If Americans Knew
Just a few hours after an arrest warrant was issued against him, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, who had vowed he would not resign, announced he would step down from office, his press team announced this Thursday morning.
Jorge Ortega, the president’s spokesman said that Molina submitted his resignation at midnight local time just hours after a judge issued an arrest warrant in his name late Wednesday.
Prosecutors accuse the president of masterminding a scheme to embezzle millions of dollars from customs service as part of a fraud ring, which the country’s vice president has already been jailed and faces charges over.
The allegations against Molina were made by influential sectors in Guatemala, including the office of human rights, the agricultural, rural, industrial, and financial committees, the Peasant Unity Committee, the Catholic and Evangelical churches and members of civil organizations.
The Central American country is still struggling to recover from the U.S.-funded civil war (1960-1996), which saw more than 200,000 Guatemalans killed, most of them Indigenous Mayans. It currently faces high rates of poverty and ranks among one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International.
The El Paso Police Department has maintained that Erik Salas Sanchez, 22, was shot for charging at police, however, the autopsy report has revealed that he was shot in the back.
The cops allegedly attempted to tase Sanchez, but were unsuccessful, and that is when a 10-year-veteran Texas police officer opened fire with his service weapon.
Sanchez was shot three times, in the right side of his back, the left side of his back, and his buttocks. Quite a feat, as he was allegedly “charging at the officers.”
He was then handcuffed despite the severe injuries, and died soon after at the Del Sol Medical Center.
This west Texas police agency has released few details surrounding the incident which took place on April 29, when police were called to respond to a burglary in Sanchez’ neighborhood.
The fatal encounter did not take place at the residence that was allegedly burglarized however, and police will only say it was “different than the location he was suspected of burglarizing.”
The victim’s mother maintains that the shooting took place outside the home she shared with her son, after police arrived and asked her to come outside.
Erik Sanchez shouted in reply to the cops, which isn’t illegal.
It remains unclear why the El Paso police officers went to the family’s home in the first place.
The Mexican Consulate has also been involved with assisting the family, as Sanchez was a Mexican citizen who was living legally in the United States as many families whose lives straddle the border.
Mexico’s Consul General Jacob Prado is calling for a full investigation of the incident.
The El Paso officer who shot Sanchez was placed on administrative leave for a few days following the incident. We all know that’s just cop speak for paid vacation.
The officer is supposed to remain on administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation by the Texas Rangers, the El Paso Police, and the District Attorney’s office.
The investigation is anticipated to be complete by “early next year,” according to Prado.
As reflected in a recent NATO conference in Latvia and in the Pentagon’s new “Law of War” manual, the U.S. government has come to view the control and manipulation of information as a “soft power” weapon, merging psychological operations, propaganda and public affairs under the catch phrase “strategic communications.”
This attitude has led to treating psy-ops – manipulative techniques for influencing a target population’s state of mind and surreptitiously shaping people’s perceptions – as just a normal part of U.S. and NATO’s information policy.
Dr. Stephen Badsey, Professor of Conflict studies, Wolverhampton University, U.K.
“The NATO case and argument is that NATO’s approach to psy-ops is to treat it as an essentially open, truthful and benign activity and that, plus the elimination of any meaningful distinctions between domestic and foreign media institutions and social media, means that psy-ops and public affairs have effectively fused,” said British military historian, Dr. Stephen Badsey, one of the world’s leading authorities on war and the media.
Badsey said NATO has largely abandoned the notion that there should be a clear distinction between psy-ops and public affairs, although NATO officially rules out the dissemination of “black propaganda,” knowingly false information designed to discredit an adversary.
“The long argument as to whether a firewall should be maintained between psy-ops and information activities and public affairs has now largely ended, and in my view the wrong side won,” Badsey added.
And, as part of this Brave New World of “strategic communications,” the U.S. military and NATO have now gone on the offensive against news organizations that present journalism which is deemed to undermine the perceptions that the U.S. government seeks to convey to the world.
That attitude led to the Pentagon’s new “Law of War” manual which suggests journalists in wartime may be considered “spies” or “unprivileged belligerents,” creating the possibility that reporters could be subject to indefinite incarceration, military tribunals and extrajudicial execution – the same treatment applied to Al Qaeda terrorists who are also called “unprivileged belligerents.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Pentagon Manual Calls Some Reporters Spies.”]
