The Vindication of Edward Snowden May 12, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Surveillance, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: aclu, bulk surveillance, conor friedersdorf, constitution, edward snowden, nsa, nsa secrets, patriot act, phone dragnet, roger hollander, state secrets, surveillance state, whistle blower, whistleblower
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Roger’s note: I suppose, at least in theory, there may be a justification for a “state secrets” doctrine. I could picture an extreme circumstance where the democratic right of the people and their representatives to know could be trumped because making information public could aid and abet an enemy in an imminently dangerous way. Nevertheless, that doctrine has been used and abused over and over again to evade accountability; and I am not aware of a single case where it was used to avoid an actual danger.
But with respect to “legality,” I have often referred to a speech given many years ago by the notable civil liberties lawyer William Kunstler, which showed how some of the most noteworthy crimes in history — from the executions of Socrates and Jesus to the Nazi Holocaust — have been perpetrated under the color of “the Law.” My point is that men (sic) make the laws and the victors write the history. Take the issue under consideration in the following article, Snowden’s uncovering of NSA bulk surveillance. A federal appeals court says it is illegal. This will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which could well reverse with the result that was illegal one day becomes legal the next.
The Law and the judicial system are sacred and not to be taken lightly. But in the final analysis, it comes down who holds political and economic and military power. And in our world today those who own and operate monopoly capitalism are in the driver’s seat. Justice will not come about until they are dislodged.
A federal appeals court has ruled that one of the NSA programs he exposed was illegal.
Mark Blinch / Reuters
Conor Friedersdorf May 11, 2015 http://www.theatlantic.com
Edward Snowden’s most famous leak has just been vindicated. Since June 2013, when he revealed that the telephone calls of Americans are being logged en masse, his critics have charged that he took it upon himself to expose a lawful secret. They insisted that Congress authorized the phone dragnet when it passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act, citing Section 215, a part of the law that pertains to business records.
That claim was always suspect. The text of the law does not seem to authorize mass surveillance. A primary author and longtime champion of the law avows that Congress never intended to authorize the phone dragnet. And nothing like it was ever discussed during an extensive, controversy-filled debate about its provisions.
Now the wrongheadedness of the national-security state’s position has been confirmed.
A panel of judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the program Snowden exposed was never legal. The Patriot Act does not authorize it, contrary to the claims of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Michael Hayden, Keith Alexander, and James Clapper. “Statutes to which the government points have never been interpreted to authorize anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here,” Judge Gerard E. Lynch declared. “The sheer volume of information sought is staggering.”
Other conclusions reached by the three-judge panel include the following:
“The interpretation that the government asks us to adopt defies any limiting principle.”
“We would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language.There is no evidence of such a debate …”
“Congress cannot reasonably be said to have ratified a program of which many members of Congress—and all members of the public—were not aware … only a limited subset of members of Congress had a comprehensive understanding of the program…”
“Finding the government’s interpretation of the statute to have been ‘legislatively ratified’ under these circumstances would ignore reality.”
Consider what this means.
Telling the public about the phone dragnet didn’t expose a legitimate state secret. It exposed a violation of the constitutional order. For many years, the executive branch carried out a hugely consequential policy change that the legislature never approved. Tens of millions of innocent U.S. citizens were thus subject to invasions of privacy that no law authorized. And the NSA’s unlawful behavior would’ve continued, unknown to the public and unreviewed by Article III courts, but for Snowden’s leak, which caused the ACLU to challenge the illegal NSA program.
Snowden undeniably violated his promise to keep the NSA’s secrets.
But doing so was the only way to fulfill his higher obligation to protect and defend the Constitution, which was being violated by an executive branch exceeding its rightful authority and usurping the lawmaking function that belongs to the legislature. This analysis pertains only to the leaked documents that exposed the phone dragnet, not the whole trove of Snowden leaks, but with respect to that one set of documents there ought to be unanimous support for pardoning his disclosure.
Any punishment for revealing the phone dragnet would be unjust.
Now that a federal appeals court has found that Section 215 of the Patriot Act did not in fact authorize the policy, punishing a man for exposing the program would set this precedent: Whistleblowers will be punished for revealing illegal surveillance. That’s the position anyone who still wants Snowden prosecuted for that leak must take, if the ruling stands. (Other federal courts have issued rulings pointing in contrary directions, and this latest ruling will likely be appealed.)
Does the PATRIOT Act Allow Bulk Surveillance?
Consider how this federal court ruling informs the debate over state secrets generally. Civil libertarians have long warned that secret national-security policies undermine both representative democracy and our system of checks and balances.
And that is exactly what happened with respect to the phone dragnet!
‘Gagged’ by the Government December 26, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Surveillance State.
Tags: alfredo lopez, civil liberties, gag order, national security letter, police state, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: Here is a phrase I find myself using with increasing frequency: “this is truly frightening.” Do you know what a National Security Letter is? Do you think that one in a hundred thousand Americans has any idea what a National Security Letter is, or that the notion even exists? It is a lock-you-up-and-throw-away-the-key kind of thing, the kind of thing Kafka and Orwell tried to warn us about. The government orders you to provide certain information. You will go to jail if you refuse to provide it. You are not allowed to tell anyone that you have been so ordered. You are not allowed to tell anyone that you have been ordered not to tell anyone. If you do, you will be financially ruined and thrown into jail. No appeal. No recourse. Add this to the loss of habeas corpus, indefinite detention, state sponsored and sanctioned systematic torture programs, and presidential kill lists. Does “truly frightening” really do the trick here anymore?
A Police State Story
For the past three months, I and other leaders of the organization May First/People Link have been under a federal subpoena to provide information we don’t have. During that time, we have also been forbidden by a federal court “gag order” to tell anyone about that subpoena, although we had already announced it and commented on it before the order was sent. Finally, we were forbidden from telling anyone about the gag order itself.
It all sounds comical but any laughter would end if we violated that “gag order,” because that would be a felony and we could face prison sentences and huge fines.
We were silenced by our own government in a case we had nothing to do with and over information we didn’t have…and we couldn’t tell anyone about any of it.
The court order has now expired as of December 18 and I am now free to talk about it.
