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The names of nations we’re in a drone war with is classified, so don't ask

Even who we’re in a drone war with is classified
By Pro Publica
Friday, July 26, 2013 11:22 EDT

In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said again and again that the U.S. is at war with “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”

So who exactly are those associated forces? It’s a secret.

At a hearing in May, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of Al Qaeda affiliates.

The Pentagon responded 2013 but Levin’s office told ProPublica they aren’t allowed to share it. Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin, would say only that the department’s “answer included the information requested.”

A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”

“Because elements that might be considered 2018associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory. “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations that rely on violent extremist ideology to strengthen their ranks.”

It’s not an abstract question: U.S. drone strikes and other actions frequently target “associated forces,” as has been the case with dozens of strikes against an Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.

During the May hearing, Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said he was “not sure there is a list per se.” Describing terrorist groups as “murky” and “shifting,” he said, “it would be difficult for the Congress to get involved in trying to track the designation of which are the affiliate forces” of Al Qaeda.


Yet Another Rogue Hacker Dies Mysteriously, just prior to breaking big story

Programmer Barnaby Jack dies a week before showing off heart-attack hack that can kill a man from 30 feet away
By Reuters * Friday, July 26, 2013 10:19 EDT * By Jim Finkle

BOSTON (Reuters) – Well-known hacker Barnaby Jack has died in San Francisco, a week before he was due to show off techniques for attacking implanted heart devices that he said could kill a man from 30 feet away.

The San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office said he died in the city on Thursday. It gave no details.

Jack, a security expert, became one of the most famous hackers on the planet after a 2010 demonstration in which he forced ATMs to spit out cash, dubbed “Jackpotting,” (reut.rs/gIGXVq )

The hacking community expressed shock as the news of his death spread via Twitter early on Friday. Jack was due to appear at the Black Hat hacking convention in San Francisco next week, demonstrating how he could attack heart devices.

“Wow … Speechless,” Tweeted mobile phone hacker Tyler Shields.

Jack’s most recent employer, the cyber security consulting firm IOActive Inc, said in a Tweet: “Lost but never forgotten our beloved pirate, Barnaby Jack has passed.”

Jack had served as IOActive’s director of embedded device security.

Jack’s genius was finding bugs in the tiny computers that are embedded in equipment such as medical devices and banking machines. He received standing ovations at hacking conventions for his creativity and showmanship.

“You grimy bastard. I was just talking up about your awesome work last night,” Tweeted Dino Dai Zovi, a hacker known for his skill at finding bugs in Apple products. “You’ll be missed, bro.”

Obama 'Concerned and Disappointed' After Journalist Who Exposed US War Crimes Freed

Obama 'Concerned and Disappointed' After Journalist Who Exposed US War Crimes Freed
Abdulelah Haider Shaye 'put in prison because he had the audacity to expose' deadly US drone strike
Thursday, July 25, 2013 * Common Dreams * Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

The White House is "concerned and disappointed" over the news that Yemeni Journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who was kept in a Yemeni jail for three years per the request of the Obama administration after he exposed a deadly U.S. drone strike, was released Tuesday.

Following news of Shaye's release, journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has written extensively about Shaye's story, contacted the White House for a comment.

The White House's response was brief and alarming:

We are concerned and disappointed by the early release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai, who was sentenced by a Yemeni court to five years in prison for his involvement with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

According to Scahill and numerous other journalists who have followed the story, Shaye's only involvement with Al Qaeda was conducting interviews with their members for major news outlets that included the Washington Post, ABC News and the New York Times.

Shaye's legal troubles only arose after he uncovered the deadly U.S. strike that killed dozens of innocent Yemeni civilians, after which he was thrown in prison. At one point Shaye was slated for early release, but a phone call from president Obama urged Yemeni officials to keep him behind bars.

"We should let that statement set in," Scahill said of the White House's response. "The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison."

"This is a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children."

Watch Scahill in an interview with Democracy Now!, which aired Thursday morning:


Grayson: NSA surveillance critics will testify before special Congressional Hearing

Grayson is on the move. Woot!