The revised “Law of War” manual has come under sharp criticism from representatives of both mainstream and independent media, including The New York Times’ editors and the Committee to Protect Journalists, as well as academics such as Dr. Badsey.
“The attitude toward the media expressed in the 2015 Pentagon manual is a violation of the international laws of war to which the USA is a signatory, going back to the 1907 Hague Convention, and including the Geneva Conventions,” said Badsey, a professor of conflict studies at Wolverhampton University in the United Kingdom and a long-time contact of mine who is often critical of U.S. military information tactics.
“But [the manual] is a reflection of the attitude fully displayed more than a decade ago in Iraq where the Pentagon decided that some media outlets, notably Al Jazeera, were enemies to be destroyed rather than legitimate news sources.”
The Vietnam Debate
The Pentagon’s hostility toward journalists whose reporting undermines U.S. government propaganda goes back even further, becoming a tendentious issue during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s when the war’s supporters accused American journalists of behaving treasonously by reporting critically about the U.S. military’s strategies and tactics, including exposure of atrocities such as the My Lai massacre.
In the 1980s, conservatives in the Reagan administration – embracing as an article of faith that “liberal” reporters contributed to the U.S. defeat in Vietnam – moved aggressively to discredit journalists who wrote about human rights violations by U.S.-backed forces in Central America. In line with those hostile attitudes, news coverage of President Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983 was barred, and in 1990-91, President George H.W. Bush tightly controlled journalists trying to report on the Persian Gulf War. By keeping out – or keeping a close eye on – reporters, the U.S. military acted with fewer constraints and abuses went largely unreported.
This so-called “weaponizing of information” turned even more lethal during the presidency of Bill Clinton and the war over Kosovo when NATO identified Serb TV as an enemy “propaganda center” and dispatched warplanes to destroy its studios in Belgrade. In April 1999, acting under orders from U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, American bombers fired two cruise missiles that reduced Radio Televizija Srbija to a pile of rubble and killed 16 civilian Serb journalists working for the government station.
Despite this willful slaughter of unarmed journalists, the reaction from most U.S. news organizations was muted. However, an independent association of electronic media in Yugoslavia condemned the attack.
“History has shown that no form of repression, particularly the organized and premeditated murder of journalists, can prevent the flow of information, nor can it prevent the public from choosing its own sources of information,” the group said.
The (London) Independent’s Robert Fisk remarked at the time, “once you kill people because you don’t like what they say, you change the rules of war.” Now, the Pentagon is doing exactly that, literally rewriting its “Law of War” manual to allow for the no-holds-barred treatment of “enemy” journalists as “unprivileged belligerents.”
Despite the 1999 targeting of a news outlet in order to silence its reporting, a case for war crimes was never pursued against the U.S. and NATO officials responsible, and retired General Clark is still a frequent guest on CNN and other American news programs.
Targeting Al Jazeera
During the presidency of George W. Bush, the Arab network Al Jazeera was depicted as “enemy media” deserving of destruction rather than being respected as a legitimate news organization – and the news network’s offices were struck by American bombs. On Nov. 13, 2001, during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, a U.S. missile hit Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul, destroying the building and damaging the homes of some employees.
On April 8, 2003, during the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a U.S. missile hit an electricity generator at Al Jazeera’s Baghdad office, touching off a fire that killed reporter Tareq Ayyoub and wounding a colleague. The Bush administration insisted that the attacks on Al Jazeera offices were “accidents.”
However, in 2004, as the U.S. occupation of Iraq encountered increased resistance and U.S. forces mounted a major offensive in the city of Fallujah, Al Jazeera’s video of the assault graphically depicted the devastation – and on April 15, 2004, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld decried Al Jazeera’s coverage as “vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.”
According to a British published report on the minutes of a meeting the next day between President Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush suggested bombing Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar but was talked out of the idea by Blair who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.
During the Iraq War, Dr. Badsey wrote the following observation which I cited in my book on military/media relations, Inappropriate Conduct: “The claim that in 2004 at the first battle of Fallujah the U.S. Marine Corps ‘weren’t beaten by the terrorists and insurgents, they were beaten by Al Jazeera television’ rather than that they [U.S. forces] employed inappropriate tactics for the political environment of their mission, is recognizable as yet another variant on the long-discredited claim that the Vietnam War was lost on the television screens of America.”
