Posts Tagged ‘Department of Defense’

We know who (and where) you are

Monday, April 23, 2012 at 9:08 am by

Big Brother is watching you!In case you’re wondering, we know of at least thirteen ways the “biggest government agencies and programs” can track us. Let’s take a walk down this nightmarish path:

  1. “The National Security Agency (NSA) collects hundreds of millions of emails, texts and phone calls every day and has the ability to collect and sift through billions more.”
  2. “The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) has more than 1.5 billion government and private sector records about US citizens collected from commercial databases, government information, and criminal probes.”
  3. “…cellphones of private individuals in the US are being tracked without warrants by state and local law enforcement all across the country.”
  4. “More than 62 million people in the US have their fingerprints on file with the FBI, state and local governments.”
  5. “Over 126 million people have their fingerprints, photographs and biographical information accessible on the US Department of Homeland Security Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT).”
  6. “More than 110 million people have their visas and more than 90 million have their photographs entered into the US Department of State Consular Consolidated Database (CCD).”
  7. “DNA profiles on more than 10 million people are available in the FBI coordinated Combined DNA index System (CODIS) National DNA Index.”
  8. “Information on more than 2 million people is kept in the Intelligence Community Security Clearance Repository, commonly known as Scattered Castles. Most of the people in this database are employees of the Department of Defense (DOD) and other intelligence agencies.”
  9. “The DOD also has an automated biometric identification system (ABIS) to support military operations overseas.”
  10. “Information on over 740,000 people is included in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) of the National Counterterrorism Center. “
  11. “Tens of thousands of people are subjects of facial recognition software.”
  12. “The FBI operates the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (SAR) that collects and analyzes observations or reports of suspicious activities by local law enforcement.”
  13. “The FBI admits it has about 3,000 GPS tracking devices on cars of unsuspecting people in the US right now, even after the US Supreme Court decision authorizing these only after a warrant for probable cause has been issued.”

Well, wasn’t that a pleasant walk? And if we know all this, exactly what’s out there that we don’t know?

Obama Administration refuses to release pertinent legal documents on assassinations

Saturday, February 11, 2012 at 12:06 pm by

The Obama administration has refused both the ACLU’s and New York Times‘ requests to release official documents that provide the legal and factual basis for the assassination of three American citizens abroad, including Anwar al-Awlaki, and is now being sued because of it.

The Times filed their lawsuit last year, and the ACLU last week made their claim against the federal government for denying their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

The ACLU filed the FOIA request in October with the Department of  Justice (DOJ), Department of Defense (DOD), and the CIA to release the legal memorandum “that provided justifications for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as records describing the factual basis for the killings of all three Americans.”

Three months later, the ACLU was denied the request because, the DOJ said, “the very fact of the existence or nonexistence of such documents is itself classified.” In other words, government’s involvement with the assassinations is so secret, they can’t even say they were involved.

Unless, of course, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is on 60 Minutes. The top Obama official discussed the assassinations with Scott Pelley in a recent interview, explaining the thought process in making the decision:

If someone is a citizen of the United States and is a terrorist who wants to attack our people and kill Americans, in my book that person is a terrorist… Despite the fact that this person may be a citizen, he is first and foremost a terrorist who threatens our people and for that reason we can establish a legal basis to go after that individual.

When Pelley asked who gave the OK for bypassing due process for al-Awlaki, Panetta answered: “The president of the United States obviously reviews these cases and reviews the legal justification.”

Panetta is not only freely admitting that the US targeted al-Awlaki, but he is even providing a rationale (though admittedly a rather convoluted one), which is exactly what the DOD said they couldn’t say existed. So either Leon Panetta needs to be fired for his inability to keep classified information classified, or the Obama administration is using seriously flawed reasoning to not release the records.

As President Obama has also publicly acknowledged the Al-Awlaki killings, it seems more likely the latter is true and the Obama administration has made the decision that government transparency may no longer be the best campaign strategy.

