Dear Mr. President,
What it all boils down to is the argument that, unless you do something to punish Assad, Western credibility is threatened, i.e., the emperor has no clothes! But as the lead editorial in today’s NYT (“Absent on Syria”) puts it, “As President Obama moves toward unilateral military action in response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria…he is doing so without legal justification and without the backing of …Congress and the United Nations Security Council.” A front page story, “Experts Fear U.S. Plan to Strike Syria Overlooks Risks” lays out a number of things that could go wrong including the possibility that it might broaden the regional conflict or even “open the door to a takeover by rebels linked to Al Qaeda.” Whoops! You got no legitimacy for doing anything. You got no backing except for your French poodle Hollande, and you got no chance of changing anything in the Syrian civil war except to cause more misery. Unleashing 216 cruise missiles (a 6th destroyer is now on station in the eastern Mediterranean) is not going to punish Assad. It’ll kill a lot of people, blow up a lot of stuff, but it won’t do a thing to Assad or his military. What would do a whole lot more good is to stop arming both sides. Why not try diplomacy for a change instead of cruise missiles? Put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states to stop arming the rebels and on Iran and Russia to stop arming Assad. That’s the way to gain credibility, not blowing shit up and killing people. You showed you could pressure the world in your misguided effort to snag Snowden, why not give it a shot in an effort at peace? That’s what a real Nobel Peace Prize winner would do. And here’s something else to ponder: “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Your words to the Boston Globe in 2007 before you were elected president and before you were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Stop the presses! This just in. You decided to launch military strikes against Syria but want Congress to authorize them. You suddenly realized that when you yelled Charge! nobody was following you? And in response to your turnaround, House leaders say, “We’re on vacation. We’ll be back September 9.” Sort of like a cooling off period, right? So what happens if Congress says, No? I know, it’s unlikely these bozos will do the right thing, but what if?
Friday, August 30, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
You must be feeling like Zeus sitting up on Mount Olympus hurling thunderbolts right now, showing the world who’s got the biggest cojones, a demigod on steroids. Wow! This is way better than Kill List Tuesday! All your assets in place, 180 cruise missiles locked and loaded, ready to go. You’re going to show that sonofabitch Assad who’s boss. You told him a year ago not to do it and he did it. How dare he disobey. Never mind there’s no link from the chemical attack to him; never mind the evidence is thin, just one intercepted phone call between Syrian commanders who appear to have miscalculated, although you dismiss the miscalculation part. Never mind that the UN chemical weapons team hasn’t even said what the stuff was. Never mind that there’s some possibility it might have been the opposition, not the military. You got the Syrians—opposition and pro-government, military and civilians alike, running for cover. You got Ban Ki-moon pleading not to do it. You got Congress saying, Hey, wait a minute, let us play in the sandbox, too. But you got nobody except France and Turkey for a coalition of the willing. Never mind. You got all those thunderbolts, so what the hell, why not, right? Never mind the law of unintended consequences. Never mind the niceties of law, treaties, the Constitution. Might makes right, right? You even admit a military strike won’t really have any effect except to redraw that line in the sand you drew a year ago. That sounds like petulance to me, Mr. President, not to mention arrogant and delusional. What I see here is a replay of 2003 writ small. There’s the supposed intelligence, the WMDs, the UN inspectors’ work unfinished and ignored, the Secretary of State telling us the evidence is solid and the legal justification clear—both “evidence” and “legal justification” too secret to reveal—and the Secretary of Defense saying, We’re ready, boss, the Navy waiting for orders to push the button, and the Syrians, civilians, opposition fighters, soldiers, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons who’ve already suffered 2 years of carnage, waiting for more destruction to rain down on them from Amerika. Pretty heady stuff, right, Mr. President? But this is not right and this is not just. It’s no different than the reckless lawlessness and hubris of your predecessor; what you railed against before you ascended the throne. Peace and the brotherhood of man, Martin Luther King’s vision and hope for the future, is still nothing but a dream.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
While Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was both visionary and inspirational, his anti-war speech, “A Time to Break Silence,” was a call for a revolutionary shift in values “from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society,” Until we do that, he said, “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” In that speech, he clearly revealed the falseness of war, the lies that are its foundation, the myths that glamorize and promote it, and the hypocrisy of politicians who decry aggression (or terrorism) and promise peace and security while dropping bombs on a country 8,000 miles away. (Vietnam then, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and, perhaps, Syria today.) He reveals the ugly truth behind the war: “…none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long [our troops] must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese [or Iraqis or Afghanis or…] and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure while we create a hell for the poor.” Finally, one last quote: “There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.” The pursuit of peace, Mr. President, wisdom from a visionary giant who devoted his entire life to the pursuit of peace. who laid his body on line for justice, equality and a vision of the brotherhood of man. There is no justification for bombing Syria, Mr. President, no core interest for America, no imminent threat, and yet you are poised to strike. It is a direct violation of Article 51 of the UN Charter, a crime of aggression. Today, the British Parliament rejected military action in Syria. Only France and Turkey are willing partners in this, our latest misadventure. The Arab League, the UN, even NATO refuses to participate. And yet the news reports indicate you will probably make a decision to go it alone. “Go it alone.” The mark of an Imperial President who has lost touch with reality, with humanity, with his own soul. We have come a long way since Dr. King gave his “I have a Dream” speech. However, we have not budged an inch since he gave the “A Time to Break Silence” speech. The Nobel Peace Prize inspired him to work even harder for peace. He would, I think, be sadly disappointed in you, Mr. President. Mortified that his life’s work has come to this.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s electrifying “I Have a Dream” speech, there are many articles and analyses of its—and his—impact, but there’s another speech, “A Time to Break Silence” which is equally important and as relevant today as it was when he gave it on April 4, 1967. It was a powerful anti-Vietnam War speech, not appreciated by the Johnson Administration or any administration since. Anti-war sentiment is never popular with the power elite, for war is a path to power. I haven’t seen a single mention of the Break Silence speech and that’s a shame for there are important, indeed critical lessons we need to learn from it. Dr. King, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient, saw the connection between war and poverty, between war and injustice, war and the crushing of hope and aspiration at home and abroad. Although the speech is about Vietnam, it is also about Afghanistan today, the parallels strikingly similar. Near the end he says: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” We are approaching—maybe already in—that state of spiritual death as a nation and blindly headed deeper into it, for the drums of war beat once more for “intervention,” this time in Syria. It reminds me of the runup to the invasion of Iraq—the evidence of WMDs/the evidence of chemical weapons, the list of atrocities by Saddam Hussein/the list of atrocities by the Assad regime, the moral duty to rid the world of a tyrant, etc. No talk of cutting off arms to both sides in this horrendous slaughter or finding another path to peace. You make secret deals to arm the rebels—many, jihadists, terrorists and those we deem our enemies elsewhere—who are also guilty of atrocities. Outside Europe and Washington, there is little enthusiasm for military intervention but never mind, as reported in today’s NYT (“Arab League Rejects Attack Against Syria” p. A1), “…administration officials said they did not regard the lack of an imprimatur from the Security Council or the Arab League as insurmountable hurdles given the carnage last week.” And what of the carnage we cause if we bomb them? It’s a time to break silence, Mr. President, a time to speak out against the obscenity of war, a time to put aside the false myth that violence is a path to peace. You have yet another opportunity to be worthy of that Nobel Peace Prize. I urge you to show you deserved it.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
“…the people at the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that….we can prevent a terrorist attack.” Your words, August 9. But “Special Collection Service,” “Rampart-T,” “Magothy” and “Apalachee” gives the lie to your assurances. These programs, Der Spiegel reported today, have nothing to do with counterterrorism but are evidence the NSA is massively spying on the UN, the EU and heads of state—friend and foe alike—and it’s not like you didn’t know all along; you get this information in your daily briefings. (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/secret-nsa-documents-show-how-the-us-spies-on-europe-and-the-un-a-918625.html) The innocent routine won’t work anymore. You, the sincere liar and consummate con-man has been evident close up for years but now it’s clear to the rest of the world as well. Oh, how they wanted to believe you, like you, trust you. But truth is catching up to you no matter how brutally you try to suppress it. According to Spiegel, the NSA has bugged, copied hard drives and tapped into secure computer networks of EU embassies in Washington and New York, even has direct access to their VPN, the most secure type of private network there is. And not only the EU, but the Atomic Energy Commission, UN headquarters in New York and 80 embassies around the world. That approaches god-like omniscience, Mr. President, the ability to know everyone’s secrets. But it also violates the treaties, agreements and pacts we made with the UN, the EU and our allies. What does the White House have to say about these latest revelations? “…we gather intelligence abroad just like every other nation.” Well, not really. Not on this scale. If your administration spent a fraction of the energy on promoting peace and understanding as it spends on snooping and assassination, we’d be a lot more secure. Let’s understand why 9/11 happened, why there’s so much animosity toward us and what we can do to promote peace instead of war. The roots of 9/11 and Al Qaeda were never investigated or understood. Neither was the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, or your covert wars in Yemen and Pakistan. Our ship of state got hijacked by evildoers as a result of 9/11 just like the planes that flew into the twin towers and the Pentagon—by ideologues and fanatics—and nothing has changed in 12 years except we have entered a state of perpetual war and an enduring cycle of hatred, repression and violence, and that is the real tragedy of 9/11.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
