The horrific massacre in Orlando has once again thrust the specter of domestic terrorism into the limelight, and into the media space. Pundits and politicians alike have taken the incident as yet another opportunity to thump their chests about the need for even more counter-terrorism legislation, a further increase in surveillance state activity and, of course, more war abroad.
And while such opportunists posture as defenders of the American people, none care to face the inescapable reality that since 9-11, and the introduction of numerous pieces of draconian legislation ostensibly aimed at combatting terrorism, the agencies charged with surveillance and law enforcement have not managed to prevent attacks. Obviously, this raises the question of what exactly legislation such as the PATRIOT Act is really intended for if not to ‘keep Americans safe.’
But even more critical than retrospective criticism of the erosion of civil liberties after nearly a decade and a half of propaganda and fearmongering, is the need to oppose the further expansion of such legislation and domestic spying programs. Indeed, while what were once considered rights are now seen as passé, the US is staring down the barrel of a presidential election where the leading candidates are calling for even more surveillance, expanded government databases, and more billions of dollars to be poured into the NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, and the rest of the alphabet soup that comprises Police State USA.
Clinton, Trump, and Death as Political Currency
In the immediate aftermath of the heinous slaughter in Orlando, the neoconservative-neoliberal chimera known as Hillary Clinton predictably called for an expansion of surveillance and the police state. Less than 48 hours after the attack, in a speech in Cleveland, Clinton proclaimed:
We already know we need more resources for this fight. The professionals who keep us safe would be the first to say we need better intelligence to discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out. That’s why I’ve proposed an ‘intelligence surge’ to bolster our capabilities across the board, with appropriate safeguards here at home.
As with all things Hillary, one must carefully deconstruct the statement to unravel the distortions and empty rhetoric, and distill her actual proposal. The first part of her statement is instantly suspect as the US has already grossly inflated its intelligence budget. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the 2017 intelligence budget will reach nearly $70 billion, with $50 billion being spent on the National Intelligence Program (NIP). One would have to seriously question the logic in Clinton’s statement, namely the implied consensus about the need for more resources. How much more exactly will prevent incidents like the one in Orlando? Perhaps another $50 billion would do the trick?
The second fallacy embedded in the torrent of misinformation that is a Hillary Clinton speech excerpt is the specious argument that “better intelligence” would “discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out.” This vacuous statement must be dismissed out of hand after one considers the fact that the alleged Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, was investigated, followed, and interviewed by the FBI multiple times (he was also introduced to FBI informants whose responsibility was likely to keep tabs on him).
So, according to Clinton the US should spend tens of billions more dollars to fund the agencies and programs that already have the ability to single out a potential terrorist, do all the leg work to establish contact with him, invest human resources into his case, and yet still be unable to stop his alleged actions. To put it in terms Hillary’s Wall Street patrons would understand: sounds like a bad investment strategy.
The third unmistakably wrongheaded statement (I only selected three sentences, so she’s 3 for 3) is the absolutely odious suggestion of an “intelligence surge” to improve the capabilities of the intelligence community. In fact, what Clinton is actually suggesting is a massive increase in contracts awarded to private intelligence firms and military contractors, though veiling it as a boost to the intelligence community. This fact is made clear by the renowned investigative journalist Tim Shorrock in his 2008 book Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing where he notes that:
In 2006… the cost of America’s spying and surveillance activities outsourced to contractors reached $42 billion, or about 70 percent of the estimated $60 billion the government spends every year on foreign and domestic intelligence. Unfortunately, we cannot know the true extent of outsourcing, for two reasons. First, in 2007, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) refused to release an internal report on contracting out of fear that its disclosure would harm U.S. national security interests. Second, most intelligence contracts are classified, allowing companies like CACI to hide their activities behind a veil of secrecy.
Think about that figure for a second: 70 percent of the intelligence budget goes to outsourcing. In other words, government expenditure on surveillance and intelligence is an indirect subsidy to private corporations. This should come as no surprise considering similar indirect subsidies to energy companies, private mercenaries, and even big retail corporations.
Of course, Clinton knows all this perfectly well. So when she calls for an intelligence surge what she’s actually doing is making clear to her military-industrial-surveillance complex cronies that she will make sure to feed the goose that continues to lay the golden eggs. Just like her speeches to Goldman Sachs served to reassure Wall Street that she was their lady, so too does Clinton use the tragic events in Orlando to give a wink and a nod to Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI International, and the rest.
As with all things Clinton, her words drip with cynicism like her hands drip with the blood of Libyans, Syrians, Iraqis, Serbians, and countless others.
It should be mentioned too that aside from just funding, Clinton undoubtedly represents a further rightward shift in terms of “anti-terror” legislation – the kinds of bills that she’d promote and sign into law as president would be, to put it bluntly, no different than the Bush era bills that she supported such as the PATRIOT Act. As Conor Friedersdorf noted in The Atlantic in 2015:
[Clinton] served in the United States Senate from 2001 to 2009. She cast votes that enabled the very NSA spying that many now regard as a betrayal. And she knew all about what the NSA wasn’t telling the public. To say now that the NSA should’ve been more transparent raises this question: Why wasn’t Clinton among the Democrats working for more transparency?
Friedersdorf is being much too kind with his concluding rhetorical question. Clinton is perhaps one of the most hawkish surveillance state proponents in the US. Her total disregard for even the basic tenets of the US Constitution, let alone domestic or international law, make her not only unfit for office, but a dangerous criminal.
And then of course there’s the trainwreck made flesh, Donald Trump, who with his typically bombastic and utterly vacuous public statements has once again managed to make the criminal Hillary into the “sensible one.” In a speech on Monday June 13, Trump reverted to his usual racist demagogy that is light on actual policy prescriptions and heavy on xenophobia, racism, and outright lies. But in the midst of the Trump madness, there are indeed kernels of policy that should be worrying.
During the speech Trump called, once again, for a ban on Muslim immigration to the US, warning of “major consequences” for the Muslim community in the country. But Trump went further saying, “We have a dysfunctional immigration system, which does not permit us to know who we let into our country, and it does not permit us to protect our citizens properly.” Again, Trump provides no specific policy prescription, but the implication from his statement is an increase in surveillance of citizens domestically, as well as presumably the codification of a deeply racist immigration system which would discriminate based on religion and/or ethnicity.
Trump continued, saying “With these people, folks, it’s coming. We’re importing radical Islamic terrorism into the West through a failed immigration system and through an intelligence community held back by our president.” Here again Trump aligns with Clinton. While supposedly the two are opposed to one another, the fact is that both accept the false assumption that our problems would be solved if only we could just stop “holding back” the intelligence community. Clinton calls for a surge while Trump calls for taking off the training wheels. Sort of like an argument about which is better Pepsi or orange juice.
