Monday, February 21, 2011

As Clinton Hawks 'Freedom to Connect,' Justice Department Shields 'War on Terror' Fraudsters, Targets WikiLeaks

While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was praising the role that the internet played in toppling oppressive regimes (ironically enough, close U.S. allies), the Justice Department was in court in Alexandria, Virginia seeking to invade the privacy and political rights of WikiLeaks supporters even as it shields well-connected "War on Terror" fraudsters.

Scarcely batting an eyelash, Madame Clinton told her audience at George Washington University that "the goal is not to tell people how to use the internet any more than we ought to tell people how to use any public square, whether it's Tahrir Square or Times Square."

Rich with rhetorical flourishes that should have evoked gales of laughter but didn't (this is America, after all), Clinton averred that "together, the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association online comprise what I've called the freedom to connect. The United States supports this freedom for people everywhere, and we have called on other nations to do the same."


Has the honorable Secretary attended a demonstration of late, or found herself on the receiving end of a police baton, a rubber bullet, a jolt from a taser or ear-piercing blast from a "nonlethal" sonic weapon?

Or perhaps Madame Clinton has been served with a National Security Letter that arrives with its own built-in, permanent gag order, had her organization infiltrated by provocateurs, been the focus of "spear phishing" attacks by a secret state agency, say the FBI or one of their private contractors, who've implanted surveillance software on her laptop or smart phone, or summoned by subpoena to appear before a Star Chamber-like grand jury?

I didn't think so.

The Secretary's hypocrisy and mendacity would be amusing if the American people hadn't already lived through a decade where the cheapening of constitutional rights, particularly First and Fourth Amendment guarantees, hadn't been eroded to the point of savage annihilation by all branches of government and by both capitalist parties.

After all, in the filthy Washington trough where money rules, "liberal" Democrats and "conservative" Republicans alike are joined at the hip and outdo one another in paying obeisance to the National Security State.

Indeed, just a hop, skip and a jump across the icy Potomac, an Alexandria courthouse witnessed the "change" regime's Justice Department move to seize the contents of private Twitter accounts, including those of left-wing Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, and other WikiLeaks supporters.

While Mrs. Clinton hypocritically praised the role of social networking sites in helping to bring down torture-friendly, corrupt regimes in Egypt and Tunisia (close U.S. allies in the multibillion dollar kabuki dance known as the "War on Terror"), a grand jury was investigating whether there are grounds for filing criminal charges against WikiLeaks, its founder Julian Assange, and the heroic Bradley Manning, the incarcerated Army private suspected of leaking compromising files to the organization.

Outraged by revelations of American war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Apache helicopter gunship murder of a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists, as well as the release of thousands of diplomatic cables, the secret state is bringing the full weight of its formidable machinery down upon anyone, anywhere who have the temerity to challenge the lies of our militarist masters.

Denouncing the Obama regime's latest assault, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) argued that forcing Twitter to turn over users' data to the government would hand the state a veritable road map of people connected to WikiLeaks, including journalists who may have communicated with the group, and would seriously chill free speech.

EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn pointed out that "Twitter is a publication and communication service, so the information sought by the government relates to what these individuals said and where they were when they said it. This raises serious First and Fourth Amendment concerns. It is especially troubling since the request seeks information about all statements made by these people, regardless of whether their speech relates to WikiLeaks."

Public knowledge of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's criminal probe recently surfaced when U.S. Magistrate Theresa Carroll Buchanan, granted a motion by three Twitter clients that partially unsealed some government filings in the case.

Plaintiffs' attorneys argued that Buchanan should overturn her earlier ruling ordering Twitter "to disclose its clients' data, as well as unseal documents in the case, including requests from prosecutors to get information from other technology companies," the The Washington Post reported.

When news of the federal government's fishing expedition first broke in January, The New York Times reported that what made the case unusual weren't de rigueur secret state subpoenas, but the fact that Twitter challenged the Justice Department's gag order "and won the right to inform the people whose records the government was seeking."

The Times noted that "WikiLeaks says it suspects that other large sites like Google and Facebook have received similar requests and simply went along with the government."

Such demands, and long-suspected capitulation by internet behemoths Google and Facebook, are at the heart of current debates over data retention.

As security analyst and surveillance critic Christopher Soghoian pointed out last month, "The hypocrisy of the government's push for such data retention is clear when compared to the extreme efforts that government agencies go to in order to shield their own communications, documents and other records from the American people."

Particularly when lawbreaking by favored contractors are cloaked by bogus claims of "national security."

