( Another worthy piece analyzing Obama’s world-wide collapse. – JW )
President Obama finds himself in the unenviable position of battling US Congress on a variety of issues while simultaneously having to confront 35 US allies and foreign leaders outraged over his policies whether on Syria and Iran or on the NSA eavesdropping on their personal and private conversations.
There is a silent anti-Obama uprising taking place around the world thanks to his lack of leadership and to the inexperience of the advisers around him.
In the case of the often-reserved Saudi Arabia, the chastising was particularly harsh given the patience the Kingdom exercised in its attempts to resolve the Syrian tragedy using US help, to no avail. Thanks to the incompetency of the team Obama, Syria is now the favorite global destination for Sunni and Shia Islamist pilgrims sporting suicide vests and specialized sniper rifles to kill pregnant women and children.
Recent US polls show Mr. Obama hitting new lows in popularity as his domestic agenda unravels on Obamacare (Wonder if Gallup or Rasmussen are able to conduct a global poll on Obama’s popularity). Mass cancellations by insurance companies against the self-insured (Usually small business owners) is shaking things up for the White House and no amount of spin will pay the difference millions of Americans will have to assume as they begin their journey towards carrying the burden of the biggest welfare state system ever engineered by the far-left. Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee look better by the day for their marathon filibuster to defund Obamacare.
It took five years of severe drought, but no umbrella will protect Mr. Obama from the cats and dogs raining on him and the people around him today.
While Mr. Obama feigns ignorance on the NSA eavesdropping (As he did with all the other scandals), the storm brewing overseas is gathering momentum. For sure, the 35 foreign leaders are exchanging opinions and ideas, as I write this, on what it would take to send the right message to the US and it is a question of time before many band together to confront the White House as one voice. It is a political bonanza they are not about to miss even though many spy as much against the US and many have sat on the sidelines when it comes to Syria.
Is the White House aware of this global anti-Obama uprising? Apparently not.
Wednesday night, the Israeli Air Force allegedly bombed two sites in Latakya and Damascus to interrupt the delivery of Russian-made SA-8 mobile missile batteries to Hezbollah. To add insult to injury, a US official leaked the information to the press by claiming the Obama Administration did not want to appear having condoned the operations during sensitive talks with Iran.
I really must be experiencing a re-run of Get Smart.
Has that official leaking the information lost his/her mind? Does he/she not know that with such public explanation the Iranians will seek certain guarantees against other attacks before they proceed with negotiations? Maybe the White House is praying for the Iranians to demand these guarantees that would compel this President to freeze Israeli capabilities from protecting its citizenry under the guise of its peace-loving initiative with a mass murderer like Khamenei. I am telling you, Maxwell Smart really works at the White House today.
On the other hand, this US not-so-smart official who leaked the information just fell in his/her own trap. Possibly, Israel may have figured a way to sabotage the US-Iranian talks the country knows it could only lead to disastrous results by making it a habit to hit the Assad regime every few days or so. Of course, I am not saying this is probable because the Israeli leadership is too wise to let the Iranians create a wedge between them and the US.
Too much elitism in the crowd surrounding Mr. Obama is fogging their perception of what is coming down the pike. Instead of looking at themselves in the mirror, they are doubling down on an agenda already causing an uprising against the policies of Mr. Obama on a worldwide scale.
Maybe First Lady Michelle Obama’s invitation to Prince George’s first birthday celebration will have to be lost in Her Majesty’s mail for this crowd to realize how unpopular the Obama Administration has become.
Nothing like banality to shock their nervous system.
By Anthony Boadle
(Reuters) – Reports that the United States spied on Brazilian oil company Petrobras, if proven, would be tantamount to industrial espionage and have no security justification, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff said on Monday.
Brazil’s Globo television network reported on Sunday that the U.S. National Security Agency hacked into the computer networks of Petrobras and other companies, including Google Inc. , citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The report came as Brazil is preparing to auction rights to tap some of the largest oil finds in the world in recent decades, deposits trapped under a salt layer off its Atlantic coast. State-run Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company and a source of national pride, made the discoveries in recent years and will be a mandatory partner in developing all of the new deep-sea fields.
The Globo report added tension to relations between Washington and Brasilia already strained by previous disclosures of NSA spying on internet communications in Brazil, including email messages and phone calls of Rousseff herself.