The Police State Is Not the Answer
While the Demopublican-Republicrat Party continues its political posturing, the assumptions that both have internalized are what need to be excised from the body politic. It is patently absurd to call for more surveillance in a country where, thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know the following:
- The PRISM program allows “The National Security Agency and the FBI [to tap] directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents, and connection logs.” According to cybersecurity experts PRISM uses obviously illegal tactics to “circumvent formal legal processes… to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos.”
- The BLARNEY system is utilized extensively. According to former AT&T technician Mark Klein and former Senior Advisor for Internet Technology at the FCC Scott Marcus, “Using a device called a ‘splitter’ a complete copy of the internet traffic that AT&T receives… is diverted onto a separate fiber-optic cable which is connected to a room which is controlled by the NSA.” Therefore, unlike PRISM, which the government and its apologists attempt to justify as being used to target key individuals, BLARNEY has no such capacity. Rather, it is designed solely to collect data, all internet data, to be used and likely stored.
- The NSA has constructed enormous data storage facilities such as the Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. As one top security official told Wired, “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”
Naturally, there is not nearly enough space here to detail all of the myriad surveillance programs. But, taking them together with what we know of government funding to private intelligence firms, how could anyone rightly argue that surveillance should be increased? If anything, the enormous expenditure has proven utterly useless.
Indeed, the legal framework developed in the post-9/11 era including draconian legislation such as the PATRIOT Act, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and many others, laid the foundation for the systemic and systematic stripping away of civil liberties and human rights. The technical infrastructure has been steadily evolving since 9/11 as technology continues to improve, providing the intelligence agencies with ever more tools for surveillance and intelligence gathering. The continued, unrestrained neoliberal policy of privatization has created a complex network of companies, contractors, and subcontractors, usually working independently of each other, all in the service of the security state. Finally, the political landscape in the United States has so thoroughly devolved that elected officials are more concerned about stopping the whistleblowers and leakers, than about addressing America’s continued descent into a fascist police state.
Such is the state of the union in 2016. And while the aspiring Mass Murderer-in-Chief Clinton continues to attack the political snake-charmer Trump, and The Donald does what The Donald does, the bodies of 50 innocent people are being laid to rest. Must the values and freedoms that the US allegedly once stood for also be buried?
After a big announcement on May 16, 2016, The Intercept made 166 documents available to the public. At this rate, it will take an estimated 600 years to read all of the documents! I would like to ask The Intercept, ‘Where’s the beef?’
Last updated on May 16, 2016, Pierre Omidyar’s The Intercept released its first data dump of the Snowden NSA files. For a long time, I wondered why the Snowden files weren’t available to us like the WikiLeaks files were. After all, the information could further research on US “asymmetric warfare.” I wanted to search them just as I had done with WikiLeaks. And then, perhaps it was fate that gave me a partial answer: I used Wikileaks documents for my dissertation and was forced to scrub every WikiLeaks reference in order to get my dissertation published and receive my Ph.D.
You see, in its zeal to crack the whip on whistle blowers revealing the government’s multitudinous dirty dealings and to deter even more acts of conscience from potential whistle blowers, the Obama Administration chose to prosecute and imprison journalist Barrett Brown who had merely republished via hyperlinks some of the same WikiLeaks sources found in my dissertation.
Thus, my institution foreclosed a similar fate for me and I can write this article from a comfortable room rather than the federal penitentiary—where Barrett Brown currently is located. In one place, I had compiled Operation Condor, COINTELPRO, and WikiLeaks documents pertaining to America’s use of “asymmetric warfare” against inconvenient states and their leaders, as well as US actions against inconvenient civil society leaders.
Our knowledge of COINTELPRO helps us to understand that what was done at home to organizations like the Black Panther Party is also done abroad. In fact, many US political prisoners today are incarcerated as a result of the illegal actions of the US government against organizations like the American Indian Movement as well as the Black Panther Party. If the US would carry out such actions against its own citizens, why wouldn’t it do such things to foreigners?
My dissertation captures some of what was done abroad to President Hugo Chavez of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and places these actions in the larger context of US practice of asymmetric warfare against people and states it doesn’t like. Therefore, I relished the new information revealed in WikiLeaks about US attitudes toward Venezuela and Chavez written by American bureaucrats who believed that their words would be cloaked by classification.
So, when the Snowden leaks became known, I rushed to all sites political to find the treasure trove of US misdeeds—er, asymmetric warfare – that I knew would be buried inside the raw data. But, alas, it was nowhere to be found! I wrote e-mails to everyone I could think of who might have access to the information, but continued to draw a blank. The dribble of stories, sanitized by a suspect press, was not good enough for me. I began to have my doubts about whether I would ever see the data for myself and search it for my research needs. Indeed, articles began to question if we would ever see the Snowden data.
Cryptome, a digital library site especially for whistle blowers, began to keep a count of the released data versus the total number of pages. On May 14, 2016, Cryptome estimated that at its current rate of release, it would take as many as 620 years for the public to see all of the Snowden documents. On May 16, 2016, Omidyar’s Intercept released a fully-searchable tranche of 166 Snowden documents and promised that more are on the way. Sadly, this pace may take more than six hundred years as there are hundreds of thousands or even millions of documents to be released.
The Intercept has set aside a special section for its signals intelligence directorate newsletter releases, known in the National Security Agency (NSA) as SIDtoday. By scrolling down the page, one can find a download button to download all 166 documents, which I have done. Here, The Intercept explains its methodology of unveiling the oldest documents from 2003 first and then working its way through to its most recent 2012 articles.
The Intercept requests readers to contact them if something of public interest is found, while also noting that the names of low-level functionaries have been redacted by its staff. Additionally, it writes that its innovative approach is to partner with newspapers like Le Monde to go through the documents. The Intercept warns that some documents will not appear because of the speculative nature of accusations leveled against individuals by government operatives at NSA. The Intercept maintains that it chose a different route from WikiLeaks (fully searchable complete archive of all documents) because of different conditions set for release of the documents by different whistle blowers which The Intercept is bound to honor.
The Intercept accompanies release of the 166 documents with a story highlighting the “most intriguing” NSA reports. This first release of documents demonstrates how closely the NSA worked alongside the CIA and the Pentagon and other government departments to fight the US ‘war on terror.’ One example is the April 14, 2003 SIDtoday that boasts of the NSA role in the rescue of Jessica Lynch. What is not mentioned (how could it be?) is the role played by signals intelligence in the fabrication of the ‘Jessica-Lynch-is-an-American-hero’ story! Politifact, in reconstructing the false story, finds that the faked intelligence didn’t come from the Pentagon, and came from Iraqi “intercepts.”
