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Fred was one of the bravest and most decent journalists I ever encountered.

He exposed the terrorism of the U.S. “carpet bombing” over Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia that was explicitly aimed at “drying up the sea” of millions of innocent village people that the U.S. government claimed were providing cover to the enemy during the Vietnam War. And when those people refused to accept our definition of their enemy, and return the love offered by our fragmentation bombs shredding their children’s bodies, we bombed them more still.

That immense tragedy was all the more poignant in Laos, one of the most underdeveloped and isolated nations in the world. It had nothing to provide but its bewildered population to serve as possible targets for Pentagon planners. I had been to Laos before Fred and after he did his brave, epic reporting on the devastation of that country by U.S. bombing of technologically primitive villagers, whom I had delighted with gifts of pencils. We shared many sorrowful discussions about the madness of U.S. policy and the immense suffering that our country had visited upon a people who were barely aware of what the bombers were up to.

Fred risked his life repeatedly for years gathering the stories of people in Laos, whom U.S. policymakers denied had stories worth listening to, and instead were treated simply as inevitable collateral damage of no moral importance.

Fred, who had spent years as an aid worker, knew better, respecting the humanity of people who had never flown in a jet plane but sensed far more about the value and meaning of life than the sophisticated killers who so casually destroyed them.

His great work, driven by an immense humanitarian concern, continued in his last years and provided Truthdig with the honor of being allowed to publish one of the world’s most sensitive journalists.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com.

 
• Category: History 
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Barack Obama’s Justice Department on Monday announced that Citigroup would pay $7 billion in fines, a move that will avoid a humiliating trial dealing with the seamy financial products the bank had marketed to an unsuspecting public, causing vast damage to the economy.

Citigroup is the too-big-to-fail bank that was allowed to form only when Bill Clinton signed legislation reversing the sensible restraints on Wall Street instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt to avoid another Great Depression.

Those filled with Clinton nostalgia these days might want to reflect back on how truly destructive was his legacy for hardworking people throughout the world who lost so much due to the financial shenanigans that he made legal.

“Today what we are doing is modernizing the financial services industry, tearing down those antiquated laws and granting banks significant new authority,” a beaming Clinton boasted after signing the Financial Services Modernization Act into law in 1999.

Called the Citigroup authorization act by some wags at the time, those antiquated laws, the Glass-Steagall Act primarily, had put a safety barrier between the high rollers in Wall Street investment firms and the staid commercial banks charged with preserving the savings of ordinary folk. The new law permitted them to merge.

Clinton handed the pen that he used in signing the new law to Citigroup Chairman Sanford Weill, whose Citicorp had already merged with Travelers Group before the law was even officially changed. On an earlier occasion, Weill had informed Clinton about his merger plans in a telephone conversation. After hanging up, Weill then bragged to his fellow banking executive John S. Reed, who was on the call, that “we just made the president of the United States an insider,” according to Wall Street Journal reporter Monica Langley in her book on the Citigroup merger.

In 2000, just before leaving office, Clinton went much further in radical deregulation of the financial industry when he signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. In one swoop, this eliminated from the purview of any existing regulation or regulatory agency the new financial products, including the mortgage-backed securities at the heart of the financial meltdown and the subject of the $7 billion fine levied in what has to be viewed as a copout deal.

This is not just because the fine is paltry compared with the far greater damage Citigroup wreaked upon working Americans who lost so much but because, without a trial, there will be no public accountability of the cynicism that Citigroup’s leaders visited upon unknowing consumers.

That cynicism begins with Robert Rubin, who was selected from his leading position at Goldman Sachs to be Clinton’s Treasury secretary.

It was Rubin who as much as anyone is responsible for pushing through the legislation that ended the effective regulation of Wall Street and made the merger of Travelers Group and Citicorp possible. Rubin was a darling of the mass media while in office, and the fawning adulation continued even as he moved through the revolving door and took a $15 million a year job with Citigroup, the megabank he had helped make legal. Rubin was at Citigroup during the years when it engaged in most of the practices involving subprime and other questionable mortgages that resulted in the fines the bank must now pay.

 

Rubin’s deputy in the Treasury Department, Larry Summers, who replaced him for the last years of the Clinton administration, was particularly important in pushing through the legislation that freed Collateralized Debt Obligations from any regulation. Summers worked to silence Brooksley Born, the heroically prescient chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who had warned of the dangers posed by unregulated CDOs. Her reward for such insight was to be denied reappointment by Clinton and denounced by Summers.

Summers set the gold standard for out-of-touch stupidity when he testified before a Senate committee that the “largely sophisticated financial institutions” were “capable of protecting themselves from fraud and counterparty insolvencies,” and “given the nature of the underlying assets involved — namely supplies of financial exchange and other financial interest — there would be little scope for market manipulation.”

