You Can’t Vote Out National Security Bureaucrats: And They, Not Elected Officials, Really Run The Show

Mike Masnick writes for Techdirt:

‘A year ago, we noted a rather odd statement from President Obama, concerning some of the Snowden leaks. He more or less admitted that with each new report in the press, he then had togo ask the NSA what it was up to. That seemed somewhat concerning to us — suggesting that the administration wasn’t actually aware of what the NSA was up to until after it leaked to the press. Combine that with our more recent story of how James Clapper is basically ignoring the substance of President Obama’s called for surveillance reforms, and you might begin to wonder who really runs the show when it comes to surveillance. And, indeed, according to a guy who knows quite well, the national security bureaucracy basically calls the shots, and the President has little to no power. That’s the basic summary of an interview with Michael Glennon under the title Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change in the Boston Globe.

Glennon is the author of a new book called National Security and Double Government, as summarized by the Boston Globe.’

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Federal Agencies Just Doing Whatever They Want Now

Lucy Steigerwald writes for Antiwar:

‘[...] As great as Edward Snowden’s leaks were for shedding light on the abuses of power within the NSA – and for actually getting them into the damn media for months at a time! – the problem of intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies doing whatever the hell they want dates back to the dawn of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

This week, Techdirt pointed to a shiny new book by Michael Glennon which details the extent to which unelected bureaucrats are more in charge than the officials we elect every four or six years. The book is called National Security and Double Government, which is not an encouraging title at all. Glennon, who has plenty of non-tinfoil-hat-chops, is echoing comments by folks like John Kerry who say some of these spy apparatuses are “on autopilot.” Obama, too, may be purely Captain Renault shocked – shocked! – about the gambling going on, but a more frightening proposition than that is if the NSA really is handling its own accountability without even presidential oversight.’

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Assange: Google Is Not What It Seems

Newsweek recently featured an extract from Julian Assange’s new book, When Google Met Wikileaks, about his meeting with Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt in 2011:

‘Eric Schmidt is an influential figure, even among the parade of powerful characters with whom I have had to cross paths since I founded WikiLeaks. In mid-May 2011 I was under house arrest in rural Norfolk, England, about three hours’ drive northeast of London. The crackdown against our work was in full swing and every wasted moment seemed like an eternity. It was hard to get my attention.

But when my colleague Joseph Farrell told me the executive chairman of Google wanted to make an appointment with me, I was listening.

In some ways the higher echelons of Google seemed more distant and obscure to me than the halls of Washington. We had been locking horns with senior U.S. officials for years by that point. The mystique had worn off. But the power centers growing up in Silicon Valley were still opaque and I was suddenly conscious of an opportunity to understand and influence what was becoming the most influential company on earth. Schmidt had taken over as CEO of Google in 2001 and built it into an empire.

I was intrigued that the mountain would come to Muhammad. But it was not until well after Schmidt and his companions had been and gone that I came to understand who had really visited me.’

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The Special Interest Problem: How AIPAC and the NRA Came to Rule American Politics

Lawrence Davidson writes for CounterPunch:

‘The problem of special interests or lobbies was one of the foremost concerns of the Founding Fathers of the United States. In their day they were called factions. James Madison, who is considered the architect of the U.S. Constitution, devoted the entire tenth Federalist Paper (1787) to the problem. He defined a faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority … actuated by some common … interest, adverse to … the aggregate interests of the community,” and believed that within the context of liberal republicanism, they could never be eliminated. However, he did feel they could be controlled. To this end he sought to create representative bodies with high numbers of delegates and a wide diversity of interests in the hope that they would counterbalance each other.

When George Washington delivered his famous Farewell Address in 1796, he too noted the problem. Washington warned of “combinations and associations” which attempt to “direct, control, counteract and awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities” and thereby substitute their own desires for the “delegated will of the nation.” As Washington’s continued concern implied, James Madison’s approach to controlling special interests or factions never proved adequate.’

