The American Bear


Freedom Rider: The Burglary and COINTELPRO

In 1971 eight anti-war activists calling themselves the Citizens Committee to Investigate the FBI plotted to break into an FBI field office located in Media, Pennsylvania. They knew that the government was conducting a massive spying effort against American citizens and they were determined to find and publicly present their evidence.

On the night of March 8, 1971, they succeeded in stealing nearly every piece of paper in that office and later sent copies of key documents to the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. They also sent copies to two Democratic politicians, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and Congressman Parren Mitchell of Maryland. The New York and Los Angeles newspapers both turned the files over to the FBI and so did the two supposedly left leaning politicians. The Washington Post, at the time a decent newspaper, was alone in standing up to White House and FBI pressure when they reported the story.

Five of the eight burglars came forward and are the subjects of a newly published book, The Burglary: the Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, written by former Washington Post reporter Betty Medsger. The late William Davidon, John Raines, Bonnie Raines, Keith Forsyth, and Bob Williamson chose to publicly reveal their identities for the first time and in so doing have done yet another service to the public. Because of their actions the world found out about the government’s depth of hostility towards the left and black freedom movements and its determination to destroy them. By stepping forward so many years later they remind us that government surveillance is endemic to our political system and is not easily stamped out.

Betty Medsger revealed the lengths the government went to in order to destroy the liberation movement in particular. “Every FBI agent was required to hire at least one informer to report to him regularly on the activities of black people. In the District, every agent was required to hire six informers for that purpose. On one campus in the Philadelphia area, Swarthmore College, every black student was under surveillance.”

FBI informers reported on every meeting, every word and every action of members of the Black Panther Party, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other groups. FBI agents used informers to create dissension among activists and succeeded in weakening and destroying many organizations. Individuals were targeted for persecution and prosecution and some like the Omaha Two, Mondo we Langa and Edward Poindexter, are still imprisoned. Forty years ago they were set up by the FBI and local police and charged in the killing of a policeman in one of the last COINTELPRO prosecutions.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died peacefully in 1972, without having faced the investigations and scrutiny he ought to have faced in his lifetime. His power remained unchecked and the revelations of his worst acts were withheld from the public until after his death. Despite the document theft which took place in 1971 the word COINTELPRO didn’t become public until late 1973 when a reporter successfully under took a Freedom of Information Act request.

Had it not been for the burglars, we would never have known about the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program, COINTELPRO. Hoover had a special animus against black people and left no stone unturned in his efforts to destroy the freedom struggle. Internal divisions, feuds and even murders resulted from COINTELPRO whose stated purpose was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, and otherwise neutralize” activists across the country. Black panther party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were among those “neutralized” in 1969 by an FBI and Chicago police department assassination.

In time the rest of news media followed the Washington Post’s lead and revealed more about Hoover’s domestic surveillance and illegal activities. Senator Frank Church led congressional hearings in 1975 and 1976 which ultimately resulted in greater oversight of domestic and foreign surveillance programs.

It now seems that the media revelations and investigations were all for naught. Acquiescence and collusion among politicians, the judiciary and media have left Americans with fewer rights now than in 1971. Richard Nixon didn’t have the legal right to designate citizens as terrorists or order them to be killed. Now forty years later, Barack Obama has the legal right to do those things and more. He has the right to hold anyone without charge or trial indefinitely and the NSA has given the government access to phone and internet records of ordinary citizens and foreign leaders alike.

The story of the 1971 burglary is fascinating on many levels but the central point is very simple. It was citizen action, not governmental decree which revealed the illegal acts committed by the government. Even 40 years ago when there was a stronger journalistic ethic, most of the corporate media chose not to cover this story. Politicians who were supposedly progressive were equally cowardly and even traitorous when handed information they were required to investigate and prosecute.

Times have changed and not for the better. The government has more tools as its disposal to use against activist citizens. The law has long ceased to be on our side. … .

