This week marks the fourth anniversary of the beating death of American Citizen Kelly Thomas at the hands of the LAPD. All three cops seen in the video were found not guilty. The victim, Kelly, is shown in the hospital just before his death.
I’m sorry if the image offended you, or if you are thinking of clicking away and unfollowing me on Twitter, but I am offended by what is happening in our country.
Who the Cops Work For
Kelly Thomas was a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia who lived on the streets of Fullerton, California. He was known to frequent an alleyway near a swanky restaurant. The owner didn’t like that, and allegedly phoned in a fake 911 report that Thomas was vandalizing cars to get the LAPD on the scene to “take care” of the problem.
The cops did their job. The really cleaned up the stain of a homeless guy getting in the way of someone making money.
Kelly Thomas was beaten and killed by cops Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe on July 5, 2011. Thomas was comatose on arrival at the hospital, where he was taken after the three cops had had their fill of beating him. He never regained consciousness, and died on July 10, 2011.
For nine minutes and 40 seconds, the officers pummeled Thomas to the ground, with Ramos delivering volleys of punches and beating Thomas with his baton and Cicinelli tasing the homeless man twice in the face.
Choked on His Own Blood
Medical records show that bones in Thomas’ face were broken and he choked on his own blood. The coroner concluded that compression of the thorax made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen. The cops who beat him into that condition did not render any first aid on the scene, which may have saved their victim’s life.
Officer Manuel Ramos (the cop at the beginning of the video who asks “See my fists?”) was charged with one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter; Corporal Jay Cicinelli and Officer Joseph Wolfe were each charged with one count of felony involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive force.
All three pleaded not guilty.
Justice, American Style
A judge declined to dismiss the charges against the officers in January 2013, finding that “a reasonable person could infer that the use of force was excessive and unreasonable.” The case went to trial and Ramos and Cicinelli were found not guilty of all charges. Following the verdict for the two officers, the district attorney’s office announced it would not pursue the case against Officer Wolfe.
The defense argued cops must protect themselves when they believe they are in danger, without fear of prosecution for handling the incident with force.
If this wasn’t wrong, then nothing can ever be wrong.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
So here we skip over to Afghanistan.
As the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, important actress Emma Watson (pictured above in traditional Afghan garb) has spent the last year trying to convince men that women’s equality is more than just a women’s issue. In the U.S., her “He for She” campaign gained the support of celebs like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who tweeted about it, and Steve Carell, who wore the campaign logo on his cufflink at the Oscars. Because of that tweet, and those now-famous cufflinks, women’s equality has been forever fixed in the Homeland.
Ambassador Watson now has set out to complete her journey by taking the “He for She” struggle to Afghanistan. Apparently the Taliban, whom the U.S. is almost done defeating after 14 years of war, are not nice to their female property, and Emma is so on that thing.
To kick off the UN campaign’s launch in Afghanistan last week, “local activists,” (i.e., a few women rounded up and paid taxi fare to attend) government officials (i.e., a few thugs who live off foreign graft rounded up and paid taxi fare to attend), and foreign dignitaries (i.e., a few UN interns rounded up and paid taxi fare to attend) met at a Kabul high school to demonstrate how men play an integral role in the fight for women’s rights. Using the slogan “A brave man stands for women,” activists took the stage and shared stories that attempted to reposition the fight for women’s rights as a courageous and valiant undertaking.
The underlying message was that gender equality can’t be achieved unless men change the way they view women. It’s a major shift in tactics considering that up until recently, gender equality in Afghanistan has been framed largely as a cause taken up by women.
Super quick reality check: So this has been the problem all along! The Taliban, and the thugs who preceded them, as well as the corrupt men who have been running Afghanistan for the last fourteen years of freedom under the direct supervision of the United States, just didn’t know that it was “a guy thing.” All those “honor killings” and rapes and child brides and murder of women, or that thing last month when a mob in downtown Kabul lynched a 27-year-old woman for allegedly burning a Quran, are just a perception issue.
Easy fix. Ambassador Watson and the UN have set a lofty goal of acquiring signatures from 3,000 Afghan men and boys pledging to stand up for women’s rights on the “He for She” website (it is unclear 3,000 Afghans of any gender have access to the Internet.) It’s part of a broader aim to acquire pledges from one billion men and boys worldwide by the time the UN General Assembly convenes in September.
This is all off to a great start — Emma’s website currently boasts 327,488 signatures! The bad news: the majority of them originated in the United States. Only 325 signatures came from Afghanistan, most likely from people rounded up and paid taxi fare to visit one of Kabul’s fine Internet cafes.