To read the newspapers lately you’d never know there’s a war in Afghanistan; that we still have 60,000 troops there. Not one article in the NYT for weeks; only those little Names of the Dead boxes that appear occasionally, evidence that people are still fighting and dying there. Today a Polish soldier died; yesterday, 3 NATO troops were killed by a roadside bomb; Wednesday, the NYT listed First Lt. Tim Santos as the 2,246th American casualty of the Afghan war; but the only news is about our exit by the end of 2014, how the war is winding down, how many troops we’ll leave for “training and support.” The evidence of war appears in other ways however, like collateral damage, not from abroad but here on the home front. This week Pfc. Manning was sentenced to 35 years for exposing war crimes in Iraq, Sgt. Bales received a life sentence for killing 16 unarmed Afghan civilians and Maj. Hasan was found guilty of killing 13 and wounding 32 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. All 3 are as much victims of the war as if they were battlefield casualties. The war is coming home in more subtle and ominous ways too, ways that threaten both individual citizens and democracy itself: the morphing from a democracy to a security state. The line between military and civilian is blurred and the differences are hard to distinguish. Police forces across the land are up-armored with high tech weapons and military tactics, riot police and SWAT teams are indistinguishable from soldiers on a battlefield and there are so many overlapping and intertwined “security forces”—DHS, TSA, FBI, NSA, DEA, ATF, etc. that it’s impossible to tell one from the other. In NYC and other places it is now policy to “shoot-to-stop”—meaning kill—rather than disable and the tactics of Guantanamo have come to our prisons; in California it is now legal to force feed hunger-strikers. Technology that tracks terrorists is also used to spy on Americans, mock trials and secret laws are accepted as the new normal; the right to dissent is being systematically squelched, the right to assemble criminalized, the Constitution trampled, the government more opaque and the American people seem to accept all this with astounding passivity. There are a few pockets of resistance but they are isolated, ignored by the press, and it is almost too late, for the security forces are now so pervasive and powerful that any protest can be quickly suppressed. This is your legacy, Mr. President, the end of democracy.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Dear Senator Feinstein,
Your letter today defending the NSA and its surveillance programs is as unconvincing and wrong-headed as your letters of August 8 and 15 which also defended them. You repeat the claim that “these NSA programs are effective and have contributed to the disruption of more than 50 terrorist plots and arrests on charges of terrorism” in spite of the fact that this has been discredited repeatedly, most recently in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on July 31—the same day your op-ed appeared in the Washington Post defending the NSA and mongering fear about terrorists and how “New bombs and techniques are in the making” and we must stay on alert. Today’s NYT (“Top Secret Court Castigated NSA On Surveillance” p. A1) reports that former chief judge of the FISC, John Bates, ruled in 2011 that the NSA consistently and systematically collected and analyzed Americans’ communications without a warrant in violation of the Constitution and that there was “a pattern of misrepresentation by agency officials in submissions to the secret court.” The current chief judge recently said that the secret court is totally dependent on the information NSA gives it and is ill-equipped to provide adequate oversight. It’s clear also that Congress is not protecting We the People or the Constitution from assault by the intelligence community; indeed, both the House and Senate committee chairs are in lock-step with the agencies, their fiercest defenders. In your letter today: “Edward Snowden is not a whistleblower, and I stand by my previous comments that his actions have caused serious harm to our nation's counterterrorism and intelligence gathering efforts.” I maintain that Edward Snowden is far more concerned with democracy and the nation’s security than you or Rogers or any of the other destroyers of democracy. Our security will never be won at the point of a gun or a Hellfire missile or by Special Forces kicking down doors in the dead of night or drones circling villages in the mountains and valleys of Pakistan and Yemen and Afghanistan. Security will only come when our leaders ask, Why do they hate us? and go beyond the simpleton Bush response: Because they hate freedom. When we respect them and their culture, treat them as fellow human beings, when we stop invading and spreading violence and terror, when we stop despoiling their lands and stealing their resources, supporting and arming autocrats who repress them, only then will we be secure and live in peace.