It got me. Paranoia. Who is watching? What are the consequences in a September 12 world of things that used to be innocent?
I began researching materials online that advise, in English, how someone might travel to Syria and join Islamic State (IS). Several media outlets mentioned an ebook IS created along those lines, but none linked to it or dove deep into what it said. I set out to find it, Googling away with “how to join Islamic State,” and “advice for jihadi travel.” I eventually found the ebook with the term “hijrah.” Used in canon to refer to Mohammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina, the word today colloquially refers to those who leave home for jihad.
The ebook is brief, titled simply Hijrah to the Islamic State, some 50 pages with pictures and maps. The advice is mostly stuff you’d think people could figure out on their own. Bring a sturdy backpack, don’t tell Turkish immigration officials you are headed to Syria, don’t call attention to yourself in the airport, that sort of thing. There are a bunch of Twitter handles included so you can make contact with IS, but the few I checked were dead accounts.
You could probably do better with Lonely Planet (which also advises travelers not to call attention to themselves, but to avoid being targeted by thieves, not anti-terror forces.) I found another site just for women seeking to join IS, assuring the traveler she’ll be in female-only accommodations and that they have diapers and baby stuff available. Otherwise, it was all about bringing books to read on the long trip and not forgetting needed medicines.
I wrapped up my research with a quick buzz through Orbitz to see flight choices. New York was the default starting point because Orbitz had it already there from my previous searches. You can fly nonstop from the United States to Turkey, and then take a taxi to the Syrian border. Flights directly into Damascus involve a couple of stops, and most require you fly out of Newark. Jihad starts in Jersey, what a hassle.
All in all, not much of story in the hijrah ebook, and certainly nothing at the they’re-seducing-our-kids-into-terrorism level, though New York Times called it “a remarkable ISIS travel guide” and authorities in the UK want to ban it from social media. The ebook is in reality near useless, except as another boogie man for westerners to point to.
But I started to worry.
Look at me: I Googled up a how-to manual for jihadis. I’d previously read al Qaeda’s Inspire magazine online (Islamic State has its own online magazine, and I read that too.) I looked into travel to Syria. I sought out a good translation of “hijrah.” Everything I did, I did from an office desk. It was all on the Internet, with no secret meetings in shadowy places. So it was OK, like going to the library, right?
But I started to panic. How long until this reached critical mass, when some piece of software went “bing!” and some new protocol was applied to me? I have an international trip planned in a few weeks (plain vanilla Asia). Will I get selected for additional screening? Will I be questioned trying to exit or, later, when I re-enter the United States? Have I become paranoid? Should I be? Is it wise or stupid to worry about these things?
I remember discussing the Jeffrey Sterling Espionage Act case, the case that at one point threatened to send reporter James Risen to jail for not revealing his sources. My friend said the case was probably one of the last of its kind. So the government learned its First Amendment lesson I asked? No, she said, next time the government won’t have to threaten a reporter; most reporters will either shy away from such stories, their editors will kill the reporting to avoid an expensive legal battle, or the government will already know who they talked to.
I’m certain I am no James Risen. I’m pretty sure I didn’t write a more detailed story about the Islamic State travel guides because there was little to say, that the links I left out above were of little value. Google works at your house, too, if you really want to see them, and you’re not afraid of that, are you? The algorithms they — whoever they are — use are smart enough to see that I’m just a curious writer, and you’re just a curious reader, and none of us plans on joining IS, right?
I still wrote a lawyer’s phone number in the back of my passport. Can’t be too careful these days, as people say. Threats are everywhere.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
It comes down to things like this as citizens fight to preserve their basic rights in the face of militaristic police encounters. So let us use technology to fight back.
A new smartphone app from the ACLU (available in iPhone and Android versions) does two very good things. It allows citizens to exercise their right to video police encounters in the public space, and it guards against the cops unlawfully destroying that video to cover up their own crimes. The ACLU app accomplishes this by allowing people to auto-upload cellphone videos of police encounters to the ACLU. The ACLU will then review and preserve the video footage, even if the cops seize the phone and delete the video or destroy the phone.
In addition, once the video is uploaded, the user can delete the information from his/her phone, lessening the chance of retaliation by the cops if they discover the “evidence” during a post-arrest search.
The app features a large red “Record” button in the middle of the screen. When it’s pressed, the video is recorded on the phone and a duplicate copy is transmitted simultaneously to the ACLU server. When the “stop” button is pressed, a “Report” screen appears, where information about the location of the incident and the people involved can also be transmitted to the ACLU. The video and the information are treated as a request for legal assistance and reviewed by staff members. No action is taken by the ACLU, however, unless an explicit request is made, and the reports are treated as confidential and privileged legal communications. The videos, however, may be shared by the ACLU with the news media, community organizations or the general public to help call attention to police abuse.
The app is available in English and Spanish. It includes a “Know Your Rights” page, a library of ACLU materials in your pocket.
“People who historically have had very little power in the face of law enforcement now have this tool to reclaim their power and dignity,” said the director of the Truth and Reinvestment Campaign at the Ella Baker Center, which is working with the ACLU of California to support the launch of the app.
Who will guard the guards? We will.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The government can block your foreign husband or wife from living with you in America, based on secret information you can’t see or contest. Like with the No-Fly list, in post-Constitutional America the walls are built of secret databases.
Taking Visas to the Supreme Court
On February 23, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kerry v. Din. The U.S. government is seeking a writ of certiorari agreement by the Justices to review a lower court decision granting Ms. Din and her Afghan husband judicial review of his immigrant visa—green card—application. The state department permanently denied permission for the husband to live in the U.S. because he is supposedly a “terrorist,” based on secret information that will not be shared with Ms. Din or her spouse to allow rebuttal. Under present law, the state department’s decision to refuse the green card is subject to no outside review.
Consular officers working overseas for the department of state process visas. In nearly every non-drug-related denial, the foreign spouse can get a waiver and go on to live in the U.S. Throughout the process, the American and her spouse speak directly with the primary decision-maker and be able to rebut the information used against them.
Things change significantly in security cases. The information used to refuse a visa to a “terrorist” comes from the CIA, FBI, or NSA (information is also provided by intelligence agencies in Canada and Australia) and is highly classified.
Secret Lists and Secret Decisions
How all this works is almost a mini-history of post-Constitutional America.
The State Department’s consular officers issued legal visas to all of the 9/11 terrorists, in part because the CIA failed to pass information on via the computerized Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS). The number of records have grown 400 percent since 2001 in response, and CLASS is now one of the largest known databases in the world.
A problem with all those records is that many contain only a subject’s name, nationality, and limited identifying information. State department officers regularly wallow through screen after screen of “Muhammad, No Last Name, No Date of Birth, Born in Egypt.” The potential for misidentifying a subject is significant, but the post-9/11 mantra of better safe than sorry leans heavily toward refusal.
Mistakes Were Made
Mistakes entering people in secret databases, and mistakes of identity, are so common that online forms for making airline reservations all include a field for a redress number, a link to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) file that shows a subject has proven he is not the targeted person. One infamous case involving a database mistake is that of Malaysian doctoral candidate Rahinah Ibrahim, who was placed on the secret No-Fly list and denied the chance to finish her degree at Stanford University. The reason? An FBI agent accidentally checked the wrong box on a paper form.
As in the Ibrahim case, the actual consular officer/decision-maker overseas in the embassy never sees the underlying reporting that led to the data entry. She simply gets an electronic indication that the info exists, and then denies the visa. State Department policies state that she should not “look behind” the computer notice. The denial is based on the assumption that someone at CIA validated the information, that the person applying for the visa is indeed the person in the secret record, and that the information represents a violation of visa law. Once fiercely independent consular officers have become deferential subordinates to anonymous intelligence agency officials.
Such blind use of secret databases is at the heart of Kerry v. Din. Ms. Din seeks judicial review of her husband’s visa denial because, without explanation, he was deemed a “terrorist.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said she should be entitled to that review; the government’s admonition that everyone should simply trust them to have done the right thing was rejected.
Non-Reviewability of Government Decisions
The government now wants that court decision squashed. It steadfastly defends what is known as the doctrine of consular nonreviewability. This early-20th century doctrine maintains no one has a right to a visa, and that Americans do not enjoy a right to live with their spouses. It maintains that any review necessary of a decision should be done internally by the state department itself, under criteria it establishes for itself, becoming a government decision not subject to judicial oversight.
The issue of consular nonreviewability acquired new meaning after 9/11. Key in Kerry v. Din is that the consular officer herself is not actually making any decision per se. She cannot see any of the underlying information on the watch list, and simply defers to the CIA and refuses the visa. CIA claims it did not deny any visa, and points to state.
At issue in Kerry v. Din is the narrow question of whether or not an American citizen can know, and contest, the reason why her spouse cannot live in the United States.
The broader question is more significant: in post-Constitutional America, when more and more of our lives are controlled by secret lists built of secret information of often suspect quality, such as with No-Fly, is the courtroom door open to citizens to challenge our government?
Disclosure: I am a retired consular officer, with 24 years of visa experience, and an amici to the above case.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The surveillance aircraft can be equipped with infrared and other surveillance gear that extend the intrusion into privacy far into unconstitutional territory.
When violence rocked Baltimore recently, local Police Captain Jeff Long told reporters “When you’ve got something like this, you’ve got people running all over the place, throwing rocks and looting and starting vehicles on fire and destroying vehicles like this, really the best vantage point you can get is from the air.”
Which is why city and state police took to the air in helicopters and small planes, all clearly marked.
Eyes in the Skies
Less obvious was a single engine prop Cessna and a small Cessna jet flying over the city, not during the worst of the violence, but during periods of peaceful protest. Who did they belong to?
In response to media inquiries, the Baltimore police referred questions to the FBI. The FBI initially refused to comment. They eventually released a statement claiming the aircraft worked for the Bureau, saying also “The aircraft were specifically used to assist in providing high altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officers on the ground. The FBI aircraft were not there to monitor lawfully protected first amendment activity.” The local FBI spokesperson also noted any aviation support supplied to local police must be approved at the highest levels of the FBI.
The aircraft, however, are not owned, overtly at least, by the FBI. Research done in part by the Washington Post shows the ostensible owners as NG Research, located near Manassas Regional Airport, just outside of Washington, DC. Searches of public records revealed little about the company, which could not be reached by the Post.
Understanding the Technology
The key to understanding the constitutionality of the FBI’s dragnet search is knowing what sensors were mounted on each aircraft.
According to Cessna, “when you choose Citation [the jet believed to have been overhead in Baltimore] for your surveillance and patrol aircraft, we customize your jet to fit your exact mission requirements. For example, jets can be equipped with a securely mounted EO/IR device, technology specially suited to carry out territory surveillance work such as border patrol, land-use patrol, and general policing.”
EO/IR refers to electro-optical and infrared capabilities. In this context the former can be any type of laser or telescopic device used for visible light, the latter measuring “heat,” allowing one to “see” in the dark. Stingrays, electronic devices which can monitor and/or disrupt cell phone communications, can also be mounted on such aircraft.
The FBI is also known to employ aircraft with the Wescam stabilized surveillance sensor pod, allowing high quality images to be taken under bumpy flight conditions.
Such technology has been used extensively by the U.S. military in general, and by Special Forces in the particular, in their hunt for terrorists abroad, and represents another example of the weapons of war coming to the Homeland, now aimed at Americans instead of “the enemy.”
Here’s a sample image via Ars Technica of what a zoomed out nighttime IR image can show:
The ACLU has filed a request with the FBI to learn what video and cell phone data was collected during the flights.
It is possible that the FBI was simply duplicating the visual search capabilities likely to have been employed by regular Baltimore cops and their prop aircraft. However, such duplication of effort seems unlikely. One can reasonably suppose the FBI joined the aerial surveillance with something new to bring to the party, such as more advanced observation tech.
For example, on May 1 and May 2, what is believed to be the FBI Cessna Citation V jet made nighttime flights (path recorded below), orbiting Baltimore at the relatively low altitudes for a jet aircraft of 6,400 and 9,400 feet, based on records from Flightradar24. That action would be consistent with the use of any of the surveillance devices noted above.
