Category Archives: Government Secrecy

How the Bradley Manning trial might become a tool to get NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden

[See update at bottom]

The closing arguments are over and the Bradley Manning case is in the hands of a military judge .  At the same time, Edward Snowden is holed up in Russia seeking asylum on the grounds that whistle blowers cannot receive justice in the U.S., a claim largely confirmed by the rabid mistreatment of Bradley Manning (and others before him) by the U.S. Department of Justice.

For most observers, Manning’s fate is a foregone conclusion.  He will not be declared innocent because such a verdict does not suit the government’s purpose which is to make an example of him to discourage further revelations, by others, of highly embarrassing information about the government’s abuse of power.

But, the Manning trial also presents an interesting opportunity.  While it’s the government’s three-year long abuse of Manning’s person and rights that provides clear justification for Snowden’s request for asylum in Russia, a tempered judgement followed by a light sentence for Manning could partly neutralize that justification in the eyes of many.

Governments rarely do anything for humanitarian reasons and it’s doubtful that any country offering Snowden asylum is doing so out of concern for Snowden or for human rights in general.  They are doing it because they see a benefit for themselves that exceeds the cost.   Snowden is a great propaganda opportunity for other governments to give the U.S. a taste of its own medicine, but that only works if the U.S. continues to reinforce its image as a bully toward those who would expose the truth.

Manning is old news.  Most people don’t even know his trial is going on (largely because of the blackout by establishment news organizations presumably in cooperation with government).  But Snowden has become a folk hero with a near unlimited capacity to be a perpetual embarrassment to many western governments by exposing the fact that the bulk of their surveillance efforts have little to do with terrorism and much to do with maintaining control over their own domestic populations.

It’s a no-brainer that lenient treatment of Manning could help the government advance the argument that the U.S., while far from welcoming whistle blowers, does not summarily execute them or lock them up for life.  It might not only help their case for extradition of Snowden, it might also help them to get their hands on someone else who has successfully thrown the world’s only superpower into a desperate panic: Jullian Assange.

One thing is a certainty.  The U.S. will stop at nothing to get their hands on Snowden.  It is not bound by any legal or ethical constraints, it has no respect for the sovereignty of other nations or for international law, and it certainly doesn’t hold the moral high ground.  If Manning’s verdict and sentencing reflects leniency, it is probably part of a bigger plan.  The government’s obsession with getting Snowden shows their desperation.  And far from losing the war, Snowden is actually gaining support as more people become aligned with the notion that the government really has abused its powers, thereby giving credibility to Snowden’s contention that he is actually doing a service for the country rather than trying to damage it.  That is the last thing the U.S. government wants to see.

[UPDATE 7/31/13]

Washington will use Manning’s verdict to persuade the world community to extradite other whistleblowers back to the US, since the leaker was acquitted of the capital offense of aiding the enemy, former UK MI5 agent Annie Machon told RT.

The fallacy that 9/11 justifies government secrecy

Ok, let’s get one thing straight. 9/11 is not a justification for secret government operations. 9/11 was a retaliation for decades of secret (and not so secret) government operations. The U.S. initiated 29 regime change actions since the end of WWII, with many middle eastern and Muslim countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, etc) being targeted multiple times. To think that the events of 9/11 were not a response to U.S. military and CIA operations in the middle east isn’t evidence of ignorance. It’s evidence of utter delusion.

That they finally retaliated should be no surprise. The surprise is that it took them so long.

U.S. government secrecy is not the answer to terrorism. It’s the cause of terrorism.

A Few Friday Links

  • The New York Times blames republicans for abuses of power by intelligence agencies under the Obama administration.  Ten of the FISA courts judges were appointed by republican presidents.
  • Congress is going to invite some NSA critics to testify. If the government weren’t so busy hunting, prosecuting, and persecuting them, they’d invite a few critics with real first hand knowledge to testify. Like say, William Binney, Russell Tice, Daniel Ellsberg, Babak Pasdar, Mark Klein, Thomas Drake, Jullian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden.  One thing is certain. No one with a brain will ever be able to seriously accuse Congress of being on a relentless search for the truth.
  • Justice Secretary Eric Holder to Russia:  We promise not to torture or kill Snowden, so please turn him over to us.  One more non-extraordinary measure to get their hands on Snowden.

Obama to cancel Moscow trip over Snowden?

According to the :

President Obama may cancel a scheduled trip to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin in September as the standoff over the fate of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor seeking asylum there, takes its toll on already strained relations between the United States and Russia, officials said Thursday.

So, after calmly assuring the American public that he would not be taking extraordinary measures “to get a 29-year-old hacker”, Obama has:

  • Sent his VP to intimidate the President of Ecuador into not offering asylum to Snowden.
  • Orchestrated the forced landing of a plane carrying the president of Bolivia, thinking Snowden might have stowed away on his plane.
  • And is now considering cancelling a trip to Moscow “as a direct slap to Putin”, to quote the words of the New York Times piece.

