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Archive for December 2012

FISA Amendments Act Renewed Reifies Surveillance State

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Congress reapproved the controversial 2008 FISA Amendments Act extending the State’s mandate to use broad sweeping powers for domestic surveillance, the complete opposite effect for which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was initially signed into law in 1978. Senate Committee findings in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal where federal resources were discovered to have been used by the Nixon administration to spy on political activist groups prompted lawmakers to create judicial and congressional oversight of government surveillance activities while still providing intelligence agencies the secrecy needed to conduct investigations on “foreign powers” and Americans communicating with them. The idea was to strike a balance between intelligence agencies’ needs to intercept communications pertaining to plots to sabotage and attack the United States and US citizens’ constitutional rights to live free from unwarranted searches and seizures. For that reason Congress passed the FISA Act satisfying national security needs to undermine and intercept foreign plots while preserving civil liberties, in particular the right of US citizen to not have their communications eavesdropped on without a court warrant. For thirty years federal investigators would have to show probable cause to a FISA court (a special court of judges responsible for overseeing federal agents requests for surveillance warrants) that the “target of the surveillance is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power.” Intelligence agencies were emboldened by this law to carry out surveillance on actors subversive to US national security. Furthermore the FISA courts posed virtually no obstacle to intelligence agents seeking to obtain warrants. From the period 1979-2006 a total of 22,990 applications for warrants were made to the Court of which 22,985 were approved. In sum, FISA became primary tool for investigators to combat foreign threats and terrorism.

The 2001 Patriot Act, Protect America Act of 2007 and the reviled FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the one then Senator Obama vowed to filibuster on the grounds that “any bill” immunizing the telecommunications companies involved in assisting Bush/Cheney’s warrantless wiretapping program were responsible for having violated the constitution. Months after promising to block the bill that would extend state spying powers, Obama not only failed to filibuster the bill as sworn, but actually voted against a filibuster proposal by other senators. According to a position paper published by the ACLU, the purpose of the FISA Amendments Act “is to give the government nearly unfettered access to Americans’ international communications.” In addition the paper highlights eight other constitutional concerns the Act in question brings up:

1. The law gives the government sweeping surveillance power without requiring it to identify the targets of its surveillance.
2. The law allows the government to intercept U.S. citizens’ and residents’ international telephone and email communications without having to identify the facilities, phone lines, email addresses, or locations to be monitored.
3. The law allows the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without meaningful judicial oversight.
4. The law places no meaningful limits on the government’s retention and dissemination of information relating to U.S. citizens and residents.
5. Nothing in the law prevents the government from compiling huge databases of foreign intelligence information and searching those databases later for information about U.S. citizens and residents.
6. The law does not limit government surveillance to communications relating to terrorism.
7. The law gives the government access to some communications that are purely domestic.
8. The law immunizes the telecoms that participated in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

On Friday, the Senate debated the renewal of the Act once considered odious by Democrats, that is the Act that was at the center of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program initiated by Bush, the same Act Democrats rallied against in the name of protecting Americans from secret government and Big Brother. How the tides have changed with a Democrat in office.

Despite proposals from several Senate Democrats – Jeff Merkely, Ron Wyden and Republican Senator Rand Paul to attach three amendments providing minimal oversight of government surveillance activities the Senate voted against adding any civil liberties protections. The amendments proposed could not have been more modest. The first would simply require the NSA to provide lawmakers with an estimate of how many US citizens communications had been intercepted since the wiretapping programs conception. The second would prohibit the NSA from eavesdropping on US citizens on American soil without a warrant. And the third would compel the FISA courts to publicly release secret judicial rulings to demonstrate how the scope of the spying law is interpreted. All three amendments were shot down in the Senate and the House. Obama is expected to sign into law the Act that extends for five years the government’s authoritarian powers to spy on US citizens.

Supporters of the renewed FISA Amendments Act like Diane Feinstein who led the charge against Merkely, Wyden and Paul argue that the proposed amendments would hamper the government’s ability to utilize intelligence-gathering tools critical to maintaining national security and stopping terrorists. John Ashcroft and Dick Cheney made a virtually identical argument in defense of the 2001 PATRIOT Act. When lawmakers raised objections to the lack of oversights and vast powers the PATRIOT Act bestowed the government Ashcroft railed against them, accusing anyone who opposed the Act of being in league with the terrorists or not being sensitive to threat of terrorism. This was the false dichotomy propagated throughout the Bush years to paint civil liberties advocates as “un-American”, “unpatriotic” terrorist sympathizers. Apparently summoning that dichotomy to sideline opponents of domestic surveillance is still in vogue among the militaristic fans of unchecked governmental authority. Speaking against the proposed amendments Feinstein invoked the Democrat’s pretended enemy Cheney in a diatribe: one can only support the proposed amendments if “you believe that no one is going to attack us”. In other words, any lawmaker advocating oversight and transparency does not take terrorism seriously and may be responsible for causing “another 9/11”.

