zaterdag 15 juni 2013

The Empire 931

Who Will Watch the Watchers?

Saturday, 15 June 2013 10:04By The Thom Hartmann Program, The Daily Take | Op-Ed
Skyscrapers.(Photo: OZinOH / Flickr)It's time to completely end the privatization of national security.
Business Week recently pointed out that 99 percent of Booze Allen Hamilton's revenues come from government contracts.
Why would we pay a CEO millions, stockholders tens of millions, and workers a small fortune when the same work could and should be done by civil servants?
Even worse, our privatized national security apparatus isn't just wasteful; it's contrary to the founding principles of our democratic republic.
Governments can be made accountable, transparent, and responsive to "We the People." In fact, that's the core idea of our Constitution.
On the other hand, corporations, by and large, are accountable only to profits. They're opaque, and don't give a damn about "We the People," except for the people who run them.
There once was a time, before Reagan put us on a privatization binge, when our national security was run by our government and answerable to "We the People."
However, ever since the Reagan Revolution, our political class has been obsessed with the idea that since government can't do anything right, private companies should take over most of our commons, even, in this case, the commons of our national security.
And that's created an entire industry of companies like Booz Allen Hamilton, where NSA leaker Edward Snowden worked, reaping millions in profits every year to manage and lobby for an ever-expanding and ever-more-profitable national security industry.
Privatization enthusiasts praise contractors as efficient and responsible purveyors of public service, but corporations, by virtue of being corporations, are incompatible with the functions of representative government.
At its core, a republic requires accountability.
We entrust to our public officials the power to act in our interest. If they violate that trust, we expect them to either face punishment or resign from their duties. After all, they serve us, not stockholders or CEOs. And accountability in a democratic republican society, in turn, requires transparency.
How can the public judge the crimes of its representatives without knowing about them?
As the Roman poet Juneval famously wrote about 2000 years ago, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" - Who will watch the watchers?
Our Founders answered that question quite simply in the Fourth Amendment and repeatedly throughout the Constitution: We, the People, will watch the watchers. They are answerable to us. That's also why they enshrined freedom of the press in the Constitution and gave Congress (the branch most directly answerable to the People by elections every two years) the power to investigate and correct the abuses of the executive and legislative branches of government.
But corporations are not governments; they don't even resemble democratic republics.
By their very nature they are non-transparent, and only care about public concerns to the extent they affect their profitability. Corporations are functionally kingdoms, with the CEO and Board of Directors as the King and main Lords, senior executives as Minor Lords, and all other employees as serfs.
And "national security" corporations have a specific carve-out from FOIA laws and whistleblower laws; they don't generally have to disclose secrets or wrongdoings like government agencies do, and are additionally protected from doing so by privacy and trade secrecy laws. So you can't just directly send a FOIA request to Booz Allen's McLean, Virginia headquarters demanding information on its intelligence operations.
And for those, like Edward Snowden, who work for contractors engaged in questionable activities, there are few consistent and functional internal whistleblower mechanisms like those that exist for government workers.
The lack of accountability or transparency inherent to corporations isn't a huge deal if a company is making, say sneakers, but it is a problem if that company is in control of an essential part of the commons like national security.
Some commentators have said that they don't care about government snooping because Google and Amazon are already snooping. But Google and Amazon are doing that to make money. They lack the power to come to your home with a gun, put it to your head, and kill you or disappear you into a prison in Egypt.
Our government has that power, all governments do, which is why it's so important to demand transparency and accountability from government, and to keep non-transparent and unaccountable hands out of the spying cookie jar.
That power to arrest, and wage war, and to spy is nearly absolute, and with it must come nearly absolute transparency and accountability.
Let's keep our commons – particularly the commons of our national security and policy agencies – transparent, accountable, and secure from abuse or corruption by the profit motive.
Congress should, today, take our national security apparatus out of the hands of unaccountable shadowy corporations and put it back in the hands of publicly-accountable institutions.

