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Listening in on Putin: Biden and the Ukraine

By: Thursday April 24, 2014 7:28 am

NSA Intercept X19/Alpha Bravo, 26APR2014, 23:12ZULU
Access Code: pa$$word

(NSA sends excerpt intercept below, between Russian Vladimir Putin and unnamed aide)

PUTIN: I’m devastated. What should we do?

AIDE: Sire?

PUTIN: Joe Biden is in the Ukraine and he said “Russia must stop talking and start acting to defuse the Ukraine crisis.” To be truthful, I’m frightened.

AIDE: I may have the solution. We aren’t actually trying to defuse the situation, so by just talking we’re technically in compliance with Biden’s statement.

PUTIN: It’s still scary when he talks tough like that. Who knows what will happen next? Biden also said “further provocative behavior would lead to greater isolation.”

AIDE: Woa. I hadn’t heard that. You’re right, that is scary.

PUTIN: Look at this transcript. Biden also stressed the need for the Ukrainian authorities to tackle corruption, simultaneously adding the U.S. would be giving those same authorities $50 million for political and economic reforms in Ukraine.

AIDE: Talking about anti-corruption while handing over bribe money?

PUTIN: Yes, exactly. They have figured out one of our own strategies and are now using it against us. I may have underestimated these Americans.

AIDE: Sire, you saw that they are sending troops eastward. Media reports show that Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will get 150 American troops each.

PUTIN: Good Non-God! Are we prepared to handle 150 soldiers per country? Do we need to respond with a chess analogy? Have you checked that the nuclear launch codes are still valid?

AIDE: Well, we did have that problem with the codes after we had to include a vowel, a number and a punctuation mark in each to befuddle the NSA, but I think we’ve got it worked out.

PUTIN: Tell me some good news. My head aches.

AIDE: The good news is that we have no immediate plans to invade Poland. The last time we tried that it did not work out well in the long run. Our new plan is to only invade places that most Americans can’t find on a map.

PUTIN: That should be easy enough. Let’s start with one of their own states. I make joke. You understand.

AIDE: More vodka?

PUTIN: Yes, please, another pitcher. I want to get really drunk and then let’s prank call Obama again and pretend to make concessions. It’s after midnight there, yes?


Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent is available now from from Amazon.

Image by DonkeyHotey under Creative Commons license

Film Review: Through Intimate Details, ‘Silenced’ Shows the Emotional Toll of Becoming a Whistleblower

By: Wednesday April 23, 2014 6:34 pm

Panel discussion after world premiere. Barton Gellman (left), James Spione (middle left), Jesselyn Radack (middle right) and Thomas Drake (right)

During President Barack Obama’s presidency, a record number of government employees have been prosecuted for leaking or blowing the whistle. Several of them have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law that was intended to be used against spies and not for punishing people who disclose information without authorization. Simultaneously, the amount of information being kept secret by the government has increased exponentially, as the national security state’s tentacles reach out establishing more control in the United States.

Silenced brings viewers into this world.

Directed by James Spione, it tells the personal stories of three whistleblowers—former NSA employee Thomas Drake, former Justice Department employee Jesselyn Radack and former CIA officer John Kiriakou. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on April 19. (It will screen one more time at 2:30 pm on April 24 and then will be screened at other festivals later this year.)

Drake blew the whistle on NSA surveillance and what the government should have known prior to 9/11. Radack blew the whistle on how John Walker Lindh (“American Taliban”) was being treated when she uncovered evidence that the Justice Department was trying to conceal how it had violated his due process rights. Kiriakou blew the whistle when he said on ABC News in 2007 that waterboarding was torture and it was part of Bush administration policy.

The thread that runs throughout the film is Kiriakou’s case. He is the main character because his case is unfolding in real time. Radack and Drake are supporting characters, who provide support to Kiriakou because they have had similar experiences.

Kiriakou needs a favorable decision from the judge so that he can be confident he will be able to defend himself at trial. The struggle his wife and children are going through is shown on screen in scenes at home. When his daughter cries as she gets hurt playing in a tree, it puts an emotional exclamation point on the anguish the family is experiencing and will have to live with as he goes off to prison.

According to Spione, in the middle of the film, he sought to combine the “emotional arcs of all of their experiences” so people could understand the merciless nature of the government. How they ensured it would be difficult for Drake and Radack to find work after they tried to hold the government accountable is presented in vivid detail. It shows the personal toll it took on family, including instances where permanent scars were left that would take a long time to heal (if they ever managed to heal).

Their commitment to the truth frees them. In the same way that they had faith that revealing corruption would make it possible for the public to hold the government accountable, they appear to believe that opening up and describing intimate aspects of their struggle, no matter how difficult it might be for them, will be of great benefit to audiences. 

Judge Grants Petition to Allow Chelsea Manning to Legally Change Her Name

By: Wednesday April 23, 2014 12:40 pm

How Chelsea Manning sees herself

A petition to allow Chelsea Manning to change her legal name from “Bradley Edward Manning” to “Chelsea Elizabeth Manning” was granted by Leavenworth County District Judge David King.

Manning, who disclosed information to WikiLeaks that revealed war crimes and misconduct by American diplomats, is serving a 35-year prison sentence in a military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. She was convicted by a military judge of committing twenty offenses, including five violations of the Espionage Act, when she provided material to WikiLeaks.

In a statement posted by the Chelsea Manning Support Network, she indicated she was excited because she had been “working for months for this change” and had wanted a new name for years.

