Anaheim Police have spent almost a decade secretly building an inventory of powerful cell phone surveillance devices and making them available to neighboring cities in Orange County, documents obtained by the ACLU of California reveal.
This cell phone spying program—which potentially affects the privacy of everyone from Orange County’s 3 million residents to the 16 million people who visit Disneyland every year—shows the dangers of allowing law enforcement to secretly acquire surveillance technology. The devices include the suitcase-sized “Stingray” equipment, another hand-held and easy-to-hide cell phone spy tool, and—most surprisingly—a military-grade piece of equipment known as a “dirtbox” that until now was only thought to be used by the federal government and two major cities.
If a city of only a few hundred thousand people like Anaheim has purchased this wide array of devices, it raises the question of how widespread these tools really are.
Additionally, Anaheim has claimed in its secretive funding requests that “every city in Orange County has benefited” from its cellular surveillance equipment, raising further concerns about transparency, democracy, and accountability. It’s bad enough that Anaheim’s secretive acquisition of this surveillance technology deprived the city’s residents of the opportunity to participate in critical decisions affecting their own community. But by loaning out this technology well outside Anaheim’s borders, the police department has subjected people all over Orange County to surveillance decisions made by unelected leaders from other communities.
A cell site simulator, often referred to as “Stingray,” mimics a cell tower and tricks nearby cell phones into communicating with it. In order to function, these devices interact with all cell phones in radio range, which means they potentially retain data about the communications and locations of innocent people.
Although federal, state and local governments widely use cell cite simulators, governments have gone to great lengths to hide information about how those simulators work and are used. Anaheim’s secrecy here is not an accident. The city and its departments bought these devices in secret and initially refused the ACLU’s request for public records. Only after we filed a public records lawsuit and engaged in extensive discussions did Anaheim produce any documents, which were heavily redacted—an on-going point of contention in our lawsuit.
What the documents show
Anaheim has possessed at least three different forms of cell phone surveillance technology since at least 2009, the documents show. The police department used a federal grant that year to purchase a dirtbox from a Maryland-based company named Digital Receiver Technology, Inc., or DRT. A dirtbox can collect information about thousands of phones at once, and a predecessor version of Anaheim’s device is capable of intercepting and recording digital voice data, according to a classified catalog recently leaked to the media. Other dirtbox models are capable of breaking the encryption of cellphone communications, according to media reports. One of the unique features of a dirtbox is that it can be airborne, and as a consequence scoop up information from not just a few hundred phones in its vicinity, but from thousands of phones. Until now, the only reported domestic use of these powerful devices was by the federal government and the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago.
In 2011, two years after buying the dirtbox, Anaheim appears to have bought a Stingray from Florida-based Harris Corp using a combination of federal grant dollars and local funds. And in 2013, Anaheim’s Chief of Police approved an upgrade to the department’s Stingray the ACLU believes enabled it to monitor modern LTE cellular networks.
Finally, in late 2013 Anaheim also purchased a controversial hand-held cell phone surveillance device manufactured by a company called KEYW and marketed as a tool for covertly locating phones and LTE signals in hard-to-reach places, including the interiors of buildings. The documents turned over to the ACLU, when compared with publicly available price quotes, strongly suggest that Anaheim bought a device called a Jugular. With a lightweight Jugular in hand, individual officers can easily conduct cell phone surveillance around and inside of buildings, including private homes, without alerting bystanders.
Potential warrantless use
The documents obtained in the public records suit do not confirm whether Anaheim police investigators obtain a warrant before using these devices. The records state that Anaheim obtains a “court order” or “court approval” for use of the DRT, KEYW, and Harris devices, but a court order is not necessarily based on probable cause, as is required for a warrant. This is important because devices like the KEYW Jugular can be used to find devices in hard-to-access spaces, such as the interiors of homes where people have the right to be secure from unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment.
The ACLU documents predate CalECPA, the new California law requiring a warrant for these devices. We do not know what legal process Anaheim seeks for cell phone surveillance today.
The ever-expanding use of these devices appears to go beyond Anaheim’s city limits. Anaheim represented in funding requests that it makes its cell surveillance arsenal available to other police departments in Orange County and had written procedures for sharing the dirtbox. The secretive use of this equipment outside of Anaheim means the police department not only deprived its own residents of the opportunity to debate or choose whether to be subjected to cell phone surveillance, it also did the same for the residents and elected leaders in neighboring jurisdictions, undermining the democratic process in those places as well.
It’s time for reform
Law enforcement entities should never acquire surveillance technology without telling the public, let alone multiple generations of devices capable of spying on private communications, as these Anaheim documents show has happened there.
Anaheim’s slide towards more and more surveillance illustrates the risks of secret surveillance outside of the democratic process. But communities are fighting back. As federal and state policymakers pass new restrictions on cell surveillance devices, local communities are moving forward with surveillance reforms that range from robust use policies for Stingrays to civilian oversight communities to an ordinance that requires transparency, accountability, and oversight for all surveillance technologies.
The ACLU is hopeful these reforms will take hold in places like Anaheim too so that when police seek the next generation of surveillance technologies, it won’t take the public seven years and a lawsuit to find out about it.
This is a condensed version of a post originally published by the ACLU of Northern California.
Supporters of license plate readers are fond of saying that unless you’re a criminal, you needn’t fear the invasive technology. But those who adhere to that argument should consider just a few examples from around the country:
- A police officer in Washington D.C. pleaded guilty to extortion after looking up the plates of cars near a gay bar and blackmailing the car’s owners.
- The DEA contemplated using license plate readers to monitor people who were at a gun show. Since the devices can’t distinguish between those who are selling illegal guns and those who aren’t, a person’s presence at the gun show would have landed them in a DEA database.
- A SWAT team in Kansas raided a man’s house where his wife, 7-year-old daughter, and 13-year-old son lived based in part on the mass monitoring of cars parked at a gardening store. The man was held at gunpoint for two hours while cops combed through his home. The police were looking for a marijuana growing operation. They did not find that or any other evidence of criminal activity in the man’s house.
