Category - USA: Homeland Security

The Obama Arms Bazaar

Counterpunch, By William D. Hartung, April 3-5

With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.

The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
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Muslim American caught up in post-9/11 sweep gets an apology

Los Angeles Times, By Richard A. Serrano, February 14

Abdullah al-Kidd approached the Dulles International Airport ticket counter in March 2003 expecting to catch a flight to Saudi Arabia to study Arabic and Islamic law.

Instead, federal agents slapped handcuffs on the Kansas-born former University of Idaho running back.

He spent the next 16 days in three jails without criminal charges on a warrant as a potential witness in a terrorism-related case. He was shackled, strip-searched and confined in a cell.

The government’s case eventually fell apart, but not before the husband and father had lost his family and livelihood.

More than a decade later, the U.S. government has presented Kidd with something rarely seen in the U.S. war against terrorism: an apology.

Millions of cars tracked across US in ‘massive’ real-time spying program

American Civil Liberties Union warns scanning of license plates by Drug Enforcement Agency is building a repository of all drivers’ movements.

The Guardian, By Rory Carroll, January 26

Los Angeles – The United States government is tracking the movement of vehicles around the country in a clandestine intelligence-gathering programme that has been condemned as a further official exercise to build a database on people’s lives.

The Drug Enforcement Administration was monitoring license plates on a “massive” scale, giving rise to “major civil liberties concerns”, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday night, citing DEA documents obtained under freedom of information.

“This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with ACLU, told the Guardian.

“On this as on so many surveillance issues, we can take action, put in place some common sense limits or sit back and let our society be transformed into a place we won’t recognize – or probably much like.”

[…]

The primary goal was to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking but the database expanded to monitor vehicles associated with other potential crimes, it said.

How the CIA made Google

Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet—

Medium, By Nafeez Ahmed, January 22

INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority.’
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How Guantanamo Became America’s Interrogation ‘Battle Lab’

Vice News, By Jason Leopold, January 11

More than 13 years ago, as the US government struggled to figure out what to do with hundreds of “suspected terrorists” it either captured or acquired in exchange for bounties, someone in the Bush administration floated the idea of shipping them to the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

“It’s the legal equivalent of outer space,” one official remarked.
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Congress Passes Bill Giving Police Unlimited Access to Citizens’ Private Communications

“One of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative: It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.”

The Free Thought Project, By Jay Syrmopoulos, December 11

Washington, DC – In a sneak attack on the civil liberties of all Americans, the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015 was rushed to the House floor with a dangerous Senate amendment added to section 309 with virtually no debate.

The legislation was scheduled for only a “voice vote,” which means that it is simply declared “passed” with voice votes and no record.

This is considered the simplest and quickest voting method, not what one would expect from such an important piece of legislation. For most pieces of major legislation, a roll call vote would be the standard operating procedure.

Thankfully, Representative Justin Amash, when catching wind of what was transpiring, went to the House floor to demand a roll call vote so that everyone would have to have their vote recorded.

The fact that this important piece of legislation was handled in this way indicates that this was done intentionally to sneak it past the public eye. It becomes even more suspicious when you realize that it was done concurrently with the CIA torture report being released and the Gruber hearing.

EFF: EFF Statement on the 2015 Intelligence Authorization Bill
Congress.gov: H.R.4681 – Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 – this site indicates that this bill has become law…

Sec. 309) Requires each element of the intelligence community to adopt Attorney General-approved procedures for any intelligence collection activity not otherwise authorized by court order or subpoena that is reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of nonpublic telephone or electronic communications to or from a U.S. person, including communications in electronic storage, without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication.

Requires the procedures to permit acquisition, retention, and dissemination of such communications but prohibit retention in excess of five years unless:

  • the communication constitutes, or is necessary to understand or assess, foreign intelligence or counterintelligence;
  • the communication constitutes evidence of a crime and is retained by a law enforcement agency;
  • the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning;
  • all parties to the communication are reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons;
  • retention is necessary to protect against an imminent threat to human life (in which case the information must be reported to Congress within 30 days of the date such retention is extended) or for technical assurance or compliance purposes, including a court order or discovery obligation (in which case the information must be reported to Congress annually); or
  • the head of an element of the intelligence community approves retention for a period in excess of five years if necessary to protect U.S. national security.

