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Does Uncle Sam Have a God Complex?

4:39 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

As a matter of faith, some people believe that God can see and hear everything. But as a matter of fact, the U.S. government now has the kind of surveillance powers formerly attributed only to a supreme being.

Uncle Sam holding a crystal ball

“He knows if you’ve been bad or good …”

Top “national security” officials in Washington now have the determination and tech prowess to keep tabs on billions of people. No one elected Uncle Sam to play God. But a dire shortage of democratic constraints has enabled the U.S. surveillance state to keep expanding with steely resolve.

By the time Edward Snowden used NSA documents to expose — beyond any doubt — a global surveillance dragnet, the situation had deteriorated so badly because the Bush and Obama administrations were able to dismiss earlier warnings to the public as little more than heresy.

Eight years ago, in the book State of War, New York Times reporter James Risen devoted a chapter to the huge expansion of surveillance. A secret decision by President Bush “has opened up America’s domestic telecommunications network to the NSA in unprecedented and deeply troubling new ways, and represents a radical shift in the accepted policies and practices of the modern U.S. intelligence community,” Risen wrote.

Risen added: “The NSA is now tapping into the heart of the nation’s telephone network through direct access to key telecommunications switches that carry many of America’s daily phone calls and e-mail messages.”

More details on the surveillance state came in 2008 with James Bamford’s book The Shadow Factory, which illuminated the National Security Agency’s program for “eavesdropping on America.” And in August of 2012 — nearly 10 months before Snowden’s revelations began — filmmaker Laura Poitras released a mini-documentary on the New York Times website about the NSA’s mass surveillance program.

All three journalists relied on whistleblowers who balked at the NSA’s virtual mission to see and hear everything. Both books (especially State of War) depended on information from unnamed sources. The short documentary focused on a public whistleblower — former NSA executive William Binney, who continues to speak out.

Testifying to a committee of the German parliament in Berlin two weeks ago, Binney — whose 30 years at the NSA included work as a high-level intelligence official – said that the NSA has a “totalitarian mentality.”

Days later, speaking at a conference in London, Binney explained: “At least 80 percent of fiber-optic cables globally go via the U.S. This is no accident and allows the U.S. to view all communication coming in. At least 80 percent of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the U.S. The NSA lies about what it stores.”

Since last summer, a backup source of strength for the voices of Binney, Thomas Drake, Kirk Wiebe and other NSA whistleblowers — the fact that Snowden has provided the public with NSA documents — is exactly what has enraged U.S. officials who want to maintain and escalate their surveillance power. Because of those unveiled documents, clarity about what the NSA is really doing has fueled opposition.

NSA surveillance proliferates in a context that goes well beyond spying. The same mentality that claims the right to cross all borders for surveillance — using the latest technologies to snoop on the most intimate communications and private actions of people across the globe — is also insisting on the prerogative to cross borders with the latest technologies to kill.

When a drone or cruise missile implements an assumed right to snuff out a life, without a semblance of due process, the presidential emulation of divine intervention is implicit.

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Memo to Potential Whistleblowers: If You See Something, Say Something

4:05 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

 

Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing creates a moral frequency that vast numbers of people are eager to hear. We don’t want our lives, communities, country and world continually damaged by the deadening silences of fear and conformity.

I’ve met many whistleblowers over the years, and they’ve been extraordinarily ordinary. None were applying for halos or sainthood. All experienced anguish before deciding that continuous inaction had a price that was too high. All suffered negative consequences as well as relief after they spoke up and took action. All made the world better with their courage.

Whistleblowers don’t sign up to be whistleblowers. Almost always, they begin their work as true believers in the system that conscience later compels them to challenge.

“It took years of involvement with a mendacious war policy, evidence of which was apparent to me as early as 2003, before I found the courage to follow my conscience,” Matthew Hoh recalled this week. “It is not an easy or light decision for anyone to make, but we need members of our military, development, diplomatic and intelligence community to speak out if we are ever to have a just and sound foreign policy.”

