Tuesday, June 25, 2013









Starting with Barack Obama's War on the First Amendment.    Last month, The War on the First Amendment's big revelations were, first, that the Justice Dept had secretly seized the phone records of a 167-year-old news institution, the Associated Press. Then came the revelation  that the Justice Dept targeted Fox News reporter James Rosen. Clark S. Judge (US News and World Reports) observed, "It has been a bad few weeks for the First Amendment.  The sinister commonality to the Internal Revenue Service and AP scandals and the James Rosen affair is that each appears to have been (strike "appears ": each was) an attempt to suppress a core American right."  And that was only the beginning.

This month found the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald breaking the news about Barack's orders to monitor the phone calls of every American -- the details of the call -- who called who, length of time, etc.  These used to be called "toll slips" in the pre-digital age and the government was required to get a warrant each time it wanted the "toll slips" for one phone line.  Now it's blanket spying on everyone. Matthew Rothschild (The Progressive) noted Senator Bernie Sanders calling out the program:

"The United States should not be accumulating phone records on tens of millions of innocent Americans," Sanders said. "That is not what democracy is about. That is not what freedom is about. Congress must address this issue and protect the constitutional rights of the American people."

And, as with AP in May, it was only the first shoe to drop.   AP probably summed up the second shoe better than any other outlet reporting, "Separately, The Washington Post and The Guardian reported Thursday the existence of another program used by the NSA and FBI that scours the nation's main Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs to help analysts track a person's movements and contacts. It was not clear whether the program, called PRISM, targets known suspects or broadly collects data from other Americans."

And even more details have come out over the last few days.  Tom Burghartdt (Dissident Voice) provides a thorough primer on those developments:

It now seems likely that NSA is hoovering up far more than the “telephony metadata” revealed by The Guardian’s publication of the secret FISA Court Order to Verizon Business Services.
Following-up on PRISM program reporting, The Washington Post disclosed June 15 that the Bush administration’s “warrantless wiretapping” program STELLAR WIND “was succeeded by four major lines of intelligence collection in the territorial United States, together capable of spanning the full range of modern telecommunications, according to the interviews and documents.”
“Two of the four collection programs, one each for telephony and the Internet,” Barton Gellman reported, “process trillions of ‘metadata’ records for storage and analysis in systems called MAINWAY and MARINA, respectively.”
According to the Post, “Metadata includes highly revealing information about the times, places, devices and participants in electronic communication, but not its contents. The bulk collection of telephone call records from Verizon Business Services, disclosed this month by the British newspaper the Guardian, is one source of raw intelligence for MAINWAY.”
Dropping a bombshell, although withholding supporting documents, Gellman reports that the “other two types of collection, which operate on a much smaller scale, are aimed at content. One of them intercepts telephone calls and routes the spoken words to a system called ­NUCLEON.”

The PRISM targeting and the spying on every American phone call were both exposed by whistle-blower Ed Snowden.  And Ed Snowden was all over the news over the weekend.

Many people couldn't stop talking about him.  Like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (here for video) who openly courted boos (and got them) as the Netroots Nation conference (largely a group of Democrats) as she called Ed Snowden a criminal.  Nancy was there courting votes (something she doesn't bother to do in district 8 of California where she doesn't even hold town halls) and, Seema Mehta (Los Angeles Times) reports, things got a little sticky when Mark Perkel responded to her claims, "It's not a balance.  It makes us less safe."  For that, he was escorted out of this supposed meet-up.  As he was pulled away by guards, he shouted, "It's unconstitutional! No secret courts! No secret law!"

I think the mistake Mark Perkel made was in not picking up a phone.  These days, if you want to speak your mind or sound off, you have a better chance of being heard in full by the government via a private phone call the government listens in on than through public remarks at an open forum.

AP notes that there was vocal objection to Perkel being tossed out and quotes attendee Jana Thrift stating, "We're listening to our progressive leaders who are supposed to be on our side of the team saying it's OK for us to get targeted.  It's crazy.  I don' t know who Nancy Pelosi really is."

CNN quoted Nancy insisting of Snowden's whistle-blowing, "I know that some of you attribute heroic status to that action.  But, again, you don't have the responsibility for the security of the United States.  Those of us who do have to strike a different balance."

First off,  it's not Nancy's country. The US belongs to all of its citizens and I know being a greedy huckster for money didn't allow Nancy the education she needed of the democratic experience but just because you bought a seat at the main table doesn't mean you're in charge of the event.  All Americans are responsible for the country's security.  What a stupid remark from Nancy.  Remember it the next time she's trying to build support for some pet item.  Tell her, "You have the responsibility for ___."  Second, this is just about her covering her ass.  She was briefed on all of this, she knew about the spying.  She's culpable -- legally culpable -- so of course she's going to claim it was necessary -- what crook wouldn't?