At the alleged height of “divided government” Democrats and Republicans are more unified than ever in their mission to expand the reach of the surveillance state. With over 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other electronic communications being intercepted by the NSA daily there’s no telling what kind of information or how much information is being kept on law abiding citizens. The NSA’s refusal to provide lawmakers with even a rough estimate of how many people there are who have been ensnared in intelligence dragnet operations is an ominous sign of the sprawling reach of the government’s surveillance program. Last week’s revelation that Occupy protesters were heavily surveilled by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force is an indicator of how laws like the FISA Amendments Act are being abused to gather intelligence on domestic targets. Other cases, like that of activist Leah Lynn-Plante who was remanded to a federal prison for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigation about the Northwest activists, a group identified by intelligence agencies as “anarchists”, show how “tools to combat terrorism” are being turned on the citizens who they purportedly protect. Last Friday’s debate about extending the government’s mandate to amass intelligence through extensive spying operations is a glaring example of how Democrats and Republicans have coalesced around the idea of normalizing a massive surveillance state. The Obama administration has entrenched the overarching reach of government Democrats once faked to passionately resist. The tentacles of distrust are growing and they are here to strangle anything that counters the awesome powers of the state.

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Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm

What the FBI Documents released by PCJF really tell us

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The Partnership for Civil Justice (PCJF), a public interest legal organization committed to defending civil liberties and protecting human rights just released FBI documents pursuant to their Freedom of Information Request demands pertaining to Occupy Wall Street. These documents reveal how the FBI treated Occupy Wall Street as a potential criminal and terrorist threat despite the FBI’s own admission in the documents that Occupy organizers “do not condone the use of violence” at demonstrations.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of PCJF commented on the 112 pages of documents her organization obtained:

“This production, which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement…These documents show that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are treating protests against the corporate and banking structure of America as potential criminal and terrorist activity. These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”

As the documents reveal the FBI met with New York Stock Exchange officials on August 19, 2011, a month before Occupy Wall Street commenced. The focus of the meeting was to notify businesses that they may be the target of Occupy protests. The ties between intelligence agencies and their corporate patrons don’t end there. Within the 112 pages of documents is a report published by the Domestic Security Alliance Coalition (DSAC) described by the federal government as “a strategic partnership between the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector,” discussing the Occupy protests at West Coast ports to “raise awareness concerning this type of criminal activity.” The DSAC report also includes “Tips for reducing vulnerability in the event of civil unrest.” They are as follows:

1.) Avoid all large gatherings related to civil issues. Even seemingly peaceful rallies can spur violent activities or be met with resistance by security forces. Bystanders may be arrested or harmed by security forces using water cannons, tear gas or other measures used to control crowds.

2.) Maintain a low profile by avoiding demonstration areas and discussion of the issues at hand, and by dressing conservatively.

3.) If violence erupts or is imminent leave the area as quickly as possible. If you cannot leave the area, seek shelter in large, public buildings such as hotels, churches, hospitals and museums. Wait until the crowds have dissipated before going back outside. If you know of an event ahead of time plan pedestrian and vehicular routes that avoid the affected areas. Road closures and traffic delays are possible. Give yourself extra time to travel.

4.) If curfews are imposed, strictly observe regulations and monitor the media for immediate updates to the situation.

5.) Severe civil unrest can disrupt businesses, industries and services. If you must travel during unrest ensure that hotels and businesses will be open, services will be available and transportation will be running. Confirm all meetings and reservations.

The “tips” provided by DSAC are indisputably intended for a specific audience; the passionately obedient, authority deferential, business-suit clad, who are entitled to special protection from the security force henchman of the corporate state. Few documents more clearly illustrate the secret collaboration between financial institutions and the state intelligence, surveillance and security apparatuses responsible for investigating, monitoring and ultimately dispelling Occupy Wall Street and its various off-shoots across the country. A closer look at these documents also reveals a nebulous of intelligence agencies involved in assessing the threat Occupy poses to the established order and the financial institutions that order is structured to serve. At the most local level municipal police departments were responsible for feeding intelligence on protesters to state and federal authorities via Fusion Centers as one of the reports contained in the documents the “Potential Criminal Activity Alert” shows. The FBI and Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force were also involved in creating and maintaining dossiers on protesters and protest groups affiliated with Occupy. As the Jackson, Mississippi Joint Terrorism Task Force noted, the intent was to “document…the Occupy Wall Street Movement” to prepare for counter terror measures.

Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out that many people living in the most totalitarian countries feel themselves to be completely free. He discusses the “bargain offered by the state” where those who refrain from challenging the established order will be left alone and those who dissent will face recriminations for their failure to comply.Those who buy this offer scratch their heads when dissenters and skeptics challenge the we-live-in-a-free-country view, dismissing their contentions as “radical.” Rest assured the passive, steadfastly obedient disciples of the corporate state more concerned with bargain shopping and going to work than with social justice and human dignity will likely continue to feel themselves free even while the sprawling surveillance system ensnares them and imprisons their neighbors for criminal activities like civil disobedience and political demonstration. The rationale, “what do I care if authorities are collecting intelligence on me if I am not doing anything wrong” should be showing signs of its first fissures. When doing something wrong includes “discussion of the issues at hand,” an offense that may result in being “harmed by security forces using water cannons, tear gas or other measures used to control crowds,” the dominant delusions that we live in a free society may give way to the sober realization that it is really not quite that way, although the lack of widespread resistance suggests this rationale exists intact. As abuses of power abound and the public remains willfully oblivious to the expansion of state authority corporate elites will go on colluding with intelligence and security agencies to undermine resistance to the system that secures their privilege. What the FBI documents really tell us is not just that the surveillance state is extending its tentacles further or that civil liberties and privacy are being continually undermined by intelligence agencies, but that the corporate class is complicit and has a direct line to call upon the largest intelligence and security network on the planet to quash dissent and keep the waters placid so profits can continue to mount without disruption.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Unfriendly Acts

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Last Thursday, in retaliation to US Congress passing the Magnitsky Act which bars Russian officials accused of human rights abuses from traveling to the US, and owning real estate and financial assets there, Vladimir Putin voiced support for sanctions against US judges accused of violating the rights of adopted Russian children. The Magnitsky Act, named after Sergei L. Magnitsky who died in a Russian pre-trial detention center in 2009 after being arrested for trying to expose government tax fraud provoked the ire Moscow.

In a furious reaction the Kremlin dubbed the Magnitsky Act hypocritical “purely political” and a “vindicatory reaction” by the US government to satisfy internal political squabbling. The Kremlin cited a list of human rights violations perpetrated by the United States at home: “Don’t people die in their prisons as well? Perhaps, even more than in ours,” and abroad. Referring to Guantanamo Bay Putin stated: “People are kept there without trial – in shackles and chains just like in the Middle Ages,” and now, he continued, people “who opened secret prisons and legalized torture during investigations” point out Russia’s shortcomings.

Putin has approved the creation of a counter list of American adoptive parents suspected of abusing adopted children from Russia and passing a law named after Dima Yakolev-the two year old Russian boy who died after his adoptive father locked him in a car on a scorching day in 2008. Like the Magnitsky Act, the Dima Yakolev law will deny visas for blacklisted Americans suspected of abusing adopted Russian children and freeze bank accounts they hold in Russia. In an Op-Ed Mark Nuckols of the Moscow Times wrote, “[the Kremlin’s] measures are also easily susceptible to ridicule since nobody on the blacklist is likely to ever hold their money in a Russian bank or buy property in the country.” Worse, Nuckols suggests that the people associated with Magnitsky’s death the related tax fraud scheme are even less likely to be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted. Moscow refuses to be perceived as bending to pressures from Washington. Washington is the unrelenting braggadocio of protecting human rights and takes advantage of every opportunity it gets to reinforce this image.

