An important aspect of the Age of Obama will soon come to a close with the departure of Eric Holder, the first Black U.S. attorney general. Holder’s record in office makes up a great part of the Obama legacy – which, after six years turns out to be scarcely any different than what could have been expected from any center-right white corporate Democrat. Like former president Bill Clinton, whose Wall Street dominated administration deregulated the banks and set the stage for the economic meltdown, eight years later. Obama’s first act in office was to bring back Bill Clinton’s Wall Street wrecking crew. So, in a sense, Obama is actually a protégé of Bill Clinton, and will likely be succeeded in office by Hillary Clinton.
Obama’s and Eric Holder’s most singular contribution to American political economy is having articulated the concept of banks being Too Big to Fail, or to jail. Back in the late Eighties and early Nineties, one-third of the nation’s savings and loan institutions did fail, and over a thousand individual executives were prosecuted, with a large proportion of them sent to prison. But, Eric Holder’s Justice Department has specialized in protecting big banks and defending the Lords of Capital.
At this late date, with his exit probably only weeks away, Eric Holder is trying to put a final spin on his legacy by demanding that some of the world’s biggest banks, including JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, plead guilty to a felony for manipulating foreign currency prices. Of course, not a single living, breathing banking executive would be branded a felon. Rather, the banks, as institutions would bear the shame. But, institutions have no shame, and cannot be jailed, and the banks will not be prevented from continuing to deal in foreign currency trading and all the other money streams they have manipulated, with impunity. However, Eric Holder will ride off into the sunset of a multi-million dollar corporate law practice claiming that he finally busted a bank for felonious conduct.
The Pavlovian Black Caucus
Meanwhile, the ridiculously ineffectual Congressional Black Caucus is circling its wagons around Holder’s replacement, Black New York federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch. Lynch last month told a Senate committee that she fully supports the practice of civil forfeiture, which allows police to confiscate people’s money and property on mere suspicion of involvement in illegal activity. Even Eric Holder has advanced some very limited reforms to civil forfeiture, but Loretta Lynch appeared gung ho about the seizures. The Black Caucus, in an uproar, denounced Republican libertarian Senator Rand Paul for saying he’d vote against confirming Lynch because of her position on civil forfeiture, and he sniped that Lynch ought to be a little more concerned about poor people, who are more likely to have their cash seized by the cops. Black Caucus chairman G.K. Butterfield, one of the most pro-corporate members of the Caucus, fumed that Rand Paul was using civil forfeiture as an excuse to “keep an African American legal scholar” from heading the Justice Department. But, of course, the Congressional Black Caucus has adopted no position at all on the pros and cons of civil forfeiture. They have no opinion. All they care about is that a Black Democrat get the attorney general’s job – and that they get to hold on to theirs.
By Bruce A. Dixon
In private practice Loretta Lynch was a “white collar crime specialist” keeping banksters, tax evaders and money launderers out of jail. She did exactly that at Obama’s Justice Department, passing get out of jail cards in the biggest money laundering cases in history. She’s pro-death penalty, against legalizing weed or demilitarizing cops, sees no evil in drone murder, war crimes or runaway surveillance. And she’s the next Attorney General.
Samsung has come under fire from privacy campaigners after it emerged the company’s new smart TVs are capable of listening to your conversations.
Viewers hoping to take advantage of the voice activation feature have been warned by Samsung not to disclose personal information because voice recordings can be captured and transmitted to unidentified third parties.
Samsung insists it takes consumer privacy seriously, but did not name the third party which translates speech to text.
The issue was first highlighted by the Daily Beast, which warned readers not to talk about incriminating matters such as “tax evasion” and “drug use” in front their TV sets.
The technology is designed to enable viewers to control their TV by using only their voice.
Even viewers who do not activate the voice recognition feature are still at risk of being snooped on, as the machine continues to collect data through its microphones. The only way to stop a Samsung smart TV from eavesdropping on your conversation is to disable voice recognition data collection in the settings menu.
Samsung claims it collects transcribed voice data in order to improve the technology’s features.
An investigation last year by consumer magazine Which? found that smart TVs made by LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, and Toshiba track people’s viewing habits – something consumers agree to when they accept the TV’s terms and conditions.
Users who choose not to accept their TV’s terms and conditions may end up reverting to a not-so-smart television. While Toshiba and LG block internet access and apps, Samsung reportedly stops customers from using the TV at all.
Sony is the only manufacturer which blocks the tracking of television usage without restricting other functions.
“If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search. At that time, the voice data is sent to a server, which searches for the requested content then returns the desired content to the TV,” the company said.
Over 150 people have been reported disappeared in the small city of Piedras Negras in the northern border Mexican state of Coahuila in the last 18 months, of which at least 60 have been attributed to elite police forces, according to a lawyer overseeing the cases.
Families of victims and their lawyers accused state government of creating special forces that have carried out arbitrary detentions, tortures and enforced disappearances across Coahuila during the last six years.
The creation of elite police forces, which in the past have been sent to the U.S. for special training by the FBI, is not new in Mexico. These types of forces have been accused of acting as death squads for the government and have sometimes carried out assassinations ordered by organized crime gangs.
“Special units of the army and navy, assassins trained by armed forces deserters and civilians trained by foreign security forces operate in Mexico as death squad,” Proceso published in June of 2013. The Mexican magazine based this assertion on a book published by 0federal lawmaker Ricardo Monreal Avila, which was edited by the congress’ lower house.
