Saturday, May 31, 2008

Comcast's Spooky Employment Opportunities

When Secrecy News revealed last October that Comcast was charging $1,000 for the "initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service)," to illegally spy on Americans, it was viewed by business analysts as a lucrative "growth" market for enterprising telecoms.

That's $1,000 per intercept, according to a Comcast Handbook for Law Enforcement. "Thereafter," as Steven Aftergood reported, "the surveillance fee goes down to "$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original [FISA] order or any extensions of the original order are active."

And with endless demands from America's spymasters for "actionable intelligence," the "Homeland Security" market is booming. As new opportunities for enrichment at taxpayers' expense increase exponentially, the "public-private partnership" in political repression is generating a mini-boom in employment opportunities. Noah Shachtman writes:

Wanna tap e-mail, voice and Web traffic for the government? Well, here's your chance. Comcast, the country's second-largest Internet provider, is looking for an engineer to handle "reconnaissance" and "analysis" of "subscriber intelligence" for the company's "National Security Operations."

Day-to-day tasks, the company says in an online job listing, will include "deploy[ing], installing] and remov[ing] strategic and tactical data intercept equipment on a nationwide basis to meet Comcast and Government lawful intercept needs." The person in this "intercept engineering" position will help collect and process traffic on the company's "CDV [Comcast Digital Voice], HSI [High Speed Internet] and Video" services. ("Comcast Is Hiring an Internet Snoop for the Feds," Wired, May 30, 2008)

That's right! Worried about losing your "informatics" job to a low-wage platform in Bangalore? Then fret no more, Comcast's hiring!

The job requires,

"B.S. Degree in Information Systems Technology, MIS or related field or equivalent years of progressive experience and self-study," a minimum of two years of policy or security engineering experience," as well as the "ability to carry and coordinate delivery of a 50-pound server to support deployments in local market."

If that's too much for you, don't worry. The company is also looking for an administrative assistant in its National Security Operations office. In that position, you'll be able to handle "sensitive incoming Legal subpoenas and other material. Some of this material may be 'Secret/Top Secret' and be classified under applicable Federal Law."

As whistleblower Babak Pasdar revealed, he assisted Comcast rival Verizon, when it set up a top-secret high-speed circuit between the company's "main computer complex and Quantico, Virginia, the site of a government-intelligence computer center," Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker.

"This link provided direct access to the carrier's network core--the critical area of its system, where all its data are stored. 'What the companies are doing is worse than turning over records,' the consultant said. 'They're providing total access to all the data'," Hersh revealed.

One can only assume that Comcast and AT&T did the same. But we don't know for sure, since telecom executives aren't talking, in the interest of "national security," of course.

And why would they? As members of the secretive National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC), telecom executives representing the major communications, network service providers, information technology, finance and aerospace companies provide "industry-based advice and expertise" to the President "on issues and problems relating to implementing national security and emergency preparedness communications policy," according to SourceWatch.

Created in 1982 when former president Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12382, NSTAC is, in all probability, facilitating U.S. telecommunication firms' "cooperation" with NSA and other intelligence agencies' efforts in conducting "warrantless wiretapping," data-mining and "other" illegal surveillance programs in a highly-profitable arrangement with the Bush administration.

Currently (as of April 22, 2008), prominent members of the spook-influenced NSTAC board include: Edward A. Mueller, Chairman and CEO of Qwest; John T. Stankey, Group President, Telecom Operations, AT&T (Mueller and Stankey are NSTAC Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively); Walter B. McCormick, Jr., President and CEO of the United States Telecom Association; Kyle E. McSlarrow, President and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA); Ivan G. Seidenberg, President and CEO of Verizon; Joseph R. Wright, Jr., Chairman, Intelsat Corporation; Mike S. Zafirovski, President and CEO of Nortel. Other NSTAC heavy-hitters include representatives from The Boeing Company, Motorola, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Lockheed Martin, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), Tyco Electronics, Bank of America, Microsoft, and Raytheon. All in all, a cross-section of America's military-industrial-security complex.

As investigative journalist Tim Shorrock wrote in 2006,

Those [NSTAC] executives, all of whom hold security clearances, meet at the White House once a year--Vice President Cheney was the speaker at their last meeting--and hold quarterly conference calls with high-ranking officials. (Asked if the NSA surveillance was ever discussed at these sessions, committee spokesman Stephen Barrett said, "We do not participate in intelligence gathering.") AT&T also makes no bones about its national security work. When SBC was preparing to acquire the company last year, the two companies underscored their ties with US intelligence in joint comments to the FCC. "AT&T's support of the intelligence and defense communities includes the performance of various classified contracts," the companies said, pointing out that AT&T "maintains special secure facilities for the performance of classified work and the safeguarding of classified information." ("Watching What You Say," The Nation, March 20, 2006)

If there were any doubts that the "business of government is business," and a lucrative one at that, according to Washington Technology's "2008 Top 100 Government IT Contractors," telecommunications giants who collaborated with the state's illegal surveillance programs have reaped a veritable fortune: No. 18. Verizon Communications Inc.,$1,320,637,982; No. 25. Sprint Nextel Corp., $839,946,000; No. 38. AT&T Inc.: $505,358,533.

And should that nervous new hire fret over moves to destroy Americans' constitutional right to privacy at the behest of "our" government's alliance with dodgy corporate overlords, there's no need to worry.

House and Senate negotiators are moving rapidly towards a "compromise" over expanding the state's insidious domestic surveillance operations. To boot, House and Senate bills under consideration would largely legalize Bush's secret intelligence programs and, as Ryan Singel writes,

...lay the legal groundwork for America's internet, cell phone and telephone infrastructure to be shot through with wiretaps controlled by the intelligence agencies. They differ in some slight ways about when and how intelligence agencies have to get approval for tactics from a secret court that the Bush Administration still believes has no power over its actions in the "War on Terror." ("Spy Bill 'Compromise' Still Gives Amnesty to Telecoms, but Adds Trappings of Justice," Wired, May 29, 2008)

And with dozens of state and local intelligence "fusion centers" suffering "information overload," as Washington Technology reported in April, Comcast and other "mission critical partners" better move quickly on those new hires!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Political Economy of Telecom Immunity

The hot-button issue of retroactive immunity for telecom companies in cahoots with illegal Bush administration surveillance programs is close to reaching its inevitable dénouement.

But what's gotten little media play throughout the endless months of "debate" are the huge piles of cash that have changed hands to influence congressional Democrats and Republicans.

According to Glenn Greenwald:

Just in the first three months of 2008, recent lobbyist disclosure statements reveal that AT&T spent $5.2 million in lobbyist fees (putting it well ahead of its 2007 pace, when it spent just over $17 million). In the first quarter of 2008, Verizon spent $4.8 million on lobbyist fees, while Comcast spent $2.6 million. So in the first three months of this year, those three telecoms--which would be among the biggest beneficiaries of telecom amnesty (right after the White House)--spent a combined total of almost $13 million on lobbyists. They're on pace to spend more than $50 million on lobbying this year--just those three companies. ("How Telecoms Are Attempting to Buy Amnesty from Congress," Salon, May 24, 2008)

No matter how you squeeze it, that's a lot of corporatist "juice" flowing into campaign coffers.

