Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Friday, May 26, 2006
Former NSA analyst: spying hurts our national security
For example, during the leadup to the war in Iraq, the loudest voices in favor of the war claimed that Iraq was involved with 9/11 and/or had links to Al Qaeda, that Iraq had WMD, and that Iraq's transition to democracy would be a cakewalk; the loudest voices of opposition were pacifist antiwar protestors who argued that the war was morally wrong (and, at least to a large extent, that military action is never the answer).
As a result, our national "debate" over whether to invade Iraq was essentially reduced to whether one agrees with the Biblical adage that "a time to kill" arises in certain circumstances - and most Americans do, especially in the wake of 9/11. In other words, it was an ideological debate, with little discussion over whether there was really an Al Qaeda link, or whether WMD existed, or whether there was a risk of civil war. The questions of how much the war would cost, and whether it would cause long-term damage to our goodwill abroad, barely came up at all.
We risk repeating the same mistake in the debate over the NSA's domestic surveillance program (see this post for an explanation of why I use the term "surveillance" instead of "wiretapping"). Most critics of the program have focused on the question of whether the program is legal. While the program's questionable legality is almost certainly the most important issue at stake, we also need to point out that the surveillance may not even be helpful from an intelligence perspective. As long as the debate is focused strictly on the legality of the surveillance, most people will just assume that the program is something that is actually making them safer, and the debate will continue to be framed as a simplistic question of whether Americans are willing to sacrifice some liberty for security.
In a column for Computerworld, former NSA analyst Ira Winkler counters all of the major justifications for the domestic surveillance program, including the widely-held assumption that it is making America safer from terrorists. Here is an excerpt:
Ignoring FISA's rules concerning warrants is illegal. It also weakens national security, since the process of obtaining the warrants has an effect on quality control. To date, FBI agents have been sent out to do thousands of investigations based on this warrantless wiretapping. None of those investigations turned up a legitimate lead. I have spoken to about a dozen agents, and they all roll their eyes and indicate disgust with the man-years of wasted effort being put into physically examining NSA "leads."
This scattershot attempt at data mining drags FBI agents away from real investigations, while destroying the NSA’s credibility in the eyes of law enforcement and the public in general. That loss of credibility makes the NSA the agency that cried wolf -- and after so many false leads, should they provide something useful, the data will be looked at skeptically and perhaps given lower priority by law enforcement than it would otherwise have been given.
Worse, FBI agents working real and pressing investigations such as organized crime, child pornography and missing persons are being pulled away from their normal law enforcement duties to follow up on NSA leads."Why NSA spying puts the U.S. in danger" [Computerworld]
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The Enron verdicts are in
The Houston Chronicle is easily the best source for coverage of the trial. In addition to being the paper of record in the nation's energy capital, the Chronicle has one of the best websites of any major newspaper, and their Enron coverage page features a staggering amount of documents, analysis, audio, photo, and video files. [Houston Chronicle]
The New York Times (which will never have one of the best newspaper websites until they drop their registration requirement and their even-more-absurd "TimesSelect" restriction) has been creating some great infographics and multimedia features lately, and their coverage of the trial is no exception, especially the excellent interactive Enron timeline, which charts the company's history against its stock price. [NY Times]
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Why Rep. Jefferson must go
This excellent post at Daily Kos sums up why the Democratic Party's leadership needs to call for Rep. Jefferson's resignation:
"Memo to Dem Caucus: Demand Jefferson's resignation" [Daily Kos]
Today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) sent Jefferson a letter asking him to resign, and he wrote back refusing to step down. Crooks and Liars has copies of both letters. [CrooksandLiars]
Contact information for House Representatives [House.gov]
In yet another interesting twist in this story, President Bush ordered that the documents seized during the FBI's raid of Jefferson's home be sealed for 45 days, and put in the custody of the solicitor general. This is a smart move on the part of the President, because congressional leaders from both parties view the FBI's raid as yet another example of the executive branch taking a step beyond its under the separation of powers doctrine. [CNN]
Meanwhile, some Democratic House Reps are claiming that Pelosi's call for Jefferson's resignation was "discriminatory." [The Hill] If I could conceive of any legitimate reason for a congressman to have $90,000 stuck in his freezer, I might take that charge more seriously.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Wired News releases documents from AT&T spying lawsuit
In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities. . .