It’s actually not easy to write about. Not because it was very painful — it really wasn’t. But it was so bizarre, illogical and foreign to my normal experience that it cut into the normal expectation of discourse and communications I, and people in this country, take for granted as a right. Not being able to talk about something and not being able to explain why was among the most surreal experiences I’ve had in nearly 50 years as an activist and, because of its implication, it was one of the most disturbing.
It’s also difficult because I have no complete political context for this. I know there are many activists who are under such gag orders but I don’t who they are. They are gagged and, while the order that restrained us came from a judge and had a three-month time limit, many of these orders are issued instead as a federal National Security Letter and they are open-ended. I know people who have been gagged for years and had to press hard to have the order lifted long after the relevant investigation was over.
I also know that about 300,000 such letters have been issued over the last ten years — over 140,000 between 2003 and 2005.
The numbers alone attest to the seriousness of this situation. So let me explain what happened to us.
Among other things, May First/People Link provides Internet hosting services to its members — like a web host. Most of our members are activists and activist organizations in the United States and Mexico but we have a few members in other countries who need the security of data and protection from government intrusion which we provide on principle.
We’ve been doing that for a decade and during that decade we have received many information requests, letters about investigations and other less official but just as daunting actions like threats from companies who believe their copyright has been violated in some satirical piece on them. We respond by resisting all these requests for as long as we can and usually the affected member tells us to comply. Since May First doesn’t keep much recorded information on members, there’s not much to turn over.
On September 5 this year, the Department of Justice (apparently cooperating with Greek law enforcement authorities) demanded account information about the Athens (Greece) Indymedia Center (IMC), one of our members. Although no government has confirmed this, we believe the target of the investigation was an activist organization wanted by Greek law enforcement that is believed to have used the Indymedia website at one point. There’s nothing unique or surprising about that — IndyMedia is an international organization dedicated to providing news about movements world-wide, news which is often written by those movements. So anyone who wants to post on an Indymedia Center website is freely allowed to do so.
In fact, the Athens IMC had very little information on the organization under investigation. It doesn’t maintain logs or records of visitors. It just had a couple of email addresses that the government already knew about. In other words, we didn’t have anything the government wanted and couldn’t turn over what we didn’t have even if we wanted to. Normally, things would have ended there.
But this request was different from others we’ve received because the government subpoena demanded information not just for the Athens IMC but for the entire server their site is on. And that serve, which belongs to us, hosts many other May First members.
This was particularly egregious for two reasons. First, those other MF/PL members had nothing to do with this investigation and seizing their information not only violated the privacy and data protection principles we live by but it also violated any concept of responsible investigation. The government wanted us to turn over information about members who didn’t even know anything about this case and who had no connection at all to Athens IMC (much less the target of the investigation).
Second, the Athens IMC itself wasn’t suspected of doing anything illegal, but the Greek government could easily use information concerning it for repressive purposes. We knew there was nothing connected to its investigation on that server so why were these people trying to get this information?
After consulting with the Athens IMC, we refused to release personally identifying information to the government. We then publicly announced the existence of the subpoena to our membership and posted that information on our website.
Two weeks later, we were served with the gag order forbidding us from talking about the subpoena and forbidding us from even acknowledging to anyone outside our Leadership Committee that the order existed. That included friends, family, our membership and even the Athens IMC. We were to act as if nothing had happened even though we had already announced that it had.
We were informed that any violation of this order could result in fines and imprisonment, which could have destroyed the organization. Our lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation advised us to comply.
I hate bullies and my natural inclination when I confront one is to push back. That’s more or less what May First does in most of the legal cases we face. It wasn’t the threat of a prison sentence that concerned us but a misstep in this case could mean a huge fine that would shut us down, closing down the websites and email accounts of thousands of activists. That would be movement-crippling and so we decided to follow our lawyers’ advice and comply.
We heard nothing more from the government and haven’t heard anything since. And that’s the first absurdity in the whole tale.
You would think that not allowing a citizen to talk would be a pretty huge decision for the government in this country. But this was treated like a routine matter and that’s because it is routine. It has become one of the government’s favorite investigative tools and the specific kind of tool the government usually uses is a National Security Letter.
Essentially the NSL is a demand for certain information which always includes a gag order like the one we received (except ours came from the federal court itself). Under the Patriot Act, the FBI can issue such a letter (without a judge’s approval or a hearing) if the agent running an ongoing investigation believes the information being sought is relevant to the case. Most of these letters are about illegal clandestine activities or terrorism but that’s a pretty wide berth for any investigation. What’s more, the letters never tell you what the investigation is about. There is no judicial review of the request required although, after the reform of the Patriot Act in 2006, you can appeal the letter to a federal judge. But the record shows that such appeals are almost never successful.
So you have to give up the information on people who expect that you will protect their information, never tell these people or anyone else you’re doing it and never tell anybody that you can’t tell them.
This alone shows that, in the United States, we have no privacy and, since you can’t communicate with people about what you’re being forced to do, no real freedom of speech.
To illustrate how absurd things got: I was contacted by several journalists from Greece who were, naturally, interested in a story about the US government cooperating with their own government’s investigators.
One asked me, “Have you received this subpoena?” and I responded that we have issued a statement on it.
He then asked if there are new developments and I answered, “I am unable to further comment on this situation at this time.”
These Greek reporters are clever souls so this one asked me, “Are you under a gag order from your government?”
I repeated my answer about not being able to comment. (By now I was starting to feel like the British Prime Minister during Minister’s Questions in Parliament. “I refer the honorable gentleman to an answer I gave previously.”)
Then, in the kind of question I would ask several times a week when I was working for a daily newspaper, he asked “Can we assume that this would be your answer if you were under a government gag order?”
My non-answer answer: “You can only assume what I have stated in my previous answer.”
Any reporter with any experience would realize that I’m under a gag order at that point, so the whole thing was ridiculous, particularly because we had already published a statement about this before we were gagged.
But maybe this wasn’t about not publishing the information. Maybe this was about exercising repressive power over a citizen…testing how far they can go, testing how much we will accept.
Because our order was issued by a federal judge, it was reviewed and had an expiration date. But if it had been issued through an NSL, the gag would be virtually permanent. If an activist believes that a particular government investigation is invasive (which it often is), that activist can never speak about it, comment on it, publicly analyze it. It becomes cloaked in the virtual smoke of a room of repression and constitutional violation.