Hoh describes his record this way: “After over 11 continuous years of service with the U.S. military and U.S. government, nearly six of those years overseas, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as positions within the Secretary of the Navy’s Office as a White House Liaison, and as a consultant for the State Department’s Iraq Desk, I resigned from my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of war in 2009.”

Another former Department of State official, the ex-diplomat and retired Army colonel Ann Wright, who resigned in protest of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, is crossing paths with Hoh on Friday as they do the honors at a ribbon-cutting — half a block from the State Department headquarters in Washington — for a billboard with a picture of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Big-lettered words begin by referring to the years he waited before releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

“Don’t do what I did,” Ellsberg says on the billboard. “Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.”

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The Feinstein Syndrome: “The Fourth Amendment for Me, But Not for Thee”

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: “Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?”

Mural: Hero Chelsea Manning

Don’t confuse Feinstein with real whistleblower heroes.

A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.

In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein — more than any other senator — has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug.

A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason” — a position she has maintained.

Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs.

Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.

This week, Feinstein stepped forward to tweak her tap dance — insisting that intrusive surveillance, so vile when directed at her and colleagues with august stature, must only be directed at others.

A huge problem is that for the USA’s top movers and shakers in media and politics, nothing rises to the level of constitutional crisis unless their noble oxen start to get gored. It doesn’t seem to dawn on the likes of Senator Feinstein that Fourth Amendment protections for the few are not Fourth Amendment protections at all.

More than 40 years ago, under the Nixon administration — when the U.S. government was breaking into the offices of the Socialist Workers Party, busting into the homes of members of the Black Panther Party in the middle of night with guns firing, and widely shredding the civil liberties of anti-war activists — few among ruling elites seemed to give a damn. But when news emerged that one of the two big political parties had severely transgressed against the other with a break-in at the Watergate office of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, the Republican White House had gone too far.

As spring 2014 gets underway, we might be nearing a pivotal moment when major sectors of the establishment feel compelled to recognize the arrival of a constitutional crisis. Consider how the New York Times editorialized in its Wednesday edition, declaring that Feinstein “has provided stark and convincing evidence that the CIA may have committed crimes to prevent the exposure of interrogations that she said were ‘far different and far more harsh’ than anything the agency had described to Congress.”

In the euphemism lexicon of official Washington, “far different and far more harsh” refers to outright torture by the U.S. government.

At the surveillance-state garrison known as the Washington Post, where cognitive dissonance must be something fierce right now, quickly out of the box was conventional-wisdom columnist Dana Milbank, who portrayed Feinstein as a savvy and angelic force to be reckoned with. The adulatory logic was classic for journalists who like to conflate complicity with credibility.

Noting Feinstein’s record as “an ally of Obama and a staunch defender of the administration during the controversy over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs,” Milbank wrote: “So her credibility could not be questioned when she went public, reluctantly, to accuse Obama’s CIA of illegal and unconstitutional actions: violating the separation of powers by searching the committee’s computers and intimidating congressional staffers with bogus legal threats.”

News media accounts are filled with such statements right now. On the surface, they make sense — but there’s a pernicious undertow. With the underlying logic, the only time we could become sure that Wall Street malfeasance was a real problem would be if someone with the stature of Bernie Madoff stepped up to condemn it in no uncertain terms.

History tells us that we’d be deluded to depend on entrenched elites to opt for principle rather than continuity of the status quo. With few exceptions, what bonds those at peaks of power routinely trumps what divides them. It takes a massive and sustained uproar to really fracture the perversity of elite cohesion.

Consider the fact that the CIA, under the current Democratic administration, has gone to extraordinary lengths to transgress against a CIA-friendly Democratic-controlled Senate intelligence committee, in an effort to prevent anyone from being held accountable for crimes of torture committed under and by the Republican Bush administration.