The constitutional questions are significant.
Civil libertarians have particular concern about surveillance technology that can gather images across dozens of city blocks, tracking the travel, actions and associations of people under no suspicion of criminal activity.
“A lot of these technologies sweep very, very broadly, and, at a minimum, the public should have a right to know what’s going on,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU specializing in privacy and technology issues.
If the FBI was using infrared (IR) devices overhead, that use may have constituted an unlawful search.
In Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), the Supreme Court held that the use of a thermal imaging, or IR, device from a public vantage point to monitor the radiation of heat from a person’s home was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and thus required a warrant.
Perhaps the ACLU can check if the FBI was issued warrants for most of the city of Baltimore. And then stick a fork in it people, ’cause this democracy is about done.
The Republican House and Democratic Senate reached a compromise last year that cut Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; what food stamps are now called.) Republicans initially called for $40 billion in cuts, kicking millions of people out of the program altogether, including 170,000 veterans. The compromise cut $8 billion, which affects 800,000 households, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
Dollars and Sense
Dollars first. That $9 billion saved on SNAP would have paid for only 12.5 days of the Iraq War. For the Afghan War, $9 billion would pay for about one month (and that war is now in its thirteenth year, do the math.) America’s newest aircraft carrier cost $13 billion, not including development costs.
And now sense, or lack of it. A typical family on SNAP/food stamps gets $133 monthly. For three meals a day, $133 breaks down to $1.47 per meal; it is from that amount that the cuts will be taken. Almost 22 percent of American children under age 18 lived in poverty in 2012. The percentage of children under age five living in poverty is over 25 percent. Almost 1 in 10, or 9.7 percent, live in extreme poverty. Number of Americans on food stamps doubled in the last ten years. 47 million Americans now live in poverty, the highest number in two decades.
Cheaters? A Department of Agriculture report on “trafficking” in the food-stamp program found that only 1.3 percent of benefits were traded for cash.
Your takeaway: We have the money. We just don’t want to spend it on feeding Americans.
Poverty is Good Business
Cops investigating a crime often refer to the Latin term, cui bono, or, “who benefits?” The idea is to find out who has the most to gain from Colonel Mustard’s death in the Drawing Room and start the hunt there.
So if most Republicans, and many Democrats, want to cut food stamps, who does not want to see the cuts?
The food business loves food stamps. Wal-Mart, Target and Kroger have made huge profits of $75.2 billion off of food stamp purchases, setting a new record in 2012. And that’s not counting other purchases recipients may make with their own money.
Never mind how food stamps and other benefits are used by those same retailers to subsidize the low wages they pay their workers. Or how the same bill that would cut food stamps pays out farm subsidies to America’s billionaires, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, Charles Schwab and S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A.
The American Beverage Association, a lobby group that includes Coca-Cola, strongly opposes restricting soda purchases by food stamp recipients. Why? Recipients spend from $1.7 to $2.1 billion annually for sugar-sweetened beverages purchased in grocery stores. Never mind that while alcohol and other unhealthy items are restricted for purchase with stamps, soda stands available.
Pepsi, candy-maker Mars and the Snack Food Association all registered to lobby the House of Representatives on food stamp restrictions.
Your takeaway: Mega-corporations are profiting off poverty, with their profits heavily subsidized by taxpayer dollars.
So who benefits? Not hungry people. Do the math. It’s all about dollars and cents.
The State Department said Monday it has no evidence that any actions taken by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state were influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation or former President Bill Clinton’s speaking fees.
That may indeed be true, but it misses the real point. Simply because her actions may not have risen to provable criminal levels, the real issue is about trust. The numbers don’t lie. And this is not a partisan attack, it’s accounting. And accountability.
The Boston Globe seems to get that. It reported a huge Clinton charity failed to report its foreign-government contributions to the State Department as required.
When Hillary became Secretary of State in 2009, she agreed to have her family’s foundation submit new donations from foreign countries for State Department review. This was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, given her new government role. The arrangement was made by an Obama administration covering its flanks over the appearance, at a minimum, of impropriety.
Rules are for Fools
The Clinton Foundation repeatedly violated this agreement with the Obama White House.
The Washington Post reported in February the Clinton Foundation failed to disclose $500,000 from Algeria at the time the country was lobbying the State Department over human-rights issues. Bloomberg reported the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, a Clinton Foundation affiliate, failed to disclose 1,100 foreign contributions.
But the Globe’s report on the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), yet another foundation affiliate (these people have more shell groups than a Mafia crime family), may cover the most notable omissions yet. Tens of millions of dollars went undisclosed to the State Department.
“Government grants to CHAI, nearly all of them from foreign countries, doubled from $26.7 million in 2010 to $55.9 million in 2013, according to the charity’s tax forms,” The Globe reported. CHAI “makes up nearly 60 percent of the broader Clinton charitable empire” and has an annual budget of more than $100 million.
“The failures make the Clinton Health Access Initiative… a prominent symbol of the broken political promise and subsequent lack of accountability underlying the charity-related controversies that are dogging Clinton as she embarks on her campaign for president,” The Globe wrote.
About that Agreement with the White House
A CHAI spokeswoman told The Globe that her organization “didn’t think” it needed to report many of the contributions because they were simply increased payments from existing donor countries.
The memorandum of understanding the Clinton Foundation reached with the White House, however, indicates otherwise under CHAI’s section of the agreement:
Should an existing contributing country elect to increase materially its commitment, or should a new contributor country elect to support CHAI, the Foundation will share such countries and the circumstances of the anticipated contribution with the State Department designated agency ethics official for review.
More on CHAI
A spokesperson for Secretary of State John Kerry said CHAI should have disclosed the contributions.
“We would have expected that CHAI identify for the Department the foreign-country donors that elected to materially increase their donations and new country donors. The State Department believes that transparency is the critical element of that agreement,” the spokesperson told The Globe.
The Boston Globe reported CHAI also failed to disclose numerous payments from new donor countries. CHAI offered several explanations: Switzerland was an “oversight.” Rwanda’s $300,000 was considered a “fee” rather than a contribution. CHAI did not consider Flanders a “foreign government” because it is part of Belgium rather than an independent country.
The agreement the Clinton Foundation struck with the White House, however, said CHAI contributions should be considered “a foreign country” if they are from “an agency or department of a foreign country, as well as a government-owned corporation.”
A story of our times, with massive First Amendment issues embedded.
A federal judge ruled that a group (more below, who they are makes this case even more complex) may put up posters on New York’s public buses and subways saying “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.” The poster features a young man in a checkered headscarf with the additional words “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”
The poster is now at the epicenter between public safety and free speech. On Tuesday, a District judge ruled New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) cannot stop the controversial ad.
The MTA argued the ad could incite violence against Jews.
However, MTA officials “underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements,” the judge stated in his ruling. “Moreover, there is no evidence that seeing one of these advertisements on the back of a bus would be sufficient to trigger a violent reaction. Therefore, these ads — offensive as they may be — are still entitled to First Amendment protection.”
The MTA has now fired the next shot in the struggle, banning all “political” advertising on its subways and buses. You can certainly expect that decision to be challenged by a very broad range of actors.
The Speaker Versus the Speech
The issues surrounding the “Kill Jews” poster are complicated, in that the sponsor is a pro-Israel, anti-Muslim organization. Pamela Geller, the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the group that purchased the ads and sued the MTA to run them, was overjoyed at the court’s decision to allow her to post the, to some, inflammatory ads.
The Southern Poverty Law Center considers AFDI an “anti-Muslim” hate group. For example, earlier this year AFDI organized a portrait of the Prophet Mohammed contest, despite objections from Muslims who consider images of the Prophet blasphemous.
The presumed purpose of the “Kill Jews” ads placed by a pro-Israel group is to conflate the murder of innocents of one religion by smearing all members of another religion.
But can they say that kind of thing? Isn’t it Hate Speech and isn’t that illegal?
The Limits of Free Speech
The right to free speech enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution isn’t there for the easy cases; it is there for the tough ones.
The Supreme Court has thus been very reluctant in modern times to issue limits on free speech; what is now commonly called “hate speech,” things like the Klu Klux Klan using the N-word, or religious fundamentalists protesting at veteran’s funerals by way of anti-gay slurs, have been ruled repeatedly to be protected acts of free speech. You get the good with the bad, no matter what you personally consider the good parts and the bad parts.
See how it works?
Some Bad History
The broad concept of free speech is somewhat recent in the Supreme Court’s mind.
One of the most shameful examples of restraint comes from the early 20th century case of U.S. v. Schenck. In that case, the Court decided Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, could be convicted under the Espionage Act for writing and distributing a pamphlet that expressed opposition to the draft during World War I. It was in that case that Justice Holmes made his famous statement in favor of restraint, the one about free speech not allowing someone to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre.
So hate speech is illegal, like shouting Fire! and panicking a whole theatre full of people, right?
That Was Then, This is Now
The Supreme Court then did a 180 degree turn in the 1969 case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, which basically overturned Schenck. The Court held that inflammatory speech, even speech advocating violence, is protected under the First Amendment unless the speech “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
That is where today’s New York District judge’s specific wording came from. When he said that New Yorker’s would understand the broader political point of the “Kill Jews” poster and not actually be moved to murder, he was confirming the standard set in Brandenburg v. Ohio: you have to do more than just announce an intent toward violence, your statement has to be such that people will be actually willing to follow it.
Back to the New York Buses
Of course predicting what people might do in response to any bit of speech is very hard stuff. But the Supreme Court in fact granted that power to predict to the judicial system. In the “Kill Jews” case, the judge clearly decided no one would see the ads and decide, based on that, to actually commit murder.
And that brings us back to Justice Holmes, the same Supreme Court judge who gave us the “fire in the crowded theatre” lines. Holmes later recanted, and became a firm advocate of nearly unrestrained free speech. Holmes wrote (Abrams v. United States) that the marketplace of ideas offered the best solution for tamping down offensive speech:
The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.
In other words, let the ads play out on the New York buses and subways. The people are smart enough to know garbage when they smell it.
It has come to this. There is a self-help guides from the ACLU on what to do if you think you are on the U.S. government’s no-fly list. Oh, and the TSA says 99 percent of the people who contact them about no-fly have been denied boarding only because their names are similar to a real bad guy. In most applications, a 99 percent failure rate is cause for alarm for an organization. In America, it is cause for alarm for us.
On September 10, 2001, there wasn’t any formal no-fly list, though the FBI held a folder of 16 names of suspicious flyers. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting September 12 was the creation of two lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list. The latter was for person who would undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. The former, like its name, meant if your name was on the list you simply could not board a flight inside the U.S., out of the U.S. or from some other country into the U.S.
The flight ban can also extend far outside of America’s borders. The no-fly list is shared with 22 other countries.
Names are nominated for no-fly or selectee by one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of government officials: an FBI agent, a CIA analyst, a State Department visa officer and so forth. Each nominating agency has its own criteria, standards and approval processes, some strict, some pretty sloppy. Your name may end up on the list based on scraps of online postings or as the result of a multi-year detailed investigation or because of a bureaucratic typo. The nominated name is sent to The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), located in a classified location in suburban Northern Virginia. TSC is a multi-agency organization administered by the FBI, staffed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and all of the intel community.
A key issue is that people are never notified they are on the no-fly list. The only way to even get a hint is to buy an airplane ticket and be prevented from boarding once you arrive at the airport after at check-in the airline receives a “no-fly” message. Through the interrogation process you may (or you may not) learn you might live in the list. You will never have any idea why you are on the list; maybe you share a similar name with some real or imagined bad guy. Still on the list? The only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat.
What Do You Do?
For the most part, once denied boarding, you are on your own to get home. It is a long walk home from L.A. if you live in New York. But, in the topsy-turvy post-9/11 world, though the U.S. will not let you on an airplane (Twin Towers!) you can, for now, as a suspected terrorist, travel by ship, train, bus, rental car, horseback, donkey cart, unicycle or other means. Of course none of those conveyances have even rudimentary screening or security.
