USA Today Gives Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Platform to Spread Surveillance State Propaganda

Alberto Gonzales

USA Today has published an editorial by former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in which he uses fear, innuendo and legal jargon to argue more privacy cannot keep Americans safe from terrorism. The editorial rationalizes the increased reliance on warrantless surveillance by the United States government. It is especially stunning, given the fact that Gonzales lied to Congress about the warrantless wiretapping program in 2006.

Gonzales was asked on February 6, 2006, whether James Comey, who is now the FBI director, and others at the Justice Department, had expressed concerns about NSA warrantless wiretapping. He claimed in testimony their concerns were related to another program and not the wiretapping program.

In 2007, then-FBI director Robert Mueller gave testimony to the House Judiciary Committee that suggested there was disagreement among high-level officials, including himself, when it came to approving key aspects of the illegal warrantless wiretapping program. Gonzales had told Congress under oath that there was no serious disagreement.

Gonzales’ perjury, which went unpunished, was part of a coverup of the crimes committed by officials involved in the warrantless wiretapping program. Now, nine years later, the USA Today is giving Gonzales a platform to spread more lies and further obfuscate what really happened during President George W. Bush’s administration.

Gonzales ominously insinuates in the final paragraph of his column that the USA Freedom Act may lead to a terrorist attack by a “disciple” of the Islamic State.

…ISIL is on the move around the world. Seemingly every week there is a reported story of a takedown of an ISIL disciple within our borders, chilling reminders of the evolving threat. Without access to the classified threat matrix or an appreciation of the strength of our intelligence capabilities, it is difficult for the American people to judge whether this new law strikes the appropriate balance between security and liberty. What we do know is that because of the USA Freedom Act, it is now more difficult for the government to gather certain kinds of information. If we must win the war for information in order to win the war against extremists, then we have to question whether Congress and the president achieved the right balance. Only time will tell.

Gonzales expresses concern about the fact that the government will be unable to “access bulk collection of metadata from third parties,” or the phone companies. He does not bother to mention that the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded [PDF], “We are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack. And we believe that in only one instance over the past seven years has the program arguably contributed to the identification of an unknown terrorism suspect.” Or, that the Obama administration’s own NSA review group, staffed by former deputy CIA director Mike Morell, found the collection of phone records was “not essential to preventing attacks and could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” using other conventional methods [PDF].

Or, that a study by the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC, concluded:

An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal.

 

Gonzales writes warrantless searches are not “necessarily illegal.” He cites a federal judge’s ruling in Oakland, which found AT&T customers lacked standing to challenge the government’s surveillance of Internet traffic. What Gonzales omits is that the ruling did not end the “part of the case concerning telephone record collection and other mass surveillance”—which is exactly what Gonzales defends in his column. (more…)

Los Angeles Times Editorial Board Endorses Prosecution of Edward Snowden

"LA Times building" by jim Winstead from los angeles, usa - the los angeles times building. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board published an editorial that argues against granting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden a pardon. It endorses the Justice Department’s prosecution of Snowden under the Espionage Act, despite the fact that his unauthorized disclosures were responsible for key reforms.

The “serious arguments” against a pardon, according to the editorial board, include the fact that America is a “society of laws” and “someone who engages in civil disobedience in a higher cause should be prepared to accept the consequences.”

“A stronger objection, in our view, is that Snowden didn’t limit his disclosures to information about violations of Americans’ privacy. He divulged other sensitive information about traditional foreign intelligence activities, including a document showing that the NSA had intercepted the communications of then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a Group of 20 summit in London in 2009.”

“A government contractor who discloses details of US spying on another country is not most Americans’ idea of a whistleblower,” the editorial board declares.

The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board’s chief complaint amounts to the suggestion that Snowden is not a big enough nationalist because he revealed ethically dubious spying activities carried out against other countries. And, although there has never been a public debate about the extent to which the US government should be spying on all the people of the world, as well as leaders of countries, Snowden should not be shown too much leniency because this spying should remain secret from the American public.

Whatever “Americans’ idea of a whistleblower” happens to be, it has been influenced by government officials seeking to propagandize the public so that they oppose individuals like Snowden.

Jason Leopold, a journalist for VICE News, reported that a “group of bipartisan lawmakers solicited details from the Pentagon,” which could be used to “damage” Snowden’s “credibility in the press and court of public opinion.”

The Pentagon provided Congress with unclassified talking points on January 8, 2014. They may seem familiar because they have been repeated numerous times by US media organizations. (In fact, the second talking point is what the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board considers to be the most persuasive argument against pardoning Snowden.)