. . . In San Francisco the "secret room" is Room 641A at 611 Folsom Street, the site of a large SBC phone building, three floors of which are occupied by AT&T. High-speed fiber-optic circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down to the 7th floor where they connect to routers for AT&T's WorldNet service, part of the latter's vital "Common Backbone." In order to snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was installed and cabled to the "secret room" on the 6th floor to monitor the information going through the circuits. (The location code of the cabinet is 070177.04, which denotes the 7th floor, aisle 177 and bay 04.) The "secret room" itself is roughly 24-by-48 feet, containing perhaps a dozen cabinets including such equipment as Sun servers and two Juniper routers, plus an industrial-size air conditioner.
The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret room," which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room.
"Why We Published the AT&T Docs" [Wired News]
BusinessWeek has an interesting article on the federal government's practice of amassing personal data by buying databases from the private sector.
"The Snooping Goes Beyond Phone Calls" [BusinessWeek]
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Judicial Watch obtains images of 9/11 attack on Pentagon
The videos, along with photos of the Pentagon which were released recently during the Moussaoui trial, should dispel conspiracy theories that the Pentagon was hit by a missile or some kind of truck bomb, rather than the jetliner. These theories have often centered around the claim that the hole in the Pentagon was not large enough to have been a plane; photos like this one, and this one, strongly contradict that claim.
Videos of American Flight 77 striking the Pentagon on September 11, 2001:
Video 1 [Defenselink.mil]
Video 2 [Defenselink.mil]
Judicial Watch's statement [Judicial Watch]
"US releases 9/11 Pentagon video" [BBC]
Photos released during Moussaoui trial [RCFP.org]
Friday, May 12, 2006
Interviewer pushes Ted Nugent on foreign policy, Damn Yankees
"My Interview with Ted Nugent" [Pretty Girls Make Gravy]
Thursday, May 11, 2006
The NSA's other domestic surveillance program
A new USA Today story on this second category of domestic surveillance reports that the NSA has been "secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth." [USA Today] The article provides some new details on the progam, and confirms some things the ACLU and other privacy groups had alleged. One interesting facet of the story is that the telecoms are being paid - with taxpayer's dollars - for giving the NSA our personal call records:
The agency told the companies that it wanted them to turn over their "call-detail records," a complete listing of the calling histories of their millions of customers. In addition, the NSA wanted the carriers to provide updates, which would enable the agency to keep tabs on the nation's calling habits.
The sources said the NSA made clear that it was willing to pay for the cooperation. AT&T, which at the time was headed by C. Michael Armstrong, agreed to help the NSA. So did BellSouth, headed by F. Duane Ackerman; SBC, headed by Ed Whitacre; and Verizon, headed by Ivan Seidenberg. [USA Today]
Although the USA Today article focuses on the NSA's monitoring of phone records, and says that the program "does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations," the full extent of the broader surveillance program is still unclear. In a December 2005 article titled "Wiretaps said to sift all overseas wiretaps," the Boston Globe reported that experts believe the NSA has a "vast data collection and sorting operation" which "captures reams of data from satellites, fiberoptic lines, and Internet switching stations, and then uses a computer to check for names, numbers, and words that have been identified as suspicious." [Boston Globe]
A former AT&T technician says that the company even built secret rooms for the NSA inside its San Francisco switching facility, and at other facilities, through which internet traffic is routed to the agency for surveillance purposes. [Wired News]
"NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls" [USA Today]
"Wiretaps said to sift all overseas contacts" [Boston Globe]
"AT&T seeks to hide spy docs" [Wired News]
"US plans massive data sweep" [Christian Science Monitor]
Lawsuits involving the NSA domestic surveillance program:
Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit vs. AT&T [EFF.org]
American Civil Liberties Union's lawsuit vs. NSA [ACLU.org]
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Hoekstra: Hayden is the "wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time"
"House Intel Panel Chief Opposes Hayden" [ABC News]
Transcript: Rep. Pete Hoekstra on Fox News Sunday [Fox News]
Steve Clemons of The Washington Note argues that politicians and pundits are misreading the Hayden nomination. Clemons says that, while Hayden deserves criticism over his role in the warrantless wiretapping program, the claim that Hayden would "consolidate Rumsfeld's efforts to establish comprehensive military dominance over the nation's national security intelligence bureaucracy" is probably wrong. To the contrary, "Hayden -- and now the super spy Steve Kappes who was fired by Goss and who will be the new CIA Deputy -- may become the best hope of knocking back Don Rumsfeld's imperialism over the national intelligence capacity of the country."
