Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Update!

Your blogger was fired from his job 7 July 2008 effective 11 July 2008.

Will keep you updated, will cry next week (too busy this week).

Torture

Watch it.

Great Artsy Viddie

Our Leader's Brave New World; The Slow Death Of American Freedom

This is how a great nation deteriorates, citizens ignorant of stuff like this or letting it go on or even happy with the promise of safety it offers.
With Congress on the verge of outlining new parameters for National Security Agency eavesdropping between suspicious foreigners and Americans, lawmakers are leaving largely untouched a host of government programs that critics say involves far more domestic surveillance than the wiretaps they sought to remedy.

These programs - most of them highly classified - are run by an alphabet soup of federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies. They sift, store and analyze the communications, spending habits and travel patterns of U.S. citizens, searching for suspicious activity.

The surveillance includes data-mining programs that allow the NSA and the FBI to sift through large databanks of e-mails, phone calls and other communications, not for selective information, but in search of suspicious patterns.

Other information, like routine bank transactions, is kept in databases similarly monitored by the Central Intelligence Agency.

"There's virtually no branch of the U.S. government that isn't in some way involved in monitoring or surveillance," said Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian and fellow at the National Security Archives at The George Washington University. "We're operating in a brave new world."

Federal rules limit the ways some of the information can be used and shared among government agencies. Pending changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act contain numerous provisions set up to safeguard the privacy of Americans. But there are few similar protections with other types of surveillance.

Under the FISA proposal, for example, a CIA transcript or NSA summary of an innocent social conversation between a foreign terrorist and his relative in the United States would not be shared with other intelligence analysts. Even if the conversation was later found to have investigative merit, the U.S. relative's name and other identifying information would either be redacted or revealed only under limited circumstances to select agencies.

The Bush administration argues that the privacy and civil liberties protections in place for surveillance not covered by the FISA rules are "unprecedented." In addition to the data-mining, use of financial transaction databases and satellite imagery, the surveillance includes monitoring the travel patterns of airline passengers.

Use of satellites by local law enforcement agencies, for instance, is supposed to go through a stringent approval protocol at the Department of Homeland Security's newly formed National Applications Office.

But critics say the safeguards don't always work. Some blunders in the use of such protections have become public. NewYorker writer Lawrence Wright wrote in January about one such experience. In 2002, while he was researching The Looming Tower, his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on al-Qaida, two members of an FBI terrorism task force arrived at his home. Why, they asked, had his daughter been speaking with someone in the United Kingdom who was in touch with suspected al-Qaida operatives?

It wasn't his daughter, he told them flatly. Wright himself had made the calls. And the person he contacted was a British civil rights lawyer who had asked him not to speak with her clients, some of whom are relatives of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant.

"My daughter is no terrorist - she went to high school with the Bush twins," Wright said. "I was taken aback. They were apparently monitoring my phones."

Wright said he was particularly surprised because he was aware of protections supposedly in place to conceal his name and other identifying information that would have been gathered during the creation of transcripts of the call.

Wright said he doubted the government would have been able to get a warrant for the information, and he said he didn't know how the FBI obtained his daughter's name, let alone got the impression that she was communicating with the British lawyer.

Critics say such stories recall 1960s and 1970s-era abuses - the CIA's involvement in political activities, and the FBI monitoring of peace groups and civil rights activists - that prompted Congress to pass far-reaching laws bringing foreign-intelligence gathering and any domestic surveillance under strict controls and judicial oversight.

Although the latest FISA proposal includes numerous provisions for a secret court to monitor and authorize surveillance, and for inspectors general to keep tabs on who's being monitored by various agencies, little oversight exists for surveillance programs that fall outside FISA scrutiny.

Congress has requested, and in many cases received, briefings on some of the programs. But its dissatisfaction with the amount of information provided by the administration has frequently resulted in holding back funding for programs.

