Category Archives: Spooks

A vengeful Trump has all of Big Brother’s tools


And more. . .

Donald J. Trump is a man who reacts to legitimate criticism with rage, taking to Twitter to denounce and defame anyone who dares question His Regal Purulence, even if it’s just a college student with legitimate questions.

But once in office, this man of arrogance and hubris will have at his fingertips, the most powerful espionage apparatus in the history of the Homo sapiens.

And because of laws and precedents set by legislators, courts, and his predecessors in office, Trump will have the power to enlarge that spook machine to levels a Hitler and Stalin could only envy.

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University, spells out those powers and their implications in a post for the center’s blog:

President-elect Donald Trump is about to inherit the most powerful surveillance apparatus in history. Combining unprecedented technological capabilities with a lax legal regime, his spying powers dwarf anything the notorious FBI director J. Edgar Hoover could have fathomed.

Many privacy and civil rights advocates worry Trump will seek to expand these powers further in order to spy on Muslim Americans, activists and political opponents. The truth is, he won’t have to. Because of our country’s rush to strip civil liberty protections from surveillance laws after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Trump will already have all the powers he needs and more.

How did we get here? The laws that until recently safeguarded Americans from sweeping government intrusion were established in the 1970s, after a special Senate investigation revealed widespread abuses of intelligence-gathering. Almost every president dating to Franklin D. Roosevelt had a version of Richard Nixon’s infamous “enemies list,” resulting in wiretaps of congressional staffers, executive officials, lobbyists, law firms and reporters. Between 1956 and 1971, under the program dubbed COINTELPRO (short for “counterintelligence program”), the FBI routinely spied on anti-war protesters and civil rights organizations. The bureau targeted Martin Luther King Jr. with particular ferocity, bugging his hotel rooms and using the resulting evidence of infidelity to try to induce him to commit suicide.

To stem the abuses, the government implemented laws and regulations that shared a common principle: Law enforcement and intelligence agencies could not collect information on an American unless there was reason to suspect that person of wrongdoing. In some cases, this meant showing probable cause and obtaining a warrant, but even when no warrant was required, spying without any indication of criminal activity was forbidden.

The thinking was that if officials had to cite objective indications of misconduct, they wouldn’t be able to use racial bias, political grudges or other improper motives as a reason to spy on people. This logic was borne out, as government surveillance abuses went from being routine to being the occasional scandalous exception.

Then came Sept. 11. As swiftly as the principle had been established, it was rooted out. In 2002, the FBI abolished a rule barring agents from monitoring political or religious gatherings without suspicion of criminal activity. A 2007 law allowed the National Security Agency to collect calls and emails between Americans and foreign “targets” with no warrant or demonstration of wrongdoing by the American or the foreigner. Revisions to Justice Department guidelines in 2008 created a category of FBI investigation requiring no “factual predicate” — meaning no cause for suspicion. The list of erosions goes on.

Continue reading

Veteran spook probers call for a Snowden deal


For those of us old enough to remember it, the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, known as the Church Committee for its chair, Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church, marked a watershed moment in American politics.

Charged with investigating abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies, the committee rocked the nation and the globe with its reports of epic wrongdoing by the CIA, NSA, and the FBI.

The committee investigated on a massive and illegal mail-opening operation and secret drug experiments on American citizens by the CIA, the FBI’s illegal efforts to thwart the civil rights movement [including efforts to smear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and incite murderous violence among black radicals], and the illegal use of the NSA to monitor prominent activists opposed to the Vietnam war.

The committee’s efforts lead to the first major reforms to the nation’s massive spy apparatus in the form of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, banning mass surveillance of American citizens.

Directing the investigative efforts was a notable staff, headed by Frederick A.O. Scwharz Jr., a Harvard-educated lawyer and the great-grandson of the founder of New York City’s most famous toy store.

And now Schwarz, who now serves as chief counsel for New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, and other members of the Church Committee staff have issued a call for the Obama Administration to negotiate a plea bargain with America’s most famous whistleblower, who, they say, has done us all a great service.

From the Brennan Center for Justice:

As former professional staff members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities [the “Church Committee”], we are writing to urge that the White House and the Justice Department negotiate a settlement of the charges against Edward Snowden that both sides can accept.

There is no question that Edward Snowden’s disclosures led to public awareness which stimulated reform. Whether or not these clear benefits to the country merit a pardon, they surely do counsel for leniency.

In the American political system, bipartisan government reforms are generally regarded as the most legitimate and durable. Recently, however, our government has all but stopped making bipartisan reforms. There is one big exception: the surveillance reforms inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations.

It was Snowden who supplied journalists with evidence that our government had, for many years, been collecting information about the domestic phone calls of millions of Americans. As a result, a bipartisan coalition in Congress formed to amend the Patriot Act to prohibit the practice. In the Senate, Mike Lee, a conservative Republican from Utah, joined with Patrick Leahy, a liberal Democrat from Vermont, to sponsor the reform. In the House, the move toward reform started with two Michigan Congressmen, Justin Amash, a junior Tea Party Republican from Grand Rapids, and John Conyers, a veteran liberal Democrat from Detroit. Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a primary author of the Patriot Act and its extensions, also backed the reforms saying he and his colleagues had not intended to permit the NSA’s widespread scooping up of data about Americans’ communications.

