"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Lack Of Transparency’

High Level Congressional Staffer Speaks: An Insider’s View Of The Administration’s Response To NSA Surveillance Leaks

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm
Jennifer Hoelzer U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) shows off a current version of the computer game "Oregon Trail" on his iPhone while playing the the original version on an Apple IIGS with his Communications Director Jennifer Hoelzer (C) after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (R) and his Communications Director Jennifer Holelzer play the computer game “Oregon Trail” on an Apple IIGS after a news conference about the 25th anniversary of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) October 18, 2011 in Washington, DC. Wyden and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) called for the ECPA legislation to be updated so to ensure that the government must get a warrant from a judge before tracking our movements or reading our private communications.

Oldspeak: “ A big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?” –Jennifer Hoelzer

“Pay no attention President Obama’s or anyone else associated with the administrations’ assurances. There is no real congressional oversight of NSA or most of the deep surveillance state.  There are no effective safeguards against surveillance abuse. They have no intention of  revealing the “legal” rationale for continued blatant violations of Americans’ constitutional, civil & privacy rights. Or changing anything related to bulk collection of your data outside of window dressing “regulation”.  Be careful. take precautions. Use the Tor Network to browse the internet anonymously.” –OSJ

Related Story:

Loophole Shows That, Yes, NSA Has ‘Authority’ To Spy On Americans — Directly In Contrast With Public Statements

Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda

By Jennifer Hoelzer @ Tech Dirt:

In a bit of fortuitous timing, this week we had asked former deputy chief of staff for Ron Wyden, Jennifer Hoelzer, to do our weekly “Techdirt Favorites of the Week” post, in which we have someone from the wider Techdirt community tell us what their favorite posts on the site were. As you’ll see below, Hoelzer has a unique and important perspective on this whole debate concerning NSA surveillance, and given the stories that came out late Friday, she chose to ditch her original post on favorites and rewrite the whole thing from scratch last night (and into this morning). Given that, it’s much, much more than a typical “favorites of the week” post, and thus we’ve adjusted the title appropriately. I hope you’ll read through this in its entirety for a perspective on what’s happening that not many have.

Tim Cushing made one of my favorite points of the week in his Tuesday post “Former NSA Boss Calls Snowden’s Supporters Internet Shut-ins; Equates Transparency Activists With Al-Qaeda,” when he explained that “some of the most ardent defenders of our nation’s surveillance programs” — much like proponents of overreaching cyber-legislation, like SOPA — have a habit of “belittling” their opponents as a loose confederation of basement-dwelling loners.” I think it’s worth pointing out that General Hayden’s actual rhetoric is even more inflammatory than Cushing’s. Not only did the former NSA director call us “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twenty-somethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years,” he equates transparency groups like the ACLU with al Qaeda.

I appreciated this post for two reasons:

First of all, it does a great job of illustrating a point that I’ve long made when asked for advice on communicating tech issues, which is that the online community is as diverse and varied as the larger world we live in. Of course, we are more likely to come across the marginal opinions of twenty-somethings with social anxiety online because, unlike the larger world, the Internet gives those twenty-somethings just as much of an opportunity to be heard as a Harvard scholar, a dissident protesting for democracy or General Hayden himself.

Sure, it can be infuriating to read scathingly hostile comments written by troubled individuals who clearly didn’t take the time to read the post you spent countless hours carefully writing (not that that has ever happened to me) but isn’t one of the things that makes the Internet so darn special its unwavering reminder that free speech includes speech we don’t appreciate? Of course, that’s a point that tends to get lost on folks — like General Hayden — who don’t seem to understand that equating the entirety of the online world with terrorists is a lot like posting a scathing comment to a story without reading it. You can’t expect someone to treat you or your opinion with respect — online or anywhere else — when you’re being disrespectful. And I can imagine no greater disrespect for the concepts of transparency and oversight than to equate them with the threats posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

But my main reason for singling out Tim’s post this week is that Hayden’s remark goes to the heart of what I continue to find most offensive about the Administration’s handling of the NSA surveillance programs, which is their repeated insinuation that anyone who raises concerns about national security programs doesn’t care about national security. As Tim explains this “attitude fosters the “us vs. them” antagonism so prevalent in these agencies dealings with the public. The NSA (along with the FBI, DEA and CIA) continually declares the law is on its side and portrays its opponents as ridiculous dreamers who believe safety doesn’t come with a price.”

To understand why I find this remark so offensive, I should probably tell you a little about myself. While the most identifying aspect of my resume is probably the six years I spent as U.S. Senator Ron Wyden’s communications director and later deputy chief of staff, I started college at the U.S. Naval Academy and spent two years interning for the National Security Council. I had a Top Secret SCI clearance when I was 21 years old and had it not been for an unusual confluence of events nearly 15 years ago — including a chance conversation with a patron of the bar I tended in college — I might be working for the NSA today. I care very deeply about national security. Moreover — and this is what the Obama Administration and other proponents of these programs fail to understand — I was angry at the Administration for its handling of these programs long before I knew what the NSA was doing. That had a lot to do with the other thing you should probably know about me: during my tenure in Wyden’s office, I probably spent in upwards of 1,000 hours trying to help my boss raise concerns about programs that he couldn’t even tell me about.

Which brings me to my next favorite Techdirt post of the week, Mike’s Friday post entitled “Don’t Insult Our Intelligence, Mr. President: This Debate Wouldn’t Be Happening Without Ed Snowden,” which is a much less profane way of summing up my feelings about the President’s “claim that he had already started this process prior to the Ed Snowden leaks and that it’s likely we would [have] ended up in the same place” without Snowden’s disclosure.

“What makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation,” Obama said. “It’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process.”

I hope you won’t mind if I take a moment to respond to that.

Really, Mr. President? Do you really expect me to believe that you give a damn about open debate and the democratic process? Because it seems to me if your Administration was really committed those things, your Administration wouldn’t have blocked every effort to have an open debate on these issues each time the laws that your Administration claims authorizes these programs came up for reauthorization, which — correct me if I am wrong — is when the democratic process recommends as the ideal time for these debates.

For example, in June 2009, six months before Congress would have to vote to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Obama Administration claims gives the NSA the authority to collect records on basically every American citizen — whether they have ever or will ever come in contact with a terrorist — Senators Wyden, Feingold and Durbin sent Attorney General Eric Holder a classified letter “requesting the declassification of information which [they] argued was critical for a productive debate on reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

In November 2009, they sent an unclassified letter reiterating the request, stating:

“The PATRIOT Act was passed in a rush after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Sunsets were attached to the Act’s most controversial provisions, to permit better-informed, more deliberative consideration of them at a later time. Now is the time for that deliberative consideration, but informed discussion is not possible when most members of Congress – and nearly all of the American public – lack important information about the issue.”

Did President Obama jump at the opportunity to embrace the democratic process and have an open debate then? No. Congress voted the following month to reauthorize the Patriot Act without debate.

In May 2011, before the Senate was — again — scheduled to vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act, Senators Wyden and Udall — again — called for the declassification of the Administration’s secret interpretation of Section 215. This time, in a Huffington Post Op-Ed entitled “How Can Congress Debate a Secret Law?” they wrote:

Members of Congress are about to vote to extend the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for four more years, even though few of them understand how those provisions are being interpreted and applied.

As members of the Senate Intelligence Committee we have been provided with the executive branch’s classified interpretation of those provisions and can tell you that we believe there is a significant discrepancy between what most people — including many Members of Congress — think the Patriot Act allows the government to do and what government officials secretly believe the Patriot Act allows them to do.

Legal scholars, law professors, advocacy groups, and the Congressional Research Service have all written interpretations of the Patriot Act and Americans can read any of these interpretations and decide whether they support or agree with them. But by far the most important interpretation of what the law means is the official interpretation used by the U.S. government and this interpretation is — stunningly –classified.

What does this mean? It means that Congress and the public are prevented from having an informed, open debate on the Patriot Act because the official meaning of the law itself is secret. Most members of Congress have not even seen the secret legal interpretations that the executive branch is currently relying on and do not have any staff who are cleared to read them. Even if these members come down to the Intelligence Committee and read these interpretations themselves, they cannot openly debate them on the floor without violating classification rules.

During the debate itself, Wyden and Udall offered an amendment to declassify the Administration’s legal interpretation of its Patriot Act surveillance authorities and, in a twenty minute speech on the Senate floor, Wyden warned that the American people would one day be outraged to learn that the government was engaged in surveillance activities that many Americans would assume were illegal, just as they were every other time the national security committee has tried to hide its questionable activities from the American people.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMAX_Frj8xM&feature=player_embedded

Fun aside: As you can see in the video, to underscore the point that hiding programs from the American people rarely goes well for the Administration, I had my staff make a poster of the famous image of Oliver North testifying before Congress during the Iran-Contra hearing. I really wanted to replace North’s face with the words “insert your photo here,” but we didn’t have the time.