Shielding a "War on Terror" Fraudster

One sordid example among hundreds of similar cases which have come to light was recently uncovered The New York Times.

Investigative journalists Eric Lichtblau and James Risen disclosed that for "eight years, government officials turned to Dennis Montgomery, a California computer programmer, for eye-popping technology that he said could catch terrorists."

Montgomery's "eye-popping technology" was a fraud, a multimillion grift that bamboozled the Pentagon's Special Operations Command and other secret state agencies and almost resulted in the 2003 shoot-down of passenger planes heading towards the U.S.

Hardly the "smartest guy in the room," Montgomery is awaiting trial in Nevada on charges "of trying to pass $1.8 million in bad checks at casinos." However, "he has not been charged with wrongdoing in the federal contracts, nor has the government tried to get back any of the money it paid."

In the last few months Obama's Justice Department, Lichtblau and Risen inform us, have "gotten protective orders from two federal judges keeping details of the technology out of court," and "says it is guarding state secrets that would threaten national security if disclosed."

According to the Times, the software suite Montgomery sold the Pentagon was chock-a-block with snake-oil claims that it "could find terrorist plots hidden in broadcasts of the Arab network Al Jazeera; identify terrorists from Predator drone videos; and detect noise from hostile submarines."

These claims "prompted an international false alarm that led President George W. Bush to order airliners to turn around over the Atlantic Ocean in 2003."

In a famous incident of Bush administration fear mongering that coincided with the Christmas holidays for maximum effect, and hyped of course by the media as the latest in a series of "grave threats" to the heimat, Montgomery reported the alarming news to his CIA contacts.

But as Global Research analyst Michel Chossudovsky pointed out at the time, the Bush administration had "chosen the Christmas holiday to wage a campaign of fear and intimidation. Its ultimate objective consists in manipulating Americans into accepting a de facto military government, as a means to 'protect their civil liberties'."

Chossudovsky averred, and facts that came to light years later proved beyond all reasonable doubt that "the terrorist alert was fabricated by the CIA." A cynical deceit facilitated by "War on Terror" fraudster Montgomery.

According to the Times, Montgomery had claimed that "hidden in the crawl bars broadcast by Al Jazeera, someone had planted information about specific American-bound flights from Britain, France and Mexico that were hijacking targets."

CIA officials then "rushed the information to Mr. Bush, who ordered those flights to be turned around or grounded before they could enter American airspace."

"Senior administration officials," the Times revealed, "even talked about shooting down planes identified as targets because they feared that supposed hijackers would use the planes to attack the United States, according to a former senior intelligence official who was at a meeting where the idea was discussed."

While the anonymous official later called the idea "crazy," nevertheless snake-oil salesman Montgomery had convinced intelligence officials that the fabricated threat was "real and credible."

Despite the fact the United States was a hair's breath from blasting commercial airliners from the skies and killing hundreds of innocent people, the CIA "never did an assessment to determine how a ruse had turned into a full-blown international incident, officials said, nor was anyone held accountable."

"In fact," the Times reports, "agency officials who oversaw the technology directorate--including Donald Kerr, who helped persuade George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, that the software was credible--were promoted, former officials said."

""Nobody was blamed," a former CIA official told the Times. "They acted like it never happened."

Kerr, a long-time fixture in the national security establishment, was formerly an executive vice president with the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). After serving as the CIA's Deputy Director for Science of Technology, he was rewarded for his role in the "planes incident" fiasco with an appointment by Bush as the Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the top secret Pentagon satrapy that flies America's fleet of intelligence satellites. And since being well-connected means never having to say your sorry, Kerr is currently the Deputy Director of U.S. National Intelligence where he continues to labor mightily to "keep us safe."

Despite serious misgivings about Montgomery's firm, eTreppid Technologies, the secret state was eager to buy his company's dodgy software. Why? As it turns out, Montgomery was, as they say, juiced.

Along with partner Warren Trepp, described as a former "top trader for the junk-bond king [and convicted fraudster] Michael Milken," Montgomery's company "with the help of Representative Jim Gibbons, a Republican who would become Nevada's governor and was a longtime friend of Mr. Trepp's, the company won the attention of intelligence officials in Washington."

Some of Montgomery's "friends" also included "Edra Blixseth, a onetime billionaire who with her former husband had run the Yellowstone Club in Montana."

Back in October, the Associated Press reported that the FBI had opened a criminal probe and was investigating the former co-owner of the swank Yellowstone Club, whose members include Bill Gates and former Vice President Dan Quayle, over charges that she bilked creditors at the time of her messy divorce.

