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

Posts Tagged ‘Secret Evidence’

How Intelligence Was Twisted To Support A U.S. Attack On Syria

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2013 at 3:26 pm
https://i0.wp.com/www.truth-out.org/images/images_2013_09/2013_0903sy_.jpg

In a White House handout photo, President Barack Obama meets with his national security staff to discuss the situation in Syria, in the Situation Room of the White House, in Washington, Aug. 31, 2013. (Photo: Pete Souza / The White House via The New York Times)

Oldspeak: “Disregard Obama Administration propaganda passing as an “intelligence estimate”. It’s bullshit. Very similar to the steaming pile of bullshit that was served up as justification for the illegal war of aggression in Iraq. Distorted, doctored, misleading and secret intelligence that cannot be publicly and independently verified. Nonsense visual evidence of chemical weapons use, in which victims exhibit none of the usual signs of exposure to chemical weapons. Physical evidence collected with no clear chain of custody by U.S. friendly “Syrian Opposition” groups. Open contempt for and attempts to discredit and curtail the investigations of U.N. weapons inspectors, pushing for an attack before independently collected and analyzed to determine what kind of chemical was used and who’s it was. We do not know much of anything for certain as our leaders are leading us to believe. Any so-called “definitive” intelligence is classified. So we’re supposed to trust that our leaders, who’ve repeatedly lied through their teeth on a whole host of issues, are sure “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Syria used chemical weapons?! RIIIIIIGHT…. My thing is, this has ZERO to do with the U.S., it is as Representative Alan Grayson said:

Our responsibilities are not to ignore the United Nations. Our responsibilities are not to ignore NATO or the Arab League. Our responsibility is not to ignore the international court of The Hague. Our responsibility is not to make vague remarks about red lines and to follow them up with equally vague remarks about violating international norms, which is a cover for saying that they have—that the Syrians have not violated international laws.

I’m very disturbed by this general idea, this notion, that every time we see something bad in the world, we should bomb it. And, in fact, the president himself has criticized that mindset, and now he’s adopted it. It’s simply not our responsibility to act alone and punish this. I’ll give you an example. There is substantial evidence right now, which the Russians have chosen to actually present to the United Nations, unlike the United States at this point, of the rebels using poison gas. Are we going to bomb both sides?

The Daily Caller reported in great detail that the report that the administration relied upon, in which the administration said that the Assad government must have been involved in this attack and ordered this attack because afterward one of the Assad generals commented on it, well, according to The Daily Caller, the comment was “We didn’t do this,” or words to that effect. And the administration has—if that’s the case, if that was the comment, the administration has completely mischaracterized it.

And, in fact, as far as I can tell, not a single member of Congress has actually seen the underlying document. What’s been provided to us so far is a four-page unclassified document and, if we bother to go down to the bowels of the congressional facility here, a 12-page classified document. But that classified document cites 300 underlying intelligence reports, none of which have been released to any member of Congress, despite the fact that we all have classified clearance. And I indicated that if there is some possibility that the administration is misleading the public regarding any of those 300 documents, then that has to be dispelled. We can’t go to war by mistake again.

We are three weeks away from the government shutting down. We are five weeks away from the government running out of money. And we’ve already spent two weeks engaged in a subject where almost everyone feels it’s simply not our responsibility. I said on MSNBC recently that the entire U.S. government, both Democratic and Republican, seems to be suffering from a very bad case of attention deficit disorder. We’re not showing any ability to focus on the things that actually matter in the lives of our constituents. And it’s not getting better; it’s getting worse.

Getting worse is Iran vowing to support Syria “to the end”. This situation can very quickly escalate from the proxy war it currently is to a regional firestorm. Do we really want to risk wider death and destruction on a war we can’t afford based on unverified evidence to “send a message”? -OSJ

Related Stories:

To Some, U.S. Case For Syrian Gas Attack Has Too Many Holes

Rep. Alan Grayson on Syria: Congress Should Reject “Warmongering” and Focus on Problems at Home

Russia Says it’s Compiled A 100 Page Report Blaming Syrian Rebels For A Chemical Weapons Attack

By Gareth Porter @ Truthout:

Secretary of State John Kerry assured the public that the Obama administration’s summary of the intelligence on which it is basing the case for military action to punish the Assad regime for an alleged use of chemical weapons was put together with an acute awareness of the fiasco of the 2002 Iraq WMD intelligence estimate.

Nevertheless, the unclassified summary of the intelligence assessment made public August 30, 2013, utilizes misleading language evocative of the infamous Iraq estimate’s deceptive phrasing. The summary cites signals, geospatial and human source intelligence that purportedly show that the Syrian government prepared, carried out and “confirmed” a chemical weapons attack on August 21. And it claims visual evidence “consistent with” a nerve gas attack.

But a careful examination of those claims reveals a series of convolutedly worded characterizations of the intelligence that don’t really mean what they appear to say at first glance.

The document displays multiple indications that the integrity of the assessment process was seriously compromised by using language that distorted the intelligence in ways that would justify an attack on Syria.

Spinning the Secret Intelligence

That pattern was particularly clear in the case of the intelligence gathered by covert means. The summary claims, “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.”

That seems to indicate that U.S. intelligence intercepted such communiations. But former British Ambassador Craig Murray has pointed out on his blog August 31 that the Mount Troodos listening post in Cyprus is used by British and U.S. intelligence to monitor “all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East … ” and that “almost all landline telephone communications in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage [and] picked up on Troodos.”

All intelligence picked by the Troodos listening post is shared between the U.S. and British intelligence, Murray wrote, but no commmunictions such as the ones described in the U.S. intelligence summary were shared with the British Joint Intelligence Organisation.  Murray said a personal contact in U.S. intelligence had told him the reason was that the purported intercept came from the Israelis. The Israeli origin of the intelligence was reported in the U.S. press as well, because an Israeli source apparently leaked it to a German magazine.