Zionist Terror 136

Het Westen zal alles in het werk stellen om de zionistische terreur tegen de Palestijnse bevolking goed te praten:

UN justice champion Richard Falk targeted (again)

Richard Falk

Vengeful Zio-schemers sharpen their knives

The US ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, has branded Richard Falk as “unfit to serve in his role as a UN Special Rapporteur.”
It seems that in his role monitoring the occupied Palestinian territories he’s in the habit of expressing views that don’t coincide with the twisted dogma of the pro-Israel lobby and its handmaidens, like Donahoe and Susan Rice, the outgoing US ambassador to the UN and National Security adviser-designate This attack is merely the latest in a long line of attempts to smear, vilify and dump Falk.
Donahoe’s biography on the US mission website includes this high-tone gem. “On the front lines of the Obama administration’s strategy of multilateral engagement to promote democracy and respect for universal human rights, Ambassador Donahoe and the US delegation work to ensure that the courageous voices of human rights defenders from around the globe are heard.”
Yes, but only if they’re singing off the Tel Aviv hymn-sheet, lyrics by Mark Regev, also known as Mark Freiberg, Israel’s Australian-born chief propagandist.
She told the Human Rights Council:
The best way to truly address human rights issues in Israel and the Palestinian territories is to end the underlying conflict and forge a comprehensive peace. For this reason, the United States continues to work vigorously on a simultaneous two-track strategy: a political negotiations track which ultimately results in a two-state solution, with a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine living side by side in peace and security, and equally a Palestinian institution-building track in preparing for a future Palestinian state.
Get real, darlin’. How does any of this actually tackle the underlying conflict or restore long-denied human rights to Palestinians still languishing under the jackboot of the Israeli occupation after 65 years?
According to The Times of Israel, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says his organization agrees with Donahoe that Falk is unfit to serve in his role. “If he does not leave voluntarily, the Human Rights Council should remove him. Mr Falk’s attempt to paint himself as the victim of an Israeli government-sponsored defamation campaign, carried out by UN Watch, has echoes of classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.”
Well, judge for yourselves.

Meet the other “smear” artists

United Nations Watch, an advocacy group affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, recently submitted a draft resolution to the UN Human RIghts Council demanding the termination of Falk’s mandate. It includes a long list of wild allegations like these:
  • Falk is so extreme in his support for the Hamas terrorist organization that even the Palestinian Authority has sought to remove him, on grounds that he is a “partisan of Hamas”.
  • Falk recently published an article seeking to downplay, reinterpret and justify the latest call by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to destroy Israel, a member state of the United Nations.
A member state that is contemptuous of the rules of membership and permanently on the wrong side of international law.
  • Falk published on his website a cartoon showing a dog wearing a Jewish head covering, and with “USA” written on its body, urinating on a depiction of justice and devouring a bloody skeleton, for which he was condemned by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Wish I’d seen that!
  • Falk endorsed a virulently anti-Semitic book entitled The Wandering Who? an act condemned by the British Foreign Office.
The book was also endorsed by Kathleen Christison, John Mearsheimer, James Petras, Karl Sabbagh, William Cook, Jeff Gates, Ramzy Baroud, Samir Abed-Rabbo, Robert Wyatt, Eric Walberg and Makram Khoury. These are sane, intelligent and knowledgeable people.
Here is what Falk actually wrote.
Gilad Atzmon [the book’s author] has written an absorbing and moving account of his journey from hard core Israeli nationalist to a de-Zionized patriot of humanity and passionate advocate of justice for the Palestinian people. It is a transformative story told with unflinching integrity that all (especially Jews) who care about real peace, as well as their own identity, should not only read, but reflect upon and discuss widely.
Atzmon kindly sent me a copy, an excellent and timely work.
  • Falk has falsely and absurdly accused Israel of planning a “Palestinian holocaust”.
How would the clowns at UN Watch describe Israel’s carefully planned Operation Cast Lead and the great slaughter it caused among innocent civilians trapped and imprisoned in the narrow confines of the Gaza Strip, and the deliberate devastation of infrastructure necessary to human life, not to mention the starvation imposed by the cruel seven-year blockade?
  • Falk has become one of the world’s most high-profile supporters of 9/11 conspiracy theorists who accuse the US government of orchestrating the destruction of the Twin Towers as a pretext to launch wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The conspiracy looks less and less like a theory.
  • He promotes the writings of David Ray Griffin, who has produced 12 books describing the World Trade Centre attack as “an inside job”.
  • Falk has repeatedly appeared on the “” show of Kevin Barrett, a 9/11 conspiracy theorist and holocaust sceptic who rails against the “ethnic Jews” who he says run Washington and the media.
  • In 2011 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued an unprecedented condemnation of Mr Falk’s 9/11 remarks, saying they were “preposterous” and “an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic terrorist attack”.
Reuters news agency reported that UN Watch had written to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanding that he “strongly condemn Mr Falk’s offensive remarks and… immediately remove him from his post”. A Ban Ki-moon condemnation has all the force of a slap with a wet kipper.
  • US Ambassador Susan Rice denounced Falk’s 9/11 remarks as “despicable and deeply offensive”, condemned his “one-sided and politicized approach”, deplored his comments for being “so noxious that it should finally be plain to all that he should no longer continue in his position”, and noted that “the cause of human rights will be better advanced without Mr Falk and the distasteful sideshow he has chosen to create”.
In conclusion the UN Watch’s issued a resolution which:
1. Finds that Mr Falk has committed gross and systematic violations of his duties as a council expert, including his obligation to uphold the highest standards of competence, integrity, probity, impartiality, equity, honesty and good faith;
2. Deeply regrets that Mr Falk has failed to heed calls for his resignation as expressed by Palestinian, American and other delegates to the United Nations, thereby obliging the council to exercise its responsibility and protect the credibility and integrity of its procedures;
3. Decides to terminate the mandate of Mr Richard Falk, effective immediately.

