Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Torture Flight Lawsuit Against Boeing Subsidiary Reinstated by U.S. Appeals Court

In a victory for the rule of law and for victims of state-sponsored torture, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in San Francisco, reinstated the ACLU's landmark lawsuit against Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen DataPlan.

The civil lawsuit, Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc., was filed in 2007 on behalf of five men who were kidnapped, forcibly disappeared and then secretly transferred to CIA "black sites" or into the clutches of allied intelligence services. The victims claim they were horribly tortured, subjects of what the Bush regime has termed "enhanced interrogation."

The plaintiffs are Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident arrested in Pakistan with the complicity of the CIA, Britain's MI5 and Pakistan's notoriously corrupt Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). For eighteen months, Mohamed was secretly detained and tortured in Morocco. In 2004, he was blindfolded, stripped, shackled and flown by CIA agents on a flight organized by Jeppesen DataPlan to the secret U.S. detention facility in Kabul, Afghanistan known as the "Dark Prison." In Afghanistan, Mohamed was repeatedly tortured before his transfer to the Guantánamo Bay gulag. He was released earlier this year without charge.

Ahmed Agiza, an Egyptian citizen kidnapped in Sweden where he was applying for asylum. In December 2001, Agiza was chained, shackled and drugged by the CIA and flown to Egypt where he was severely abused and tortured; he remains imprisoned today.

Abu Britel, an Italian of Moroccan descent captured in Pakistan. In May 2002, Britel was handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped, dressed in a diaper and secretly flown by the CIA to Morocco on a Jeppesen DataPlan flight. Once in the hands of the Moroccan intelligence service he was severely tortured; Britel remains incarcerated in Morocco on unspecified charges.

Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi living in Britain with permanent resident status was kidnapped in November 2002 while visiting Gambia. After his detention in the African nation, he was secretly flown by the CIA to Afghanistan where he was imprisoned, interrogated and tortured at two separate CIA secret prisons before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay in February 2003. After four years of illegal detention, al-Rawi was released without charge and returned to Britain.

Ahmed Bashmilah, a Yemeni citizen disappeared while visiting his ailing mother in Jordan. In October 2003, Bashmilah was detained by Jordan's notorious General Intelligence Department. He was interrogated and tortured for days. In late October 2003, he was turned over to U.S. agents who beat, kicked, hooded and handcuffed the prisoner and then secretly transported him to the U.S. Air Force Base in Bagram, Afghanistan. Freed in March 2006, Bashmilah was never charged with any crime relating to "terrorism."

As a corporate entity directly profiting from the CIA's torture program by planning and facilitating Agency ghost flights, Jeppesen bears equal responsibility for serious breeches of U.S. and international law. As a co-conspirator with the CIA, Jeppesen was complicitous in the Agency's illegal kidnapping and disappearance of "terrorism" suspects into CIA black sites across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As the Council of Europe reported:

The aviation services provider customarily used by the CIA, Jeppesen International Trip Planning, filed multiple "dummy" flight plans for many of these flights. The "dummy" plans filed by Jeppesen--specifically, for the N379P aircraft--often featured an airport of departure (ADEP) and/or an airport of destination (ADES) that the aircraft never actually intended to visit. If Poland was mentioned at all in these plans, it was usually only by mention of Warsaw as an alternate, or back-up airport, on a route involving Prague or Budapest, for example. Thus the eventual flight paths for N379P registered in Eurocontrol's records were inaccurate and often incoherent, bearing little relation to the actual routes flown and almost never mentioning the name of the Polish airport where the aircraft actually landed--Szymany. (Council of Europe, "Secret detentions and illegal transfers of detainees involving Council of Europe member states: second report," Rapporteur: Dick Marty, 11 June 2007, p. 36)

Marty documented that "the full extent of my proof, however, goes beyond merely the number of confirmed flights into Szymany and their concordance with suspected dates of HVD [high value detainee] transfers. Through our careful analysis of hundreds of pages of raw aeronautical 'data strings,' we can now demonstrate that in the majority of cases these CIA flights were deliberately disguised so that their actual movements would not be tracked or recorded--either 'live' or after the fact--by the supranational air safety agency Eurocontrol. The system of cover-up entailed several different steps involving both American and Polish collaborators." (p. 36)

The Council further documented how Jeppesen coordinated fictitious flight plans and facilitated a "systematic cover-up in collaboration with the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) throughout the rendition process." The Polish agency "navigated all of these flights through Polish airspace, exercising control over the aircraft through each of its flight phases." Indeed, PANSA did so "in the majority of these cases without a legitimate and complete flight plan having been filed for the route flown."

Bragging of the firm's good fortune at landing a lucrative contract with the CIA, Bob Overby, the managing director of Jeppesen International Trip Planning, said during a breakfast for new employees in San Jose, Calif., "We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights--you know, the torture flights. Let's face it, some of these flights end up that way."

Sean Belcher, a technical writer hired by Jeppesen in 2006 blew the whistle on the firm to New Yorker investigative journalist Jane Mayer. Belcher recalled Overby also said, extemporaneously extolling the virtues of the corporatist bottom line to new hires: "It certainly pays well. They"--the CIA--"spare no expense. They have absolutely no worry about cost. What they have to get done, they get done."

Belcher told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007, he quit his job five days later.

As the CIA's booking agent, Jeppesen worked with tiny charter airlines that were little more than CIA cut-outs. As investigative journalists Trevor Paglen and A. C. Thompson documented,

A curious quirk of the CIA's fleet of aircraft is that they are civilian, rather than military, planes. Owing to U.S. law and the CIA's status as a civilian agency, the planes are owned by front-companies and operated by a handful of aviation charter companies. One of the consequences of this is that each of these civilian companies leave a long and voluminous paper trail...

As we look more closely at the corporate documents and aviation filings we've gotten hold of, a landscape begins to emerge. This particular landscape isn't "over there," on the many battlefields of the "war on terror." Rather, the landscape we see depicted in these documents is stealthily and subtly woven into the fabric of everyday life in the United States. (Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA's Rendition Flights, Hoboken, NJ: Melville House Publishing, 2006, pp. 45-46)

The case was sent back to San Jose U.S. District Court Judge James Ware for further proceedings. Ware, knuckling under to the specious arguments of the Bush and Obama administrations, had dismissed the suit last year alleging that litigation over CIA ghost flights could prompt the disclosure of "state secrets."

As I reported in February, "as predictably as night follows day," Obama's purported "change" administration "defended the CIA's practice of 'extraordinary rendition' (kidnapping) of suspected 'terrorists' to third countries where they are subject to 'enhanced interrogation' (torture) by allied security services."

Echoing, indeed expanding, the former Bush regime's odious invocation of the state secrets privilege, U.S. Attorney Douglas N. Letter had argued before the Ninth Circuit in a thinly-veiled threat to the Court that "judges shouldn't play with fire," the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Warning that once the judges had privately examined the state's evidence, Letter said "you will see that this case cannot be litigated."

A unanimous three-judge panel vehemently begged to differ with the U.S. Attorney.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote for the Court, "According to the government's theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law."

If the Court had capitulated to the Obama administration's fallacious arguments it would have represented a further retrenchment behind a cloak of secrecy and presidential prerogatives, based not on the lawful norms and procedures of a democracy but rather, on the thinnest of reeds designed to buttress an imperial Executive Branch.

Hawkins continued, were the government permitted to shield its conduct from judicial review simply because classified information is involved it "would ... perversely encourage the president to classify politically embarrassing information simply to place it beyond the reach of judicial process."

Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project said in an April 28 press release by the civil liberties' group:

"This historic decision marks the beginning, not the end, of this litigation. Our clients, who are among the hundreds of victims of torture under the Bush administration, have waited for years just to get a foot in the courthouse door. Now, at long last, they will have their day in court. Today's ruling demolishes once and for all the legal fiction, advanced by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration, that facts known throughout the world could be deemed 'secrets' in a court of law." (American Civil Liberties Union, "Federal court permits landmark ACLU rendition case to go forward," Press Release, April 28, 2009)

While the Ninth Circuit did not specifically address the plaintiffs' allegations they had been illegally detained, kidnapped and tortured, Hawkins, citing language from a 2004 Supreme Court decision, said: "As the founders of this nation knew well, arbitrary imprisonment and torture under any circumstances is a 'gross and notorious ... act of despotism.'"

Jeppesen declined to comment and the Justice Department said it was "reviewing the decision." The company or the Obama administration could seek further review from a larger Appeal's Court panel or from the U.S. Supreme Court itself.

If they seek a review from the full Appeal's Court, one Judge will have to recuse himself: Judge Jay Bybee, co-author of the Bush regime's infamous Torture Memorandums during his tenure as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel.

In 2002, Bybee signed-off on two memoranda that empowered the Bush administration's push for "enhanced interrogation" (torture) techniques such as waterboarding, involuntary drugging, sleep deprivation, forced isolation as well as other horrific methods drawn from the CIA's 1963 torture manual, KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation.

While prominent constitutional scholars and civil liberties' advocates have called for Bybee's impeachment and removal from the bench, The New York Times reported Bybee as saying, "The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct."

Tell that to the victims who underwent the CIA's tender ministrations by being confined in a coffin in which insects were placed or those doled out by the Agency's Moroccan counterparts who routinely tortured Binyam Mohamed by incising his body with a razor, including his penis. Undoubtedly, they would have another opinion on whether or not Judge Bybee and other Bushist miscreants such as John Yoo and David Addington gave "our our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law."

Or for that matter, is that what Boeing means when it says on its website, "From Aachen to Zhengzhou, King Airs to 747s, Jeppesen has done it all"?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pentagon's Cyber Command to Be Based at NSA's Fort Meade

The Wall Street Journal revealed April 24 that current National Security Agency (NSA) director Lt. General Keith Alexander will "head the Pentagon's new Cyber Command."

Friday's report follows an April 22 piece published by the Journal announcing the proposed reorganization. The Obama administration's cybersecurity initiative will, according to reports, "reshape the military's efforts to protect its networks from attacks by hackers, especially those from countries such as China and Russia."

When he was a presidential candidate, Obama had pledged to elevate cybersecurity as a national security issue, "equating it in significance with nuclear and biological weapons," the Journal reported.

The new Pentagon command, according to The Washington Post, "would affect U.S. Strategic Command, whose mission includes ensuring U.S. 'freedom of action' in space and cyberspace, and the National Security Agency, which shares Pentagon cybersecurity responsibilities with the Defense Information Systems Agency."

How Cyber Command's launch would effect civilian computer networks is unclear. However, situating the new agency at Ft. Meade, under the watchful eyes of National Security Agency snoops, should set alarm bells ringing.

Charged with coordinating military cybersecurity programs, including computer network defense as well as a top secret mission to launch cyber attack operations against any and all "adversaries," the new command has been mired in controversy ever since the U.S. Air Force declared it would be the lead agency overseeing Cyber Command with the release of its "Strategic Vision" last year.

Since that self-promotional disclosure however, multiple scandals have rocked the Air Force. In 2007, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber flew some 1,500 miles from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana with six live nuclear-tipped cruise missiles affixed to its wings. For nearly six hours, the Air Force was unable to account for the missing weapons. While the scandal elicited scarcely a yawn from the corporate media, physicist Pavel Podvig wrote,

The point is that the nuclear warheads were allowed to leave Minot and that it was surprised airmen at Barksdale who discovered them, not an accounting system that's supposed to track the warheads' every movement (maybe even in real time). We simply don't know how long it would've taken to discover the warheads had they actually left the air force's custody and been diverted into the proverbial "wrong hands." Of course, it could be argued that the probability of this kind of diversion is very low, but anyone who knows anything about how the United States handles its nuclear weapons has said that the probability of what happened at Minot was also essentially zero. ("U.S. loose nukes," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 12 September 2007)

As a result of the affair and numerous procurement scandals, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Mosley and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne were fired by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for incompetence. Numerous defense analysts believe this was a major reason why the Air Force was supplanted as the lead Cyber agency.

While one can reasonably support government efforts to protect critical infrastructure such as electrical grids, chemical plants, nuclear power stations or the nation's air traffic control system from potentially devastating attacks that would endanger the health and safety of millions of Americans, these goals can be achieved by writing better programs. Yet from its inception, Cyber Command has been theorized as a nodal point for launching crippling attacks against the civilian and military infrastructure of imperialism's enemies.

As I reported last July, Air Force Cyber Command (AFCYBER) is centered at the secretive Barksdale Air Force Base. At the time, AFCYBER had a unified command structure and a $2 billion budget through the first year of its operations.

The Air Force Times reported last year that AFCYBER "has established 17 new enlisted and officer Air Force Specialty Codes--creating major changes in the career paths of more than 32,000 airmen." Whether or not the command structure already in place will transfer to NSA is unknown as of this writing. Nor is it clear whether AFCYBER's offensive capability--real or imagined--will transfer to NSA. But with billions of dollars already spent on a score of top secret initiatives, included those hidden within Pentagon Special Access (SAP) or black programs, its a safe bet they will.

Defense analyst William M. Arkin points out in Code Names, that these programs fall under the rubric of Special Technical Operations (STO). Arkin defines these as,

Classified SAPs and other programs, weapons and operations associated with the CIA and "other government agencies." Entire separate channels of communication and clearances exist to compartment these military versions of clandestine and covert operations involving special operations, paramilitary activity, covert action, and cyber-warfare. A STO "cell" exists in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and at most operational military commands to segregate STO activity from normal operational activity, even highly classified activity. (Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World, Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2005, p. 20)

Specific cyber-warfare programs identified by Arkin include the following: Adversary: an Air Force information warfare targeting system; Arena: an "object-based" simulation program to create "country studies of electronic infrastructure characteristics, targeting analyses, operational information warfare plans" as well as nearly three dozen other cyber-war programs and/or exercises.

Many of the Pentagon's cyber-warfare initiatives flow directly from research conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). For example, the agency's Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) has a brief to "create the advanced information processing and exploitation science, technologies, and systems for revolutionary improvements in capability across the spectrum of national security needs."

As can be seen from the brief survey above, the vast majority of Pentagon programs concern Cyber Command's offensive capability of which denial of service and other attacks against "adversaries" in the heimat are a distinct possibility. The Journal reports,

The Department of Homeland Security is charged with securing the government's nonmilitary networks, and cybersecurity experts said the Obama administration will have to better define the extent of this military support to Homeland Security. "It's a fine line" between providing needed technical expertise to support federal agencies improving their own security and deeper, more invasive programs, said Amit Yoran, a former senior cybersecurity official at the Homeland Security Department. (Siobhan Gorman, "Gates to Nominate NSA Chief to Head New Cyber Command," The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2009)

The Obama administration is expected to announce the the new agency's launch next week, after completing what it terms a "comprehensive review" in addition to recommendations for cybersecurity policy.

Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesperson, told the Journal that Gates is "planning to make changes to our command structure to better reflect the increasing threat posed by cyber warfare," but "we have nothing to announce at this time." Morrell said the Department of Defense's 2010 budget proposal "calls for hiring hundreds more cybersecurity experts."

Aside from lining the pockets of enterprising grifters in the shadowy world populated by intelligence corporations, where top secret clearances are traded like highly-prized baseball cards, the potential for abuse by NSA given that agency's key role in illegal domestic surveillance raise the prospect of further entrenching the agency in our lives.

While Alexander sought to allay fears that NSA was out to run the nation's cybersecurity programs, he hastened to add that the agency's "tremendous technical capabilities" would be used to "assist" DHS in securing the government's civilian networks. But given AFCYBER's brief for offensive operations, what does this mean for civil liberties?

