The Obama administration, by consistently refusing to turn over documents and information, has gone out of its way to make it more difficult for the inspectors general of executive branch agencies to do their jobs.
The concept of inspectors general investigating executive branch departments and agencies came into being in the late 1970s after the Watergate scandal. The idea was that inspectors general would have free rein to investigate wrongdoing in their departments and bring government abuse to light.
But thanks to an obsession with secrecy on the part of the Obama administration, inspectors general who previously had access to all documents, emails and other information have had to beg for evidence, which is often produced after months of requests and is sometimes heavily redacted.
“The bottom line is that we’re no longer independent,” Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, told The New York Times.
More than three decades of established federal policy that gave watchdogs unrestricted access to government records in their investigations is now at serious risk of being undone. That includes “at least 20 investigations across the government that have been slowed, stymied or sometimes closed because of a long-simmering dispute between the Obama administration and its own watchdogs over the shrinking access of inspectors general to confidential records,” according to the Times’ Eric Lichtblau.
Justice Department lawyers wrote an opinion last summer that stated grand jury transcripts, wiretap intercepts and financial credit reports and some other “protected records” could be withheld from inspectors general. As a result of that order, investigators who need to review government records are now required to get permission from the very agencies they are monitoring in order to do so.
“This is by far the most aggressive assault on the inspector general concept since the beginning,” Paul Light, a New York University professor who has studied inspectors general, told the Times. “It’s the complete evisceration of the concept. You might as well fold them down. They’ve become defanged.”
Among the investigations being hindered are those involving FBI use of phone records collected by the NSA, the DEA’s role in the shooting of unarmed civilians in Honduras drug raids, international trade agreement enforcement at the Commerce Department, the “Fast and Furious” gun operation, intelligence relating to the Boston Marathon bombings, and additional cases at the Afghanistan reconstruction board, the EPA and the Postal Service.
Even the Peace Corps has worked to prevent access to records. The agency’s inspector general was denied information when looking into cases of sexual abuse of Peace Corps volunteers. This despite claims that the agency is in favor of “rigorous oversight” and that it cooperated with investigators.
The situation has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of a plan to give the Justice Department inspector general more access, but not those at other agencies, “It’s no fix at all.” His colleague on the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said at a hearing that the Obama administration has “blocked what was once a free flow of information” to investigators.
Justice IG Horowitz said the consequence of the watchdog clampdown may be an increase in cases of waste, fraud and abuse across the government.
To Learn More:
Tighter Lid on Records Threatens to Weaken Government Watchdogs (by Eric Lichtblau, New York Times )
Pentagon Stonewalls U.S. Watchdog’s Inquiries into $800 Million Afghanistan Program (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Justice Department Tries to Limit Inspectors General Access to Government Documents (by Steve Straehley, AllGov )
FBI Claims it Doesn’t Have to Share Records with Justice Dept. Inspector General (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov )
The High Cost of Secrecy to American Taxpayers (by Matt Bewig, AllGov )
Like millions of Americans, this past week I was sitting on my couch, drinking a cold beer, watching Game 1 of the World Series – professional baseball’s hallowed championship. Suddenly the satellite feed went out, the screen went dark. Naturally, as FOX Sports scrambled to get their live feed fixed, many of my fellow Americans took to twitter to speculate as to what had caused the outage. I was, sadly, unsurprised to see that the most common joke people were making was that China must have hacked the World Series.
On the one hand, it is understandable given the barrage of propaganda about Chinese hackers as a threat to corporate and national security; seemingly every week there is a new news item highlighting the great red cyber-menace. On the other hand, it is a perfect illustration of the hypocrisy and ignorant arrogance of Americans who, despite being citizens of unquestionably the most aggressive nation when it comes to both cyber espionage and surveillance, see fit to cast China as the real villain. It is a testament to the power of both propaganda and imperial triumphalism that a proposition so disconnected from reality, and bordering on Orwellian Doublethink, is not only accepted, but is ipso facto true.
But there is a deeper political and sociological phenomenon at play here, one that begs further exploration. How is it that despite all the revelations of Edward Snowden regarding US intelligence and military snooping capabilities across the globe, Americans still cannot accept the culpability of their own government and corporate interests – the two work hand in hand – in global cyber-espionage? Even if they explicitly or implicitly know about the NSA, CIA, DIA, and Pentagon programs (among many others), their instinctive reaction is to blame China. Why? The answer lies in the complexity and effectiveness of the anti-China propaganda.
In his landmark book Public Opinion, the renowned writer, commentator, and theoretician of propaganda, Walter Lipmann, defined the term “stereotype” in the modern psychological sense as a “distorted picture or image in a person’s mind, not based on personal experience, but derived culturally.” In other words, the stereotype is an image in our mind’s eye, one that is constructed by outside forces; it is information filtered through a particular societal or cultural framework that then creates a picture of how something is to be understood. Lipmann went further, noting that carefully constructed propaganda could be used to shape stereotypes, thereby allowing the powers that be the ability to construct and manipulate information and narratives.
And this is precisely the phenomenon at work here. By repeating it endlessly, the US political and corporate media establishment have successfully convinced Americans that China is the real threat when it comes to cyberspace, playing on the stereotype of Chinese people in general, and the People’s Republic of China specifically. But, I would argue something far different: rather than seeing China as a threat, perhaps Americans, and westerners generally, should shine a light on what their own countries are doing, thereby gaining a broader perspective on the issue. For China’s moves in this field pale in comparison to those of the US, and are clearly a response to them.
China and the US: Comparing the Rap Sheets
The corporate media is replete with stories of Chinese hacking of US institutions. From alleged Chinese hacking of the University of Virginia employees connected with US government programs directed at China, to the infamous breach of the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management which resulted in the theft of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans, such stories help to construct an image of China as the world’s leading hacker-state. This week it is Chinese hackers targeting health care providers, last year it was stealing the secrets of Westinghouse and US Steel, and literally dozens of other such examples.