She was culpable in 2009 as well.  That's when waterboarding as a CIA practice had been taking place.  As David Espo (AP) reported, Nancy's claim for 'innocence' that time was that the CIA lied to her.  Bill Van Auken (WSWS) called out her lying as the words were flying out her mouth:

While Pelosi had given the impression that she knew nothing about this torture because the CIA failed to inform her in the 2002 briefing, it then emerged that she had been told about the active use of waterboarding in February 2003—just five months later—by her senior aide based on a subsequent briefing.
In her press conference, the House speaker claimed that at the 2002 briefing, the CIA reported that the Justice Department had issued memos arguing that waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” were legal, but were “not being employed.”
Pelosi went on to acknowledge that after she was informed that the CIA was torturing suspects in February 2003, she did nothing, leaving it to her successor as the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Congresswoman Jane Harman, to write a letter to the agency “raising concerns.”
Her entire story strains credulity. Even if what she says is true and the CIA did not inform her in 2002 that it was torturing Zubaydah, did she really believe that the agency’s briefers were describing methods of torture and Justice Department memos justifying them because the Bush administration did not intend to use them?
Pelosi advanced another alibi. “Like all members of Congress who are briefed on classified information,” she said. “I have signed oaths pledging not to disclose any of that information. This is an oath I have taken very seriously, and I’ve always abided by it.”
Like all members of Congress, she also took an oath of office “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” but clearly that pledge took a back seat to defending the secrets of an agency known throughout the world as Murder Inc. Her oath would not have stopped her from denouncing torture in 2003, if she had really opposed it.

Nancy didn't claim she was lied to this time.  Which is a shame because she would have had a better chance of making that claim stick.  Dropping back to yesterday's Meet The Press (NBC) where the first segment featured journalist Glenn Greenwald.

GREENWALD:  Sure. I think the-- the key definition of a whistleblower is somebody who brings to light what political officials do in the dark that is either deceitful or illegal. And in this case, there is a New York Times article just this morning that describes that one of the revelations that he-- he-- he enabled that we reported is that the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, went before the U.S. Congress and lied outright when asked whether or not the NSA is collecting any form of data on millions of Americans. His response-- Director Clapper’s response was, “No, sir." As The New York Times said today, even Clapper has had to say that that statement was absolutely false. And the very first conversation I ever had with Mister Snowden, he showed me the folder in which he had placed the documents and labeled it, “NSA Lying to Congress,” that proved as we reported that the NSA is bulk collecting the phone records of millions of Americans indiscriminately, exactly what Clapper denied to the Congress was being done. As for illegality, The New York Times also said today that the bulk spying program exceeds the Patriot Act and there’s a FISA court opinion that says that the U.S. government, that the NSA engaged in unconstitutional and illegal spying on American citizens. That court opinion is secret, but he showed me documents discussing internally in the NSA what that court ruling is, and that should absolutely be public. 

GREGORY: With regard to that specific FISA opinion, isn’t the case, based on people that I’ve talked to, that the FISA opinion based on the government’s request is that they said, well, you can get this but you can’t get that. That would actually go beyond the scope of what you’re allowed to do, which means that the request was changed or denied, which is the whole point the government makes, which is that there is actual judicial review here and not abuse. Isn’t this the kind of review and opinion that you would want to keep these programs in line?
MR. GREENWALD: I don’t know what government officials are-- are whispering to you, David, but I know that the documents that I have in my possession and that I have read from the NSA tell a much different story which is that there was an 80-page opinion from the FISA court that said that what the NSA is doing in spying on American citizens is a violation of both the Fourth Amendment and the bounds of the statute. And it specifically said that they are collecting bulk transmissions, multiple conversations from millions of Americans, not just people that are believed to be involved in terrorist organizations or working for a foreign agent, and that this is illegal. And the NSA then planned to try and accommodate that ruling. But I think the real issue, as journalists and as citizens is, why should we have to guess, how can we have a democracy in which a secret court rules that what the government is doing in spying on us is a violation of the constitution and the law and yet we sit here and don’t know what that ruling is because it’s all been concealed and all been secret. I think we need to have transparency and disclosure, and that’s why Mister Snowden stepped forward so that we could have that.

And then came, what was for some, a shocking moment.  Toby Harnden (Times of London)  Tweeted the following about the televised moment.

    1. I was jailed by Mugabe's Zimbabwe for "practicing journalism". Is David Gregory saying Obama's America should do the same to ?

From NBC News' official transcript:

GREGORY: Final question before-- for you, but I’d like you to hang around. I just want to get Pete Williams in here as well. To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mister Greenwald, be charged with a crime? 