An angry Rousseff has repeatedly demanded an explanation. At stake is a state visit by Rousseff to the White House on Oct. 23 to meet President Barack Obama and discuss a possible $4 billion jet fighter deal, cooperation on oil and biofuels technology, as well as other commercial agreements.
“If the facts reported by the press are confirmed, it will be evident that the motive for the spying attempts is not security or the war on terrorism but strategic economic interests,” Rousseff said in a statement.
The U.S. government has said the secret internet surveillance programs disclosed by Snowden in June are aimed at monitoring suspected terrorist activity and do look at the content of private messages or phone calls.
PETROBAS NOT A SECURITY THREAT
“Clearly, Petrobras is not a threat to the security of any country,” Rousseff said, adding that the company is one of the world’s largest oil assets and belongs to the Brazilian people.
Brazil will take steps to protect itself, its government and its companies, Rousseff said, without elaborating. She said such espionage and interception of data were illegal and had no place in the relations between two democratic nations.
On Friday, Obama met with Rousseff during a summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies in St. Petersburg, Russia, and pledged to look into the reports that the NSA had snooped on her personal communications and those of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto when he was still a candidate.
She said Obama had promised her a reply by Wednesday.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo is scheduled to meet in Washington on the same day with Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice, Brazilian officials said.
Globo did not say when the alleged spying took place, what data might have been gathered or what exactly the NSA may have been seeking. The television report showed slides from an NSA presentation, dated May 2012, that it said was used to show new agents how to spy on private computer networks.
In addition to Google and Petrobras the presentation suggested the NSA had tapped into systems operated by France’s foreign ministry and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, an international bank cooperative known as Swift through which many cross-border financial transactions take place.
Brazilian officials said the spying report would not affect the upcoming auction of rights to extract oil from the giant Libra oil field, which will go ahead as scheduled on Oct. 21.
Some Brazilian politicians have suggested that U.S. companies should be excluded from the bidding, but experts said that is legally impossible according to the terms of the auction.
Libra has estimated reserves of between 8 and 12 billion barrels of oil, according to Brazilian oil regulator ANP.
Brazil is counting on the new oil production to consolidate its emergence as a world economic power and take the country’s development to a new level. Rousseff signed a law on Monday that designates the royalties from the new oil production contracts for health and education programs.
by Jeff Larson, ProPublica, Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times, and Scott Shane, The New York Times, Sep. 5, 2013, 3:08 p.m.
Note: This story is not subject to our Creative Commons license.
Editor’s Note: Why We Published the Decryption Story
The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.
The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.
Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
Beginning in 2000, as encryption tools were gradually blanketing the Web, the N.S.A. invested billions of dollars in a clandestine campaign to preserve its ability to eavesdrop. Having lost a public battle in the 1990s to insert its own “back door” in all encryption, it set out to accomplish the same goal by stealth.
The agency, according to the documents and interviews with industry officials, deployed custom-built, superfast computers to break codes, and began collaborating with technology companies in the United States and abroad to build entry points into their products. The documents do not identify which companies have participated.
The N.S.A. hacked into target computers to snare messages before they were encrypted. And the agency used its influence as the world’s most experienced code maker to covertly introduce weaknesses into the encryption standards followed by hardware and software developers around the world.
“For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies,” said a 2010 memo describing a briefing about N.S.A. accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. “Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”
The National Security Agency has an intelligence problem: It won’t admit how dumb it is.AUGUST 16, 2013 BY SHANE HARRIS
The Obama administration’s claim that the NSA is not spying on Americans rests on a fundamental assertion: That the intelligence agency is so good at distinguishing between innocent people and evildoers, and is so tightly overseen by Congress and the courts, that it doesn’t routinely collect the communications of Americans en masse.
We now know that’s not true. And we shouldn’t be surprised. The question is, why won’t the NSA admit it?
On Thursday night, the Washington Post released a classified audit of NSA’s intelligence-gathering systems, showing they are beset by human error, fooled by moving targets, and rely on so many different servers and databases that NSA employees can’t keep tabs on all of them.
It had been previously reported that the NSA had unintentionally collected the communications of Americans, in violation of court orders, as it swept up electronic signals in foreign countries. But officials had sought to portray those mistakes as limited, swiftly corrected, and not affecting that many people.