The clumsy attempt to pass off intelligence claimed dubiously by the Israelis as a U.S. intercept raises a major question about the integrity of the entire document. The Israelis have an interest in promoting a U.S. attack on Syria, and the authenticity of the alleged intercept cannot be assumed. Murray believes that it is fraudulent.

But even if the intercept is authentic, the description of it in the intelligence summary appears to be misleading. Another description of the same intercept leaked to The Cable by an administration official suggests that the summary’s description is extremely tendentious. The story described those same communications as an exchange of “panicked phone calls” between a Syrian Defense Ministry official and someone in a chemical weapons unit in which the defense ministry official was “demanding answers for [about?] a nerve agent strike.” That description clearly suggests that the Syrian senior official’s questions were prompted by the charges being made on August 21 by opposition sources in Ghouta. The use of the word “panicked”, which slants the interpretation made by readers of the document, may have been added later by an official eager to make the story more compatible with the administration’s policy.

But the main problem with the description is that it doesn’t answer the most obvious and important question about the conversation: Did the purported chemical weapons officer at the other end of the line say that the regime had used chemical weapons or not? If the officer said that such weapons had been used, that would obviously have been the primary point of the report of the intercept. But the summary assessment does not say that, so the reader can reasonably infer that the officer did not make any such admission. The significance of the intercept is, therefore, that an admission of chemicals weapons use was not made.

The carefully chosen wording of the summary – the ministry official was “concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence” – suggests that the official wanted to make sure that UN inspectors would not find evidence of a nerve gas attack. But it could also mean precisely the opposite – that the official wanted the inspectors to be able ascertain that there was no use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in eastern Ghouta. The latter possibility is bolstered by the fact that the regime agreed within 24 hours of the first formal request on August 24 from UN envoy Angela Kane for unimpeded access to eastern Ghouta. As late as Friday, August 23, the UN Department of Safety and Security had not yet decided to give permission to the UN investigators to go into the area because of uncertainties about their safety.

The intelligence summary makes no effort to explain why the regime promptly granted access to the investigators. Another anomaly: the fact that the UN investigators were already present in Damascus, having been initially requested by the Assad regime to look into a gas attack the regime had charged was carried out by the rebels on March 19. The two-page assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Organisation released August 29, pointed to this question:”There is no obvious political or military trigger,” it said, “for regime use of Chemical War on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence of the UN investigating team.”

Another obvious case of a misleading description of intelligence in the summary involves information from US geospatial and signals intelligence purporting to show that the Assad regime was preparing for a chemical attack in the three days prior to August 21. The intelligence summary describes the intelligence as follows: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.”

That seems like damning evidence at first glance. However, despite the use of the term “operating,” the US intelligence had no information about the actual activities of the individual or individuals being tracked through geospatial and signals intelligence. When administration officials leaked the information to CBS news last week, they conceded that the presence of the individual being tracked in the area in question had been viewed at the time as “nothing out of the ordinary.”

Yet, after the August 21 event, the same information was suddenly transformed into “evidence” that supports the official line. The summary refers to “streams of human signals and geospatial intelligence that revealed regime activities that we assessed were associated with preparations for a chemical attack.” Thus the same information that provided no indication of “preparations” was now presented as though it included knowledge of some “activities” somehow related to getting ready for chemical warfare.

A third piece of intelligence cited in the summary – unsourced but presumably from an intelligence agent – might seem to denote the intent to carry out a chemical weapons attack. However, the wording is slippery. “On August 21,” the document says, “a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks.” That intelligence, if accurate, doesn’t establish an intent by the government to carry out an attack; it could conversely suggest the government’s anticipation of a chemical attack by the rebels. The intelligence’s language is ambiguous; it contains no certainty that the chemical weapons attack for which the regime was preparing was one it intended to initiate itself.

Behind the Uncertainty on “Nerve Gas”

The intelligence summary includes a notable indication that the intelligence community was far from convinced that nerve gas had been used August 21.

The summary said the intelligence community had “high confidence” that the government had carried out a “chemical weapons attack,” and added, “We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack.” The fact that a separate sentence was used to characterize the assessment of the nerve agent issue and that it did not indicate any level of confidence is a signal that the intelligence community does not have much confidence in the assessment that nerve gas was used, according to a former senior US intelligence official who insisted on anonymity. The former official told Truthout that the choice of wording actually means the intelligence analysts “do not know” if nerve gas was used.

The summary includes yet another sign of the analysts’ lack of confidence that nerve gas was used, which was equally well-disguised. “We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack,” it said, “many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure.” Unless it is read carefully, the use of the word “bodies” – meaning corpses – instead of “victims” might be missed. But why would the intelligence community be focused on how many “bodies” – meaning corpses – exhibit particular “physical signs” when the far more relevant indicator of nerve gas would the number of “victims” exhibiting certain symptoms?

That strange choice averts acknowledgement of a fundamental problem for the intelligence community: Most of the alleged victims being shown in the videos posted online do not show symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agent. Corpses without any sign of wounds, on the other hand, would be “consistent” with a nerve agent attack.

The symptoms of a nerve agent attack are clear-cut: Soon after initial symptoms of tightness of chest, pinpoint pupils and running nose, the victim begins to vomit and to defecate and urinate uncontrollably, followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms. The symptoms shown in dozens of videos of victims being treated in medical centers in Ghouta, however, are quite different. In an interview with Truthout, Dan Kaszeta, a specialist on chemical, biological and radiological weapons who has advised the White House on those issues, pointed out that a nerve gas attack would have been accompanied by a pattern of symptoms that are not shown in the videos posted online. “There should be more or less universal vomiting,” Kaszeta said. But he did not see any vomiting or evidence of such vomiting on the clothing or on the floor in any of the videos he saw. Stephen G. Johnson, a chemical weapons forensics expert at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, noticed the same thing. “Why aren’t more people vomiting?” he asked Truthout in an interview.

