Archive for December 14th, 2012

News Digest 12/14/12

Friday, December 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Call your Senators to demand privacy and transparency

Friday, December 14, 2012 at 11:14 am by

With Senators about to pack up and head home for the holidays, we have one last chance to tell them not to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)  for another 5 years without providing Congress and the public long sought after answers about this dragnet, secret, and unchecked, surveillance program.

Senator Wyden (D-OR) has previously called for a deeper look into warrantless wiretapping authorized by the 2008 FISA Amendments, saying that “the government refuses to say how often the spy powers are being used.”

The National Security Agency (NSA) has refused, despite these demands, to reveal how many Americans it has spied on through effectively unlimited powers granted in the 2008 FISA amendments.

Congress has failed to protect the privacy of email and phone conversations, and is slated to vote on the re-authorization of FISA any day, leaving a limited window to call on Congress to allow for the necessary debate on the NSA’s implementation of FISA. We still have many questions, but
the NSA intercepts 1.7 billion emails, phone calls and other communications every single day (Washington Post, 7/19/2010)what little we do know is alarming:

  • the NSA says it cannot even give a rough estimate of the number of Americans whose communications have been swept up (, 6/18/2012)
  • the NSA has reportedly overstepped the bounds of this very lax law, intercepting private emails and phone calls of Americans illegally (New York Times, 4/16/2009)
  • all those communications are stored on a searchable database, allowing the government to get information on specific Americans without any suspicion that they have committed a crime (Huffington Post, 9/6/2012)

The JUSTICE Act, which would amend FISA to prevent the government from collecting phone calls and emails originating within or directed to the United States, will likely not be reintroduced in the Senate this session, let stand the decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, eroding first Amendment rights. Holder authorized guilt by association, allowing prosecutors to secure terror convictions without establishing—or even alleging—a defendant’s intent to support violence.

With no Senators willing to stand by the JUSTICE Act, and the NSA refusing to answer Senator Wyden’s tough questions, we must act now.

Take a moment and contact your Senators and demand they vote against the proposed extension of FISA until the NSA finally answers congressional questions about how many Americans have been impacted by the agency’s admitted violations.

Zombies are chasing us over the edge of the fiscal cliff

Friday, December 14, 2012 at 8:06 am by

Sure, that could be a metaphor for the stubbornly undead Bush-era tax cuts, but it’s not. In October, Halo Corporation included a detailed zombie attack as part of a counterterrorism summit attended by law enforcement and military. The issue? The Department of Homeland Security approved the use of Urban Area Security Initiative  (UASI) funds to pay the $1,000 admission fee for some of the attendees.

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), released a report last week, “Safety at Any Price,” that questions such spending.  The Senator was also the impetus behind a highly critical report on fusion centers released in October by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Echoing concerns about wasteful spending at fusion centers, Senator Coburn criticizes the waste he found in the UASI program. The report notes:

Significant evidence suggests the program is struggling to demonstrate how it is making U.S. cities less vulnerable to attack and more prepared if one were to occur- despite receiving $7.1 billion in federal funding since 2003.

UASI is ostensibly a federal grants program for:

…high-threat, high-density urban areas, and assists them in building an enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism.

UASI funds a range of programs, from training to weapons purchases. While this may seem like a good idea in theory, the problem is that some of the spending is ominous, while some is merely ridiculous. For example, Berkeley, CA, wanted to purchase an armored vehicle with UASI funds.  Pittsburg, PA spent $80,000 on long range acoustic devices:

…which is mounted on a truck and emits an ear-splitting sound. Local officials used it to disperse G-20 protestors, giving one bystander permanent hearing loss, but which they called ‘a kinder and gentler way to get people to leave.’