One option if you find yourself denied boarding is to contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) via their TRIP Program and ask them to remove your name from the no-fly list. You might succeed just by asking nice; the TSA itself says that 99 percent of individuals who apply for redress are not on the terrorist watchlist, but are misidentified as people who are. To start, you simply use DHS’ online form. They strongly encourage an online submission, warning on their web site that “if documents are mailed, it may take 10-15 business days to receive your submission due to federal government mail screening requirements,” something left over from the very small and long ago anthrax powder letters mailed to a handful of people in 2001. Careful though– proving you are not a terrorist must be done in a 10 meg attachment or less or DHS will reject your request.
If DHS agrees you are not a terrorist, you get a redress number which you can use when booking a ticket. There is never an explanation, and DHS is not allowed to tell you you are still on the no-fly list, or ever were, or why they did or did not issue you a redress number. If you never hear back from DHS and wonder if you are allowed to fly, the only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat. Even with a redress number, DHS advises arriving at the airport extra early in anticipation of extra screening and questioning.
What If You Stranded Overseas?
One popular trick the government likes to occasionally use is to wait for someone to depart the U.S., then slap him/her on the no-fly. The traveler, stuck abroad, clearly has fewer resources to challenge anything or file internet forms and wait by the post box.
A nice scheme, but since U.S. citizens have a right under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to return to U.S. territory after traveling abroad, and lawful permanent residents (“green-card holders”) have a similar right to return under the Immigration and Nationality Act, in fact such a move by DHS is essentially unconstitutional and/or illegal.
So, as one part of the government says you are a terrorist and cannot fly to America, another part of the government is constitutionally obligated to get you back to America. Denied boarding overseas due to the no-fly? Someone in the U.S. (can be a lawyer) must call the State Department and ask that they help you. The ACLU has a handy cheat-sheet with all the details. At some point you will visit the American Embassy in your country of no-fly exile, and, after an average two week delay, re-book your ticket to return to the United States. The cost of all this is on you, and you can expect a detailed welcome from the FBI and others when you touch down in the Homeland. Coming “home” may then mean your mom’s place in Cleveland, or it can mean a jail cell near the airport in Cleveland.
We’ll admit that there probably are some really bad people out there who’d we would just prefer not sitting next to us on a flight. But who ends up on the no-fly instead?
The Associated Press reported in 2012 that the federal no-fly list had “more than doubled in the past year” and had grown to about 21,000 people, including some 500 Americans. CBS’ news show, 60 Minutes, states the no-fly list actually has 44,000 names on it. A CBS reporter claims to have seen a portion of the names on no-fly in 2007, and noted Saddam Hussein was on the list, as well as 14 of the 19 September 11th hijackers, all of whom were very dead at the time. Osama bin Laden was also on the list on the off-chance he would have decided to fly to the U.S. under his real name for some reason.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, a group of thirteen Americans who were barred from boarding domestic flights or planes leaving or bound for the U.S. between June 2009 and November 2012 is suing. One of the plaintiffs in that case is Army veteran Raymond Earl Knaeble, who found himself unable to fly coincidentally after converting to Islam. Four others in the no-fly lawsuit are also military veterans. One was forced to return to the U.S. from Columbia by bus, a long and dangerous trip. Another plaintiff was placed on the list only after he flew from California to the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was forced to take a five-day boat trip and a four-day train ride home.
How Can This Be Legal?
Like much of the (known) legislation passed after 9/11, it has been very hard to challenge the no-fly in courts. One significant issue is standing, the right to sue. Persons typically never know for certain they are on the no-fly list, the government will never confirm or deny someone is on the list, and so, absent proof, one may not be able to sue the government. The government has and likely will also continue to cite national security and classified information to block cases from even entering the court system.
In the lawsuit noted above, the ACLU is arguing that the no-fly list is a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The meaning is that all levels of American government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures. For example, you cannot be arrested and tried without having legal counsel, being informed of the charges, having the chance to review the evidence against you and so forth. Creating a secret list without any clear means of challenging placement on that list, is, the ACLU contends, unconstitutional.
The government argues in return that national security prevents a more open system– we can’t tip off the terrorists– and that limited judicial review covers any due process requirement. No-fly list appeals may ultimately go to a federal appellate court, but that court makes decisions based only on government input. The person affected is not even present and will never know what evidence the government presented against him in this secret court.
The ACLU’s case against the no-fly list is currently being heard in U.S. District Court, in front of a judge who at least appears to be asking serious questions of the government, and who has stated she holds not being able to fly is indeed a case of the government depriving someone of their “liberty,” as stated in the Fifth Amendment. The outcome of the case is of course uncertain, and will no doubt be appealed as far as it can go.
Until then Americans, happy travels!
The government can kill all cell service in a designated area of its choice during “emergencies,” and does not want to disclose any details about how or when they might employ this.
Implications for the First Amendment are made clear by one known local use — San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System disabled service to quell protests in four downtown San Francisco stations over the fatal shooting of Charles Blair Hill by police.
Standing Operating Procedure 303
The Department of Homeland Security came up with the Federal-level plan — known as Standing Operating Procedure 303 — after cellular phones were used to detonate explosives targeting the London public transportation system in 2005. Unbeknownst at the time to the public, the government shut down cell service in various locations in New York City, primarily around tunnels to and from Manhattan.
SOP 303 spells out a “unified voluntary process for the orderly shut-down and restoration of wireless services during critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.” Since the details of SOP 303 remain secret, no one is certain when or how it might be invoked.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in February sided with the government and ruled that the policy did not need to be disclosed under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.) The court agreed with the government’s citation of a FOIA exemption that precludes disclosure if doing so “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.”
EPIC asked the court to revisit its ruling. On April 10, the court ordered the government to respond, a move that suggests the appellate court might rehear the case.
EPIC originally asked for the document in 2011 in the wake of the shut down of mobile phone service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system during a protest. The government withheld the information, EPIC sued and won, but the government then appealed and prevailed.
Who Decides When to Kill the Network?
Under the direction of the so-called National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, SOP 303 allows for the shutting down of wireless networks “within a localized area, such as a tunnel or bridge, and within an entire metropolitan area.” That Advisory Committee is a Reagan-era, presidentially-appointed body composed of up to 30 senior executive-level representatives from communications, information technology, banking, and aerospace companies.
Since SOP 303 is not a law, it cannot be enforced. However, the telecoms have agreed to cut off cell service voluntarily whenever the Federal government requests SOP 303 be invoked.
The process of shutting down the cell service goes through the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications (NCC), a coordination body set up by Ronald Reagan in 1984. The NCC, which includes representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Security Agency, every important cabinet department, and a few dozen big telecommunications and defense companies, takes shutdown requests from state and national Homeland Security officials, verifies whether they are “necessary,” and passes those requests on to wireless carriers in the affected areas.
First Amendment Questions
Because cutting off communications imposes a prior restraint on speech, it’s unclear whether SOP 303 is constitutional, and of course the specifics of the agreement are secret and the limits of government authority in this area have never been tested in court.
According to Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, governments in places like China regularly shut down cellphone service to quell protests. “They did it in Egypt as well,” she explained, during the protests that deposed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
The exact decision-making process in the United States is classified. But you’ll know when it happens — check your phone for bars.
The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has agreed, only two years after the fact, to investigate a program that allowed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to hire one of her key personal advisors, Huma Abedin, for government work even as she was also employed by a private firm.
Conflict of Interest?
Inspector General Steve Linick said he is looking into whether those employed as Special Government Employees (SGE), the designation Clinton gave to Abedin, are following the law, and avoiding conflicts of interest. The idea is if you are being paid by two organizations, where your loyalty lies can come into question. Never mind the potential misuse of sensitive information you might acquire at the Secretary of State’s side.
“The OIG intends to examine the department’s SGE program to determine if it conforms to applicable legal and policy requirements,” Linick said in response to a request from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley.
Clinton approved hiring Abedin, her long-time assistant, as an SGE, which allowed her to collect a government salary while also continuing to work for Teneo, a private firm. Teneo is a global advisory firm that helps with investments and other financial needs for many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations. Knowing a bit about upcoming U.S. government decisions and plans would make someone quite a valuable asset in such a company.
Not the Right Order of Things
In addition to the conflict of interest issue, Senator Grassley also questioned whether Abedin was qualified to be designated an SGE at all.
The designation of someone as a Special Government Employee is supposed to be used to entice someone already in the private sector to split his or her time in order for the government to tap “special knowledge and skills.” However, in Abedin’s case, she was already working for Clinton. It was only after Clinton unilaterally designated her as an SGE that she moved to take an outside job, Grassley said.
In other words, the SGE program is designed to bring outside experts in to assist the government, not allow State Department employees to launch second careers in the private sector while remaining tied to the Department.
How Much Did She Make, and Why Can’t We Know?
There is no legal prohibition against State Department employees having an outside job per se, but they cannot be seen as taking advantage of their official position, and they must report their outside income to the Department.
Abedin, however, did not report her income. “Ms. Abedin did not disclose the arrangement — or how much income she earned — on her financial report,” the New York Times discovered. “An adviser to Clinton, Philippe Reines, simply said that Abedin was not obligated to do so.”
No explanation was given, and the State Department did not question the unique arrangement.
All Roads Lead Back to the Clinton Foundation
Abedin is a busy woman. In the midst of her multiple jobs, she also found time to, you guessed it, serve as a consultant to the Clinton Foundation.
Abedin only ended her private sector consulting practice to move on to become director of Clinton’s transition office out of State. She now, of course, works for the Hillary campaign.
Abedin is married to former Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a sexting scandal that involved photos of his penis and the use of false name, “Carlos Danger.”
No doubt vying to be the most transparent administration ever someday, the Clinton campaign is off to a great start — sucking up to powerful journalists, who are happy to play along, excluding non-mainstream press, and swearing everyone to secrecy. What more likely scenario for open and objective news coverage could there be?
Oh, in case you weren’t sure, that was sarcasm. The actual event for so-called journalists was not, and really, sadly, took place.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign team held an off-the-record dinner Thursday night in Washington, D.C., for roughly two dozen journalists and staff members at John Podesta’s house. Podesta is Chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and previously served as Chief of Staff to president Bill. The Clinton team is also holding a private event in New York on Friday night for journalists.
All off the record, of course.
Invited “reporters,” who promised not to report anything that was said included people from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, McClatchy, Reuters, HuffPo and several major TV networks.
Clinton herself did not attend. But several key Clinton staffers, including Campaign Manager Robby Mook, Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, Strategic Communications Adviser Karen Finney, Senior Adviser Mandy Grunwald and pollster Joel Benenson, were there.
A Clinton spokesman declined to comment on the gathering. Naturally.
So if you don’t get it, get it now. Like with the emails, you, lousy slugs of
citizens consumers voters, will only be told what the Clinton campaign wants you to be told. The media, in return for a free dinner and the occasional exclusive leak, are happy to assist the Clinton’s in keeping quiet what they wish to keep quiet.
For those with a little free time, look up “investigative journalism” in your history books for a laff.
First Amendment Semi-Win After Military Police Harass, Sexually Threaten Journalist
A very basic tenet of our democracy is that a free press exists to report to The People on the actions of their government, and that government is prohibited by the beautiful words of the First Amendment from interfering. In a small instance in Ohio, after the government had military police officers in the United States harass and confiscate the cameras of journalists, the journalists went to court and won back their rights.
The U.S. government agreed to pay The Toledo Blade newspaper $18,000 for seizing the cameras of a photographer and deleting photographs taken outside the Lima Tank plant last year. In turn, The Blade agreed to dismiss the lawsuit it filed U.S. District Court on behalf of photographer Jetta Fraser and reporter Tyrel Linkhorn against Chuck Hagel, then Secretary of Defense and the military police officers involved in the March 28, 2014, incident.
An attorney for The Blade said the settlement was made under the First Amendment Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits the government, in connection with the investigation of a criminal offense, from searching or seizing any work product materials possessed by a journalist. “The harassment and detention of The Blade’s reporter and photographer, the confiscation of their equipment, and the brazen destruction of lawful photographs cannot be justified by a claim of military authority or by the supposed imperatives of the national security state.”
The government admits no wrongdoing, however, and just paid off the settlement.
