05/22/2015 archive

Torture, Lies and Video Tapes

If you haven’t watched the PBS Frontline segment on “Secrets, Politics and Lies,” you should but be prepared to get really angry. It is a painful indictment of the war crimes committed by the CIA since September 11, 2001, under the guise of legality, that will leave you wondering if we truly have a democracy left in the country. Not only are the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama responsible for the crimes that were committed, they were, and are, responsible for the cover up. And so is the media.

The program opens with the critique of the CIA propaganda film “Zero Dark Thirty” that the agency used as a means to sell the lie that tortured worked and was crucial in finding Osama bin Laden. We know now, it wasn’t and didn’t. Watching men like former CIA lawyer John Rizzo and the agency’s former Deputy Director John McLaughlin coldly rationalize their crimes will make you wonder why they aren’t in prison. That’s easily answered. President Barack Obama wanted it swept under the rug and his Attorney General Eric Holder’s justice department put little to no effort in making the case for war crimes.

This is the first five minutes of the show. Warning, some of it is graphic.

America on evil: Stunning PBS Frontline doc reveals the depths of CIA propaganda

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

“Secrets, Politics and Torture” tells the deeply disturbing story of an intelligence community’s craven lies

according to the Frontline documentary “Secrets, Politics and Torture,” the official story the film depicted was a lie, so perhaps the classified information Panetta and company shared with the “Zero Dark Thirty” production was false as well. It’s not a crime to spread government propaganda. If it were, the entire leadership of the U.S. intelligence services and a fair number of top White House officials would be legally exposed.

The Frontline film, takes a detailed look at the torture program and the saga of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Torture Report, the summary of which was finally released last December. (The 6,000 page report remains classified.) We know about the waterboarding and confining of prisoners in a tiny box for days, the sleep deprivation, the beatings and the grotesque depravities like “rectal feeding” from the Senate report.  It reads like a bureaucratic version of the Marquis de Sade’s “20 days of Sodom.” Seeing all that put in context with the lies and the coverup lends it a new layer of horror.

Of particular interest in this film are the interviews with top CIA officials John Rizzo, the agency’s legal counsel, and John McLaughlin, the deputy CIA director at the time, both of whom excuse any alleged shortcomings in the torture regime as a result of the agency being tasked with something it wasn’t trained to do. The film does make it clear that the members of the interrogation team, in the beginning at least, were sickened by what they were doing, but were told to continue by the people in Washington who insisted they keep doing it.

Rizzo is a complicated character who explains that he didn’t see his duty as one requiring him to question the morality of the program, but simply to find ways to protect the agency from legal exposure. And he cleverly did that by getting buy-in from the Department of Justice, members of Congress and the White House. He is a creature of the CIA, and is loyal to the agency. But he admits to being shaken when he went to John McCain, after the program had been revealed, to try to convince him that it was highly controlled and effective – and Mccain simply said, “it all sounds like torture to me.” Rizzo was also obviously upset that CIA Director of Operations Jose Rodriguez took it upon himself to destroy tapes of the first horrific interrogation, the revelation of which served as the catalyst for the Senate Torture Investigation.

But if Rizzo comes off as at least somewhat ambiguous about the whole thing, John McLaughlin reveals himself as one of the most chilling characters in recent American history. You wouldn’t assume that this rather bland looking fellow would look menacingly into the camera and hiss, “We were at war. Bad things happen in war,” as if he were in a Clint Eastwood movie. But he does just that.

He also specializes in fatuous nonsense like this:

   The CIA faced a real dilemma here: On the one hand, we knew this program would be contentious. On the other hand, we asked ourselves: Wouldn’t it be equally immoral if we failed to get this information and thousands of Americans died? If there was another 9/11? How immoral would that be? That’s the dilemma we were up against. And we felt a moral commitment to protect the United States.

That’s very stirringly heroic, but it ignores the fact that despite his insistence otherwise, there’s simply no evidence that their program was effective at all, much less any more effective than other means that didn’t require the United States of America to twist itself into a pretzel to try to justify its immoral behavior. And you have to wonder: With that kind of logic are there any limits to what we can do? It doesn’t sound like there are. [..]