That room is furnished the other accoutrements of a rapidly degenerating police-state society: cops killing young men of color without any real legal repercussion; a prison system bloated with young people that substitutes for gainful employment; a war policy that provides the only job potential young people have…to kill and die; a shocking policy of data gathering that violates every premise of privacy and civil rights; a democracy that is broken and manipulated as a matter of course and a government that is brazenly dysfunctional.
In that context of a society that clearly cannot be reformed, this absurd drama that would make Samuel Beckett proud makes a whole lot of sense. It’s not about the information you can give the government, it’s about blocking the information you can give other people.
For most of my life, people in this country have pointed out to me that at least we should be pleased that we can protest and that we have freedom of speech, privacy and association. But we really don’t. At least a third of a million of us haven’t enjoyed that freedom for an indeterminate period and probably a large percentage of them still don’t. Any freedom we have is granted by a government which constantly demonstrates that it’s ready to withdraw that freedom if it deems that necessary.
For some reason, not being gagged doesn’t feel very “free”.
Alfredo Lopez writes about technology issues for This Can’t Be Happening!
NSA Intercepting Laptops Bought Online to Install Spy Malware December 30, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Surveillance, Surveillance State.
Tags: fourth amendment, nsa, nsa hackers, right to privacy, roger hollander, spy malware, surveillance, surveillance state, tailored access, tao
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Roger’s note: I think George Orwell underestimated the problem. According to Glenn Greenwald, “The NSA can literally watch every keystroke you make.”
The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon
Germany’s Der Spiegel is reporting Sunday that the US National Security Agency (NSA), working with the CIA and FBI, has been intercepting laptops and other electronics bought online before delivery to install malware and other spying tools.
According to Der Spiegel, the NSA diverts shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” to install the software before resending the deliveries to their purchasers.
Elite hackers working for the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division are considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon.
The NSA’s TAO reportedly has backdoor access to many hardware and software systems from major tech companies such as Cisco, Dell, and Western Digital and others. The NSA exploits Microsoft Windows error reports to find weak spots in compromised machines in order to install Trojans and other viruses.
The Der Spiegel report also notes that the NSA has successfully tapped into some of the massive, under-sea fiber-optic cables that connect the global data infrastructure, in particular the “SEA-ME-WE-4″ cable system.
“This massive underwater cable bundle connects Europe with North Africa and the Gulf states and then continues on through Pakistan and India,” Der Spiegel reports, ”all the way to Malaysia and Thailand. The cable system originates in southern France, near Marseille. Among the companies that hold ownership stakes in it are France Telecom, now known as Orange and still partly government-owned, and Telecom Italia Sparkle.”
From Der Spiegel:
To conduct those types of operations, the NSA works together with other intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI, which in turn maintain informants on location who are available to help with sensitive missions. This enables TAO to attack even isolated networks that aren’t connected to the Internet. If necessary, the FBI can even make an agency-owned jet available to ferry the high-tech plumbers to their target. This gets them to their destination at the right time and can help them to disappear again undetected after even as little as a half hour’s work.
Responding to a query from SPIEGEL, NSA officials issued a statement saying, “Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies.” The statement added that TAO’s “work is centered on computer network exploitation in support of foreign intelligence collection.” The officials said they would not discuss specific allegations regarding TAO’s mission.
Sometimes it appears that the world’s most modern spies are just as reliant on conventional methods of reconnaissance as their predecessors.
Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called “load stations,” agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.
These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the “most productive operations” conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks “around the world.”
Even in the Internet Age, some traditional spying methods continue to live on.
* * *
‘The Only Thing We Have to Fear…’ is the CIA December 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Surveillance State.
Tags: allan dulles, bay of pigs, cia, edward snowden, fidel castro, harry truman, james clapper, james douglass, jfk, jfk and the unspeakable, john brennan, keith alexander, kennedy assassination, nsa, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, sidney souers, warren commission
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Roger’s note: there was much to like about Truman, especially his standing up to the immensely popular war hero MacArthur, who wanted to start WWIII in Korea. But Truman’s use of the atomic bomb against the already defeated Japanese Empire at Hiroshima and Nagasaki more than negates the better part of his legacy. Nevertheless, on his warning here about the CIA he was right on. This article tells us who really runs the American Empire (hint: not you and me, or even the robot Obama) and suggests the reason for the assassination of JFK.
President Truman’s true warning on the CIA
Fifty years ago, exactly one month after John Kennedy was killed, the Washington Post published an op-ed titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence.” The first sentence of that op-ed on Dec. 22, 1963, read, “I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency.”
It sounded like the intro to a bleat from some liberal professor or journalist. Not so. The writer was former President Harry S. Truman, who spearheaded the establishment of the CIA 66 years ago, right after World War II, to better coordinate U.S. intelligence gathering. But the spy agency had lurched off in what Truman thought were troubling directions.
Sadly, those concerns that Truman expressed in that op-ed — that he had inadvertently helped create a Frankenstein monster — are as valid today as they were 50 years ago, if not more so.
Truman began his article by underscoring “the original reason why I thought it necessary to organize this Agency … and what I expected it to do.” It would be “charged with the collection of all intelligence reports from every available source, and to have those reports reach me as President without Department ‘treatment’ or interpretations.”
Truman then moved quickly to one of the main things bothering him. He wrote “the most important thing was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions.”
It was not difficult to see this as a reference to how one of the agency’s early directors, Allen Dulles, tried to trick President Kennedy into sending U.S. forces to rescue the group of invaders who had landed on the beach at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, in April 1961 with no chance of success, absent the speedy commitment of U.S. air and ground support.
Wallowing in the Bay of Pigs
Arch-Establishment figure Allen Dulles had been offended when young President Kennedy had the temerity to ask questions about CIA plans before the Bay of Pigs debacle, which had been set in motion under President Dwight Eisenhower. When Kennedy made it clear he would NOT approve the use of U.S. combat forces, Dulles set out, with supreme confidence, to mousetrap the President.
Coffee-stained notes handwritten by Allen Dulles were discovered after his death and reported by historian Lucien S. Vandenbroucke. They show how Dulles drew Kennedy into a plan that was virtually certain to require the use of U.S. combat forces. In his notes, Dulles explained that, “when the chips were down,” Kennedy would be forced by “the realities of the situation” to give whatever military support was necessary “rather than permit the enterprise to fail.”
