› 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 so-called “government shutdown” isn’t really a government shutdown at all. It’s a public services shutdown. Food aid to needy families will stop. Over one thousand food safety and inspection workers will not go to work. Veterans looking to apply for benefits will face serious delays. The IRS won’t answer the phone to help you prepare your taxes, and will stop processing returns. Depending on where you live, you might have a difficult time getting your passport renewed. Zoos and museums are closed effective immediately. But the government’s guns and surveillance state apparatus chug on without much of a blip at all.
The NSA, fully funded and operational, won’t have any problem continuing to map our social and associational patterns. The FBI will still map ethnic communities and spy on peace and justice activists. The CIA will go on plotting and executing its extrajudicial drone killings in places like Pakistan and Yemen. The DEA will still use NSA intercepts to sneakily forward drug prosecutions while hiding from judges and defendants the intelligence that sparks investigations. Customs, Border Protection will go on harassing Muslims and immigrants at the border, humiliating citizens and visitors alike for no good reason. ICE will continue to deport and detain immigrants, tearing families asunder. The surveillance state will go on, ‘protecting’ a shell of a civilization. We might not be able to eat, but at least someone will be watching us starve.
— Government shutdown is nothing of the sort while the police and surveillance states live on (via hagereseb)
› James Clapper, EU play-acting, and political priorities (1) | Glenn Greenwald
… It’s not just [Director of National Intelligence, James] Clapper, but multiple “senior US officials”, whose statements have been proven false by our reporting and Edward Snowden’s disclosures. Indeed, the Guardian previously published top secret documents disproving the claims of NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander that the agency is incapable of stating how many Americans are having their calls and emails invaded without warrants, as well as the oft-repeated claim from President Barack Obama that the NSA is not listening in on Americans’ calls without warrants. Both of those assertions, as our prior reporting and Miller’s article this week demonstrates, are indisputably false.
Beyond that, the NSA got caught spreading falsehoods even in its own public talking points about its surveillance programs, and were forced by our disclosures to quietly delete those inaccuracies. Wyden and another Democratic Senator, Mark Udall, wrote a letter to the NSA identifying multiple inaccuracies in their public claims about their domestic spying activities.
Defending the Obama administration, Paul Krugman pronounced that “the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.” Really? In what conceivable sense is this not a serious scandal? If you, as an American citizen, let alone a journalist, don’t find it deeply objectionable when top national security officials systematically mislead your representatives in Congress about how the government is spying on you, and repeatedly lie publicly about resulting political controversies over that spying, what is objectionable? If having the NSA engage in secret, indiscriminate domestic spying that warps if not outright violates legal limits isn’t a “scandal”, then what is?
For many media and political elites, the answer to that question seems clear: what’s truly objectionable to them is when powerless individuals blow the whistle on deceitful national security state officials. Hence the endless fixation on Edward Snowden’s tone and choice of asylum providers, the flamboyant denunciations of this “29-year-old hacker” for the crime of exposing what our government leaders are doing in the dark, and all sorts of mockery over the drama that resulted from the due-process-free revocation of his passport. This is what our media stars and progressive columnists, pundits and bloggers are obsessing over in the hope of distracting attention away from the surveillance misconduct of top-level Obama officials and their serial deceit about it.
What kind of journalist - or citizen - would focus more on Edward Snowden’s tonal oddities and travel drama than on the fact that top US officials have been deceitfully concealing a massive, worldwide spying apparatus being constructed with virtually no accountability or oversight? Just ponder what it says about someone who cares more about, and is angrier about, Edward Snowden’s exposure of these facts than they are about James Clapper’s falsehoods and the NSA’s excesses.
What we see here, yet again, is this authoritarian strain in US political life that the most powerful political officials cannot commit crimes or engage in serious wrongdoing. The only political crimes come from exposing and aggressively challenging those officials.