Here’s what happened. The reporter and photographer were in Lima to cover a news conference at another facility and had been tasked to take photos of area businesses for future use, including pictures of the tank plant, known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
As the pair were leaving they were detained by three military police officers and questioned. Fraser showed the officers her Blade identification, but initially declined to provide her driver’s license as she was not driving. She was removed against her will from her vehicle and handcuffed for more than an hour.
During the confrontation, the officers repeatedly referred to Ms. Fraser in the masculine gender. She objected and was told by one officer, “You say you are a female. I’m going to go under your bra.”
The officers then confiscated two cameras, memory cards, a pocket-sized personal calendar, and a notebook in clear violation of the First Amendment.
Philly Cop Arrests Man for Photographing Philly Cop Harassing Homeless Woman
A college student arrested as he photographed a Philadelphia police officer harass a homeless woman in a public park was put into handcuffs and held for an hour. Federal jurors must now decide whether the cop had cause to cuff Coulter Loeb, 24, and charge him with disorderly conduct.
The case, however, is about far more than a simple disorderly conduct rap. At issue is how the Philadelphia government sees the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, and how it views people fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens to provide oversight to government employees performing their jobs. And it does not look good for all that in Philly.
Things went south almost from the get-go, after the trial judge dismissed any connection between the arrest and the First Amendment.
In a pretrial order that covered two similar cases, the judge ruled that the federal appeals court in Philadelphia had not “clearly established” a First Amendment right to photograph police as of 2011, when this incident occurred. “Whether the Third Circuit will eventually decide to follow what appears to be a growing trend in other circuits to recognize a First Amendment right to observe and record police activity is, of course, not for this court to decide, even if there are good policy reasons [to] adopt that change,” U.S. District William Yohn wrote. He therefore threw out Loeb’s free-speech claim, leaving a jury to weigh only the Fourth Amendment issues of false arrest and malicious prosecution.
Moving on to how the city of Philadelphia views these issues, we turn to the city attorney working the case, who described arrestee Coulter Loeb, in front of his ACLU attorney, as “a meddlesome 24-year-old” with “very high-minded ideas about government” and the role of media. The Assistant City Solicitor told jurors that Loeb was interfering with police work by photographing police work in a public place.
But what was in the mind of the arresting officer? “He [Loeb ]looked me up and down, and then took one step back. That to me was being a wise guy,” said the cop.
Irony Alert: Yes, yes, it was in Philadelphia in 1787 that the Constitutional Convention was held. How far we have fallen.
While the Snowden-NSA revelations continue to shock Americans on a daily basis, and illustrate how intrusive the government is in our lives, and how casually it violates our Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted searches, it just got worse.
It turns out the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was spying on Americans, gathering metadata on our phone calls, almost a decade before 9/11, and right up to 2013. With help from the U.S. military.
Decades of Metadata Spying
In an exclusive report, USA Today learned the U.S. government started keeping secret records of Americans’ international telephone calls nearly a decade before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, harvesting billions of calls in a program that provided a blueprint for the far broader National Security Agency surveillance that followed. The DEA spying only stopped, supposedly, in 2013, no longer needed due to the NSA.
For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the DEA amassed databases of virtually all telephone calls from the U.S. to as many as 116 countries “linked to drug trafficking.” The State Department officially says there are 195 countries out there, so the DEA was monitoring most of them. The Justice Department revealed in January that the DEA had collected data about calls to “designated foreign countries.” But the comprehensive scale of the operation has not been disclosed until now.
Federal investigators claim they used the call records — metadata — to track drug cartels’ distribution networks. They say they also used the records to help rule out foreign ties to the bombing in 1995 of a federal building in Oklahoma City and to identify U.S. suspects in other investigations.
Still believing metadata is not intrusive? Read this.
Telecoms Roll Over
America’s telecommunications and phone companies apparently turned over their records voluntarily and without asking for warrants. Officials said a few telephone companies were reluctant to provide so much information, but none ever challenged the issue in court. Those that hesitated received letters from the Justice Department urging them to comply.
The data collection was “one of the most important and effective Federal drug law enforcement initiatives,” the Justice Department said in a 1998 letter to Sprint. The previously undisclosed letter noted the operation had “been approved at the highest levels of Federal law enforcement authority,” including then-Attorney General Janet Reno and her deputy and later Attorney General during the NSA-spying era, Eric Holder.
The data collection began in 1992 during the administration of George H.W. Bush, nine years before his son, George W., authorized the NSA to gather its own logs of Americans’ phone calls in 2001. The program was re-approved by top Justice Department officials in the Clinton and Obama administrations. There was no oversight or court approval.
U.S. Military Involvement
The DEA program also employed U.S. military assets. When the volume of data threatened to overwhelm DEA, the military responded with a pair of supercomputers and intelligence analysts who had experience tracking the communication patterns of Soviet military units. The supercomputers were installed in DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
To keep the whole program secret and thus outside of any legal challenge, the DEA did not to use the information as evidence in criminal prosecutions per se. Instead, its Special Operations Division passed the data to field agents as tips, a process approved by Justice Department lawyers.
That process is know as “parallel construction,” and has a sordid history. Read this.
They just did it. The template for the NSA’s later spying on America was set long before 9/11. All the elements were already in place: no-questions-asked cooperation from the telcoms, no warrants or oversight, near-perfect secrecy, near-perfect pointless, dragnet security on American citizens in their homes. Multiple administrations, and multiple corporate executives of publicly-traded companies, kept silent.
One notes that despite all this spying, drugs are still quite available in the U.S. and while it is nice that there was no foreign connection to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the DEA spying did miss a whopper of a terror attack some years later. At least 9/11 was not drug-related.
And for those criminal defense attorneys who might want to reopen some old cases and challenge guilty verdicts based on the unconstitutionality of these searches, sorry. The DEA has destroyed the databases.
BONUS: The DEA is still mass-targeting Americans, only now via large-scale subpoenas.
We’ve shared with you that of the 425 large corporate donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Wall Street Journal found 60 of those donors lobbied the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure.
We’ve shared with you how Candidate Clinton, who cites the rights of women as a cornerstone of her campaign, accepted millions through her charities from governments who oppress women.
We’ve also shared how Clinton lied about her promise to disclose her donors, and how she would have the State Department review things and then did not.
We have even offered up Bill’s explanation about why all this was somehow “OK.”
Meet Your Little Sis
But you said “Oh, pish-posh.” You wanted someone to draw you a picture. And now someone has.
Little Sis is a database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations. Their goal is to bring transparency to influential social networks by tracking the relationships among politicians, business leaders, lobbyists, financiers, and their affiliated institutions. In other words, they try and follow the money.
So here’s the Little Sis interactive graphic of the flow of money between corporations that lobbied the State Department, contributions to the various Clinton charities, and the nice things Hillary did as Secretary of State on behalf of those generous donors. It’s just like when you give $25 to PBS; you get a tote bag and they buy up more episodes of Downton Abbey.
Use the + and – buttons in the upper left hand corner to scroll around. If the graphic is too small as it is embedded here, jump over to the Little Sis site and see it full-size.
But He Does it Too!
Someone out there is saying “But ________ does it too!”
There is probably some, or even a lot, of truth there. Politics in America is controlled by money in America. But of course none of that, however accurate, makes it right.
I think also that since everyone does it, it may then be important to look another level deeper, to how they do it. What is clear is that the Clinton candidacy is built on a global network of organizations (“charities”) that act as fronts and cut-outs to move large sums of money between wealthy corporate and foreign government donors who benefit from being nice to one or more of the Clinton’s. Apart from any good work the Clinton charities may or may not accomplish, they seem to have at least a secondary purpose as a huge money funnel.
See, there’s crime, there’s organized crime, and there’s big league, global organized Bond-villain crime. That might help in sorting out how to think in an age when everyone commits crimes.
The operations of the Clintons’ main non-profit, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, aka the Clinton Global Initiative, aka The Clinton Foundation, have come under increasing scrutiny, particularly over their lack of overall transparency, and their acceptance of significant foreign government donations that some feel are little more than payola.
Now, there is more.
Broken Promises of Transparency
According to Reuters, in 2008, Hillary Clinton promised president-elect Barack Obama there would be no mystery about who was giving money to her family’s charities. She made a pledge to publish all the donors’ names on an annual basis to ease concerns that as Secretary of State she could be vulnerable to accusations of foreign influence. The Clinton Foundation did indeed publish a list of donors at first, but, in a breach of the pledge, the charity’s flagship health program, which spends more than all of the other foundation initiatives put together, stopped making the annual disclosure in 2010.
Officials at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the foundation confirmed to Reuters no complete list of donors to the Clintons’ charities has been published since 2010. CHAI was spun off as a separate legal entity that year, but the officials acknowledged it still remains subject to the same disclosure agreement as the foundation. CHAI published only a partial donor list, and only for the first time, and only this year.
A spokesperson for Hillary Clinton declined to comment. Bill, who also signed on to the agreement with the Obama administration, was traveling and could not be reached for comment, his own spokesman said.
It gets worse.
No State Department Review
Reuters also raised questions about a second assurance Hillary Clinton made to the Obama administration: that the State Department would be able to review any new or increased contributions to CHAI by foreign governments while she served as Secretary of State. The Clintons said at the time the pledge was intended to defuse accusations that foreign governments might use such donations to earn favors. Payola.
By the time Clinton left office in February 2013, the charity had received millions of dollars in new or increased payments from at least seven foreign governments. Five of the governments came on board during her tenure as Secretary of State, while two doubled or tripled their support in that time.
You know what comes next.
The State Department said it was unable to cite any instances of its officials reviewing or approving new money from any foreign governments. A CHAI spokesperson confirmed that none of the seven government donations had been submitted to the State Department for review. The spokeswoman said CHAI did not believe State needed to review the donations. One explanation offered was that the new money was for “expansions of existing programs.”
The White House declined to answer questions about whether the Obama administration was aware of CHAI not disclosing its donors or submitting new donations from foreign governments.
Hillary Clinton was running the State Department from a hidden, private email server, outside of all government accountability as Secretary of State, while taking tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments that abuse women and gays, while promoting herself as a champion of women’s and LGBTQ rights. Did I miss anything?
“The card was from Lesotho, a country I learned which was one of them African nations you never hear about. The Lesothoians wrote ‘Thanks for Not Invading Us’ and claimed to be one of the last places on earth that had not been invaded by the United States, either on foot or by drone or via our sneaky Pete special forces. Got me to thinking, so I called up Barack. We talk from time to time, usually when he can’t find something around the White House and needs my help.”
“It was George’s call that made me get out the map,” said Obama. “I didn’t want to bother the Joint Chiefs, and the CIA was tied up with new prisoners, so I just used one of Sasha’s from school. Turns out George was right, there was a country called Lesotho– it was even on Wikipedia— and as best I could tell the U.S. had not ever invaded it. I made a quick call to the Pentagon and they said they weren’t sure if it was a country, but they were sure we had not invaded it. The guy over there asked me if I wanted to invade it, he’d get things started, but I said I’d want to think about it.”
“So Barack called me back, and as we were talking we realized between the two of us we had invaded, droned, sent Special Forces, set up secret prisons, had CIA sites and what have you just about everywhere else in the world. You know, there after 9/11 I kinda let Dick Cheney run things for awhile, and he may have done a lot of it but darn it, it turns out I signed off on a bunch of them myself. You don’t think of it as you do them one-by-one but over time the countries really add up.”
“Once I started making my own list,” continued Obama, “it was damn near everywhere.”
“Everywhere,” said Bush, “‘Cept maybe that Lesotho place.”
“I was faced with a real quandary,” continued Obama. “But then George and I got to talking.”
“Turns out,” said Bush, “between the two of us we had damn near bankrupted the U.S. with wars every freaking place, but Lesotho. I logged on my secret worldwide cabal account, and sure enough, almost all of the U.S. tax money had been transferred into my Rothschild MegaFund, in Chinese currency no less. Since I was online anyway– damn AOL account is so slow and I hate that modem sound– I started reading these ‘blogs’ and message boards and it turns out most people around the world hate the U.S. Nobody told me.”