The SIDtoday boasts that six government agencies, most from NSA, contributed to the successful rescue of hero Jessica Lynch. It wrote, “Such information assists the warfighter in planning operations to destroy or disable an underground facility, or, in this case, to rescue U.S. personnel and save lives.”
Recently, another leak came to our attention, the results of which are still reverberating throughout the international scene. The Panama Papers came to our attention and caused quite a stir about off-shore bank accounts, usually used to stash tax-free, ill-gotten cash abroad. Even David Cameron, the U.K. Prime Minister was found to have an off-shore account—even while calling an anti-corruption summit!
The Guardian calls the Panama Papers, at over eleven million documents, “history’s biggest data leak.” The Panama Papers contain a who’s who and a how to stash cash offshore. At 11 million plus documents, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has made the database available to the public in a fully-searchable format. I can go there and find any information that I want. The possibilities for research are phenomenal. So, what’s up with the Snowden documents and why can’t I search the approximately one million or so of them?
Well, as of May 16, the situation is improved, somewhat. Only 166 documents can be found in chronological order here; 166 documents are not going to create the kind of consciousness for which I believe Edward Snowden made his tremendous sacrifice. He is now marooned in Russia when he would much rather be at home with his family and friends, I would imagine.
Still, I believe he was right to inform us about what the US government is doing with our tax dollars, to its citizens at home and to the rest of the world. In my opinion, the US government is a rogue state and COINTELPRO, Operation Condor, WikiLeaks, and what little we know of the Snowden documents amply demonstrates that. The time for keeping secrets from the people who are paying for them is long over, in my opinion.
Edward Snowden said that he wanted to start a bottom-up revolution. The drip-drip-drip of the Snowden documents is the best way to ensure document release without revolution! I can’t help but wonder what’s going on with The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald, whom Vice called “Snowden’s journalist of choice,” and the documents that I can’t wait to review! The researcher in me still wishes that, after doing its due diligence, The Intercept will see to it that Snowden’s more than one million documents will be made available to the public on a fully searchable platform in the manner that WikiLeaks and the Panama Papers has provided to the world.
After serving in the Georgia Legislature, in 1992, Cynthia McKinney won a seat in the US House of Representatives. She was the first African-American woman from Georgia in the US Congress. In 2005, McKinney was a vocal critic of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and was the first member of Congress to file articles of impeachment against George W. Bush. In 2008, Cynthia McKinney won the Green Party nomination for the US presidency.
Visiting an art exhibit featuring works about the U.S. war on terror or going to a lecture about Islam wouldn’t be cause for worry—unless you found out that the government was monitoring and keeping track of attendees. At that point, some people would be spooked and stay away, sacrificing their interests and curiosity to protect their privacy, not look suspicious, or stay off a list some intelligence agency might be keeping.
Government surveillance has that chilling effect—on our activities, choices and communications—and carries serious consequences. We argue in our lawsuit First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, et al v. NSA that the government’s collection of phone records violates the First Amendment rights of our clients—churches and civil and human rights organizations—by discouraging members and constituents from associating and communicating with them for fear of being spied on.
Now two new studies examining the use of Facebook and Wikipedia show that this chilling effect is real. Both studies demonstrate that government surveillance discourages speech and access to information and knowledge on the Internet. What happens is that people begin to self-police their communications: they are more likely to avoid associating with certain groups or individuals, or looking at websites or articles, when they think the government is watching them or the groups/people with whom they connect. This hurts our democracy and society as a whole.
The Facebook study, published in Journalism & Mass Communications Quarterly, showed that people censor themselves on the social network, refraining from posting comments voicing minority views when they’re aware that the National Security Agency (NSA) monitors online activities.
Participants in the study were told of NSA monitoring and shown a fictional Facebook posting about U.S. airstrikes against ISIS. They were asked about their willingness to comment, share, and like the post, or create a new post about the same topic. They were also asked whether they supported or opposed U.S. airstrikes, what they thought most other Americans believed about the airstrikes, and whether surveillance is necessary for national security.
The study showed that people who are aware of government surveillance and support it are significantly less likely to speak out when their views differ from what they perceive to be the majority opinion. As Dr. Elizabeth Stoycheff, Wayne State University assistant professor of journalism and new media and study author, writes:
This is the first study to provide empirical evidence that the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion… These individuals expressed that surveillance was necessary for maintaining national security and they have nothing to hide. However, when these individuals perceive they are being monitored, they readily conform their behavior—expressing opinions when they are in the majority, and suppressing them when they’re not.
The Wikipedia study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, found a dramatic fall in monthly traffic to Wikipedia articles about terror groups and their techniques after the June 2013 disclosures of the NSA PRISM surveillance program by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The study looked at 48 Wikipedia articles that contained terrorism-related keywords tracked by the Department of Homeland Security, such as “suicide attack” and “dirty bomb.”
Article views dropped 30 percent after June 2013, which supports “the existence of an immediate and substantial chilling effect,” wrote author Jonathon Penney. He also found that monthly views continued to fall, suggesting that the chilling effects of NSA surveillance are long term. The study, he says, has “implications for the health of democratic deliberation among citizens” and the broader health of society.
The government itself uncovered evidence in a recent survey that its surveillance causes Americans to limit their online activity. The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) found that in a survey of 41,000 U.S. households that use the Internet, one in five avoided online activity because of concerns about data collection by the government.
These studies provide evidence of what we have long argued—our freedom to read what we choose online and communicate and associate with others privately is profoundly affected by the prospect of the government looking over our shoulder. It’s changed our behavior, whether that means not commenting on a Facebook post about terrorism, avoiding a Wikipedia page, or steering clear of certain organizations.
The stakes are high for the 24 diverse political and activist groups that are our plaintiffs in First Unitarian. They connect people to advance political beliefs, and sometimes take dissenting positions on issues. Government surveillance of phone records to and from these groups, which work with whistleblowers, dissidents, Muslims, patients, gun owners, laborers, and others, have hurt their ability to carry out their missions. Their members and potential clients simply don’t want to call them, visit them on the web, or email them when they know the government is watching. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Ohio, a community service and civil rights organization that assists Muslim facing racial profiling, harassment, and discrimination, has seen a decrease in communications from its constituency of Muslim Americans. Calguns, a group that assists California gun owners in exercising their rights, has also experienced fewer communications from members who want their communications with the group to be confidential. Human Rights Watch, another plaintiff, says fewer people are reporting human rights abuses—the organization can no longer guarantee security and confidentiality in their communications and those people contacting the group fear retaliation.
