06/02/2015 archive

Stasi Style Secret Surveillance Flights

As revealed today by The Associated Press and CNN, the FBI has been operationg a secret fleet of planes and drones, kept off the offical books by a system of fake front companies.

While this was previously acknowledged in a DoJ IG report in 2012, the report was heavily redacted.  These planes are equipped with both visual survielance tools and cell phone tower spoofers which, while the FBI claims are only used against specific investigations, but the very nature of how they operate (sucking down all cell phone communications in a specific tower area) means they are bulk collection tools.

Additionally these flights are much more numerous than previously indicated, with the AP reporting as many as 30 in 30 days over 11 states.

These flights are routinely conducted without a warrant and under a supposed system of internal review that the DoJ claims is a “state secret”, meaning of course without any regulation at all at the whim of whoever.

Does the FBI have a secret surveillance air force?

By Pamela Brown, CNN

2:17 PM ET, Tue June 2, 2015

The FBI uses a fleet of planes registered under fictitious companies in order to conduct warrantless surveillance during federal, state and local investigations. The surveillance is conducted without a court order, but with oversight from within the Department of Justice, according to a senior law enforcement official.

The agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states over a 30 day period, according to the AP review, and their report also said planes was masked by the existence of at least 13 fictitious companies.

The senior law enforcement official confirmed the existence of the fleet of planes to the CNN and said they are registered under fictitious companies because the FBI wants to be as discreet as possible.

“Anytime you mask your activity for operational or safety reasons you use a front company,” said the official. “You don’t want to put people on to what you’re doing – we know we’re going to need air aviation support for cases.”

The planes, which are equipped for electronic surveillance, are used both for FBI investigations and also at the request of state and local officials, according to the FBI. During recent Baltimore riots, for instance, the FBI used the surveillance aircraft at the request of the Baltimore Police Department.

According to the senior law enforcement official, the FBI does not need a court issued warrant to fly these surveillance planes because of rules established by the Department of Justice.

Report: FBI behind spy planes flying over US cities

Associated Press

June 2, 2015 10:39AM ET

The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology – all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned.

The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific ongoing investigations.

U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed for the first time the wide-scale use of the aircraft, which the AP traced to at least 13 fake companies, such as FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation and PXW Services.

Even basic aspects of the program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The FBI has been careful not to reveal its surveillance flights in court documents.

(T)he planes can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over for prosecutions.

Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they are not making a call or are not in public.

“These are not your grandparents’ surveillance aircraft,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, calling the flights significant “if the federal government is maintaining a fleet of aircraft whose purpose is to circle over American cities, especially with the technology we know can be attached to those aircraft.”

During the past few weeks, the AP tracked planes from the FBI’s fleet on more than 100 flights over at least 11 states plus the District of Columbia, most with Cessna 182T Skylane aircraft. These included parts of Houston, Phoenix, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis and Southern California.

Evolving technology can record higher-quality video from long distances, even at night, and can capture certain identifying information from cellphones using a device known as a cell-site simulator – or StingRay, to use one of the product’s brand names. These can trick cellphones into revealing identification numbers of subscribers, including those not suspected of a crime.

Officials say cellphone surveillance is rare, although the AP found in recent weeks FBI flights circling large buildings for extended periods where aerial photography would be less effective than electronic signal collection. Those sites included Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

John Oliver – FIFA the Farce Continues

Last year, John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” gave a scathing and hilarious report on the corrupt world of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, a.k.a. FIFA. John now gives us another of his gleeful soliloquies on the current arrests of fourteen FIFA officials, recapping some of pathetic defenses and the farcical re-election of Sepp Blatter for a fifth term as president.

After explaining the players in the fraud (including FIFA snitch Chuck Blazer, a man who looks like “Bad Santa”, Mr. Jack “Not the Onion” Warner, and Evil FIFA President Sepp Blatter), Oliver listed the extent of FIFA’s corruption and cruelty. Blatter, for instance, is the kind of guy who would make women play World Cup soccer on Astroturf, which bangs up people’s legs something awful: “The last time an athlete’s legs were beaten up that badly in advance of an major competition was when Tonya Harding was unwilling to settle for silver.” But Blatter may be best known for inexplicably granting the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, which has seen nearly 1,200 people die during the construction of its stadium.

Oliver was hardly surprised that Blatter subsequently won re-election, one day after the massive wave of arrests, due to the weird profit-sharing system of FIFA, in which every country gets the same amount of money regardless of their population. With that, he cheered on America and begged them to arrest Blatter, because that would do more for the American image abroad than anything else. “Imagine if the Dutch suddenly found a reason to extradite Donald Trump,” he explained.

“The problem is all the arrests in the world are going to change nothing if Blatter’s still there, because to truly kill a snake you must cut off its head-or in this case, its asshole,” the HBO host said.

He pleads for advertisers to withdraw their support for FIFA until the governing body comes to its senses and axes Blatter.

