Senior Obama administration officials have secretly authorized the interception of communications carried on portions of networks operated by AT&T and other Internet service providers, a practice that might otherwise be illegal under federal wiretapping laws.

The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the military monitored defense contractors’ Internet links. Since then, however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare, and finance starting June 12.

“The Justice Department is helping private companies evade federal wiretap laws,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which obtained over 1,000 pages of internal government documents and provided them to CNET this week. “Alarm bells should be going off.”

Those documents show the National Security Agency and the Defense Department were deeply involved in pressing for the secret legal authorization, with NSA director Keith Alexander participating in some of the discussions personally. Despite initial reservations, including from industry participants, Justice Department attorneys eventually signed off on the project.

The Justice Department agreed to grant legal immunity to the participating network providers in the form of what participants in the confidential discussions refer to as “2511 letters,” a reference to the Wiretap Act codified at 18 USC 2511 in the federal statute books.

The Wiretap Act limits the ability of Internet providers to eavesdrop on network traffic except when monitoring is a “necessary incident” to providing the service or it takes place with a user’s “lawful consent.” An industry representative told CNET the 2511 letters provided legal immunity to the providers by agreeing not to prosecute for criminal violations of the Wiretap Act. It’s not clear how many 2511 letters were issued by the Justice Department.


Because it overrides all federal and state privacy laws, including the Wiretap Act, legislation called CISPA would formally authorize the program without the government resorting to 2511 letters. In other words, if CISPA, which the U.S. House of Representatives approved last week, becomes law, any data-sharing program would be placed on a solid legal footing. AT&T, Verizon, and wireless and cable providers have all written letters endorsing CISPA. [continue]

CISPA is all but dead, again.

The controversial cybersecurity bill known as the Cyber Information Sharing and Protection Act, which passed the House of Representatives last week, will almost certainly be shelved by the Senate, according to a representative of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The bill would have allowed the federal government to share classified “cyber threat” information with companies, but it also provided provisions that would have allowed companies to share information about specific users with the government.* Privacy advocates also worried that the National Security Administration would have gotten involved.

“We’re not taking [CISPA] up,” the committee representative says. “Staff and senators are divvying up the issues and the key provisions everyone agrees would need to be handled if we’re going to strengthen cybersecurity. They’ll be drafting separate bills.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., chairman of the committee, said the passage of CISPA was “important,” but said the bill’s “privacy protections are insufficient.”

* This is goodish news. However, “provisions that would have allowed companies to share information about specific users with the government” already exist, without CISPA, thanks to the Obama DOJ: U.S. gives big, secret push to Internet surveillance | CNET

h/t quickhits

Barack Obama has been accused of reneging on his disarmament pledges after it emerged the administration was planning to spend billions on upgrading nuclear bombs stored in Europe to make the weapons more reliable and accurate.

Under the plan, nearly 200 B61 gravity bombs stockpiled in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey would be given new tail fins that would turn them into guided weapons that could be delivered by stealth F35 fighter-bombers.

“This will be a significant upgrade of the US nuclear capability in Europe,” said Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of Nuclear Scientists. “It flies directly in the face of the pledges Obama made in 2010 that he would not deploy new weapons.”

In its Nuclear Posture Review in 2010, the US undertook to do reduce the role and numbers of its nuclear weapons, in part by not developing new nuclear warheads, and pledging it would not “support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities”.

According to newly published budget figures, the US will spend about $10bn (£6.5bn) on a life extension programme for the B61 bombs, and another $1bn on adding controllable tail fins. Kristensen said the tail kit would give it a new mission and new capabilities, once some of the upgraded weapons were deployed as scheduled in Europe in 2019 or 2020.

“What will be going back to Europe will be a guided nuclear bomb,” he said. “Especially when you combine it with F35 with stealth characteristics, that expands the targets you can hold at risk from Europe, because by placing the explosion closer to the target you can choose a lower explosive yield. That is very important as there is less radioactive fallout. For many people this is a great concern because it means making nuclear weapons more ‘usable’.” [++]

Meanwhile, Chuck Hagel: arms deal sending ‘clear signal’ to Iran over nuclear programme:

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday a $10bn arms deal under discussion with Washington’s Arab and Israeli allies sent a “very clear signal” to Tehran the military option remains on the table over its nuclear programme.

“The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat,” said Hagel, who arrived in Israel on Sunday on his first visit to Israel as defence secretary.

“The Iranians must be prevented from developing that capacity to build a nuclear weapon and deliver it,” he told reporters on his plane.

Because the Iranians are irrational and we, with our arsenal of 5,000+ nuclear weapons, are completely sane.

Remember when we “ended” the war in Iraq?

A recent deal reached between top U.S. and Iraqi defense officials this week ensures the Pentagon will continue to play a large role in Baghdad’s ongoing effort to maintain security within the country.

DOD policy chief James N. Miller, acting Undersecretary of State for International Security Rose Gottemoeller and acting Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dlimi signed the agreement, which dictates the U.S. security role in Iraq for the next five years, the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reports.