Influential newspaper Excelsior in November of last year wrote that, “The special forces created in the states (of Mexico) are under scrutiny due to human rights issues.”
The daily based in Mexico City added that, “these elite police groups have been accused of carrying out enforced disappearances, kidnappings, extortion and torture.”
Excelsior said that “it should be noted that in spite of the negative reputation of these forces in various states, which sometimes receive special training by U.S., Colombian or Israeli elite groups, more states and Mexico City are in the process of integrating elite groups to (allegedly) fight organized crime.”
The newspaper went on to say that the United Nations has questioned the work of special intelligence units in Baja California and Tamaulipas, due to the high number of crimes they have committed against innocent people.
On Friday, the La Jornada newspaper reported that attorney Denise Garcia told reporters that the non-governmental organization United Families has documented 150 cases of disappearances in the last 18 months in Piedras Negras alone.
“In at least 60 of those cases there is evidence that the Special Arms and Tactics Group (GATE) participated in them, as well as other similar types police units that were created by the former Governor Humberto Moreira and which still exist today under the governorship of his brother Ruben,” she said.
Garcia said the 51 people that were disappeared by GATE were later found alive, but all of them, she added, were tortured to confess crimes they did not commit, including drug trafficking, and today they remain jailed under false charges.
These groups have no accountability, Garcia explained, and they don’t report their operations nor their arrests, which is a clear violation of human rights.
“GATE and other special police units work under the recognition and support of the government, despite that many of them are [not] even legally constituted,” she said.
García said they act as illegal death squads, they travel in unmarked vehicles with no license plates, they are masked and commit many other irregularities.
The worst thing, she added, is that “we have denounced these issues to the federal government and the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), which respond with indifference.”
The disclosure that convicted al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui has identified leading members of the Saudi government as financers of the terrorist network potentially reshapes how Americans will perceive events in the Middle East and creates a risk for Israel’s Likud government which has forged an unlikely alliance with some of these same Saudis.
According to a story in the New York Times on Wednesday, Moussaoui said in a prison deposition that he was directed in 1998 or 1999 by Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan to create a digital database of the group’s donors and that the list included Prince Turki al-Faisal, then Saudi intelligence chief; Prince Bandar bin Sultan, longtime Saudi ambassador to the United States; Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, a prominent billionaire investor; and many leading clerics.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, then Saudi ambassador to the United States, meeting with President George W. Bush in Crawford, Texas. (White House photo)
“Sheikh Osama wanted to keep a record who give money,” Moussaoui said in imperfect English — “who is to be listened to or who contributed to the jihad.”
Although Moussaoui’s credibility came under immediate attack from the Saudi kingdom, his assertions mesh with accounts from members of the U.S. Congress who have seen a secret portion of the 9/11 report that addresses alleged Saudi support for al-Qaeda.
Further complicating the predicament for Saudi Arabia is that, more recently, Saudi and other Persian Gulf oil sheikdoms have been identified as backers of Sunni militants fighting in Syria to overthrow the largely secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The major rebel force benefiting from this support is al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
In other words, the Saudis appear to have continued a covert relationship with al-Qaeda-connected jihadists to the present day.
The Israeli Exposure
And, like the Saudis, the Israelis have sided with the Sunni militants in Syria because the Israelis share the Saudi view that Iran and the so-called “Shiite crescent” – reaching from Tehran and Baghdad to Damascus and Beirut – is the greatest threat to their interests in the Middle East.
That shared concern has pushed Israel and Saudi Arabia into a de facto alliance, though the collaboration between Jerusalem and Riyadh has been mostly kept out of the public eye. Still, it has occasionally peeked out from under the covers as the two governments deploy their complementary assets – Saudi oil and money and Israeli political and media clout – in areas where they have mutual interests.
In recent years, these historic enemies have cooperated in their joint disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt (which was overthrown in 2013), in seeking the ouster of the Assad regime in Syria, and in pressing for a more hostile U.S. posture toward Iran.
Israel and Saudi Arabia also have collaborated in efforts to put the squeeze on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who is deemed a key supporter of both Iran and Syria. The Saudis have used their power over oil production to drive down prices and hurt Russia’s economy, while U.S. neoconservatives – who share Israel’s geopolitical world view – were at the forefront of the coup that ousted Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
The behind-the-scenes Israeli-Saudi alliance has put the two governments – uncomfortably at times – on the side of Sunni jihadists battling Shiite influence in Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq. On Jan. 18, 2015, for instance, Israel attacked Lebanese-Iranian advisers assisting Assad’s government in Syria, killing several members of Hezbollah and an Iranian general. These military advisors were engaged in operations against al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Meanwhile, Israel has refrained from attacking Nusra Front militants who have seized Syrian territory near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. One source familiar with U.S. intelligence information on Syria told me that Israel has a “non-aggression pact” with these Nusra forces.
An Odd Alliance
Israel’s odd-couple alliances with Sunni interests have evolved over the past several years, as Israel and Saudi Arabia emerged as strange bedfellows in the geopolitical struggle against Shiite-ruled Iran and its allies in Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. In Syria, for instance, senior Israelis have made clear they would prefer Sunni extremists to prevail in the civil war rather than Assad, who is an Alawite, a branch of Shiite Islam.
In September 2013, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, then a close adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad.
