Sunday, August 29, 2010

Preparing the Domestic Battlespace: LA County Jail to Field-Test Raytheon Pain Ray

"Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," the Congressional Research Service (CRS) tells us that "Congress has appropriated more than a trillion dollars for military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world."

And with our "change" administration expanding "the stealth war began in the Bush administration," as The New York Times disclosed earlier this month, why the surprise by Times' reporters that "virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged"?

After all, isn't this what imperial states, lusting to steal other peoples' resources for their own greedy corporate elites, do?

But foreign wars and occupations have their domestic analogues, measured not only in dollars but in broken lives as unemployment and home foreclosure rates soar; inconsequential matters for those whose business is to keep us "safe."

According to Homeland Security Market Research, while the economic downturn "has had an adverse effect on the 2010 US Private Sector Homeland Security (HLS) market ... the market is positioned to recover strongly in the 2011-2014 period."

Call it a "counterterrorism stimulus package" for America's largest defense and security firms, one fully consonant with America's role as a failing state.

As for the rest of us? We'll have to content ourselves with mindless flag-waving, feverish fear-mongering and troglodytic nationalism, an atavistic witch's brew and media spectacle rolled-out as the hottest new game the whole family can play: the anti-Muslim pogrom.

Step out of line and you just might find yourself a long-term resident in one of exurbian America's hottest growth communities: I refer of course, to the prison-industrial complex that has replaced manufacturing as a real job creator!

According to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, some 2.4 million Americans were incarcerated in 2010, the vast majority in federal and state prisons.

And like imported commodities piling up of the docks, "surplus populations" too, are in need of a strong management hand, and a revealing piece in the Los Angeles Daily News tell of plans to do just that.

Bringing the War Home

With prison overcrowding a real threat to the New Order during lean economic times, the Daily News disclosed that "guards trying to break up fights between inmates at a Castaic jail will be armed with the hottest nonlethal weapon on the market next week."

And with product spin-offs from the Pentagon infiltrating the homeland security market at an ever-faster pace, like a Hollywood starlet making her red carpet debut, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is rolling-out Raytheon Corporation's Assault Intervention Device (AID).

The 7 1/2 foot tall ceiling-mounted robo-fryer works by heating the outer layer of the skin to 130 degrees F. Known for its "goodbye effect," the beam can penetrate clothing and will cause excruciating pain for anyone unfortunate enough to make contact with its invisible electromagnetic fangs.

A perfect addition to stun grenades, pepper spray, tasers, long-range acoustic devices (LRADs), rubber bullets or wooden dowels that can, and have been, fired at restless heimat natives by riot cops, the AID is touted as a "less-lethal" way to keep the lid on LA's teeming gulags.

Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union told us last year in a scandalous report that "brutally overcrowded conditions cause or contribute to violence and serious mental illness."

As if life in the "shining city on a hill" weren't bad enough for those awaiting trial, ACLU investigators found "that idleness and massive overcrowding at the jail leads to violence, victimization, custodial abuse and ultimately psychotic breakdown even in relatively healthy people, as well as potentially irreversible psychosis in detainees with pre-existing illness."

I don't think a blast of microwave radiation from a Raytheon pain ray was what the ACLU had in mind when they demanded LA county "stop subjecting people to the nightmarish conditions."

Pentagon Provenance

Part of a "family" of weapons developed for imperial stormtroopers by Raytheon, like the firm's Active Denial System (ADS), a truck- or humvee-mounted NLW or the Silent Guardian, a compact version of ADS tricked-out for civilian use by the riot squad, the AID is a directed energy weapon developed as a spin-off by the Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP).

Originally designed for use by U.S. occupation troops in Iraq, as I pointed out last year, the prospect that American "liberators" would soon be zapping "unruly mobs," that is, Iraqi citizens objecting to the destruction of their country and the looting of their resource-rich nation by predatory corporate invaders proved to be a public relations nightmare for the White House.

Even the Bush regime's Defense Science Board concluded that an ADS deployment was "not politically tenable," because of a "possible association with torture" if the system were used at detention centers to ensure "compliance" from recalcitrant prisoners.

But fear not, the Pentagon and corporate sponsor Raytheon found a solution near at hand. Back in 2006, then-Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne had serious misgivings about an ADS battlefield deployment. Wynne's solution? The Associated Press reported that to avoid international sanction, the system should be used on crowds in the U.S. first!

"If we're not willing to use it here against our fellow citizens, then we should not be willing to use it in a wartime situation," Wynne said. "[Because] if I hit somebody with a nonlethal weapon and they claim that it injured them in a way that was not intended, I think that I would be vilified in the world press."

No need to worry about alarming press reports here! After all, our media pride themselves on their clever use of euphemisms to hide things like torture, domestic spying, corporate crime and violence or ubiquitous secret state corruption. After all, what's a zap or two to some unruly jailbird in the grand scheme of things!

Commander Bob Osborne, the director of the Sheriff's Department Technology Exploration Program told the Daily News, "We hope that this type of technology will either cause an inmate to stop an assault or lessen the severity of an assault by them being distracted by the pain as a result of the beam."

Touted as a more humane form of control, Osborne, with the best of intentions no doubt, told reporter C.J. Lin its deployment will have a deterrent effect so "that we have fewer injuries, fewer assaults, those kinds of things."

However, critics have pointed out that repeated exposure to high-intensity microwave beams can cause serious injuries or even death if targets are subjected to repeated weapon blasts.

