wiretapping

5 ways Obama is just like George W. Bush
January 15, 2013

On President Barack Obama’s second full day in the Oval Office in 2009, he signed important executive orders that signaled a clear break with the excesses of George W. Bush’s “war on terror.” Obama decreed that the Guantanamo Bay prison camp would be closed in a year and that the United States would no longer perpetrate torture. No longer would men, some of them innocent, languish without charges in what has been described as an American gulag by Amnesty International. No longer would men be subjected to brutal interrogation tactics that clearly amounted to torture, like water boarding.

The orders would “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great even in the midst of war, even in dealing with terrorism,” said Obama.

Fast-forward to today. Guantanamo remains open, warrantless wiretapping continues, and drone strikes have accelerated, leading to the deaths of innocent civilians and a burst in support for anti-American forces in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. Instead of breaking with the Bush era, Obama has codified and permanently institutionalized the “war on terror” framework that has characterized American foreign policy since the September 11, 2001 attacks. And they have done all of this largely in secret, refusing to open up about how drone strikes are decided on. So while torture has been thrown out of the American playbook, other black marks remain. Obama has done everything but restore “core constitutional values” to how the U.S. conducts itself around the world.

Perhaps the most potent symbol of Obama’s willingness to institutionalize Bush-era frameworks for dealing with terrorism is his January 2013 appointment of John Brennan as new Central Intelligence Agency director. Brennan was a key supporter of many Bush-favored tactics used by the CIA, including torture and extraordinary rendition. When Obama first contemplated appointing Brennan in his first term to the post he’s been appointed to now, the outcry was swift and Brennan pulled out from consideration. Now, the reaction has been meek—a symbol of how Bush-era military and intelligence tactics have become normalized to the extent that nobody bats an eye when a man with a sordid record at the CIA is appointed to head up the entire agency.

Obama has kept the U.S. on a permanent war footing with no end in sight through a variety of methods. Here are five ways the Obama administration has institutionalized the never-ending war on terror.

1. Drones

The image of the gray, pilotless aircraft flying through the sky to eventually rain hellfire down will be indelibly tied to Obama. His administration has made drone strikes in countries like Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan the weapon of choice when it comes to dealing with suspected militants. You have to look at the numbers of drone strikes under the Bush and Obama administrations to truly appreciate how Obama has taken this Bush tool and increased its use exponentially.

The first drone strike in U.S. history occurred in 2002, when a CIA-operated drone fired on three men in Afghanistan. The drone strikes have since migrated over to battlefields away from U.S.-declared wars. In Pakistan, the Bush administration carried out a total of 52 strikes, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which closely tracks drone strikes. That led to the deaths of an estimated 438 people, including 182 civilians and 112 children. But the Obama administration has ordered at least 300 drone strikes in Pakistan—and Obama’s second term has yet to begun. Those strikes have killed about 2,152 people, including 290 civilians, of whom 64 were children.

The drone strikes also have a devastating impact beyond the deaths reported. As a New York University/Stanford University study on drone strikes stated, the constant buzzing of drones in the sky “terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.”

Instead of looking forward to how this permanent drone war might end, the Obama administration has decided to institutionalize the process. In October 2012, the Washington Post revealed that the administration had undertaken a two-year long strategy to institutionalize what has become known as the “kill list,” or the list of suspected terrorists the Obama administration unilaterally decides to kill by drone strikes. The administration calls it the “disposition matrix,” which refers to the different plans the administration has to “dispose” of suspected militants. The Post described the “matrix” as part of “the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”

2. Warrantless Wiretapping

One of the enduring scandals of the George W. Bush years was that administration’s practice of wiretapping American citizens with no warrant in order to spy on suspected terrorists. TheNew York Times, which broke the story in 2005, reported that “months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying.” The move raised concerns that the Bush administration was crossing constitutional limits on wiretapping Americans.

But the outcry from those concerned with civil liberties has largely been muted in the Obama era. In late December 2012, President Obama signed an extension of a law that allows the U.S. to “eavesdrop on communications and review email without following an open and public warrant process,” as NPR summed it up. The law was an extension of the 2008 law that legalized the Bush administration’s wiretapping of American citizens.

As national security blogger Marcy Wheeler notes in a recent piece for the Nation, the president’s signature on the new bill on wiretapping means that the U.S. “has nearly unrestrained authority to eavesdrop on those who communicate with people outside the country. The government doesn’t even need to show that these foreign targets are terrorists or that the conversations center around a plot. This means any international communication may be subject to wiretapping.”