As The New York Times reported April 17, with NSA leading the charge to control "the government's rapidly growing cybersecurity programs," critics within the national security apparatus fear the move by Gates "could give the spy agency too much control over government computer networks." The Times avers,

Rod Beckstrom, who resigned in March as director of the National Cyber Security Center at the Homeland Security Department, said in an interview that he feared that the N.S.A.'s push for a greater role in guarding the government's computer systems could give it the power to collect and analyze every e-mail message, text message and Google search conducted by every employee in every federal agency. (James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, "Control of Cybersecurity Becomes Divisive Issue," The New York Times, April 17, 2009)

This is hardly an issue that should only concern government insiders or those who engage in bureaucratic in-fighting as if it were a blood sport. As a Pentagon agency, NSA has positioned itself to seize near total control over the country's electronic infrastructure, thereby exerting an intolerable influence--and chilling effect--over the nation's political life.

As we have seen in our recent history, NSA and their partners at CIA, FBI, et. al., have targeted political dissidents: to varying degrees, antiwar organizers, socialist, anarchist and environmental activists have fallen under NSA's electronic driftnet, most recently during last year's Republican National Convention.

As I reported last November, during the RNC conclave in St. Paul, Minnesota, local, state, federal officials as well as private security and telecommunications corporations conspired to target activists, journalists and concerned citizens during the so-called National Special Security Event.

The whistleblowing website Wikileaks published a leaked planning document which outlined the close coordination across multiple agencies, including the FBI, NSA, U.S. Northern Command and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Cell-phones and other electronic communications were routinely monitored in real-time and NGA provided detailed analysis derived from military spy satellites.

A "Strategic Vision" in the Service of Repression

Although the Air Force has lost out to NSA over control of Cyber Command, AFCYBER's planning document still provides a valuable glimpse into the formidable infrastructure arrayed against the American people.

In the view of Air Force theorists, the strategic environment confronting imperialism is described as "unpredictable and extremely dangerous," characterized "by the confluence of globalization, economic disparities, and competition for scarce resources."

And as "economic disparities" grow, particularly during a period of profound capitalist economic meltdown, newer and more effective measures to ensure compliance are required by the ruling class and its state. This is underscored by Cyber Command's goal "to achieve situational dominance at a time and place of our choosing." [emphasis added] According to the Air Force,

Global vigilance requires the ability to sense and signal across the electromagnetic spectrum. Global reach requires the ability to connect and transmit, using a wide array of communications networks to move data across the earth nearly instantaneously. Global power is the ability to hold at risk or strike any target with electromagnetic energy and ultimately deliver kinetic and non-kinetic effects across all domains. These cyberspace capabilities will allow us to secure our infrastructure, conduct military operations whenever necessary, and degrade or eliminate the military capabilities of our adversaries. (Air Force Cyber Command, "Strategic Vision," no date)

As Wired defense analyst Noah Shachtman wrote last year,

The Air Force wants a suite of hacker tools, to give it "access" to--and "full control" of--any kind of computer there is. And once the info warriors are in, the Air Force wants them to keep tabs on their "adversaries' information infrastructure completely undetected." ...

Traditionally, the military has been extremely reluctant to talk much about offensive operations online. Instead, the focus has normally been on protecting against electronic attacks. But in the last year or so, the tone has changed--and become more bellicose. "Cyber, as a warfighting domain . . . like air, favors the offense," said Lani Kass, a special assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff who previously headed up the service's Cyberspace Task Force. ("Air Force Aims for 'Full Control' of 'Any and All' Computers," Wired, May 13, 2008)

While the cut and color of the uniform may have changed under the Obama administration, placing Cyber Command under NSA's wing will almost certainly transform "cybersecurity" into a euphemism for keeping the rabble in line. Indeed, cybersecurity operations are fully theorized as a means of achieving "full-spectrum dominance" via "Cyberspace Offensive Counter-Operations,"

Cyberspace favors offensive operations. These operations will deny, degrade, disrupt, destroy, or deceive an adversary. Cyberspace offensive operations ensure friendly freedom of action in cyberspace while denying that same freedom to our adversaries. We will enhance our capabilities to conduct electronic systems attack, electromagnetic systems interdiction and attack, network attack, and infrastructure attack operations. Targets include the adversary's terrestrial, airborne, and space networks, electronic attack and network attack systems, and the adversary itself. As an adversary becomes more dependent on cyberspace, cyberspace offensive operations have the potential to produce greater effects. ("Strategic Vision," op. cit.) [emphasis added]

And when those "greater effects" are directed against American citizens theorized as "adversaries" by U.S. militarists and well-heeled corporate grifters, the problems posed by a panoptic surveillance state for a functioning democracy increase astronomically.

The already slim protections allegedly afforded by the shameful FISA Amendments Act have already been breeched by NSA. As The New York Times reported April 16, NSA interception of the private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans have escalated "in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year."

As Wired reported April 17, the NSA isn't the only agency conducting cyber operations against American citizens. One of the FBI's International Terrorism Operations Sections requested an assist from the Bureau's Cryptographic and Electronic Analysis Unit, CEAU, according to documents obtained by the magazine under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI "geek squad" was in a position to conduct a "remote computer attack" against the target, and that "they could assist with a wireless hack to obtain a file tree, but not the hard drive content."

This followed an April 16 report published by Wired that a "sophisticated FBI-produced spyware program has played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in federal investigations into extortion plots, terrorist threats and hacker attacks in cases stretching back at least seven years, newly declassified documents show."

But as I documented last year in a case involving activists targeted during anti-RNC protests, with "preemptive policing" all the rage in Washington, the same suite of hacking tools and spyware used to target criminals and terrorists are just as easily deployed against political activists, particularly socialists, anarchists and environmental critics who challenge capitalism's free market paradigm.

Despite these revelations, the Obama administration is poised to hand control of the nation's electronic infrastructure over to an out-of-control agency riddled with corporate grifters and militarists whose bottom-line is not the security of the American people but rather, the preservation of an economically and morally bankrupt system of private profit fueled by wars of aggression and conquest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AIPAC, NSA Spying and the Corruption of Congress

A major scandal involving a top Democrat, the Israeli lobby-shop AIPAC and charges that former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sought congressional help to suppress media reports of systematic, illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA) broke on Sunday.

Congressional Quarterly revealed that Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) "was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department [to] reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington."

The former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Harman is the co-sponsor of the shameful "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act" (H.R.1955) and its mutant relative in the Senate (S.1959). In other words, Harman's "liberal" veneer is the perfect cover for currying favor with politically well-connected corporate grifters, major beneficiaries of the national security state's largesse.

Harman was among the most vociferous defenders of the Bush regime's warrantless wiretapping program. As Salon's Glenn Greenwald reminds us, during an appearance on "Meet the Press" with Republicans Pat Roberts and Peter Hoekstra, Harman said that "the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she 'deplored the leak,' that 'it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers,' and that the whistleblowers were 'despicable'."

Jeff Stein reported that the southern California Democrat, in an apparent quid pro quo, was recorded as saying she would "'waddle into'" the AIPAC case 'if you think it'll make a difference,' according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript."

In exchange for Harman's help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, "This conversation doesn't exist." (Jeff Stein, "Sources: Wiretap Recorded Rep. Harman Promising to Intervene for AIPAC," Congressional Quarterly, April 19, 2009)

AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby shop with the power to make or break politicians who don't tow the line, have long been accused by critics of engaging in espionage in Washington on behalf of the settler-colonial state, America's stationary aircraft carrier in the Middle East.

Two AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weismann were indicted in 2005 for trafficking classified information on Iraq and Iran obtained from government officials. Lawrence Franklin, a policy analyst with a top secret classification, worked for Under Secretary for Defense Policy Douglas Feith and Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and was AIPAC's conduit.