We’ve documented these and other affects of the government surveillance in our court filings. We argue that phone record collection violates our clients’ freedoms to associate with others to advance political beliefs. Their work is hampered by the fact that people are deterred from contacting them and they can’t guarantee confidentiality because of government surveillance.
Penney points out that courts, legal scholars, and researchers have been skeptical about the extent and even the existence of the chilling effects of government surveillance. We think these studies strongly support that phone record collection has discouraged Americans from communicating and speaking out, and should put that skepticism to rest.
Warning Brits about the dangers of a new surveillance bill, UK campaigners have flooded London with sinister captioned portraits of Vladimir Putin. The choice of bogeyman however could be better, given the notoriety of Western global spying operations.
The posters and billboards which have been recently appearing all across the British capital, and also in newspapers, including the Guardian and The Telegraph, feature a very distinctive face with a caption that reads: “A government that spies on its citizens. What’s not to like?”
The Don’t Spy On Us Campaign, which is behind the billboards, is trying to warn British citizens about the danger of the UK governments’ Surveillance Bill currently going through parliament. If passed, it would give “government, intelligence agencies and police the kind of powers you would expect in an authoritarian regime,” the campaign said on its website.
The state will “snoop on our private communications and internet use,” collect and store “data about your emails, phone calls, texts and internet use,” while security agencies will be allowed to hack people’s computers and phones, campaigners stressed.
The Don’t Spy On Us Campaign, a coalition of several pro-privacy organizations, also launched an online petition urging the reformation of the surveillance bill. Photographs of Chinese and North Korean leaders were also used by campaigners, but drew less attention, RT’s Harry Fear reported from London.
“Of course, Putin’s face and the Russian brand, if you will, have resonance here in the UK given all of the demonizing in politics and the media,” Fear said. He noted however that “the British public on average knows a great deal about the American surveillance program, not the Russian or Chinese.”
Indeed many on the internet are puzzled by the choice of the Russian president as the face for the campaign, calling the whole affair “a bit peculiar.”
In particular, some mocked the campaigners’ choice of images, saying that faces of other leaders, such as US President Baraсk Obama or UK Prime Minister David Cameron would have been more suitable.
Mass surveillance practices by the US national Security Agency made headlines worldwide after they were unmasked by whistleblower, Edward Snowden, with the help of the Guardian, back in 2013.
“Some are saying that comparing the UK, perhaps, uncertain security state future to the American’s campaign and having Obama’s face instead of Putin’s face here may have been a more appropriate marketing and campaigning choice,” Fear said.
How do you spell chutzpah? I submit an alternate spelling: O-B-A-M-A D-O-J.
How the Obama administration interprets the phrase “government transparency,” in three acts.
Act One: Secret Law
The Obama administration is trying to keep secret a 2003 Office of Legal Counsel memo outlining how federal intelligence agencies interpret “commercial services agreements” between telecoms and their customers. The memo, which the ACLU seeks in a FOIA lawsuit, likely outlines the government’s legal position on how intelligence agencies can access information held by telecommunications companies. Senator Ron Wyden, who from his position on the Senate Intelligence Committee has routinely warned Americans of unconstitutional intelligence activities, has said the government’s “opinion is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law, and should be withdrawn.”
Wyden has also publicly stated that the DOJ misled a federal court during its legal fight to keep the memo secret. In a March 2016 letter, Wyden wrote that a DOJ memorandum of law filed in the case contains a “key assertion” that is false. “This assertion appears to be central to the DOJ’s legal arguments,” Wyden wrote.
Now the DOJ has fired back at Wyden, asserting in a brief in the ACLU lawsuit that the Senator’s claims about this “key assertion” were “wholly erroneous” and “based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law.” The Justice Department claims the administration can keep the legal memo secret because it is not “working law,” but rather confidential legal advice. According to the DOJ, even though an agency may rely on an Office of Legal Counsel memo “by acting in a manner that is consistent with the advice,” the memo doesn’t necessarily “establish agency policy,” meaning it’s not “working law”—which is subject to public disclosure—but instead confidential legal advice.
(As Wyden noted, the DOJ “isn’t denying that this opinion is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law”; instead, it’s arguing that the legal memo at issue doesn’t constitute law.)
To repeat: The government is arguing that even if agencies “rely” on an OLC memo and act “in a manner consistent” with its advice, it isn’t law. Instead, it’s private legal advice, which just so happens to be something the government can keep secret from the public.
Act Two: Limitless Surveillance
In April 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released parts of a November 2015 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion about how the FBI, NSA, and CIA use information collected pursuant to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. (The FISA Amendments Act, signed into law in 2008, put congress’ stamp of approval on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.) Section 702 of that statute allows the intelligence agencies to warrantlessly wiretap Americans’ international communications, as long as Americans or people within the United States are not “targeted.” Part of that statute requires that the Attorney General and ODNI prepare annual reports, called “certifications,” to be reviewed by FISC judges. These certifications include information about how, why, and under what circumstances intelligence agencies “minimize” information about non-targets or US persons caught up in its dragnets.
The recently released November 2015 FISC opinion describes some of these minimization procedures in detail. Among them are procedures related to the capture, dissemination, and use of attorney-client privileged communications. The opinion reveals that the FBI can disseminate attorney-client privileged communications as long as the FBI’s lawyers approve it. The rules require the FBI to “advise recipients that the dissemination contains information subject to attorney-client privilege, that the information is being disseminated ‘solely for intelligence or lead purposes,’ and that it may not be further disseminated or used in any trial, hearing, or other proceeding without the approval of the AG or the Assistant AG for National Security.”
In other words: The US government allows itself to warrantlessly wiretap our international communications and even use our attorney-client privileged communications for intelligence purposes, as long as it doesn’t disclose to criminal defendants or courts that it has done so.
Act Three: Upside Down World
The US government refuses to disclose a legal memo that likely describes how intelligence agencies spy on our communications, claiming that the memo isn’t “working law” but instead constitutes “private” legal advice. Secret law is thereby justified by attorney-client privilege. In this case, the attorney and the client are one in the same: the executive branch.
At the same time, the government gives itself the power to warrantlessly wiretap, retain, disseminate, and use for intelligence purposes our attorney-client privileged communications—so long as the fact of agencies doing so never becomes public. Surveillance of attorney-client privileged communications is justified, as long as it remains secret.
Secret law, secret surveillance. Attorney-client privilege for government lawyers advising government agencies about government policy. No attorney-client privilege for ordinary people, who will likely never learn that the FBI or NSA has warrantlessly obtained their confidential communications.
Only in an upside down world could this administration choose this path, having called itself the “most transparent administration” in history.