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NSA surveillance critics to testify before Congress
Democrat congressman Alan Grayson says hearing will help to stop 'constant misleading information' from intelligence chiefs
Paul Lewis in Washington * guardian.co.uk * Friday 26 July 2013 07.00 EDT

Congress will hear testimony from critics of the National Security Agency's surveillance practices for the first time since the whistleblower Edward Snowden's explosive leaks were made public.

Democrat congressman Alan Grayson, who is leading a bipartisan group of congressman organising the hearing, told the Guardian it would serve to counter the "constant misleading information" from the intelligence community.

The hearing, which will take place on Wednesday, comes amid evidence of a growing congressional rebellion NSA data collection methods

On Wednesday, a vote in the House of Representatives that would have tried to curb the NSA's practice of mass collection of phone records of millions of Americans was narrowly defeated.

However, it exposed broader-than-expected concern among members of Congress over US surveillance tactics. A majority of Democrat members voted in support of the amendment.

Grayson, who was instrumental in fostering support among Democrats for the the amendment, said Wednesday's hearing would mark the first time critics of NSA surveillance methods have testified before Congress since Snowden's leaks were published by the Guardian and Washington Post.

"I have been concerned about the fact that we have heard incessantly in recent weeks from General Keith Alexander and Mr James Clapper about their side of the story," he said. "We have barely heard anything in Congress from critics of the program.

"We have put together an ad hoc, bipartisan hearing on domestic surveillance in on the Capitol. We plan to have critics of the program come in and give their view – from the left and the right."

Grayson said the hearing had bipartisan support, and was backed by the Republican congressman Justin Amash, whose draft the amendment that was narrowly defeated.

"Mr Amash has declared an interest in the hearing. There are several others who have a libertarian bent – largely the same people who represented the minority of Republicans who decided to vote in favour of the Amash amendment."

The hearing will take place at the same time as a Senate hearing into the NSA's activities. That will feature Gen Alexander and possibly his deputy, Chris Inglis, as well as senior officials from the Department of Justice and FBI.

The simultaneous timing of the hearings will lead to a notable juxtaposition between opponents and defenders of the government's surveillance activities.

"Both Congress and the American people deserve to hear both sides of the story," Grayson said. "There has been constant misleading information – and worse than that, the occasional outright lie – from the so-called intelligence community in their extreme, almost hysterical efforts, to defend these programmes."

Although not a formal committee hearing, Grayson's event will take place on Capitol Hill, and composed of a panel of around a dozen members of Congress from both parties.

Grayson said those testifying would include the American Civil Liberties Union as well as representatives from the right-leaning Cato Institute.

"They are both going to come in and make it clear that this programme is not authorised by existing law - and if it were authorised by existing law, that law would be unconstitutional," Grayson said.

The congressman added that Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first revealed details of the surveillance programmes leaked by Snowden, had also been invited to testify via video-link from his base in Rio.

"Even today, most people in America are unaware of the fact the government is receiving a record of every call that they make, even to the local pizzeria," Grayson said.

"I think that most people simply don't understand that, despite the news coverage, which my view has been extremely unfocused. There has been far too much discussion of the leaker, and not enough discussion of the leak."


Obama scrubs his campaign tribute to whistle-blowers 2 days after Snowden Revelations.

Candidate Obama’s Tribute to Whistleblowers Disappears Two Days after First Snowden Revelations
by Marcy Wheeler * Thursday, July 25, 2013 * Common Dreams

Sunlight Foundation discovers the Obama Administration has removed access to his 2008 campaign promises from the White House website. It suggests one of the promises Obama may want to hide has to do with his support for whistleblowers.

While front splash page for for Change.gov has linked to the main White House website for years, until recently, you could still continue on to see the materials and agenda laid out by the administration. This was a particularly helpful resource for those looking to compare Obama’s performance in office against his vision for reform, laid out in detail on Change.gov.

According to the Internet Archive, the last time that content (beyond the splash page) was available was June 8th – last month.

Why the change?

Here’s one possibility, from the administration’s ethics agenda:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
It may be that Obama’s description of the importance of whistleblowers went from being an artifact of his campaign to a political liability.
To be fair, Obama did extend whistleblower protection beyond that of the law last year — though he did it largely in secret.

Of course, that came at the same time as Obama rolled out an Insider Threat Detection system that seems designed to discourage anyone from speaking out … about anything.