Until, that is, you consider that "outsourced" government contracts are worth tens of billions of dollars annually to enterprising telecom companies for communications and IT services to a gaggle of shadowy intelligence agencies fighting to "keep America safe"--from lower quarterly earnings!

Ranging from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency (NSA), not to mention low profile "partners" such as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) or the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA)--$50 million is chump change.

And what are these corporate pirates seeking from Congress? Why "get-out-of-jail-free-cards," of course!

Behind closed doors, House and Senate negotiators are "are closing in on a deal" with the White House over illegal government domestic spying, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Touted as a "compromise" and a "major breakthrough" by both Democrats and Republicans, the deal would "would kick the issue to a secret national-security court. Earlier versions of the legislation wanted to grant telecom companies blanket retroactive immunity from lawsuits," Siobhan Gorman avers.

However, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group representing plaintiffs in Hepting vs. AT&T, brought by AT&T customers in the wake of revelations of massive domestic spying by the Bush administration and their "private" partners in the telecom industry, the congressional "compromise" is a monumental fraud:

"The purported immunity 'compromise' announced on Thursday by Senator Bond is a pure sham that's even worse than the original immunity provision passed by the Senate," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "The stacked-deck immunity determination to be made by the court apparently still doesn't include any meaningful review of the telecoms' conduct or the legality of their cooperation with the NSA, simply a review of whether the companies got a piece of paper saying that the president authorized the surveillance. And the deck would be stacked even more by the proposed transfer to the FISA court--the most conservative and secretive federal court in the nation. Bottom line: it's still immunity, and this so-called compromise concedes nothing." ("EFF Blasts New 'Compromise' Offer on Teleco Immunity," Electronic Frontier Foundation, Press Release, May 23, 2008)

Some "compromise"!

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the FISA court, responsible for reviewing and approving government applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for domestic electronic surveillance and physical search of suspected foreign intelligence agents or terrorists.

But it does more than that. The Court also reinterprets the terms of the Act in an undisclosed fashion, producing in effect a body of "secret law," a matter discussed at an April 30 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The FISC has in fact issued... legally significant decisions that remain classified and have not been released to the public," observed Judge John D. Bates, a member of the FIS Court, when he denied an ACLU motion for disclosure of portions of those decisions last December. ("Intel Surveillance Court Gets Two New Judges," Federation of American Scientists, Secrecy News, May 23, 2008)

During the April 30 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing referenced above, John P. Elwood, a DoJ official "disclosed a previously unpublicized method to cloak government activities," according to The New York Times.

In keeping with the Bush administration's penchant for lawless behavior, Elwood acknowledged that the executive branch believed that "the president could ignore or modify existing executive orders that he or other presidents have issued without disclosing the new interpretation," Times' reporters Scott Shane and David Johnson wrote.

Conceding nothing that would dispel fears that the administration is operating on the basis of "secret law" beyond the purview of the courts or Congress, the state's "legal stance would let it secretly operate programs that are at odds with public executive orders that to all appearance remain in force," the Times reported.

Demonstrating profound contempt for classification rules, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), said the administration's contention that it can "selectively modify" executive orders "turns The Federal Register into a screen of falsehoods behind whose phony regulations lawless programs can operate in secret."

In other words, following dictums laid down by French monarch, the "sun king" Louis XIV, the law is whatever our decider-president and his minions say it is.

While warrantless wiretapping and the subversion of law is bad enough, the question inevitably arises: what other programs are being hidden from the American people?

Investigative journalist Christopher Ketcham believes that a "highly classified program with sinister implications" may lie at the heart of Bush administration's refusal to back-down on telecom immunity. Through an as yet-undisclosed "black program," the administration may be "compiling a secret enemies list of citizens who could face detention under martial law."

According to Ketcham, recounting Acting Attorney General James Comey's now infamous 2004 tussle with the White House, and the bureaucrat's refusal to reauthorize Bush's illegal programs, Ketcham writes,

Yet in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he described how he had grown increasingly uneasy reviewing the Bush administration's various domestic surveillance and spying programs. Much of his testimony centered on an operation so clandestine he wasn't allowed to name it or even describe what it did. ("The Last Roundup," Radar, May/June 2008)

Welcome (once again) to the bizarro world of "Continuity of Government" whose illegally-beating dark heart may dwell in what intelligence insiders have called the ultra-top secret "Main Core" database.

Some months after The New York Times revealed in December 2005 that the Bush administration had illegally spied on Americans through its so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program," USA TODAY reported,

With access to records of billions of domestic calls, the NSA has gained a secret window into the communications habits of millions of Americans. Customers' names, street addresses and other personal information are not being handed over as part of NSA's domestic program, the sources said. But the phone numbers the NSA collects can easily be cross-checked with other databases to obtain that information. (Leslie Cauley, "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls," USA TODAY, May 11, 2006) [emphasis added]

Keep in mind that AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, the nation's three largest telecommunication providers, are well-positioned to serve as the state's "outsourced" eyes-and-ears. Collectively, the three carriers provide an array of services: local and long-distance calling, wireless and high-speed broadband internet access, as well as video and cable services.

Once communications information has been "fused" with records gleaned from commercially-available databases--sold, of course, to the state as a "patriotic" duty--NSA "partners" such as Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, CACI and L-3, can then analyze data such as medical histories, travel itineraries, shopping habits, political affiliations, subscription lists, DVD rentals, etc. In a nanosecond, a unique profile of an individual's "transactional" life has thus been created.

This however, is not without risk to offending spies and data-miners. And given the nature of financial penalties under section 222 of the Communications Act, telecom executives have every reason to sweat. The FCC "can levy fines up to $130,000 per day per violation, with a cap of $1.325 million per violation. The FCC has no hard definition of 'violation.' In practice, that means a single 'violation' could cover one customer or 1 million," Cauley reported.

But the Bush administration's so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" may very well be a smokescreen for collecting political data on millions of Americans, a secret "enemies list" far more dangerous to a democratic society than anything conceived by the team of "national security" paranoids assembled by Richard Nixon. Ketcham reports,

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, "There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention. ...

A host of publicly disclosed programs, sources say, now supply data to Main Core. Most notable are the NSA domestic surveillance programs, initiated in the wake of 9/11, typically referred to in press reports as "warrantless wiretapping." In March, a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal shed further light onto the extraordinarily invasive scope of the NSA efforts: According to the Journal, the government can now electronically monitor "huge volumes of records of domestic e-mails and Internet searches, as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions, travel, and telephone records." Authorities employ "sophisticated software programs" to sift through the data, searching for "suspicious patterns." In effect, the program is a mass catalog of the private lives of Americans. And it's notable that the article hints at the possibility of programs like Main Core. "The [NSA] effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called black programs whose existence is undisclosed," the Journal reported, quoting unnamed officials. "Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach."