It was also Snowden’s material that showed the extent to which the National Security Agency intercepts and filters international electronic communications from undersea fiber optic cables, and taps internal links connecting data centers for Internet companies like Yahoo! and Google. All this was in pursuit of former NSA Director Keith Alexander’s directive to “collect it all.” Untold millions of Americans’ communications are swept up in these programs, where they are available for perusal by the FBI and CIA through what has become known as the “backdoor” search loophole. Republican Reps. Ted Poe and Tom Massie have joined with Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren in sponsoring legislation to ban this practice.

Snowden’s documents also revealed the broad scope of NSA spying on foreigners including eavesdropping on close allies in addition to potential adversaries like Russia and China. While some have argued that leaking such “legal” surveillance activities disqualifies Snowden from any mercy, President Barack Obama has acknowledged that stronger controls were necessary. He implemented the first-ever reforms to afford privacy protection for foreigners from surveillance unless it is necessary to protect our national security.

The NSA, CIA, and Defense Department maintain that harm resulted from the disclosures, particularly with respect to our efforts overseas, where they say relationships with intelligence partners have been damaged and our adversaries may know more about our capabilities. No one is asking that these claims be ignored, only that they be checked, and then weighed against the benefits.

America clearly did benefit from Snowden’s disclosures. Former Attorney-General Eric Holder said that Snowden “performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made.” President Obama has said that the public debate regarding surveillance and accountability that Snowden generated “will make us stronger.” The President also issued an executive order recognizing that foreigners have privacy interests –– an acknowledgement no previous President had ever made –– and also asked the intelligence community to find ways to provide foreigners with some protections previously provided only to Americans.

Without Snowden, it would have been decades, if ever, until Americans learned what intelligence agencies acting in our name had been up to. We know first hand that lack of disclosure can cause just as many, if not more, harms to the nation than disclosure. When intelligence agencies operate in the dark, they often have gone too far in trampling on the legitimate rights of law-abiding Americans and damaging our reputation internationally. We saw this repeated time and time again when serving as staff members for the U.S. Senate Select Committee, known as the Church Committee, that in 1975-76 conducted the most extensive bipartisan investigation of a government’s secret activities ever, in this country or elsewhere.

Continue reading

Fidel Castro is gone, the man the U.S. tried to kill


In the end, the killer was one that awaits us all, humanity’s finite lifespan.

From the New York Times:

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90.

His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.

More from the Guardian:

Castro’s younger brother Raúl, who assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2006 after Fidel suffered a near-fatal intestinal ailment, announced the revolutionary leader’s death on television on Friday night.

“With profound sadness I am appearing to inform our people and our friends across [Latin] America and the world that today, 25 November 2016, at 10.29pm, Fidel Castro, the commander in chief of the Cuban revolution, died,” he said.

“In accordance with his wishes, his remains will be cremated.”

Raúl Castro concluded his address with the famous revolutionary slogan: “Onwards to victory!”

On Saturday, the Cuban government announced that Fidel Castro’s ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on 4 December. The cemetery is the resting place of 19th century Cuban independence hero José Martí and numerous other leading figures in the country’s torrid history.

Hundreds of assassination attempts foiled

Castro lived a charmed life, surviving hundreds of would-be assassins, many of them dispatched by a U.S. government outraged that a revolutionary regime could challenge its hegemony and flourish just 90 miles off its shore.

Powerful U.S. corporations had seen their lucrative Cuban assets nationalized, and the mob lost its casinos, infuriating syndicate heads in Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans, as well as notorious money launderer Meyer Lansky, who lost his own casino.

Other governments as well loathed Castro for his backing of revolutuonary regimes and dispatched their own killers.

And all of their attempts failed, as documented in this 2013 report from Britain’s Channel 4 News:

638 Ways To Kill Castro

A noteworthy legacy

So we bid farewell to Fidel, who created a national healthcare system that’s one of the world’s best [the island nation’s infant mortality rates are much lower than those of the U.S., a fact the CIA acknowledges], and where the U.S. sends troops to maintain its dominance over the globe, Cuba sends doctors to heal folks in some of the world’s poorest lands and assist when disaster strikes.

Barred by a trade embargo from importing food from the U.S., Cuba developed the world’s best system of agroecology, raising crops without pesticides and an over-reliance on synthetic fertilizers, while turning vacant lots into rich urban farms.

While the American right has long demonized Castro as a despot, the truth is that he accomplished much good for the Cuban people and countless numbers of the sick and the afflicted in other lands.

And now we bid him farewell, a man whose legacy is — like that of all of us — mixed, but one that is far better than so often portrayed in the U.S. media.

New York Times reporter let the CIA vet his book


Back when esnl was a young reporter, there was one cardinal rule: Never show a source you finished story.

But that was especially the case if another source might be significantly injured by your reporting.

