Archives for May 2014

Israel eavesdropped on President Clinton’s diplomatic phone calls

Newsweek reports: Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on phone calls between President Bill Clinton and Syria’s late strongman Hafez al-Assad during sensitive Middle East peace negotiations 15 years ago, a forthcoming book says, citing verbatim transcripts of the calls.

Israeli intelligence also listened in as Syria’s foreign minister in New York called Assad in Damascus to report on his private conversations with American officials during the delicate 1999 talks, according to Ahron Bregman, author of Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories, scheduled for publication in the U.K. next week.

Bregman, a British-Israeli political scientist and author of several books about the Jewish state and the Arabs, cites unnamed “private sources” who provided him transcripts of the telephone calls, and of confidential conversations in 1999 between Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. [Continue reading…]

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Guns and fighters seep through Ukraine’s porous Russian border

The Guardian reports: In late April, 65 Russian men in groups of five to 10 crossed the border with Ukraine on foot, telling border guards they were going to visit relatives.

It wasn’t a fond babushka who picked them up at the border, however, but rather pro-Russian rebels from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. They bussed the Russian fighters to the regional capital, where they took up arms and last week engaged in the fiercest combat yet against forces loyal to Kiev.

“I was watching events in Odessa and was very upset about what was going on,” said one of the Russian fighters, who would give only his wartime nickname “Varan” or “Monitor Lizard”. Clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian protesters in that city last month left more than 40 people dead. “I called up the military enlistment office and asked what I could do. They said people were gathering in Rostov and it may be possible to go to Ukraine. It’s not official; they whispered it in my ear, so to speak.”

The Russian fighters – including veterans of the military, intelligence services and riot police – formed the core of a new unit called the Vostok Battalion, which took a lead role in the bloody battle for the Donetsk airport last week, in which 33 Russian citizens were killed. [Continue reading…]

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Afghanistan 2016 withdrawal keeps secret Bagram detainees in limbo

The Guardian reports: President Barack Obama’s decision to keep American troops in Afghanistan until 2016 is likely to mean two more years behind bars for America’s most secret detainee population, according to Pentagon officials.

On the outskirts of the massive Bagram airfield, about an hour’s drive from the capital of Kabul and in what the military calls the Detention Facility in Parwan, the US holds about 50 prisoners. The government has publicly disclosed nearly nothing about them, not even their names, save for acknowledging that they are not Afghans.

These are the last detainees the US holds in the Afghanistan war. It relinquished hundreds of Afghan detainees, and almost all of the detention facility, to Afghan control last year. Sometimes called, in military parlance, “Enduring Security Threats”, the non-Afghans have posed a dilemma for the Department of Defense for years, as officials pondered what to do about them ahead of a pullout that had been anticipated for December 2014. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. cybercrime laws being used to target security researchers

The Guardian reports: Some of the world’s best-known security researchers claim to have been threatened with indictment over their efforts to find vulnerabilities in internet infrastructure, amid fears American computer hacking laws are perversely making the web less safe to surf.

Many in the security industry have expressed grave concerns around the application of the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), complaining law enforcement and lawyers have wielded it aggressively at anyone looking for vulnerabilities in the internet, criminalising work that’s largely benign.

They have also argued the law carries overly severe punishments, is too vague and does not consider context, only the action.

HD Moore, creator of the ethical hacking tool Metasploit and chief research officer of security consultancy Rapid7, told the Guardian he had been warned by US law enforcement last year over a scanning project called Critical.IO, which he started in 2012. The initiative sought to find widespread vulnerabilities using automated computer programs to uncover the weaknesses across the entire internet. [Continue reading…]

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The civilisational dementia that empowers Google

Jaron Lanier writes: Why did Google have to make its prototype driverless vehicle look like a child’s toy car? What does it mean? Are we to be children guided by Google-knows-best?