Did President Obama welcome an open debate at that time?

No. Congress voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act for four more years and the only point we — as critics — could raise that might be confused with debate was a hypothetical argument illustrated with a twenty-year-old picture of Oliver North. And, again, Senator Wyden couldn’t even tell me what he was so concerned about. In strategy meetings with me and his Intelligence Committee staffer, I had to repeatedly leave the room when the conversation strayed towards details they couldn’t share with me because I no longer had an active security clearance. “You know, it would be a lot easier if you could just tell me what I can’t say?” I’d vent in frustration. They agreed, but still asked me to leave the room.

And that was just the Patriot Act. Did the President — who now claims to welcome open debate of his Administration’s surveillance authorities — jump at the opportunity to have such a debate when the FISA Amendments Act came up for reauthorization?

No. Not only did the Administration repeatedly decline Senator Wyden’s request for a “ballpark figure” of the number of Americans whose information was being collected by the NSA last year, just a month after the Patriot Act reauthorization, the Senate Intelligence Committee attempted to quietly pass a four year reauthorization of the controversial surveillance law by spinning it as an effort to: “Synchronize the various sunset dates included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to June 1, 2015;” So, I guess if this was part of the Administration’s plan to publicly debate the NSA’s surveillance authorities, the plan was for the debate to take place in 2015?

And, as I explained in an interview with Brian Beutler earlier this summer, that is just a fraction of the ways the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Communities ignored and even thwarted our attempts to consult the public on these surveillance programs before they were reauthorized. In fact, after the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in which Wyden attempted to close the FAA’s Section 702 loophole, which another important Techdirt post this week explains, “gives the NSA ‘authority’ to run searches on Americans without any kind of warrant,” I — as Wyden’s spokesperson — was specifically barred from explaining the Senator’s opposition to the legislation to the reporters. In fact, the exact response I was allowed to give reporters was:

“We’ve been told by Senator Feinstein’s staff that under the SSCI’s Committee Rule 9.3, members and staff are prohibited from discussing the markup or describing the contents of the bill until the official committee report is released. The fact that they’ve already put out a press release does not lift this prohibition.

That’s right, supporters of a full scale reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act put out a press release explaining why this was a good thing, while explicitly barring the Senator who voted against the legislation from explaining his concerns.

Months later, the FISA Amendments Act, which the Administration contends authorizes its PRISM program, passed without the open debate that the President now contends he wanted all along. And, again, I’m only touching on a fraction of the efforts just Senator Wyden made to compel the administration to engage the American people in a democratic debate. I, obviously, haven’t mentioned the Director of National Intelligence’s decision to lie when Wyden “asked whether the NSA had collected ‘any type of data at all on millions of Americans.'” (Btw: Given that Wyden shared his question with the ODNI the day before the hearing, I am highly skeptical that Clapper’s decision to lie was made unilaterally.) Or the fact that the Obama Administration repeatedly fought lawsuits and FOIA requests for, again — not sources and methods — but the Section 215 legal interpretation that the Administration claims authorizes its surveillance authorities.

The below is an excerpt from a March 2012 letter that Wyden and Udall sent the Obama Administration urging them to respect the democratic process:

The Justice Department’s motion to dismiss these Freedom of Information Act lawsuits argues that it is the responsibility of the executive branch to determine the best way to protect the secrecy of intelligence sources and methods. While this is indeed a determination for the executive branch to make, we are concerned that the executive branch has developed a practice of bypassing traditional checks and balances and treating these determinations as dispositive in all cases. In other words, when intelligence officials argue that something should stay secret, policy makers often seem to defer to them without carefully considering the issue themselves. We have great respect for our nation’s intelligence officers, the vast majority of whom are hard-working and dedicated professionals. But intelligence officials are specialists — it is their job to determine how to collect as much information as possible, but it is not their job to balance the need for secrecy with the public’s right to know how the law is being interpreted. That responsibility rests with policy makers, and we believe that responsibility should not be delegated lightly.

But, as Mike’s last post on Friday explains, “President Obama flat out admitted that this was about appeasing a public that doesn’t trust the administration, not about reducing the surveillance.” Mike’s insight continues:

Even more to the point, his comments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of why the public doesn’t trust the government. That’s because he keeps insisting that the program isn’t being abused and that all of this collection is legal. But, really, that’s not what the concern is about. Even though we actually know that the NSA has a history of abuse (and other parts of the intelligence community before that), a major concern is that scooping up so much data is considered legal in the first place.

I’d go even further than that and argue that a big part of the reason the American people are having a hard time trusting their government is that the public’s trust in government is harmed every time the American people learn that their government is secretly doing something they not only assumed was illegal but that government officials specifically told them they weren’t doing. Hint: When the American people learn that you lied to them, they trust you less.

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust their President when he says he respects democratic principles, when his actions over the course of nearly five years demonstrate very little respect for democratic principles.

I think the American people would be more likely to trust the President when he says these programs include safeguards that protect their privacy, if he — or anyone else in his administration — seemed to care about privacy rights or demonstrated an understanding of how the information being collected could be abused. Seriously, how are we supposed to trust safeguards devised by people who don’t believe there is anything to safeguard against?

I think it’s understandably hard for the American people to trust the President when he says his Administration has the legal authority to conduct these surveillance programs when one of the few things that remains classified about these programs is the legal argument that the administration says gives the NSA the authority to conduct these programs. This is the document that explains why the Administration believes the word “relevant” gives them the authority to collect everything. It’s also the document I’d most like to see since it’s the document my former boss has been requesting be declassified for more than half a decade. (A reporter recently asked me why I think the Administration won’t just declassify the legal opinion given that the sources and methods it relates to have already been made public. “I think that’s pretty obvious,” I said. “I believe it will be much harder for the Administration to claim that these programs are legal, if people can see their legal argument.”)

I think it’s hard for the American people to trust the President when his administration has repeatedly gone out of its way to silence critics and — again — treat oversight as a threat on par with al Qaeda. As another great Techdirt post this week — US Releases Redacted Document Twice… With Different Redactions — illustrates, many of the Intelligence Community’s classification decisions seem to be based more on a desire to avoid criticism than clear national security interests. And as Senator Wyden said back in 2007, when then CIA Director Hayden (yes, the same guy who thinks we’re all losers who can’t get laid) attempted to undermine oversight over his agency by launching an investigation into the CIA’s inspector general, “people who know that they’re doing the right thing aren’t afraid of oversight.”

Which reminds me of the Techdirt post this week that probably haunted me the most. Ed Snowden’s Email Provider, Lavabit, Shuts Down To Fight US Gov’t Intrusion. Mike uses the post to explain that Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Labavit — the secure email service that provided Edward Snowden’s email account — decided to shut down his email service this week.

Not much more information is given, other than announced plans to fight against the government in court. Reading between the lines, it seems rather obvious that Lavabit has been ordered to either disclose private information or grant access to its secure email accounts, and the company is taking a stand and shutting down the service while continuing the legal fight. It’s also clear that the court has a gag order on Levison, limiting what can be said.

The part that haunted me, though, was a line Levon included in his email informing customers of his decision:

“I feel you deserve to know what’s going on,” he wrote. “The first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this.”

He’s right, isn’t he? If these aren’t the moments the First Amendment was meant for, what are? Moreover, if the Administration is so convinced that its requests of Labavit are just, why are they afraid to hold them up to public scrutiny?

In his book, Secrecy: The American Experience, former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan included a quote from a 1960 report issued by the House Committee on Operations which I believe provides a far better response than anything I could write on my own:

Secrecy — the first refuge of incompetents — must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society for a fully informed public is the basis of self government. Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than its people.

Which brings me to my final point (at least for now) I think it’s awfully hard for the American people to trust the President and his administration when their best response to the concerns Americans are raising is to denigrate the Americans raising those concerns. Because, you see, I have a hard time understanding why my wanting to stand up for democratic principles makes me unpatriotic, while the ones calling themselves patriots seem to think so little of the people and the principles that comprise the country they purport to love.