While Dianne Feinstein has a long and putrid record as an enemy of civil liberties, transparency and accountability, it’s also true that thieves sometimes fall out — and so do violators of the most basic democratic safeguards in the Bill of Rights. Some powerful “intelligence” scoundrels are now at each other’s throats, even while continuing to brandish daggers at the heart of democracy with their contempt for such ideals as a free press, privacy and due process. The responsibility for all this goes to the very top: President Obama.

Photo by Timothy Krause released under a Creative Commons license.

Why Amazon’s Collaboration with the CIA Is So Ominous — and Vulnerable

1:41 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

As the world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon wants a benevolent image to encourage trust from customers. Obtaining vast quantities of their personal information has been central to the firm’s business model. But Amazon is diversifying — and a few months ago the company signed a $600 million contract with the Central Intelligence Agency to provide “cloud computing” services.

The CIA Seal

A collaboration between the CIA and Amazon.com could have far-reaching consequences.

Amazon now has the means, motive and opportunity to provide huge amounts of customer information to its new business partner. An official statement from Amazon headquarters last fall declared: “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”

The Central Intelligence Agency has plenty of money to throw around. Thanks to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know that the CIA’s annual budget is $14.7 billion; the NSA’s is $10.8 billion.

The founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is bullish on the company’s prospects for building on its initial contract with the CIA. As you might expect from a gung-ho capitalist with about $25 billion in personal wealth, Bezos figures he’s just getting started.

Bezos publicly savors the fact that Amazon has proven its digital prowess — aggregating, safeguarding and analyzing many billions of factoids about human beings — to the satisfaction of the CIA.

The company’s Amazon Web Services division is “the leader in infrastructure cloud computing,” Bezos boasted at a September 2013 meeting with journalists at the Washington Post (shortly after he bought the newspaper). He lauded the high “rate of invention” of Amazon’s technical web team, adding: “Their product offering is far ahead of anyone else.”

Apparently the CIA agrees. The agency gave Amazon the contract for $600 million even though it wasn’t the lowest bid.

Amazon’s trajectory into the CIA’s spooky arms may be a bit more than just corporate eagerness to land a lucrative contract. In late 2010 — amid intense public interest in documents that WikiLeaks was posting to illuminate U.S. actions overseas — Amazon took a notable step. As the Guardian reported at the time, Amazon “pulled the plug on hosting the whistleblowing website in reaction to heavy political pressure.”

It didn’t take much for Amazon to cave. “The company announced it was cutting WikiLeaks off … only 24 hours after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security,” the Guardian noted.

In view of Amazon’s eagerness to dump the WikiLeaks site at the behest of U.S. government officials, what else might the Amazon hierarchy be willing to do? Amazon maintains a humongous trove of detailed information about hundreds of millions of people. Are we to believe that the CIA and other intelligence agencies have no interest in Amazon’s data?

Even at face value, Amazon’s “Privacy Notice” has loopholes big enough to fly a drone through. It says: “We release account and other personal information when we believe release is appropriate to comply with the law; enforce or apply our Conditions of Use and other agreements; or protect the rights, property, or safety of Amazon.com, our users, or others.”

Amazon now averages 162 million unique visitors to its sites every month. Meanwhile, the CIA depends on gathering and analyzing data to serve U.S. military interventions overseas. During the last dozen years, the CIA has conducted ongoing drone strikes and covert lethal missions in many countries. At the same time, U.S. agencies like the CIA and NSA have flattened many previous obstacles to Big Brother behavior.

And now, Amazon is hosting a huge computing cloud for the CIA’s secrets — a digital place where data for mass surveillance and perpetual war are converging.

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Cut Off the NSA’s Juice

12:56 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The National Security Agency depends on huge computers that guzzle electricity in the service of the surveillance state. For the NSA’s top executives, maintaining a vast flow of juice to keep Big Brother nourished is essential — and any interference with that flow is unthinkable.

Cut the Power

But interference isn’t unthinkable. And in fact, it may be doable.

