On Ending The Surveillance State

Some fresh musings on Medium

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CNN, Anonymous Sources, And Fear Hyping

This is “breaking news” according to CNN:

The U.S. government has warned airlines to pay particular attention to the possibility of terrorists attempting to hide explosives in shoes.

The officials stressed there is no specific threat or known plot.

Intelligence collected by the United States and other countries has indicated terror groups have been working on new shoe-bomb designs, the sources said.

No actual working device involved in a real/developing plot. Just anonymous “sources” peddling speculation offered as “intelligence”.

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NSA And “Turnkey Totalitarianism”

From the speech given at MIT yesterday by former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman:

Mr. Snowden has brought home to us that, while we Americans do not yet live in a police state or tyranny, we are well along in building the infrastructure on which either could be instantly erected if our leaders decided to do so.  No longer protected by the law, our freedoms now depend on the self-restraint of men and women in authority, many of them in uniform.  History protests that if one builds a turnkey totalitarian state, those who hold the keys will eventually turn them.

The punch line paragraph from a brilliant speech.

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Jon Stewart on Obama and NSA

Priceless.

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NSA Reform Legislation Update

I’ll withhold final judgement on the pending Conyers-Sensenbrenner bill until I see the bill text, but here’s a reality check based on the summary provided thus far by the bill’s authors and some accounts online:

Conyers-Sensenbrenner would leave the Surveillance State intact. It would NOT restore the probable cause-based warrant standard required by the Fourth Amendment.

Conyers-Sensenbrenner does not end the PATRIOT Act’s “sneak and peak” search provision, the expansive use of “national security letters”, or abolish the radical “material support” provision that was used to prosecute staff of the Humanitarian Law Project in California.

Conyers-Sensenbrenner does not even address the NSA encryption subversion scheme.

Conyers-Sensenbrenner provides no protections for national security whistleblowers like Snowden or Drake–and this debate would not even be happening without the disclosures those men have made.

Conyers-Sensenbrenner does nothing to strengthen oversight mechanisms to actually provide the public with some assurance that the bulk collection schemes really will end.

And it’s chances of actually getting to the House floor? Right now, zero. Boehner, Cantor and Goodlatte (House Judiciary chairman) are all apostles of the Surveillance State. So is the leadership of HPSCI (which would have to clear the bill as well since it clearly falls within HPSCI’s purview). 

So a lot of time and energy is going to be expended promoting a bill that 1) leaves the Surveillance State intact, 2) does not address other critical abuses revealed by Snowden, et. al., and 3) has no prayer of making it out of the Judiciary Committee, much less to the House floor. 

If you want to see what a real reform bill looks like, check out the Surveillance State Repeal Act (HR 2818). It’s endorsed by key groups sponsoring the StopWatchingUs protest, including the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, CREDO Action, and the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition. 

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Richard Cohen’s Edward Snowden Assessment, Revised

You can read his column here.

Being both a former CIA analyst-turned-whistleblower-turned-Hill staffer, my background–and my sense of the history of these things–lead me to offer the following:

The only traitors in this episode are executive branch officials who knowingly subverted the Constitution through the radical abuse of these surveillance authorities behind a cloak of secrecy–from the flagrantly illegal STELLAR WIND warrantless surveillance program to the PATRIOT Act’s Sec. 215 and the FISA Amendments Act’s Sec. 702/703/704 authorities.

In October 2011, the FISA court ruled the Sec. 702 authorities unconstitutional as implemented by the Obama administration, yet the Congress as a whole was not made aware of that ruling in the run up to the reauthorization vote on the FISA Amendments Act in 2012. A secret ruling declaring a key surveillance statute unconstitutional was withheld from the Congress as a whole prior to a key vote to reauthorize said authorities. Let that sink in.

What Snowden helped expose was the subversion of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States behind a cloak of secrecy…and the classification system cannot be used to conceal crimes, including crimes against the Constitution. The question Mr. Cohen–and every other American–should be asking is whether that subversion took place with the knowledge, and thus the assent, of a sitting President.

If the Attorney General did not make President Obama aware of the October 2011 FISC ruling, it means that cabinet and sub-cabinet executive branch officials effectively conspired to keep the Congress as a whole in the dark about the ruling before the vote, and that those involved should be fired and prosecuted for lying to Congress. And if President Obama did know about the ruling and elected not to share it with the Congress as a whole before the 2012 FISA Amendments Act reauthorization vote, it raises the kinds of questions the Senate Select Committee confronted in the Watergate scandal.

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GOP Shutdown Impact: VA Furloughs 7000 employees

From the Department of Veterans Affairs:

Over the last week, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has been relying on carryover funding to continue activities during the lapse in appropriations.  However, at the close of business Monday, October 7 all of VBA’s carryover funding will be exhausted (please see the VA’s contingency plan for a lapse in appropriations http://www.va.gov/opa/appropriations_lapse_plan.asp).   Starting Tuesday, October 8, over 7,000 VBA employees will be put into furlough status, consistent with VA’s contingency plan.  Because of these furloughs, a number of services will be suspended, including:  the Education Call Center; personal interviews and hearings at regional offices; educational and vocational counseling; outreach activities and programs, including those conducted at military facilities; and VetSuccess on Campus.  The shutdown of public access to VBA facilities also affects Veterans Service Organizations with office space in VBA facilities, as public access to these VSOs is also suspended.

In addition, 2,754 Office of Information Technology (OIT) employees will also be furloughed Monday, October 7 as OIT’s carryover balances will be exhausted.  All development of VA software will cease, including work on the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), the system critically important to reducing the backlog of disability claims.

Consistent with applicable law, VA identified functions and services that will continue during the lapse in appropriations.  VA determined that claims processing actions necessary to the payment of compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits will continue until VA’s remaining mandatory funds for these programs are exhausted, which is projected to happen in late October.  Claims processors will be on duty during their normal work day only.  Although, prior to the lapse in appropriations, VBA had extended mandatory overtime for claims processors until November 16, overtime has ceased during the lapse.

VBA can continue to employ staff in its compensation and pension Call Centers.  Individual Veterans can still initiate claims or check on the status of a claim by dialing 1-800-827-1000.

In addition, please note that VBA’s home loan guaranty and life insurance programs will continue operation during the appropriations lapse.  However, Veterans seeking approval of VA home loans may be impacted, as access to Internal Revenue Service data used by private-sector lenders to verify income may not be available.

Given the staff reduction and in order to focus limited resources on providing essential services to Veterans and their families, VBA will be unable to respond to congressional inquiries at both VBA Headquarters and regional offices.  Congressional inquiries include responding to constituent and legislative questions from Congressional members and their staffs.  VBA will resume suspended public contact activities, including accepting and responding to congressional inquiries, as soon as possible following enactment of appropriations.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Field Shutdown Guide (http://www.va.gov/opa/appropriations_lapse_plan.asp) outlines the impact of the appropriations lapse on VA activities.

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