Transparency is always a necessity for a democracy: if news outlets can only rely on official government statements for information then the public will get a very skewed version of current events. Likewise, lawyers and other members of the public need to be able to examine the actions of their government independently, so they can make their own informed opinion.

This case goes further though, as the information release would directly impact two recent occurrences. First is the Bureau of Investigative Journalism report released this past week, revealing that drones are being intentionally used against many innocent Pakistani people who are attending funerals or attempting to save others under attack. The Bureau report is evidence that the Obama Administration needs more oversight in its use of drones as they are clearly making morally and legally questionable decisions.

Second, the records would impact the new decree that American citizens can be indefinitely detained with the authorization of the president through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The statement following the indefinite detention provisions reads: “nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law.” Arguably, law already exists that would allow the detention provisions to be put into use. However, the legal rationale used to allow the president to execute citizens without due process could certainly be used as even stronger legal precedent for the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA.

People need to know the information regarding the drone strikes not only because transparency is just simply good government, but also because their rights and freedoms as Americans could be greatly impacted by the details of these records.



News Digest 1/4/12

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

This Bill of Rights Day, stand with us to stop the NDAA

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 3:26 pm by

Stop NDAAOur nation celebrates Bill of Rights Day every December 15, the anniversary of the ratification of the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

But last week—just two weeks before Bill of Rights Day—Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). As you’ve already heard, the NDAA allows the indefinite military detention of US citizens without trial. It contains the most oppressive national security powers we’ve seen in our lifetimes, easily worse than any Bush administration policy.

Join the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in standing against the military detention provisions of the NDAA. Here are some ways you can take action:

  1. Add your voice to the thousands of Americans saying “NO!” to indefinite detention without trial by signing our petition against NDAA. We also have a special petition for military service members, veterans, and retired officers, because those voices are uniquely important on this issue.
  2. Learn more about NDAA. Our toolkit on the NDAA includes information on why the NDAA is so dangerous, talking points about the bill, and ideas for anti-NDAA events and actions you can hold in your community.
  3. Host an event in your community. Bill of Rights Day is just around the corner: Thursday, December 15. Standing up for the right to trial, separation of powers, and presumption of innocence is a great way to celebrate the Bill of Rights. Local actions can help demonstrate widespread opposition to this dangerous law and shift the discussion in Washington. Our toolkit offers a wide range of ideas about what kinds of events you might host. Tell us about your event and we’ll help promote and publicize it!

Retired military leaders speak out against torture amendment

Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm by

Anti-Torture Vigil - Week 11Both retired military leaders and human rights groups spoke out against an amendment of a defense funding bill in the Senate that would repeal key aspects of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) and make torture techniques legal.

“Policy and practice should be based on evidence, not fear,” stated forty retired and esteemed US military generals and admirals in a letter addressed to the Senate urging them to vote against the amendment.

The amendment, introduced by Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) is attached to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which also contains troubling detainee provisions. The NDAA vote could come as soon as today, but President Obama has threatened to veto the act if its controversial detainee and torture provisions remain.

The proposed amendment would revoke an amendment of the DTA authored by Senator John McCain in 2005 that codified adherence to the Army Manual and prohibited the use of “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The military officials continued in their letter to explain the gravity of the use of torture:

Torture is unreliable because anyone who is tortured will lie to make the torture stop, or will provide false and misleading information which can lead investigators to waste crucial time.

Torture is counterproductive because our enemies use the indelible images of torture to recruit more terrorists, and our allies refuse to extradite terror suspects to the United States when we do not uphold the law, letting terror suspects escape U.S. justice.

The officials also addressed a measure in the law that would create a secret list of interrogation techniques:

Secret lists of torture tactics never remain secret for long when detainees describe the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment they endured.