I would like to make a plea to them tonight: Please make Sepp Blatter go away. I will do anything. Adidas, I will wear one of your ugly shoes. One of these shoes that make me look like the Greek god of aspiring DJs. McDonalds, I will take a bite out of every item on your Dollar Menu-which tastes like normal food that was cursed by a vindictive wizard. And I will even make the ultimate sacrifice: Budweiser, if you pull your support and help get rid of Blatter, I will put my mouth where my mouth is, and I will personally drink one of your disgusting items. I’m serious. It could be a Bud-Lite. I will even drink a Bud-Lite Lime, despite the fact that all the lime in the world cannot disguise the fact that this tastes like a puddle beneath a Long John Silver’s dumpster. But I will do it. I will drink one maintaining eye contact with the camera and say it’s delicious, because if you get rid of the Swiss demon who has ruined the sport I love, this stuff will taste like fucking Champagne!”

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

Dean Baker: The Federal Reserve Board’s Payroll Tax on our Children

The deficit hawks appear to be making a comeback, at least in the media, if not among the public at large. This isn’t surprising since we have billionaires prepared to spend large chunks of their money to scare people about the deficit, regardless of how unimportant it might be as an economic concern.

The latest storyline is that the deficit may not be a problem now, but it is projected to grow in size over the next decade. In particular, as interest rates rise we will be forced to divert an increasing portion of government spending to interest payments and away from things we might really care about like improving infrastructure and education.

There are many things wrong with this analysis, most obviously that even if interest payments rise as projected, relative to the size of the economy they will still be less in 2025 than they were in the early 1990s. And the interest burden in 1990s didn’t prevent us from having a decade that ended with four years of broadly shared wage growth and low unemployment. So the horror story here doesn’t look quite so frightening.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Is Jeb’s Social Security Flub the Worst Bush Gaffe Yet?

George W. Bush: His policies brought untold harm, but at least his gaffes offered some occasional lighthearted moments. Now his brother Jeb may have outdone him in the faux pas department — but there’s nothing funny about it.

The former Florida governor has been running on a platform which includes cutting Social Security benefits, so he’s been talking about raising the retirement age. But, as it happens, he doesn’t even know what the retirement age is.

When he was asked about it, Jeb responded in the tortured syntax characteristic of his clan: “We need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in, over an extended period of time, going from 65 to 68 or 70.”

Except that the retirement age isn’t 65, and hasn’t been for some time. The current retirement age is 66, and it will continue to rise. People born in 1959 won’t be able to retire until they are 67 years old.

If you’re going to cut a program which affects the lives of most Americans, the least you can do is get the facts right. Jeb didn’t. That’s worse than a candidate getting the price of bread or milk wrong, or a president’s wonderment at the fact that grocery stores have scanners.

Bill George: Soccer’s FIFA Is Morally Bankrupt — Corporations Should Suspend Sponsorships Until Blatter Resigns

The fish rots from the head, and this is undoubtedly the case with FIFA and its leader, Sepp Blatter.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s indictment of 14 senior FIFA officials confirms what we all knew. FIFA is a deeply corrupt organization. Lynch, who collaborated with the police in Switzerland to arrest seven FIFA officials, detailed at least $150 million in corrupt payments over 24 years. At week’s end, Justice Department officials said they were preparing additional indictments. [..]

Leaders are responsible for creating a moral climate in their organizations, and ensuring that its business affairs are carried out with integrity. Of course, there will always be individuals who deviate from company policy, in which case high integrity leaders move swiftly to terminate them and take appropriate follow-up action to prevent repeat incidents.

The vast majority of today’s business leaders do precisely that. The exceptions, such as Blatter, give a poor name to all who view leadership as a higher calling. High integrity leaders must support firm action against those who destroy important enterprises like world soccer.

C. Robert Gibson: The Democratic Party needs a swift kick in the ass

The Democratic Party’s official symbol is a jackass – and that’s exactly how the party is perceived by the American electorate right now. Only 18 states have Democratic governors, and Democrats hold a majority in both legislative houses in just 11 states. As the New York Times noted, the party hasn’t had this little power since Herbert Hoover was president. And Democrats will continue to get their asses kicked in every election until grass-roots movements organize to oust the party’s corporate-backed incumbents, make a mockery of state party bosses and take the helm once they’ve all been driven out.

Of America’s two major political parties, the Republicans have become the party of extremists determined to privatize the commons, neuter the government’s ability to police polluters and corporate tax avoiders and redistribute wealth to the rich. The Democrats, on the other hand, have simply failed to stand for anything other than a watered-down version of what Republicans are proposing. State Democratic Party chairpeople, committee members, top-level elected officials and check writers have made it clear they have no interest in changing course in their embrace of policies that disenfranchise the middle class, nor are they listening to the grass-roots movements demanding economic, environmental and racial justice. Even as the country moves further to the left, Democrats continue to lose. The 2014 midterm election cycle was a perfect example.

