Saturday, January 21, 2006


U.S. accused of spying on those who disagree with Bush policies

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

While the White House defended domestic surveillance as a safeguard against terrorism, a Florida peace activist and several Democrats in Congress accused the Bush administration on Friday of spying on Americans who disagree with President Bush's policies.

Richard Hersh, of Boca Raton, Fla., director of Truth Project Inc. of Palm Beach County, told an ad hoc panel of House Democrats that his group and others in South Florida have been infiltrated and spied upon despite having no connections to terrorists.

"Agents rummaged through the trash, snooped into e-mails, packed Web sites and listened in on phone conversations," Hersh charged. "We know that address books and activist meeting lists have disappeared."

The Truth Project gained national attention when NBC News reported last month that it was described as a "credible threat" in a database of suspicious activity compiled by the Pentagon's Talon program. The listing cited the group's gathering a year ago at a Quaker meeting house in Lake Worth, Fla., to talk about ways to counter military recruitment at high schools.

Talon is separate from the controversial domestic-surveillance program conducted by the National Security Agency. Bush has acknowledged signing orders that allow the NSA to eavesdrop without the usual court warrants, prompting an outcry from many in Congress.

Bush plans to tour the NSA on Wednesday as part of a campaign to defend his handling of the program.

"This is a critical tool that helps us save lives and prevent attacks," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Friday. "It is limited and targeted to al-Qaida communications, with the focus being on detection and prevention."

The Defense Department's Talon program collects data from a wide variety of sources, including military personnel and private citizens, Pentagon spokesman Greg Hicks said.

"They are unfiltered dots of information about perceived threats," Hicks said. "An analyst will look at that information. And what we are trying to do is connect the dots before the next major attack."

To Hersh and some members of Congress, the warrant-less surveillance and Talon are all a part of domestic-spying operations that threaten civil liberties of average Americans and put dissenters under a cloud of suspicion.

"Neither you nor anybody in that (Quaker) church had anything to do with terrorism," said Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla. "The fact is, the Truth Project may have a philosophy that is adverse to the political philosophy and goals of the president of the United States. And as a result of that different philosophy, the president and the secretary of defense ordered that your group be spied upon.

"There should not be a single American who today remains confident that it couldn't happen to them."


Spying rationale assailed

Democrats attack White House stance
Sun reporter
Originally published January 21, 2006

As the White House prepared to ratchet up its defense for the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans without court warrants, a small group of House Democrats convened legal experts and advocates in a basement hearing room to poke holes in the administration's legal rationale.

President Bush's argument that he has executive power to authorize such surveillance "flies in the face of both common sense and legal precedent," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who led the meeting.

"What the president ordered in this case was a crime," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said. "The federal law makes it clear that you cannot engage in this type of operation without committing a crime."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the NSA over the program this week, saying that it violates the First and Fourth amendments and the separation of powers.

Administration officials, who have staunchly defended the top-secret program since it was disclosed last month, continue to fight back against critics. On Thursday, the Justice Department released a 42-page analysis of the legal underpinnings for warrantless wiretapping. It included the argument that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law known as FISA that set up the closed court to oversee secret search warrants, might be constitutionally shaky if it curtails the president's power to protect the nation during wartime.

White House officials also have asserted that Bush's power as commander in chief allows him to take actions to protect national security, and that the congressional resolution passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks further cemented that authority.

The offensive continued yesterday and will escalate next week, with Bush scheduled to visit the NSA's Fort Meade campus Wednesday, and other administration officials scheduled to speak publicly in support of the program.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who headed NSA when the spying began, will speak at the National Press Club on Monday. Hayden is now the No. 2 official in the office of the director of national intelligence. Also, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is expected to address the issue Tuesday. Gonzales has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6, when the panel opens hearings on the NSA's activities.

"We are stepping up our efforts to educate the American people about this vital tool in the war on terrorism" in advance of that hearing, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.

For the second straight day, Vice President Dick Cheney again defended the program in an interview with radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt.

"We have, we believe, all the authority we need in Article II of the Constitution, the president's authority as commander in chief under the Constitution, as well as previous actions of the Congress, to justify and authorize exactly what we're doing," Cheney said. "I can say for a fact that it's been a very valuable program, that it's saved lives and let us interrupt terrorist operations."

At Conyers' forum, the analysis was decidedly different.

"The implausibility of the president's claim seems to be self-evident," said Bruce Fein, a Washington attorney who worked in the Justice Department during the Reagan administration. "I don't think any more needs to be said about the fact that he is violating FISA."

Democratic lawmakers said the Bush administration had led the country into a "constitutional crisis" and called for both full-scale oversight hearings on the program and an independent investigation into the eavesdropping. The surveillance should be discontinued until those efforts are completed, they added.

Democrats complained that the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have not responded to calls for hearings on the program. Spokesman for Republican Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the chairman of the judiciary panel, and Peter Hoekstra, who leads the intelligence committee, said yesterday that neither man has ruled out the possibility of hearings.

Meantime, Democrats had to make do with yesterday's 2 1/2 -hour affair, which included testimony from a Florida man whose activist group was classified as a "threat" in a Department of Defense database. The surveillance of the Truth Group, based in Lake Worth, Fla., was first reported last month by NBC News.

Asked by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler whether authorizing the NSA program could meet the definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors" - the classic justification for impeachment - Turley replied, "Frankly, I do."

"If you believe that the president has broken the law," he said, "I don't see how you could possibly say it wouldn't qualify under the impeachment standard."

At a minimum, Turley said, lawmakers are obligated to hold hearings, if only to avoid setting a precedent of staying silent amid questions of whether a president had overstepped the bounds of his power.

"This type of violation should be a textbook example of an impeachment violation," he said.

Fein encouraged a less confrontational approach, saying Congress should offer the administration an opportunity to stop the program and have it authorized through legislation before making a move toward impeachment hearings.

But, he added, Congress should press the White House to make changes, because any power that Bush claims to have during wartime is probably a permanent authority, given the long-term nature of the battle against terrorism.

"The Constitution was based on the principle that 'trust me' isn't good enough," Fein said.

Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, said the administration has put forward a "sound and detailed" rationale for the program.


Maureen Dowd: Googling Past the Graveyard

New York Times Op-Ed

I don't like the thought of Dick Cheney ogling my Googling.

Because what I'm Googling, of course, is Dick Cheney. I have to constantly monitor how Vice Voyeur is pushing the federal government to constantly monitor millions of ordinary Americans' phone calls, e-mail notes and Internet searches.