A number of specialists, including Kaszeta and Johnson, also noticed that personnel were shown handling the victims without any special protective clothing but not exhibiting any symptoms themselves. Paula Vanninen, director of the Finnish Institute for Verification of Chemical Weapons, and Gwynn Winfield, the editor of CBRNe World, a magazine specializing in chemical weapons, made the same point in interviews with AFP on August 21. The only evidence of such effects is secondhand at best: Statements issued the following day by both the spokesman for the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, Khaled Saleh, and the spokesman for its Washington, DC, arm, the Syrian Support Group, said that doctors and “first responders” had reported that they were suffering symptoms of neurotoxic poisoning. Saleh claimed that at least six doctors had died.

Experts noticed yet another anomaly: The number of those treated who survived far outnumbered the dead, contrary to what would be expected in a nerve gas attack. Dr. Ghazwan Bwidany told CBS news August 24 that his mobile medical unit had treated 900 people after the attack and that 70 had died. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that 3,600 patients had been treated at hospitals in the area of the attack and that 355 had died. Such ratios of survivors to dead were the opposite of what chemical weapons specialists would have expected from a nerve gas attack. Kaszeta told Truthout that the “most nagging doubt” he had about the assumption that a nerve gas attack had taken place is the roughly 10-to-1 ratio of total number treated to the dead. “The proportions are all wrong,” he said. “There should be more dead people.” Johnson agreed. In an actual nerve gas attack, he said, “You’d get some survivors, but it would be very low. This [is] a very low level of lethality.”

These multiple anomalies prompted some specialists to come up with the theory that the government had somehow diluted the nerve gas to make it less detectable and thus made it less lethal. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the chemical biological and nuclear terrorism unit in the UK Ministry of Defense, told USA Today August 23 that the absence of symptoms associated with nerve gas attack might be explainable by a “low dose” chemical weapons attack.

Three days later, Winfield wrote in an article for CNN that the symptoms seen in the videos indicated “lower toxicity” than was associated with nerve agents. Winfield suggested that nerve agent might have been mixed with other substances that were likely to remain in the environment longer than a nerve agent such as sarin.

But Kaszeta cast doubt on the idea of a “low dose” nerve agent being used. In an interview with blogger Eliot Higgins, who specializes in weapons associated with the Syrian conflict under the name Brown Moses, he said, “There’s not much leeway between the incapacitating doses and lethal doses with Sarin.” The concentration causing any symptoms at all, he said, “would quickly lead to absorption of a lethal dose.”

Case Not Closed

If it wasn’t a nerve gas attack, then, what other chemical weapon could have produced the symptoms exhibited in the videos? In an analysis on the Strongpoint Security website, Kaszeta considered each known type of chemical weapon in turn and concluded that the symptoms exhibited in the videos were not consistent with those associated with any of them. And as Kaszeta told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the fact that none of the people treating casualties were suffering obvious symptoms “would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons. … ”

Instead of addressing the issue, the intelligence community opted to accept information about the numbers and the cause of death provided by sources that were presumably subject to the influence of opposition forces in the area. The intelligence summary cites a “preliminary U.S. government assessment” that 1,429 people were killed by chemical weapons, including “at least 426 children.” It provides no indication of how the analysts arrived at such a precise estimate, which is highly unusual for an intelligence assessment. The normal practice in arriving at such an estimate is to give a range of figures reflecting different data sources as well as assumptions.

The intelligence community’s main center for analyzing all issues relating to weapons of mass destruction is the CIA’s Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) Center. It is the same center that tilted the 2002 Iraq estimate toward conclusions that were not supported by technical facts. As the Robb-Silverman report on the Iraq WMD intelligence fiasco pointed out, intelligence analysts at WINPAC explained to the staff privately that they had reversed the normal intelligence analysis burden of proof and operated on the assumption that Iraq did have WMD programs.

That dynamic seems to have re-emerged in the case of Syrian chemical weapons, especially with the appearance of hundreds of videos containing highly emotive scenes of children suffering and, in many cases, already having died. The contradiction between the emotionally charged visual evidence and the technical analysis by chemical weapons specialists, however, poses an unresolved issue. The uncertainty about what actually happened on August 21 can be resolved only on the basis of actual blood samples from victims who have been gathered by the UN inspectors and are now being analyzed in European laboratories.

Both Médecins Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch issued statements citing statistics and descriptions of symptoms provided by local medical personnel and, in the case of Human Rights Watch, local activists and other contacts. However Human Rights Watch acting Middle East Director Joe Stork stated, “The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is let the UN inspectors in.”

Médecins Sans Frontières made it clear in its original August 24 statement that it could not confirm the figure of 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms,” because its own staff did not have access to the medical facilities in question. And in an August 28 statement, the organization said scientific confirmation of the toxic agent was required, and that the data it had been given could not be a “substitute for the [UN] investigation.”

But the advocates of an attack on Syria within the Obama administration have not demonstrated a willingness to rely on the definitive evidence from the UN investigators. Instead, they have evinced a strong hostility toward the UN investigation ever since the Syrian government agreed to allow it unimpeded access to the locations where chemical attacks were alleged. National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent an e-mail to key officials August 25 asserting that the UN investigation was pointless.

Since then, administration officials have dismissed the UN investigation as representing a Syrian political tactic. Kerry claimed in his statement Friday that when the UN inspections were “finally given access, that access – as we now know – was restricted and controlled.”

But Farhan Haq, the associate spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has been getting regular reports from the UN team on its work in Syria, told Truthout that he was unaware of any restrictions on the team’s work.

