Category Archives: NDAA

U.S. tells agents to cover up use of wiretap program

By John Shiffman

WASHINGTON – A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner said. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”

THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS DIVISION

The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.

Today, much of the SOD’s work is classified, and officials asked that its precise location in Virginia not be revealed. The documents reviewed by Reuters are marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” a government categorization that is meant to keep them confidential.

“Remember that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function,” a document presented to agents reads. The document specifically directs agents to omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD.”

A spokesman with the Department of Justice, which oversees the DEA, declined to comment.

But two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to “recreate” an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.

“PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION”

After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.”

The two senior DEA officials, who spoke on behalf of the agency but only on condition of anonymity, said the process is kept secret to protect sources and investigative methods. “Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day,” one official said. “It’s decades old, a bedrock concept.”

A dozen current or former federal agents interviewed by Reuters confirmed they had used parallel construction during their careers. Most defended the practice; some said they understood why those outside law enforcement might be concerned.

“It’s just like laundering money – you work it backwards to make it clean,” said Finn Selander, a DEA agent from 1991 to 2008 and now a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates legalizing and regulating narcotics.

Some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said that using “parallel construction” may be legal to establish probable cause for an arrest. But they said employing the practice as a means of disguising how an investigation began may violate pretrial discovery rules by burying evidence that could prove useful to criminal defendants.

A QUESTION OF CONSTITUTIONALITY

“That’s outrageous,” said Tampa attorney James Felman, a vice chairman of the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association. “It strikes me as indefensible.”

Lawrence Lustberg, a New Jersey defense lawyer, said any systematic government effort to conceal the circumstances under which cases begin “would not only be alarming but pretty blatantly unconstitutional.”

Lustberg and others said the government’s use of the SOD program skirts established court procedures by which judges privately examine sensitive information, such as an informant’s identity or classified evidence, to determine whether the information is relevant to the defense.

“You can’t game the system,” said former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?”

Some lawyers say there can be legitimate reasons for not revealing sources. Robert Spelke, a former prosecutor who spent seven years as a senior DEA lawyer, said some sources are classified. But he also said there are few reasons why unclassified evidence should be concealed at trial.

“It’s a balancing act, and they’ve doing it this way for years,” Spelke said. “Do I think it’s a good way to do it? No, because now that I’m a defense lawyer, I see how difficult it is to challenge.”

CONCEALING A TIP

One current federal prosecutor learned how agents were using SOD tips after a drug agent misled him, the prosecutor told Reuters. In a Florida drug case he was handling, the prosecutor said, a DEA agent told him the investigation of a U.S. citizen began with a tip from an informant. When the prosecutor pressed for more information, he said, a DEA supervisor intervened and revealed that the tip had actually come through the SOD and from an NSA intercept.

“I was pissed,” the prosecutor said. “Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you’re trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court.” The prosecutor never filed charges in the case because he lost confidence in the investigation, he said.

A senior DEA official said he was not aware of the case but said the agent should not have misled the prosecutor. How often such misdirection occurs is unknown, even to the government; the DEA official said the agency does not track what happens with tips after the SOD sends them to agents in the field.

The SOD’s role providing information to agents isn’t itself a secret. It is briefly mentioned by the DEA in budget documents, albeit without any reference to how that information is used or represented when cases go to court.

The DEA has long publicly touted the SOD’s role in multi-jurisdictional and international investigations, connecting agents in separate cities who may be unwittingly investigating the same target and making sure undercover agents don’t accidentally try to arrest each other.

SOD’S BIG SUCCESSES

The unit also played a major role in a 2008 DEA sting in Thailand against Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout; he was sentenced in 2011 to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiring to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC. The SOD also recently coordinated Project Synergy, a crackdown against manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic designer drugs that spanned 35 states and resulted in 227 arrests.

Since its inception, the SOD’s mandate has expanded to include narco-terrorism, organized crime and gangs. A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the unit’s annual budget. A recent LinkedIn posting on the personal page of a senior SOD official estimated it to be $125 million.

