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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Congress authorizes vast expansion of domestic spying

The House of Representatives approved legislation Saturday that provides sweeping new powers to the government to spy on the American population. The 227-183 vote in the Democratic-controlled House capped a weeklong campaign by the Bush administration to push through changes in laws governing wiretapping surveillance, in which Bush officials branded any legislators opposed to the revisions as “soft on terror.”

The Democrats’ surrender to White House demands to pass the legislation was extraordinary even by their standard of repeated capitulation. Despite popular feeling that the Bush administration has engineered a war based on lies, and despite countless exposures of lawless and criminal government behavior—torture, CIA “renditions” and secret prisons, illegal spying, the concentration camp at Guantánamo Bay—the Democrats provided the votes required to pass legislation that tramples on Fourth Amendment constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

For months, the Bush administration has been lobbying for proposed changes to essentially gut Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court oversight of its domestic spying operations. The new legislation grants the government the authority to intercept, without a court order, international phone calls or emails between a surveillance target outside the United States and any person in the US.

Under the Bush plan, the attorney general—and not the FISA court—would have the authority to order the interception of communications for up to a year, as long as he determines that there is a “reasonable belief” that surveillance is directed at someone outside the US.

The US government has always reserved the right to carry out spying on anyone who lives outside the borders of this country, but agencies like the NSA and CIA have been banned, at least officially, from spying domestically. Domestic spying is the preserve of the FBI and other police agencies, and supposedly only conducted on the basis of a warrant approved by an independent judicial body.

The Bush administration essentially wants to scrap this distinction, and it has seized on a peculiarity of new communications technologies to provide the pretext. Modern cellphone and email communications may well pass through network servers and switches located in the United States, even when both parties to the communication are outside the country.

The Bush administration claims that the FISA court has restricted its surveillance efforts by forbidding wiretapping when a suspected foreign terrorist is communicating by cell phone or email with another foreign suspect and that communication makes a connection through a US location, on the grounds that the US connection makes the communication domestic and not international. Considering the Bush administration’s track record of lying about secret surveillance and much else, there is no reason to believe its story of judicial obstruction, which seems to have been concocted for the purpose of stampeding through the legislation.

The conduct of the administration since it began raising the issue of a revision of FISA rules several months ago strongly suggests that its real goal is to leverage the technical issue to legitimize widespread spying on US citizens. It is essentially arguing that since technology has largely blurred the difference between “domestic” and “international” communications, the old restraints on the operations of the NSA should be scrapped.

Congressional Democrats offered to enact a bill that would exempt foreign-to-foreign calls from FISA scrutiny, regardless of whether these calls passed through US networks. But the Bush administration rejected this, demanding instead a provision that permits warrantless wiretapping of any call in which at least one party is “believed to be” located outside the United States. This would greatly expand the data collection by including millions of phone calls and emails originating or terminating at US locations—and both ends of the communications, domestic as well as foreign, would be monitored.

In a press release criticizing the Bush plan, the American Civil Liberties Union charged that the legislation would “allow mass collection of Americans’ communications” and would have the potential to “permit the vast amount of data to be subsequently data-mined.”

In its high-pressure campaign for the legislation, the White House rejected all efforts by the congressional Democrats to enact a slightly watered-down version, demanding acceptance of the administration version down to the last detail. In the end, enough Democrats joined a near-unanimous Republican caucus to approve a bill that breaches constitutional protections against government spying on US citizens.

The only concession made by Bush officials was a provision that allows the legislation to be reconsidered in six months. Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, referring to this provision, said, “We just can’t suspend the Constitution for six months.” But there was no effort by Senate Democrats to filibuster a law which in effect does just that.

The Senate passed the bill on Friday evening by a 60-28 margin. Democrats in the House failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority later that night for a proposal that would have provided limited judicial oversight of domestic spying operations.