The Obama administration has made it clear it does not intend to rely on the UN investigation’s findings. Kerry declared on Sunday that samples of blood and hair from medical personnel in eastern Ghouta had been found to contain traces of sarin nerve gas.

However, those samples did not go through the UN investigators, but were smuggled out of Syria by opposition activists. The spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme National Council, Khaled Saleh, had announced August 22 that “activists” had collected their own hair, blood and soil samples and were smuggling them out of the country.

The Obama administration had obtained physiological samples related to previous alleged nerve gas attacks, which had tested positive for sarin, but administration officials had insisted that, without being certain of the chain of custody, “they couldn’t be sure who had handled those samples,” as one official put it.

Despite the knowledge that samples lacking a clear chain of custody could have been tampered with, however, the administration began to disregard that key factor in June. It adopted a policy of accepting such samples as evidence of government guilt, on the argument, as one official explained, “It’s impossible that the opposition is faking the stuff in so many instances in so many locations.”

That policy shift is part of the undeclared framework in which the intelligence assessment was carried out.

Regardless of what evidence emerges in coming weeks, we would do well to note the inconsistencies and misleading language contained in the assessment, bearing in mind the consequences of utilizing ambiguous intelligence to justify an act of war.

Secretary of State John Kerry assured the public that the Obama administration’s summary of the intelligence on which it is basing the case for military action to punish the Assad regime for an alleged use of chemical weapons was put together with an acute awareness of the fiasco of the 2002 Iraq WMD intelligence estimate.  

Nevertheless, the unclassified summary of the intelligence assessment made public August 30, 2013, utilizes misleading language evocative of the infamous Iraq estimate’s deceptive phrasing. The summary cites signals, geospatial and human source intelligence that purportedly show that the Syrian government prepared, carried out and “confirmed” a chemical weapons attack on August 21. And it claims visual evidence “consistent with” a nerve gas attack.  

But a careful examination of those claims reveals a series of convolutedly worded characterizations of the intelligence that don’t really mean what they appear to say at first glance.  

The document displays multiple indications that the integrity of the assessment process was seriously compromised by using language that distorted the intelligence in ways that would justify an attack on Syria.

Spinning the Secret Intelligence

That pattern was particularly clear in the case of the intelligence gathered by covert means. The summary claims, “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence.”

That seems to indicate that U.S. intelligence intercepted such communiations. But former British Ambassador Craig Murray has pointed out on his blog August 31 that the Mount Troodos listening post in Cyprus is used by British and U.S. intelligence to monitor “all radio, satellite and microwave traffic across the Middle East … ” and that “almost all landline telephone communications in this region is routed through microwave links at some stage [and] picked up on Troodos.”

All intelligence picked by the Troodos listening post is shared between the U.S. and British intelligence, Murray wrote, but no commmunictions such as the ones described in the U.S. intelligence summary were shared with the British Joint Intelligence Organisation.  Murray said a personal contact in U.S. intelligence had told him the reason was that the purported intercept came from the Israelis. The Israeli origin of the intelligence was reported in the U.S. press as well, because an Israeli source apparently leaked it to a German magazine.

The clumsy attempt to pass off intelligence claimed dubiously by the Israelis as a U.S. intercept raises a major question about the integrity of the entire document. The Israelis have an interest in promoting a U.S. attack on Syria, and the authenticity of the alleged intercept cannot be assumed. Murray believes that it is fraudulent.

But even if the intercept is authentic, the description of it in the intelligence summary appears to be misleading. Another description of the same intercept leaked to The Cable by an administration official suggests that the summary’s description is extremely tendentious. The story described those same communications as an exchange of “panicked phone calls” between a Syrian Defense Ministry official and someone in a chemical weapons unit in which the defense ministry official was “demanding answers for [about?] a nerve agent strike.” That description clearly suggests that the Syrian senior official’s questions were prompted by the charges being made on August 21 by opposition sources in Ghouta. The use of the word “panicked”, which slants the interpretation made by readers of the document, may have been added later by an official eager to make the story more compatible with the administration’s policy.

But the main problem with the description is that it doesn’t answer the most obvious and important question about the conversation: Did the purported chemical weapons officer at the other end of the line say that the regime had used chemical weapons or not? If the officer said that such weapons had been used, that would obviously have been the primary point of the report of the intercept. But the summary assessment does not say that, so the reader can reasonably infer that the officer did not make any such admission. The significance of the intercept is, therefore, that an admission of chemicals weapons use was not made.

The carefully chosen wording of the summary – the ministry official was “concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence” – suggests that the official wanted to make sure that UN inspectors would not find evidence of a nerve gas attack. But it could also mean precisely the opposite – that the official wanted the inspectors to be able ascertain that there was no use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in eastern Ghouta. The latter possibility is bolstered by the fact that the regime agreed within 24 hours of the first formal request on August 24 from UN envoy Angela Kane for unimpeded access to eastern Ghouta. As late as Friday, August 23, the UN Department of Safety and Security had not yet decided to give permission to the UN investigators to go into the area because of uncertainties about their safety.

The intelligence summary makes no effort to explain why the regime promptly granted access to the investigators. Another anomaly: the fact that the UN investigators were already present in Damascus, having been initially requested by the Assad regime to look into a gas attack the regime had charged was carried out by the rebels on March 19. The two-page assessment by the British Joint Intelligence Organisation released August 29, pointed to this question:”There is no obvious political or military trigger,” it said, “for regime use of Chemical War on an apparently larger scale now, particularly given the current presence of the UN investigating team.”

Another obvious case of a misleading description of intelligence in the summary involves information from US geospatial and signals intelligence purporting to show that the Assad regime was preparing for a chemical attack in the three days prior to August 21. The intelligence summary describes the intelligence as follows: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.”  