A 2008 report published by the Deutsche Stiftung Friedensforschung (DSF, German Foundation for Peace Research), written by physicist Dr. Jürgen Altmann found that:

The power and duration of emission for one trigger event is controlled by a software program. Model calculations [for the larger ADS system] show that with the highest power setting, second- and third-degree burns with complete dermal necrosis will occur after less than 2 seconds. Even with a lower setting of power or duration there is the possibility for the operator to re-trigger immediately. (Dr. Jürgen Altmann, "Millimetre Waves, Lasers, Acoustics for Non-Lethal Weapons? Physics Analyses and Inferences," Deutsche Stiftung Friedensforschung (DSF), 2008, p. 4)

Deputies who have field tested the grisly device--on themselves, we're told--say the beam is painful "especially when it's not expected."

"You begin to to feel this warming feeling, and then you go 'Yow, I need to get out of the way'."

Mimicking other "neat" tools in the Empire's arsenal of high-tech, democracy-killing contraptions, the AID is controlled by a computer, joystick and glitchy software program that has known "issues" that have resulted in serious injuries to other "test subjects.". Traveling at light speed, the 9 mm beam can target inmates up to 100 feet from its swivel-mounted aperture.

Financed by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the devilish device will undergo a rigorous six-month evaluation "for use in jails nationwide" according to the Daily News. It was installed "at no cost" to the LA Sheriff's Department.

Although NIJ may be funding the six-month evaluation, the impetus for developing microwave weapons as a means for "crowd control" and for dispersing "rioters" comes from the Pentagon.

As I wrote back in 2008, despite all all the hoopla, it should be clear by now that descriptors such as "non-lethal" or "less-than-lethal" are, strictly speaking, Orwellian constructs that mask their application as repressive tools for domination. Their primary purpose is not to "save lives" but to be used as instruments of social control.

And Raytheon, No. 4 on Washington Technology's "Top 100" list of government contractors with some $6.7 billion in defense revenue from secret state agencies such as the CIA, tout their suite of pain ray toys as an exemplary means of providing "a zone of protection that saves lives, protects assets and minimizes collateral damage."

Mike Booen, a vice president for advanced security at Raytheon told the Daily News, "If you got in the way, you'll know. ... When you get that many of your pain receptacles telling you brain 'This needs to stop,' you can't think of anything else," Booen said. "And that tends to be very effective."

A spokeswoman with the firm declined to state what the AID will eventually cost taxpayers. However, a sheriff's deputy familiar with the program "estimated just the hardware costs at least hundreds of thousands of dollars."

"With this device, we can affect people that we need to have experience that effect and not have anything happen to other people," LA County Sheriff's Dept. mouthpiece Osborne told the Daily News. "And there's nothing to clean up, and no injuries."

The American Civil Liberties Union was less enthusiastic and said in a recent press release: "The idea that a military weapon designed to cause intolerable pain should be used against county jail inmates is staggeringly wrongheaded," said Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison Project.

"Unnecessarily inflicting severe pain and taking such unnecessary risks with people's lives," Winter averred, "is a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment and due process clause of the U.S. Constitution."

Although the civil liberties watchdogs have a "court-appointment responsibility to monitor the Los Angeles County jails," they were never consulted by LA County Sheriff Lee Baca.

According to the ACLU, "the military incarnation of the device was briefly fielded in Afghanistan in June and then withdrawn in July without ever being used."

BBC News reported last month, that the U.S. Army decided against deploying the Active Denial System in Afghanistan. "The ADS was not used and was shipped from Afghanistan. The operational need for the device was not approved by commanders", Colonel Shanks, Chief of Public Affairs for ISAF told BBC.

"While the device was being tested by the Air Force," the ACLU stated, "a miscalibration of the device's power settings caused five airmen in its path to suffer lasting burns, including one whose injuries were so severe that he was airlifted to an off-base burn treatment center."

No matter what, the show must go on.

Prisoners: Secret State Guinea Pigs

Although the Air Force and the LA County Sheriff's Department claim the weapon is "safe," a 2008 report by Wired Magazine undercut the Pentagon's rosy assertions.

The high-tech publication reported that "a newly-obtained accident report shows that ... the weapon's operators were dangerously undertrained--exposing test subjects, as one official puts it, 'to unconscionable risks'."

An unredacted Air Force report obtained by Wired, revealed that "the accident raises some basic questions about the weapon." Never meant to see the light of day the report, though unclassified, "contains privileged safety information" and should be destroyed "in accordance with AFMAN 37-123 when no longer needed for mishap prevention purposes."

"Built-in range finders," the report states, "'have been basic features of high tech line-of-sight weapons and sensors for decades' and typically will prevent operators from using systems in an unsafe fashion, says one Pentagon official familiar with weapon’s development. 'Yet those critical safety features, that were integrated into the HMMWV [Humvee] ADS System 1, were removed by the AFRL [Air Force Research Lab] prior to testing, exposing the test subjects to unconscionable risks'."

Why were details of these serious accidents withheld? The Air Force will only say that "The Active Denial System 2 has incorporated many safety features based on the operating experiences of the System 1."

"By not releasing the report," journalist Sharon Weinberger, a test subject along with her husband, journalist Nathan Hodge, said "the Air Force and the Joint Nonlethal Weapons Directorate deprived volunteers of making informed decisions about their participation. But, at least we were volunteers."

The same cannot be said for prisoners in LA County jail facilities.

As guinea pigs for the development of repressive technologies to be used to keep the lid on here in the heimat, prisoners have been literal captive audiences for illicit secret state experiments--from inhuman, Nazi-inspired radiological and bioweapons tests, to CIA "mind control" atrocities under Project ARTICHOKE and MKULTRA.

Similar motives operate today as the federal government and local police partners plan to introduce pain ray technologies into the nation's jails and prisons. And who's to say that Raytheon's devilish device won't be used as a means to elicit information from prisoners under interrogation?