The purpose of this article is not to deny the veracity of these reports; I’m not a computer expert, nor do I have access to the information that an expert would need in making a determination. Instead, my purpose here is to show the grossly unbalanced, and utterly dishonest, way in which the issue is presented to Americans especially, and to probe why that might be. For any fair and balanced approach to the issue would present the simple fact that the US is the world leader in cyber-warfare, having actually conducted what are to date the only recorded live uses of cyberweapons.
Take for instance the joint US-Israel developed Stuxnet virus, a pair of highly complex and severely destructive, computer viruses launched at Iran’s nuclear facilities. According to a group of independent legal experts assembled at the request of NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, the Stuxnet cyberattack was “an act of force.” Their report noted that “Acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force [and likely violate international law].”
Indeed, the US and its Israeli partners launched the very first true cyberweapon. As cyber security expert Ralph Langer wrote in Foreign Policy in 2013:
Stuxnet is not really one weapon, but two. The vast majority of the attention has been paid to Stuxnet’s smaller and simpler attack routine — the one that changes the speeds of the rotors in a centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium. But the second and “forgotten” routine is about an order of magnitude more complex and stealthy. It qualifies as a nightmare for those who understand industrial control system security… The “original” payload… attempted to overpressurize Natanz’s centrifuges by sabotaging the system meant to keep the cascades of centrifuges safe.
Essentially, the US and Israel employed the world’s first cyberweapon without even fully knowing the potentially destructive consequences. As the virus migrated out of the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz and onto the internet, innumerable variables could have come into play, with the potential for disastrous outcomes.
But of course Stuxnet was not alone. The US and Israel also deployed both the Gauss and Flame viruses, two more sophisticated cyberweapons designed to cause major damage to online infrastructure. The Gauss virus, discovered by Kaspersky labs, one of the world’s most highly respected cyber-security firms, was designed to steal sensitive data such as financial records. According to the US officials who spoke with the Washington Post, the Flame virus was a: massive piece of malware [which] secretly mapped and monitored Iran’s computer networks, sending back a steady stream of intelligence to prepare for a cyberwarfare campaign… “This is about preparing the battlefield for another type of covert action… Cyber-collection against the Iranian program is way further down the road than this.” said one former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official, who added that Flame and Stuxnet were elements of a broader assault that continues today.
Clearly the US and Israel were not merely interested in surveillance and information-gathering, but actually having the ability to manipulate and destroy vital computer infrastructure in Iran. Any reasonable reading of international law should hold that such actions are, in fact, an act of war, though of course war with Iran has not come to pass. But just the very use of such sophisticated weapons, far more elaborate, technical, and dangerous than mere hacking by humans, should call into question the weepy-eyed condemnations of China for its alleged stealing of corporate and government information.
And then of course there is the seemingly endless supply of revelations from Edward Snowden regarding the US surveillance infrastructure, how all-encompassing it truly is, how it is used to manipulate political outcomes, how it is used as a weapon against foreign governments, and much more.
Just to name a few of the countless programs and initiatives of the NSA and the surveillance state designed to capture information for political purposes:
PRISM – 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.”
BLARNEY – “Gathers up metadata from choke points along the backbone of the internet as part of an ongoing collection program the leverages IC (intelligence community) and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.”
Boundless Informant – “Details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks.”
US & UK Target G20 Leaders – “The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government.”
US Spied on EU Offices – “America’s National Security Agency (NSA) not only conducted online surveillance of European citizens, but also appears to have specifically targeted buildings housing European Union institutions… in addition to installing bugs in the building in downtown Washington, DC, the European Union representation’s computer network was also infiltrated.”
But of course, the US has also specifically, and successfully, trained its cyber-espionage and cyber-warfare sights on China itself. Thanks to Snowden, we now know that US intelligence repeatedly hacked into Beijing’s Tsinghua University, China’s top education and research institute. As revealed in the South China Morning Post:
The information also showed that the attacks on Tsinghua University were intensive and concerted efforts. In one single day of January, at least 63 computers and servers in Tsinghua University have been hacked by the NSA… The university is home to one of the mainland’s six major backbone networks, the China Education and Research Network (CERNET) from where internet data from millions of Chinese citizens could be mined. The network was the country’s first internet backbone network and has evolved into the world’s largest national research hub.
But it wasn’t only Tsinghua University that was targeted. Snowden also revealed that Chinese University in Hong Kong was the victim of US hacking; the university is home to the Hong Kong Internet Exchange, the city’s central hub for all internet traffic. In addition, it came out that US intelligence has repeatedly hacked into Chinese mobile phone companies, spied on users, and stolen data, including text messages. These are, of course, only what we know about thus far from the Snowden revelations. The scope of US hacking operations against China is not known, but could be safely assumed to be far-reaching.
In fact, the depth of US hacking and other intelligence operations targeting China, including those taking place inside China itself, has been alluded to repeatedly. The New York Times noted in August 2015 that the Obama administration was cautious about any retaliation against China for the breach of the Office of Personnel Management because “Intelligence officials say that any legal case could result in exposing American intelligence operations inside China — including the placement of thousands of implants in Chinese computer networks to warn of impending attacks.”
It is clear that what we do know about US cyberwar programs and tactics is really only the tip of the iceberg. It is likely that Washington has myriad other China-specific hacking programs and initiatives, including the much discussed attempts to subvert the oft referenced “Great Firewall of China.” Put simply, the US is engaged in the most sophisticated forms of hacking and cyber-subversion, and much of it is directed at China (and Russia and Iran). This should now be beyond question.
Keep this information in mind the next time another story about Chinese hackers attacking US interests runs in the corporate media. While the hack may or may not be true, it is the context within which such actions take place that really needs to be understood.