“It’s worth noting that in both mail and in-person, I’ve often been asked, ‘Why are you changing your name?’ The answer couldn’t be simpler: because it’s a far better, richer, and more honest reflection of who I am and always have been –a woman named Chelsea,” she declared.

She explained that she felt she had to make this request in a Leavenworth district court for a name change because this is part of the major obstacles “the trans community faces.” It may seem “banal,” but appropriate “identity documentation” is critical because many laws and procedures “often don’t consider trans* people, or even outright prevent them from doing the sort of simple day-to-day things that others take for granted.”

A key question now is whether this has some effect on the military’s refusal to provide Manning with treatment for gender dysphoria, which she has been diagnosed with having by military psychologists. According to Manning, she is “waiting on the military to assist me in accessing healthcare.”

“In August, I requested that the military provide me with a treatment plan consistent with the recognized professional standards of care for trans health,” she reports. “They quickly evaluated me and informed me that they came up with a proposed treatment plan. However, I have not seen yet seen their treatment plan, and in over eight months, I have not received any response as to whether the plan will be approved or disapproved, or whether it follows the guidelines of qualified health professionals.”

Thus far, the military has refused to allow her to have hormone therapy. Emma Cape, a lead organizer for the Support Network, said earlier this month that her attorney, David Coombs, may have to exhaust all administrative and legal remedies before the military approves or denies her request.

In her statement, Manning adds, “If I’m successful in obtaining access to trans healthcare, it will not only be something I have wanted for a long time myself, but it will also open the door for many people, both inside and outside the military, to request the right to live more open, fulfilled lives.”

Just over a week ago, Maj. General Jeffrey Buchanan, the court martial convening authority, finally made his decision and approved the verdict and sentence in her case making it possible for her appeal to move forward. She now has new legal represenation—Nancy Hollander, a well-known defense attorney with a history of being involved in national security cases, and Vincent Ward, a former JAG lawyer.

Her appeal will challenge the “misuse of the Espionage Act,” the over-classification of information, the selective prosecution of individuals by the government for leaks, “unlawful command influence,” “unlawful pretrial punishment,” and violations of “speedy trial rights.”

The legal defense team recently obtained access to the record of trial so it is unknown when the first court hearing in her appeal will take place. However, her new lawyers have indicated that it could take many years for the process to be exhausted, as the appeal could be heard in two appellate courts and potentially the Supreme Court.

Sketch by Alicia Neal and from the Chelsea Manning Support Network

American Muslims Sue FBI for Allegedly Placing Them on No Fly List After They Refused to Become Informants

By: Wednesday April 23, 2014 10:53 am

A lawsuit brought on behalf of four American Muslim men has been filed against the FBI for allegedly punishing them by placing them on the No Fly List when they refused to become informants and spy on American Muslim communities. The case, Tanvir v. Holder, was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and [...]

The Cops are Killing Us

By: Wednesday April 23, 2014 10:10 am

Two recent murders by the police highlight the fact that the cops are literally killing us. Deadly force, once reserved for the most dire of circumstances and as the final step after other efforts have failed in the course of legitimate law enforcement, is now the first (and last) word. Killed in Court, at His [...]

Questions That Should Be Asked About Recent Operations, Including Drone Strikes, in Yemen

By: Tuesday April 22, 2014 2:09 pm

How much of the drone war being waged by the United States in Yemen is targeting actual al Qaeda fighters? And how much of it is targeting fighters, who are opposed to the current regime led by President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi? In three days, three possible drone strikes launched apparently in cooperation with Yemeni [...]

Good News: Supreme Court Rules Against Sweeping Drug Tests

By: Tuesday April 22, 2014 8:05 am

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to hear an appeal by Florida Governor, Republican and presidential-candidate wannabe Rick Scott. Scott, since 2011, has been trying to mandate random drug tests for some 85,000 state workers because, yeah, drugs are bad or something. Scott’s executive order did not apply only to employees, such as drivers or pilots, whose duties might in fact be severely affected by drug use. Everybody, from receptionists to scuba divers, would be subject. By refusing to reopen the case, the Supreme Court agreed that Scott’s order was so broad as to violate Constitutional protections against unwarranted search and seizure.

Clapper Clamps Down on Intelligence Employees Who Talk to the Press, Develops System for ‘Authorized Leaks’

By: Monday April 21, 2014 8:52 pm

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has issued a directive that prohibits all employees of the intelligence community from speaking to the press. Signed on March 20, it establishes a policy on “contact with the media,” which leadership in intelligence agencies believe will “ensure a consistent approach for addressing media engagement across the intelligence community [...]

Bureau of Prisons Throws CIA Torture Whistleblower John Kiriakou’s Children Out of Visitors Room

By: Monday April 21, 2014 4:04 pm

In the midst of a thirty-month prison sentence at the federal correctional institution of Loretto Pennsylvania, former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou has written a letter where he reports that his children were told they had to leave the visitors room because it was “overcrowded.” Kiriakou immediately saw this as an act of retaliation [...]

When Americans Saw Injustice by the FBI and Did Something About It—A Review of the Film, ’1971′

By: Monday April 21, 2014 11:00 am

In 1971, eight Americans engaged in an act of nonviolent disruption and broke into an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania to steal files. The film, 1971, which tells this story, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on April 18. Each of the activists maintained their anonymity for forty-three years. They spent the weeks [...]

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