As a scandalous investigative series in the Chicago Reader revealed, between 1972 and 1991 approximately 135 African-American men and women were arrested and tortured at the hands of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and officers under his command. Some of the victims were as young as thirteen.

Court cases against Burge and other cops established that the methods of torture used in the interrogation of suspects included electric shock to the ears and genitalia, mock executions, suffocation, and burning. Egregious examples of police torture are not isolated to the city of Chicago.

How much easier will it be for police to abuse prisoners when they have at their disposal technologies that won't even leave a mark? As LA County Sheriff's Commander Osborne blandly remarked "there's nothing to clean up."

Fry one and who'll care? After all, they're criminals who got what they deserved.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Space War Update: Secretive Mini-Shuttles, Dirty Tricks Spy Sats, and Much, Much More!

While centrist political hacks, crypto-fascist block heads and know-nothing déclassé "mama grizzlies" are intent on destroying what little remains of American democracy (I refer of course, to the slow-motion pogrom against U.S. Muslims, targets of the sordid "ground zero mosque" affair, and yes, Senator Reid, former speaker Gingrich and Ms. Palin, I mean you), Pentagon militarists and the corporate gangsters they so lovingly serve are moving forward with plans to enlarge the precincts of that "shining city on a hill" into orbital space.

Last spring, Antifascist Calling reported on the launch of the Pentagon's secretive X-37B mini space shuttle, a 29-foot long unmanned orbital test vehicle (OTV).

Built by Boeing Corporation, the multibillion dollar project was the culmination of a decades-long dream of Pentagon space warriors: to field a reusable spacecraft that combines an airplane's agility with the means to travel at 5 miles per second in orbit.

After the craft's successful April 22 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) denied that the X-37B was a prototype for a near-earth weapons platform.

Back in 2005 however, The New York Times reported that General Lance W. Lord, then commander of AFSPC, told an Air Force conference that "space superiority is not our birthright, but it is our destiny. ... Space superiority is our day-to-day mission. Space supremacy is our vision for the future."

And with no public debate whatsoever, new weapons programs spawned in the bowels of the Pentagon's black budget parallel universe are on coming on-line.

We do know however, that the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) the secretive Defense Department satrapy that builds and flies America's fleet of spy satellites, is ramping up operations for the "most aggressive launch schedule that this organization has undertaken in the last 25 years," NRO director Bruce Carlson said in a speech at the National Space Symposium, according to Aviation Week.

Among the most heavily-outsourced American secret state agencies, NRO and its sister organization, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) are preparing the "battlespace" for new imperial adventures. The AllGov web site reported Friday that NGA "recently awarded $7.3 billion in contracts for its EnhancedView commercial imagery program, which is intended to yield higher resolution photos of earth targets than what is currently available to the military."

Reporters David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff tell us that "DigitalGlobe operates three satellites capable of collecting imagery at resolutions of better than 1 meter, and GeoEye has two satellites in orbit that can photograph objects as small as half a meter in size." Perfect for zeroing-in on "anti-government forces" or perhaps pesky dissidents and whistleblowers here in the heimat.

A short blurb on AFSPC's web site hailing the space plane's orbital insertion was long on cheesy boilerplate but short on details of what the mission hoped to accomplish.

The Air Force informed us that "the X-37B ... will provide an 'on-orbit laboratory' test environment to prove new technology and components before those technologies are committed to operational satellite programs."

What that "test environment" might produce is anyone's guess and the Air Force isn't saying.

Prior to the launch however, AFSPC was far less coy, proclaiming "if these technologies on the vehicle prove to be as good as we estimate, it will make our access to space more responsive, perhaps cheaper, and push us in the vector toward being able to react to warfighter needs more quickly."

Such as bombing any point on earth in under an hour as the mad Prompt Global Strike program hopes to do, or, given the X-37B's diminutive profile, serving as an anti-satellite weapon that could threaten the space assets of other nations, particularly those of China and Russia.

While speculation as to what X-37B capabilities are have run the gamut from an orbital delivery system for conventional or nuclear weapons, to a satellite killing drone, to a relatively inexpensive means to launch mini-satellite swarms into orbit, the best guess is that all three are plausible hypotheses.

Despite contrary claims by the Obama administration, the "space superiority" that the Air Force lusts after include plans to weaponize space, imperialism's "high frontier." Or, as Gen. Lord would have it, the "freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack" in earth orbit.

"International Cooperation" and other Fairy Tales

Writing in The Diplomat, journalist David Axe reported last month that during the 2008 presidential campaign candidate Barack Obama made opposition to space-based weapons "part of his platform."

According to the changling's campaign material, "He [Obama] believes the United States must show leadership by engaging other nations in discussions of how best to stop the slow slide towards a new battlefield."

"Yet just two years into the Obama presidency," Axe wrote, "it's clear that these noble sentiments aren't being matched by US deeds."

Brian Weeden, the author of a briefing paper for the Pentagon- and industry-connected Secure World Foundation (SWF), claims that the mini space plane "has near zero feasibility as an orbital weapons system for attacking targets on the ground."

Weeden alleges that the X-37B's payload bay is too small for carrying an effective space-launched weapon, and moves too slowly to carry out bombing runs when re-entering the atmosphere, unlike the hypersonic glide vehicle under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as a component of the Pentagon's "Prompt Global Strike" program.

Policy wonks such as Eric Sterner, an analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Marshall Institute, a rightist think tank chock-a-block with former Cold Warriors, retired Pentagon clock-punchers and corporatist bag men, told Axe that "in theory" the X-37B could be weaponized or might be ideal for sneaking up on and probing, capturing, or even destroying an adversary's satellites.

"You open the payload bay, you can have in it anything you want, like a hard-point on an aircraft," Sterner told The Diplomat. "You can put sensors in there, satellites in there. You could stick munitions in there, provided they exist."