3. Proxy Detentions

Under the Bush administration, the process of “extraordinary rendition” involved abducting people accused of terrorism and shipping them off to another country where they were interrogated and tortured. The Obama administration has continued to use foreign countries to detain and interrogate suspects, but the details of how they do it are changed from the Bush era. Still, the overall practice of using other security forces to do your dirty work remains in place.

The Washington Postreported on January 1 that “the Obama administration has embraced rendition — the practice of holding and interrogating terrorism suspects in other countries without due process — despite widespread condemnation of the tactic in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.” While the Post used the term “rendition,” the more accurate term would be “proxy detention,” as Mother Jones pointed out.

The most recent iterations of the practice of using other countries to detain suspects the U.S. wants to interrogate have been in countries like Dijibouti and Nigeria. The Post reported on one December 2011 case in which an man from Eritrea “revealed that he had been questioned in a Ni­ger­ian jail by what a U.S. interrogator described as a ‘dirty’ team of American agents who ignored the suspect’s right to remain silent or have a lawyer, according to court proceedings.”

Other cases have been publicized by Mother Jones. The magazine reported on the case of Yonas Fikre, a Muslim-American from Oregon who was detained in the United Arab Emirates. There, Fikre and his lawyers claim, he was beaten and held in stress positions. He claims there was cooperation between the FBI and UAE security forces. So the FBI was using the UAE forces to detain people the U.S. wanted to interrogate.

4. Guantanamo

Although the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay camp is hardly the sole fault of President Obama, it does symbolize the abject failure to reject the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism.

While it’s important to note that the Republican Party has blocked Obama’s desire to close Guantanamo, he has not expended political capital on closing the prison and has signed bills that restrict his ability to do so. The most recent bill concerning Guantanamo Bay crossed his desk at the beginning of the year.

Despite threatening to veto the bill because it restricted the executive branch’s authority, Obama signed it, and curtailed his own ability to move ahead on closing the infamous camp, where people have languished without charge for years on end. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, where the Guantanamo provisions are included, restricts “the transfer of detainees into the United States for any purpose, including trials in federal court. It also requires the defense secretary to meet rigorous conditions before any detainee can be returned to his own country or resettled in a third country,” according to theWashington Post.

Human rights activists blasted the move. “Indefinite detention without trial at Guantanamo is illegal, unsustainable and against U.S. national security interests, and it needs to end,” Human Rights Watch’s Andrea Prasow told the Post. “The administration should not continue to just blame Congress. President Obama should follow through on his earlier commitments and make the effort to overcome the transfer restrictions.”

5. Indefinite Detention

This issue, over all the others, says loud and clear that the Obama administration is preparing for an endless war on terror.

Domestically, indefinite detention reared its ugly head back in December 2011, when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, a defense funding bill. Included in the bill was a provision allowing for indefinite military detention without charge or trial. Despite concerns raised by civil liberties activists, Obama signed the bill into law, although an executive signing statement vowed that the president would “not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”

That has not allayed the concerns of civil liberties groups. The American Civil Liberties Union states: “The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president — and all future presidents — to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield….Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen detained on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress now assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way again.”

While no American citizens have been detained under the law yet, indefinite detention has been a hallmark of the war in Afghanistan. Thousands of detainees have remained in Bagram Air Field, including non-Afghan detainees. Picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan, they have been held for years without charge or trial.

“Since 2002, the U.S. government has detained indefinitely thousands of people there in harsh conditions and without charge, without access to lawyers, without access to courts, and without a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention,” the ACLU notes.

So as the Obama administration fills out its cabinet posts and prepares for another four years, the permanent war on terror will stay with us. From drones to proxy detentions to indefinite detention, the constitutional lawyer in the Oval Office has institutionalized and expanded some of the worst hallmarks of the lawless Bush era.

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This is (partly) why I never understood the “lesser of two evils” argument in voting for Obama. 

Yes, the NSA Can Spy on Every American

On June 9th, two reporters from the Guardian newspaper announced to the world the source of one of the most significant classified document leaks in history. Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old national security contractor from Hawaii, revealed that he was compelled by conscience to inform the world about a massive abuse of authority perpetrated by the US National Security Agency. According to the documents Snowden provided, which have been authenticated, the US government has been systematically collecting the phone records and online communications of millions of American citizens. 

Both the media and the public were shocked by the news that the NSA had such broad digital surveillance capabilities. A program utilized by the agency, code-named “PRISM,” provides intelligence analysts with the ability to intercept almost any form of online communication, from any person. Government officials claim the program cannot be used to target US citizens. However, US intelligence agencies have planned to implement this type of program domestically for years.