If you want to know why the Grim Peeper is willing to turn this country into a police state to take his version of democracy to other countries, just do a Google search under "antiterrorism," "government snooping," "overreaching" and "fruitcake."

It was hard to know which story yesterday was scarier: Osama bin Laden, still alive and taunting the U.S., or the Justice Department's trying to force Google to turn over a suspiciously broad array of information on millions of users' searches and Web addresses, supposedly to investigate online crime involving pornography.

The Internet is full of vile diversions, but prying without justification is just as vile. Innocent Americans - not just lonely guys in their boxers - could be swept up in the fishnet dragnet. Who decides what is porn? Will those who Google to find out-of-print copies of Lynne Cheney's juicy, cheesy lesbian Old West novel, "Sisters," be suspect? (The cheapest copy at is $195.)

When Fox News asked him about the fresh Osama audiotape, Mr. Cheney sounded like Mr. Moviefone. "Probably low production values," he said.

Osama may not have graduated to DVD's, but he has stayed alive, despite W.'s threat way back in the era of dial-up connections to smoke him out and hunt him down.

Officials first indicated that the U.S. had killed Ayman al-Zawahiri in a bombing in Pakistan last week - or at least his son-in-law or a friend of his son-in-law, or maybe the guy who delivered a kabob to him. Yesterday, Al Qaeda released a tape of Zawahiri's greatest verse hits - poetry for jihadists - like "Tears in the Eyes of Time." What rhymes with mujahedeen? Antihistamine?

None of the Bushies' actions in defiance of law and convention, none of the money or blood spilled in Iraq, have helped these so-called tough guys get the one guy they really need to get. That is truly galling.

W. and Vice don't even act upset about Osama's still being on the loose. Having played down his significance after they missed their chance to get him in Tora Bora, they continue to act as if it's no big deal when he hurls more threats.

Torquemada Cheney was torturing logic again in a speech to a conservative think tank in New York. "Some have suggested that by liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein, we simply stirred up a hornets' nest," he said. "They overlook a fundamental fact: we were not in Iraq on Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorists hit us anyway."

Yeah, Dick, because they weren't in Iraq, either.

The fact that federal snoopers are all over reporters, monitoring their phone calls, shows the sorry state of our intelligence. Even F.B.I. agents feel as if they have been wasting their time rummaging through library cards and tracing numbers that turn out to be Pizza Huts.

Maybe they could make an argument that it's worth bending the Constitution into a balloon elephant if we were getting Osama's area code and smashing his connections. We don't even bother to raise the terror alarm anymore when the Qaeda mass murderer releases a tape. The scare-level color code was a more useful tool before the 2004 election.

I just don't get why it's so hard to find Osama. So what if he's in what is often described as "the impossibly rugged mountain terrain" of Pakistan? We send people to the Moon, and W. wants to send someone to Mars. What's more impossibly rugged terrain than that?

If we can brave Big Brother, we could probably find Osama's lair on Google Earth (but not Dick Cheney's - it's censored).

The White House has always seemed less compelled to capture Osama than to use him as a pretext for invading Iraq and as a political selling point. Karl Rove, coming out of his "please don't indict me" crouch, tried to chase away the taint of the Abramoff scandal with a new round of terror-mongering for 2006: "We need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of this moment. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for many Democrats."

So why did the White House set aside the gravest threat of all?

Friday, January 20, 2006


I, For One, Welcome Our New Ant Overlords!


How Close Are We to the End of Democracy?

We have today seen President Bush's legal defense for the surveillance program. There is, he tells us, an unparalled crisis.

It reminds me of the United States Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, stating they had to interfere with the election and overrule the Florida Supreme Court because we were in a national crisis -- we couldn't have a president elected at the appropriate time and place.

There was then a democracy with the Constitution telling us exactly how the election should be handled.

There is no crisis today that justifies suspending the constitution. There is a constitution in effect today. That constitution has endured for over 200 years.

Bush's cry of "crisis" is as false as former Chief Justice Rehnquist's (and four other Justices) cry of crisis. Each time both Rehnquist and Bush tried to set aside the Constitution to get an illegal result.

No president in over 200 years of our history has ever before claimed the "unitary powers" that Bush claims are his. Not President Lincoln during the Civil War, not President Wilson during World War I, not President Roosevelt during World War II, not President Truman during Korea, and not Presidents Johnson and Nixon during Vietnam.

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison all saw the danger -- they never arrogated that power to the presidency.

Alito and Roberts, Thomas and Scalia, claim it, Bush claims it. Kennedy, who said in Bush v. Gore the Court was reconsidering the design of the government, will surely go along.

The President claims that he has the right to interpret laws "in a manner consistent with the Constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as the Commander-in-Chief and consistent with constitutional limitations on judicial power."

Bush bridled when asked by a reporter if "unchecked" presidential powers were dictatorial, angrily said, "I disagree with your view of unchecked power. There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time . . . to say unchecked powers is to ascribe dictatorial powers to the president, to which I object."

His objection is dishonest.

What does "unitary powers" mean? It means that if the President alone decides that the country is faced with what he alone defines to be a critical problem, his authority is unchecked. In other words, he decides where the powers lies in the Constitution -- he decides the contour of his power. This sounds more like a monarchy, more like authoritarianism than a democracy.

The taking of this power is not a coup d'état because the people today have the power of the vote in 2008. But it is dangerously close on that path -- the Founders recognized the danger of a too-powerful President.

The Bush Administration told us it does not deal with reality -- it creates reality -- Bush has created a legal façade allowing him to create his own world and then react to it as he chooses. Unfortunately, we are all dragged into his make-believe world with its make-believe legal system.

Samuel Alito, John Roberts (in his Circuit Court decisions), Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and wunderkind John Yoo give the President unchecked domestic and foreign powers to create that world. Bush can start his own wars, preemptive or otherwise, is the ultimate interpreter of foreign treaties, he defines enemy combatants as he wishes, he detains prisoners for as long as he wishes, he continues surveillance on foreign intercepts for as long as he wishes, he tortures as he wishes, he can ignore Congressional directives and statutes such as those creating FISA, as well as essential elements of our Constitution.

This litany has no end. We cannot now anticipate all the ramifications of the "unitary" president and his claim of "inherent powers," except that it clearly allows him to fully take over the government.

Although the Alito nomination process was largely a waste, it was very valuable in showing us how long and hard the Conservatives have thought about the "unitary" president. In Alito's earliest days with the Reagan administration, he laid out his concept of unchecked power -- of inherent authority. Tracing the clear, straight line from Meese to Bork to Alito to Thomas to Yoo to Gonzalez is easy, for those who can look. We can see the further immediate development, deepening and expansion of the concept of the unitary President that it became, long ago, before anyone was aware of it, a critical tenet of the Federalist Society and of the Conservative wing of the Republican Party.