Sterner should know. After all, the Marshall Institute is pushing for the accelerated development of a "robust" U.S. missile defense system.

The Institute, along with right-wing grifters from the American Foreign Policy Council, the Claremont Institute, the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, The Heritage Foundation, High Frontier, the Institute of the North and a gaggle of defense corps, are the dark heart of the Rumsfeldian Independent Working Group (IWG).

Last year, the IWG published another in a series of alarmist screeds urging deployment of this exquisitely destabilizing first strike weapons system.

The group's 2009 report, Missile Defense, the Space Relationship & the Twenty-First Century, told us that "Missile defense has entered a new era. With the initial missile defense deployments, the decades-long debate over whether to protect the American people from the threat of ballistic missile attack was settled--and settled unequivocally in favor of missile defense."

Although the United States is a founding member of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and is a signatory to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty banning orbital nuclear weapons, as the previous administration amply demonstrated, international treaties and agreements are so many worthless scraps of paper to be tossed aside when it inconveniences the Empire.

Ratcheting up tensions in the wake of the 9/11 provocation as plans to invade Iraq were secretly being hatched by the Bush crime family, at former SecDef Rumsfeld's insistence, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty with Russia and proclaimed that it would build--and deploy--a missile defense system.

With a cover story that the system would be based in Central Europe to "protect" NATO allies from a nonexistent "Iranian threat," Washington believes it has the right to threaten and cajole other nations because of its status as the world's "sole superpower."

Mikhail Barabanov, the editor of Arms Export magazine, believes that the "real motivation of the multibillion-dollar undertaking is the desire to expand U.S. military and strategic capacities and constrict those of other states that have nuclear missiles, Russia and China most of all," UPI reported.

Barabanov argued that "even a limited missile defense system injects a high degree of indeterminacy into the strategic plans of other countries and undermines the principle of mutual nuclear deterrence.

"With Russia continuing to reduce its nuclear arsenal significantly and China maintaining a low missile potential," Barabanov said that "the Americans' ability to down even a few dozen warheads could deprive the other side of guaranteed ability to cause the U.S. unacceptable damage in a nuclear war."

In response to the American threat, Barabanov wrote that "the only way to prevent a slow growth of the American strategic advantage is a significant increase in the purchase of new ballistic missiles by Russia."

America's drive for nuclear- and space superiority excludes any attempt to limit deployment of new weapons systems anywhere, including space. While Bush and his minions may have receded from the headlines, Washington militarists are up to their old tricks--and semantic parlor games--rebranded as "change."

In June, The New York Times reported that the administration will "consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies."

As with all things Obama however, the administration's "new space policy" mantra is more public relations puffery than substance.

Peter Marquez, director of space policy at the National Security Council told the Times that Washington would "oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access or use of space."

This of course, is a red herring since no other nation has sought to "prohibit or limit" America's "access or use of space" for peaceful purposes. As a means to preclude the prospect for negotiating a new arms control treaty for space, despite international backing by China, Russia and America's NATO allies, caveats and distortions by the NSC are deal killers.

"Those are the gates," Marquez told the Times, "that the arms control proposals must come through before we consider them." In other words, the global godfather has spoken so forget it.

If the U.S., as candidate Obama declared, is truly interested in stopping the "the slow slide towards a new battlefield," why then has the Pentagon embarked on a crash program to field a new generation of orbital weapons?

Washington's lack of transparency when it comes to the X-37B's potential to compromise other nations' satellite systems reveal that Obama's pledge to strengthen "international cooperation" for de-escalating conflicts in space, like his promise to close the Guantánamo Bay gulag, end torture or halt secret state domestic spying, are a cynical pack of lies.

Space Situational Awareness: Preparing the Orbital Battlespace

With the upcoming launch of the first in a series of spysats called the Space Based Surveillance System (SBSS) by AFSPC, we can expect more in the orbital dirty tricks department.

Built by usual suspects Boeing and Northrop Grumman for the Air Force, the SBSS, The Register tells us "is intended to make life much easier for the US air force Space Superiority Wing, which tries to keep tabs on all other nations' military 'space assets'."

In April, Defense Systems reported that AFSPC has "identified four pillars" of space situational awareness: "intelligence characterization, data integration and exploitation, threat warning, and attack reporting."

To address those "pillars," three new hardware programs are coming on-line: "the Space Based Space Surveillance (SBSS) space vehicle, Space Fence and Space Surveillance Telescope (SST)."

SBSS is viewed by Pentagon star warriors as an ideal spy platform because it "offers a resilient space-based capability that weather cannot affect. It doesn't have foreign basing issues. And it provides more timely revisit rates for high-interest objects at geosynchronous orbit."

Or, more realistically, given Pentagon proclivities to shoot first and analyze later, provide wannabe starship troopers with real-time targets for efficient takedown.

While deliberate meddling with other nation's satellites is strictly forbidden by international treaty, The Register informs us that "America might not be above a little bit of unattributable orbital naughtiness itself at some point in the future."

Indeed, "unattributable orbital naughtiness" is the name of the game. Last week, The Register reported that the Pentagon's new "'fractionated' swarm satellites--in which groups of small wirelessly-linked modules in orbit will replace today's large spacecraft--will be able to scatter to avoid enemy attacks and then reform into operational clusters."

According to a DARPA press release, "System F6 (Future, Fast, Flexible, Fractionated, Free-Flying Spacecraft) demonstrator program [will] emphasize development of an open and ubiquitous space architecture and an associated set of open standards. The fractionated spacecraft concept replaces large, monolithic space assets with clusters of smaller, wirelessly-interconnected modules that share resources to create, in effect, a 'virtual satellite'."