One of the reasons that the NSA has been able to gather so much power is that the agency has built a reputation over the years for super-smarts and hyper-competence. The NSA’s analysts weren’t just the brainiest guys in the room, the myth went; they were the brightest bulbs in the building. The NSA’s hackers could penetrate any network. Their mathematicians could unravel any equation. Their cryptologists could crack any cipher. That reputation has survived blown assignments and billion-dollar boondoggles. Whether it can outlast these latest revelations is an open question.
The Post found that the NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authorities thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008…” That’s the year when NSA’s global surveillance system went into hyperdrive. The agency was granted unprecedented authority to monitor communications without individual warrants and to surveil whole categories of people and communications.
Most of the violations affecting Americans’ information were the result what the agency calls “incidental collection.” So how many Americans were caught up in the NSA’s surveillance nets as they were dragged across supposedly foreign targets? The exact number is unclear. But the short answer is: lots and lots of them.
In one instance, a programming glitch collected a “large number” of calls from Washington, D.C, instead of the intended targets in Egypt, according to the audit. Somehow, the area code 202 (for Washington) was keyed instead of 20 (the country code for Egypt.) The NSA’s supposedly discriminating surveillance architecture was undone by a typo.
The audit reveals a recurring problem with human error in the day-to-day operations of global surveillance and shows what a messy and imprecise business it can be. In the first quarter of 2012, 123 incidents of non-compliance with the rules, or 63 percent of those examined, were attributed to human or operator error. These included typographical errors, inaccurate or overbroad search queries, and what the report calls “inaccurate or insufficient research information and/or workload issues.”
Analysts needed more “complete and consistent” information about their targets to avoid errors, the audit found. This suggests that while the NSA’s collection systems are dipping into data streams, the analysts aren’t always equipped to determine who is and isn’t a legitimate target.
The NSA’s systems also have problems knowing when a target is on the move, and possibly has entered the United States. (When he does, different regulations come into play about how the surveillance is authorized and what can be monitored without approval from the court.)
As recently as 2012, NSA was not always able to know when targets using a mobile phone had crossed a U.S. border. These so-called “roamers” accounted for the largest number of technological errors in the violations that were examined.
A problem discovered last year, which appears in the report under the heading “Significant Incidents of Non-Compliance,” helps illustrate how NSA is collecting so much information that it can actually lose track of it and store it in places where it shouldn’t be.
In February 2012, the NSA found 3,032 “files containing call detail records” on a server. A call detail record, or CDR, is analogous to a phone bill. It shows whom was called, when, and for how long. This is metadata, like what’s collected today on all phone calls in the United States.
It’s not clear how many CDRs (each representing an individual) were in each of those files. But they were stored on the server for more than five years, past the cut off point at which the information is supposed to be destroyed, pursuant to NSA rules that are meant to protect the privacy of Americans.
How the records got there is a mystery. The report says they were “potentially collected” under business records orders, which are authorized by the Patriot Act. But that’s not certain.
What is known, however, is that the records were stored with information that shouldn’t have been anywhere near them. It came from the agency’s highly classified Stellar Wind program, which covered the warrantless interception of phone calls and emails (not just their metadata) that was secretly authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001. Joining the CDRs and the Stellar Wind records was data from yet another program that was unrelated to the two.
Mixing or “co-mingling” information obtained from different programs, and under different laws or authorizations, is a dangerous practice in the intelligence profession. Information is segregated to restrict and monitor the number of people who have access to it. An analyst cleared to look at CDRs might not be authorized to listen to phone calls intercepted under Stellar Wind. But if it’s all on the same server, he might be able to do just that.
That may have happened in 2011, according to the audit. Some personnel may have been granted access to a cache of information that was recently modified so that they were no longer allowed to look at it. But not all the employees were informed about the change.
Storing different intelligence streams in one place also increases the risk of revealing valuable sources and methods for how it was obtained–a basic violation of intelligence tradecraft. It also it makes it easier to steal. (Just ask Edward Snowden.)
And segregation creates a bulwark against privacy violations. Information about Americans is generally kept clear of foreign intelligence because the rules on how the former can be used and disseminated are stricter.