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The Gold Riggers: Distorting Perceptions of Economic Reality

Paul Craig Roberts and Dave Kranzler write for CounterPunch:

‘The Federal Reserve and its bullion bank agents (JP Morgan, Scotia, and HSBC) have been using naked short-selling to drive down the price of gold since September 2011.  The latest containment effort began in mid-July of this year, after gold had moved higher in price from the beginning of June and was threatening to take out key technical levels, which would have triggered a flood of buying from hedge funds.

The Fed and its agents rig the gold price in the New York Comex futures (paper gold) market. The bullion banks have the ability to print an unlimited supply of gold contracts which are sold in large volumes at times when Comex activity is light.

Generally, on the other side of the trade the buyers of contracts are large hedge funds and other speculators, who use the contracts to speculate on the direction of the gold price. The hedge funds and speculators have no interest in acquiring physical gold and settle their bets in cash, which makes it possible for the bullion banks to sell claims to gold that they cannot back with physical metal. Contracts sold without underlying gold to back them are called “uncovered contracts” or “naked shorts.” It is illegal to engage in naked shorting in the stock and bond markets, but it is permitted in the gold futures market.’

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Markets Nervous Ahead of Swiss Gold Vote

Chiara Albanese and Ese Erheriene report for The Wall Street Journal:

Central bank gold reserves chart‘Gold and currencies markets are starting to show their first nerves ahead of a referendum in Switzerland that could potentially force the country’s central bank to buy thousands of metric tons of gold and never sell it, complicating its so far credible policies to hold down the franc.

A ‘yes’ result in the so-called “Save Our Swiss Gold” vote Nov. 30 wouldn’t be the end of the matter, with the controversial measure facing several hurdles before it could ever be passed into law.

Still, a ruling in favor of the motion would force the Swiss National Bank to hold some 20% of its about $547 billion assets in the precious metal, returning to the weighting it last held in gold in 2008. This harks back to a time when Switzerland held a dominant role in global gold markets.’

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Debunking the Myth of Why the Atomic Bombs Were Necessary

Abby Martin reflects on the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and explains why this wasn’t a necessary action in order to end World War II.’ (Breaking the Set)

Indonesia’s New President Takes Office, Cabinet Includes Officials Tied to Atrocities of Old

‘Indonesia’s new president, Joko Widodo, has held his first Cabinet meeting amidst criticism from human rights activists for picking a new defense minister who once defended military killings of civilians. In July, the former Jakarta governor known as “Jokowi” defeated the U.S.-trained former army general Prabowo Subianto, who had been accused of mass killings when he headed the Indonesian special forces in the 1990s. While human rights groups hailed the defeat of Prabowo in July’s election, the new president is facing opposition for picking former Army Chief of Staff Ryamizard Ryacudu to be Indonesia’s new defense minister. Over the past decade, Ryamizard has defended the military’s actions in West Papua and Aceh and publicly claimed that civilians become legitimate army targets if they “dislike” army policy or have “the same voice” as anti-government rebels. We are joined from Indonesia by veteran investigative journalist Allan Nairn, whose dispatches shook up the presidential race when he reported on human rights abuses committed by Prabowo and the U.S.-trained general’s statement that Indonesia needs “a benign authoritarian regime” because the country was “not ready for democracy.” Nairn also discusses his latest major report, revealing that a top adviser to Indonesia’s new president has admitted “command responsibility” in the 2004 assassination of the country’s leading human rights activist, Munir Thalib.’ (Democracy Now!)

What’s Behind the Defeat of the Left in Toronto? Interview with Leo Panitch

Editor’s Note: Professor Leo Panitch is a distinguished research professor of Political Science at York University in Toronto, Canada and editor of the Socialist Register. He is also co-author of ‘The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire‘.

A Narrow Victory for President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil: Interview with Michael Fox

Editor’s Note: Michael Fox is a reporter for teleSur English and is co-author of ‘Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-first Century Socialism‘.

The FBI Was So Hapless Hunting a Teen Kid, It Had To Pretend To Be from a Newspaper

Andrew Jerell Jones reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - The FBI Was So Hapless Hunting a Teen Kid, It Had To Pretend To Be from a Newspaper‘The Federal Bureau of Investigation decided in 2007 that it didn’t need to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation to trick a teenager online. Instead, it acted as a local newspaper.

