Tag Archive: The Patriot Act

Aug 19 2013

The Forest and the Trees

In another assault on the freedom of the press and a naked attempt at intimidation, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner, David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport and questioned for nine hours under Great Britain’s Terrorism Act:

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.

The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours (pdf).

Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. [..]

While in Berlin, Miranda had visited Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on the Snowden files with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s flights.

This was the reaction of Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy:

“It is utterly improbable that David Michael Miranda, a Brazilian national transiting through London, was detained at random, given the role his partner has played in revealing the truth about the unlawful nature of NSA surveillance.

“David’s detention was unlawful and inexcusable. He was detained under a law that violates any principle of fairness and his detention shows how the law can be abused for petty, vindictive reasons.

“There is simply no basis for believing that David Michael Miranda presents any threat whatsoever to the UK government. The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analysing the data released by Edward Snowden.”

Of course the White House denies ordering the detention or the confiscation of Mr. Miranda’s property, but considering the lies that have been told and the use of “national security” as a reason to cover up the lies and crimes of two administrations, there is certainly good reason to question the veracity of any statements from the White House. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted that the White House was notified in advance of the action.

The detention has caused some outrage in Britain with  condemnation and calls for an explanation from the police of why Mr. Miranda was held under the anti-terroism law since there was no little evidence that he was involved in, or connected to terrorism.

Keith Vaz (chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee) called the detention of Miranda “extraordinary” and said he would be writing immediately to police to request information about why Miranda was held under anti-terrorism laws when there appeared to be little evidence that he was involved in terrorism. [..]

“It is an extraordinary twist to a very complicated story,” Vaz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday. “Of course it is right that the police and security services should question people if they have concerns or the basis of any concerns about what they are doing in the United Kingdom. What needs to happen pretty rapidly is we need to establish the full facts – now you have a complaint from Mr Greenwald and the Brazilian government. They indeed have said they are concerned at the use of terrorism legislation for something that does not appear to relate to terrorism, so it needs to be clarified, and clarified quickly.”

Vaz said he was not aware that personal property could be confiscated under the laws. “What is extraordinary is they knew he was the partner [of Greenwald] and therefore it is clear not only people who are directly involved are being sought but also the partners of those involved,” he said. “Bearing in mind it is a new use of terrorism legislation to detain someone in these circumstances […] I’m certainly interested in knowing, so I will write to the police to ask for the justification of the use of terrorism legislation – they may have a perfectly reasonable explanation. But if we are going to use the act in this way … then at least we need to know so everyone is prepared.”

The British anti-terrorist legislation watchdog, David Anderson QC, also called for an explanation from called on the Home Office and Metropolitan police over what is being called a “gross misuse” of the terror law.:

The intervention by Anderson came as the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, called for an urgent investigation into the use of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain Miranda. Cooper said ministers must find out whether anti-terror laws had been misused after detention caused “considerable consternation”.

Cooper said public support for schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act could be undermined if there was a perception it was not being used for the right purposes. “Any suggestion that terror powers are being misused must be investigated and clarified urgently,” she said. “The public support for these powers must not be endangered by a perception of misuse.

Laura Poitras, with whom Mr. Miranda was visiting in Berlin and whose work usually involves sensitive national security issues, had recently relocated to Berlin, Germany because of the harassment at US airports.

Glenn Greenwald called the detention of his partner a failed attempt at intimidation:

This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.

If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.

The press and the supporters of police state tactic of the US and Britain focused on the individuals involved completely miss the heart of this matter, the world wide freedom of the press, the free flow of information and the rights of people’s property and privacy. They are missing the forest for the trees.

Jun 12 2013

When You Support George W. Bush’s Policies, like Obama, I Get to Call You a Republican

Worse than a Republican; I get to call you a fawning sellout with even less principles than the Republican security soccer moms of 2004 that we all remember before. They really believed back then, and still do, that giving up their rights was worth a sense of (fake) security. And you know what? They were more principled than anyone who writes diaries excusing neoconservative policies from the Obama administration that were unacceptable to them when they came from the George W. Bush administration.

Period. End of story. Why? The RW soccer moms didn’t pretend to be outraged about this stuff during the Bush years. They have consistently supported it. So since that is an undeniable fact, I have to ask some of you how it feels to have even less principles than Republican voters who excused and supported some of the worst war crimes in history? How does it feel to enable a Justice Department that has now de facto codified some of the worst war crimes and financial crimes in history? How does it feel now that it is now exposed that, like Republican voters, you need a BS war on terror to feel safe?