The “enterprise” which Dulles said could not fail was, of course, the overthrow of Fidel Castro. After mounting several failed operations to assassinate him, this time Dulles meant to get his man, with little or no attention to how the Russians might react. The reckless Joint Chiefs of Staff, whom then-Deputy Secretary of State George Ball later described as a “sewer of deceit,” relished any chance to confront the Soviet Union and give it, at least, a black eye.
But Kennedy stuck to his guns, so to speak. He fired Dulles and his co-conspirators a few months after the abortive invasion, and told a friend that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.” The outrage was very obviously mutual.
When Kennedy himself was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, it must have occurred to Truman – as it did to many others – that the disgraced Dulles and his unrepentant associates might not be above conspiring to get rid of a president they felt was soft on Communism and get even for their Bay of Pigs fiasco.
‘Cloak and Dagger’
While Truman saw CIA’s attempted mousetrapping of President Kennedy as a particular outrage, his more general complaint is seen in his broader lament that the CIA had become “so removed from its intended role … I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. … It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the government.” Not only shaping policy through its control of intelligence, but also “cloak and dagger” operations, presumably including assassinations.
Truman concluded the op-ed with an admonition that was as clear as the syntax was clumsy: “I would like to see the CIA restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President, and that whatever else it can properly perform in that special field – and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.” The importance and prescient nature of that admonition are even clearer today, a half-century later.
But Truman’s warning fell mostly on deaf ears, at least within Establishment circles. The Washington Post published the op-ed in its early edition on Dec. 22, 1963, but immediately excised it from later editions. Other media ignored it. The long hand of the CIA?
In Truman’s view, misuse of the CIA began in February 1953, when his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, named Allen Dulles as CIA director. Dulles’s forte was overthrowing governments (in current parlance, “regime change”), and he was quite good at it. With coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) under his belt, Dulles was riding high by the late Fifties and moved Cuba to the top of his to-do list.
The Truman Papers
Documents in the Truman Library show that nine days after Kennedy was assassinated, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say in the op-ed. He noted, among other things, that the CIA had worked as he intended only “when I had control.”
Five days after the op-ed appeared, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman had appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter applauding Truman’s outspokenness and blaming Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than the one I tried to set up for you.”
Souers specifically lambasted the attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ invading Cuba with a handful of men and without air cover.” He also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into causing “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” and added: “With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.” (Again, as true today as it was 50 years ago.)
Clearly, the operational tail of the CIA was wagging its substantive dog — a serious problem that persists to this day.
Fox Guarding Hen House
After Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, the patrician, well-connected Dulles got himself appointed to the Warren Commission and took the lead in shaping the investigation of JFK’s assassination. Documents in the Truman Library show that Dulles also mounted a small domestic covert action of his own to neutralize any future airing of Truman’s and Souers’s warnings about covert action.
So important was this to Dulles that he invented a pretext to get himself invited to visit Truman in Independence, Missouri. On the afternoon of April 17, 1964, Dulles spent a half-hour one-on-one with the former president, trying to get him to retract what he had written in his op-ed. Hell No, said Harry.
Not a problem, Dulles decided. Four days later, in a formal memorandum of conversation for his old buddy Lawrence Houston, CIA general counsel from 1947 to 1973, Dulles fabricated a private retraction for Truman, claiming that Truman told him the Washington Post article was “all wrong,” and that Truman “seemed quite astounded at it.”
A fabricated retraction? It certainly seems so, because Truman did not change his tune. Far from it. In a June 10, 1964, letter to the managing editor of Look magazine, for example, Truman restated his critique of covert action, emphasizing that he never intended the CIA to get involved in “strange activities.”
Dulles and Dallas
Dulles could hardly have expected to get Truman to recant publicly. So why was it so important for Dulles to place in CIA files a fabricated retraction? I believe the answer lies in the fact that in early 1964 Dulles was feeling a lot of heat from many who were suggesting the CIA might have been involved somehow in the Kennedy assassination. Columnists were asking how the truth could ever be reached, with Allen Dulles as de facto head of the Warren Commission.
Dulles had good reason to fear that Truman’s limited-edition Washington Post op-ed of Dec. 22, 1963, might garner unwanted attention and raise troublesome questions about covert action, including assassination. He would have wanted to be in position to dig out of Larry Houston’s files the Truman “retraction,” in the hope that this would nip any serious questioning in the bud.
As the de facto head of the Warren Commission, Dulles was perfectly positioned to protect himself and his associates, were any commissioners or investigators — or journalists — tempted to question whether Dulles and the CIA played a role in killing Kennedy.
And so, the question: Did Allen Dulles and other “cloak-and-dagger” CIA operatives have a hand in John Kennedy’s assassination and in then covering it up? In my view, the best dissection of the evidence pertaining to the murder appeared in James Douglass’s 2008 book, JFK and the Unspeakable. After updating and arraying the abundant evidence, and conducting still more interviews, Douglass concludes that the answer is Yes.
The mainstream media had an allergic reaction to Douglass’s book and gave it almost no reviews. It is, nevertheless, still selling well. And, more important, it seems a safe bet that President Barack Obama knows what it says and maybe has even read it. This may go some way toward explaining why Obama has been so deferential to the CIA, NSA, FBI and the Pentagon.
Could this be at least part of the reason he felt he had to leave the Cheney/Bush-anointed torturers, kidnappers and black-prison wardens in place, instructing his first CIA chief Leon Panetta to become, in effect, the agency’s lawyer rather than leader.
Is this why the President feels he cannot fire his clumsily devious Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who had to apologize to Congress for giving “clearly erroneous” testimony in March? Is this why he allows National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and counterparts in the FBI to continue to mislead the American people, even though the intermittent snow showers from Snowden show our senior national security officials to have lied — and to have been out of control?
This may be small solace to President Obama, but there is no sign that the NSA documents that Snowden’s has released include the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report on CIA torture. Rather, that report, at least, seems sure to be under Obama’s and Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein’s tight control.