Much of the information compromised [by Snowden] has the potential to gravely impact the National Security of the United States, to include the Department of Defense [DoD] and its capabilities.

While most of the reporting to date in the press has centered on NSA’s acquisition of foreign intelligence to protect the lives of our citizens and allies, the files cover sensitive topics well beyond the NSA collection. Disclosure of this information in the press and to adversaries has the potential to put Defense personnel in harm’s way and jeopardize the success of DoD operations.

These unauthorized disclosures have tipped off our adversaries to intelligence sources and methods and negatively impacted our Allies who partner with us to fight terrorism, cyber crimes, human and narcotics trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Such international cooperation involving the pooling of information, technology, and expertise is critical to preserve our security and that of our allies.

The Los Angeles Times published a story on Snowden on June 28, 2013, that quoted anonymous officials who were speaking about classified information that they claimed showed Snowden had given an “edge” to “US rivals.”

“Russia, China and terrorism suspects have altered how they communicate to evade US detection, current and former U.S. intelligence officials say,” the media organization reported.

It is now abundantly clear that this story was based in Pentagon propaganda, which officials were prepared to feed to the public through journalists and members of Congress. (more…)

New York Times Pushes False Notion Both Sides of Patriot Act Debate Are Wrong

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An analysis published in the New York Times falsely equates arguments for and against extending provisions of the PATRIOT Act, making it seem as if those against extension are just as wrong as those pushing to preserve government spying powers.

“There is little evidence in the history of the expiring Patriot Act powers to bolster the arguments that either supporters or opponents are making,” according to a description of the analysis written by Charlie Savage.

With the headline, “Reality Checks in Debate Over Surveillance Laws,” it appropriately calls out Republican senators like Tom Cotton, who have claimed a lapse in “this critical tool would lead to attacks.” Savage notes that studies and testimony have both shown that in the program’s existence zero terrorist attacks have been thwarted.

However, in the next paragraphs, Savage casts opponents of extending the provisions as individuals who are comparably wrong:

At the same time, proponents of ending the program say it poses risks to Americans’ private lives, by permitting the government to know who has been calling psychiatrists or political groups, for example. But despite the discovery of technical violations of the rules several years ago, no evidence has emerged that the program has been misused for political or personal gain. As a result, the privacy-minded critics have had to couch their warnings in hypothetical terms.

“Even if we stipulate for purposes of this discussion that no one within the N.S.A. is currently abusing this program for nefarious political purposes,” Senator Rand Paul, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said in a filibuster-style floor speech last week, “can we say we are certain that will always be the case? Who is to say what might happen one year from now, two years from now, five years, 10 years or 15 years from now?”

While Savage may consider this to be equal to fear mongering about what will happen if spying powers are curtailed, “privacy-minded” opponents of the PATRIOT Act are not relying on the same hyperbole.

The only example Savage cites is very restrained and calculated. It is based on a concern that history could repeat itself because the country once experienced what it was like to have a domestic security state turned against citizens decades ago when J. Edgar Hoover was FBI director. And, in the example, Paul is making no claims about abuse for personal or political gain that cannot be backed up.

On the contrary, none of the supporters of the Patriot Act spying powers are as measured in their arguments. Not even officials from President Barack Obama’s administration are as level-headed in their rhetoric.

Administration officials have had a reporter from the Times print anonymous statements from them, one which suggests critics are playing “national security Russian roulette.” The administration maintains opponents are being “grossly irresponsible” because they want to have a debate and reform spying powers in a manner that much of the country actually supports.

Furthermore, it is inaccurate—and, at best, misleading—to write in any analysis that there is “no evidence” that “the program has been misused for political or personal gain.” (more…)

Amidst Media Backlash, Key Part of Seymour Hersh’s Report on bin Laden Killing Corroborated

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A media backlash against investigative journalist Seymour Hersh for his report on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden has fueled a perception that it has been wholly discredited. Yet, a key part of Hersh’s report has been corroborated by the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, a Pakistan newspaper, and partly by NBC News.

Hersh reported a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer approached Jonathan Bank, who was the CIA station chief in the US embassy, and offered to provide information on where bin Laden was located in return for reward money offered in 2001. The CIA did not find bin Laden by spying on his couriers but uncovered his whereabouts because Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, had him essentially on house arrest since 2006.