In other words, satswarms in constant communication with their Pentagon masters on the ground.

With an emphasis on "real-time, fault-tolerant resource sharing over wireless cross-links; algorithms for safe and agile multi-body cluster flight; persistent broadband communications between low earth orbit (LEO) spacecraft and the ground; and a robust and scalable multi-level information assurance architecture," DARPA believes the F6 program will "enable multiple payloads supplied by different agencies, services or even countries to share common infrastructure at multiple levels of security."

DARPAcrats say the project will "exploit benefits of democratization of innovation" and find better ways to kill people in the process. How's that for innovation!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Obama Demands Access to Internet Records, in Secret, and Without Court Review

The Obama administration is seeking authority from Congress that would compel internet service providers (ISPs) to turn over records of an individual's internet activity for use in secretive FBI probes.

In another instance where Americans are urged to trust their political minders, The Washington Post reported last month that "the administration wants to add just four words--'electronic communication transactional records'--to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval."

Under cover of coughing-up information deemed relevant to espionage or terrorism investigations, proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) would greatly expand the volume of private records that can be seized through National Security Letters (NSLs).

Constitution-shredding lettres de cachet, NSLs are administrative subpoenas that can be executed by agencies such as the FBI, CIA or Defense Department, solely on the say so of supervisory agents.

The noxious warrants are not subject to court review, nor can a recipient even disclose they have received one. Because of their secretive nature, they are extremely difficult to challenge.

Issued by unaccountable Executive Branch agents hiding behind a façade of top secret classifications and much-ballyhooed "sources and methods," NSLs clearly violate our constitutional rights.

The fourth amendment unambiguously states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

However, in "new normal" America constitutional guarantees and civil rights are mere technicalities, cynical propaganda exercises jettisoned under the flimsiest of pretexts: the endless "War on Terror" where the corporate state's praetorian guards work the "dark side."

Once served, firms such as telecommunication providers, banks, credit card companies, airlines, health insurers, video rental services, even booksellers and libraries, are compelled to turn over what the secret state deem relevant records on targets of FBI fishing expeditions.

If burdensome NSL restrictions are breeched for any reason, that person can be fined or even jailed if gag orders built into the draconian USA Patriot Act are violated.

However, even the Patriot Act's abysmally lowered threshold for seizing private records specify that NSLs cannot be issued "solely on the basis of activities protected by the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States."

Despite these loose standards, congressional investigators, journalists and civil liberties watchdogs found that the FBI violated the rules of the road, such as they are, thousands of times. Between 2003-2006, the Bureau issued 192,499 NSLs, according to current estimates, the FBI continues to hand out tens of thousands more each year.

According to a May 2009 Justice Department letter sent to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, "in 2007, the FBI made 16,804 NSL requests" and followed-up the next year by issuing some "24,744 NSL requests ... to 7,225 United States persons."

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued a 2007 report which concluded that the Bureau had systematically abused the process and exceeded their authority. A follow-up report published by the OIG in January found that serious civil liberties breeches continue under President Obama.

This is hardly surprising given the track record of the Obama administration.

"Reform," Obama-Style

The latest White House proposal would hand the secret state unprecedented access to the personal communications of every American.

What Bushist war criminals did secretly, Obama intends to do openly and with the blessings of a supine Congress. As constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald points out, "not only has Obama ... blocked any reforms, he has taken multiple steps to further expand unaccountable and unchecked surveillance power."

Nowhere is this more apparent than by administration moves to "reform" ECPA.

While the Justice Department claims their newly sought authority does not include "'content' of email or other Internet communications," this is so much eyewash to deceive the public.

In fact, the addition of so-called transactional records to the volume of files that the state can arbitrarily seize, would hand the government access to a limitless cache of email addresses, dates and times they were sent and received, and a literal snap-shot on demand of what any user looks at or searches when they log onto the internet.

As I have pointed out before, most recently last month when I described the National Security Agency's PERFECT CITIZEN program, the roll-out of privacy-killing deep-packet inspection software developed by NSA already has the ability to read and catalogue the content of email messages flowing across private telecommunications networks.

Former Bushist Homeland Security official, Stewart A. Baker, applauded the proposal and told the Post, "it'll be faster and easier to get the data." Baker touts the rule change as a splendid way for ISPs to hand over "a lot more information to the FBI in response to an NSL."

While the Post claims "many internet service providers" have "resisted the government's demands to turn over electronic records," this is a rank mendacity.

A "senior administration official," speaking anonymously of course, told the Post that "most" ISPs already "turn over such data." Of course they do, and at a premium price!

Internet security analyst Christopher Soghoian has documented that just one firm, Sprint Nextel, routinely turned over their customer's geolocation data to law enforcement agencies and even built them a secure web portal to do so, eight million times in a single year!

Soghoian wrote last year that "government agents routinely obtain customer records from these firms, detailing the telephone numbers dialed, text messages, emails and instant messages sent, web pages browsed, the queries submitted to search engines, and of course, huge amounts of geolocation data, detailing exactly where an individual was located at a particular date and time."

As a public service, the secrecy-shredding web site Cryptome has published dozens of so-called compliance guides for law enforcement issued by a plethora of telecoms and ISPs. Readers are urged to peruse Yahoo's manual for a taste of what these grifters hand over.

While the administration argues that "electronic communication transactional records" are the "same as" phone records that the Bureau can obtain with an NSL, seizing such records reveal far more about a person's life, and political views, than a list of disaggregated phone numbers. This is precisely why the FBI wants unlimited access to this data. Along with racial and religious profiling, the Bureau would be handed the means to build a political profile on anyone they deem an "extremist."

That "senior administration official" cited by the Post claims that access to a citizen's web history "allows us to intercede in plots earlier than we would if our hands were tied and we were unable to get this data in a way that was quick and efficient."