Fair comment

Falk’s “noxious” remarks about 9/11 simply broke the ridiculous taboo and questioned the US administration’s refusal to hold a proper independent inquiry. His “crime” was saying that the US administration’s reluctance to address the awkward gaps and contradictions in the official story, identified by several scholars, only fuelled suspicions of a conspiracy.
He suggested that “what may be more distressing than the apparent cover-up is the eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an Al-Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials”.
This is fair comment and worded with sufficient care to avoid causing offence. After all, there can be no greater affront to the memory of the 3,000 than the Obama administration’s obvious reluctance to seek the truth.
And there are millions of us out here who are right behind Richard Falk because he stands for justice. We are not amused by indications that the official explanation of 9/11 doesn’t add up. Nor are we happy that it was used to sucker our own governments into sacrificing troops and treasure in unlawful, unwinnable wars that have caused mega-deaths and endless suffering to innocent civilians, trashed our good name abroad and made us vulnerable to reprisals at home.
And for what? Simply to advance the crazed ambitions of the US-Israeli Axis of Greed.
The ever-servile British government is also eager to stick the knife in, as demonstrated in this letter on 6 June by the Foreign Office’s Philippa Thompson, Deputy Team Leader of the Equality and Non-Discrimination Team (what a fatuous job title). It was written in reply to a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act following a UK press release on 24 April 2013 containing a statement on comments made by Richard Falk.
It said the British government strongly objected to Falk’s comment that the “United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks”. The relevant paragraph from Falk’s article for the Foreign Policy Journal reads:
The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. In some respects, the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks, and these may yet happen, especially if there is no disposition to rethink US relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East.
These words should be framed and hung in every foreign minister’s office across the globe.
Thompson wrote that in the same article Falk said: “As long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.” She (and, presumably, her bosses) believed the article was “resonant of the longstanding anti-Semitic practice of blaming Jews (through the state of Israel by proxy) for all that is wrong in the world”. This was unacceptable, she stated, but did not explain why.
Actually, Falk’s remarks are quite OK with those who take an interest in the evil that’s going on around us. But we perfectly understand how his observations are inconvenient to the hooligan élite who are bent on more mayhem.
Falk is also under attack from the American Jewish Committee, an organization that aggressively promotes Israel’s interests. The AJC’s executive director, David Harris, on 23 April 2013, said about Falk: “His malicious propaganda regarding the US and Israel – and his glaring inability to see the stark truth about extremist violence and terrorism – has no place in any international body that takes itself and its mission seriously.”
The AJC’s stated vision embraces “democratic values, respect for human rights and peaceful conflict-resolution”, yet Harris and his buddies seem blind to the terror, violence, utter brutality and total disrespect for others’ rights that have become Israel’s trademark.

Whose national interest are they working for?

