National Security

House passes NDAA, White House backs off veto threats

[UPDATE - 7:23pm] The United States Senate passed the NDAA this evening by a vote of 86 to 13. It will now head to President Obama’s desk for approval.

As noted yesterday, House and Senate conferees were moving the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) forward to the final action in both chambers with compromise legislation that kept in controversial language that would allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens and legal residents of the United States.

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives passed the NDAA overwhelmingly last night by a vote of 283 to 136. You can see how your representative and the members of your state’s delegation voted here. It now heads to the Senate for final passage.

For those of you that are just now catching up on this, the House basically voted last night to suspend the right to due process, the right to a trial by a jury of an accuser’s peers, and the right to habeas corpus. And now that the so-called “war on terror” has been expanded to include not only al-Qaeda but also the Taliban and other “associated forces.” Given the war on terrorism has become an open-ended war with civil liberties being offered by Congress on the alter of the “national security,” this provision will be no doubt be abused; if not by this administration than the next.

It was also noted that the White House asked for the language, at least according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). So it should come as no surprise that the White House has backed off veto threats of the NDAA:

NDAA: Cracking Freedom’s Foundation

This evening, I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives against Section 1021 — the indefinite detention language — of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed this evening. You can read my comments on this provision below the video:

Mr. Speaker,

I rise in opposition to Section 1021 of the underlying Conference Report (H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act).

This section specifically affirms that the President has the authority to deny due process to any American it charges with “substantially supporting al Qaeda, the Taliban or any ‘associated forces’” – whatever that means.

Would “substantial support” of an “associated force,” mean linking a web-site to a web-site that links to a web-site affiliated with al-Qaeda? We don’t know. The question is, “do we really want to find out?”

We’re told not to worry – that the bill explicitly states that nothing in it shall alter existing law.

Possibly the Most Bizarre Political Ad This Season

See Video

Definitely creative, but also… well, a bit creepy, to be honest.

The latest attack ad on McCain by MoveOn.org features a talking moose waxing eloquent on Sarah Palin’s lack of national secuity experience.

Sony’s Fake (Maybe) Hack and Real National Security

The Interview

In attempting to write a humorous, post-holiday, light-hearted few words about the silliness of “The Interview” being offensive to the North Korean dictatortots, the usual poking around occurred to see what other, more engaged writers on the issue had to say. Oddly, what appeared at first blush to be a minor flap over a (probably) mediocre film (disclosure: haven’t seen it, likely won’t, until boredom and/or curiosity wins) took on more significance when it became clear that there is some debate as to whether or not the North Koreans actually hacked Sony — exposing embarassing emails — to lob threats in retaliation for the film’s release.

As most people know, that led to a canceling of the release and a subsequent release online in a patriotic stand to show those pesky tyrants we Americans do not bow to threats and intimidation.

But now — and forgive me for being slow on the uptake but I’ve been pleasantly family immersed — there’s some doubt as to whether the North Koreans hacked Sony at all (they’ve claimed they never did).

It’s been a week since the U.S. government blamed North Korea for the cyber-attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment — and many security experts still aren’t convinced Kim Jong-un is the culprit.

The FBI’s announcement, rather than settling the debate, has only fueled widespread speculation over the source of the attack.

Skeptics claim the evidence the FBI cited is flimsy and inconclusive. They question whether Pyongyang really had the motive, or the ability, to scramble Sony’s systems.

And they’re pushing a range of alternative theories.

Wanted: Average Joe to drive in Obama’s Presidential Motorcade

Obama Motorcade

Apparently, all it takes to be a volunteer driver in the presidential motorcade is a driver’s license, a clean record, and a friend in the White House, according to the New York Times.

Michael Schmidt writes (emphasis added):

At the front of the [Presidential Motorcade] were bulletproof black sport utility vehicles and limousines driven by Secret Service agents who had spent hundreds of hours learning how to maneuver at high speeds.

Bringing up the rear were police cars with their lights flashing and a Secret Service ambulance that follows the president wherever he travels.

And in between were several vans filled with White House staff members and journalists, being piloted by volunteers like Natalie Tyson, a 24-year-old Bay Area graduate student wearing fluorescent orange sunglasses.

“Wow,” she exclaimed as she hit the gas and the van lurched within a few feet of the one in front of it. Then she slammed on the brake. Then she hit the gas again.

“Sorry about that,” she said.