And then there’s the issue of all the whistleblower prosecutions.

But if Obama did hide his campaign promises specifically to hide this tribute to the “courage and patriotism” of whistleblowers, then I find the timing particularly interesting. June 8 was just two days after the first Edward Snowden release (at a time, moreover, when the Guardian had reported only issues that went to lies James Clapper and Keith Alexander had told, making Snowden’s claim to be unable to go through regular channels quite credible).

Mind you, Obama could be hiding other promises. I still think promises about mortgages and homes are his biggest failure.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


Senate committee votes unanimously to sanction any country that takes Snowden

Senate committee votes unanimously to sanction any country that takes Snowden
Reuters via Raw Story * Thursday, July 25, 2013 15:28 EDT

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate panel voted unanimously on Thursday to seek trade or other sanctions against Russia or any other country that offers asylum to former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who has been holed up for weeks at a Moscow airport.

The 30-member Senate Appropriations Committee adopted by consensus an amendment to a spending bill that would direct Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with congressional committees to come up with sanctions against any country that takes Snowden in.

Snowden is wanted by the United States on espionage charges for revealing details of government intelligence programs. He arrived in Moscow on June 23 from Hong Kong, where he had fled to escape capture and trial in the United States.

He has asked for temporary asylum in Russia until he can reach a country that will shelter him, but U.S. authorities have made clear they will be deeply disappointed if Russia lets the fugitive leave the airport.

Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela have said they could offer sanctuary to Snowden.

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said he introduced the amendment to try to get the attention of any country that might take in Snowden, not Russia in particular, although he noted Moscow has lined up against the United States on other issues, including the civil war in Syria.

“When it comes to Russia, it’s just not about Snowden. They are allying with Iran, 100,000 Syrians have been killed, they are providing weapons to Assad that are getting in the hands of Hezbollah. And really enough’s enough,” said Graham, who has suggested the U.S. consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

The amendment would direct Kerry to meet with congressional committees to develop sanctions options “including revocation or suspension of trade privileges and preferences.”

It was not immediately clear how any sanctions program would work, and the spending bill is several steps from becoming law.

But the United States has a number of programs that provide international trade benefits to developing countries, including Bolivia and Venezuela, which could be affected.

The country also has a free trade agreement with Nicaragua that could come under scrutiny.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Thursday that President Barack Obama’s administration was having “ongoing conversations” with Russia and that authorities there had not made clear Snowden’s status.


Pfaff: US Policy Is to Keep the Veil of Secrecy in Place

US Policy Is to Keep the Veil of Secrecy in Place
by William Pfaff * Thursday, July 25, 2013 * TruthDig.com

For some 20 years, in another and more youthful phase of my life, I was one of the (apparently) several hundred thousand Americans who possessed a “top secret” security classification.


When I left the hushed halls of secrecy for freelance writing, nobody wrote to expel me from the “cleared” world. For all I know, even now, three American wars and six American presidencies further on, including the Obama administration, for which I voted (now operating its pitiless inquisition into whistle-blowers, with life-imprisonment for them all—“Off with their heads!”), I may still be possessor of a TS clearance. Some kind of foul-up further up the line.

Now the reason I am writing all of this, at the risk of lifetime incarceration in a Marine Corps brig or a Moscow airport men’s room, is that never in my life have I known a top secret!

Even the non-top secrets I have ever known were secret only because the U.S. government would have been politically embarrassed were they known to the American public or to Congress. They were already long known to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact bloc, who were America’s then-enemies.

Take the operation for sending dissident Marxist literature and avant-garde American and European art and literature to the Soviet bloc. The people who received this material in the mail or had it distributed to them by other means were not such fools as not to know—and be grateful—that Western agencies were sending it.

The people from whom the operation was kept secret were Congress and the American public. Why? Because they might be (and some powerful individuals certainly would have been!) outraged that Marxist writings, dissident or otherwise, and “decadent,” abstract or avant-garde Western art, was being distributed abroad by the American government at taxpayer expense.