Perhaps our "change" administration has forgotten a simple historical fact: police states are efficient. The value of privacy in a republic, including whom one communicates with or where one's interests lie, form the core values of a democratic order; principles sorely lacking in our "new normal" Orwellian order!

In a small but significant victory, the ACLU announced this week that "the FBI has partially lifted a gag it imposed on American Civil Liberties Union client Nicholas Merrill in 2004 that prevented him from disclosing to anyone that he received a national security letter (NSL) demanding private customer records."

In a statement to reporters, Merrill said: "Internet users do not give up their privacy rights when they log on, and the FBI should not have the power to secretly demand that ISPs turn over constitutionally protected information about their users without a court order. I hope my successful challenge to the FBI's NSL gag power will empower others who may have received NSLs to speak out."

Despite this narrow ruling, the FBI intends to soldier on and the Obama administration is hell-bent on giving the Bureau even more power to operate in the dark.

Commenting on the Merrill case, The Washington Post reported FBI spokesperson Mike Kortan claimed that NSL "secrecy is often essential to the successful conduct of counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations" and that public disclosure "may pose serious risks to the investigation itself and to other national security interests."

Those "other" interests, apparently, do not extend to the right to express one's views freely, particularly when they collide with the criminal policies of the secret state.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Full-Service Bank: R. Allen Stanford and the CIA

In a scandal-plagued era such as ours, scarred by murderous wars, occupations and corruption that would make a Roman emperor blush, accused crooks have names; even juiced ones like R. Allen Stanford.

Last year, when a federal court in Texas handed down indictments charging Stanford International Bank (SIB) and its officers with "orchestrating a fraudulent, multibillion dollar investment scheme," I wondered: was there more to the story?

Indeed there was.

Once described by fawning media as a "flamboyant Texan" and "philanthropist," Stanford was founder and sole shareholder of a global banking empire once conservatively valued at $50 billion.

According to the federal indictment, "Sir Allen," as he was dubbed by a corrupt former minister of Antigua, ran a massive Ponzi scheme camouflaged as a bank that sold some $7 billion in self-styled "certificates of deposit" and $1.2 billion in mutual funds.

Operated from behind a façade of well-appointed offices and with a jet-set lifestyle to match, the Stanford grift may have been impressive but it was a scam from the get-go. Lured by "high rates that exceed those available through true certificates of deposits offered by traditional banks," thousands lost their shirts.

Those high rates were a lie and the bank's "unique investment strategy" about as legitimate as a penny-stock fraud or advance fee scam on the internet. Of the $8 billion hoovered up by the banker and his cronies, only about $500 million have been recovered.

Facing the prospect of years in prison, The Miami Herald reported that SIB's chief financial officer James Davis, once Stanford's college roommate and originally charged in the indictment, copped a plea to save his own neck.

Davis told the Justice Department that "his boss had been stealing from investors for decades while paying bribes to regulators and even performing blood oaths never to reveal his secrets."

Talk about a wise guy!

And with connections and generous pay-outs to U.S. politicians going back more than a decade, 65% of which went to Democrats including our "change" president, Allen Stanford was plugged-in.

Evidence also suggests he may have gotten an assist covering his tracks from regulators and U.S. secret state agencies, including the CIA.

SEC Stand Down

Allen Stanford did business the American way; he swindled depositors and then siphoned-off the proceeds into a spider's web of offshore accounts.

The indictment charges "it was part of the conspiracy that Stanford ... and others would cause the movement of millions of dollars of fraudulently obtained investors' funds from and among bank accounts located in the Southern District of Texas and elsewhere in the United States to various bank accounts located outside of the United States ... in order to exercise exclusive control over the investors' funds."

Auditors learned that funds were moved through Stanford-controlled accounts to offshore banks, including HSBC in London, Bank Julius Baer in Zurich and eight others; banks which have figured in past money laundering or tax-avoidance scandals. None have been charged with an offense in connection with the affair.

In all, 28 numbered accounts were listed by prosecutors, veritable black holes that escaped scrutiny; that is if regulators in Washington were minding the store, which they weren't.

Years earlier, SEC investigators at the commission's Ft. Worth office uncovered evidence of wrongdoing. According to an explosive report by the SEC's Office of the Inspector General, Ft. Worth examiners launched a series of probes in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2004 exploring SIB practices but their diligence was sabotaged by high-level officials.

That report, Investigation of the SEC's Response to Concerns Regarding Robert Allen Stanford's Alleged Ponzi Scheme, Case No. OIG-526, March 31, 2010, paints a damning picture of the regulatory process.

The inspector general states: "While the Fort Worth Examination group made multiple efforts after each examination to convince the Fort Worth Enforcement program ('Enforcement') to open and conduct an investigation of Stanford, no meaningful effort was made by Enforcement to investigate the potential fraud or to bring an action to attempt to stop it until late 2005."

Last month, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that staff members, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared management retaliation, told the newspaper that higher-ups wanted "tools to do away with people who have a dissenting opinion."

Senior managers called the probes a "goat screw" and ordered them killed.

The OIG investigation "found that the former head of Enforcement in Fort Worth, who played a significant role in multiple decisions over the years to quash investigations of Stanford, sought to represent Stanford on three separate occasions after he left the Commission, and in fact represented Stanford briefly in 2006 before he was informed by the SEC Ethics Office that it was improper to do so." (emphasis added)

In Florida, The Miami Herald revealed that state regulators did the SEC one better and gave the bank carte blanche to operate secretly, moving "vast amounts of money offshore--without reporting a penny to regulators."

The arrangement between the bank and the Florida Office of Financial Regulation was so brazen, that Stanford's company "was allowed to sell hundreds of millions in bank notes without allowing regulators to check for fraud."