At the time, the FBI wanted to identify the owner of an anonymous MySpace account connected to bomb threats against a high school in Lacey, Washington. So the bureau created a fake news story about the bomb threats and ginned up an email appearing to come from the Seattle Times, which it sent to the MySpace account, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Included in the email were links that appeared to point at the Times‘ website but which, in fact, linked to servers controlled by the FBI. Those servers, in turn, installed spyware on the target’s computer. The ruse worked: The owner of the account clicked on the links, compromising his identity as a 15-year-old student. He was subsequently arrested and convicted.’

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Matt Taibbi Leaves Omidyar’s First Look Media

Editor’s Note: Pierre Omidyar confirmed on Tuesday night that Matt Taibbi has now left First Look Media. And on Thursday an article was put out by The Intercept in an attempt to explain the situation further. 

Andrew Rice reports for New York Magazine:

‘Matt Taibbi, the star magazine writerhired earlier this year to start a satirical website for billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, is on a leave of absence from the company after disagreements with higher-ups inside Omidyar’s organization, a source close to First Look confirmed today.

Taibbi’s abrupt disappearance from the company’s Fifth Avenue headquarters has cast doubt on the fate of his highly anticipated digital publication, reportedly to be called Racket, which First Look executives had previously said would launch sometime this autumn.’

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Are FBI and NCTC Trying to Pressure Prosecutors to Charge the Second Intercept Source?

Marcy Wheeler writes for Expose Facts:

‘Citing “law enforcement and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the case,” Michael Isikoff reports that the government has identified “the second leaker” — a source of information on drone targeting and terrorist watchlisting for The Intercept.

[...] Because it raises questions about whether the Administration has the “appetite” to prosecute another source for journalists, the article seems designed to generate pressure to do just that — to get Congress (among others) to demand that the Justice Department prosecute this source.

[...] While Isikoff outlines the content of The Intercept’s watchlist story, he leaves out several details that may make DOJ less interested in prosecuting this leak.’

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White House Aims to Replace Website Passwords With Federal Authentication Scheme

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘The White House has announced today that a long-standing plan to roll out a federal “Internet ID” authentication scheme that would be used to log in to all websites across the Internet will move forward, and the service will launch in six to twelve months.

“We simply have to kill off the password,” insisted White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel. The initiative began in 2011, with an eye toward public-private plans, but seems now to be centering on wearable authentication bracelets that Americans would apparently get instead of passwords.’

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Amazon-CIA $600 Million Deal Facing Scrutiny: “What’s the CIA Doing on Amazon’s Cloud?”

The Institute for Public Accuracy reports:

‘The billboard’s launch — asking “the $600 million question: What’s the CIA Doing on Amazon’s Cloud?” — marks the escalation of a campaign by the online activist organizations RootsAction.org and ExposeFacts.org. The groups are calling for accountability from Amazon in an effort to inform the public of serious privacy implications of the Amazon-CIA collaboration. (ExposeFacts.org is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.)

The positioning of the 48-foot-wide billboard on Amazon’s doorstep at Fairview Avenue and Valley Street in Seattle follows a RootsAction petition calling for Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to make a legally binding commitment to Amazon’s commercial customers that it will not provide customer data to the CIA.

Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer. “The same company that stores vast quantities of customer records and even provides cloud storage services also stores the CIA’s surveillance data — yet the actual terms of the Amazon-CIA agreement are secret,” said Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and a co-founder of RootsAction.org.’

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Hungarians take to the streets to protest “internet tax”

Zoltan Sipos reports for Index on Censorship:

Hungarians gathered in Budapest on Sunday to protest plans to introduce a tax on internet bandwidth. (Photo: 100,000 Against the Internet Tax /Facebook)‘The draft law proposed by Orban’s government would levy a fee of 150 forints (£0.40; €0.50; $0.60) per gigabyte of data traffic. In the face of public outrage, ruling party Fidesz promised that the tax will be capped at 700 forints for consumers and 5,000 forints for businesses. However, this did not calm the angry protesters.