As disturbing as Ketcham's report is, consider this: the ACLU's "Watch List Counter" documents that the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center currently lists (as of 5/26/08) 975,883 (!) individuals as potential "threats" to "national security." What are the criteria for inclusion? No one knows and the FBI and DHS aren't saying.

It is of course absurd to believe there are nearly a million U.S. sympathizers of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable intelligence assets, aka al-Qaeda, roaming the streets of American cities. However, if history is any guide to present state surveillance activities, a database like Main Core, if it exists, would include dissidents and activists of all stripes, ranging from socialists and communists, anarchists, tax protestors, gun owners, lawyers and professors, "illegal" migrants, publishers and journalists, or just plain folk caught in the government's data driftnet.

But over and above the question of telecom immunity for law-breaking communication corporations looms the issue of intelligence outsourcing as a lucrative business arrangement with the state, the ubiquitous "public-private partnership" in political repression that affect all our lives. As investigative journalist Tim Shorrock documents,

A second form of cooperation that few Americans are aware of concern the role of the telecom giants as contractors for the Intelligence Community. As commercial communications and encryption technologies advanced in the years leading up to 2001, AT&T, Verizon and the other major carriers were hired by the government to build classified communications networks for the NSA and Pentagon. That alliance spawned new institutions where the government could carry out a dialogue with these companies. Many industry executives, for example, hold leading positions in a secretive agency called the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, a group of business leaders who meet regularly with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and senior officials in the Intelligence Community to discuss critical issues affecting the national telecommunications system. ...

That broad alliance between the NSA and the government on one hand and the telecommunications and IT industries on the other is the fundamental issue at stake in the national debate that erupted around FISA in 2007 and 2008. That debate was about far more than a few telecom companies cooperating with the government. (Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008, pp. 307, 308)

In this context, the political economy of telecom immunity should be considered a shield for government "black" programs that could be quickly rolled-out during a "national emergency." That congressional leaders--Democrats and Republicans--would grant their corporate benefactors nearly unlimited power to spy on Americans, or worse, is an indication that elite consensus has been reached in favor of maintaining an all-encompassing surveillance state.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

FBI Compiled "War Crimes" Dossier on Prisoner Abuse and Torture

According to an explosive 437-page report released Monday by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG), FBI agents assigned to the U.S. prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, compiled what they dubbed a "war crimes" file documenting prisoner abuse and torture by U.S. military and intelligence personnel.

The OIG report on the role of the FBI in observing or participating in prisoner abuse was compiled from a survey of several hundred field level agents and supervisors. FBI protests over these practices traveled up the chain of command and reached the White House--where they were ignored.

Documenting the widespread abuse and torture of detainees by CIA, Pentagon and "private" contractors in the employ of the U.S. Government, the file was initiated in 2002, but was ordered shut down by high level officials at the Bureau and the White House. FBI agents were ordered to stop keeping records of the criminal acts they had witnessed, The New York Times reports.

According to Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane,

The report says that the F.B.I. agents took their concerns to higher-ups, but that their concerns often fell on deaf ears: officials at senior levels at the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council were all made aware of the F.B.I. agents' complaints, but little appears to have been done as a result. ("Report Details Dissent on Guantánamo Tactics," The New York Times, May 23, 2008)

Indeed, rather than shutting down the criminal CIA/Pentagon operation at Guantánamo, these sordid practices were exported to Iraq when Camp Delta commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller was ordered by Pentagon officials to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib prison.

The ACLU had filed a FOIA request in April 2008 "demanding the release of the OIG report after media reports that the investigation had been completed for months. Today's report confirms that the Defense Department used its classification review to delay the release of the report," according to a press release by the civil liberties group.

Given the Inspector General's grim documentary evidence, one can see why. Among the techniques used by military, CIA and "private" contractors employed as interrogators at Guantánamo, to which FBI agents objected, the vast majority were drawn from the CIA's KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogations manual and Special Operations Command's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program, "reversed-engineered" by Ft. Bragg SERE instructors and CIA-linked psychologists.

These techniques included: prolonged "short-shackling" in "stress positions," or the shackling of the hands and feet together; prolonged isolation; sleep deprivation; environmental "adjustment"--forced confinement in freezing or overheated cells for extended periods; sensory disorientation--either through use of strobe lights, loud music, forced drugging--or a combination of all of the above; humiliation; sexual assault, including forced nudity and touching; attacks on cultural and religious belief systems; the use of dogs to terrorize detainees; threats against family members; threats of execution; on and on.

The OIG report cites multiple cases of prisoners being beaten by interrogators and of four agents who had documented the kicking and beating to death of two prisoners in Afghanistan after their prolonged shackling in a standing position.

As I wrote in April,

Debriefing files from the military's Criminal Investigation Division (CID), obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Defense, confirmed that Special Operations officers in Gardez admitted to using "reverse-engineered" Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques on detainees. ("Documents Reveal 'Reverse-Engineered' SERE Tactics Used in Afghanistan," Antifascist Calling..., April 22, 2008)

The OIG report now confirms that these abominable interrogation tactics were not only responsible for the cruel deaths of Afghan detainees, but had been reported to Washington by FBI field agents who observed the state-sanctioned murder of these prisoners.

That the FBI, a domestic arm of the national security state with a long, well-documented history of political repression, would use the term "war crimes" in its description of Bush regime policies, is a stunning corroboration of charges leveled against the administration since the inception of the so-called "war on terror."

Although Inspector General Glenn Fine ignores the critical issue of command responsibility, the report, nevertheless, makes it crystal clear that these weren't aberrational acts initiated by a "few bad apples" but rather, state policy that emanated from the highest levels of the government--the White House, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, and indeed, from the Justice Department itself.

Readers will recall that last month ABC News revealed that top administration officials on the White House Principals' Committee--Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Council Adviser Condoleezza Rice--held high level discussions on the efficacy of "enhanced interrogation techniques," which "were almost choreographed--down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic."

President Bush subsequently informed ABC that he was "aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

As do his underlings. In the wake of the Inspector General's report, official reaction from agencies directly implicated in Guantánamo war crimes were revelatory of the general atmosphere of impunity that rules Washington.

According to Pentagon spokesperson Bryan Whitman, "there's nothing new here...The department has been operating for a number of years now with new and improved guidance with respect to detention operations and interrogation procedures."

And Sean McCormack, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Rice told The Washington Post "the assertions in the report were 'pretty vague'."

Meanwhile Rice, implicated by these explosive charges against the administration, defended the U.S. torture policy by evoking, what else, 9/11. According to the Associated Press, Rice said at a "town hall meeting" sponsored by Google, Inc.:

"The fact is that after Sept. 11, whatever was legal in the face of not just the attacks of Sept. 11, but the anthrax attacks that happened, we were in an environment in which saving America from the next attack was paramount."