Requires the head of an element approving retention in excess of five years for national security purposes to certify to Congress: (1) the reasons extended retention is necessary to protect U.S. national security, (2) the duration of the retention, (3) the particular information to be retained, and (4) the measures being taken to protect the privacy interests of U.S. persons or persons located inside the United States.

Telesur: US Lawmakers Pass Spending Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

Another controversial aspect of the bill was that it failed to include a Senate Defense Appropriations panel measure that would have required the National Security Agency to report to Congress on its bulk phone metadata program.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Reps also approved a separate policy bill called the “Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015,” for U.S. spy agencies on Wednesday, which permits “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of Americans’ communications without a court order or subpoena.

Carefully buried in the law is “a troubling new provision that for the first time statutorily authorizes spying on U.S. citizens without legal process,” (Rep.) Justin Amash told lawmakers.

“It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American,” Amash explains.

Network World: Congress gave feds the gift of constitutional spying on Americans’ communications

Our New Politics of Torture

NYRB, Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakin, December 30

New York Review contributor Mark Danner has been writing about the use of torture by the US government since the first years after September 11. Following the release this month of the Senate’s report on the CIA torture program, Hugh Eakin spoke to Danner about some of the most startling findings of the investigation and what it reveals about the continued political debate surrounding the program.
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U.S. sends five Guantanamo prisoners to Kazakhstan for resettlement

Reuters, By Matt Spetalnick, December 31

Three Yemenis and two Tunisians held for more than a decade at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo have been flown to Kazakhstan for resettlement, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, the latest in a series of prisoner transfers aimed at closing the facility.

The transfer of the five men followed a recent pledge by President Barack Obama for a stepped-up push to shut the internationally condemned detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba where most prisoners have been held without being charged or tried.

The U.S. government has moved 28 prisoners out of Guantanamo this year – the largest number since 2009 – and a senior U.S. official said the quickened pace would continue with further transfers expected in coming weeks.

Kazakhstan’s acceptance of the five followed extensive negotiations, the official said. Though the oil-rich central Asian state is an ally of Russia, it has cultivated areas of economic and diplomatic cooperation with the West.

How Fear Of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.

ProPublica, By Justin Elliott & Jesse Eisinger, December 11

In the days after Superstorm Sandy, relief organizations were overwhelmed by the chaos and enormous need. One group quickly emerged as a bright spot. While victims in New York’s hardest hit neighborhoods were stuck in the cold and dark, volunteers from the spontaneously formed Occupy Sandy became a widely praised lifeline.

Occupy Sandy was “one of the leading humanitarian groups providing relief to survivors across New York City and New Jersey,” as a government-commissioned study put it.

Yet the Red Cross, which was bungling its own aid efforts after the storm, made a decision that further hampered relief: Senior officials told staffers not to work with Occupy Sandy.

Red Cross officials had no concerns about Occupy Sandy’s effectiveness. Rather, they were worried about the group’s connections to the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.

Three Red Cross responders told ProPublica there was a ban. “We were told not to interact with Occupy,” says one. While the Red Cross often didn’t know where to send food, Occupy Sandy “had what we didn’t: minute-by-minute information,” another volunteer says.

2003 CIA cable casts doubt on claim linking Iraq to 9/11

CNN, By Gabe LaMonica, December 12

A recently released CIA cable casts heavy doubt on a key claim used by the Bush administration to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

It discounts intelligence that said Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 ringleaders, met with an Iraqi official in the Czech Republic a few months before the attacks.

The Bush administration — which maintained that Atta had met with Iraqi agent Ahmad al-Anian in Prague in April 2001 — had used the report to link the September 11 attacks to Iraq.

CIA Director John Brennan included a portion of the cable in a letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan. Levin, the retiring chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, made the letter public on Thursday.
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Six Guantanamo detainees transferred to Uruguay as Obama works to close prison

Washington Post, By Adam Goldman, December 7

Six detainees held at the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were finally transferred to Uruguay over the weekend, months after the South American country had agreed to accept the men, the Pentagon announced Sunday.