How is it anything other than pure whistleblowing to disclose secret documents proving that top government officials have been systematically deceiving the public about vital matters and/or skirting if not violating legal and Constitutional limits? And what possible justification is there for supporting the ability of James Clapper to continue in his job despite what he just got caught doing?
The same Mayor overseeing the closing of fifty-four schools and six community mental health clinics under the justification of a “budgetary crisis” has announced that the city will be handing over more than $100 million to DePaul University for a new basketball arena. This is part of a mammoth redevelopment project on South Lakeshore Drive consisting of a convention center anchored by an arena for a non-descript basketball team that has gone 47-111 over the last five years. It’s also miles away from DePaul’s campus.
Rahm Emanuel’s Zombie Pigs vs. Chicago’s Angry Birds | The Nation (via dendroica)
› America's hidden agenda in Syria's war | Phil Sands
It was some six months ago that Syrian rebel commanders met US intelligence officers in Jordan to discuss the status of the war and, the rebels hoped, to secure supplies of the sophisticated weapons they need to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad.
But according to one of the commanders present at the meeting, the Americans were more interested in talking about Jabhat Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group waging war on the Syrian regime than they were in helping the rebels advance on Damascus.
The commander - a moderate Sunni and an influential rebel leader from Damascus who said he has met intelligence operatives from Western and Arab states - said the US officials were especially keen to obtain information about the identities of Al Nusra insurgents and the locations of their bases.
Then, by the rebel commander’s account, the discussion took an unexpected turn.
The Americans began discussing the possibility of drone strikes on Al Nusra camps inside Syria and tried to enlist the rebels to fight their fellow insurgents.
“The US intelligence officer said, ‘We can train 30 of your fighters a month, and we want you to fight Al Nusra’,” the rebel commander recalled.
Opposition forces should be uniting against Mr Al Assad’s more powerful and better-equipped army, not waging war among themselves, the rebel commander replied. The response from a senior US intelligence officer was blunt.
“I’m not going to lie to you. We’d prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight Assad’s army. You should kill these Nusra people. We’ll do it if you don’t,” the rebel leader quoted the officer as saying. [continue]
see also: How to Use “Intelligence” to Justify a Larger US Role in Syria and Syria Special: Did Jabhat al-Nusra Pledge Allegiance to Al Qa’eda?
So why did the media choose to cover around the clock a terrorist bombing that killed fewer people and is extremely rare while all but ignoring an industrial explosion that killed more people, is far more common and is far easier to prevent? Aaron Albright, who worked on failed mine safety legislation in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine as an aide to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), joked on Twitter that the media opted to focus almost exclusively on the Boston bombings because the two stories were like “CSI/Mission Impossible vs. [a] PBS documentary.” The story of alleged terrorists with Chechen links seems far more exotic and threatening than does the story of a workplace disaster that would have been preventable if the company followed the rules.
Mike Elk, The Texas fertilizer plant explosion cannot be forgotten (via xeram)
› Time for Some Publicly-Owned Banks | Ellen Brown
The crossing of the Rubicon into the confiscation of depositor funds was not a one-off emergency measure limited to Cyprus. Similar “bail-in” policies are now appearing in multiple countries. (See my earlier articles here.) What triggered the new rules may have been a series of game-changing events including the refusal of Iceland to bail out its banks and their depositors; Bank of America’s commingling of its ominously risky derivatives arm with its depository arm over the objections of the FDIC; and the fact that most EU banks are now insolvent. A crisis in a major nation such as Spain or Italy could lead to a chain of defaults beyond anyone’s control, and beyond the ability of federal deposit insurance schemes to reimburse depositors.
The new rules for keeping the too-big-to-fail banks alive: use creditor funds, including uninsured deposits, to recapitalize failing banks.
But isn’t that theft?
Perhaps, but it’s “legal” theft.
