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On the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. presentation of inaccurate information concerning Iraqi WMD and alleged ties between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, a group of high-ranking, former intelligence agency veterans and whistleblowers calling themselves Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), published their very first "VIPS Memo" to George W. Bush.
In their February 5, 2003 memo [PDF], the former intelligence professionals warned of the politicization of intelligence used by the Administration in their case for war, and cautioned against rushing into military action. They were, of course, ignored by Bush at the time.
A full decade, trillions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of dead bodies later, here we are again, as a President of the United States continues his call for U.S. involvement in yet another military excursion in the Middle East based on a "just trust us" public assessment of purported classified evidence.
Repeating the course they took in hopes of warning Bush after Powell's UN presentation, last week VIPS published another warning in the form of a memo to President Barack Obama, warning that his advisers may not be keeping him fully informed and asserting, among other things, "the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21."
While the VIPS memo presents a disturbing alleged scenario detailing claims that U.S. allies and intelligence officials had advanced knowledge of the August 21 chemical attack, like the White House claims, the VIPS scenario offers little more than serious, if unproven allegations unless and until they are substantiated, or refuted, by hard evidence or, preferably, a Congressional investigation including full immunity for the sources cited by the former intelligence veterans...
We have been working on a number of articles in hopes of highlighting concerns about the Obama Administration's so-far, evidence-free case for war against Syria in light of the August 21, 2013 chemical weapons attack said to have been carried out in a Damascus suburb.
But the matter is a quickly moving target, so to speak. While we hope to get one or more pieces out on those matters in the near future, Talking Points Memo has obtained and just released a document which they say was created by the Syrian government, is being circulated to "most offices" in Congress, according to TPM's sources, and offers the Syrian's case to the U.S. that diplomacy, rather than military attacks, is how they recommend proceeding.
The arguments presented in the 5-page document (posted in full below) on letterhead from the Syrian People's Assembly and signed by the assembly's speaker, Mohammad Jihad al-Lahham, urges the U.S. to "not rush into any irresponsible reckless action."
"You have the power and the responsibility today to convert the United States of America from the war track to the diplomatic path," September 5 letter reads. "We hope to meet there, and to talk, as civilised peoples should. We adopt a diplomatic solution, as we realize that war would be a bloody destructive catastrophic track, which does not have any benefit for all nations."
The letter attempts to play on the sympathies of the U.S. government and public's enmity for al-Qaeda and other "hatred Wahhabi Jihadist Ideology". It also makes a familiar case against military strikes by citing the follies of the Iraq War disaster. But it is the letter's direct response to "Alleged Chemical Attacks" that is most interesting for the moment...
"The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are, as a people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and secret proceedings," President John F. Kennedy declared to the American Newspaper Publishers Association at New York's Waldorf-Astoria in 1961.
"No official of my Administration," he continued, "whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know."
But, that was then.
The U.S. government's legal requests for secret surveillance are, themselves, filed in secret at the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and the FISC's rulings on those secret requests are themselves a secret as well.
Last week, however, after more than a year of legal wrangling and lawsuits, the non-partisan Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was finally successful in gaining the public release of one of those secret rulings, an October 2011 decision by the Court finding that the government had, on several occasions, offered the Court "a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program ... buttressed by repeated inaccurate statements."
At the very same time, as they were about to be compelled by a court to release the decision EFF sought, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, "in the interest of increased transparency," released two other redacted court decisions as well. In all, they revealed the NSA's illegal and unconstitutional collection of the emails of tens of thousands U.S. citizens who had nothing to do with terrorism investigations. The documents were all posted on a new Tumblr website created, Clapper said in a statement posted to the site, "to provide the public with direct access to factual information related to the lawful foreign surveillance activities carried out by the Intelligence Community."
As expected, some sections of the October 2011 FISC decision were heavily redacted. Other parts, while redacted, were revelatory nonetheless about the nature of our government's secret surveillance programs. And still other portions seem to be redacted for no legitimate national security reason at all. As a number of national security journalists, FOIA advocates, security veterans and whistleblowers describe to The BRAD BLOG, the reason for some of the redactions appears to be little more than an attempt to keep the government from embarrassing itself --- or even from revealing evidence of its own crimes.
Here's one of the more disturbing revelations, from a footnote, in the previously secret October 2011 FISC decision...
Here's one of the more heavily redacted portions of the previously secret 85-page ruling that rejected a secret surveillance request by the government, after determining that the government had repeatedly misled the Court in its secret filings...
But here is one snippet about which we specifically requested comment from a number of national security journalists, FOIA advocates (including the EFF) and former national security agency veterans and whistleblowers. Note, just for now, the one sentence highlighted in yellow...
