Much of the initial coverage of the leaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) online snooping focused on a content gathering program called PRISM. But Andrea Peterson noted at ThinkProgress (6/10) that buried in the Washington Post’s original coverage were a few tantalizing details about another program code-named BLARNEY that bears a striking resemblance to the one alleged in a prominent court case over the existence of a dragnet online surveillance program.
The details of the BLARNEY program revealed so far appear to closely match the testimony and documents of former AT&T employee and whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein worked at AT&T for 22 years, retiring in 2004. During that time, he has testified he witnessed the installation of a fiber-optic splitting device in the San Francisco office where he worked, with a copy of all data being diverted to a room controlled by the NSA. In that room was “powerful computer equipment connecting to separate networks” and with the capability to “analyze communications at high speed.” As part of his testimony, he also provided AT&T documents that included diagrams of the splitter technology used.
In a conversation with ThinkProgress, Cindy Cohn, Legal Director with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which is litigating the Jewel v. NSA case, agreed BLARNEY “appears to be what we’ve been saying, and what Mark Klein’s evidence shows.”
According the Washington Post, BLARNEY gathers up metadata from choke points along the backbone of the Internet as part of “an ongoing collection program that leverages IC [intelligence community] and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.” A slide later revealed by the Guardian lists the program as an upstream option for data collection, which relies on sucking up information “on fiber cables and infrastructure as it flows past.” From those descriptions, it sounds somewhat analogous to an internet version of the broad telephone metadata collection authorized in the Verizon order revealed last week, which some electronic privacy advocates believes oversteps the authority of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts.
Klein’s testimony and documents form the basis of the ongoing Jewel v. NSA court case originally filed in 2008, which alleges “an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (the ‘N.S.A.’) and other defendants in concert with major telecommunications companies.” A similar case against the telecommunications company, Hepting v. AT&T, was dismissed following the passage of retroactive immunity for telecom companies in the 2008 renewal of the FISA.
Three former NSA intelligence analysts, William E. Binney, Thomas A. Drake and J. Kirk Wiebe have also backed the Jewel case, saying the NSA either has, or is in the process of obtaining, the ability to seize and store most electronic communications passing through its US intercept centers like “secret room” described by Klein.
The Obama administration moved to dismiss the Jewel case in 2009, invoking the “state secrets” privilege and saying that it was immune from the suit. It was instead dismissed on standing grounds, but the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it could proceed to district court in December 2011. In September 2012 the government again renewed it’s state secret argument. On 6/7 the government responded to the NSA leaks by requesting delay on any decisions on pending motions until it can file a new status report taking newly public information into account. (Andrea Peterson, ThinkProgress.org)
NEVER MESS WITH YOUR I.T. GUY. While earlier reports by the Washington Post claimed that the NSA leaks came from a “career intelligence officer,” and Edward Snowden, in publicly acknowledging that he was the source, said he was “a spy for almost all of my adult life,” Andrea Peterson also noted at ThinkProgress.org (6/10), “his background suggests he wasn’t an agent so much as systems admin or engineer for most of it. He reportedly attended a Maryland community college to get enough credits for a high school diploma and was studying computing, but never completed the course work and later received a GED. He then enlisted in the Army in 2003 and become a security guard at a covert NSA facility at the University of Maryland. From there he leveraged his computer skills to get a job doing IT security with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), leaving in 2009 to become a private contractor serving at a variety of NSA locations — That’s the role where he became ‘hardened’ as he watched President Obama advance ‘the very policies’ he thought would be reined in.”
As an IT guy rather than, say an intelligence officer, Peterson noted, “Snowden’s divorce from the actual context of the policies has led to some disconnects between initial coverage of the leaks and what appears to be the actual workings of the programs they describe. For example, while it was first claimed that PRISM allowed ‘direct access’ to the servers of leading tech companies, later clarifications from the Director of National Intelligence suggest it was a more restricted computer interface with a legal functionality to request content data. But it’s easy to see the IT guy reading a slide that says ‘collection directly from the servers’ of tech companies and interpret that as ‘direct access to servers,’ especially if he was never briefed on the exact functionality.