The House Appropriations Committee took such a step this week, holding back funding for the National Applications Office's effort to use U.S. satellites for domestic purposes until August, when the Government Accountability Office will release a report about how the program will handle civil liberties and privacy concerns.

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said the department had repeatedly met with lawmakers and would comply with any review process. He called efforts to stall the funding "misguided" and a potential threat to public safety and security missions.

Even when Congress has received information, lawmakers say their questions or concerns are often addressed within the agency that is responsible for the surveillance, amounting to a practice of self-policing.

"You don't have to look far into history to know that when the government, any government, is given secret authorities, that those authorities are ultimately abused," said Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. "You don't even have to attribute bad motives to anyone. In an intelligence officer's zeal to protect the country, they often will overstep their bounds."

In part to assuage privacy concerns, the Department of Homeland Security has established a privacy czar to ensure that the technologies and programs initiated by the federal agency do not erode privacy laws or violate civil liberties. While many have lauded the creation of such a position, some believe it should be expanded to a Cabinet-level post in the executive branch, a step that some advocates say would send a powerful message in an age when digitized communications have ballooned and made safeguarding private information vastly more complicated.

"We should have what Canada has, which is a minister of privacy, someone looking out for the privacy issues of Americans," said James Bamford, an intelligence expert and author on two books about the history of the NSA. "We have armies of people out there trying to pick into everyone's private life, but we have nobody out there who's an advocate."
Link.

Monday, July 07, 2008

WMDs Found?

No, not really, just some nasty crap.

Maybe that will be the October surprise this cycle: not a terrorist attack, as wished by President McCain, but the discovery of a legitimate WMD.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

And You Shall Know Him By Those He Surrounds Himself With; Not St. John -- Saint Bono!


Link.


Link.

Lennon Speaks

One Man Thinks We Got Played In The Betancourt Release

Not the work of fine Colombian military prowess but a sturm und drang show surrounding a, well, release for ransom.
Ingrid Betancourt--This Year's Jessica Lynch?
South American affairs is obviously not China Hand's bailiwick, but I had the funny feeling that the the “rescue” of Betancourt and the other hostages from the hands of FARC by the Colombian government looked, walked, and quacked more like a negotiated release than a genuine piece of special ops derring do.

It looks like I might have been right.

Swiss radio is reporting that it cost $20 million to spring the hostages.

For those of you interested in how unworthy suspicions flower in the mind of an incorrigibly cynical blogger, I will regale patient readers with a rundown of the official story's fishier elements.

First, the Betancourt story got huge—suspiciously huge—play in US papers. In my hometime paper, the LA Times, it was the big A1 right-column, banner headline lead.

Well, Ingrid Betancourt, like Jerry Lewis, might be huge in France—she holds dual Colombian-French citizenship—but, quite frankly, before July 2 I had never heard of her.

Obviously, the US press was primed to push this story.

That's not by itself indicator of something fishy going on.

The US government has a strong interest in boosting the kinda-fascisty guys who run Colombia while running down kinda-commie Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

It also has a strong interest in discrediting and sidelining Chavez as a regional leader who can serve as a go-between and extract hostages and concessions from FARC.

So the story that the Colombians--with indispensable US support--sprung the hostages would have received some play in any case.

However, the orgasmic and uncritical US press coverage of the action, combined with the gratuitous jibes at Chavez (including energetically interpreting some neutral-sounding statements from Betancourt as veiled Chavez criticism), appeared so promptly, ubiquitously, and hyperbolically it appeared to me we were witnessing the previously-planned orchestration of a media event rather than the reaction to a slick rescue.

Another indicator was that getting Betancourt released was a big thing for President Sarkozy of France. The French pay for hostages. Full stop.

So there was a strong incentive to get Betancourt out by any means possible--including a ransom--to steal Chavez's thunder and save Sarkozy's political bacon.

Of course, the rescue story was something that, in the context of special ops rescues, sounded ridiculous, involving some scheme where FARC unwittingly gathered the dispersed hostages and loaded them on a helicopter that fortuitously turned out to belong to the Colombian government.