Although the notion of Vietnam-era journalists for U.S. media acting as a fifth column rather than a Fourth Estate is widely accepted among conservatives, the reality was always much different, with most of the early Vietnam War coverage largely favorable, even flattering, before journalists became more skeptical as the war dragged on.
In a recent interview on NPR radio, Charles Adams, a senior editor of the new “Law of War” manual, was unable to cite examples of journalists jeopardizing operations in the last five wars – and that may be because there were so few examples of journalistic misconduct and the handful of cases involved either confusion about rules or resistance to news embargoes that were considered unreasonable.
Examining the history of reporters dis-accredited during the Vietnam War, William Hammond, author of a two-volume history of U.S. Army relations with the media in Vietnam, found only eight dis-accreditations, according to military files.
Arguably the most serious case involved the Baltimore Sun’s John Carroll, an Army veteran himself who believed strongly that it was important that the American people be as thoroughly informed about the controversial war as possible. He got in trouble for reporting that the U.S. Marines were about to abandon their base at Khe Sahn. He was accused of violating an embargo and was stripped of his credentials, though he argued that the North Vietnamese surrounding the base were well aware of the troop movement.
Toward the end of the war, some reporters also considered the South Vietnamese government so penetrated by the communists that there were no secrets anyway. Prime Minister Nguyen van Thieu’s principal aide was a spy and everyone knew it except the American people.
During his long career, which included the editorship of the Los Angeles Times, Carroll came to view journalists “almost as public servants and a free press as essential to a self-governing nation,” according to his obituary in The New York Times after his death on June 14, 2015.
During the Obama administration, the concept of “strategic communication” – managing the perceptions of the world’s public – has grown more and more expansive and the crackdown on the flow of information unprecedented. More than any of his predecessors, President Barack Obama has authorized harsh legal action against government “leakers” who have exposed inconvenient truths about U.S. foreign policy and intelligence practices.
And Obama’s State Department has mounted a fierce public campaign against the Russian network, RT, that is reminiscent of the Clinton administration’s hostility toward Serb TV and Bush-43’s anger toward Al Jazeera.
Since RT doesn’t use the State Department’s preferred language regarding the Ukraine crisis and doesn’t show the requisite respect for the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev, the network is denounced for its “propaganda,” but this finger-pointing is really just part of the playbook for “information warfare,” raising doubts about the information coming from your adversary while creating a more favorable environment for your own propaganda. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Who’s the Propagandist? US or RT?”]
This growing fascination with “strategic communication” has given rise to NATO’s new temple to information technology, called “The NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence” or STRATCOM, located in Latvia, a former Soviet republic that is now on the front lines of the tensions with Russia.
On Aug. 20, some of the most influential minds from the world of “strategic communications” gathered in Latvia’s capital of Riga for a two-day conference entitled “Perception Matters.” A quotation headlined in all its communications read: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed” – noble sentiments perhaps but not always reflected in the remarks by more than 200 defense and communications experts, many of whom viewed information not as some neutral factor necessary for enlightening the public and nourishing democracy, but as a “soft power” weapon to be wielded against an adversary.
Hawkish Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, led a delegation of U.S. senators and said STRATCOM was needed to combat Russia and its President Vladimir Putin. “This Center will help spread the truth,” said McCain – although “the truth” in the world of “strategic communications” can be a matter of perception.
Don North is a veteran war correspondent who covered the Vietnam War and many other conflicts around the world. He is the author of a new book, Inappropriate Conduct, the story of a World War II correspondent whose career was crushed by the intrigue he uncovered.
“US soldiers are firmly entrenched in Ukraine, which constitutes a flagrant violation of article 10 of the February 12 Minsk Agreement,” Zakharova said at a briefing in Moscow.
Article 10 of the ceasefire agreement reached in the Belarusian capital of Minsk calls for the pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment and mercenaries from Ukraine.
As part of its security assistance program launched last year, the United States sent 300 military instructors to Ukraine in April this year and has provided $245 million of security-related aid to the country.
Ukraine hosted a number of NATO military exercises under US leadership this year, including Saber Guardian/Rapid Trident-2015 in late July. The drills involved over 1,800 servicemen from 18 NATO and other partner nations.
This month, Ukraine is hosting Sea Breeze-2015 naval military exercises in the Black Sea involving around 2,500 NATO forces and 150 warships, helicopters and armored vehicles.
The Ukrainian government has said it is planning to hold three joint drills with US troops later this year.