According to FBI surveillance tapes, Franklin relayed top secret information to Rosen, then AIPAC's policy director and Weismann, a senior Iran analyst with the lobby group. The New York Times reported in 2004 that Franklin was one of two U.S. officials that held meetings with Paris-based Iranian dissidents, including Iran-Contra figure, the arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar.

The Pentagon-endorsed meetings were apparently brokered by the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Ledeen, another key Iran-Contra figure, identified by Italian journalists Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzano in their book Collusion, as a key facilitator of the bogus "yellow cake" dossier during the run-up to the 2003 American invasion and occupation of Iraq.

One purpose of the Paris meetings according to The Jerusalem Post was to "undermine a pending deal that the White House had been negotiating with the Iranian government," involving the exchange of top al-Qaeda operatives in Iranian custody in return for an American promise to halt its support of the anti-Iranian cult group, Mujahideen al-Khalq, whose fighters were based in Iraq.

Classified information obtained by Franklin was allegedly passed to Naor Gilon, the head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. As with America's CIA, Israel's embassy political officers are often drawn from the ranks of their secret service, Mossad.

As the World Socialist Web Site points out, "No doubt AIPAC found Harman 'well-qualified' because she was prepared to promote the policies of the Israeli state, including the attempt to steer Washington toward a military confrontation with Iran, precisely the aim of the espionage of which Franklin, Rosen and Weissman are accused."

Franklin pled guilty and was sentenced in 2006 to 12 years and 7 months in prison. After multiple delays, the pair are scheduled to go on trial in June in Alexandria, Virginia.

But as The New York Times reported April 21, administration officials regard the case as a "problem child" and that "senior Justice Department officials" are conducting a "final review" that will determine whether the case goes forward or the charges against the alleged spies are dismissed.

Unlike the vast majority of Americans targeted by NSA's driftnet surveillance of their electronic communications, the Harman intercept was part of a lawful warrant obtained by the FBI during the course of its investigation of AIPAC officials.

The New York Times reported April 21, "that someone seeking help for the employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group, was recorded asking Ms. Harman, a longtime supporter of its efforts, to intervene with the Justice Department. She responded, the official recounted, by saying she would have more influence with a White House official she did not identify."

According to Congressional Quarterly, that official was none other than Bush crime family capo, Alberto Gonzales.

CQ reports that charges that AIPAC lobbied on Harman's behalf so that she could obtain the plum chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee "aren't new," they were first reported by Time Magazine in 2006. It was then alleged that an FBI investigation of Harman was dropped "for lack of evidence." Stein reveals:

What is new is that Harman is said to have been picked up on a court-approved NSA tap directed at alleged Israel covert action operations in Washington.

And that, contrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for "lack of evidence," it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush's top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration's warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House.

As for there being "no evidence" to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that "bull****." (Congressional Quarterly, op. cit.)

The Times reveals that "in return" for her intervention in the AIPAC affair, "a wealthy California donor," identified as "media mogul Haim Saban" would threaten "to withhold campaign contributions to Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who was expected to become House speaker after the 2006 election, if she did not select Ms. Harman for the intelligence post."

Harman however, isn't the only Democrat accused by critics of currying favor with corporate grifters. As I reported last June, top Democratic Party representatives raked-in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the telecom industry in return for their support of the odious FISA Amendments Act passed last July by Congress.

In addition to handing the telecommunications industry retroactive immunity and thus, protection from prosecution for aiding and abetting NSA's warrantless wiretapping programs, the law greatly expanding the agency's driftnet spying.

The whistleblowing website MAPLight revealed that the 94 Democrats who changed their positions on telecom immunity "received on average $8,359 in contributions from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint from January, 2005, to March, 2008. As I wrote at the time:

Despite congressional bromides about "national security" and "keeping America safe," what it all comes down too is cold, hard cash. Considering that legislation passed last week by the House will effectively quash some 40 lawsuits pending against telecom giants--with potential savings for these corporate grifters running into the billions--it doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude its a rigged game. ("'Fighting Democrats' Rake-in Big Telecom Bucks," Antifascist Calling, June 25, 2008)

Among the largest recipients of telecom largesse were James Clyburn, (SC-6), $29,500; Steny Hoyer (MD-5), $29,000; Rahm Emanuel (IL-5), $28,000; Nancy Pelosi (CA-8), $24,500. Harman clocked-in with some $7,000 from the industry.

On Sunday Emanuel, now White House chief of staff told ABC News that "those who devised policy" ... "should not be prosecuted," handing senior Bush administration officials a get-out-of-jail free card for their role in ordering American torture policies.

Harman was quick to denounce the CQ report. According to Stein, the California Democrat said in a prepared statement: "These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact. I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves."

CQ's sources however, told the Washington insider publication that "Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a 'completed crime,' a legal term meaning that there was evidence that she had attempted to complete it, three former officials said."

When Porter J. Goss, the former CIA Director and no slouch when it came to corruption in his own agency (paging Dusty Foggo!), signed off on DoJ's FISA warrant after a review of the transcript, he notified then House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "of the FBI's impending national security investigation of a member of Congress--to wit, Harman."

"But that's when," CQ reports, "Attorney General Gonzales intervened."

Top officials interviewed by Stein said Gonzales "needed Jane" to carry water for the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. Gonzales picked the right person for the job. "And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead," Stein reports.

Despite evidence that Harman was enmeshed in a "pay for play" scheme to secure the top post at the Intelligence Committee, a highly-politicized--and criminal--Justice Department did nothing.

One official involved in the AIPAC investigation told CQ: "It's the deepest kind of corruption. It's a story about the corruption of government--not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption."

While top Democrats such as Harman, Pelosi and Hoyer assert that the Obama regime should be looking "forward" and not "backwards," and do everything in their power to sabotage criminal investigations of lawbreaking by officials in the former administration, and actively engage in an on-going cover-up of everything from warrantless wiretapping and torture, to the waging of preemptive wars of aggression and conquest, why is Harman now screaming for an investigation of the leaking of private conversations obtained by a legal warrant?

This is nothing but the boldest, most shamefaced hypocrisy writ large. Some liberal commentators have suggested that breaking the Harman story is an attempt by elements within the national security establishment to "change the story" following last week's release of previously classified Office of Legal Counsel memos. Those documents revealed the Bush regime's monstrous authorization of--and justification--for torture; Stein however, denies this. As the World Socialist Web Site reports,

The reality, however, is that the revelations demonstrate the intimate and indispensable collaboration and complicity of the Democrats in all of the criminal actions of the Bush administration, from launching a war of aggression based upon lies against Iraq, to the systematic use of torture, to the unconstitutional and illegal spying on American citizens.

Harman personally played a prominent role in all of these crimes. She promoted the lies about "weapons of mass destruction" and supposed ties between Baghdad and Al Qaeda before the war. She, along with Pelosi, was among the four members of Congress to be fully briefed on the CIA's torture--including waterboarding--of detainees in "black sites" scattered around the world. Neither she nor anyone else made the slightest protest over these criminal actions, while they kept them secret from the American people. (Bill Van Auken, "Democratic defender of NSA spying was wiretapped in Israeli spy probe," World Socialist Web Site, April 22, 2009)

What's that old adage about the justice of roosting chickens...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NSA Spying: "Overcollection" or Business as Usual?

New evidence that the National Security Agency (NSA) continues to systematically spy on Americans emerged on Thursday.

In an explosive report, The New York Times revealed that the agency "intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year."

According to investigative journalists Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, "several intelligence officials" told the paper that the ultra-spooky NSA "had been engaged in 'overcollection' of domestic communications of Americans."

As numerous critics have charged, the NSA's driftnet surveillance of electronic communications would dramatically escalate precisely because of Congress' passage of the shameful FISA Amendments Act (FAA) last summer.