The new power the President has come from somewhere. If you give him new powers, it comes at the expense of the people who previously had the power through the Congress to make those decisions.

This idea of this change of the power structure was not a flash in the pan idea -- it is not a concept without a meaning -- it is very serious and must be treated as such.

Gonzalez, Alito and Roberts argue that if the Constitution does not very specifically preclude the President's actions, he has a free hand. They claim they are writing on a clean slate. If the Founding Fathers did not anticipate everything a President might try and do and did not prohibit it, then Bush can do it. Only a document far, far longer than this Constitution could even attempt to scratch at the surface of these unforeseen events.

The Bush Administration ignore centuries of Constitutional decision-making that limits the President, decisions during the Civil War, World War II, World War II and the Korean, Vietnamese and Cold Wars. In the unlikely event the new Supreme Court does not give him all he wants, he will ignore those decisions as well.

That is truly what a "unitary" president means. If America did not pay attention before, it must now.


Molly Ivins: Not. backing. Hillary.

AUSTIN, Texas (Creators Syndicate) -- I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.

Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone This is not a Dick Morris election. Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war in Iraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak out on Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.

The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief.

If no one in conventional-wisdom politics has the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said, then you go out and find some obscure junior senator from Minnesota with the guts to do it. In 1968, Gene McCarthy was the little boy who said out loud, "Look, the emperor isn't wearing any clothes." Bobby Kennedy -- rough, tough Bobby Kennedy -- didn't do it. Just this quiet man trained by Benedictines who liked to quote poetry.

What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake? The majority of the American people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out. The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage. The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealing Bush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich. The majority (66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending, but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment. The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companies are gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax. That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

I listen to people like Rahm Emanuel superciliously explaining elementary politics to us clueless naifs outside the Beltway ("First, you have to win elections"). Can't you even read the damn polls?

Here's a prize example by someone named Barry Casselman, who writes, "There is an invisible civil war in the Democratic Party, and it is between those who are attempting to satisfy the defeatist and pacifist left base of the party and those who are attempting to prepare the party for successful elections in 2006 and 2008."

This supposedly pits Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, emboldened by "a string of bad new from the Middle East ... into calling for premature retreat from Iraq," versus those pragmatic folk like Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman.

Oh come on, people -- get a grip on the concept of leadership. Look at this war -- from the lies that led us into it, to the lies they continue to dump on us daily.

You sit there in Washington so frightened of the big, bad Republican machine you have no idea what people are thinking. I'm telling you right now, Tom DeLay is going to lose in his district. If Democrats in Washington haven't got enough sense to OWN the issue of political reform, I give up on them entirely.

Do it all, go long, go for public campaign financing for Congress. I'm serious as a stroke about this -- that is the only reform that will work, and you know it, as well as everyone else who's ever studied this. Do all the goo-goo stuff everybody has made fun of all these years: embrace redistricting reform, electoral reform, House rules changes, the whole package. Put up, or shut up. Own this issue, or let Jack Abramoff politics continue to run your town.

Bush, Cheney and Co. will continue to play the patriotic bully card just as long as you let them. I've said it before: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were "German dogs." They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The MINUTE someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means. That, or you could just piss on them elegantly, as Rep. John Murtha did. Or eviscerate them with wit (look up Mark Twain on the war in the Philippines). Or point out the latest in the endless "string of bad news."

Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight, we'll find someone who can.


Does the President Really Know Best?

Elizabeth de la Vega

OK, everyone who has studied the unitary executive theory of the presidency, raise your hand. Anyone? Anyone?

If you are not raising your hand, you're not alone. Only recently has the world received notice that President Bush's "I can do anything I want" approach to governance has a name: the unitary executive theory of the presidency. Not having heard of this concept, and thinking perhaps that I had missed something in Constitutional Law, I decided to survey a random sampling of attorneys about it. The group included civil practitioners, prosecutors, a federal judge, a former federal prosecutor who has a PhD as well as a JD, defense attorneys and a US magistrate. The precise question was: "When did you first hear about the unitary executive theory of the presidency?" Most said, "The past few weeks." But my favorite was, "A few seconds ago, when you asked about it." All agreed that the term does not appear in the US Constitution and that, the last time they checked, we still had three branches of government.

Discussion of this "theory" has been prompted, of course, by President Bush's recent confession to a crime: repeatedly authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept domestic electronic communications for foreign intelligence purposes without a court order, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA contains no exception for the President, but Bush claims his action is legal because: (1) Congress endorsed it in its September 18, 2001, authorization to use military force in response to Al Qaeda's September 11 attacks, and (2) he has inherent power as Chief Executive to act as he deems necessary in wartime. Many scholars, including Georgetown University's David Cole and former New York State Congressional Representative Elizabeth Holtzman, have thoroughly debunked these arguments.

You don't have to be a constitutional scholar to know that Bush's legal justifications are weak. You merely have to consider the Administration's duplicitous conduct. The Bush team has deliberately concealed this program, not only from the public and Congress but, most damning of all, from the very agency that is responsible for executing the laws of this country: the Justice Department. It has been widely reported that even Bush appointees, such as former Assistant Attorney General James Comey, and possibly former Attorney General John Ashcroft, objected to the NSA's wide-ranging warrantless spying. After twenty years as a federal prosecutor, I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of career attorneys at the Justice Department and criminal prosecutors from US Attorneys' offices around the country, as well as federal law enforcement agents, would have refused to participate knowingly in this program. Bush and his coterie knew that their legal arguments were weak and intellectually dishonest, if not ludicrous, so rather than making their case honestly, even to their own people, they avoided dissent by acting in secret and affirmatively misleading the entire country. Using a tragically familiar modus operandi, Bush has carried out his unlawful spying scheme by acting not as a unitary executive (whatever that is) but as a solitary executive--as if the President Knows Best.

To understand the extent and complexity of Bush's deception with regard to the NSA's warrantless surveillance--not to mention frightening consequences--consider some of the practicalities of FISA, both before and after it was changed by the USA Patriot Act.

As anyone who took high school civics knows, the government must get a warrant before conducting electronic surveillance on people within the United States. But before the September 11 attacks, few citizens knew that law enforcement had to follow different procedures to get that warrant, depending on the investigative purpose. If the purpose was chiefly to aid a criminal investigation, such as in a drug or bribery case, the agents had to get what was called a Title III warrant from the US District Court. If the object was primarily to get foreign intelligence on people within the United States, regardless of whether they were communicating with someone in or out of the country, agents had to go to a secret court called the FISA court.