“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren told the Jerusalem Post in an interview. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
And, in June 2014, speaking as a former ambassador at an Aspen Institute conference, Oren expanded on his position, saying Israel would even prefer a victory by the brutal Islamic State over continuation of the Iranian-backed Assad in Syria. “From Israel’s perspective, if there’s got to be an evil that’s got to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail,” Oren said.
Skepticism and Doubt
In August 2013, when I first reported on the growing relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia in an article entitled “The Saudi-Israeli Superpower,” the story was met with much skepticism. But, increasingly, this secret alliance has gone public.
On Oct. 1, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu hinted at it in his United Nations General Assembly speech, which was largely devoted to excoriating Iran over its nuclear program and threatening a unilateral Israeli military strike.
Amid the bellicosity, Netanyahu dropped in a largely missed clue about the evolving power relationships in the Middle East, saying: “The dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy. And this affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”
The next day, Israel’s Channel 2 TV news reported that senior Israeli security officials had met with a high-level Gulf state counterpart in Jerusalem, believed to be Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States who was then head of Saudi intelligence.
The reality of this unlikely alliance has now even reached the mainstream U.S. media. For instance, Time magazine correspondent Joe Klein described the new coziness in an article in the Jan. 19, 2015 issue.
He wrote: “On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia – Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal – sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius.
“They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had ‘crossed the Rubicon’ and ‘don’t want to fight Israel anymore.’”
Though Klein detected only the bright side of this détente, there was a dark side as well, as referenced in Moussaoui’s deposition, which identified Prince Turki as one of al-Qaeda’s backers. Perhaps even more unsettling was his listing of Prince Bandar, who had long presented himself as a U.S. friend, so close to the Bush Family that he was nicknamed “Bandar Bush.”
Moussaoui claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, at a time when Bandar was the ambassador to the United States.
According to the New York Times article by Scott Shane, Moussaoui said he was assigned to “find a location where it may be suitable to launch a Stinger attack and then, after, be able to escape,” but that he was arrested on Aug. 16, 2001, before he could carry out the reconnaissance mission.
The thought of anyone in the Saudi embassy, then under the control of “Bandar Bush,” scheming with al-Qaeda to shoot down George W. Bush’s Air Force One is shocking, if true. The notion would have been considered unthinkable even after the 9/11 attacks, which involved 15 Saudis among the 19 hijackers.
After those terror attacks which killed nearly 3,000 Americans, Bandar went to the White House and persuaded Bush to arrange for the rapid extraction of bin Laden’s family members and other Saudis in the United States. Bush agreed to help get those Saudi nationals out on the first flights allowed back into the air.
Bandar’s intervention undercut the FBI’s chance to learn more about the ties between Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 perpetrators by giving FBI agents only time for cursory interviews with the departing Saudis.
Bandar himself was close to the bin Laden family and acknowledged having met Osama bin Laden in the context of bin Laden thanking Bandar for his help financing the jihad project in Afghanistan during the 1980s. “I was not impressed, to be honest with you,” Bandar told CNN’s Larry King about bin Laden. “I thought he was simple and very quiet guy.”
The Saudi government claimed to have broken ties with bin Laden in the early 1990s when he began targeting the United States because President George H.W. Bush had stationed U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, but – if Moussaoui is telling the truth – al-Qaeda would have still counted Bandar among its supporters in the late 1990s.
Bandar and Putin
Bandar’s possible links to Sunni terrorism also emerged in 2013 during a confrontation between Bandar and Putin over what Putin viewed as Bandar’s crude threat to unleash Chechen terrorists against the Sochi Winter Olympics if Putin did not reduce his support for the Syrian government.
According to a leaked diplomatic account of a July 31, 2013 meeting in Moscow, Bandar informed Putin that Saudi Arabia had strong influence over Chechen extremists who had carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Russian targets and who had since deployed to join the fight against the Assad regime in Syria.
As Bandar called for a Russian shift toward the Saudi position on Syria, he reportedly offered guarantees of protection from Chechen terror attacks on the Olympics. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics in the city of Sochi on the Black Sea next year,” Bandar reportedly said. “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.”
Putin responded, “We know that you have supported the Chechen terrorist groups for a decade. And that support, which you have frankly talked about just now, is completely incompatible with the common objectives of fighting global terrorism.”
Bandar’s Mafia-like threat toward the Sochi games – a version of “nice Olympics you got here, it’d be a shame if something terrible happened to it” – failed to intimidate Putin, who continued to support Assad.
Less than a month later, an incident in Syria almost forced President Barack Obama’s hand in launching U.S. air strikes against Assad’s military, which would have possibly opened the path for the Nusra Front or the Islamic State to capture Damascus and take control of Syria. On Aug. 21, 2013, a mysterious sarin attack outside Damascus killed hundreds and, in the U.S. media, the incident was immediately blamed on the Assad regime.
American neocons and their allied “liberal interventionists” demanded that Obama launch retaliatory air strikes even though some U.S. intelligence analysts doubted that Assad’s forces were responsible and suspected that the attack was carried out by extremist rebels trying to pull the U.S. military into the civil war on their side.
Yet, pushed by the neocons and liberal war hawks, Obama nearly ordered a bombing campaign designed to “degrade” the Syrian military but called it off at the last minute. He then accepted Putin’s help in reaching a diplomatic solution in which Assad agreed to surrender his entire chemical weapons arsenal, while still denying any role in the sarin attack.