That seems like damning evidence at first glance. However, despite the use of the term “operating,” the US intelligence had no information about the actual activities of the individual or individuals being tracked through geospatial and signals intelligence. When administration officials leaked the information to CBS news last week, they conceded that the presence of the individual being tracked in the area in question had been viewed at the time as “nothing out of the ordinary.

Yet, after the August 21 event, the same information was suddenly transformed into “evidence” that supports the official line. The summary refers to “streams of human signals and geospatial intelligence that revealed regime activities that we assessed were associated with preparations for a chemical attack.” Thus the same information that provided no indication of “preparations” was now presented as though it included knowledge of some “activities” somehow related to getting ready for chemical warfare.  

A third piece of intelligence cited in the summary – unsourced but presumably from an intelligence agent – might seem to denote the intent to carry out a chemical weapons attack. However, the wording is slippery. “On August 21,” the document says, “a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks.” That intelligence, if accurate, doesn’t establish an intent by the government to carry out an attack; it could conversely suggest the government’s anticipation of a chemical attack by the rebels. The intelligence’s language is ambiguous; it contains no certainty that the chemical weapons attack for which the regime was preparing was one it intended to initiate itself.

Behind the Uncertainty on “Nerve Gas” 

The intelligence summary includes a notable indication that the intelligence community was far from convinced that nerve gas had been used August 21.  

The summary said the intelligence community had “high confidence” that the government had carried out a “chemical weapons attack,” and added, “We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack.” The fact that a separate sentence was used to characterize the assessment of the nerve agent issue and that it did not indicate any level of confidence is a signal that the intelligence community does not have much confidence in the assessment that nerve gas was used, according to a former senior US intelligence official who insisted on anonymity. The former official told Truthout that the choice of wording actually means the intelligence analysts “do not know” if nerve gas was used.  

The summary includes yet another sign of the analysts’ lack of confidence that nerve gas was used, which was equally well-disguised. “We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack,” it said, “many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure.” Unless it is read carefully, the use of the word “bodies” – meaning corpses – instead of “victims” might be missed. But why would the intelligence community be focused on how many “bodies” – meaning corpses – exhibit particular “physical signs” when the far more relevant indicator of nerve gas would the number of “victims” exhibiting certain symptoms?  

That strange choice averts acknowledgement of a fundamental problem for the intelligence community: Most of the alleged victims being shown in the videos posted online do not show symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agent. Corpses without any sign of wounds, on the other hand, would be “consistent” with a nerve agent attack.  

The symptoms of a nerve agent attack are clear-cut: Soon after initial symptoms of tightness of chest, pinpoint pupils and running nose, the victim begins to vomit and to defecate and urinate uncontrollably, followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms. The symptoms shown in dozens of videos of victims being treated in medical centers in Ghouta, however, are quite different. In an interview with Truthout, Dan Kaszeta, a specialist on chemical, biological and radiological weapons who has advised the White House on those issues, pointed out that a nerve gas attack would have been accompanied by a pattern of symptoms that are not shown in the videos posted online. “There should be more or less universal vomiting,” Kaszeta said. But he did not see any vomiting or evidence of such vomiting on the clothing or on the floor in any of the videos he saw. Stephen G. Johnson, a chemical weapons forensics expert at Cranfield University in the United Kingdom, noticed the same thing. “Why aren’t more people vomiting?” he asked Truthout in an interview.  

A number of specialists, including Kaszeta and Johnson, also noticed that personnel were shown handling the victims without any special protective clothing but not exhibiting any symptoms themselves. Paula Vanninen, director of the Finnish Institute for Verification of Chemical Weapons, and Gwynn Winfield, the editor of CBRNe World, a magazine specializing in chemical weapons, made the same point in interviews with AFP on August 21. The only evidence of such effects is secondhand at best: Statements issued the following day by both the spokesman for the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, Khaled Saleh, and the spokesman for its Washington, DC, arm, the Syrian Support Group, said that doctors and “first responders” had reported that they were suffering symptoms of neurotoxic poisoning. Saleh claimed that at least six doctors had died. 

Experts noticed yet another anomaly: The number of those treated who survived far outnumbered the dead, contrary to what would be expected in a nerve gas attack. Dr. Ghazwan Bwidany told CBS news August 24 that his mobile medical unit had treated 900 people after the attack and that 70 had died. Medecins Sans Frontieres reported that 3,600 patients had been treated at hospitals in the area of the attack and that 355 had died. Such ratios of survivors to dead were the opposite of what chemical weapons specialists would have expected from a nerve gas attack. Kaszeta told Truthout that the “most nagging doubt” he had about the assumption that a nerve gas attack had taken place is the roughly 10-to-1 ratio of total number treated to the dead. “The proportions are all wrong,” he said. “There should be more dead people.” Johnson agreed. In an actual nerve gas attack, he said, “You’d get some survivors, but it would be very low. This [is] a very low level of lethality.”

These multiple anomalies prompted some specialists to come up with the theory that the government had somehow diluted the nerve gas to make it less detectable and thus made it less lethal. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the chemical biological and nuclear terrorism unit in the UK Ministry of Defense, told USA Today August 23 that the absence of symptoms associated with nerve gas attack might be explainable by a “low dose” chemical weapons attack.  

Three days later, Winfield wrote in an article for CNN that the symptoms seen in the videos indicated “lower toxicity” than was associated with nerve agents. Winfield suggested that nerve agent might have been mixed with other substances that were likely to remain in the environment longer than a nerve agent such as sarin. 

But Kaszeta cast doubt on the idea of a “low dose” nerve agent being used. In an interview with blogger Eliot Higgins, who specializes in weapons associated with the Syrian conflict under the name Brown Moses, he said, “There’s not much leeway between the incapacitating doses and lethal doses with Sarin.” The concentration causing any symptoms at all, he said, “would quickly lead to absorption of a lethal dose.” 