Today, the SOD offers at least three services to federal, state and local law enforcement agents: coordinating international investigations such as the Bout case; distributing tips from overseas NSA intercepts, informants, foreign law enforcement partners and domestic wiretaps; and circulating tips from a massive database known as DICE.

The DICE database contains about 1 billion records, the senior DEA officials said. The majority of the records consist of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants nationwide. Records are kept for about a year and then purged, the DEA officials said.

About 10,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents have access to the DICE database, records show. They can query it to try to link otherwise disparate clues. Recently, one of the DEA officials said, DICE linked a man who tried to smuggle $100,000 over the U.S. southwest border to a major drug case on the East Coast.

“We use it to connect the dots,” the official said.

“AN AMAZING TOOL”

Wiretap tips forwarded by the SOD usually come from foreign governments, U.S. intelligence agencies or court-authorized domestic phone recordings. Because warrantless eavesdropping on Americans is illegal, tips from intelligence agencies are generally not forwarded to the SOD until a caller’s citizenship can be verified, according to one senior law enforcement official and one former U.S. military intelligence analyst.

“They do a pretty good job of screening, but it can be a struggle to know for sure whether the person on a wiretap is American,” the senior law enforcement official said.

Tips from domestic wiretaps typically occur when agents use information gleaned from a court-ordered wiretap in one case to start a second investigation.

As a practical matter, law enforcement agents said they usually don’t worry that SOD’s involvement will be exposed in court. That’s because most drug-trafficking defendants plead guilty before trial and therefore never request to see the evidence against them. If cases did go to trial, current and former agents said, charges were sometimes dropped to avoid the risk of exposing SOD involvement.

Current and former federal agents said SOD tips aren’t always helpful – one estimated their accuracy at 60 percent. But current and former agents said tips have enabled them to catch drug smugglers who might have gotten away.

“It was an amazing tool,” said one recently retired federal agent. “Our big fear was that it wouldn’t stay secret.”

DEA officials said that the SOD process has been reviewed internally. They declined to provide Reuters with a copy of their most recent review.

(Edited by Blake Morrison)

Source

Switzerland Warning Against Obama Regime Stuns Russia

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Posted by EU Times on Aug 3rd, 2013

The Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) is reporting today that Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (NDB) is proposing that the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA) issue an immediate “Situation: Grave, Do Not Travel” warning for the United States upgrading that North American nation from its current status as “Stable” and on par with a similar warning issued for the war torn Middle Eastern country of Syria.

According to this report, millions of data files on counter-terrorism operations from both MI6 and the CIA were stolen this past December (2012) by a senior computer technician of Swiss citizenship who planned to release them to Wikileaks.

These highly classified documents stored on NDB servers, this report continues, were stolen by what was described as a “very talented” still unnamed NDB technician senior enough to have “administrator rights,” giving him unrestricted access to most or all of the NDB’s networks.

The December, 2012 theft of these top secret British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) files, GRU intelligence analysts in this report say, came on the heels of a similar theft barely two years prior when MI6 spy Daniel Houghton, also a highly trained computer technician with “administrator rights,” was arrested while attempting to, also, release to Wikileaks thousands of top-secret MI6, MI5 and CIA electronic files.

Raising the fears of the NDB, however, this report says, were US National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) documents obtained from Edward Snowden by the GRU which show a “conclusive and provable link” between the man now known as the United States most wanted person, the still unnamed NDB spy, MI6 spy Houghton and US Army Private Bradley Manning, all of whom constitute what Swiss intelligence analysts say are the “iceberg tip” behind the largest theft of Western top-secret documents in modern history.

To whom the power behind these Western computer spies with unlimited “administration rights” and top security clearances, who have been releasing and/or attempting to release to the world these most secretive of documents, this GRU report quotes from NDB documents, Swiss intelligence analysts point to what they describe as a “cabal” of US military officers “fully intent” upon destroying the Obama regime, even if it means war.