A well-connected Republican insider, according to AP, investigators are probing "a massive real estate scheme fueled by greed, fraud and hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-advised loans."

"The current federal inquiry into Edra Blixseth," AP informed us, "involves a series of multimillion dollar loans she took out or guaranteed around the time of her divorce, according to an attorney familiar with the matter."

"Court records show," according to AP, that "she claimed to be worth $782 million at the time of another loan, for $950,000. Within months, she filed for personal bankruptcy owing creditors at least $157 million."

Like her pal Montgomery, Blixseth claims she did "nothing wrong." What's that old saw about birds of a feather?

"Hoping to win more government money," the Times reported, "Ms. Blixseth turned to some influential friends, like Jack Kemp, the former New York congressman and Republican vice-presidential nominee, and Conrad Burns, then a Republican senator from Montana. They became minority stakeholders in the venture, called Blxware."

Burns told the Times he was "impressed" by a video presentation Montgomery gave to an unnamed "cable company." The former senator told Lichtblau and Risen that the security grifter "talked a hell of a game."

For his part, Kemp leveraged his connections with war criminal and then-Vice President Dick Cheney, "to set up a meeting in 2006 at which Mr. Kemp, Mr. Montgomery and Ms. Blixseth met with a top Cheney adviser, Samantha Ravich, to talk about expanding the government's use of the Blxware software."

When Ravich didn't jump fast enough and hand over more taxpayer boodle, Montgomery's former attorney Michael Flynn "sent an angry letter to Mr. Cheney in May 2007" and "accused the White House of abandoning a tool shown to 'save lives'," the Times reported.

But Montgomery and Blixseth still had a card to play and had some powerful friends in the Air Force who helped play them.

Lichtblau and Risen disclosed that "an Air Force contracting officer, Joseph Liberatore," who described himself as a "believer," despite skepticism from other secret state agencies including the CIA, was concerned by "problems with the no-bid contract."

According to an email obtained by the Times, Liberatore wrote that if other agencies examined the deal "we are all toast."

"In 2009," Lichtblau and Risen inform us, "the Air Force approved a $3 million deal for his technology, even though a contracting officer acknowledged that other agencies were skeptical about the software."

As Montgomery's firm crashed and burned, the Bush and now, the Obama administration, sought to cover their ass-ets and "declared that some classified details about the use of Mr. Montgomery's software were a 'state secret' that could cause grave harm if disclosed in court."

"The secrecy was so great that at a deposition Mr. Montgomery gave in November," Lichtblau and Risen report, that "two government officials showed up to monitor the questioning but refused to give their full names or the agencies they worked for."

Bottom line: while the U.S. government affirms that the private communications of American citizens are fair game to be trolled by secret state snoops, fraud and serious crimes carried out under the dark banner of an endless "War on Terror" are treated, like evidence of torture and other crimes against humanity, as if they "never happened."

Criminalizing Whistleblowing

The National Security State's assault on our right to privacy comes hard on the heels on moves in Congress, spearheaded by troglodytic Republicans (with "liberal" Democrats running a close second) to criminalize whistleblowing altogether.

Last week, the Muslim-hating Rep. Peter King (R-NY) introduced the SHIELD Act in the House, a pernicious piece of legislative flotsam that would amend the Espionage Act and make publishing classified information, and investigative journalism, a criminal offense.

Also last week, legislation was introduced in the Senate that "would broadly criminalize leaks of classified information," Secrecy News reported.

Sponsored by Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the bill (S. 355) "would make it a felony for a government employee or contractor who has authorized access to classified information to disclose such information to an unauthorized person in violation of his or her nondisclosure agreement," Secrecy News disclosed.

In an Orwellian twist, Cardin, who received some $385,000 in campaign swag from free speech advocates such as Constellation Energy, Goldman Sachs and Patton Boggs (Mubarak's chief lobbyist in Washington) according to, said that the bill would "promote Federal whistleblower protection statutes and regulations"!

As Secrecy News points out, the bill "does not provide for a 'public interest' defense, i.e. an argument that any damage to national security was outweighed by a benefit to the nation." In other words, you don't need to know about government high crimes and misdemeanors. Why? Because we say so.

In November, shortly after WikiLeaks began publishing Cablegate files, King fired off a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that WikiLeaks be declared a "foreign terrorist organization" and the group's founder declared a "terrorist ringleader."

We know the fate reserved for "terrorists," don't we?