We learned earlier this year that the FBI’s top priority for 2013 is to increase their online surveillance authority. This directive—they claim—developed from an ever-widening gap between existing wiretap laws and the accelerated growth of online communications. According to the FBI, the limitations on their surveillance powers may now pose a “threat to public safety.” This problem is officially referred to by the bureau as “Going Dark.”

In 2011, before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, then General Counsel of the FBI Valerie Caproni made the following statement: “…the FBI and other government agencies are facing a potentially widening gap between our legal authority to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to actually intercept those communications.” It isn’t a stretch to describe the scenario given as fictitious taken recent revelations about the true power of the FBI to intercept our data.

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Feds rule that cell-phone GPS location not protected

September 7, 2012

The Obama administration told a federal court Tuesday that the public has no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in cellphone location data, and hence the authorities may obtain documents detailing a person’s movements from wireless carriers without a probable-cause warrant.

The administration, citing a 1976 Supreme Court precedent, said such data, like banking records, are “third-party records,” meaning customers have no right to keep it private. The government made the argument as it prepares for a re-trial of a previously convicted drug dealer whose conviction was reversed in January by the Supreme Court, which found that the government’s use of a GPS tracker on his vehicle was an illegal search.

With the 28 days of vehicle tracking data thrown out of court, the feds now want to argue in a re-trial that it was legally in the clear to use Antoine Jones’ phone location records without a warrant. The government wants to use the records to chronicle where Jones was when he made and received mobile phone calls in 2005.

“A customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records that were never in the possession of the customer,” the administration said in a court filing Tuesday (.pdf). ”When a cell phone user transmits a signal to a cell tower for his call to be connected, he thereby assumes the risk that the cell phone provider will create its own internal record of which of the company’s towers handles the call. Thus, it makes no difference if some users have never thought about how their cell phones work; a cell phone user can have no expectation of privacy in cell-site information.”

The government’s position comes as prosecutors are shifting their focus to warrantless cell-tower locational tracking of suspects in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling (.pdf) in Jones’ case that law enforcement should acquire probable-cause warrants from judges to affix GPS devices to vehicles.

Just after the Jones decision, the FBI pulled the plug on 3,000 GPS-tracking devices.

Jones, as one might suspect, wants the court to find that the feds should get a probable cause warrant for phone records, too.

“In this case, the government seeks to do with cell site data what it cannot do with the suppressed GPS data,” Jones’ attorney Eduardo Balarezo wrote (.pdf) U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle.

The government does not agree.

“Defendant’s motion to suppress cell-site location records cannot succeed under any theory. To begin with, no reasonable expectation of privacy exists in the routine business records obtained from the wireless carrier in this case, both because they are third-party records and because in any event the cell-site location information obtained here is too imprecise to place a wireless phone inside a constitutionally protected space,” the administration wrote the federal judge presiding over the Jones re-trial.

Just as the lower courts were mixed on whether the police could secretly affix a GPS device on a suspect’s car without a warrant, the same is now true about whether a probable-cause warrant is required to obtain so-called cell-site data. During the investigation, a lower court judge in the Jones case authorized the five months of the cell-site data without probable cause, based on government assertions that the data was “relevant and material” to an investigation.

“Knowing the location of the trafficker when such telephone calls are made will assist law enforcement in discovering the location of the premises in which the trafficker maintains his supply narcotics, paraphernalia used in narcotics trafficking such as cutting and packaging materials, and other evident of illegal narcotics trafficking, including records and financial information,” the government wrote in 2005, when requesting Jones’ cell-site data.

That cell-site information was not introduced at trial, as the authorities used the GPS data instead.

The Supreme Court tossed that GPS data, along with Jones’ conviction and life term on Jan. 23 in one of the biggest cases in recent years combining technology and the Fourth Amendment.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the five-justice majority.

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The DEA Is Monitoring Your Phone Calls

On Sunday, the New York Times revealed the existence of a program known as the Hemisphere Project, which gives the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement agencies around the country access to a database of Americans’ phone records that goes back to 1987. You might think that a judge would have to sign off on a subpoena in order for the cops to view your phone records, but the process is actually much more streamlined (and invasive): the federal government reportedly pays AT&T to have the telecom giant’s employees sit next to DEA agents and local police detectives and show them whatever data they need. Technically, the information is stored by AT&T and not the government (this avoids some sticky legal issues), but in practice the cops have access to a database that logs billions of calls a day and includes not only who you called, but where you were when you placed the call. (Your call gets logged if it passes through an AT&T-owned system; you don’t have to be a customer of the company for them to have your data.) The current official Obama administration excuse for the program they were forced to admit the existence of is that it helps track down drug dealers and other criminals who tend to use difficult-to-track disposable cellphones.