Despite the U.S. government's inability, during his military trial, to demonstrate any harm to anybody caused by Bradley Manning's leaks, the U.S. Army whistleblower who revealed war crimes and government lies was sentenced today to 35 years in prison.
According to Charlie Savage at the New York Times, "The sentence is the longest ever handed down in a case involving a leak of United States government information to be reported to the public."
Manning, who is now 25-years old, has already served more than three years as he awaited trial. Much of that time was served in solitary, windowless, and often naked confinement 23 hours a day, leading the military judge of his military trial to declare his treatment "excessive". At the time, his potential life sentence was reduced by 122 days. Manning will now be eligible for parole in 9 years, even though the judge acquitted him of the government's most serious charge of "aiding the enemy", which had never before been included in a leak case.
The moment offers another nice opportunity to revisit a promise made by 2008 Presidential candidate (and then President-elect) Barack Obama, to see if he has been able to keep his word any better than the government argued Bradley Manning did, since Obama described whistleblowing at the time [PDF] as "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives" and which "should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration"...
By now, you've certainly heard of the outrageous 9-hour detention of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda at Heathrow Airport under Great Britain's supposed "Terrorism Act" over the weekend. As Rachel Maddow amazingly, but justifiably, found it necessary to point out loudly last night, "journalism is not terrorism", and both the British government and U.S. government (which has admitted receiving a "heads-up" about the planned detention by British authorities in advance, but didn't stop it from happening) should be ashamed of themselves and held accountable for the outrage.
Many have opined, since the detention of Miranda, what an outrage something like that would have been had a similar harassment and the seizure of personal property of, say, a New York Times journalist doing his or her job, occurred in this country or by a country so closely allied with the U.S.
Well, before we took our short break last week, I had been covering some of the increasing citizen protests in several states around the U.S. in reaction to the extreme and radical Republican policies being put in place by states where the GOP has recently taken control of state government. I covered the ensuing arrests of an 83-year old Korean War vet peacefully demonstrating for voting rights in NC (as he did with MLK in Selma, AL in 1965) and of an 80- and 85-year old couple in WI arrested in a crackdown by Republican Gov. Scott Walker's Capitol Police for participating in a daily protest sing along in the state capitol building.
While I was gone, it seems, things have gotten worse in Wisconsin, as an elected official was also arrested for singing along, and even the editor of a progressive news magazine was arrested for having attempted to record it...
I was watching a segment last night on Rachel Maddow's show with Desi Doyen, concerning the recent warnings issued to Americans and the evacuations at dozens of U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Northern Africa. The actions were taken due, we are told, to "chatter" detected by intelligence services of the possibility of attacks by al-Qaeda (and/or "associated forces") to American interests in the region.
Maddow framed the actions being taken by the U.S. government in the context of the infamous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing memo --- "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" --- ignored by George W. Bush just one month before the 9/11 attacks. Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of that memo.
In her conversation with NBC foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Maddow discussed the memory of that infamously ignored warning, and what effect it may have on the way the U.S. government now reacts to such detected threats. "In a post-9/11 world", the argument goes, President Obama and all future Presidents are likely to be very conscious of not underestimating such memos and "chatter," in the event that an attack does come about, for which they could later be held accountable for having ignored the "clear signs." (Not that George W. Bush or his administration was ever held accountable for such things, but that's a different matter.)
While watching the conversation about the dozens of closed diplomatic posts, I said to Desi, "I bet they're wildly over-reacting. It's not about post-9/11. It's about post-Benghazi."
In either an abundance or over-abundance of caution, U.S. embassies and consulates are being warned and shuttered and Americans are being air-lifted out of countries. It's not the memory of 9/11, at this point, that the government seems to be reacting to. It's as much the Republican reaction and/or over-reaction and/or political bludgeon made of the deaths of four U.S. personnel at our diplomatic outpost in Libya last year that seems to be leading to this reaction and/or over-reaction by the government.
Indeed, moments after I had uttered that thought to Desi, Mitchell said to Maddow: "I think, Rachel, that this is not just post-9/11, this is post-Benghazi."
The way our government now reacts to such events is not necessarily based on common sense, it seems to be as much based on fear. Not necessarily fear of being attacked, but fear of missing some important warning or another and then being held politically accountable for it later.
Since so much of this is kept secret --- except for stuff classified as "secret" and "top secret" that is routinely leaked by government officials who, unlike whistleblowers, are almost never held accountable for such leaks of classified information --- we are largely left to simply "trust" that the government is accurately portraying the threat, whether they are or not, and whether they are simply over-reacting out of caution and/or political ass-covering.
All of this, then, adds an interesting light to a curious story reported this week by Al-Jazeera English's Jason Leopold (formerly of Truthout) highlighting the government's seemingly bizarre claims that they have concerns that al-Qaeda may "attack the detention facilities at Guantanamo" or otherwise, somehow, "undermine security at the facility" if too much is known about what goes on there.