VLADIVOSTOK – The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) is turning to currency swaps as using the US dollar in transactions is difficult because of the Western anti-Russia sanctions, the bank’s senior managing director said answering a question from Sputnik.
“We’re now studying that [the effects of ruble devaluation]. We need some of the swap arrangements with the local banks. We are elaborating opportunities with Russian banks such as Gazprombank, VTB, VEB… Because of the US sanctions, we cannot use the US dollar anymore, we have to switch to other currencies,” Tadashi Maeda said on Thursday, speaking after a conference at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in the Russian city of Vladivostok.
Commenting on the usage of the ruble in swaps, he noted that its interest rate is very high at the moment and this could “hinder” the swaps.
China launched swaps and forwards between the yuan and the Russian ruble in December 2014, making the ruble the 11th currency in the yuan swaps trading.
In October of last year, the Bank of Russia and the People’s Bank of China reached a three-year agreement on currency swaps worth more than $2.4 billion.
In April, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that he expected the overall trade turnover between China and Russia to reach $100 billion in 2015.
Russia is currently holding the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in the city of Vladivostok.
This is the first time that Russia has decided to hold a forum in the Far East since the introduction of Western sanctions over Moscow’s alleged involvement in Ukraine’s internal conflict, something that Russia has repeatedly denied.
China is sending an official government delegation and members of its business community to the EEF.
NRC Rejects Recommendation to Require Nuclear Plant Owners to Establish Plans to Address a Core-Melt Accident
Commissioners Ignore Lessons of Fukushima
Washington (August 28, 2015)—The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has rejected the recommendation of the high-level task force it convened after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster to require nuclear plant owners to develop and maintain plans for coping with a core-melt accident. This decision will allow nuclear plants to continue to maintain those plans voluntarily and deny the agency the authority to review those plans or issue citations if they are deficient.
“Once again, the NRC is ignoring a key lesson of the Fukushima accident: Emergency plans are not worth the paper they are printed on unless they are rigorously developed, maintained and periodically exercised,” said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “When it comes to these critical safety measures, the NRC is allowing the industry to regulate itself.”
In a decision posted on the NRC’s ADAMS website on August 27, NRC commissioners instructed agency staff to remove a provision of a proposed draft rule aimed at protecting plants from Fukushima-type accidents that would require nuclear plants to establish Severe Accident Management Guidelines, or SAMGs. The staff’s proposal was in response to Recommendation 8 of the NRC’s post-Fukushima staff recommendations, which questioned the effectiveness of NRC’s current practice of allowing plant owners to develop and maintain the SAMGs on a voluntary basis.
“The NRC has concluded that SAMGs are an essential part of the regulatory framework for the mitigation of the consequences of accidents,” the NRC staff wrote in its proposed draft rule. “Imposition of SAMGs requirements (versus a continuation of the voluntary initiative) would ensure that SAMGs are maintained as an effective guideline set through time.”
The nuclear industry—led by its premier trade organization, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI)—opposed the proposal to require SAMGs, arguing that the proposal did not meet a strict cost-benefit standard. Rejecting its own staff’s recommendation, the commissioners voted in favor of the industry and against the public interest.
“The NRC’s process for cost-benefit analysis is defective and is being misused to make bad decisions,” Lyman said. “The American public is not going to be adequately protected unless this process is fixed by taking into account the true costs should a Fukushima-type accident take place in the United States.”
Yesterday’s decision also removes a provision from the proposed draft rule that would require new reactors to have additional design features to protect against Fukushima-type accidents. By eliminating this requirement, Lyman said, the NRC is relinquishing the opportunity to ensure that new reactors built in the United States will have stronger protection measures than the current reactor fleet.
This photo of the aftermath of an airstrike in Sana, Yemen, accompanied a New York Times story (6/24/15) that provided a detailed account of the human toll of the air war—but made no mention of the US’s responsibility. (photo: Mohamed Al-Sayaghi/Reuters)
The New York Times (8/30/15) reported on the deaths of civilians in a military assault in Yemen. Wrote reporter Saeed Al-Batati:
Airstrikes by a Saudi-led military coalition killed at least 13 civilians working early Sunday at a water plant in northern Yemen, the plant’s owner said.
The bombings appeared to be the latest in a series of airstrikes by Saudi Arabia or its Arab coalition partners that have hit civilian facilities with no apparent military target nearby.