But infractions and mistakes weren’t always reported to the NSA’s overseers, either in Congress or at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Partly that’s because the NSA doesn’t view unintentional or “incidental” collection of Americans’ communications as a violation of the rules. It was an accident, the result of what the agency called in a previously declassified document “problems [that] generally involved the implementation of highly sophisticated technology in a complex and ever-changing communications environment…” Translation: Surveillance is hard. Our computers aren’t perfect. We acted in good faith.
Not that the court can verify if that’s true. In a candid admission to the Post, the chief judge, Reggie Walton, said he and his colleagues must “rely upon the accuracy of the information” the government provides, and that the court “does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance…”
In one case where the court did curtail a new kind of surveillance, it was only months after learning that it was put in place. The court deemed the still-undisclosed activities unconstitutional, and the NSA had to make changes before it could restart them.
The NSA is also instructing its employees not to provide full information about infractions to Congress, which is supposed to oversee intelligence collection efforts and ensure they comply with the law.
The newly released documents affirm something we’ve long known: the NSA gathers up large amounts of information on foreigners and U.S. citizens and then tries to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff, with imperfect results. That’s alarming, but from a technological standpoint, understandable.
What members of Congress and the public may find more troubling is that the NSA wasn’t honest about these shortcomings. Officials hid them from the same judges and lawmakers that President Obama recently said were engaged in a rigorous process of checks and balances that keeps electronic spying within the bounds of the law.
Perhaps that system, like the NSA’s data vacuums, could use a tune up.
More on NSA
August 13, 2013 by Brandon Smith
Morality is a highly misunderstood component of human nature. Some people believe they can create moral guidelines from thin air based on their personal biases and prejudices. Some people believe that morality comes from the force of bureaucracy and government law. Still, others believe that there is no such thing; that morality is a facade created by men in order to better grease the wheels of society.
All of these world views discount the powerful scientific and psychological evidence surrounding Natural Law — the laws that human beings form internally due to inherent conscience, regardless of environmental circumstances. When a person finally grasps inborn morality, the whole of the world comes into focus. The reality is that we are not born “good” or “evil.” Rather, we are all born with the capacity for good AND evil, and this internal battle stays with us until the end of our days.
Every waking moment we are given a choice, a test of our free will, to be ruled by desire and fear, or to do what we know at our very core is right. When a man silences his inner voice, the results can be terrible for him and those around him. When an entire culture silences its inner voice, the results can be catastrophic. Such a shift in the moral compass of a society rarely takes place in a vacuum. There is always a false shepherd, a corrupt leadership that seeks to rule. Rulership, though, is difficult in the face of an awake population that respects integrity and honor. Therefore criminals must follow these specific steps in order to take power:
Pretend To Be Righteous: They must first sell the public on the idea that they hold the exact same values of natural law as everyone else. The public must at first believe that the criminal leaders are pure in their motives and have the best interests of the nation at heart, even if they secretly do not.
Pretend To Be Patriotic: Despots often proclaim an untarnished love of their homeland and the values that it was founded upon. However, what they really seek is to become a living symbol of the homeland. They insist first that they are the embodiment of the national legacy, and then they attempt to change that national legacy entirely. A corrupt government uses the ideals of a society to acquire a foothold, and when they have gained sufficient control, they dictate to that society a new set of ideals that are totally contrary to the original.
Offer To “Fix” The Economy: Tyrants do not like it when the citizens under them are self sufficient or economically independent. They will use whatever methods are at their disposal including subversive legislation, fiat currency creation, corporate monopoly and even engineered financial collapse in order to remove the public’s ability to function autonomously. They will begin this process under the guise that the current less-controlled and less-centralized system is “not safe enough,” and that they have a better way to ensure prosperity.
Offer To Lend A Hand: Once the population has been removed from its own survival imperative and is for the most part helpless, the criminal leadership moves in and offers to “help” using taxation and money creation, slowly siphoning the wealth from the middle class and raising prices through inflation. Eventually, everyone will be “equal”; equally poor that is. In the end, the whole nation will see the rulership as indispensable, for without them, the economy would no longer exist and tragedy would ensue.
Create External Fear: Once in place, the criminal leadership then conjures an enemy for the people, or multiple enemies for the people. The goal here is to create a catalyst for mass fear. When the majority of people are afraid of an external threat, they will embrace the establishment as a vital safeguard. When a society becomes convinced that it cannot take care of itself economically, little coaxing is required to convince them that they are also not competent enough to take care of their own defense. At this point, the establishment has free reign to dissolve long cherished freedoms while the masses are distracted by a mysterious threat hiding somewhere over the horizon.