With these stories firmly in mind, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s latest license plate reader discovery is all the more chilling.
Last year, we learned that the NYPD was hoping to enter into a multi-year contract that would give it access to the nationwide database of license plate reader data owned by the company Vigilant Solutions. Now, through a Freedom of Information Law request, the NYCLU has obtained the final version of the $442,500 contract and the scope-of-work proposal that gives a peek into the ever-widening world of surveillance made possible by Vigilant.
Surveillance is about power. Vigilant gives the NYPD power to monitor our whereabouts and, by extension, our affiliations, interests, activities and beliefs.
The scope-of-work proposal explains how Vigilant vastly expands the NYPD’s surveillance capability beyond what was possible with its own license plate database. Known as the Domain Awareness System, it collects the license plate data scanned by the approximately 500 license plate readers operated by the NYPD and combines it with footage from cameras and other surveillance devices around the city. The NYPD holds on to the license plate data for at least five years regardless of whether a car triggers any suspicion.
The Vigilant database raises similar privacy concerns as the Domain Awareness System, but those concerns are greatly magnified because the Vigilant database is massive: It contains over 2.2 billion location data points, and it is growing by almost a million data points per day. The database also isn’t limited to New York City, which means the NYPD can now monitor your car whether you live in New York or Miami or Chicago or Los Angeles. (See Vigilant’s Nationwide Scan Density Map on page 64.) Even more worrisome, the data comes from private license plate readers that scan locations that the police are less likely to scan: residential areas, apartment complexes, retail areas, and business office complexes with large employee parking areas. And, as far as we can tell, there is no limit on how long Vigilant keeps all of this private location data. There is no incentive for Vigilant to delete any data because its business model is to profit off of selling people’s data.
The Vigilant database also boasts “full suite data analytics tools.” These tools allow police officers to track cars historically or in real time, conduct a virtual “stakeout,” figure out which cars are commonly seen in close proximity to each other, and predict likely locations to find a car.
With this volume of private data and these types of tools, Vigilant enables the NYPD to learn intimate details about people’s lives with a click of a mouse. Through the “stakeout” feature, the NYPD may learn who was at a political rally, at an abortion clinic, or at a gay bar. Through the predictive analysis, the NYPD may learn that a person is likely to be near a mosque at prayer time or at home during certain hours of the day. Through the “associate analysis,” the NYPD may come to suspect someone of being a “possible associate” of a criminal when the person is simply a family member, a friend, or a lover.
Until now, law enforcement agencies under contract with Vigilant, including the NYPD, have said very little in public about how they use the database and what privacy protections they implement. That needs to change. Fifty police officers at the NYPD’s Real Crime Center have access to the Vigilant database and tools every day. The public has the right to know what rules regulate their access and what oversight mechanisms, if any, are in place. They have the right to know when and how the police are using the database and what the consequences are.
Surveillance is about power. Vigilant gives the NYPD power to monitor our whereabouts and, by extension, our affiliations, interests, activities and beliefs. By demanding answers to critical questions about NYPD’s use of Vigilant and other surveillance tools, New Yorkers can begin to take back the power imbalance created by the new era of mass digital surveillance.
Vigilant Solutions, one of the country’s largest brokers of vehicle surveillance technology, is offering a hell of a deal to law enforcement agencies in Texas: a whole suite of automated license plate reader (ALPR) equipment and access to the company’s massive databases and analytical tools—and it won’t cost the agency a dime.
Even though the technology is marketed as budget neutral, that doesn’t mean no one has to pay. Instead, Texas police fund it by gouging people who have outstanding court fines and handing Vigilant all of the data they gather on drivers for nearly unlimited commercial use.
ALPR refers to high-speed camera networks that capture license plate images, convert the plate numbers into machine-readable text, geotag and time-stamp the information, and store it all in database systems. EFF has long been concerned with this technology, because ALPRs typically capture sensitive location information on all drivers—not just criminal suspects—and, in aggregate, the information can reveal personal information, such as where you go to church, what doctors you visit, and where you sleep at night.
Vigilant is leveraging H.B. 121, a new Texas law passed in 2015 that allows officers to install credit and debit card readers in their patrol vehicles to take payment on the spot for unpaid court fines, also known as capias warrants. When the law passed, Texas legislators argued that not only would it help local government with their budgets, it would also benefit the public and police. As the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allen Fletcher, wrote in his official statement of intent:
[T]he option of making such a payment at the time of arrest could avoid contributing to already crowded jails, save time for arresting officers, and relieve minor offenders suddenly informed of an uncollected payment when pulled over for a routine moving violation from the burden of dealing with an impounded vehicle and the potential inconvenience of finding someone to supervise a child because of an unexpected arrest.
The bill was supported by the criminal justice reform groups such as the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, but it also raised concerns by respected criminal justice blogger Scott Henson of Grits For Breakfast, who theorized that the law, combined with ALPR technology, could allow police officers to “cherry pick drivers with outstanding warrants instead of looking for current, real-time traffic violations.”
He further asked:
Are there enough departments deploying license plate readers to cause concern? Will they use them in such a fashion? How will anyone know? Is it possible to monitor—or better, measure—any shift in on-the-ground police priorities resulting from the new economic incentives created by the bill?
The “warrant redemption” program works like this. The agency gets no-cost license plate readers as well as free access to LEARN-NVLS, the ALPR data system Vigilant says contains more than 2.8-billion plate scans and is growing by more than 70 million scans a month. This also includes a wide variety of analytical and predictive software tools.
The government agency in turn gives Vigilant access to information about all its outstanding court fees, which the company then turns into a hot list to feed into the free ALPR systems. As police cars patrol the city, they ping on license plates associated with the fees. The officer then pulls the driver over and offers them a devil’s bargain: go to jail, or pay the original fine with an extra 25% processing fee tacked on, all of which goes to Vigilant.1 In other words, the driver is paying Vigilant to provide the local police with the technology used to identify and then detain the driver. If the ALPR pings on a parked car, the officer can get out and leave a note to visit Vigilant’s payment website.
