Nel's New Day

October 26, 2013

Surveillance Violates U.S. Constitution

Today is the 12 anniversary of the PATRIOT Act. This unbelievably broad surveillance law has been renewed twice since its 2001 inception with almost no protest from Congress. A little over two years ago, Congress passed a four-year extension of provisions set to expire on June 1, 2015. Since Edward Snowden leaked information, people—including those in a number of foreign countries—are discovering how the surveillance superstructure works and how it destroys civil liberties.

As it now stands, the government has the authority to spy on people inside the United States without any knowledge of wrongdoing.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the government to obtain “any tangible thing” relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no indication that the “thing” pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities. This provision is in direct opposition to the U.S. Constitution’s protection against search and seizure requiring the government to show probable cause before infringing on a person’s privacy.

Section 206 of the Patriot Act, aka “roving John Doe wiretap” provision, gives government permission to obtain intelligence surveillance orders that fail to identify either the person or the facility to be tapped. Again, this provision violates protection against search and seizure that requires the government to be specific about what it wants to search or seize.

Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, or the so-called “Lone Wolf” provision, permits secret intelligence surveillance of non-U.S. persons who are not affiliated with a foreign organization. Granted only in secret courts, this authorization violates the limits of government surveillance within the nation’s borders.

Another part of the Patriot Act is the use of national security letters (NSLs) that permit the government to obtain the communication, financial, and credit records of anyone deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation even if that person is not suspected of unlawful behavior. Tens of thousands of these letters issued every year are used to collect information on people two and three times removed from a terrorism suspect. Nondisclosure requirements in NSLs also prevent a court from determining whether the gag is necessary to protect national security.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol today and in other U.S. cities to protest the NSA Internet data gathering program. Organized by Stop Watching Us, the group wants changes in the government spying on innocent people. The organization has also released a video featuring Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Phil Donahue, U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., David Segal of Demand Progress, and others.

At least one author of the original 2001 Patriot Act has decided enough is enough—especially after the report that NSA may be surveilling people in 35 countries, including the cell phone of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) plans to introduce legislation next week to curb the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers. He hopes to have 60 House co-sponsors for the bill, called the USA Freedom Act. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans to introduce companion legislation at the same time. Sensenbrenner claims that Congress never authorized such massive data collection on people who have no record of wrongdoing.

The proposed legislation would tighten record gathering only on U.S. phone calls, however, making Merkel still at risk. In addition, it would create a special advocate’s office to argue stronger privacy protections before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret court established by Congress, and appeal its decisions. According to current law, the court hears only arguments in favor of surveillance. If the bill passes, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would have subpoena power to investigate privacy and national security issues. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook would be able to reveal more statistics about the information they must turn over to the government.

Leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are expected to oppose the bill. In the past they have claimed that all the collection is vital to stopping terrorist attacks. “I will do everything I can to prevent this [phone data] program from being canceled,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said.

The argument that NSA surveillance has stopped more than 50 terrorist attacks is bogus. The original wording was that NSA’s intelligence had “contributed to the understanding of terrorism activities.” No thwarting. NSA refuses to release records to prove any of their claims. Officials have released information about only one of these cases: a San Diego man sent $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has long argued that the federal government is abusing its surveillance and claimed that NSA could have gotten a court order to get phone records for the convicted San Diego man.

Members of Congress received the complete list from NASA about the over 50 cases, but it remains classified. After reading the list, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) still questions the agency’s figures. He said, “That’s plainly wrong …. These weren’t all plots and they weren’t all thwarted.” Yet GOP Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (GA), Brad Wenstrup (OH), Joe Heck (NV), Mike Rogers (MI), and James Lankford (OK) continue to support NSA’s false reporting. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) followed their lead.

NSA claimed that their surveillance helped thwart a plot to attack a Danish newspaper, but an examination of the event concluded that a tip from British intelligence led authorities to the perpetrator. NSA claimed that its surveillance led to a supposed plot to attack the New York Stock Exchange in 2010, but no one was charged in relationship to that attack.

My partner thinks that the surveillance will make us safer, but, as she pointed out, she was taught to hide under her desk in grade school if there was danger of an atomic bomb. She grew up being taught to be afraid, the same tactic that conservatives use in contemporary times.