Later, the Assad-did-it case crumbled amid new evidence that Sunni extremists, supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, were the more likely perpetrators of the attack, a scenario that became increasingly persuasive as Americans learned more about the cruelty and ruthlessness of many Sunni jihadists fighting in Syria. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mistaken Guns of Last August.”]
Putin’s cooperation with Obama to head off a U.S. military strike in Syria made the Russian president more of a target for the American neocons who thought they finally had reached the cusp of their long-desired “regime change” in Syria only to be blocked by Putin. By late September 2013, a leading neocon, National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman, announced the goal of challenging Putin and recognizing his sore point in Ukraine.
Taking to the Washington Post’s op-ed page on Sept. 26, 2013, Gershman called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important step toward ultimately ousting Putin. Gershman wrote, “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents. … Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.“]
However, in early 2014, Putin was obsessed with Bandar’s implicit threat of terrorism striking the Sochi Olympics, thus distracting him from the “regime change” – being pushed by NED and neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland – next door in Ukraine.
On Feb. 22, 2014, putschists, spearheaded by well-organized neo-Nazi militias, drove elected President Viktor Yanukovych and his government from power. Putin was caught off-guard and, in the resulting political chaos, agreed to requests from Crimean officials and voters to accept Crimea back into Russia, thus exploding his cooperative relationship with Obama.
With Putin the new pariah in Official Washington, the neocon hand also was strengthened in the Middle East where renewed pressure could be put on the “Shiite crescent” in Syria and Iran. However, in summer 2014, the Islamic State, which had splintered off from al-Qaeda and its Nusra Front, went on a rampage, invading Iraq where captured soldiers were beheaded. The Islamic State then engaged in gruesome videotaped decapitations of Western hostages inside Syria.
The Islamic State’s brutality and the threat it posed to the U.S.-backed, Shiite-dominated government of Iraq changed the political calculus. Obama felt compelled to launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in both Iraq and Syria. American neocons tried to convince Obama to expand the Syrian strikes to hit Assad’s forces, too, but Obama realized such a plan would only benefit the Islamic State and al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
In effect, the neocons were showing their hand – much as Israeli Ambassador Oren had done – favoring the Sunni extremists allied with al-Qaeda over Assad’s secular regime because it was allied with Iran. Now, with Moussaoui’s deposition identifying senior Saudi officials as patrons of al-Qaeda, another veil seems to have dropped.
Complicating matters further, Moussaoui also claimed that he passed letters between Osama bin Laden and then Crown Prince Salman, who recently became king upon the death of his brother King Abdullah.
But Moussaoui’s disclosure perhaps cast the most unflattering light on Bandar, the erstwhile confidant of the Bush Family who — if Moussaoui is right — may have been playing a sinister double game.
Also facing potentially embarrassing questions is Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, especially if he goes through with his planned speech before a joint session of Congress next month, attacking Obama for being soft on Iran.
And, America’s neocons might have some explaining to do about why they have carried water not just for the Israelis but for Israel’s de facto allies in Saudi Arabia.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Police State, USA — Imagine the following scenario: You are on your way home from work, driving down the road, when you notice police lights in your rear view mirror. You are being pulled over.
As you sit there, on the shoulder, adrenaline rushing, simultaneously angry and nervous, the police officer, in his patrol car behind you, is sizing you up based on an algorithm that determines your “threat rating.”
Online activity, purchases, and “comments that could be construed as offensive,” all contribute to your threat score.
The officer enters your license plate into a mobile application on his laptop. In a matter of seconds, this application crawls over billions of records in commercial and public databases, including all available social media engagement, recent purchases and “any comments that could be construed as offensive.” The application then determines if your “threat rating” is green, yellow, or red.
Imagine that you are one of our informed and frequent readers and understand the importance of police accountability and are unafraid to voice your completely peaceful, yet strong opinion about police misconduct. Imagine that you left a comment on facebook this morning about a particular officer’s misconduct; imagine that it is this particular officer who just pulled you over.
Your rating just came back red.
Up until this point, you have never committed a crime, you have never been violent, you have never even so much as run a stop sign. However, this police officer now knows that you made a comment about him punching the (insert handcuffed and helpless victim example here) on facebook, and he literally sees red (your threat rating).
What happens next? Does a routine traffic stop for driving 10 miles over the speed limit morph into a situation in which you now have a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm pistol with Streamlight TLR-2s laser site being aimed just above your left ear?
Do you receive multiple erroneous citations because this officer now has access to your personal life? Do you get cited where the officer would have otherwise let someone else go?
Or, maybe you are a cop or a judge, or the mayor, but this application confuses you with someone else and marks you as “red,” then what? What if you are driving someone else’s car?
The reality is, that any number of unimaginable things can and would happen next. And now, thanks to a particularly ominous product, by a company named Intrado, and the Orwellian nature of police in this country, those unimaginable situations are now a reality.
Intrado is one of many corporations thriving here in the US, from the creation and growth of the police industrial complex. The hypothetical “application” mentioned in the above scenario is a real product of Intrado, called Beware. Police departments nationwide have been purchasing and using this application since 2012.
Intrado is one of many companies who cater to the police state, giving police these ostensibly helpful tools which actually erode civil rights and leave a huge opening for corruption and abuse.
Private companies are currently, and have been acquiring large portions of your tax dollars from federal grants. These funds are in return being used to build and implement actual “Pre-crime” technologies.