This is reminiscent of one of those congressional investigations that came out of Seymour Hersh’s exposé of CIA activity mentioned earlier. The 1975 Pike Committee Investigation report into abuses by the agency (along with the FBI and the NSA) was never published because the Republicans opposed it. But it was leaked to Daniel Schorr, who finally managed to get some excerpts published in the Village Voice; and it was later published in its entirety in England.  Maybe somebody will leak the full Torture Report as well.

But the damage is already done, unfortunately. Torture was once a taboo, illegal and unthinkable, but it is now officially on the menu. John Brennan, the current CIA chief, would not rule out using it again in the future, saying it would be policy decision by our leaders. Bad things happen in wars, you know.

Esquire‘s Charles Pierce makes note of a recent article in the New York Times by investigative reporter Charles Savage who asks the only question worth asking:

But the open debate and vote was also striking because national security programs have so often been created in secret over the past 14 years – from the C.I.A.’s now-defunct torture program to sweeping surveillance activities to the use of drones to kill terrorism suspects away from combat zones. Secrecy has always been traditional and accepted in wartime, but traditional wars have an end. Under two administrations now, as the United States has remained on a permanent war footing against Al Qaeda and its splintering, morphing progeny, tensions over fighting battles in the shadows have steadily escalated. If this is a forever war, can a democracy wage it in secret?

And what Charlie said:

Secrecy is addictive. It deforms and mutates political institutions the way that alcohol and heroin deforms and mutates individual lives. It forces those institutions to take secrecy itself as their primary constituency. It forces the imperatives of secrets onto institutions designed to be free and open and democratically accountable. This is really what you’re being asked to debate when Chris Christie bellows about your not having civil liberties when you’re dead, or when Marco Rubio talks tough about what has to be done to maintain our values. The answer to Savage’s question is a definitive “no,” but that doesn’t really mean much any more.

Some of us will not give up the fight to bring these crimes to light and seek justice for the victims of these war criminals. There is no statute of limitation on war crimes, just ask Germany.

A False Victory?

It looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to lose his bid for a two month extension of Patriot Act bulk data collection authority set to expire June 1st and will be forced to accept the language of the House USA Freedom Act.  While you might be tempted to celebrate, this is not the victory it may seem.

One of the principal reasons the Second Circuit ruled the actions of the NSA and FBI illegal is that there was no evidence in the Congressional Record that legislators intended the kind of universal surveillance that was being practiced.  One can now hardly argue about Congressional intent under the USA Freedom Act.

The USA Freedom Act does hardly anything at all about bulk collection.  It simply transfers the record keeping responsibility from the NSA to private companies and mandates a FISA warrant (notoriously easy to get) be obtained.  The vast majority of bulk data collection doesn’t even take place under the authority of Section 215.  Instead the Stasi Surveillance State relies on the broader powers of the FBI and Executive Order 12333.

Moreover, as has been shown time and time again, bulk data collection is ineffective

“[T]he agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders, but told us that the material produced pursuant to Section 215 orders was valuable in that it was used to support other investigative requests, develop investigative leads, and corroborate other information,” the DoJ report found.

And yet-

Section 215 of the Patriot Act – which the NSA has relied on to operate its bulk phone records collection program – also allows the FBI to collect a variety of records from hotels, rental car companies and libraries during the course of an investigation.

“If we lose that authority – which I don’t think is controversial with folks – that is a big problem,” Comey said. “Because we will find ourselves in circumstances where we can’t use a grand jury subpoena and we can’t use a national security letter,” he added, referring to two other means of collecting information.

Ahem, bullshit.

You’re damn right that collecting “records from hotels, rental car companies and libraries” “is controversial with folks”.  If you don’t think so, you think wrong.  As for “can’t use a grand jury subpoena and we can’t use a national security letter”, the FBI gets the wholesale discount rate.  They can get either one as easy as they can scratch their nose.

The reason they don’t want to get one is that then there would be a record.