This is not to criticise the concept. I am very much in favour of self-driving vehicles. My mother died in a car accident, and the engineering case for bringing more automation into transportation is sound. Nor is it to criticise the motivations of the people at Google, who are well meaning and are friends of mine.

But the notion that a company that makes its money almost exclusively by collating personal information for the express purpose of manipulating human behaviour (that’s you, Google) would also be in charge of moving people around is dangerous: deliriously absurd, a sign of civilisational dementia. Can you imagine if your car lingered in front of billboards during your journey or forced you to a particular store on the way home? What if automatic delivery trucks preferred one vendor to another? It is possible to imagine Google attempting to kill Amazon that way, or vice versa.

Obviously, information is power. That means information is wealth. If we must accept yet more extreme information concentration in order to benefit from the increased safety and convenience of better transportation, then it isn’t worth it. This idea that a marked loss of democracy is worth the safety or convenience has always been dangled before us, and has always been wrong. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Hesperion XX & Jordi Savall — ‘Paavin Of Albarti’ (Alberti)

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Jihadist advises those coming to Syria: ‘Don’t bring your hair curlers’

Earlier this week, Leslie Gelb wrote: “senior administration officials tell me that Obama has been modifying his objective and is now prepared to work with Assad, to some degree, along with the moderate rebels, against what the White House finally has come to see as the real and major threat — the jihadists.”

The same day, the New York Times reported on the death of Abu Huraira al-Amriki who had carried out a suicide truck bombing in the northern province of Idlib — what is believed to be the first case of an American being involved in such an attack.

The media, echoing the Obama administration, is ratcheting up fears of Western jihadists returning from Syria to terrorize the U.S. or other countries where they once lived.

I could understand if the prospect of young people going off to die in a foreign land might raise fears that some of their peers might see them as martyrs and be inspired to seek the same fate. The one thing about which there can be no doubt, however, is that any Americans who die in Syria will thereafter pose no threat to anyone.

If there is a danger of some kind of violent blowback from Syria, it seems more likely that it might result from witnessing Western political leaders who not long ago pronounced in unison that Assad “must go” and yet who now, even after denouncing the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, appear increasingly willing to see Assad remain in power. That’s the kind of duplicity which will certainly fuel anti-Western sentiment among radicals who believe it is their duty to fight in defense of Islam.

And yet, having said that, the assumption that the experience of war will inevitably prime those young jihadists who survive to later bring the violence home, seems questionable.

The New York Times reports:

On Sept. 11, 2001, Abu Sumayyah [a British jihadi now fighting in Syria] and Abu Muhajir [who is believed to be either American or Canadian] were teenagers interested in video games, sports and the start of college. But both men said they were deeply affected by the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. They came to question the Western world they lived in, and their role in it.

“I saw our brothers in Afghanistan, and I realized that there is something very wrong that is happening in society,” Abu Sumayyah said. “I saw this taking place in front of my eyes, so I had to do something about it, otherwise I would feel sinful.”

Both men said they were in rebel-controlled northern Syria.

Abu Muhajir trained as a sniper and guards the city of Shaykh Najjar, north of Aleppo. He usually holds the front line for three days, followed by three days of rest. He was fearless in the beginning, he said, but soon got a taste of war. “To be honest I didn’t used to get scared, only after I got an injury,” he wrote. “Shrapnel in the arm.”

He is an avid user of social media, to pass the time. People ask him for advice on going to Syria: how to get there, the cost of a gun, where to buy camouflage gear. He said he responded cautiously.

He has also received marriage proposals, which he declines. One woman asked whether electricity was working in Syria so she could bring a hair curler. “Advice to people who want to come is, Don’t bring your hair curlers,” he said.

Abu Sumayyah is a gunman who works shifts every two weeks, based in Raqqa, a stronghold of ISIS. On his days off, he studies military tactics and trains with other weapons.

Syria changed him, he said. “In Britain and in Europe we are living in a bubble, living in dreamland, that everything is O.K.”