As the United States sinks ever-deeper into a lawless abyss where the corporate state is lowering the boom on democracy altogether, is the day far off when Madam Clinton's avowal that we ought not "tell people how to use any public square, whether it's Tahrir Square or Times Square," come back with a vengeance to haunt America's venal ruling class?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

American Police State: FBI Abuses Reveals Contempt for Political Rights, Civil Liberties

As mass revolt spreads across Egypt and the Middle East and citizens there demand jobs, civil liberties and an end to police state abuses from repressive, U.S.-backed torture regimes, the Obama administration and their congressional allies aim to expand one right here at home.

Last week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released an explosive new report documenting the lawless, constitutional-free zone under construction in America for nearly a decade.

That report, "Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008," reveals that the domestic political intelligence apparat spearheaded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, continues to systematically violate the rights of American citizens and legal residents.

A rather ironic state of affairs considering the free passes handed out by U.S. securocrats to actual terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11, as both WikiLeaks and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds disclosed last week.

Although illegal practices and violations were reported by the FBI to the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) after an unexplained two-and-a-half-year delay, a further violation of lawful guidelines, lawbreaking continued unabated; in fact, it accelerated as the Bureau was given a green light to do so by successive U.S. administrations.

The IOB is a largely toothless body created in 1976 by the Ford administration in the wake of disclosures of widespread spying and infiltration of political groups by America's secret state agencies during the sixties and seventies.

Reeling from revelations uncovered by Congress, investigative journalists and citizen activists in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Ford's caretaker government was forced to call a halt to the more egregious practices employed by the FBI to keep the lid on and crafted guidelines governing intelligence and surveillance operations.

In fact, the Attorney General's Guidelines regulating both FBI National Security Investigations and Foreign Intelligence Collection (NSIG) stipulate that "all government intelligence operations occur with sufficient oversight and within the bounds of the Constitution and other federal laws."

While it can rightly be argued these protocols were largely ineffective, and had been breeched more often than not by the 1980s under President Reagan, as revealed during the Iran-Contra scandal, and that antiwar, environmental and solidarity groups continue to be spied upon and destabilized by agents provocateurs and right-wing corporate scum, they were thrown overboard entirely by the Bush regime in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Today the "looking forward, not backward" Obama administration has whole-heartedly embraced Bushist lawlessness while charting an even more sinister course of their own, now asserting they have the authority to assassinate American citizens the Executive Branch designate as "terrorists" anywhere on earth without benefit of due process or court review.

According to EFF, more than 2,500 documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that:

* From 2001 to 2008, the FBI reported to the IOB approximately 800 violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations, although this number likely significantly under-represents the number of violations that actually occurred.
* From 2001 to 2008, the FBI investigated, at minimum, 7000 potential violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.
* Based on the proportion of violations reported to the IOB and the FBI's own statements regarding the number of NSL [National Security Letter] violations that occurred, the actual number of violations that may have occurred from 2001 to 2008 could approach 40,000 possible violations of law, Executive Order, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008, January 30, 2011)

But FBI lawbreaking didn't stop there. Citing internal documents, EFF revealed that the Bureau also "engaged in a number of flagrant legal violations" that included, "submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts," "using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas" and "accessing password protected documents without a warrant."

In other words, in order to illegally spy on Americans and haul political dissidents before Star Chamber-style grand juries, the FBI routinely committed perjury and did so with absolute impunity.

Reviewing the more than 2,500 documents EFF analysts averred that they had "uncovered alarming trends in the Bureau's intelligence investigation practices" and that the "documents suggest the FBI's intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed."

According to EFF, the "documents show that the FBI most frequently committed three types of intelligence violations--violations of internal oversight guidelines for conducting investigations; violations stemming from the abuse of National Security Letters; and violations of the Fourth Amendment, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and other laws governing intelligence investigations."

"Based on statements made by government officials and the proportion of violations occurring in the released reports," EFF estimates that "the FBI may have committed as many as 40,000 intelligence investigation violations over the past ten years."

The civil liberties' watchdogs revealed that the type of violation occurring most frequently involved the Bureau's abuse of National Security Letters (NSLs), onerous lettres de cachet, secretive administrative subpoenas with built-in gag orders used by the FBI to seize records from third-parties without any judicial review whatsoever.

Although National Security Letters have been employed by investigators since the 1970s, after 9/11 Congress passed the repressive USA PATRIOT Act which "greatly expanded the intelligence community's authority to issue NSLs."

