Posts Tagged ‘whistleblowers’

Constitution in Crisis: BORDC’s June 2013 Newsletter

Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 8:35 am by

 

Constitution in Crisis

June 2013, Vol. 12 No. 06

View this newsletter as a webpage: http://www.bordc.org/newsletter/2013/06/


Leaks confirm dragnet NSA spying

On June 5, The (UK) Guardian published a previously secret court order authorizing dragnet surveillance of millions of Americans without any pretense of justification, confirming concerns raised for years by civil libertarians.


BORDC News

BORDC in the news

Amid recent revelations including Department of Justice (DOJ) attacks on the press, and secret dragnet surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), BORDC informed communities and broadcast audiences about these abuses and their profound impact on all Americans.

Read the latest news & analysis from the People’s Blog for the Constitution

Have you read BORDC’s blog lately? The People’s Blog for the Constitution has attracted a growing audience that has tripled over the past year. Featuring news & analysis beyond the headlines on a daily basis, it offers a great way to stay up to date and informed.

Highlights from the past month include:

BORDC announces Communications Specialist position

BORDC seeks a communications specialist to manage the organization’s online social networking profiles and web presence, engage traditional media sources, and edit the People’s Blog for the Constitution. The position may be expanded to communications manager, with associated administrative and supervisory responsibilities, for the right candidate.

BORDC Legal Fellow Nadia Kayyali speaks on panel with legendary whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg

On Tuesday, June 11, BORDC legal fellow Nadia Kayyali joined Daniel Ellsberg, Icelandic member of parliament Birgitta Jónsdottír, and activist Norman Solomon to discuss “Our Vanishing Civil Liberties” outside San Francisco, CA. The event, moderated by volunteer NDAA attorney Bob Jaffe, was attended by nearly 600 people.

Nadia Kayyali at Netroots Nation Conference

On Saturday, June 22, BORDC legal fellow Nadia Kayyali spoke at Netroots Nation. The panel, “Challenging Drones, From Pakistan to Oakland,” included ACLU of Northern California attorney Linda Lye, recent Stanford Law graduate and international drones expert Omar Shakir, and Human Rights Director at Alliance for San Diego Christian Ramirez. The speakers focused on the issues surrounding the domestic use of drones, drone use at the borders, and how they connect to the overseas use of drones.


Grassroots News

June 2013 Patriot Award: Alok Bhatt

Grassroots updates


Law and Policy

FBI nomination of Bush administration lawyer James Comey keeps spying in the spotlight

NSA Spying Revealed…again

National Defense Authorization Act 2014 update

War on whistleblowers

Supreme Court undermines genetic privacy in Maryland v. King


New Resources & Opportunities

Drone Legislation Google Hangout

Microgrants offer opportunities for grassroots action

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

Snowden and the NSA: Who’s the Real Criminal?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 9:05 am by

This post was originally published by The Progressive magazine on June 25, 2013.

Over the past two weeks, the news cycle has obsessively focused on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, his psychology, and most recently, his whereabouts.

Lost in this emphasis is the original focus on the real criminals at the NSA, and across the executive branch, who have conspired to assault the Constitution.

Many of the same officials complicit in dragnet domestic spying, including director of national intelligence James Clapper, have attempted to cover outright lies to Congress with self-serving claims that Snowden’s leaks undermined national security.

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A personal perspective of Ed Snowden

Saturday, June 15, 2013 at 9:21 am by

This guest blog post was written by Joshua Wilson.

It’s a good thing that the president, Congress, and our broader society have disregarded the legacy of the Anti-Federalists and created a system that perfectly abides the interests of tyrants.

Ed Snowden’s exposure of the PRISM program has started a series of questions that has already challenged the current legacy of government lies and complicity in them. Yet, rather than do their jobs, American media outlets seem content to join the Fourth Amendment’s death throws by calling into question the character of NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden, while avoiding the real issue of NSA crimes such as the PRISM program and further dragnet surveillance under the PATRIOT and FISA Acts.

I know Ed Snowden personally. We met at my Kung Fu school, which presents all who join us as members of an extended family. Ed was my Si Hing, or older brother. He was responsible to help me learn martial arts, but he truly lived up to his role as an older brother.

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News Digest 06/11/13

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Overlooked reasons why NSA secrecy is senseless and offensive

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 10:48 am by

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.

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News Digest 06/06/13

Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

FBI & NSA spying revealed: Uncle Sam is watching you, and both Congress and the courts are complicit

Thursday, June 6, 2013 at 10:41 am by

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.

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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.

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News Digest 05/29/13

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Dr. Steven S. Coughlin pushes for accountability from the Veterans Affairs Office

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 10:17 am by

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). 

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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.”

War on Whistleblowers DVD and Action Guide

Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm by

Whistle, watercolorsWhistleblowers 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 outreach@bravenewfoundation.org.

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.