This story comes on the heels of a story published by Reuters last month that detailed the NSA´s quasi-legal habit of passing on tips to other agencies, like the DEA, that don’t normally work on national security-related cases. After being given these tips, investigators then “recreate” where they got their evidence in a trick known as “parallel construction,” which allows them to hide where they got their information from defendants, judges, and even prosecutors. (Members of Congress have been pressing Attorney General Eric Holder about this, and he claims this is a common tactic used to protect sources.)

All these revelations about the scope of the information the DEA has access to are frightening, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Although the government originally claimed that it would only use its massive powers of data collection and surveillance in serious, rare, 24-type situations, of course they are using these same powers to go after more mundane criminals. For instance, “sneak and peek” warrants, which allow the police to search your property without informing you as they normally would, were legalized by the terrorism-centric PATRIOT Act but somehow wound up being used more often in drug investigations. This sort of codependent relationship between the war on drugs and the national security state makes it difficult to separate the two. It’s becoming clear that it’s unrealistic to ask the government to play by the rules law enforcement is supposed to be following except in situations where big bad terrorists are involved; mission creep is inevitable. More than one tentacle of government needs to be hacked off before Americans get some privacy back.

Read more about bad cops

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Half of the phone wiretaps set up in the United States in 2013 were authorized in only four states, according to a report released this month that details last year’s intercepted wire, oral, and electronic communications. California accounted for more than a quarter of the total and New York made up 12 percent, while both Florida and Nevada contributed six percent of the 3,576 requests authorized by federal and state government.

The vast majority of the wiretaps were authorized in narcotics cases, and only five states — Hawaii, Montana, both North and South Dakota, and Vermont — had no requests at all.

http://www.theverge.com/2014/7/14/5899969/four-states-were-responsible-for-half-of-us-wiretaps-last-year

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Impeach Obama
Feds planted classified docs on reporter Sharyl Attkisson's computer, monitored every keystroke

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Former CBS reporter turned independent investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson is one of the best American journalists of the past two decades. She has fearlessly challenged and reported the unethical and illegal behavior in the Federal government over the last several years, bravely reporting details in Obama administration scandals when no one else would.

The Obama administration made her a prime target and went to great lengths to silence her and expose her confidential sources.

from NY Post:

A former CBS News reporter who quit the network over claims it kills stories that put President Obama in a bad light says she was spied on by a “government-related entity” that planted classified documents on her computer.

In her new memoir, Sharyl Attkisson says a source who arranged to have her laptop checked for spyware in 2013 was “shocked” and “flabbergasted” at what the analysis revealed.

“This is outrageous. Worse than anything Nixon ever did. I wouldn’t have believed something like this could happen in the United States of America,” Attkisson quotes the source saying.

She speculates that the motive was to lay the groundwork for possible charges against her or her sources.

Attkisson says the source, who’s “connected to government three-letter agencies,” told her the computer was hacked into by “a sophisticated entity that used commercial, nonattributable spyware that’s proprietary to a government agency: either the CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency.”

The breach was accomplished through an “otherwise innocuous e-mail” that Attkisson says she got in February 2012, then twice “redone” and “refreshed” through a satellite hookup and a Wi-Fi connection at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.
The spyware included programs that Attkisson says monitored her every keystroke and gave the snoops access to all her e-mails and the passwords to her financial accounts.

“The intruders discovered my Skype account handle, stole the password, activated the audio, and made heavy use of it, presumably as a listening tool,” she wrote in “Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama’s Washington.”

Attkisson says her source — identified only as “Number One” — told her the spying was most likely not court-authorized because it went on far longer than most legal taps.

But the most shocking finding, she says, was the discovery of three classified documents that Number One told her were “buried deep in your operating system. In a place that, unless you’re a some kind of computer whiz specialist, you wouldn’t even know exists.”

“They probably planted them to be able to accuse you of having classified documents if they ever needed to do that at some point,” Number One added.

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There should be criminal charges filed for these illegal and unconstitutional actions by the Federal government.  However, when the Obama administration’s Justice Department is one of the major criminal players in the scandal, expecting them to investigate themselves is foolish.

The task of “watching the watchers” is left to a Congress that seems content to sit on its hands and a press that is complicit to cover up anything that would make President Obama look bad.  

We wish Sharyl Attkisson godspeed in her battle against the corruption in the Federal government.  Our country needs more reporters like her who are willing to stand up when all the odds are stacked against them.

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Operation Everyone Talk Like A Terrorist All The Time