Category - USA: Intel and Policy

U.S. Is Escalating a Secretive War in Afghanistan

Data From Seized Computer Fuels a Surge in U.S. Raids on Al Qaeda

New York Times, By Matthew Rosenberg & Eric Schmitt, February 12

Washington — As an October chill fell on the mountain passes that separate the militant havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a small team of Afghan intelligence commandos and American Special Operations forces descended on a village where they believed a leader of Al Qaeda was hiding.

That night the Afghans and Americans got their man, Abu Bara al-Kuwaiti. They also came away with what officials from both countries say was an even bigger prize: a laptop computer and files detailing Qaeda operations on both sides of the border.

American military officials said the intelligence seized in the raid was possibly as significant as the information found in the computer and documents of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after members of the Navy SEALs killed him in 2011.

In the months since, the trove of intelligence has helped fuel a significant increase in night raids by American Special Operations forces and Afghan intelligence commandos, Afghan and American officials said.

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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Edward Snowden won’t be pressured to end asylum, Russia says

CNN, By Elise Labott and Mariano Castillo, January 24

Edward Snowden may stay in Russia longer than first thought.

Snowden has said the time isn’t right for him to return to the United States, where he could face criminal charges for leaking classified information. Russia gave him asylum for a year.

Now Russia says it will continue to extend asylum protections to Snowden and won’t send him back home.

That word came Friday from Alexy Pushkov, a legislator who is head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Duma, Russia’s lower house. He spoke about Snowden at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Inside Information That Could Have Stopped 9/11

Newsweek, By Jeff Stein, January 14

Just before Christmas, former FBI special agent Mark Rossini greeted me with his usual good cheer when we met for drinks in a midtown Manhattan restaurant. He told me his life had finally taken a turn for the better. He’s spending most of his time in Switzerland, where he works for a private global corporate-security firm. “Life’s good,” he said.

Good, but with a few major changes. Rossini was drinking club soda instead of the expensive cabernets he quaffed when I first knew him as a high-flying FBI official in Washington a decade ago, when he was a special assistant to the bureau’s chief spokesman, John Miller (now with the New York City Police Department). “I’ve cut back,” he said. “Feeling good.”
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Condoleezza Rice Testifies on Urging The Times to Not Run Article

New York Times, By Matt Apuzzo, January 15

Washington — White House officials favor two primary tactics when they want to kill a news article, Condoleezza Rice, the former national security adviser, testified Thursday: They can essentially confirm the report by arguing that it is too important to national security to be published, or they can say that the reporter has it wrong.

Sitting across from a reporter and editor from The New York Times in early 2003, Ms. Rice said, she tried both.

Testifying in the leak trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer, Ms. Rice described how the White House successfully persuaded Times editors not to publish an article about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. James Risen, a Times reporter, ultimately revealed the program in his 2006 book, “State of War,” and said that the C.I.A. had botched the operation. Prosecutors used Ms. Rice’s testimony to bolster their case that the leak to Mr. Risen had harmed national security.

Republican senator Ted Cruz to oversee Nasa in Congress

The Guardian, By Alan Yuhas, January 12

New York – Senator Ted Cruz will chair the committee that oversees science and Nasa in the new Republican-controlled Congress, raising fears that the conservative Texan will cut funding to the space agency and science programs.

Cruz’s appointment to the space, science and competitiveness subcommittee comes amid a broad shift of power in the Senate, where the GOP won a majority in the 2014 midterm elections. Cruz was the top Republican on the subcommittee before the elections.

He has publicly stated support for Nasa but has also attempted at least once to cut the agency’s funding, arguing that larger government cuts necessitated changes to the space program’s budget. In 2013, Cruz both tried to reduce Nasa’s budget and said: “It’s critical that the United States ensure its continued leadership in space.”

Cruz has constituents invested in the space agency’s future – for instance, Nasa employees and contractors at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Cruz has also spoken out against decades of science that indicate climate change, telling CNN last year that in “the last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming” to support “a so-called scientific theory”. His vociferous opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and his support of extreme budget cuts could spell trouble for Nasa’s less prominent programs, such as its own climate research and sophisticated supercomputers.

Reaching Outside C.I.A., Obama Picks Treasury Official to Become Agency’s No. 2

New York Times, By Mark Mazzetti, January 9

Washington — President Obama has chosen the Treasury Department official who has directed the effort to cut off funding of the Islamic State and impose economic sanctions on Syria, Russia and Iran to become the C.I.A.’s deputy director, the agency announced on Friday.

The official, David S. Cohen, who as under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence has spent more than three years in charge of the Obama administration’s attempts to punish foreign governments and cripple terrorist groups, will help lead an agency that remains at the center of armed drone campaigns and covert efforts to arm and train Syrian rebels.

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, said in a statement that Mr. Cohen brings a “wealth of experience on many of the issues that we focus on as an agency” — such as money laundering, financial support for terrorism and narcotics trafficking.