No, not the psychic-based sci-fi pre-crime like in Minority Report, but actuary based mathematical and statistical assessments designed with the explicit goal to reduce future instances of criminality. This means that instead of sentencing people for crime already committed, sentences based on these risk assessments are instead sentencing people for crimes that they, or people like them, might commit.
In a society that claims justice to be blind, how does judging someone on what they might do fit in to the idea of freedom? The answer to that question is simple, it doesn’t.
Even if these “threat ratings” showed a statistical correlation to actually lower some instances of crime, which we have not seen, it’s not the right way to go about policing a people. Reason Magazine’s Peter Suderman sums this logic up quite eloquently:
By a roughly similar logic, we could lock up everyone—or even just everyone with the right risk profile, regardless of what crimes they have or have not already committed—from a high crime neighborhood, and call it a success when crime goes down.
The notion that this “surveillance grid” approach by police and their higher-ups, is for the safety of the people, is a total farce. It does little to nothing to protect society from a rogue criminal. What it does do, however, is protect the government by deeming large groups of people enemies of the state; regardless of whether or not the individuals in these arbitrary groups are peaceful or have committed a crime.
The bright side of this Orwellian nightmare of a total police state that locks us up for crimes we didn’t commit, is that it’s preventable. All we have to do is show this information to those who have yet to see the encroaching blue leviathan that is Orwell’s proverbial “boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
In fact we’ve already seen well informed communities stop their police departments from obtaining such equipment. The city council of Bellingham, Washington, recently rejected a proposed purchase of the Beware “threat rating” system.
Despsite the Bellingham police department receiving a $25,000 federal grant to cover most of the $36,000 annual cost of Beware, the citizens still said “nay.” At a mandatory hearing about the purchase from Intrado, Bellingham citizens discovered how Beware worked and opposed the purchase. … Full article
Caracas – Dozens of activists gathered outside the Ministry of Justice in the capital today in solidarity with Lucia Martinez de Romero, the widow of assassinated indigenous Yukpa leader Sabino Romero. Today she testified in the trial of Angel Antonio Romero Bracho, (aka “Manguera”) accused of murdering the indigenous chief or “cacique”.
Lucia herself also suffered multiple gunshot wounds the night of March 3, 2013 when her husband was shot and killed by hired assassins reportedly acting in the service of wealthy cattle ranchers.
Lusby Portillo, 66, Coordinator of the Zulia-based Homo Et Nature Society, explained what is at stake in today’s proceedings:
“Today there is a trial against the physical murderer, who shot and killed [Sabino] and wounded Lucia Martinez. Five police officers from Machiques have already been tried and given seven years of prison… They gave them seven years, because there was influence on the part of the cattle ranchers, who paid so that the court would decide a minimum sentence of seven years”.
Portillo is one of the principal activists to have followed the case over the past 23 months. He told Venezuelanalysis that many indigenous activists feared that a miscarriage of justice would take place unless supporters continued to draw attention to the case. One witness today also noted that the family of Manguera began to threaten Lucia before she was due to testify.
“If we let our guard down, if we don’t protest, if we don’t make movies, if we don’t write articles, if we don’t get the word out, these courts are going to give Manguera ten, eleven years, and then within two or three years he can go free with all of the benefits…So we are demanding thirty years of prison [for Manguera], and we’re also demanding that the trial against the five police officers be annulled, that there be a new trial, and that… the intellectual actors… the cattle ranchers who financed [the murder], who are millionaires, go to trial.”
In the leadup to his assassination, Rabino spearheaded a series of occupations by Yukpa campesinos of the expansive rancher haciendas established on their ancestral land in Sierra de Perijá, which were returned to them by the current socialist government under the Constitution. According to Portillo, these lands were violently confiscated by the government of dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in 1930, driving the Yukpa people into the mountains. When they subsequently attempted to retake their lands, as Sabino would do over eighty years later, they were brutally massacred by the cattle ranchers.
For indigenous rights activist Tibisay Maldonado, 52, however, this struggle goes much further back than eighty years.
“We are active in the organization National Front for Land Struggle, because, even though we are from Caracas we are from the city, this problematic of the land, this plundering from 500 years ago. We are the inheritors of a dispossession, of an invasion 500 years ago, and the indigenous peoples remain in resistance, and we must stand with them”.
Amid Trial, Impunity Continues for Murder of 8 other Yukpa Leaders
Portillo went on to criticize what he described as “impunity” for the hired killers of indigenous leaders and their intellectual and financial backers.
“Of the Yukpa [leaders] killed over the question of land, who are nine up until now, only the case of Sabino has been taken to the courts, but the [case of the] other eight murdered [leaders] has not been investigated nor brought to trial…Besides trial for [the case of] Sabino, there also needs be trials for the other eight Yukpa who were assassinated.”
Nonetheless, for Leonardo Dominguez, the problem goes well beyond these nine assassinated leaders, encompassing the issues of paramilitary violence in Venezuela writ large;
“This is something that is practiced in Colombia. These are new crimes in Venezuela. So I think the laws need to stipulate a decent punishment for this murderer to mark a precedent, because enough is enough. There have already been 359 campesinos assassinated at the hands of the hitmen, plus workers’ leaders, plus popular leaders. We want peace, but we believe peace is achieved through struggle. If you want peace, prepare for war,” he said.