Earlier this month the AJC welcomed the appointment of Susan Rice as President Obama’s National Security Adviser. With gushing praise it announced:
With regard to the Middle East, Ambassador Rice has strenuously opposed Iran’s nuclear ambitions and human rights transgressions…. She has sought to mobilize international action in the face of the ever mounting death toll in Syria, and stood up for Israel whenever needed, which in the UN, regrettably, is all too often, whether in the Security Council, General Assembly or other UN organs…
Again and again, she has tried to block Palestinian efforts in the world body to do an end-run around direct negotiations with Israel… For all these reasons, AJC was very proud to present Ambassador Rice with our Distinguished Public Service Award…
It shows how desperate the Israel lobby is to keep the Palestinians locked in the going-nowhere vacuum of direct negotiations while the criminal Tel Aviv regime keeps robbing them of their lands and resources at gun-point. Rice has played her part and been rewarded.
The AJC has had it in for Falk for years. Back in March 2008 it was “outraged” over his election to the UN Human Rights Council as the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories. It claimed Falk had repeatedly accused the US of being responsible for many of the world’s ills and compared Israel with the Nazi regime. His election, it said, underlined the bias of the UN Human Rights Council and his mandate reflected an inherent and fundamental bias. “While charged with investigating the conduct of the Israeli government in the Palestinian areas, he has no authority from the Human Rights Council to investigate major abuses of human rights perpetrated in the same areas by the Palestinian Authority and by Palestinian terror organizations.”
Of course not. There’s a big difference but the AJC just din’t get it.
Meanwhile, Donahoe, Rice, Obama and all their fancy talk of “multilateral engagement to promote democracy and respect for universal human rights” have done nothing to end the decades of abuse of human rights in the Holy Land.
Richard Falk, let’s remind ourselves, is an emeritus professor of international law, author of over 20 books and editor of 20 more. He clearly knows his stuff. Isn’t it time someone gave him a medal – a big clunky one – for maintaining his integrity in this hissing vipers’ nest?

Syria 128

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Why Obama is Declaring War on Syria

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Why Obama is Declaring War on Syria
The End of Syria as We Know It?

The short answer is Iran and Hezbollah according to Congressional sources. "The Syrian army's victory at al-Qusayr was more than the administration could accept given that town's strategic position in the region. Its capture by the Assad forces has essentially added Syria to Iran's list of victories starting with Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, as well as its growing influence in the Gulf."
Other sources are asserting that Obama actually did not want to invoke direct military aid the rebels fighting to topple the Assad government or even to make use of American military power in Syria for several reasons. Among these are the lack of American public support for yet another American war in the Middle East, the fact that there appears to be no acceptable alternative to the Assad government on the horizon, the position of the US intelligence community and the State Department and Pentagon that intervention in Syria would potentially turn out very badly for the US and gut what's left of its influence in the region. It short, that the US getting involved in Syria could turn out even worse than Iraq, by intensifying a regional sectarian war without any positive outcome in sight.