Bill Boyarsky: Undercutting the Patriot Act Is a Major Win for Rand Paul and Edward Snowden

While its successor may be full of ways for intelligence agents and law enforcement to invade privacy, the demise of the Patriot Act’s bulk collection of phone records is a major accomplishment for Sen. Rand Paul, for Americans suspicious of government intrusion and, above all, for Edward J. Snowden.

It is Snowden who deserves most of the credit for the expiration of the act’s most onerous provisions, which went out of effect at midnight Sunday. Now in self-exile in Russia and facing espionage charges at home, Snowden revealed how the National Security Administration was scooping up enormous masses of the private records of ordinary citizens under the guise of fighting terrorism. President Barack Obama and many other politicians, along with intelligence officials, denounced that courageous act by the onetime NSA contractor, but the disclosure resonated strongly with Americans who harbor a suspicion of government that dates back to before the American Revolution.

E.J.Dionne, Jr.: Understanding the Importance of Bernie Sanders’ Candidacy Requires Revisiting Santa Claus Politics

How is it that Democrats forgot about the joys Santa Claus can bring? How is it that Republicans managed to steal the Santa idea from the party of FDR and never let go?

Understanding why Bernie Sanders’ presidential candidacy is important requires revisiting the politics of St. Nick. The senator from Vermont has little chance of defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. But he is reminding his party of something it often forgets: Government was once popular because it provided tangible benefits to large numbers of Americans.

At a time of rising inequality and short-circuited social mobility, Sanders is unapologetic about taking some wealth and income away from those who have a lot of both to ease the path upward for those who don’t. He has proudly called himself a democratic socialist, but he doesn’t spin abstract Marxist theories. He wants government to do stuff, and the sort of stuff he has in mind is potentially quite popular.

TBC: Morning Musing 6.2.15

I have 4 articles for you this morning!

First, a sad but needed project The Guardian is undertaking:

The Counted: People killed by police in the US

The Counted is a project by the Guardian – and you – working to count the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.

The database will combine Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information to build a more comprehensive record of such fatalities. The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US, but it will operate as an imperfect work in progress – and will be updated by Guardian reporters and interactive journalists as frequently and as promptly as possible.


On This Day In History June 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.

Click on image to enlarge

June 2 is the 153rd day of the year (154th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 212 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1962, Ray Charles takes country music to the top of the pop charts.

Ray Charles was one of the founding fathers of soul music-a style he helped create and popularize with a string of early 1950s hits on Atlantic Records like “I Got A Woman” and “What’d I Say.” This fact is well known to almost anyone who has ever heard of the man they called “the Genius,” but what is less well known-to younger fans especially-is the pivotal role that Charles played in shaping the course of a seemingly very different genre of popular music. In the words of his good friend and sometime collaborator, Willie Nelson, speaking before Charles’ death in 2004, Ray Charles the R&B legend “did more for country music than any other living human being.” The landmark album that earned Ray Charles that praise was Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which gave him his third #1 hit in “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” which topped the U.S. pop charts on this day in 1962

Executives at ABC Records-the label that wooed Ray Charles from Atlantic with one of the richest deals of the era-were adamantly opposed to the idea that Charles brought to them in 1962: to re-record some of the best country songs of the previous 20 years in new arrangements that suited his style. As Charles told Rolling Stone magazine a decade later, ABC executives said, “You can’t do no country-western things….You’re gonna lose all your fans!” But Charles recognized the quality of songs like “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Don Gibson and “You Don’t Know Me,” by Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker, and the fact that his version of both of those country songs landed in the Top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts was vindication of Charles’s long-held belief that “There’s only two kinds of music as far as I’m concerned: good and bad.”

Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), known by his shortened stage name Ray Charles, was an American musician. He was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records. He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Frank Sinatra called Charles “the only true genius in show business.”

Rolling Stone ranked Charles number 10 on their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2004, and number two on their November 2008 list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”. In honoring Charles, Billy Joel noted: “This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley. I don’t know if Ray was the architect of rock & roll, but he was certainly the first guy to do a lot of things . . . Who the hell ever put so many styles together and made it work?”


The Daily/Nightly Show (Friendly Fire)


Women’s World Cup starting soon.  Just as with Basketball the ladies’ game is far more entertaining than the men’s pointless running about.

Tonightly your guess is as good as mine, but the panelists are Christian Finnegan, Jenny Loeffler, Christiane Amanpour, and Jordan Carlos.


Sad when the only real Democrat isn’t

This week’s guests-

Stanley McChrystal is just another failed Syraqistan General.  What makes him particularly odious is his direct involvement in the Pat Tillman scandal.  I can think of people with less demonstrated understanding of the Middle East and the United States military to put on the air, but not many of them.  He should be rotting in Spandau with the rest of the war criminals.  Yale students are wasting their trust funds if they listen to a single word he says because what is not a deliberate lie is an ignorant misunderstanding.

Special Matt Harvey web exclusive extended interview and the real news below.