That day, President Bush threatened that he would order Congress to remain in session and not break for its August recess if the legislation were not approved. Speaking from FBI headquarters where he was meeting with Department of Homeland Security officials, Bush said, “So far the Democrats in Congress have not drafted a bill I can sign ... we are not going to put our national security at risk. Time is short.”

The implication was that a terrorist attack was imminent and failure to pass the bill would expose the US to attack before Congress reconvened in September after the break. The Democrats, who have consistently provided the votes to push through police-state measures authored by the Bush administration, once again surrendered to the terror threat scenario promoted by the White House.

Democrats described the pressure campaign mounted by the Bush administration to which they ultimately capitulated. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler said legislators were “stampeded by fearmongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Another Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Washington Post, said, “It was tantamount to being railroaded.”

The last stage of this campaign was signaled in an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday by House Minority Leader John Boehner, who claimed that an unnamed FISA judge had issued a ruling that the government had overstepped its authority in its broad surveillance of communications between two locations overseas that passed through routing stations in the US. The judge’s ruling, the Bush administration claimed, had the potential of making illegal the entire NSA spying operation that has been in existence since the 9/11 terrorist attacks or before.

President Bush acknowledged the existence of the NSA spying operation following its exposure in an article in the New York Times in December 2005. While defending the program, the administration has never revealed the full extent of its domestic spying operations, of which the NSA program is only a part. Under the new legislation, the government is not required to reveal what information has been gathered by the NSA spying operation in its nearly six years of operation.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed in 1978 in a reaction to revelations of widespread violations of civil liberties and government spying against domestic political opponents. FISA set out procedures for the physical and electronic surveillance and collection of “foreign intelligence information” between or among “foreign powers.” FISA was amended in 2001 by the USA Patriot Act to include terrorism on behalf of groups that are not specifically backed by a foreign government.

On Wednesday, Congressional Democrats outlined a plan that would have temporarily permitted FISA to authorize broad orders approving eavesdropping on communications involving suspects outside the United States and others within the US.

Under the proposal by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (Democrat, West Virginia), the secret court would not have authorized specific individual spying, but would have required the administration to seek approval from the FISA court for blanket authorization targeting foreign suspected terrorists—and not a specific phone call or email—if they could make a case that the surveillance was likely to net primarily foreign communications.

On Thursday, House Democratic leaders reached what they believed was a compromise deal on the legislation with Director of Nation Intelligence Mike McConnell. But the Democratic versions of the legislation crafted in both the House and Senate were rejected by McConnell, who came back with the counterproposal on Friday.

The intelligence director said the administration would agree to a review by the FISA court for the domestic spying—but only 120 days after surveillance had already begun. Until that time, McConnell and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would oversee and the surveillance. Bush threatened to veto any bill that did not meet with McConnell’s approval.

McConnell’s role in pushing through the surveillance legislation represents an unprecedented intervention by the intelligence apparatus in a political dispute between Congress and the White House. McConnell essentially blackmailed Democrats with the threat that unless they passed it, they could be held to blame for a terrorist attack on the United States.

The Bush administration did not relent until the entire content of its proposal was accepted. As Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois commented, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” In the end, sufficient numbers of Democrats succumbed to the intelligence director’s ultimatum, and passed the legislation exactly as prescribed by the White House.

The White House demanded that this process apply to the monitoring of all foreign targets, whether or not suspects end up communicating with another foreigner or someone in the US, and whether the individuals are suspected terrorists or have been targeted for some other undisclosed reason. McConnell demanded that the FISA statute be amended so that a court order would no longer be needed before wiretapping anyone “reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.”

The Democrats’ capitulation was the latest in its actions supporting the Bush administration’s “war on terror” throughout its two terms in office. They have provided the key votes to authorize the USA Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and enthusiastically supported the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security.

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee gave their support in May 2006 to the nomination of General Michael Hayden, the principal architect of the NSA spying program, to head the Central Intelligence Agency, paving the way for his confirmation by the Democratic-controlled Senate.