Important to note is that this past February (2013) the Federal Security Services (FSB) had warned of the US military plan to assassinate Obama in what Russian intelligence analysts say will be a takeover of the United States similar to the coup currently being undertaken in Egypt; and the GRU had further warned this past November (2012) that the Obama regimes war against its own generals was, also, likely to end in a military coup after the Washington D.C. gun battle toppled the top US military leader, former Four-Star Army General and CIA director David Petraeus, of this planed takeover.

The “main tactic” being used by the Obama regime against its top military leaders, according to the NDB, has been the leaking of their private emails by the NSA/CSS as revealed by Snowden whose leaked documents prove that US intelligence operatives loyal to the Obama regime have been tapping everything done online by all Americans.

Of the greatest concern to the NDB, however, this GRU report says, was the Obama regimes targeting this past week of the renowned American statesman, retired four-star general in the United States Army, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the 65th United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell, whom the NSA/CSS has threatened with the release of his private emails alleging an affair with a Romanian diplomat, which is the same tactic used to destroy the reputation and career of General Petraeus.

Unlike General Petraeus, however, this report continues, the NDB in their report note that General Powell has secretly notified the Obama regime of his intention “not to go down without a fight” and which led to forces loyal to the Obama regime opening fire on and destroying two F-16 fighter jets nearing Washington D.C. airspace Thursday evening (23:00 hrs EDT 1 August) believed to be headed towards the White House.

As to if these F-16 fighter jets were indeed targeting Obama, this report says, it is not certain, but the reaction by the Obama regime to this event has been unprecedented in that within hours of them being shot down the US issued a world-wide travel alert to last until 31 August and ordered the closing of at least 17 of its overseas embassies.

The shock announcement yesterday that the US would be closing these embassies, this GRU report says the NDB has discovered, is due to the Obama regimes fears that more computer thefts of top-secret documents relating to the Obama regimes collusion with extreme Islamic terrorists groups are going to be released and will allow them time to purge all of their embassy servers of incriminating information, especially those files relating to the true events of the 2012 Benghazi Attack led by rogue CIA operatives whom US Congressman Trey Gowdy warned yesterday were being kept from testifying, being relocated and given new identities.

Unbeknownst to the American people about the Obama regime, this report says, has been its tens of millions of dollars in funding of al-Qaeda terrorists to create an Islamic Emirate in Syria and its over $8 billion in secret funding to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood radicals, both forces who are currently being defeated on the battlefield and in the streets.

Equally unknown to the American people is that Snowden, a “high-level member,” according to the NDB, of the US military cabal threatening the Obama regime, had offered to return to America to face the charges leveled against him knowing that if were able to survive the citizens of his country would learn the full horrors of the monsters ruling over them, an offer that was rejected by the US.

Snowden’s fears for his safety have, indeed proved valid since the Obama regimes assassinations of Michael Hastings, Aaron Swartz and Barnaby Jack and as we reported on in our 29 July report revealing how the Russian military is currently preparing for all-out war.

And in one of the most shameful acts against the American people by their own mainstream press, their refusal to publish, let alone mention, Edward Snowden’s fathers open letter to Obama will stand forever as an indictment against those elites seeking to enslave these once great people forever, and as we can all read in its entirety:

July 26, 2013

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

Re: Civil Disobedience, Edward J. Snowden, and the Constitution

Dear Mr. President:

You are acutely aware that the history of liberty is a history of civil disobedience to unjust laws or practices. As Edmund Burke sermonized, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Civil disobedience is not the first, but the last option. Henry David Thoreau wrote with profound restraint in Civil Disobedience: “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

Thoreau’s moral philosophy found expression during the Nuremburg trials in which “following orders” was rejected as a defense. Indeed, military law requires disobedience to clearly illegal orders.

A dark chapter in America’s World War II history would not have been written if the then United States Attorney General had resigned rather than participate in racist concentration camps imprisoning 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident aliens.

Civil disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act and Jim Crow laws provoked the end of slavery and the modern civil rights revolution.

