The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

House intel bill adds $75 million to NSA budget to stop future Snowdens | Ars

On Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee approved a spending bill to fund the National Security Agency and other intelligence organizations. Included in the bill is a provision that would set aside $75 million for the NSA to improve its internal security and mitigate insider threats to classified material. In other words, the bill seeks to prevent future Edward Snowdens.

The CIA’s Resistance to 6,300-Page Report on the Agency’s Use of Torture | The Dissenter

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence produced a 6,300-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that has still not been declassified in some form for the public to read. And, now New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer has reported on an episode involving the confirmation of a former high-ranking CIA lawyer to serve in a similar position at the Pentagon.

Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, who serves on the intelligence committee and has been openly campaigning for the report to be released, put a “hold” on Stephen W. Preston’s confirmation. He placed the hold to get Preston to answer some questions about a conflict that has been ongoing between the CIA and the committee particularly over the report that addresses the CIA’s use of torture techniques under President George W. Bush.

Mayer obtained a copy of Preston’s answers to seven questions Udall asked. The answers suggest, as of August 9, the CIA had probably still not bothered to read the 6,300-page report.

The CIA has had since December 14, 2012, when the committee provided a copy of the report to the agency, to respond. It was given a deadline of February 15, 2013. However, “no one person at the CIA has read the full 6,300-page Committee Study.” What they have responded to is bullet points in a small 50-page summary within the report and not even a 300-page Executive Summary.

Preston explained to Udall the agency had undertaken a review and responded to to it to the “full extent believed possible given its volume and that of the underlying record material, and given very limited time constraints, imposed originally by the Committee’s 60-day deadline and, once that was exceeded, by the practical imperative to respond expeditiously following the appointment of a new Director”—John Brennan.

The acting director at the time “adopted a team approach, relying on a group of experienced intelligence officers, rather than a single individual, to conduct the review and prepare comments. He deemed it impractical to respond on a line-by-line basis to the 6,300-page report in any reasonable timeframe, so he directed the team to focus on the study’s 20 conclusions and conduct a ‘deep dive’ on a substantial portion of the study viewed as the basis for a number of the study’s central conclusions.”

Is that somehow supposed to excuse the fact that nobody read the entire report? [++]

Senators demand NSA correct inaccurate claims over privacy protections | Spencer Ackerman

Two senators on the intelligence committee on Monday accused the National Security Agency of publicly presenting “inaccurate” information about the privacy protections on its surveillance on millions of internet communications.

However, in a demonstration of the intense secrecy surrounding NSA surveillance even after Edward Snowden’s revelations, the senators claimed they could not publicly identify the allegedly misleading section or sections of a factsheet without compromising classified information.

Senators Ron Wyden (Democrat, Oregon) and Mark Udall (Democrat, Colorado) wrote to General Keith Alexander, the director of the , to correct “inaccurate” portrayals about restrictions on surveillance published in a factsheet available on the NSA’s homepage. The factsheet, concerning NSA’s powers under Section 702 of the 2008 Amendments Act, was also supplied to members of Congress.

“We were disappointed to see that this factsheet contains an inaccurate statement about how the section 702 authority has been interpreted by the US government,” Wyden and Udall wrote to Alexander, in a letter dated 24 June and acquired by the Guardian.

“In our judgment, this inaccuracy is significant, as it portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being significantly stronger than they actually are,” the senators write. Yet they specified the “inaccurate” statement only in “the classified attachment to this letter”, which the Guardian did not acquire.

Tom Caiazza, a spokesman for Wyden, said: “Unfortunately, we can’t describe the inaccuracy in detail without divulging information that is currently classified. For now we can say that there is an inaccurate statement in the fact sheet publicly released and posted on the website that portrays protections for Americans’ privacy as being stronger than they are.” [++]

Senators Vow Support for ‘Decisive’ Attack on Syria | Jason Ditz

Hawks gonna hawk:

President Obama’s intention to start sending weapons to the Syrian rebels is no longer enough, insisted three hawkish US Senators in an open letter (pdf) to the White House today.

In the letter, Sens. Bob Menendez (D – NJ), Carl Levin (D – MI), and John McCain (R – AZ) called for the US to launch “decisive” military attacks on Syria, including air strikes against several sites.