But Vigilant isn’t just compensated with motorists’ cash. The law enforcement agencies are also using the privacy of everyday drivers as currency.
From Vigilant Solutions contract with City of Kyle
In early December 2015, Vigilant issued a press release bragging that Guadalupe County had used the systems to collect on more than 4,500 warrants between April and December 2015. In January 2016, the City of Kyle signed an identical deal with Vigilant. Soon after, Guadalupe County upgraded the contract to allow Vigilant to dispatch its own contractors to collect on capias warrants.
Alarmingly, in December, Vigilant also quietly issued an apology on its website for a major error:
During the second week of December, as part of its Warrant Redemption Program, Vigilant Solutions sent several warrant notices – on behalf of our law enforcement partners – in error to citizens across the state of Texas. A technical error caused us to send warrant notices to the wrong recipients.
These types of mistakes are not acceptable and we deeply apologize to those who received the warrant correspondence in error and to our law enforcement customers.
Vigilant is right: this is not acceptable. Yet, the company has not disclosed the extent of the error, how many people were affected, how much money was collected that shouldn’t have been, and what it’s doing to inform and make it up to the people affected. Instead, the company simply stated that it had “conducted a thorough review of the incident and have implemented several internal policies.”
We’re unlikely to get answers from the government agencies who signed these contracts. To access Vigilant’s powerful online data systems, agencies agree not to disparage the company or even to talk to the press without the company’s permission:
From Vigilant Solutions LEARN-NVLS User Agreement
You shall not create, publish, distribute, or permit any written, electronically transmitted or other form of publicity material that makes reference to the LEARN LPR Database Server or this Agreement without first submitting the material to Vigilant and receiving written consent from Vigilant thereto…
You agree not to use proprietary materials or information in any manner that is disparaging. This prohibition is specifically intended to preclude you from cooperating or otherwise agreeing to allow photographs or screenshots to be taken by any member of the media without the express consent of LEARN-NVLS. You also agree not to voluntarily provide ANY information, including interviews, related to LEARN products or its services to any member of the media without the express written consent of LEARN-NVLS.
You might very well ask at this point about the legality of this scheme. Vigilant anticipated that and provided the City of Kyle with a slide titled “Can I Really Do This?” which cited a law that they believe allows for the 25% surcharge.
The law states that a county or municipality “may only charge a fee for the access or service if the fee is designed to recover the costs directly and reasonably incurred in providing the access or service.”
We believe that a 25% fee is not reasonable and doesn’t recover just the direct costs, since the fee is actually paying for the whole ALPR system, including surveillance capabilities unrelated to warrant redemption, such as access to the giant LEARN-NVLS database and software suite.
Beyond that, the system raises a whole host of problems:
- It turns police into debt collectors, who have to keep swiping credit cards to keep the free equipment.
- It turns police into data miners, who use the privacy of local drivers as currency.
- It not-so-subtly shifts police priorities from responding to calls and traffic violations to responding to a computer’s instructions.
- Policy makers and the public are unable to effectively evaluate the technology since the contract prohibits police from speaking honestly and openly about the program.
- The model relies on debt: there’s no incentive for criminal justice leaders to work with the community to reduce the number of capias warrants, since that could result in losing the equipment.
- People who have committed no crimes whatsoever have their driving patterns uploaded into a private system and no opportunity to control or watchdog how that data is disseminated.
There was a time where companies like Vigilant marketed ALPR technology as a way to save kidnapped children, recover stolen cars, and catch violent criminals. But as we’ve long warned, ALPRs in fact are being deployed for far more questionable practices.
The Texas public should be outraged at the terrible deals their representatives are signing with this particular surveillance contractor, and the legislature should reexamine the unintended consequences of the law they passed last year.
- 1. The contracts are inconsistent on how this fee breaks down. For example, the City of Kyle contract lists 5% of “credit card processing,” 5% for “credit card handling,” and 15% for a “vendor transaction fee.”
There is a lot more than meets the eye in the newly revealed Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence briefing of Sept. 5, 2002, which showed there was a lack of evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – just as President George W. Bush’s administration was launching its sales job for the Iraq War.
The briefing report and its quick demise amount to an indictment not only of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld but also of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers, who is exposed once again as a Rumsfeld patsy who put politics ahead of his responsibility to American soldiers and to the nation as a whole.
In a Jan. 24 report at Politico entitled “What Donald Rumsfeld Knew We Didn’t Know About Iraq,” journalist John Walcott presents a wealth of detail about the JCS intelligence report of Sept. 5, 2002, offering additional corroboration that the Bush administration lied to the American people about the evidence of WMD in Iraq.
The JCS briefing noted, for example: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely – perhaps 90% – on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”
Small wonder that the briefing report was dead on arrival in Rumsfeld’s in-box. After all, it proved that the intelligence evidence justifying war was, in Rumsfeldian terms, a “known unknown.” When he received it on Sept. 5 or 6, the Defense Secretary deep-sixed it – but not before sending it on Sept. 9 to Gen. Richard Myers (who he already knew had a copy) with a transparently disingenuous CYA note: “Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD. It is big. Thanks.”
Absent was any notation such as “I guess we should tell the White House to call off its pro-war sales campaign based on Iraq possessing WMD since we don’t got the goods.” Without such a direct instruction, Rumsfeld could be sure that Gen. Myers would not take the matter further.
Myers had already proven his “company man” mettle by scotching a legal inquiry that he had just authorized to provide the armed forces with guidance on permitted interrogation techniques. All that it took to ensure a hasty Myers retreat was a verbal slap-down from Rumsfeld’s general counsel, William James Haynes II, as soon as Haynes got wind of the inquiry in November 2002. (More on that below.)