… [U]nder the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005, derivatives counter-parties are given preference over all other creditors and customers of the bankrupt financial institution, including FDIC insured depositors. Normally, the FDIC would have the powers as trustee in receivership to protect the failed bank’s collateral for payments made to depositors. But the FDIC’s powers are overridden by the special status of derivatives. (Remember MF Global? The reason its customers lost their segregated customer funds to the derivatives claimants was that derivatives have super-priority in bankruptcy.)
… An interesting series of commentaries starts with one on the website of Sprott Asset Management Inc. titled “Caveat Depositor,” in which Eric Sprott and Shree Kargutkar note that the US, UK, EU, and Canada have all built the new “bail in” template to avoid imposing risk on their governments and taxpayers. They write:
[M]ost depositors naively assume that their deposits are 100% safe in their banks and trust them to safeguard their savings. Under the new “template” all lenders (including depositors) to the bank can be forced to “bail in” their respective banks.
Dave of Denver then followed up on the Sprott commentary in an April 3 entry on his blog The Golden Truth, in which he pointed out that the new template has long been agreed to by the G20 countries:
Because the use of taxpayer-funded bailouts would likely no longer be tolerated by the public, a new bank rescue plan was needed. As it turns out, this new “bail-in” model is based on an agreement that was the result of a bank bail-out model that was drafted by a sub-committee of the BIS (Bank for International Settlement) and endorsed at a G20 summit in 2011. For those of you who don’t know, the BIS is the global “Central Bank” of Central Banks. As such it is the world’s most powerful financial institution.
The links are in Dave’s April 1 article, which states:
Dave goes on:
[W]hat is commonly referred to as a “bail-in” in Cyprus is actually a global bank rescue model that was derived and ratified nearly two years ago… . [B]ank deposits in excess of Government insured amount in any bank in any country will be treated like unsecured debt if the bank goes belly-up and is restructured in some form.
Jesse at Jesse’s Café Americain then picked up the thread and pointed out that it is not just direct deposits that are at risk. The too-big-to-fail banks have commingled accounts in a web of debt that spreads globally. Stock brokerages keep their money market funds in overnight sweeps in TBTF banks, and many credit unions do their banking at large TBTF correspondent banks:
You say you have money in a pension fund and an IRA at XYZ bank? Oops, it is really on deposit in you-know-who’s bank. You say you have money in a brokerage account? Oops, it is really being held overnight in their TBTF bank. Remember MF Global? Who can say how far the entanglements go? The current financial system and market structure is crazy with hidden risk, insider dealings, control frauds, and subtle dangers.
… Robert Teitelbaum wrote in a May 2011 article titled “The Case Against Favored Treatment of Derivatives”:
… Dodd-Frank did not touch favored status [of derivatives] and despite all the sound and fury, … there are very few signs from either party that anyone with any clout is suddenly about to revisit that decision and simplify bankruptcy treatment. Why? Because for all its relative straightforwardness compared to more difficult fixes, derivatives remains a mysterious black box to most Americans … . [A]s the sense of urgency to reform passes … we return to a situation of technical interest to only a few, most of whom have their own particular self-interest in mind.
But that was in 2011, before the Cyprus alarm bells went off. It is time to pry open the black box, get educated, and get organized.
› A Plague of Desolationists on the “Left” | Randy Shields
Desolationists are content to fight over God, guns and gays, arenas where they can shoot right wing crazies in a barrel while ignoring bi-partisan systemic evil. Desolationists have no class consciousness and no international solidarity, especially with people of color. In the end, they seldom get what they want. Hence, their state of complete emptiness and/or destruction. Desolationists believe that America’s non-stop bombing of other nations is either no issue at all or just one among many and probably not nearly as important as being pro-choice or supporting gun control or marriage equality. If you tell a desolationist that constant war means a police state at home they think you’re alarmist because desolationists prize order above nearly everything, generally aren’t Muslim, definitely aren’t radical and never have their innocuous verbalizations interfered with by the state.