 

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In 2009 Obama Administration Committed To Creating An Unprecedented Level Of Openness In Government. In 2012 Government Censorship & Secrecy Hit All Time High

In Uncategorized on March 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

Oldspeak:“In this weeks edition of “Doublethink Theater” We have a quote from President Obama’s First day in office, January 21, 2009 “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”  Then this from his Memo on Transparency and Open Government: “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.  We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government. Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.” Fast forward to 2013 and a quote from Alexander Abdo, ACLU National Security Project Attorney: “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration”  And this from Federal Judge Colleen McMahon after ruling against the New York Times and ACLU in its request to see government records providing legal justification for its assassination program: “I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.” Yes. YET ANOTHER instance of Senator Obama saying and doing one thing & President Obama saying and doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE. After authoring such transparency promoting law as The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act as a Senator, President Obama’s administration has censored & denied more requests for information than ever before, while taking much longer to respond to requests in general. Upholding “secret laws”. Flouting the constitution. Making legally unchallengeable secrecy claims. Prosecuting and jailing more government whistleblowers than any other President in history. While those who’ve engage in the fraud, waste, abuse and malfeasance whistleblowers have reported, continue to do so unmolested with no fear of reprisal;  in fact, in some egregious cases actually being rewarded with promotions.  Given these precedents, you can safely infer that next Administration will be even less transparent in its operations. Less responsive to the people.  America’s Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy, will continue to grow, weakening representative democracy until the country collapses under the weight of rampant greed, criminality and corruption.  All in the name of “National Security”.
“2+2=5”.
“Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Jack Gillum & Ted Bridis @ The Associated Press:

The Obama administration answered more requests from the public to see government records under the Freedom of Information Act last year, but more often than it ever has it cited legal exceptions to censor or withhold the material, according to a new analysis by The Associated Press. It frequently cited the need to protect national security and internal deliberations.

The AP’s analysis showed the government released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought at about the same rate as the previous three years. It turned over all or parts of the records in about 65 percent of all requests. It fully rejected more than one-third of requests, a slight increase over 2011, including cases when it couldn’t find records, a person refused to pay for copies or the request was determined to be improper.

The AP examined more than 5,600 data elements measuring the administration’s performance on government transparency since Obama’s election.

People submitted more than 590,000 requests for information in fiscal 2012 — an increase of less than 1 percent over the previous year. Including leftover requests from previous years, the government responded to more requests than ever in 2012 — more than 603,000 — a 5 percent increase for the second consecutive year.

When the government withheld or censored records, it cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, a roughly 22 percent increase over the previous year. In most cases, more than one of the law’s exceptions was cited in each request for information.

The government’s responsiveness under the FOIA is widely viewed as a barometer of the federal offices’ transparency. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Anyone who seeks information through the law is generally supposed to get it unless disclosure would hurt national security, violate personal privacy or expose business secrets or confidential decision-making in certain areas.

The AP’s review comes at the start of the second term for Obama, who promised during his first week in office that the nation’s signature open-records law would be “administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” The review examined figures from the largest federal departments and agencies. Sunday was the start of Sunshine Week, when news organizations promote open government and freedom of information.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement that during the past year, the government “processed more requests, decreased the backlog, improved average processing times and disclosed more information pro-actively.” Schultz said the improvements “represent the efforts of agencies across the government to meet the president’s commitment to openness. While there is more work to be done, this past year demonstrates that agencies are responding to the president’s call for greater transparency.”

In a year of intense public interest over deadly U.S. drones, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, terror threats and more, the government cited national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times — a jump over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama’s first year in office. The secretive CIA last year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a year earlier.

Other federal agencies that invoked the national security exception included the Pentagon, Director of National Intelligence, NASA, Office of Management and Budget, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Communications Commission and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

U.S. courts are loath to overrule the administration whenever it cites national security. A federal judge, Colleen McMahon of New York, in January ruled against The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union to see records about the government’s legal justification for drone attacks and other methods it has used to kill terrorism suspects overseas, including American citizens. She cited an “Alice in Wonderland” predicament in which she was expected to determine what information should be revealed but unable to challenge the government’s secrecy claim. Part of her ruling was sealed and made available only to the government’s lawyers.

“I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22,” the judge wrote. “I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”

The AP could not determine whether the administration was abusing the national security exemption or whether the public was asking for more documents about sensitive subjects. Nearly half the Pentagon’s 2,390 denials last year under that clause came from its National Security Agency, which monitors Internet traffic and phone calls worldwide.

“FOIA is an imperfect law, and I don’t think that’s changed over the last four years since Obama took office,” said Alexander Abdo, an ACLU staff attorney for its national security project. “We’ve seen a meteoric rise in the number of claims to protect secret law, the government’s interpretations of laws or its understanding of its own authority. In some ways, the Obama administration is actually even more aggressive on secrecy than the Bush administration.”

The Obama administration also more frequently invoked the law’s “deliberative process” exception to withhold records describing decision-making behind the scenes. Obama had directed agencies to use it less often, but the number of such cases had surged after his first year in office to more than 71,000. After back-to-back years when figures steadily declined, as agencies followed the president’s instructions, the government cited that reason 66,353 times last year to keep records or parts of records secret.

The Homeland Security Department, which includes offices that deal with immigration files, received more than twice as many requests for records — 190,589 new requests last year — as any other agency, and it answered significantly more requests than it did in 2011. Other agencies, including the State Department, National Transportation Safety Board and Nuclear Regulatory Commission performed worse last year. The State Department, for example, answered only 57 percent of its requests, down from 75 percent a year earlier.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services drove a dramatic increase in the number of times DHS censored immigration records under exceptions to police files containing personal information and law enforcement techniques. The agency invoked those exemptions more than 136,000 times in 2012, compared with more than 75,000 a year earlier. Even though USCIS is not a law-enforcement agency, officials used the exceptions specifically reserved for law enforcement.

Under the law, a citizen can ask the government to reconsider its decision to censor or withhold materials. In the roughly 11,000 such instances last year where that happened, the government prevailed just under half the time. In about 3,400 cases the government turned over at least some additional information. These administrative appeals took about five months each.

The only recourse after such an appeal is an expensive lawsuit or to ask the government’s FOIA mediator, the U.S. Office of Government Information Services, to intervene.

The AP’s analysis also found that the government generally took longer to answer requests. Some agencies, such as the Health and Human Services Department, took less time than the previous year to turn over files. But at the State Department, for example, even urgent requests submitted under a fast-track system covering breaking news or events when a person’s life was at stake took an average two years to wait for files.

Journalists and others who need information quickly to report breaking news fared worse last year. The rate at which the government granted so-called expedited processing, which moves an urgent request to the front of the line for a speedy answer, fell from 24 percent in 2011 to 17 percent last year. The CIA denied every such request last year.

Under increased budget pressure across the government, agencies more often insisted that people pay search and copying fees. It waived costs in 59 percent of requests, generally when the amount was negligible or the release of the information is in the public interest, a decline from 64 percent of cases a year earlier. At the Treasury Department, which faced questions about its role in auto bailouts and stimulus programs during Obama’s first term, only one in five requests were processed at no charge. A year earlier, it granted more than 75 percent of fee waivers. The CIA denied every request last year to waive fees.

The 33 agencies that AP examined were: Agency for International Development, CIA, Agriculture Department, Commerce Department, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Defense Department, Education Department, Energy Department, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Interior Department, Justice Department, Labor Department, State Department, Transportation Department, Treasury Department, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Election Commission, Federal Trade Commission, NASA, National Science Foundation, National Transportation Safety Board, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of Management and Budget, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Securities and Exchange Commission, Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

Follow Jack Gillum on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jackgillum

 

 

The Ministry Of Love IS The Ministry Of Truth: Parties Unknown Delete Previously Available Drone Strike Data Amid Brennan Confirmation Controversy

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Oldspeak:Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite historical documents so they match the constantly changing current party line. This involves revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs—mostly to remove “unpersons,” people who have fallen foul of the party. Because of his proximity to the mechanics of rewriting history, Winston Smith nurses doubts about the Party and its monopoly on truth.”  “On Sunday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the decision was made to remove the statistics because the data disproportionately places emphasis on the airstrikes. The majority of the RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) missions are for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, with a small percent involving airstrikes. The data removal coincided with increased scrutiny on RPA policy caused by President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Brennan faced opposition in the Senate over the use of RPAs and his defense of their legality in his role as Obama’s deputy national security adviser. …Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks said the department was not involved in the decision to remove the statistics”  –Brian Everstine and Aaron Mehta  “Reality Control” par excellence. Reported in an obscure Air Force journal. Who exactly was made the decision to remove these thought to be important weapon release statistics if the Department of Defense, (The government agency that oversees the Air Force,) did not? Why was this “disproportionality” not an issue in October 2012 when the statistic was made available to “provide more detailed information on RPA ops in Afghanistan.”?   Some interesting questions arise from this development. Why, as interest in the statistics has increased has the availability of them decreased? Could these stats have been scrubbed to thwart efforts to get more concrete analysis of the volume of “signature strikes”(those drone strikes where the target is unknown, but acting in a suspicious way that is thought to be signature behavior of a terrorist.)? How often does this anonymous selective “data scrubbing”, essentially digital and permanent redaction of historical data occur and why is it not controversial?  The inspector general of the DoD should be opening an investigation in to this serious breach of data security, since they confirmed that removal decision did not involve them…. But probably won’t. Why? One has to wonder.