When revelations that domestic spying have increased since Obama's January inauguration are coupled with the Justice Department's aggressive moves to suppress litigation that would hold former and present officials accountable, claims of "overcollection" by the agency become a code word for business as usual.

The Times points out that "classified government briefings have been held in recent weeks in response to a brewing controversy that some officials worry could damage the credibility of legitimate intelligence-gathering efforts."

But as The Wall Street Journal reported last year, "the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records."

Acting in concert with private corporations, "transactional data" such as credit card purchases, bank transactions and travel itineraries are sold to NSA by corporate freebooters. Once this information is obtained, it is then fed into data mining programs, including NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program or the FBI's Digital Collection System formerly known as Carnivore in a quixotic search for "suspicious patterns." As the Journal revealed:

The effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called "black programs" whose existence is undisclosed, the current and former officials say. Many of the programs in various agencies began years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach. Among them, current and former intelligence officials say, is a longstanding Treasury Department program to collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit-card transactions. (Siobhan Gorman, "NSA Domestic Spying Grows as Agency Sweeps Up Data," The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2008)

As investigative journalist Christopher Ketchum reported last year in the now-defunct Radar Magazine, one such "black program" may be its ultra top secret Main Core database, "a secret enemies list of citizens who could face detention under martial law."

Ketchum revealed that as many as "8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect" and, in the event of a national emergency, "could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention."

According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the author of the essential Spies for Hire, Main Core "reportedly collects and stores--without warrants or court orders--the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security." A creature of so-called Continuity of Government programs that came on-line during the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, Main Core evolved from Inslaw's Prosecutors' Management Information System or PROMIS, a software program that can quickly sift through multiple databases.

William Hamilton, the president of Insalw, Inc. told Shorrock that Justice Department officials "appropriated" or stole, the software from Inslaw. "Hamilton claims that Reagan officials gave PROMIS to the NSA and the CIA, which then adapted the software--and its outstanding ability to search other databases--to manage intelligence operations and track financial transactions." According to Salon,

Through a former senior Justice Department official with more than 25 years of government experience, Salon has learned of a high-level former national security official who reportedly has firsthand knowledge of the U.S. government's use of Main Core. The official worked as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the Bush White House. He would not agree to an interview. But according to the former Justice Department official, the former intelligence analyst told her that while stationed at the White House after the 9/11 attacks, one day he accidentally walked into a restricted room and came across a computer system that was logged on to what he recognized to be the Main Core database. When she mentioned the specific name of the top-secret system during their conversation, she recalled, "he turned white as a sheet." (Tim Shorrock, "Exposing Bush's Historic Abuse of Power," Salon, July 23, 2008)

Typically, Obama's Justice Department, much like their predecessors in the criminal Bush regime, told The New York Times "there had been problems with the N.S.A. surveillance operation, but said they had been resolved."

In other words, move along!

Unsurprisingly, the NSA claimed that its "intelligence operations, including programs for collection and analysis, are in strict accordance with U.S. laws and regulations." True enough as far as it goes (which isn't very far!), since laws rubber-stamped by a compliant Congress have given the security and intelligence apparatus carte blanche to systematically rob us of our rights under color of "national security."

One would think that with revelations that the agency attempted to wiretap a member of Congress without court approval would light a fire under our representatives. You'd be wrong, however. Describing the virtual love-fest amongst congressional clock-punchers and spooks as a "contentious three-year debate," the Times avers:

Congress gave the N.S.A. broad new authority to collect, without court-approved warrants, vast streams of international phone and e-mail traffic as it passed through American telecommunications gateways. The targets of the eavesdropping had to be "reasonably believed" to be outside the United States. Under the new legislation, however, the N.S.A. still needed court approval to monitor the purely domestic communications of Americans who came under suspicion.

In recent weeks, the eavesdropping agency notified members of the Congressional intelligence committees that it had encountered operational and legal problems in complying with the new wiretapping law, Congressional officials said. (Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, "N.S.A.'s Intercepts Exceed Limits Set by Congress," The New York Times, April 16, 2009)

An agency official, anonymously of course, had the temerity to claim that the "overcollection" problem led the NSA to "inadvertently" target groups of American citizens, and that snooping, cataloguing and data mining private communications was merely a glitch best left to professionals to resolve!

But as the American Civil Liberties Union argued in an April 16 press release, Congress bears responsibility for its failure to curb aggressive spies-gone-wild and cites the FAA's passage as the primary culprit. Jameel Jaffer, the Director of the ACLU's National Security Project said:

"These revelations are as alarming as they are predictable. The FAA set virtually no limits on the government's eavesdropping authority, but it appears that the NSA has disregarded even what minimal limits existed. The new law should have ensured that the government's surveillance powers would be subject to meaningful judicial oversight. Instead the new law allowed the NSA to operate without the safeguards that the Constitution requires. The Bush administration argued that the law was necessary to protect national security, but in fact the law implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or criminal activity of any kind. The law was ill-advised, and today's report only underscores that the law should be struck down as unconstitutional." ("NSA Spies on Americans Outside the Law," American Civil Liberties Union, Press Release, April 16, 2009)

As I pointed out last September,

The FAA, a piece of Bushist legislative flotsam, was overwhelmingly approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law in July by president Bush. While the reputed "opposition" party, the Democrats, managed a few bleats against immunity provisions for lawbreaking corporate grifters, they quickly fell into line and passed this disgraceful statute. ...

The FAA gives the Bush--and future administrations--virtually unlimited power to intercept the emails and phone calls of American citizens and legal residents. Indeed, the new law hands the state the authority to conduct intrusive spying operations "without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it's conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing," according to the ACLU. ("As ACLU Challenges FISA Law in Federal Court, Justice Department Moves to Immunize Spying Telecoms," Antifascist Calling, September 17, 2009)

Well, that "future administration" is now the current regime. Isn't "change" wonderful!

As I reported April 12 the Obama administration, drawing a page from the Bush/Cheney playbook, moved to squash the Electronic Frontier Foundation's landmark Jewell v. NSA lawsuit, on the grounds of the state secrets privilege and the government's alleged "sovereign immunity."

Given these latest revelations, you'd think that NSA's wings would be clipped by administration officials. You'd be wrong. On April 17, The New York Times reported that the "National Security Agency has been campaigning to lead the government's rapidly growing cybersecurity programs, raising privacy and civil liberties concerns among some officials who fear that the move could give the spy agency too much control over government computer networks."

One official, Rod Beckstrom, resigned in March as director of the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Center citing "N.S.A.'s push for a greater role in guarding the government's computer systems" as a reason for his resignation.

Beckstrom told the Times, "I have very serious concerns about the concentration of too much power in one agency. Power over information is so important, and it is so difficult to monitor, that we need to have checks and balances."

While the Senate Intelligence Committee plans a "closed hearing on the issue soon," and promises that "we will make sure we get the facts," I wouldn't hold my breath.

NSA has powerful allies in the Obama administration. Although agency officials declined to comment on the controversy, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, a former admiral with extensive ties to the corporate security industry, recently told Congress he believed NSA should be given the lead in cybersecurity, arguing the agency has the computer "wizards" with the requisite skills.

And so it goes...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Obama's Justice Department Moves to Squash NSA Spying Suits

Since fatuously declaring his to be a "change" administration, President Barack Obama has quickly donned the blood-spattered mantle of state secrecy and executive privilege worn by the Bush regime.

On Friday April 3, the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss one of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) landmark lawsuits against illegal spying by the National Security Agency (NSA).

That suit, Jewell v. NSA, was filed last September against the NSA, NSA Director Keith B. Alexander, President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence. But with the departure of the Bush gang, the defendants now include President Barack Obama, NSA Director Keith B. Alexander, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence.