The secretary of defense and FBI Director Robert Mueller also oppose the provisions. Likewise in opposition of the amendments are 30 prominent rights groups, including the ACLU and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Along with the torture amendment, the NDAA also contains an amendment that allows the indefinite detention of military detainees, and is written in such general terms that it could also be applied to US citizens. President Obama and the same coalition of military officials also oppose this measure.

These amendments are all a gross perversion of international and US law. Torture and indefinite detention only further terrorism and undermine America’s ideals of justice and human rights.

Furthermore, the debate and consideration process was rushed and lacked proper deliberation as it was not viewed by important Senate committees including the Judiciary.

The provisions on the NDAA are a step backward for America. As the forty generals and admirals said: “We believe that to secure our nation, the United States must always lead by our core principles; that means the United States must never engage in torture or abuse.”

News Digest 11/30/11

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm by

Bipartisan opposition to NDAA’s indefinite military detention

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 11:35 am by

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will come up for a final vote in the Senate as early as today. But this dangerous bill faces serious opposition from a bipartisan block of senators who, like the president, the Department of Defense, and the FBI, do not endorse the indefinite military detention scheme that the law would create.

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is one of those opposed:

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), who introduced an amendment (since voted down) that would have removed the dangerous detention provisions, wrote in the Washington Post,

Our law enforcement, military and intelligence workers have spent more than a decade carefully and collaboratively determining how to work together in the war against terrorism. But these proposed changes would require the military to take on a new responsibility as police, jailors and judges—jobs for which it is not equipped and which it does not want. These changes to our laws would also authorize the military to exercise unprecedented power on US soil.

Additionally, the requirement that the military—not civilian law enforcement—take suspected terrorists into custody threatens to undo much of the progress the FBI and state and local law enforcement have made to stop terrorists plotting in the United States and overseas. That could make it difficult or impossible to collaboratively gather intelligence on domestic terror cells at all.

The White House finds the indefinite detention provisions so dangerous that the president has threatened to veto the bill. Given the partisan deadlock that we have seen in Washington in recent years, the fact that a military funding bill is facing opposition from senators from both major parties as well as the White House and the Pentagon speaks volumes about its potential to irrevocably damage our most fundamental rights and freedoms.

Military detention versus We the People

Sunday, November 27, 2011 at 11:55 am by

Congress has a deserved reputation for cluelessness. Our leaders have a habit of ignoring real crises like housing, education, mass incarceration, and climate change, while contriving distractions like the budget debate that essentially froze Washington, DC for the past year.

In 2010, the Tea Party rejected the legitimacy of the DC debate, paving the way for the Occupy movement to do the same in 2011. And while those contrasting movements may compete on many issues, they share in common a rejection of Washington’s political establishment.

On Monday, the Senate will grapple with Congress’ latest bipartisan foolishness, the National Defense Authorization Act. Ironically opposed by both the White House and the Pentagon, it would expand preventive and arbitrary detention beyond Guantánamo Bay and the CIA’s shuttered black sites, importing it into the domestic United States.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Senators Carl Levin (D-Michigan) and John McCain (R-Arizona), approved the bill despite its provisions for military detention of any suspect (even those apprehended within the United States) accused (not proven) of involvement in any terror-related offense. Presumably, military detention would include those accused of offenses as innocuous as “lying to a federal agent,” unrelated to actual terrorism yet classified as terror-related.

The most glaring problem with the committee’s legislation is its violation of our nation’s most fundamental values shared across our political spectrum.

First, the committee’s proposal accepts prosecutors as the arbiters of guilt. We have courts in America to check executive power.  Impartial judges limit over whom the state may exercise its coercive power to deny freedom.  We don’t trust prosecutors to make those decisions, because we presume innocence. Being considered “innocent until proven guilty” is a bedrock constitutional norm, a cornerstone in the edifice our Founders constructed to defend freedom from the potential tyranny that Levin & McCain casually invite.

