- 6/11, Amy Goodman & Juan González, Democracy Now!, Digital Blackwater: How the NSA Gives Private Contractors Control of the Surveillance State
- 6/10, Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, The Irrationality of Giving Up This Much Liberty to Fight Terror
- 6/10, Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks are backlash of too much secrecy
- 6/10, Sen. Rand Paul, Wall Street Journal, Rand Paul: Big Brother Really Is Watching Us
- 6/10, Rebecca Bowe, SF Bay Guardian, NSA whistleblower supporters to speak on civil liberties
- 6/7, Kai Wright, ColorLines Magazine, The Dangerous, Infectious Logic of National Security
- 6/5, Scott Harris, Between the Lines, Critics Charge Obama Justice Department’s Collection of Journalists’ Phone Records Undermines Press Freedom
Posts Tagged ‘whistleblowers’
Last night, I appeared alongside renowned investigator James Bamford, whistleblower advocate Jesselyn Radack, and privacy and open government expert Ginger McCall on Thom Hartmann’s television program The Big Picture. Video from our interview (my first comments start at 7:05) is below, and here’s audio from my appearance on WBAI’s Five O’Clock Shadow with Robert Knight just a few hours earlier.
Several issues remain muted in much of the discussion about the NSA, its offensive and unAmerican spying programs, and the escalating crisis in the Washington establishment favoring imperial executive power over the constitutional legacy of the Republic created by our founders.
I address issues relating to executive secrecy, and one relating to corruption, below.
- 6/6, Glenn Greenwald, Guardian (UK), NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily
- 6/6, Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman, Guardian (UK), Obama administration defends NSA collection of Verizon phone records
- 6/6, Richard Engel and Robert Windrem, NBC News, EXCLUSIVE: CIA didn’t always know who it was killing in drone strikes, classified documents show
- 6/6, Renee Montagne and Linda Wertheimer, NPR, NSA Collects Verizon Customers’ Records
- 6/5, The Associated Press, CBS News, US Sends 125 Troops To Reinforce Tense Guantanamo Bay
- 6/5, The Associated Press, CBS (DC), Dept. of Homeland Security: Laptops, Phones Can Be Searched Based on Hunches
- 6/5, Debra S. Katz and Danielle Brian, Politico, Shielding the whistleblowers
FBI & NSA spying revealed: Uncle Sam is watching you, and both Congress and the courts are complicitThursday, June 6, 2013 at 10:41 am by Shahid Buttar
The (UK) Guardian published a previously secret court order authorizing dragnet surveillance of millions of Americans without any pretense of justification, confirming concerns raised by civil libertarians (including me) for years.
Since first taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has repeatedly extended the USA PATRIOT Act, including the overbroad section 215 cited as the basis for the FBI surveillance approved by the secret order disclosed by the Guardian. In light of Congress’ recent decision to extend the law permitting even worse abuses by the NSA for another five years, and the Supreme Court’s outrageous decision in Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l turning a blind eye to dragnet domestic surveillance, the document is also a clarion call for both mass outrage and immediate congressional action for long overdue sunlight at the National Security Agency.
The document is disturbing because, in a single swoop, it authorizes not just the wiretapping of a single individual, or a single organization, but all of the customers of a single telecommunications company. The order reinforces its own secrecy, immune from public or congressional oversight, violating core tenets of both Due Process and the Fourth Amendment at once.
Surveillance run amok
The first thing to take away from this disclosure is this sheer scale and scope of FBI and NSA spying on Americans. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY), like the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and various allied organizations, have been raising alarm since even before the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”).
Along with Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), Sen. Wyden has suggested in his capacity as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Americans would be outraged if we knew about secret government interpretations of the PATRIOT Act’s controversial Section 215 authority. The law is bad enough without being contorted to allow surveillance even beyond its meager limits, but that’s exactly what the document leaked to the Guardian demonstrates: a single wiretap order allowing the FBI to spy on millions of law-abiding Americans at once, without even a pretense of the individualized suspicion long required by the Constitution.