There is a cyberwar going on, of this there can be no doubt. But who’s got the biggest guns? And who fired the first shot?
A federal district court yesterday dismissed Wikimedia v. NSA, a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of a broad group of educational, legal, human rights, and media organizations whose communications are swept up by the NSA’s unprecedented Internet dragnet.
Our lawsuit concerns the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance, which involves the mass interception and searching of Americans’ international Internet communications. The court held that our clients lacked “standing” to bring suit, because they had not plausibly alleged that their communications were being monitored by the NSA. That’s just plain wrong.
The court’s opinion relies heavily on the Supreme Court’s decision in a previous ACLU lawsuit, Amnesty v. Clapper, a challenge to warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. In February 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed that case on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not prove that they had communicated with the NSA’s targets.
But as we explained in court, our current challenge to the NSA’s warrantless spying is very different than the last one. Among other reasons, Clapper was decided prior to the Snowden revelations and extensive government disclosures about upstream surveillance. These revelations fundamentally changed the equation. Since Clapper, the public has learned that the NSA is not surveilling only its targets — it is instead surveilling virtually everyone, looking for information about those targets.
Some early takeaways from the district court’s opinion:
1.The court misunderstands how upstream surveillance is fundamentally different from and much more intrusive than the surveillance considered by the Supreme Court in Clapper.
Upstream surveillance is accomplished through the installation of devices directly on the Internet “backbone” — the network of high-capacity cables, switches, and routers across which Internet traffic travels. One particularly disturbing feature of upstream spying is known as “about” surveillance. Through this surveillance, the NSA is not simply plucking the communications to or from terrorists, spies, or other targets. Instead, it’s copying and searching through the contents of nearly everyone’s international communications, looking for information about its many targets. When the Supreme Court considered warrantless surveillance in Clapper, it was focused on whether the plaintiffs communicated with targets. At that time, the public had no idea that the NSA was essentially opening everyone’s international emails. Indeed, contrary to the district court’s understanding, “about” surveillance is in no way targeted:
2. The court ignores how Internet communications are structured — and why that requires the government to intercept at least some of our clients’ trillion-plus international communications.
Collectively, our clients engage in more than one trillion international Internet communications each year, with individuals in virtually every country on Earth. As we explained in our complaint, given the structure of the Internet, it is virtually impossible for the NSA to conduct upstream surveillance without intercepting at least some of plaintiffs’ communications. Yet the court dismissed these allegations, characterizing them as having “no basis in fact.”
3. Given how much is in the public record about upstream surveillance, our clients’ allegations are not “speculative” or “hypothetical.”
As the court acknowledged, at this early stage of the litigation, plaintiffs have to satisfy only a very low threshold: plausibility. Especially considering what’s publicly known about how upstream surveillance works, and the volume and distribution of our clients’ communications, their allegations are more than plausible.
4. The court’s opinion would insulate government surveillance from any legal challenge, except in cases where the government has already admitted its reliance on a particular program.
Although the court recognized that “no government surveillance program should be immunized from judicial scrutiny,” its analysis would do precisely that in the overwhelming majority of cases. If the court’s reasoning were correct, then the only people who could challenge NSA surveillance would be those told by the government they were spied on — a result at odds with well-established precedent and our system of checks and balances:
Our clients’ standing doesn’t depend on a supposition. There’s no question that the NSA is capturing and searching through their communications. That’s something the court — and everyone else — should find extremely disconcerting.
As the United States seeks backdoor encryption access, it faces strong pushback in the form of public opinion. But according to some intelligence officials, that perception could change if another terrorist attack were to occur on American soil.
Faced with a public outcry over privacy concerns and the tarnished reputation of American tech companies abroad, the Obama administration has found itself in a difficult spot. Many industry leaders are calling for the president to publicly disavow the idea of a law requiring tech companies to provide backdoor encryption access.
Intelligence officials, of course, are none-too-thrilled about such a move. Insistent on the notion that encryption access is vital for national security, many are eager for a law requiring companies like Apple to cooperate.
“Overall, the benefits to privacy, civil liberties and cybersecurity gained from encryption outweigh the broader risks that would have been created by weakening encryption,” reads the latest report from the US National Security Council.
But if public opinion remains a stubborn roadblock for such legislation, some officials have indicated that a terrorist attack could change the situation.
“… The legislative environment is very hostile today,” Robert S. Litt, a lawyer for the intelligence community, said in an email obtained by the Washington Post. “[But] it could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.”
Litt isn’t the only one.
“People are still not persuaded this is a problem,” a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Post. “People think we have not made the case. We do not have the perfect example where you have the dead child or a terrorist act to point to, and that’s what people seem to claim you have to have.”
While the US intelligence community seems to believe that a terrorist attack would prove the need for robust encryption, it’s already been proven that mass surveillance has done little to thwart such incidents. The National Security Agency’s data collection – unveiled by whistleblower Edward Snowden – was launched after the September 11 attacks, but failed to prevent future bombings, like that which occurred during the Boston Marathon in 2013.
A White House review panel formed two years ago recommended ending the domestic spying program after findings that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata had done nothing for national security.
Even if the Obama administration decides to publicly disavow encryption legislation, there’s no guarantee that the US government wouldn’t still carry forward with decryption plans. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that the administration was looking into four distinct ways to force tech companies into compliance.
“We’re not promoting those as the way to go,” said another official, also speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re just saying these are things that could be done.”
The European Court of Justice’s top legal aid has said that a 15-year-old agreement that eases the transfer of data between the EU and the US should be ended, accusing American intelligence services of conducting “mass, indiscriminate surveillance.”
The ECJ’s advocate-general, Yves Bot, said on Wednesday that the Safe Harbour agreement does not do enough to protect the private information of EU citizens once it arrives in the US, adding that it should have been suspended.