Grassroots activists have begun to realize the potential to put the NSA on the defensive in nearly a dozen states where the agency is known to be running surveillance facilities, integral to its worldwide snoop operations.

Organizers have begun to push for action by state legislatures to impede the electric, water and other services that sustain the NSA’s secretive outposts.

Those efforts are farthest along in the state of Washington, where a new bill in the legislature — the Fourth Amendment Protection Act — is a statutory nightmare for the NSA. The agency has a listening post in Yakima, in the south-central part of the state.

The bill throws down a challenge to the NSA, seeking to block all state support for NSA activities violating the Fourth Amendment. For instance, that could mean a cutoff of electricity or water or other state-government services to the NSA site. And the measure also provides for withholding other forms of support, such as research and partnerships with state universities.

Here’s the crux of the bill:

It is the policy of this state to refuse material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency which claims the power, or with any federal law, rule, regulation, or order which purports to authorize, the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place, and thing to be searched or seized.

If the windup of that long sentence has a familiar ring, it should. The final dozen words are almost identical to key phrases in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In recent days, more than 15,000 people have signed a petition expressing support for the legislation. Launched by RootsAction.org, the petition is addressed to the bill’s two sponsors in the Washington legislature — Republican Rep. David Taylor, whose district includes the NSA facility in Yakima, and Democrat Luis Moscoso from the Seattle area.

Meanwhile, a similar bill with the same title has just been introduced in the Tennessee legislature — taking aim at the NSA’s center based in Oak Ridge, Tenn. That NSA facility is a doozy: with several hundred scientists and computer specialists working to push supercomputers into new realms of mega-surveillance capacities.

A new coalition, OffNow, is sharing information about model legislation. The group also points to known NSA locations in other states including Utah (in Bluffdale), Texas (San Antonio), Georgia (Augusta), Colorado (Aurora), Hawaii (Oahu) and West Virginia (Sugar Grove), along with the NSA’s massive headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland. Grassroots action and legislative measures are also stirring in several of those states.

One of the key organizations in such efforts is the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, where legal fellow Matthew Kellegrew told me that the OffNow coalition “represents the discontent of average people with … business-as-usual failure to rein in out-of-control domestic spying by the NSA and other federal departments like the FBI. It is a direct, unambiguous response to a direct, unambiguous threat to our civil liberties.”

In the process — working to counter the bipartisan surveillance-state leadership coming from the likes of President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, the House Intelligence Committee’s chair Mike Rogers and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s chair Dianne Feinstein — activists urging a halt to state-level support for the NSA include people who disagree on other matters but are determined to undermine the Big Brother hierarchies of both parties.

“By working together to tackle the erosion of the Fourth Amendment presented by bulk data collection,” Kellegrew said, “people from across partisan divides are resurrecting the lost art of collaboration and in the process, rehabilitating the possibility of a functional American political dialogue denied to the people by dysfunction majority partisan hackery.”

From another vantage point, this is an emerging faceoff between reliance on cynical violence and engagement in civic nonviolence.

Serving the warfare state and overall agendas for U.S. global dominance to the benefit of corporate elites, the NSA persists in doing violence to the Constitution’s civil-liberties amendments — chilling the First, smashing the Fourth and end-running the Fifth.

Meanwhile, a nascent constellation of movements is striving to thwart the surveillance state, the shadowy companion of perpetual war.

This is a struggle for power over what kind of future can be created for humanity.

It’s time to stop giving juice to Big Brother.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org. Read the rest of this entry →

Under the Global Shadow of Big Brother, Journalism Must Light Up the Political Sky

5:21 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Every new revelation about the global reach of the National Security Agency underscores that the extremism of the surveillance state has reached gargantuan proportions. The Washington Post just reported that the NSA “is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world.” Documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden have forced top officials in Washington to admit the indefensible while defending it. One of the main obstacles to further expansion of their Orwellian empire is real journalism.

 

TV journalist

Journalists must fight back against NSA surveillance and government corruption.