An airstrike by warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition, which said it targeted a bomb-making factory, killed 36 civilians working Sunday at a bottling plant in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah, residents said.
Noting that another airstrike had killed four people in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, the piece continued:
The attacks were the latest in an air campaign launched in March by a Saudi-led alliance in support of Yemen’s exiled government, which is fighting Houthi forces allied with Iran.
Both of these reports left out the information that made this news particularly relevant to the papers’ mostly American readership: The US government is actively backing the air war in Yemen that killed those civilians, as the Times and Post have both reported. The Times (3/26/15) wrote at the start of the Saudi assault:
A spokeswoman for the National Security Council said Wednesday night that the United States was providing intelligence and logistical support for the campaign in Yemen, and that President Obama had authorized a ”joint planning cell” with Saudi Arabia to coordinate American support for the military offensive.
The Washington Post provided a photo of the kind of jets the US had sold to Saudi Arabia—but when such jets were used to kill civilians, they were out of the picture. (photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP)
And the Post, in a piece headlined “How US Weapons Will Play a Huge Role in Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen” (3/26/15), noted that the weaponry involved largely comes from the US:
US officials said they will offer intelligence and logistical support to the Saudis, but that’s really only a piece of it: The Saudi military is equipped with billions of dollars in advanced American-made weapons.
But that “huge role” often disappears when the the leading papers are discussing the carnage that results from the air attacks that the US is supporting and supplying. Thus when the Times‘ Rick Gladstone (8/22/15) reported that “Saudi-led airstrikes on a residential district in Yemen’s southwestern city of Taiz had killed more than 65 civilians, including 17 people from one family,” according to Doctors Without Borders, and that the death toll in the war included “hundreds of civilians killed in airstrikes,” Washington’s role in facilitating those deaths went unmentioned.
If Americans Knew is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt, independent research and information-dissemination institute. The organization’s objective is to provide information to all Americans that is to a large degree missing from American press coverage of Israel-Palestine and the Middle East. http://www.IfAmericansKnew.org
Our full mission statement can be read at http://ifamericansknew.org/about_us/ We believe all people are endowed with inalienable human rights regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, or nationality.
The video of Alison Weir describing the founding of If Americans Knew is from Nahid Kabbani’s program, “The Lighthouse,” broadcast on Sacramento Public Access TV. The entire video can be viewed at at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyYID….
The video of Alison speaking about World War I is from the National Summit to Reassess the US-Israel Special Relationship held at the National Press Club in 2014 and broadcast nationally on C-Span. Her entire talk can be seen at http://ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/su….
Jack Dresser’s article can be read in full at http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/0…
A recent video of Alison’s presentation, “Israel, Palestine and the American connection” is at https://vimeo.com/137338215.
In an open letter to the DOJ, 82 groups led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), expressed concern over a growing trend of businesses refusing to serve customers perceived as Muslim.
“American businesses posting ‘Muslim-Free Zone’ declarations are no different than the ‘Whites Only,’ ‘No Dogs, No Jews,’ ‘No Mexican’ and ‘Irish Need Not Apply’ signs that were posted during past shameful periods of our nation’s history that we hoped were over,” the letter stated.
The letter lamented the DOJ has “remained silent” on the issue, and called on the department to determine whether “Muslim-free zones” violate Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“Title II specifically prohibits discrimination by places of entertainment like, in many instances, firing ranges,” the letter read.
Signatories to the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others.
“The broad range of groups calling for government action on the ‘Muslim-free zone’ issue clearly indicates that the U.S. Department of Justice should speak out and take concrete action to protect the constitutional rights of American Muslims,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
At least one business that has declared itself a “Muslim-free zone” is currently being sued by CAIR.
The lawsuit accuses Florida Gun Supply of Inverness and its owner Andrew Hallinan, 28, of violating the federal public accommodations law and seeks an injunction to stop the discrimination, according to the complaint.
Although grassroots activism has dealt it a blow, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) keeps shambling along like the zombie it is. In July, Senator McConnell vowed to hold a final vote on the bill before Congress left for its six-week long summer vacation. In response, EFF and over 20 other privacy groups ran a successful Week of Action, including over 6 million faxes opposing CISA, causing the Senate to postpone the vote until late September.
Senators submitted many amendments to the bill before going on vacation. The amendments, like the original language of the bill, fail to address key issues like the deep link between these government “cybersecurity” authorities and surveillance, as well as the new spying powers the bill would grant to companies.