A Test for the Revolution
For those present outside the Ministry of Justice, today’s trial represents a fundamental test of the Bolivarian government’s commitment to defending indigenous rights.
“Socialism has two paths,” warns Dominguez..”Either we’re with the indigenous people or we’re with the murderers.”
Despite the challenges faced by the Yupka people, including the relative inaction of the government, Jessy Rojas, 20, of Urbano Aborigen, is nevertheless hopeful. She stated that there had been a “fair amount of gains” for indigenous people under the Bolivarian Revolution, including the trial of Sabino’s murderer.
“In the past, there generally weren’t trials for indigenous cases. In the past, there wasn’t this openness to discussing indigenous issues in the capital”.
According to Jessy, these historic gains are propelling young activists to take the struggle evern further.
“This is the moment to demand,” she asserted.
The case has been adjourned until February 13th.
“US, India Move Forward on Nuclear Energy Deal” read the headline at the top of USA Today’s front page (1/26/15). Moving forward–that sounds good, doesn’t it? The subhead was “Obama makes progress on the 1st day of his 3-day visit”–making progress also generally being seen as a good thing.
Online, the headline was “Obama, India’s Modi Cite Nuclear Investment Breakthrough” (1/25/15). And who doesn’t like a “breakthrough”?
The article itself had the same positive spin, beginning with its lead:
President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Sunday they reached “a breakthrough understanding” in freeing up US investment in nuclear energy development in India, as Obama began a three-day visit to India.
Not only is it a “breakthrough understanding,” it’s also going to be “freeing up” investment. In these word choices, USA Today is saying it wants you to know that this is good news.
But what is the news? Here’s how the paper’s Mandakini Gahlot summarizes the agreement:
Picking up from a stalled 2008 civil nuclear agreement between the two countries, the deal would allow US firms to invest in energy in India. It also resolves a dispute over US insistence on tracking fissile material it supplies to the country and over Indian liability provisions that have discouraged US firms from capitalizing on the agreement.
“Indian liability provisions”–what does that mean? The only further explanation USA Today gives is a paraphrase of the White House view that the agreement “resolves the US concerns on both tracking and liability.” In other words, it doesn’t explain much.
You get a much fuller picture from a story in the Mumbai-based newspaper Indian Express (1/26/15), which explains that the problem is with Indian law:
India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, has a simple purpose: to make sure that victims of a nuclear accident can get quick compensation, without having to prove the plant operator was negligent, and irrespective of who was at fault…. Section 17b of CLiNDA says the plant operators…can claim compensation from their equipment suppliers if the accident resulted as a result of “equipment or material with patent or latent defects.” And Section 46 makes both suppliers and operators liable to be sued by accident victims.
This is in conflict with the international rules that the US nuclear industry has arranged for itself when marketing its products abroad:
In the US, the law allows victims to file damages claims against operators, suppliers and designers. However, when US firms started selling abroad, they pushed for the concept of legal channeling, which left only operators liable.
These corporations–who have the political backing of the US government–have succeeded in getting international conventions to agree that “no one other than operators can be held responsible” in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. The suppliers want assurances that these international conventions, and not Indian law, will be applied in the wake of such an event.
The “breakthrough” between Obama and Modi seems to be an agreement that the law will be “tweaked” to let US corporations off the hook in case of a devastating accident. For example, suppliers of nuclear equipment could be redefined as “contractors” and therefore not be liable under Indian law.
Of course, if USA Today explained that Obama had gotten the Indian prime minister to find a loophole that would allow US corporations to avoid having to compensate victims of nuclear disasters that they contributed to, that would be harder to present as a “good news!” story.
Published on January 31, 2015
Anthony Lawson passed away on the 8th of January, 2015 due to colon cancer. This video will be the final one on his channel.
The months leading up to his death were filled with much anguish and confusion, as after an operation to fix his inguinal hernia there were a series of follow-ups and other procedures to determine the causes of the severe back pain that followed. In the end, the cancer was discovered on New Year’s Eve, far too late to have anything done, and his mental state as a result was too erratic for him to truly know what was wrong.
The medical costs have placed the family in a tight situation, so if anyone would like to make a donation, however small, please send an email to email@example.com.
Galey Tzahal (Army Radio) reported today that Israel welcomed with open arms two Ukrainian oligarchs wanted by Interpol for serious crimes. The suspects, Yuri Borisov and Eduard Stavitsky, are suspected of embezzlement and money-laundering in Ukraine. They flew into Ben Gurion airport and received Israeli entry visas. Borisov’s visa was approved for the purposes of medical treatment, though it’s not clear what, if anything ails him except his criminal predicament. Borisov fled Israel immediately after the arrest of Yisrael Beitenu MK Faina Kirschenbaum, but stayed long enough (about a month) to get citizenship and passports for him and his entire family.
They were granted citizenship despite the fact that one of them isn’t Jewish and both are wanted fugitives and suspected criminals. These matters should make them automatically ineligible for citizenship.
The United States had asked Interpol to apprehend Borisov, former CEO of a Ukrainian oil company, on suspicion that he embezzled at least $40-million (the article uses the word “billion” but that seems an error) in U.S. foreign aid intended for Ukraine. An Israeli private investigator believes Borisov’s visa was granted so quickly because a cash bribe was offered to an Interior Ministry official.
It should be mentioned that Gideon Saar was the minister at the time this happened. Coincidentally, he resigned within the past few months under a pall. Some said he was about to be charged with an unspecified crime. That still has not happened.