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Dear Mr. President,Back in the day, it was only totalitarian dictatorships that arrested people without cause and shut down newspapers. The U.S. and its allies, we were taught, permitted free speech, dissent and newspapers critical of their government. Those days seem far away, wrapped in a mist of idealistic mythology, for it turns out we and our allies are not that different from the old communist regimes of Eastern Europe or the banana republics of Latin America or the repressive totalitarianism of China and North Korea. We may be subtler but the intent and end result is much the same. It was revealed today in several articles in the Guardian, that our close partners, the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which is funded by, and takes orders from the NSA, showed up at Guardian office in London a few weeks after publishing the first reports from the Snowden files and demanded the files. They were stolen property, they claimed and the paper had no right to them. (Never mind that the files were taken from American intelligence data bases, not British.) The Guardian refused. GCHQ showed up a week after that and again demanded the files, claiming this time that the paper’s computer network could be hacked by Russian or Chinese intelligence to access valuable secrets. Again the Guardian refused. A week later they threatened to take the paper to court and freeze further reporting. After much back and forth, the Guardian agreed to destroy the hard drive and memory of the computer the files were stored on and on Saturday, July 20, 3 Guardian people used grinders and drills to demolish the MacBook Pro the files were stored on as 2 GCHQ people took notes and photographed the event. Not exactly sledgehammers and chainsaws, but this, after all, is the digital age. It made no difference that copies of the files are also kept in the U.S., Brazil and elsewhere, or that the reports will continue, it was, like the detention of David Miranda, an act of intimidation—not just to the Guardian but to all Western newspapers. The Guardian’s editor looks wistfully at the protection afforded journalists in America by the 1st Amendment, but after the recent federal appeals court decision that the 1st Amendment no longer applies to journalists, that seems in doubt. One by one the safeguards of democracy fall and we find ourselves in a strange new land. As Dorothy famously said to her dog after landing in Oz, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Monday, August 19, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
It’s been said that poets are the true revolutionaries and I suspect that’s because poets have the ability to pierce the veil of propaganda, bullshit and hypocrisy and speak the truth in powerful, stirring and memorable ways. Lorca was assassinated by the Spanish, Pasolini by the Italians, Roque Dalton by Salvadorians (possibly with the help of the CIA)…there are many, many others. Matiullah Turab is an Afghan ironworker by day who, by night writes “poetry as hard and piercing as the tools he uses by day.” (today’s NYT, “An Afghan Poet Shapes Metal and Hard Words” p. A1) He is not interested in writing about nature or romance: “A poet must write about the plight and pain of the people,” he says. And so he does, writing for “ordinary Afghans weighed down by the grinding corruption and disappointment that have come to define the last decade of their lives.” He writes simple, truthful, hard poems that counter the spin of “government, diplomats, religious leaders and the media.” (How we need an American version of Matiullah Turab!) He has no use for the Afghan government, politicians in general, the Taliban or the Americans. Here’s what he has to say about the U.S.:
O flag-bearers of the world
you have pained us a lot in the
name of security
You cry of peace and security
and you dispatch guns and
ammunitionAfter reading the article and listening to an online video clip of Turab reciting one of his poems, I watched a short clip of Josh Earnest, the principal deputy White House press secretary tell the press during the daily briefing this morning that the Brits had given us a “heads-up” that they were detaining David Miranda but denied we had anything to do with it. The contrast between Matiullah Turab and Josh Earnest couldn’t have been starker and the reason people have no use for politicians (or their spokespersons) more clear. U.S. involvement in the detention and questioning of Miranda (and confiscation of his laptop, cell phone, DVDs and memory sticks) couldn’t be clearer. The questioning was relentless, the threat of arrest and imprisonment constant, but the questions were not about terrorism or terrorist plots, only about Greenwald, Snowden and Poitras and other random questions—who he knows in the Brazilian government, why Brazilians were protesting. He was never accused of being a terrorist but treated like one. I don’t understand Pashto, but I’d rather listen to Matiullah Turab’s truth than Josh Earnest’s lies any day.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