But “cybersecurity” is already intimately tied to surveillance—a problem CISA would only worsen. Documents released by the New York Times reveal the government used the Comprehensive National Cyber Security Initiative (CNCI) to pay telecommunications companies to spy on consumers using their networks. The CNCI includes initiatives for information gathering, but it’s always been presented to the public as fostering research and encouraging public awareness of cybersecurity problems—not spying on Americans’ Internet traffic.
The revelations are stunning. The NSA paid telecommunications companies nearly $300 million dollars in the 2010 fiscal year to invest in surveillance equipment as part of the CNCI. In fact, STORMBREW’s Breckenridge site was “100% subsidized with CNCI funding.”
In contrast, the DHS only requested $37.2 million during the same time period to support research and development in cybersecurity science and technology. Even if DHS received what it requested, does the American public really want surveillance to outweigh research and education 10 to 1?
The news is compounded by other recently-released Snowden documents that show how the NSA uses foreign intelligence laws to run an intrusion defense system (IDS) on US soil. The documents show that a Justice Department memo gave the agency permission to monitor Internet cables, “without a warrant and on American soil, for data linked to computer intrusions originating abroad — including traffic that flows to suspicious Internet addresses or contains malware.”
CISA—and its amendments—do not even begin to address these serious problems. Instead, they mandate information sharing with the intelligence community, creating even more cyberspying.
EFF will continue to oppose CISA—even if some of these amendments pass—because CISA’s vague definitions, broad legal immunity, and new spying powers allow for a tremendous amount of unnecessary damage to users’ privacy, and it’s highly unlikely that the public will learn about it. Even an amendment (#2612) offered by by Senator Al Franken, which narrows some of the definitions in CISA, does little to clarify its most troubling provisions.
What’s worse is that information-sharing bills like CISA are being painted as silver bullets to data breaches. They aren’t. The bills don’t address problems like unencrypted files, poor computer architecture, un-updated servers, and employees (or contractors) clicking malware links.
Plenty of the amendments would make the bill even worse. We’ve already discussed the horrible CFAA amendment, #2626, proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. The amendment not only increases the scope of the already expansive Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) but also authorizes injunctions against botnets (amending 18 U.S.C. § 1345) in a way that creates serious constitutional issues. After all, much of what DOJ and FBI want to do in shutting down botnets is, arguably, a search or a seizure under the Fourth Amendment; moreover, such injunctions may prevent users from communicating, thus raising First Amendment issues. The amendment is a great example of how not to amend the draconian CFAA. If the Senate wants to improve the CFAA, it should take a page out of our book.
Senator Carper has proposed another dubious change to CISA, amendment #2627. The bill attempts to codify the Department of Homeland Security’s EINSTEIN program without any public debate. EINSTEIN is an intrusion detection system—the parent of which was created by the NSA—to scan incoming Internet traffic to the federal government like emails and other connections. DHS has not told the public what agencies are using EINSTEIN. It’s possible that when you email your representative, DHS may also receive a copy. Before codifying EINSTEIN, DHS must be more transparent about the program. The most recent update from DHS about the program is from 2013, and many concerns have been raised about EINSTEIN’s legality and privacy implications. Unlike CISA, Senator Carper’s amendment mandates federal agencies create a plan to identify sensitive information and encrypt it; however, the clause exempts the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. Nor does the amendment authorize additional funding for federal agencies to improve security.
Senator Carper’s attempt to make a horrible bill marginally better is admirable, but he—along with other Senators—should oppose the bill. Even the best amendments fail to fix CISA’s serious flaws.
Not Awful Amendments
Some of the amendments try to narrow the scope of the bill. Senator Chris Coons’ amendment #2552 would limit information sharing to that necessary to describe or identify a cybersecurity threat, while Senator Wyden’s amendment (#2621) would require companies and the government to remove personal information unrelated to the threat.
But these well-meaning changes don’t address the root problems in the bill: the outrageously broad and vague definition of “cybersecurity threat” and the granting of new authorities to spy on users. Senator Franken’s amendment #2612 attempts to address that definition, but even his amendment isn’t enough. Again, no amendment scales back the two new authorities to spy on users and launch countermeasures in the bill.