“George was right. The Secret Service doesn’t let me get online much, but I kept this kinda secret account from Michele running off Hillary’s old server she said she didn’t need anymore, so I could, um, look at, um, nature photography sites, and people really did hate us. Pretty much everyone except Lesotho.”
“So me and Barack put two and two together. We made a list of all the places the U.S. had messed up since 9/11 and then sent a note to the Pentagon and Langley recalling every soldier, spook, analyst, torturer, diplomat and all the rest. Everybody– just brought them all back to the U.S. in one awesome Executive Order.”
“Should I tell him George?”
“Nah, it’s a surprise… oh hell, go ahead Barack.”
“We didn’t recall any Americans. I just ordered a nuke strike on Lesotho. April Fool!”
Claiming the change is a “one and done” strategy, everybody in the Government of the United States today declared that sharia law would now control most of Americans’ lives.
“When you think about it, we were basically already there,” said former State Department spokesdrone Jen Psaki, wearing a hijab as she briefed reporters in her new role as Iman of Total Bullsh*t. “This is really just a minor administrative change.”
Effective immediately, pretty much the laws of Indiana will now govern the other 49 states. Under a new interpretation of “religious freedom” as well as a novel application of the Second Amendment, white, straight, Christian Americans may stone to death anyone they do not like (aka, “infidels.”) “That’s right Believers,” continued Psaki, “you can legally now march down to the local gay bar, synagogue or that place the black guys hang out in the parking lot, and throw rocks at them until they are dead. In fact, it is kind of a new obligation of citizenship!”
“You may also smite them, or cause their garments to rend,” added Psaki.
States with the death penalty breathed a sigh of relief. “We were down to our last fifth of lethal drug cocktail here in Texas, and frankly, weren’t sure how we were gonna be able to execute the 10 or 12 completely innocent people of color we have now on death row. So this sharia law thing is a real life saver for us!” claimed one Texan prison warden whilst pleasuring himself at the thought.
The phrase “right to life” has also been reconfigured to mean “right to be a white person of the ‘right’ religion.” Initially many Republican lawmakers wanted to limit this to males, and in some cases, young, hairless males who are into “exploring,” but after the basic facts of life were explained to them, the Republicans reluctantly expanded partial rights to white women, as well as “a few hot Asian babes” at the insistence of Vice President Joe Biden.
In a last minute amendment to the “It’s Not Sharia Law, So You Don’t Need to Read This Whole Thing Before You Vote on It” bill that created sharia law in the U.S., Once-and-Future Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton was declared an honorary male for statistical purposes.
One part of sharia that will not be implemented in the United States is fasting. “Traditional sharia includes a lot of fasting,” said spokes-iman Psaki. “Obviously this will not work in America. Yes, we were lobbied hard by the fast food industry; and hey, if the Dunkin’ Donuts guys are listening, thanks for the Lard Lad cream-filled! But at the end of the day, America was not going to give up the obesity crown to the Russians. Some things are sacred.”
Reached while praying to the God of the Underworld and All Things UnHoly, Satan, President Barack Obama chuckled. “For years those boneheads have been calling me a Muslim when I actually worship the Dark Lord. And still none of them saw this sharia law sh*t coming! LMAO! I’m so outta here in about a year and a half, bitches.”
The new $20 bills, with Bill O’Reilly’s face on the front, should be entering circulation as you read this. Inshallah!
The few photos publicly seen of the abuses American soldiers committed inside the Abu Ghraib prison are only a tiny portion of the whole (former Senator Joe Lieberman said in 2009 that there were nearly 2,100 more photographs.)
The photos, such as the ones you see here, were released by a whistleblower. A significant number of photos, said to show acts of sodomy and brutality far worse than what is already known, have been kept from the public by the U.S. government for eleven years now, ostensibly to protect American forces from retaliation. Since the American Civil Liberties Union first filed a lawsuit against the government in 2004 seeking the release of the photographs, the government has been successful in blocking them. That may — may — change.
A federal judge ruled March 20 that the U.S. government must release photographs showing the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other sites. However, Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan ruled that his order would not take effect for 60 days to give the U.S. Department of Defense time to decide whether to appeal.
“The photos are crucial to the public record,” ACLU’s deputy legal director said. “They’re the best evidence of what took place in the military’s detention centers, and their disclosure would help the public better understand the implications of some of the Bush administration’s policies.”
Keep in mind Hellerstein first ordered the government to turn over the photographs in 2005, but while that order was being appealed, Congress passed a law allowing the Secretary of Defense to withhold the photographs by certifying their release would endanger U.S. citizens. Then remember Hellerstein already ruled last August that the government had failed to show why releasing the photographs would endanger American soldiers and workers abroad, but then immediately gave the government until March 20 a chance to submit more evidence. The judge’s most recent order said the additional evidence had failed to change his decision. Yet Hellerstein has still left open a further appeal.
Meanwhile, the horrors of Abu Ghraib done in our names, and well-known to the Iraqi victims, remain shielded from only the American public by their own government.
There’s a point where the game has been decided, and the teams are just running down the clock. We’re there with Hillary. She won.
A Largely Ceremonial Position
In 2008 some deal with the Obama campaign landed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. It was the perfect platform for her to work from toward 2016, when she expects to be selected as president of the United States. Secretaries of State these days are not really expected to do much, not like the old days. Most foreign policy is run out of the White House directly, and with communications as they are the president just interacts directly with foreign leaders as he choses.
In such a largely ceremonial position, Clinton was able to keep herself in the public eye, creating B-roll footage for her 2016 campaign in exotic locales, making “fun” memes like “Texts from Hillary,” running up some faux foreign affairs credibility and achieving “accomplishments” on soft, feel-good, working on can’t go wrong issues like stopping AIDS, helping poor kids and empowering women. None of those things ever really end, so you are always moving forward and can’t really fail. It’s all about progress.
Let’s go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and quote Hillary Herself, from a speech summing up her own version of accomplishments as “…hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.”
Her Greatest Accomplishment
We now know that Hillary was working the biggest accomplishment of her tenure at the State Department behind the scenes: eliminating any hint of a politically-dangerous or embarrassing paper trail by using her own personal email server, perhaps alone in the Federal government. This is evil genius at a Bond-villain level.
Clinton maintained 100 percent control over everything she wrote, and, with the State Department’s conveniently antiquated policy of not archiving its own senior officials’ record communications, everything that was written to her. For the most sensitive communications, between Hillary and her personal aides, she controlled every aspect of the process. Her server, her email addresses, no outsiders.
When she left the State Department, everything left with her. When no one asked about the emails for a couple of years, Hillary just held on to them. When someone did ask, she culled out her choice of what constituted official messaging, consulting no one outside her own inner circle, and then delivered those to the State Department on paper. No metadata.
When Congressional committees and the media came looking for the official messages, Clinton referred them to the State Department, where the emails were supposedly going to be “reviewed,” perhaps for a very long time. Any release or withholding would come from State; Hillary could stand back and call for “full disclosure” knowing a) only what she already selected could ever be disclosed and b) even that will take a long time, nothing she could do about it, check with Foggy Bottom.
She Nuked the Email Server
Then the final stroke of brilliance. We learned only on March 28 that after selecting the emails to turn over to State, Clinton nuked her email server and any backups. Congress and the media can subpoena and FOIA from now until the end of time, but there is nothing to seek. It. Is. All. Gone.
“Thus, there are no firstname.lastname@example.org emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized,” her attorney said in a letter to the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.
Bonus points to Clinton: Before having her lawyer announce the server was blanked back in 2014, she obtained a two-week extension on the 2015 subpoena asking for its contents, you know, just to mess with Congress, let ’em know who’s the boss. FYI: There is speculating that the server was only nuked recently, after Clinton’s March press conference.
And oh yes, at her one and done tell-all press conference about the email issue, Clinton never mentioned she had had the server wiped clean three months earlier. Cleverly, she said only that the emails she did not turn over to State would remain “private.” And indeed they will.
Computer hackers of the world: you can bet your stash of black T-shirts that when the decision was made in December to get rid of the emails, someone with a suitcase of cash showed up wherever the server and the backups where and purchased the physical hard drives and tapes. Those rest, in small pieces, at the bottom of the Potomac.
You Have No Other Choice
So there you have it. Heading into the campaign, all anyone will know of Hillary’s four years as Secretary of State is what she wants us to know. The photo ops she scheduled, the communications she chose for you to know about, nothing more. And with the emails deleted, there is not a thing anyone can do about it. There never can be a smoking gun, should one ever have allegedly existed.
The whole thing was planned from Day One, six years ago, just for this moment. It represents a giant, cynical, raised middle finger to the concept of open government and democracy. You see what she wants you to see, know what she wants you to know. You have no other choice. Hillary Clinton got exactly what she planned to get.
A researcher says the commercial spam filtering service Hillary Clinton used for her personal email server had full, unfettered access to her messages. A person at the company — or someone who could hack into the company — could read and save any of her messages.
Marc Perkel tells us that “Hillary Clinton used a spam filtering service MxLogic to filter her spam and viruses. What this means is employees at MxLogic, now owned by McAfee (which has been bought out by Intel), had full access to all her State Department email in unencrypted form.”
Perkel explains email from the Internet is routed by DNS records called MX records which are used to look up where to deliver email. When someone uses an external spam filtering service they point their MX records to that service and all email for that domain goes to the spam filtering service first. They clean it and forward the good email on to the recipient.”
So, without such a filtering service, your email goes from You straight to Me. When I sign up for such a service, your email goes from You to the MxLogic Company to Me.
Setting things up is pretty easy, once you sign up for the filtering service. McAfee says “activation starts with a simple mail exchanger (MX) record redirection.” That redirects emails from you to them, and then them to me.
Exposing Clinton’s Technical Details
Did Hillary use the services of MxLogic/McAfee? Perkel says yes, that the MX records for clintonemail.com are:
clintonemail.com. 7200 IN MX 10 clintonemail.com.inbound10.mxlogicmx.net.
clintonemail.com. 7200 IN MX 10 clintonemail.com.inbound10.mxlogic.net.
We know that Clinton’s server was fully unencrypted for her first three months of overseas travel. It is unclear exactly when after that encryption was employed, but it does not matter. McAfee had to be able to read the email messages to filter them. So a message might have been encrypted into McAfee, and it might have left McAfee encrypted, but inside the company it was visible. A company employee could have accessed it. A foreign intelligence service could have planted someone inside the company. Someone could have hacked into McAfee from outside.
Now one of the ways all this could be quickly checked and parsed through is to examine the header information on Clinton’s emails, the technical stuff you usually don’t see when you open a message (but it is in there.) Oh, wait. You can only see that information if you have the actual electronic email. If someone prints the message out, as Clinton did in delivering 55,000 pages to the State Department, the technical information is lost forever. In that sense, Clinton did not deliver her actual records to State as required by law, just partial copies.
Now if someone — anyone — who received an actual Clinton email and has it electronically would share that with some responsible technical people, much would be revealed. Someone with access should also look to see if Guccifer leaked full headers with Sidney Blumenthal’s email from the Clinton server.
Is Clinton Secure?
So how secure is Clinton’s email server? Well, first of all, the log-in page is still online. Go here and let me know if you get in, please. Keep in mind this may be considered felony hacking and you could go to jail for a long time, so don’t do it.
But in addition to that, let’s see what security company Qualys’ online server security checker does with Clinton’s rig. Here are the results. Oops! She got only a “B,” with lots of technical stuff marked as “weak.”
One recalls Clinton in her press conference stating that her server was in a location guarded by the Secret Service. However, researcher Perkel claims to have evidence that the server is at a commercial facility, and not in Clinton’s home or another known location guarded by the Secret Service.
To be fair, all of the information above pertains to the current state of Clinton’s email server. We do not know much about the state of the server during her four years as Secretary of State. It does seem funny to think, however, that there was any reason to downgrade security at any point. That does not make sense, especially since until recently all of the State Department emails were still on the server.
Trying to figure out these details is at the edge of my own limited technical knowledge, so I invite readers to clarify, debunk or support all this.
It also seems that large media companies who can pose questions to Clinton have smart IT personnel. It remains a source of great frustration that these significant issues are being raised exclusively in non-mainstream forums. THE INTERCEPT, WIRED, NEW YORK TIMES — where are you?