On the one hand, racial and ethnic profiling in the wars on drugs, immigrants, and terror have already shredded the presumption of innocence. Millions of Americans routinely treated as presumptively guilty due to their race or ethnicity have been subjected to illegitimate prison sentences or deportation. But at least those cases involve a judicial process of some kind.

A separate fundamental principle restrains the military from operating domestically. Levin and McCain invite domestic military deployment.

Beyond its blatant violation of fundamental American principles, Levin and McCain also play loose with the system. Their bill passed the Armed Services Committee essentially in secret, without even a single hearing on their radical and seemingly Soviet-inspired proposal.

Moreover, their committee overstepped its jurisdiction, invading the spheres of the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California), who chair those committees, raised their voices in protest–and Senator Mark Udall (D-Utah) introduced an amendment that would reverse Levin-McCain’s detention provisions. Even within a single, insular, tone deaf political party, the left and right hands actively work at cross purposes.

Republican complicity in Sino-Chinese inspired security policies, like the Patriot Act, is by now well established.  The support from some Democrats for this proposal, however, reflects what is wrong with Washington–beyond policy.

In every election cycle since 1998, the electorate has loudly demanded to “throw the bums out.” In 2008, We the People rejected the Bush administration’s War on Terror to choose a candidate who, inspired by our Founders, pledged instead to “reject the false choice between liberty and security.” Congressional Democrats doubling down on Bush era abuses betray their own supporters.

We live in a nation where, apparently, we enjoy no electoral alternative to human rights abuses. Will the real Americans please stand up?

Even worse than the betrayal of Democrats, however, is the betrayal of Congress–by itself. Our Founders dedicated the Constitution’s first Article to Congress, to reflect its primacy after our revolution against a unilateral monarchy.  The central theme of the Constitution is its system of checks & balances to limit executive power and prevent tyranny.

But rather than resist executive power, today’s congressional leaders actively expand it. Over the past decade, Congress has granted presidents from both political parties every power they have sought: the power to eavesdrop en masse on every American household without individualized suspicion, the power to ignore the Nuremberg principle and torture with impunity, the power to initiate unilateral war, and more.

Levin-McCain is substantively, procedurally, and structurally even worse: It actively outflanks the executive, granting powers that neither the White House nor the Pentagon want, and have even pledged to resist. Madison and Jefferson would each roll in their graves at Congress betrayal of their legacy.

The one positive aspect to Levin-McCain’s essentially Soviet proposal is the hope it offers to inspire unity among Americans. There may yet remain principles, even if merely as meager as the right to trial, on which we all can agree.

Torn between the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street movement and alienated moderates, much of America shares a rejection of Washington’s habitual foolishness. And with these competing movements having already organized and mobilized so many diverse Americans, there has been no better time to come together.

This article was originally published by Truthout.

Bringing Gitmo home: Congressional proposals to expand military detention

Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 3:30 pm by

For many of us Thanksgiving is an opportunity to catch up with loved ones while we reflect on the many blessings life has offered throughout the year.  It is a time when family and friends can come together for good food, better conversation, and a sense of community.  Of course, it bears repeating that none of that will happen for those currently being held indefinitely, and it is, perhaps, a cruel irony that in this time of giving thanks, Congress seems to be moving forward with expanded military detention, proposed as part of Senate Bill 1253: the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA).

First introduced in June, the bill came under immediate fire for some very troubling language allowing for indefinite detentions without charge and military custody for certain terror suspects.