Summers later made $8 million in 2008 in speaking fees from Citigroup and other banks and consulting for a hedge fund before being tapped by Obama to be his top economic adviser. Summers was instrumental in guiding the Obama administration’s efforts to keep the bankers whole while largely ignoring the fate of their victims.

The collapse of the derivative market that Summers predicted was immune to “fraud and counterparty insolvencies” plunged U.S. household worth $16 trillion or 24 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2009, according to a study by the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.

That’s trillions of dollars, not the $7 billion fine that Citigroup just got slapped with as a means of avoiding the harsher judgment in a court of law that the bank and its politician enablers so richly deserve.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com. Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Wall Street 
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Who is the true patriot, Hillary Clinton or Edward Snowden? The question comes up because Clinton has gone all out in attacking Snowden as a means of burnishing her hawkish credentials, eliciting Glenn Greenwald’s comment that she is “like a neocon, practically.”

On Friday in England, Clinton boasted that two years ago she had favored a proposal by a top British General to train 100,000 “moderate” rebels to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, but Obama had turned her down. The American Thatcher? In that same interview with the Guardian she also managed to get in yet another shot against Snowden for taking refuge in Russia “apparently under Putin’s protection,” unless, she taunted, “he wishes to return knowing he would be held accountable.”

Accountable for telling the truth that Clinton concealed during her tenure as secretary of state in the Obama administration? Did she approve of the systematic spying on the American people as well as of others around the world, including the leaders of Germany and Brazil, or did she first learn of all this from the Snowden revelations?

On Saturday, a carefully vetted four-month investigation by the Washington Post based on material made available by Snowden revealed that while Clinton was in the government, the NSA had collected a vast trove of often intimate Internet correspondence and photos of innocent Americans, including many users of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other leading Internet companies. The Post reported many files “described as useless by the [NSA] analysts but nonetheless retained … have a voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.”

The Post concluded after four months of reviewing the documents and checking with government agencies that the material supplied by Snowden was invaluable in evaluating the NSA program: “No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the President’s Privacy and Civil Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects — not only from its targets but from people who may cross a target’s path.”

Did Secretary of State Clinton know that such massive spying on the American people was going on and, if not, why isn’t she grateful that Snowden helped to enlighten her? With her scurrilous attacks on Snowden, Hillary Clinton is either a fool or a liar.

Too harsh? Consider her continued insistence that Snowden could have addressed his concerns over the massive NSA spying on Americans and the rest of the world by going through normal channels instead of turning over the documents as he has entrusted to respected news organizations that won the Pulitzer Prize for their efforts.

In an April speech at the University of Connecticut, Clinton said of Snowden: “When he absconded with all of that material, I was puzzled, because we have all these protections for whistleblowers.” That is simply not true; Snowden as a contractor to the government is not entitled to the federal protections that cover federal employees.

But even those federal employees have found scant protection under the Obama administration in their attempt to blow the whistle on national security practices.

As secretary of state in an administration that has charged three times as many Americans with violations of the draconian Espionage Act than all preceding presidents combined, Clinton must know that the Obama Justice Department has effectively moved to silence whistleblowers from stating their case in court.

They even tried to prevent Thomas Drake, an honored NSA employee charged under the Espionage Act, from even using the words “whistleblower” or “First Amendment” in his defense. Drake had taken his concerns over NSA’s violation of the law to the Defense Department Inspector General and the congressional intelligence committees of both houses of Congress, but that did not stop the Obama administration, when Clinton was in the cabinet, from prosecuting him under the Espionage Act for talking to the press. The government’s case collapsed with a federal judge calling it “unconscionable” that Drake had been put through “four years of hell.”

Hilary Clinton knows just how selective the Obama administration has been in punishing whistleblowers who expose government violations of the Constitution. Obama made a political decision not to hold accountable any of those involved in the torture program conducted during the Bush years but zealously prosecuted CIA veteran John Kiriakou under the Espionage Act for publicly revealing and condemning one of the most horrendous episodes in the nation’s history.

Kiriakou, destroyed professionally and financially for his efforts to hold the torturers accountable, plea-bargained for the 30-month sentence he is currently serving. Whistleblower Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was given a far harsher sentence for revealing crimes in Iraq in a war that Hilary Clinton supported. If she asks for your vote, you might remind her of Kiriakou’s words before being imprisoned:

“The conviction of Bradley Manning under the 1917 Espionage Act and the U.S. Justice Department’s decision to file espionage charges against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden under the same act are yet further examples of the Obama administration’s policy of using an iron fist against human rights and civil liberties activists. President Obama has been unprecedented in his use of the Espionage Act to prosecute those whose whistleblowing he wants to curtail.