Under no circumstances could an agency electronically eavesdrop on a person within the United States without such a warrant, but if people were outside the country, the NSA could electronically intrude on their communications--phone calls, e-mails or faxes--without getting any court authorization. So if the whole communication was outside the United States, NSA could spy to its heart's content.

If a criminal case was at stake, the FBI or whichever agency was involved needed a Title III criminal warrant; and if it was a foreign intelligence case, the FBI needed a FISA warrant. What was the difference between the two? Other than the difference in purpose--criminal investigation versus foreign intelligence--the main differences were threefold. First, the amount of proof needed to get a FISA warrant was less. Second, with a FISA warrant, the person surveilled rarely could seek judicial review because he would normally have had no way of finding out that it had even happened. The third difference flowed from the first two: Because of the relaxed standard of proof and the unavailability of review, foreign intelligence agents were not allowed to share their information with criminal agents, even if they were in the same agency. That barrier between criminal and foreign intelligence agents was called the FISA wall.

After the 9/11 attacks, however, as part of its push for the Patriot Act, Administration representatives, mainly from the Justice Department, proposed numerous changes to the FISA law that they argued were necessary due to both technological and societal developments since 1978. They wanted to break down the FISA wall to allow for greater sharing of information in order to avoid the numerous communication snafus that may have prevented discovery of the plans for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately, the Administration received most of its desired changes. Break down the FISA wall? You got it. Roving wiretaps? You got it. Administrative subpoenas to libraries? You got it.

And that was just the first round. Since October 2001, the Administration has obtained passage of three rounds of additional changes to FISA. All the requested changes have led to considerable public debate about the threat to constitutional protections posed by relaxing the rules for getting electronic surveillance warrants as well as the increase in tools available to law enforcement. Nevertheless, for the most part, Congress has acceded to whatever requests for changes to FISA the Bush Administration has made.

At no time during this four-year debate about security and civil liberties, despite well-established Congressional procedures for discussions that involve classified material, has the Bush Administration advised Congress in any meaningful way that it was in ongoing violation of FISA; nor has it ever formally sought to amend the law to accommodate the sorts of technological advances that it now cites as the very reason for its secret program. In other words, the Administration has conducted a prolonged charade during which it has pretended to participate in a democratic process of amending and enacting legislation, while secretly and monumentally violating the law that was under consideration.

This charade was not merely for the benefit of the public and Congress but also for the benefit of the thousands of Administration employees who are charged with enforcing the rule of law. When Bush announced famously on April 20, 2004, "There are such things as roving wiretaps. Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires--a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way," the vast majority of people at the Justice Department most likely believed that to be true. DOJ has an entire website devoted to internal and external propaganda about the Administration's commitment to civil liberties. Prominently displayed on the website with the title "The Patriot Act: Preserving Life and Liberty" is a smiling photo of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the following quote: "We are waging a war...each day in a way that values and protects the civil liberties and the constitutional freedoms that make our Nation so special."

What makes Gonzales so special is that as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, he has been entirely indifferent to the rule of law. He has been complicit in the activities of an Administration that has marginalized its career employees to hide its activities. Note that the only people who have thus far publicly defended the legality of the NSA eavesdropping scheme are: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former NSA Director Michael Hayden--all non-lawyers whose self-interest is obvious; as well as Gonzales, Bush's longtime friend and former White House Counsel, and Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, a Bush appointee who has been a lawyer for fewer than ten years and has never actually practiced law. We should not expect to hear support for the warrantless NSA spying from any career criminal prosecutors.

This illegal surveillance is a prosecutor's nightmare. As Hayden testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in October 2002, the National Security Agency turns over legally obtained evidence to the FBI in a way that prevents FBI agents from knowing its source or sources. If the NSA hides the source of its legally obtained evidence, it certainly also hides the source of any illegally obtained evidence it may be turning over. Neither illegally obtained evidence nor evidence gleaned from it can be used in a criminal prosecution. Consequently, an untold number of successful prosecutions are now jeopardized by the possible use of tainted evidence. Such challenges have already begun in the case of Lyman Faris, who is serving a twenty-year sentence for conspiring to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. In other words, the government's reckless adoption of an illegal surveillance program could actually have the effect of undermining the very prosecutions it claims as its successes in the "war on terror." The Bush Administration argues that this sort of secret spying is what we have to do for our own security. Indeed, they suggest that if the program had existed prior to September 11, those attacks might have been prevented because they would have "caught" two hijackers who were making calls to Al Qaeda from San Diego. In legal terms, this claim would be called the defense of "necessity," but in lay terms this claim would be called "a big fat lie."

The hijackers to whom Bush and his advisers are referring are Khalid al-Midhair and Nawaf al-Hamzi. It is astounding that Bush should cite them in support of the illegal spying program, because the NSA knew about these two men and their relationship to Al Qaeda as early as 2000 as a result of a legal wiretap they had on a safe house in Yemen. But they never bothered to place them on a watch list or provide detailed information about them to the FBI or the CIA. NSA's Michael Hayden said his staff failed to provide the information to other agencies because they didn't appreciate its significance.

The problem at that time, as the 9/11 commission and so many other investigative bodies have found, was failure to communicate among the agencies, or even within the agencies. The NSA was unable to recognize the importance of its own information because it didn't know what the other agencies knew, and it was institutionally incapable of sharing even legally obtained information because it was operating as a lone wolf. Ironically, in the hands of President Bush, the NSA has effectively become even more isolated--essentially an outlaw. And it still does not know everything that the other agencies know, so it has no more capability of recognizing the importance of what it learns now than it did before. So it is difficult to imagine how it can now possibly use its illegally obtained information to prevent attacks.

It appears, then, that President Bush, using his wholly fabricated unitary theory of the executive, has clandestinely managed to marginalize his own agencies and eviscerate many of the information-sharing benefits of his own Patriot Act. When will we, as a country, finally stop thinking that the President Knows Best?


Big Brother Bush

The news that the National Security Agency has been illegally eavesdropping on American citizens has not produced the outrage it deserves.

That's because once again the Bush administration is using the war on terror as justification for its most ill-advised actions. If the White House raises the threat of terrorism - as it has in invading Iraq and torturing detainees - Americans apparently will be frightened into going along with just about anything.

In this case, that includes defying Congress and ignoring the Constitution.