Safe Harbour allows US firms to collect data on their European customers. The system is used by Google, Facebook, and more than 4,000 other companies.
However, it also allows the NSA to use the Prism surveillance system exposed by Snowden to wade through the personal data, communication, and information held by nine internet companies.
Using Facebook as an example, Bot said that users “are not informed that their personal data will be generally accessible to the United States security agencies.”
“Such mass, indiscriminate surveillance is inherently disproportionate and constitutes an unwarranted interference with the rights guaranteed by articles seven and eight of the charter [of fundamental rights of the EU],” he said, adding that European internet users have no effective judicial protection while the data transfers are happening.
Bot added that if any EU country believes that transferring data to overseas servers undermines the protection of citizens, it has the power to suspend those transfers “irrespective of the general assessment made by the [EU] commission in its decision.”
But despite allegations from Bot, Facebook has denied accusations that it provides ‘backdoor’ access to its servers.
Sally Aldous, a spokeswoman for the social media giant, said on Wednesday that the company “operates in compliance with EU Data Protection law. Like the thousands of other companies who operate data transfers across the Atlantic we await the full judgment.”
“We have repeatedly said that we do not provide ‘backdoor’ access to Facebook servers and data to intelligence agencies or governments,” she said.
Although Bot’s opinions are not binding, they are typically followed by the ECJ’s judges, who are considering a complaint about the arrangement in the wake of US surveillance revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The EU court’s decision is expected in the next four to six months.
The European Commission has been in talks with the US for two years, discussing ways to strengthen the Safe Harbour framework amid calls for its suspension.
Meanwhile, many US companies have praised the 2000 Safe Harbour deal, saying it helps them avoid complicated checks to transfer vital data, including payroll and human resources information.
An end to the agreement would cause a headache for US companies operating in the EU, as well as bring about the potential for a varying of national approaches, lawyers said, as cited by Reuters.
It comes just six months after 27-year-old Austrian law student Max Schrems filed a complaint against Facebook, alleging the social media site was helping the NSA harvest email and other private data by forwarding European data to servers in the US.
An impressive coalition has formed to oppose a new surveillance bill masquerading as cybersecurity legislation.
Privacy and civil liberties organizations, free market groups, and others from across the political spectrum are joining this week in a common chorus call: Stop CISA.
Proponents of CISA — the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act — claim the Senate bill would help prevent cyber-crimes by improving information sharing between the government and the private sector. But in reality, CISA only succeeds in expanding government surveillance and weakening privacy while making Americans less secure online. The bill as drafted would have done nothing to stop the high-profile breaches at Sony, Anthem, and, most recently, the Office of Personnel Management, which holds terabytes of sensitive information about millions of government employees.
For several years, certain elements of the business community and national security hawks in Congress have pressed for legislation like CISA. In April, the House passed a package of similar cybersecurity information sharing bills, which were opposed by the ACLU and bevy of other privacy and civil liberties groups, but were in some ways dramatically better than the bill now pending in the Senate.
CISA’s vague language and expansive definitions will give the government new ways to collect and use the personal information and communications of innocent Americans, all without a warrant or any review by an independent court or overseer. CISA would allow companies to share information with the government relating to a “cybersecurity threat,” a term defined so broadly in the bill that it could include huge swaths of emails and text messages. The handover of user information under CISA would be permitted even if otherwise prohibited by existing data privacy laws, like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The law would also give companies broad legal protections even if they improperly share consumer data.
And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the information shared by companies would automatically be forwarded to numerous intelligence, military, and law enforcement agencies, including the NSA and FBI.
Once in the government’s hands, CISA allows for the shared information to be used in garden-variety law enforcement cases that have nothing to do with cybersecurity. For example, the government could use private emails and messages received from communications providers like Comcast, Facebook, Google, or Verizon to investigate and prosecute whistleblowers who report serious misconduct to the press. That’s a serious concern given that the Obama administration has already prosecuted more national security whistleblowers than all other administrations combined.
As an added bonus for government snoopers, CISA also includes a new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act, which will make it harder for groups like the ACLU to obtain documents from the government to determine how it is using — or misusing — the shared information. That means, for example, that it could be nearly impossible for us to find out how much private information is flowing from companies to the government or how the government is using it.
And despite CISA’s promise to open the floodgates for private information to flow to the government without any privacy protections, it fails at actually delivering better cybersecurity. As we learned with the hack at the OPM, the government is not a reliable guarantor of data security. Hackers were able to access the personal information of millions of Americans — including Social Security numbers, birthdates, and records about citizens’ finances, health, associations, and even sexual orientation—that applicants for security clearances must disclose to the government. All that additional information would make the government an even more desirable target for cybersnoops and cybercrooks.
CISA is more than just a bad solution to a serious problem. It would actually make cybersecurity worse while compromising basic democratic protections for personal privacy. The Senate must reject this surveillance bill. But if it decides to send this travesty to the president, he should veto the bill, consistent with his past threats against similarly atrocious bills.
Do your part to Stop CISA.
“We are under pressure from the Treasury to justify our budget, and commercial espionage is one way of making a direct contribution to the nation’s balance of payments” – Sir Colin McColl, former MI6 Chief
For years public figures have condemned cyber espionage committed against the United States by intruders launching their attacks out of China. These same officials then turn around and justify America’s far-reaching surveillance apparatus in terms of preventing terrorist attacks. Yet classified documents published by WikiLeaks reveal just how empty these talking points are. Specifically, top-secret intercepts prove that economic spying by the United States is pervasive, that not even allies are safe, and that it’s wielded to benefit powerful corporate interests.
