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Nothing Will Ever Convince Most Shrill Critics of Snowden That He Is Not a Kremlin Tool

By: Thursday April 17, 2014 12:35 pm

It was not long ago that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who was granted temporary asylum to remain in Russia, was routinely criticized for not speaking out on Russian surveillance by President Vladimir Putin’s government. He was accused of being some kind of traitor, who was now aligned with the Kremlin. And, after choosing to submit a question to Putin as part of an annual question-and-answer call-in program on Russian state television, Snowden has now been accused of being some kind of propaganda tool for Putin.

The exchange (as transcribed by Slate) is as follows:

SNOWDEN: I’d like to ask about mass surveillance of online communications and the bulk collection of private records by intelligence and law enforcement services. Recently in the United States two independent White House investigations as well as a federal court all concluded that these programs are ineffective in stopping terrorism. They also found that they unreasonably intrude into the private lives of ordinary citizens—individuals who have never been suspected of any wrongdoing or criminal activity. And that these kinds of programs are not the least intrusive means available to such agencies for these investigative purposes. Now, I’ve seen little public discussion of Russia’s own involvement in the policies of mass surveillance, so I’d like to ask you: does Russia intercept, store, or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals, and do you believe that simply increasing the effectiveness of intelligence or law enforcement investigations can justify placing societies, rather than subjects, under surveillance? Thank you.

PUTIN: Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent, a spy. I used to be working for an intelligence service. We are going to talk one professional language. First of all, our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law—so, how special forces can use this kind of special equipment as they intercept phone calls or follow someone online. And you have to get a court permission to stalk a particular person. We don’t have a mass system of such interception, and according to our law it cannot exist. Of course we know that criminals and terrorists use technology for their criminal acts and of course special services have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of terrorist nature. And of course we do some efforts like that, but we do not have a mass scale uncontrollable efforts like that. I hope we won’t do that, and we don’t have as much money as they have in the States and we don’t have these technical devices that they have in the States. Our special services, thanks god, are strictly controlled by the society and by the law and are regulated by the law.

Watch the video of this. If this really was a part of some propaganda effort, wouldn’t the program have moved seamlessly from Snowden’s question to Putin’s answer? Instead, the moderator had to help Putin understand the question and it seemed like, between the two, they might have had trouble understanding Snowden’s American English.

The main criticism is that Snowden should have expected Putin to deny the fact that a surveillance state exists in Russia. His decision to question Putin was a poor one because it set Putin up to make him look like he does not do what the United States does (or something like that).

For example, here’s a reporter with ABC News:

This assumes that Snowden accepted the denial. Nobody knows at the moment. The question was a video submitted. It is not like he could have immediately responded to Putin on air to say he doubted what Putin had claimed in his answer.

Also, why is it wrong to ask a question of a person that you know that person may answer in a certain way? Getting a leader on record isn’t important?

Holder and Mueller Spent $7.8 Million Taxpayer Dollars on Personal Travel

By: Thursday April 17, 2014 6:15 am

The GAO learned that Robert Mueller and Eric Holder decided on their own that the intelligence agency exemption also applied to them.

With income tax season in the U.S., all thoughts turn to cheating.

It has been said that perhaps some Americans are not fully honest on their tax reporting. Some may “forget” to report cash payments here and there, and more than a few will likely exaggerate business and other expenses to score a deduction. It’s a kind of tradition, one that lessens how much tax money the government gets from us Citizens.


So I guess in that context Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice Eric Holder, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller taking advantage of a loophole to not report lots of personal travel at taxpayer expense is just some payback on all you cheaters.

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) works directly for the Congress. In a recent report to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the GAO reminds that federal agencies are usually required to report trips taken by senior officials on government aircraft unless the trips are classified. The point of this reporting is to make sure officials are not using taxpayer money to fly government planes for personal travel (“non-mission purposes.”)


But wouldn’t you know it, the General Services Administration, the executive branch’s kind of one-stop administrative and office manager, created a handy reporting exemption that covers intelligence agencies, even in cases of unclassified personal travel. A CIA official, even if using a government airplane to visit her son at college, would not have to report that misuse to the supposed watchdog agency because of that exemption. The exemption as written by the executive branch never defined what constitutes an “intelligence agency” for this purpose.

The GAO learned that Holder and Mueller decided on their own, again without oversight, that the intelligence agency exemption also applied to them. They never reported their personal use of government aircraft. GAO investigators, however, pried loose enough information to show Holder, Mueller and other Justice Department executives took 395 unclassified, non-mission flights between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, at a cost to taxpayers $7.8 million. Maybe that’s chump change dollar-wise in the overall flood of government waste and fraud, but it certainly does not set a good example when two of the nation’s top law enforcement officials cheat over chump change.