That's what President Bush is doing in allowing the NSA to spy on Americans without warrants. The law is clear: The agency must ask a secret court for the warrant, either before the eavesdropping is done or, if it's an emergency, within 72 hours afterward. The secret court almost never denies permission.

But Mr. Bush has been bypassing the court for four years now. The NSA has flooded the FBI with what has turned out to be overwhelmingly useless information, which has required hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips, with nothing significant to show for all that work.

The biggest issue is the balance of power defined by the Constitution. The Founding Fathers intended the three branches of government - the executive, legislative and judicial - to be equal and serve as a system |of checks and balances on each other. But Mr. Bush is determined |to override that system and make the executive the most powerful of the three.

He insists that his role as commander in chief in time of war and the authority Congress gave him to use military force after 9/11 allow him to monitor Americans' e-mails and phone calls without warrants.

But the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan arm of Congress, reviewed the constitutional and legal issues and found it "unlikely that a court would hold that Congress has expressly or impliedly" authorized domestic surveillance without warrants.

Mr. Bush is creating a constitutional crisis by effectively putting himself above the law.

He also recently signed the ban on torture pushed through by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. But after agreeing not to veto the measure if Congress approved it, he reserved the right to violate it if he believes |it's necessary.

Even in a time of war, the United States is a nation of laws, and the president is not above them.

No doubt Mr. Bush will use yesterday's release of a tape of Osama bin Laden warning of more terrorist attacks on the United States as proof that the NSA's secret surveillance program is needed.

Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that monitoring communications from the United States to people overseas suspected of terrorist links is "absolutely vital" to the war on terrorism.

Fine, Mr. Cheney, but get a warrant.

The vice president apparently didn't repeat the unsupported claim he has made in recent days, that the secret surveillance has saved "thousands of lives."

All Americans want to be safe from terror, and no one disputes the fact that the threat of another terrorist attack is real and ongoing.

But the laws regulating domestic surveillance do not tie the president's hands. He can ask the secret surveillance court for warrants, and he will almost certainly get them. |Or he can ask Congress to revise |the law.

That would require a compelling argument for widespread spying |on Americans or substantive proof that the secret monitoring has been effective in preventing terrorist activities.

Mr. Bush has neither.

He relies instead on our fears of terrorism to protect him from being called to account.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Breaking Ranks

Larry Wilkerson Attacked the Iraq War. In the Process, He Lost the Friendship of Colin Powell.

By Richard Leiby / Washington Post

In an overheated old schoolroom in Washington, Larry Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, is doing his best to impose military discipline on 25 pupils as they prepare to attack a mountain of pizza, cupcakes and cookies. It is the year-end party for Macfarland Middle School's Colin L. Powell Leadership Club, a tutoring and mentoring program that Wilkerson oversees as a volunteer. Striding before his charges in smart burgundy suspenders, the colonel -- everybody here calls him the colonel -- makes a point about duty:

"If you're not attending the meetings, you aren't a member of the club. It's as simple as that." He rebukes a boy who has shown up for the party but otherwise been scarce. "You know how I'll feel if you don't come to subsequent meetings," Wilkerson warns, "and you don't want to get me angry."

Then he drops the bluff demeanor and authorizes the kids to start chowing down. "Try to keep as much as you can off the floor," he says in a Southern accent softened by frequent chuckles. For the next hour he circulates through the room, greeting each student by name -- Jamie, Angela, Trevon, Tanya -- encouraging them to keep their grades up, prodding them to complete their community-service projects, inquiring about sometimes precarious home lives.

Since 1998, Wilkerson has devoted himself to helping at-risk children at Macfarland in the name of Colin Powell, whom he refers to as "my boss" and "the general." Wilkerson works tirelessly to keep them in the club and to secure scholarships for them at private high schools.

Yet these days he and Powell are estranged: This program represents the last remnant of a long, deep friendship between them. Like ex-spouses in an uneasy detente, "we decided we'd just communicate over the kids," says Wilkerson, sounding pained by the situation.

The split came as both men left the administration -- Powell as secretary of state, Wilkerson as his chief of staff -- after working side by side for 16 years. Wilkerson, a once-loyal Republican with 31 years of Army service, has emerged in recent months as a merciless critic of President Bush and his top people, accusing them of carrying out a reckless foreign policy and imperiling the future of the U.S. military.

"My wife would probably shoot me if I headed to the ballot box with a Republican vote again," he says. "This is not a Republican administration, not in my view. This is a radical administration."

Wilkerson calls Bush an unsophisticated leader who has been easily swayed by "messianic" neoconservatives and power-hungry, secretive schemers in the administration. In a landmark speech in October, Wilkerson said: "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."

He is particularly appalled by U.S. treatment of enemy detainees, counting at least 100 deaths in custody during the course of the war on terrorism -- 27 of them ruled homicides. "Murder is torture," he says. "It's not torture lite."

As for the invasion of Iraq? A blunder of historic proportions, he believes.

"This is really a very inept administration," says Wilkerson, who has credentials not only as an insider in the Bush I, Clinton and Bush II presidencies but also as a former professor at two of the nation's war colleges. "As a teacher who's studied every administration since 1945, I think this is probably the worst ineptitude in governance, decision-making and leadership I've seen in 50-plus years. You've got to go back and think about that. That includes the Bay of Pigs, that includes -- oh my God, Vietnam. That includes Iran-contra, Watergate."

Such a critique, coming from a man who was long thought to speak for Powell, is seismic in Washington power circles. Some observers used to regard Powell and Wilkerson as so close that they enjoyed a "mind meld," but now Powell distances himself from the pronouncements of his former aide.

Often described as the ultimate loyal soldier -- and, like Wilkerson, a Vietnam combat veteran -- Powell has largely kept his mouth zipped. Whatever public regret or private disappointment Powell may have about selling the Iraq war, he still supports the commander in chief -- most recently during the flap over domestic electronic eavesdropping -- and occasionally dines with Bush.

Now consulting in the private sector, Powell declined to answer questions about Wilkerson's version of episodes in their tenure together. "General Powell considers Colonel Wilkerson a good friend of 16 years," an aide said by e-mail. "He has no other comment."

Powell did address Wilkerson's central charge of secretive White House decision-making in an interview with the BBC in December. "I wouldn't characterize it the way Larry has, calling it a cabal," Powell said. "Now what Larry is suggesting in his comments is that very often maybe Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney would take decisions in to the president that the rest of us weren't aware of. That did happen, on a number of occasions."