The war on whistleblowers has been in full swing for years: Kiriakou’s in prison, Drake’s selling Apple computers for a living, Bradley Manning’s been in military prisons for the past 3 years and will probably spend the rest of his life there, and Edward Snowden had to ask Russia for asylum to keep from being dragged back to the U.S. and thrown in the gulag along with the others. WikiLeaks is boxed in and Julian Assange is cornered in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. The war on reporters got exposed recently when we learned that AP and Fox News phones—and certain of their reporters’—were being tapped, and last month a federal appeals court decided that the 1st Amendment no longer applies to reporters so James Risen of the NYT will no doubt spend time in the clink for refusing to reveal the source of a leak. But today the war on the press took a nasty turn when David Miranda was detained at Heathrow as he was changing planes on his way home to Rio from Germany. Sure he’s Glenn Greenwald’s partner and sure, he was staying with Laura Poitras in Berlin, but really, a terrorist? The UK’s Terrorism Act of 2000 permits authorities at airports and ports to detain someone for up to 9 hours without charges or a lawyer present while they’re questioned. I know, this was the UK, not the U.S., but it has the heavy hand print of the U.S. all over it, a clear act of intimidation—if you can’t get the target, harass their family and loved ones. Miranda’s not a reporter or whistleblower; there was no probable cause and he was questioned not about terrorism but about NSA’s surveillance. According to Greenwald’s article today, almost no one is held for the maximum 9 hours—but Miranda was—all that time incommunicado even though Guardian lawyers and Brazil’s ambassador to the UK were trying to intervene (Greenwald’s connections). Miranda’s laptop, memory sticks CDs and cell phone were confiscated, no doubt to search for Snowden files, but chances of finding any are just about nil since Snowden taught both Greenwald and Poitras how to keep their communications and files out of the NSA’s hands. The Security State is shedding all pretense at obeying the law. “We’re above the law,” they seem to be saying, :the law is what we say it is.” The war on terror continues to seep across borders even into the homeland but the terrorist threats are no longer abroad; they’re right here at home in the form of whistleblowers and journalists and those who believe in democracy.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Dear Senator Feinstein,
Your August 15 letter regarding the NSA XKeyscore surveillance program did not reassure me. “The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which I chair, is currently reviewing the allegations made by the Guardian,” but like all your committee’s proceedings, the review will be classified so we’ll never know. If not for Edward Snowden, the public—and most members of Congress—would still be in the dark about the extent of NSA’s malfeasance, for the House and Senate Intelligence committees no longer serve as watchdogs but as protectors and apologists. Since Snowden’s leaks began in June, you have not held a single open hearing on the surveillance programs and your counterpart in the House, Rep. Rogers’ single hearing had only pro-NSA witnesses. You apparently distributed a key document to senators prior to a vote on the Patriot Act but Rogers did not in order to guarantee reauthorization. You called Snowden’s leaking of classified documents an act of treason but the real act of treason is Rogers’ withholding information from members of Congress. It is, as the executive director of the Government Accountability Project says, “tantamount to subversion of the democratic process.” In your letter, you provided a link to the NSA press release of July 30 refuting the Guardian’s claims about XKeyscore. I read the press release; it is no different than any of the NSA’s previous denials which have been proven to be misleading or false. Thursday, the Washington Post reported more secret documents leaked by Snowden showed the NSA had violated their own internal restrictions on data collection 2,776 times in the previous year; an 80-page FISC report stated the NSA had violated the 4th Amendment in 2011; and a training manual for NSA analysts states, “While we do want to provide our F.A.A. overseers with the information they need, we DO NOT want to give them any extraneous information.” Sen. Wyden says that what has been revealed so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Minor, technical and human errors, says the NSA and their defenders. But they have lied, misled, spun and twisted the truth again and again. Why should we believe them now? Or you? Without truth and transparency there is no basis for trust and no foundation for democracy. We are way overdue for information on these secret programs, their effectiveness and, indeed, why they are needed. You owe us that, Senator; anything less is dereliction of duty and subversion of the democratic process.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
You, Alexander, Clapper and all the faceless bureaucrats who keep America’s secrets, won yesterday. Bradley Manning finally broke, admitted bad judgment, apologized for the harm he did to his country, and pleaded for mercy. You could see it coming when the defense opened its sentencing case Monday, a tectonic shift from his attorney’s previous portrayal of him as an idealistic whistleblower to a smaller, sadder, confused, mentally incompetent boy with sexual identity problems. It was heartbreaking, a betrayal by everyone involved—the government, the defense and Bradley himself, for we need heroes and Manning as avatar for a new breed of whistleblower and truth-teller was dismantled before our eyes. But who can condemn him? Who among us could have endured what he did? Three years of brutal imprisonment, a sham, rigged trial, a sentence that was a foregone conclusion and the prospect of the rest of his life in prison for a 25-year-old could break anyone. We wanted the image of Bradley slouched in a chair in a trailer near Baghdad lip-synching Lady Gaga tunes as he downloaded America’s secrets. We wanted the idealism and enthusiasm of that young man who believed the truth would set us free, that it might even stop a war. Yesterday, that image was replaced by a nervous, frightened, near-tears young man who wondered how he could have believed a junior analyst “could change the world for the better…” But he did, in spite of everything, he did. We