And once those suspect instruments were sold, the Herald reported that "employees shredded records of the trust agreements and CD purchases once the original documents were sent to Antigua, state records show."

A sweet deal if you can get it, or have powerful friends who might wish to avoid messy inquiries touching upon sensitive matters.

The New York Times reported last year that current charges "stem from an inquiry opened in October 2006," that is, nearly a decade "after a routine exam of Stanford Group, according to Stephen J. Korotash, an associate regional director of enforcement with the agency's Fort Worth office."

Korotash told the Times that the SEC "stood down" its investigation "at the request of another federal agency, which he declined to name."

According to BusinessWeek, in 2006 the Bush administration "bestowed on his intelligence czar ... broad authority, in the name of national security" to excuse companies from "their normal accounting and securities-disclosure obligations" if such disclosures revealed "certain top-secret defense projects."

At the time, William McLucas, the Securities and Exchange Commission's former enforcement chief told the publication that the ability to conceal financial information from regulators under the rubric of "national security" could lead some companies "to play fast and loose with their numbers."

The former official said, "it could be that you have a bunch of books and records out there that no one knows about."

In response to media reports, congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), wrote a letter to SEC Chair Mary Schapiro last year, demanding documents, and answers, why the SEC suspended investigations of the "Stanford Group under pressure from another unidentified federal agency."

The Ohio congressman said, "if this is true ... our subcommittee will demand that the SEC reveal the name of that agency which told it not to enforce federal laws which protect investors."

Neither documents nor answers were forthcoming.

Cynics might see something untoward here, but I think it's all just a coincidence, like drug planes bought with bundles of cash laundered through American banks.

Drug Probes Killed

In 1986 during the Iran-Contra period, Allen Stanford's Guardian International Bank set up shop on the sleepy Caribbean isle of Montserrat (pop. 5,870).

It didn't take long before the bank came under scrutiny. Guardian was the subject of a joint Scotland Yard-FBI investigation "into so-called 'brass-plate' banks," The Independent disclosed.

According to reporters David Connett and Stephen Foley, the bank "was suspected of laundering drug money from the notorious Medellin and Cali drug cartels run by Pablo Escobar and the Orejuela brothers."

During the Iran-Contra scandal, congressional investigators and journalists scrutinized links between Colombian drug traffickers and the CIA's Nicaraguan Contra army.

By 1986, evidence began to emerge that top Contra officials and the Agency enjoyed cosy ties with both Escobar and the Orejuela brothers. Under pressure from the Reagan administration however, both Congress and corporate media deep-sixed the story as the affair was covered-up.

A decade later, largely as a result of outrage generated by the late Gary Webb's Dark Alliance series, a memorandum of understanding between Reagan's Justice Department and the Agency entered the public record. That 1982 memo legally freed the CIA from reporting drug smuggling by their assets.

Former FBI agent Ross Gaffney who led the Guardian probe, told Connett and Foley that "we suspected that Stanford's bank was involved in money laundering." But before that investigation could be developed, Stanford suddenly pulled up stakes and "voluntarily surrendered his Montserrat banking licence and left the island."

Gaffney said that even after Guardian closed, the FBI "continued to take an interest in Stanford and set up a second inquiry into that bank after receiving intelligence that it continued to launder money for the Medellin and Cali cartels."

The former federal agent told The Independent, "We had hard intelligence about what he was doing and we began to develop it" but the investigation died or more likely, killed, by officials higher-up the food chain.

After leaving Montserrat, Stanford trained his sights on Antigua and Barbuda and developed a close relationship with former prime minister Lester Bird.

"Under the Bird family leadership" Connett and Foley reported, "the island was widely regarded as one of the most corrupt in the Caribbean, with well-documented links to arms and drug smuggling and money laundering."

According to The Independent, "in 1990, Israeli automatic weapons ordered by Mr Bird's brother Vere turned up in the hands of a notorious Colombian drug trafficker."

Despite suspicions, it appears that Stanford was golden as far as the feds were concerned; just another guy with an endless supply of "get-out-of-jail-free" cards.

One reason Stanford operated with impunity, the BBC informs us, is that he "may have been a US government informer."

DEA documents seen by BBC's investigative unit Panorama, suggest that "drug money [was] originally paid in to Stanford International Bank by agents acting for a feared Mexican drug lord known as the 'Lord of the Heavens'."

Confidential DEA sources believe that Stanford turned over "details of money-laundering from Latin American clients from Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela and Ecuador," thus "effectively guaranteeing himself a decade's worth of 'protection' from the authorities, especially the SEC."

"We were convinced that Stanford's bank attracted millions of narco-dollars," sources told Panorama, "but it was very difficult to get the evidence to nail him."

"The word is" BBC reported, "that Stanford has been a confidential informer for the DEA since '99."

Snitch or not, this raises intriguing questions.

Was Stanford's bank a black hole which U.S. intelligence agencies could exploit, in the interest of "national security" mind you, and therefore exempt from "normal disclosure obligations" as BusinessWeek averred?

If this were so, then even if Stanford were an informant he could have continued to launder drug money and profit nicely; such gentleman's agreements are not without precedent.

One need only glance at internal U.S. government documents released by the National Security Archive, documents which revealed the Cali cartel's close collaboration with corrupt Colombian police, neofascist paramilitaries and the CIA when Medellín drug lord Pablo Escobar was run to ground.

Pointedly, was Stanford's banking empire another in a long line of institutional channels that drug cartels and the CIA could both profit from?

Banks, Drugs and Covert Operations

Across the decades, historians, investigative journalists and researchers have uncovered strong evidence that various banks have served as virtual cut-outs for CIA covert operations.