The White House offered no specific rebuttal of Wilkerson's views, but a spokesman gave a statement taking issue with the notion that Bush was somehow misled about the need to invade Iraq (a charge Wilkerson hasn't made outright). "President Bush made his decision to go to war in Iraq based on the intelligence given to him by the intelligence community. It was the president's decision, and the president made that decision based on the totality of the evidence presented to him," said the spokesman, who asked that his name not be used "because of the nature of the topic."

Interviewed by CNN in November, Rumsfeld termed the suggestion of a cabal "ridiculous" and said of Wilkerson, "In terms of having firsthand information, I just can't imagine that he does."

Making a Military Man

Wilkerson, 60, got his start with Powell as a speechwriter and you can see why. He tends to talk in fully formed paragraphs. Over a lunch of barbecued chicken salad, he begins his life story this way:

"I was born in Gaffney, South Carolina, which is right near Spartanburg, which is right near Greenville. My dad was a World War II vet -- B-17 bombardier and navigator. He came home from the war and entered the South Carolina National Guard, so I kind of grew up riding around in Jeeps and shooting .30-caliber machine guns. I shot my first Browning .30-caliber at 9. That is to say, the National Guardsmen made me think I was shooting it."

The family later moved to Houston, where Wilkerson graduated from high school. (Aside here on George W. Bush: "I see hard-headedness, I see arrogance, I see hubris, I see what I saw in a lot of Texans.")

Wilkerson went north to study philosophy and English lit at Bucknell but quit college in his senior year. He was newly married yet determined to go to Vietnam. It was 1966.

"I felt an obligation because my dad had fought," he says, "and I thought that was kind of your duty."

Eventually he got there as an Army officer, spending a year in what he calls the "hottest combat" possible, piloting his OH-6A helicopter close to the jungle canopy, scouting out the enemy on behalf of the infantry.

"We got shot at nearly every day," he says. A brush with death came when a sniper's bullet pierced the helicopter's cockpit plexiglass, but he was never wounded or shot down. "My men used to call me the Teflon guy. . . . I felt like I had some kind of protective coating on me because I think I flew about 1,100 combat hours, which is a lot of hours."

(Predictable aside on hawks like Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz: "None of these guys ever heard a bullet go by their ears in combat.")

After Vietnam, Wilkerson went on to the elite Airborne and Ranger schools, earned his bachelor's in English literature and advanced degrees in international relations and national security. Rising through the ranks, he attended the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and eventually returned there to teach. He later served as acting director at the Marine Corps War College at Quantico.

He made a natural professor. In conversation, he often lectures in a lofty but folksy way, citing the works of the great war theoretician Karl von Clausewitz or putting the zeal of neocons in historical context: Their fellow travelers, he says, were Lenin and the Bolsheviks and the Jacobins of the French Revolution -- utopians who had no qualms using the guillotine in service of their ideals.

(Long aside on how Bush, who criticized "nation building" as a candidate in 2000, became a globe-changing Jacobin: "Here we are with a failure in Iraq, a massive failure. Not only an intelligence failure, but it looks like it's gonna be a real failure on the ground. How do you suddenly transform that? Well, you suddenly become a Jacobin yourself, you're suddenly for this messianic spread of freedom and democracy around the world. You're suddenly an advocate of all things that John F. Kennedy was an advocate of: 'We will bear any burden, pay any price.' You've discarded John Quincy Adams, who said we're the friends of liberty everywhere, the custodians only of our own. And you've suddenly said, 'I'm the custodian of the whole world's liberty, and by God if you don't realize it I'm going to bring it to you -- and if I have to bring it to you at the point of a gun, that's the way I'm going to bring it to you!' ")

But back to the biography: Wilkerson spent years in Korea, Japan and Hawaii, assigned to the Navy's Pacific Command, where he burnished his skills as an executive assistant to the top brass.

"He's the most competent Army officer I've ever worked with," says retired Lt. Gen. James W. Crysel, one of Wilkerson's bosses at Pacific Command. "He could run a large corporation."

Retired Rear Adm. Stewart A. Ring, whom Wilkerson served for three years, is similarly effusive: "He is the most principled individual I have ever met and ever worked with. He is a remarkable guy with essentially no ego. He stands up for what he thinks is right -- not for Larry Wilkerson, but for what is right."

Such high praise won him an interview with Powell in early 1989, when the general was exiting as national security adviser in the Reagan White House and heading to Army Forces Command in Atlanta. Wilkerson says he was happy where he was, teaching at the Naval War College, and that evidently impressed Powell: "He said he didn't like overly ambitious people, and it was clear that I was content doing what I was doing and I wasn't really politicking for a job with him."

(An aside on Powell's personality: "He can be the most endearing person you'd ever want to meet in your life. The next minute he can be colder than fish.")

Powell's Confidant

It was, as they say, the start of a beautiful friendship, spanning Powell's stint as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Persian Gulf War, the general's return to private life -- during which he launched America's Promise, the nonprofit initiative that seeded the Macfarland school project -- and Powell's support for candidate Bush and appointment as secretary of state.

Powell has long been known as a "reluctant warrior." Before the 9/11 attacks, he took the view that 10 years of U.N. sanctions had contained Saddam Hussein and expressed skepticism that Iraq had any ability to use weapons of mass destruction.

Having prepared Powell's testimony and speeches, and having received top-level intelligence briefings, Wilkerson also knew the post-9/11 case against Hussein was not airtight. Powell "presented a number of alternatives to war," Wilkerson recalls. "Those alternatives did not entail the use of force, or they did not entail the use of force immediately. And when he was made aware of the decision otherwise, he became the good soldier that he was. I know how he operates and he would have decided, 'Okay, I lost, and now I'll carry out the decision as best I can' -- and make it seem like it was his decision."

Powell's office on the State Department's sixth floor had a private door that led directly to Wilkerson's office. One particular visit burns brightly in Wilkerson's memory: It was November 2002, after the U.N. Security Council voted 15-0 to order Iraq to admit weapons inspectors, and Powell was in a contemplative mood.

"He walked into my office, and he said to me, musing and looking out across the greenery there toward National Airport -- I wrote it down on my calendar, that's the reason I know what he said -- 'I wonder what will happen if we put half a million troops on the ground, and scour Iraq from one corner to the other, and find no weapons of mass destruction?' And he left that rhetorical question hanging in the air as he went back into his office."

Bad Information

Wilkerson, as it turned out, became the point man for making the case for preemptive war against Hussein. He put together the task force that, during a week at CIA headquarters, vetted all the intelligence reports used for Powell's famous pro-war presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, where he brandished a vial of fake anthrax, played excerpts of intercepted Iraqi military chatter, and warned of mobile bioweapon "factories" and other doomsday machines, none of which actually existed.