During the hours that Congress was debating codifying the Bush administration's wiretapping by revising the FISA law, the Department of Justice was raiding the home of former Justice official Thomas M. Tamm to identify the person who first brought the illicit program to light: "The agents seized Tamm's desktop computer, two of his children's laptops and a cache of personal files... the raid was related to a Justice criminal probe into who leaked details of the warrantless eavesdropping program to the news media... James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology said the raid was 'amazing' and shows the administration's misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the [purported surveillance] gaps."

Actions like these are the difference between a fascist dictatorship and a democracy (yes, even though the USA is a republic, it is also ment to be a democracy so don't bring it up thanks).

Saying that "The State" is right no matter what, is fascist. Currently the government is purging or minimalizing the non-fascist elements within the state. Of course they're doing it on the path of least resistance, so they're keeping up the veil of the justice system, but with the swampy legal system, far reaching laws and by simply ignoring basic rights (habeas corpus, etc.), without means to challenge the state it is a mere facade.

The Bush/Cheney Administration has spent the last 6+ years building an organizational, legal, and technical infrastructure for Executive Branch power, including anything from wiretap infrastructures to the Patriot Act to stuffing the courts and Justice Department with pro-executive-power people,
and getting states, banks, credit companies, airlines, etc. to do massive data collection. And it's not like it started with them - the FBI wiretap enthusiasts like Louis Freeh, the NSA anti-public-crypto people, the Echelon project, etc. all date to the Clinton or GHWBush/Reagan administrations or earlier.

It's going to take a *long* time to tear down that stuff and turn this back into America again, and most of that won't happen unless we replace the current Executive Branch with one that's actually committed to doing it. Most of the major candidates aren't talking like that - certainly Hillary and Rudy and John Edwards and McCain and Romney don't have a history of wanting to do that, and you're pretty much down to Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul before you'd get to anybody who'd talk about that kind of concept as a campaign strategy. Perhaps if the Democrats not only win the White House but also increase their control of the Senate and House they'll have some willingness to do that after a couple of years.

For now, though, Homeland Security Anonymous Spokescritters report that Enhanced Terrorist Surveillance Program has been reporting increased frequency of terrorist chatter saying "Booga Booga", so if you're even suggesting that we decrease wiretapping then you're a threat to national security and our precious bodily fluids.

After the Metropolitan Police in the UK kept us all so much safer by shooting an innocent Brazilian electrician seven times in the head while he sat in an Underground train, then claimed that they shot him while he was jumping over a barrier to escape them, wearing a nonexistent padded jacket to conceal a bomb, a journalist made the mistake of exposing this. He was promptly subjected to police harrassment, including having his girlfriend locked up without charge with no access to food or water, and given a blanket infected with lice.However, there is a difference between the US and the UK. The last time the Met became really corrupt, the Hertfordshire Police Force was called in to investigate them. (Disclaimer: Guess where I grew up.) Even so, it happened, and a significant number of Met officers were exposed. This is one example of why separate and independent police forces with local rather that national accoujntability are such a good idea.The problem is, who will investigate the FBI? That seems to be the fundamental weakness of the US system. In the UK, MI5 and MI6 have no powers of arrest. They have to get in regular police to arrest suspects. Although clunky, this provides a check and balance. If the FBI is corrupted or ordered by the Administration to do corrupt things, who is to stop them?

Jean Charles, a Brazilian, was shot at Stockwell underground station on July 22, 2005. The young electrician was on his way to work when he was surrounded by plainclothes armed police on a train and shot without warning, seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.

In the immediate aftermath of his slaying, the police mounted a campaign of disinformation to back up their claim that de Menezes was a suicide bomber—connected with the failed plot the previous day, July 21. Reports claimed that he had been wearing bulky clothing to disguise a suicide belt, and that when challenged by police officers, had sought to evade arrest by jumping a ticket barrier at the station and running on to a train.

This story was kept up, even after the police were fully aware that they had killed an entirely blameless man. Only later were police forced to admit that none of their accounts of the events leading up to de Menezes’s death were true.