Whatever threat Syria-hardened jihadists might pose to the West in the future, we can be fairly sure that neither there nor here will they be flying around in helicopters dropping barrel bombs. That system for delivering death is monopolized by the Assad regime and since the victims are all Syrian, no one in Washington regards this as a real or major threat.

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Physicists report finding reliable way to teleport data

The New York Times reports: Scientists in the Netherlands have moved a step closer to overriding one of Albert Einstein’s most famous objections to the implications of quantum mechanics, which he described as “spooky action at a distance.”

In a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science, physicists at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Delft University of Technology reported that they were able to reliably teleport information between two quantum bits separated by three meters, or about 10 feet.

Quantum teleportation is not the “Star Trek”-style movement of people or things; rather, it involves transferring so-called quantum information — in this case what is known as the spin state of an electron — from one place to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached.

Classical bits, the basic units of information in computing, can have only one of two values — either 0 or 1. But quantum bits, or qubits, can simultaneously describe many values. They hold out both the possibility of a new generation of faster computing systems and the ability to create completely secure communication networks.

Moreover, the scientists are now closer to definitively proving Einstein wrong in his early disbelief in the notion of entanglement, in which particles separated by light-years can still appear to remain connected, with the state of one particle instantaneously affecting the state of another. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Hollóének Hungarica — ‘Ai vist lo lop’

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Life in the Valley of Death

Scott Anderson writes: Amor Masovic has the gaze and mournful air of a man who never gets enough sleep. For nearly two decades, his job has been to find the mass graves containing thousands who disappeared during the Bosnian war. He is very good at what he does, and he has a mind for numbers. When I first met him in the summer of 2012, Masovic calculated that he and his colleagues at the Bosnian government’s Missing Persons Institute had found more than 700 mass graves, containing the remains of nearly 25,000 people.

“I think we’ve found all the larger ones now,” Masovic told me as we sat in a smoke-filled cafe in Sarajevo. He had just returned from another foray into the field; his boots were still caked in mud. “But that still leaves a lot of smaller ones.” Exactly how many more depends on the definition of “mass grave.” If you go by the current definition (a grave that contains three or more people), then Masovic’s guess is that there are 80 to 100 still to be discovered. Of those, he suspects that 15 to 20 contain more than 50 bodies.

He has any number of methods for locating the graves. He goes by the testimonies of survivors or by cajoling people in Bosnia’s small villages and towns into pointing him toward places they know about. Other times it’s simply a matter of reading subtle changes in the landscape. “I’ve been doing this for so long,” he said, “that I can be walking or driving somewhere, and I see a spot and think, Hmm, that would be a good place for a grave. I’ve found some that way.” In fact, “grave” is often a misnomer. Masovic has found human remains in mineshafts and caves and dry lakebeds. “They’re everywhere,” he said. “Everywhere you can think of.”

Of all the atrocities committed throughout Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, the one that compels Masovic the most is Srebrenica. In some respects, this is hardly surprising: Srebrenica has come to symbolize the Bosnian war’s unspeakable brutality and the international community’s colossal failure when confronting it. Located in a tiny valley in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, it was the site of one of the war’s most desperate contests, a marooned enclave in which a couple of thousand government soldiers, along with as many as 40,000 mostly Muslim refugees, held out for three years against a siege by Serb separatist fighters.

For more than half that time, Srebrenica was under international military protection, one of six United Nations-designated “safe areas” established throughout the country in 1993. That status proved meaningless when the Serbs launched an all-out assault in July 1995. Instead of resisting, the U.N. Protection Force in Srebrenica stood down, and over the next few days, the Serbs hunted and killed more than 8,000 men and boys, most of whom were trying to escape the enclave by foot. It was the worst slaughter, and the first officially recognized act of genocide, to occur on European soil since World War II.