“The purpose of an Espionage Act prosecution, however, is not to punish a person spying for the enemy, selling secrets for personal gain, or trying to undermine our way of life. It is to ruin the whistleblower, personally, professionally and financially. It is meant to send a message to anybody else considering speaking truth to power: challenge us and we will destroy you.”

That is the message that Hillary Clinton seeks to send to Edward Snowden. Remind her of that when she asks for your vote.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com.

Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
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This week’s unanimous Supreme Court decision affirming a robust Fourth Amendment protection for cellphone data is an enormously important victory for privacy rights in the digital age. It is also a reminder that support as well as opposition to civil liberty these days can come from unexpected quarters. Or maybe it is no longer much of a surprise that our constitutional law professor turned President cares so little for the protections enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

In an opinion endorsed by all factions on the court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. summarily rejected the assertion of the Obama Justice Department and the liberal Attorney General of California, defending that state’s top court’s view, that a warrantless search of the vast data contained on a cellphone is comparable to looking into a detainees cigarette pack or reading a few pages tucked into his pocket. Limited searches that the court has previously accepted as consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

Instead of treating “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” as an irrelevant antiquity of the pre-computer age Roberts turned the argument on its head insisting that a cellphone’s data requires greater constitutional protection because the personal information it contains is so vast. As Roberts wrote in dismissing the U.S Justice Department and California’s equation of cellphone data to previously acceptable incidental body searches:

“That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together. Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse. … Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and tended as a general matter to constitute only a narrow intrusion on privacy. … Today, by contrast, it is no exaggeration to say that many of the more than 90 percent of Americans who own a cell phone keep on their person a digital record of nearly every aspect of their lives — from the mundane to the intimate.”

The modern cellphone is a mobile file cabinet of all of the personal data once stored in a home that the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect.

Writing of the cellphone, Roberts argued for the unanimous majority: “They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, Rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps or newspapers.”

 

The implications of this pro-privacy ruling at a time of the exposure of a vast government surveillance regime centered at the NSA are obvious. All of that troubling cellphone data is a relatively small fraction of what the NSA scoops up employing precisely the general warrants that the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit. While it is certainly questionable whether Roberts will lead the court into applying that prohibition to the modern surveillance state logical consistency would demand it.

What is truly radical about the court’s unanimous endorsement of Roberts’s opinion is that it asserts the primacy of privacy in the survival of the American political experiment in representative governance. Responding to the Obama administration’s suggestion that law enforcement agencies “develop protocols to address” privacy concerns raised by the vast amounts of private data stored on cloud computers Roberts responded, “Probably a good idea, but the founders did not fight a revolution to gain the right to government agency protocols.”

Presumably, they also didn’t fight the revolution to transfer their rights to FISA courts whose judges Roberts appoints. Perhaps he trusts his own motives in such matters but the basic message of the constitution is to fundamentally mistrust those in power. That much Roberts does recognize in his classic conclusion that is bound to resonate over time:

“Our cases have recognized that the Fourth Amendment was the founding generation’s response to the reviled “general warrants” and “writs of assistance” of the colonial era, which allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity. Opposition to such searches was in fact one of the driving forces behind the revolution itself. In 1761, the patriot James Otis delivered a speech in Boston denouncing the use of writs of assistance. A young John Adams was there, and he would later write that ‘every man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.’ According to Adams, Otis’s speech was ‘the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born.’”

Now, about the NSA and its rummaging, might Edward Snowden come to be viewed as the contemporary James Otis?

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com.

Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
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John Kerry was doing his best “Casablanca” impersonation, pretending to be police Capt. Renault and was just shocked that Egypt is still a brutal military dictatorship despite our newly revived “historic partnership.”

A day after chatting it up in Cairo on Sunday with now-elected dictator Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, who, Kerry assured the world, “gave me a very strong sense of his commitment (to) a re-evaluation of human rights legislation (and) a re-evaluation of the judicial process,” the secretary of state felt compelled to release a statement condemning that process.

Although the U.S. government has managed to overlook the Egyptian military’s brutal destruction of the Arab world’s most significant attempt at accommodating religious, ethnic and tribal differences through representative government, the stiff sentences meted out Monday to three Al-Jazeera journalists, all veterans of Western news organizations, have finally shocked the media establishment. They also embarrassed Kerry, who had come to Cairo to curry favor with the military dictatorship. The State Department released the following statement of condemnation under his name:

“Today’s conviction and chilling, draconian sentences by the Cairo Criminal Court of three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others in a trial that lacked many fundamental norms of due process is a deeply disturbing set-back to Egypt’s transition. Injustices like these simply cannot stand if Egypt is to move forward in the way that President al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Shoukry told me yesterday that they aspire to see their country advance.”