Has Morley Safer Ever Told John Miller This Story?: 'Look, If You Think Any American Official Is Going to Tell You the Truth, Then You're Stupid'

Everyone who watched the 60 Minutes segment on the NSA should follow it up with this story involving Morley Safer—who, at 82 years old, is still a correspondent at 60 Minutes.

In August, 1965 Safer appeared in what became one of most famous TV segments of the Vietnam War, showing U.S. troops setting fire to all the huts in a Vietnamese village with Zippo lighters and flamethrowers.

A year later in 1966, Safer wrote an article about what he’d seen first hand during a visit to Vietnam by Arthur Sylvester, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (i.e., the head of Pentagon PR). Sylvester met at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon with reporters for U.S. news outlets:

There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand—to say something that would jar us. He said:

"I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here," he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

A network television correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.”

"That’s exactly what I expect," came the reply.

An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian—about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

"Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that?—stupid."

One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam—a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea—suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

"Look, I don’t even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States."

At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.


Life After a Drone Strike | Interview with Director Madiha Tahir

The US isn’t the first Western nation to bomb Waziristan. As you note, the British did it in the 1920s. Do these campaigns have anything in common?

Yes, there are some things in common. Let me point out a difference first: the historian Priya Satia has observed that for the British creating terror through “air policing” — what it was called then — was considered humane because it would terrorize people into submission and therefore minimize the number of people they’d actually have to kill, or so they reasoned. For the US, that discourse has been replaced by claims about precision, accuracy and surgical strikes.

But, of course, the buzzing of the drones does create terror, particularly among those who have already been attacked or seen an attack. That’s the simplest link. More interestingly, there’s a kind of technophilia that’s part of the British and American effort. It has been part of the fantasy of empire ever since flight became a possibility. It’s the belief that flight — whether by airplanes or drones — can make total control of a territory possible. It’s the idea that flight equals omniscience, that territory is transparent, and that all one needs to do in order to understand it, is to see it by air. The British made that mistake, and the Americans are making it now. They have their heads in the clouds. They have failed to grasp the link between the violence they inflict and the response that they get. The British wrote off rebellions as part of the alleged innate savagery of Pashtuns rather than a reaction to their brutal colonial rule. The US now presumes the right to be the global policeman, to occupy and destroy entire countries, but then wonders “why do they hate us?” This is a question that reflects the utter, willful blindness of American power.

This is not to say that those fighting against the Americans in Afghanistan are simply anti-colonial warriors, because the insurgents have been ruthless to Waziris and Pakistanis more generally. But, at the level of imperial politics, there is a definite link between what the British did and what the US is attempting to do now.


Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress party were on the US terrorist watch list until 2008

Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress party were on the US terrorist watch list until 2008

Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress party were on the US terrorist watch list until 2008

remember this when the US government pretends to care about this great man.

The Security Council resolution would have to establish a process for inspections to verify Syrian compliance. The inspectors would need unfettered access to every chemical weapons site and total freedom of movement around Syria. Assad would need to take immediate steps to start transferring his weapons of mass destruction to international custody. The resolution would also need to lay out clear triggers for action, and clear timetables. … If the administration cannot certify that those conditions have been met, then the Russian plan would be considered a failure and Obama would be authorized to strike.

Senators recasting – not scrapping – Syria legislation

Iraq in the nineties, for example.

It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States’ knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched. CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran | Shane Harris and Matthew M. Aid

The idea of ‘place’ in a hierarchical society requires explanation of why the hierarchy is just, and therefore socially stable, or is a formula for political economic struggle. Given the history of race in America– kidnapped blacks forced into slavery by British and European whites followed by post Civil War strategies using ‘law’ to maintain the political economy of slavery without direct chattel relations, hardly suggests the racial (and class) hierarchy is just or stable. With the empty babble by American whites about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ ever-present in the context of historical strategies of domination, control and exclusion from democratic ‘processes’ of blacks, American whites claim rights and privileges for themselves they have no intention of granting to ‘others.’ As the ‘stand-your-ground’ law used to excuse the murder of Trayvon Martin, the racist policing under policies like New York City’s ‘stop-and-frisk,’ and the for-profit prison industrial complex illustrate, the political economy of racism is alive and is as destructive to human lives and dignity as ever. Rob Urie