The detainees included a Tunisian, a Palestinian and four Syrians who were captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan more than a decade ago and turned over to U.S. forces. This was the largest single transfer of detainees since 2009.

One of the men, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who has been on hunger strike, is at the center of litigation in federal court in the District of Columbia involving the possible release of videos showing him being force-fed.

“We are very grateful to Uruguay for this important humanitarian action, and to President [José ‘Pepe’] Mujica for his strong leadership in providing a home for individuals who cannot return to their own countries,” said Clifford Sloan, the State Department’s special envoy tasked with closing the prison.

“This transfer is a major milestone in our efforts to close the facility,” Sloan added.

Airport and border screening exempt from new federal restrictions on racial profiling: Washington Post

Reuters, By Bill Trott, December 6

New federal restrictions on racial profiling will still allow some officials to use the controversial practice along the southwestern U.S. border and in screening of airline passengers, the Washington Post said.

The rules will ban racial profiling from national security cases for the first time and will bar the FBI from considering religion and national origin when opening a case, the newspaper said.

The guidelines have been the subject of sharp debate within President Barack Obama’s administration concerning which agencies would be covered, the Post said. The FBI was concerned that they would hamper investigations while Department of Homeland Security officials argued that airport screeners and immigration and customs officials needed to consider many factors for the sake of security.

Sources told the Post the new policy will exempt the Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport screening. The Customs and Border Protection agency also will be allowed to use racial profiling in inspections at ports of entry and interdictions along the border, officials said.

Washington Post: Racial profiling will still be allowed at airports, along border despite new policy

FBI demands new powers to hack into computers and carry out surveillance

Agency requests rule change but civil liberties groups say ‘extremely invasive’ technique amounts to unconstitutional power grab.

The Guardian, By Ed Pilkington, October 29

New York – The FBI is attempting to persuade an obscure regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement in order to seize significant new powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers throughout the US and around the world.

Civil liberties groups warn that the proposed rule change amounts to a power grab by the agency that would ride roughshod over strict limits to searches and seizures laid out under the fourth amendment of the US constitution, as well as violate first amendment privacy rights. They have protested that the FBI is seeking to transform its cyber capabilities with minimal public debate and with no congressional oversight.

The regulatory body to which the Department of Justice has applied to make the rule change, the advisory committee on criminal rules, will meet for the first time on November 5 to discuss the issue. The panel will be addressed by a slew of technology experts and privacy advocates concerned about the possible ramifications were the proposals allowed to go into effect next year.

“This is a giant step forward for the FBI’s operational capabilities, without any consideration of the policy implications. To be seeking these powers at a time of heightened international concern about US surveillance is an especially brazen and potentially dangerous move,” said Ahmed Ghappour, an expert in computer law at University of California, Hastings college of the law, who will be addressing next week’s hearing.

Reporters Arrested!!!

How many exclamation points should be added to the headline above? I sure hope three is enough to reflect the shock of the news that reporters from both The Huffington Post and The Washington Post were arrested last night in Ferguson, Missouri. Worse – they were just doing their job, sitting at a McDonald’s, writing copy, when a SWAT patrol entered and ordered everyone in the restaurant to leave immediately. The reporters were arrested because they refused to give the police their names. Worst of all – one of the reporters had his head slammed into a window, entirely gratuitously, and was given no apology by the police!!!!

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Beyond Torture: The CIA’s Shameful Kidnapping of a 12-Year-Old Girl

The U.S. and U.K. collaborated to snatch Khadija al-Saadi’s family in Hong Kong and deliver them into the custody of a murderous dictator.

The Atlantic, By Conor Friedersdorf, August 7

President Obama is letting the CIA play a major part in censoring a report on brutal human-rights abuses perpetrated by CIA employees. This has always been self-evidently absurd: No possible arrangement would present a bigger conflict of interest. What many Americans might not know is that the CIA isn’t just intent on covering up torture. It’s also averse to the public knowing more about renditions, a euphemism for kidnapping people and handing them over to violent thugs.

A rendition victim is now speaking out to highlight this aspect of the controversy. Today, she’s a 23-year-old college student working toward a degree in the humanities. When her family was kidnapped she was a frightened 12-year-old girl.
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