We submit that Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures of dragnet surveillance of Americans under § 215 of the Patriot Act, § 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments, or otherwise were sanctioned by Thoreau’s time-honored moral philosophy and justifications for civil disobedience. Since 2005, Mr. Snowden had been employed by the intelligence community. He found himself complicit in secret, indiscriminate spying on millions of innocent citizens contrary to the spirit if not the letter of the First and Fourth Amendments and the transparency indispensable to self-government. Members of Congress entrusted with oversight remained silent or Delphic. Mr. Snowden confronted a choice between civic duty and passivity. He may have recalled the injunction of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.” Mr. Snowden chose duty. Your administration vindictively responded with a criminal complaint alleging violations of the Espionage Act.

From the commencement of your administration, your secrecy of the National Security Agency’s Orwellian surveillance programs had frustrated a national conversation over their legality, necessity, or morality. That secrecy (combined with congressional nonfeasance) provoked Edward’s disclosures, which sparked a national conversation which you have belatedly and cynically embraced. Legislation has been introduced in both the House of Representatives and Senate to curtail or terminate the NSA’s programs, and the American people are being educated to the public policy choices at hand. A commanding majority now voice concerns over the dragnet surveillance of Americans that Edward exposed and you concealed. It seems mystifying to us that you are prosecuting Edward for accomplishing what you have said urgently needed to be done!

The right to be left alone from government snooping–the most cherished right among civilized people—is the cornerstone of liberty. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson served as Chief Prosecutor at Nuremburg. He came to learn of the dynamics of the Third Reich that crushed a free society, and which have lessons for the United States today.

Writing in Brinegar v. United States, Justice Jackson elaborated:

The Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

These, I protest, are not mere second-class rights but belong in the catalog of indispensable freedoms. Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart. Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government. And one need only briefly to have dwelt and worked among a people possessed of many admirable qualities but deprived of these rights to know that the human personality deteriorates and dignity and self-reliance disappear where homes, persons and possessions are subject at any hour to unheralded search and seizure by the police.

We thus find your administration’s zeal to punish Mr. Snowden’s discharge of civic duty to protect democratic processes and to safeguard liberty to be unconscionable and indefensible.

We are also appalled at your administration’s scorn for due process, the rule of law, fairness, and the presumption of innocence as regards Edward.

On June 27, 2013, Mr. Fein wrote a letter to the Attorney General stating that Edward’s father was substantially convinced that he would return to the United States to confront the charges that have been lodged against him if three cornerstones of due process were guaranteed. The letter was not an ultimatum, but an invitation to discuss fair trial imperatives. The Attorney General has sneered at the overture with studied silence.

We thus suspect your administration wishes to avoid a trial because of constitutional doubts about application of the Espionage Act in these circumstances, and obligations to disclose to the public potentially embarrassing classified information under the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Your decision to force down a civilian airliner carrying Bolivian President Eva Morales in hopes of kidnapping Edward also does not inspire confidence that you are committed to providing him a fair trial. Neither does your refusal to remind the American people and prominent Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate like House Speaker John Boehner, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann,and Senator Dianne Feinstein that Edward enjoys a presumption of innocence. He should not be convicted before trial. Yet Speaker Boehner has denounced Edward as a “traitor.”

Ms. Pelosi has pontificated that Edward “did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents.” Ms. Bachmann has pronounced that, “This was not the act of a patriot; this was an act of a traitor.” And Ms. Feinstein has decreed that Edward was guilty of “treason,” which is defined in Article III of the Constitution as “levying war” against the United States, “or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”

You have let those quadruple affronts to due process pass unrebuked, while you have disparaged Edward as a “hacker” to cast aspersion on his motivations and talents. Have you forgotten the Supreme Court’s gospel in Berger v. United States that the interests of the government “in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done?”

We also find reprehensible your administration’s Espionage Act prosecution of Edward for disclosures indistinguishable from those which routinely find their way into the public domain via your high level appointees for partisan political advantage. Classified details of your predator drone protocols, for instance, were shared with the New York Times with impunity to bolster your national security credentials. Justice Jackson observed in Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York: “The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally.”

In light of the circumstances amplified above, we urge you to order the Attorney General to move to dismiss the outstanding criminal complaint against Edward, and to support legislation to remedy the NSA surveillance abuses he revealed. Such presidential directives would mark your finest constitutional and moral hour.