Rice went on to claim,

"But even in that environment, President Bush made clear that we were going to live up to our obligations at home and to our treaty obligations abroad. ... "Now, there has been a long evolution in American policy about detainees and about interrogations," she said. "We now have in place a law that was not there in 2002 and 2003. So the ground is different now." (Matthew Lee, "Rice Defends Post 9/11 Interrogation Techniques," Associated Press, May 22, 2008)

In other words, "there's nothing to see here, move along!" But as Bill Van Auken writes,

The inmates held at Guantánamo represent barely 1 percent of those detained at US prison camps and secret jails run by the military and the CIA in Iraq, Afghanistan and other points around the world. An estimated 27,000 people are being held without charges, much less trials, many of them simply having disappeared into Washington's global gulag. Some are held on prison ships, others in secret dungeons run jointly by the CIA and regimes to which it "outsources" detainees, like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, where other, cruder forms of torture--being buried alive, given electric shocks or slashed with scalpels--are employed. ("FBI files indict Bush, Cheney and Co. as war criminals," World Socialist Web Site, May 23, 2008)

Despite these damning revelations, the Democratic-controlled Congress, America's ersatz "opposition," sits quietly with its hands folded since after all, "impeachment is off the table," as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ignominiously declared shortly after the 2006 mid-term elections.

We should be clear: the Democratic leadership has neither the desire, nor the intention, of bringing the Bush regime to ground by constituting a war crimes tribunal that would punish these malefactors, the "skinheads in nice suits," to borrow Günter Grass' apt description of the blood-soaked gang in Washington.

The Democrats, as with their Republican colleagues across the aisle, haven't the slightest interest in pursuing the administration on the question of torture because they themselves are complicit with Bushist "high crimes and misdemeanors."

At every turn, the Democratic leadership were briefed extensively on the criminal methods employed at Guantánamo--indeed across the entire U.S. network of secret prisons--all of which they approved and then concealed from the American people under cover of "national security" and "fighting the war against terror."

From their shameless 2002 capitulation to the Bush gang when they gave their consent to a preemptive war of conquest against Iraq, a "war of choice" that resulted in the wanton slaughter of one million Iraqis, the Democrats have fully endorsed the U.S. policy of militarism and global aggression.

As the crisis engulfing the American capitalist system deepens, profound social polarization and widespread revulsion over the Iraq adventure may very lead to the creation of political conditions antithetical to the ruling class.

In this context, a highly-militarized corporate elite contemptuous of democratic norms and processes may be tempted to employ similar repressive methods--illegal detention, forced "disappearances" and torture--against their domestic opponents.

History, always a stern taskmistress, is replete with grim examples.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Red Team" Penetrates Nuke Lab's Security, Reaches "Superblock"

During a mock exercise at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), an antiterrorist "red team" breached security and penetrated Building 332, the so-called "Superblock" where some 2,000 pounds of plutonium and weapons-grade uranium are stored. Lab security personnel failed miserably, TIME magazine reported.

Situated in Livermore, California, LLNL is about an hour's drive from San Francisco; approximately seven million people live within a 50 mile radius of the weapons facility. But as the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) disclosed in March,

...the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has given Livermore Lab a waiver so that it does not have to meet the current security requirements devised by the intelligence community. The encroaching residential community surrounding the Lab has made it impossible to properly protect the Lab's weapons quantities of plutonium and highly enriched uranium. ("U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex: Livermore Homes and Plutonium Make Bad Neighbors," POGO, March 17, 2008)

Reporting on the exercise, TIME's Adam Zagorin writes,

The attack team's objective is usually to penetrate the "Superblock," after which the attackers are timed to determine whether they can hold their ground long enough to construct a crude "dirty bomb" that could, in theory, be detonated immediately, or can buy themselves enough time to fabricate a rudimentary nuclear device, approximating the destructive power of the low-yield weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. A third option in the simulation is for the attackers to abscond with the nuclear material into the heavily populated San Francisco Bay area. ("Security Flaws Exposed at Nuke Lab," TIME, May 12, 2008)

April's "force-on-force" exercise pitted two teams in a "real life" test of security procedures. Designed to test nuclear defenses, the "red team" deployed all-terrain vehicles and torches to cut through metal barriers "securing" Building 332 from a hostile assault.

One of the lab's defensive "centerpieces," the Dillon Aero M134D Gun (popularly known as a Gatling gun), capable of firing 4,000 high-velocity rounds per minute failed when the hydraulic system used to raise the gun from its "hiding place inside the back of a small truck failed, making it impossible for the gun to be fired," POGO analysts said.

The use of the weapon itself is not without controversy. Capable of delivering a lethal round a mile away, its deployment by NNSA is particularly troubling since LLNL is surrounded on all sides by the sprawling Livermore community. POGO researchers detailed,

Within that one-mile range of the Lab are two elementary schools, a pre-school, a middle school, a senior center, and athletic fields, making this weapon unacceptable for Livermore. Even in an accidental firing, the Lab would be spraying lethal bullets into the surrounding neighborhoods. This type of accident is not unprecedented. For example, several years ago there was an accidental firing of a mounted, high caliber machine gun at the Y-12 Complex. The gun, similar in firepower to the Gatling guns, sprayed a building at the facility with bullets, which penetrated walls.

To make matters worse, while security personnel failed to deter the "attackers," LLNL's recent exercise hardly simulated "real-world" conditions, not least of which is the inevitable shock and confusion that would occur among "defenders" during the opening round of a surprise attack.

To whit, lab security teams are always given advance notice of the operation; the tests are conducted at night or on weekends, when few of the lab's thousands of employees are present. Consequently, "defenders" do not simulate potential hostage-taking scenarios that in all probability would accompany belligerent action by terrorists.

But as POGO senior investigator Peter Stockton told The Washington Times: "It is important to emphasize that Livermore's security problems are not the fault of the guard force, who have complained about their lack of training and poor tactics. In fact, two security officers were fired for raising these problems."

Is there a pattern here? As with other spectacular failures by the Bush administration and their corporate cronies, why not, if you'll pardon the pun, shoot the messenger? After all, its less politically risky than bringing high-end lab executives and senior managers to account.

In 2005 the Department of Energy "approved the doubling of the amount of plutonium stored at Livermore, less than five months after a scientific panel recommended, for security reasons, that nearly all of it be moved to a safer, more remote site," TIME revealed.

Yet despite this alarming disclosure, the NNSA, allegedly the prime defender of the "homeland" against terrorists intent on deploying weapons of mass destruction, gave their political masters--the nuclear weapons industry--a free pass when it came to (our) safety. This too, is hardly surprising given the make-up of the lab's administrative "team."

As a "public-private partner" of the U.S. national security state, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is run by Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, a "limited liability" corporation comprised of five "partners:" the University of California, Bechtel, BWX Technologies, Washington Group International and Battelle--all heavy-hitters in the biotech, construction, defense, energy, nuclear and security worlds. The seven-year contract to oversee operations for the Department of Energy (DoE)--a Bushist satrapy--is worth some $297.5 million.