“However, the larger takeaway here is that as all sectors of our society have become more reliant on computer networks, system admins and IT professionals at large generally have much broader access to the information been carried across those networks than even the people directly responsible for the content flowing through the system. It’s certainly scary that the NSA wasn’t more careful about their custodial and auditing systems. But at its heart it looks like the reason the NSA documents are coming out now is the same reason you don’t want to look at porn at work: Your IT team sees all.”
CARLYLE GROUP PROFITS FROM BOOZ ALLEN. How lucrative is government contracting? The Carlyle Group in 2008 paid $2.54 bln to buy a majority stake in Booz Allen Hamilton’s government consulting business, the Washington Post reported (6/10). Carlyle owns two-thirds of Booz Allen, and collected nearly $550 mln in dividends in 2009.
Last year, Booz Allen issued a special shareholder dividend of $765 mln, most of which went to Carlyle investors, the Post reported. Booz Allen earned $219 mln in the year ending 3/31, on revenues of $5.9 bln, with 98% of that revenue coming from US government contracts, AP reported. In 2008, the year Carlyle bought the business, it made $18 mln in profits on $3.6 bln in revenues, Forbes.com reported.
As federal budget cuts have taken a toll on its business, Booz Allen has pursued work, including cybersecurity jobs, overseas, opening an office in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the Post reported.
MOST AMERICANS SUPPORT PHONE TRACKING. A majority of Americans responding to a poll by Pew Research Center and the Washington Post (6/10) supported the National Security Agency’s program tracking phone calls of millions of Americans, as 56% said it is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism, while 41% said it was unacceptable.
The survey, conducted 6/6-9, found that 62% of respondents said it was more important for the government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy. Only 34% of those polled said it is more important for the government not to intrude on personal privacy.
Perry Stein noted at TalkingPointsMemo (6/10) that a January 2006 Washington Post/ABC poll — which was released in the wake of President George W. Bush’s “terrorist surveillance program” — found that 51% of Americans believed it was appropriate for the NSA to investigate suspected terrorists by “secretly listening in on telephone calls and reading emails between some people in the United States and other countries, without first getting court approval to do so.”
The polls show there is some partisan shifts on the issue. In 2006, 75% of Republicans and 37% of Dems thought it was acceptable to monitor phone records in the name of national security. Today, 52% of Repubs and 64% of Dems find it acceptable.
The new poll found the public is more divided about whether the government should be tracking emails. Only 45% of Americans told Pew pollsters they are OK with the NSA monitoring their emails, while 47% said the government should not track emails at all.
The survey polled 1,004 adults in the US, about half on landlines and half on cell phones. The poll has a 3.7% margin of error.
FELON THANKS NRA FOR KEEPING GUNS ACCESSIBLE. Gary W. Bornman, a felon being held in a federal “Supermax” prison in Colorado, who has racked up 81 convictions over his life, penned an op-ed (6/6) thanking the National Rifle Association for killing a bipartisan gun bill to expand background checks earlier this year. Bornman, who is serving a 20-year sentence for bank robbery, wrote to the Hartford Courant explaining how easy it would be for him to get a gun even though he is legally banned from buying one:
“As a lifelong career criminal, although I no longer enjoy the right to keep and bear arms, I’d like to take a moment to express my appreciation to the National Rifle Association for nonetheless protecting my ability to easily obtain them through its opposition to universal background checks.
“Upon release in a few years from my current federal sentence on bank robbery and weapons charges, I fully anticipate being able to stop at a gun show on my way home to Connecticut — where new laws have made it nearly impossible for a felon to readily purchase guns or ammunition — in order to buy some with which to resume my criminal activities.
“And so, a heartfelt thank you to the NRA and all those members of Congress voting with them. I, along with tens of thousands of other criminals, couldn’t do what we do without you.”
Aviva Shen noted at ThinkProgress.org (6/10) that Bornman could not purchase a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer without a background check, but he could easily avoid a background check by purchasing a gun through a private seller or online. As a result, many criminals, domestic violence offenders and mentally ill people who are technically barred from buying or owning guns are able to get them without detection.
