White House releases brutal panel report on NSA spying

Just two days after a federal judge issued a scathing opinion in which he said the NSA phone metadata program is “likely unconstitutional,” the White House released the report from the five-member panel tasked with reviewing the agency’s data collection methods.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology recommending 46 changes, some of which are significant, to the how the NSA gathers intelligence. The suggestions in the 303-page report, Liberty and Security in a Changing World, are non-binding.

“We have emphasized the need to develop principles designed to create strong foundations for the future,” said the panel members a letter to President Barack Obama. “Although we have explored past and current practices, and while that exploration has informed our recommendations, this Report should not be taken as a general review of, or as an attempt to provide a detailed assessment of, those practices.”

“We recognize that our forty-six recommendations, developed over a relatively short period of time, will require careful assessment by a wide range of relevant officials, with close reference to the likely consequences. Our goal has been to establish broad understandings and principles that can provide helpful orientation during the coming months, years, and decades,” the members added.

Initial reports indicated that the panel would suggest that the agency dismantle its vast controversial and heavily criticized phone record database, which stores information on virtually every American. Indeed, the panel even says that “the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.”

Did Obama know Syria rebels also may have chemical weapon capability?

photo by Steve Rhodes

The Obama administration based much of their hurried march to war in Syria on the conclusion that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack, and indeed was the only faction with the capability to carry it out. However, a new report based on classified defense intelligence documents directly contradicts those conclusions, in turn questioning the entire rationale for the forestalled military intervention:

The Hersh article is based in part on a four-page secret cable given to a top official at the Defense Intelligence Agency on June 20, one of a group of intelligence community documents allegedly stating that jihadi rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra has the ability to make sarin gas. Sarin is the chemical believed to have been used in the Aug 21 chemical attack in Ghouta that crossed Obama’s “red line” and prompted the administration to push for a strike on Assad’s regime. The story is sourced mainly to intelligence and military officers and consultants.

“When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad,” Hersh writes.

NSA Scandal Not about Republican vs. Democrat — It’s about Liberty vs. the State

Liberty and the NSA

It’s been a week since Glenn Greenwald broke the story on the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of calls made on the Verizon network. There have been a lot of arguments made for and against this program over the last week, and the battlelines have been clearly drawn.

First, let’s recap. This sort of surveillance has been around for at least seven years, perhaps even longer. The difference between what was going on with the NSA under the Bush Administration and what is currently going in the Obama Administration is that the former didn’t bother with court orders or warrants to conduct this sort of blanket surveillance.

So when the apologists for the program say it’s “legal,” like Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) did yesterday, they’re referring to the the statutory authority granted via Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, a controversial provision of the law that allows intelligence agencies to obtain a court order to collect this information from businesses. More on this in a moment.

Using this section of the law, the NSA obtained authority from a secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to force Verizon to turn over the phone records of millions of customers, even if they are not suspected of terrorist activity.

Obama’s drones program needs some real congressional oversight, and Ted Yoho’s Drone Reform Act would make that happen

The Central Intelligence Agency has, for years, been engaged in a secret drone war, carrying out operations in the Middle East to hunt down terrorist leaders. While it’s understandable that some measure of secrecy is needed to carry out its duties, for far too long Congress has been unable to perform any meaningful oversight of the Agency’s activities.

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) is trying to change that.

Yoho introduced the Drone Reform Act (H.R. 5091) earlier this month. This legislation would consolidate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV, or “drones,” as they’re known to most Americans) into the Department of Defense.

“The CIA’s main mission is intelligence collection and analysis. It should not be in the business of military strikes. This legislation will bring our armed drone fleet under the jurisdiction of the DOD, where it should be,” Yoho said in a press release announcing the legislation. “If our national security requires drone strikes abroad, then one agency should be held accountable to the American people.”

Original cosponsors of the Drone Reform Act include Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Thomas Massie (R-KY), John Conyers (D-MI), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).

The Drone Reform Act, Yoho’s office explains, would mean more accountability in the budgetary and appropriations process. The CIA’s budget is heavily redacted, even to members of Congress, meaning that lawmakers cannot properly account for funding and resources.

House Intel member: Two flags flew at Benghazi — al-Qaeda and the U.S.

Lynn Westmoreland

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) held a hearing earlier this month on the controversial Benghazi talking points. Members took turns questioning former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell about the edits made to the document, including the removal of references to al-Qaeda, the false narrative that the attack was a protest to a YouTube video gone awry.