Case Not Closed 

If it wasn’t a nerve gas attack, then, what other chemical weapon could have produced the symptoms exhibited in the videos? In an analysis on the Strongpoint Security website, Kaszeta considered each known type of chemical weapon in turn and concluded that the symptoms exhibited in the videos were not consistent with those associated with any of them. And as Kaszeta told the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, the fact that none of the people treating casualties were suffering obvious symptoms “would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons. … “ 

Instead of addressing the issue, the intelligence community opted to accept information about the numbers and the cause of death provided by sources that were presumably subject to the influence of opposition forces in the area. The intelligence summary cites a “preliminary U.S. government assessment” that 1,429 people were killed by chemical weapons, including “at least 426 children.” It provides no indication of how the analysts arrived at such a precise estimate, which is highly unusual for an intelligence assessment. The normal practice in arriving at such an estimate is to give a range of figures reflecting different data sources as well as assumptions.

The intelligence community’s main center for analyzing all issues relating to weapons of mass destruction is the CIA’s Office of Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) Center. It is the same center that tilted the 2002 Iraq estimate toward conclusions that were not supported by technical facts. As the Robb-Silverman report on the Iraq WMD intelligence fiasco pointed out, intelligence analysts at WINPAC explained to the staff privately that they had reversed the normal intelligence analysis burden of proof and operated on the assumption that Iraq did have WMD programs.

That dynamic seems to have re-emerged in the case of Syrian chemical weapons, especially with the appearance of hundreds of videos containing highly emotive scenes of children suffering and, in many cases, already having died. The contradiction between the emotionally charged visual evidence and the technical analysis by chemical weapons specialists, however, poses an unresolved issue. The uncertainty about what actually happened on August 21 can be resolved only on the basis of actual blood samples from victims who have been gathered by the UN inspectors and are now being analyzed in European laboratories.

Both Médecins Sans Frontières and Human Rights Watch issued statements citing statistics and descriptions of symptoms provided by local medical personnel and, in the case of Human Rights Watch, local activists and other contacts. However Human Rights Watch acting Middle East Director Joe Stork stated, “The only way to find out what really happened in Ghouta is let the UN inspectors in.”

Médecins Sans Frontières made it clear in its original August 24 statement that it could not confirm the figure of 3,600 patients with “neurotoxic symptoms,” because its own staff did not have access to the medical facilities in question. And in an August 28 statement, the organization said scientific confirmation of the toxic agent was required, and that the data it had been given could not be a “substitute for the [UN] investigation.”

But the advocates of an attack on Syria within the Obama administration have not demonstrated a willingness to rely on the definitive evidence from the UN investigators. Instead, they have evinced a strong hostility toward the UN investigation ever since the Syrian government agreed to allow it unimpeded access to the locations where chemical attacks were alleged. National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent an e-mail to key officials August 25 asserting that the UN investigation was pointless.

Since then, administration officials have dismissed the UN investigation as representing a Syrian political tactic. Kerry claimed in his statement Friday that when the UN inspections were “finally given access, that access – as we now know – was restricted and controlled.”  

But Farhan Haq, the associate spokesperson for Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who has been getting regular reports from the UN team on its work in Syria, told Truthout that he was unaware of any restrictions on the team’s work.

The Obama administration has made it clear it does not intend to rely on the UN investigation’s findings. Kerry declared on Sunday that samples of blood and hair from medical personnel in eastern Ghouta had been found to contain traces of sarin nerve gas.

However, those samples did not go through the UN investigators, but were smuggled out of Syria by opposition activists. The spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Supreme National Council, Khaled Saleh, had announced August 22 that “activists” had collected their own hair, blood and soil samples and were smuggling them out of the country.

The Obama administration had obtained physiological samples related to previous alleged nerve gas attacks, which had tested positive for sarin, but administration officials had insisted that, without being certain of the chain of custody, “they couldn’t be sure who had handled those samples,” as one official put it.

Despite the knowledge that samples lacking a clear chain of custody could have been tampered with, however, the administration began to disregard that key factor in June. It adopted a policy of accepting such samples as evidence of government guilt, on the argument, as one official explained, “It’s impossible that the opposition is faking the stuff in so many instances in so many locations.”

That policy shift is part of the undeclared framework in which the intelligence assessment was carried out.

Regardless of what evidence emerges in coming weeks, we would do well to note the inconsistencies and misleading language contained in the assessment, bearing in mind the consequences of utilizing ambiguous intelligence to justify an act of war.

Emergency “Continuity Of Government” Plans Currently In Effect Suspend Normal Laws & Legal Process: Is This The REAL Reason For Government Spying On Americans?

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

https://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/be4f0-shadow_govt_logo.jpgOldspeak: “The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present… That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also… Simply by proclaiming a national emergency… President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law… Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.”  –Washington’s Blog

“Viewed in the context of the government behaviours being exhibited: Indefinite detention, summary executive order executions,  general contempt for,  zealous prosecution of and jailing of journalists, suppression of dissent, state censorship, suspended rights to petition, assemble & speak, state propaganda, compromised system checks and balances, constant mass surveillance; this makes a lot of sense. We’re in living under a form of stealth martial law. How else would our government feel justified and within the law to do enact all these extra-constitutional measures? The “threat of terrorism” has been used to activate hundreds of little known “emergency” legal provisions. Without debate in pubic or  knowledge of the public… Why are we not entitled to know about our Shadow Government that seems to be making so much secret & anti-democratic policy?” –OSJ

By Washington’s Blog:

Are Emergency Plans Meant Only for Nuclear War the Real Justification for Spying?