Jean Charles had been wearing light summer clothes, and had walked leisurely into the underground station—even stopping to buy a newspaper—unaware that he was being followed by armed police. It was not until he had boarded the train that de Menezes would have had any inkling of what was to befall him. Having taken his seat, he was suddenly seized by one plainclothes officer, whilst another proceeded to shoot directly into his head. A total of eleven bullets were fired, to the horror of other passengers.

It subsequently emerged that de Menezes was the victim of a shoot-to-kill policy—Operation Kratos—secretly adopted by the police and the highest echelons of the government more than two years before.

There was never any chance that the IPCC would reveal the truth of the events surrounding de Menezes’s death. Its earlier inquiry cleared the police officers involved in his shooting, and Police Commander Cressida Dick, who was in charge of Gold Command—the body responsible for identifying and pursuing de Menezes—has subsequently been promoted. To add insult to injury, the Metropolitan Police face only token charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for “failing to provide for the health, safety and welfare” of Jean Charles—which at the most will result in a paltry fine, to be borne by the taxpayer.

The IPCC’s second investigation followed complaints by Jean Charles’s family over false claims circulated by police in the wake of his murder. Even this report has been subject to alteration following threats of legal action by the officers criticised.

The IPCC makes clear that these claims were indeed fallacious. It finds that de Menezes “did not refuse to obey a challenge prior to being shot and was not wearing any clothing that could be classed as suspicious.” But it says these false reports were primarily the result of operational failures.

The IPCC’s own 139-page report, however, disproves such assertions. It shows that less than five hours after Jean Charles was shot, leading Metropolitan police officers had “strong suspicions” that an innocent man had been killed.

A wallet found on the deceased contained documents of the identity of de Menezes as a Brazilian national, which were consistent with names listed in his mobile phone, also recovered from the scene.

At 3:30 p.m. that day, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Brian Paddick told the IPCC that he was informed by Chief Superintendent Stewart, “We’ve shot a Brazilian tourist.” At approximately the same time, following a meeting of Gold Command, a government liaison team officer told the Home Office, “There is a strong suspicion that the victim was not one of the four suspects for the failed [July 21] bombings.”

One hour later, Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman—Britain’s senior anti-terrorist officer—”briefed the Crime Reporters’ Association [CRA] that the deceased was not one of the four sought” for the failed bombing attempts the previous day.

Notes from a meeting of the police management board held shortly after the CRA briefing—comprising senior Metropolitan police officers, Metropolitan Police Association members and Home Office representatives—record Hayman advising that the press were stating that the dead man was not one of the suspects, but that it was “important to present that he was.”

Just before midnight the same day, the police issued another press release, which still insinuated Jean Charles may be one of the suspects. “The man shot is still subject to formal identification, and it is not clear whether he is one of the four people who attempted to cause explosions...his clothing and behaviour at the station added to their [police’s] suspicions,” it claimed.

It is Hayman that is singled out for criticism in the report for placing wrong information in the public domain. The IPCC raises “serious concern” that he briefed the CRA one thing whilst agreeing to press releases that stated another.

The evidence shows that Hayman set out to deceive. Even in this instance, it is up to the Metropolitan Police alone to decide what disciplinary action if any is to follow. Just as importantly, the admission of Hayman’s deceit is intended to present the campaign of disinformation as an individual failing rather than deliberate political policy.

It was Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair who, just hours after the shooting, led a press conference in which he claimed the killing was “directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation,” and that “the man was challenged and refused to obey.”

The IPCC claims that Blair was “unaware” of questions over Jean Charles’s identity for almost 24 hours and that he had been misled by Hayman.

This statement requires the suspension of all rational faculties. The IPCC gives numerous accounts in which individuals working closely with the commissioner and other senior figures told of rumour being rife that an innocent man had been killed. By the afternoon, these had even reached senior police officers enjoying a cricket match at Lord’s and one police officer who had been told there had been a “massive cock-up...involving a Brazilian tourist.”