By Brian Everstine and Aaron Mehta @ Air Force Times:

As scrutiny and debate over the use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) by the American military increased last month, the Air Force reversed a policy of sharing the number of airstrikes launched from RPAs in Afghanistan and quietly scrubbed those statistics from previous releases kept on their website.

Last October, Air Force Central Command started tallying weapons releases from RPAs, broken down into monthly updates. At the time, AFCENT spokeswoman Capt. Kim Bender said the numbers would be put out every month as part of a service effort to “provide more detailed information on RPA ops in Afghanistan.”

The Air Force maintained that policy for the statistics reports for November, December and January. But the February numbers, released March 7, contained empty space where the box of RPA statistics had previously been.

Additionally, monthly reports hosted on the Air Force website have had the RPA data removed — and recently.

Those files still contained the RPA data as of Feb. 16, according to archived web pages accessed via Archive.org. Metadata included in the new, RPA-less versions of the reports show the files were all created Feb. 22.

Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks said the department was not involved in the decision to remove the statistics. AFCENT did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

On Sunday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement that the decision was made to remove the statistics because the data disproportionately places emphasis on the airstrikes. The majority of the RPA missions are for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, with a small percent involving airstrikes.

“A determination found the data disproportionately focused on RPA kinetic events,” CENTCOM said in the statement. “A variety of multi-role platforms provide ground commanders in Afghanistan with close air support capabilities, and it was determined that presenting the weapons release data as a whole better reflects the airpower provided in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Kinetic events involving RPAs are the exception, with only about 3 percent of all RPA sorties over Afghanistan involving kinetic events.”

The data removal coincided with increased scrutiny on RPA policy caused by President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Brennan faced opposition in the Senate over the use of RPAs and his defense of their legality in his role as Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

On Feb. 20, two days before the metadata indicates the scrubbed files were created, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., sent a letter to Brennan saying that he would filibuster the nomination over concerns about using RPA strikes inside the U.S., a threat he carried out for over 12 hours on March 6 (Brennan was confirmed the next day).

That same day, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told a crowd in South Carolina that strikes by American RPAs have killed 4,700 people.

“Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken out some very senior members of al-Qaida,” Graham was quoted by the Patch website as saying.

The Obama Administrations Dick Cheney Moment

In Uncategorized on February 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm
Oldspeak: “”The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation… I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.” -Senator Barack Obama, 2007 Yes. YET ANOTHER instance of candidate Obama, saying one thing and President Obama doing the EXACT OPPOSITE. Near universal silence or worse, cheerleading among far too many so-called progressives, democrats, and liberals. It is ingenious really, how effectively Obama silences dissent from all quarters, simply by being himself. Charming, brilliant,  likeable, thoughtful, well-spoken, self-confident. Most fail to criticize and oppose his corprocratic agenda pushing policies, by choosing to only to pay attention to his words, ignoring or apologizing for his inactions/actions. Conservatives and republicans criticism, is dismissed as crazy right-wing hate mongering (granted, much of it is.), or disgruntled and baseless complaints of a party out of power. The powers this president has claimed; to kill at will and detain indefinitely, with no verifiable reason, oversight or input from courts or congress is patently unconstitutional, anti-democratic, and immeasurably dangerous.  People need to understand that their right to dissent is under threat. We watch the news and it’s depictions of the horrible totalitarian/police state conditions in foreign lands and shake our heads in disdain, secure in the knowledge that “THAT” could never happen here, completely oblivious to the fact that IT IS HAPPENING HERE RIGHT NOW.  There is a “Constitution-Free Zone”, right now today in this “Land of The Free”, that the majority of Americans live in. Courts repeatedly uphold its lawfulness.  how long before that zone expands to include the rest of this “Greatest Nation On Earth”?  Apropos here is some wisdom from a wise man. “Conventional wisdom would have one believe that it is insane to resist this, the mightiest of empires, but what history really shows is that today’s empire is tomorrow’s ashes; that nothing lasts forever, and that to not resist is to acquiesce in your own oppression. The greatest form of sanity that anyone can exercise is to resist that force that is trying to repress, oppress, and fight down the human spirit.”  –Mumia Abu Jamal


By Dr. Wilmer J Leon @ Black Agenda Report:

In an interview in 2007 Senator Obama (D-IL) said, “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation… I reject the Bush Administration’s claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.” In 2013 Americans are facing a president with a different mindset.

A recently leaked White Paper is providing insight into the legal justifications for the Obama administration’s “targeted killing” program. The paper asserts that “high-level” government officials can “…use lethal force in a foreign country…against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force…actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans.” This legal framework also explains how lethal force can be used even if the “high-level” government officials do not have “…clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

In September 2011 the administration used drone strikes to kill alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Al-Awlaki’s 16-year old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was also killed by a drone strike. All three were U.S. citizens and none of them had been indicted by the U.S. government for any crimes. According to The Guardian, “…the drone program now is run out of the White House, where (John) Brennan, the president’s most trusted counter-terror adviser, helps Obama pick the targets.” 

The rational behind the administration’s “assassination by drone” program sounds eerily reminiscent to former V.P. Dick Cheney’s “one-percent doctrine.” Cheney believed the so-called “war on terror” empowered the Bush administration to invade sovereign countries and violate American’s civil liberties without the need for evidence or extensive analysis. The facts did not matter. According to Cheney, “If there’s a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It’s not about our analysis … It’s about our response.”

The Obama administrations rational for targeted killings of American citizens contradict some of the basic framework of American democracy.Due process, habeas corpus, checks and balances, and bills of attainder are civil liberty protections guaranteed by the Constitution.

Due process is such an important protection that it is referenced in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The Due Process Clause acts as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government. For the President or other “high-level” government officials to act as judge, jury, and executioner irrespective of “…clear evidence…” of any immediate wrongdoing is the clearest example of arbitrarily denying life and liberty that one can imagine.

Habeas corpus requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge in order to determine if an individual’s detention is warranted. Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution states, The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” The language refers to arrests, not assassination, but theoretically, summarily executing American citizens before they can even be detained is a contradiction of the highest order.

The concept of checks and balances is an important part of the Constitution. Each of the three branches of government can limit the powers of the others preventing any one branch from becoming too powerful. Under no circumstance should members of the executive branch be allowed to condemn American citizens to death, even in times of “war” without the review of an impartial judge. This also violates Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, “No Bill of Attainder … shall be passed.” A Bill of Attainder is an act of a legislature or executive declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without privilege of a judicial trial.

The paper also concludes that the use of drone strikes for targeted killings would not be justified if it violated the fundamental law-of-war principles “…if anticipated civilian causalities (collateral damage) would be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.” The administration has presented and defended drone strikes as an “antiseptic” use of technology. CIA nominee, John Brennan defended drone strikes as a more humane form of warfare. He said that “extraordinary care” is taken to ensure they conform to the “law of war principles” but stopped short of saying they are in compliance.

According to the Center for Research on Globalization, “At the end of January 2013, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle-or senior-ranking militants. A further 331 civilians have also now been named, 87 of them children. But this is a small proportion of the minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 475 of them were likely to have been civilians.” The administration has championed the use of drones as making Americans safer by killing terrorists. Killing innocent people in foreign countries creates more terrorists.

President Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) containing sweeping worldwide indefinite detention provisions and signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers (PATRIOT ACT) to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.  The rational behind the Obama administrations approach to civil liberties and warfare sounds eerily like a Dick Cheney moment.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues With Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com. http://www.twitter.com/drwleon

Somali-American Mohamed Osman Mohamud Convicted Of Terrorism In Oregon Christmas Tree Bomb Plot; FBI Provided Encouragement, Guidance, Money & Materials Needed For Attack

In Uncategorized on February 6, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Oldspeak:No one was hurt, and authorities say the public was never in real danger“. “detonate fake bombs”. “Provided by the “government agency here”.  When you see these words in a story about a “foiled” terrorist operation, understand that it is not a real terrorist attack. It is usually one instigated by agents of the government posing as terrorists, who’ve targeted an isolated, distressed, poor, young, impressionable, usually Muslim man who they’ve “coached” to “lead” the “attack”.  This time the man’s (well boys, as the FBI began tracking him at 15 years old) name was Mohamed Osman Mohamud. Peruse the related stories and you’ll see the script remains the same. Long term surveillance. Heavy FBI involvement in planning, financing and execution of the plot.  Rather than steering potential terrorists away from committing crime, law enforcement is encouraging it, and participating in it , creating a crime to ‘solve it’. Here’s the thing about real terrorists: They don’t use fake bombs. If they are leading an operation, it’s reasonable to assume they’ll be 3 times sure the bomb will go off when they press a button. They’re intimately involved in every aspect of the operation. They’ll make an effort to check the backgrounds and associations of those they conspire with.   This boy, like the many others before him, has been used by U.S. government agencies to continue to instill perpetual fear in the populace of “the enemy” in this case “Islamic Terrorists”, and justify the perpetual prosecution of a phantom “War On Terror”.  Left undiscussed in the coverage of this story, is the disturbing normality of ever-increasing prosecution/surveillance/criminalization of youth. We live in a society where 15 year olds are perceived as threats. And the only way these threats are to be dealt with is with prosecution, conviction, lifetime incarceration or execution. “Radicalization” is apparently an incurable infection. Little thought is given to improving the conditions, the structural, cultural and social inequality that make radicalization likely. Most resources are devoted to enforcement, incarceration and or assassination. This “War Is Peace” policy continues ironically under our Nobel Peace Prize winning Commander-In-Chief, President Obama.