For Masovic, the massacre in Srebrenica presents a special professional challenge. Only about a thousand of those fleeing were killed outright. The other 7,000 were captured and taken to various killing fields for execution, their bodies dumped into mass graves. Shortly afterward, however, Serb commanders ordered the original graves dug up and the remains moved to a series of smaller mass graves along the Drina River basin — the so-called Valley of Death — that they hoped would never be found. “This has made Srebrenica our greatest challenge,” Masovic said.

But there is something else, too. The slaughter occurred in the waning days of the war, when the signs were that the international community was about to force a political settlement in Bosnia. Consequently the killings were particularly senseless, one last orgy of bloodletting before the fighting stopped.

“You could say that maybe I am even haunted by that,” Masovic said, staring at the cafe table and absently kneading his fingers. “The evidence gives the chance for moral satisfaction,” he said. “To try to give it some kind of meaning, to at least help the families, this is why it’s so important to me to find those men.”

Masovic began to muse on the potential whereabouts of the 1,100 or so men still unaccounted for. “Probably it means there are some graves we haven’t found,” he muttered, “or maybe a lot of them were thrown in the Drina.” Periodically he hikes portions of the trail that the doomed men tried to take out of the valley. In the early years, he almost always came upon remains, but that has now become rare. “At this point, I don’t think there’s many more still in the forest,” he said. “Maybe 50, 100.”

Masovic is one of the point men in an extraordinary international effort to identify the victims and the perpetrators of the Bosnian war. In 2012, after years of meticulous labor, the Norwegian-funded Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo released “The Bosnian Book of the Dead,” a four-volume compendium that sought to list every known fatality of the conflict (a tally that came in at slightly more than 100,000 rather than the 200,000 figure often cited by the media). That report also underscored the highly sectarian nature of the conflict; of the 43,000 civilians killed, 82 percent were Muslims, and 10 percent were Serbs.

This accounting has been especially comprehensive with Srebrenica. Since 1999, Masovic and his colleagues have transferred any remains discovered there to a mortuary in Tuzla that was built by the International Commission on Missing Persons (I.C.M.P.). Working off a DNA database of more than 22,000 living relatives of the missing, the I.C.M.P. has positively identified nearly 7,000 of those killed — and Masovic’s organization has come up with a remarkably specific number for the dead: 8,372. At the same time, international war-crime prosecutors have intently focused on the massacre, indicting 21 people on charges that include everything from “inhumane acts” to genocide. All of these efforts taken together make Srebrenica one of the most thoroughly documented war crimes in history.

Amid Masovic’s grim recitation, though, there was something I found puzzling. Mass murder on the scale that occurred in Srebrenica must have required hundreds of actors — to stand guard over the captives, to transport them to the killing fields, to bury and then rebury them. At least some of these participants must have confided to a wife, a brother, a priest. Given this enormous pool of potential informants, how could there be many secrets left, many more graves to be found? I asked Masovic what percentage of his discoveries had been a result of conscience-stricken Serbs’ coming forward.

“Percentage?” He smiled thinly. Other than a posthumous letter, he has received only one other tip, a note signed simply, “A Serb from Foca,” that led him to a mass grave. “Maybe you can say this man was stricken by half-conscience,” Masovic said, “because he still didn’t have the courage to sign his name. But other than that Serb? Not one. In 17 years, not one.”

That detail goes to the heart of the struggle facing Bosnia nearly two decades after the war: How do you knit back together a society when those primarily responsible for tearing it apart don’t believe they did anything wrong? [Continue reading…]

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Tom Engelhardt: The Big Brotherness of it all

Surveilling the Class of 2014
By Tom Engelhardt

Internet Class of 2014, I’m in awe of you! To this giant, darkened auditorium filled with sparkling screens of every sort, welcome! 

It would, of course, be inaccurate to say, as speakers like me once did, that after four years of effort and experience you are now about to leave the hallowed halls of this campus and graduate into a new and adult world.  The odds are that you aren’t.  You were graduated into that world long ago.  I’m not sure that it qualifies as adult at all, but a new world it surely is, and one I grasp so little that I feel I should be in the audience and you up here doing what graduation speakers normally do: offering an upbeat, even inspirational, explanation of our world and your place in it.