Blair was present at the Management Board meeting where Hayman made his recommendation on presentation. It is claimed that Jean Charles’s name was not mentioned at the meeting, and that no discussion was held on the recovery of his wallet and mobile phone. Notes from the meeting, however, record Blair stressing public statements should make clear “the man shot today at Stockwell was under police surveillance after he left the house under observation as a result of our inquiries following the incidents yesterday.”

The Metropolitan Police’s Director of Public Affairs, Dick Fedorcio, responsible for drafting the press statement, concurs, “I will craft something for the public.”

This is followed by Hayman’s statement: “There is press running that the person shot is not one of the four bombers. We need to present this that he is believed to be. This is different to confirming that he is. On the balance of probabilities, it isn’t. To have this for offer would be low risk.”

The IPCC notes, “There is no indication that anyone at the meeting challenged AC Hayman when he referred to presenting the deceased as a wanted bomber although it was likely he was not. It would follow that if those at the meeting understood what was proposed and agreed with this course of action then those present were party to an agreement to mislead the media and the public.”

But it continues, “All deny that there was any suggestion that the media should be misled, and all state that they would not have been party to any such agreement.”

It concludes, “There is insufficient evidence to substantiate that all present at the 17:00hrs 22 July 2005 Management Board sub meeting jointly agreed to mislead the media and public. Accordingly, with the exception of AC Hayman, no criticism is levelled at any of the attendees.”

On Blair, the IPCC states, “When the commissioner left New Scotland Yard mid evening on July 22 2005 he was almost totally uninformed.”

It claims he “did not know of the considerable information within the MPS in relation to the emerging identity for Mr de Menezes and the likelihood that he was not involved in terrorism. Numerous others within the MPS did know.”

Britain’s leading police officer, in the midst of a major incident, was unaware of “considerable information” relating to that incident? The IPCC and its political masters clearly believe the public to be stupid.

What of the next day? The IPCC records that at 8 a.m. on July 23, “DCI Evans states that he received a telephone call from D/Supt. Levett who informed him that he had viewed the CCTV footage of Mr de Menezes entering the underground station. The footage showed that Mr de Menezes had walked to the barrier, picked up a newspaper, used his Oyster card to go though the barrier and had then gone down an escalator and out of sight. DCI Evans states he recalled speaking to the Coroner and Pathologist and advising them that it would appear the MPS had shot an innocent man who was not involved in terrorism.”

Yet that morning, the police released a statement admitting that they knew the identity of the dead man and were “now satisfied” he was not a terrorist, but reiterating that his “clothing and behaviour” had caused suspicion.

The IPCC report also shows that even by 11:05 a.m. on July 23, an instruction had gone out from Gold Command that “no further next of kin enquiries were to be made until a press strategy had been agreed at Gold level.” In other words, the police were still trying to whitewash events and work out what new line could be taken to deceive the public.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper, August 1, David Mills gave some indication of just how far these efforts extend.

“For the uncovering of what really happened we have to thank Lana Vandenberghe, who paid the price for revealing the truth, as her leak formed the basis of an ITV News investigation into the shooting of De Menezes,” Mills wrote. “She lost her job at the IPCC, was evicted by her landlady, arrested and treated harshly by the police. The harassment caused by the whole episode turned her into a recluse. She wasn’t the only one. ITV News producer Neil Garrett and his girlfriend—the link between Vandenberghe and Garrett—were arrested.

“They both spent hours in a cell and were bailed on a few occasions. While inside, Garrett’s pregnant girlfriend was deprived of food and drink, and given a blanket full of lice. Unknown to him at the time, Garrett’s flat was raided and turned upside down.”

Jean Charles de Menezes’s family has expressed astonishment at the IPCC’s findings. Their lawyer, Harriet Wistrich, said it was inconceivable that Sir Ian did not know anything about the victim’s identity until the next morning.