But the timorous President has a big problem. He is acutely aware that, if released, the Senate committee report would create a firestorm – almost certainly implicating Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan and many other heavy-hitters of whom he appears to be afraid. And so Obama has allowed Brennan to play bureaucratic games, delaying release of the report for more than a year, even though its conclusions are said to closely resemble earlier findings of the CIA’s own Inspector General and the Constitution Project (see below).
Testimony of Ex-CIA General Counsel
Hat tip to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, who took the trouble to read the play-by-play of testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee by former CIA General Counsel (2009-2013) Stephen W. Preston, nominated (and now confirmed) to be general counsel at the Department of Defense.
Under questioning by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado, Preston admitted outright that, contrary to the CIA’s insistence that it did not actively impede congressional oversight of its detention and interrogation program, “briefings to the committee included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”
That “inaccurate information” apparently is thoroughly documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report which, largely because of the CIA’s imaginative foot-dragging, cost taxpayers $40 million. Udall has revealed that the report (which includes 35,000 footnotes) contains a very long section titled “C.I.A. Representations on the C.I.A. Interrogation Program and the Effectiveness of the C.I.A.’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Congress.”
Preston also acknowledged that the CIA inadequately informed the Justice Department on interrogation and detention. He said, “CIA’s efforts fell well short of our current practices when it comes to providing information relevant to [the Office of Legal Counsel]’s legal analysis.”
As Katherine Hawkins, the senior investigator for last April’s bipartisan, independent report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, noted in an Oct. 18, 2013 posting, the memos from acting OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, relied very heavily on now-discredited CIA claims that “enhanced interrogation” saved lives, and that the sessions were carefully monitored by medical and psychological personnel to ensure that detainees’ suffering would not rise to the level of torture.
According to Hawkins, Udall complained – and Preston admitted – that, in providing the materials requested by the committee, “the CIA removed several thousand CIA documents that the agency thought could be subjected to executive privilege claims by the President, without any decision by Obama to invoke the privilege.”
Worse still for the CIA, the Senate Intelligence Committee report apparently destroys the agency’s argument justifying torture on the grounds that there was no other way to acquire the needed information save through brutalization. In his answers to Udall, Preston concedes that, contrary to what the agency has argued, it can and has been established that legal methods of interrogation would have yielded the same intelligence.
Is anyone still wondering why our timid President is likely to sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee report for as long as he can? Or why he will let John Brennan redact it to a fare-thee-well, if he is eventually forced to release some of it by pressure from folks who care about things like torture?
It does appear that the newly taciturn CIA Director Brennan has inordinate influence over the President in such matters – not unlike the influence that both DNI Clapper and NSA Director Alexander seem able to exert. In this respect, Brennan joins the dubious company of the majority of his predecessor CIA directors, as they made abundantly clear when they went to inordinate lengths to prevent their torturer colleagues from being held accountable.
A version of this article also appeared at Consortium News.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Feeding the Flame of Revolt November 18, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
Tags: anarchism, anonymous, black bloc, chris hedges, civil disobedience, direct action, hacking, jeremy hammond, loretta preska, revolution, roger hollander, stratfor, subu, whistle-blowing
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Roger’s note: in this article Hedges cites John Kennedy’s “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable,” which is more or less the theme of the piece. A chant I have heard at many a protest demonstration says the same in four simple words: “No Justice, No Peace.” In our upside-down world, the state purveyors of massive violence and terror, indict those who oppose it on the grounds of inciting violence and terror. Freud would understand, but I digress. Regardless of whether governments are democratic or not, it is capital that rules in our universe. Capital-ism is the system by which capital rules via economies, governments (all three branches: executive, law making legislatures and judicial), military and policing. In a very real sense, there is a war going on at all times, the war against human beings by those who own, manage and control capital (huge accumulations of stolen wealth). As the saying goes: they only acknowledge class war when we fight back.
NEW YORK—I was in federal court here Friday for the sentencing of Jeremy Hammond to 10 years in prison for hacking into the computers of a private security firm that works on behalf of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations such as Dow Chemical. In 2011 Hammond, now 28, released to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications some 3 million emails from the Texas-based company Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor.
The sentence was one of the longest in U.S. history for hacking and the maximum the judge could impose under a plea agreement in the case. It was wildly disproportionate to the crime—an act of nonviolent civil disobedience that championed the public good by exposing abuses of power by the government and a security firm. But the excessive sentence was the point. The corporate state, rapidly losing credibility and legitimacy, is lashing out like a wounded animal. It is frightened. It feels the heat from a rising flame of revolt. It is especially afraid of those such as Hammond who have the technical skills to break down electronic walls and expose the corrupt workings of power.
“People have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors,” Hammond told me when we met in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan about a week and a half before his sentencing.
I did not hope for justice from the court. Judge Loretta A. Preska is a member of the right-wing Federalist Society. And the hack into Stratfor gave the email address and disclosed the password of an account used for business by Preska’s husband, Thomas Kavaler, a partner at the law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel. Some emails of the firm’s corporate clients, including Merrill Lynch, also were exposed. The National Lawyers Guild, because the judge’s husband was a victim of the hack, filed a recusal motion that Preska, as chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was able to deny. Her refusal to recuse herself allowed her to oversee a trial in which she had a huge conflict of interest.
The judge, who herself once was employed at Cahill Gordon & Reindel, fulminated from the bench about Hammond’s “total lack of respect for the law.” She read a laundry list of his arrests for acts of civil disobedience. She damned what she called his “unrepentant recidivism.” She said: “These are not the actions of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela … or even Daniel Ellsberg; there’s nothing high-minded or public-spirited about causing mayhem”—an odd analogy given that Mandela founded the armed wing of the African National Congress, was considered by South Africa’s apartheid government and the United States government to be a terrorist and was vilified, along with King and Ellsberg, by the U.S. government. She said there was a “desperate need to promote respect for the law” and a “need for adequate public deterrence.” She read from transcripts of Hammond’s conversations in Anonymous chat rooms in which he described the goal of hacking into Stratfor as “destroying the target, hoping for bankruptcy, collapse” and called for “maximum mayhem.” She admonished him for releasing the unlisted phone number of a retired Arizona police official who allegedly received threatening phone calls afterward.