The more interesting story, in my view, is not that Rumsfeld was corrupt (yawn, yawn), but that so was his patsy, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, the country’s top uniformed military officer at the time. Myers has sported a well-worn coat of blue Teflon up until now.
Even John Walcott, a member of the Knight-Ridder team that did the most responsible pre-Iraq-War reporting, lets the hapless Myers too easily off the hook in writing: “Myers, who knew as well as anyone the significance of the report, did not distribute it beyond his immediate military colleagues and civilian boss, which a former aide said was consistent with the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.”
Principal Military Adviser to the President
That “former aide” is dead wrong on the last point, and this is key. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs works directly for two bosses: the President of the United States, whom he serves as the principal military adviser, and the Secretary of Defense. The JCS Chairman has the statutory authority – indeed, the duty – to seek direct access to the President to advise him in such circumstances, bearing on war or peace.
Indeed, in his 2009 memoir, Eyes on the Horizon, Gen. Myers himself writes, “I was legally obligated to provide the President my best military advice — not the best advice as approved by the Secretary of Defense.”
But in reality, Myers wouldn’t and he didn’t. And that – quite simply – is why Rumsfeld picked him and others like him for leading supporting roles in the Pentagon. And so the Iraq War came – and, with it, catastrophe for the Middle East (with related disorder now spreading into Europe).
Could Gen. Myers have headed off the war had he had the courage to assert his prerogative to go directly to President Bush and tell him the truth? Sad to say, with Bush onboard as an eager “war president” and with Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld intimidating the timid Secretary of State Colin Powell and with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet fully compliant, it is not likely that Myers could have put the brakes on the rush to invade Iraq simply by appealing to the President.
After all, the JCS briefing coincided with the start of the big sales pitch for the Iraq War based on alarming claims about Iraq possessing WMD and possibly developing a nuclear bomb. As White House chief of staff Andrew Card explained the September timing of the ad campaign, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
Just three days after the date of the JCS intelligence report depicting the shallowness of the intelligence on the issue of WMD in Iraq, the White House, with the help of The New York Times and other “mainstream media,” launched a major propaganda offensive.
On Sept. 8, 2002, a New York Times front-pager – headlined “US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts” by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon – got the juggernaut rolling downhill to war. Their piece featured some aluminum tubes that they mistakenly thought could be used only for nuclear centrifuges (when they were actually for conventional artillery). Iraq’s provocative behavior, wrote the Times, has “brought Iraq and the United States to the brink of war.”
Or as NSC Advisor Rice summed it up on the Sunday talk shows later that day, “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
But it was clear the fix was in even earlier. The British “Downing Street Minutes” of July 23, 2002, show that Tenet told his British counterpart, Richard Dearlove, that – as Dearlove described the message to Prime Minister Tony Blair – that “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
However, despite the obstacles, Richard Myers, like so many of us, took a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. For many of us who wore the uniform and took “duty, honor, country” seriously, it is hard to give Myers a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to blame for the Iraq War.
No matter the odds against success, his duty was to go directly to the President and make the case. If he was rebuffed, he should have quit and gone public, in my view. (How long has it been since anyone of high rank has quit on principle?)
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs quitting over plans for an unnecessary war? Not even The New York Times and The Washington Post – as fully in the tank as they were for the Iraq War – would have been able to suppress that story in 2002. And, had Myers gone public he might have succeeded in injecting slippery grease under the rollout of Card’s “new product.”
Imagine what might have happened had Myers gone public at that point. It is all too easy to assume that Bush and Cheney would have gotten their war anyway. But who can tell for sure? Sometimes it takes just one senior official with integrity to spark a hemorrhage of honesty. However the outcome would have turned out at least Myers would been spared the pain of looking into the mirror every morning – and thinking back on what might have been.
A Modern Rumsfeld General
This was not the first time that Myers, who served as JCS chairman from 2001 to 2005, was derelict in duty by playing the toady. He had acquiesced in Bush’s and Rumsfeld’s approval of torture in February 2002, even before going along with a gross violation of international law – launching the attack on Iraq absent any imminent threat and without the required approval by the UN Security Council.
On torture, the seldom mentioned smoking gun was a two-page executive memorandum signed by George W. Bush on Feb. 7, 2002, in which the President declared that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees. Instead, they would be treated “humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva,” the memo said, using vague and permissive language that, in effect, opened the door to torture and other abuses. Gen. Myers was one of eight addressees.
On May 11, 2009 Myers was in Washington peddling his memoir Eyes on the Horizon and spoke at a Harvard Business School Alumni dinner. I seldom go to such affairs, but in this case I was glad I had paid my dues, for here was a unique opportunity to quiz Myers. I began by thanking him for acknowledging in his book “the Geneva Conventions were a fundamental part of our military culture.” Then I asked what he had done when he received Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002 memorandum unilaterally creating exceptions to Geneva.
“Just read my book,” Myers said. I told him I had, and cited a couple of sentences from my copy: “You write that you told a senior Pentagon official, Douglas Feith, ‘I feel very strongly about this. And if Rumsfeld doesn’t defend the Geneva Conventions, I’ll contradict him in front of the President.’ Did you?”
Myers claimed that he had fought the good fight before the President decided. But there was no tinge of regret. The sense the general left with us was this: if the President wanted to bend Geneva out of shape, what was a mere Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to do?
Pushing my luck, I noted that a Senate Armed Services Committee report, “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody,” had been issued just two weeks earlier (on April 23, 2009). It found that Myers had abruptly aborted an in-depth legal review of interrogation techniques that all four armed services had urgently requested and that he authorized in the fall of 2002. They were eager to get an authoritative ruling on the lawfulness of various interrogation techniques – some of which were already being used at Guantanamo.
Accordingly, Myers’s legal counsel, Navy Captain Jane Dalton, had directed her staff to initiate a thorough legal and policy review of interrogation techniques. It had just gotten under way in November 2002 when Rumsfeld’s general counsel, William James Haynes II, ordered Myers to stop the review.
