Sunday, July 7, 2013

Out of the Sleepy Shadows

Thanks to Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, our Shadow Government is finally wincing from the glare of some long-overdue sunlight. The rays keep creeping in and creeping in, until finally, the vampire of the national security state has nowhere else to go but inside its own corrupt coffin. And as it lies exposed, perhaps what is left of our free press can finally hammer the stake of truth right through the data-engorged heart.

The New York Times has finally entered the NSA muckraking fray with a blockbuster front page piece on the existence of a secret Fisa court with powers so vast and overreaching that, according to reporter Eric Lichtblau, it might as well be declared our Parallel Supreme Court. Every time I thought it couldn't get any worse, it  turns out to be worse. And getting worser all the time, judging from the article: (the italicized parentheses are my own thoughts.) 
In more than a dozen classified rulings, the nation’s surveillance court has created a secret body of law giving the National Security Agency the power to amass vast collections of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in nuclear proliferation, espionage and cyberattacks, officials say. (and that list of people will no doubt grow as "officials" become more and more afraid of their own shadows citizens.) 
 The rulings, some nearly 100 pages long, reveal that the court has taken on a much more expansive role by regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents, with almost no public scrutiny, according to current and former officials familiar with the court’s classified decisions. (Will these current and former officials be prosecuted for leaking? Not if the purpose of the article was to reassure people that everything is legal and hunky-dory.)
 The 11-member Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, was once mostly focused on approving case-by-case wiretapping orders. But since major changes in legislation and greater judicial oversight of intelligence operations were instituted six years ago, it has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come, the officials said. (the FISA Arm of the Supreme Court are the de facto Board of Regents of America.)
And then there is the law we never heard of, called the "Special Needs Doctrine" which effectively declares the Fourth Amendment null and void. But it's all good, all legal. The article continues,
Unlike the Supreme Court, the FISA court hears from only one side in the case — the government — and its findings are almost never made public. A Court of Review is empaneled to hear appeals, but that is known to have happened only a handful of times in the court’s history, and no case has ever been taken to the Supreme Court. In fact, it is not clear in all circumstances whether Internet and phone companies that are turning over the reams of data even have the right to appear before the FISA court. (This country no longer has the right to call itself a democracy.) 
Apparently, a few internet and cell phone providers have balked at having to turn over information on their customers without even being given the right of legal counsel to represent them. In those cases, the Shadow Court has had to "intervene." Here is where it starts getting murky. We don't know if the Secret Judges threaten to issue contempt citations for failure to honor their Special Needs and thus lock up would-be dissenters to secret prisons.

Although these revelations should be scaring the living daylights out of everyone enjoying their freedoms on this Weekend of Freedom-Wallowing, there are still quite a few commenters to the Times article asking what the big deal is. All governments spy, Obama just wants to keep us safe, there are Bad Guys out there. Here's the comment I sent in:
I can't wait to get the reactions of Congress critters to this news. How do they feel about having their power to make the laws usurped by an unelected body of people in black robes? Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the term "activist court", doesn't it?
And here I was, hoping that the Supreme Court would overturn the various NSA predations! They're in it up to their own eyeballs. John Roberts might as well be declared the Shadow President.
I think that we the people now have to demand that a vote to repeal the Patriot Act be the litmus test for our representatives' continued stay in Washington. Their failure to do so will be proof positive that they are fully in thrall to the corporations which are effectively in charge of things.
And if they still teach civics in the public schools, this article had better be the impetus for an immediate emergency revision of all the nation's textbooks. Checks and Balances? They belong in the dust bin of history.
Meanwhile, I continue to be amazed and grateful that every morning when I click on the Times home page, there are still little comment boxes open for us to "share our thoughts" even though our thoughts are being sucked up into the maw of the security state to molder and congeal until that inevitable day comes when our secret government will suddenly discover a secret algorithm that enables them declare independent thought a national security threat.
This is beyond Orwellian. It's Kafkaesque.
And here is my favorite, from "jb" of Oklahoma:
 A "parallel Supreme Court", but secret. A secret security apparatus, with secret spying for secret reasons, being overseen by secret briefings of gagged Congressmen. No limit on the secret contributions of moguls and corporations for the only visible bits of the secret government, the candidates we are to choose from, each and all of whom continue to increase the secret governance of our nation while we look around and wonder who's watching. And worry a bit that now we can be arrested, "interrogated", imprisoned, and killed without trials or seeing the evidence against us. As drones start to fill our skies as they now fill those of nations abroad. With secret fingers on the buttons, just waiting for the secret command to kill whoever they're told, and whoever happens to be nearby.
It's outlandish, it's unbelievable. And I would be afraid to write this comment if I weren't more afraid of what will happen when we are all afraid to write comments like this.
Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald is helping to gin up more outrage in the one section of the world that is still not beholden to the American imperium. (or as the Brazilians call it, Espionaram) He collaborated on an article for the Rio de Janeiro paper O Globo , explaining how the Obama government is collecting information on citizens the whole world over -- including in South America. Just because it can. There's also a Google translation of the original Portuguese language piece available, along with previous coverage of the NSA spying scandal.

