A Change of Seasons and Careers

October 24th marks my final day as senior policy advisor to Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District. When I joined his staff during the first week of August 2004, my first crisis as his communications director was fielding calls about then-Governor Jim McGreevey’s coming-out-turned-resignation. As Rush was in Israel at the time, I was very grateful to be able to tell journalists that I just couldn’t reach him because of the time zone differential. It was a memorable start to a more than 10 year run in the belly of the beast that is the United States House of Representatives.

In the history of the United States Congress, he is the only Member ever to hire a national security whistleblower (at least according to my friends at the Project on Government Oversight and the Office of the House Historian, who I consulted on the question a couple of years back). I will be forever grateful that he gave me a chance to return to government service, and even more for his effort to over turn the Surveillance State. The House–and the American people–are losing one of the greatest champions of the Fourth Amendment in modern history. It is my sincere hope that the other members of the progressive-libertarian House bipartisan alliance that this summer produced the first legislative victory for pro-liberty forces will pick up where he left off.

I will miss the House and its rhythms. Having spent literally one-fifth of my life on the Capitol campus, it will be an adjustment–but I’m hardly disappearing from public life. I’ll have more to say about that on or about November 3…and a lot more to say, on a daily basis, after that.

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And The Hit Job On The Late Gary Webb Continues

The recent release of the Jeremy Renner vehicle Kill The Messenger has, predictably, led some of the papers who attacked Webb’s work on the Dark Alliance series to resurface to resume their attacks on the deceased investigative reporter. Jeff Leen’s hitjob in the Post took a familiar approach: claim superior knowledge of the subject, then denigrate the weak points in the opponents story while ignoring the elephant in the room.

What’s most interesting about Leen’s piece is not what’s in it, but what is not. A few examples will help illustrate the point:

Marc Cooper of the LA Weekly told Schou in the book Kill The Messenger that “If Gary Webb made mistakes I have no problem with exposing them. But given the sweep of American journalism of the past fifty years, this is an outstanding case where three of the major newspapers in the country decided to take out somebody, a competitor whose mistakes seem by any measure to be very minor.”

Very minor, given the Post’s boostership of the 2003 Iraq war with its “reporting”.

Dawn Garcia, Webb’s immediate editor at the Mercury News during the “Dark Alliance” series and its aftermath, told Schou that “Two years after that series ran, a CIA Inspector General’s report acknowledged that the CIA had indeed worked with suspected drug runners while supporting the contras. The IG report would not have happened if ‘Dark Alliance’ had not been published.”

And then of course, there are the files of the LA County Sheriff’s department records on Ronald Lister (an arms merchant) and his ties to CIA and Reagan administration officials, including Oliver North. Schou’s elucidation on Lister is too lengthy to quote here, but it is damning.

There are many more such examples I could cite, such as how the CIA worked the press behind the scenes to smear Webb and his reporting, but I think these are more than sufficient to support what others have said: that the Post, LA Times and NY Times got scooped by a medium-sized paper in California by a reporter who went were they refused to go. They just couldn’t get over it then, and it seems things haven’t changed very much since “Dark Alliance” was published in 1996.

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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


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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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