Honestly, I’m like one of those old codgers I used to watch in the military parades of my 1950s childhood.  You know, white-haired guys in open vehicles, probably veterans of the Spanish-American War (a conflict you’ve undoubtedly never heard of amid the ongoing wars of your own lifetime).  To me, they always looked like they had been disinterred from some museum of ancient history, some unimaginable American Pompeii.

And yet those men and I probably had more in common than you and I do now.  After all, I don’t have a smartphone or an iPad.  I’m a book editor, but lack a Kindle or a Nook.  I don’t tweet or Skype.  I can’t photograph anyone or shoot video of anything.  I don’t know how to text or read my email while walking in the street or sitting in a restaurant.  And when something goes wrong on my computer or with the Internet, I collapse in a heap, believe myself a doomed man on an alien planet, mourn the passing of the typewriter, and call my daughter and throw myself on her mercy.

You were “graduated” long ago into the world that, though I live in it after a fashion as the guy who runs TomDispatch.com, I still find as alien as a Martian landscape.  Your very fingers, agile as they are with little buttons of every sort, speak a new and different language, and a lot of the time it seems to me that I have no translator on hand.  Your world, the sea you swim in, has been hailed for its many wonders and miracles — and wonders and miracles they surely are. Dazzling they truly can be.  The tying together of the planet in instantaneous communion as if space and geography, distances of every sort, were a thing of the past still stuns me.

Sometimes, as in my first experience with Skype, I feel like a Trobriand Islander suddenly plunged into the wonders of modernity.  If you had told me back in the 1950s that someday I would actually see whomever I was talking to onscreen, I doubt I would have believed you.  (On the other hand, I was partial to the fantasy that we would all be experiencing traffic jams in the skies over our cities as we zipped around with our own personal jetpacks strapped to our backs — a promised future no one ever delivered.)

There’s a book to be written on just how disorienting it is to live into the world of the future, as at almost 70 years old I now find myself doing.  There is, however, one part of our futuristic world that I feel strangely at home with.  Its accomplishments are no less technologically awe-inspiring, no less staggeringly sci-fi-ish than the ones I’ve been talking about and yet, perhaps in part thanks to a youth heavily influenced by George Orwell’s 1984 and other dystopian writings, it seems oddly familiar to me, as if I had parachuted from a circling spacecraft onto an only slightly updated version of my own planet.

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‘Death to Arabs’ ultranationalist Jews chant in Jerusalem

Leanne Gale writes: As I made my way out of the Muslim Quarter, the dark alleyways suddenly seemed too quiet. Just moments before, crowds of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants had marched through this same space shouting “Death to Arabs.” Children had banged against shuttered Palestinian homes with wooden sticks and Israeli police had stood by as teenagers chanted “Muhammad is dead.” Now, all that remained were eerie remnants of their presence: “Kahane Tzadak” (Kahane was right) stickers plastered over closed Palestinian shops and the ground littered with anti-Muslim flyers. As Israeli police and soldiers began to unblock closures, Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter cautiously ventured outside. This is the only time I cried.

Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The March of Flags has become an annual tradition in which thousands of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants parade through the city waving Israeli flags. It culminates in a dramatic march through the Muslim Quarter, generally accompanied by racist slogans and incitement to violence. Israeli police arrive in the area earlier in the day, sealing off entry to Palestinian residents “for their own safety.” Those Palestinians who live in the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to close their shops and stay indoors, while any Palestinian counter-protest is quickly dispersed.