The second Ukrainian oligarch, Edward Stavitsky, arrived a few months ago and is still residing in Herzliya. He is a former Ukrainian energy minister. As he was fleeing, Ukrainian police raided his home, where they allegedly found $4.5-million in cash, millions in luxury watches, and kilograms of gold bullion. Stavitsky earned Israeli citizenship even though he is Christian, not Jewish.
The Israeli private investigator told Galey Tzahal that Israel has become the destination of choice for fugitive oligarchs.
FOIA Documents Reveal Massive DEA Program to Record American’s Whereabouts With License Plate Readers
The Drug Enforcement Administration has initiated a massive national license plate reader program with major civil liberties concerns but disclosed very few details, according to new DEA documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of Information Act.
The DEA is currently operating a National License Plate Recognition initiative that connects DEA license plate readers with those of other law enforcement agencies around the country. A Washington Post headline proclaimed in February 2014 that the Department of Homeland Security had cancelled its “national license-plate tracking plan,” but all that was ended was one Immigrations and Customs Enforcement solicitation for proposals. In fact, a government-run national license plate tracking program already exists, housed within the DEA. (That’s in addition to the corporate license plate tracking database run by Vigilant Solutions, holding billions of records about our movements.) Since its inception in 2008, the DEA has provided limited information to the public on the program’s goals, capabilities and policies. Information has trickled out over the years, in testimony here or there. But far too little is still known about this program.
In 2012, the ACLU filed public records requests in 38 states and Washington, D.C. seeking information about the use of automatic license plate readers. Our July 2013 report, You Are Being Tracked, summarized our findings with regard to state and local law enforcement agencies, finding that the technology was being rapidly adopted, all too often with little attention paid to the privacy risks of this powerful technology. But in addition to filing public records requests with state agencies, the ACLU also filed FOIA requests with federal agencies, including the DEA.
The new DEA records that we received are heavily redacted and incomplete, but they provide the most complete documentation of the DEA’s database to date. For example, the DEA has previously testified that its license plate reader program began at the southwest border crossings, and that the agency planned to gradually increase its reach; we now know more about to where it has grown. The DEA had previously suggested that “other sources” would be able to feed data into the database; we now know about some of the types of agencies collaborating with the DEA.
The documents uncovered by our FOIA request provide additional details, but their usefulness is limited by the DEA’s decision to provide only documents that are undated or years old. If the DEA’s collection of location information is as extensive as the agency has suggested in its limited comments to legislatures, the public deserves a more complete and comprehensive explanation than the smattering of records we have obtained can provide.
These records do, however, offer documentation that this program is a major DEA initiative that has the potential to track our movements around the country. With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that. If license plate readers continue to proliferate without restriction and the DEA holds license plate reader data for extended periods of time, the agency will soon possess a detailed and invasive depiction of our lives (particularly if combined with other data about individuals collected by the government, such as the DEA’s recently revealed bulk phone records program, or cell phone information gleaned from U.S. Marshals Service’s cell site simulator-equipped aircraft ). Data-mining the information, an unproven law enforcement technique that the DEA has begun to use here, only exacerbates these concerns, potentially tagging people as criminals without due process.
Some major findings from the documents
The National License Plate Recognition Initiative includes a massive database containing data from both DEA-owned automatic license plate readers and other readers. Among the findings from the FOIA documents:
- At the time of an undated slideshow, the DEA had deployed at least 100 license plate readers across the United States (eight states are identified: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey). A 2010 document also explains that the DEA had by then set up 41 plate reader monitoring stations throughout Texas, New Mexico, and California.
- The DEA is also inviting federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies around the country to contribute location information to the database. For example, the documents show that local and regional law enforcement systems in Southern California’s San Diego and Imperial Counties and New Jersey all provide data to the DEA. The program was “officially opened” to these partners in May 2009. Other agencies are surely partnering with the DEA to share information, but these agreements are still secret, leaving the public unable to know who has their location information and how it is being used.
- Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is one of the federal agencies that has shared information with the DEA. An undated Memorandum of Understanding explains that the agencies will, “at regular intervals,” provide each other license plate reader data. It also authorizes the two agencies to further share each other’s data with other federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutors as well as to “intelligence, operations, and fusion centers.” This is a lot of location points. CBP collects “nearly 100 percent of land border traffic,” which amounts to over 793.5 million license plates between May 2009 and May 2013, according to CBP’s response to our FOIA request.
- Additionally, any federal, state, or local law enforcement agent vetted by the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center can conduct queries of the database, located in Merrifield, Va.
- The same undated slideshow suggests that there were over 343 million records in the database at the date of the slide’s publication (due to redactions, it is impossible to confirm that date from this document).
- The unredacted parts of the documents and news reports suggest that the DEA recently changed its retention policy to six months for non-hit data. While this is an improvement from previous statements of DEA retention policy, it is still far too long. The government should not collect or retain information revealing the movements of millions of people accused of no crime. But even that long retention period is only meaningful if it comes with strict rules limiting data use, sharing, and access. Like its retention policy, the DEA should make these policies public.
- The DEA says that the National License Plate Recognition Initiative targets roadways that the agency believes are commonly used for contraband transport. But it’s not clear what this means or what it is based on. Every highway in the United States must be regularly used for contraband transport. Is the DEA using this undefined mandate to target people of color? Without more information from the DEA, we have no idea.