I told her about a senior National Security Council staffer who tweeted anti-admininstration messages for over two years before he could be found. Jofi Joseph, 40, a key member of the White House team negotiating on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, unleashed a barrage of over 2,000 caustic tweets about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top NSC officials, especially Ben Rhodes, who he accused of dodging questions about Benghazi. The fired man’s wife, Carolyn Leddy, is on the Republican side of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It took two years to find the source of the tweets.

NSA spends billions of dollars to discover very little and sometimes destroy people’s lives as it did to Brandon Mayfield, a Portland (OR) lawyer. Members of the agency secretly broke into his house, tapped his phone, and accused him of being part of bombing in the 2004 Madrid train bombing on the basis of a faxed fingerprint and his children’s Spanish lessons on his computer. That plus the fact that he had become a Muslim. They finally admitted that he had nothing to do with the act of terror.

This article sounds like science fiction, but it has fact for support. Within the next few years, household appliances can be used to spy on everyone. Advertisers propose putting cameras into television to get reactions to TV ads or what shows make people fall asleep. Last year Computer Security firm ReVuln proved that it could hack Samsung’s newest televisions to access users’ settings, install malware on the TVs and any connected devices, and harvest all personal data stored on the machine as well as switching on the camera embedded in the TV and watch viewers watching the set. Google and Verizon are two companies developing cable boxes with built-in video cameras and motion sensors.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus believes that such appliances as dishwashers, clothes dryers, toasters, clock radios, and remote controls will soon gather intelligence. Even now these appliances connect to the Internet. Criminals will also find this information useful as well as technology that allows spies to monitor lights and heating/AC thermostats. Home security systems wirelessly connected to phones and tablets can easily be hacked, allowing burglars to keep tabs on homes.

Last year, the U.S. military disclosed an app, PlaceRaider, that uses a smartphone’s camera, geo-location data, and accelerometer to create a 3D map of the phone’s surroundings. Tablets and computers have all the same tools as smartphones and more. They hold all a person’s secrets, making these available to anyone who knows the technology.

A year ago White Hat hacker Barnaby Jack proved he could kill a diabetic person from 300 feet away by ordering an insulin pump to deliver fatal doses of insulin; this summer he said he could hack pacemakers and implanted defibrillators.

NSA doesn’t want people to have safeguards because they can also be blocked by these. The nation needs to stop wasting taxpayer money and follow the constitution, and Congress needs to stop making unconstitutional laws after they have terrified people in the United States.

July 27, 2013

House Paid to Vote Security over Privacy

Many people, including myself, may not know that the conservative Supreme Court chief justice picks the super secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that has become less secret since Edward Snowden made his announcements about the National Security Agency spying on all the people in the United States. Ten of the court’s 11 judge, appointed to the bench by GOP presidents, have been assigned to this all-important court by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.

The court’s conservative bent—maybe more of a far-right curve—will most likely give it a tendency to follow NSA’s desire to expand its spying program. Roberts’s assignments have been far less ideologically diverse than those of the two previous chief justices, Warren E. Burger and William H. Rehnquist, despite their own conservative leanings. Robert’s assignments have been 86 percent GOP appointees, compared to the 66 percent GOP appointees by the other two justices.

“Viewing this data, people with responsibility for national security ought to be very concerned about the impression and appearance, if not the reality, of bias—for favoring the executive branch in its applications for warrants and other action,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).  He proposed that each of the chief judges of the 12 major appeals courts select one district judge for FISC. The chief justice could still select the review panel that hears appeals of the court’s decision, but the selection would have to be approved by six other Supreme Court justices. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) has introduced a bill moving the selection of FISC judges to the president.

When FISC was established as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act 35 years ago, its purpose was to review applications for wiretaps regarding whether there was sufficient evidence that the FBI’s targeted person was a foreign terrorist or spy. As recently as 2005, according to former FISC Judge James Robertson, “In my experience, there weren’t any opinions. You approved a warrant application or you didn’t—period.”

Midway through the George W. Bush administration, the executive branch sought and obtained the court’s legal blessing to continue secret surveillance programs that had originally circumvented the FISA process. In 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act to allow NSA to continue the Bush warrantless program supposedly only on foreigners abroad. The court was allowed to create rules for the program, giving it the power of an administrative agency that makes rules for others to follow. Robertson said, “That’s not the bailiwick of judges. Judges don’t make policy.”