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Al-Qaida “Underwear Bomber” Was Working For The C.I.A. : The Yemen Bomb Plot & Other Hobgoblins

The Informants: How The FBI’s Massive Informant Network Actually Created Most Terrorist Plots “Foiled” In U.S. Since 9/11

Fake Terror Plots Using Paid Informants: The Tactics Of FBI ‘Entrapment’ Questioned

The Spectacle Of Terrorism And Its Vested Interests

By Teresa Carson @ Reuters:
A Somali-American man was found guilty on Thursday of trying to blow up a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Oregon using a fake bomb supplied to him by undercover agents posing as Islamist militants, the public defender’s office said.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized U.S. citizen and former Oregon State University student, faces a possible life prison term on his conviction on a single charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Sentencing is set for May 14.

Mohamud was arrested shortly after attempting to use his cell phone to remotely detonate an artificial car bomb planted near a Portland square crowded with thousands of people attending the ceremony the day after Thanksgiving in 2010.

No one was hurt, and authorities say the public was never in real danger.

During a three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Portland, defense attorneys argued that overzealous law enforcement officers posing as al Qaeda militants invented a crime and entrapped their client.

But the jury agreed with the prosecution’s argument that Mohamud, 19 years old at the time of the crime, was already radicalized and could have backed out of the bomb plot at any point.

On the morning of the planned bombing, Mohamud reportedly told a friend that it was “the greatest morning of my life.” Hours later, he dialed a cell phone that he thought would trigger the bomb and kill thousands of people.

“Mr. Mohamud made a series of choices over a period of several years – choices that were leading him down a path that would have ended in violence,” Greg Fowler, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Portland division, said in a statement.

“His actions showed little regard for the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American or respect for the lives that he was prepared to take,” he added.

LONELY WITH LITTLE MONEY

The case, closely watched by many in the nation’s Muslim American community, was one of several sting operations in recent years in which individuals were tracked by undercover FBI agents and later tried to detonate fake bombs in various locations.

“We are disappointed with the verdict,” federal public defender Steven Wax said, adding that he planned to appeal. “There are a number of issues that will be raised.”

Defense lawyers had tried to paint a picture of Mohamud, who spent months with the undercover agents, as a young man who was particularly vulnerable to entrapment, which legal experts had earlier said was always a tough case to prove.

At trial, one of the undercover agents testified that he and a fellow agent were aware that Mohamud was lonely, had little money and that his family was in distress. He said Mohamud wept during their first meeting and that he heard his partner tell Mohamud on many occasions, “I love you.”

The agent also acknowledged that he and his partner had coached Mohamud on what he should say in a videotaped “goodbye” message they filmed of him weeks before the planned attack.

In the video, shown to the jury by prosecutors, Mohamud is seen solemnly saying to the camera: “A dark day is coming your way … your people will not remain safe.”

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for The Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the case could alienate the Muslim community, but was quick to say that “nobody wants to see any possibility of any sort of violence by a lone wolf.”

“I think convictions in these kinds of cases are almost forgone conclusions based on the government’s actions. They are the same in each case,” he said.

Somali-American convicted of terrorism in Oregon Christmas tree bomb plot; was 17 at time

By NIGEL DUARA @ The Associated Press:

Three hours before they handed down a sentence that could put an Oregon man in prison for life, deliberating jurors sent a note to a trial judge with a question.

Did the man whose fate they were deciding need to have envisioned the specific crime for which he was accused? Or did he merely need to be inclined toward some kind of terroristic act?

Their question more broadly reflects the central debate at the heart of the trial of Mohamed Mohamud, a 21-year-old Somali-American found guilty on Thursday of attempting to bomb a Portland Christmas tree-lighting in November 2010.

Prosecutors were met by a claim of entrapment by Mohamud’s defense team, and needed to convince jurors that he was predisposed to terrorism by the time an FBI informant began discussing radical jihad with him over emails.

The judge, Garr King, told jurors Thursday that Mohamud only had to be likely to commit the offense or one like it, and he did not specifically have to be thinking about a bomb at the specific time and place at which he and two undercover FBI agents decided to plant one.

The bomb was a fake, supplied by the agents posing as jihadis.

Jurors were given starkly different portraits of the man who was 17 when the FBI began to focus on him. In the prosecution’s description, Mohamud was a powder keg in search of a spark, an angry teenager with the right combination of anti-Western sentiment and a plausible cover story as an Oregon college student.

In the defense’s telling, he was confused, broke and suffering under the weight of parental expectations. Gullible and eager to please, he fell into a plot entirely of the FBI’s making, following along with men he imagined were like family, Mohamud’s attorneys said.

Mohamud sat still as King read the verdict in a slow, deliberate cadence. His parents, who attended every day of the trial, were absent, leaving the seating reserved for family entirely empty throughout the announcement of the verdict.

After the verdict, the FBI asserted again that Mohamud would indeed have found a way to commit a violent act had agents not intervened.

“Mr. Mohamud made a series of choices over a period of several years — choices that were leading him down a path that would have ended in violence,” said Greg Fowler, who leads the FBI office in Portland. “His actions showed little regard for the rights and responsibilities that come with being an American or respect for the lives that he was prepared to take.”

Mohamud’s attorney, Steve Sady, later said an appeal was being planned after the scheduled May 14 sentencing.

“We are disappointed with the verdict,” Sady said. “We, obviously, thought he was entrapped.”

Prosecutors argued that Mohamud was predisposed to terrorism as early as 15 years old. Mohamud traded emails with an al-Qaida lieutenant later killed in a drone strike. He also told undercover agents he would pose as a college student while preparing for violent jihad.

Mohamud was never called to testify. Instead, the jurors saw thousands of exhibits and heard hours of testimony from friends, parents, undercover FBI agents and experts in counterterrorism, teenage brain development and the psychology of the Muslim world.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight told the jury earlier this week that the decision would be easy. Mohamud pressed a keypad button on a black Nokia cellphone and intended to kill people. Whatever else they might think about the methods of undercover agents or the government’s decision to investigate a teenager, the underlying decision was Mohamud’s and the motivation was hatred of the West.

Sady had argued that Mohamud wasn’t radicalized by online recruiters or friends with jihadist leanings, but rather by a Justice Department hungry for convictions that ignored every caution sign along the way. Sady said undercover agents manipulated Mohamud’s faith and plied him with praise and the promise of a life leading other jihadis.

“This case has been a difficult case for the city of Portland. It’s been a particularly difficult case for Mohamed Mohamud’s community, for his family, for the Somali community,” said Amanda Marshall, U.S. attorney for Oregon. “We are hopeful that this will bring closure and healing to all of us here in Portland.”

Somali-American On Trial Over Christmas Tree Bomb Plot

By Stephanie Rice @ Agence France-Presse:

A Somali-American accused of trying to blow up a crowded US Christmas-tree lighting ceremony went on trial, more than two years after being arrested in an FBI sting operation.

Arguing in court just blocks from the site of the tree lighting in the US state of Oregon, lawyers presented rival pictures of Mohamed Mohamud, either as a troubled youth tricked by undercover agents or a hardened Islamist terrorist.

The 21-year-old’s defense lawyer claimed Mohamud never would have attempted to detonate the “bomb” — a harmless fake supplied by FBI agents — on November 26, 2010 if agents posing as terrorists hadn’t coerced the confused then-teenager into it.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation “created a crime that never would have happened without them,” attorney Stephen Sady told the 16-strong jury which will decide Mohamud’s fate, in the long-awaited trial.

“He wasn’t a perfect human being,” added. “But he wasn’t someone who was sitting around thinking about blowing up his hometown.”

The “entrapment” argument is crucial to Mohamud’s defense and likely his only shot at avoiding life in prison on the charge of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Under US law, authorities cannot trick someone into committing a crime. That means the government must prove Mohamud was predisposed to violence before undercover agents ever approached him.