Create Internal Fear: They move the threat from over the horizon, right to the public’s front door, or even within their own home. The enemy is no longer a foreigner. Now, the enemy is the average looking guy two houses over, or an outspoken friend, or even a dissenting family member. The enemy is all around them, according to the establishment. The public is sold on the idea that the sacrifice needed in order to combat such a pervasive “threat” is necessarily high.
Sell The People On The Virtues Of Moral Relativism: Now that the populace is willing to forgo certain liberties for the sake of security, they have been softened up enough for reprogramming to begin. The establishment will tell the people that the principles they used to hold so dear are actually weaknesses that make them vulnerable to the enemy. In order to defeat an enemy so monstrous, they claim, we must become monstrous ourselves. We must be willing to do ANYTHING, no matter how vile or contrary to natural law, in order to win.
Honesty must be replaced with deceit. Dissent must be replaced with silence. Peace must be replaced with violence. The independent should be treated with suspicion. The outspoken treated with contempt. Women and children are no longer people to be protected, but targets to be eliminated. The innocent dead become collateral damage. The innocent living become informants to be tortured and exploited. Good men are labeled cowards because they refuse to “do what needs to be done,” while evil men are labeled heroes for having the “strength of will” to abandon their conscience.
Thus, the criminal leadership makes once honorable citizens accomplices in the crime. The more disgusting the crime, the more apt the people will be to defend it and the system in general, simply because they have been inducted into the dark ceremony of moral ambiguity.
The actions of the state become the actions of all society. A single minded collectivist culture is born, one in which every person is a small piece of the greater machine. And, that which the machine is guilty of, every man is guilty of. Therefore, it becomes the ultimate and absurd purpose of each person within the system to DENY the crime, deny the guilt, and make certain that the machine continues to function for generations to come.
Though we have already passed though most of the above stages, Americans are still not yet quite indoctrinated into the realm of moral relativism. This is, though, swiftly changing.
The Current Sales Pitch
Just take a look at the attitude of the Barack Obama Administration and the mainstream media towards Edward Snowden and his recent asylum approved by Russia.
The White House, rather than admitting wrongdoing in its support for the NSA’s mass surveillance of American citizens without warrant, or even attempting to deny the existence of the PRISM program, is now instead trying to promote NSA spying as essential to our well being, and wag a shaming finger at Snowden and the Russian government for damaging their domestic spy network. Obama lamented on Russia’s stance, stating that their thinking is “backwards.”
Did I miss something here? I’m no fan of the Russian oligarchy, but shouldn’t Obama and most of the NSA (let alone every other Federal alphabet agency) be sitting in a dark hole somewhere awaiting trial for violating the Constitution on almost every level? Yet, we are instead supposed to despise Snowden for exposing the crime they committed and distrust any country that happens to give him shelter?
Due to public outcry, Obama has attempted to pacify critics by announcing plans to make NSA mass surveillance “more transparent”. First, I would like to point out that he did not offer to end NSA spying on Americans without warrant, which is what a President with any ounce of integrity would have done. Second, Obama’s calls for more transparency have come at the exact same time as the NSA announces its plans to remove 90 percent of its systems administrators to make sure another “Snowden incident” does not occur.
Does this sound like an agency that plans on becoming “more transparent”?
Second, would Obama have called for ANY transparency over the NSA whatsoever if Snowden had never come forward? Of course not! The exposure of the crime has led to lies and empty placation, nothing more.
In the meantime, numerous other political miscreants have hit the media trail, campaigning for the NSA as well as other surveillance methods, bellowing to the rafters over the absolute necessity of domestic spy programs. Fifteen years ago, the government would have tried to sweep all of this under the rug. Today, they want to acclimate us to the inevitability of the crime, stating that we had better get used to it.
Their position? That Snowden’s whistleblowing put America at risk. My questions is, how? How did Snowden’s exposure of an unConstitutional and at bottom illegal surveillance program used against hundreds of millions of innocent Americans do our country harm? Is it the position of the White House that the truth is dangerous, and deceit is safety?
I suspect this is the case considering the recent treatment of military whistleblower Bradley Manning, who has been accused by some to have “aided Al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts” through his actions.