MR. GREENWALD: I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in anyway. The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the-- the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator with felony-- in felonies for working with sources. If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal, and it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. That’s why the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said investigative reporting has come to a standstill, her word, as a result of the theories that you just referenced. 

GREGORY: Well, the question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you’re doing and of course anybody who’s watching this understands I was asking a question.

I've shared this story here before.  I'll do it again now because it goes to an accurate point David Gregory made above: The question of who's a journalist may be up to a debate.

I agree.  For example, I wouldn't have spent a very long time on the phone January 12, 2004 if a journalist had been doing the 'White House beat' on NBC's Today.  But a journalist wasn't, David Gregory was.  It was the day before Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill.  And what did we learn that day from David Gregory?

What he hoped we would learn was that O'Neill was a thief who'd stolen government documents.  And we would be outraged.

But no documents were stolen.  And what we learned was that David Gregory will report on a book without even reading it's opening pages -- its there that its revealed that O'Neill requested and received from the White House his memos and writings on discs and that's what reproduced in the book.  And we learned that David Gregory wasn't really a journalist.  He was a dummy.  A ventriloquist's dummy.  He moved his lips and said what the White House wanted him to say.  As America saw yesterday, that's still what David Gregory does and he's well paid for it.  January 14, 2004, Today cleaned up David's mess by noting that O'Neill was given copies of the documents in the book -- given copies by the White House.  David always thinks that story will be forgotten.  Not while I'm around.  (I had an advanced copy that I'd already read of Suskind's book and my mouth dropped watching Gregory lie.  I was on the phone talking to everyone I knew at Today about how outrageous David's false charges were.)

Sunday was also when Ed Snowden left Hong Kong.  Any GPS attempts other than that have failed for the press.  Matt Berman (National Journal) offered, this morning,  "If the Edward Snowden saga is a Michael Bay movie that we are all just living in, on Sunday morning it would have passed over the believability abyss. That's when Snowden, the NSA leaker turned America's Most Wanted poster-boy, took a plane out of Hong Kong, en route to Russia, where he landed around 9:15 a.m. EST. Snowden is reportedly headed from there to Havana, Cuba on Monday. Originally, it looked like he was going from there to Caracas, Venezuela. Now, it appears he's off to Ecuador."

Is he on a flight to Cuba?  Reuters says no.

Hong Kong's Standard probably gets its right when they point out that he appears to have given the press the slip.  And maybe that was the whole point?

A magician doesn't disappear by saying, "Look right here and you'll see how I pull off this trick."  He or she misdirects and redirects. It was a point that arose last week on PRI's The World (link is audio and text):

Marco Werman: Frank Ahearn knows a thing or two about privacy. He’s made a career of finding people, collecting debts, serving papers, locating spouses who’ve skipped town. Reverse-engineered, this has also made Ahearn something of an expert on disappearing, and led him to a new career helping people drop off the grid. In fact, he’s written a book on it called, not surprisingly, How to Disappear. We tracked Frank Ahearn down in Portugal. It wasn’t too hard finding you, Frank. I’m sure you could make it hard if you wanted to. Give us first your disappearing act rating for Edward Snowden, the man who leaked the NSA surveillance business. How’s he done so far?

Frank Ahearn: Zero. He’s put–first, thanks for having me–he had a, he didn’t have a plan. He just picked up and split. And the problem is he’s looking to depend on a country to take him in, and you can’t always trust that country. I think if I was him, I would have just gone totally off the grid, disappeared for good.

Werman: So how do you actually make somebody disappear? How do you help them?

Ahearn: Well, the first question you always have to [answer] is how you going to make a living where you’re going, and once we can figure that part out. The best example is like the victim of a stalker who needs to leave because her ex is going to kill her or something like that. When you’re looking for somebody or looking to find someone you always look for the information they left behind so I kind of take that information and manipulate it, change her, deviate her name maybe on the utility company, you know, different forwarding addresses, different contact information, and then using online information for disinformation. You need to make sure that the person looking for them is looking in the wrong places. So they’re looking for the information you left behind, so for example I would have them open up a bank account and give me the debit card, and I would take that debit card, send it to a friend of mine in Toronto, and every Tuesday they’d go and buy stuff at the supermarket. Plus, I’ll have you apply for an apartment at a location online. It’s important to keep the predator looking.

In Hong Kong, James Pomfret and Greg Torode (Reuters) explain, Ed Snowden contemplated various actions:

But even as he worked with his team of lawyers, Snowden also was working another angle. He had made contact with the team from WikiLeaks, the loose-knit global group committed to disclosing secrets.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told reporters Monday that his organization paid for Snowden's lodging in Hong Kong and his flight out. Assange said that Snowden was "bound for Ecuador," via Russia and perhaps other countries as well.

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