Let us more closely examine this part of the IG’s Report-

the material produced pursuant to Section 215 orders was valuable in that it was used to support other investigative requests, develop investigative leads, and corroborate other information

Do you know how cops solve most of their cases?  Snitches.  Do you know how the Stasi maintained its Police/Surveillance State?  Informants.  Simply put they fish around until they find something of sufficient embarrassment to blackmail someone, anyone, and then use them to finger the person they “know” is guilty but are too lazy to prove it through real evidence.

“Corroborate other information”?  Backward construction.  I have this evidence I can’t use in a Court because I obtained it illegally, but now that I know you done it, I’ll go back and find something I can and pretend my illegal actions had nothing to do with it.

Move along.

There was a time when something was better than nothing, when a USA Freedom Act was better that the rampant lawlessness and Unconstitutionality of our Intelligence Agencies run amok.  That was before the Second Circuit Court ruling.

Now nothing is better than something.  Let the Patriot Act die.

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”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Trade and Trust

One of the Obama administration’s underrated virtues is its intellectual honesty. Yes, Republicans see deception and sinister ulterior motives everywhere, but they’re just projecting. The truth is that, in the policy areas I follow, this White House has been remarkably clear and straightforward about what it’s doing and why.

Every area, that is, except one: international trade and investment.

I don’t know why the president has chosen to make the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership such a policy priority. Still, there is an argument to be made for such a deal, and some reasonable, well-intentioned people are supporting the initiative.  

But other reasonable, well-intentioned people have serious questions about what’s going on. And I would have expected a good-faith effort to answer those questions. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what has been happening. Instead, the selling of the 12-nation Pacific Rim pact has the feel of a snow job. Officials have evaded the main concerns about the content of a potential deal; they’ve belittled and dismissed the critics; and they’ve made blithe assurances that turn out not to be true.

New York Times Editorial Board: Rand Paul’s Timely Takedown of the Patriot Act

He may have annoyed Senate colleagues by seizing the floor for a marathon monologue on Wednesday, but Senator Rand Paul did Americans a singular service by forcing attention to the fact that their civil liberties remain at stake as Congress drifts toward a renewal of the Patriot Act that is likely to do too little to rein in government surveillance programs.

“Are you really willing to give up your liberty for security?” Senator Paul asked in his unexpected, 10-and-a-half-hour quasi-filibuster.

The Kentucky lawmaker candidly linked his floor speech to his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, where he is determined to make more of a public issue of government intrusion into the private lives of Americans after the 9/11 attacks. This is to be welcomed, particularly since so many of his rivals prefer to slide off the issue by endorsing a compromised and faulty renewal of the Patriot Act as it expires on June 1.

Dean Baker: The Trade-Agreements-Are-Good-for-You Ideology

Two years ago, my colleague David Rosnick put out a paper that analyzed the impact of recent patterns in trade, based on research showing that trade both tended to promote growth but also worsen inequality by reducing wages for those at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution. The paper concluded that for large segments of the workforce, the inequality effect exceeded any benefits from overall growth, making them net losers from growth.

This paper was cited in a recent Hill [column  by Raoul Lowery Contreras, who pronounced it “baloney.”

This is characteristic of the sorts of arguments that we are getting in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as its proponents apparently fear they lack the votes to get the necessary fast-track authority through Congress.

Note the nature of Contreras’ argument. He didn’t challenge the research Rosnick used as the basis for his analysis, nor did he show that Rosnick had done his calculations incorrectly. He just denounced it because he apparently doesn’t like the conclusion. [..]

There are some very serious arguments against the TPP. It’s not surprising that TPP proponents would prefer to call people names rather than engage in debate on the deal.

Steven W. Thrasher: ‘Fight for $15’ will ease economic inequality. But could it end police violence too?

The Fight for $15 movement is spreading. Seattle, San Francisco and now Los Angeles have adopted plans to make $15 the minimum wage. The effort to roughly double the federal minimum wage will greatly ease economic inequality, but it can do more than that: it can also keep citizens from being killed by the police.

As we have seen in grisly police murder after murder over the past year, a great deal of police violence happens when officers encounter men engaging in the informal economy. This is particularly true when black men (locked out of the formal economy pretty much since slavery, through one trick or another) turn to the informal economy to get by. It was while Eric Garner, father of six, was illegally selling loose cigarettes that he was choked in a homicide by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo.