"Misreading Michael Hayden's Role in the Intelligence Bureaucracy Wars: Negroponte Wants Hayden to Battle with -- Not Help -- Rumsfeld" [The Washington Note]
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Details on Goss resignation emerge
A Washington Post article on the resignation, titled "Goss Forced Out as CIA Director; Gen. Hayden is Likely Successor," suggests that the move was not nearly as sudden or unexpected as it first appeared to outsiders. [Wash. Post] The article says that, despite the Bush administration's portrayal of its relationship with Goss as a friendly one,
. . . senior administration officials said Bush had lost confidence in Goss, 67, almost from the beginning and decided months ago to replace him. In what was described as a difficult meeting in April with Negroponte, Goss was told to prepare to leave by May, according to several officials with knowledge of the conversation.
"There has been an open conversation for a few weeks, through Negroponte, with the acknowledgment of the president" about replacing Goss, said a senior White House official who discussed the internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Another senior White House official said Goss had always been viewed as a "transitional figure" who would leave by year's end. His departure was accelerated when Bush shook up his White House staff in hopes of beginning a political turnaround. [Wash. Post]
The Post article also discusses the exodus of senior CIA analysts which took place under Goss's watch:
Over Goss's 18 months, more than a dozen senior officials -- several of whom were promoted under Goss -- resigned, retired early or requested reassignment. . . In the clandestine service alone, Goss lost one director, two deputy directors and at least a dozen department heads, station chiefs and division directors, many with the key language skills and experience he has said the agency needs. The agency is on its third counterterrorism chief since Goss arrived. [Wash. Post]Goss, who only served as CIA director for 18 months, probably should not be held responsible for all of these resignations. Paul Pillar, who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia before resigning during 2005, seems to have been concerned with a larger problem: the "dysfunctional relationship" between intelligence and policy-making before and during the Iraq War. [Foreign Affairs]
However, given these preexisting debates over how the agency should operate, Goss definitely was not the right guy for the job. The Post article says that some CIA officers viewed the former Republican Congressman as "staunchly partisan and politically weak," and that "Goss could not overcome a reputation as a partisan politician who worked congressional hours and appeared disinterested in his overseas intelligence counterparts." [Wash. Post] A separate Dana Priest article in the Post points out that Goss alienated many officers right off the bat. Just two months after Goss became director, his chief of staff, Patrick Murray, ordered respected deputy director of operations Stephen R. Kappes to fire his deputy for criticizing Murray - and both Kappes and the deputy resigned in protest. [Wash. Post]
Another interesting question is whether Goss's resignation has anything to do with the recent developments in the "Duke" Cunningham scandal. It was recently reported that defense contractor Brent Wilkes provided "prostitutes, limousines and hotel suites" to Cunningham and other officials. [AP] According to the Post, the CIA inspector general is examining whether Goss appointee Kyle "Dusty" Foggo "arranged for any contracts to be granted to companies associated with Brent R. Wilkes, a contractor and longtime friend of Foggo's who had connections to Rep. Randy 'Duke' Cunningham (R-Calif.)." [Wash. Post]
The folks at Talking Points Memo, one of the most reliable blogs when it comes to gauging the word on the street in DC, are hearing that Goss is clean, but that his resignation probably has to do with the mushrooming controversy. [TPM]
TIME has a piece on Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, who will probably be Bush's appointee to replace Goss. [TIME] Hayden has been a staunch defender of domestic wiretapping, and his confirmation hearings would give the Senate another chance to challenge the administration on the issue. [New York Times]
Friday, May 05, 2006
Lt. Gen. Odom: Cut and run? You bet.
"Cut and Run? You Bet." [Foreign Policy]
Former CIA analyst grills Rumsfeld on WMD claims
"VIDEO: Rumsfeld Called Out On Lies About WMD" [Think Progress]
Rumsfeld's March 30, 2003 appearance on ABC's "This Week" [Defenselink.mil]
Thursday, May 04, 2006
"Lapdogs": a critical look at the media during 2002 and 2003
According to figures from media analyst Andrew Tyndall, of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, or the State Department. Only 34 stories, or just 8 percent, were of independent origin.