Growing up at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Long Island, I have fond memories of Jerusalem Day. We celebrated every year with school-wide assemblies and dances, singing “Sisu et Yerushalayim” (Rejoice in Jerusalem) and “Jerusalem of Gold” with pride. Even in high school, I never knew the political significance of the day or imagined that my joy might be at someone else’s expense. Today, I know better. [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s first U.S. espionage and smuggling network

Grant Smith writes: Newly declassified postwar Naval Intelligence files shine new light on a little-known chapter of U.S.-Israel relations. Massive supplies of American WWII military surplus under liquidation by the War Assets Administration were an irresistible target for Israel’s government-in-waiting the Jewish Agency and nascent military the Haganah in the years immediately preceding Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948. The Jewish Agency was an organization contemplated as a vital actor for achieving that statehood in Theodore Herzl’s original Zionist vision. Explosives, advanced fighter, bomber and transport aircraft, and Jewish veterans culled from a list stolen from the U.S. Chaplain all entered a Jewish Agency pipeline stretching from the US to Mexico, Panama, Italy and Czechoslovakia to Palestine. The stories these newly declassified files tell not only foreshadow the institutionalized immunity of crimes committed in the name of Israel, but major challenges the US would later have to confront beyond displaced Palestinian refugees and simmering conflict – ongoing money laundering into US politics and Israel’s early desire to build nuclear weapons.

In late April, 1948 US Naval Intelligence became aware of the Jewish Agency’s attempted illegal export of 42 combat military aircraft engines through a front organization called “Service Airways.” The clandestine operation, headed by future Israel Aircraft Industries pioneer Adolph “Al” Schwimmer has been told in other accounts such as The Pledge by Leonard Slater. The Jewish Agency, operating out of an “American Section” in New York, had already been busted for illegally acquiring M3 demolition blocks. Schwimmer’s role was to acquire the best transport aircraft as well as P-51D fighters and B-17s for illegal shipment to Jewish fighters in Palestine. Secrecy was key. The Navy noted Schwimmer “has kept all information confidential inasmuch as he did not desire any publicity be given the fact that the Jewish Agency was purchasing airplanes in the United States, and that he specifically did not desire that any representatives of the Arab nation should receive the information.” [Continue reading…]

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Serious security flaws found in Israeli-made surveillance gear used by law enforcement

Ars Technica reports: Software used by law enforcement organizations to intercept the communications of suspected criminals contains a litany of critical weaknesses, including an undocumented backdoor secured with a hardcoded password, security researchers said today.

In a scathing advisory published Wednesday, the researchers recommended people stop using the Nice Recording eXpress voice-recording package. It is one of several software offerings provided by Ra’anana, Israel-based Nice Systems, a company that markets itself as providing “mission-critical lawful interception solutions to support the fight against organized crime, drug trafficking and terrorist activities.” The advisory warned that critical weaknesses in the software expose users to attacks that compromise investigations and the security of the agency networks. [Continue reading…]

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Obama administration continues to obstruct release of drone strike memo

The New York Times reports: One week after the Obama administration said it would comply with a federal appeals court ruling ordering it to make public portions of a Justice Department memo that signed off on the targeted killing of a United States citizen, the administration is now asking the court for permission to censor additional passages of the document.

In the interim, the Senate voted narrowly last week to confirm David Barron, the former Justice Department official who was the memo’s principal author, to an appeals court judgeship. At least one Democratic senator who had opposed Mr. Barron over the secrecy surrounding his memo voted for him after the administration said it would release it.

The 41-page memo, dated July 16, 2010, cleared the way for a drone strike in Yemen in September 2011 that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen accused by intelligence officials of plotting terrorist attacks. The American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times are seeking the memo’s public disclosure in lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act.[Continue reading…]

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Snowden would not get a fair trial — and Kerry is wrong

Daniel Ellsberg writes: John Kerry was in my mind Wednesday morning, and not because he had called me a patriot on NBC News. I was reading the lead story in the New York Times – “US Troops to Leave Afghanistan by End of 2016” – with a photo of American soldiers looking for caves. I recalled not the Secretary of State but a 27-year-old Kerry, asking, as he testified to the Senate about the US troops who were still in Vietnam and were to remain for another two years: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

I wondered how a 70-year-old Kerry would relate to that question as he looked at that picture and that headline. And then there he was on MSNBC an hour later, thinking about me, too, during a round of interviews about Afghanistan that inevitably turned to Edward Snowden ahead of my fellow whistleblower’s own primetime interview that night:

There are many a patriot – you can go back to the Pentagon Papers with Dan Ellsberg and others who stood and went to the court system of America and made their case. Edward Snowden is a coward, he is a traitor, and he has betrayed his country. And if he wants to come home tomorrow to face the music, he can do so.