That was followed with some human rights blather by Kerry that the various military juntas that have run Egypt into the ground for more than half a century have systematically ignored. One can only imagine the depth of fear experienced by the Egyptian leadership when Kerry registered his disapproval of the court decision: “When I heard the verdict today I was so concerned about it, frankly, disappointed in it, that I immediately picked up the telephone and talked to the foreign minister of Egypt and registered our serious displeasure at this kind of verdict,” he told reporters in Baghdad.

This is a military elite class that has enriched itself by denying the politics of freedom to the largest Arab population and is hardly likely to be moved by Kerry’s “serious displeasure.” Not when he has told them in no uncertain terms that the U.S. is now planning to violate American law by rewarding a military junta that violently overthrew Egypt’s first ever freely elected president with the resumption of a $1.3 billion annual aid package.

“I am absolutely confident we will get on track there,” Kerry promised Sunday in assuring that the suspension of 10 Apache helicopter gunships will also be lifted. “The Apaches will come, and they will come very, very soon.”

Not soon enough to assure the military junta that has continued to imprison President Mohamed Morsi, who appears in court locked in a soundproof cage, and that the day before Kerry’s visit confirmed the death penalty for 182 of his supporters in a mass trial. Although hundreds of other defendants also face the death penalty, and tens of thousands of Morsi’s supporters and other dissenters have been killed or remain imprisoned, Kerry delights in informing the general who overthrew Egypt’s only serious experiment in representative democracy that he will get even more sophisticated weapons with which to enforce his hold on power.

In the process of consolidating its power, the military has silenced the dissenting voices of Egypt’s Arab Spring, including the bold manifestations of a free press. State financed thugs who shout down any reporters daring to raise unpleasant questions now dominate the Egyptian news media. The basic human rights of assembly and speech unleashed by Egypt’s season of freedom that resulted in Morsi’s election have been snuffed out across the political spectrum.

The lesson of Kerry’s visit to the Arab world’s most populous country, bearing the gifts of U.S. military and economic aid, is that the United States is totally hypocritical in making the case for human rights, preferring the rule of a deeply corrupt military elite that will accommodate U.S. prerogatives in the region to the expressions of individual freedom only recently displayed in Egypt.

The fact that the lead victims of this suppression, the followers of the Muslim Brotherhood, eschewed violence in favor of peaceful civic organization and the route of elections carries an alarming message that the United States is not seriously committed to nonviolent means of bringing about social change.

From Egypt, it was off to Baghdad for Kerry to see whether Iraq’s bold effort in democratic nation building could be resuscitated in the face of imminent collapse. The problem there is that Kerry will have trouble locating a military strongman to back. The nostalgic choice might be someone like Saddam Hussein. He, too, was a secular military strongman who very effectively controlled religiously motivated parties, but he’s no longer available.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com. Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Egypt 
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The Iraq disaster remains George W. Bush’s enduring folly, and the Republican attempt to shift the blame to the Obama presidency is obscene nonsense. This was, and will always be, viewed properly as Bush’s quagmire, a murderous killing field based on blatant lies.

This showcase of American deceit, obvious to the entire world, began with the invented weapons of mass destruction threat that Bush, were he even semi-cognizant of the intelligence data, must have known represented an egregious fraud. So was his nonsensical claim that Saddam Hussein had something to do with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, when in fact he was Osama bin Laden’s most effective Arab opponent.

Yet Bush responded to the 9/11 attacks by overthrowing a leader who had banished al-Qaida from Iraq and who had been an ally of the United States in the war to contain Iran’s influence in the region. Instead of confronting the funders of Sunni extremism based in Saudi Arabia, the home of 15 of the 19 hijackers and their Saudi leader bin Laden, Bush chose to attack the secular leader of Iraq. That invasion, as the evidence of the last week confirms, resulted in an enormous boon to both Sunni extremists and their militant Shiite opponents throughout the Mideast.

How pathetic that Secretary of State John Kerry is now reduced to begging the ayatollahs of Iran to come to the aid of their brethren in Iraq. Or that the movement to overthrow the secular leader of Syria, a movement supported by the United States, has resulted in a base for Sunni terrorists in Iraq and Syria of far greater consequence than the one previously used to plot the 9/11 attacks from isolated Afghanistan.

Imagine if Barack Obama had succumbed to his critics’ demands that he supply the insurgents in Syria with sophisticated weaponry? Those weapons would now be turned against the fragmenting Iraqi army that the United States trained at an enormous cost. Or if he had chosen military confrontation with Iran instead of diplomacy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, leaving the Shiite leaders of Iraq squeezed between enemies on two fronts. The elected government in Iraq has a chance to survive only because Obama gave peace a chance in choosing to negotiate with the government of Iran.