Worse yet, the GAO found Holder’s use of FBI aircraft, which are supposed to be reserved for the agency’s own operations, could hinder the agency’s operations. Since the FBI always has to have a plane on standby for emergency purposes, the agency has had to lease another aircraft while theirs was being used to ferry Justice Department officials.

It’s OK

Anyway, after having been caught red-handed abetting stealing from the public trough, the General Services Administration promised to eliminate the intelligence exemption applying to non-mission, unclassified travel sometime soon. The Department of Justice made no comments on the matter.

BONUS: Secretary of State John F. Kerry, headed to the Ukraine for some effective diplomacy in early March, had his government aircraft detour on his way, stopping in New York so he could meet his just-born granddaughter. State Department officials later characterized the detour as a “refueling stop.” It is unclear what State Department officials called the taxpayer motorcade from the airport to the hospital as.

BONUS BONUS: Senior executives at the Internal Revenue Service were spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars commuting to Washington from their homes across the country, instead of living in D.C. Many then skirted the law by not paying income tax on their hefty travel reimbursements, as ordinary Americans are required to do. An IRS source told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the most frequent travelers were officials who work in Washington but live in Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta, and have been flying to work on the taxpayers’ dime for years.


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.

The Bureau of Prisons Repeatedly Tried to Thwart CIA Whistleblower John Kiriakou’s Ability to Send Letters

By: Wednesday April 16, 2014 11:13 am

Former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou, who is currently in the middle of serving a thirty-month prison sentence at the federal correctional institution at Loretto, Pennsylvania, has been writing “Letters from Loretto,” which Firedoglake has been publishing. The prison, however, has tried to frustrate his effort to exercise his First Amendment rights in just about every way imaginable.

Kiriakou was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official US policy under the administration of President George W. Bush. He was convicted in October 2012 after he pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) when he confirmed the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program to a reporter, even though the reporter did not publish it. He was sentenced in January 2013 and reported to prison on February 28, 2013.

The Bureau of Prisons’ own regulation states that “an inmate may write through ‘special mail’ to representatives of the news media specified by name or title.”

The facility initially took issue with Kiriakou marking the letters via “legal mail” to his one of his attorneys, Jessalyn Raddack, who forwarded the letters to Firedoglake. The prison informed Kiriakou that he had to stop this and send them directly to Firedoglake as “special mail” instead.

Months later, correctional officers (COs) tried to claim that Kiriakou was now wrong to mark the letters he had been mailing “special mail.” Kiriakou attempted to explain this was contrary to the regulation. He also tried to inform the officers that none of the material was going to his attorney, but rather was for the press. The officers still maintained he was wrong.

A copy of the regulation, which Kiriakou had printed off, was shown to the COs. They found a date at the bottom that indicated when the copy had been printed and argued that this regulation was outdated. The officers then consulted a physical book with the regulations to prove Kiriakou was wrong.

Officers flipped through and found the relevant regulation. They read it and, as Kiriakou recalled, one looked up at the other and whispered, “I think he’s right.”

Kiriakou also recalls that a friend in the prison, Dave, was pulled into a room and interrogated by a correctional officer (CO). He was asked to provide information on whether Kiriakou had an illegal cellphone.

The prison wanted to get Dave to say that Kiriakou was using an illegal cellphone to dictate the letters to Firedoglake. Dave refused to provide any statements that the prison could have used against him.

Having an illegal cellphone could get one’s sentence extended my multiple years. It can be serious for a prisoner if they get caught, but Kiriakou found this attempt to turn his friend against him ridiculous because the prison knows he goes to the mail room. They’ve seen him mail the letters in envelopes marked “special mail.”

In a previous letter from prison, Kiriakou described how a supporter named Chris had turned his first “Letter from Loretto” into a graphic and sent it to him. The warden rejected it because, “The Letters from Loretto pamphlet could jeopardize the secure and orderly running of the institution.” This indicated the prison considered Kiriakou’s letters to be dangerous, a threat to the “security, good order or discipline of the institution” or “to the protection of the public” or a document that “might facilitate criminal activity.”

How this could possibly be was unclear. Inmates are supposed to have an opportunity to challenge any rejection of mail, but the warden never gave him such an opportunity. So he was not aware that this had happened until the same supporter wrote him again to explain what had happened.

In July 2013, a senior prison administrator threatened him with “disciplinary action” and demanded that he put down in writing that he would “refrain from using Legal Mail/Special Mail to send out” his letters.

Kiriakou was forced to sign the memo on August 30, 2013, and not permitted to send a copy to his attorney or seek any legal advice before he signed. It reminded him that any thing he wrote for publication had to be cleared by the CIA’s Publications Review Board. The memo was demanding “all future Letters from Loretto” be sent to the Special Investigative Service (SIS) in the prison and then they would forward the letters to the CIA for approval.