The judge imposed equally harsh measures that will take effect after Hammond’s release from prison. She ordered that he be placed under three years of supervised control, be forbidden to use encryption or aliases online and submit to random searches of his computer equipment, person and home by police and any internal security agency without the necessity of a warrant. The judge said he was legally banned from having any contact with “electronic civil disobedience websites or organizations.” By the time she had finished she had shredded all pretense of the rule of law.
The severe sentence—Hammond will serve more time than the combined sentences of four men who were convicted in Britain for hacking related to the U.S. case—was monumentally stupid for a judge seeking to protect the interest of the ruling class. The judicial lynching of Hammond required her to demonstrate a callous disregard for transparency and our right to privacy. It required her to ignore the disturbing information Hammond released showing that the government and Stratfor attempted to link nonviolent dissident groups, including some within Occupy, to terrorist organizations so peaceful dissidents could be prosecuted as terrorists. It required her to accept the frightening fact that intelligence agencies now work on behalf of corporations as well as the state. She also had to sidestep the fact that Hammond made no financial gain from the leak.
The sentencing converges with the state’s persecution of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Barrett Brown, along with Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum, Laura Poitras and Sarah Harrison, four investigative journalists who are now in self-imposed exile from the United States. And as the numbers of our political prisoners and exiled dissidents mount, there is the unmistakable stench of tyranny.
This draconian sentence, like the draconian sentences of other whistle-blowers, will fan revolt. History bears this out. It will solidify the growing understanding that we must resort, if we want to effect real change, to unconventional tactics to thwart the mounting abuses by the corporate state. There is no hope, this sentencing shows, for redress from the judicial system, elected officials or the executive branch. Why should we respect a court system, or a governmental system, that shows no respect to us? Why should we abide by laws that serve only to protect criminals such as Wall Street thieves while leaving the rest of us exposed to abuse? Why should we continue to have faith in structures of power that deny us our most basic rights and civil liberties? Why should we be impoverished so the profits of big banks, corporations and hedge funds can swell?
No one will save us but ourselves. That was the real message sent out by the sentencing of Jeremy Hammond. And just as Hammond was inspired to act by the arrest of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, others will be inspired to act by Hammond and the actions taken against him. And we can thank Judge Preska for that.
Hammond is rooted in the Black Bloc. As he was escorted out of the courtroom on the ninth floor of the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St. on Friday he shouted to roughly 100 people—including a class of prim West Point cadets in their blue uniforms—gathered there: “Long live Anonymous! Hurrah for anarchy!” In a statement he read in court he thanked “Free Anons, the Anonymous Solidarity Network [and] Anarchist Black Cross” for their roles in the fight against oppression.
Hammond has abandoned faith not only in traditional institutions, such as the courts, but nonviolent mass protest and civil disobedience, a point on which he and I diverge. But his analysis of corporate tyranny is correct. And the longer the state ruthlessly persecutes dissidents, the more the state ensures that those who oppose it will resort to radical responses including violence. “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable,” John F. Kennedy said. And the corporate state is not only making peaceful change impossible but condemning it as terrorism.
In late October I spent an afternoon with Hammond in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he had been held for 20 months. He said during our conversation, parts of which his lawyer requested be published only after his sentencing, that he believed that the sole way the people will now have any power is to rise up physically and seize it. My column last week was about that interview, and now I am including previously withheld parts of the conversation.
Hammond defines himself as “an anarchist communist.” He seeks to destroy capitalism and the centralized power of the corporate state. His revolutionary vision is “leaderless collectives based on free association, consensus, mutual aid, self-sufficiency and harmony with the environment.” He embraces the classic tools of revolt, including mass protests, general strikes and boycotts. And he sees hacking and leaking as part of this resistance, tools not only to reveal the truths about these systems of corporate power but to “disrupt/destroy these systems entirely.”
He participated in the Occupy movement in Chicago but found the politics of Occupy too vague and amorphous, a point on which I concur. He said Occupy lacked revolutionary vigor. He told me he did not support what he called the “dogmatic nonviolence doctrine” of many in the Occupy movement, calling it “needlessly limited and divisive.” He rejects the idea of acts of civil disobedience that protesters know will lead to their arrest. “The point,” he said, “is to carry out acts of resistance and not get caught.” He condemns “peace patrols,” units formed within the Occupy movement that sought to prohibit acts of vandalism and violence by other protesters—most often members of the Black Bloc—as “a secondary police force.” And he spurns the calls by many in Occupy not to antagonize the police, calling the police “the boot boys of the 1 percent, paid to protect the rich and powerful.” He said such a tactic of non-confrontation with the police ignored the long history of repression the police have carried out against popular movements, as well as the “profiling and imprisonment of our comrades.”
“Because we were unprepared, or perhaps unwilling, to defend our occupations, police and mayors launched coordinated attacks, driving us out of our own parks,” he said of the state’s closure of the Occupy encampments.
“I fully support and have participated in Black Bloc and other forms of militant direct action,” he said. “I do not believe that the ruling powers listen to the people’s peaceful protests. Black Bloc is an effective, fluid and dynamic form of protest. It causes disruption outside of predictable/controllable mass demonstrations through ‘unarrests,’ holding streets, barricades and property destruction. Smashing corporate windows is not violence, especially when compared to the everyday economic violence of sweatshops and ‘free trade.’ Black Bloc seeks to hit them where it hurts, through economic damage. But more than smashing windows they seek to break the spell of ‘law and order’ and the artificial limitations we impose on ourselves.”
I disagree with Hammond over tactics, but in the end this disagreement is moot. It will be the ruling elites who finally determine our response. If the corporate elites employ the full force of the security and surveillance state against us, if corporate totalitarian rule is one of naked, escalating and brutal physical repression, then the violence of the state will spawn a counter-violence. Judge Preska’s decision to judicially lynch Hammond has only added to the fury she and the state are trying to stamp out. An astute ruling class, one aware of the rage rippling across the American landscape, would have released Hammond on Friday and begun to address the crimes he exposed. But our ruling class, while adept at theft, looting, propaganda and repression, is blind to the growing discontent caused by the power imbalance and economic inequality that plague ordinary Americans at a time when half of the country lives in poverty or “near poverty.”