The only error Obama made in ending the U.S. military role in Iraq was not moving fast enough to disengage from Bush’s nation-building fantasies.

Where is the evidence that it ever works, particularly in the Mideast? The United States has backed the military ruling class in Egypt for more than three decades, and the instant the much-hoped-for transition to democracy appeared, those same corrupt generals scurried for safety to the embrace of oil drenched Saudi religious fanatics. Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi is now gone, only to be replaced by militants given to an even harsher brand of oppression. Yet a bipartisan consensus of Washington politicians still believes that the overthrow of the secular leader of Syria is somehow consistent with the proclaimed goals of the war on terrorism.

It obviously isn’t, as the anti-Assad Sunni militants who now freely cross the border from Syria to Iraq waving flags in support of al-Qaida have attested. It is further evidence that dealing with terrorism in militaristic battle terms rather than as a social pathology to be treated as an illness is a dangerous diversion. The war on terrorism is as irrational a concept as a war on cancer or the flu — it assumes that the military arsenal is the deciding factor when it never is, for long.

The seeds of radical discontent throughout the world, but particularly in the Mideast, derive from myriad complex and intertwined causes. In this region, the obvious sources of tension in religious grievances, stagnant economies and frustrated nationalism — as with the obviously legitimate demands of Palestinians and Kurds — have been wildly exacerbated down through the centuries by the imperial ambitions of non-regional actors. Those prisoners of imperial hubris always underestimated the resilience of the occupied and came to believe their own lies about being crusaders for enlightenment.

That is a dangerous delusion energetically asserted by the Paul Wolfowitzes and Dick Cheneys even now, as their mad schemes for a reinvented Mideast spectacularly disintegrate. In their minds, it is still deeply felt that if only Obama had stayed the course of occupation, we would be greeted as liberators, while our corporations quietly sucked up their oil.

Presidential candidate Obama made clear his contempt for that neocon pipe dream. Once elected, in regard to winding down the Iraq War, he has not strayed far from that conviction, and on this he much deserves our support. This is so even if it means going through the next decades of our political life arguing about “Who Lost Iraq?” the way we once argued about “Who Lost China?” — ignoring that neither country was truly ours to lose.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com. Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Iraq War 
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It was a truly historic moment on Tuesday when Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor to warn that the CIA’s continuing cover-up of its torture program is threatening our Constitutional division of power. By blatantly concealing what Feinstein condemned as “the horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed,” the spy agency now acts as a power unto itself, and the agency’s outrages have finally aroused the senator’s umbrage.

As Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee that will be investigating Feinstein’s charges noted, “in 40 years here, it was one of the best speeches I’d ever heard and one of the most important.” That was particularly so, given that Feinstein’s searing indictment of the CIA’s decade-long subversion of congressional oversight of its torture program comes from a senator who previously has worked overtime to justify the subversion of democratic governance by the CIA and other spy agencies.

But clearly the lady has by now had enough, given the CIA’s recent hacking of her Senate committee’s computers in an effort to suppress a key piece of evidence supporting the veracity of the committee’s completed but still not released 6,300-page study that the CIA is bent on suppressing.

The Senate’s investigation began in earnest with the Dec. 7, 2007 revelation in the New York Times that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of its “enhanced interrogation techniques,” despite objections from then-President Bush’s director of National Security and the White House counsel. At that time, then-committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., sent staffers to begin the painstaking process of reviewing the limited material that the CIA was willing to make available; their preliminary report wasn’t issued until early 2009.

By then, Feinstein had assumed the chairmanship and, as she recalled in her Tuesday speech, “The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”

Feinstein, ostensibly backed by new President Barack Obama, who had campaigned as an opponent of the CIA’s methods, obtained the committee’s bipartisan backing for an expanded investigation. But the CIA, led at the time by Obama appointee Leon Panetta, the former democratic congressman, put numerous logistical obstacles in the way of the Senate investigation.

As Feinstein pointed out, “the CIA hired a team of outside contractors — who otherwise would not have had access to these sensitive documents — to read, multiple times, each of the 6.2 million pages of documents produced, before providing them to fully-cleared committee staff conducting the committee’s oversight work.

This proved to be a slow and very expensive process.”

 

It was so slow that the committee’s investigation has only now been completed. Along the way, documents that Senate staffers found interesting would then mysteriously disappear from the system. One such set of disappeared documents, referred to as the “Internal Panetta Review,” is now at the center of the CIA hacking scandal.

The Panetta Review became relevant last June, when the CIA offered its critique of the Senate study. But as Feinstein points out, “Some of those important parts that the CIA now disputes in our committee study are clearly acknowledged in the CIA’s own Internal Panetta Review. To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own Internal Review?”