Meanwhile, the agonizing list of American human rights violations is mounting. CIA “black sites” have come under recent scrutiny, last Thursday the Senate Intelligence Committee approved, by a 9-6 party-line vote, a 6,000-page report on C.I.A. detention and interrogation. It remains classified, of course, and is allegedly filled with claims that tortured prisoners provided crucial intelligence that led to Bin Laden’s targeted killing (assassination). The European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously last week that US foreign intelligence kidnapped German national Khaled el-Marsi who was mistakenly identified as an Al-Qaeda operative with the same name. El-Masri “was locked in a hotel room for 23 days, then handed over to a C.I.A. rendition team at an airport, where he was “severely beaten, sodomized, shackled and hooded. Later he was sent to Afghanistan and illegally detained for months.” During Private Bradley Manning’s hearing on December 11th details were disclosed of the unlawful pretrial punishments Manning was subjected to at Quantico brig. Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture spoke of Manning’s conditions at Quantico: “Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions.” Drone strikes are still killing hundreds including unarmed civilians and untried US citizens in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The US prison-industrial-complex continues to streamline thousands of new inmates convicted of non-violent crimes behind bars for sentences unrivaled across the world in a criminogenic nightmare that begets more social violence. America’s complicity in human rights abuses is without end and the political grandstanding surrounding the Magnitsky Act is as Putin chides an “unfriendly act.” Then again unfriendly regimes would use dead whistleblowers and abused children to score political points.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 17, 2012 at 12:25 am

Aphorism 2

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Today, as ever, man is reared by his illusions, suckled at the teat of a world of promise. Shortly after learning to wipe away the dribble from his chin man seeks to fulfill the promises the future holds. He is schooled in the world and someone tells him dribble runs down his chin at which point he ponders: am I not myself promising. Deciding he is not worthy of the world’s promise he desires nothing more than a napkin and stands transfixed to disillusionment for the short remainder of his life.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 5, 2012 at 2:26 am

Posted in Aphorisms, philosophy

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The Misperceptions of Harvey Mansfield

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“We have now an American political party and a European one. Not all Americans who vote for the European party want to become Europeans. But it doesn’t matter because that’s what they are voting for. They are voting for dependency, for lack of ambition and for insolvency.”

Thank you Professor Harvey Mansfield. I will be sure to quote you generously throughout this post to clarify any “misperceptions” that may arise as I try to grasp the meaning of your diatribe.

Article Synopsis
Mr. Mansfield, Harvard professor and acolyte of Leo Strauss-the reactionary historian of philosophy who sought to reincorporate “premodern” notions into modern philosophy to remind us of the dangers of intellectual inequalities-appeared in a Wall Street Journal interview to chastise “lesser voters”, the “not wise”, “the poor”, “the incompetent”, “the alliance between Ph.D’s and [its] victims” and those who “can’t quite govern their own lives,” in sum, European party supporters.

Response
For starters, dividing liberals and conservatives into a European and American party on the premise that the European party stands for attacking “the common good” with entitlements by way of using “liberty to create more equality,” which according to Mansfield is as “typical” of Europeans as it is for Democrats to be “the party of free condoms” while the American party won’t stand for “mass rule by an ignorant or uncaring governement” is incomprehensible. I’m not sure what you were intending to express Mr. Mansfield, but it seems you were eager to act on some primordial emotional impulse to be understood by the few, who, like you, “have lived the life of Riley” at the expense of being understood by the different kind of victims who are uninterested in “defending the good kind of democracy.” Perhaps that lack of interest stems from the widespread skepticism that the “party of judgement” you call upon to recover America could a.)apporopraitely be called “democratic” and b.) possibly promote “self-government.” When we consider your earlier statement:

All modern social science deals with perceptions, but that is a misnomer because it neglects to distinguish between perceptions and misperceptions

its hard to imagine you not coronating yourself perception arbiter, ruling over which perceptions are valid and invalid, as if you, intellectually more equal than the feckless peons you despise have the divine right to make that distinction.

Thank you again Mr. Mansfield for an insight into the little perspectival corner where you shinest and indoctrinate tomorrows’ leaders, much like Strauss did Rumsfeld.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 5, 2012 at 12:10 am

Posted in Politics

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Facebook

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Man created telecommunication networks, invented the cell phone and forgot what he was trying to communicate in the process, “LOL.” And then Facebook rectified this matter. Everyone could share their ongoing confessional with pictures as testaments and “walls” that connected people across the world. People wanted to share themselves, express who they are, make themselves understood and with a platform to project that compulsion one could not exist unless visible to the entire world, they reasoned. The yearning to belong complimented the longing for security about oneself among one’s peers. Mutual disclosure was the aim. But lack of face-to-face communication made them particularly susceptible to deceit. Rabid volunteerism played into the hands of leaders with a penchant for division and the available network helped them divvy up who should be slammed against the wall. Communicating every thought, feeling, desire, haircut, break-up, shower, vacation, onamism, whatever, this species of man became informants and their information was siphoned off for monitoring by people who refused friend requests.

Written by yourinquirerprofoundly

December 1, 2012 at 1:05 am