“The acts of civil disobedience and direct action that I am being sentenced for today are in line with the principles of community and equality that have guided my life,” Hammond told the courtroom. “I hacked into dozens of high-profile corporations and government institutions, understanding very clearly that what I was doing was against the law, and that my actions could land me back in federal prison. But I felt that I had an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice—and to bring the truth to light.”
“Could I have achieved the same goals through legal means?” he said. “I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed. When we speak truth to power we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst. We are confronting a power structure that does not respect its own system of checks and balances, never mind the rights of its own citizens or the international community.”
“My first memories of American politics was when Bush stole the election in 2000,” he told me at a metal table as we met at the prison in a small room reserved for attorney visits, “and then how Bush used the wave of nationalism after 9/11 to launch unprovoked pre-emptive wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. In high school I was involved in publishing ‘underground’ newsletters criticizing the Patriot Act, the wars, and other Bush-era policies. I attended many anti-war protests in the city [Chicago] and was introduced to other local struggles and the larger anti-corporate globalization movement. I began identifying as an anarchist, started to travel around the country to various mobilizations and conferences, and began getting arrested for various acts.”
He said that his experience of street protest, especially against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was seminal, for he saw that the state had little interest in heeding the voices of protesters and others in the public. “Instead, we were labeled as traitors, beaten and arrested.”
“I targeted law enforcement systems because of the racism and inequality with which the criminal law is enforced,” he admitted in court. “I targeted the manufacturers and distributors of military and police equipment who profit from weaponry used to advance U.S. political and economic interests abroad and to repress people at home. I targeted information security firms because they work in secret to protect government and corporate interests at the expense of individual rights, undermining and discrediting activists, journalists and other truth seekers, and spreading disinformation.”
An FBI informant, Hector Xavier Monsegur, posing as an Anonymous member and using the online name “Sabu,” prodded Hammond to break into Stratfor and informed him of technical vulnerabilities in websites of the company.
“Why the FBI would introduce us to the hacker who found the initial vulnerability and allow this hack to continue remains a mystery,” Hammond said as he faced the judge.
“As a result of the Stratfor hack, some of the dangers of the unregulated private intelligence industry are now known,” he said. “It has been revealed through WikiLeaks and other journalists around the world that Stratfor maintained a worldwide network of informants that they used to engage in intrusive and possibly illegal surveillance activities on behalf of large multinational corporations.”
At Sabu’s urging, Hammond broke into other websites, too. Hammond, at Sabu’s request, provided information to hackers enabling them to break into and deface official foreign government websites, including some of Turkey, Iran and Brazil. The names of these three countries are technically under a protective court order but have been reported widely in the press.
“I broke into numerous sites and handed over passwords and backdoors that enabled Sabu—and by extension his FBI handlers—to control these targets,” Hammond said.
“I don’t know how other information I provided to him may have been used, but I think the government’s collection and use of this data needs to be investigated,” he went on. “The government celebrates my conviction and imprisonment, hoping that it will close the door on the full story. I took responsibility for my actions, by pleading guilty, but when will the government be made to answer for its crimes?”
“The hypocrisy of ‘law and order’ and the injustices caused by capitalism cannot be cured by institutional reform but through civil disobedience and direct action,” Hammond told the court. “Yes, I broke the law, but I believe that sometimes laws must be broken in order to make room for change.”
Tags: angela merkel, edward snowden, first amendment, freedom of press, general alexander, glenn greenwald, journalism, keith alexander, Media, nsa, roger hollander, surveillance, surveillande state, whistle-blowing
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The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.
As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).
There are three points worth making about these latest developments.
• First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.
• Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that’s true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the “crime” of blowing the whistle on all of this?
If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn’t they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?
Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?
• Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.
Can even President Obama and his most devoted loyalists continue to maintain, with a straight face, that this is all about Terrorism? That is what this superb new Foreign Affairs essay by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore means when it argues that the Manning and Snowden leaks are putting an end to the ability of the US to use hypocrisy as a key weapon in its soft power.
Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):
The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.
“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog.
“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director declared. [My italics]
There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called “the first amendment”.
I’d love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to “come up with a way of stopping” the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?
Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.
Fresh Leak on US Spying: NSA Accessed Mexican President’s Email October 20, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Latin America, Mexico, Surveillance State.
Tags: Brazil, dilma rousseff, edward snowden, felipe calderon, holger stark, jens glusing, laura poitras, marcel rosenbach, Mexico, nsa, pena nieto, roger hollander, surveillance state
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The NSA has been systematically eavesdropping on the Mexican government for years. It hacked into the president’s public email account and gained deep insight into policymaking and the political system. The news is likely to hurt ties between the US and Mexico.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has a division for particularly difficult missions. Called “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO), this department devises special methods for special targets.
That category includes surveillance of neighboring Mexico, and in May 2010, the division reported its mission accomplished. A report classified as “top secret” said: “TAO successfully exploited a key mail server in the Mexican Presidencia domain within the Mexican Presidential network to gain first-ever access to President Felipe Calderon’s public email account.”According to the NSA, this email domain was also used by cabinet members, and contained “diplomatic, economic and leadership communications which continue to provide insight into Mexico’s political system and internal stability.” The president’s office, the NSA reported, was now “a lucrative source.”
This operation, dubbed “Flatliquid,” is described in a document leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which SPIEGEL has now had the opportunity to analyze. The case is likely to cause further strain on relations between Mexico and the United States, which have been tense since Brazilian television network TV Globo revealed in September that the NSA monitored then-presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and others around him in the summer of 2012. Peña Nieto, now Mexico’s president, summoned the US ambassador in the wake of that news, but confined his reaction to demanding an investigation into the matter.
Now, though, the revelation that the NSA has systematically infiltrated an entire computer network is likely to trigger deeper controversy, especially since the NSA’s snooping took place during the term of Peña Nieto’s predecessor Felipe Calderón, a leader who worked more closely with Washington than any other Mexican president before him.
Brazil Also Targeted
Reports of US surveillance operations have caused outrage in Latin America in recent months. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a planned trip to Washington five weeks ago and condemned the NSA’s espionage in a blistering speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
The US surveillance of politicians in Mexico and Brazil is not a one-off. Internal documents show these countries’ leaders represent important monitoring targets for the NSA, with both Mexico and Brazil ranking among the nations high on an April 2013 list that enumerates the US’ surveillance priorities. That list, classified as “secret,” was authorized by the White House and “presidentially approved,” according to internal NSA documents.