A sentence from one article, Anglicized as "Glenn Greenwald: A Journalist in the Way of Obama"  was particularly pithy, and actually gained something in the translation:

Um conto que foi capaz de tirar o sono do presidente Barack Obama: A tale that was able to get the sleep of President Barack Obama


James F Traynor said...

The one thing that really gets me is the argument on behalf of this behavior, and the clearly unconstitutional laws that support it, by its perpetrators and their supporters. It boils down to: Yes, the current laws allow it, but we (they) wouldn't do such a thing.

And its inevitable corollary: There is no evidence this was done, and, no, the details supporting that are classified.

Neil Gillespie said...

Thanks Karen. FISA rulings may be secret, but FISA rules and FISA law are public information. If anyone is interested, the FISA rules of court are posted on the federal court website, and are for the public’s benefit, along with the bench (judges) and bar (lawyers).


The attached Rules of Procedure for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court supersede both the February 17, 2006 Rules of Procedure and the May 5, 2006 Procedures for Review of Petitions Filed Pursuant to Section 501 (f) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, As Amended These revised Rules of Procedure are effective immediately.

John D. Bates
Presiding Judge
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
November 1, 2010

Link to the federal rules page

Here are links to the FISA US Code, beginning with Title 50, on the Legal Information Institute website of Cornell law school. Reading the actual law is informative, and sometimes amusing, like 50 USC Chapter 7 - Interference with homing pigeons owned by the United States, which was repealed.



50 USC Chapter 36, Subchapter I - ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE

FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - Wikipedia

Pearl said...


An interesting comment to Lichtblau's column (among many other great ones
including Karen's)

John M.
Durham, NC

NYT Pick..

In the darkest days of McCarthyism, Lillian Hellman made the heroic move of refusing to "name names" for McCarthy's HUAC kangaroo court. With the latest FISA ruling, she wouldn't have to, because they already would know who she talked to: where, when, and for how long. What more would they need to destroy her? In McCarthy's day of "fifth amendment communists," suspicion
was the same as guilt, and guilt by association was enough to ruin many
lives. And it did. The FISA ruling takes us right back to that time, only worse, because there isn't even an open court for the wrongly accused to refuse to testify, and for the public to witness once and for all how the court has overreached itself. Who will be the Joseph Welch of today to confront Justice Roberts and his spawn to ask "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

July 7, 2013 at 10:24 a.m.

I Love Barry said...

Obamabots: We're Too Cool To Care

Denis Neville said...

The Nuremberg trials were among America’s most noble undertakings.

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. And we are not prepared to lay down the rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.” – Justice Robert H. Jackson, Chief Counsel for the Prosecution of War Crimes at the Nuremberg Tribunal

Justice Jackson, having witnessed the Nazi regime, worried about pervasive national power, telling his law clerks that the first step to tyranny was to centralize control of the police and the courts.

All eleven members of the secret FISA court [Parallel Supreme Court] are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

In the irony of all ironies, Chief Justice John Roberts [the Shadow President] spoke this May at the Robert H. Jackson Center, which advances the ideals of the late Justice Jackson.