The government counters that Mohamud wasn’t tricked and willingly chose to press the button on a cell phone that he believed would kill thousands gathered in downtown Pioneer Square.

“He said he would push the button because it would make him happy to have bodies torn everywhere,” Assistant US Attorney Pamala Holsinger told jurors.

“By the time he met FBI agents he had already decided that violence against civilians, in or out of the US, was justified,” she said.

Mohamud watched the proceedings from a table with his attorneys, taking notes on a legal pad. At one point he seemed to become emotional, and an attorney put a comforting hand on his shoulder.

About 10 family members sat on the other side of the packed courtroom, occasionally coming and going from the courtroom with what appeared to be a prayer rug.

The high-profile trial, expected to last at least several weeks, has all the makings of a cloak-and-dagger spy drama.

Undercover agents testifying in disguise will give a rare glimpse into the world of FBI sting operations. Jurors will tour the van the government packed with phony explosives and gave to Mohamud, telling him it was the real thing.

The terror case is highly unusual for this West Coast city known for its laid back, quirky culture — the informal city motto is “Keep Portland weird” – and not on anyone’s list of top terror targets.

It has raised questions not only about where an attack can happen, but also about how authorities pursue potential threats while protecting the civil liberties of US citizens.

Undercover FBI Agents Recount Christmas Bomb Plot

By Stephanie Rice @ Agence France-Presse:

FBI tactics in investigating a Somali-American accused of plotting to blow up a US Christmas tree lighting ceremony took center stage, as undercover agents began testifying.

Giving evidence in disguise and visible only to jurors, one agent maintained that Mohamed Mohamud was prone to violence from the beginning and spoke of plans to “wage war” on the United States.

To test Mohamud’s resolve, the agent — who was posing as an Al-Qaeda recruiter named “Youssef” — said that in his first meeting with Mohamud, he gave the then-teenager five examples of how he could be “a good Muslim.”

According to Youssef — whose real name was withheld in court — Mohamud stopped short of the most extreme option, martyrdom, but chose violence over praying five times a day or raising money for extremists.

“He said he would like to become operational,” Youssef testified.

Mohamud, now 21, faces life in prison for allegedly attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction — a harmless fake supplied by FBI agents — near the crowded 2010 pre-Christmas ceremony in Portland, Oregon.

But in many ways, the FBI is also on trial as the defense argues agents coerced a gullible kid into a violent act.

Under US law, it is illegal for authorities to trick someone into a crime.

The defense has argued that sophisticated FBI agents such as Youssef used powerful psychological tools to brainwash a confused teenager, giving him specific instructions on how to plan an attack he wasn’t capable of on his own.

But Youssef said he was simply trying to assess whether Mohamud was truly capable of acting on his violent rhetoric.

In his early meetings with Mohamud, Youssef said he was not sure the young man would go forward with his plans. “I thought it was all talk,” he added.

Ultimately, Youssef and another agent gave Mohamud a fake bomb and a cell-phone detonator, telling him it would kill thousands gathered at a Christmas tree lighting in downtown Portland once he pressed the button.

After Mohamud tried twice to detonate the bomb on November 26, 2010, the FBI arrested him.

The undercover agents’ initial interactions with Mohamud are crucial to the case.

The young man’s fate hinges on whether jurors believe he was already predisposed to violence when agents posing as terrorists approached him and offered help in plotting an attack.

Also testifying in court, the FBI official in charge of the sting operation said authorities were alarmed by Mohamud’s previous interactions with Al-Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan.

US-born Khan was later reportedly killed in the same CIA drone strike that felled radical Yemeni-US cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, previously linked to a US Army major who killed 13 people at a Texas military base, and to a Nigerian student accused of trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on December 25, 2009.

In 2009, Mohamud wrote four articles for a magazine run by Khan called Jihad Recollections, ranging from workout tips for violen extremists to why Europe would be an ideal place for an attack.

At one point, Special Agent Miltiadis Trousas said, Mohamud wanted to include a photo of the burning towers on 9/11 with a story. Khan said it was too violent.

Trousas noted that Mohamud also sought advice from Khan on relationships and faith.

In one instance, according to Trousas, Mohamud asked Khan: “If my family are not following the Islamic law, how am I supposed to obey them?”

Khan advised Mohamud not to live with his family if he could not “persuade them,” Trousas said.

The trial continues this week with more testimony from undercover agents.

 

 

The United States’ Secret Armies Fighting Perpetual War Plunge Us Deeper Into Violence

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Shadow figureOldspeak: “While corporocratic media focuses the U.S. peoples  attention on Willard Romney’s  Birther Joke,  a “Legitmate Rape” scandal and the latest  mass shooting, Obama’s Secret wars are making matters worse for the U.S.  Combined with his remote controlled drone bombing campaigns, they are literally manufacturing ‘terrorists’ and violence.   (This is essential to prosecuting perpetual war.)  Is there any wonder why the terrorism U.S. visits on the world is coming home? Literally manifesting in its citizens, lashing out in violence born of  the effects of corporate consolidation,  job destruction, austerity measures and the hollowing out of  the American economy? “The multitudes of crimes these killers, torturers, kidnappers, propagandists, special operations units and spies have carried out in our name are well known to those outside our gates. There are hundreds of millions of people who have a tragic intimacy with the twisted and brutal soul of American imperialism. Okinawans. Guatemalans. Cubans. Congolese. Brazilians. Argentines. Indonesians. Iranians. Palestinians. Panamanians. Vietnamese. Cambodians. Filipinos. South Koreans. Taiwanese. Nicaraguans. Salvadorans. Afghans. Iraqis. Yemenis. Somalis. They can all tell us who we are, if we can listen. But we do not. We are as ignorant, gullible and naive as children. We celebrate fictitious red-white-and-blue virtues while our clandestine armies, which at times achieve short-term objectives but always finally plunge us deeper into violence, have steadily weakened and discredited the nation as well as the purported values for which it stands.” –Chris HedgesAs the nation grows weaker, so does its ability to resist tyranny. As the nation is directed to focus on an ever-expanding universe of things that don’t really matter, the corporatocracy grows stronger. Further consolidating control over and monitoring more and more aspects of citizens lives. Stripping away ever more rights, protections, avenues of dissent, transparency, accountability, oversight, citizen participation.   The militarization & violence saturation of societies and cultures worldwide continue unabated.  Perpetual secret war is marketed to the people like a reality show as in “Stars Earn Stripes“. While our actual secret wars, supplied its death-dealing machines by the same entities that, bring us this sort of  entertainment (The American TV network NBC and all it’s related outlets are wholly owned subsidiaries of multinational weapons manufacturer General Electric. )When will the people say “ENOUGH”! !When will we reject the violence that consumes the world, get off the Violence-Go-Round, and embrace healing, collaboration, love and peace? It’s the only sure way to change the fate of our planet.  “War Is Peace”. “Ignorance Is Strength”. “Freedom Is Slavery“. Profit Is Paramount.

By Chris Hedges @ Truthout:

A Swedish documentary filmmaker released a film last year called “Last Chapter-Goodbye Nicaragua.”In it he admitted that he unknowingly facilitated a bombing, almost certainly orchestrated by the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, which took the lives of three reporters I worked with in Central America. One of them, Linda Frazier, was the mother of a 10-year-old son. Her legs were torn apart by the blast, at La Penca, Nicaragua, along the border with Costa Rica, in May of 1984. She bled to death as she was being taken to the nearest hospital, in Ciudad Quesada, Costa Rica.

The admission by Peter Torbiornsson that he unwittingly took the bomber with him to the press conference was a window into the sordid world of espionage, terrorism and assassination that was an intimate part of every conflict I covered. It exposed the cynicism of undercover operatives on all sides, men and women who lie and deceive for a living, who betray relationships, including between each other, who steal and who carry out murder. One knows them immediately. Their ideological allegiances do not matter. They have the faraway eyes of the disconnected, along with nebulous histories and suspicious and vague associations. They tell incongruous personal stories and practice small deceits that are part of a pathological inability to tell the truth. They can be personable, even charming, but they are also invariably vain, dishonest and sinister. They cannot be trusted. It does not matter what side they are on. They were all the same. Gangsters.

All states and armed groups recruit and use members of this underclass. These personalities gravitate to intelligence agencies, terrorist cells, homeland security, police departments, the special forces and revolutionary groups where they can live a life freed from moral and legal constraints. Right and wrong are banished from their vocabulary. They disdain the constraints of democracy. They live in this nebulous underworld to satisfy their lusts for power and violence. They have no interest in diplomacy and less in peace. Peace would put them out of business; for them it is simply the temporary absence of war, which they are sure is inevitable. Their job is to use violence to purge the world of evil. And in the United States they have taken as hostages our diplomatic service and our foreign policy establishment. The CIA has become a huge private army, as Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his book “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic,” that is “unaccountable to the Congress, the press or the public because everything it does is secret.” C. Wright Mills called the condition “military metaphysics”-“the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military.”