Surveillance Blowback: The Making of the U.S. Surveillance State, 1898-2020 | Alfred McCoy

In 1898, Washington occupied the Philippines and in the years that followed pacified its rebellious people, in part by fashioning the world’s first full-scale “surveillance state” in a colonial land. The illiberal lessons learned there then migrated homeward, providing the basis for constructing America’s earliest internal security and surveillance apparatus during World War I. A half-century later, as protests mounted during the Vietnam War, the FBI, building on the foundations of that old security structure, launched large-scale illegal counterintelligence operations to harass antiwar activists, while President Richard Nixon’s White House created its own surveillance apparatus to target its domestic enemies.

In the aftermath of those wars, however, reformers pushed back against secret surveillance. Republican privacy advocates abolished much of President Woodrow Wilson’s security apparatus during the 1920s, and Democratic liberals in Congress created the FISA courts in the 1970s in an attempt to prevent any recurrence of President Nixon’s illegal domestic wiretapping.

Today, as Washington withdraws troops from the Greater Middle East, a sophisticated intelligence apparatus built for the pacification of Afghanistan and Iraq has come home to help create a twenty-first century surveillance state of unprecedented scope. But the past pattern that once checked the rise of a U.S. surveillance state seems to be breaking down. Despite talk about ending the war on terror one day, President Obama has left the historic pattern of partisan reforms far behind. In what has become a permanent state of “wartime” at home, the Obama administration is building upon the surveillance systems created in the Bush years to maintain U.S. global dominion in peace or war through a strategic, ever-widening edge in information control. The White House shows no sign — nor does Congress — of cutting back on construction of a powerful, global Panopticon that can surveil domestic dissidents, track terrorists, manipulate allied nations, monitor rival powers, counter hostile cyber strikes, launch preemptive cyberattacks, and protect domestic communications.

Writing for TomDispatch four years ago during Obama’s first months in office, I suggested that the War on Terror has “proven remarkably effective in building a technological template that could be just a few tweaks away from creating a domestic surveillance state — with omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nano-second biometric identification, and drone aircraft patrolling ‘the homeland.’”

That prediction has become our present reality — and with stunning speed. Americans now live under the Argus-eyed gaze of a digital surveillance state, while increasing numbers of surveillance drones fill American skies. In addition, the NSA’s net now reaches far beyond our borders, sweeping up the personal messages of many millions of people worldwide and penetrating the confidential official communications of at least 30 allied nations. The past has indeed proven prologue. The future is now. [++]

A Patriot Act History Lesson: How Prescient Warnings Were Mocked | Conor Friedersdorf

During the winter of 2006, the U.S. Senate was debating the re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act. The legislation would ultimately pass by a wide margin, and George W. Bush signed it into law. But before that could happen, civil libertarians led by then Senator Russ Feingold tried to amend the 2001 law. They warned that its overly broad language would permit government to pry into the privacy of innocent Americans, and warned about the likelihood of executive branch “fishing expeditions.”

Dismissive Senate colleagues scoffed at their concerns.

An exchange between Feingold and then Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona is illustrative of the way that civil libertarians warned of coming abuses, only to be dismissed as hysterics needlessly wasting Senate time.

The scene takes place on the Senate floor on February 16, 2006.

Feingold was trying to amend the PATRIOT Act, arguing that Section 215, a part of the law core to the NSA controversy, gives the government “extremely broad powers to secretly obtain people’s business records.”

Said Feingold:

The Senate bill would have required that the government prove to a judge that the records it sought had some link to suspected terrorists or spies or their activities. The conference report does not include this requirement. Now, the conference report does contain some improvements to Section 215, at least around the edges. It contains minimization requirements, meaning that the executive branch has to set rules for whether and how to retain and share information about U.S. citizens and permanent residents obtained from the records. And it requires clearance from a senior FBI official before the government can seek to obtain particularly sensitive records like library, gun and medical records.