To understand the scope and extent of government spying on all Americans – and the reasons for such spying – you have to understand what has happened to our Constitutional form of government since 9/11.

State of Emergency

The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present. Specifically, on September 11, 2001, the government declared a state of emergency. That declared state of emergency was formally put in writing on 9/14/2001:

A national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, I hereby declare that the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001 . . .

That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also.

For example, on September 9, 2011, President Obama declared:

CONTINUATION OF NATIONAL EMERGENCY DECLARED BY PROC. NO. 7463

Notice of President of the United States, dated Sept. 9, 2011, 76 F.R. 56633, provided:

Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency previously declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of
further attacks on the United States.

Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities
adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect
beyond September 14, 2011. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency that was declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and
transmitted to the Congress.

The Washington Times wrote on September 18, 2001:

Simply by proclaiming a national emergency on Friday, President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law.

The White House has kept substantial information concerning its presidential proclamations and directives hidden from Congress. For example, according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy:

Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.

Continuity of Government

Continuity of Government (“COG”) measures were implemented on 9/11. For example, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, at page 38:

At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The White House requested (1) the implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.

Likewise, page 326 of the Report states:

The secretary of defense directed the nation’s armed forces to Defense Condition 3, an increased state of military readiness. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the country. Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented.

The Washington Post notes that Vice President Dick Cheney initiated the COG plan on 9/11:

From the bunker, Cheney officially implemented the emergency continuity of government orders . . .

(See also footnotes cited therein and this webpage.)

CNN reported that – 6 months later – the plans were still in place:

Because Bush has decided to leave the operation in place, agencies including the White House and top civilian Cabinet departments have rotated personnel involved, and are discussing ways to staff such a contingency operation under the assumption it will be in place indefinitely, this official said.

Similarly, the Washington Post reported in March 2002 that “the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution.” The same article goes on to state:

Assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White House to remake the program as a permanent feature of ‘the new reality, based on what the threat looks like,’ a senior decisionmaker said.

As CBS pointed out, virtually none of the Congressional leadership knew that the COG had been implemented or was still in existence as of March 2002:

Key congressional leaders say they didn’t know President Bush had established a “shadow government,” moving dozens of senior civilian managers to secret underground locations outside Washington to ensure that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack on the nation’s capital, The Washington Post says in its Saturday editions.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told the Post he had not been informed by the White House about the role, location or even the existence of the shadow government that the administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he was also unaware of the administration’s move.

Among Congress’s GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said they were not sure whether they knew.

Aides to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.

Similarly, the above-cited CNN article states:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Friday he can’t say much about the plan.

“We have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and when they would kick in, but we look forward to work with the administration to get additional information on that.”

Indeed, the White House has specifically refused to share information about Continuity of Government plans with the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress, even though that Committee has proper security clearance to hear the full details of all COG plans.

Specifically, in the summer 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, on the Homeland Security Committee (and so with proper security access to be briefed on COG issues), inquired about continuity of government plans, and was refused access. Indeed, DeFazio told Congress that the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress has been denied access to the plans by the White House.

(Or here is the transcript).

The Homeland Security Committee has full clearance to view all information about COG plans.

DeFazio concluded: “Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right”.

University of California Berkeley Professor Emeritus Peter Dale Scott points out that – whether or not COG plans are still in effect – the refusal of the executive branch to disclose their details to Congress means that the Constitutional system of checks and balances has already been gravely injured:

If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing.

To put it another way, if the White House is successful in frustrating DeFazio, then Continuity of Government planning has arguably already superseded the Constitution as a higher authority.

Indeed, continuity of government plans are specifically defined to do the following:

  • Top leaders of the “new government” called for in the COG would entirely or largely go into hiding, and would govern in hidden locations
  • Those within the new government would know what was going on. But those in the “old government” – that is, the one created by the framers of the Constitution – would not necessarily know the details of what was happening
  • Normal laws and legal processes might largely be suspended, or superseded by secretive judicial forums
  • The media might be ordered by strict laws – punishable by treason – to only promote stories authorized by the new government

See this, this and this.

Could the White House have maintained COG operations to the present day?

I don’t know, but the following section from the above-cited CNN article is not very reassuring:

Bush triggered the precautions in the hours after the September 11 strikes, and has left them in place because of continuing U.S. intelligence suggesting a possible threat.

Concerns that al Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear device “were a major factor” in the president’s decision, the official said. “The threat of some form of catastrophic event is the trigger,” this official said.

This same official went on to say that the U.S. had no confirmation — “and no solid evidence” — that al Qaeda had such a nuclear device and also acknowledged that the “consensus” among top U.S. officials was that the prospect was “quite low.”

Still, the officials said Bush and other top White House officials including Cheney were adamant that the government take precautions designed to make sure government functions ranging from civil defense to transportation and agricultural production could be managed in the event Washington was the target of a major strike.

As is apparent from a brief review of the news, the government has, since 9/11, continuously stated that there is a terrorist threat of a nuclear device or dirty bomb. That alone infers that COG plans could, hypothetically, still be in effect, just like the state of emergency is still in effect and has never been listed.

Indeed,  President Bush said on December 17, 2005, 4 years after 9/11:

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.

The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.

And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.

The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days. Each review is based on a fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government and the threat of catastrophic damage to our homeland.

During each assessment, previous activities under the authorization are reviewed. The review includes approval by our nation’s top legal officials, including the attorney general and the counsel to the president.

I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks [45 days times 30 equals approximately 4 years] and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from Al Qaeda and related groups.

The N.S.A.’s activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and N.S.A.’s top legal officials, including N.S.A.’s general counsel and inspector general.

In other words, it appears that as of December 2005, COG plans had never been rescincded, but had been continously renewed every 45 days.