“The NSA scandal has taken on a horrifying aspect. It is a slap in the face for the rule of law. What is called for is an understanding that you cannot combat terrorism by subverting every precept of the rule of law.” - Heribert Prantl, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, says the war on drugs and the war on terror are really wars on our own citizens.

Detective John J. Baeza, NYPD (ret.), Manhattan Special Victims Squad, Manhattan North Narcotics, 32nd Precinct, Harlem provides two quotes from the HBO television series "The Wire" that apply quite appropriately to this situation:

"This drug thing, this ain't police work. Soldiering and police, they ain't the same thing."

"You call something a war and pretty soon everyone's gonna' be running around acting like warriors. They're gonna' be running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, slapping on cuffs and racking up body counts. And when you're at war you need an enemy. And pretty soon damn near everybody on every corner's your enemy. And soon the neighborhood you're supposed to be policing, that's just occupied territory."

“The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” - Oscar Wilde

I see only the hole.

“I happen to believe that there are clear definite standards of good and evil in the world. If you read Nuremberg, if you listen to the voices of the Nazis, the testimonies of the Nazis there, and if you read the criticisms of the Nuremberg Trials, you cannot escape the conclusion that unless the world at least honors the idea of objective good and objective evil, we are lost in that murky world of relativism where we can always find some justification for doing what somebody also did but putting a spin on it so that it makes us feel more comfortable doing it than others did. So, I really do think that the teaching of Nuremberg, what we learned at Nuremberg, should be a required part of high school and college education.” - Bill Moyers

annenigma said...

Some of you will find enjoyment from sinking your teeth into these two interesting articles:

'Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere'

'The Other Ride of Paul Revere: The Brokerage Role in the Making of the American Revolution'

Denis Neville said...

Comforting the Comfortable, Afflicting the Afflicted

Karen’s call today, “Organize, agitate, demonstrate, vote, and afflict the comfortable,” at the conclusion to her response to Krugman’s “Defining Prosperity Down.”

The unofficial motto of our nation’s press is that journalism should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” [LOL]

Our lame stream “journalists” have it ass backwards. They comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted.

Paul Krugman, sadly, is an establishment liberal whose dedicated purpose is the preservation of the politico-economic system which is currently looting, killing, and roasting us.

Finley Peter Dunne’s satirically criticized the arrogant exercise of power that characterized the “yellow press” a century ago. Writing as an Irishman named “Mr. Dooley,” Finley Peter Dunne wrote the following, cautioning against the power of the newspapers themselves:

"Th newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward."

Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.

“This life we live nowadays. It's not life, it's stagnation, death-in-life. Look at all these bloody houses and the meaningless people inside them. Sometimes I think we're all corpses. Just rotting upright…

“He wondered about the people in houses like those. They would be, for example, small clerks, shop-assistants, commercial travellers, insurance touts, tram conductors. Did they know that they were only puppets dancing when money pulled the strings? You bet they didn’t. And if they did, what would they care? They were too busy being born, being married, begetting, working, dying. It mightn’t be a bad thing, if you could manage it, to feel yourself one of them, one of the ruck of men. Our civilization is founded on greed and fear, but in the lives of common men the greed and fear are mysteriously transmuted into something nobler. The lower-middle-class people in there, behind their lace curtains, with their children and their scraps of furniture and their aspidistras — they lived by the money-code, sure enough, and yet they contrived to keep their decency. The money-code as they interpreted it was not merely cynical and hoggish. They had their standards, their inviolable points of honour. They ‘kept themselves respectable’— kept the aspidistra flying. Besides, they were alive. They were bound up in the bundle of life. They begot children, which is what the saints and the soul-savers never by any chance do. The aspidistra is the tree of life, he thought suddenly.” - George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

I Am Spartacus said...

Don't tell the NSA, but I saw Edward Snowden yesterday in downtown Phoenix. I bet that's why he used the phrase 'petting a phoenix' in one of his messages. Good thing the NSA didn't figure that out.

If anyone else sees Snowden somewhere else, be sure NOT to tell the NSA who might be snooping right now on Sardonicky comments section!

Pearl said...