Wyden has also sought information about how many Americans have been impacted by NSA spying overseen by the same FISA court that approved the FBI surveillance revealed by the Guardian. The answers would be laughable if they weren’t so disturbing: the NSA claimed it couldn’t answer a quantitative question because it would somehow violate the privacy of individuals under surveillance, and also that figuring out the answer to Wyden’s inquiries would simply be impracticable.
The NSA’s spin moves before Sen. Wyden’s attempts at oversight insinuated what the Guardian’s disclosure confirms: that our government’s most secret agency is run amok, squandering billions of dollars while assaulting America from our own shores, using our own money.
While outrage is appropriately escalating at the scale of FBI and NSA abuses, three angles to this controversy have remained muted in most of today’s commentary.
- 5/29, The Associated Press, Las Vegas Sun (Nevada), Column: A nation of co-existing, conflicted values
- 5/29, Kate Brumback, Marietta (GA) Daily Journal, Protesters call for end to drone attacks, surveillance
- 5/28, Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, War on terror isn’t over just because Obama says so
- 5/28, Josh Gerstein, Politico, Public Citizen to represent jailed ex-CAIR spokesman
- 5/28, Micah Zenko, Foreign Policy, Confront and Confuse
- 5/28, The Associated Press, CBS (LA), Bill Seeks To Ensure Privacy As Drone Use Rises
- 5/27, Eyal Press, New York Times, Silencing the Whistle-Blowers
On March 13, 2013 Dr. Steven S. Coughlin, previously the senior epidemiologist for the Veterans Affairs Office of Public Health (OPH), testified about the VA’s mishandling of veterans’ numerous medical problems. Coughlin specifically focused on the results of two surveys conducted by the VA; the first, on the 1991 Gulf War veterans, the second on “New Generation” veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan. The surveys were designed to investigate “Gulf War Illness,” (GWI) which plagues an estimated 175,000 – 200,000 veterans from the Gulf War. GWI is categorized by a slew of medical issues, including chronic fatigue, headaches, joint pain and respiratory problems (including asthma and bronchitis).
The surveys were also designed to investigate whether the asthma and bronchitis suffered by many New Generation veterans can be clearly linked back to the wide-scale usage of burn pits on international military bases. One veteran, LeRoy Torres, recalls his experience at Iraq’s Joint Base Balad, “which hosted the biggest pit in the theater, incinerating an estimated 147 tons of waste a day as of 2008.” His wife, Rosie Torres, recalls, “[LeRoy] described to me the stench, the smell, the smoke, the plume, the residue that it would leave in their quarters — like white ash. He didn’t know why, but something even then told him to stop doing PT [physical training) outside.”
Coughlin researched cases like Torres' during the course of his tenure at the VA OPH, and was consistently struck by a lack of accountability - and even deceit - that marked the VA's response to the study's findings. According to the American Conservative, the VA avoided responsibility for veterans' care by downplaying and ignoring any evidence that would link veterans' wartime experiences to health issues back home.
During his hearing on March 13, Coughlin stated that "if the studies produce results that do not support OPH’s unwritten policy, they do not release them. This applies to data regarding adverse health consequences of environmental exposures, such as burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and toxic exposures in the Gulf War. On the rare occasions when embarrassing study results are released, data are manipulated to make them unintelligible." When Coughlin confronted his supervisor about this concealment and distortion, he was allegedly "openly threatened and retaliated against."
This concealment and distortion comes at a great cost, as the survey on New Generation veterans (a ten year National Health Study) cost taxpayers $10 million. More broadly, though, Coughlin argued in his hearing that this is an issue that affects all Americans, because "after $120 million in taxpayer dollars spent in research over the last 10 years, the VA is no closer to targeted treatment for GWI than it was in the 1990s." While the cost to the taxpaying public is great, the cost to our veterans is even greater. The survey given to New Generation veterans produced information on exposure to pesticides, oil-well fires and pyridostigmine bromide tablets (prescribed to Gulf War soldiers to protect against nerve agents). Research now shows that these and other battlefield exposures have resulted in making an estimated 200,000 out of 697,000 Gulf War soldiers seriously ill. Nonetheless, while there exists a large body of evidence for the physical damage suffered by veterans because of these exposures, the VA insists upon calling GWI a psychosomatic condition brought on by battle stresses because this is cheaper than recognizing any real physical harm done. The American Conservative quotes Capt. Mark Lyles, a Navy scientist who’s been working on research based on a theory that a highly toxic “stew” of heavy metals found in the Iraqi dust is making veterans sick. Lyles explained, "You have to realize the cost associated with a real pathology. A psychosomatic [illness] can be treated, thus cured. At the very least we can put you on some pills and ‘fix’ your problem. If there is an environmental toxin or exposure that is the cause of this, and they produce permanent neurological damage, than that is forever.”