The assured Obama of broad “bipartisan support”* for any military attacks launched against Syria, and insisted that if he really supported peace talks he should attack Syria first to make it easier to negotiate.

They went on to insist that the US had “national security interests” in imposing a settlement in Syria through military force, saying anything short of this would be a “victory” for Iran.

* Nevermind that public support for intervention is essentially non-existent.

Congressional Committee Gives Snowden Show Trial for Aiding the Enemy & Conspiring to Commit Espionage | Kevin Gosztola

[…] Congress members like Feinstein, Ruppersberger and Rogers cannot provide oversight because they are fawning supporters of [the NSA programs exposed by Edward Snowden] and their devotion to policies and programs blinds them to any defects that might make abuses of authority and violations of civil liberties likely to occur. Therefore, when someone like Snowden engages in an act of conscience and risks his livelihood and future so the public can know what their government is doing, their reaction is not to embrace debate but to shift into overdrive, as they assist government agencies like the NSA (which is now facing scrutiny) with a public relations campaign carefully staged to calm the population.

And members of Congress work hand-in-hand with national security agencies to cast a whistleblower like Snowden as a traitor or espionage actor who aided enemies in a public prosecution before he ever gets before a judge, who actually has the legitimate authority to decide whether he committed a crime that could have aided an enemy, advantaged a foreign nation or endangered American lives.

Senate Staffers Told To Pretend Top Secret Documents Are Not Widely Available On Web

The Senate Security Office sent an email around the Hill Friday afternoon asking Senate employees and contractors to try to ignore the fact that top-secret, highly-classified documents are now floating around the Web freely (and, in the case of a terribly designed NSA Powerpoint, getting facelifts.) The email asks security managers to remind Senate employees and contractors that the documents are still technically classified and should be treated as if millions of people haven’t already read them.

The Food Stamp Fight | Dean Baker

Congress is debating whether to cut the Food Stamp program, the government’s main nutrition program for low-income families. The coverage of this debate is a great example of “fraternity reporting,” that is reporting that shows you are a member of the reporters fraternity but has nothing to do with informing the audience.

We see this by the convention of referring to the $80 billion annual budget for the program (here for example). It is standard practice to refer to the dollar amount being spent on the program, pretending that this is actually providing information to readers.

As a practical matter, almost no one has a clear sense of how much much $80 billion a year is. They don’t have their heads in budget documents. (Yes, I know the Post has a well-educated readership, but it doesn’t matter.) It would mean pretty much the same thing to the vast majority of readers if the number was $8 billion or $800 billion. Often budget numbers appear without even telling the readers the number of years being covered.

If the standard practice was to write the numbers as a percent of total spending it would be providing actual information to a large percentage of its readers. In this case, current spending on Food Stamps is a bit over 2.2 percent of total spending. This figure is bloated by the downturn, since people qualify for benefits based on their income and many of the unemployed or underemployed qualify. (Contrary to Republican claims, President Obama did not ease the eligibility rules for food stamps.) The projections show that spending on food stamps will fall to 1.2 percent of the budget over the next decade as unemployment falls back to more normal levels.

It would be useful if we had a debate based on an informed public, with the country actually having a sense of how much food stamps and other programs cost. However, as long as fraternity reporting is the norm, large segments of the public will continue to believe that half of the budget is going to pay for food stamps.

Congress Moves Toward Full Trade Embargo on Iran | LobeLog

Congress moved closer here Wednesday to imposing a full trade embargo against Iran and pledged its support to Israel if it felt compelled to attack Tehran’s nuclear programme in self-defence.

The Senate voted 99-0 to adopt a resolution that urged President Barack Obama to fully enforce existing economic sanctions against Iran and to “provide diplomatic, military and economic support” to Israel “in its defense of its territory, people and existence”.

Washington, it said, should support Israel “in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force” if Israel “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

The measure also re-affirmed the official policy of the administration of President Barack Obama that it would take whatever action necessary to “prevent” Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

At the same time, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Republican-led House of Representatives unanimously approved new sanctions legislation that, if passed into law, would blacklist foreign countries or companies that fail to reduce their oil imports from Iran to virtually nil within 180 days.