How does it feel to repeat the same BS that cretins from the right did in the 2004 election to support their chosen leader? You know that fear mongering bit about “having nothing to hide so then having nothing to worry about?” That came from the RNC, and now that garbage is being recycled by people “who consider themselves Democrats or progressives based mostly on their feelings and nothing more. This similar zeitgeist all started during the run up to the Iraq war after 9/11 when the Patriot Act was passed when almost no one read the Bill in Congress.

Unlike apparently many people who didn’t really mean it, I was actually horrified by what went on during those years, and yet those same policies continue under President Obama. I’m also horrified that some of the same people who call themselves Democrats are not horrified anymore.

Aug 25 2012

Blowing in the Stellar Wind

Stellar Wind  is the open secret code name for certain information collection activities performed by the United States’ National Security Agency and revealed by Thomas M. Tamm to New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. The operation was approved by President George W. Bush shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

The program’s activities involve data mining of a large database of the communications of American citizens, including e-mail communications, phone conversations, financial transactions, and Internet activity.

There were internal disputes within the Justice Department about the legality of the program, because data is collected for large numbers of people, not just the subjects of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. In March 2004, the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft ruled that the program was illegal. The day after the ruling, Ashcroft became critically ill with acute pancreatitis. President Bush sent White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. to Ashcroft’s hospital bed, where Ashcroft lay semiconscious, to request that he sign a document reversing the Justice Department’s ruling. However, Ashcroft was incapable of signing the document. Bush then reauthorized the operation, over formal Justice Department objections. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert Mueller, Acting Attorney General James Comey, and many prominent members of the Justice Department were prepared to resign over the matter. Valerie Caproni the FBI general counsel, said, “From my perspective, there was a very real likelihood of a collapse of government.” Bush subsequently reversed the authorization.

During the Bush Administration, the Stellar Wind cases were referred to by FBI agents as “pizza cases” because many seemingly suspicious cases turned out to be food takeout orders. Approximately 99 percent of the cases led nowhere, but 1 percent bore fruit. One of the known uses of this data was the creation of suspicious activity reports, or “SARS”, about people suspected of terrorist activities. It was one of these reports that revealed former NY governor Elliot Spitzer‘s use of prostitutes, even though he was not suspected of terrorist activities.

In March 2012 Wired Magazine published “The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” talking about a new NSA facility and says “For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail.” Naming the official William Binney a former NSA code breaker. Binney goes on to say that the NSA has highly secured rooms that tap into major switches, and satellite communications at AT&T and Verizon both. [4] The article suggests that the otherwise dispatched Stellar Wind is actually an active program.

The Program

by Laura Poitras

To those who understand state surveillance as an abstraction, I will try to describe a little about how it has affected me. The United States apparently placed me on a “watch-list” in 2006 after I completed a film about the Iraq war. I have been detained at the border more than 40 times. Once, in 2011, when I was stopped at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and asserted my First Amendment right not to answer questions about my work, the border agent replied, “If you don’t answer our questions, we’ll find our answers on your electronics.”‘ As a filmmaker and journalist entrusted to protect the people who share information with me, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to work in the United States. Although I take every effort to secure my material, I know the N.S.A. has technical abilities that are nearly impossible to defend against if you are targeted.

The 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which oversees the N.S.A. activities, are up for renewal in December. Two members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, both Democrats, are trying to revise the amendments to insure greater privacy protections. They have been warning about “secret interpretations” of laws and backdoor “loopholes” that allow the government to collect our private communications. Thirteen senators have signed a letter expressing concern about a “loophole” in the law that permits the collection of United States data. The A.C.L.U. and other groups have also challenged the constitutionality of the law, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case on Oct. 29.

Laura Poitras is a documentary filmmaker who has been nominated for an Academy Award and whose work was exhibited in the 2012 Whitney Biennial. She is working on a trilogy of films about post-9/11 America. This Op-Doc is adapted from a work in progress to be released in 2013.

This video is part of a series by independent filmmakers who have received grants from the BRITDOC Foundation and the Sundance Institute.

Who is watching the NSA?

Giving In to the Surveillance

by Shane Harris

IN March 2002, John M. Poindexter, a former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, sat down with Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency. Mr. Poindexter sketched out a new Pentagon program called Total Information Awareness, that proposed to scan the world’s electronic information – including phone calls, e-mails and financial and travel records – looking for transactions associated with terrorist plots. The N.S.A., the government’s chief eavesdropper, routinely collected and analyzed such signals, so Mr. Poindexter thought the agency was an obvious place to test his ideas.