With the war in Syria raging in its fifth year, and the Islamic State wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it’s clear that the entire region has been made into one large theater of conflict. But the battlefield must not be understood solely as a physical place located on a map; it is equally a social and cultural space where the forces of the US-UK-NATO Empire employ a variety of tactics to influence the course of events and create an outcome amenable to their agenda. And none to greater effect than propaganda.
Indeed, if the ongoing war in Syria, and the conflicts of the post-Arab Spring period generally, have taught us anything, it is the power of propaganda and public relations to shape narratives which in turn impact political events. Given the awesome power of information in the postmodern political landscape, it should come as no surprise that both the US and UK have become world leaders in government-sponsored propaganda masquerading as legitimate, grassroots political and social expression.
London, Washington, and the Power of Manipulation
The Guardian recently revealed how the UK Government’s Research, Information, and Communications Unit (RICU) is involved in surveillance, information dissemination, and promotion of individuals and groups as part of what it describes as an attempt at “attitudinal and behavioral change” among its Muslim youth population. This sort of counter-messaging is nothing new, and has been much discussed for years. However, the Guardian piece actually exposed the much deeper connections between RICU and various grassroots organizations, online campaigns, and social media penetration.
The article outlined the relationship between the UK Government’s RICU and a London-based communications company called Breakthrough Media Network which “has produced dozens of websites, leaflets, videos, films, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and online radio content, with titles such as The Truth about Isis and Help for Syria.” Considering the nature of social media, and the manner in which information (or disinformation) is spread online, it should come as no surprise that a number of the viral videos, popular twitter feeds, and other materials that seemingly align with the anti-Assad line of London and Washington are, in fact, the direct products of a government-sponsored propaganda campaign.
In fact, as the authors of the story noted:
One Ricu initiative, which advertises itself as a campaign providing advice on how to raise funds for Syrian refugees, has had face-to-face conversations with thousands of students at university freshers’ fairs without any students realising they were engaging with a government programme. That campaign, called Help for Syria, has distributed leaflets to 760,000 homes without the recipients realising they were government communications.
It’s not hard to see what the British Government is trying to do with such efforts; they are an attempt to control the messaging of the war on Syria, and to redirect grassroots anti-war activism to channels deemed acceptable to the political establishment. Imagine for a moment the impact on an 18-year-old college freshman just stepping into the political arena, and immediately encountering seasoned veteran activists who influence his/her thinking on the nature of the war, who the good guys and bad guys are, and what should be done. Now multiply that by thousands and thousands of students. The impact of such efforts is profound.
But it is much more than simply interactions with prospective activists and the creation of propaganda materials; it is also about surveillance and social media penetration. According to the article, “One of Ricu’s primary tasks is to monitor online conversations among what it describes as vulnerable communities. After products are released, Ricu staff monitor ‘key forums’ for online conversations to ‘track shifting narratives,’ one of the documents [obtained by The Guardian ] shows.” It is clear that such efforts are really about online penetration, especially via social media.
By monitoring and manipulating in this way, the British Government is able to influence, in a precise and highly targeted way, the narrative about the war on Syria, ISIS, and a host of issues relevant to both its domestic politics and the geopolitical and strategic interests of the British state. Herein lies the nexus between surveillance, propaganda, and politics.
But of course the UK is not alone in this effort, as the US has a similar program with its Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) which describes its mission as being:
…[to] coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism… CSCC is comprised of three interactive components. The integrated analysis component leverages the Intelligence Community and other substantive experts to ensure CSCC communicators benefit from the best information and analysis available. The plans and operations component draws on this input to devise effective ways to counter the terrorist narrative. The Digital Outreach Team actively and openly engages in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Somali.
Notice that the CSCC is, in effect, an intelligence hub acting to coordinate propaganda for CIA, DIA, DHS, and NSA, among others. This mission, of course, is shrouded in terminology like “integrated analysis” and “plans and operations” – terms used to designate the various components of the overall CSCC mission. Like RICU, the CSCC is focused on shaping narratives online under the pretext of counter-radicalization.
It should be noted too that CSCC becomes a propaganda clearinghouse of sorts not just for the US Government, but also for its key foreign allies (think Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain), as well as perhaps favored NGOs like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or Doctors Without Borders (MSF). As the New York Times noted:
[The CSCC will] harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies. The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State.
But taking this information one step further, it calls into question yet again the veracity of much of the dominant narrative about Syria, Libya, ISIS, and related topics. With social media and “citizen journalism” having become so influential in how ordinary people think about these issues, one is yet again forced to consider the degree of manipulation of these phenomena.
Manufacturing Social Media Narratives
It is by now well documented the myriad ways in which Western governments have been investing heavily in tools for manipulating social media in order to shape narratives. In fact, the US CIA alone has invested millions in literally dozens of social media-related startups via its investment arm known as In-Q-Tel. The CIA is spending the tens of millions of dollars providing seed money to these companies in order to have the ability to do everything from data mining to real-time surveillance.
The truth is that we’ve known about the government’s desire to manipulate social media for years. Back in February 2011, just as the wars on Libya and Syria were beginning, an interesting story was published by PC World under the title Army of Fake Social Media Friends to Promote Propaganda which explained in very mundane language that:
… the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda. It could also be used as surveillance to find public opinions with points of view the powers-that-be didn’t like. It could then potentially have their “fake” people run smear campaigns against those “real” people.
Close observers of the US-NATO war on Libya will recall just how many twitter accounts miraculously surfaced, with tens of thousands of followers each, to “report” on the “atrocities” carried out by Muammar Gaddafi’s armed forces, and call for a No Fly Zone and regime change. Certainly one is left to wonder now, as many of us did at the time, whether those accounts weren’t simply fakes created by either a Pentagon computer program, or by paid trolls.
A recent example of the sort of social media disinformation that has been (and will continue to be) employed in the war on Syria/ISIS came in December 2014 when a prominent “ISIS twitter propagandist” known as Shami Witness (@ShamiWitness) was exposed as a man named “Mehdi,” (later confirmed as Mehdi Biswas) described as “an advertising executive” based in Bangalore, India. @ShamiWitness had been cited as an authoritative source – a veritable “wealth of information” – about ISIS and Syria by corporate media outfits, as well as ostensibly “reliable and independent” bloggers such as the ubiquitous Eliot Higgins (aka Brown Moses) who cited Shami repeatedly. This former “expert” on ISIS has now been charged in India with crimes including “supporting a terrorist organisation, waging war against the State, unlawful activities, conspiracy, sedition and promoting enmity.”