Readers are certainly familiar with Bechtel's sordid history when it came to "reconstructing" Iraq after America's illegal 2003 invasion and occupation. Three years later, and with contracts in hand worth some $680 million, the construction giant abandoned Iraq with the bulk of its infrastructure projects in tatters--and zero accountability from Congress. And when it comes to the corporation's "expertise" on nuclear "safety," Bechtel's record is less than stellar. As CorpWatch reported back in 2003,

Starting with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb and engineering the first reactor to generate electricity, Bechtel has been heavily involved in both commercial and military nuclear activities. These have included some of the most notable nuclear mishaps in U.S. history, from California's San Onofre reactor installed backwards, to the botched clean up of Three Mile Island. Now, while the legacy of environmental contamination and worker exposures continue to threaten public health and safety, Bechtel is finding ways to profit from the radioactive mess its projects have created. ("Bechtel: Profiting from Destruction: Why the Corporate Invasion of Iraq Must be Stopped," CorpWatch, June 5, 2003)

BWX Technologies, during an earlier metastasis as The Babcock-Wilcox Company, were the designers of pressurized water reactors, one of which partially melted down during the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.

According to SourceWatch,

BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT) of Lynchburg, VA, "supplies nuclear fuel and reactor components to the U.S. Navy" and "supplies reactor components for the DOE's Naval Reactors Program and creates reactor fuel elements for several national government labs."

In July 2000, the Department of Energy selected BWXT "over the Day & Zimmermann Group, a Philadelphia-based government contractor that owns Mason & Hanger, the company that has held the Pantex contract since 1956," to operate the government's Pantex plant.

According to John A. Gordon, the [former] head of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) which oversees the nation's nuclear weapons complex, "BWXT Pantex, which has a proven track record in nuclear facility operations, presented the strongest technical proposal." In its bid for the government contract, BWXT "collaborated with Honeywell, a major aerospace firm, and Bechtel in its Pantex bid."

Located on 16,000 acres in Amarillo, Texas, Pantex is the the only plant in the United States that assembles nuclear weapons for the Department of Defense. Designated a federal superfund site in 1991, corporate "best practices" have resulted in extensive groundwater and soil contamination throughout surrounding communities.

Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), revealed that BWXT is similarly "partnered" with the University of California, Bechtel and the Washington Group International in yet another "limited liability" corporation, the Los Alamos National Securities (LANS). Here too, "security breaches" are frequent.

But how better to "punish" well-connected corporatist miscreants in our post-Constitutional "New Order" than to hand out multi-year contracts to "manage" the most deadly and dangerous materials on earth!

As POGO's executive director Danielle Brian told TIME, "suicidal terrorists would not need to steal the fissile material, they could simply detonate it as part of an improvised nuclear device right on the spot."

Talk about hitting the corporate "sweet spot"!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Illegally Spy on Americans ... Win Fabulous Prizes!

Fingered by whistleblower's Mark Klein and Babak Pasdar for their role in illegally spying on Americans, AT&T and Verizon were awarded a major contract by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Washington Technology reports.

According to David Hubler and Alice Lipowicz,

Verizon Business will perform the lion's share of the work on the Homeland Security Department's OneNet telecommunications contract with support from AT&T Government Solutions.

The OneNet award, under the General Services Administration's Networx Universal contract vehicle, has a maximum value of $970 million through March 2017, DHS spokesman Larry Orluskie said. ("Verizon to Lead DHS OneNet Award," Washington Technology, May 15, 2008)

Carolyn Duffy Marsan avers,

"The Department of Homeland Security is looking for a partner to help them build, manage and secure their global network for...22 agencies," says Marlin Forbes, regional vice president for Verizon Business' Federal Defense & International Services. "There's a huge legacy...from what they were doing in the past as separate agencies before they were part of DHS. We think this deal goes right to Verizon's sweet spot." ("Verizon snares $678 million federal network deal," IDG News Service, May 15, 2008)

"Sweet spot," indeed! That's a lot of boodle however you slice it, for trampling on our civil liberties. But no matter, since the House seems poised to pass "compromise" legislation that would grant "limited immunity" (read, "get-out-of-jail-free cards") to enterprising telecom giants like AT&T and Verizon.

Under cover of granting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the power to determine whether anti-surveillance cases can go forward, the House undoubtedly will join their Senate colleagues in gutting constitutional guarantees not to be spied upon by "outsourced" corporate spooks in league with the national security state.

It's a "win-win" all around--for lobby-ensnared congressional leaders, the Bush administration and scandal-averse telecom executives--given that it's right-wing Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bushist sycophant, who gets to pick who sits on the secret FISA court. Sounds like another "slam dunk" defense of civil liberties by "opposition" Democrats.

In March, AT&T won a $20 million contract for DHS' Customs and Border Protection agency. Under terms of the 10-year deal, AT&T "will be the primary provider of network voice services to Customs and Border Protection's 47,000 employees around the country," Washington Technology explains.

Meanwhile, under terms of the closed-door deal with Verizon, the dodgy wireless carrier that "partnered" with the FBI on its illegal data-sucking "Quantico circuit," Verizon Business will "help combine the multiple, separate WANs at DHS' 22 agencies into one common, secure IP network," and "manage and secure more than 5,000 agency sites worldwide and create a Security Operations Center for DHS," Hubler and Lipowicz report.

And considering all the hard work DHS does to "secure the homeland," safeguarding America's borders from "threats" posed by poverty-stricken migrants escaping one or another "free trade" deal struck by the Clinton or Bush administrations, it sounds like money well spent. Unless that is, you're an "illegal" immigrant on the receiving end of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "professionalism."

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the U.S. government "has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged."

That's right, the state's forced use of antipsychotic drugs on defenseless people unable to resist their deportation was repeated some 250 times, explained Post reporters who examined ICE records and court depositions in their excellent, though highly-disturbing report.

According to psychoanalyst Stephen Soldz,

These drugs, especially Haldol are extremely powerful and are almost never utilized in individuals not diagnosed as actively psychotic. They can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if first administered in high doses and can disorient an individual for days. ... The use of drugs by ICE is, unfortunately, part of a pattern by the Bush administration of the misuse of the health professions for non-therapeutic purposes. I and others have written extensively about the role of psychologists in aiding national security interrogations, interrogations that often cross the line into torture. ... It is beginning to look as if there is a pattern of inappropriate use of psychopharmacological agents for overcoming resistances of various types. (Stephen Soldz, "Involuntary Drugging of Detainees," CounterPunch, May 16, 2008)

Needless to say, AT&T and Verizon Business care not a whit for the incalculable harm done in the name of the American people by their DHS "partners" (in crime).

These days, corporate America's "little Eichmanns" may not have many trains to "run on time," but from Guantánamo Bay to an ICE holding cell, and from the NSA's "Terrorist Surveillance Program" to the FBI's "Quantico circuit" one can easily discern the same seamless web of corporatist greed and corruption.

After all, $970 million buys a great deal of complicity--and silence.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Senate Moves Forward on Orwellian "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act"

In the wake of Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins' (R-ME) alarmist report, "Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorism Threat," the Senate may be moving towards passage of the Orwellian "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007" (S. 1959).