Obama was apparently serious earlier about a negotiated diplomatic settlement pre-Qusayr and there were even some positives signs coming from Damascus, Moscow, and even Tehran John Kerry claimed. But that has changed partly because Russia and the US have both hardened their demands. Consequently, the Obama administration has now essentially thrown in the towel on the diplomatic track. This observer was advised by more than one Congressional staffer that Obama's team has concluded that the Assad government was not getting their message or taking them seriously and that Assad's recent military  gains and rising popular support  meant that a serious Geneva II initiative was not going to happen.
In addition, Obama has been weakened recently by domestic politics and a number of distractions and potential scandals not least of which is the disclosures regarding the massive NSA privacy invasion. In addition, the war lobby led by Senators McClain and Lindsay Graham is still pounding their drums and claim that Obama would be in violation of his oath of office and by jeopardizing the national security interest of the United States by allowing Iran to essentially own Syria once Assad quells the uprising." Both Senators welcomed the chemical weapons assessment.  For months they have been saying that Obama has not been doing enough to help the rebels. "U.S. credibility is on the line," they said in a joint statement this week. "Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. Now is the time for more decisive actions," they said, such as using long-range missiles to degrade Assad's air power and missile capabilities. Another neo-con, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) said the opposition forces risk defeat without heavier weapons, but he also warned that may not be enough. "The U.S. should move swiftly to shift the balance on the ground in Syria by considering grounding the Syrian air force with stand-off weapons and protecting a safe zone in northern Syria with Patriot missiles in Turkey," Casey said.
According to some analysts, Obama could alternatively authorize the arming and training of the Syrian opposition in Jordan without a no-fly zone. That appears unlikely according to this observers Washington interlocutors because the Pentagon wants to end the Syrian crisis by summers end, the observer was advised "rather than working long term with a motley bunch of jihadists who we could never trust or rely on. The administration has come to the conclusion apparently that if they are in for a penny they are in for a pound, meaning would not allow Iran to control Syria and Hezbollah to pocket Lebanon."
Secretary of State Kerry had meetings with more than two dozen military specialists on 5/13/13. The Washington Post is reporting that Kerry believes supplying the rebels with weapons might be too little and too late to actually flip the balance on the Syrian ground and this calls "for a military strike to paralyze Al-Assad's military capacities." A Pentagon source reported that  the USA, France, and Britain are considering a decisive decision to reverse the current Assad momentum and quickly construct one in favor of the rebels" within a time period not exceeding the end of this summer.
Shortly after the meetings began, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia quickly returned to Saudi Arabia from his palace at Casa Blanca, Morocco after receiving a call from his intelligence chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. Bander reportedly had a representative at the White House during the meetings with President Obama's team. King Abdullah was reportedly advised by Kerry to be prepared for a rapid expansion of the growing regional conflict.
What happens between now and the end of summer is likely to be catastrophic for the Syrian public and perhaps Lebanon.  The "chemical weapons-red line" is not taken seriously on Capitol Hill for the reason that the same "inclusive evidence" of months ago is the same that is suddenly being cited to justify what may become essentially an all-out war against the Syrian government and anyone who gets in the way.  Hand wringing over the loss of 125 lives due to chemical weapons, whoever did use them, pales in comparison to the more 50,000 additional lives that will be lost in the coming months, a figure that  Pentagon planners and the White House have "budgeted" as the price of toppling the Assad government.
"We are going to see a rapid escalation of the conflict", a staffer on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee emailed this observer: "The president has made a decision to give whatever humanitarian aid, as well as political and diplomatic support to the opposition that in necessary. Additionally direct support to the (Supreme Military Council), will be provided and that includes military support." The staffer quoted the words of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to the media on 5/13/13 to the same effect.
A part of this "humanitarian assistance" the US is going to established in the coming weeks a "limited, humanitarian no-fly zone, that will begin along several  miles of the Jordanian and Turkish borders in certain military areas into Syrian territory, and would be set up  and presented as a limited bid  to train and equip rebel forces and protect refugees. But in reality, as we saw in Libya a Syrian no fly zone would very likely include all of Syria.
Libya's no-fly zones made plain that there is no such thing as a "limited zone".  Put briefly, a "no-fly zone" means essentially a declaration of all-out war.  Once the US and its allies start a no fly zone they will expand it and intensify it as they take countless other military actions to protect its zones until the Syrian government falls. "It's breathtaking to contemplate how this in going to end and how Iran and Russia will respond," one source concluded.
The White House is trying to assuage the few in Congress as well as a majority of the American public that it can be a limited American involved and that the no-fly zone would not require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries.  This is more nonsense.  During the no-fly zone I witnessed from Libya in the summer of 2011 the US backed it up with all manner of refueling, electronic jamming, special-ops on the ground and by mid-July a kid peddling his bike was not safe. Over the 192 days of patrolling the Libyan no-fly zones, NATO countries flew 24,682 sorties including 9,204 bomb strike sorties. NATO claimed it never missed its target but that was also not true. Hundreds of civilians were killed in Libya  by no-fly zone attack aircraft  that either missed their targets and emptied their bomb bays before returning to base  while conducting approximately 48 bombing strikes per day using a variety of bombs and missiles, including more than 350 cruise Tomahawks.
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The Empire 930

Glenn Greenwald on security and liberty

On Prism, partisanship and propaganda

Addressing many of the issues arising from last week's NSA stories
James Clapper NSA
James Clapper, on Saturday decried the release of the information and said media reports about it have been inaccurate Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
(updated below - Update II - Update III)
I haven't been able to write this week here because I've been participating in the debate over the fallout from last week's NSA stories, and because we are very busy working on and writing the next series of stories that will begin appearing very shortly. I did, though, want to note a few points, and particularly highlight what Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez said after Congress on Wednesday was given a classified briefing by NSA officials on the agency's previously secret surveillance activities:

"What we learned in there is significantly more than what is out in the media today. . . . I can't speak to what we learned in there, and I don't know if there are other leaks, if there's more information somewhere, if somebody else is going to step up, but I will tell you that I believe it's the tip of the iceberg . . . . I think it's just broader than most people even realize, and I think that's, in one way, what astounded most of us, too."
The Congresswoman is absolutely right: what we have reported thus far is merely "the tip of the iceberg" of what the NSA is doing in spying on Americans and the world. She's also right that when it comes to NSA spying, "there is significantly more than what is out in the media today", and that's exactly what we're working to rectify.
But just consider what she's saying: as a member of Congress, she had no idea how invasive and vast the NSA's surveillance activities are. Sen. Jon Tester, who is a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said the same thing, telling MSNBC about the disclosures that "I don't see how that compromises the security of this country whatsoever" and adding: "quite frankly, it helps people like me become aware of a situation that I wasn't aware of before because I don't sit on that Intelligence Committee."
How can anyone think that it's remotely healthy in a democracy to have the NSA building a massive spying apparatus about which even members of Congress, including Senators on the Homeland Security Committee, are totally ignorant and find "astounding" when they learn of them? How can anyone claim with a straight face that there is robust oversight when even members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are so constrained in their ability to act that they are reduced to issuing vague, impotent warnings to the public about what they call radical "secret law" enabling domestic spying that would "stun" Americans to learn about it, but are barred to disclose what it is they're so alarmed by? Put another way, how can anyone contest the value and justifiability of the stories that we were able to publish as a result of Edward Snowden's whistleblowing: stories that informed the American public - including even the US Congress - about these incredibly consequential programs? What kind of person would think that it would be preferable to remain in the dark - totally ignorant - about them?
I have a column in the Guardian's newspaper edition tomorrow examining the fallout from these stories. That will be posted here and I won't repeat that now. I will, though, note the following brief items:
(1) Much of US politics, and most of the pundit reaction to the NSA stories, are summarized by this one single visual from Pew:
The most vocal media critics of our NSA reporting, and the most vehement defenders of NSA surveillance, have been, by far, Democratic (especially Obama-loyal) pundits. As I've written many times, one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy has been the transformation of Democrats from pretend-opponents of the Bush War on Terror and National Security State into their biggest proponents: exactly what the CIA presciently and excitedly predicted in 2008 would happen with Obama's election.
Some Democrats have tried to distinguish 2006 from 2013 by claiming that the former involved illegal spying while the latter does not. But the claim that current NSA spying is legal is dubious in the extreme: the Obama DOJ has repeatedly thwarted efforts by the ACLU, EFF and others to obtain judicial rulings on their legality and constitutionality byinvoking procedural claims of secrecy, immunity and standing. If Democrats are so sure these spying programs are legal, why has the Obama DOJ been so eager to block courts from adjudicating that question?
More to the point, Democratic critiques of Bush's spying were about more than just legality. I know that because I actively participated in the campaign to amplify those critiques. Indeed, by 2006, most of Bush's spying programs - definitely his bulk collection of phone records - were already being conducted under the supervision and with the blessing of the FISA court. Moreover, leading members of Congress - including Nancy Pelosi - were repeatedly briefed on all aspects of Bush's NSA spying program. So the distinctions Democrats are seeking to draw are mostly illusory.
To see how that this is so, just listen to then-Senator Joe Biden in 2006 attack the NSA for collecting phone records: he does criticize the program for lacking FISA court supervision (which wasn't actually true), but also claims to be alarmed by just how invasive and privacy-destroying that sort of bulk record collection is. He says he "doesn't think" that the program passes the Fourth Amendment test: how can Bush's bulk record collection program be unconstitutional while Obama's program is constitutional? But Biden also rejected Bush's defense (exactly the argument Obama is making now) - that "we're not listening to the phone calls, we're just looking for patterns" - by saying this:
I don't have to listen to your phone calls to know what you're doing. If I know every single phone call you made, I'm able to determine every single person you talked to. I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive. . . . If it's true that 200 million Americans' phone calls were monitored - in terms of not listening to what they said, but to whom they spoke and who spoke to them - I don't know, the Congress should investigative this."