From this most recent NDAA’s inception, a strange but welcome marriage was forged between the White House, members of Congress, law enforcement leaders, and civil rights advocates.  Their principal assertion, though they get there from different perspectives, is that the language contained in sections 1031, 1032, and 1033 operates to create a dangerous framework certain to curtail civil liberties and hamstring effective policing.  As written, these sections establish indefinite detention, military custody, and a “national security waiver” prohibiting certain transfers from Guantánamo Bay.  One example, section 1031(b)(2) of the NDAA calls for indefinite detention of

A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

Despite the bill’s obvious potential to overreach, the story went largely unreported by major media outlets and subsequently unnoticed by the public.  That did not prevent it from creating a quiet firestorm among those aware of its existence.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went so far as to threaten to not bring the bill to the Senate floor until concerns regarding indefinite detention, military custody, and prisoner transfer were addressed.  Reid quoted Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan:

Some—including some legislative proposals in Congress—are demanding that we pursue a radically different strategy.  Under that approach, we would never be able to turn the page on Guantánamo.  Our counterterrorism professionals would be compelled to hold all captured terrorists in military custody, casting aside our most effective and time-tested tool for bringing suspected terrorists to justice, our federal courts. . . . In sum, this approach would impose unprecedented restrictions on the ability of experienced professionals to combat terrorism, injecting legal and operational uncertainty into what is already enormously complicated work.

Last week a deal was struck between Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin and Ranking Member John McCain.  This new version clarifies some of the language, but retains the central tenets that created the controversy in the first place.  According to the New York Times, the NDAA still calls for mandatory military custody “for noncitizen members of Al Qaeda or its allies accused of plotting attacks, even those arrested on American soil.” Additionally, it “propose[s] a new statute authorizing the indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects.”

The White House, along with the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, offered swift condemnation, stating that “only civilian law enforcement agencies, not the military, should operate on domestic soil.

Political leaders are not the only ones weighing in; Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta voiced concerns in a letter to Senator Levin.  Specifically, Panetta mentioned sections 1032, 1033, and 1035 of the NDAA.  Panetta specifically objected to mandatory military custody of certain individuals, arguing that the bill serves as a “restrain[t]” on the Executive Branch’s ability to utilize all available tools in the war on terror.

The principal objection from members of the Obama administration, the Department of Defense, and members of the Senate and Intelligence Committees seems to be the clause calling for mandatory military custody for specific targets.  Not emphasized by our leaders is the provision allowing for continued indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Civil liberties advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) are strongly condemning what appears on its face to be further legitimization of an inherently unconstitutional practice–but where are our elected officials?  The stakes are too high, we must know exactly what is contained in the latest incarnation of the NDAA, and we must not allow our leaders to suspend constitutional rights no matter the rationale.  If we allow the civil liberties of a few to erode, it won’t be long before we’ve relinquished ours as well.

Suggestions for smarter and more effective national security spending

Monday, February 7, 2011 at 10:49 am by

Just over a week ago, BORDC distributed to members of Congress a list of suggested budget cuts to  national security programs. Researched by a team of committed volunteers, these cuts focus on programs that are expensive and ineffective as well as constitutionally offensive. If enacted, such cuts would not only allocate funds more effectively, but also put an end to policies that infringe on our civil rights and liberties.

Two Hundred Dollars 1For example, the elimination of the controversial and unnecessary full body scanners used by the Transportation Security Administration in the nation’s airports could save $3 billion over the next eight years.

Even more surprising is the amount of national funding available for fusion centers. According to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, at least $327 million in direct funding and $812 million for related information-sharing technology goes toward fusion center activities, which translates to upwards of $3.8 billion a year. This number is actually higher once Department of Justice (DOJ) spending is calculated into the cost, which includes $750,000 in fusion center support to local law enforcement and $500,000 in enhancing fusion center awareness and performance. Since so little is known about the operations of these fusion centers, it is impossible to break down what the money is actually funding.

Another $233.9 million goes toward advanced electronic surveillance for the FBI. This funding has supported controversial sting operations and many other investigations of ‘homegrown’ terrorism. No investigations leading to successful prosecution have relied on data-mining and the analysis of the information gathered under surveillance.

The recommendations listed go in depth into the spending of the TSA, DOJ, Department of Defense, and FBI. Overall, if the budget cuts were enacted, the government could save over $20 billion while securing the protection of the civil rights of all Americans.