When the suit was filed against the government, EFF declared:

The lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, is aimed at ending the NSA's dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it. Evidence in the case includes undisputed documents provided by former AT&T telecommunications technician Mark Klein showing AT&T has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA. ("EFF Sues NSA, President Bush and Vice President Cheney to Stop Illegal Surveillance," Electronic Frontier Foundation, Press Release, September 18, 2008)

Though the drapery in the Oval Office may have changed, the criminal acts against American citizens and legal residents by unaccountable intelligence agencies and privateers in the corporate security industry continue apace.

Based on information disclosed by AT&T whistleblower Klein and other sources, including The New York Times, the suit seeks to "halt illegal, unconstitutional, and ongoing dragnet surveillance" by AT&T and other grifting telecoms of the "communications and communications records" of their customers.

Klein told the Court in a sworn affidavit that AT&T's internet traffic in San Francisco runs through fiber-optic cables at the company's Folsom Street facility. Using a device known as a splitter, a complete copy of internet traffic that AT&T receives--email, web browsing requests and other electronic communications sent by AT&T customers, or received from people who use another internet service provider--was diverted onto a separate fiber-optic cable connected to the company's SG-3 room, controlled by NSA. Only personnel with NSA clearances--either working for, or on behalf of the agency--have access to this room.

The evidence of corporate malfeasance presented by Klein and other whistleblowers, led the civil liberties' watchdog group to assert that AT&T's "deployment of NSA-controlled surveillance capability" is not limited to the corporation's San Francisco facility "and is consistent with an overall national AT&T deployment to from 15 to 20 similar sites, possibly more. This implies that a substantial fraction, probably well over half, of AT&T's purely domestic traffic was diverted to the NSA. At the same time, the equipment in the room is well suited to the capture and analysis of large volumes of data for purposes of surveillance."

As I reported in November, among the firms supplying the surveillance products hardwired into America's telecommunications infrastructure is Verint Systems Inc. (formerly Comverse InfoSys). The firm was founded by former Israeli intelligence officer, Jacob "Kobi" Alexander, a corporate grifter who fled the United States for Namibia after being indicted in 2006 on thirty-two counts of fraud. Alexander hatched a backdated stock options scheme that netted him $138 million in profits looted from company shareholders.

While Alexander and his family may be safely ensconced in the dry but relatively safe harbor of Windhoek, Verint's security products live on, providing "actionable intelligence solutions" to repressors world wide. According to a Business Week company profile,

Verint Systems, Inc. provides analytic software-based solutions for the security and business intelligence markets. Its analytic solutions collect, retain, and analyze voice, fax, video, email, Internet, and data transmissions from voice, video and IP networks for the purpose of generating actionable intelligence for decision makers. The company primarily offers communications interception solutions, such as STAR-GATE, RELIANT, and VANTAGE; networked video solutions that include NEXTIVA; and contact center actionable intelligence solutions, which include ULTRA. Verint Systems serves government entities, global corporations, law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, transportation agencies, retail stores, utilities, and communications service providers. (Verint Systems, Inc. Business Week, Information Technology Sector, accessed April 11, 2009)

Other corporate outfits providing similar intelligence "solutions" to America's telecommunications firms and agencies such as the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency include Verint's rival Narus (another spooky Israeli security firm), Siemans and Ericsson.

Despite the economic meltdown, Washington Technology reported March 27 that "technology companies are poised to tap into the billions of dollars that will flow from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into new federal, state and local initiatives." Many of the initiatives include new corporate welfare projects devised by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to "keep America safe."

In this context, the Obama administration's drive to preserve the NSA's ability to illegally spy on Americans is intimately connected to the corporatist bottom line. After all, Democrat or Republican, the business of government is business.

Arguments in San Francisco federal district court by U.S. Attorneys have been described by constitutional law experts as being "worse than Bush." In their motion to dismiss Jewell, the Obama administration cited the same perverse logic of the previous regime: that the state secrets privilege requires the court to dismiss the issue "out of hand."

Douglas Letter, U.S. Terrorism Litigation Counsel for Obama's Department of Justice, argued that simply allowing the case to proceed "would cause exceptionally grave harm to national security."

Yet more pernicious--and unprecedented--arguments followed. "The DoJ," according to EFF, now claim "that the U.S. Government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying--that the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes."

Arguing that the state possesses "sovereign immunity," the "change" administration now claims that under provisions of the disgraceful USA PATRIOT Act--a draconian law rammed through Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks--the state is "immune from suit under the two remaining key federal surveillance laws: the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act."

In practice, this means that under a new, ludicrous interpretation of the Orwellian PATRIOT Act, the government can never be held accountable for illegal surveillance under any federal statute. As Glenn Greenwald points out in Salon,

In other words, beyond even the outrageously broad "state secrets" privilege invented by the Bush administration and now embraced fully by the Obama administration, the Obama DOJ has now invented a brand new claim of government immunity, one which literally asserts that the U.S. Government is free to intercept all of your communications (calls, emails and the like) and--even if what they're doing is blatantly illegal and they know it's illegal--you are barred from suing them unless they "willfully disclose" to the public what they have learned. ("New and worse secrecy and immunity claims from the Obama DOJ," Salon, April 6, 2009)

EFF attorney Kevin Bankston told Salon: "This is the first time [the DOJ] claimed sovereign immunity against Wiretap Act and Stored Communications Act claims. In other words, the administration is arguing that the U.S. can never be sued for spying that violates federal surveillance statutes, whether FISA, the Wiretap Act or the SCA."

In their motion to dismiss, DoJ attorneys--like their predecessors--argue on Page 13 of the Government's brief that "An assertion of the state secretes privilege "must be accorded the 'utmost deference' and the court's review of the claim of privilege is narrow." Kasza, 133 F.3d at 1166; see also Al-Haramain, 507 F3d at 1203 ('[W]e acknowledge the need to defer to the Executive on matters of foreign policy and national security and surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second guessing the Executive in this arena')."

On Page 16, the state contends that, "Finally, all of the plaintiffs' claims require the disclosure of whether or not AT&T assisted the Government in alleged intelligence activities, and the DNI again has demonstrated that disclosure of whether the NSA has an intelligence relationship with a particular private company would also cause exceptional harm to national security--among other reasons by revealing to foreign adversaries which channels of communication may or may not be secure."

If U.S. District Judge Judge Vaughn Walker rules in the state's favor and dismisses Jewell, constitutional protections under the fourth amendment guaranteeing "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," would be a meaningless charade.

There is however, a precedent for the Obama administration's blatant violation of our rights: that of their predecessors in the Bush regime's Office of Legal Counsel.

According to an October 23, 2001 Department of Justice memorandum titled Authority for Use of Military Force To Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States, authored by torture-enabler and OLC head, John C. Yoo, the military could be deployed domestically to interrogate, detain, raid and spy on Americans, without having to comply with constitutional guarantees under the Bill of Rights. Yoo advised the Oval Office:

Fourth, we turn to the question whether the Fourth Amendment would apply to the use of the military domestically against foreign terrorists. Although the situation is novel (at least in the nation's recent experience), we think that the better view is that the Fourth Amendment would not apply in these circumstances. Thus, for example, we do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant. (Page 2)

Additionally, having decided that the President enjoys plenary, that is, unlimited power to carry out the "war on terror" Yoo concludes, after dispensing with Fourth Amendment protections that,

First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully. ...

The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically. Terrorists operate within the continental United States itself, and escape detection by concealing themselves within the domestic society and economy. While, no doubt these terrorists pose a direct military threat to the national security, their methods of infiltration and their surprise attacks on civilian and governmental facilities make it difficult to identify any front line. Unfortunately, the terrorist attacks of September 11 have created a situation in which the battlefield has occurred, and may occur, at dispersed locations and intervals within the American homeland itself. As a result, efforts to fight terrorism may require not only the usual wartime regulations of domestic affairs, but also military actions that have normally occurred abroad. (Pages 24, 25)

Indeed, the Bush administration's so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) transformed the United States into a limitless battlespace where anything goes. From warrantless wiretapping of telephone and internet communications, the seizure of business and medical records, as well as the illegal--and indefinite--detention of citizens and legal residents as "unlawful enemy combatants," Yoo's memorandum provided the steel and concrete that gave form to the architectural blueprints for a presidential dictatorship.