Is collecting everyone's phone records not "very intrusive" when Democrats are doing it? Just listen to that short segment to see how every defense Obama defenders are making now were the ones Bush defenders made back then. Again, leading members of Congress and the FISA court were both briefed on and participants in the Bush telephone record collection program as well, yet Joe Biden and most Democrats found those programs very alarming and "very intrusive" back then.
(2) Notwithstanding the partisan-driven Democratic support for these programs, and notwithstanding the sustained demonization campaignaimed at Edward Snowden from official Washington, polling data, though mixed, has thus far been surprisingly encouraging.
A Time Magazine poll found that 54% of Americans believe Snowden did "a good thing", while only 30% disagreed. That approval rating is higher than the one enjoyed by both Congress and President Obama. While a majority think he should be nonetheless prosecuted, a plurality of young Americans, who overwhelmingly view Snowden favorably, do not even want to see him charged. Reuters found that more Americans see Snowden as a "patriot" than a "traitor". A Gallup poll this week found that more Americans disapprove (53%) than approve (37%) of the two NSA spying programs revealed last week by the Guardian.
(3) Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Obama DOJ, writes in the Guardian that as a long-time NSA official, he saw all of the same things at the NSA that Edward Snowden is now warning Americans about. Drake calls Snowden's acts "an amazingly brave and courageous act of civil disobedience." William Binney, the mathematician who resigned after a 30-year career as a senior NSA official in protest of post-9/11 domestic surveillance, said on Democracy Now this week that Snowden's claims about the NSA are absolutely true.
Meanwhile, Daniel Ellsberg, writing in the Guardian, wrote that "there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago." He added: "Snowden did what he did because he recognized the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity."
Listen to actual experts and patriots - people who have spent their careers inside the NSA and/or who risked their liberty for the good of the country - and the truth of Snowden's claims and the justifiability of his acts become manifest.
(4) As we were about to begin publishing these NSA stories, a veteran journalist friend warned me that the tactic used by Democratic partisans would be to cling to and then endlessly harp on any alleged inaccuracy in any one of the stories we publish as a means of distracting attention away from the revelations and discrediting the entire project. That proved quite prescient, as that is exactly what they are attempting to do.
Thus far we have revealed four independent programs: the bulk collection of telephone records, the Prism program, Obama's implementation of an aggressive foreign and domestic cyber-operations policy, and false claims by NSA officials to Congress. Every one of those articles was vetted by multiple Guardian editors and journalists - not just me. Democratic partisans have raised questions about only one of the stories - the only one that happened to be also published by the Washington Post (and presumably vetted by multiple Post editors and journalists) - in order to claim that an alleged inaccuracy in it means our journalism in general is discredited.
They are wrong. Our story was not inaccurate. The Washington Post revised parts of its article, but its reporter, Bart Gellman, stands by its core claims ("From their workstations anywhere in the world, government employees cleared for Prism access may 'task' the system and receive results from an Internet company without further interaction with the company's staff").
The Guardian has not revised any of our articles and, to my knowledge, has no intention to do so. That's because we did not claim that the NSA document alleging direct collection from the servers was true; we reported - accurately - that the NSA document claims that the program allows direct collection from the companies' servers. Before publishing, we went to the internet companies named in the documents and asked about these claims. When they denied it, we purposely presented the story as one of a major discrepancy between what the NSA document claims and what the internet companies claim, as the headline itself makes indisputably clear:
The NSA document says exactly what we reported. Just read it andjudge for yourself (Prism is "collection directly from the servers of these US service providers"). It's endearingly naive how some people seem to think that because government officials or corporate executives issue carefully crafted denials, this resolves the matter. Read the ACLU's tech expert, Chris Soghoian, explain why the tech companies' denials are far less significant and far more semantic than many are claiming.
Nor do these denials make any sense. If all the tech companies are doing under Prism is providing what they've always provided to the NSA, but simply doing it by a different technological means, then why would a new program be necessary at all? How can NSA officials claim that a program that does nothing more than change the means for how this data is delivered is vital in stopping terrorist threats? Why does the NSA document hail the program as one that enables new forms of collection? Why would it be "top secret" if all this was were just some new way of transmitting court-ordered data? How is Prism any different in any meaningful way from how the relationship between the companies and the NSA has always functioned?