The same bill would expand the current blacklisting of companies that do business with Iran’s financial sector to include those engaged in the country’s automotive and mining sectors, as well.

In perhaps its most controversial section, the bill also eliminates President Obama’s ability to waive most sanctions for national-interest or national-security reasons. [++]

Yet, in the fine print, the agency also effectively empowered a handful of select banks to continue controlling the $700 trillion derivatives market. … Just five banks hold more than 90 percent of all derivatives contracts.

Regulators Overhaul Derivatives Market, but With a Caveat | NYTimes.com

$700 trillion derivatives market”

More: Deja Vu on the Hill: Wall Street Lobbyists Roll Back Finance Reform, Again by Matt Taibbi

I asked [former DoD legal counsel Harold] Koh why the White House has so regularly deferred to the CIA on issues of transparency and accountability. Koh pointed out that the CIA’s concern that exposing past bad acts could serve as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda was hardly trivial [w/e]. But, he said of the White House: ‘They don’t have a good balancing mechanism on the value of disclosures. It’s almost like if nobody’s clamoring for it, the pressure can be resisted.’ The pressure comes from the outside — from the press, from civil-liberties groups, and activists — but not from the inside. So the CIA carries the day. … And yet it’s not too late to expose, and learn from, the sorry history of the last decade. Last December, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a 6,000-page report on the finding of its secret investigation into the treatment of detainees. The report, which has not been made public, describes the CIA’s detention program in minute detail. Among other things, it puts to rest the canard that torture works. Out With It | James Traub

The Folks Who Brought You Military Detention in the NDAA Are Rewriting the AUMF | emptywheel

Yesterday, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced a hearing to revisit the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force. In addition to a bunch of DOD figures (but not the recently departed Jeh Johnson, the DOD-connected person who said the most interesting things about the AUMF), it’ll have (I’ve linked their most salient comments on the AUMF):

Rosa Brooks, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center

Geoffrey Corn, Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law

Jack Goldsmith, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

Charles Stimson, Manager, National Security Law Program, The Heritage Foundation

Curiously, John Bellinger who (as far as I understand) started the discussion of a new AUMF is not slated to testify. Also note that the Deputy Director of Special Operations for Counterterrorism will testify, but no one from CIA is scheduled to; while JSOC can operate under the President’s inherent authority, it likely prefers the legal cover of an AUMF (and therefore may be one of the entities pushing for an AUMF that matches reality on the ground).

Politico reports that this hearing is more than speculative: Levin and no-longer-SASC-Ranking-Member-but-he-might-as-well-be John McCain are planning to rewrite the AUMF, with help from Bob Corker, Dick Durbin, and Lindsey “all detainees must be military” Graham.

And if the inclusion of Graham in that group doesn’t scare you, remember that this crowd is substantively the same one that enshrined military detention in 2012’s NDAA. While that effort might be regarded as “reasonable” Carl Levin and John McCain’s attempt to present something more reasonable than House Armed Services Committee Buck McKeon was pushing for, and while the NDAA originally included exceptions for US citizens, in the event, the White House pushed Carl Levin to effectively rubber stamp its claims to unlimited authority, including detaining (or killing) US citizens.

[…]

Ultimately, though, what is likely to happen with this debate is that all players will be unwilling to discuss openly what we’ve actually been doing in the name of war against al Qaeda, up to and including waging war in the “homeland.” That’s one thing the 2001 AUMF was written to exclude. And I can almost guarantee you, it’s an authority the President will want to preserve.

In reality, of course, about the only things that would be ‘destabilized’ if [Too-Big-To-Fail] ended would be the compensation packages for a small group of overpaid banking executives like Jamie Dimon. Another consequence might be that ratings agencies would actually have to work for a living, and earn reputations for honesty and integrity in the market, instead of getting endless streams of free money from big banks to give sparkly AAA ratings to every half-baked security or derivative instrument their obese, Fed-fattened clients cranked out.

Too-Big-To-Fail takes another body blow

Matt Taibbi writes about the new anti-TBTF legislation floated by Sherrod Brown and, rightly, takes the shit-heels at Standard and Poor’s to task for attempting to quash it.