Sincerely,

Bruce Fein

Counsel for Lon Snowden

Lon Snowden

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Obama’s doomed attempt to save his legacy

The White House adopts a strategy of deception by distraction

By Emily Miller

President Obama’s approval ratings are falling faster than skydiver Felix Baumgartner during his record-setting jump from outer space.

In a desperate move to salvage his second term, Mr. Obama threw out his top liberal agenda items — immigration, gun control and race relations — and pivoted to the economy. The problem is that the only one to blame for the five-year malaise is the current resident of the Oval Office.

The president fueled up Air Force One on Wednesday to fly to the heartland for two stops in an attempt to physically distance himself from Washington.

“It may seem hard right now, but if we’re willing to take a few bold steps — if Washington will just shake off its complacency, set aside the kind of slash-and-burn partisanship that we’ve seen over the past few years — I promise you, our economy will be stronger a year from now,” Mr. Obama said at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg.

The president acts like he just arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue last week. He’s had four years, yet his policies have failed to create jobs and restore economic growth.

“There are days I think he forgets that he is actually president,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, told me Thursday. “He wants to blame everyone but himself and his failure to join bipartisan efforts to create jobs, like the Keystone pipeline, is the reason we are not in a better place.”

The economy has never grown much more than by minuscule amounts during the Obama administration. Gross domestic product has grown at an anemic pace since he’s been in the White House, barely sputtering at 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2013. Unemployment under Mr. Obama has averaged a discouraging 8.8 percent and still tops out at 7.6 percent.

Gas prices are rising again, but Mr. Obama spent a long stretch of these speeches touting the doubling of “clean energy” production on his watch. He claimed to have “saved the auto industry,” but didn’t mention that Detroit has gone bankrupt.

Most absurdly, he cited as a point of pride that “our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.” He left out two key points: The congressional Republicans demanded spending cuts for increasing the debt ceiling, and the rate of decrease is high because the deficits themselves have been the largest red ink in U.S. history. Spending was $1.4 trillion more than revenue in 2009 and $1 trillion more in 2012.

The Congressional Budget Office projects a $642 billion deficit for this fiscal year, but that’s mostly because Mr. Obama hiked taxes on Jan. 1 to pay for his spending habits.

The president takes almost as little responsibility for his own actions as Anthony D. Weiner, the disgraced sexting addict and former congressman running for New York City mayor.

“With this endless parade of distractions and political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball. And I am here to say this needs to stop,” the president said in a 64-minute speech at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “Our focus has to be on the basic economic issues that matter most to you, the people we represent.”

By “phony scandals,” Mr. Obama is referring to the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservatives and then concealing the evidence and refusing to provide testimony to a congressional committee. He is also referring to his Justice Department sneaking into the emails and phone calls of reporters who don’t support the Obama administration’s agenda.

The president’s “endless parade of distractions” would also include exposing the National Security Agency’s secret Prism program that has been spying on innocent Americans’ Internet searches, phone calls and emails.

It has also been distracting to have Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. launch an investigation into whether George Zimmerman broke federal racial discrimination laws when he killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense.

Story Continues →

Tax writers promise 50 years of secrecy for senators’ suggestions

By Bernie Becker

The Senate’s top tax writers have promised their colleagues 50 years worth of secrecy in exchange for suggestions on what deductions and credits to preserve in tax reform.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the panel’s top Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), assured lawmakers that any submission they receive will be kept under lock and key by the committee and the National Archives until the end of 2064.

Deeming the submissions confidential, the Senate’s top tax writers have said only certain staff members — 10 in all — will get direct access to a senator’s written suggestions. Each submission will also be given its own ID number and be kept on password-protected servers, with printed versions kept in locked safes.

The promise of confidentiality was revealed just two days before the deadline for senators to participate in the Finance Committee’s “blank slate” process, which puts the onus on lawmakers to argue for what credits and deductions should be kept in a streamlined tax code.

A Finance Committee aide said Baucus and Hatch were trying to prove to colleagues that they were making secrecy a priority. Officials on the panel circulated the news to senators in a memo that was dated last Friday.