But the core issue with Section 215 is the standard for obtaining these records in the first place. Neither the minimization procedures nor the high level signoff changes the fact that the government can still obtain sensitive business records of innocent, law-abiding Americans. The standard in the conference report - “relevance” — will still allow government fishing expeditions. That is unacceptable.

He went on:

Next, let me turn to judicial review of these Section 215 orders. After all, if we’re going to give the government such intrusive powers, we should at least people go to a judge to challenge the order. The conference report does provide for this judicial review. But it would require that the judicial review be conducted in secret, and that government submissions not be shared with the challenger under any circumstances, without regard for whether there are national security concerns in any particular case. This would make it very difficult for a challenger to get meaningful judicial review that comports with due process.

Today we know that Section 215 has been invoked by the government to obtain call data on all Verizon customers, and has very likely been used to collect data on tens or hundreds of millions of Americans who are customers of all the major telecom carriers. Feingold was exactly correct: the sensitive business records of innocent, law-abiding Americans were seized because the minimization standard, “relevance,” turns out not to minimize affected Americans at all. Additionally, it has so far proved not just very difficult, but impossible to get meaningful judicial review.

But back in 2006, when Feingold remained a lonely voice in opposition to PATRIOT Act re-authorization, look at how Senator Kyl, speaking on the same day, derisively dismissed his concerns.

Said Kyl, opposing Feingold’s suggested amendments:

“There is no basis for delaying the PATRIOT Act.”

… “What can be gained from this? Nothing at all except that we waste more time thus making it more likely that we will not have time to do other business of the Senate, especially as it gets toward adjournment later on in the year.”

… “I often wonder what Osama bin Laden is thinking. I suspect he is not getting live coverage, but he is probably getting reports somehow or other, and he must be shaking his head: I thought I was pretty clear, I am really making threats against these guys, and they are playing around. They are not taking my threats seriously.”

… “I wanted to examine a couple of amendments our colleague from Wisconsin would have offered to illustrate it is not something we should be wasting our time on… I thought I would take two of the amendments—we are not going to be debating the amendments, but this is the kind of thing raised as an objection to the PATRIOT Act—the kind of amendments that would be offered. It shows how unnecessary this approach is.”

… “This amendment would strip away the protections for classified information about suspected terrorists and terrorist organizations… The amendment not only risks revealing our level of knowledge of our data collection methods to those who would do us harm, but it also threatens to undermine our relations with allies who supply us with a lot of information in this war or terror…this particular amendment would allow classified information to be compromised during the challenge to a nondisclosure order for national security letters or a FISA business records order… It serves no substantial interest but, as I said, can be very damaging to our national security.”

So thus far, Kyl has literally asserted not just that Feingold’s amendments are, on balance, wrongheaded, but that they serve no purpose or interest at all — and has suggested that the very effort to amend the PATRIOT Act isn’t just purposeless, but also a sign that Feingold doesn’t take Bin Laden seriously, which is to say, the cheapest rhetorical trick in the Senate playbook.

Kyl goes on to state:

“This amendment would do serious harm to U.S. national security. And to what end? What powerful privacy interest or civil rights interest dictates a third party asked to produce business records in its possession must be allowed to disclose the existence of the investigation or must be given access to other classified information in order to plead that matter before the judge?

… The only other amendment I want to discuss is amendment No. 2892, blocking these section 215 orders even where relevance is shown. This amendment is highly problematic because it would bar antiterrorism investigators from obtaining some third party business records even where they can persuade a court that those records are relevant to a legitimate antiterrorism investigation. We all know the term “relevance.” It is a term that every court uses. It is the term for these kinds of orders that are used in every other situation in the country. Yet the author of the amendment argues that relevance is too low a standard for allowing investigators to subpoena records.

Consider the context. The relevance standard is exactly the standard employed for the issuance of discovery orders in civil litigation, grand jury subpoenas in a criminal investigation, and for each and every one of the 335 different administrative subpoenas currently authorized by the United States Code.