Real journalism is “subversive” of deception that can’t stand the light of day. This is a huge problem for the Obama administration and the many surveillance-state flunkies of both parties in Congress. What they want is fake journalism, deferring to government storylines and respectful of authority even when it is illegitimate.

In motion now, on both sides of the Atlantic, are top-down efforts to quash real journalism when and how it matters most. In the two English-speaking countries that have done the most preaching to the world about “Western values” like freedom of the press, the governments led by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron are overseeing assaults on real journalism.

They’re striving to further normalize fake journalism — largely confined to stenographic services for corporate power, war industries and surveillance agencies. A parallel goal is to harass, intimidate and destroy real journalism. The quest is to maximize the uninformed consent of the governed.

In direct contrast, those willing to fight for truly independent journalism — including whistleblowers, political activists and journalists themselves — are struggling to provide our world with vital light, fueled by comprehension that real journalism must be willing to challenge entrenched power.

From incessant war and arming the world, to climate change and coddling fossil fuel industries, to anti-democratic governance and enabling vast NSA surveillance, the U.S. power structure — with epicenters along Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue — continues to dominate. That power structure is a clear, present and horrendous threat to human survival, the natural world of this planet and the possibilities for authentic democracy.

Against such dire, highly institutionalized assaults on the present and the future, we desperately need a wide range of nonviolent, principled and unrelenting insurgencies. In that context, government efforts to crush real journalism can be understood as methodical counterinsurgency.

Smashing Guardian hard drives and hauling the newspaper’s editor in front of an inquisitional parliamentary committee are aspects of the British government’s counterinsurgency program against real journalism. In the United States, the counterinsurgency includes numerous prosecutions of whistleblowers and wide-ranging surveillance of journalists’ workaday communications. These assaults aren’t episodic. They’ve become routine.

Journalism is at a momentous crossroads. The alternative to unrelenting independence is sheepism, and that’s not journalism; it’s a professionalized baseline of bowing to government and corporate pressure even before it has been overtly exerted.

For journalists, and for the rest of us, silence is not neutrality; it ends up as acceptance of autocratic rule, a present festooned with pretty-sounding names like “anti-terrorism” and “national security.”

As the most powerful institutions run amuck, their main functionaries are “leaders” who keep leading us farther and farther away from a world we could possibly be proud of leaving for the next generations. Pushing back against the ominous momentum will require fighting for real journalism. No one can plausibly say that reversing course will be easy or probable — only imperative.

Photo by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

Dianne Feinstein: Big Brother’s Loyal Sister

5:25 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

Ever since the first big revelations about the National Security Agency five months ago, Dianne Feinstein has been in overdrive to defend the surveillance state. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she generates an abundance of fog, weasel words, anti-whistleblower slander and bogus notions of reform — while methodically stabbing civil liberties in the back.

Dianne Feinstein

Feinstein photographed on a rare break from dismantling civil liberties.

Feinstein’s powerful service to Big Brother, reaching new heights in recent months, is just getting started. She’s hard at work to muddy all the waters of public discourse she can — striving to protect the NSA from real legislative remedies while serving as a key political enabler for President Obama’s shameless abuse of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Last Sunday, on CBS, when Feinstein told Face the Nation viewers that Edward Snowden has done “enormous disservice to our country,” it was one of her more restrained smears. In June, when Snowden first went public as a whistleblower, Feinstein quickly declared that he had committed “an act of treason.” Since then, she has refused to tone down the claim. “I stand by it,” she told The Hill on Oct. 29.

Days ago, taking it from the top of the NSA’s main talking points, Feinstein led off a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed piece with 9/11 fear-mongering. “The Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States was highly organized and sophisticated and designed to strike at the heart of the American economy and government,” she wrote, and quickly added: “We know that terrorists remain determined to kill Americans and our allies.”

From there, Senator Feinstein praised the NSA’s “call-records program” and then insisted: “This is not a surveillance program.” (Paging Mr. Orwell.)