In the past, the C.I.A.’s No. 2 job, which does not require Senate confirmation, has often been filled by agency veterans or senior military officers. Mr. Cohen, a lawyer who has no previous C.I.A. experience, will replace Avril D. Haines, who left the C.I.A. to become Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

F.B.I. Is Broadening Surveillance Role, Report Shows

New York Times, By Charlie Savage, January 11

Washington — Although the government’s warrantless surveillance program is associated with the National Security Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has gradually become a significant player in administering it, a newly declassified report shows.

In 2008, according to the report, the F.B.I. assumed the power to review email accounts the N.S.A. wanted to collect through the “Prism” system, which collects emails of foreigners from providers like Yahoo and Google. The bureau’s top lawyer, Valerie E. Caproni, who is now a Federal District Court judge, developed procedures to make sure no such accounts belonged to Americans.

Then, in October 2009, the F.B.I. started retaining copies of unprocessed communications gathered without a warrant to analyze for its own purposes. And in April 2012, the bureau began nominating new email accounts and phone numbers belonging to foreigners for collection, including through the N.S.A.’s “upstream” system, which collects communications transiting network switches.

That information is in a 231-page study by the Justice Department’s inspector general about the F.B.I.’s activities under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which authorized the surveillance program. The report was entirely classified [PDF] when completed in September 2012. But the government has now made a semi-redacted version of the report public in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by The New York Times.

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.

Billion Dollar Surveillance Blimp to Launch over Maryland

The Intercept, By Dan Froomkin, December 17

In just a few days, the Army will launch the first of two massive blimps over Maryland, the last gasp of an 18-year-long $2.8-billion Army project intended to use giant airships to defend against cruise missiles.

And while the blimps may never stave off a barrage of enemy missiles, their ability to spot and track cars, trucks and boats hundreds of miles away is raising serious privacy concerns.

The project is called JLENS – or “Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System.” And you couldn’t come up with a better metaphor for wildly inflated defense contracts, a ponderous Pentagon bureaucracy, and the U.S. surveillance leviathan all in one.

Built by the Raytheon Company, the JLENS blimps operate as a pair. One provides omnipresent high-resolution 360-degree radar coverage up to 340 miles in any direction; the other can focus on specific threats and provide targeting information.

Technically considered aerostats, since they are tethered to mooring stations, these lighter-than-air vehicles will hover at a height of 10,000 feet just off Interstate 95, about 45 miles northeast of Washington, D.C., and about 20 miles from Baltimore. That means they can watch what’s happening from North Carolina to Boston, or an area the size of Texas.

US Senate Torture Report publication countdown

12/8/2014 (originally posted Dec 8th, 10:37 pm)

House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said that the release of a Senate report examining the use of torture by the CIA a decade ago will cause violence and deaths abroad.


12/9/2014 (originally posted Dec 9th,13:37 pm)

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, defended her push to release the report on the interrogation program, saying that though she was concerned that the new information could draw violent reactions around the world, it was a necessary step for the United States to move beyond a dark period in its past.

Update: (via EmptyWheel). Reports released include:

The SSCI Torture Report
The Minority Response to SSCI Torture Report
Dianne Feinstein’s Statement

Federal appeals court spares mentally ill man from execution – for now

Al Jazeera, By Lauren Carasik, December 4

On Wednesday, hours before his scheduled execution, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay for Scott Panetti, 56, amid a national outcry about the legality and morality of killing an inmate with a 35-year history of severe mental illness. Panetti’s guilt is not in doubt. In 1992, he shaved his head, donned military fatigues, grabbed a hunting rifle and shot his wife’s parents in their home as she and their daughter watched in horror.

Panetti’s long history of mental illness is well documented: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia more than a decade before the murders, and he was hospitalized, often involuntarily, more than a dozen times. Panetti’s lawyers maintain he did not have a “rational understanding” of the reasons for his impending execution, as required by a 2007 Supreme Court decision (PDF) on his case. Panetti claimed that the state of Texas wants to execute him for preaching the Gospel to other inmates, not in retribution for the murders he committed. But the state insists Panetti is malingering and clearly understands that the state intended to kill him and why. The planned execution has engendered a divisive debate about the United States’ evolving aversion to the death penalty, especially for those whose are severely impaired by mental illness.

Panetti was sentenced to death in 1995 after a circuslike trial that hardly represented a fair adjudication of his competence and culpability. Beset by paranoia, he dismissed his court-appointed counsel and represented himself. He proceeded to dress in purple cowboy attire and subpoenaed more than 200 witnesses, including Jesus Christ, the Pope and John F. Kennedy. At times, he testified as his alter ego “Sarge” to whom he attributed the murders, recounting the day in disjointed third-person ramblings. His standby counsel at the time characterized the trial as a “judicial farce and a mockery of self-representation.” It is incomprehensible how a judge intimately familiar with Panetti’s mental health history and bizarre conduct would allow him to represent himself in a proceeding to determine his fate.

Since then, Panetti and his attorneys waged a lengthy and circuitous legal battle to reverse the ruling. In August 2013 the conservative 5th Circuit appeared to reason that because he was sane enough to argue that he was mentally unfit for execution, he was not ill enough to be spared lethal injection.

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