Readers need only recall illegal activities by institutions as diverse as Paul Helliwell's Castle Bank and Trust in the Bahamas, Frank Nugan and Michael Hand's Nugan Hand Bank in Sydney and the Cayman Islands, or the far-flung empire of Agha Hasan Abedi's Bank and Credit and Commerce International.

Separated in time and geography, what all three banks had in common was their close proximity to international drug trafficking networks and the CIA, particularly in areas of acute interest to U.S. policy planners. Did Stanford International Bank have a similar arrangement with the Agency?

When the scandal finally broke, the Houston Chronicle reported that authorities had been "looking for ties to organized drug cartels and money laundering, going back at least a decade."

In the late 1990s, court documents revealed that "operatives of the Juarez cartel began opening accounts at Stanford's Antigua-based bank," laundering profits amassed by the Amado Carrillo Fuentes organization, the late "Lord of the Heavens" referred to in the BBC report.

The Chronicle notes that Fuentes' representatives "used Stanford International Bank to open 10 accounts and deposit $3 million." We should bear in mind however, these represent only known accounts. Were there others? Federal and state investigators have said that there were.

After authorities determined the accounts were held by a notorious drug cartel, Stanford turned over the $3 million. Yet despite hard evidence of criminal wrongdoing, federal officials told the Chronicle that "any alleged Stanford connection to drug cartels and their money could lie buried in the paperwork gathered for the Security and Exchange Commission's civil inquiry."

One might even say rather conveniently.

During the same period, Texas state securities regulators uncovered more evidence of money laundering by Stanford entities. But because it involved offshore banks, they "referred it" to the FBI and SEC.

Texas Securities Commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford told a Senate Finance Committee last year, "Why it took 10 years for the feds to move on it, I cannot answer."

Miffed by government foot-dragging, Crawford added, "We worked with the FBI and the SEC and basically gave them the case. We told them what we'd seen and they were going to run with it."

But that investigation died on the vine.

Echoing similar themes, The Observer disclosed an FBI source close to the investigation confirmed that the Bureau "was looking at links to international drug gangs as part of the huge investigation into Stanford's banking activities."

The Observer reported that Mexican authorities seized one of Stanford's private jets in connection with alleged links to the Gulf cartel and said that "cheques found inside the plane were linked to the cartel, which is one of the most violent criminal organisations in the world."

DEA sources told the London newspaper "there may well have been a trail connecting his Mexican affairs to narco-trafficking interests." However, a second DEA official told The Observer, "I think we'll find that any possible drug-related trail and SEC priorities are not all in the same frame."

A curious statement considering the billions of dollars in fraudulent activities alleged against the bank, some of which may have been derived from laundering drug money.

One would assume that evidence of serious wrongdoing would be motive enough to take a hard look at the allegations and not concoct a fairy tale that these charges lie "buried in the paperwork"!

A U.S. drug enforcement official told The Observer, "Any major US interest seeking to avoid fully disclosed investments would have to go to pretty careful lengths to avoid encountering cartel interests."

"Anyone seeking to conceal or launder money would find it in safe and lucrative hands were they to forge alliances with, rather than skirt, the cartels," The Observer noted, and would "find them accommodating in terms of remuneration." The official hastened to add, it's "nothing anyone will confirm for Stanford right now."

The question is: why?

A Full-Service Bank

One possible answer may revolve around charges that SIB's Venezuela branch was a conduit for laundered CIA funds.

If true, then the Agency would be dead set against trial disclosures that revealed the bank had been involved in laundering drug money, particularly if narcotics syndicates are playing a role in U.S. destabilization efforts there.

Months before Stanford's empire collapsed, Venezuela's socialist government launched a raid on SIB offices in Caracas.

The Daily Telegraph reported that "Sir Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire ... is now at the centre of an international spying row."

The conservative British newspaper disclosed that "officials from Venezuelan military intelligence raided a branch of his offshore bank over claims that its employees were paid by the CIA to spy on the south American country."

Although corporate media in the U.S. dismissed Venezuelan allegations as propaganda, questions persist.

While on a charm offensive before his arrest last year, Stanford gave an interview to CNBC's Scott Cohn. When asked about claims that his bank may have been a cut-out for the Agency, this curious exchange took place:

Cohn: "You just by nature of your position and where you were got to know a lot of people in Latin America, in Africa, in Europe, around the world, and it strikes me that somebody in your position would be useful to the authorities in the US trying to find out what was going on there, what was going on in places like Venezuela. Can you tell me about any sort of role you played that way, were you helpful to the authorities in the US?"

Stanford: "Are you talking about the CIA?"

Cohn: "Well, you tell me."

Stanford: "I'm not going to talk about that."

Cohn: "Why not?"

Stanford: "I'm just not going to talk about that."

Cohn: "Well, I mean, am I--is my premise correct that someone in your position would be helpful to those who wanted to know what was going on?"

Stanford: "I really don't have anything to add to that that would be of any value."

Stanford's reticence is certainly understandable, considering Frank Hand's fate 30 years ago.

During a similar scandal when the CIA-linked Nugan Hand bank collapsed amid charges of fraud and drug money laundering, the chief executive turned up dead in his Mercedes with a shot to the head.

Despite evidence uncovered by investigations going back to the 1980s, drug money laundering charges or any reference to Agency activities will not figure in the Justice Department's case when Stanford goes on trial in January.

As ABC News delicately put it, SEC action against Stanford "may have complicated the federal drug case."

Underscoring the federal government's reluctance to explore this dark corner of Allen Stanford's career, it might do well to keep in mind what one airline executive told investigative journalist Daniel Hopsicker during his probe into the 9/11 attacks.

"Sometimes when things don't make business sense, its because they do make sense...just in some other way."