At a recent campaign event in New Hampshire Hillary Clinton accused China of “trying to hack into everything that doesn’t move in America.” Clinton’s hyperbole is redolent of similar claims from the American Deep State. For example, who could forget the statement made by former NSA director Keith Alexander that Chinese cyber espionage represents the greatest transfer of wealth in history? Alexander has obviously never heard of quantitative easing (QE) or the self-perpetuating “global war on terror” which has likewise eaten through trillions of dollars. Losses due to cyber espionage are a rounding error compared to the tidal wave of money channeled through QE and the war on terror.
When discussing the NSA’s surveillance programs Keith Alexander boldly asserted that they played a vital role with regard to preventing dozens of terrorist attacks, an argument that fell apart rapidly under scrutiny. Likewise, in the days preceding the passage of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 President Obama advised that bulk phone metadata collection was essential “to keep the American people safe and secure.” Never mind that decision makers have failed to provide any evidence that bulk collection of telephone records has prevented terrorist attacks.
If American political leaders insist on naming and shaming other countries with regard to cyber espionage perhaps it would help if they didn’t sponsor so much of it themselves. And make no mistake, thanks to WikiLeaks the entire world knows that U.S. spies are up to their eyeballs in economic espionage. Against NATO partners like France and Germany, no less. And also against developing countries like Brazil and news outlets like Der Spiegel.
These disclosures confirm what Ed Snowden said in an open letter to Brazil: terrorism is primarily a mechanism to bolster public acquiescence for runaway data collection. The actual focus of intelligence programs center around “economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation.” Who benefits from this sort of activity? The same large multinational corporate interests that have spent billions of dollars to achieve state capture.
Why is the threat posed by China inflated so heavily? The following excerpt from an intelligence briefing might offer some insight. In a conversation with a colleague during the summer of 2011 the EU’s chief negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Hiddo Houben, described the treaty as an attempt by the United State to antagonize China:
“Houben insisted that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is a U.S. initiative, appears to be designed to force future negotiations with China. Washington, he pointed out, is negotiating with every nation that borders China, asking for commitments that exceed those countries’ administrative capacities, so as to ‘confront’ Beijing. If, however, the TPP agreement takes 10 years to negotiate, the world–and China–will have changed so much that that country likely will have become disinterested in the process, according to Houben. When that happens, the U.S. will have no alternative but to return to the WTO.”
American business interests are eager to “open markets in Asia” and “provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment.” At least, that’s how Hillary Clinton phrased it back when she was the Secretary of State. China represents a potential competitor and so American political leaders need an enemy that they can demonize so that they can justify massive intelligence budgets and the myriad clandestine operations that they approve. The American Deep State wishes to maintain economic dominance and U.S. spies have been working diligently to this end.
A 2014 Turkish Foreign Ministry session, which featured high-level Turkish officials discussing how Turkey could start a war with Syria, was reportedly recorded and leaked by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
German weekly magazine Focus attributed the leakage to the NSA, reporting on the security meeting among former Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan, Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu and Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Yaşar Güler.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, banned the video-sharing website YouTube after the leakage, which caught Fidan saying he would send four men from Syria to attack Turkey to “make up a cause of war.” Güler is heard saying in response, “What you’re going to do is a direct cause of war.”
Currently serving as Turkish prime minister, Davutoğlu said on July 3 that his country would not hesitate to launch a military intervention in Syria in case of what he referred to as a potential threat to Turkey’s “security.”
The Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily also reported last Sunday that the Turkish military had called on all troop commanders stationed along its border with Syria to be present at a meeting aimed at discussing a possible intervention in the crisis-hit country.
Erdogan has accused Syrian Kurds of trying to establish a state in Syria’s north, saying Ankara will leave no stone unturned to prevent such an establishment near its borders.
Ankara has long been engaged in a conflict with the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region inside Turkey since the 1980s.
Turkey has also been one of the main supporters of the militancy against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with reports showing that Ankara actively trains and arms militants operating in Syria.
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW how sausages are made, don’t start reading Visas for Al Qaeda: CIA Handouts That Rocked the World by Michael Springmann. The sausages in this case: the string of too-easily-swallowed accounts of bloody events in the “global war on terror,” served up daily with relish by the mainstream media. In reality these sausages are filled with tainted meat that’s making everyone sick.
Springmann is a brave whistle blower living in Washington, D.C. He’s written an accessible book, safe to digest, highlighting details of the corruption of the American Empire (and its accomplices, including Canada) as he experienced them from the inside during his years with the U.S. State Department.
While he served as a visa officer in the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for instance, he was obliged under threat of dismissal to issue visas to persons hired clandestinely by the CIA to become trained-in-the-USA terrorists. Most of these psychopathic thugs were clearly and legally unqualified to be issued visas. There is every reason to believe the “Visas for Terrorists” program remains fully operative today. It takes a lot of expendable terrorists to run a global terrorism op.
Springmann places his experiences both within the context of the historical roots of the U.S. Empire and within its current ongoing global destabilization project.
“This tale,” the author states near the beginning, “is a sordid sketch of backstabbing, disloyalty, double crosses, faithlessness, falsity, perfidy, sellouts, treachery, and betrayal.”
And that only covers the bureaucratic aspect. Even more sobering is his sketch of human rights violations: torture, assassinations, massacres including bombings of markets, invasions and occupations of countries, destabilization of nations and regions.
Then there’s the financial side: widespread criminality, resource theft, bribery, diversion of funds, illicit drug dealing and more.
Not to mention the flouting of international laws. This dimension includes gross infringements on national sovereignty, the casual violation of treaties and ho-hum everyday general lawlessness, risking even the threat of nuclear annihilation.
All this before taking into account the moral dimension, in which trashing the Ten Commandments is just an opening trifle.
“My story shows how things really work,” Springmann writes, correctly. In the book’s 250 pages he names names, dates, times and places – presumably opening himself up to lawsuits, should there be anything here that the individuals named deem libelous. They might think twice, however, since Springmann is a lawyer by profession and knows his way around the Empire’s capital – as well as some of its outlying ramparts such as Stuttgart, New Delhi and especially Jeddah.