But that's not the most interesting aspect of the story...
[ED NOTE: An abridged version of this article was republished by the Ventura County Star on 8/17/2013.]
On Aug. 1, my Congressional Representative, Julia Brownley (D-CA-26), forwarded a letter to me in response to a query as to why she was amongst those responsible for the recent narrow defeat (205 - 217) of Amash-Conyers, a bi-partisan amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill that would have brought an abrupt halt to the NSA's warrantless blanket collection of Americans' phone records.
The response did not address the actual substance of Amash-Conyers. Instead, her complaints about the measure were procedural, as she explained...
While there's some legitimacy in Brownley's objection to an arbitrary 15-minute time limit for debate on such an important matter, the issue is not as "complex" as the first-term Congresswoman characterizes it. The one paragraph amendment, and its implications --- unlike the PATRIOT Act, FISA and the opaque secret interpretations of those laws she was effectively voting to keep in place, as is --- were fairly straightforward, in fact...
A bi-partisan amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and former House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI), was defeated late today in the U.S. House of Representatives. The measure would have brought an abrupt halt to the NSA's warrantless blanket collection of Americans' telephone records. It failed by a narrow margin of 205 to 217.
The Amash-Conyers amendment represented the first Congressional challenge to the NSA's bulk collection of domestic phone records in the wake of recent disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The vote came just one day after a speech by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has served on the the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee since January 2001, in which he not only warned about the unlimited scope of the NSA's ever-expanding surveillance capabilities but the unnecessary development of a secret body of laws that, he argued, threatens to eradicate the very essence of democracy and accountability.
Ironically, NSA Director General Keith Alexander, did his best to underscore Wyden's warnings. Where the Obama administration and other members of both the Senate and House Intelligence Committee publicly lobbied against Amash-Conyers, Alexander scheduled "a last-minute, members-only briefing" to lobby against the measure behind closed doors.
Alexander, whom James Bamford, author of The Shadow Factor: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, has described as "the most powerful person that's ever existed in the American intelligence community," took pains to insure that his own efforts to privately lobby against this public bill be classified as "Top Secret," thereby precluding public consideration as to the reasons why publicly-elected officials might refuse to rein in unfettered access to the telephone records of millions of law-abiding Americans.
Rather than look at today's vote as a defeat, the ACLU's Michelle Richards told The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman that the vote's narrow margin reflects "a 'sea change' in how Congress views bulk surveillance," describing the bi-partisan debate on the House floor as "a great first step."
Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who originally broke a number of the stories related to Snowden's disclosures, tweeted during the floor debate: "Edward Snowden did what he did to make everyone aware of all this, and to prompt precisely this debate. That was his motive." He also observed this irony, after the House Democratic leadership rallied against the amendment and the measure ultimately went down to narrow defeat: "A majority of Dems supported the Amash/Conyers amendment to defund NSA bulk spying - majority of GOP joined [with the White House]."
UPDATE 7/25/13: According to AP today, Congressional "Opponents of the National Security Agency's collection of hundreds of millions of Americans' phone records insist they will press ahead with their challenge to the surveillance program after a narrow defeat in the House"...
"If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we are all going to live to regret it," Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) warned during a lengthy but powerful speech before the Center for American Progress on Tuesday.
In his remarks, Wyden, who has served on the Senate Intelligence Committee since January 2001, left no room for anyone to doubt the liberating impact of the recent revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. For years, Wyden said, he had wanted to expose the extent to which the Executive Branch of our government and the leaders of the "intelligence community" had deceived the public about the NSA's domestic surveillance programs, but, due to Senate's rules in regard to classified material, he was "not even allowed to tap the truth out in Morse code."
That roadblock has been removed. "The disclosures by an NSA contractor lit the surveillance world on fire," Wyden told the assembled students, journalists and policy wonks yesterday. "Several provisions of secret law that were secret were no longer secret, and the American people were finally able to see some of the things we [he and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)] had been raising the alarm about for years."
That alarm centered not only on the unprecedented extent of the NSA's still-expanding, domestic surveillance capabilities but also, as he explained, on the unnecessary and dangerous, post-9/11 development of a secret system of laws that threatens to eradicate the very essence of democracy and accountability.
These provisions, he warned, allow "the Executive to secretly follow a secret interpretation of the law under the supervision of a secret, non-adversarial court and occasional secret Congressional hearings"...
Here's our own Desi Doyen (of The BRAD BLOG's Green News Report) on this week's The Point, The Young Turks' panel show, along with Dave Rubin, Kelly Carlin & Anna Kasparian, talking about rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) getting force-fed in solidarity with the Gitmo prisoners who have been on hunger strike protesting their captivity for months...