[In 2006] Bush agreed to help [new president Felipe Calderon], and the Merida Initiative, a $1.9 billion aid package for military training and equipment and judicial reform, set the framework for a new level of U.S.-Mexican cooperation. In a little-noticed move, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence took a leading role in the U.S. effort to defeat the cartels, signaling the importance of intelligence in combating organized crime. By then, cartels had begun employing assassination squads, according to Guillermo Valdes, who was CISEN director at the time. CISEN discovered from a captured videotape and a special analytical group it set up that some of the cartels had hired former members of the U.S.-trained Guatemalan special forces, the Kaibiles, to create sociopathic killers who could behead a man, torture a child or immerse a captive in a vat of acid. Anxious to counterattack, the CIA proposed electronically emptying the bank accounts of drug kingpins, but was turned down by the Treasury Department and the White House, which feared unleashing chaos in the banking system.
U.S. role at a crossroads in Mexico’s intelligence war on the cartels | The Washington Post
Two things to note here. First, the blowback from “US-trained Guatemalan special forces” going on to “create sociopathic killers” - old story, new setting.
Second, preventing the CIA from blocking the bank accounts of kingpins for fear of “unleashing chaos in the banking system” speaks volumes about the priorities of the U.S. government.
From the Guardian, April 2nd, 2011 “How a big US bank laundered billions from Mexico’s murderous drug gangs”:
… At the height of the 2008 banking crisis, Antonio Maria Costa, then head of the United Nations office on drugs and crime, said he had evidence to suggest the proceeds from drugs and crime were “the only liquid investment capital” available to banks on the brink of collapse. “Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade,” he said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.”
Going back to the Post piece, we see the results of the Merida Initiative:
… In deference to their visitors, the U.S. briefers left out the fact that most of the 25 kingpin taken off the streets in the past five years had been removed because of U.S.-supplied information, often including the location of top cartel members in real time, according to people familiar with the meeting. …
Also unremarked upon was the mounting criticism that success against the cartels’ leadership had helped incite more violence than anyone had predicted, more than 60,000 deaths and 25,000 disappearances in the past seven years alone.
Meanwhile, the drug flow into the United States continued unabated. Mexico remains the U.S. market’s largest supplier of heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine and the transshipment point for 95 percent of its cocaine. …
So, in order to avoid “unleashing chaos” in the banking system by freezing the assets of the cartel kingpins, i.e. admitting that some of the nation’s largest banks were insolvent but for laundered drug money, Bush and Calderon pursued a military/paramilitary and assassination policy, continued under Obama, resulting in the deaths of at least 60,000 people and 25,000 disappearances over a 7 year span which did nothing to stem the flow of drugs into the United States.
But at least the banks are OK.
Meanwhile, ending prohibition - the main driver of violence - isn’t even on the table.
(The drug war sounds insane because it is insane.)
Today’s decision to provide “financial flexibility” to the secretary of transportation and invalidate the sequestration cuts that affect the nation’s wealthy is a shocking demonstration of Congress’ insensitivity toward the majority of American people. Faced with spending cuts that defund essential social programs, Congress concluded that the specter of bothersome flight delays was the most pressing issue. Baffling.
[T]here is a bigger problem with this Obama proposal to cut both Social Security benefits and Medicare funding: Adopting a long-time Republican proposal, it only looks at those programs in isolation, and concludes that they need to be cut. Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president does not look at the biggest and most wasteful spending in the entire federal budget, which is the military. That bloated white elephant, which this year is sucking up close to $800 billion, not counting the interest on money borrowed to pay for past wars and armaments, could be cut in half or even by three-quarters, and it would still leave the US military budget larger than any other nation’s in the world. The US would be no less safe in that case. In fact, it would be a hell of a lot safer because we would no longer have US troops stationed expensively and provocatively in 1000 foreign locations. Nobody in Congress is talking about slashing military spending and spending the savings on medical care, Social Security, education and other pressing needs. The public needs to demand this.