wanted the confident, articulate Bradley of February who gave an hour-long pre-trial statement with conviction, intelligence and courage, not yesterday’s Bradley who gave a hesitant, 3-minute apology for his crimes against the state. One psychiatrist testified that giving files to WikiLeaks was a “neurotic act of an idealist who thought he could end all wars.” But this is precisely what is needed for a person to become a hero, to perform courageous acts against overwhelming power. The pressure and circumstances may have caused Bradley to betray himself, his ideals, his sense of right and wrong, but it is not unlike—and certainly not as great—as your betrayal of us, Mr. President. What has been lost in the Manning trial is the truth he exposed—the war crimes, the cover-ups, the brutality and evil of war—but it is out there for all to see because of him and there will be more Bradley Mannings—and Edward Snowdens—to expose government lies and abuse of power. You won this round but the battle continues.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
Since 9/11 there has been a revolution in America but few people seem to have noticed. Laura Poitras is one who has although she never calls it that. I’m sure you’ve been briefed on Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who helped Snowden and Greenwald expose the NSA’s surveillance programs. An article in next Sunday’s NYT Magazine (“How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets”) tells the story. The revolution impacts Poitras’ life in June 2006 when her airline tickets were suddenly marked “SSSS”—Secondary Security Screening Selection. She was detained the first time in Newark boarding a flight to Israel to show her film, “My Country, My Country.” She was detained again on her return and the next month again in Vienna where her bags were searched and she was questioned. There, a security agent told her that her government had flagged her as a terror threat. Since then, she’s been detained more than 40 times. She wrote members of congress and submitted FOIA requests but never heard back. Each time she was detained, her notes and papers were copied so she stopped carrying paper. She was told that if she didn’t answer their questions, they would confiscate her computers and cell phone (they did). She was told her refusal to answer questions was itself suspicious. The government contends that constitutional rights do not apply at border crossings so she was not permitted to have a lawyer present. She began taking notes of these searches and interrogations. In 2012 she was told she could not take notes and an agent threatened to handcuff her if she continued. Taken to another room, 3 agents interrogated her and yelled at her as she continued taking notes. When Greenwald wrote an article about her the detentions stopped but for 6 years Poitras felt she was in a Kafka state where she was put on a watch list without explanation. “It’s the complete suspension of due process,” she says. “A shadow government has grown…in the name of national security without oversight or national debate…” Snowden revealed an American police state where there is no personal privacy and only the government is allowed to have secrets. But privacy is a form of refuge and when that is taken away, it creates anxiety, distrust and fear. From the government’s perspective however, the invasion of privacy is a form of control that suppresses dissent and reduces risk. The Constitution no longer applies and personal privacy no longer exists. Welcome to the new world order.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
I listened again to your Friday press conference reassuring America that the NSA surveillance programs and bulk collection of data are both legal and tightly controlled. How you’re consulting with Congress and outsiders on tweaks to the programs to ensure even greater oversight and safeguards, how you called for a complete review of the NSA program before the Snowden leaks, how we must have greater transparency, etc. etc. etc. You are one slick dude, Mr. President. Your smooth confidence and certainty, that voice of authority—like Moses handing down the 10 commandments to the people of Israel—is mesmerizing and you want to believe…but then you think about all the broken promises, betrayals and lies of the past 5 years and your words turn to dust. The oversight you say we have through the FISA court is non-existent—the court operates in total secrecy, no opposing side to the government is ever heard, and in 20 years the court has rejected only 11 requests in 34,000. As for oversight by Congress, that too is a fiction. In an interview yesterday on DemocracyNow! Sen. Wyden’s former chief of staff, Jennifer Hoelzer, said your administration blocked every attempt at debate over the Patriot Act, the FISA Court and the NSA. (http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/12/senate_insider_speaks_out_ex_wyden) Also yesterday, the Guardian reported that Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) said the Intelligence committee withheld a key document on the NSA’s surveillance program that the Administration declassified and gave to the intelligence committees prior to the vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act. When even members of Congress can’t know what’s going on, when the justifications for all this remain secret, when more and more illegal activity by the NSA is revealed, you expect us to trust you? When Gen. Alexander makes statements like this: “I can’t defend the country until I’m into all the networks,” we’re supposed to trust the NSA? (today’s NYT “NSA Leaks Make Plan For Cyberdefense Unlikely” p. A6) Again I go back to the question of how power twists and distorts reality for those who hold it; how they lose touch with reality; how power is like any other drug—you can never get enough—how whatever is done to maintain and get more is justified with religious fanaticism and any question of their authority is a threat. That’s what I see in your Friday press conference, Mr. President, the fanatic certainty and belief in your own rhetoric and that’s a very scary prospect.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