In 2008, Tim Shorrock wrote at Salon:

A contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance [more on Main Core below]. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”

In 2007, President Bush issued Presidential Directive NSPD-51, which purported to change Continuity of Government plans. NSPD51 is odd because:

Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the President may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or to any ‘other condition.’ Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new Presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate.

  • As a reporter for Slate concluded after analyzing NSPD-51:

I see nothing in the [COG document entitled presidential directive NSPD51] to prevent even a “localized” forest fire or hurricane from giving the president the right to throw long-established constitutional government out the window

  • White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that “because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of [Continuity of Government] plans”

This is all the more bizarre when you realize that COG plans were originally created solely to respond to a decapitating nuclear strike which killed our civilian leaders.   (It was subsequently expanded decades before 9/11 into a multi-purpose plan by our good friends Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. See this, this and this.)

Does COG Explain the Pervasive Spying on Americans?

5 years ago, investigative reporter Christopher Ketcham disclosed the spying which was confirmed last week by  whistleblower Edward Snowden:

The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.

Given that Ketcham was proven right, let’s see what else he reported:

Given that Ketcham was right about the basics, let’s hear what else the outstanding investigative journalist said in 2008:

There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”

***

According to one news report, even “national opposition to U.S. military invasion abroad” could be a trigger [for martial law ].

***

When COG plans are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts, and married to an overreaching surveillance state—as seems to be the case with Main Core—even sober observers must weigh whether the protections put in place by the federal government are becoming more dangerous to America than any outside threat.

Another well-informed source—a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community—says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools.

***

A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor antiwar protesters and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.

***

If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.

A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, [current nominee to head the FBI, and former Deputy Attorney General] James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used “to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time.” [Snowden and high-level NSA whistleblower William Binney have since confirmed this] …. A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: “Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that ‘Main Core’ database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project.”

***

The veteran CIA intelligence analyst notes that Comey’s suggestion that the offending elements of the program were dropped could be misleading: “Bush [may have gone ahead and] signed it as a National Intelligence Finding anyway.” But even if we never face a national emergency, the mere existence of the database is a matter of concern. “The capacity for future use of this information against the American people is so great as to be virtually unfathomable,” the senior government official says.

In any case, mass watch lists of domestic citizens may do nothing to make us safer from terrorism. Jeff Jonas, chief scientist at IBM, a world-renowned expert in data mining, contends that such efforts won’t prevent terrorist conspiracies. “Because there is so little historical terrorist event data,” Jonas tells Radar, “there is not enough volume to create precise predictions.”

***

[J. Edgar Hoover’s] FBI “security index” was allegedly maintained and updated into the 1980s, when it was reportedly transferred to the control of none other than FEMA (though the FBI denied this at the time).

FEMA, however—then known as the Federal Preparedness Agency—already had its own domestic surveillance system in place, according to a 1975 investigation by Senator John V. Tunney of California. Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and the inspiration for Robert Redford’s character in the film The Candidate, found that the agency maintained electronic dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans that contained information gleaned from wide-ranging computerized surveillance. The database was located in the agency’s secret underground city at Mount Weather, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. [One of the main headquarter of COG operations.] The senator’s findings were confirmed in a 1976 investigation by the Progressive magazine, which found that the Mount Weather computers “can obtain millions of pieces [of] information on the personal lives of American citizens by tapping the data stored at any of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers”—a reference to other classified facilities. According to the Progressive, Mount Weather’s databases were run “without any set of stated rules or regulations. Its surveillance program remains secret even from the leaders of the House and the Senate.”

***

Wired magazine turned up additional damaging information, revealing in 1993 that [Oliver] North, operating from a secure White House site, allegedly employed a software database program called PROMIS (ostensibly as part of the REX 84 plan). PROMIS, which has a strange and controversial history, was designed to track individuals—prisoners, for example—by pulling together information from disparate databases into a single record. According to Wired, “Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Senator Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” Sources have suggested to Radar that government databases tracking Americans today, including Main Core, could still have PROMIS-based legacy code from the days when North was running his programs.

***

Marty Lederman, a high-level official at the Department of Justice under Clinton, writing on a law blog last year, wondered, “How extreme were the programs they implemented [after 9/11]? How egregious was the lawbreaking?” Congress has tried, and mostly failed, to find out.

***

We are at the edge of a cliff and we’re about to fall off,” says constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. “To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability. There’s no doubt that Congress would have the authority to denounce all this—for example, to refuse to appropriate money for the preparation of a list of U.S. citizens to be detained in the event of martial law. But Congress is the invertebrate branch.

***

UPDATE [from Ketcham]: Since this article went to press, several documents have emerged to suggest the story has longer legs than we thought. Most troubling among these is an October 2001 Justice Department memo that detailed the extra-constitutional powers the U.S. military might invoke during domestic operations following a terrorist attack. In the memo, John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general, “concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Yoo, as most readers know, is author of the infamous Torture Memo that, in bizarro fashion, rejiggers the definition of “legal” torture to allow pretty much anything short of murder.) In the October 2001 memo, Yoo refers to a classified DOJ document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.” According to the Associated Press, “Exactly what domestic military action was covered by the October memo is unclear. But federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Attorney General John Mukasey last month refused to clarify before Congress whether the Yoo memo was still in force.

Americans have the right to know whether a COG program is  still in effect, and whether the spying on our phone calls and Internet usage stems from such COG plans. Indeed, 9/11 was a horrible blow, but it was not a decapitating nuclear strike on our leaders … so COG and the state of emergency should be lifted.

If COG plans are not still in effect, we have the right to demand that “enemies lists” and spying capabilities developed  for the purpose of responding to a nuclear war be discarded , as we have not been hit by nuclear weapons … and our civilian leaders – on Capitol Hill, the White House, and the judiciary – are still alive and able to govern.

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