As a follow-up to our article, the New York Times reported on extensive secret negotiations between Silicon Valley executives and NSA officials over government access to the companies' data. It's precisely because these arrangements are secret and murky yet incredibly significant that we published our story about these conflicting claims. They ought to be resolved in public, not in secret. The public should know exactly what access the NSA is trying to obtain to the data of these companies, and should know exactly what access these companies are providing. Self-serving, unchecked, lawyer-vetted denials by these companies don't remotely resolve these questions.
In a Nation post yesterday, Rick Perlstein falsely accuses me of not having addressed the questions about the Prism story. I've done at least half-a-dozen television shows in the last week where I was asked about exactly those questions and answered fully with exactly what I've written here (see this appearance with Chris Hayes as just the latest example); the fact that Perlstein couldn't be bothered to use Google doesn't entitle him to falsely claim I haven't addressed these questions. I have done so repeatedly, and do so here again.
I know that many Democrats want to cling to the belief that, in Perlstein's words, "the powers that be will find it very easy to seize on this one error to discredit [my] NSA revelation, even the ones he nailed dead to rights". Perlstein cleverly writes that "such distraction campaigns are how power does its dirtiest work" as he promotes exactly that campaign.
But that won't happen. The documents and revelations are too powerful. The story isn't me, or Edward Snowden, or the eagerness of Democratic partisans to defend the NSA as a means of defending President Obama, and try as they might, Democrats won't succeed in making the story be any of those things. The story is the worldwide surveillance apparatus the NSA is constructing in the dark and the way that has grown under Obama, and that's where my focus is going to remain.
(5) NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen examines complaints that my having strong, candidly acknowledged opinions on surveillance policies somehow means that the journalism I do on those issues is suspect. It is very worth reading what he has to say on this topic as it gets to the heart about several core myths about what journalism is.
(6) Last week, prior to the revelation of our source's identity, I wrote that"ever since the Nixon administration broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychoanalyst's office, the tactic of the US government has been to attack and demonize whistleblowers as a means of distracting attention from their own exposed wrongdoing and destroying the credibility of the messenger so that everyone tunes out the message" and "that attempt will undoubtedly be made here."
The predictable personality assaults on Snowden have begun in full force from official Washington and their media spokespeople. They are only going to intensify. There is nobody who political officials and their supine media class hate more than those who meaningfully dissent from their institutional orthodoxies and shine light on what they do. The hatred for such individuals is boundless.
There are two great columns on this dynamic. This one by Reuters' Jack Shafer explores how elite Washington reveres powerful leakers that glorify political officials, but only hate marginalized and powerless leakers who discredit Washington and its institutions. And perhaps the best column yet on Snowden comes this morning from the Daily Beast's Kirsten Powers: just please take the time to read it all, as it really conveys the political and psychological rot that is driving the attacks on him and on his very carefully vetted disclosures.


The New York Times reports today that Yahoo went to court in order to vehemently resist the NSA's directive that they join the Prism program, and joined only when the court compelled it to do so. The company specifically "argued that the order violated its users' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures."
If, as NSA (and Silicon Valley) defenders claim, Prism is nothing more than a harmless little drop-box mechanism for delivering to the government what these companies were already providing, why would Yahoo possibly be in court so vigorously resisting it and arguing that it violates their users' Fourth Amendment rights? Similarly, how could it possibly be said - as US government officials have - that Prism has been instrumental in stopping terrorist plots if it did not enhance the NSA's collection capabilities? The denials from the internet companies make little sense when compared to what we know about the program. At the very least, there is ample reason to demand more disclosure and transparency about exactly what this is and what data-access arrangements they have agreed to.


My column that is appearing in the Guardian newspaper, on the fallout from the NSA stories, is now posted here.


Underscoring all of these points, please take two minutes to watch this amazing video, courtesy of EFF, in which the 2006 version of Joe Biden aggressively debates the 2013 version of Barack Obama on whether the US government should be engaged in the bulk collection of American's phone records:
That's the kind of debate we need more of.