However, the story sounded completely plausible if somebody had made a deal with FARC and said, hey, we're sending a helicopter for the hostages. Load ‘em up!

When Betancourt got out, she refrained from direct criticism of FARC, calling for a peace process instead of some no-holds barred war on the SOBs who imprisoned her for six years—another indication that a deal was involved.

For inquisitive reporters, I would consider another red flag the fact that nobody got killed. Indeed, not a shot was fired.

One would think that the Colombians would have taken advantage of an extraordinary intelligence and infiltration coup not just to helicopter out some hostages but also helicopter in some commandos and put a nice corpse-filled punctuation point on a signal victory in the war on terror.

So, a big media push would be needed not only to capitalize on a deal that was in the works; it would obscure the suspicion that a deal was involved and also dissuade the press from taking a hard second look at the official story it had already splashed all over its front pages.

The press—apparently having forgotten the manufactured bruhaha over Jessica Lynch's rescue and eager to confirm the suspicion that it is more interested in any narrative that the government is willing to provide legs for than messy, facty, and critical reportage--happily obliged.

Add to that the allegations of a ransom appearing in the European media, and that's something that looks like it's worth pursuing.

Here's how the Guardian reported the Betancourt ransom story.

Ingrid Betancourt arrived in France today after being held captive for six years in the Colombian jungle, amid claims that a ransom was paid to free her.

The Colombian government said that she was freed in an audacious operation after the military tricked Farc into handing the French-Colombian politician over without a shot being fired.

But quoting "reliable sources", Swiss Radio reported that a ransom was paid of around $20m (£10m).

It said that the US, which had three citizens among those freed, was behind the deal and that "the whole operation afterwards was a set-up".

The station reported that the wife of one of the hostages' guards was the go-between, having been arrested by the Colombian army.

If proved true, the allegations would be hugely embarrassing for the Colombian government which was showered with praise for the efficiency of the operation. Many commentators had predicted that it would even spell the end of Farc as a credible force.

However, I wonder how much play, serious investigation, or popular attention the Betancourt story will merit, now that its propaganda value as a one-day headline sensation has been realized.
Link.

And he has some support: the full Guardian story.

What President McCain Knows

People Actually Read This Blog?

What other explanation is there for this??

Scoop! Beloved Leader Hits The Road To See The Damage He's Done


Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

Something To Ponder Or Hope For

President McCain elected with significant Dem majorities in both houses. Maybe they can just spend four years beating him up? His popularity rating will down with Beloved Leader's by the second quarter of 09 so what's the risk?

In Case You Care What Clark Actually Said That Got The MSM All Dizzy

You know, in case you bother with facts or truth....



And he says what he said and makes his position simple enough for any MSM who cares to to understand:
"There are many important issues in this Presidential election, clearly one of the most important issues is national security and keeping the American people safe. In my opinion, protecting the American people is the most important duty of our next President. I have made comments in the past about John McCain's service and I want to reiterate them in order be crystal clear. As I have said before I honor John McCain's service as a prisoner of war and a Vietnam Veteran. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. I would never dishonor the service of someone who chose to wear the uniform for our nation.

“John McCain is running his campaign on his experience and how his experience would benefit him and our nation as President. That experience shows courage and commitment to our country - but it doesn't include executive experience wrestling with national policy or go-to-war decisions. And in this area his judgment has been flawed - he not only supported going into a war we didn't have to fight in Iraq, but has time and again undervalued other, non-military elements of national power that must be used effectively to protect America But as an American and former military officer I will not back down if I believe someone doesn't have sound judgment when it comes to our nation's most critical issues.”
Link.

The President Speaks

Really, an approximate majority voted for a complete ignoramus two terms running now. So why not a third time? And besides, we know people get elected appeal;ing to voters' hearts -- maybe wallets -- before the mind, so stupidity and ignorance are not significant liabilities.

But let's have a laugh at President McCain anyway.