Once again, however, the media is playing its role as chief political apologists for the police and government. The Guardian leader, August 3, stated that the police were “too quick to put out information that it could not know to be true” and “too slow to put out more accurate facts,” but attributed this to the understandable pressures arising from a heightened security scare.

Similarly, the Independent complained that Hayman was a “scapegoat,” the result of a “culture that demands personal accountability when something serious goes wrong. This is understandable and usually justified. But it is not always the appropriate response,” it stated, again with reference to the terror threat.

Such calculated indifference to the truth confirms the utter perfidiousness of Britain’s media. Ultimately, it is not simply about protecting one man—Sir Ian Blair—or even the Metropolitan Police as an institution. It is about justifying the imposition of draconian legislation and policies—not least that of shoot-to-kill—in the name of the war on terror.

Pursuit and shooting

Stockwell tube station entrance

The officers followed de Menezes for 5 minutes as he walked to a bus-stop on Tulse Hill for the Number 2 bus routes. As he boarded a bus, several plainclothes police officers boarded, continuing the pursuit.

At Brixton Station de Menezes briefly got off the bus, saw the station was closed, and reboarded the bus to continue to Stockwell. The three surveillance officers later stated that they were satisfied that they had the correct man, noting that he "had Mongolian eyes".[4] Finally the bus arrived at Stockwell Tube station, 3.3km (2 miles) away.

At some point during this journey, the pursuing officers contacted Gold Command, and reported that de Menezes potentially matched the description of two of the previous day's suspects, including Osman Hussain.[5] Based on this information, Gold Command authorized "code red" tactics, and ordered the surveillance officers to prevent de Menezes from boarding a train. According to a "senior police source at Scotland Yard", Police Commander Cressida Dick told the surveillance team that the man was to be "detained as soon as possible", before entering the station.[6] Gold Command then transferred control of the operation to SO19, which dispatched firearms officers to Stockwell Tube Station.

At some point de Menezes phoned a colleague, Gesio de Avila, saying he would be late due to the disruption of public transport caused by the previous day's attempted bombings.

De Menezes entered the Tube station at about 10:00 a.m., stopping to pick up a free Metro newspaper. He used his Oyster card to pay the fare, walked through the barriers, and descended the escalator slowly. He then ran across the platform to board the newly-arrived train. De Menezes boarded the train and found one of the first available seats.

De Menezes' body shown lying on the floor of a carriage, wearing a denim jacket.

Three surveillance officers, codenamed Hotel 1, Hotel 3 and Hotel 9, followed de Menezes onto the train. According to Hotel 3, de Menezes sat down with a glass panel to his right about two seats in. Hotel 3 then took a seat on the left with about two or three people between the surveillance officer and de Menezes. When the firearms officers arrived on the platform, Hotel 3 moved to the door, blocked it from closing with their left foot, and shouted 'He's here!' to identify the suspect's location.

The firearms officers boarded the train and challenged the suspect. According to Hotel 3, de Menezes then stood up and advanced towards the officers and Hotel 3, at which point Hotel 3 grabbed him, pinned his arms against his torso, and pushed him back into the seat. Although de Menezes was being restrained, his body was straight and not in a natural sitting position. After Hotel 3 heard a shot close to their ear, the surveillance officer was dragged away onto the floor of the carriage. Hotel 3 then shouted 'Police!' and with hands raised was dragged out of the carriage by one of the armed officers who had boarded the train. Hotel 3 then heard several gunshots while being dragged out.[7] Two officers fired a total of eleven shots according to the number of empty shell casings found on the floor of the train afterwards. De Menezes was shot seven times in the face and once in the shoulder at close range, and died at the scene. An eyewitness later said that the eleven shots were fired over a thirty second period, at three second intervals.[8] A separate witness reported hearing five shots, followed at an interval by several more shots.[9] It later emerged that hollow point bullets had been employed and a senior police source said that de Menezes' body had been "unrecognisable." The bullets are illegal in warfare, but are widely used in law enforcement

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