Despite the lack of American establishment media coverage of the NSA surveillance fiasco, it is clearly shaping up to be an ever larger embarrassment to the Obama administration (as if he needs another one of those).  At the same time as administration officials are condemning Snowden for being a traitor, numerous members Congress and a significant fraction of the public are clearly questioning the wisdom and Constitutionality of the NSA’s massive programs to collect global communications information.  It’s not going to be as easy to keep demonizing Snowden if his revelations continue to lend credence to his contention that domestic spying, contrary to Obama’s assurances, really is out of control.

Yahoo wins lawsuit against FISA court

According to, Yahoo has won a lawsuit demanding the release of documents that it says will prove that Yahoo resisted a 2008 court order for Yahoo to hand over customer data to the government.

Search engine Yahoo has won a court case to release NSA records and potentially prove it resisted handing over customer data to US authorities. The ruling could clear Yahoo’s name following allegations it collaborated with the NSA to spy on citizens.

Recent revelations by Edward Snowden exposed the way government intelligence agencies have engaged in massive surveillance of personal communications.  Documents released by Snowden has essentially gutted personal privacy claims by internet service companies, so they are now scrambling to find a way to recover the trust of their customers, if only by claiming the government made them do it.

Staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Mark Rumold, expressed doubts over the government’s transparency.

“It remains to be seen how forthcoming (the government) will be. The administration has said they want a debate about the propriety of the surveillance, but they haven’t really provided information to inform that debate. So declassifying these opinions is a very important place to start,” Rumold told AP.

It is interesting to note that Yahoo’s lawsuit challenging the government’s secrecy was itself placed under a gag order.  Notwithstanding Obama’s claim to want a national debate about government surveillance, secrecy seems to always be the government’s first response to any potentially embarrassing challenge.

Snowden, the NSA, and the end of freedom

Just a couple observations regarding all this NSA stuff.

First of all, the main argument the government is using to justify vacuuming up massive amounts of personal communications is that they are only targeting communications where one party is a foreign national outside the country.  Oh, really?  Can someone please explain why I suddenly lose my 4th Amendment rights by simply talking to a citizen of another country?  For that matter, who in government made the decision that the ordinary citizens of other countries have no right to privacy?

If Snowden were a Russian spy, Russia would be protecting him.  If he were a Chinese spy, China would be protecting him.  But Snowden chose to spy for the American people and they don’t even care enough to stand up for him.  They’re more interested in what Justin Bieber is saying about Bill Clinton.

The reason European countries are not responding with anything beyond lip service to the revelations of NSA spying on its European allies is because they are all engaged in the same practice of domestic spying.  While intelligence agencies agencies may face legal restriction on domestic spying, they can circumvent those restrictions when the data is collected by an intelligence agency of a partnering country.  The last thing those countries want is for that capability to be exposed or interfered with.  So, you can be sure that Europe does not see Snowden as someone worthy of protection.

Ever since Obama proclaimed that the U.S. will not take extraordinary measures to capture or kill Snowden, he has indeed been taking extraordinary measures.  Of course, like most of Obama’s abuse of power, it is being done in secret, so we only see the clumsy outcomes after the fact.  Sending his VP to intimidate Ecuador’s president not to take Snowden was an extraordinary measure.  Telling European countries that the Bolivian President was smuggling Snowden out of Russia, ultimately leading to the forced landing the Bolivian President’s plane is an extraordinary measure.  Later today, in yet another extraordinary measure, President Obama will talk directly with Putin by phone about Snowden.  And those are only the ones we know about.  The point here is that Obama lies, as do his lackeys.

Let us understand that the war on terrorism is not a justification to spy on Americans.  It’s an excuse to spy on Americans.  Just like government is the biggest threat to liberty, an actively engaged citizenry is the biggest threat to government power.  Permitting government easy access to all domestic communications, makes effective activism virtually impossible because it subjects everyone to the potential for blackmail, a practice that the U.S. government has a history of engaging in.  It allows government advanced notice of activist activities or gatherings so as to be able to engage in countermeasures.

If the U.S. government were really interested in fighting terrorism, they wouldn’t be looking for ways to spy on American citizens.  They would target the root cause of terrorism which stems from perpetual U.S. military and espionage activities directed at other countries.  Since WWII ended, the U.S. government has conducted 29 regime change actions throughout the world.  It’s no coincidence that our government’s repeated targeting of middle eastern countries for these operations has sown powerful resentments in Muslim cultures.  The U.S. has developed a history of perpetuating corrupt despotic governments and helped to bring down legitimate democratically elected heads of state.  Terrorists don’t “hate us for our freedom”.  They attack us because they have been on the receiving end of our aggression and interference for decades.  What is surprising is not that they are retaliating.  What’s surprising is that they waited this long.  Terrorist attacks against the U.S. will continue to be a fact of life as long as the U.S. continues to engage in its own brand of terrorism around the world.  In maintaining our aggression against these countries, terrorists will continue to target the U.S. and they will eventually acquire the capacity to inflict mass casualties.  The only hope we have of avoiding that inevitability is to stop being their enemy, a strategy that neither democrats nor the republicans are willing to pursue.  Why should they, when terrorism provides them an excuse to grow their own governmental power?