How did it happen?

"Larry thought they had cleaned out the obvious garbage, but it turned out there was more," says James A. Kelly, a former assistant secretary of state who's known Wilkerson for 20 years. "Larry felt that he let down the secretary, but the job was so big in cleaning out the misinformation."

Wilkerson won't say outright that he and Powell were deliberately snowed by intelligence reports tailored to fit a political push for war, but he has edged closer to that view, noting, "I've begun to wonder." It turns out that the administration relied on fabricators' claims about Hussein's illusory WMD programs and, in one case, an al Qaeda suspect whom the CIA turned over to alleged torturers in Egypt.

"I kick myself in the ass," Wilkerson says. "How did we ever get to that place?"

The speech tarnished Powell's gold-plated reputation, but he has never publicly pointed a finger at then-CIA Director George Tenet or the White House.

"Nothing was spun to me," Powell told David Frost in a BBC television interview last month. "What really upset me more than anything else was that there were people in the intelligence community that had doubts about some of this sourcing, but those doubts never surfaced up to us."

Why didn't the doubts reach Powell? Perhaps because then he wouldn't have given the speech at all?

"That's right," Wilkerson says, shooting a hard, solemn stare across the restaurant table. "That's right."

He also says, "I am prepared to entertain the idea that they used him."

Leaving the Fold

By early 2004, it was clear to Wilkerson that the Pentagon's failure to prepare for the war's aftermath -- including dismissal of Army Gen. Eric Shinseki's warnings as well as peacekeeping and nation-building plans -- had led to mounting deaths and injuries for U.S. ground troops. Nor was there, in Wilkerson's view, any thought given to future replenishment of the Army and Marine combat troops as the insurgency continued.

"Larry Wilkerson is a man of the Army in the finest sense," says Kelly. "He cares deeply about the U.S. Army . . . and he hates to see this institution badly damaged, and he believes it has been badly damaged."

Revelations about Abu Ghraib and the skirting of the Geneva Conventions added to Wilkerson's anger. He came to see Powell as the administration's lone voice of reason -- but Powell was being shut out.

"Combine the detainee abuse issue with the ineptitude of post-invasion planning for Iraq, wrap both in this blanket of secretive decision-making . . . and you get the overall reason for my speaking out," Wilkerson says.

"It never became personal for Powell, because he believed in the process," says Robert Charles, a former assistant secretary of state who worked with both men. "I believe it was harder for Larry, because he felt such great empathy for the boss, the most seasoned military officer he had ever served with."

(Another aside from Wilkerson, on this period with Powell: "I can say in all truth that in 16 years he never blew his stack. He got mad at me one time and asked me to leave the office -- told me to leave the office -- and that was towards the end when he was truly embattled, embittered and besieged, in my view. And even though it made me a little angry, I didn't take it that seriously because I knew at that point he was not a happy camper.")

Wilkerson went so far as to draft a letter of resignation to Bush. He never sent it and now wonders whether he should have come out guns blazing before the 2004 election. But becoming a vocal political defector in Washington can mean lonely exile, a loss of stature and income.

"I know it's very hard to put kids, job security and all that sort of stuff aside. I think that's the answer to why more people don't speak out."

For Wilkerson, there was another reason: It might seem a betrayal of Powell, his hero, the man who signed photos to him with sentiments like, "To LW, You're the greatest!"

Larry and Barbara Wilkerson, married for 39 years, live frugally in a Falls Church townhouse. She works at a Hallmark card shop. Their son is an Air Force navigator who's done duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their daughter, now a homemaker, served in the Army. Departing from government after Bush's second inauguration, Wilkerson had to decide: Would he speak his conscience or remain the quiet man like Powell?

"My wife said to me: 'You have two choices, my man. You can think more about him or you can think more about your country. I suggest you do the latter.' "

The Most Important Things

For years Barbara Wilkerson, 55, has baked cupcakes and cookies for the kids in the Powell club at Macfarland. After distributing treats at the year-end party, wearing her festive red blazer and a rhinestone teddy bear pin, she sat down for a moment to talk about her husband.

"The most important person in his whole life has been General Powell," she says. "And the general has never let him down."

Even more important than Barbara Wilkerson?

"Well," she hesitates, unsure how to put it. "When you're married to an Army person, the Army is always -- that's kind of the thing. But he wouldn't put anybody above his country, that's for sure."

She and others who know Wilkerson well say he has no intention of cashing in as a Bush critic. He hasn't joined a think tank or become a cable news pundit-for-hire. He has turned down publishers who want him to write a tell-all book for big money.

Wilkerson says he may write an academic text about presidential decision-making. This month he began supplementing his retirement with part-time teaching jobs at George Washington University and the College of William & Mary.

Recently a speakers bureau called Wilkerson to ask what fee he would want for a speech to a corporate audience. "I said I'd speak for the highest fee they'd pay," he recalls.

But there was a condition: The money couldn't go to him. He said he wanted it all donated to scholarships for children in the Colin L. Powell Leadership Club.

After the party the colonel helps with the cleanup. He lugs a bag of garbage out the door. All part of his duty.

Walking to his car, he offers a final aside, about poetry. The colonel sometimes uses poems to tutor the kids in reading. He mentions a line that Powell always liked because it described the depth of family ties:

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."

"In fact," says Wilkerson, "one time he quoted it to me and I said, 'You know where that came from?'

"He said, 'Yeah, it came from me.' I said no, that's from Robert Frost's poem."

Powell may or may not have known that already. The poem is called "The Death of the Hired Man."


ACLU rebukes Justice Department findings on wiretaps as 'spin'

The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly rebuked analysis provided by the Justice Department that argues that there is a legal basis for the warrantless domestic surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency as authorized by President Bush in a release to RAW STORY.

House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are scheduled to hold a forum on the issue tomorrow, where the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Director Caroline Fredrickson will testify. On Tuesday of this week, the ACLU filed a legal challenge to the NSA program on behalf of a group of prominent journalists, nonprofits, terrorism experts and community advocates. The ACLU has also called for the appointment of an independent special counsel to investigate the matter and has requested, through the Freedom of Information Act, information about the NSA's program of warrantless spying on Americans.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director:

“President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales can manufacture all of the legal justifications they want, but the facts and laws show that this warrantless surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“Any opinion coming from the Justice Department has to be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, given Attorney General Gonzales’ involvement in the warrantless spying as White House counsel. The fox may now be guarding the henhouse, which is why we need an independent special counsel.