According to Kiriakou’s letter, Mark MacDougall of Akin, Gump and Strauss, who is Kiriakou’s attorney, called the memo “illegal, unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Kiriakou was instructed to ignore the memo. (Note: Kiriakou added that he was sending his letters to PRB for approval even though he had no legal obligation to do so because the contents had nothing to do with intelligence.)

Even more pernicious, one prison official threatened Kiriakou with “diesel therapy,” which is the practice of transferring a prisoner from one prison to another every other week so a prisoner cannot receive phone, email, mailing or visitation privileges. Guards also conducted shakedowns of the prison unit where he lives after he was interviewed by The National Herald, a Greek-American newspaper.

“One of my cellmates, a 40-ish African-American whom I like, respect and consider a friend, made an important point,” Kiriakou recounted. “‘Don’t you see what they’re doing? They’re trying to make us mad with these shakedowns so that we’ll turn on you.’ He imagined a conversation: ‘Let’s piss off the big black guy so he pressures Kiriakou to stop writing and doing interviews.’”

It did not work. “My cellmate urged me to ‘keep up the fight. Keep telling people what it’s like in here.’”

There was subsequently a boorish and clownish attempt to remove his desk from the wall and confiscate it, as if taking his desk away would remove all the hard surfaces he would have to write on and compose his “Letters from Loretto.” A CO, who had been involved in the shakedowns, struggled mightily. He stripped the bolts and they wouldn’t budge so he gave up. And then the CO issued a work order to have the desk chipped off the wall.

“I had to go to the unit manager, who promised that the desk would not be removed,” Kiriakou added.

For a period, Kiriakou had established an understanding with the prison. The facility, which wanted the letters to stop being written, would promise at least nine months in a halfway house at the end of his sentence  if Kiriakou would stop sending letters. Kiriakou held up his end of the bargain, but the prison did not. He now has said he is only going to get 86 days in a halfway house.

Kiriakou’s thirty-month sentence will be over in September 2015. So that means he is not likely to be released from Loretto until some time in the summer of next year.

U.S. States Revive Debtors’ Prisons

By: Wednesday April 16, 2014 8:30 am

More and more states have revived the debtors prison, albeit in a specific form, locking people up for failure to pay court costs and fees. Like so many other things in America, shortfalls in budgets are made up not by raising taxes (or heaven forbid, fiscal prudence) but by new arrays of costs and fees paid by people in the criminal justice system. We are not referring to fine or penalty (ex. speeding ticket=$250) here, but to that thing the judges say on TV– “Guilty, with a fine of $300 and court costs. Next case please.”

TMZ: Only US Television Program to Cover Latest Report of CIA Using Music to Torture Detainees

By: Tuesday April 15, 2014 4:34 pm

Another example of the government using rock music to torture detainees was reported last week. But it appears the only television or broadcast news program to cover and report on this further was TMZ. Journalist Jason Leopold wrote a story for Al Jazeera that was published on April 9 on the contents of the Senate [...]

Torture and the Destruction of the Human Being Shaker Aamer by the United States

By: Tuesday April 15, 2014 10:38 am

Somedays we have a little fun in this space, commenting on world events with a joke, some satire, a little snark. Today will not be one of those days. The Bush and Obama administrations have gone to extraordinary lengths to hide America’s archipelago of secret prisons and systems of torture. They at first denied any [...]

Chelsea Manning to Take a More Active Role in Her Case During Appeal

By: Tuesday April 15, 2014 9:55 am

During her trial, the only time the public heard from Chelsea Manning was when she made statements in court. But according to Emma Cape, a lead organizer for the Chelsea Manning Support Network, Manning will be taking a “somewhat more active role” in the case during appeal. Cape, along with Manning’s new lawyers and whistleblowers [...]

“You are completely destroyed”: Testimony on Torture from Shaker Aamer’s Medical Report at Guantanamo

By: Monday April 14, 2014 10:50 pm

The article is a long quotation from a medical report on the psychiatric condition of Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer. It is a remarkable and disturbing account of torture at the hands of U.S. interrogators and guards at Bagram, Kandahar, and Guantanamo.

Pulitzer Prize Board Should’ve Awarded Individual Journalists as Well as Media Organizations for NSA Reporting

By: Monday April 14, 2014 5:35 pm

The Pulitzer Prize Board awarded The Guardian and The Washington Post prizes for journalism on National Security Agency documents from Edward Snowden that they considered a “public service.” But, notably, the individual journalists, whose bravery and courage made the stories themselves possible, were not recognized with awards. Snowden declared in a statement published by the [...]

Guantanamo Detainee Defense Attorneys Accuse FBI of Turning 9/11 Defense Team Member into Confidential Informant

By: Monday April 14, 2014 1:18 pm

Defense attorneys for Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Walid Muhammad Salih Bin Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi suspect the FBI may have turned a  defense security officer assigned to the team representing Ramzi bin al Shibh  into a “confidential informant.” An emergency motion filed under seal alleged, “as part [...]

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