Dave Lindorff, Money for Militarism, not for People: Obama’s Betrayal of Social Security
› The FBI, COINTELPRO, and the most important robbery you've never heard of | Kade Crockford
Most people in the United States have never heard of the 1971 event the Los Angeles Times describes as “one of the most lastingly consequential (although underemphasized) watersheds of political awareness in recent American history.” Nevertheless, you’ve probably heard about the political scandal that erupted in its wake: COINTELPRO.
In March, 1971, activists calling themselves the Citizens’ Committee to Investigate the FBI broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania and stole more than a thousand documents. Then they released them — unredacted and in full — to the public.
Thirty-five years later, in 2008, the LA Times published a great piece on the break-in and the ensuing political firestorm:
Within a few weeks, the documents began to show up — mailed anonymously in manila envelopes with no return address — in the newsrooms of major American newspapers. When the Washington Post received copies, Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell asked Executive Editor Ben Bradlee not to publish them because disclosure, he said, could “endanger the lives” of people involved in investigations on behalf of the United States.
Nevertheless, the Post broke the first story on March 24, 1971, after receiving an envelope with 14 FBI documents detailing how the bureau had enlisted a local police chief, letter carriers and a switchboard operator at Swarthmore College to spy on campus and black activist groups in the Philadelphia area.
More documents went to other reporters — Tom Wicker received copies at his New York Times office; so did reporters at the Los Angeles Times — and to politicians including Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota and Rep. Parren J. Mitchell of Maryland.
Despite a six year, 33,000 page investigation into the robbery, the FBI never uncovered the culprits, the LA Times reports. The activists never came forward to publicly claim their responsibility for the series of political changes they helped to unleash, including the passage of the landmark Privacy Act in 1974.
The revelations were astonishing to many Americans: the FBI was engaged in extensive political surveillance and disruption of activist groups. Though mostly directed at left-wing organizations and anti-war deserters, the Bureau also spied on a couple of right-wing groups.
Noam Chomsky summarized what the Citizens’ Committee reported about the FBI’s investigative priorities in the early 1970s:
According to [The Citizens’ Committee’s] analysis of the documents in this FBI office, 1 percent were devoted to organized crime, mostly gambling; 30 percent were “manuals, routine forms, and similar procedural matter”; 40 percent were devoted to political surveillance and the like, including two cases involving right-wing groups, ten concerning immigrants, and over 200 on left or liberal groups. Another 14 percent of the documents concerned draft resistance and “leaving the military without government permission.” The remainder concerned bank robberies, murder, rape, and interstate theft.
In other words, the documents revealed that a whopping 77% of the FBI’s investigative records in the Media, PA office concerned political surveillance, including inquiries directed at Vietnam war deserters.
From the LA Times:
Found among the Media documents was a new word, “COINTELPRO,” short for the FBI’s “secret counterintelligence program,” created to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the U.S. Under these programs, beginning in 1956, the bureau worked to “enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles,” as one COINTELPRO memo put it, “to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”
The Media documents — along with further revelations about COINTELPRO in the months and years that followed — made it clear that the bureau had gone beyond mere intelligence-gathering to discredit, destabilize and demoralize groups — many of them peaceful, legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups — that the FBI and Director J. Edgar Hoover found offensive or threatening.
The public was shocked to learn what the FBI had been up to in secret. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been. After all, this was the same FBI director who called the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program the “greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.”
How much has changed since then within the ranks of the FBI? We can’t be sure unless we can see what’s really going on inside the institution, but you can imagine how little the institutional culture has changed by reading how the FBI describes Hoover’s tenure during COINTELPRO on its website:
In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Bureau took on investigations in the field of civil rights and organized crime. The threat of political violence occupied many of the Bureau’s resources as did the threat of foreign espionage.
That’s certainly one way of looking at it. [++]