The force-feeding being carried out on the Gitmo prisoners is a human rights abuse decried as torture by organizations such as the Red Cross, the United Nations and the World Medical Association.
It's all the more outrageous considering that more than 80 of the prisoners currently on hunger strike --- and being force fed through a tube in their nose for months --- have been cleared for release years ago by the U.S. government.
Yet, they still sit today, for years on end, as prisoners, never to face charges and with little hope of being released any time in the near future. That, despite President Obama's claims that he wants to close Gitmo and, most importantly, the fact that he has the power and ability to send all of the cleared prisoners home tomorrow, with little more than a stroke of his pen.
And, by the way, the very popular Rightwing Republican hypocrite and idiot Glenn Beck is so clueless that he either doesn't know the above, or simply doesn't care. Instead of calling for these people to be treated humanely or have their rights and freedom (which he pretends to care about) restored, last week he made fun of them and expressed his preference that the U.S. government should just "shoot them in the head".
Remember that, please, the next time the con-man Beck attempts to hoodwink you or anybody else into believing that he gives a tinker's damn about "Big Government" tyranny, freedom, individual rights or anything other than disinforming America in order to line his own pockets with the hard-earned cash of his gullible, easily-conned fellow citizens.
"In my opinion, you don't need to hedge," Mark Rumold, attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation told me.
"There's no question in my mind", he said, that the surveillance programs revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden include both illegalities and unconstitutionalities. They "violate the First and Fourth Amendment of the Constitution" and even "the plain terms of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], the law on which the authority is purportedly based, and...other federal statutes."
Rumold was my guest this week on the KPFK/Pacifica Radio BradCast where my hope was to strip away all of the nonsense "controversy" about Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald in order to focus on the actual disclosures, what we know about them, what we don't, and what we know about the lies told by the Administration about them (especially those by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.)
Also, Rumold discussed the status of his EFF lawsuit attempting to force the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to release their 2011 finding on the illegalities/unconstitutionalities of one of the very few programs that they actually rejected.
If you are confused about any or all of that, today's show is a great primer on those key points and several more. The BRAD BLOG's legal analyst Ernie Canning described today's BradCast as "fascinating stuff." And though he may be somewhat biased, I --- who am completely objective on these things --- would tend to agree with him.
We also covered the breaking news out of Egypt, as President Mohammed Morsi was forced out of office in a military coup and Al Jazeera English was pulled off the air...live. We quickly discussed the outrageous secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), I had a few (more) very choice words for national embarrassment and professional hypocrite Justice Antonin Scalia, and Desi Doyen joined us, as usual, for the latest Green News Report and details on the next billion dollar natural disaster on its way...
Download MP3 or listen online below [appx 58 mins]...
"Some countries are willing to stand up to the United States right now," Michael Ratner told Amy Goodman earlier this week, as he heaped praise upon Ecuador, the nation which previously granted political asylum to Ratner's client, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Ecuador has defied the U.S. by saying it will consider NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's request for political asylum.
It is likely that Ecuador is already furnishing Snowden with some level of diplomatic protection. AP reports that, according to WikiLeaks, Snowden was being "escorted by diplomats and legal advisers" during his travels from Hong Kong to Russia last weekend. It seems likely that Snowden was met at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport by Ecuadorian diplomats. A black BMW with diplomatic license plates assigned to the Ecuadorian Embassy was reportedly, waiting at the airport last Sunday in advance of Snowden's arrival.
Ecuador is not the only nation that is unwilling to cooperate, for differing reasons, with an apparently vengeful U.S. government which has sought to make an example of Snowden by charging him with espionage. Some, like Hong Kong, have a longstanding commitment to free speech and the right to due process. Others, like Russia, have an interest in closer political and economic ties to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) --- a group of socialist and social democratic Latin American and Caribbean nations that includes three potential Snowden destinations, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador.
In all cases, there appears to be a growing revulsion towards the overreach of the NSA's increasingly privatized, "Big Brother"-like intrusions and a growing recognition that the United States has long-since abandoned its mantle as a beacon of democracy and a nation devoted to "equal justice under the law"...
On MSNBC's All In Thursday night, Chris Hayes flagged Barbara Starr's Tuesday report at CNN on how, according to unnamed U.S. government intelligence officials who offer some very specific details, terrorists are now, allegedly, changing their habits in the wake of the recent surveillance disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Hayes cites Starr's reporting in order to point out the hypocrisy in how some leaks, those seemingly meant to make the Pentagon look good, are, apparently, perfectly fine in the eyes of many of the very same people who have otherwise criticized --- and even called for the arrest of --- both Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who had the temerity to report on Snowden's leaks.
The point Hayes makes here --- the last one, in particular, about the "vast and growing web of secret government" and our responsibility for "what our government does in our name," as quoted below (along with his full video commentary), is right on the money...
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