Haynes “wanted to keep it much more close-hold,” Dalton told the Senate committee, so she ordered her staff to stop the legal analysis. She testified that this was the only time in her career that she had been asked to stop working on a request that came to her for review.
I asked Gen. Myers why he halted the in-depth legal review. “I stopped the broad review,” Myers replied, “but I asked Dalton to do her personal review and keep me advised.” When Senate committee members asked him about stopping the review, Myers could not remember.
On Nov. 27, 2002, shortly after Haynes told Myers to stop Dalton’s review despite persisting legal concerns in the military services – Haynes sent Rumsfeld a one-page memo recommending that he approve all but three of 18 techniques requested by the interrogators in Guantanamo.
Techniques like stress positions, nudity, exploitation of phobias (like fear of dogs), deprivation of light, and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval. On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld signed Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note referring to the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
A Different JCS Chairman
Other JCS chairmen have not been as compliant as Myers was. For instance, a decade after Myers acceded to Bush’s rush to war in Iraq, JSC Chairman Martin Dempsey smelled a rat when Secretary of State John Kerry – along with neocons, liberal hawks and the mainstream media – rushed toward full-scale war on Syria by pinning the blame on President Bashar al-Assad for the fatal sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
Comparisons can be invidious, but Dempsey is bright, principled, and no one’s patsy. It did not take him long to realize that another “regime change” scheme was in play with plans to get the U.S. directly involved in a shooting war with Syria. As more intelligence came in, the sarin attack increasingly looked like a false-flag attack carried out by radical jihadists to draw the U.S. military in on their side.
This new war could have started by syllogism: (a) get President Barack Obama to draw a “red line” against the use of chemical weapons in Syria; (b) stage a chemical attack that would be quickly blamed on Assad for violating the red line; and (c) mousetrapping Obama into making good on his threat of “enormous consequences.”
That Obama pulled back at the last minute was a shock to those who felt sure they had found a way to destroy the Syrian army and clear the way for Assad’s violent removal – even if the result would have been a likely victory for Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State. After all, neocon/liberal-hawk thinking has long favored “regime change” whatever the consequences, as the wars in Iraq and Libya have demonstrated.
But Gen. Dempsey became a fly in the regime-changers’ ointment. In contrast to Myers, Dempsey apparently saw the need to go directly to the President to head off another unnecessary war. The evidence suggests that this is precisely what he did and that he probably bypassed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the process since time was of the essence.
Dempsey had already told Congress that a major attack on Syria should require congressional authorization and he was aware that the “evidence” adduced to implicate the Syrian government was shaky at best. Besides, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, British intelligence told the JCS that they had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the Aug. 21 attack and it did not match the sarin known to be in Syrian army stocks.
Actually, it is no secret that Dempsey helped change President Obama’s mind between when Kerry spoke on the afternoon of Aug. 30, accusing Damascus of responsibility and all but promising an imminent U.S. attack on Syria, and when Obama announced less than a day later that he would not attack but rather would seek authorization from Congress.
On the early afternoon of Aug. 31, Obama was unusually explicit in citing Dempsey as indicating why there was no need to rush into another war. Obama said, “the [JCS] Chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive: it will be effective tomorrow, next week, or one month from now.”
The failure to stampede Obama and the U.S. military into a bombing campaign against Syria was a major defeat for those who wanted another shot at a Mideast “regime change,” primarily the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies who still hold sway inside the State Department as well as Washington’s top think tanks and the mainstream U.S. news media – not to mention the Israelis, Saudis, Turks and others who insist that “Assad must go.”
Not surprisingly, on Sept. 1, 2013, as the plans to bomb, bomb, bomb Syria were shoved into a drawer at the Pentagon, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were in high dudgeon – particularly at Dempsey’s audacity in putting the kibosh on their clearly expressed desire to attack Syria post-haste.
(By happenstance, I was given a personal window into the widespread distress over the outbreak of peace, when I found myself sharing a “green room” with some of the most senior neocons at CNN’s main studio in Washington. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How War on Syria Lost Its Way.”]
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing ministry of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army infantry/intelligence officer in the Sixties and then for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Malaysia’s attorney-general has closed a lengthy corruption investigation involving the country’s prime minister.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak won’t be facing any legal consequences for a US$681 million donation from the Saudi royal family after the country’s attorney-general decided to drop the case on Tuesday.
“There was no reason given as to why the donation was made to PM Najib – that is between him and the Saudi family,” said Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi.
Najib returned all but US$61 million shortly after the money transfer in early 2013, during an election campaign, because it was not used, he said. The prime minister calls the donation, made to his personal account, a “gift” that was for the party and not meant for his own personal gain.
Opposition parliamentarian Tony Pua told The Guardian that the “basis to absolve the prime minister of any wrongdoing is utterly without merit because the ‘personal affair’ does not preclude corrupt motives or transactions.”
The scandal has dominated the Malaysian political scene for the past seven weeks, with his own party launching a public campaign demanding his resignation. Malaysia’s next elections are set to take place in 2018.
Apandi, who replaced the previous attorney general – dismissed by Najib for “health reasons” – will tell the country’s anti-graft commission to close the investigation into the prime minister.
One of the related probes of the commission includes US$932 million in misappropriated funds from SRC International, a subsidiary of 1Malaysia Development Berhad, which Najib chairs. About US$9.79 million of the funds ended up in Najib’s own account, reported the Wall Street Journal. Though Malaysia is Asia’s third-largest economy, it has suffered from the global drop in oil prices. Food, transportation and electricity prices have all risen as the government has slashed public subsidies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Saudi Arabia now sees Tel Aviv “as an ally rather as an enemy” as he claims “a great shift taking place” in the Arab policy toward the Palestinian issue.
“Saudi Arabia recognizes that Israel is an ally rather than an enemy because of the two principle threats that threaten them, Iran and Daesh,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos Friday.