Feinstein’s essay — touting her new bill, the “FISA Improvements Act,” which she just pushed through the Senate Intelligence Committee — claimed that the legislation will “bridge the gap between preventing terrorism and protecting civil liberties.” But as Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Trevor Timm writes, the bill actually “codifies some of the NSA’s worst practices, would be a huge setback for everyone’s privacy, and it would permanently entrench the NSA’s collection of every phone record held by U.S. telecoms.”

California’s senior senator is good at tactical maneuvers that blow media smoke. In late October — while continuing to defend the NSA’s planetary dragnet on emails and phone calls — Feinstein voiced concern “that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t satisfactorily informed.” Spinning the myth that congressional oversight of the NSA really exists, she added: “Therefore, our oversight needs to be strengthened and increased.”

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The NSA Deserves a Permanent Shutdown

12:49 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

To the people in control of the Executive Branch, violating our civil liberties is an essential government service. So — to ensure total fulfillment of Big Brother’s vast responsibilities — the National Security Agency is insulated from any fiscal disruption.

Sign: Now Stalking Americans

End the NSA!

The NSA’s surveillance programs are exempt from a government shutdown. With typical understatement, an unnamed official told The Hill that “a shutdown would be unlikely to affect core NSA operations.”

At the top of the federal government, even a brief shutdown of “core NSA operations” is unthinkable. But at the grassroots, a permanent shutdown of the NSA should be more than thinkable; we should strive to make it achievable.

NSA documents, revealed by intrepid whistleblower Edward Snowden, make clear what’s at stake. In a word: democracy.

Wielded under the authority of the president, the NSA is the main surveillance tool of the U.S. government. For a dozen years, it has functioned to wreck our civil liberties. It’s a tool that should not exist.

In this century, the institutional momentum of the NSA — now fueled by a $10.8 billion annual budget – has been moving so fast in such a wrong direction that the agency seems unsalvageable from the standpoint of civil liberties. Its core is lethal to democracy.

A big step toward shutting down the National Security Agency would be to mobilize political pressure for closure of the new NSA complex that has been under construction in Bluffdale, Utah: a gargantuan repository for ostensibly private communications.

During a PBS NewsHour interview that aired on August 1, NSA whistleblower William Binney pointed out that the Bluffdale facility has a “massive amount of storage that could store all these recordings and all the data being passed along the fiberoptic networks of the world.” He added: “I mean, you could store 100 years of the world’s communications here. That’s for content storage. That’s not for metadata.”

The NSA’s vacuum-cleaner collection of metadata is highly intrusive, providing government snoops with vast information about people’s lives. That’s bad enough. But the NSA, using the latest digital technology, is able to squirrel away the content of telephone, e-mail and text communications — in effect, “TiVo-ing” it all, available for later retrieval.

“Metadata, if you were doing it and putting it into the systems we built, you could do it in a 12-by-20-foot room for the world,” Binney explained. “That’s all the space you need. You don’t need 100,000 square feet of space that they have in Bluffdale to do that. You need that kind of storage for content.”

Already the NSA’s Bluffdale complex in a remote area of Utah — seven times the size of the Pentagon — is serving as an archive repository for humungous quantities of “private” conversations that the agency has recorded and digitized.

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Obama’s Willing Executioners of the Fourth Amendment

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

It’s now painfully clear that the president has put out a contract on the Fourth Amendment. And at the Capitol, the hierarchies of both parties are stuffing it into the trunks of their limousines, so each provision can be neatly fitted with cement shoes and delivered to the bottom of the Potomac.

Some other Americans are on a rescue mission. One of them, Congressman Justin Amash, began a debate on the House floor Wednesday with a vow to “defend the Fourth Amendment.” That’s really what his amendment — requiring that surveillance be warranted — was all about.

No argument for the Amash amendment was more trenchant than the one offered by South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan, who simply read the Fourth Amendment aloud.