In another example of online media manipulation, in early 2011, as the war on Syria was just beginning, a blogger then known only as the “Gay Girl in Damascus” rose to prominence as a key source of information and analysis about the situation in Syria. The Guardian, among other media outlets, lauded her as “an unlikely hero of revolt” who “is capturing the imagination of the Syrian opposition with a blog that has shot to prominence as the protest movement struggles in the face of a brutal government crackdown.” However, by June of 2011, the “brutally honest Gay Girl” was exposed as a hoax, a complete fabrication concocted by one Tom MacMaster. Naturally, the same outlets that had been touting the “Gay Girl” as a legitimate source of information on Syria immediately backtracked and disavowed the blog. However, the one-sided narrative of brutal and criminal repression of peace-loving activists in Syria stuck. While the source was discredited, the narrative remained entrenched.
And this last point is perhaps the key: online manipulation is designed to control narratives. While the war may be fought on the battlefield, it is equally fought for the hearts and minds of activists, news consumers, and ordinary citizens in the West. The UK and US both have extensive information war capabilities, and they’re not afraid to use them. And so, we should not be afraid to expose them.
“Some people think they can lie and get away with it,” said former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with feigned outrage. And, of course, he has never been held accountable for his lies, proving his dictum true.
The question today is: Will former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Teflon coat be as impermeable to deep scratches as Rumsfeld’s has proven to be?
With the “mainstream media” by and large giving Hillary Clinton a pass on her past, few Americans realize how many Pinocchio faces need to be tacked onto many of her statements. Clinton is said to be “unquestionably” the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, essentially the presumptive nominee. That is unquestionably true – but only because she has not been questioned with much rigor at all. And on those few occasions when she has been asked hard questions, she has often ducked them.
For example, at the March 9 debate in Miami, Jorge Ramos, the longtime anchor for Noticiero Univision, asked Secretary Clinton whether she would quit the presidential race if she were indicted for putting classified information on her private email server.
She replied: “Oh, for goodness sake, it’s not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Is Hillary Clinton Above the Law?”]
Not so fast, Madame Secretary. It is looking more and more as if you will, after all, have to answer that question.
Those “Damn Emails” Again
On Wednesday in Washington, DC, a federal judge issued an order that may eventually require Clinton to testify under oath in a lawsuit related to the private email server she used while Secretary of State.
The judge gave Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, permission to take sworn testimony from close Clinton aide Huma Abedin and others over the next eight weeks. It is possible that Clinton herself will have to testify under oath on the serious email issue before arriving at the Democratic convention in July.
One key issue in question is whether all relevant documents have been provided to Judicial Watch. My guess is that – given lawyers’ propensity, and often their incentive, to secure delay after delay in such proceedings – there may not be much likelihood of all this happening that quickly.
More precarious for Secretary Clinton, in my view, is the possibility that FBI Director James Comey will be allowed to perform a serious investigation and pursue Clinton on sworn testimony she has already given; for example, on whether she was aware of an operation run out of Benghazi to deliver Libyan weapons to rebels in Syria.
During her marathon testimony on Oct. 22, 2015, to the House Select Committee on Benghazi chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, was very specific in his questioning, leaving Clinton little wiggle-room:
Pompeo: Were you aware or are you aware of any U.S. efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to provide any weapons, directly or indirectly, or through a cutout, to any Syrian rebels or militias or opposition to Syrian forces?
Pompeo: Were you aware or are you aware of any efforts by the U.S. government in Libya to facilitate or support the provision of weapons to any opposition of Gadhafi’s forces, Libyan rebels or militias through a third party or country?
Did Secretary Clinton think we were “born yesterday,” as Harry Truman used to say? From what is already known about the activities of the U.S. “mission” and “annex” in Benghazi and the role played by the late Ambassador Christopher Stevens there, it seems quite likely that Clinton perjured herself in answering No.
And I believe this will become quite clear, if the FBI is allowed to pursue an unfettered investigation – and even clearer if the National Security Agency shares the take from its dragnet surveillance.
But those are big IFs. If I read President Barack Obama correctly, he will be more inclined to tell Attorney General Loretta Lynch to call off the FBI, just as he told former Attorney General Eric Holder to let retired General (and CIA Director) David Petraeus off with a slap on the wrist for giving his mistress intelligence of the highest classification and then lying about it to the FBI.
As for Clinton, perjury is not the kind of rap that she would welcome as she pursues the presidency. Trouble is, not only FBI investigators but also NSA collect-it-all snoopers almost certainly have the goods on whatever the truth is, with their easy access to the content of emails both classified and unclassified. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton’s Damning Emails.”]
Sadly, Comey and his counterparts at NSA are likely to cave in if the President tells them to cease and desist. Indeed, like legendary FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, they may relish the prospect of being able to hold their knowledge of Hillary Clinton’s possible perjury and other misdeeds like a sword of Damocles over her head if she becomes president.
Thus, unless another patriot with the courage of an Edward Snowden or a Daniel Ellsberg recognizes that his primary duty is to honor his/her oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,” and acts accordingly, the country could end up with a compromised President beholden to Hoover’s successors and the NSA sleuths who “collect everything,” including the emails of the Secretary of State – and those of the President.
Those at the FBI and NSA with the courage to consider whistleblowing need to be aware of the proud tradition they would be joining. The first recipient of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence (2002) was Coleen Rowley of the FBI, and in 2004 the award was given to FBI analyst and translator Sibel Edmonds.
As for signals intelligence, no fewer than four Sam Adams whistleblower awardees have come from NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ: the UK’s Katharine Gun (2003), and three from NSA itself – Thomas Drake (2011), Edward Snowden (2013), and William Binney (2015).
More distinguished company among people of integrity would be difficult – if not impossible – to find. In a few months, we will be considering nominations for the award to be given in 2017.
Last December the Venezuelan journalist José Vicente Rangel went on his television program to talk about how the Pentagon has created the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) that is spreading disinformation about Venezuela. Specialized centers such as CIMA also go after other governments that Washington finds unpalatable.
The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, devoted one of his weekly speeches to the mudslinging being directed against his government via social networks. Social networks are now the principal platform for media warfare.
A mass media law has been in effect in Ecuador since June 2013, which greatly limits any potentially hostile propaganda campaign, including «exposés». Typically, such campaigns are intended to compromise politicians and other figures friendly to the government. The Superintendent’s Office for Information and Communications, which monitors and assesses the work of the media, is responsible for enforcing the law in Ecuador.
Ecuador’s penal code includes a chapter titled «Crimes associated with mass media transgressions», which decrees that editors and publishers are responsible for the publication of defamatory or offensive materials. Ecuador is probably the only country in Latin America that has managed to set some sensible guidelines for the work of the media.