Both Saudi Arabia and Israel are fiercely opposed to a nuclear accord between Iran and the West which came into force recently. They are worried the agreement could boost Iran’s role in the region.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel was actively seeking to strengthen ties with Arab powers in the wake of the nuclear deal with Iran.
Daesh ideology is rooted in Wahhabism which is widely promoted by Saudi clerics and tolerated by the kingdom’s rulers. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel support Takfiri groups fighting in Syria. Meanwhile, there is no known case of a Daesh attack on either Saudi or Israeli targets.
Netanyahu also said “there is a great shift taking place” in the Saudi-led policy toward the Palestinian issue, citing Israel’s “relationships” with unknown Arab states.
“By nurturing these relationships that are taking place now with the Arab world, that could actually help us resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we’re actually working towards that end,” he said.
Netanyahu’s overtures to Saudi Arabia and its allies come in the midst of international outcry after Tel Aviv declared 154 hectares (380 acres) of Palestinian territory in the Jordan Valley as “state lands.”
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for national infrastructure, energy, and water, returned recently from an energy conference in the UAE, where Tel Aviv recently established a diplomatic mission. Israel’s Channel 2 suggested that the real aim of the trip may have been for the two sides to covertly conduct strategy meetings.
In recent months, Egypt returned its ambassador to Tel Aviv while a group of Jordanian pilots paid a “working visit” to Israel and trained closely with their Israeli counterparts during US-sponsored military exercises.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also recently expressed an interest in easing tensions with Israel after reaching an agreement to restore relations last month. Sudan is also said to be considering normalizing ties with Israel.
A damning report on the conflict of interests in the Syrian Crisis debate identified numerous corporate and defense industry ties of experts and think tanks who commented on potential military intervention. Much of the debate over Syria got underway in 2013, when not only were the conflicts-of-interest and military-industrial complex ties of these “consultants” and “experts” rarely disclosed, but the ideas they expressed were mere permutations of an ideologically narrow spectrum of U.S. and Western neo-conservative interventionism.
As US official sources are now claiming that ISIS is developing chemical weapons those same experts and think tanks are back with a vengeance.
The conflict-of-interest report by the Public Accountability Initiative (http://public-accountability.org) offers a new look at an issue raised by David Barstow’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series on the role military analysts played in promoting the Bush Administration’s narrative on Iraq. In addition to exposing coordination with the Pentagon, Barstow found that many cable news analysts had industry ties that were not disclosed on air.
During the public debate around the question of whether to attack Syria, Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to George W. Bush, made a series of high-profile media appearances. Hadley argued strenuously for military intervention in appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg TV, and authored a Washington Post op-ed headlined “To stop Iran, Obama must enforce red lines with Assad.” The phrase “red line” has been used numerous times in reference to Syria and its President Bashar al-Assad, particularly in attempt to establish the legal intervention of Russian forces in Syria as a crossing of those lines. It was also used in 2014 by those in favor of forcible ‘regime change’ in Syria when rockets with sarin filled warheads landed in rebel-held residential areas in Ghouta, Syria, killing hundreds and injuring thousands. Each side naturally blamed the other, with western intelligence agencies providing evidence supporting the opposition, and Russian intelligence supporting the regime. Both sides issued biased reports with cherry-picked evidence, only adding to the confusion. An analysis of all evidence relating to the August 21st chemical attack indicate it was carried out by opposition forces. According to the most likely scenario, they used looted incendiary rockets, refilled them with sarin they manufactured themselves, and launched them from a rebel-held territory 2 km north of Zamalka.
Stephen Hadley’s television audiences were never informed that he serves as a director of Raytheon, the weapons manufacturer that makes the Tomahawk cruise missiles that were widely cited as a weapon of choice in a potential strike against Syria. Hadley earns $128,500 in annual cash compensation from the company and chairs its public affairs committee. He also owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate ($77.65 on August 23, making Hadley’s share’s worth $891,189). Despite this critically important financial stake, Hadley was presented to his audience as an experienced, independent national security expert.
Though Hadley’s undisclosed conflict is particularly egregious, it is not unique. The following report documents the industry ties of Hadley, 21 other media commentators, and seven think tanks that participated in the media debate around Syria. Like Hadley, these individuals and organizations have strong ties to defense contractors and other defense- and foreign policy-focused firms with a vested interest in the Syria debate, but they were presented to their audiences with a veneer of expertise and independence, as former military officials, retired diplomats, and independent think tanks.
A pentagonal network: think tank-defense industry ties [image via public-accountability.org]
If the recent debate around Syria is any guide, media outlets have done very little to address the gaps in disclosure and abuses of the public trust that Barstow exposed. Some analysts have stayed the same, others are new, and the issues and range of opinion are different. But the media continues to present former military and government officials as venerated experts without informing the public of their industry ties – the personal financial interests that may be shaping their opinions of what is in the national interest. This report details these ties, in addition to documenting the industry backing of think tanks that played a prominent role in the Syria debate. It reveals the extent to which the public discourse around Syria was corrupted by the pervasive influence of the defense industry, to the point where many of the so-called experts appearing on American television screens were actually representatives of companies that profit from heightened US military activity abroad. The threat of war with Syria may or may not have passed, but the threat that these conflicts of interest pose to public discourse – and democracy – is still very real.
Last December, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), a pro-Israel lobbying organization, provided an expense-paid, ten-day trip to Israel for ten Massachusetts senators (including Senate President, Stanley Rosenberg).
As the trip, valued at more than $4,000 per senator, was being arranged in early October, the Senate passed a pro-Israel resolution that “strongly discourages any actions…that would… undermine… relations” with Israel. The intended target of that language was the growing BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement in the U.S. In an October 26 press release, JCRC applauded passage of the resolution.
The resolution and gift travel to Israel raise two important issues. First, they imply unconditional state support of an apartheid regime. Why should state senators, who have no foreign policy role, feel compelled to endorse by their presence a nation that violates international law through its brutal occupation, its building of illegal settlements and its siege of Gaza?