The secret that during the Cold War the CIA sponsored the activities, conferences and magazines of the liberal-internationalist and anti-Comintern Congress for Cultural Freedom is even today cited with outrage, not only by right-wing figures in the West but by most of the Western liberal-intellectual world. The reputations of the poet Stephen Spender and the New York intellectuals Irving Kristol and Melvin Lasky (the latter founder and inspiration of the Congress’s Encounter magazine) were permanently tainted by their creation of probably the most important and influential international intellectual magazine of the 1953-1991 period.

The principal “outrage” for which Bradley Manning is today imprisoned is the video he revealed to the online world of an American helicopter in Iraq pitilessly shooting up a group of civilians, including would-be rescuers and children. To whom was this video a revelation? Not, surely, the Iraqis who were victims of this barbarous act, and had seen it often replicated. It was being kept a secret from the American public.

What crime is Edward Snowden accused of committing? Not his revelation of American global eavesdropping on foreign governments, which every major government in the world already knew of, or took for granted as existing. Snowden is an international political fugitive because he revealed to the American people what their own government was doing.

Big Brother exists! But he is an American. This is the big secret which the Obama administration spends billions of dollars and enlists millions of individuals to conceal from the very people who are paying for it all. If, or when, this is grasped, Americans will truly have a right to be horrified—assuming it is not too late.


Greenwald: "Democratic Establishment Unmasked"

Democratic Establishment Unmasked: Prime Defenders of NSA Bulk Spying
NYT: "The Obama administration made common cause with the House Republican leadership"

Thursday, July 25, 2013 * The Guardian/UK
by Glenn Greenwald

One of the worst myths Democratic partisans love to tell themselves - and everyone else - is that the GOP refuses to support President Obama no matter what he does. Like its close cousin - the massively deceitful inside-DC grievance that the two parties refuse to cooperate on anything - it's hard to overstate how false this Democratic myth is. When it comes to foreign policy, war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, secrecy, and civil liberties, President Obama's most stalwart, enthusiastic defenders are often found among the most radical precincts of the Republican Party.

Not only did all vote against de-funding the NSA bulk domestic spying program - that includes liberal icon House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who voted to protect the NSA's program - but Pelosi's deputy, Steny Hoyer whipped against the bill by channeling the warped language and mentality of Dick Cheney.

The rabidly pro-war and anti-Muslim GOP former Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, has repeatedly lavished Obama with all sorts of praise and support for his policies in those areas. The Obama White House frequently needs, and receives, large amounts of GOP Congressional support to have its measures enacted or bills its dislikes defeated. The Obama DOJ often prevails before the US Supreme Court solely because the Roberts/Scalia/Thomas faction adopts its view while the Ginsburg/Sotomayor/Breyer faction rejects it (as happened in February when the Court, by a 5-4 ruling, dismissed a lawsuit brought by Amnesty and the ACLU which argued that the NSA's domestic warrantless eavesdropping activities violate the Fourth Amendment; the Roberts/Scalia wing accepted the Obama DOJ's argument that the plaintiffs lack standing to sue because the NSA successfully conceals the identity of which Americans are subjected to the surveillance). As Wired put it at the time about that NSA ruling:

The 5-4 decision by Justice Samuel Alito was a clear victory for the President Barack Obama administration, which like its predecessor, argued that government wiretapping laws cannot be challenged in court."

The extraordinary events that took place in the House of Representatives yesterday are perhaps the most vivid illustration yet of this dynamic, and it independently reveals several other important trends. The House voted on an amendment sponsored by Justin Amash, the young Michigan lawyer elected in 2010 as a Tea Party candidate, and co-sponsored by John Conyers, the 24-term senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The amendment was simple. It would de-fund one single NSA program: the agency's bulk collection of the telephone records of all Americans that we first revealed in this space, back on June 6. It accomplished this "by requiring the FISA court under Sec. 215 to order the production of records that pertain only to a person under investigation".

The amendment yesterday was defeated. But it lost by only 12 votes: 205-217. Given that the amendment sought to de-fund a major domestic surveillance program of the NSA, the very close vote was nothing short of shocking. In fact, in the post-9/11 world, amendments like this, which directly challenge the Surveillance and National Security States, almost never get votes at all. That the GOP House Leadership was forced to allow it to reach the floor was a sign of how much things have changed over the last seven weeks.


House Votes Down Amash/Conyers Amendment.