Currently the Western Hemisphere is being inundated with a flood of «exposés» featuring the names of politicians who are under attack by Washington. Apparently the CIA and NSA are pursuing a comprehensive plan aimed at getting many influential figures deposed and prosecuted.
Compromising materials on Nicolás Maduro, Inácio Lula da Silva, Dilma Rousseff, Cristina Kirchner, and Evo Morales were publicized by US intelligence agencies in one fell swoop without missing a beat, and those are now being used by a pro-American fifth column in order to destabilize Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. That blow is primarily aimed at leaders who are rejecting the neoliberal doctrine, pursuing social reform policies that will benefit many different strata of the population.
* * *
In Brazil, a scandal is unfolding over the convoluted issue of petrodollar-laundering and corruption, as well as the use of «undeclared revenue» to finance the election campaigns of the ruling Workers’ Party. Former president Lula da Silva (2003-2010) was detained for several hours and questioned by an investigator, accused of taking bribes from the company Petrobras. Specifically, Lula was asked to explain what money he had planned to use for the purchase of an apartment that he had allegedly looked in secret. Sixty Brazilian politicians, governors, and businessmen are named in the case. The investigation cast a shadow on Dilma Rousseff, the country’s current president. Brazil’s opposition media, under the control of the media holding company O Globo, claimed that Rousseff chaired Petrobras at a time when corrupt schemes were flourishing in the company. According to investigators, the contracts signed by senior managers hinged on the kickback percentage that was personally offered to them.
At the center of the crusade against Dilma is Aécio Neves, her recent rival in the presidential election and a senator and regular visitor to the US embassy. His agreement to «collaborate» with the Americans is still in effect, thus much of the NSA material from the dossiers on Lula and Dilma has been placed at the disposal of Neves’ people in Brazil’s courts and government agencies, and publications owned by the O Globo holding company have provided extensive coverage of these materials. As a result, Dilma’s approval ratings have dropped. Her nine-party coalition, With the Strength of the People, has disintegrated. This was in large part due to the fact that some of the Workers’ Party staff were vulnerable to accusations.
A campaign replete with serious problems for Brazil was unleashed. Brazil’s former finance minister, Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira, claims, «Unexpectedly there emerged a collective hatred on the part of the upper strata of society – the rich – against the party and the president. It wasn’t anxiety or fear, but hatred. Hatred, because for the first time we have a center-left government that has remained leftist. Despite all the compromises, it has not changed. Hatred, because the government has demonstrated a strong preference for the workers and the poor».
Sensitive information about close relatives can be co-opted if no justification can be found to attack a politician that US operatives have decided to victimize. That is what the DEA, CIA, and US prosecutors are doing to the nephews of Cilia Flores, the wife of President Maduro. Those young men were arrested by police in Haiti and handed over to the US on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. It will take time to prove that they were framed by DEA agents who staged scenes designed to entrap their «targets» in illegal deals, and the propaganda campaign against the family of President Maduro is already in full swing. According to Cilia Flores, the lawyers for the accused will prove that in this incident, the DEA operatives in Venezuela have committed crimes.
(to be continued)
Instilling fear in the minds of the public has been a powerful tool of social control since the dawn of human civilization. Today, it is clear that the Western elite are using fear and terror as a means of ushering in totalitarian control. The mainstream media has been force-feeding the Western public a steady diet of war, fear and terror since the neocons “new Pearl Harbor event” in 2001.
After the latest terror attack in Belgium, the media is playing its usual role of amplifying the incident beyond any rational comprehension. The majority of the public are caught up in the vortex of emotive propaganda and sensationalist rhetoric. Images of terror; horror; fear; and panic dominate the news landscape. The main message is that you should be afraid.
The only solution to latest crisis (in the eyes of the elite) is for even greater spying powers and totalitarian control. Hillary Clinton, the political prostitute par excellence, called for more surveillance and an expansion of the police state in response to the attacks in Belgium. Both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump support a further erosion of civil liberties and have called for increasing surveillance of Muslims (Trump even advocated torturing terror suspects).
Yet not one political figure has called for prosecuting CIA and other US officials for war crimes, after years of the West openly funding and arming terrorists in Syria. Accountability is what is needed, not authoritarianism.
Every terror attack produces the same response by the elite: more surveillance, more state power, more war, more barbarism and more control. It’s frankly boring. You know what the puppets are going to say prior to them opening their mouths. It was the same response after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, when David Cameron was pushing for greater surveillance powers in the UK and leading the charge for an insane ban on all encryption.
We know that NSA spying has nothing to do with stopping terrorism, and everything to do with controlling the domestic population. In the words of the high-level NSA whistleblower, William Binney: “The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”
We know that Western intelligence agencies and their regional allies were instrumental in supporting the rise of ISIS (and other terror groups), by funding and arming these factions in a failed attempt to topple al-Assad. In the words of the former US military intelligence chief, Michael T. Flynn, the Obama administration took the “willful decision” to support the rise of these radical forces.
The criminal Western elite have no intention of winning the ‘war on terror,’ as the ‘war on terror’ was always designed to be perennial. The elite create the terror groups because without the faux ‘war on terror,’ the surveillance state loses the entire pretext on which it was built.
For any totalitarian elite, it is essential that “a state of war should exist,” as Orwell wrote in 1984:
“It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist… The consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable situation of survival” (2008 edition: p.200 & p.201).
As the elite create a perpetual state of war, chaos, fear and terror, the people of the West increasingly allow more power to be concentrated in the hands of the ‘superclass.’ If the Western public continues to be duped into believing that this phony ‘war on terror’ is real, the elite will use this as a pretext to completely destroy civil liberties and any semblance of freedom in the West.
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Photo Credits: NSA
German intelligence agencies and police have granted asylum to roughly 1,000 refugees in exchange for sensitive information, often by means of “intervention” in the decisions of the national immigration authority, the government has said.
Intelligence services and the federal police have granted asylum to almost 1,000 migrants over the past 15 years, the government’s official response to a parliamentary request for information said. According to the paper, between 1958 and 2013 Germany’s main intelligence agency, the BND, operated a so-called Main Questioning Facility (HBW) which was in charge of collecting specific intelligence from migrants entering the country.
Many “questioning” sessions involved US officers from the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), though respondents were not aware of the officials’ real identities. Other German agencies such as the federal police, customs service and regional domestic intelligence authorities were also said to have access to recruiting their own informants among migrants.
The HBW would then ask the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) to grant asylum to each migrant deemed suitable to become a BND source. Such requests, described in the paper as “interventions,” were justified by the claim that the migrants would face imminent death or torture if forced to return to their countries of origin.