Rulings have greatly expanded to lengthy ones that interpret the meaning of surveillance laws and constitutional rights instead of the former up-or-down approvals of secret wiretap applications. Court decisions are classified with no opportunity for contrary arguments or appeals if the government wins the case. The public doesn’t know what FISC determines—sort of like a person on the “do not fly” list not knowing they are there until they try to fly or not knowing whether they’ve successfully gotten off until they try to board a plane.

At least no one knew what the court was doing until Snowden released information about an order to a Verizon subsidiary requiring it to submit three months of calling records for all customers, signed by Judge Roger Vinson, Reagan’s appointee who tried to strike down Obamacare.

Blumenthal, a past U.S. attorney and state prosecutor, said that executive branch lawyers were more likely to have a “get the bad guys” mentality and cooperate in giving the Justice Department unlimited surveillance powers. Vinson has been replaced with Michael W. Mosman, a federal prosecutor; Raymond J. Dearie, a United States attorney; Reggie B. Walton, a prosecutor who also worked on drug and crime issues for the White House; and F. Dennis Saylor IV, chief of staff in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. The only Democratic appointee, Judge Mary A. McLaughlin, was also a prosecutor.

The only requirement for selection of judges is geographic diversity. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) has filed a bill allowing Congressional leaders to pick eight of the court’s members because the court should have a more diverse membership.

Last week, the House voted 217-205 not to check NSA’s phone-spying dragnet, with 111 Democrats and 94 Republicans voting to not fund the phone-call collection program. In a Guardian article, Glenn Greenwald gives a vivid detailed picture of the peculiar coalition that voted to continue the NSA program. Conservative Republicans against the president’s administrative abuse of power joined liberal Democrats opposed to intrusive intelligence programs.

President Obama’s strongest support in war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, and secrecy comes from the radical far-right GOP party. Pro-war and anti-Muslim Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has given extensive praise to the president as did Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) who repeatedly warned that NSA bulk spying on U.S. citizens was necessary to stop “Islamic jihadists.” The conservative wing of the Supreme Court supported the president in his argument that plaintiffs objecting to surveillance lack standing to sue because the NSA successfully conceals the identity of which Americans are subjected to the surveillance. Thus government wiretapping laws cannot be challenged in court.

An analysis of campaign donations for the bill shows that House members who voted to continue NSA’s metadata spy program collected 122 percent more money from defense and intelligence contractors than those who voted against it. Firms such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, United Technologies, and Honeywell International donated almost $13 million for the years 2011-12. Legislators who voted for NSA’s program averaged $41,635; the naysayers averaged $18,765. Only one of the top ten money makers, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) voted against the program.

Tea Party member Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who proposed the bill with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), got $1,400, which put him in the bottom 50 in donations. Rep. Howard McKeon (R-CA), who voted to continue the surveillance, led the House in defense contributions with $526,000. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) voted against the measure and ranked 15th in defense earnings with a $131,000 take. Another vote to keep the surveillance came from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who got $47,000 from defense firms during the two-year period.

Two 2016 GOP presidential wannabes showed the differences among the GOP membership regarding the surveillance program. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s “strain of libertarianism” on national security “very dangerous.” Paul retorted in a tweet:

“Christie worries about the dangers of freedom. I worry about the danger of losing that freedom. Spying without warrants is unconstitutional.”

The two men are topping the list of a very diverse—let’s say wingnut—set of potential candidates for the GOP primary.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday urged the United States to revamp its surveillance laws and practices, warning that the country will ‘live to regret it’ if it fails to do so. That time is getting closer. The Pentagon is sending two blimps to hover over Washington that can surveil the area for 320 miles in every direction. The ostensible reason is to look for threats.

The question is what else they will see while they’re 10,000 feet up in the air looking at an area from Niagara Falls (NY) to North Carolina. I agree with Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information center, when he said, “When the government is conducting real-time aerial surveillance within the United States, there are privacy issues that need to be addressed.”

If you wonder how legislators feel about privacy, follow the money.

July 3, 2013

Whistleblowers & Privacy

When the Revolutionary War started 237 years ago, the issues had gone far beyond taxation. The British government had decided to rule the colonies through making appointments and then attempted to take over part of Quebec, threatening the Protestant population. In addition, it increased the level of income inequality through financial regulations that moved more wealth to the rich people and corporations of England. The real anger felt by the American colonists was toward Parliament’s corporate bailout and not taxation.