The Process as Stated
Here is how Clinton described the “process” by which her own staff determined which of the 60,000 emails on her personal server were work-related, and thus turned over to the State Department for even further review, and which were not work-related and deleted.
I am very confident of the process that we conducted and the e-mails that were produced… I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department… My direction [was] to conduct the thorough investigation to err on the side of providing anything that could be possibly viewed as work related.
The image created was one of completeness, and complexity, of interns and lawyers, perhaps Clinton herself for the tough calls, working their way painstakingly through four years worth — 60,000 messages — one-by-one, always erring on the side of caution to ensure a complete record before things were (perhaps) forever deleted.
But like seemingly everything else connected with the Clinton speech and the email server, it was all a fudge. What she said was not what really happened.
The Process in Reality
According to David Von Drehle of Time, the process used was actually as follows:
She commissioned a review of the 62,320 messages in her account only after the Department — spurred by the congressional investigation — asked her to do so.
And this review did not involve opening and reading each email; instead, Clinton’s lawyers created a list of names and keywords related to her work and searched for those. Slightly more than half the total cache, 31,830 emails, did not contain any of the search terms, according to Clinton’s staff, so they were deemed to be “private, personal records.”
And then deleted.
So instead of answering any questions, Clinton’s actions only create more. Would someone in the media please acquire some brass and ask Clinton:
— Give us the list of keywords and names.
— Question why XYZ was not on the list, as appropriate.
— If someone’s full name was “William Jefferson Clinton,” was a search also run on “Bill,” “William J. Clinton” and the like? Did they run searches for “WH” and “White House,” “ISIS, IS, ISL, Islamic State, Daesh”?
— Ask if the keyword search process was set up to catch “Obama” as well as “Obbama” like Google, or only exact matches, like Microsoft Word does. Upper and lower case? Names as part of email addresses?
Other issues with even a decent keyword search done fairly are that people don’t always write emails in complete, referential sentences. Sometimes they write things like “I hope the press never hears about that thing from yesterday” or “As I told you on the phone, time to act” that can be critical when matched against events and other information.
Jeez, everyone who has ever watched a gangster movie knows they say things like “We’re gonna have to pay a visit to our friend in Yonkers” before they put out a hit.
You get it. Running a keyword search is not a process that could create “absolute confidence” on a potential world-leader scale. Claiming it does is prevarication of the worst kind, deliberate manipulation of expectations and words. There is no basis on which to trust, not even a decent feint at creating trust. Just smoke and mirrors and misdirection.
Here it is in a clearer way: No one looked at more than 30,000 emails before they were deleted. No one.
There is a crushing certainty to Clinton’s supporters, and I hear that from many of them in explicit terms, that eliminates doubt. It troubles me greatly. Because if you people keep dismissing these signs of what is headed our way with silly tropes like “everybody does it” and “it’s a partisan attack,” we are all going to pay for it.
At her recent press conference, Clinton assured America that her personal email server was secure, that there had never been any security breaches and in fact it was “at a location” guarded by the Secret Service as if Spetsnaz ninjas might attack. Nothing to worry about here folks, time to move on.
Except that is not true.
Clinton’s email was extremely vulnerable. This is not a partisan attack; it is technology.
Clinton’s Email Domain was Accessible Over the Internet and Cell Phones
Online security company Venafi TrustNet has the world’s largest database of digital certificates and associated metadata, allowing it to go back in time and identify how digital certificates were used in the past, a kind of forensics capability for IT security. Here’s what they found on the now-infamous clintonemail.com server, and it is not good.
Using non-intrusive Internet scanning tests routinely performed throughout by IT security teams (meaning foreign intelligence agencies have them too), Venafi learned the Clinton server was enabled for logging in via web browser, smartphone, and tablets. That automatically makes it vulnerable to interception, as the information Clinton was sending and receiving abroad was traveling via other nations’ web infrastructure and open-air cellular networks.
Clinton’s email log-in page was also hung out on the web all pink and naked, meaning anyone who stumbled on it could try and log in, or employ the standard array of password hacking and brute force attacks against it, much like they could with your Gmail account.
Had Clinton used a legitimate State Department email account, none of this would have been a problem. Unclassified State accounts can be accessed only one of three ways (for security purposes!) A) From inside a State Department facility; B) Using a State Department-issued Blackberry running exclusively on a State Department-owned server or C) Using a one-time code generated by a physical fob device hand-carried by a State employee. No web access. No straight-line cell access. Nope.
Luckily all her communications were encrypted so someone couldn’t just pluck them from the air like some rube sitting in Starbucks using the public WiFi, right? Wrong.
Oops. Clinton’s email traffic was not encrypted for the first three months of her term as Secretary of State.
But luckily Clinton stayed around Washington for that time, right?
Travels with Hillary
Wrong. State Department records show during her first three months in office Clinton had her walking shoes on. Among the 19 locations visited were spying hotspots like China, South Korea, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, a NATO event and a meeting in Switzerland with her Russian counterpart.
But how could she know she was at risk? Well, her own State Department says this about China:
Security personnel carefully watch foreign visitors and may place you under surveillance. Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage, and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge. Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business-sensitive information may be taken and shared with local interests.
Now we’ll grant you that Hillary’s hotel room was closely guarded, but go back and re-read that warning, the part about how electronic communications might be monitored remotely.
Well, heck, Clinton claims none of the 30,000 some work emails were classified, so what?
Leaving aside exactly what Clinton had to say 30,000 times that somehow never crossed the line into classified, it seems there must have been some sensitive information tucked in there somewhere. For example, the one, single Clinton (unclassified) email that has been released was entirely redacted by the State Department, including Clinton’s personal server email address. The multi-months State Department review process now underway on Clinton’s turned-over emails is designed to redact sensitive information.
So there is something to hide. Too bad it appears likely that the Chinese government has access to information on Clinton the American people can’t be trusted to see.
Spoofing the Secretary
Without a security certificate and encryption for three months, Clinton’s server would not have been uniquely identified as being clintonemail.com and therefore could have been spoofed, allowing attackers to more easily trick an unsuspecting user of the site to hand over their username and password. She was also running a standalone Microsoft Windows Server, which is very vulnerable to attack, with at least 800 known trojans/spyware in existence that can steal keys and certificates. If the credentials on the server were compromised in those first three months (nah, the Chinese and the Israelis would never try that) then the next four years of encryption might have meant nothing.
But don’t worry. Clinton’s most recent digital security certificate was issued by GoDaddy. The domain’s blank landing page is hosted by Confluence Networks, a web firm in the British Virgin Islands, which is sorta a foreign country.
Questions of the Candidate
So, would some reporter please ask Hillary Clinton these two questions:
Where was the NSA? Where was the State Department’s Diplomatic Security technical security staff? Did they just miss all this, or did they report it to Clinton’s staff and were ignored?
What is the price America paid for your personal convenience?
BONUS: By claiming her server was secure, Clinton threw down the gauntlet to America’s geek and hacker communities, who do not take kindly to their moms pretending to know their business. Big tactical mistake…
See if you can spot what is wrong with this picture!
Conflicts of Interest?
We told you earlier about how during her term as Secretary of State, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation did not accept donations from foreign governments. Now, with Hillary as a pseudo-candidate for president, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation has started to accept donations from foreign governments.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the foundation has already received funding from the United Arab Emirates (somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, the Clinton’s only report ranges), Saudi Arabia (total between $10 million and $25 million), and others.
Some people raised concerns about the Clinton Foundation receiving such generous donations. Was the UAE and Saudi money simply because those nations believe in the good work the Foundation does, or were the donations a conflict of interest, an advance pay off, given that Clinton Foundation principle Hillary intends to be the next president?
Because those questions can be so hard to parse out, Bill Clinton now explains.
“My theory about all this is, disclose everything,” Clinton said at an event sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative University. “And then let people make their judgments.” Clinton did not explain how his “disclose everything” mantra seems in conflict with the foreign donations coming to light only after extensive media reporting, and how the full details still remain hidden because the Foundation refuses to disclose any further details, such as precise numbers.
“I believe we have done a lot more good than harm,” he added. “And I believe this is a good thing.”
“For example, the UAE gave us money,” Clinton said. “Do we agree with everything they do? No. But they are helping us fight ISIS and they built a great university with NYU, open to people around the world… Do I agree with all the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia? No.”
Bill did not mention how the NYU UAE project is mired in accusations of near-slave labor conditions for some of its workers, or how NYU has bowed to the UAE to “scrub” its curriculum and campus policies to match local anti-democractic political beliefs.
He also forgot to mention how the UAE pulled out of America’s ISIS bombing campaign after that Jordanian pilot was captured in December (the UAE has since re-entered the campaign in a limited way.)
What is Wrong with This Picture
But we began with a test: See if you can spot what is wrong with this picture. Got it yet?
Bill never answered the key question regarding the foreign donations. Is it ethical for the Clinton Foundation to accept such generous foreign donations as Hillary prepares to run for president? Is there a conflict of interest? Why or why not?
And there is the heart of the matter. When things begin to unfold around a Clinton, the “answers” and explanations do not seem to match the questions. It is almost as if we are meant to be… distracted.
BONUS: Who was interviewing Bill in the interaction above? Why didn’t the interviewer probe a bit, maybe ask a follow-up question or two? The guy asking Bill about all this was Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show.” Wilmore’s show purports to skewer politicians and pass satirical judgement on the news. Whether anyone likes it or not, a very large number of Americans now get their “news” from Comedy Central’s faux news shows. No conflict of interest evident there, with him pitching softballs at Clinton, right?
Police Interrogation Room, 50th Precinct
“She gonna roll over?” Captain Media said.
“Don’t know Captain. So far she’s sticking to her story. The whole email server thing for four years as Secretary of State was just for her personal convenience.”
“And she expects us to buy that and let her walk? In the office she would have used one computer for two accounts, same as the average Joe, so the story doesn’t hold up there. That carrying two pocket-sized devices only outside the office, that’s more convenient that setting up a whole parallel system? C’mon, I’ve been on these streets for 20 years, that doesn’t fly.”
“I hear you Captain, but she’s lawyered up. Sticking to the story like glue on sticky flypaper.”
“That’s a load of horse hockey pucks. Everybody else in the State Department deals with it, and so does every other Cabinet secretary we know of, never mind 90 percent of the corporate world. Lemme see her exact quote again.”
Cop flips open notebook.
“Here it is, verbatim. ‘First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.'”
“OK, time to hit her with the information we have. Show her the video.”
“Now that was just two weeks ago, at a fluff Q and A. You heard her, right? She flat out said she carries two devices, an iPhone and a Blackberry. Doesn’t that shoot down her case, make her a liar?”
“I hear you Captain, but her people say ‘That’s now, not when she was Secretary of State.’ Maybe some folks are that gullible.”
“Hit her with her own quote: ‘Well, I have a quite large purse… So in addition to makeup and all that goes with that, usually my Blackberry and papers of all kinds… And my iPod, just the usual wonderful musical “interluding” diversions that we all need, a wide variety. And on my iPad… ‘”
“That’s, lemme see, three devices at one time. Blackberry, iPod and iPad. iPad’s can access email just fine. So she was carrying three devices at once, two of which could access email.”
“But is that quote new? Did it come from some Republican attack group?”
“The quote is from November 2011, while she was Secretary of State.”
“And the source?”
“An official State Department transcript. It’s online. Anyone can see it.”
“So she lied. We got her. Bulletproof.”
Later that Same Day, Captain’s Office
“Captain, good news. We just heard from Clinton’s lawyer. They want to retract all her statements. They wanna talk. She’ll plead.”
(Theme music, Ba Bum…)
Hillary needed a home run, and she only even tried for a safe infield hit. That, in this case, is the same as a strike-out.
She needed to do two things in her brief press conference March 10 about her use of personal email to conduct four years of Secretary of State business and the aftermath. Primarily, she needed to lay out an explanation that made enough “sense” that her Democratic supporters could get behind her on this issue, and she needed to explain enough to take the wind out of future press stories, create a “nothing to see here” meme. We all can expect the Republicans to try and work the issue no matter what she says, and we can all expect her strongest supporters did not need convincing.