Independence did not seem to be a trait held in particularly high regard by the MSM at the time. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, CNN's then-news chief Eason Jordan took the extraordinary step of making sure he received a personal okay from Pentagon officials regarding the retired military officers CNN planned to use as on-air commentators for its war coverage. As Jordan explained it, "I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, at CNN, 'Here are the generals we're thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war.' And we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important."
MSNBC was so nervous about employing an on-air liberal host opposing Bush's ordered invasion that it fired Phil Donahue preemptively in 2003, after an internal memo pointed out the legendary talk show host presented "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war." MSNBC executives would not confirm -- nor deny -- the existence of the report, which stressed the corporate discomfort Donahue's show might present if it opposed the war while "at the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.""Lapdogs" [Salon]
Moussaoui verdict: mighty forgiving for an "army of Satan"
According to the New York Times, the jury considered more than twenty mitigating factors before deciding not to sentence Moussaoui to death. Moussaoui's "unstable early childhood and dysfunctional family," and the fact that Moussaoui's father "had a violent temper and physically and emotionally abused his family" were each cited by nine jurors. Five jurors cited the fact that the alternative to the death penalty would be incarceration for life without possibility of release, and three said that Moussaoui would not present a substantial risk to guards or other inmates, because he would be confined in a maximum security prison.[New York Times]
Four jurors cited his family's history of psychotic illness, and three cited the racism Moussaoui encountered as a Moroccan growing up in France. Only three jurors cited a belief that "Moussaoui's role in the 9/11 operation, if any, was minor," and the same number said that Moussaoui had limited knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Finally, none of the jurors cited the defense's argument that executing Moussaoui would make him a martyr. [New York Times]
In other words, the jury treated Moussaoui about the same way it would have treated anyone else. I'm sure that offends some people, who believe that anything short of a kangaroo court amounts to being "soft on terrorism." But I think that giving terror suspects the same procedural rights we give to other criminal defendants is one of the best ways that the US can counter Al Qaeda's claims that this is a holy war (as contrasted with President Bush's description of the war on terror as a "crusade", which did not help). And after all, to whatever extent Moussaoui was collaborating with Al Qaeda prior to his arrest, he won't be collaborating with them once he's in his soundproof cell in the "Alcatraz of the Rockies."
As he left the courtroom, Moussaoui shouted "America, you lost, you lost!" and that "We are the soldiers of God, and you are the army of Satan." Sure, Zacarius, we're an "army of Satan" . . . an "army of Satan" which just spared you from execution because of your dysfunctional family life, your family's history of mental illness, and your childhood encounters with discrimination as a Muslim growing up in France."At Sentencing, Moussaoui is Defiant" [New York Times]
"Mitigating Factors in the Case" [New York Times]
Moussaoui Trail Exhibits and Documents page [RCFP.org]
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Largest NYC fire in 10 years besides 9/11
The city's Fire Commissioner said that excluding 9/11, "this is unquestionably the largest fire we've had in more than 10 years." Authorities said the fire has been deemed suspicious in nature. Local speculation will undoubtedly center around the development gold rush which has been underway since the city rezoned the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront several years ago.
"Cause of Brooklyn Blaze Is Under Investigation" [New York Times]
"Greenpoint Warehouse on Fire" (featuring local reports) [Gothamist]
Photos of the fire from the East River [Flickr]; from Greenpoint [Flickr]
Photos of the Greenpoint Terminal Market before and after the fire [Flickr]
Satellite map - West Street and Noble Street [Google Maps]
I forgot to mention that the Greenpoint Terminal Market site includes the former grounds of Continental Iron Works, where the USS Monitor, the Union's first ironclad ship, was built in 1862. This engraving, from an 1862 issue of Harper's Weekly, shows the Monitor's launch into the East River on January 30, 1862:
Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center [history.navy.mil]
USS Monitor [Wikipedia]
Last night I walked down to Greenpoint to see what was left of the Greenpoint Terminal Market. To my surprise, the fire was still smoldering, more than 60 hours after it had begun on Tuesday morning. In the photo shown below, you can see firefighters hosing down the ruins of one of the warehouses as the sun sets (click on photo to enlarge).
Two-thirds of young Americans can't find Iraq on a map
"Study: Geography Greek to young Americans" [CNN]