While hiding and manipulating the data from these surveys and the general mishandling of veterans’ issues is disheartening, there are some elements of hope in the fallout from Coughlin’s hearing. First, while the VA currently maintains that there are no long-term health risks associated with burn pits, the department has initiated a new study on whether there is any “relationship between deployments and illnesses such as cancer, respiratory disease, circulatory problems, neurological conditions and more.” If the results of the study are hidden or skewed, as they have been in the past, then we must take further steps to ensure the VA takes responsibility. There are several organizations involved in this work, including the Right To Heal and Burn Pits 360, run by Rosie Torres, the formerly quoted military wife dealing with her husband’s post-war medical problems. Finally, as Gulf War veteran Anthony Hardie explained in his testimony (also given on March 13), “There is an element of hope here…if we keep following this ‘don’t ask, don’t find’ strategy, then we’ll end up having an overburdened healthcare system and an overburdened disability claims system, and you’ll have more people like me who would do anything to get their health back and live a normal life.”
Whistleblowers are champions of our society. Though often cast as pariahs, the fact is that whistleblowers have helped us move forward in a variety of ways. From Galileo to Daniel Ellsberg to Frank Serpico to Karen Silkwood these whistleblowers worked through their fears and personal sacrifices to help the greater good.
Brave New Foundation recently premiered its new documentary, War on Whistleblowers: Free Press and the National Security State in D.C., New York, and Los Angeles and they want you to have a copy!
The film highlights 4 cases where whistleblowers noticed government wrong-doing and had to turn to the media in order to expose the fraud and abuse. The film shines a light on the worsening reality for whistleblowers who are being persecuted for exposing the truth. Click here to get a free DVD of the film; all they ask is that you have a house screening to share the film with your friends. Be sure to send a picture of the screening to email@example.com.
The film was also recently shown theatrically in NY and LA to be qualified for Academy Award consideration, but we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see the film, download the ACTION GUIDE, and make a difference on this issue.
President Obama’s speech yesterday, presenting his vision of a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy, included welcome rhetoric about the importance of constitutional principles, including Due Process and rights to dissent. It may represent the high watermark for civil liberties since his inauguration five years ago.
It is disappointing, given his thoughtful words, that he ignored so many inconvenient truths. From extrajudicial assassination to free speech and freedom of the press, from the need to address root causes of terrorism to partnership with American Muslims, the president promoted important principles but papered over reality.
The reaction by Republican senators was even worse. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) foolishly suggested that “The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” and suggested doubling down on many of the same failed Bush-era policies from which President Obama finally signaled long overdue independence yesterday.
Due Process: Gitmo
The president forcefully spoke about the need to close Guantánamo Bay, and also lifted his moratorium on releasing Yemeni detainees whom the government has cleared for release, despite the clamor among conservative lawmakers who prefer to indefinitely detain anyone accused of terror without trial.
Yet the president’s words reflected important principles that his own administration has routinely violated. Col. Morris D. Davis, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo who resigned his position to challenge torture (and serves on the BORDC advisory board), agreed that “It’s great rhetoric. But now is the reality going to live up to the rhetoric?”
The president criticized restrictions on resettling detainees cleared for release imposed by Congress early in his administration. But he has the authority to resettle those detainees through a separate process, if he were willing to certify the release of particular individuals—which he has avoided in order to avoid the political risk.