By paying workers $15 an hour, we could give poor people access to enough money to live, disincentivizing the informal economy. A young man is less likely to sell loosies if working at McDonald’s pays him enough to support his family. And such a wage increase won’t cause anyone to lose their jobs, either: according to the United States Department of Labor: “A review of 64 studies on minimum wage increases found no discernable effect on employment.”

Paying workers $15 an hour would also give police one less reason to harass citizens.

John Nichols: How Defunding Derails Our Infrastructure

John Boehner claims public financing had nothing to do with the Amtrak disaster, but like so many others, it can be directly traced to funding shortfalls.

House Speaker John Boehner blew a gasket when a reporter asked him whether the Republicans’ refusal to adequately fund Amtrak might have played a role in the May 12 derailment of a Northeast Corridor train that killed eight people and injured more than 200.

“Are you really gonna ask such a stupid question? Listen, you know, they started this yesterday: ‘It’s all about funding. It’s all about funding.’ Well, obviously, it’s not about funding,” Boehner whined, before seizing on reports that the train “was going twice the speed limit” as it entered a turn in Philadelphia.

Boehner’s crude blame-laying didn’t seem very smart after it was reported later in the day that final implementation of a safety system to automatically slow down speeding trains had been delayed by budget shortfalls, bureaucracy, and the general absence of urgency with which official Washington greets even the most vital demands for infrastructure investment. The New York Times reported that the Federal Railroad Administration’s request for safety-technology funding “was ignored” by Congress. “Clearly, one of the hurdles that Amtrak has and the commuter rail industry has is that this is very expensive technology,” explained former FRA administrator Joseph Szabo. “It was never funded. The failure to invest in Amtrak’s capital program clearly has been a hindrance in more timely deployment. The way to make public rail a priority would be with public funding.”

The Breakfast Club (The Only Thing I’ll Ever Ask Of You)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

 photo 807561379_e6771a7c8e_zps7668d00e.jpg

This Day in History

Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sign the ‘Pact of Steel’; Richard Nixon is the first U.S. president to visit the Soviet Union; Actor Laurence Olivier born; Johnny Carson hosts his last ‘Tonight Show.’

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Now all of us can talk to the NSA – just by dialing any number.

David Letterman

On This Day In History May 22

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.

May 22 is the 142nd day of the year (143rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 223 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1843, the Great Emigration departs for Oregon

A massive wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, sets off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri. Known as the “Great Emigration,” the expedition came two years after the first modest party of settlers made the long, overland journey to Oregon.

Great Migration of 1843

In what was dubbed “The Great Migration of 1843” or the “Wagon Train of 1843”, an estimated 700 to 1,000 emigrants left for Oregon. They were led initially by John Gantt, a former U.S. Army Captain and fur trader who was contracted to guide the train to Fort Hall for $1 per person. The winter before, Marcus Whitman had made a brutal mid-winter trip from Oregon to St. Louis to appeal a decision by his Mission backers to abandon several of the Oregon missions. He joined the wagon train at the Platte River for the return trip. When the pioneers were told at Fort Hall by agents from the Hudson’s Bay Company that they should abandon their wagons there and use pack animals the rest of the way, Whitman disagreed and volunteered to lead the wagons to Oregon. He believed the wagon trains were large enough that they could build whatever road improvements they needed to make the trip with their wagons. The biggest obstacle they faced was in the Blue Mountains of Oregon where they had to cut and clear a trail through heavy timber. The wagons were stopped at The Dalles, Oregon by the lack of a road around Mount Hood. The wagons had to be disassembled and floated down the treacherous Columbia River and the animals herded over the rough Lolo trail to get by Mt. Hood. Nearly all of the settlers in the 1843 wagon trains arrived in the Willamette Valley by early October. A passable wagon trail now existed from the Missouri River to The Dalles. In 1846, the Barlow Road was completed around Mount Hood, providing a rough but completely passable wagon trail from the Missouri river to the Willamette Valley-about 2,000 miles.

