you hold somebody under the criminal justice system you have to read them their rights right off the bat,” Graham added. “Under the law of war you don’t because the purpose is to gather intelligence. We need that tool now as much as any time, including World War II.”

That is most chilling statement regarding to our civil liberties. This is from the same man who supported President Obama’s due-process-free assassination of Anwar Awlaki that totally disregarded Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution which provides that nobody can be punished for treason without heightened due process requirements being met.

It isn’t often that freshman Tea Party Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) says something sensible but he wrote in the Washington Times defending the Sixth Amendment that the “war on terror doesn’t justify retreat on rights”:

James Madison, father of the Constitution, warned, “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become instruments of tyranny at home.” Abraham Lincoln had similar thoughts, saying, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter, and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

During war, there has always been a struggle to preserve constitutional liberties. During the Civil War, the right of habeas corpus was suspended. Newspapers were closed. Fortunately, those actions were reversed after the war.

The discussion now to suspend certain rights to due process is especially worrisome, given that we are engaged in a war that appears to have no end. Rights given up now cannot be expected to be returned. So we do well to contemplate the diminishment of due process, knowing that the rights we lose now may never be restored.

Will President Obama veto this bill as has been hinted? Not likely, since as Greenwald point out Obama has maintained that dozens of detainees would continue to be held indefinitely and that he planned“not to close, but simply to re-locate to Illinois, the Guantanamo system of indefinite, military detention.” While the President has expressed his opposition to the bill, his objection is that the matter of denying accused terrorists a civilian trial is not up to Congress but for the President alone to decide. In other words, the White House’s objections are grounded in broad theories of Executive Power.

While Greenwald may be willing to believe the White House is opposed to having the military detain and imprison U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, there are those who think President Obama is more concerned over who should get to decide which accused terrorist suspects are denied due process, not whether they should be.

They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty. Benjamin Franklin

Chipping away at our liberties. Frightening.