Karen: Great down to earth comment to Krugman's latest. I wonder if the
average out of work Joe is not bored with his theoretical utterances (even
if true). He needs to come down to the level of the actual personal effects to people's lives and offer specific recommendations to be followed which many of the responders keep clearly listing.
Please print your comment in Sardonicky which is an example of how to stir up real thinking. I find the responses to some of the interesting columns the NYTimes is finally coming out of its coma to print (like Lichtblau's article about FISA) are refreshing and courageous. Thank you Snowden and Greenwald for inspiring some higher level reporting to keep up with the U.K.Guardian. I see other news media picking up on the NYTImes report about the latest privacy intrusions with a shadow court.

Karen Garcia said...

Below is my comment to the Krugman column, which I found to be heavy on the futility, light on the anger. Of course, he is grieving the death of his father, so I am cutting him a bit of personal slack... for now. For further insight, go back a couple posts on his blog, where he talks about his pied a terre. I had missed it until yesterday. Judging from the comments, readers were taken aback by his sudden flash of elitism. I think he's been somewhat captured by his own celebrity. He still fancies himself something of an outlier, for some reason, I guess because the other one percenters are constantly ganging up on him.... or pretending to, in order to impart the illusion tat there is still a left wing rep in the mass media. Here's my comment:

The only jobs program the corporate state is all excited about is the proposed militarization of the southern border. A 700 mile-long wall, coupled with the hiring of thousands of new armed guards would come at a public cost of billions. That is billions we're told just isn't there to hire teachers and repair roads, or give health care to the poor, or maintain the food stamp program for the 50 million and counting Americans who qualify for them because the jobs are temporary, part-time, low-wage and non-existent.

The stock market is fine, so no need to repeal the Sequester and restore funding to Head Start and Meals on Wheels. No need to prevent the doubling of student loan interest rates. No need to whisper the J-word if you're a politician in cahoots with the plutocrats, content to maintain the status quo of 23 million unemployed and underemployed people. No need to protect us from the financial predators. As a matter of fact, Dodd-Frank is being slowly gutted right before our eyes. (Or rather, behind closed doors.)

Austerity may have been debunked, but it's a mutation that lives on in the DNA of the movers and shakers. After all, "we" are the richest country on earth. "We" have the most billionaires! So why do we only rank 27th in the world in per-capita income? Because we have the most billionaires!

Organize, agitate, demonstrate, vote, and afflict the comfortable. It may seem futile, but the alternative of doing nothing is even more depressing than this Depression.

Kat said...

Krugman's schtick is wearing thin. Keep pretending there is anyone in DC that cares about or even finds desirable the possibility of full employment, Paul.

Zee said...


Two fascinating--or depressing, depending upon how one looks at it--articles on just how much may be learned about connections between people from minimal "metadata."

And you can bet that NSA's supercomputers will be continually analyzing their stored metadata 24/7, looking for connections that pass some kind of algorithmic threshold or filter.

And all without looking at the actual content whatsoever.

I wonder where the FISA court will set its threshold of "connectedness"--just some arbitrary number, of course--n order to grant a warrant to look at content?

The possibilities for false positives resulting from this type of analysis are staggering. Not to mention the inevitable misuse to which such a database will eventually be put.

If you build it, they will come.

annenigma said...


The first one was humorous too.

For more laughs, go to the FISA court parody on Twitter.

Zee said...


Don't do Twitter myself, but your link is hysterical!

And you're right, the first "Paul Revere" link was outrageously funny: "Ye Olde Royal Security Administration," indeed!

As I have remarked before, human nature has not changed significantly since 1772 or even the Golden Age of Greece, and probably well before!

"Nosiness is as nosiness does."

Zee said...


"JB of Oklahoma" pretty much said it all.

James F Traynor said...

Poor Krugman. His is not the nasty world of mean city streets, nor even that of living pay check to pay check, or, for that matter, worrying about health coverage or tuition bills. And if he has ever encountered those life experiences, he's gratefully forgotten them. His is the world of the the polite, humane haute bourgeois. But he is on our side and we should not forget that and that he represents the best of his class. As Soros and others like him represent the best of the 1%. They are our allies in wanting a decent social contract as has been achieved by the Scandinavians and much of the rest of the the industrial nations.

annenigma said...