Creepy Video

This started out as a brief introduction to the documentary, but there are a lot of pieces moving in the fight against the Stasi Surveillance State.  It deals specifically with the activities of MI6 in England and at that tangentially with rampant disregard for the privacy rights of citizens, but since it’s from the BBC you may not have seen it and it’s worth the watch.  The stories below are about recent court rulings against bulk collection of personal information and the new reports of abuse exceeding even the Unconstitutional Section 215 by the FBI.

‘Trust us’ mantra undermined by GCHQ tribunal judgment

by Alan Travis, The Guardian

Friday 6 February 2015 10.06 EST

For more than 18 months the response from the security services to the disclosure by Edward Snowden of the mass harvesting of personal data of British citizens has been to say: “Trust us, nothing we are doing is unlawful.”

But for the first time in its 15-year history the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) – the only British court that can hold GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 to account – has put a question mark against that assurance.

The 12-page tribunal judgment in the case brought by Liberty and Privacy International does not rule that the British GCHQ bulk interception programmes were unlawful. But it has ruled that the secret intelligence sharing arrangements between Britain and the US, known as Prism and Upstream, did not comply with human rights laws for seven years because the internal rules and safeguards supposed to guarantee our privacy have themselves been kept secret.

It was only public disclosure of those rules for the first time as part of the first of two IPT rulings in December that brought the intelligence-sharing regime into compliance with human rights law in general, and article 8 of the European convention on human rights on the right to privacy in particular.

The declaration by the tribunal judges is quite clear that until that public disclosure was made on 5 December, the Prism and Upstream programmes under which the private personal data of people living in the UK was obtained by the American authorities contravened human rights laws.

N.S.A. Collection of Bulk Call Data Is Ruled Illegal


MAY 7, 2015

The court, in a unanimous ruling written by Judge Gerard E. Lynch, held that Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program.” It declared the program illegal, saying, “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

(T)he appeals court ruling raises the question of whether Section 215, extended or not, has ever legitimately authorized the program. The statute on its face permits only the collection of records deemed “relevant” to a national security case. The government secretly decided, with the FISA court’s secret approval, that this could be interpreted to mean collection of all records, so long as only those that later turn out to be relevant are scrutinized by analysts.

However, Judge Lynch wrote: “Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans. Perhaps such a contraction is required by national security needs in the face of the dangers of contemporary domestic and international terrorism. But we would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language.”

FBI used Patriot Act to obtain ‘large collections’ of Americans’ data, DoJ finds

by Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Thursday 21 May 2015 15.30 EDT

Section 215 of the Patriot Act permits the FBI to collect business records, such as medical, educational and tax information or other “tangible things” relevant to an ongoing counter-terrorism or espionage investigation. Since 2006, the NSA had also secretly used it to collect US phone data in bulk.

After Edward Snowden’s leaks allowed the Guardian to reveal the phone-records bulk collection in June 2013, deep political opposition coalesced around the bulk program – eclipsing the FBI’s acquisition of other data, which has long been an issue only for civil libertarians.

But a Justice Department inspector general’s report finally released on Thursday covering the FBI’s use of Section 215 from 2007 to 2009 found that the bureau is using the business-records authority “to obtain large collections of metadata”, such as “electronic communication transactional information”.

The specifics of that collection – which civil libertarians have called “bulky”, to signal that it is not bulk collection but not far off – are not provided in the redacted report. Yet electronic communication transactional information is likely to refer to records of emails, instant messages, texts and perhaps Internet Protocol addresses. Sections of the report refer to the FBI asking for “material related to internet activity” and mention “IP addresses and to/from entries in emails”.

While the FBI director, James Comey, stated on Wednesday that losing the Section 215 authority would be a “big problem“, the inspector general cast doubt on the overall security impact of the loss.

“#&91;T#&93;he agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders, but told us that the material produced pursuant to Section 215 orders was valuable in that it was used to support other investigative requests, develop investigative leads, and corroborate other information,” the DoJ report found.

“This report adds to the mounting evidence that Section 215 has done little to protect Americans and should be put to rest. As Congress debates whether to rein in the NSA, this investigation underscores how sweeping the government’s surveillance programs are and how essential systemic reform is right now,” said Alex Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress urged Congress to let the provision “fade into the sunset”, and warned that the administration-backed USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection while preserving the rest of Section 215, was a pathway to future abuse.