Gall writes, “Hersh appears to have succeeded in getting both American and Pakistani sources to corroborate it. His sources remain anonymous, but other outlets such as NBC News have since come forward with similar accounts. Finally, the Pakistani daily newspaper The News reported Tuesday that Pakistani intelligence officials have conceded that it was indeed a walk-in who provided the information on Bin Laden. The newspaper names the officer as Brigadier Usman Khalid; the reporter is sufficiently well connected that he should be taken seriously.” Khalid was promised reward money as well as “US citizenship with a new identity.”

“It is the strongest indication to date that the Pakistani military knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts and that it was complicit in hiding a man charged with international terrorism and on the United Nations sanctions list,” Gall concludes.

Gall, whose previous reporting on bin Laden is referenced in the beginning of Hersh’s story, shares, “When I was researching my book, I learned from a high-level member of the Pakistani intelligence service that the ISI had been hiding bin Laden and ran a desk specifically to handle him as an intelligence asset. After the book came out, I learned more: that it was indeed a Pakistani Army brigadier — all the senior officers of the ISI are in the military — who told the CIA where bin Laden was hiding, and that bin Laden was living there with the knowledge and protection of the ISI.”

CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto followed up after NBC News published their report. He asked sources if the US ever paid out a $25 million reward for bin Laden’s capture. Sciutto’s sources told him that some “small payments” were made to Pakistanis, “who helped track the SUV to bin Laden’s courier.” No source told Sciutto that anyone received a $25 million reward.

This does not disprove the main aspects of the story. It is possible he never was paid $25 million and received a smaller reward. Hersh says he was paid in “various chunks.” And, significantly, NBC News’ sources said an asset was paid reward money by the CIA. (more…)

US Establishment Press Dismiss, Shrug Off Seymour Hersh’s Story on Killing of bin Laden

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Most distressing about investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s story on the lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden is the general reaction of the United States establishment press.

Hersh is an award-winning journalist best known for exposing the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War. It earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He also did stellar reporting on the abuse and torture of detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, most establishment press seem to be shrugging at Hersh’s latest 10,000-word feature story published by the London Review of Books or they are snidely dismissing it altogether.

Is it because most in the US press wholly accept the narrative put forward by the Obama administration around the raid that killed bin Laden? Is it because they have moved on and no longer find it worthy to investigate what really happened? Is it because they do not want to believe what Hersh is alleging because it amounts to a major international espionage conspiracy if it all happens to be true?

Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger already went to the trouble to list off each allegation against the Obama administration that is made in Hersh’s story. So, courtesy of Frizzelle:

• Pakistani officials knew about the raid and even helped the US pull it off.

• There never was a firefight, neither in the yard outside the house nor once the Seals got inside.

• The story of the courier whom the reportedly CIA traced, leading them to bin Laden, was a fabrication.

• The story of the courier dying in the firefight was a cover-up “because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him,” a retired senior intelligence official told Hersh.

• The way the CIA actually found out where bin Laden was is that a “Pakistani walk-in” who wanted the $25 million reward came in and told the CIA about it.

• Osama bin Laden was not armed, contrary to reports that he had a machine gun and was killed in a firefight, and he was not killed with just one or two bullets but “obliterated.”

• “Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen,” that same retired senior intelligence official said.

• “Despite all the talk” about what the Seals collected on site, the retired official said there were “no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks.”

• The story about bin Laden’s sea burial may be a fabrication.

• The retired official told Hersh that bin Laden’s “remains, including his head… were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains—or so the Seals claimed.”

• Obama was going to wait a week until after bin Laden’s death to announce it, and he was going to tell the American people that bin Laden had been killed by a drone, but after the Seals had to blow up their malfunctioning helicopter onsite, attracting attention locally, everything changed.

• The story about the vaccination program carried out locally in an attempt to get bin Laden’s DNA—a story that “led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying”—wasn’t true.

• Retired official again: “It’s a great hoax.”

What are Hersh’s sources for these claims against the Obama administration?

Hersh relies on a “major US source” who is not named in the story. The person is described as a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” He also sources his claims to two additional unnamed US sources, “who had access to corroborating information” and have been “longtime consults to the Special Operations Command.”

He writes that he received information from “inside Pakistan” that indicates “senior ISI and military leadership” were upset with Obama’s decision to immediately go public with the news that bin Laden was killed. He also quotes Asad Durrani, who was the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, in the 1990s.

One of the key criticisms of Hersh’s story is that it relies on anonymous sources. However, should this criticism be allowed to invalidate the claims put forward by Hersh? (more…)