Do you really think the American people just need a little more transparency about the NSA’s mass collection of every phone call, email, internet browsing history and financial record to feel more “comfortable” that nobody’s abusing their privacy? That the government’s shredding of the 4th Amendment (along with the 1st through the 10th) is perfectly okay? Excuse me, Mr. President, but you’re the one who’s unclear on the concept. You may feel comfortable that the NSA is not abusing our privacy but We the People sure aren’t. We don’t need to “jigger slightly” the balance between privacy and security and we sure don’t need more PR to reassure us; we need to gut the whole program along with the NSA. What is it that divorces presidents from reality? “Asked whether the steps on surveillance he was taking amounted to a vindication of Mr. Snowden’s leaks, Mr. Obama rejected that notion. He said that Mr. Snowden should have gone to the Congressional intelligence committees with any concerns he had about surveillance, rather than ‘putting at risk our national security’…” (today’s NYT, “President Moves to Ease Worries on Surveillance” p. A1) Come on! When even representatives in Congress are rebuffed and lied to by the chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees in attempts to get basic information about the NSA program, you expect a “29-year hacker” (your term) to be listened to by legislators whose power resides in keeping things just the way they are? Every whistle blower since 9/11 has paid dearly. Bradley Manning, who attempted to go through the chain of command with evidence of war crimes was rebuffed at every turn and for his sin of releasing classified information that should not have been classified in the first place, is facing a 90 year prison sentence. Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou William Binney, whistleblowers all, paid dearly for blowing the whistle while the perpetrators of abuse, corruption or crimes remain unindicted. Edward Snowden had the benefit of predecessors. He knew he would be treated badly. He knew his information would never see the light of day and so, he took the only recourse possible. “I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot,” you said. But Mr. Snowden sparked the public debate you said you wanted. Mr. Snowden is responsible for the transparency you say we need. Mr. Snowden told the truth, his revelations endangers no one and promotes the democratic process. That’s my definition of a patriot, Mr. President.
Friday, August 9, 2013
Dear Senator Feinstein,
I am in disbelief at the letter you sent via email last night regarding my concerns about the NSA. Do you really believe “the government cannot listen to an American’s telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause?” That the information NSA collects is minimal, “the kind you might find on a telephone bill?” Do you really believe the FISA court is an effective oversight? A rubber-stamp court that turned down only 11 of 34,000 requests over the past 20 years? A court that operates in secret and whose findings are secret is neither a court to be trusted nor a court found in any true democracy. And do you really believe that NSA programs have been “effective in identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with terrorist plots…to prevent numerous terrorist attacks?” As examples, you trot out the same two that have been shown over and over again to have been foiled not by NSA programs but by other agencies, other means and indeed, other countries—the Zazi plot (to bomb the NYC subway) and Headley (Mumbai and a Danish newspaper) were both tips from British intelligence. You quote Alexander’s discredited testimony that NSA programs helped prevent “over 50 potential terrorist events,” the 50 reduced to 13, then 2, then “maybe one” in testimony last week to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Your letter also states that the laws which enabled and reauthorized this surveillance were passed by overwhelming margins but those laws have been breached twisted, distorted and ignored by NSA. As the lead editorial in today’s NYT says, “Apparently no espionage tool that Congress gives the NSA is big enough or intrusive enough to satisfy the agency’s inexhaustible appetite for delving into the communications of Americans… Data collection on this scale goes far beyond what Congress authorized and it clearly shreds a common-sense understanding of the Fourth Amendment.” The author of the Patriot Act, Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) voted for the Amash Amendment to cut funding for the NSA saying the Patriot Act was never intended to authorize what they’re doing. When agencies and the courts act in secret without effective oversight, then Congress has failed; failed America, failed its citizens, and failed democracy. That’s the state we’re in now, Senator. Your assurances are a fiction but I fear you believe them, that you are clueless. With people like you in Congress, God help us one and all.
cc: Representative Nancy Pelosi
Senator Barbara Boxer
President Barack Obama
Thu, Aug 8, 2013 7:54 PM
Dear Mr. Yoder:
I received your communication indicating your concerns about the two National Security Agency programs that have been in the news recently. I appreciate that you took the time to write on this important issue and welcome the opportunity to respond.