On the Today show and CBS, Kerry complimented me again – and said Snowden “should man up and come back to the United States” to face charges. But John Kerry is wrong, because that’s not the measure of patriotism when it comes to whistleblowing, for me or Snowden, who is facing the same criminal charges I did for exposing the Pentagon Papers. [Continue reading…]

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Edward Snowden responds to release of e-mail by U.S. officials

The Washington Post reports: Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden responded to questions from The Washington Post following the release of an e-mail he had sent while working for the National Security Agency.

Q: How do you respond to today’s NSA statement and the release of your email with the Office of General Counsel?

The NSA’s new discovery of written contact between me and its lawyers – after more than a year of denying any such contact existed – raises serious concerns. It reveals as false the NSA’s claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that “after extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Today’s release is incomplete, and does not include my correspondence with the Signals Intelligence Directorate’s Office of Compliance, which believed that a classified executive order could take precedence over an act of Congress, contradicting what was just published. It also did not include concerns about how indefensible collection activities – such as breaking into the back-haul communications of major US internet companies – are sometimes concealed under E.O. 12333 to avoid Congressional reporting requirements and regulations.

If the White House is interested in the whole truth, rather than the NSA’s clearly tailored and incomplete leak today for a political advantage, it will require the NSA to ask my former colleagues, management, and the senior leadership team about whether I, at any time, raised concerns about the NSA’s improper and at times unconstitutional surveillance activities. It will not take long to receive an answer. [Continue reading…]

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NSA releases Snowden email, says he raised no concerns about spying

Wired reports: In response to claims by Edward Snowden that he raised concerns about NSA spying in emails sent to the spy agency’s legal office, the NSA released a statement and a copy of the only email it says it found from Snowden.

That email, the agency says, asked a question about legal authority and hierarchy but did not raise any concerns.

“NSA has now explained that they have found one e-mail inquiry by Edward Snowden to the Office of General Counsel asking for an explanation of some material that was in a training course he had just completed,” the NSA said in a statement. “The e-mail did not raise allegations or concerns about wrongdoing or abuse, but posed a legal question that the Office of General Counsel addressed. There was not additional follow-up noted.

“There are numerous avenues that Mr. Snowden could have used to raise other concerns or whistleblower allegations,” the statement continued. “We have searched for additional indications of outreach from him in those areas and to date have not discovered any engagements related to his claims.”

But Ben Wizner, Snowden’s legal advisor and director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said the NSA is being disingenuous.

“Snowden raised many complaints over many channels,” he said in a statement today. “The NSA is releasing a single part of a single exchange after previously claiming that no evidence existed.”

The email, dated April 5, 2013, which was sent shortly before Snowden departed Hawaii for Hong Kong and released thousands of NSA documents to journalists, asks a question about the agency’s mandatory USSID 18 training and Executive Orders — orders that come from the president.

In his email, Snowden asked about the hierarchy for such presidential orders, asking whether these have the same precedence as law.

“My understanding is that EOs may be superseded by federal statute, but EOs may not override statute. Am I correct in this?” he wrote. He also wanted to know which of Department of Defense regulations and regulations from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have greater precedence.

There is no mention of a concern about how the NSA is using these regulations or overstepping its legal bounds. This does not, however, rule out that other emails from Snowden exist that the NSA has not found or is not releasing. [Continue reading…]

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