A companion piece of legislative flotsam to the House bill, "The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007" (H.R. 1955), the Democrat-controlled Congress seems ready to jettison Constitutional guarantees of free speech and assembly. The bill passed the House by a 404-6 vote in October. Twenty-three congress members abstained, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers.

Under cover of studying "violent radicalization," both bills would broaden the already-fluid definition of "terrorism" to encompass political activity and protest by dissident groups, effectively criminalizing civil disobedience and non-violent direct action by developing policies for "prevention, disruption and mitigation."

Call it COINTELPRO 2.0.

Crafted by former House Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Jane Harman (D-CA), the legislation would create a domestic commission, a university-based "Center of Excellence" that would study and then, target domestic "radicalization" as a "threat" to the "homeland."

David Price, a professor of anthropology at St. Martin's University who studies state surveillance and the harassment of dissident scholars, told Jessica Lee of New York's Indypendent newspaper last year that Harman's bill "is a shot over the bow of environmental activists, animal-rights activists, anti-globalization activists and scholars who are working in the Middle East who have views that go against the administration."

Evoking disquieting memories of political witchhunters ensconced in the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, the anti-radicalization commission would be empowered to "hold hearings and sit and act at such times and places, take such testimony, receive such evidence, and administer such oaths as the Commission considers advisable to carry out its duties."

With the power to subpoena and compel testimony from anyone, the commission would create the (intended) impression that a person forced to publicly testify before a congressionally mandated star chamber must be involved in "subversive" or illegal activities.

According to Naomi Spencer,

The commission would be composed of appointees, one chosen each respectively by Bush, Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff, the Senate and House majority and minority leaders, and by the ranking majority and minority members of the two congressional homeland security committees. Such a selection process would certainly result in an extremely right-wing panel. ("US House passes Democrat-crafted 'homegrown terrorism prevention' legislation," World Socialist Web Site, 1 December 2007)

When one considers that elite consensus favoring "muscular" strategies for fighting "terror"--homegrown or otherwise--emerge during a period when the Bush regime has illegally wiretapped phone calls, sifted e-mails, spied on political and religious organizations, and conducted extensive data mining of financial and other personal records, it becomes clear that the corporate police state is shifting into high-gear in a desperate move to criminalize ideological "thought crimes."

The intent of the proposed legislation, however, goes far beyond an academic exercise. According to Jessica Lee, Harman stated that "the National Commission [will] propose to both Congress and [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff initiatives to intercede before radicalized individuals turn violent."

In the context of the post-Constitutional "New Normal" paradigm, Harman and her acolytes evoke images of Philip K. Dick's Department of Precrime in his dystopian novella, The Minority Report. Only here, in the bizarro world of outsourced "homeland security," mutant precogs are replaced by high-end--and taxpayer funded--data-miners, psychological profilers and social network analysts in the employ of dodgy security firms linked to America's military-intelligence complex.

The legislation specifically singles out the Internet as a "weapon" for domestic radicalization. When she introduced her bill to the Senate last November, Harman remarked, "There can be no doubt: the Internet is increasingly being used as a tool to reach and radicalize Americans and legal residents."

Equating America's web-surfacing habits with the threat of ideological infection by Islamist pod-people, Harman avers that the Internet allows Americans "to become indoctrinated by extremists and to learn how to kill their neighbors ... from the comfort of their own living rooms."

(Britney, Paris, better move over... there's a new truck-bombing instructional posted over on YouTube! OMG!)

Harman's ludicrous pronouncement is considerably ramped-up by the Lieberman and Collins report, based on--what else--"expert testimony" during hearings held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Lieberman and Collins claim that,

...the report assesses the federal government's response to the spread of the violent Islamist message on the Internet and concludes that there is no cohesive and comprehensive outreach and communications strategy in place to confront this threat. The report does not discuss relevant classified tools and tactics employed by the law enforcement and intelligence communities, but does recognize that there is no plan to harness all possible resources including adopting new laws, encouraging and supporting law enforcement and the intelligence community at the local, state, and federal levels, and more aggressively implementing an outreach and counter-messaging campaign on the Internet and elsewhere.

In other words, "independent" Democrat Lieberman and "maverick Republican" Collins are proposing new "tools" for regulating the Internet through a counter-propaganda campaign that would create "message force multipliers" that "support law enforcement" initiatives to crush the radical "threat."

By targeting the Internet, House and Senate thought police claim that "the Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens."

But as the American Civil Liberties Union wrote last week,

Experience has demonstrated that in the event of a terrorist attack, the results of this report will likely be used to recommend the use of racial, ethnic and religious profiling. This will only heighten, rather than decrease, the spread of extremist violence. As an organization dedicated to the principles of freedom of speech, we cannot in good conscience support this report or any measure that might lead to censorship and persecution based solely on one’s personal beliefs.

The ACLU is concerned that identifying the Internet as a tool for terrorists will lead to censorship and regulated speech -- especially since the Internet has become an essential communications and research tool for everyone. Indeed, some policy makers have advocated shutting down objectionable websites in violation of the First Amendment. It is an unworkable solution. (American Civil Liberties Union, "ACLU Skeptical of Senate Report on "Homegrown" Terrorism," Press Release, May 8, 2008)

Precisely. But wait, there's more! Citing the New York City Police Department (NYPD) as "experts" in the area of "homegrown radicalism," the report avers:

After more than two years of research into homegrown terrorism cases in the United States and around the world, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) developed a model to explain how this core enlistment message, and the "jihadi-Salafi" ideology that provides the foundation for that message, drive the domestic radicalization process -- transforming "unremarkable people" into terrorists.

Perhaps Lieberman and Collins should have consulted the family of Sean Bell as to the NYPD's "expertise" on analogous crime "modeling." Murdered by trigger-happy cops after a bachelor party the morning of his wedding, Bell's life was snuffed-out after he and his friends were shot some 50 times. The cops--surprise!--were recently found "not guilty" on all counts by a New York judge.

We can dismiss senatorial allusions to NYPD's acumen in the area of "counterterrorist analysis" with the contempt it deserves. But let's be clear on one thing: the sole purpose of the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act" is to target the American people's constitutionally-protected right to say No.

If the U.S. House and Senate care to examine the "root causes" of terrorism today, they need look no further than the on-going U.S. slaughter in Iraq--a "preemptive" war of choice to which they infamously gave their consent with eyes wide open.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

FBI Loses National Security Letter Case Against Internet Archive

When the Internet Archive, a project founded in 1996 to create a digital library of the web, was served an illegal National Security Letter (NSL) by the FBI, Archive founder and Digital Librarian, Brewster Kahle, did what any self-respecting defender of free expression would do: he got pissed.

But Kahle did more. He sued the FBI--and won. After a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in federal district court in San Francisco, the Bureau was forced to withdraw the NSL and unseal the case, allowing the Archive's founder to speak out about his battle with autocratic Bushist agents.

The NSL was served on the Archive--a library recognized as such by the state of California--and Kahle's attorneys in November 2007. The Bureau demanded personal information about one of the library's patrons, including the individual's name, address, and any electronic communication records pertaining to the user.