To quote those words was to take a clear side: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Edward Snowden’s heroic revelations have made it possible for some House members from both parties to blow away the fog that shrouds so much tap dancing on Capitol Hill. When the Amash amendment went to the floor, there was no place left to hide.

To their historic shame, 134 Republicans and 83 Democrats voted against Amash’s amendment (while 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats voted for it). That’s how the measure lost, 217-205.

The record of the House vote tells us a lot. Top Republicans—including Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy—voted with Obama policies to keep smothering the Fourth Amendment. So did top Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The stench at the pinnacle of GOP power hardly surprises most Democrats. But on civil liberties—as on so many other profound issues—a similar odor is emanating from the upper reaches of Democratic power on Capitol Hill, where Pelosi and Hoyer are far from the only Democrats who have become reflexive servants of indefensible Obama policies.

Consider some of the other Democratic luminaries in the House who voted against the Amash amendment: The Democratic National Committee’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s former chair Chris Van Hollen. The DCCC’s current chair, Steve Israel.

Some of the other Democrats who voted no on the Amash amendment include progressive-aura lawmakers like Ami Bera (Calif.), Joaquin Castro (Texas), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Joe Kennedy (Mass.), Annie Kuster (N.H.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.)

Deserving special mention for their deplorable votes against Amash’s amendment are Sheila Jackson Lee from Houston and Jan Schakowsky from Chicago. Both are vice chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

I’ve been critical of the Progressive Caucus for enabling Obama’s rightward moves by doing scant pushback. But credit where due: on Wednesday, aside from Jackson Lee and Schakowsky, the other six officers of the Progressive Caucus and a large majority of its more than 70 members supported the Amash amendment. Eloquence in the floor debate came from John Conyers (the lead co-sponsor of the Amash amendment), Jared Polis, Zoe Lofgren and Jerrold Nadler.

Yet they were no match for the White House, with its media spin machine and behind-the-curtain arm twisting.

President Obama has a firm grip on levers of power, and anyone who thinks that his administration has been chastened enough to tread more carefully on civil liberties is engaged in wishful thinking.

While the House has grown somewhat restive, the Senate has remained notably pliant for the surveillance state. An egregious—and, for some, surprising—example is Al Franken, who declared his support for the NSA surveillance program when news of it broke in early June. “I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people,” Franken said. From his Senate office, one press release after another has been packed with blather like overstuffed sausages.

Franken is now saying he’ll introduce a bill for “transparency” because the public will support the current surveillance programs if they grasp what’s really involved: “I think that if there were greater transparency, Americans would have a better understanding of these programs.” Count on transparency to be a buzzword cloak for more of the same.

Another Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, has been vastly more candid. At a forum the day before the Amash amendment vote, Wyden said that for surveillance, as far as the Obama administration is concerned, “the authority is essentially limitless.”

An ACLU staff attorney, Alexander Abdo, was driving at the same point when he wrote days ago: “Perhaps the most fundamental problem with the NSA’s constitutional theory is that it has no limit. If the constitution is blind to the collection of our data and limits only the NSA’s later uses of it, then the NSA truly can ‘collect it all’ now and ask questions later. Our emails, phone calls and internet activities would all be very simple for the NSA to collect under the NSA’s theory. But it could go much further. It could put video cameras on every street corner, it could install microphones in every home and it could even remotely copy the contents of every computer hard drive.”

All three branches of the U.S. government are now largely under the control of forces with stunning contempt for basic legal processes required by the Bill of Rights. Mere words and mild reforms from members of Congress may mollify the gullible, but only a direct challenge to the Obama administration’s policies can rise to the level of the current historic imperative to restore civil liberties in the United States.

Obama’s Escalating War on Freedom of the Press

11:24 am in Uncategorized by Norman Solomon

The part of the First Amendment that prohibits “abridging the freedom … of the press” is now up against the wall, as the Obama administration continues to assault the kind of journalism that can expose government secrets.