Relations between the Senate committee responsible for oversight of the CIA and the agency were so poor that, as Feinstein states, “after noting the disparity between the official CIA response to the committee study and the Internal Panetta Review, the committee staff securely transported a printed portion of the draft Internal Panetta Review from the committee’s secure room at the CIA-leased facility to the secure committee spaces in the Hart Senate Office Building.”

Feinstein defended the committee staff’s spiriting information away from the CIA:

“As I have detailed, the CIA has previously withheld and destroyed information about its Detention and Interrogation Program … there was a need to preserve and protect the Internal Panetta Review in the committee’s own secure spaces.”

The response of the CIA was to hack the computers that Senate staffers had been using at the CIA off-site location, and the agency’s acting general counsel filed a crimes report with the Department of Justice against the Senate committee’s staff.

That was too much for Feinstein, who outed the CIA’s counsel:

“I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center — the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the Detention and Interrogation Program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study. And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff — the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers — including the acting general counsel himself — provided inaccurate information to the Justice Department about the program.”

Enough said, except that White House spokesman Jay Carney put the president on the side of those like current CIA Director John Brennan covering up torture: “The president has great confidence in John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in our professionals at the CIA.” It’s something that George W. Bush would have said.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com. Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance 
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The tide is turning. Yesterday’s traitor is today’s hero, and the brave journalists who helped Edward Snowden get the word out are at last being honored for their public service. Or so one hopes.

On Sunday it was announced that the prestigious George Polk Award for National Security Reporting would be given to the four journalists — Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman — most active in reporting about the content of the NSA documents leaked by Snowden. The award, named after a CBS News correspondent killed in 1948 while covering the civil war in Greece, is intended to honor journalists who “heightened public awareness with perceptive detection and dogged pursuit of stories that otherwise would not have seen the light of day.”

That is, of course, the very purpose of the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press, an indelible standard of freedom subverted by figures like James R. Clapper Jr., the president’s director of national intelligence, who condemned those reporters as “accomplices” to Snowden’s disclosures and suggested that telling the truth should be treated as a serious crime. Of course, Clapper’s own blatant lies to the Senate Intelligence Committee, denying mass-scale surveillance of the American public under his direction, are to be presumed virtuous.

In reality, the documents Snowden shared with the reporters from The Guardian, The Washington Post and other news organizations with well-established records of journalistic integrity were reported on in a manner that was mindful not to reveal the sources and methods used to ferret out terrorists. There is no evidence that this reporting has weakened the U.S. government’s ability to protect the nation or that the NSA’s mass surveillance of the private communications of Americans has made us safer.

On the contrary, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, concluded, after an exhaustive investigation in the wake of the Snowden revelations, that the NSA surveillance program should be ended, as it is ineffectual and dangerous to our freedoms. Defenders of the program, implemented under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, have argued that if that NSA program had been in operation, one of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar, would have been caught because of a call he made from San Diego to Yemen. But the board concluded in its majority report: “We do not believe the Mihdhar example supports continuance of the NSA’s Section 215 program.

First, the failure to identify Mihdhar’s presence in the United States stemmed primarily from a lack of information sharing among federal agencies, not a lack of surveillance capabilities. As documented by the 9/11 commission and others, this was a failure to connect the dots, not a failure to collect enough dots.”

When the suspicious call was made in early 2000, Mihdhar was living in San Diego with “a longtime FBI asset.” But Mihdhar — who was being tracked by the CIA as well as the FBI — was allowed to leave the country and return on his valid Saudi passport to hijack a plane “in 2001 because he still had not been placed on any watchlists.”

Even more damning is the conclusion of the report, vetted by the NSA, that the information on Mihdhar was readily available without the collection of metadata on most Americans:

“But obtaining this knowledge did not require a bulk telephone records program. The NSA knew the telephone number of the Yemen safe house. If the telephone calls with Mihdhar were deemed suspicious at the time, the government could have used existing legal authorities to request from U.S. telephone companies the records of any calls made to or from that Yemen number. … Thus we do not believe that a program that collects all records from U.S. telephone companies was necessary to identify Mihdhar’s location in early 2000, nor that such a program is necessary to make similar discoveries in the future.”

What is threatening about the Snowden leaks is not the exposure of effective tactics employed by the U.S. in the fight against terrorism but rather the Keystone Cops-style ridicule it has brought upon America’s claim of leadership in that effort. A case in point is the report coauthored by Poitras, a documentary filmmaker close to Snowden (and obviously one of the accomplices to whom Clapper was referring), that ran in Saturday’s New York Times.