So Feingold says that the “relevance” standard, in the context of secret national security investigations, is extremely broad, and that his colleagues should recognize its implications for the privacy of innocent Americans — and Kyl retorts that “relevance” is the same standard used all the time, that we’re all familiar with it, and that it’s “exactly” the standard used in criminal investigations.

There’s no other way to put it: Feingold has been proved right, and Kyl wrong.

As the Wall Street Journal put it Monday, under the headline “Secret Court’s Redefinition of ‘Relevant’ Empowered Vast NSA Data-Gathering”:

The National Security Agency’s ability to gather phone data on millions of Americans hinges on the secret redefinition of the word “relevant.”

This change—which specifically enabled the surveillance recently revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden—was made by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a group of judges responsible for making decisions about government surveillance in national-security cases. In classified orders starting in the mid-2000s, the court accepted that “relevant” could be broadened to permit an entire database of records on millions of people, in contrast to a more conservative interpretation widely applied in criminal cases, in which only some of those records would likely be allowed, according to people familiar with the ruling.

The ‘relevant’ language was added to the Patriot Act when it came up for reauthorization; it was signed by President Bush in 2006.

The article goes on:

“Relevant” has long been a broad standard, but the way the court is interpreting it, to mean, in effect, “everything,” is new, says Mark Eckenwiler, a senior counsel at Perkins Coie LLP who, until December, was the Justice Department’s primary authority on federal criminal surveillance law.

“I think it’s a stretch” of previous federal legal interpretations, says Mr. Eckenwiler, who hasn’t seen the secret ruling. If a federal attorney “served a grand-jury subpoena for such a broad class of records in a criminal investigation, he or she would be laughed out of court.”

This is exactly how War on Terror hawks defeat civil libertarians: warnings that overly broad language will be twisted by the national security state are dismissed as paranoid time-wasting — why, relevance is the same standard used in all sorts of contexts, nothing worrisome to see here! Later, when the overly broad language is exploited in exactly the way civil libertarians anticipated, the same coalition that insisted such measures wouldn’t be permitted by the law suddenly claim that they’re perfectly legitimate legal interpretations of duly passed and signed legislation.

The leading whistleblower of all time: Philip Agee | William Blum

Before there was Edward Snowden, William Binney and Thomas Drake … before there was Bradley Manning, Sibel Edmonds and Jesselyn Radack … there was Philip Agee. What Agee revealed is still the most startling and important information about US foreign policy that any American government whistleblower has ever revealed.

Philip Agee spent 12 years (1957-69) as a CIA case officer, most of it in Latin America. His first book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974 – a pioneering work on the Agency’s methods and their devastating consequences – appeared in about 30 languages around the world and was a best seller in many countries; it included a 23-page appendix with the names of hundreds of undercover Agency operatives and organizations.

Under CIA manipulation, direction and, usually, their payroll, were past and present presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, “our minister of labor”, “our vice-president”, “my police”, journalists, labor leaders, student leaders, diplomats, and many others. If the Agency wished to disseminate anti-communist propaganda, cause dissension in leftist ranks, or have Communist embassy personnel expelled, it need only prepare some phoney documents, present them to the appropriate government ministers and journalists, and – presto! – instant scandal.

Agee’s goal in naming all these individuals, quite simply, was to make it as difficult as he could for the CIA to continue doing its dirty work.

A common Agency tactic was writing editorials and phoney news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of the CIA authorship or CIA payment to the media. The propaganda value of such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.

Wooing the working class came in for special treatment. Labor organizations by the dozen, sometimes hardly more than names on stationery, were created, altered, combined, liquidated, and new ones created again, in an almost frenzied attempt to find the right combination to compete with existing left-oriented unions and take national leadership away from them.

In 1975 these revelations were new and shocking; for many readers it was the first hint that American foreign policy was not quite what their high-school textbooks had told them nor what the New York Times had reported.