He never had much of a chance. When T.I.A.’s existence became public, it was denounced as the height of post-9/11 excess and ridiculed for its creepy name. Mr. Poindexter’s notorious role in the Iran-contra affair became a central focus of the debate. He resigned from government, and T.I.A. was dismantled in 2003.

But what Mr. Poindexter didn’t know was that the N.S.A. was already pursuing its own version of the program, and on a scale that he had only imagined. A decade later, the legacy of T.I.A. is quietly thriving at the N.S.A. It is more pervasive than most people think, and it operates with little accountability or restraint. [..]

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) asked the NSA a simple question: how many persons inside the United States have been spied upon by the NSA? I. Charles McCullough, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, answer was that to answer that question would violate the privacy of citizens. In other words, they probably don’t know.

In July, in response to a request from Sen. Wyden, IG McCullough declassified three statements “one of which indicated that the FISA court agreed with Wyden that the government had “circumvented the spirit of the law.” Even the Wall Street Journal reported that this “represented the first time the government has acknowledged U.S. spy activities violated the Constitution since the passage of” the Amendments Act in 2008.

Whistleblowers like Mr. Binney, Thomas Drake, as well as, journalists like Ms. Poitras and James Risen put their reputations, freedom and lives on the line to warn us about the unregulated, unmonitored surveillance of the NSA. No one is watching the NSA but they are watching us.

Aug 15 2012

Trapwire: Worse Than 1984

The recent release of e-mails from STRATFOR, a right wing global intelligence company, and documents about the surveillance system Trapwire by Wikileaks, has become the talk of the web and Twitter. David Seaman, an up and coming new media advocate and host of The DL Show, explains everything you need to know about Trapwire:

Anyway, here’s what Trapwire is, according to Russian-state owned media network RT (apologies for citing “foreign media”… if we had a free press, I’d be citing something published here by an American media conglomerate): “Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology-and have installed it across the U.S. under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.

Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence. It’s part of a program called TrapWire and it’s the brainchild of the Abraxas, a Northern Virginia company staffed with elite from America’s intelligence community. [..]

So: those spooky new “circular” dark globe cameras installed in your neighborhood park, town, or city-they aren’t just passively monitoring. They’re plugged into Trapwire and they are potentially monitoring every single person via facial recognition. [..]

In related news, the Obama administration is fighting in federal court this week for the ability to imprison American citizens under NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions-and anyone else-without charge or trial, on suspicion alone.

So we have a widespread network of surveillance cameras across America monitoring us and reporting suspicious activity back to a centralized analysis center, mixed in with the ability to imprison people via military force on the basis of suspicious activity alone.

The Young Turks’ host Cenk Uygur breaks down what Trapwire is and why it is a danger to individual freedom.

Noah Shachtman at The Danger Room takes an in depth look at the “sleazy” connection of STRATFOR to Trapwire and the CIA:

On Nov. 4, 2009, Fred Burton, the vice president of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, co-wrote an essay on emerging terrorist threats and the means to stop them. Particularly impressive, Burton wrote, was a new software tool called Trapwire, which works “with camera systems to help detect patterns of preoperational surveillance … to help cut through the fog of noise and activity and draw attention to potential threats.” [..]

What his customers reading that November 2009 essay may not have realized was that Burton was also marketing them a product. On Aug. 17 of that year, Stratfor and Trapwire signed a contract (.pdf) giving Burton’s company an 8 percent referral fee for any business they send Trapwire’s way. The essay was partially a sales pitch – a fact that Burton neglected to mention. [..]

That’s a breach of trust and possibly worse, says Matthew Aid, author of Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror. “It’s a conflict of interest.” [..]

Stratfor’s now-famous business partner, Trapwire Inc., began as a division of Abraxas Corporation, one of the more prominent intelligence contractors to crop up after the 9/11 attacks. Begun by Richard “Hollis” Helms, the former head of the CIA’s European division, the company grew so quickly that by 2005, Helms boasted it was “the largest aggregate of analytical counter-terrorism capabilities outside of the U.S. government.” The CIA began entrusting Abraxas with one of its most sensitive tasks: constructing false identities, front companies, and cover stories for agents traveling overseas. At one point, so many CIA employees were jumping ship for Abraxas that the director of the CIA asked it, and a handful of other firms, to stop recruiting in the agency cafeteria.

Today, contractors make up about one-third of the 845,000 people with top-secret security clearances in this country, the Washington Post estimates. It’s safe to assume that at least the same portion of the $80 billion annual intelligence budget goes to these outside firms. The Post counted 1,931 private companies in nearly 10,000 locations across America working on counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence efforts.