"During the course of a terrorism or counterintelligence investigation," EFF writes, "NSLs can be used to obtain just three types of records: (1) subscriber and 'toll billing information' from telephone companies and 'electronic communications services;' (2) financial records from banks and other financial institutions; and (3) consumer identifying information and the identity of financial institutions from credit bureaus."

Abuses have been well-documented by the Justice Department's own Office of the Inspector General. In their 2008 report, the OIG disclosed that the FBI issued some 200,000 requests and that almost 60% were for investigations of U.S. citizens and legal residents.

Given the symbiosis amongst American secret state agencies and grifting corporations, EFF discovered that "the frequency with which companies [received] NSLs--phone companies, internet providers, banks, or credit bureaus--contributed to the FBI’s NSL abuse."

"In over half of all NSL violations reviewed by EFF, the private entity receiving the NSL either provided more information than requested or turned over information without receiving a valid legal justification from the FBI."

In fact, "companies were all too willing to comply with the FBI's requests, and--in many cases--the Bureau readily incorporated the over-produced information into its investigatory databases."

This too is hardly surprising, given the enormous profits generated by the surveillance state for their corporate beneficiaries. As The Washington Post revealed in their investigative series, Top Secret America, more than 800,000 corporate employees have been issued top secret and above security clearances. Beholden to their employers and not the public who foots the bill and is the victim of their excesses, accountability is a fiction and oversight a contemptible fraud.

In a follow-up piece, Monitoring America, investigative journalists Dana Priest and William M. Arkin revealed that the FBI "is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously."

In other words, in order to "keep us safe" unaccountable securocrats are constructing a Stasi-like political intelligence system that has overthrown the traditional legal concept of probable cause in favor of a regime rooted in fear and suspicion; one where innocent activities such as taking a photograph or attending an antiwar rally now serves as a pretext for opening a national security investigation.

According to Priest and Arkin, the Bureau database "is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain," and used by employers to terminate political dissidents or other "undesirable" citizens merely on the basis of allegations emanating from who knows where.

As Antifascist Calling reported in October, "predictive behavior" security firms, generously funded by the CIA's venture capitalist arm, In-Q-Tel, have increasingly turned to monitoring social media sites such as Blogger, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube and are exploiting powerful computer algorithms for their clients--your boss--thereby transforming private communications into "actionable intelligence" that just might get you fired.

In one case, EFF discovered that the FBI "requested email header information for two email addresses used by a U.S. person." In response, researchers averred "the email service provider returned two CDs containing the full content of all emails in the accounts. The FBI eventually (and properly) sequestered the CDs, notified the email provider of the overproduction, and re-issued an NSL for the originally requested header information; but, in response to the second NSL, the email provider again provided the FBI with the full content of all emails in the accounts."

To make matters worse, "third-parties not only willingly cooperated with FBI NSLs when the legal justification was unclear, however: they responded to NSLs without any legal justification at all."

In conclusion, EFF wrote that "while the reports documenting the FBI's abuse of the Constitution, FISA, and other intelligence laws are troubling, EFF's analysis is necessarily incomplete: it is impossible to know the severity of the FBI's legal violations until the Bureau stops concealing its most serious violations behind a wall of arbitrary secrecy."

This sordid state of affairs is likely to continue given Congress's utter lack of interest in protecting Americans' constitutionally-protected right to privacy, free speech and assembly.

With new moves afoot in Congress to pass a data retention law that requires internet service providers to retain records of users' online activity or, as in the repressive Egyptian U.S. client state, handing the Executive Branch a "kill-switch" that would disconnect the American people from the internet in the event of a "national emergency," the U.S. oligarchy is planning for the future.

As the World Socialist Web Site points out, "The US government is well aware that the Internet provides a forum for rapid communication and organization, as demonstrated by the events in Egypt this week. In an attempt to block communication within Egypt and with the external world, US-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak cut off the country's access to the Internet altogether."

"Similarly," left-wing journalist Patrick Zimmerman writes, "the fundamental goal of the US government in its attempts to gain control of the Internet and monitor user activity has nothing to do with the 'war on terror' or prosecuting criminals. Under conditions of growing social inequality, government austerity, and expanding war abroad, the government anticipates the growth of social opposition in the United States."

The Bush regime's "preemptive war" doctrine has been fully incorporated into the Obama administration's "homeland security" paradigm. The formidable police state apparatus that accompanies America's imperial adventures abroad are now deployed at home where they have devastating effects on an already dysfunctional democracy sliding ever-closer towards an authoritarian abyss.