But that’s exactly what happened when a New York Times reporter handed over a full chapter of a book he was writing to the subject of his story, the Central Intelligence Agency,

Never mind that his source had been criminally convicted for leaking CIA documents the reporter had used in his stories.

From Gizmodo:

New York Times reporter David Sanger worked extensively with former deputy CIA director Michael Morell during the reporting of his book Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power—even arranging to provide Morell with access to an entire unpublished chapter for his review—according to documents obtained by Gizmodo.

The records, consisting of internal emails from the CIA press office, show that Sanger met with Morell on more than one occasion in 2012 to discuss his then-forthcoming book, promising to bring with him a full chapter for Morell to read in case “he has issues” with the reporting. The emails, which we received under the Freedom of Information Act, are redacted in a manner suggesting that Morell and Sanger discussed sensitive national security information, and show that on at least one occasion, a CIA public affairs officer sent Sanger an encrypted message via email.

While the notion of a national security reporter meeting with a senior CIA official is obviously not unusual—such transactions are in the reporter’s job description, and Sanger’s book acknowledges that he withheld information at the request of government officials—the extent of Sanger’s collaboration with Morell and the fact that the men apparently discussed sensitive information is noteworthy in light of the Obama administration’s unprecedented campaign against government leakers.

It’s another shameful story about America’s sadly compromised Fourth Estate.

Perhaps the New York Times should change it’s motto: All the News That’s Fit to Print — If The CIA Approves.

Headline of the day: Get ready for the bloodshed


And the new AG is a guy who says the only thing wrong with the Ku Klux Klan is that those dudes are doin’ doobies under those pointy hoods.

From the New York Times:

  • National Security Positions Go to Hawkish Loyalists
  • President-elect Donald J. Trump tapped Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo as C.I.A. director and Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser.
  • All three are regarded as outliers from conventional Republican thinking, shunned in various ways for viewpoints that were seen as unacceptable.

French Big Brother database plans generate anger


A Big Brotherish panopticon plan announced on Halloween weekend by the government of increasingly unpopular French President François Hollande has generated strong and growing opposition.

From TheLocal.fr:

French government plans to create a new database containing details of almost the entire population suffered fresh blows on Monday as criticism grew of the controversial project.

The Socialist government announced a decree to create the database, which would contain personal information of 60 million people, on a public holiday weekend at the end of October.

It has led to fears that hackers might target the information as well as anxiety that so much personal data could be misused in the future by the security forces or other government agencies.

The stealthily issued decree, published two days after Halloween, led opposition MP Lionel Tardy to accuse the government last week of “treating the French people like pumpkins”.

On Monday, the French Digital Council, a state watchdog that looks at the impact of technology on society and the economy, said the database should be suspended.

Abby Martin tackles John Podesta and his emails


In one of her most important efforts yet, Abby Martin digs beneath the rhetoric to show the real importance of the cache of Wikileaked emails from the account of Democratic National Committee chair John Podesta.

What she reveals is the heart of darkness beating beneath the skin of the American political system, the same system that has given us a presidential race pitting the two most unpopular candidates since polling began.

In an attempt to discredit the emails and what they reveal, the mainstream media have presented without questioning claims that the hack was executed at the behest of the Russian government without offering any verification for their assertion.

But no less than James Bamford, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst and attorney who became the most distinguished journalist ever to cover and blow the lid off illegal spying programs by the National Security Agency, Bamford questioned the government’s claims in an incisive essay for Reuters, where he writes:

The problem with attempting to draw a straight line from the Kremlin to the Clinton campaign is the number of variables that get in the way. For one, there is little doubt about Russian cyber fingerprints in various U.S. campaign activities. Moscow, like Washington, has long spied on such matters. The United States, for example, inserted malware in the recent Mexican election campaign. The question isn’t whether Russia spied on the U.S. presidential election, it’s whether it released the election emails.

Then there’s the role of Guccifer 2.0, the person or persons supplying WikiLeaks and other organizations with many of the pilfered emails. Is this a Russian agent? A free agent? A cybercriminal? A combination, or some other entity? No one knows.

There is also the problem of groupthink that led to the war in Iraq. For example, just as the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the intelligence establishment are convinced Putin is behind the attacks, they also believed it was a slam-dunk that Saddam Hussein had a trove of weapons of mass destruction.

Consider as well the speed of the political-hacking investigation, followed by a lack of skepticism, culminating in a rush to judgment.

But what is certain, beyond question, is that John Podesta represents everything that’s wrong about American politics, where claims of democratic openness are belief by secret deals in which big banks and powerful corporations, not workers and their families, are the real beneficiaries.

And Abby Martin is on the story.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Abby Martin Exposes John Podesta

Program notes:

With the Wikileaks release of thousands of emails belonging to John Podesta, very little is known in US society about Podesta himself. While he’s maintained a low profile, John Podesta is actually considered one of Washington’s biggest players, and one of the most powerful corporate lobbyists in the world.

In this episode of The Empire Files, Abby Martin explores John Podesta’s political rise, his vast network of corporate connections and his think tank “Center for American Progress.” Learn why the Podestas and the Clintons are a match made in ruling class heaven.