A National Security Letter, an onerous tool deployed by the Bureau to root out suspected "terrorists" and other malefactors, is a covert means by which the state obtains access to personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, banks, other financial institutions and credit reporting agencies without the approval of a judge. In other words, under the guise of a "national security investigation," NSLs are very sharp hooks for government fishing expeditions.

Recipients are gagged from ever disclosing they have come under the Bureau's baneful gaze. And since the passage of the viral Patriot Act in 2001 by a servile Congress, the use of these illegal procedures have fed the FBI's seemingly insatiable demand for private records. Wired magazine reports that between 2003-2006 the Bureau has issued some 200,000 NSLs, often without a shred of legal justification for doing so, nor oversight to rein in their misuse. Ryan Singel writes:

Though FBI guidelines on using NSLs warned of overusing them, two Congressionally ordered audits revealed that the FBI had issued hundreds of illegal requests for student health records, telephone records and credit reports. The reports also found that the FBI had issued hundreds of thousands of NSLs since 2001, but failed to track their use. In a letter to Congress last week, the FBI admitted it can only estimate how many NSLs it has issued. (Ryan Singel, "FBI Targets Internet Archive with Secretive National Security Letter, Loses," Wired, May 7, 2008)

Unfortunately for the Bureau, Kahle, who is also serves on the EFF's Board of Directors, decided to challenge the NSL because it exceeded the FBI's limited authority to target libraries during "espionage" or "terrorism" investigations.

According to a joint press release by the ACLU and EFF, Kahle said,

The free flow of information is at the heart of every library's work. That's why Congress passed a law limiting the FBI's power to issue NSLs to America's libraries. While it's never easy standing up to the government--particularly when I was barred from discussing it with anyone--I knew I had to challenge something that was clearly wrong. I'm grateful that I am able now to talk about what happened to me, so that other libraries can learn how they can fight back from these overreaching demands. ("FBI Withdraws Unconstitutional National Security Letter after ACLU and EFF Challenge," Press Release, Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 7, 2008)

During a conference call with journalists on Wednesday, Kahle told reporters, "Not being able to talk about it with our board, with my wife, made it very difficult. I can imagine a hurried staffer sticking a gag into a hurried bill. But gags don't seem to be necessary, and now, what we've discovered in practice, gagging librarians is horrendous," The Washington Post reports.

Kahle said after the court ruling, "This is an unqualified success that will help other recipients understand that you can push back on these."

As I reported last month, the Bureau actually returned documents they had already obtained in a 2005 terrorism-related case, after North Carolina State University refused to hand over educational records to FBI snoops who issued an illegal NSL against the University.

Why? Because it provided FBI Director Robert Mueller an opportunity to demand Congress grant the Bureau additional powers it wasn't entitled to, and despite having obtained the documents in question after a federal grand jury issued a subpoena--and University officials had already complied!

While the Internet Archive's victory against the FBI puts an end to the government's challenge in this case, the settlement prevents Kahle or his attorneys from discussing what the Bureau was so intent on perusing, even though the FBI was seeking public information--not "state secrets," nor "evidence" of a "terrorist plot."

But these days, as the post-Constitutional "New Order" continues to cast a tyrannical pall across the American landscape, even a small victory against those who "work...the dark side," has merit.

The partially redacted documents on the Internet Archive case are available here.

For more information on NSLs click here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Democrats Prepare Sell-Out on Telecom Immunity: House Leaders to Give White House a Blank Check to Spy on Americans

As revelations of the Bush administration's illegal surveillance programs continue to expose the criminal nature of the regime in Washington, new reports suggest that House Democrats are preparing to capitulate to the White House on warrantless wiretapping and amnesty for lawbreaking telecoms.

When the Orwellian "Protect America Act" expired in February, Republicans and right-wing Democrats argued that unless the state's covert alliance with giant telecommunications companies were not shielded from congressional oversight or public scrutiny, "Americans would die." Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell made this threat explicit last August when he told the El Paso Times:

Now part of this is a classified world. The fact we're doing it this way means that some Americans are going to die, because we do this mission unknown to the bad guys because they're using a process that we can exploit and the more we talk about it, the more they will go with an alternative means and when they go to an alternative means, remember what I said... (Chris Roberts, "Transcript: Debate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act," El Paso Times, August 22, 2007)

But as Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists told The New York Times, "If we're to believe that Americans will die from discussing these things, then he is complicit in that. It's an unseemly argument. He's basically saying that democracy is going to kill Americans."

But with "Blue Dog" Democrats on-board with the Bush administration, its more a case of Americans killing (their own) democracy.

As Salon's Glenn Greenwald reports,

Numerous reports -- both public and otherwise -- suggest that [Steny] Hoyer is negotiating with Jay Rockefeller to write a new FISA bill that would be agreeable to the White House and the Senate. Their strategy is to craft a bill that they can pretend is something short of amnesty for telecoms but which, in every meaningful respect, ensures an end to the telecom lawsuits. It goes without saying that no "compromise" will be acceptable to Rockefeller or the White House unless there is a guaranteed end to those lawsuits, i.e., unless the bill grants amnesty to lawbreaking telecoms. (Glenn Greenwald, "What backroom conniving Are Steny Hoyer and the Chris Carney Blue Dogs up to on FISA?," Salon, May 2, 2008)

According to Alexander Bolton's article in The Hill, right-wing and freshman congressional Democrats "are growing skittish," and that House Speaker Nancy "impeachment is off the table" Pelosi (D-CA), "has stepped back from the FISA talks and let Hoyer spearhead House talks with the Senate and executive branch." Translation: give the White House what it wants.

And what the White House wants is the ability--and legal cover--to spy at will.

As AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein revealed in 2006, NSA gained access to "massive amounts" of internet data after the company allowed the spy agency to hook into its network in San Francisco and other cities. The retired technician described how the NSA created a system that vacuumed up internet and phone-call data with AT&T executives as the agency's willing accomplices.

Despite administration claims that its so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" is aimed solely at overseas terrorists, Klein demonstrated that a vast proportion of the data swept up by AT&T and forwarded to NSA was purely domestic. Klein told The Washington Post,

...the NSA built a special room to receive data streamed through an AT&T Internet room containing "peering links," or major connections to other telecom providers. The largest of the links delivered 2.5 gigabits of data -- the equivalent of one-quarter of the Encyclopedia Britannica's text -- per second, said Klein, whose documents and eyewitness account form the basis of one of the first lawsuits filed against the telecom giants after the government's warrantless-surveillance program was reported in the New York Times in December 2005. (Ellen Nakashima, "A Story of Surveillance: Former Technician 'Turning In' AT&T Over NSA Program," The Washington Post, November 7, 2007, Page D01)

Klein's story of flagrant lawlessness by the Bush regime and the telecoms was seconded by Babak Pasdar, a security consultant and CEO of Bat Blue Corporation, who provided a signed affidavit to the Government Accountability Project describing the FBI's "Quantico circuit."

Last month The Washington Post reported that FBI investigators "with the click of a mouse" have the ability to "instantly" transfer data along a computer circuit "to an FBI technology office in Quantico." Verizon is the company named by the Post in its report as having provided "unfettered access" to its data stream, a charge denied by the company.