Due Process: Drone strikes
President Obama also pledged more congressional oversight of drone strikes, responding to sustained controversy and reiterating a promise from his State of the Union address in January that he has yet to fill.
May 2013, Vol. 12 No. 05
View this newsletter as a webpage: http://www.bordc.org/newsletter/2012/05/
- BORDC Board elects new leadership
- BORDC in the news
- Read the latest news & analysis from the People’s Blog for the Constitution
- Round the clock surveillance: Is this the price of living in a ‘Free, Safe’ society? by John W. Whitehead
- Heavy toll of drone killings illuminated at Senate hearing by Michael Figura
- MA House & Senate to consider 5 pieces of privacy legislation by Dave Mitchell
- Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition proposes Rapid Response Network by Kyla Kuvach
- The press fails yet again by Shahid Buttar
- BORDC announces 2013-2014 legal fellowship
- Summer 2013 internships available with BORDC
- Legal fellow Michael Figura speaks at events across Maine
- BORDC hosts receptions in San Francisco and Washington, DC
- Convening in Oakland, CA, informs activists and coalitions from across the country
- May 2013 Patriot Award: Jayel Aheram
- Grassroots Updates
- Alameda County, CA: County passes resolution against Secure Communities policy
- Los Angeles, CA: Stop LAPD Spying continues to address pervasive surveillance
- Charlotte, NC: Activists challenge statewide discriminatory policing and sentencing
- California: AB 351 advances to challenge indefinite detention
- Chicago, IL, mobilizes across several events
- Dallas, TX, hosts events to greet Bush Presidential Center, challenges protest restriction
- Albany, NY, responds to abusive paramilitary training exercise
- Connecticut legislature tackles several civil liberties issues
- Immigration reform proposals mask biometric assault on all Americans
- Gitmo hunger strike draws global attention to ongoing US torture
- ECPA reform aims to limit electronic searches
- DHS caught spying on Occupy movement as IRS discriminates against Tea Party
- Google reports increase in government censor requests
- Boston bombings: From surveillance to white privilege
- Micro-grants offer opportunities for grassroots action
- BORDC announces 2013-2014 legal fellowship
- Summer 2013 internships available with BORDC
- War on Whistleblowers DVD and Action Guide
- Hold your elected officials and candidates for office accountable: pledge to support only those who defend your civil liberties
Obama said he made “no apologies” for being concerned about national security but that the free flow of information was important to him as well.
What exactly is this “free flow” of information? According to The Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald:
If you talk to any real investigative journalist, they will tell you that an unprecedented climate of fear has emerged in which their sources are petrified to talk to them. That the Obama administration has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined has already severely chilled the news gathering process. Imagine what message this latest behavior sends to journalists and their sources: that at any moment, the phone records of even the nation’s most establishment journalists can be secretly obtained by the DOJ, which has no compunction about doing so even in the most extreme and invasive manner.
This mind set is obviously not very conducive to a “free flow” of information. So apparently, President Obama’s “free flow” of information is only pertaining to that information which benefits his administration:
The Obama administration does not mind leaks of classified national security information; to the contrary, they love such leaks and are the most prolific exploiters of them. What they dislike are leaks that they don’t approve and/or which don’t glorify the president.
Interestingly, the media is suddenly up in arms about this abuse by the Obama administration. This passage from the Washington Post had Greenwald laughing audibly:
President Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer who came to office pledging renewed respect for civil liberties, is today running an administration at odds with his résumé and preelection promises.
The Justice Department’s collection of journalists’ phone records and the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups have challenged Obama’s credibility as a champion of civil liberties – and as a president who would heal the country from damage done by his predecessor.
You don’t say! The Washington Post’s breaking news here is only about four years late. Back in mid-2010, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, speaking about Obama’s civil liberties record at a progressive conference, put it this way: “I’m disgusted with this
president.” In the spirit of optimism, one can adopt a “better-late-than-never” outlook regarding this newfound media awakening.
The news media should take a several steps back from its cozy relationship inside the Beltway and return to its adversarial position as a watchdog of government. We, the people, need the media on our side, not the side of the politically elite.