Stinging in itself, Springmann’s book also can be read as an authenticating companion to Michel Chossudovsky’s Towards a World War III Scenario (2012) and The Globalization of War: America’s “Long War” Against Humanity (2015). Along the way, both authors deal, to one extent or another, with the ideological, hubristic and increasingly bellicose role of the Harper government as handmaiden to the American Empire, including military involvements in Libya, Serbia and the Ukraine. Springmann necessarily refers very little to Canada, but to read his account of the cowardly and unnecessary rain of death inflicted on Libya, for instance, is to be obliged as a Canadian to think of Harper’s enthusiasm and pride in having this country share in the slaughter and destabilization carried out under the Orwellian “responsibility to protect” notion.
Springmann quotes Maximilian C. Forte who notes that before the attack Libya enjoyed the highest Human Development Index (a UN measurement of well-being) in all Africa. “After Western military forces destroyed the country the Index only records the steep collapse of all indicators of well-being. More Libyans were killed with intervention than without. It was about control, about militarizing Africa,” Forte argues.
What Springmann brings uniquely to the table is his firsthand knowledge of precisely how the USA recruits terrorists (no quotation marks needed), sends them to the USA for training and then deploys them to carry out murders, torture, bombings and more. The bloody mayhem carried out by these thousands of paid mercenaries – ostensibly beheading-habituated “jihadists” fighting against democracy, decency and the USA and its “allies – is planned, organized and funded by none other than the same USA and its allies. It’s a global false flag operation – the largest by far in history.
As Springmann on page 65 writes of the “Visas for Terrorists Program:”
This was not an ad hoc operation, conceived and carried out in response to a specific foreign policy issue. Rather, it was another of too many CIA efforts to destroy governments, countries, and politicians disfavored by the American “establishment” in its “bipartisan” approach to matters abroad. Whether it was opposing the imaginary evils of communism, the fictitious malevolence of Islam, or the invented wickedness of Iran, America and its intelligence services, brave defenders of “The City Upon A Hill,” sought out and created fear and loathing of peoples and countries essentially engaged in efforts to better their lives and improve their political world. Along the way, Agency-sponsored murders, war crimes, and human rights violations proved to be good business. Jobs for the Clandestine Service (people who recruit and run spies), sales of weapons and aircraft, as well as the myriad items needed to control banks, countries and peoples all provided income for and benefits to American companies.
That the American Empire has been able to carry out such a massive illegal program for so long is the saddest of commentaries on how deep the rot is, how effective the secrecy, how complicit the media.
As to the span of dangerous widespread deception, Springmann notes that Rahul Bedi wrote in Jane’s Defence Weekly on September 14, 2001 that beginning in 1980 “thousands [of mujahideen] were … brought to America and made competent in terrorism by Green Berets and SEALS at US government East Coast facilities, trained in guerilla warfare and armed with sophisticated weapons.”
The point is made repeatedly that Al Qaeda and now ISIS/ISIL/the Islamic State are essentially “Made in USA” entities, brought into being and organized for the Empire’s purposes. Among the elements that make possible such a vast fraud are deception, compartmentalization and secrecy. Springmann quotes attorney Pat Frascogna, “a man with FOIA expertise,” about secrecy and its purpose:
Thus whether it be learning the dirty and unethical business practices of a company or the secrets of our government, the same deployment of denials and feigning ignorance about what is really going on are the all-too-common methods used to keep the truth from the light of day.
Langley recruited the Arab-Afghans so clandestinely that the terrorists didn’t know they had been recruited. They thought that they had found a battlefield on their own, or through the Internet or through Twitter or through television…
Frascogna’s observation intersects with Springmann’s on-the-job experiences as a visa officer in Jeddah starting in 1987. Springmann was repeatedly overruled when he turned down disqualified applicants for U.S. visas. He writes:
As I later learned to my dismay, the visa applicants were recruits for the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union’s armed forces. Further, as time went by, the fighters, trained in the United States, went on to other battlefields: Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. They worked with the American intelligence services and the State Department to destabilize governments the United States opposed. While it’s no secret, most knowledgeable people still refuse to talk about this agenda.
As Springmann learned, “the average percentage of intelligence officers to real diplomats at a given Foreign Service post is about one in three. My experience in Jeddah, Stuttgart, and New Delhi might place it higher—at least 50 percent, if not more.” According to the Anti-CIA Club of Diplomats: Spooks in U.S. Foreign Service [sic], a twelve-page, 1983 Canadian publication (see namebase.org), the percentage is 60 percent.
“At Jeddah,” Springmann writes, “to the best of my knowledge, out of some twenty US citizens assigned to the consulate, only three people, including myself, worked for the Department of State. The rest were CIA or NSA officials or their spouses.” Elsewhere Springmann suggests that essentially the CIA runs the State Department, and that this is true of many other U.S. government departments and agencies as well. It seems that it’s almost impossible to over-estimate the reach of the CIA’s tentacles or the overweening treason of its nonstop black ops and unconstitutional operations domestically.
Springmann toward the end of the book refers to the beginnings of the CIA. It’s interesting for this reviewer to think that he was 13 years of age in 1947 when U.S. president Harry Truman agreed with the National Security Council (NSC) to secretly create the CIA and NSA. I remember that in my teenage years a few of my peers said there “was something” called “the CIA.” This was around the time a few people also said there “was something” called “the Mafia.” The consensus was that both ideas were very far-fetched.
In 1948 Truman approved yet another NSC initiative, providing for “propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, antisabotage,
demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerillas, and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world.” That’s a tabula rasa if there ever was one: a license for lawlessness.