Moreover, the senators ignored the inherent conflict of interest in accepting an expensive travel gift from an interested lobbying organization.
In both state and federal government, conflict of interest and the appearance of conflict of interest by elected or appointed employees erode citizen trust in government. Lobbyist gifts to public employees are a form of corruption.
Massachusetts laws prohibit such employees, including elected officials, from accepting gifts and gratuities “valued at $50 or more.” However, a regulatory exemption by the state Ethics Commission allows for the payment of travel costs where the travel has a “legitimate public purpose.” The regulations cite as an example of public purpose: travel that promotes state tourism, economic development or education goals.
Both the law governing lobbying organizations and their agents (administered by the State Secretary) and the law governing conflicts of interest (administered by the State Ethics Commission) emphasize disclosure. They rely on public complaints to generate enforcement recommendations to the State Secretary or the Commission.
A Massachusetts legislator accepting payment of travel expenses must file a form with the State Ethics Commission certifying that the travel serves a “legitimate public purpose” and that such purpose outweighs any personal benefit to the legislator or the organization giving the gift. The disclosure form requires the legislator, not the Commission to determine that the trip serves a legitimate public purpose.
The 2015 JCRC tour itinerary was filled with tourist visits to cultural sites and meetings on Israel’s political and security challenges. Almost nothing in the program addressed the economic development, business relations and technology issues cited in the senators’ written determinations of public interest.
Had the Ethics Commission reviewed the proposed trip itineraries, it might well have concluded that no “legitimate public purpose” was served–or that any public purpose was far outweighed by the evident conflict of interest.
Without Commission oversight of lobbying organization gifts to elected officials, legislators may be tempted to make self-serving determinations of “legitimate public purpose.” It is not enough to rely on the public to generate enforcement through the complaint process.
In a December 16 Boston Globe podcast, Senate President Rosenberg opined that state ethics laws are “way overreaching.” Given its lack of oversight of the JCRC gift travel, the State Ethics Commission would appear to agree. Indeed, the Senators’ ethical lapse has been compounded by the Commission’s tacit approval of the lobbying gift and its acceptance of what appear to be serious defects in ethics law regulation.
One may question the validity of the public purpose exemption. If a proposed trip serves a legitimate public purpose, why not require the elected official to use state funds rather than gift money from a lobbying organization?
The disclosure form that the Commission uses to document the travel exemption lacks sufficient information. Why not require the elected official to state whether the paying organization has an interest in any past or pending legislation and whether that organization has engaged in any lobbying with respect to such legislation?
Over 1,200 Massachusetts citizens and nonprofit organizations voiced objections to the JCRC Israel trip, in part because of its implicit endorsement of the Netanyahu regime and in part because of the evident conflict of interest. Disregarding such claims of inappropriateness and impropriety, the ten senators went ahead on what is now regarded by many citizens as a political junket, paid for by an interested lobbying organization.
The December gift trip (only the latest of what has become an annual junket) has highlighted the need for changes in the Commission’s administration of the Massachusetts Conflict of Interest Law.
The Commission should amend its regulations by deleting the “legitimate public interest” travel exemption.
In the meantime, it should begin to review the disclosure statements and stop any trips paid for by lobbying organizations that have an interest in specific legislation before the legislature. Other states with conflict of interest problems should take notice.
Contrary to Senate President Rosenberg, rules limiting conflict of interest and apparent conflict of interest are not “way overreaching.” Instead, they are under-reaching and under-enforced.
L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.
The probe involves 12 former state officials in total, including opposition leader Samuel Doria Medina, over alleged economic crimes.
The Bolivian National Assembly approved Saturday the decision to probe former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada over “prejudicial contracts to the State, anti-economic behavior and unfulfillment of duty,” the Congress presidency said in a report sent to AFP.
Sanchez de Lozada, who is a fugitive from Bolivia’s justice system is currently living in the United States since he was accused in 2006 for violation of human rights. He was governing Bolivia during the privatization of various state-run companies, particularly the railway firm ENFE in 1995.
Sanchez Lozada is accused of having under-sold the state shares for an amount of US$13 million, while its value was estimated to reach US$29 million.
Lawmakers approved a report issued by the legislative commission of justice, which was issued after a year investigation into the capitalization and privatizations of public companies carried out between 1990-2001.
The General Attorney’s Office will now be in charge of the judicial proceedings before the country’s Supreme Court.
Sanchez de Lozada fled to the United States in 2003, after riots and clashes with security forces resulted in the death of 60 people, known as the “Black October massacre” ending de facto his presidential term.
The United States granted him asylum, while the Bolivian government is still demanding the U.S. extradite him.
Saudi Arabia pledged the Somali government USD 50 million in aid on the same day Mogadishu declared it had severed ties with Iran, a report says.
According to a document from the Saudi embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, to the embassy of Somalia there, the regime in Riyadh pledged USD 20 million in budget support to Mogadishu and USD 30 million for investment in the African country, Reuters reported Sunday.
The news agency quoted diplomats as saying that the financial support is “the latest sign of patronage used by the kingdom to shore up regional support against Iran.”
“The Saudis currently manage to rally countries behind them both on financial grounds and the argument of non-interference,” a diplomat said. Iran has repeatedly denied the Saudi allegations of interference in the affairs of other countries.
On January 2, Saudi Arabia announced the execution of prominent cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people. Nimr was a critic of Riyadh. After that, protesters gathered outside the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital, Tehran, and the consulate building in the city of Mashhad. Some people attacked the Saudi diplomatic missions during the protests. Iranian authorities strongly condemned the attacks and some 60 people were detained.
Riyadh severed its ties with Tehran on January 3.
Somalia was among those countries that declared they were cutting diplomatic relations with Iran. Bahrain, Sudan, Djibouti and Comoros also have severed ties with Iran. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates recalled ambassadors.