Morell insisted that there was no cover-up of the talking points, telling members of the committee that that neither he “nor anyone else at the agency, deliberately misled anyone in Congress about any aspect of the tragedy in Benghazi.” But some, including Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), aren’t so sure.

Westmoreland is a member of HPSCI and, like others on the committee, posed some tough questions to Morell about the talking points, which, he notes, gave the impression that the attack was a protest. The Georgia Republican, however, wasn’t satisfied with the answers, and he’s moving forward

United Liberty spoke with Westmoreland on Thursday about the HPSCI hearing with Morell. He explained why he has doubts about the former CIA official’s testimony and how he and others House Republicans moving forward to examine testimony and interviews of witnesses in their search for answers. (You can read our story on that here.)

House Intel chair and NSA enabler will not seek reelection

Mike Rogers

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) announced Friday morning that he would not seek reelection in the 2014 midterms. He has served seven terms in the House since 2001, after serving in the Army and then FBI in the 80s and 90s. He has been chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in the House since Republicans took back that chamber in the 2010 elections.

Rogers is considered by most to be a reasonably reliable conservative representing a red, but not deep red, district. He has received the following lifetime ratings from various conservative and media organizations:

NSA can record every phone call in a foreign country

The NSA spying controversy has found its way back in the news after a brief respite due to the foreign policy crisis with Russia and coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.

The latest revelation, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, is just as concerning as previous ones. The Washington Post reports that the NSA has developed a program, with no approval from Congress, that has the ability to record and store every single phone call made in an unnamed foreign country:

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.

Jon Stewart rips Dianne Feinstein’s hypocrisy

Jon Stewart on Dianne Feinstein

Jon Stewart is unmoved by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) allegations that the CIA monitored Senate Intelligence Committee staffers and destroyed evidence related to an investigation into the agency’s Bush-era torture program.

In a six-plus minute segment last night, The Daily Show host heckled Feinstein, highlighting the hypocrisy of her complaints about the agency’s spying on Congress — which, she says, violates the Fourth Amendment and an executive order prohibiting domestic surveillance — when she’s been a hardcore defender of the NSA programs that, you know, do the exact same things.

“I’m gonna tell you something, so listen very closely. You can violate the Fourth Amendment. You can violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But you do not want to f**k with Executive Order 12333,” said Stewart, noting that the Reagan-era policy explicitly prohibits intelligence agencies from domestic surveillance.

“What is incredible about these accusations is, they are not coming from Senator Ron ‘privacy is important’ Wyden or Senator Rand ‘Don’t kill me with a flying robot’ Paul. They are coming from Dianne ‘so the NSA is looking at your data’ Feinstein,” said Stewart, before going to a clip of the Senate Intelligence Committee chair defending the legality of the domestic surveillance programs.

“See, she doesn’t mind if our security apparatus might be looking at your stuff, because your stuff is sh*t. But her sh*t is stuff,” he added, paying homage to the late stand-up comedian George Carlin.

Today in Liberty: Lois Lerner to appear before committee, Alan Grayson accused of domestic battery

“In government, the scum rises to the top.” — F.A. Hayek

— Disgraced IRS official to appear before Oversight committee: Lois Lerner, the ex-IRS official at the center of the agency’s targeting of conservative groups, will appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee this morning at 9:30. Though Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said Lerner would testify, her lawyer has denied that claim. You can livestream the hearing here. Should be fun.

Majority disapproves of NSA surveillance, public pans Obama’s “reforms”


President Barack Obama’s big speech on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic surveillance programs fell flat with Americans, according to a new USA Today/Pew Research poll.

The poll, which was released yesterday afternoon, found that 53% of Americans disapprove of the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone and Internet records, up from 44% in July, a month after the surveillance programs were revealed to the public. Just 40% approve of the NSA programs, down from 50% last summer.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Republicans and 57% of independents disapprove of the NSA programs, while 37% and 38% approve.

The divide among Democrats isn’t nearly as wide. The poll found that 48% of those from President Obama’s party disapprove of the NSA programs. Forty-six percent (46%), however, approve.

On Friday, President Obama unveiled a series of so-called “reforms” to the NSA phone metadata program. He pledged a “new approach” to intelligence-gathering by taking the program out of the hands of the NSA, though he will not end the bulk collection of metadata.

When it comes to these purported reforms, only 23% of Americans said that the changes will increase protections on people’s privacy, while an eye-popping of 73% of Americans don’t believe the changes will make a difference.

Seventy percent (70%) of Americans said that they don’t believe that the should have to sacrifice their privacy to be safe from the threat of terrorism. Just 26% are willing to trade essential liberty for security.

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