- One DEA document references steps needed to ensure the program meets its goals, “of which asset forfeiture is primary.” Asset forfeiture has been in the news a lot lately, criticized as a widely abused law enforcement tactic that doesn’t advance public safety but simply enriches police and federal agencies.
- The program also apparently data mines license plate reader data “to identify travel patterns.” The extent of this data mining is unknown. Is the DEA running all of our license plate reads through a program to predict our likelihood of committing a crime? Are we all suspects if we drive on a certain road? What else does the DEA think it knows about us just from the collection and analysis of our locations via license plate reader data?
More answers are needed
The DEA’s license plate reader programs raise serious civil liberties concerns, and the agency should be open about what it is doing so that those activities can be subject to public debate. Among other questions, the agency should answer these:
- How many license plate readers does DEA currently own and operate? In which states? And, how much did it spend on these license plate readers?
- Which policies govern the use of the license plate readers? Which policies govern the use of the license plate reader database? Has the agency done a Privacy Impact Assessment on these programs?
- How many license plate reader hits have resulted in arrest and prosecution of a serious crime? How many license plate reader hits have not correlated to an alert upon further investigation (a “mis-hit”)?
- From which local, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies does the DEA receive license plate reader data?
- Which additional agencies does the DEA partner with? How many people have been approved to conduct queries of the DEA database?
- Has the DEA used or attempted to use Vigilant Solution’s National Vehicle Location Service or a similar privately-run license plate reader database? Does DEA combine information from its own database with records in Vigilant’s, creating a mega-database in a public-private surveillance partnership?
As is the case with most police and federal law enforcement spy technologies, license plate tracking programs have flown under the radar of courts and legislators for far too long, silently collecting records about ordinary Americans in the cover of secrecy. When programs are secret, we have no way of challenging them or ensuring they conform with our values and the law. Before accountability comes transparency. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to release records documenting the federal government’s significant investment in automatic license plate readers and its unregulated and largely unseen location tracking programs.
An Egyptian government-appointed panel has frozen the assets of 901 Muslim Brotherhood members and 1,096 Brotherhood-affiliated charities.
“The funds of 901 Brotherhood leaders and members have been frozen,” panel head Ezzat Khamis said in a press conference yesterday.
He said the panel had seized 522 offices of the disbanded Justice and Freedom Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and 54 Brotherhood-owned premises.
“Some 360 vehicles and 328 feddans [138 acres] of land owned by Brotherhood members have also been seized,” he said.
Khamis said that the panel had also seized 532 Brotherhood-affiliated companies and 28 hospitals and medical centres.
“Some 1,096 Brotherhood-affiliated NGOs and 82 schools have also been seized,” he said.
In September 2013, an Egyptian court banned the activities of the decades-old Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which ousted President Mohamed Morsi hails.
The court had also ordered the group’s dissolution and the confiscation of its offices and funds.
Following the ruling, the government formed a committee tasked with managing the group’s assets.
In December 2013, the government declared the Brotherhood a “terrorist” group, blaming it for a spate of deadly attacks on security personnel.
The Brotherhood, for its part, has repeatedly dismissed the accusations calling them politically motivated.
An Egyptian court ordered the release on Thursday of the sons of ousted President Hosni Mubarak pending their retrial in a corruption case, their lawyer told Reuters.
Farid al-Deeb said this meant that Alaa and Gamal Mubarak should be released because they were not being tried in any other cases.
However, judicial sources said they would not be freed until prosecutors review other legal cases against them.
The Mubarak brothers do still face charges of stock market manipulation in a separate case, but in June 2013 a court ordered their release in that case.
Given that a court dropped other corruption charges against the sons in yet another case in November, it appeared there were no other cases preventing their release.
The Cairo Criminal Court said in a document explaining its ruling that the two men had already served the maximum permitted time of 18 months in pretrial detention and should therefore not be held pending their retrial in a corruption case.
An appeals court earlier this month ordered their retrial, along with their father, overturning a lower court conviction that saw the two brothers given four-year jail sentences.
Deeb had said Mubarak himself, who is in a military hospital, would also be a free man, but state media reported that there had been no orders yet for his release.
A high court had already overturned the only remaining conviction against Mubarak on January 13, ordering a retrial and opening the way for his possible release.
In November, an Egyptian court dismissed murder charges against Mubarak over the deaths of protesters during the 2011 uprising that ended the former despot’s decades-long rule. A public prosecutor has since appealed the decision. If Mubarak is retried in the case, it would be for the third and final time under Egyptian law.
About 800 people were killed during the 18-day uprising that unseated Mubarak, in which protesters clashed with police across the country and torched police stations. Mubarak was accused of having ordered the killing of protesters.
In 2011, there were mass protests demanding Mubarak’s prosecution after he retired to a mansion in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh following the uprising that forced him from power that February. He was detained two months later and ordered to stand trial.
Mubarak had also previously been acquitted of corruption charges related to gas exports to Israel.
Since Mohammed Mursi, Mubarak’s successor and Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was ousted from power in 2013, then-army chief and current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made law and order and economic stability his top priorities rather than democratic freedoms – the key demand during the anti-Mubarak uprising.
Human rights group say that Sisi has been even more autocratic and repressive than Mubarak. Since he rose to power, several Mubarak-era officials have made a comeback as have the once reviled police.