The deal was reached during a meeting of the U.S. and Iraqi Defense and Security Joint Coordination Committee in Baghdad on Thursday. The timing of the deal comes near the one-year anniversary of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from the country. 

Details of the pact will outline a number of cooperative efforts between Washington and Iraq in areas like joint U.S.-Iraqi military operations and counterterrorism and intelligence-sharing capabilities, according to recent reports. 

The agreement will also facilitate military-to-military exchanges between senior leaders from both countries, as well as guide efforts to improve training and education of Iraq’s national security forces. 

Aside from coming to terms on the new bilateral military cooperation pact, U.S. and Iraqi officials also discussed increased American investment in the country’s armed forces during Thursday’s meeting. 

Miller and Gottmoeller explored options for possible foreign military sales of M-1 Abrams tanks and F-15 Fighting Falcons to the Iraqi army and air force respectively, according to AFPS. 

U.S. and Iraqi officials did not go into detail regarding the specific quantities of American tanks and warplanes Baghdad is considering. But the proposed arms deal would cover the weapon systems, as well as the associated training and material needed to maintain the weapons.

The United States and Afghanistan are negotiating a security agreement that would allow American forces to stay here beyond the end of 2014, and Mr. Karzai said the Obama administration had asked for nine bases spread across the country.

“We agree to give them these bases,” Mr. Karzai told students during a speech at Kabul University. “We consider our relations with the United States beyond 2014 to be positive for Afghanistan.”

The American reaction, though, was far less positive than one would expect. Officials characterized Mr. Karzai’s comments as premature at best, and said they appeared to reflect the Afghan government’s desire for a larger force than the United States is likely to be willing to commit.

The Obama administration has yet to decide how large a force it would like to keep in Afghanistan, but administration officials have signaled that it is unlikely to total more than 10,000 service members. They said it was more important now to hash out a range of issues, like whether American troops would continue to have legal immunity in Afghanistan after next year, than to talk about the specifics of where troops would be based.

The Obama administration has more than doubled, to about 21,000 names, its secret list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to or within the United States, including about 500 Americans, the Associated Press has learned. The government lowered the bar for being added to the list, even as it says it’s closer than ever to defeating “al-Qaida”.

The left is lashing out [?] at a proposal to reform Medicare that President Obama said he would consider as a way to reduce the deficit.

Left-leaning groups and liberal lawmakers say that combining Medicare’s doctor and hospital coverage would saddle beneficiaries with higher costs. The idea has attracted support from leading Republicans, and given Obama’s receptiveness, the policy could receive significant attention in the next round of deficit-reduction talks.

This is exactly what senior advocates fear, and they are launching pre-emptive strikes on Capitol Hill to ensure lawmakers understand the downside.

“There’s a feeling that beneficiaries should be paying more for Medicare, but they already pay a lot out of pocket,” said Diane Lifsey, legislative representative with the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

“That’s why we oppose this idea. The proposals are meant to save money, but they just end up costing beneficiaries,” she said.

Combining Medicare’s coverage for hospital and doctor care would unify Parts A and B under a single deductible.

[…] Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, acknowledged that reforming Medicare’s benefit design would serve patients with “truly catastrophic medical expenses” not covered by supplemental insurance. But she predicted that creating a combined Part A/B deductible of $550 would raise costs on about 29 million beneficiaries.

“Recent benefit redesign proposals would provide real help to a small share of the Medicare population, but raise costs for the majority of beneficiaries — many of whom have modest incomes,” Neuman said in prepared testimony.

AARP, the powerful senior lobby, made a similar argument in a Feb. 26 letter to Brady.

“Most [Medicare] beneficiaries already struggle to make ends meet, and are particularly sensitive to the high cost of healthcare and prescription drugs,” wrote AARP senior vice president for government affairs Joyce A. Rogers.

“An examination of Medicare redesign must take into account the economic status of seniors,” she said.

This is the dirty little elephant in the middle of the room that no one talks about. Because of the high demand for jobs right now, older employees are being shoved [or] phased out earlier. Beginning at around age 50 to 55, jobs become scarce for older workers, leaving them with a 10-15 year gap before they become eligible for Social Security and Medicare. That means they’re living on their savings, home equity, or odd jobs just to scratch their way to the social safety net. Moving that football means leaving them on the hook for 2 extra years, not only for living expenses, but also covering their health insurance, whether or not [it’s] subsidized [by Obamacare].
[British-Somali Mahdi] Hashi was taken from the [Djibouti] jail by Americans, his family was told by the former prisoner. Yet until the case was unsealed yesterday, they had no further clue as to his whereabouts. The Bureau contacted the State Department on Thursday to ask if Hashi was in US custody and was told: ‘We do not have anything on this to share publicly at this time.’ Saghir Hussain, Hashi’s solicitor, told the Bureau: ‘It seems the US disappeared Mahdi Hashi for the past several months and rendered him to New York. The British government also needs to explain its involvement in this case.’ Asim Qureshi, research director of campaign group CagePrisoners said: ‘If Mahdi Hashi had still been a British citizen he would have had some protection. But he has had his citizenship taken away and that has left him open to being a victim of rendition to the US with no state to defend his rights.’