How did Manning do this? By releasing information, including battlefield videos, that were hidden from the public containing proof of U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps I’m just a traditionalist and not hip to modern diplomatic strategy, but I would think that if you don’t want to be blamed for war crimes, then you probably shouldn’t commit war crimes. And, if you don’t want the enemy to gain new recruits, you should probably avoid killing innocent civilians and pissing off their families. Just a thought.
So, just to keep track, U.S. government commits war crimes, but is the good guy. Bradley Manning exposes war crimes, and is the bad guy. Moral relativism at its finest. Moving on…
The shift towards moral bankruptcy is being implemented in the financial world as well. Investors, hedge funds, and major banks now surge into the stock market every time the private Federal Reserve hints that it may continue fiat stimulus. When bad news hits the mainstream feeds, people playing the Dow casino actually cheer with glee, exactly because bad economic news means more QE from the Fed. They know that the Fed is artificially propping up the markets. The Fed openly admits that it does this. And they know that our fiscal system is hanging by a thin thread. And you know what, very few of them care.
The Fed created the collapse with easy money and manipulated interest rates, and now, some people cheer them as the heroes of the U.S. financial structure.
The American narrative is quickly changing. There has long been criminality and degeneracy within our government and the corporate cartels surrounding it, but I believe what we are witnessing today is the final step in the metamorphosis that is totalitarianism. The last stage accelerates when the average citizen is not just complicit in the deeds of devils, but when he becomes a devil himself. When Americans froth and stomp in excitement for the carnival of death, and treat the truth as poison, then the transformation will be complete.
As new information surfaces about last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and as the National Security Agency scandal continues to swirl throughout the media, the Obama administration has come out with a worldwide warning about the possibility of serious terrorist attacks.
Please forgive my skepticism. The news media need to dig into the timing and motivation of these warnings, coming as they do against the backdrop of scandals, particularly when the administration has created what it thinks is a win-win situation. Simply put, if the attacks fail to occur, President Obama’s team can claim that they thwarted them. If the attacks do occur, the administration can say it provided fair warning. But that’s a fool’s bargain when dealing with terrorists who can simply strike another day.
In an hour-long broadcast Tuesday, “The Truth About Benghazi,” CNN reported that dozens of CIA operatives were on the ground in Benghazi on Sept. 11 — something the agency has apparently tried to cover up. That’s the night Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Such information brings the Benghazi issue — one the administration thought had lost significant traction — back into public view. If the CIA had people on the ground, why were Stevens and the three others essentially left to die?
The Department of Justice filed a sealed indictment against a Libyan militia leader on the same day CNN broadcast its report on the Benghazi attack. Amazing coincidence? Please forgive my skepticism again.
By promoting its efficiency in picking up the chatter about possible terrorist attacks, the intelligence community may believe it can quiet critics outraged by the revelations of the NSA’s widespread domestic surveillance programs — information leaked by onetime NSA contractor Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian.
Once again, pardon my skepticism. The NSA scandal is unlikely to die down anytime soon, despite the terrorist threat taking over the news for this week. And think about it for a moment. Do you honestly believe that the leader of al Qaeda communicates with his right-hand man in Yemen without considering how many other sets of ears may be listening? I strongly doubt it.
Now is the time for reporters to look to their confidential sources about the nature of the terrorist threats. One problem exists — one you might have missed last week. The Justice Department won a key victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals to force a reporter for The New York Times to reveal his confidential sources about information he published in a book on the Iranian nuclear program. That decision creates a significant chill among sources who might want to talk about severity of the current threat.
I spent a decade reporting about Middle East terrorism for Newsweek and ABC News. Terrorists typically have several objectives. One is to inflict death and destruction. Another is to create fear among the civilian population of a stronger adversary, such as the United States, and its allies.
By closing 22 embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and North Africa and keeping 19 of them shut for the rest of the week, the Obama administration has already given the terrorists a major public relations victory.
Remember during the campaign when Mr. Obama constantly said al Qaeda was on the run? Maybe he wanted to use intelligence information back then to get re-elected. Now maybe he and his administration want intelligence information to provide cover for a variety of scandals. The dots really don’t need to be connected; the connections are all too obvious.
• Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at the Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and “20/20.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @charper51.
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.
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)