The CIA’s twisted hits have just kept coming. It’s worth noting that Truman didn’t singlehandedly initiate this monstrosity. The dark recesses of the Deep State, as Peter Dale Scott calls it, are where the demonic entity was spawned. Ever since, Frankenstein’s monster has been a harmless schoolboy by comparison.
To read of the rape of Libya with active Canadian military complicity makes for difficult reading. The lies are piled as high as the bodies, and these two categories are insuperably paired.
Equally sordid, especially in light of Stephen Harper’s enthusiasm for expanding the war on Russia (the economic sanctions and the diplomatic exclusion of Russia from the G8 are forms of warfare, not to mention decades of covert* military incursion by the West onto the territory of the former USSR and now the Russian Federation, as described in Visas for Al Qaeda) is to read some of the history of the Ukraine. “The West’s” meddling in the Ukraine has a long illicit pedigree. As Springmann writes:
It seems that the CIA had problems [in the immediate post World War II period] distinguishing between underground groups and above-ground armies. Langley used Marshall Plan money to support a guerrilla force in the Ukraine, called “Nightingale.” Originally established in 1941 by Nazi Germany’s occupation forces, and working on their behalf, “Nightingale” and its terrorist arm (made up of ultranationalist Ukrainians as well as Nazi collaborators) murdered thousands of Jews, Soviet Union supporters, and Poles.
Even relatively recently, since the so-called Orange revolution in the Ukraine made events there eminently newsworthy, I can’t remember seeing in the mainstream media a single substantial article dealing with the historical relationships between the Ukraine and Russia going back to World War II, nor such an article laying out the history of the involvement –overt or covert – of “the West” in the Ukraine.
Instead, we see the surreal ahistorical likes of the top headline in The New York Times International Weekly for June 13-14, “Russia is Sowing Disunity,” by Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger. They report breathlessly in the lead paragraph: “Moscow is leveraging its economic power, financing European political parties and movements, and spreading alternative accounts of the Ukraine conflict, according the American and European officials.
True to the narrative of “the West” as a pitiful giant facing a powerful and expansionist Russia, the writers posit that the “consensus against Russian aggression” is “fragile.
The drift of this NYT yarn, typical of Western propaganda across the board, is that there remains in effect a behemoth “Soviet empire” surreptitiously shipping “Moscow gold” to dupes in “green movements” and so on. Even a former American national intelligence officer on Russia, Fiona Hill, now at the Brookings Institution, told the writers: “The question is how much hard evidence does anyone have?
Maybe this NYT propaganda, like its clones across the mainstream media, is not ahistorical after all. The story comes across rather as an historical relic of the Cold War – found in a time capsule in a fallout shelter – that the NYT editors decided to publish as a prank. A sausage.
* Military action by “the West” has not always been covert. Springmann notes that American and Japanese soldiers were dispatched to Russia in 1917 to squelch the fledgling Russian revolution. The soldiers were part of what was called the Allied Expeditionary Force. Winston Churchill for his part said: “We must strangle the Bolshevik baby in its crib.” Springmann might have noted that Canadian soldiers were part of the AEF.
The morning after final passage of the USA Freedom Act, while some foes of mass surveillance were celebrating, Thomas Drake sounded decidedly glum. The new law, he told me, is “a new spy program.” It restarts some of the worst aspects of the Patriot Act and further codifies systematic violations of Fourth Amendment rights.
Later on Wednesday, here in Oslo as part of a “Stand Up For Truth” tour, Drake warned at a public forum that “national security” has become “the new state religion.” Meanwhile, his Twitter messages were calling the USA Freedom Act an “itty-bitty step” — and a “stop/restart kabuki shell game” that “starts w/ restarting bulk collection of phone records.”
That downbeat appraisal of the USA Freedom Act should give pause to its celebrants. Drake is a former senior executive of the National Security Agency — and a whistleblower who endured prosecution and faced decades in prison for daring to speak truthfully about NSA activities. He ran afoul of vindictive authorities because he refused to go along with the NSA’s massive surveillance program after 9/11.
Drake understands how the NSA operates from the highest strategic levels. He notes a telling fact that has gone virtually unacknowledged by anti-surveillance boosters of the USA Freedom Act: “NSA approved.” So, of course, did the top purveyor of mendacious claims about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs — President Barack Obama — who eagerly signed the “USA Freedom” bill into law just hours after the Senate passed it.
A comparable guardian of our rights, House Speaker John Boehner, crowed: “This legislation is critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties.”
While some organizations with civil-liberties credentials have responded to the USA Freedom Act by popping open champagne bottles at various decibels, more sober assessments have also been heard. Just after senators approved the bill and sent it to the president, Demand Progress issued a statement pointing out: “The Senate just voted to reinstitute certain lapsed surveillance authorities — and that means that USA Freedom actually made Americans less free.”
Another astute assessment came from CREDO, saying that Congress had just created “sweeping new authorities for the government to conduct unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans.”
As it happened, the President signed the USA Freedom Act into law while four U.S. “national security” whistleblowers — Drake as well as Coleen Rowley (FBI), Jesselyn Radack (Justice Department) and Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) — were partway through a “Stand Up For Truth” speaking tour from London to Oslo toStockholm to Berlin. Traveling as part of the tour, I’ve been struck by the intensity of interest from audiences in the countries we’ve already visited — Great Britain and Norway — where governments have moved to worsen repressive policies for mass surveillance.
Photo of (left to right) Kirk Wiebe, Coleen Rowley, Raymond McGovern, Daniel Ellsberg, William Binney, Jesselyn Radack, and Thomas Drake by Kathleen McClellan (@McClellanKM) via Twitter
Right now, many people in Europe and elsewhere who care about civil liberties and want true press freedom are looking at the United States: to understand what an aroused citizenry might be able to accomplish, seeking to roll back a dangerous accumulation of power by an ostensibly democratic government. Let’s not unwittingly deceive them — or ourselves — about how much ground the U.S. surveillance state has lost so far.