SENATE APPROVES FARM BILL THAT CUTS FOOD STAMPS. The Senate passed a farm bill (6/10) that would cut food assistance for the poor by $400 mln a year. And of course that’s the liberal version.
While the Senate bill would cut food stamps (now officially known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) by half a percent, the House version, which was approved by the House Agriculture Committee in May, would cut the program by $2 bln a year, or a little more than 3%, and it would make it more difficult for some people to qualify, the Associated Press reported. House Speaker John Boehner signaled support for the House bill’s level of food stamp cuts. Some Republicans are expected to offer amendments to expand the cuts.
Farm-state senators fended off efforts to cut sugar, tobacco and other farm price supports, but senators seeking to pare back subsidies did win one victory, with an amendment to reduce the government’s share of crop insurance premiums for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000. Currently, the government pays for an average of 62% of crop insurance premiums and also subsidizes the companies that sell the insurance.
Dairy programs could also be contentious, as both the Senate and House bills would overhaul dairy policy by creating a new insurance program for dairy producers, eliminating other dairy subsidies and price supports. It also includes a controversial market stabilization program that could dictate production cuts when oversupply drives down prices. Boehner last year called the new stabilization program “Soviet-style.”
Democratic senators who supported the cuts in food assistance to the poor included Baucus (MT), Bennet (CO), Cardin (MD), Carper (DE), Coons (DE), Donnelly (IN), Durbin (IL), Feinstein (CA), Franken (MN), Hagan (NC), Harkin (IA), Heinrich (NM), Heitkamp (ND), Johnson (SD), Kaine (VA), Klobuchar (MN), Landrieu (LA), Manchin (WV), McCaskill (MO), Mikulski (MD), Nelson (FL), Pryor (AR), Rockefeller (WV), Shaheen (NH), Stabenow (MI), Tester (MT), Mark Udall (CO) and Warner (VA). If any of them are your senators, call their office at 202-224-3121 and ask them at least to hold the line against any further cuts in food stamps.
The Senate by a 27-71 vote rejected an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would have allowed states to require genetically modified foods to have special labels. “When the state of Vermont, and other states go forward in passing legislation to label genetically modified food, they have been threatened by Monsanto and other large biotech companies with costly lawsuits,” Sanders said on the Senate floor. Those voting in favor of Sanders’ amendment were Begich (D-AK), Bennet (D-CO), Blumenthal (D-CT), Boxer (D-CA), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Feinstein (D-CA), Heinrich (D-NM), Hirono (D-HI), King (I-ME), Leahy (D-VT), Manchin (D-WV), Merkley (D-OR), Mikulski (D-MD), Murkowski (R-AK), Murphy (D-CT), Murray (D-WA) Reed (D-RI), Reid (D-NV), Rockefeller (D-WV), Sanders (I-VT), Schatz (D-HI), Schumer (D-NY), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-NM), Whitehouse (D-RI), Wyden (D-OR).
ILLINOIS, DELAWARE REJECT ‘CITIZENS UNITED’. The Illinois Legislature passed a resolution (5/31) calling for an amendment to the US Constitution overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that granted corporations the right to engage in political campaigns. The bipartisan vote followed referenda across the state supported by three-quarters of Illinois voters, US Public Interest Research Group reported (6/11).
Less than two weeks after Illinois’ action, a bipartisan majority in both chambers of Delaware’s General Assembly signed a letter calling for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment reversing Citizens United.
Illinois and Delaware became the 14th and 15th states in calling for an amendment to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to equate money as speech and corporations as people. Other states that have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United are Maine, West Virginia, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Maryland, Vermont, New Mexico and Hawaii, as well as Washington, D.C. Nearly 500 municipalities have called for similar amendments.
For more on amending the Constitution, see MoveToAmend.org.
AUSTERIANS FAIL TO STOP JOB GROWTH. President Obama continued his streak of being the worst socialist ever, as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 32nd consecutive month of private job gains, with 178,000 in May (6/7), even as austerians who insist that cutting government spending will result in an improved economy forced a net reduction of 3,000 government jobs in an attempt to limit the economic recovery, leaving a total net job gain of 175,000 for the month. The official unemployment rate rose 0.1%, to 7.6%, as more unemployed Americans started looking for jobs again while the underemployment rate, which includes part-time workers who want full-time work, dropped a click to 13.8%.
Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com (6/7) that if you add up the 11.8 mln officially unemployed (known at the BLS as U3), the 7.9 mln underemployed (U6) and the 6.4 mln not in the labor force but who want a job and the total is 26.1 mln unemployed and underemployed Americans.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America (6/10) that increasing jobs “really is our number one priority.” As if to prove his point, Jed Lewison noted at DailyKos.com (6/11), House Republicans that same day announced they would vote the following week on a bill banning abortions across the country after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
MSNBC RATINGS DOWN WITH CHRIS HAYES. When MSNBC replaced liberal populist Ed Schultz with progressive wonk Chris Hayes in the 7 p.m. Central time slot, the move was designed to attract younger viewers, but it has not worked out well for the cable channel. “All In with Chris Hayes” in April saw an 18% drop in total viewers compared with the same time the year before and May was even worse, resulting in MSNBC recording the worst 7 p.m. ratings since 2006. Jordan Charlton of Mediaite noted (5/30) that Schultz was delivering the goods while occupying the anchor chair for a year and a half. For the third quarter of 2012, Schultz fell slightly short of a million viewers per night, was regularly beating the competition on CNN and even occasionally beat Rachel Maddow and the rest of his MSNBC colleagues in primetime. “Maybe more important than ratings, Schultz became a stabilizing figure for the vital  pm slot in the wake of network nightmare Keith Olbermann‘s sudden departure and the failed attempt to morph Lawrence O’Donnell into a bombastic bomb thrower,” Charlton wrote. “... Schultz’s fiery barn-burning style helped MSNBC find its brand as the cable voice for the progressive movement, more specifically as the champions for a middle class under attack. Just as important as his own show, Schultz was serving as a strong lead-in to the aforementioned Maddow, as she continued topping the ratings chart for MSNBC while also occasionally beating Fox News and CNN in the all important 25-54 demo.”
Charlton concluded that “what has worked as the holy grail of cable news for over a decade are passionate, bombastic hosts serving up political red meat to their audience that satisfies and substantiates their already established political views.”
In mid-May, MSNBC returned Schultz to an hourly show at 4 pm Central time on Saturdays and Sunday afternoons, where the audience is much smaller.
IMMIGRATION REFORM PROCEEDS IN SENATE. The immigration reform bill passed its first hurdle as the Senate voted 82-15 to let the bill proceed to a debate (6/11), but it now heads for a gauntlet of amendments. Republicans who voted to kill the bill outright were Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John Boozman (Ark.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Mike Lee (Utah), James Risch (Idaho), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), David Vitter (La.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Mike Crapo (Idaho) and Pat Roberts (Kan.). Another three who were absent were Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Maine), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is a member of the “gang of eight” that drafted the legislation.
The Senate “gang of eight” bill would provide a path to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 mln undocumented immigrants currently in the US, with proposals such as expanding the number of green cards tied to improving border enforcement. The legislation would also rework the legal immigration system and increase measures to police unauthorized immigration within the country. President Barack Obama threw his weight behind the bill in a speech at the White House, calling the legislation the best chance Congress has to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
But the bill’s future in the Senate is still uncertain, as the amended version will still need 60 votes to get to final passage, and many of the 30 Republicans who voted to let the bill get to the floor — including gang of eight member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — warned that they would not support the measure unless its border security language was strengthened.
Republicans are pushing an amendment by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would delay permanent legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrations until the US has 100% monitoring capability and a 90% apprehension rate of illegal entrants along the southern border. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that amendment would be a “poison pill” that could sink the entire bill.
Only one Republican outside the gang of eight, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), has announced she will back the bill.
Even if the bill gets out of the Senate, it’s future is uncertain in the House, where there is strong opposition among the the tea-party bloc. House Speaker John Boehner predicted that immigration reform would become law by year’s end, but he also called for stronger border security.