The British East India Company was given preferential treatment in import taxes and given a monopoly for their tea shipped to the colonies, undercutting colonial business. Thus the Revolutionary War had to do with  a protest over government policies that benefited one business entity to the detriment of other businesses and individuals.

Freedoms in the constitution were hard-won. Since then, people called “whistleblowers” have tried to preserve these freedoms that corporations and Congress have worked to abridge. These are some of the people who changed the trajectory of the country through their actions:

Peter Buxtun: This VD investigator exposed the 40-year Tuskegee syphilis experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the progression of untreated syphilis in rural African American men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government. After Buxtun went to the New York Times in the early 1970s, then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) called hearings, and the study was stopped.

Daniel Ellsberg: After serving many years in the military, Ellsberg released the “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times in 1971. This classified document explained how the Johnson Administration lied to the public and Congress about the extent of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam during the previous 15 years. After the revelation of secret bombing missions in Cambodia and Laos, as well as coastal regions of Vietnam, the view of the war shifted into a growing opposition until the last U.S. troops were sent home within a few years.

Karen Silkwood: After telling the Atomic Energy Commission in 1974 about the grave dangers for worker safety at the nuclear power plant where she worked, Silkwood mysteriously died. An  investigation into nuclear power plant safety followed that resulted in plant closures and better procedures for workplace safety. Her experiences were detailed in the 1983 film Silkwood.

Deep Throat: A mysterious government informant revealed the connection between the Watergate break-in and President Nixon’s attempts to put political enemies under surveillance. The 1972 leaks to Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led to the president’s resignation. The events were chronicled in the 1976 film, All the President’s Men. Thirty-three years later, former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt announced that he had been the mysterious “Deep Throat.”

Linda Peeno: Managed care came under scrutiny after Peeno revealed in a Congressional hearing how “managed care” in the healthcare industry succeeded by depriving patients of necessary treatment. Her testimony in 1996 led to reforms that provided the foundation for Obamacare.

Jeffrey Wigand: The tobacco executive caused CEOs of Big Tabacco to appear before Congress, thanks to his leaks to CBS’s 60 Minutes. The companies were successfully sued, and the government began to regulate tobacco advertising. The events were used for the film The Insider. 

Jennifer Long: The first IRS employers to show the widespread misconduct within the Internal Revenue Service, she first faced the possibility of being fired in 1997 before Congress passed laws giving taxpayers new powers.

Kathryn Bolkovac: In the early 2000s, this police officer worked with the U.N. in Bosnia. While there, she found that members of the peacekeeping forces were involved in sex trafficking, exploiting local women, and often coercing them into prostitution. She risked everything to come forward and reveal the abuses in court, by suing her employer. The 2010 film The Whistleblower tells her story.

Joe Darby:  The U.S. Army Reservist leaked photos and proof of U.S. military abuse at Abu Gharaib Prison during the Iraq war in 2004. He gave that information to Seymour Hersh, a journalist and the CBS News TV show, 60 Minutes II. Darby moved his family to a new town our of fear from retribution.

Coleen Rowley: The FBI agent came forward in 2011 to make public the government’s lack of interest in crucial intel that the Minnesota branch of the FBI had provided about terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. Her testimony before the Senate and 9/11 Commission ultimately led to a drastic reorganization of the FBI’s structure.

Julian Assange and Bradley Manning: Wikileaks founder Assange worked with Army soldier Manning during the past two years to release thousands of classified diplomatic cables, probably the biggest leak of classified documents in U.S. history.

Edward Snowden:  Within the past few weeks, the NSA technologist  showed how millions of innocent citizens of with country are under surveillance by its government. The NSA is mapping their locations, tracking their friendships, and keeping logs of who they called. Snowden is the person who enlightened all of us about how government surveillance functions in this country.

The jury is still out on whether Snowden is a hero or a villain. Some people have erroneously accused him of treason, but his actions don’t fit the constitutional definition of “levying War” or giving enemies “Aid and Comfort.”  He isn’t protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 because people who work for NSA and the CIA are denied these protections. But the most that anyone could prove against him is most likely espionage for revealing classified information—the same thing that Daniel Ellsberg, considered a hero, did.