Since the attacks of 9/11 the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)-which includes the Green Berets, the Army Rangers and the Navy SEALs-has seen its budget quadrupled. There are now some 60,000 USSOCOM operatives, whom the president can dispatch to kill without seeking congressional approval or informing the public. Add to this the growth of intelligence operatives. As Dana Priest and William M. Arkin reported in The Washington Post, “Twenty-four [new intelligence] organizations were created by the end of 2001, including the Office of Homeland Security and the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Task Force. In 2002, 37 more were created to track weapons of mass destruction, collect threat tips, and coordinate the new focus on counterterrorism. That was followed the next year by 36 new organizations; and 26 after that; and 31 more; and 32 more; and 20 or more each in 2007, 2008, and 2009. In all, at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11.”

There are now many thousands of clandestine operatives, nearly all of them armed and equipped with a license to kidnap, torture and kill, working overseas or domestically with little or no oversight and virtually no transparency. We have created a state within a state. A staggering 40 percent of the defense budget is secret, as is the budget of every intelligence agency. I tasted enough of this subterranean world to fear it. When you empower these kinds of people you snuff out the rule of law. You empower criminals and assassins. One of these old CIA operatives, Felix Rodríguez, was in El Salvador when I was there during the war in the early 1980s. He wore Che Guevara’s Rolex watch. He had removed it from Guevara’s body after ordering Guevara to be executed in the Bolivian jungle. I would later run into clandestine operatives in the Middle East, Africa or Yugoslavia I knew from the wars in Central America. We would invariably chat briefly in Spanish. It was a strange fraternity, even if I was the outsider. The Great Game.

These black forces have created as much havoc, or blowback, in the Middle East as they did in Latin America. And by the time they are done there will be so many jihadists willing to blow themselves up to vanquish America, the Islamic radicals will be running out of explosives. These clandestine operatives peddle a self-fulfilling prophecy. They foment the very instability that allows them to continue to proliferate like cockroaches. The dozens of CIA kidnappings-“extraordinary renditions”-of radical Islamists in the late 1990s, especially from the Balkans, many shipped to countries such as Egypt where they were tortured and murdered by our allies, was the fuse that lit the al-Qaida bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the attacks on the Navy destroyer Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden on Oct. 12, 2000. Militant Islamists had publicly vowed reprisals for these renditions.

“Let me tell you about these intelligence guys,” President Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying in Robert M. Gates book “From the Shadows.” “When I was growing up in Texas, we had a cow named Bessie. I’d get her in the stanchion, seat myself, and squeeze out a bail of fresh milk. One day, I’d worked hard and gotten a full pail of milk, but I wasn’t paying attention and old Bessie swung her shit-smeared tail through that bucket of milk. Now, you know, that’s what these intelligence guys do. You work hard and get a good program or policy going, and they swing a shit-smeared tail through it.”

These operatives invariably prey on the useful idiots, those naive idealists who bind themselves to a cause and are oblivious to the evil they serve, or to those simply greedy for money and a little power. Joseph Conrad got it right in “The Secret Agent,” his novel about anarchist revolutionaries who recruit the mentally disabled Stevie to place a bomb at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Al-Qaida repeated this scenario when it convinced Richard Reid, a petty criminal who was challenged mentally, to get on an airplane with a shoe bomb. The CIA is no different. When the CIA could not induce the Chilean army commander, General René Schneider, to overthrow the elected government of Salvador Allende, it recruited Chilean soldiers to assassinate him. The CIA provided submachine guns, ammunition and $50,000 to the group. It shipped the money and weapons from Washington to Santiago in the regular diplomatic pouch and then hand-delivered the cash and guns to the hit men. On the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1970, the killers surrounded Schneider’s car and shot him. He died three days later. Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-orchestrated coup on Sept. 11, 1973. And this is, basically, what happened in the La Penca bombing in Nicaragua in 1984. Torbiornsson, one of those dimwitted “internationalists” who showed up in Managua under the guise of journalism or solidarity, allowed himself to be used by the Sandinista intelligence service. The target of the bombing was the mercurial rebel leader Eden Pastora, once a commander with the Sandinistas who had defected to fight for the U.S.-backed Contras (the CIA found him as unmanageable as the Sandinistas had) before returning to become part of the Sandinista government in Managua. Pastora was wounded in the blast.

I was in El Salvador in May 1984 when Pastora offered to hold a meeting with journalists in La Penca. It was a long way to travel for one story. I decided in the end not to make the trip with my colleagues. It was a decision that may have saved my life.

What none of us knew until Torbiornsson’s admission is that he had been approached by Sandinista intelligence officials and asked to take along a Sandinista spy whose name was supposedly Per Anker Hansen. When the bombing was first investigated, Torbiornsson lied. He told investigators that he had met Hansen, who passed himself off as a Danish photographer, six weeks before the bombing, when they stayed in the same hotel in Costa Rica. Now Torbiornsson concedes he was introduced to Hansen in Managua. He said that though he knew Hansen was a spy he had no inkling he was an assassin.

“It took me a long time to understand that it was my friends who put the bomb,” Torbiornsson told the BBC in speaking of the Sandinistas. “It has been like a wound in my soul. … I cannot emphasize how sorry I am.”

Hansen was, according to an investigation carried out by reporters Juan Tamayo and Doug Vaughn at The Miami Herald, in fact named Vital Roberto Gaguine. He worked clandestinely with the Sandinistas in the 1980s and was a member of the Argentine People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP). He brought and ignited the bomb. He reportedly died in 1989 while carrying out an armed assault with 18 others on army barracks outside Buenos Aires. Enrique Haraldo Gorrioran, who was the commander of the ERP cell in Managua and who ordered the barracks attack, but who did not take part, is reputed to have been a double agent, sending Gaguine and his companions to assured slaughter. He is reportedly living in Brazil from the earnings the revolutionary group made from kidnappings and bank robberies. Trust is exiled in this world. Those who willingly sacrifice others are often themselves sacrificed.

The Newsweek correspondent Susan Morgan, standing in the front, shielded Torbiornsson from the full force of the blast. Morgan suffered serious injuries in one arm, her legs and face. The BBC recently ran a video clip of Morgan confronting the hapless Torbiornsson, who seems still unable to fully understand his culpability.

The killers and the paymasters, the spies and gangsters, the terrorists and jihadists, on all sides of the divide, have grown in numbers to carry out a vast war in the shadows. They are determined to perpetuate the senseless violence and mayhem that are the currency of their profession. And they make peace and diplomacy impossible. That is their goal. Sen. Frank Church in 1975, after chairing a Senate committee investigation into U.S. intelligence activities, defined “covert action” as a “semantic disguise for murder, coercion, blackmail, bribery, the spreading of lies, and consorting with known torturers and international terrorists.”

The multitudes of crimes these killers, torturers, kidnappers, propagandists, special operations units and spies have carried out in our name are well known to those outside our gates. There are hundreds of millions of people who have a tragic intimacy with the twisted and brutal soul of American imperialism. Okinawans. Guatemalans. Cubans. Congolese. Brazilians. Argentines. Indonesians. Iranians. Palestinians. Panamanians. Vietnamese. Cambodians. Filipinos. South Koreans. Taiwanese. Nicaraguans. Salvadorans. Afghans. Iraqis. Yemenis. Somalis. They can all tell us who we are, if we can listen. But we do not. We are as ignorant, gullible and naive as children. We celebrate fictitious red-white-and-blue virtues while our clandestine armies, which at times achieve short-term objectives but always finally plunge us deeper into violence, have steadily weakened and discredited the nation as well as the purported values for which it stands. These clandestine armies travel the globe, awash in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, sowing dragon’s teeth that rise up later, like the warriors in the myth of the Golden Fleece, to become mirror images of our own monstrosities.

U.S. Federal Reserve “Emergency” Bank Bailout Totaled $29 TRILLION Over 3 Years, Most Went To Rescue ‘Shadow Banks’

In Uncategorized on December 19, 2011 at 11:11 am

Oldspeak:$29.616 trillion is the total ’emergency assistance’ provided by the Fed to foreign and domestic international banks, shadow banks, central banks, & some non-financial institutions during the Global Financial Crisis. Shadow banks are highly leveraged financial institutions (largely unregulated and unsupervised) that perform functions historically relegated to the commercial banking system. “They are the infrastructure and practices which support financial transactions that occur beyond the reach of existing state sanctioned monitoring and regulation. It includes entities such as hedge fundsmoney market funds and Structured investment vehicles. Investment banks may conduct much of their business in the shadow banking system (SBS), but they are not SBS institutions themselves. The core activities of investment banks are subject to regulation and monitoring by central banks and other government institutions – but it has been common practice for investment banks to conduct many of their transactions in ways that don’t show up on their conventional balance sheet accounting and so are not visible to regulators.” So Twice the U.S. GDP was given to unregulated and unsupervised bankers who recklessly, irresponsibly and fraudulently gambled with trillions in food, homes, pensions, industries and jobs, after they wrecked the global financial system, and Bernie Madoff is the only guy in jail. And 1 in 2 Americans are poor. Financial oligarchy in action.”