Hillary’s task was to hold the center. Let’s look at what she said, and didn’t say, in light of those two themes.
What She Said
— Clinton said she “opted out” of using an official email system for her convenience, stating she did not want to use two email devices.
— She said that the “vast majority” of her official emails were sent to official government addresses and thus archived somewhere no matter what she did.
— Clinton claimed she turned over any work-related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.”
— She said she has asked State to review and ultimately release the releasable emails.
— She said she would not allow any third party review of her server (such as the State Department’s Inspector General) because it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails, and it is a moot point anyway because she has already deleted the 30,000 emails she determined were not work-related.
Looking at What She Said: Convenience
The “two devices” would have been inconvenient argument is very weak.
One does not have “two devices,” one has two accounts. Do you have separate computers for your Gmail and your Yahoo mail? State employees are allowed to access private webmail on their official desktop computers. State employees access web mail on their official Blackberrys, though it is slow. Many State Department employees do carry two devices.
There is also no prohibition from receiving and sending personal email from an official account as long as one does not misrepresent a personal message as an official State Department document. Indeed, in some overseas posts where decent Internet service does not exist because of limited infrastructure, or because of security concerns, all personal messages travel through USG accounts. It is encouraged.
And who is ready to believe Clinton as Secretary of State needed to carry her own devices anyway? She has people for that; she doesn’t carry her own luggage, does she?
And is setting up and maintaining in secret a personal server in some way “convenient?” How do all other Cabinet officials handle this? Do they all have personal servers? Why not? If this Clinton-only technique is so handy, why didn’t she share it with others in government as some sort of best-practice? How does Bill Gates or George Clooney handle such issues? We know Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for one, had a single device with both a personal email account and a work email account.
Can Democrats answer Clinton critics with concerns about transparency, mistrust and prevarication simply by saying, “Well, it was convenient for her. Accept that, OK?”
Looking at What She Said: Archiving
That the emails were archived “somewhere” because she sent the “vast majority” to someone else’s government accounts is also weak. Many FOIA requesters to the State Department for Clinton’s emails were told no records exist. Any emails archived at the Pentagon, or the UN or the White House would have to be FOIA’ed agency-by-agency — you can’t send a FOIA request to “the government.” Any let’s not forget the term “vast majority.” How many emails are not archived anywhere?
There also appears to be some questions. Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.” – See more at: http://wemeantwell.com/blog/#sthash.YUWe4QIz.dpuf
Looking at What She Said: Other Points
Clinton claimed she turned over her any work related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.” Left unanswered is why State had to ask in the first place, and of course the way the statement “after I left office” will only beg the question someone else will need to answer of how Clinton can characterize waiting to be asked two years later as “after I left office.”
Good for Hillary to ask State release all her emails. That is what the law behind the many FOIA requests now pending at State demands anyway. What is missing is a timeframe; no one seems to know when that release might take place, though State has suggested it will be months. Remember too that first Clinton had a cut on which emails were to her mind “work related,” and then the State Department gets to make a second cut and/or redact portions of those emails for sensitive or personal information. The “release them all” line sounds good but does not parse out well.
Clinton’s final point that it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails is sort of true but largely a fudge. State Department regulations make it clear that government email must be used whenever possible for official business. While not explicitly forbidden, there is no section of law, regulation or practice that allows an employee to “opt-out” of the system. Hillary’s assertion that the decision on what is and is not work-related is based on the premise that almost everything work-related is already on a government server, and the culling of personal email for archiving is a minimal task. State Department practice is that a personal email deemed work-related be forwarded to the employee’s official account as soon as possible to create a single archive.
What She Didn’t Say
Clinton’s omissions and non-answers are however more troubling.
— She did not answer a question about whether or not she sought or received guidance from State’s IT, Diplomatic Security or legal staff on her use of a personal email server.
— She did not answer a question about whether or not she had been briefed on possible security issues regarding her use of personal email.
— She did not say why she curated her email archive herself and did not involve a neutral third party.
— She did not demand State commit the resources necessary to get her emails out before the primaries, or before the convention, or even before the election.
— She did not say why, after holding them for two to six years, she only after the recent notice decided to delete all of her personal, non-work-related emails.
— She did not say why she did not hand over her emails and/or discuss the issue of a personal server for the two years since leaving office, the seven months since this became known to Congress, the three months since she delivered her email tranche to the State Department, the eight days since the story broke widely in public or two days after members of her own party asked her publicly to do so.
On another topic, she did not answer a question about the foreign money, particularly from Middle Eastern countries oppressive to women, that has poured into the Clinton Foundation.
The Biggest Omission
There was no action statement, no suggestion Clinton would do anything more in regard to all this. She spoke for about 18 minutes, including taking eight questions, and seems to have left us with “that is that.”
It appears unlikely that “that is that,” with important questions still unanswered. It is unclear that Clinton gave her own centrist supporters enough red meat to get behind her on this issue. It seems instead that Democrats are left wondering what else is out there, and whether a Clinton candidacy, or a Clinton administration, will not look far too much like Bill’s time, herky-jerking from crisis to scandal to crisis, both real and imagined. That will be hard to get behind.
In the 2007 video below, when Hillary was last overtly running for president, at about the 0:37 mark she slips into a cliched African-American accent, kinda weird, and also weird that what appears to be a largely African-American audience applauds her. But that was 2007 and candidate Clinton shilling for Black votes.
And in that same year, 2007, here’s both candidate Clinton, hubby Bill and then-candidate Obama marching in Selma:
And here, in 2015, is Clinton in Selma:
Oh, wait, she wasn’t there this year. Obama and his family were there. Hell, even George W. Bush and his wife Laura attended. Where was Hillary (and for that matter, Bill) on this very important 50th anniversary?
In Miami, shilling at a Clinton Foundation Global Initiative event. The Clintons were in Miami, visiting Miami-Dade’s Coral Gables wealthy neighborhood for the weekend. Coral-Gables is 91 percent white and no doubt full of potential campaign donors. The Clintons did have time to drop by crappy Liberty City for a photo-op “community service” thing.
Like they say, it is all about priorities. Anyone want to wager that the Clintons will march at Selma in 2016?
We told you about how the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation accepts donations from foreign governments, including the United Arab Emirates (somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, the Clinton’s only report ranges) and Saudi Arabia (total between $10 million and $25 million). At least $1 million more was donated by the group Friends of Saudi Arabia, co-founded by a Saudi prince.
The donations raise concerns. Was the UAE and Saudi money simply because those nations believe in the good work the Clinton Foundation does, or were the donations a conflict of interest, an advance pay off, given that Clinton Foundation principle Hillary intends to be the next president?
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
Fair question. But here’s another.
You know, just this week Clinton commemorated her 1995 women’s rights speech in Beijing with back-to-back events in New York. However, no one raised this question: How ethical is it for a candidate who cites her global activism and support for women’s rights to accept huge donations from countries that have some of the most abysmal global records for the treatment of women? It seems almost like a double-standard or something.
But maybe Clinton didn’t know how things really are in those nasty places that shower her in cash. Let’s turn to the Human Rights Reports from her own former employer, the Department of State, for a quick glimpse into where all that moolah comes from.
Women’s Rights in Clinton Donor Countries
So in Saudi, “Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties from flogging to execution. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal ‘mixing of genders,’ even when there was no conviction for rape… Most rape cases were unreported because victims faced societal reprisal, diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery.” Also “Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their unequal rights. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and society treats them as unequal members in the political and social spheres.”
But Clinton has taken hard stands against the Saudis, at least when it wouldn’t put her on the spot. In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton tells of intervening when Saudi courts wouldn’t block the marriage of an 8-year-old to a 50-year-old man. “Fix this on your own, and I won’t say a word,” she recalled telling the Saudis.
But it’s better in the UAE, right? State says “The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. There were reports that employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers… female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex instead of receiving assistance from government authorities.” Also “For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove that her husband had inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, had abandoned her for at least three months, or had not maintained her upkeep or that of their children. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands.”
The Clinton Foundation has also taken in chunky donations from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei, none of whom ever begin to respect the rights of women.
You get the picture. But does Clinton? Hey, it’s just money right, and what do women know about that stuff anyway?
Though Madame herself has said nothing out loud (she did send one Tweet) about the bubbling scandal that she used private email to conduct four years’ of official business as Secretary of State, perhaps to help shield her communications from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, there has been no shortage of third-party defenders.
Let’s take a look at their arguments, and see how they sound.
It’s Not Illegal
Clinton supporters fired their first shots claiming she did nothing illegal, that current laws on using personal email were enacted only in 2014. And so if you have done nothing illegal, by definition your actions are legal.
As to the rules/laws/regulations, there are some clear issues.
Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).” Those regs have been in place since at least 2009, most since 1995. There’s also another section that’s relevant. The State Department through a series of memos and internal interpretations clarified that persons using personal email for government business should forward copies to their official account as soon as practical. There are no provisions for maintaining a private archive at home and turning over a curated selection years later when asked.
There is also what the official custodian of U.S. government records, the National Archives and Records Administration, in the 2009 National Records Act, has to say, specifically in 44 U.S.C. Chapters 31 and 33 and the regulations issued in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically Subchapter B – Records Management of 36 (CFR) Chapter XII. See Records management by agency heads; general duties (§ 3101), Establishment of program of management (§ 3102), Transfer of records to records centers (§ 3103) and Certifications and determinations on transferred records (§ 3104). Read as much of it as you care to; the requirements are long, specific and mandatory. A personal email server in your home does not fit the bill.
Here’s the shortest version: In 2009, regulations required that any emails sent or received from personal accounts be preserved as part of the agency’s records.
Everybody Does It
The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.
There also exists an important question of degree. Though Condi Rice denies ever using any personal email for official business, and Colin Powell famously used an AOL account more than ten years ago as part of his attempt to drag State into the late 20th century vis-vis technology, no previous government official in the known history of the United States has set up his/her own personal email server and used that exclusively for four full years. The scale sorta really matters.
The other side of the “everybody does it” argument is that it is a really poor argument. Anyone who has been a teenager has likely tried it (“But Mom, everybody drinks beer at my age, yeah I know I’m not 18 but everybody does it!”) and seen it fail. Defendants who went on to become convicted felons also know how unconvincing judges find it when people offer as their criminal defense that others have committed the same offenses but just didn’t get caught.
It seems sad that such an excuse is even thrown out there for a presidential contender, never mind that some are willing to accept it.
What Does it Matter?
Absent someone starting an actual courtroom prosecution, this is not about whether an actual crime per se has been committed. It is about what Clinton’s image of open, good government looks like, what her plans for a transparent administration in line with America’s democratic principles might come to be. It is about whether what she says connects tightly to what she does.
It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the media learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story. It could not have; she still held the emails at that time.
She still has not spoken about all of this, despite it being one of America’s top news stories.
Will she tell the electorate why she set up a personal server and did not use government email? For argument’s sake we’ll agree she was allowed, but that does not tell us why, and why matters.
Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently,and only when asked?
As president of the United States, will she encourage or condone Cabinet level officials to employ personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?
How did she weigh out the security risks of using a personal email service? Yes, the emails were said to be unclassified, but if they were indeed not sensitive enough to warrant high levels of security, then one hopes they will all be released now, unredacted.
Is the way she handled her email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of her approach to public service?
Those things are in part what people are supposed to be assessing when they vote.
Suck It People, and Just Trust Me
Clinton’s people have said they combed through all of the (unknown amount) of emails and pulled out 55,000 pages, delivered literally on paper to the State Department so as to impede electronic searches (sorry to the intern who has to scan them) and of course eliminate the metadata. They all swear cross-their-fingers-hope-to-die that those are all the official emails in the stash. Honest sir, there can’t be even one more we might’ve missed.
But… Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.”
So maybe Clinton’s staff missed just a few?
It’s All Republican Attack Cheap Shots
Which brings us to the all-purpose Clinton excuse: whatever bad things have happened to her and/or are being said about her are all a partisan attack, perpetrated by her Republican enemies, just like everything else from Vince Foster/White Water to 2008’s lying about being under fire in Bosnia to everything Benghazi.