But the program is not just sitting on its hands. It will fix all gender problems further in Afghanistan by gaining endorsements from “Afghan celebrities,” and screening a documentary film telling human-interest stories depicting the plight of Afghan women.
And if all that fails, Ambassador Watson, who starred in the Harry Potter movies as empowered wizard Hermione Granger, will just wave her wand and shout “Reparo!” Come to think of it, that might have a better chance of helping than the rest of this silliness.
Five points to Gryffindor!
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
America used to be a country with balls. Now, our government wants to make us into a nation of scaredy cats, existing in a state of constant fear and near-panic, like we were kids worrying if the school bully was waiting for us after school.
Here’s the basic theme for this weekend: Americans need to remain vigilant to the threat of a terrorist attack, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul, warned. He said there has been increased chatter on social media that indicates terrorists may be planning to strike during the celebrations. “I am extremely concerned Syrian and ISIS recruiters can use the Internet at lightning speeds to recruit followers in the United States and then activate them to do whatever they want to do. Whether it’s military installations, law enforcement or possibly a Fourth of July event parade.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States. That’s how serious this is,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told CBS. “There’s been about 50 people in the last 12 months who have been arrested in the United States for being radicalized by ISIS, wanting to go fight there or wanting to conduct an attack here.”
USA Today added to the fear-mongering, noting “While there was no specific or credible threat of attack, the official said the intelligence bulletin prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI alerted local colleagues to the ongoing threats posed by the Islamic State and other homegrown extremists. The official was not authorized to comment publicly.”
So let’s break this down, ahead of your BBQ, beach time and backyard sparklers.
America has suffered one significant foreign terror attack in the 239 years since the July 4th we celebrate this weekend. That attack was fourteen years ago and while tragic, took a similar number of lives has the number of Americans who have died since from toxoplasmotic brain parasites. The 2011 Report on Terrorism from the National Counterterrorism Center notes Americans are just as likely to be “crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year” as they are to be killed by terrorists. Perhaps even sadder, about double the number of Americans killed on 9/11 have died in the still-ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Disagree with one set of numbers, pick your favorite statistic/comparison, but you get the idea.
Noteworthy is that while fourteen years ago, and for most of the succeeding years, is that the government warned the attacks were to be carried out or threatened by foreigners. This weekend’s warnings, however, point at Americans who want to do harm to other Americans. That seems to be one of the most significant “achievements” of the fourteen year war of terror, turning us into them.
So this July 4, in honor of America’s 239th birthday, our government tells us not to be brave and free, but to be scared and fearful. We need to watch around us, and we need especially to watch our fellow citizens. One of them might be a lone wolf, supposedly “radicalized” by 140 characters he read on Twitter. We are to balance in our minds the conflicting images of a government that takes away our civil rights and pisses away our tax dollars to protect us while simultaneously saying they may not be able to protect us.
Whatever you do this July 4th, don’t look for me there. I’ll be at home, doors locked, weapons cocked and ready in abject terror, trying not to remember what I’ll be drinking to forget. Happy Birthday America.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
“In one lousy week, everyone is taking down the Confederate flag, gays can now get married and people — even the blacks — can buy that Obamacare. It has just not been a good one for us. I even heard Cracker Barrel and Waffle House are switching away from trans-fats,” said spokesbigot ‘Clem’ (who isn’t sure that’s his real name.)
“So what do you do? You fight back! The South will rise again!” shouted a second spokesredneck, letting out both a loud fart and a rebel yell from the broken down barco-lounger on his dilapidated front porch he could not rise from due to weighing 300 pounds and thus having to dress in a large Hefty bag.
“Fighting back” in this instance is taking the form of actual slavery.
“While it didn’t work out in the long game with Africans, oh, excuse me, ‘African-Americans,’ we want to try it again with other white people. We intend to enslave each other, kind of top and bottom, or least that’s what I heard. Or maybe it was on the online; Jeb just bought him a new modem for the AOL. Anyway, we’ll preserve the great Southern heritage and culture of dehumanization, narrow-mindedness and hate the only way we can at the present time, with white slaves.”
“There are some details. First, we’ll need to come up with some good racial slurs to refer to each other as. The lame Supreme Court took away our good ones, so that’s a big issue right up front. Next, there is finding enough whites to be the slaves. We have a bunch of the good old boys down here wanting to volunteer, but we are also looking overseas, maybe to one of those European countries with a debt problem, to see if we can harvest some there. We’d kind of like to stick to the traditional way of bringing the slaves in by old-timey ships. Might attract some tourists, too.”