TrapWire is already used in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Texas, DC, London, and other locales around the USA. Although a spokesperson from NYPD denies that they are using Trapwire, there are other companies that are doing the same surveillance that are just as sinister. Remember that NYPD has labeled people “professional agitators” for filming their activities but now they have a tool that can be used to shut down peaceful demonstration and association. It could be easily used to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of citizens wherever this type of surveillance is used.

Jul 03 2012

The Surveillance State of America

NSA EagleIn 2005 while George W. Bush still sat in the Oval Office, James Bamford penned this article for the New York Times Week in Review titled The Agency That Could Be Big Brother. Mr. Bamford, the author of “Puzzle Palace” and “Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency“, wrote about the National Security Agency which was created in absolute secrecy in 1952 by President Harry S. Truman. This agency is now the largest of the security agencies surpassing the CIA and other spy organizations. And it is still growing. The agency now has sites all over the US and around the globe and we have no idea what their budget is or for that matter what they are doing with all that information. In 2005, controversy over whether the Pres. Bush broke the law when he secretly ordered the N.S.A. to bypass a special court (FISA) and conduct warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens had provoked some Democrats to call for his impeachment. Now today, Pres. Barack Obama, a Democrat, expands the NSA’a power and there is not silence, but support from the Democrats. We don’t even know how much is spent by the NSA since their budget is classified. Heh, Congress doesn’t know either. But I digress.

Columnist David Sirota wrote in the Seattle Times that the NSA now claims that “it can’t tell Congress about its activities violating the privacy of Americans because doing so might violate Americans’ privacy”.

In a letter to senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., the agency wrote: “(A) review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons.” [..]

So why would the NSA nonetheless refuse to provide one? Most likely because such an estimate would be a number so big as to become a political problem for the national-security establishment.

According to the nonpartisan Electronic Frontier Foundation, “The U.S. government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers including AT&T, has engaged in a massive program of illegal dragnet surveillance of domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001.”

That’s right, millions – and that’s merely what happened with one of many programs over the last decade.

Moving forward, Wired notes that the NSA is building the “Utah Data Center” – “a project of immense secrecy” designed “to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.”

Appearing at the Socialism 2012 conference in Chicago, Salon.com contributing editor and civil rights lawyer, Glenn Greenwald gave a speech on Challenging the Surveillance State. Glen suggests that if you can’t watch all four videos the last one about the harms from ubiquitous surveillance is the most important one. He also points out FDL’s Kevin Gosztola’s excellent commentary and summation of the speech.

Feb 15 2011

The US Constitution Has Been Suspended by the GOP

While we were watching the Egyptians take back their country, our so-called representatives in the House were destroying ours. From John Nichols at The Nation:

House GOP Rejects Requirement That PATRIOT Act Surveillances Be Conducted in Complaince With Constitution

Less than a month after making a show of reading the U.S. Constitution into the Congressional Record, the leaders of the Republican-controlled U.S. House enginnered a vote to extend the surveillance authorities that both the Bush and Obama administrations have used to conduct “roving surveillance” of communications, to collect and examine business recordsand to target individuals who are not tied to terrorist groups for surveillance.

While most Democrats opposed the extension of the surveillance authorities — rejecting aggressive lobbying by the Obama administration and its allies in the House GOP leadership — overwhelming Republican support won approval of the legislation on a a 275-144 vote. Thus, the supposedly Constitution-obsessed House has endorsed a measure that is widely seen — not just by Democrats and progressives but by Republicans and conservatives — as a constant threat to privacy protections outlined in the document’s 4th Amendment.

As Michelle Richardson, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, noted Monday night: “It has been nearly a decade since the Patriot Act was passed and our lawmakers still refuse to make any meaningful changes to this reactionary law. The right to privacy from government is a cornerstone of our country’s foundation and Americans must be free from the kind of unwarranted government surveillance that the Patriot Act allows. If Congress cannot take the time to insert the much needed privacy safeguards the Patriot Act needs, it should allow these provisions to expire.”

The 275 votes for extending the surveillance authorities came from 210 Republicans and 65 Democrats.

snip

More remarkable was the House vote on a motion offered by the Democrats, which sought to recommit the bill with instructions to add language ensuring that surveillances would only be conducted in compliance with the U.S. Constitution.

That motion lost on a 234-186 vote.

144 Americans stood up against this, 127 Democrats that included Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Michigan’s John Conyers, and 27 Republicans. Patriots all.