Because of Snowden’s actions, many people in the United States now have an inkling of how little privacy they have because of the NSA and the country’s fear of losing their mythical safety. Snowden has been criticized for leaving the country after his revelations, but if he had, he would have been in prison with no information about our loss of privacy.

Privacy is no longer a major issue with the majority of people in the United States unless it comes to registering guns. The only reason that gun-owners panic about a potential registration is that they think they might want to attack the U.S. government at some time—and that really is treason. People put everything about themselves, including naked photographs, on Facebook and think that they will be safer if the U.S. government knows every telephone call and email that they communicate.

The U.S. public has a fascination with voyeurism, starting with watching Allen Funt’s Candid Camera in 1948 and moving on to the 12-hour 1973 PBS mini-series An American Family in which a troubled family revealed all their problems on television. MTV’s The Real World in 1992 was followed by Big Brother that followed people into the bathroom. One of the contestants in Big Brother’s second season lost her cousin in the World Trade Center disaster but stayed with her audience rather than returning to her family. More than 300 reality shows are now airing, and YouTube gets millions of hits. People aren’t even making much money most of the time; they just want to be seen.

The NSA and the more naïve of people in the country claim that Snowden’s leaks help the terrorists, but many people before him have leaked information. With 854,000 people, almost one-third of them private contractors, having top-secret clearance, surveillance can’t be kept secret. After 2001, intelligence agencies began building 33 new facilities; the 17-million-square-feet is almost equal to three times that of the Pentagon. Over a year ago, James Bamford published a story telling about a clandestine $2 billion NSA data center being built in Utah designed to store “near-bottomless databases” that covers all forms of communication including Google searches and bookstore purchases.

Before 9/11, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Why should anyone be surprised that Facebook and NSA’s surveillance program, PRISM, aligned in 2009, and Facebook’s chief security officer, Max Kelly, moved to NSA a year later. As early as 2008, an internal memo at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services suggested that their investigations exploit social networks. Even with protests from opposite corners of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), nobody in leadership positions on either side wants to change the status quo.

Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden have been questioning the NSA for two years, but as Frank Rich wrote,  “They have about as much of a chance of bringing change in 2013 as the former senator Russ Feingold did in his lonely opposition to the Patriot Act in 2001.” Only a leak stating that the NSA is tracking gun ownership might effect any change.

Oh, and the United States Postal Service is spying on you too.

Want privacy? Quit social networks; junk your cell phone; pay for everything in cash but don’t use ATMs; abandon all Google, tweeting, Amazon, Netflix, GPS, and Skype; and encrypt your email and communicate only with others who do. That’s a start. It’s a personality transplant.

So have a good Fourth of July tomorrow and think about your loss of freedom on July 5.

June 17, 2013

U.S. People Need to Examine NSA Spying

As people in the U.S. were still reeling from Edward Snowden’s first revelation that the National Security Agency has collected massive data on U.S. people and trying to justify these actions for safety sake, they discovered that things are much worse than they thought. Initially, the NSA said they didn’t examine the content of communications with warrants, we found out they had lied.

The heavy-duty spying began just after 9/11 when Microsoft cheerfully and competently supplied the feds with whatever they wanted. Company insiders called it “Hoovering” after J. Edgar Hoover, the first FBI director who collected mountains of dirt on countless Americans.

Early in his first term, George W. Bush authorized the NSA to monitor the fiber optic cables that enter and leave the U.S. Shut down in 2007, the program was immediately replaced by the Protect America Act which allowed unlimited warrantless wiretapping if the NSA explained what it was doing to a secret court in Washington. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) voted against this act. That act started PRISM.

Bush’s new program collects Internet information with names, addresses, conversation histories, and entire archives of email inboxes as well as video chats and bank transactions—all at the speed of light. Another program collects all information about telephone communications by demanding records from Verizon Business Services and other large U.S. phone companies, including Bell South and AT&T, since May 24, 2006. The government isn’t required to identify any targets or places if a federal judge secretly approves. This information can be permanently retained as long as it belongs to someone in the U.S.

Google and Facebook deny that they provide very much information. Yahoo went to court and lost in a classified ruling in 2008. Despite their denials, they are making deliveries to the government. How much they do is secret.

