Nel's New Day

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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