Sunday’s rally that drew thousands of people to the Hungarian captial’s city center. The peaceful protest became heated when some demonstrators marched to the Fidesz headquarters, and broke the windows of the building with old computers and peripherals.

This protest was arguably the largest anti-government demonstration since 2010, when Viktor Orban came to power. In contrast with other protests, the gatherings denouncing the internet tax were not organized by the weak, discredited and fragmented opposition.’

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Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.

Ron Nixon reports for The New York Times:

‘In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.

The number of requests, contained in a 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.’

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The Shadow of the Transnationals: Latin America and the US Techno-Empire

Mateo Pimentel writes for CounterPunch:

‘The notion that history tends to favor the hegemonies that would write it is nothing new. This is especially the case for the United States today. Take US-Latin American international relations, for example: they are indelibly stippled with gunboat diplomacy and seditious coups; even the many perverse trade agreements and subsequent growing poverty belie the neoliberal overtures that America continually makes. Yet, in spite of a most basic realpolitik approach to assessing America’s litany of hegemonic aggression, history is still quick to cite the anarchic nature of international relationships in general, and in doing so, it excuses fratricidal US ‘diplomacy’ throughout Latin America by simply referencing a manifest ‘self-help’ system amongst states.

America, in other words, is not to blame; rather, the anarchy of inter-state relationships is to be understood as a given, and its inherent culpability, understood.

This road, of course, is too easily taken. Though it may explain the what, it does not explain the why apropos general US meddling in Latin America. And while polemical inter-state issues between the US and its closest neighbors are well documented and investigated with some frequency, an “empire for empire’s sake” argument does not suffice as a believable impetus for such aggressive behavior in Latin America—at least, not any more than a phenomenon like self-interest can or does. No. To truly understand these international affairs, one must look beyond hackneyed tautologies. One must weigh the interest that runs the state, the lifeblood of the state’s moneyed organs, the whip that drives the imperial mule. Then, the raison d’être for America’s imposition and coercion in Latin America becomes clear.’

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The Plan to Nuke the Moon and Other Cold War Plots Revealed in Secret Documents

Kurt Eichenwald reports for Newsweek:

‘Wrestling with the huge steering wheel, a CIA agent carefully backed the large flatbed truck through an entrance in the 10-foot wooden fence surrounding a salvage yard. As the truck rumbled to a stop, he and other covert intelligence operatives moved quickly under cover of night, pushing the gate closed, barely clearing the front bumper. They then all rushed to the back of the truck, hopped inside and delicately pried open the giant wooden crate it carried, being careful to leave no marks.

And with that, the first stage of their until now secret mission was complete: American intelligence had stolen—or, more accurately, borrowed—one of the Soviet Union’s most important technologies, a Lunik space vehicle, which was a key component in its race with the United States to be the first to reach the moon.

The “kidnapping” of that missile, done without the Soviets ever knowing about it, is one of many wild and sometimes weird secret operations and schemes exposed for the first time in a series of recently declassified government documents concerning the so-called Space Race, which was feared to be important for military reasons but known to be propaganda that could swell national pride.’

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The Toxic Uzbek Town and Its Museum of Banned Soviet Art

Stephen Bland writes for VICE News:

‘Making our way out of Uzbekistan’s Xorazm Province, we began our three-hour drive to the city of Nukus, capital of the country’s autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Up until the late-1990s, the land we were driving through was still cotton fields; today, it’s just an expanse of salty grey emptiness.

Once a thriving agricultural center, Karakalpakstan is now one of the sickest places on Earth. Respiratory illness, typhoid, tuberculosis and oesophageal cancers are rife, and the region has the highest infant mortality rate in the former USSR.’

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Over half of US drone strike victims may be civilians: Interview with Marjorie Cohn

Drones: How UAVs Are Taking Over Our Airspace

Interview with Laura Poitras on her new film ‘Citizenfour’

Vote all you want, the secret government won’t change

Jordan Michael Smith writes for The Boston Globe:

‘[...] Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.

Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.’

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Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Execs Remain Free as Guards Convicted for Killing 14 Iraqis in Massacre

‘A federal jury has returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. On Wednesday, the jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were convicted of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts. The operatives were tried for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit opened fire. We speak to Jeremy Scahill, author of the best-selling book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” His most recent article published by The Intercept is “Blackwater Founder Remains Free & Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges.”’ (Democracy Now!)

Noam Chomsky at United Nations: It Would Be Nice if the United States Lived up to International Law

Verizon’s ‘Perma-Cookie’ Is a Privacy-Killing Machine

Robert McMillan reports for Wired:

‘Verizon Wireless has been subtly altering the web traffic of its wireless customers for the past two years, inserting a string of about 50 letters, numbers, and characters into data flowing between these customers and the websites they visit.

The company—one the country’s largest wireless carriers, providing cell phone service for about 123 million subscribers—calls this a Unique Identifier Header, or UIDH. It’s a kind of short-term serial number that advertisers can use to identify you on the web, and it’s the lynchpin of the company’s internet advertising program. But critics say that it’s also a reckless misuse of Verizon’s power as an internet service provider—something that could be used as a trump card to obviate established privacy tools such as private browsing sessions or “do not track” features.’

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FBI identifies suspected ‘second leaker’ for Snowden reporters

Michael Isikoff reports for Yahoo News:

‘The FBI has identified an employee of a federal contracting firm suspected of being the so-called second leaker who turned over sensitive documents about the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list to a journalist closely associated with ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the case.

The FBI recently executed a search of the suspect’s home, and federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia have opened up a criminal investigation into the matter, the sources said.

But the case has also generated concerns among some within the U.S. intelligence community that top Justice Department officials — stung by criticism that they have been overzealous in pursuing leak cases — may now be more reluctant to bring criminal charges involving unauthorized disclosures to the news media, the sources said. One source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was concern “there is no longer an appetite at Justice for these cases.”‘

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These Stasi-style outrages show just how low Britain’s spies will stoop

Zoe Williams writes for The Guardian:

Krauze‘[...] The alternative explanation for these Stasi-style outrages (which may be rare, or may only be rarely discovered) is that once you start spying on somebody, it is incredibly difficult to stop. It doesn’t really have anything to do with politics – you could be trailing a communist agitator or an environmentalist, a potential jihadist or a suspected white supremacist. Once you’ve started, the piece of evidence that comprehensively proves innocence doesn’t exist. All that exists is absence, the lack of definitive proof of guilt. One more push might be all it takes.

Just one more project … one more pregnancy … one more quick decade. It is imperative to look at the “snooper’s charter”, or draft communications bill, in this light: politicians fall over themselves to frame it in terms of balance between privacy and security. All normal people agree on this, they say: people like privacy well enough, but are prepared to sacrifice a bit of it (or a bit of somebody else’s) for peace of mind. But the assurance we need, more than balance, is that an authority invading someone’s privacy will be able to exercise restraint; and that is the bit that proves such a challenge.’

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MI5 spied on leading British historians for decades, secret files reveal

Richard Norton-Taylor reports for The Guardian:

Secret files on Eric Hobsbawm‘MI5 amassed hundreds of records on Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill, two of Britain’s leading historians who were both once members of the Communist party, secret files have revealed.

The scholars were subjected to persistent surveillance for decades as MI5 and police special branch officers tapped and recorded their telephone calls, intercepted their private correspondence and monitored their contacts, the files show. Some of the surveillance gave MI5 more details about their targets’ personal lives than any threat to national security.

The files, released at the National Archives on Friday, reveal the extent to which MI5, including its most senior officers, secretly kept tabs on the personal and professional activities of communists and suspected communists, a task it began before the cold war. The papers also show that MI5 opened personal files on the popular Oxford historian AJP Taylor, the writer Iris Murdoch, and the moral philosopher Mary Warnock after they and Hill signed a letter supporting a march against the nuclear bomb in 1959.’

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