Originally, the NSA said that they just examined records of numbers, senders, recipients, and addresses. But Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) discovered in a classified briefing to the House Judiciary Committee that “an analysist,” presumably a low-ranking employee, can decide whether they access the contents of a telephone call, making the surveillance much broader than previously thought. With its estimated annual budget of $10, the agency doesn’t even need the blessing of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court; the attorney general and director of national intelligence can give approval as long as NASA follows the court’s requirements and procedures.

Those who oppose any kind of gun control are incensed at any possible abridgement of their privacy in that area, yet most of the U.S. public seem unconcerned about government employees reading their emails and listening into their telephone calls. Instead, many of them have become outraged that someone warned them about the surveillance program.

The media, no matter its political leanings, joined in the attacks on Edward Snowden when he announced what the NSA is doing. Rather than debating the appropriateness of his release of this information, the media trashed his personal character, starting out with a focus on his being “a high school dropout” and having a girlfriend who is a “pole dancer.”

CBS’s Bob Schieffer may have used the kindest description, saying that Snowden is “no hero” like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr. because he ran off and hid in China. He did say that Snowden is “a narcissistic young man who has decided he is smarter than the rest of us.” (If Snowden knows about NSA’s actions, then he’s certainly smarter than I am!)

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin called him a “grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison” and a “naïve nincompoop.”  Tom Brokaw dismissed him as a “military washout.” The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen dubbed Snowden a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.” Fox went farther overboard when Ralph Peters advocated assassinating Snowden. As he supports the PATRIOT Act and blames the president for an intrusive government, Bill O’Reilly wants Snowden arrested. Somewhat agreeing with O’Reilly, Sean Hannity thought seven years ago that surveillance was just peachy but now believes the president is acting as Big Brother.

While these elitists spend air time and paper sliming the person who revealed NSA’s unconstitutional actions, the media has largely ignored the private contractor who the government hired to spy on the U.S. people. As James Clapper, U.S. director of national intelligence, calls Edward Snowden a traitor to the public interest and the country, Clapper’s former employer, Booze Allen Hamilton needs closer scrutiny.

In February 2012, the U.S. Air Force suspended Booz Allen from seeking government contracts because Joselito Meneses, a former deputy chief of information technology for the Air Force, gave Booz Allen a hard drive with confidential information about a competitor’s contracting on the first day that he went to work for the company. Two months later, Booz Allen fired Meneses and paid the Air Force $65,000. He wasn’t the only former Air Force officer to be hired as an executive for the company.

Booz Allen admitted to overbilling the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) by inflating monthly hours of employees and submitting excessive billings. Four years ago, the company repaid the government $325,000 to settle the charges. A company whistleblower revealed this information to the government. Three years earlier, Booz Allen was also caught overbilling. Its share of a $15 million settlement under the False Claims Act was $3.3 million.

Ralph Shrader, Booze Allen’s chair, CEO, and president, came to the company in 1974 after working at two telecommunications companies: Western Union, where he was national director of advanced systems planning; and RCA, where he served in the company’s government communications system division. In the 1970s, those two companies participated in a secret surveillance program, Minaret, agreeing to give NSA all U.S. telephone calls and telegrams. This and other spying programs led to Congressional hearings to study government intelligence activities.

Over a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive government matters. Frequently, they even perform the country’s national security clearances. Almost half the 25,000 Booze Allen employees have top secret security clearances, and 98 percent of the company’s income came from the government last year.

When the news first broke about the massive collections of date on people in the United States, conservative pundit Bill Kristol said that the GOP should not consider this a scandal like other ones such as the IRS.

Kristol said:

“They’re not allowed to go into that data until they have a warrant signed off on by a judge. That is totally different from the IRS abuses, which I think are very serious, and I think it’s very important for conservatives and Republicans to make that distinction.”

I wonder what he and the other conservatives think now that that they’ve discovered that the NSA is looking at anyone’s technological communications with no need for warrants. I also wonder if the left and right mix of senators—including Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—still think that mining every technological piece of information about the people in the United States is just fine.  If they do, their constituents may disagree.

prism 1

prism 2One humorous aside to the PRISM program: NSA failed to get permission for use of a copyrighted photograph by Adam Hart-Davis for its logo. That may be part of their philosophy that they are above the law.

 

 

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