The US Constitution

Obama’s war on basic freedoms continues with an escalating attack on Freedom of the Press.

Last Friday the administration got what it wanted – an ice-cold chilling effect — from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on the case of New York Times reporter James Risen. The court “delivered a blow to investigative journalism in America by ruling that reporters have no First Amendment protection that would safeguard the confidentiality of their sources in the event of a criminal trial,” the Guardian reported.

The Executive Branch fought for that ruling — and is now celebrating. “We agree with the decision,” said a Justice Department spokesman. “We are examining the next steps in the prosecution of this case.” The Risen case, and potentially many others, are now under the ominous shadow of the Appeals Court’s pronouncement: “There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify … in criminal proceedings.”

At the Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founder Trevor Timm calls the court ruling “the most significant reporter’s privilege decision in decades” and asserts that the court “eviscerated that privilege.” He’s not exaggerating. Press freedom is at stake.

Journalists who can be compelled to violate the confidentiality of their sources, or otherwise go to prison, are reduced to doing little more than providing stenographic services to pass along the official story. That’s what the White House wants.

The federal Fourth Circuit covers the geographical area where most of the U.S. government’s intelligence, surveillance and top-level military agencies — including the NSA and CIA — are headquartered. The ruling “pretty much guts national security journalism in the states in which it matters,” Marcy Wheeler writes.

That court decision came seven days after the Justice Department released its “News Media Policies” report announcing “significant revisions to the Department’s policies regarding investigations that involve members of the news media.” The report offered assurances that “members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.” (Hey thanks!) But the document quickly added that the government will take such action “as a last resort” when seeking information that is “essential to a successful investigation or prosecution.”

Translation: We won’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs unless we really want to.

Over the weekend, some news accounts described Friday’s court decision as bad timing for Attorney General Eric Holder, who has scrambled in recent weeks to soothe anger at the Justice Department’s surveillance of journalists. “The ruling was awkwardly timed for the Obama administration,” the New York Times reported. But the ruling wasn’t just “awkwardly timed” — it was revealing, and it underscored just how hostile the Obama White House has become toward freedom of the press.

News broke in May that the Justice Department had seized records of calls on more than 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters over a two-month period and had also done intensive surveillance of a Fox News reporter that included obtaining phone records and reading his emails. Since then, the Obama administration tried to defuse the explosive reaction without actually retreating from its offensive against press freedom.

At a news conference two months ago, when President Obama refused to say a critical word about his Justice Department’s targeted surveillance of reporters, he touted plans to reintroduce a bill for a federal shield law so journalists can protect their sources. But Obama didn’t mention that he has insisted on a “national security exception” that would make such a law approximately worthless for reporters doing the kind of reporting that has resulted in government surveillance — and has sometimes landed them in federal court.

Obama’s current notion of a potential shield law would leave his administration fully able to block protection of journalistic sources. In a mid-May article — headlined “White House Shield Bill Could Actually Make It Easier for the Government to Get Journalists’ Sources” — the Freedom of the Press Foundation shed light on the duplicity: As a supposed concession to press freedom, the president was calling for reintroduction of a 2009 Senate bill that “would not have helped the Associated Press in this case, and worse, it would actually make it easier for the Justice Department to subpoena journalists covering national security issues.”

Whether hyping a scenario for a shield law or citing new Justice Department guidelines for news media policies, the cranked-up spin from the administration’s PR machinery does not change the fact that Obama is doubling down on a commitment to routine surveillance of everyone, along with extreme measures specifically aimed at journalists — and whistleblowers.

The administration’s efforts to quash press freedom are in sync with its unrelenting persecution of whistleblowers. The purpose is to further choke off the flow of crucial information to the public, making informed “consent of the governed” impossible while imposing massive surveillance and other violations of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Behind the assault on civil liberties is maintenance of a warfare state with huge corporate military contracts and endless war. The whole agenda is repugnant and completely unacceptable.

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