Instructively, these memos were not withdrawn until 2008. However, in moving to suppress Jewell, Obama's Justice Department and their private partners in the telecommunications industry in practice, are continuing the same repressive policies.

As Wired reported back in January, "NSA whistleblower Russell Tice" revealed "that the National Security Agency spied on individual U.S. journalists, entire U.S. news agencies as well as 'tens of thousands' of other Americans."

Tice said on Wednesday that the NSA had vacuumed in all domestic communications of Americans, including, faxes, phone calls and network traffic.

Today Tice said that the spy agency also combined information from phone wiretaps with data that was mined from credit card and other financial records. He said information of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens is now in digital databases warehoused at the NSA.

"This [information] could sit there for ten years and then potentially it marries up with something else and ten years from now they get put on a no-fly list and they, of course, won't have a clue why," Tice said.

In most cases, the person would have no discernible link to terrorist organizations that would justify the initial data mining or their inclusion in the database. (Kim Zetter, "NSA Whistleblower: Wiretaps Were Combined with Credit Card Records of U.S. Citizens," Wired, January 23, 2009)

As George Washington University Law Professor and constitutional scholar, Jonathan Turley, told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on "Countdown" April 7,

I think right now, the Bush people are bringing out their mission-accomplished sign, because they've not only gotten Obama to protect Bush and Cheney and others from any criminal investigation on torture, but he's now gone even further than they did in the protection of unlawful surveillance. This is the ultimate victory for the Bush officials. They have Barack Obama adopting the same extremist arguments, and in fact exceeding the extremist arguments made by President Bush...

You cannot any longer suggest that President Obama is advancing the civil liberties and the privacy interests that he promised to advance. This is a terrible roll-back. It's a terrible decision. ("Countdown" with Keith Olbermann, MSNBC, Tuesday, April 7, 2009)

And with Congress' passage of the abominable FISA Amendments Act (FAA) last July, handing the NSA carte blanche to continue warrantless spying and driftnet surveillance of Americans, granting grifting telecom giants such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon get-out-of-jail-free-cards in the form of retroactive immunity for their collusive and wholly illegal activity with NSA and other state agencies, America's post-constitutional new order continues apace. As I reported last September, "the extent of these illegal programs have revealed, the 'enemy' is none other than the American people themselves!"

Three months into the Obama administration, the contours of a new and improved "liberal" police state reveal the same rotten, nidorous core as that of their predecessors. This time around however, the mailed fist of the capitalist state is gussied up with Smiley Face emblems and Hello Kitty stickers.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Political Economy of Taliban Terror in Swat Valley

Fury amongst Pakistan's citizens erupted after a human rights' group surfaced a video April 3 showing the flogging of a 17-year-old girl in Swat Valley.

The vile display was carried out by thugs allied with Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Dawn reports that the video, apparently shot by a mobile phone "shows the girl, wearing a blue burqa, lying on the ground face down. Her legs, hands and head are held by two men and a third, bearded man wearing a turban is shown whipping her repeatedly."

The hideous scene continues for several minutes until the girl, allegedly "guilty" of the "crime" of adultery is dragged off by armed fighters. Dawn avers:

After the first couple of lashes, the girl starts to scream loudly, but no one moves to help her. "Please, please," she shouts in Pushto. "Stop it, please. For God's sake, stop it, I am dying."

A man off-camera is giving orders to his companions. "Hold her feet tightly. Lift her burqa a bit." ("Flogging in Swat outrages nation," Dawn, April 4, 2009)

In February, the "secular" Awami National Party (ANP) that controls the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) government, signed a peace deal pledging to impose Sharia law on Swat residents.

The pact, which halted murderous and largely ineffective artillery barrages on residents by the Army, was negotiated by ANP leaders and Maulana Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the Tehrik-Nifaz-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, TNSM) in NWFP's Malakand district where Swat is located.

The Guardian reported April 3 Sufi Mohammed, "In a rare interview with any media outlet, domestic or foreign...told the Guardian that the new courts would formalise penalties including flogging, chopping off hands and stoning to death."

TTP "emir" Maulana Fazlullah, the sociopathic son-in-law of Sufi Mohammed has promised to expand the Taliban's writ throughout Pakistan. Indeed Muslim Khan, a key commander and spokesperson for the group told The Guardian by telephone that sharia would be implemented "whether the government likes it or not."

Aftab Alam, president of the Swat Lawyers Association, said that the creaking colonial-era legal system needed to be speeded up, not replaced.

"They [the Taliban] want to establish a complete autonomous state, that's the real agenda," said Alam. "A utopian empire, a Taliban empire. Sometimes utopias become real." ...

Khan added: "Swat is a test case. After this, it [sharia] should be brought in in the whole of Pakistan. How can we have British law here? It is the task of the Taliban to make them agree. It is our right, 95% of the population is Muslim." (Saeed Shah, "Pakistan region in grip of fear as leader begins to implement sharia law," The Guardian, April 3, 2009)

And if the Taliban's pornographic display in Swat is any indication of the future direction affairs might take, the prospects for tackling Pakistan's overwhelming poverty, endemic corruption by capitalist elites and military repressors are indeed grim.

As if to drive home the point, Reuters reported that "two female Pakistani teachers, a female aid worker and their driver were found shot dead on Monday, police and a doctor said, in an area where Islamists have attacked aid groups."

The attack took place about 40 miles north of the capital, Islamabad. The bodies had been dumped in a heavily forested area.

When the agreement was signed in mid-February, it was condemned by human rights' and left-wing groups as a capitulation by the state to jihadi terrorists and their friends in the Army and Pakistan's shadowy Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI).

As outrage over the girls' flogging spread, human rights' and leftist groups staged protests Sunday. In Lahore, a coalition of women's organizations, socialist parties and trade unions organized a 2,000 strong march denouncing the state's sell-out to the Taliban. The Labour Party Pakistan reported on their website Monday that,

Speakers condemned the flogging of women in Swat and acts of terrorism by religious fundamentalists. They also condemned the Drone attacks by Americans as well. They announced the launch of a national movement against Talbanisation of the society. Taliban are not anti-imperialist, they are neo-fascist and forces of suppression, we have to fight them. Terrorism can not be defeated by more terrorism. "We have to mobilize people to fight them both" was the main theme of the speakers. ("Lahore Rally Against Talibanisation and Terrorism," Labour Party Pakistan, April 6, 2009)

In a further sign that strains between America and Pakistan threaten to derail the Obama administration's plan to expand CIA drone attacks, The New York Times reported that "two senior American officials came under withering public criticism from Pakistan on Tuesday, with the Pakistani foreign minister saying that 'trust' between the countries was in question, particularly over the issue of American missile attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas."

During meetings in Islamabad, the Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the Times he informed Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Obama's regional envoy Richard Holbrooke, "there is a gap between us" regarding the issue of drone attacks.

There are indications that gap has widened into a chasm. ISI director, Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, refused to meet separately with Holbrooke and Mullen who had requested a private meeting. Pasha is apparently miffed over reports that elements within ISI continue to provide logistical and material aid to the Taliban even as the imperialists shower "carpets of bombs" as well as a "carpet of gold" on the Army.

Meanwhile, Daily Times reported in Thursday's edition that "Al Qaeda, Taliban and other militants have been relocating from the Tribal Areas to Pakistan's overcrowded and impoverished cities, which is likely to make it harder to find and stop them from staging terrorist attacks, officials say."

Cynically, an unnamed "senior U.S. defence official" told the Lahore-based newspaper, "putting these guys on the run forces a lot of good things to happen. It gives you more targeting opportunities."