The list ranks strategic objectives for all US intelligence services using a scale from “1” for high priority to “5” for low priority. In the case of Mexico, the US is interested primarily in the drug trade (priority level 1) and the country’s leadership (level 3). Other areas flagged for surveillance include Mexico’s economic stability, military capabilities, human rights and international trade relations (all ranked at level 3), as well as counterespionage (level 4). It’s much the same with Brazil — ascertaining the intentions of that country’s leadership ranks among the stated espionage targets. Brazil’s nuclear program is high on the list as well.
When Brazilian President Rousseff took office in early 2011, one of her goals was to improve relations with Washington, which had cooled under her predecessor, the popular former labor leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula focused primarily on establishing closer ties with China, India and African nations, and even invited Iran’s then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brazil, in a snub to the US. President Barack Obama postponed a planned visit to the capital, Brasília, as a result.
Rousseff, however, has distanced herself from Iran. And the first foreign minister to serve under her, Antonio Patriota, who recently resigned, was seen as friendly toward the US, maintaining good ties with his counterpart Hillary Clinton. Obama made a state visit to Brazil two years ago and Rousseff had planned to reciprocate with a visit to Washington this October.
Then came the revelation that US authorities didn’t stop short of spying on the president herself. According to one internal NSA presentation, the agency investigated “the communication methods and associated selectors of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff and her key advisers.” It also said it found potential “high-value targets” among her inner circle.
Rousseff believes Washington’s reasons for employing such unfriendly methods are partly economic, an accusation that the NSA and its director, General Keith Alexander, have denied. Yet according to the leaked NSA documents, the US also monitored email and telephone communications at Petrobras, the oil corporation in which the Brazilian government holds a majority stake. Brazil possesses enormous offshore oil reserves.
Just how intensively the US spies on its neighbors can be seen in another, previously unknown operation in Mexico, dubbed “Whitetamale” by the NSA. In August 2009, according to internal documents, the agency gained access to the emails of various high-ranking officials in Mexico’s Public Security Secretariat that combats the drug trade and human trafficking. This hacking operation allowed the NSA not only to obtain information on several drug cartels, but also to gain access to “diplomatic talking-points.” In the space of a single year, according to the internal documents, this operation produced 260 classified reports that allowed US politicians to conduct successful talks on political issues and to plan international investments.
The tone of the document that lists the NSA’s “tremendous success” in monitoring Mexican targets shows how aggressively the US intelligence agency monitors its southern neighbor. “These TAO accesses into several Mexican government agencies are just the beginning — we intend to go much further against this important target,” the document reads. It goes on to state that the divisions responsible for this surveillance are “poised for future successes.”
While these operations were overseen from the NSA’s branch in San Antonio, Texas, secret listening stations in the US Embassies in Mexico City and Brasília also played a key role. The program, known as the “Special Collection Service,” is conducted in cooperation with the CIA. The teams have at their disposal a wide array of methods and high-tech equipment that allow them to intercept all forms of electronic communication. The NSA conducts its surveillance of telephone conversations and text messages transmitted through Mexico’s cell phone network under the internal code name “Eveningeasel.” In Brasília, the agency also operates one of its most important operational bases for monitoring satellite communications.
This summer, the NSA took its activities to new heights as elections took place in Mexico. Despite having access to the presidential computer network, the US knew little about Enrique Peña Nieto, designated successor to Felipe Calderón.
Spying on Peña Nieto
In his campaign appearances, Peña Nieto would make his way to the podium through a sea of supporters, ascending to the stage like a rock star. He is married to an actress, and also had the support of several influential elder statesmen within his party, the PRI. He promised to reform the party and fight pervasive corruption in the country. But those familiar with the PRI, which is itself regarded by many as corrupt, saw this pledge as little more than a maneuver made for show.
First and foremost, though, Peña Nieto promised voters he would change Mexico’s strategy in the war on drugs, announcing he would withdraw the military from the fight against the drug cartels as soon as possible and invest more money in social programs instead. Yet at the same time, he assured Washington there would be no U-turn in Mexico’s strategy regarding the cartels. So what were Peña Nieto’s true thoughts at the time? What were his advisers telling him?
The NSA’s intelligence agents in Texas must have been asking themselves such questions when they authorized an unusual type of operation known as structural surveillance. For two weeks in the early summer of 2012, the NSA unit responsible for monitoring the Mexican government analyzed data that included the cell phone communications of Peña Nieto and “nine of his close associates,” as an internal presentation from June 2012 shows. Analysts used software to connect this data into a network, shown in a graphic that resembles a swarm of bees. The software then filtered out Peña Nieto’s most relevant contacts and entered them into a databank called “DishFire.” From then on, these individuals’ cell phones were singled out for surveillance.
According to the internal documents, this led to the agency intercepting 85,489 text messages, some sent by Peña Nieto himself and some by his associates. This technology “might find a needle in a haystack,” the analysts noted, adding that it could do so “in a repeatable and efficient way.”
It seems, though, that the NSA’s agents are no longer quite as comfortable expressing such pride in their work. Asked for a comment by SPIEGEL, the agency replied: “We are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. As the President said in his speech at the UN General Assembly, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.”
Meanwhile, the NSA’s spying has already caused considerable political damage in the case of Brazil, seriously denting the mutual trust between Rousseff and Obama. Brazil now plans to introduce a law that will force companies such as Google and Facebook to store their data inside Brazil’s borders, rather than on servers in the US, making these international companies subject to Brazilian data privacy laws. The Brazilian government is also developing a new encryption system to protect its own data against hacking.
So far, Mexico has reacted more moderately — although the fact that the NSA infiltrated even the presidential computer network wasn’t known until now. Commenting after TV Globo first revealed the NSA’s surveillance of text messages, Peña Nieto stated that Obama had promised him to investigate the accusations and to punish those responsible, if it was found that misdeeds had taken place.In response to an inquiry from SPIEGEL concerning the latest revelations, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry replied with an email condemning any form of espionage on Mexican citizens, saying such surveillance violates international law. “That is all the government has to say on the matter,” stated a spokesperson for Peña Nieto.
Presumably, that email could be read at the NSA’s Texas location at the same time.