First, I understand your concerns and want to point out that by law, the government cannot listen to an American's telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause. The programs that were recently disclosed have to do with information about phone calls – the kind of information that you might find on a telephone bill – in one case, and the internet communications (such as email) of non-Americans outside the United States in the other case. Both programs are subject to checks and balances, and oversight by the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary.
As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that I believe the oversight we have conducted is strong and effective and I am doing my level best to get more information declassified. Please know that it is equally frustrating to me, as it is to you, that I cannot provide more detail on the value these programs provide and the strict limitations placed on how this information is used. I take serious my responsibility to make sure intelligence programs are effective, but I work equally hard to ensure that intelligence activities strictly comply with the Constitution and our laws and protect Americans' privacy rights.
These surveillance programs have proven to be very effective in identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with terrorist plots, and in allowing the Intelligence Community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to prevent numerous terrorist attacks. More information on this should be forthcoming.
On June 18, 2003, the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) testified to the House Intelligence Committee that there have been "over 50 potential terrorist events" that these programs helped prevent.
While the specific uses of these surveillance programs remain largely classified, I have reviewed the classified testimony and reports from the Executive Branch that describe in detail how this surveillance has stopped attacks.
Two examples where these surveillance programs were used to prevent terrorist attacks were: (1) the attempted bombing of the New York City subway system in September 2009 by Najibullah Zazi and his co-conspirators; and (2) the attempted attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in October 2009 by U.S. citizen David Headley and his associates.
Regarding the planned bombing of the New York City subway system, the NSA has determined that in early September of 2009, while monitoring the activities of Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, NSA noted contact from an individual in the U.S. that the FBI subsequently identified as Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi. The U.S. Intelligence Community, including the FBI and NSA, worked in concert to determine his relationship with Al Qaeda, as well as identify any foreign or domestic terrorist links. The FBI tracked Zazi as he traveled to New York to meet with co-conspirators, where they were planning to conduct a terrorist attack using hydrogen peroxide bombs placed in backpacks. Zazi and his co-conspirators were subsequently arrested. Zazi eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb the NYC subway system.
Regarding terrorist David Headley, he was also involved in the planning and reconnaissance of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that killed 166 people, including six Americans. According to NSA, in October 2009, Headley, a Chicago businessman and dual U.S. and Pakistani citizen, was arrested by the FBI as he tried to depart from Chicago O'Hare airport on a trip to Europe. Headley was charged with material support to terrorism based on his involvement in the planning and reconnaissance of the hotel attack in Mumbai 2008. At the time of his arrest, Headley and his colleagues were plotting to attack the Danish newspaper that published the unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, at the behest of Al Qaeda.
Not only has Congress been briefed on these programs, but laws passed and enacted since 9/11 specifically authorize them. The surveillance programs are authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which itself was enacted by Congress in 1978 to establish the legal structure to carry out these programs, but also to prevent government abuses, such as surveillance of Americans without approval from the federal courts. The Act authorizes the government to gather communications and other information for foreign intelligence purposes. It also establishes privacy protections, oversight mechanisms (including court review), and other restrictions to protect privacy rights of Americans.
The laws that have established and reauthorized these programs since 9/11 have passed by mostly overwhelming margins. For example, the phone call business record program was reauthorized most recently on May 26, 2011 by a vote of 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House. The internet communications program was reauthorized most recently on December 30, 2012 by a vote of 73-22 in the Senate and 301-118 in the House.
You may be interested to know that the Senate Intelligence Committee will be proposing changes to these programs to ensure transparency and to make public additional facts. Attached to this letter is an opinion piece I authored in the Washington Post on July 30, 2013 that further highlights our proposed changes. While I very much regret the disclosure of classified information in a way that will damage our ability to identify and stop terrorist activity, I believe it is important to ensure that the public record now available on these programs is accurate and provided with the proper context.
Again, thank you for contacting me with your concerns and comments. I appreciate knowing your views and hope you continue to inform me of issues that matter to you. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841.
Sincerely yours,Further information about my position on issues of concern to California and the nation are available at my website, Feinstein.senate.gov. You can also receive electronic e-mail updates by subscribing to my e-mail list. Click here to sign up. And please visit my YouTube, Facebook and Twitter for more ways to communicate with me.
United States Senator