In that latest installment from Snowden’s trove of government secrets that Americans had a right and need to know, it was revealed that the NSA, in cahoots with an equivalent Australian intelligence outfit, spied on the communications between an American law firm and the Indonesian government. In this instance there is not even a fig leaf of national security pretense because the issue being litigated concerned the import of Indonesian clove cigarettes and shrimp rather than the implements of violent behavior.

As with the previous revelation about the NSA’s taping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone conversations, it is clear that the scope of the spy agency’s surveillance is so vast as to be absurd in its claim to be a narrowly targeted intrusion to nail suspected terrorists.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com. Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance 
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A Budweiser commercial during the Super Bowl, that annual celebration of violence as sport, featured a most joyous homecoming for a U.S. veteran of the Afghan War. It was a fitting tribute to the fact that he survived, but you would have to be drunk on Bud not to notice that the three decades since the United States first meddled in Afghanistan have been an unequivocal disaster and that those who did not survive — NATO combatants and far larger number of Afghan natives — died in vain.

This was a point made clearly but largely unnoticed on that day of obligatory patriotic flag waving in an interview with Hamid Karzai, the U.S. anointed leader of Afghanistan, who told British newspaper The Sunday Times of London that “I saw no good” resulting from yet another American adventure in imperial democracy:

“This whole 12 years was one of constant pleading with America to treat the lives of our civilians as lives of people,” Karzai stated, continuing his denunciation of the terror of anti-terrorism exemplified by George Bush’s orgy of torture followed by Barack Obama’s drone attacks that traumatize the Afghan countryside. Karzai, no stranger to corruption and contradiction, has refused to sign a pact authorizing a continued and much reduced U.S. presence in his country unless all such unilateral military attacks on his people are ended. As for the Taliban enemy that the U.S. invasion had temporarily deposed, Karzai referred to them as “brothers” while he dismissed his erstwhile American sponsors as “rivals,” indicating that Obama now has his own “mission accomplished” embarrassment.

Maybe that dismal outcome of the Obama-ordered surge, comparable to the ultimate failure of Bush’s in Iraq, is why Karzai observed that he and Obama have not spoken directly since June. For the Democratic hawks, Afghanistan was going to be the good war, but Obama has learned, as did then-President Jimmy Carter more than 30 years ago, that the Afghans are not to be toyed with.

In Carter’s case back in the late 1970s, he was convinced by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the president’s terminally confident national security adviser, that supporting Muslim extremists to overthrow a secular pro-Soviet government in power in Kabul would draw our main international adversary into its version of our Vietnam quagmire. What fun but the strategy failed, and the Soviets didn’t invade until the U.S. imported sufficient foreign fighters to destabilize a country on their border.

When Obama, back in December 2009, launched a troop “surge” in Afghanistan, he argued that “we did not ask for this fight,” but of course we did.

To know that, all he had to do was ask his then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had been an adviser to Carter and, in a 1996 memoir, exposed “Carter’s never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen six months before the Soviets invaded.”

 

After Gates’ admission, French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur asked Brzezinski whether he regretted “having given arms and advice to future terrorists,” and he replied: “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet Empire? Some stirred up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

He said that in 1998, and three years later, “some stirred up Muslims” flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The eradication of their movement became our national obsession, one that justified raising U.S. military expenditures back to the highest levels of the Cold War, even though there was no technologically significant enemy to justify this restoration of the power and the glory of the military-industrial complex.

In the process, we have come to sacrifice the basic rights of the individual enshrined in our Constitution in the name of finding what our last president, in his comic book lingo, termed the “evildoers,” without ever conceding that they were once, as President Reagan defined them, our “freedom fighters.” Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney, a former top exec at defense contractor Halliburton, must have chuckled at that one, knowing full well that a primitive enemy holed up in mountain caves could not justify blowing trillions on the most sophisticated oceangoing aircraft carriers, stealth fighters and other relics of an era when we had a militarily significant enemy.

It seemed to make sense only when both Republican Bush and Democrat Obama, in Afghanistan and Iraq, invoked the imagery of democratic nation building but instead exploited sectarian and tribal differences. Those efforts succeeded only in upending what remained of the stabilizing social order in both countries and have unleashed a never-ending cycle of violence providing invaluable propaganda for the al-Qaida elements we claimed to be eradicating.

“The money they should have paid to the police,” Karzai said, “they paid to private security firms and creating militias who caused lawlessness, corruption and highway robbery. What they did was create pockets of wealth and a vast countryside of deprivation and anger.”

Hey no problem, war is just another violent game we love to play. America, this Bud’s for you.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com. Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan 
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Somewhere in the lowest reaches of hell, Adolf Hitler and his coterie of lesser dictators must be tormented by the knowledge they did not live long enough to get their hands on “Angry Birds.” How much diabolical power they would have had, not playing the game, but rather mining the data freely volunteered by its billion unsuspecting customers.