Despite these revelations, the Bush administration continues to illegally target the American people. As Ryan Singel reported last week,

2007 might have been a rough year for U.S. home prices, but growth in government wiretaps remained healthy, with the eavesdropping sector posting a 14% increase in court orders compared to 2006. In 2007, judges approved 4,578 state and federal wiretaps, as compared to 4,015 in 2006, according to two new reports on criminal and intelligence wiretaps. ...

It's unclear how many people these orders applied to since they can name more than one target, and in January 2007, the Bush Administration began getting so-called basket warrants from the secret court, in order to reduce the political heat over its warrantless wiretapping program.

Those orders, which the administration described as "innovative," likely covered many individuals or entire geographic regions and required periodic re-authorization from the court. Sometime in spring 2007, one judge on the court ruled that the orders were unconstitutional, prompting a summer fear-mongering campaign to get Congress to expand the government's warrantless wiretapping powers. (Ryan Singel, "Court-Approved Wiretapping Rose 14% in '07," Wired, May 1, 2008)

We don't know, and the administration won't say, how many Americans have been swept up by so-called "basket warrants."

None of this however, trouble congressional Democrats. As the administration continues to eviscerate the Constitution, it should be clear that like the Republicans, the Democratic party completely accepts the overall framework of Bushist "national security" and the specious argument that it is waging a global "war on terrorism."

Since taking control of both house of Congress in 2006, the Democrats--like their Republican "adversaries"--have refused to hold hearings on domestic spying nor have they sought to expose the scope of the illegal NSA program. Lost in the shuffle, are the obvious--and growing--dangers posed by these intrusive programs.

In a time of systemic crisis for the capitalist system as a whole, the massive intelligence being gathered by the Bush regime, and by future administrations--Democratic or Republican, take your pick--will be deployed as tools for wholesale repression under conditions of growing class polarization, economic crisis and mass opposition to war.

Telecom immunity? "There's nothing to see here, move along."

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Documents Confirm Psychologists Collaborated with "War on Terror" Torture Program

Newly declassified documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from the Department of Defense (DoD) expose the role played by psychologists in the illegal interrogation of prisoners at CIA and Pentagon detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

According to ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh,

"The documents reveal that psychologists and medical personnel played a key role in sustaining prisoner abuse -- a clear violation of their ethical and legal obligations. The documents only underscore the need for an independent investigation into responsibility for the systemic abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody abroad." ("Newly Unredacted Report Confirms Psychologists Supported Illegal Interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan," ACLU, Press Release, April 30, 2008)

In 2006, the civil liberties group received a highly redacted version of the Church Report, commissioned by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Written by Vice Admiral Albert T. Church, the report was to serve as a "comprehensive review" of military interrogation operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay.

A cover-up the moment it saw the light of day, the Church Report refused to address the relevant issue of command responsibility for prisoner abuse and torture at U.S. military detention facilities and CIA "black sites," claiming such questions were "beyond its mandate."

Official failure to issue legal interrogation guidelines for the humane treatment of prisoners by American military forces and mercenary contractors in their employ were euphemistically labeled "a missed opportunity."

But as we now know, under the torture regime given legal sanction by the Bush administration, as ABC News reported in April, medicalized torture by military psychologists operating in U.S. dungeons was both a ubiquitous and banal aspect of the "war on terror." According to the Church Report whitewash, military psychologists:

...analogous to the [Behavioral Science Consultation Teams] BSCT in Guantánamo Bay, the Army has a number of psychologists in operational positions (in both Afghanistan and Iraq), mostly within Special Operations, where they provide direct support to military operations. They do not function as mental health providers, and one of their core missions is to support interrogations. [emphasis added]

Indeed, BSCT operatives at America's premier gulag, Guantánamo Bay, "reversed-engineered" Special Operations Command's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program as a means to destroy a prisoners' will to resist his captors demands to "confess" to all manner of "plots," however far-fetched, against the U.S. "homeland."

Following a script written during the CIA's MKULTRA "mind control" days, the KUBARK Counterintelligence Manual, vicious techniques of isolation, sensory deprivation, sexual and cultural humiliation, waterboarding, etc. were viciously applied by behavioral "specialists."

As psychoanalyst Stephen Soldz wrote last year, citing the DoD's August 2006 report from the Office of the Inspector General,

All evidence is that these SERE techniques continued to be used, with active participation of the BSCT psychologists. For example, it is well documented (see the interrogation log) that the chair of the Guantánamo BSCT team, psychologist Major John Leso participated in the abusive interrogation ( a.k.a. torture) of prisoner 063, Mohammed al-Qahtani. A July 14, 2004 memo from the FBI to the Army Criminal Investigation Command documents the effects of this interrogation on al-Qatani:

"In September or October of 2002 FBI agents observed that a canine was used in an aggressive manner to intimidate detainee -- after he had been subjected to intense isolation for over three months. During that time period, ... was totally isolated (with the exception of occasional interrogations) in a cell that was always flooded with light. By late November, the detainee was evidencing behavior consistent with extreme psychological trauma (talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, crouching in the corner of a cell covered with a sheet for hours on end). It is unknown to the FBI whether such extended isolation was approved by DoD authorities." ...

With the release of the OIG's report, it is now irrefutable that both SERE psychologists and Guantánamo BSCT psychologists were involved in the development of these forms of interrogation abuse, forms of interrogation that clearly constitute psychological torture and were illegal under the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and various US laws until the 2006 Military Commissions Act granted immunity to those who had previously broken these laws during the "Global War On Terror." (Stephen Soldz, "Shrinks and the SERE Technique at Guantánamo," CounterPunch, May 29, 2007)

The ACLU's latest tranche of documents also reveal that Army medics routinely failed to report the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. According to the ACLU, citing the Church Report,

"enlisted medics witnessed obvious episodes of detainee abuse apparently without reporting them to superiors." One episode involved a detainee whose wounded leg was intentionally hit. Two others involved detainees handcuffed uncomfortably to beds for prolonged periods, such that one eventually suffered a dislocated shoulder and another experienced excruciating pain when eventually forced to stand. Another incident involved a medic who witnessed pictures of naked detainees in a pyramid but did not report the episode to superiors.

Grimly, the report found that in three separate instances between November and June 2003, three detainees were in all probability murdered by U.S. forces: at Abu Ghraib a prisoner died due to "compromised respiration"; a prisoner at Forward Operating Base Tiger in Iraq, "died of asphyxia during interrogation"; while a third detainee in Al Nasiriyah died of strangulation. His ribs and neck bones had been broken. The Church Report avers: "the investigation suggests he was beaten and then dragged by the neck by a guard."

But in the post-Constitutional bizarro world of Bushist "homeland security," guilt, innocence, or for that matter the security of the American people, are of no consequence. What is important however, for the masters of the American deep state, is "keeping the rabble in line" by regular injections of psychological terror dispensed by administration shills and their "message force multipliers," the corporate media.