Most informants came from the Middle East – with the peak figures in 2001-2002 after 9/11 – followed by nationals of post-Soviet countries, Africa, Asia and the Balkans, the document says. Notably, the immigration service rejected two asylum “interventions” in 2002, even after those informants had been recruited by the BND.
The BND’s “questioning facility” allegedly maintained close contact with both the DIA and NSA, allowing them to access intelligence collected from migrants. In several cases, the intelligence was used to identify targets for US drone strikes in the Middle East and Africa. The government document described the information as extremely valuable for military use.
But Martina Renner, an MP from Die Linke party who co-authored the request for information, told Die Zeit newspaper that “the quality of information obtained could be very questionable.” She argued that refugees – keen to get permission for their stay in Germany – would say anything they believed their questioners wanted to hear.
One of the most dramatic examples, Renner said, was the DIA agent codenamed “Curveball” (real name Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi), who initially defected from Iraq to Germany in 1999.
His fake testimonies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program were used by the US as a rationale to invade Iraq in 2003, despite both the BND and British MI6 questioning the authenticity of the claims.
Although the BND’s questioning facility was officially closed in 2013, the recruitment of agents from among migrants did not stop. Germany’s domestic intelligence, the Federal Service for the Protection of the Constitution, contacts asylum seekers on a “case-by-case” basis, while the BND still monitors refugee hostels to look for prospective informants, Die Zeit reported.
This was probably the most impressive revelation derived by the documentary A Good American watched by the blog at the 18th Documentary Festival of Thessaloniki.
The exceptional documentary by Friedrich Moser deconstructs completely the image of the National Security Agency, one of the most powerful intelligence agencies in the world. Through the revealing stories of former NSA employees who became whistleblowers – like William Binney, Diane Roark and Thomas Andrews Drake – the agency appears that it has become a field of personal ambitions and money hunting through huge funds from the central government.
Moreover, the experienced, top analyst, William Binney (who is the central figure of the documentary), deconstructs the myth of an organization that is supposed to be pioneer in new technologies. He presents NSA as an organization which had certain difficulties to follow the explosive progress of the computer technology during 1990s, in order to modernize its obsolete equipment as fast as possible.
But the most mind-blowing revelation comes from Binney’s NSA colleague Thomas Drake. At one point, Drake recalls how a Senior Military Officer dismissed Osama bin Laden as “a raghead spouting off about a fatwa in the desert” in response to their intelligence reports on Al Qaeda in the late 90s. After the events of 9/11, Drake quotes his former NSA boss Maureen Baginski who reportedly said “9/11 was a gift to the NSA, we’re gonna get all the money we need and then some.” 
Although one could claim that behind this story is hidden a conflict of interest concerning two rival projects proposed to the NSA, there is plenty of evidence that ThinThread, the project developed by a small group around Binney, was rejected against Trailblazer, only because Trailblazer was promoted by a powerful lobby inside the NSA.
Indeed, as also presented in the documentary: NSA whistleblowers J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, Ed Loomis, and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staffer Diane Roark complained to the Department of Defense’s Inspector General (IG) about waste, fraud, and abuse in the program, and the fact that a successful operating prototype existed, but was ignored when the Trailblazer program was launched. The complaint was accepted by the IG and an investigation began that lasted until mid-2005 when the final results were issued. The results were largely hidden, as the report given to the public was heavily (90%) redacted, while the original report was heavily classified, thus restricting the ability of most people to see it. 
Additionally, in July 2007, armed FBI agents raided the homes of Roark, Binney, and Wiebe, the same people who had filed the complaint with the DoD Inspector General in 2002. Binney claims they pointed guns at his wife and himself. Wiebe said it reminded him of the Soviet Union. None of these people were charged with any crimes. In November 2007, there was a raid on Drake’s residence. His computers, documents, and books were confiscated. He was never charged with giving any sensitive information to anyone; the charge actually brought against him is for ‘retaining’ information. The FBI tried to get Roark to testify against Drake; she refused. 
The documentary also reveals that the project ThinThread not only was much cheaper, but had two additional advantages: it was much more effective and was designed to protect the personal data of millions of citizens who were not related with terrorist activity.
Although NSA leadership rejected ThinThread three weeks prior to 9/11, in a secret test-run of the program against the pre-9/11-NSA database in early 2002, the program immediately found the terrorists. 
No one should expect intelligence agencies to be composed by “angels” who follow strictly a moral code. The dirty role of US and other agencies around the world for many decades is well known.
Yet, this documentary uncovers something much worse. Nothing has left from the original mission that the NSA supposedly serves. The protection of citizens against terrorist attacks has become irrelevant in front of the big money targeted by the corrupted groups of interests inside the agency. It seems that nothing has been remained unaffected from the rotten culture of “money and power above all and by all means” that dominates in today’s societies.
 Greed, Corruption & Cover-Up At The NSA, http://artvoice.com/2016/03/04/greed-corruption-cover-up-at-the-nsa/#.VvQZ_Y_PHLc
 Trailblazer Project, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trailblazer_Project
 Thomas Andrews Drake, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Andrews_Drake
 A Good American (2015), Plot Summary, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4065414/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl
Two members of the House Oversight Committee, a Democrat and a Republican, have asked the director of the National Security Agency to halt a plan to expand the list of agencies that the NSA shares information with.
Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Ted Lieu (D-California) wrote in a letter to NSA Director Michael Rogers on Monday that the reported plan would violate privacy protections in the Fourth Amendment, since domestic law enforcement wouldn’t need a warrant to use the data acquired from the agency.
“We are alarmed by press reports that state National Security Agency (NSA) data may soon routinely be used for domestic policing,” the two lawmakers wrote. “If media accounts are true, this radical policy shift by the NSA would be unconstitutional, and dangerous.”
Last month, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration was working with the NSA to create new protocols for sharing intercepted private communications with domestic law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Currently, the secretive spy agency says that its analysts remove certain personal information before giving it to other agencies. Under the new rules, however, domestic law enforcement would have access to the surveillance data without it being scrubbed of personally identifiable information.
The FBI currently has the ability to use phone-based data, but it must request the NSA’s permission to access information from digital communications. The planned loosening of these restrictions would have to be approved by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“Our country has always drawn a line between our military and intelligence services, and domestic policing and spying,” the congressmen wrote. “We do not — and should not — use US Army Apache helicopters to quell domestic riots; Navy Seal teams to take down counterfeiting rings; or the NSA to conduct surveillance on domestic street gangs.”
The Obama administration has said it had leeway to change procedures for certain surveillance programs, thanks to executive order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
In 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which curbed certain surveillance activities by ending bulk collection of phone records. Private telecom companies are now required to hold onto such information, so that it can be handed over to law enforcement if a warrant is obtained.