Rand Paul’s temporary stopping of the Patriot Act’s bulk metadata collection has spurred a predictable assault from both the mainstream left and the mainstream right. Two particular examples show the strange political mating that can take place when interests align. First, on Sunday night, John McCain grumbled on the Senate floor that Rand Paul was letting the world burn to score political points. Then, on Monday, Salon published an article arguing that the collection of big data is a net positive for people of color and that Paul’s attack on the NSA is a function of his white privilege.
At this point, it appears John McCain has no idea what the hell he’s talking about from day to day. We all saw the writing on the wall when he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. He hasn’t been getting better. This is an old, confused, angry man whose answer to every problem is war and/or authoritarian domestic policies.
As for Salon, whether or not Rand Paul’s opposition is a function of white privilege is irrelevant in this case. The fact that he’s a Senator in the first place is a function of white privilege. Opposing the authoritarian horror show that is the Patriot Act is important enough that this really doesn’t matter. Same thing with the dismissive argument from the mainstream left that Paul is insincere in opposing the Patriot Act. It just doesn’t matter. What’s important is that he’s opposing it.
The alliance between Salon and McCain against Rand Paul is an interesting coming together of political foes. Essentially, their loathing of Paul overcomes their loathing of each other. For McCain, making common cause with a liberal online magazine that spent the entirety of the 2008 Presidential election cycle savaging him must be an odd feeling. And for Salon, allying with the man who gave us the Palins must be similarly odd.
But it makes sense when you think about it.
Salon’s attacks on Rand Paul are at least in large part due to the possibility he may be the opponent to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Add to that the fact that President Obama wants the Patriot Act and data collection renewed and editor in chief Joan Walsh’s particular antipathy to Paul, and you have a perfect storm of political hay making.
And as for McCain, who has no possibility of ever entertaining another run at the presidency, the only thing he has left is his waning influence on a Republican Party that is moving further and further away from his neocon ideology. To McCain, Rand Paul is the most visible representative of this wing taking over his Grand Old Party.
This has produced the odd political bedfellows of Salon and John McCain. Both despise Rand Paul for their own reasons. And both apparently support the collection of bulk data, albeit in distinct variances of enthusiasm. I’m hesitant to assign the blame for Salon taking this position on the fact that it is President Obama asking for the draconian policy, but there’s no denying that when it was George W Bush asking for political support for the Patriot Act, the general mood at the site was different.
As far as McCain goes, he’s a senile crank who hasn’t met a war he doesn’t love or a civil liberty he doesn’t want to take away from the general public in the name of “security” in the last decade and a half.
Until the inevitable reauthorization of the bulk collection of the phone records of the American people, we can expect more of these attacks on Rand Paul from the representatives of the Democratic and Republican party establishments. On the one hand, the bulk collection of metadata is an anti-Constitutional atrocity. On the other hand, it will be nice for people to see the “rare” bipartisanship of the security state’s apologists on the right and the further right joining together against the junior Senator from Kentucky.
Apologists for the National Security Agency (NSA) point to the arrest of David Coleman Headley as an example of how warrantless mass surveillance is necessary to catch terrorists. Headley played a major role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack that killed 166 people.
While few would argue that bringing someone like Headley to justice is not a good thing, Headley’s case in no way justifies mass surveillance. For one thing, there is no “terrorist” exception in the Fourth Amendment. Saying a good end (capturing terrorists) justifies a bad means (mass surveillance) gives the government a blank check to violate our liberties.
Even if the Headley case somehow justified overturning the Fourth Amendment, it still would not justify mass surveillance and bulk data collection. This is because, according to an investigation by ProPublica, NSA surveillance played an insignificant role in catching Headley. One former counter-terrorism official said when he heard that NSA surveillance was responsible for Headley’s capture he “was trying to figure out how NSA played a role.”
The Headley case is not the only evidence that the PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 sacrifices of our liberty have not increased our security. For example, the NSA’s claim that its surveillance programs thwarted 54 terrorist attacks has been widely discredited. Even the president’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies found that mass surveillance and bulk data collection was “not essential to preventing attacks.”
According to the congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001 and the 9/11 Commission, the powers granted the NSA by the PATRIOT Act would not have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Many intelligence experts have pointed out that, by increasing the size of the haystack government agencies must look through, mass surveillance makes it harder to find the needle of legitimate threats.
Even though mass surveillance threatens our liberty, violates the Constitution, and does nothing to protect us from terrorism, many in Congress still cling to the fiction that the only way to ensure security is to give the government virtually unlimited spying powers. These supporters of the surveillance state are desperate to extend the provisions of the PATRIOT Act that are set to expire at the end of the month. They are particularly eager to preserve Section 215, which authorizes many of the most egregious violations of our liberties, including the NSA’s “metadata” program.
However, Edward Snowden’s revelations have galvanized opposition to the NSA’s ongoing violations of our liberties. This is why Congress will soon vote on the USA FREEDOM Act. This bill extends the expiring surveillance laws. It also contains some “reforms” that supposedly address all the legitimate concerns regarding mass surveillance.
However, a look at the USA FREEDOM Act’s details, as opposed to the press releases of its supporters, shows that the act leaves the government’s mass surveillance powers virtually untouched.
The USA FREEDOM Act has about as much to do with freedom as the PATRIOT Act had to do with patriotism. If Congress truly wanted to protect our liberties it would pass the Surveillance State Repeal Act, which repeals the PATRIOT Act. Congress should also reverse the interventionist foreign policy that increases the risk of terrorism by fostering resentment and hatred of Americans.
Fourteen years after the PATRIOT Act was rushed into law, it is clear that sacrificing liberty does little or nothing to preserve security. Instead of trying to fool the American people with phony reforms, Congress should repeal all laws that violate the Fourth Amendment, starting with the PATRIOT Act.