Given what we know now about the vast domestic and global surveillance system (and we can assume there is much more and far worse), does anyone still believe the lame excuse the government gave for why they 'dropped the ball' regarding Tsarnaev and the Boston Bombing?

We were NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, supposed to know about Prism, and we still don't know the half of it. What we do know now makes their explanation for the Boston Boston dubious to say the least. And the 'interview' in Florida where a suspect was killed when he allegedly threatened them with a broom handle? Dubious too.

I wish the International Criminal Court could look into that incident. Too bad everything the Government does is Top Secret, everything they say is lies, and their secret illegal FISA court protects it all.

I'd like to throw it all into the Boston Harbor.

Denis Neville said...

James said … “Poor Krugman. But he is on our side and we should not forget that and that he represents the best of his class.

A lot of Paul Krugman’s followers find him the leading hope for opposing even worse Republican politics.

But what can be worse than “Rubinomics,” the Democratic Party’s black hole, which he supports?

How very, very strange to praise Krugman when his primary loyalty is to the elites who are looting us.

Krugman’s limits are defined by his class affiliations. He never challenges the structure of the elites of which he is so much a part.

Are we supposed to excuse Krugman because he is only advocating kleptocracy-lite?

He defends the status quo. Despite his reputation as a liberal, Krugman is a neo-liberal conservative.

How about Krugman’s long standing support of free trade, the results of which were not positive for ordinary American workers? Krugman skewered progressive writers who criticized globalization from a liberal-labor perspective—offshoring of jobs, stagnating wages, sweatshops, etc. - saying reduced pay levels in the US would be the end result. He knew what the disastrous ramifications of free trade for blue collar Americans would be, but he just didn’t care.

Krugman didn’t misinterpret the effects of globalization on the middle class. He simply chose to ignore it, and continues to ignore its criminality.

And his pro-bank attitudes, at their worse when he went to Iceland to lobby for the vulture banks?

Krugman’s opposition to shifting taxes off labor onto property? And his support for government subsidization of the existing financial and tax structures, ignoring the largely regressive, unfair and inefficient system of taxation?

And the windfall gains for the wealthy from the public infrastructure investment advocated by Krugman?

Krugman is a neo-liberal with allegiance to the elite class that bestowed him his fame and privileges.

Just because he periodically makes lukewarm criticisms of the powers that be does not mean that he is on our side.

annenigma said...

The Government has been selectively declassifying secret information in order to prove or disprove certain claims against them and to portray themselves as being truthful or innocent. As if.

They operate on the assumption that the mass of us are potential suspect terrorists, guilty until proven innocent. They operate a domestic and worldwide dragnet based on that assumption, violating our Constitutionally guaranteed rights as well as international laws. If we get snared in their dragnet, we can't prove we're innocent because the evidence they have is classified and we aren't allowed to see it. We haven't even had the legal standing to bring a lawsuit through the justice system, such as it is, to challenge the Constitutionality and protect our rights.

Isn't it time we turned the tables? Let's assume THEY are guilty until they declassify enough secrets to prove otherwise, which by the way would be the whole enchilada.

First charge: They were complicit in the Boston Marathon Bombing because of an FBI or a very illegal CIA sting gone bad. Instead of actually interviewing Tsarnaev, they conducted an electronically based manufactured terrorist event that got out of hand because there were no eyeballs, brains, or boots on the ground, like the old days.

They can prove it isn't so by declassifying all their secrets. Until then, I won't believe they weren't complicit in the Boston incident, and probably a lot worse than that around the world.

James F Traynor said...

The latest Democracy Now videos on Snowden are really discouraging. Some of it is a couple of days old but, in total, it paints a dismal picture of our country. Have we really descended close to the level of the Soviet Empire? I'm beginning to think so, and under the leadership of the first African- American president? The irony is horrific.

Zee said...

Here's the most thorough and sickening account of Obama's "Insider Threat" program that I have yet read.

James F Traynor said...

Yeah, this McClatchy article is pretty bad. It's even worse than the McCarthy days - broader and with the executive behind it. And a hidden judicial system to sanction it. Makes HUAC seem like small potatoes.