And there is truth in that. It is without question that the Republicans will seize on anything negative about Clinton they can find. It is also without question that the Democrats will seize on anything negative about Bush or whoever they can find. Such is the nature of politics in America.
But that doesn’t mean what is under discussion is not true and it does not mean it does not matter. The easiest way for Clinton to escape answering questions is to stifle any discussion (“What does it matter anymore anyway?”) There are things that are worth talking about here, questions that need answers, regardless of whether you lean right or left. Don’t get sucked down the tunnel of partisan politics encouraging you to shut your brain off.
Think about it.
BONUS THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Wouldn’t it be great is some mid-level State Department staffer set up her own email server in her apartment next week and sent a message to everyone at work she interacts with saying she was no longer going to use her official email account? Wouldn’t that be a hoot?
Hillary Clinton announced in a Tweet that she wants her former employer, the Department of State, to review her emails with an eye toward releasing them. Here, she said it herself, on The Official Twitter:
I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible. — Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2015
So accepting the fact that it took Clinton almost three full days’ worth of controversy to get around to saying even that, that’s it, right? Problem solved? Maybe not.
I want the public to see my email. I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 5, 2015
Who Will End Up Holding the Bag?
The key part of what Clinton no doubt feels is some pretty slick sleight of hand is that State only has in its possession some fraction of all of her emails sent while Secretary of State. The emails State does have were hand-picked by Clinton, curated by her staff, from the total.
Clinton, alone in the entire U.S. government, has left herself in the unique position of being the only one to determine what records the American people are entitled to see. Her basis for her decisions? Trust me.
Even at that, she now throws State under the bus, thinking anytime between now and inauguration day anybody asks about a missing email or ten, Clinton will just “refer them” back to State, who of course decided what to withhold from what Clinton personally chose not to withhold. Clinton no doubt thinks herself clever with this bit of political jujitsu, turning the State Department into her campaign spokesperson. But putting the burden on State is a red herring; this isn’t really the State Department’s dog.
Her attempt to use the White House this week in the same capacity has only returned mediocre results. The Counsel’s office there claimed it had no knowledge of Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email system, and quickly mentioned once it found out that it had directed the State Department to make sure all appropriate rules were followed (CYA.) They also made clear that the administration gave “very specific guidance” that employees should use official accounts when conducting government business.
Obama’s spokesman was careful to note “There was not an Obama administration official that was responsible for reviewing those emails.”
While trying to avoid doing political damage to Clinton, the White House has put the onus on her aides to explain exactly what happened. If there is gonna be a bag of sh*t to hold at some point, the White House does not want to get stuck with it.
State, ever the lap dog to the rich and famous, is ready to do its part in dragging its feet. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Riyadh Thursday that his department “will undertake this task as rapidly as possible in order to make sure that we are dealing with the sheer volume in a responsible way.” State spokeswoman Marie Harf warned that the review could “take some time to complete” while other officials indicated it could take months. And, surprise! State’s current review personnel are already overwhelmed with nearly 11,000 other pending requests, which for complex cases can take an average of more than 18 months to complete.
Maybe first-come, first-serve will get the Clinton emails reviewed at least in time for her second term.
Perhaps State will want to turn its attention to previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. More than 75 separate requests for her emails were filed with the State Department between 2009 and 2013 by media organizations and other parties. Associated Press requests for Clinton emails and other documents have been delayed for more than a year — and in one case, four years — without any results. All “answered” FOIA requests were told that the State Department did not have any emails from Clinton to consider releasing, sort of true in that State had no Clinton emails on file; they were all held on her private server. The AP says it is considering legal action against the department to compel responses.
And that all leads deep into another can of worms. FOIA requests are strictly limited to U.S. government documents. You cannot FOIA Michelle Obama’s personal NetFlix viewing list. A very tricky legal question arises about whose emails those are on Clinton’s private mail server. Google and other tech companies have regularly won legal challenges to say that the Gmail you send actually belongs to Google, not you. It resides on their server, after all. Much of the NSA’s quasi-legal ability to gobble up your emails rests on the same premise, as they request “your” email not from you but your internet service provider. Requests for Clinton emails not turned over to State could be refused based on the fact that they are her private property.
The Trouble with Republicans
Meanwhile, Clinton’s troubles with the Republicans are just starting.
The Republican National Committee on Thursday asked the Inspector General of the State Department to investigate Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct government business. RNC Chief Counsel John Phillippe wrote in a letter that the investigation should focus on whether Clinton violated department policies or caused the department to violate the requirement to archive emails. Such inspections can take a long time, but in this case, those delays could easily help keep the email issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, and the Republicans know it.
The Inspector General should also look into where State Department management and security were sleeping while all this email fun transpired. One can speculate that if a mid level employee proposed to do all his official work off a personal email server they would have had something to say about that. Oh wait, they already did, roundly criticizing one State Department ambassador for bypassing State’s email system.
The House committee investigating Benghazi also just got a new lease on life. The committee announced Wednesday it has issued a subpoena to Clinton for all of her communications relating to Libya, including emails from her personal server, texts, attachments and pictures. New emails mean new hearings, new questions for Clinton, new demands for in-person testimony and new accusations of information being withheld or scrubbed. This clearly will keep the red-meat-to-the-base Benghazi issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, even if nothing substantive emerges. And if it does…
Clinton, in her own sense of transparency, has issued only the Tweet (above) as her sole public response to all this. Her spokesperson disingenuously claimed Clinton had complied with both the letter and the spirit of the law, a tough one to swallow even for a group of supporters used to swallowing.
Clinton has announced in advance that she will take no questions at her next scheduled public appearance, somewhat ironically the March 23 ceremony celebrating the winner of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
But here are a few very simple questions we’d like Clinton to answer:
— Why did you alone in the State Department not use official email and only use private email run off a private server?
— Why didn’t you turn over your full set of emails to State for review?
— Why did you wait until your private server was disclosed publicly to turn over even the subset of emails you did? Why didn’t you turn them over during your tenure as Secretary?
— As president of the United States, will you encourage or condone your Cabinet level officials employing personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?
— Is the way you handled your email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of your approach to public service?
That’ll be a good start.
That sound you hear?
That’s Republicans dancing a merry jig, and Benghazi investigators sharpening their subpoenas, because 2016 just got a lot more interesting with the revelation that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton conducted all official business using a personal email account on her own web domain.
Here’s what happened, and why it matters. A lot.
Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, violating federal regulations that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record and thus subject to Freedom of Information Act and Congressional requests. Clinton did not have a government email address during her entire four-year tenure, and her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.
It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Clinton’s personal advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the Department. The contents of the rest are known only to Clinton insiders. The process Clinton’s advisers used to determine which emails related to her work at the State Department were turned over has not been explained.
Instead, Clinton appears to have used email service through her own domain, clintonemail.com under the name email@example.com. The domain was created on January 13, 2009, just before Obama was sworn into office, and the same day that Clinton’s confirmation hearings began before the Senate.
In March 2013, an adviser to Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, had his e-mail through the clintonemail.com domain hacked.
The Clinton email domain is officially registered to a Jacksonville, Florida company called PERFECT PRIVACY, LLC. The company advertises itself by saying “By signing up for Perfect Privacy when you register your domain, our information is published in the WHOIS database, instead of yours.” That means Perfect Privacy acts as a cut-out, hiding the actual person or organization that set up the domain by sticking its own information online instead.
Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).”
It is also apparent no one at State raised any questions. A large number of IT staff must have been aware that Clinton had no official email address, as must have security staff. Everyone who traded email with Clinton also knew. And no one said anything.
Why It Matters
The most basic reason this all matters is because it is the law. As Secretary of State, Clinton was required to maintain her emails as official records. She did not. She choose not to follow the law. Saying “everybody else did it” does not work for teenagers, felons in court or Secretaries of State. Since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.” The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.
It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the New York Times learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story.
That review clearly did not represent the full story, in that it did not include any of Clinton’s emails. The review also did not note that the documents it had access to somehow did not include any emails from the Secretary of State. A careful analysis of Clinton’s testimony on Benghazi will need to be made to look for signs of possible perjury. If anything in the Clinton emails is new and relevant to understanding what happened in Benghazi, she should be held to explain why it was not revealed at the time of her testimony.
The contents of whatever small portion of Clinton emails released to State, and questions about what is in the tens of thousands of pages withheld, will revive hearings into what happened in Benghazi and what role Clinton played. There remain questions about what information was withheld from Congress. Even of the thousands of pages State received from Clinton, only 900 have been turned over to Congress.
Use of personal email to conduct government business in the age of hacking raises serious security questions, and calls into question Clinton’s commitment to protecting America’s secrets. According to The New York Times, Clinton also used a gmail account, firstname.lastname@example.org, to conduct her official business.
With no oversight, the only check on Clinton not discussing classified information in her emails was Clinton herself. “We have no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal e-mail account for anything but unclassified purposes,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said Tuesday. “While Secretary Clinton did not have a classified e-mail system, she did have multiple other ways of communicating in a classified manner (assistants printing documents for her, secure phone calls, secure video conferences).” Of course, since no one at State has seen the bulk of Clinton’s emails, they indeed may have “no indication.”
2016 just got much more interesting. Republicans will raise the email issue in great detail, especially since Jeb Bush has already released his own email stash from his time as governor. Clinton does not seem prepared to address the question; her spokesperson said incongruously that her use of a personal email account was in compliance with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”
Clinton as a leader allowed herself to be held to lower standards than that of her own rank and file. This, along with the decision to hide the emails itself and the violations of law, will raise questions about what type of president she might make.
Not the First
[In 2009, as Clinton took office] The Bush administration had just left office weeks earlier under the shadow of, among other things, a major ongoing scandal concerning officials who used personal email addresses to conduct business, and thus avoid scrutiny.
The scandal began in June 2007, as part of a Congressional oversight committee investigation into allegations that the White House had fired U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. The oversight committee asked for Bush administration officials to turn over relevant emails, but it turned out the administration had conducted millions of emails’ worth of business on private email addresses, the archives of which had been deleted.
The effect was that investigators couldn’t access millions of internal messages that might have incriminated the White House. The practice, used by White House officials as senior as Karl Rove, certainly seemed designed to avoid federal oversight requirements and make investigation into any shady dealings more difficult. Oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman accused the Bush administration of “using nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.”
That scandal unfolded well into the final year of Bush’s presidency, then overlapped with another email secrecy scandal, over official emails that got improperly logged and then deleted, which itself dragged well into Obama’s first year in office. There is simply no way that, when Clinton decided to use her personal email address as Secretary of State, she was unaware of the national scandal that Bush officials had created by doing the same.
Clinton knew what she was doing, and was aware of the consequences for herself and the White House. She did it anyway. Under such conditions, people will be muttering “Hey, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”
One of the main reasons government officials use personal email is because it is not clearly subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as it is not a government document. Since Clinton now admits at least some of her personal email is indeed part of her official record as Secretary, will does emails become subject to FOIA? One assumes most major new organizations are drafting their FOIA requests as we speak.
And speaking of FOIA, since many/most of Clinton’s emails were not a part of official State Department records until recently means they would not have been identified in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoenas or other document searches conducted over the past six years. Is anyone planning to reexamine those requests in light of developments?
There is also the question of how many email accounts where. Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House committee investigating Benghazi stated Clinton had more than one private email account. “The State Department cannot certify that have produced all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails because they do not have all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails nor do they control access to them,” he said.
Who administered Clinton’s personal email network? S/he was not a government employee but had unfettered, Snowden-like access to government information conveyed at the Cabinet-level. As she also used a Gmail account, an unknown number of Google employees enjoyed a level of access unavailable to Clinton’s own State Department staff. Clinton’s personal email server backed up to a Google drive, wide-open to hackers both foreign and domestic.
Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently?
Instead of focusing on the “but was it illegal?” smokescreen, ask the simpler question: why did Clinton alone in her State Department rely 100 percent on a personal email account?
And what about that famous Clinton Blackberry? Blackberry messages go through a special server run by an organization itself. State maintains such a server for its staff’s required use. Did Hillary’s Blackberry run through a State server or a private one? Let’s ask.