The Somali government has not confirmed or denied the pledge, but Mogadishu claims the Saudi support for Somalia, which has been long-running, is not related to the decision to break diplomatic ties with Iran. The Saudi Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has called for new sanctions on Iran over its recent ballistic missile test. Her comments come as earlier economic sanctions are being partly lifted, after Iran fulfilled measures set by the nuclear deal.
“Iran is still violating UN Security Council resolutions with its ballistic missile program, which should be met with new sanctions designations and firm resolve,” Clinton said in a statement.
The former US secretary of state stressed that if she is elected president this year, she will take on Iran with a “distrust and verify” attitude.
Clinton also applauded Iran’s release of US citizens. “I am greatly relieved by the safe return of American prisoners from Iran.”
Latest media reports indicated that a detained American student, Matthew Trevithick, has already left Iran, while “logistical steps” are in process to send four other prisoners, including the jailed Tehran bureau chief for the Washington Post, Jason Rezaian, home.
While lashing out at Iran for its missile tests, Clinton has apparently been fine with weapons being sent to some of its Middle Eastern neighbors, despite them being criticized for dismal human rights records.
Amid Clinton‘s presidential campaign, media reports have surfaced claiming that regional players, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have donated billions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. At the same time, those same nations had weapons deals approved by the US State Department when it was headed by Clinton.
“Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar all donated to the Clinton Foundation and also gained State Department clearance to buy caches of American-made weapons even as the department singled them out for a range of alleged ills, from corruption to restrictions on civil liberties to violent crackdowns against political opponents,” International Business Times wrote in May 2015, citing a review of available records.
Meanwhile, US Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal joined Clinton’s call for more sanctions on Iran on Saturday, arguing its missile tests violated UN resolutions.
“Without delay, the United States should enforce sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program,” Blumenthal said.
Both Clinton’s and Blumenthal’s statements come as international economic sanctions imposed on Iran earlier due to suspicions that its nuclear program was being used to develop atomic weapons were formally lifted after the UN nuclear watchdog – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – released a statement saying Iran has fulfilled all of the measures required under its deal with six world powers.
“The report was submitted to IAEA board of governors and to the United Nations Security Council,” IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said on Saturday, adding that “it was issued after agency inspectors on the ground verified that Iran has carried out all measures required under the JCPOA to enable implementation day to occur.”
The JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, was signed between Tehran and six world powers (the so-called P5+1 group comprised of China, France, Russia, the UK, the US and Germany) on July 14, 2015. The deal entailed Iran shrinking its atomic program in return for the US, EU and UN lifting economic sanctions.
Out of all the political prostitutes in the Western world, one man stands out as the perfect illustration of a politician who works solely to serve his puppet masters. Even though the majority of politicians are controlled by economic and corporate elites, the current US President, Barack Obama, is the epitome of a man who is bought and paid for by special interests.
Obama was elected President in November 2008, and inaugurated in January 2009. From the very beginning of his Presidency, it was clear who the “lord and saviour” was beholden to. According to OpenSecrets.org, Obama’s top campaign donors in 2008 included: Goldman Sachs; JPMorgan Chase; Citigroup; Morgan Stanley; Microsoft; Google; and IBM. Considering Obama’s donors, it’s no wonder that (unlike Iceland) the US has not prosecuted the plethora of bankers and financial institutions that have engaged in fraud for years, and subsequently played a pivotal role in causing the financial crisis of 2007/08.
“I’ve now been in 57 states; I think one left to go”
In a bizarre speech in 2008, Obama said: “Over the last 15 months, we’ve travelled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states; I think one left to go. Alaska and Hawaii I was not allowed to go to, even though I really wanted to visit.” Did he simply make a mistake? Was he joking? Or was this just another slip from a person who is really just hypnotically going through the motions anytime he speaks, with no real interest in what he is saying. This bizarre statement is not an isolated one from the US President, as just a few months ago, Obama tried to argue that Russia bombing ISIL is only “strengthening ISIL.”
In Greek mythology, Narcissus, the son of a river god, fell in love with his own reflection. Judging from his actions in office, Obama also appears to care more about himself than anything else. In a recent 33-minute speech, Obama referred to himself a whopping 76 times; a true mark of a narcissistic, arrogant and egocentric person. Perhaps he was trying to challenge Julius Caesar’s record, as the former Roman general penned the majority of the ‘Commentaries on the Gallic War,’ in which the word “Caesar” is used 775 times, according to the historian Robin Lane Fox.
Tears of Deceit
Emotive propaganda 101; cry and weep during a highly controversial and political speech on gun control, pulling at the heartstrings of the American public to push a political agenda. In this piece, I’m not trying to underplay the death of innocent people, but merely point out the way in which Obama is emotively trying to manipulate the opinions of the American public in order to push through legislation. Whatever your personal views are on gun control in the US, Obama’s tactics should be denounced as deceitful and staged.
Remember, the man who stood up and gave an Oscar winning performance recently, is the same man who is the head of the country that is carrying out more drone strikes around the world than ever before; has been funding and arming terrorists to overthrow the secular Syrian government; bombed a hospital in Afghanistan which killed at least three children; destroyed and destabilized the nation of Libya (which previously had the highest standard of living in Africa); supports Saudi Arabia in its war crime in Yemen; tortures and interrogates people across the world; and countless other crimes that kill and maim innocent people, yet no tears are shed by the US President.
Was San Bernardino a Black Op?
There are also some anomalies in many of the mainstream narratives regarding mass shootings in the US. The tragic shooting in San Bernardino for instance, which the mainstream media claimed was carried out by husband and wife, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, appears to conflict with some eyewitness accounts of the attack. Two reported eyewitnesses claim that the shooters were three tall white men wearing military gear.
Was San Bernardino a black op carried out by military personnel or mercenaries to further legitimize the push for gun control? It is difficult to conclusively say what actually happened, but the official narrative is a shaky one. It should also be noted that some investigative journalists have argued that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of mass shootings under Obama, one of the most pro-gun control President’s in recent decades.