"Opportunities" in the form of dead civilians caught in the cross hairs of a Hellfire missile blast. "The downside," the official continues, "is that you get a much more dispersed target set and they go to places where we are not operating." As the World Socialist Web Site reported April 8,

Since 2004, the Pakistani military has repeatedly mounted anti-insurgency operations in the historically autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), suffering some 1,500 fatalities, provoking widespread popular anger over its wanton indifference to civilian casualties, and triggering a growing humanitarian crisis. More than half a million FATA residents have been rendered refugees. (Keith Jones, "U.S. expands war into Pakistan," World Socialist Web Site, April 8, 2009)

Even as the TTP and their allies threaten to mount two suicide bombings a week until the Americans cease their drone attacks, the U.S. response--other than rank indifference to the suffering of the Pakistani people--is to demand more, in the form of total capitulation to the Global Godfather by Pakistan's mercenary elite.

Flogging Video: "It's all a Conspiracy"

In the wake of the incident for which TTP spokesperson Muslim Khan claimed responsibility, The News reports that NWFP's Minister for Information, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, called the video release by electronic and print media "a conspiracy against the peace deal in Malakand."

While Hussain insisted that the outrage occurred before the Taliban's deal with the provincial government, the man who actually shot the video told Dawn that the girls' humiliating torture took place two weeks ago, and not in January as ANP and TTP leaders allege.

Rejecting the mendacious fairy-tale concocted by the Taliban and NWFP's "secular" government, the girl was mercilessly beaten not for some presumed "immoral" breech, but because she had rejected the marriage proposal made by a local Taliban thug, allegedly the son of none other than Muslim Khan himself!

Implying the monstrous punishment was actually "merciful," Khan told Dawn "the girl should have been stoned to death, but the Taliban had only flogged her because qazi courts had not been set up at the time."

Asma Jahangir, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, denounced the incident and accused the federal and provincial governments of giving the neofascists "a free hand to attack people and disgrace women." Jahangir told Dawn,

"The government has handed over Swat to those who have played with the lives of people. If they are really popular, why this was not reflected in the last general elections?" she wondered.

Ms Jahangir criticised the leaders who were claiming that peace had been restored in Swat. "Why don't they take their families there and stay just for one week?" In reply to a question about recent terrorist attacks, she said cricket players and police had nothing to with drone attacks. ("Flogging in Swat outrages nation," Dawn, April 4, 2009)

On Monday, Pakistan's Supreme Court Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, assailed the government for "not taking up the case until it became a national scandal" The New York Times reports.

The head of the Peshawar Bar Association, Abdul Latif Afridi, told the High Court, "the most fundamental rights are violated every second of every day. People are being ejected from their houses, courts are closed, 300 schools have been demolished."

After listening to Afridi's grim assessment, Chaudhry demanded to know what the attorney general was doing about it. Apparently, not much.

And when a Musharraf-appointed secretary of the Interior Ministry, Kemal Shah, refused to answer the chief justice when he demanded to know why the official had not been to Swat, Chaudhry ordered: "You go to Swat yourself. You must be very bright. You go yourself. We command you do it and report to us what is happening."

While embarrassing the pack of thieves who rule the roost is well and good as far as it goes, might there be other, less seemly motives, behind the reign of terror in Swat Valley? Let's take a look.

Looting Swat's Resources

As is so often the case, religion serves as the handmaid of organized crime. This observation is no different in Pakistan than it is the U.S. heimat, or for that matter, aboard America's stationary aircraft carrier in the Middle East, Israel, where the dispossession of the Palestinian people by a coterie of settler loons similarly, is backed-up by the armed fist of the capitalist state.

While proclaiming the purest motives for their crimes, TTP "emirs" are enriching themselves on various illegal schemes to loot the region's natural resources.

Toss in narcotrafficking, kidnapping and extortion and these self-proclaimed "saviors of the Nation" bear a striking resemblance to their erstwhile "adversaries," America's own gang of murderous Tony Sopranos. In this context, the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper, The National, revealed April 3 that,

Militants are funding a campaign of violence with profits made from the illegal mining of emeralds and felling of timber in the volatile valley of Swat in northern Pakistan.

Swat, which holds one of Asia's two largest known deposits of high-quality emeralds, has been brought under the control of militants following a peace deal struck between the Pakistani Taliban and the government last month. (Ashfaq Yusufzai and Isambard Wilkinson, "Militants stripping Swat of resources," The National, April 3, 2009)

According to investigative reporters on the ground in Mingora, Swat's largest city, "the gemstones are sold as quickly as possible at rates sometimes as low as US$50 (Dh184) per carat, far below their market price."

Citing anonymous officials too terrified to speak publicly, after looting the collective wealth of Swat's citizens, the gems "are then smuggled to Jaipur, India, before being transported to Bangkok, Switzerland and Israel."

As we have seen, Muslim Khan, who believes that flogging a 17-year-old girl is "merciful" told The National, "We know that all the minerals have been created by Allah, the Mighty, and the Merciful for the benefit of his creatures. We should avail the opportunity."

While the newspaper claims that the government has not challenged "the Taliban's control of the valuable emerald mines," more likely bigwigs in Peshawar and Islamabad are sharing the "opportunity" afforded by their so-called "peace" by profiting handsomely from the cosy arrangement to despoil Swat of its mineral wealth.

But wait, there's more!

Another lucrative source of income for the bandits are "Swat's once thick forests, which are already on the verge of extinction."

Abdul Jamil, a local timber trader who can expect swift punishment for spilling the beans, told The National: "The Taliban are mercilessly cutting the forest, applying the same [primitive] mechanisms as they do in the case of emeralds."

One government official speaking anonymously said that "the losses suffered by forests in the last one year were more than the losses of the last two decades."

Who, pray tell, would have the "means, motive and opportunity" to assist the TTP's smuggling precious gems to India and Israel? Why, none other than ISI asset and organized crime kingpin, Dawood Ibrahim that's who!

The mafia don, whose D-Company reportedly assisted Lashkar-e-Toiba's terrorist siege in Mumbai last November, has for decades run sophisticated smuggling operations that traffic in everything from gold, nuclear materials, arms and drugs. As investigative journalist Misha Glenny points out, Ibrahim,

took the obvious plunge and started trafficking in drugs, chiefly in heroin bound for the European market and mandrax for South Africa. And in Dawood's part of the world, if you want to guarantee the success of a narcotics business, there is only one organization you need to cozy up to--the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Pakistan's secret service. (McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, p. 135)

With extensive smuggling networks operating across South Asia and into the Gulf states, D-Company operatives would be the perfect facilitators for the illicit and very profitable trade in blood emeralds. Needless to say, the illegal trade in gemstones would prove a boon not only for unscrupulous local officials and gangsters but as an additional source of black funds for enterprising intelligence agencies and their terrorist proxies.

Is this one reason why, as Daily Times reported April 5, that despite the flogging outrage and murder of citizens "the government freed three more Taliban from Mingora on Saturday, as part of its peace accord with Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi. The total number of released Taliban has reached 47."

While the United States plans new atrocities in Central and South Asia, and as the imperialists search for "moderate Taliban" with whom they can share the spoils, it would do us well to heed the impassioned words of Pakistani writer Shandana Minhas:

From an extremist movement behind heinous attacks and punishments against anyone and everyone--suicide bombings, burning music and books, banning education, impeding access to healthcare, flogging women for leaving their homes, throwing acid on girls faces, public executions without trial, archive footage of most of which exists in digital libraries across the country--an effort has been made to market it as a romanticized movement of idealistic men with guns who fight injustice when the state doesn't and really just want to bring the world closer to God you know? ("Lashes to lashes, dust to dust," The News, April 5, 2009)

As is so often the case, the "enemy of my enemy" more often than not is still an enemy.