How they handle security risks in Israel

There is a story making the rounds about a second secret prisoner being held by security services in Israel.  In an earlier case a Mosad agent, accused of betraying the state and referred to only as Prisoner X, was secretly held for some ten months in a “suicide proof” cell before he mysteriously committed suicide, at least according to a government investigation.  When Knesset Member (MK) Zehava Gal-On asked about Prsoner X, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told her that “there are no anonymous prisoners in Israel.”

The new prisoner, also assumed to be a member of the Mosad, revealed by the former attorney for Prisoner X, is being referred to as prisoner X2 and the accusations against him are supposedly far more sensational.

“The revelation that there is another secret prisoner is serious and worrying,” Gal-On wrote on Facebook. “In a democracy, there cannot be secret prisoners, with no outside supervision of where and under what conditions they are held.”

“Even worse,” she added, “in a democracy, ministers do not lie to the Knesset and the public.”

She sounds a little naive.  And, if there are two secret prisoners, the question arises as to whether there are even more.

“The thought that additional soldiers are being held in such conditions is frightening and disturbing. Only the State Comptroller has the tools to investigate,” [MK Nachman Shai] stated.

According to MK Issawi Frej (Meretz), “we are on the fast track to becoming a dark police state.”

This story caught my attention because of the obvious parallel’s with the U.S.- operated black sites.  Welcome to the new style of Western Democracy as practiced by the U.S. and their buddy, Israel, where due process is an annoyance to be avoided at all costs and where secrecy permits the routine abuse of power.

Richard Silverstein, an American blogger who writes on Israeli security and political issues, provides more coverage of the secret Israeli prisons on his blog.

Tuesday Links

  • Eliot Spitzer, former New York governor and two-faced crusader against prostitution who was ultimately thrown out of office when it was discovered that he was routinely engaging high priced prostitutes, is running for Comptroller Of New York.  And who is he up against, but former Manhattan Madam, Kristen Davis.  I blogged about Davis back when she was running for governor of New York.  As a Madam, Davis was engaged in honest work, but you can’t fight the rats without getting into the sewer, territory Spitzer is all too familiar with.
  • The law form representing State Department inspector general turned whistle blower, Aurelia Fedenisn, was burglarized.  The perps apparently left behind more valuable property, taking computers instead.  The State Department, thinking they still have some credibility despite the Benghazi fiasco, says they didn’t do it.
  • New York Times reports about the disaster once known as Detroit.  Establishment media always seem to portray Detroit as if their problems just came upon them out of nowhere through no fault of their own.  If Detroit could talk, here is what it would say: “I was just standing here minding my own business, taking home my big fat union paycheck from corporations that enjoyed protection from foreign competition in a city run by politicians who were blind to the disintegration of the city, when all of a sudden, I discovered that most of the factories had closed and half the population moved away leaving me here in a cesspool of corruption and physical decay.”
  • A report by the Abbottabad Commission analyzing the events surrounding Bin Laden’s residency in Abbottabad blames incompetence and negligence in Pakistan’s dysfunctional intelligence and security forces for failing to detect that he was hiding there.  About the U.S. raid, the report says the operation on 2 May 2011 was an “American act of war against Pakistan” which illustrated the US’s “contemptuous disregard of Pakistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the arrogant certainty of its unmatched military might”.
  • A member of the Russian Duma tweeted that Edward Snowden has accepted an offer of asylum by Venezuela.  The tweet was then deleted.  If true, all Snowden has to do is get there and hope that the U.S. doesn’t disregard Venezuela’s sovereignty the way they do for so many other small countries. [UPDATE]  As of 1:30 PM CT, RT now says that, according to Wikileaks, Snowden has not accepted Venezuela’s offer of asylum.

ISPs and your privacy

Comcast is providing their customers with a free modem upgade to take advantage of their higher speed services.  I just received the new modem kit and am getting ready to install it.  I think it’s telling that installation instructions (largely illustrations) consists of four pages including the cover.  The privacy notice they sent is 9 nearly marginless pages of fine print legalese followed by a 26-page residential services “agreement”.

When it comes to government invasions of privacy, I don’t think Comcast would be any more likely than AT&T and Verizon to push back.  Telecom companies are too dependent on government contracts, favors, and collusion to make waves.   As they readily proved during the Bush administration, they will be more than willing to piss on the Constitution at the government’s bequest.  Now that immunity from prosecution is part of the law, what few worries they might have had have been completely neutralized.

[Update]   I now have the new modem up and running.  Encryption is being proposed as the only effective remedy for Big Brother’s interception of all of our private communications.  In response to that, it is expected that endpoint access is only way the government could defeat encryption, by accessing data on your computer before encryption or after decryption.  Since the modem connects directly to your computer or home network, it would be a logical point for the NSA to institute endpoint access technology.  That the NSA would partner with ISPs, equipment manufacturers, and operating system suppliers to pursue this route is pure speculation. But, I did point my modem toward the wall just in case there is a video camera installed in it…

Good leaks and bad leaks

Chris Hayes imparts an astute and irrefutable observation about how the establishment media and their buddies in government treat leaks that government wants us to hear versus those it doesn’t.  While I rarely agree with MSNBC perspectives, this commentary is excellent,  You won’t be disappointed.

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