But it was damn close, 217 - 205. Drat! Splits BOTH parties pretty much down the middle.

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Justin Amash Amendment To Stop NSA Data Collection Voted Down In House (UPDATE)
07/24/2013 7:05 pm EDT | Updated: 07/24/2013 8:41 pm EDT
Huffington Post * by Matt Sledge

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives on Wednesday evening narrowly defeated an amendment from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) meant to halt the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone record data.

"We're here today for a very simple reason: to defend the Fourth Amendment, to defend the privacy of each and every American," Amash said as he introduced his measure. Lawmakers' votes, he said, would answer one simple question, "Do we oppose the suspicionless collection of every American's phone records?"

On Wednesday, at least, the answer was no. The House voted 217-205 to defeat the amendment after intense last-minute lobbying from the White House and the NSA.

Democrats voted for the amendment by a 111-to-83 margin. Republicans, meanwhile, split 134 to 93 against it.

The closeness of the vote, the first on the surveillance programs since the revelations of NSA leaker Edward Snowden, gave civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been a vigorous critic of that surveillance, some reason for optimism that future reforms will be possible.

Amash's measure, offered as an amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill, would have prevented the government from invoking Section 215 of the Patriot Act to scoop up phone call metadata -- information about whom people are calling and when, but not the content of the calls -- unless the government had a reasonable suspicion that a specific target was involved in terrorism.

While the bill was co-sponsored by liberals, including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Amash warned that "opponents of this amendment will use the same tactic that every government throughout history has used to justify its violation of rights: fear." And the measure's foes -- even those within his own party -- did not disappoint.

Arguing that phone records collection helps protect a "nation under siege," Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, "Passing this amendment takes us back to September 10."

Pointing to a Wall Street Journal editorial that came out Wednesday, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) contended that passing the amendment would reward Snowden.

"The only people who have benefited from the revelation of classified information ... the only result is that those who are engaged in Islamic jihad will have been benefited," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). "Those that we seek to protect have not."

Bachmann's position on the bill, identical to that of the Obama administration, showed the strange bedfellows that Snowden's bombshell leaks have created.

Although Amash's amendment was defeated, civil liberties advocates found something to cheer in the closeness of the vote. Just two years ago, the House voted by a comfortable 250-153 margin to reauthorize the Patriot Act, which the administration uses to justify its phone metadata collection. On Wednesday, by contrast, a swing of just seven votes would have put Amash's amendment over the top.

Back then, said Conyers, "we didn't know about it."


White House blasts amendment curtailing the NSA's power

White House blasts amendment curtailing the NSA's power
Daily Kos * Commentary byJoan McCarter
WED JUL 24, 2013 AT 12:40 PM PDT

Tuesday night, the White House blasted an amendment by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI) to limit the NSA's surveillance power to the letter of existing law. The White House rarely comments on pending amendments to legislation, and this statement came directly from Press Secretary Jay Carney, signaling how concerned the administration is.

"However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools. This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process. We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation."

This "blunt approach" could present the opportunity for an "informed, open, and deliberative process" that the White House could participate in if President Obama actually does want the open debate he said he welcomed after the leaks by Edward Snowden revealed how far beyond existing law the NSA surveillance programs have veered. It's the closest we have yet come to a deliberative process on the issue since it was debated before it was allowed and will be debated again late Wednesday or Thursday when it's offered on the floor.

This amendment would restrict the NSA to collecting data that is specifically and expressly allowed under Section 215 of the Patriot Act as written, not as secretly interpreted by the FISA court. It does not restrict the agency's ability to collect foreign intelligence, but requires a court order for any collection of records of Americans, and requires that the collection be directly related to an existing investigation. As Congress intended when it passed the law.

There's little chance of this amendment actually becoming law. The NSA's Keith Alexander had a full-court press against it yesterday, offering "top secret" lobbying to members. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss issued a statement against it yesterday, so it won't be finding its way into a Senate bill. If it did, President Obama would veto it.

But if it were to pass in the House it might finally force the real discussion and debate over civil liberties and national Security President Obama says he welcomes. If the House, on a bipartisan basis, demanded by adopting this amendment that the NSA follow the letter of the law, that debate would have to start.

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