“When a smartphone user opens ‘Angry Birds,’ the popular game application, and starts slinging birds at chortling green pigs, spy agencies have plotted how to lurk in the background to snatch data revealing the player’s location, age, sex and other personal information …” The New York Times reported, based on the latest of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

No need then for the Gestapo to go crashing through apartment doors to brutally interrogate citizens as to the most guarded moments of their personal lives when a vast amount of private information from gaming, mapping and social networking sites is pirated by the government. No totalitarian leader could ever imagine such surveillance power over his populace.

Of course, such nightmarish fantasies are a long way from the rationalizations of our own democratically oriented U.S. and British spy agencies that assure us they only ever target the bad guys. But the harrowing specificity about our once presumed private lives, as revealed this week in yet another devastating trove of documents from Snowden and reported in the Times and The Guardian, might one day open the floodgates to a totally regimented society.

What is alarming is the depth of detail, as well as the breadth of the information, gleaned from the ubiquitous mobile phone apps, including political affiliation and gender preferences, geographical location, an extensive network of one’s friends and even distant associates.

This information, easily obtained and mined by our government spies in cooperation with their counterparts in England, has gone far beyond the previously revealed collection of general metadata to monitor the most intimate details of our lives, as revealed in so-called leaky mobile apps including Google Maps, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter. As a result, everything in your address book, buddy lists and geographic data embedded in photos and phone logs is readily available to the spy agencies, including, as a British one boasted in 2012, details of one’s political alignment and sexual orientation.

Defenders of the vast government spying program, including President Obama, have claimed that the data collection programs do not invade individual privacy.

Only last week in his remarks on the subject, Obama noted that private advertising companies collect personal information on users of mobile phones, but he did not mention that his own government was busily seizing much of that data.

 

As opposed to Obama’s benign description of government surveillance conducted jointly by the NSA and its British equivalent, the GCHQ, the latter spy agency boasts in one of the documents revealed by Snowden that the use of apps to spy “effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a GCHQ System.”

In one slide used to demonstrate the reach of the program labeled “Golden Nugget” for a 2010 talk, a Snowden document describes, the NSA presentation included “Perfect Scenario — Target uploading photo to a social media site taken with a mobile device. What can we get?”

The answer is clearly just about every piece of information that previously was thought to be in the preserve of the endangered zone known as private space. As The Guardian described that government overreach:

“Depending on what profile information a user has supplied, the documents suggested, the agency would be able to collect almost every key detail of a user’s life: including home country, current location (through geo-location), age, gender, zip code, marital status — options included ‘single,’ ‘married,’ ‘divorced,’ ‘swinger’ and more — income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, and number of children.”

No need to get unduly alarmed; after all, we live in the free world and these are programs run, as Obama assured us, by good folks who have only our safety in mind. They also have a sense of humor, particularly the Brits, who, when they turn our smartphones against us, appropriate names from the TV series “The Smurfs” to describe the extent of the government’s power over the devices we have purchased.

“Nosey Smurf” defines a phone microphone made “hot” to listen to our conversations unbeknownst to us; “Tracker Smurf” precisely traces our travel movements; “Dreamy Smurf” allows the activation of a phone that has been turned off; and “Paranoid Smurf” is the name for the self-hiding capacity of the spyware. That last one should remind us that even paranoids have enemies.

Robert Scheer is editor of TruthDig.com, where this column originally appeared. Email him at rscheer@truthdig.com.

Copyright 2014 Creators.com.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance 
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Robert Scheer
About Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer, editor in chief of Truthdig, has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. His columns appear in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines. He conducted the famous Playboy magazine interview in which Jimmy Carter confessed to the lust in his heart and he went on to do many interviews for the Los Angeles Times with Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and many other prominent political and cultural figures.

Between 1964 and 1969 he was Vietnam correspondent, managing editor and editor in chief of Ramparts magazine. From 1976 to 1993 he served as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, writing on diverse topics such as the Soviet Union, arms control, national politics and the military. In 1993 he launched a nationally syndicated column based at the Los Angeles Times, where he was named a contributing editor. That column ran weekly for the next 12 years and is now based at Truthdig.

Scheer was raised in the Bronx, where he attended public schools and graduated from City College of New York. He studied as a Maxwell Fellow at Syracuse University and was a fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, where he did graduate work in economics. Scheer is a contributing editor for The Nation as well as a Nation Fellow. He has also been a Poynter Fellow at Yale, and was a fellow in arms control at Stanford. He has published nine books.

Scheer received the 2010 Distinguished Work in New Media Award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Greater Los Angeles Chapter, and in 2011 Ithaca College awarded him the Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media.


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