She returned her hands to the textbook 2-and-10 positions on the steering wheel.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t think the 5 Taliban Barack Obama released from Guantanamo are a threat

Hillary Clinton

“What difference, at this point, does it make?” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now famously exclaimed during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Benghazi. As it turns out, that seems to be her attitude toward the release of 5 Taliban fighters in exchange for Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, as well.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today,” Clinton, who is promoting her new book “Hard Choices,” responded to a question about whether the release of 5 Taliban fighters held at Guantanamo Bay were a threat to U.S. national security. Her response?

These five guys are not a threat to the
United States
. They are a threat to the safety
and security of Afghanistan.”

Clinton shrugged off reasons why Sgt. Bergdahl may have fallen into enemy hands in the first place. Since the transfer, questions have arisen about whether Bergdahl abandoned his post willingly. Those who served with him have not been altogether forgiving of his disappearance and capture.

But Clinton seemed to trivialize his disappearance. “We want to get an American home, whether they fell off the ship because they were drunk or they were pushed or they jumped,” she said. “We try to rescue everybody.”

Check out the video:

Abolish the TSA: Half of Americans agree security theater isn’t keeping us safe

TSA Security Pose

“Is this the pose of a free man?” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul asks, hands raised above his head. He’s mocking the Transportation Security Administration’s security pose.

Dylan Matthews over at Vox makes a timely case about abolishing the TSA’s security theater, which delays and degrades millions of traveling Americans annually:

Happy Memorial Day! This weekend is one of the year’s busiest for air travelers, with the AAA forecasting that 2.6 million people will travel by plane sometime between Thursday and Monday, up from 2.4 million last year.

That means 2.6 million people will be reminded yet again of the unremitting awfulness of the TSA, which has been subjecting fliers to friskinginvasive body scans, (alleged) racial profiling, needless checking of liquids and nail clippers, and various other indignities for nearly thirteen years now.

Uh oh: Scalia hints he’d back NSA domestic surveillance

Antonin Scalia

Though cases dealing with the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs are still a long way from going to the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia may have already tipped his hand on how he may vote, and it’s not good news for privacy advocates:

While suggesting that the high court will take up NSA surveillance, Scalia expressed his opinion that judges should not be deciding matters of national security.

“The Supreme Court doesn’t know diddly about the nature and extent of the threat,” Scalia said. Later on, he added, “It’s truly stupid that my court is going to be the last word on it.”

Still, he hinted he would rule that NSA surveillance does not violate the Constitution if and when the issue comes before the Supreme Court. Although one judge has ruled the spying violates the Fourth Amendment, Scalia may disagree based on his strict interpretation of the Constitution.

The comments came on Friday at an event sponsored by the Brooklyn School of Law. The discussion was led by Judge Andrew Napolitano, a legal commentator for Fox News and vocal opponent of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs. Scalia made similar comments in September.

NY Times reporter calls Obama administration the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation

Recent reports from the Associated Press and Cause of Action have explained in great detail that President Barack Obama hasn’t come close to living up to promises of greater transparency, a result of the White House’s effort to control information requested by the press that could prove to be a political headache or embarrassing.

The administration’s obsession of controlling of information isn’t limited to what documents are released. It also extends to how the administration tries to control the press, as James Risen, a reporter for The New York Times, recently explained at a conference (emphasis added):

New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order that he testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, opened the conference earlier by saying the Obama administration is “the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.” The administration wants to “narrow the field of national security reporting,” Risen said, to “create a path for accepted reporting.” Anyone journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, “will be punished.”

The administration’s aggressive prosecutions have created “a de facto Official Secrets Act,” Risen said, and the media has been “too timid” in responding.

Obama would’ve been better off not giving the Syria speech

Despite taking his case for intervention in Syria directly to the American people on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama has been unable to sway their elected representatives in Washington. Votes continue to pile up against a potential authorization of force should a diplomatic solution fail, largely because of the confused, contradictory case the White House continues to present.

President Obama insisted that intervention against Syria was in our nation interest, even though he once again said that Bashar al-Assad’s regime didn’t represent a threat to the United States. He all but said that Assad’s government used chemical weapons against its own people, even though the Obama Administration can’t prove who ordered the attack.

And while he claimed that strikes would be a deterrent against future use of chemical weapons, President Obama didn’t present any plan for what happens should the situation in Syria escalate. The speech was basically a glorified summary of everything that has been said since the end of August, with the added detail that there may now be a diplomatic solution.


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