“As complete an account of spy work as is likely to be published anywhere, an authentic account of how an ordinary American or British ‘case officer’ operates … All of it … presented with deadly accuracy,” wrote Miles Copeland, a former CIA station chief, and ardent foe of Agee. (There’s no former CIA officer more hated by members of the intelligence establishment than Agee; no one’s even close; due in part to his traveling to Cuba and having long-term contact with Cuban intelligence.)

In contrast to Agee, WikiLeaks withheld the names of hundreds of informants from the nearly 400,000 Iraq war documents it released.

In 1969, Agee resigned from the CIA (and colleagues who “long ago ceased to believe in what they are doing”).

While on the run from the CIA as he was writing Inside the Company – at times literally running for his life – Agee was expelled from, or refused admittance to, Italy, Britain, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. (West Germany eventually gave him asylum because his wife was a leading ballerina in the country.) Agee’s account of his period on the run can be found detailed in his book On the Run (1987). It’s an exciting read.

A Fourth Amendment Exchange |

Gen. Michael Hayden, the former National Security Agency director who is considered the leading candidate to become CIA director, discussed the Bush administration’s warrantless domestic spying program with reporters Jan. 23, 2006 in Washington. Here is the text of his discussion with Jonathan S. Landay of The Inquirer Washington Bureau.

Question: Jonathan Landay with Knight Ridder. I’d like to stay on the same issue, and that had to do with the standard by which you use to target your wiretaps. I’m no lawyer, but my understanding is that the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American’s right against unlawful searches and seizures. Do you use -

Hayden: No, actually - the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.

Question: But the -

Hayden: That’s what it says.

Question: But the measure is probable cause, I believe.

Hayden: The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.

Question: But does it not say probable -

Hayden: No. The amendment says -

Question: The court standard, the legal standard -

Hayden: - unreasonable search and seizure.

Question: The legal standard is probable cause, General. You used the terms just a few minutes ago, “We reasonably believe.” And a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court, my understanding is, would not give you a warrant if you went before them and say, “We reasonably believe”; you have to go to the FISA court, or the attorney general has to go to the FISA court and say, “We have probable cause.” And so what many people believe - and I’d like you to respond to this - is that what you’ve actually done is crafted a detour around the FISA court by creating a new standard of “reasonably believe” in place of probable cause because the FISA court will not give you a warrant based on reasonable belief, you have to show probable cause. Could you respond to that, please?

Hayden: Sure. I didn’t craft the authorization. I am responding to a lawful order. All right? The attorney general has averred to the lawfulness of the order. Just to be very clear - and believe me, if there’s any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it’s the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment. And so what you’ve raised to me - and I’m not a lawyer, and don’t want to become one - what you’ve raised to me is, in terms of quoting the Fourth Amendment, is an issue of the Constitution. The constitutional standard is “reasonable.” And we believe - I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we’re doing is reasonable.

Text of Fourth Amendment

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.

James Comey remained at Justice Department as monitoring went on | Spencer Ackerman

James Comey famously threatened to resign from the Justice Department in 2004 over the warrantless surveillance of Americans’ internet records. But once Justice Department and National Security Agency lawyers found a novel legal theory to cover the surveillance, the man Barack Obama tapped last week to lead the FBI stayed on as deputy attorney general for another year as the monitoring continued.

Comey was the acting attorney general in March 2004, when long-simmering legal tensions over the online “Metadata” surveillance pitted the Justice Department and FBI against the Bush White House and NSA. That incident, dramatically recounted by Comey to the Senate in May 2007, earned the 6ft 8in former federal prosecutor a reputation for integrity that has become central to his persona.

President Obama directly referred to that reputation when he nominated Comey to take over the FBI on June 21. Hovering over the announcement were the Guardian and Washington Post’s revelations of wide-ranging surveillance efforts.

“To know Jim Comey is also to know his fierce independence and his deep integrity,” Obama said. “He was prepared to give up a job he loved rather than be part of something he felt was fundamentally wrong.”