“As for our manly essences, we will still spill them in service to the Lord’s decree that we reproduce. But if the Supreme Court wants us to be ‘fair,’ well, nobody is gonna be allowed to get married. We’ll do it in line with our culture, the way it has always been done: with our animals, our cousins, and our slaves.”
“The government thinks it can take away our freedom to take away other people’s freedom, but we intend to show them.”
USAID just got caught wasting $769 million not supporting Afghanistan’s education sector.
How could this happen?!? As a public service, here are your step-by-step instructions.
— Start with the premise that schools in a wasteland like Afghanistan in support of a failed American policy are more important uses of American taxpayer money than schools in America (which is socialism, or a handout, or whatever, Ayn Rand.)
— Send incompetent people (see below) to Afghanistan with a lot of money, say $769 million. Tell them to build schools. If you don’t have enough in-house incompetent people, like USAID, hire contractors, like USAID did.
— Make sure those people never travel to where the schools are being built. Instead, have them rely on a known corrupt government to tell them where to spend the money. In our instant case, former ministry officials who served under President Hamid Karzai provided false data to USAID regarding the number of active schools in Afghanistan.
— Make sure, as USAID, while spending all that money, not to ask if there are any schools actually being built. Instead, sit back and look the other way as Afghan officials doctored statistics, embezzled money, and interfered with university entrance exams to make it seem schools existed. These allegations suggest that the U.S. and other donors may have paid for ghost schools that ghost students do not attend and for the salaries of ghost teachers who do not teach.
— Despite this, as USAID, announce at every opportunity that education programs are among your most successful work in Afghanistan. For example, USAID cited a jump in students enrolled in schools from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013 as a clear indicator of progress.
— Make sure all your data supporting these successes is unverifiable, coming only from the Afghan Ministry of Education. Appear surprised when you learn, years and $769 million later, that the data has been falsified. Do not conduct any investigation of your own. Wait and see if some inspector general notices. You know most of the media won’t.
— Ignore the fact that accurate data is essential for gauging progress and for making future funding decisions. Congress will help with this.
— Make sure you have bosses in the field and at the State Department in Washington who do not care about accurate metrics or real results.
— Repeat this process for fourteen years of the Afghan War.
I’m no Ed Snowden, but one of the reasons I am able to write this blog is because I had great lawyers in my fight against the State Department who were willing to work pro bono on my behalf.
The one thing Snowden and I do really have in common is that we are represented by the same group of lawyers, the men and women at the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU can always use a financial hand, but today’s request for help is aimed specifically at the Government Accountability Project.
The Government Accountability Project’s office which works specifically on national security whistleblower cases and represents clients who cannot afford legal fees for free, is facing a funding crisis. You can imagine the legal efforts that have been necessary to help Snowden, Tom Drake, John Kiriakou, Bill Binney (and me) through sometimes years of government efforts to silence them.
The government has lots of money and resources; whistleblowers have only the Government Accountability Project.
So here it is: please go to the Government Accountability Project GoFundMe page and give something.
They have a group lined up to offer matching donations, so even a small contribution doubles itself automatically. Your donation is tax-deductible in the U.S. You can donate anonymously.
The next whistleblower who will change history is out there, sitting in some government office, wondering if s/he will be alone when it is time to act on conscience and tell you the kind of things only someone inside the system can know. If you read this blog, I know you want to help him or her. Now, there is a way.
FYI: I receive no money from any of this. My only association with the Government Accountability Project is as their legal client. They saved me and I’d kneel on broken glass if I thought that would help them continue their work.
The cops admit there had been no crime committed. They arrived at the scene to discover two women, one white and one black, unhappy over some minor parking lot thing at their children’s elementary school.
Everyone admitted no damage had been done to either car. The women had already separated themselves, and neither had committed or threatened any violence.
There was nothing to see or do, and in fact no reason for the cops to even be there.
Yet within minutes (the action begins around 4:40 into the video, below) the scene involved two cops throwing the pregnant black woman, Charlena Michelle Cooks, to the ground, cuffing her and arresting her for resisting arrest. All because she did not identify herself quick enough for the cops. FYI: the cops did not ask the white woman for ID in the video.
Nonetheless, officials with the city of Barstow, California insisted officers had acted properly when they used force to arrest a pregnant woman who refused to show them her identification, even though the charges were later dismissed.
“I actually do have the right to ask you for your name,” the officer replies.