Related Stories:

U.S. Federal Reserve Audit Reveals $16 TRILLION In Secret Loans To Bailout U.S. And Foreign Bankers

Government Accountability Office Federal Reserve Audit Reveals Numerous Intimate Ties To Financial Industry; Disturbing Conflicts Of Interest

Wall Street Aristocracy Got $1.2 Trillion In Secret Loans From Private “Federal” Reserve Bank

Federal Reserve Bank Plans “Social Listening Platform” To Identify “Key Bloggers”, Monitor Billions Of Conversations Online Via Social Media

By  J. Andrew Felkerson @ Alter Net:

Speculation about the Fed’s actions during the financial crisis has made headlines on and off again over the last several years.  The latest drama occurred on November 27 when Bloomberg published an article, “Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress,” which gives an account of the news agency’s struggle to bring to light the details of the Fed’s emergency programs. Bloomberg throws out some very large numbers, revealing that as of March 2009, the Fed lent, spent, or committed $7.77 trillion worth of aid to the financial system and that banks used the low-interest rates charged on these loans to make an estimated $13 billion in income.

On December 6, the Fed struck back, issuing a four page unsigned memo intended to correct recent “egregious errors and mistakes” found in various reports of its emergency lending facilities.  The Fed argues that the “total credit outstanding under liquidity programs was never more than about $1.5 trillion.”  While Bloomberg wasn’t mentioned explicitly in the Fed memo, it was fairly clear to whom the response was directed.  The following day Bloomberg defended its reporting, and the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel came to the Fed’s defense, characterizing Bloomberg’s methodology as a “great story,” but ultimately not “true.”

All this may sound like controversy, but it’s little more than a tempest in a teacup.

Here’s the hurricane: In reality, no less than $29.616 trillion is the total emergency assistance provided by the Fed to foreign and domestic entities during the Global Financial Crisis. Let’s repeat that: $29 trillion. This astounding number is over twice U.S. gross domestic product, the nominal value of all goods and services produced for the year 2010.  This is the total of the bailout as calculated by Nicola Matthews and myself as part of the Ford Foundation project, A Research And Policy Dialogue Project On Improving Governance Of The Government Safety Net In Financial Crisis. We will be presenting the results of our analysis in a series of papers published by the Levy Economics Institute, the first of which, “29,000,000,000,000: A Detailed Look at the Fed’s Bailout by Funding Facility and Recipient,” is already available here.

The results we have calculated are presented below, and it is important to note that the totals are cumulative and in billions of U.S. dollars. (The numbers in parentheses indicate amounts still outstanding as of November 10, 2011).

Facility Total Percent of Total
Term Auction Facility $3,818.41 12.89%
Central Bank Liquidity Swaps 10,057.4(1.96) 33.96
Single Tranche Open Market Operations 855 2.89
Term Securities Lending Facility and Term Options Program 2,005.7 6.77
Bear Stearns Bridge Loan 12.9 0.04
Maiden Lane I 28.82(12.98) 0.10
Primary Dealer Credit Facility 8,950.99 30.22
Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility 217.45 0.73
Commercial Paper Funding Facility 737.07 2.49
Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility 71.09(10.57) 0.24
Agency Mortgage-Backed Security Purchase Program 1,850.14(849.26) 6.25
AIG Revolving Credit Facility 140.316 0.47
AIG Securities Borrowing Facility 802.316 2.71
Maiden Lane II 19.5 (9.33) 0.07
Maiden Lane III 24.3(18.15) 0.08
AIA/ ALICO (AIG) 25 0.08
Totals $29,616.4 100.0%

 

I want to be clear. These are the totals of Fed lending and asset purchases actually undertaken since the bail-out began. There is no double-counting. And we do not include any credit facilities created by the Fed unless they were actually used. These figures accurately reflect the cumulative totals over the approximately three years actually used by the Fed to prop-up domestic and international banks, shadow banks, central banks, and even some non-financial institutions.

Banks in the Shadows

The programs above constitute the crisis prevention machinery rolled out by the Fed to combat the worst financial panic since 1929. All the programs above were designed and implemented to target domestic financial and nonfinancial corporations or foreign central banks or markets, or both. Only one of the facilities, the Term Auction Facility, can be viewed as being consistent with the Fed’s mandate to protect the commercial banking system from systemic failure. The rest are the result of the increasing relevance of the “shadow banking” to our economy—and of the Fed’s attempt to rescue the shadow banking sector.

Shadow banks are highly leveraged financial institutions that perform functions historically relegated to the commercial banking system. It is important to note that these financial concerns do not have access to the conventional means of Fed support. Nor were they ever really regulated or supervised by the Fed. They engaged in extremely risky behavior that in large part led to the global financial crisis. And when it hit, the Fed spent and lent $29 trillion, much of it devoted to rescuing the shadow banking system.

Thus, we see a host of unconventional programs designed to aid these institutions rather than the Fed’s traditional patrons. The information used to calculate the totals above is freely available (thanks in large part to the valiant efforts of a group of lawmakers led by Senator Bernie Sanders) as the result of an amendment inserted into the Dodd Frank bill. Moreover, this information has been freely available since December 10, 2010 on the Fed’s website.

So why didn’t someone else already put the data together in this way?

The Fed’s Secrets

Obviously, $29 trillion is much bigger than the previous estimates of $7.77 trillion (Bloomberg) or $1.5 trillion (the Fed and the Wall Street Journal). An in-depth account of each of the facilities above is a rather lengthy process as the Levy working paper attests. The main difference in our analysis is the variables we identify as essential in understanding the Fed’s response. In our paper we report three measures that we view as critical to capturing the size and magnitude of the bailout. Each of the three measures deals exclusively with programs put into place by the Fed that transcend its conventional “lender of last resort” (LOLR) function. That is, we only include the emergency facilities the Fed created. We agree with the Fed that only facilities which were actually made operational should be considered in any account of the Fed’s actions. But we take the side of Bloomberg regarding the general lack of transparency by the Fed—the Fed fought tooth and nail to keep the details of its programs secret.

At any given moment inspection of the amount owed to the Fed resulting from nonconventional lender of last resort actions provides a reasonable account of what the Fed was doing in the period leading up to that time. However, looking at this number over time and in the context of the weekly amount lent provides insight into how the Fed’s efforts evolved over the run of the crisis. These two approaches to measurement (a “stock” or outstanding balance and a “flow” or cumulated amount spent and lent weekly) only provide us with details regarding the scope of the Fed’s bailout. To get a clear picture we need some account of the magnitude. We believe that this is captured by looking at the cumulative totals of all programs.

Perhaps the largest difference in our analysis is that we learned our money and banking theory from the late Hyman Minsky. He taught us that the modern economy is essentially financial, and as such, is prone to systemic financial crises that if left unchecked can lead to “bone crunching depressions.” Therefore it is essential to have a LOLR. Thus, any transaction between the Fed and the markets which is not part of conventional monetary operations, such as lending from the discount window or open market operations, represents an instance in which private markets were not able to or were unwilling to engage in the normal financial intermediation process. If it any point in time the private markets were capable (or willing) to carry out business as usual, Fed intervention would not have been required. Thus, we need to account for each extraordinary event, and the best way that we know to do this is by summing each instance–which results in a cumulative total of over $29 trillion dollars.

Who does the Fed serve?

A figure as large as $29.616 trillion should not be taken lightly, but focus on the specific magnitude of the figure diverts our attention from a larger issue that is at stake: how should the LOLR responsibility to be discharged in the future? With unemployment remaining persistently high and millions continuing to lose their homes to foreclosure as the result of lost income from a poor economy or outright fraud in the mortgage lending and foreclosure process, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the ability of a single institution staffed by unelected officials to carry out such a targeted commitment of the obligations of the United States citizenry. Thanks to the actions of Senator Sanders and other individuals possessing the temerity to question the authority of the Fed we now have access to much of the data regarding what the Fed did during the recent crisis.

But we still need to go through the data from the past three years of bail-outs to answer the following questions: Who got funds from the Fed? How much did they get? And why did they get them? The Fed has not adequately explained why its emergency lending and asset purchases went on for so long and accumulated to such a large number.

J. Andrew Felkerson is a Interdisciplinary PhD student at the University of Missouri- Kansas City