“The letter was done at the request of offices to provide some assurance that the committee would not make their submissions public,” the aide said. “Sens. Baucus and Hatch are going out of their way to assure their colleagues they will keep the submissions in confidence.”

Keeping the submissions confidential for a half century, the aide added, was “standard operating procedure for sensitive materials, including investigation materials.”

The lengths Baucus and Hatch have gone to reassure their colleagues underscores the importance the tax writers are placing on the blank-slate plan, and it shows they are working hard to ensure that all 100 senators engage in the process.

Baucus told The Hill he fully expects more senators to participate in writing because of the secrecy guarantee.

“Several senators have said to me how important that is to them,” Baucus said. “It’s quite significant.”

It also illustrates the enormous pressure being brought to bear by K Street lobbyists, who are working furiously to protect their clients and the tax provisions that benefit them.

The move raises the stakes for Baucus and Hatch, who stand to lose credibility if the submissions start to leak out despite their vow to keep them in the vault.

Baucus announced this week that the Finance panel would mark up a tax reform bill this fall, after he has a chance during the August recess to consider his colleagues’ submissions. He suggested that the senators who take part in the blank-slate process would have greater influence.

From the start of the process, senators have expressed concerns that Baucus and Hatch wouldn’t be able to keep their proposals private. Given the enormous amount of money on the line — more than $1 trillion a year in tax expenditures are up for possible elimination — blowback from interest groups and businesses could easily derail the process.

The blank slate, some senators argue, forces them to choose sides on tax breaks that can have fervent backers back home and make them appear to be favoring special interests.

Hatch stressed that he still expects a fair number of GOP senators to give him oral suggestions, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) told The Hill that he thought all Republicans would decide against putting ideas down on paper.

“We’re getting a lot of input regardless,” Hatch said. “All I want is input. I don’t care how they do it, whether it’s in writing or whether it’s personally.”

Under the confidential procedures set by the Finance panel, other committee staffers will only be allowed to handle senators’ suggestions if supervised by at least of the 10 authorized staffers.

Both the Democratic and Republican sides will receive a copy of a submission, and authorized staffers are supposed to log when copies of those proposals are made, who made them and how many.

The submissions can be released publicly, the memo says, if they’re scrubbed of any way of identifying the senator behind them.

But the confidentiality agreement might not be enough to get some senators off the sidelines.

Many have questioned whether it makes sense to move forward on the blank-slate approach when Democrats and Republicans have yet to resolve their long-standing differences about revenue.

While Republicans want the additional revenue from a simplified code to be used solely for lowering tax rates, Democrats want some of the windfall to go toward paying down the deficit.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stressed that he didn’t think any leaks would come out of the committee, even as he said he didn’t think it would have much impact on what senators actually write.

“If anything comes out, it’s certainly not going to be attributable to the leadership of the committee or the staff,” Cardin said. “It’ll be some other way it comes out, which is always possible.”

Still, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who said that all Republicans were meeting one-on-one with Hatch, added that the two top tax writers were taking a chance.

“I think that, unfortunately for them, people around here tend to believe that anything in Washington — there are no secrets,” Thune said. “But they’re doing their best.”

“That should be somewhat reassuring,” Thune added. “I think people will feel a little bit more freedom.”

Source

134 House Republicans Vote Against Our Unalienable Rights

Asylum Watch

On a long enough timeline,

the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.

**********

The above is the tagline for the blog, Zero Hedge, where I found two articles related to the now infamous National Security Agency (NSA). From the first article, I share this partial quote:

When it comes to the conversion of the US into a totalitarian state, few things are quite as symbolic as the construction of the NSA’s Bluffdale, Utah Data Canter,…

I agree with that sentiment. But, it was the second article the got my blood boiling when I read the following:

Moments ago, an unlikely grouping between a 33-year old Republican, Rep-Justin Amash, and an 84-year old Democrat, Rep-John Conyers, resulted in a House vote, that if passed, would have suspended the NSA’s “indiscriminate collection of phone records” and effectively ended the program’s statutory authority. Yet despite significant lobbying by the White…

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