Two of the Senate’s GOP “gang of eight” members — Rubio and Jeff Flake of Arizona — met with more than 100 Republican members of the conservative Republican Study Committee (6/5), but the meeting only seemed to harden conservative opposition, Deirdre Walsh of CNN reported (6/10). Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) summed up the reaction of many House GOP members who attended the session, telling CNN those senators explaining the merits of their plan “were doing their best to put lipstick on a pig.”
A bipartisan House immigration group reportedly hit a roadblock over the GOP insistence that legalized workers have no access to government-sponsored health care during their 15-year pathway to citizenship, despite paying taxes during that time, ABC News reported (6/5). Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a member of the House “gang of eight,” said he doesn’t expect the House to pass the Senate bill, regardless of whether additional border security measures are added, HuffingtonPost reported (6/5).
OKLAHOMA CONGRESSMAN DEMANDS APOLOGY FOR CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH. Just as the extreme weather season kicks off, freshman Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) demanded that President Obama apologize to Oklahoma for allocating funding to climate change research. Bridenstine, a climate-change denier who serves on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, plans to introduce a bill that defunds climate-change research.
“Even climate-change alarmists admit the number of hurricanes hitting the US and the number of tornado touchdowns have been on a slow decline for over 100 years,” Bridenstine said on the House floor (6/11), according to RawStory.com. “But here is what we absolutely know. We know that Oklahoma will have tornadoes when the cold jet stream meets the warm Gulf air, and we also know that this President spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning. For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept the President’s apology and I intend to submit legislation to fix this.”
Rebecca Leber noted at ThinkProgress.org (6/12) that the director of the National Climatic Data Center, Tom Karl, said about hurricanes, tornadoes, and climate change in 2011: “What we can say with confidence is that heavy and extreme precipitation events often associated with thunderstorms and convection are increasing and have been linked to human-induced changes in atmospheric composition.” Meanwhile, climate scientists are in near universal agreement that climate change is driven by human activity.
GRAYSON PASSES CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY AMENDMENTS. In early June, US Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) tacked a “corporate death penalty” provision onto two House-approved federal spending bills that would withhold government funds from contractors who break the law, Alexander Reed Kelly noted at Truthdig.com (6/8).
“These amendments say that government contractors who lie, cheat, and steal will now get the death penalty,” Grayson wrote in an email to his supporters. “If you cheat the taxpayer, you’re toast. If you evade Federal taxes, it’s all over. If you rig bids or forge documents, goodbye to you. No more government contracts. And for government contractors, cutting off government money is a death sentence.”
Of course, the amendments will be meaningful only if the Justice Department is willing to prosecute corporations that break the rules of their contract, and the public can’t be sure of that. Still, the amendments look set to enter the books. If they do, a legal justification would exist for prosecuting any business that breaks the rules laid down in those bills.
GOP ‘WUNDERKIND’ DRIVES WISCONSIN INTO GROUND. Latest data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia paints a poor picture for one of the GOP’s top 2016 presidential pretenders, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. “Not only is Wisconsin one of just five states whose economy is expected to contract over the next six months, but it’s 49th out of 50. Only Wyoming clocks in worse. (What, is Wyoming’s oil and gas boom running out of steam?),” Markos Moulitsas noted at DailyKos.com (6/12).
Wisconsin ranks 44th in private-sector job growth and 5th-worst in wage erosion. “For a governor who made much of stealing Illinois jobs after their southern neighbor raised taxes, it is Illinois that is far outpacing it economically,” Moulitsas noted. “In fact, Illinois is projected to be in the top 10 over the next six months. Oops.”
As consolation, Walker isn’t alone. Every state with a projected economic contraction is run by a fellow Republican. Indeed, every single one of the bottom 10 is GOP-governed, Moulitsas noted.
SUPREME COURT ENFORCES EX POST FACTO BAN — BARELY. The US Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote (6/10), was able to decipher the statement in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution that “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” The majority, with Justice Kennedy supplying the deciding vote, reversed the sentence of a man who was sentenced in March 2010 to a higher sentence under guidelines that were in effect at the time of his sentencing, rather than the guidelines that were in effect at the time he committed bank fraud in 1999 and 2000. The difference could save Marvin Peugh 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 years of prison time.
From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2013
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