Except that a classified report recounting the incident, acquired by the Guardian, complicates that view. Comey threatened to resign over the perceived illegality of one aspect of the surveillance. But he remained at the Justice Department for another year as that effort, operating under a new legal theory, continued nearly unchanged. [++]

Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, co-operate to public good. Without this, say they, we shall in vain boast of the advantages of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no security for our liberties or possessions, except the good-will of our rulers; that is, we shall have no security at all. David Hume

Remember When NSA Surveillance Was Used to Help Launch the Iraq War? | The Nation

Many Washington policymakers and journalists have framed the NSA surveillance controversy as a debate between privacy and security. Proponents of the data dragnets argue straightforwardly that it is necessary to protect Americans from terrorists. “I flew over World Trade Center going to Senator [Frank] Lautenberg’s funeral, and in the distance was the Statue of Liberty. And I thought of those bodies jumping out of that building, hitting the canopy,” Senator Dianne Feinstein said on Sunday. “Part of our obligation is keeping Americans safe.”

Opponents often accept the same frame, but argue that the country has traded away too much privacy. “I want our law enforcement people to be vigorous in going after terrorists.” Senator Bernie Sanders told Chris Hayes on MSNBC’s All In Monday night. “But I happen to believe they can do that without disregarding the constitution of the United States or the civil liberties of the American people.”

But what if the government abuses the vast surveillance power it is accumulating? What if the NSA is used for political purposes, not safety? This is often left out of the debate, or dismissed outright. Eric Posner wrote at the New York Times website that “I am unaware—and correct me if I am wrong—of a single instance during the last 12 years of war-on-terror-related surveillance in which the government used information obtained for security purposes to target a political opponent, dissenter or critic.”

Unfortunately, NSA has already abused its surveillance power in at least one case where political opponents were targeted, and it’s a big one.

In 2003, a woman named Katharine Gun, who was working for a British intelligence agency, leaked a memo to the press from an NSA agent named Frank Koza. It described a massive American effort to monitor the communications of six delegations to the United Nations—the so-called “Middle Six” who were undecided on authorizing the Iraq War and who were being fiercely courted by both sides.

Here’s what memo said, in part. (Note “the Agency” is the NSA):

As you’ve likely heard by now, the Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc - the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises. In RT, that means a QRC surge effort to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters.

We’ve also asked ALL RT topi’s to emphasize and make sure they pay attention to existing non-UNSC member UN-related and domestic comms for anything useful related to the UNSC deliberations/ debates/ votes. We have a lot of special UN-related diplomatic coverage (various UN delegations) from countries not sitting on the UNSC right now that could contribute related perspectives/ insights/ whatever. We recognize that we can’t afford to ignore this possible source.

The British newspaper the Observer had three former intelligence officials confirm its authenticity, and confirmed that indeed a man named Frank Koza worked at the NSA. The British government tacitly admitted the memo was real by charging Gun with violating the Official Secrets Act. The charges were later dropped when the British government was worried it would have to disclose secret legal advice about the war during the trial.

James Bamford, a veteran journalist covering the NSA, confirmed the account in his book and said it extended to monitoring United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq. At the time, however, U.S. media outlets covered the story lightly, or ignored it completely, in the case of the New York Times.

So here is a clear case where the U.S. government used its surveillance powers—ostensibly in place for national security—to target political opponents and advance an invasion of Iraq. The memo states explicitly that the surveillance is being used to “give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.”

While this may be news to many people fiercely debating the NSA this week, it is not news to the United Nations. They have already accepted illegal surveillance as a part of international diplomacy. Here’s what several United Nations official told Foreign Policy this week:

Several U.N. based diplomats and officials interviewed for this story said they shared similar expectations—that most of their electronic and digital communications are being monitored by friendly and unfriendly governments.

“I think we all assume all of our emails are being monitored by all sorts of countries,” said one senior U.N. official, who like most others interviewed for this piece spoke by telephone or communicated by email on the condition of anonymity.

One chief argument made by civil libertarians is that massive surveillance power will inevitably lead to abuse—that the mission will creep from security to political and diplomatic applications. The fact is, it already has.

So one must then wonder: where does it go next?