“Let me make sure,” Cooks says as she makes a phone call to someone.
The officer says he will give Cooks two minutes to verify his right to ask for her identification. But less than 20 seconds later, the officer and a colleague are performing a painful wristlock takedown on Cooks. The pregnant woman screams as she is forced belly first into the ground.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Adrienna Wong pointed out that Cooks had a right to refuse to show her ID.
“Even if an officer is conducting an investigation, in California, unlike some other states, he can’t just require a person to provide ID for no reason. Officers in California should not be using the obstruction law, Penal Code 148, to arrest someone for failing to provide ID, when they can’t find any other reason to arrest them,” Wong added.
“Imagine getting wrestled to the ground and handcuffed in front of your child’s elementary school,” another ACLU attorney remarked. “Imagine interacting with other parents afterwards. Imagine what kids who saw the incident tell your child. And if you think the whole incident happened because of your race, how does that impact your view of police?”
To make matters worse, Cooks was banned from her daughter’s school until the charges were dismissed.
In a separate settlement with the ACLU prior to the Cooks incident, the City of Barstow had already agreed to provide training to its officers after two brothers were arrested for refusing to provide identification. Charges against the brothers were dropped and the city agreed to pay $30,000 in damages.
Only a scant 14 years after 9/11 opened the door to unprecedented government violations of the rights of American citizens, what has come to be known as the Post-Constitutional Era, there are small signs that our somnolent courts are slowly rousing.
The Case of Jae Shik Kim
A federal judge determined the search of a traveler’s laptop without a warrant as he was leaving the country was unreasonable, in a ruling that could help derail the government’s long-held search criteria for international travelers.
In the case, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia allowed defendant Jae Shik Kim to suppress key evidence the government found after searching his laptop at Los Angeles International Airport. The Department of Homeland Security suspected Kim of illegally selling aircraft parts to Iran and seized his computer before allowing him to board a flight home to Korea in December 2012. The government cloned Kim’s hard drive, shipped it off to a forensic lab, and searched it, uncovering a series of alleged “incriminating emails” that formed the basis for the government’s case against Kim.
The court concluded the government not only conducted an unreasonable search, but further violated the Fourth Amendment by shipping the computer to a second location where they continued the extensive search.
The judge wrote:
The government points to its plenary authority to conduct warrantless searches at the border. It posits that a laptop computer is simply a container that was examined pursuant to this authority, and it submits that the government’s unfettered right to search cargo at the border to protect the homeland is the beginning and end of the matter.
But to apply those principles under the facts of this case would mean that the border search doctrine has no borders. The search of the laptop began well after Kim had already departed, and it was conducted approximately 150 miles away from the airport [at the forensics lab]. The government engaged in an extensive examination of the entire contents of Kim’s hard drive after it had already been secured, and it accorded itself unlimited time to do so.
There was little or no reason to suspect that criminal activity was afoot at the time Kim was about to cross the border, and there was little about this search — neither its location nor its scope and duration — that resembled a routine search at the border.”
The Constitutional Borderline
Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are in the United States as soon as they step off an international flight, or as long as they are waiting for their outbound flight, as Mr. Kim was in the case above, and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights.
Wrong. And the irony that a person can be separated from his Constitutional rights by a border marked by a pane of glass is not to be missed.
The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state.
Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering or leaving the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.
Here’s the twist in the present era: The definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.
The same process works in reverse; at some point as you depart the U.S., the government believes you are “outside” and thus lack any Constitutional protections. That’s what happened to Mr. Kim.
What once were modest exceptions in Constitutional America morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can set up checkpoints and conduct warrantless searches. At airports, American citizens are now similarly subjected to search and seizure as filmmaker Laura Poitras — whose work focuses on national security issues in general and Edward Snowden in the particular — knows firsthand. Since 2006, almost every time Poitras has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by government agents and her laptop and phone examined.
Back to the Kim Case
Hanni Fakhory, for Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the opinion in the Kim case wasn’t binding like an Appellate or Supreme Court decision that requires other courts have to follow suit. “But it’s persuasive because it adds to the growing body of case law that says digital devices are different,” he said.
That means the next time the government searches someone’s phone, tablet or laptop on suspicion of criminal activity, a defense attorney can use the case as an example of an invalid forensic search, a deeply invasive search that reveals old emails, call records and other information that can’t be obtained just browsing through one’s device. It is a start.
BONUS: The Supreme Court ruled last year in Riley v. California that law enforcement cannot search a cell phone during an arrest without a warrant.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com 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…