Other amendments are better, including Senator Patrick Leahy’s #2587, which would remove the current CISA provision exempting all “cyber threat indicators and defensive measures” received by the government from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and may help ensure the public can obtain information about how, if CISA is enacted into law, the information “sharing” system actually operates; Senator Jeff Flake’s 6-year sunset (#2582); and, Senator Mike Lee’s email privacy amendment (#2556), which would codify US v. Warshak by amending the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require warrants for email and other stored content.
While some advocates will paint these amendments as “steps forward,” the amendments merely shuffle deck chairs on the Titanic—even with the better amendments, the bill is still a bad idea. The Senators are going about the wrong strategy. Democrats and libertarian Republicans should be opposing CISA outright. That’s why we’re asking users to continue emailing their Senators to stop this bill. While CISA is the very definition of a zombie bill, the public outcry against it has made a difference. But we can’t stop now. Join us by tweeting, faxing, or emailing your Senator.
Ali Shukri Amin is 17-years old, a minor under American law, yet he was just sentenced to eleven years in federal prison. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced as an adult for providing material support for terrorists. This is a crime defined in any way the government wants it to be. Amin had a twitter account, @amreekiwitness, devoted to the group Islamic State, ISIS. He also helped a friend travel to Syria in hopes of joining ISIS. That is the substance of his crime, online opinion and facilitating travel.
The crime of providing material support for terrorists only came into existence with the Patriot Act passed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. There are now people serving very long prison terms for providing humanitarian aid, translating documents, sending money abroad, or expressing views in support of nations or groups the United States classifies as terrorist. These crimes are vaguely defined and are often of little consequence to ISIS or any other organization the federal government designates as an enemy.
The prosecutions of Amin and others are meant to make the case for continuing the “war on terror.” This is actually a war of American terror used to justify endless interventions around the world. The Department of Justice would have us believe that a teenager tweeting about making donations to ISIS via bitcoin posed a serious threat. Of course, the United States government is the biggest threat to life in the world. It is the most violent organization with the largest number of kills.
The application of the material support for terror statute is used to capture innocent or harmless people. Some are hoodwinked by agent provocateurs or, like Amin, pose little or no danger. Most importantly, ISIS would not be a credible force in Syria or Libya were it not for American machinations. The United States created the monster and now wants to punish anyone who interacts with it.
At one point Amin, who lived in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC, had over 4,000 twitter followers who conversed about a variety of issues, including protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
“They cower in fear of us whilst they massacre and oppress you! It’s time to strike fear into the hearts of the oppressors. #FergusonUnderIS”
“May be time to organize Muslims in America upon haqq and mobilize to #Ferguson. Defend the oppressed, start jihad here.”
While Amin and thousands of others expressed their outrage about deadly police brutality, the State Department actually engaged in online debates with the teenager. A bizarre social media program called Think Again, Turn Away is a useless attempt to influence young Muslims who want to fight imperialism through jihad. Aside from having a name reminiscent of a love song title, the effort allowed Amin to engage in argument with and troll the State Department. When the would-be jihad deprogrammers pointed out that ISIS “slaughters innocent people,” Amin had a ready and accurate retort:
“slaughter innocents? You mean like AbdurRahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year old boy not involved with any militants? or what about the thousands killed in drone strikes weekly that make the news? The thousands that don’t? you are nothing more than criminals who betray the Muslims you claim to defend across the globe, butchering them 1.7 million in Iraq, hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan, left, right, everywhere. only an ignoramus who knows nothing about American foreign policy or any Muslim country could accept your lies.”
A few months after these embarrassing interactions, Amin’s mother and his imam unwisely reported him to the FBI in an effort to stop his online involvement with ISIS. He would not have been discovered otherwise.
Killer cops roam the streets with no fear of federal prosecution, but a confused teenager is sent to prison because he holds and expresses opinions contrary to those of the government. Prosecutors use children to make names for themselves and climb the ladder in a corrupt system. American terror is not just carried out abroad with drone strikes and invasions, but it is carried out on a daily basis by the criminal injustice system.
While the Saudis, Israelis and their allies use American money and arms to target civilians for death, anyone who crosses over the thin line of expression is at risk of prosecution and many years in prison. The hypocrisy is stunning but not really surprising. This system will use a child to make its point clear. We live in a police state and anyone who dares to speak up against it is at risk of being made an example.
The federal government does not operate any juvenile facilities. Ali Shukri Amin is now in custody in an adult facility. One need not be a follower of ISIS to see that this is a gross injustice unworthy of a country which claims to be a democracy.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.