“Congress must hold open, substantive hearings to let the American public know how their privacy was invaded. The president must not use a claim of preserving the nation as justification to undermine the very principles that define our nation. Freedom, liberty and privacy must be protected and preserved.”


Insider Trading in Frist and Delay's Office: Story Growing

Thu Jan 19, 2006 at 03:04:45 PM PDT

In an exclusive last night on Air America Radio's The Majority Report, Rep. Louise Slaughter alleged that day-traders had been operating inside the offices of Senator Frist and Congressman Delay. Telling us that her source was "as good as gold," Rep. Slaughter promised to investigate further and get back to us. Audio available via AMERICAblog here.

"I'm going to track this down, I know it's true," Slaughter told us,"that Frist, DeLay and probably others had some day traders working out of their offices." Those working out of the Congressional offices "would find out there's a bill being written by lobbyists, that there would be no asbestos bill ... and when the market opened the next day, the cost of asbestos stock had doubled."
The context of this story, and the practice of spreading insider "political intelligence" is starting to unfold...

The backstory of this involves what's called "political intelligence." The Hill did a story nearly a year ago on firms that harvest insider political info and feed it to Wall Street to get ahead of the news cycle; obviously much of what happens in DC affects the market.

The Hill piece is here.

"We provide customized political intelligence and deliver the information ahead of the news cycle," Portnoy said.

In a business that is in large measure a gamble, information that helps a trader pick one side or the other is critical.

"It's all about comparative advantage and market efficiency. ... There are lots of things that happen in Washington that affect the market," said Tim VandenBerg, a senior policy analyst at Washington Analysis, a D.C.-based group that advises Wall Street on Congress. "If you are reading about it in The Wall Street Journal, you are reading about what has happened, not will happen."

For its information, the financial sector can turn to firms such as VandenBerg's, which does not lobby. Another example is Charles Schwab's Washington Research Group, which keeps clients abreast of legislative and regulatory moves.

Many larger players, including some major hedge funds, have set up their own offices in town. Others hire such firms as Sonnenschein that specialize in lobbying to mine their Hill contacts for another purpose.

Because they aren't, in fact, lobbying for these clients, firms don't have to register with the Senate or the House. Most firms don't identify their clients or disclose the revenues from the work.

Then, this past December, Business Week reported on the phenomenon:

Washington Whispers To Wall Street

Low-profile firms enjoy a lucrative business selling "political intelligence"

Day traders were confused. On Tuesday, Nov. 15, they couldn't figure out why there was so much action in USG Corp. (), a Chicago building-materials company whose subsidiary is mired in asbestos lawsuits. The stock was trading at double the normal daily volume and would gain $2.12 to close at $61.55. But there wasn't any major news to power the run-up.

Public news, that is. Behind the scenes, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had decided to override the qualms of Budget Committee leaders and press ahead with a bill to create a $140 billion fund to relieve companies such as USG of their asbestos liabilities. Frist wouldn't announce his move until Nov. 16. But the news got to key Wall Street players a day early via a little-known pipeline: a small group of firms specializing in "political intelligence" that mine the capital for information and translate Washington wonkspeak into trading tips.

The business started with a couple of cottage firms in the early 1970s. But now it's taking off. Industry insiders say the explosion of hedge funds has driven new clients and bigger dollars to Washington-watchers. "What hedge funds do is look for inefficiencies in the market," says one hedge fund manager who buys several firms' reports. "And Washington is the world's greatest creator of [market] inefficiencies."

Unlike lobbyists, political intelligence outfits are not required to disclose their clients or annual revenues, masking the size of this very quiet business. One veteran estimates there are more than a half-dozen contenders collectively raking in $30 million to $40 million a year. Prominent players include the Washington research shops of Prudential (), Lehman Brothers (), and Stanford Washington Research Group, owned by Stanford Financial Group of Houston.

The business stretches beyond Capitol Hill. "We analyze public policy -- macroeconomics, the Fed, budget, trade, currency -- that affects overall financial markets, sectors, or companies," says Leslie Alperstein, a founder of the firm Washington Analysis. And while leaks such as Frist's asbestos news are welcome, Alperstein says his business is mostly about explaining trends. "If we only dealt in [hot tips], I wouldn't be living in Potomac," he says, referring to a pricey Maryland suburb. "It doesn't happen often enough."


It happens enough, however, to trouble some lawmakers. On Nov. 23, Representative Brian Baird (D-Wash.) asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to issue guidance for staffers sitting on some of the capital's most valuable information. "The possibility of direct kickbacks [is] enormous," says Baird, who read about the political intelligence business in The Hill, a newspaper covering Congress. He worries that the trafficking comes "very close" to insider trading.

But ethics experts say no one's breaking the rules. Hill staffers and government employees are forbidden from personally profiting from confidential data and can't share information that's classified or deemed secret by their employers. But within those loose standards, political intelligence is just another legal way for investors to perform due diligence. The intelligence operatives say that Congress, where decisions are made publicly, is fair game.

So already there is a hugely lucrative practice of trading insider political info...something that needs to be shut-down as is.

But now, it seems as though the traders may have actually been operating from INSIDE the offices of Republicans. So even if mining "political intelligence" is still technically legal, this development seems like unambiguous insider trading if true: Republican lawmakers gave market info exclusively to these firms, info that was not yet available to the general public.

Representative Brian Baird (D-Wash.), quoted in the Business Week story and the Congressional point man on the potential scandal, will be on The Majority Report tonight at approx. 7:51 Eastern tonight to talk to Sam Seder. The audio stream and a list of affiliates can be found here.

The next step is tying the employees of these intelligence firms to both the Repoublican party in general, and Delay, Frist, and their staffers specifically. Rep. Baird has already written to the House Ethics Committee to investigate (we'll hold our breath on that) and is proposing legislation to end this corruption. We've also heard that outside law-enforcement agencies may soon become involved.


Ken Blackwell Incites Christian Voters on Campaign Trail, Secular Americans Called 'Nazis'

by Jeffrey Feldman

Wed Jan 18th, 2006 at 17:33:03 PDT

GOP candidate for Ohio governor, Ken Blackwell, spoke at an event, yesterday, where secular Americans were accused of being 'Nazis' and images of Hitler were shown to incite the crowd.

The event was sponsored by the Ohio Restoration Project, and was part of project founder Russell Johnson's 10-city "Patriot Pastors" tour.

The key speaker, Johnson incited the crowd multiple times--at one point saying that Christians in America were under threat from a 'secular jihad'-- turning a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration into a night of hate.

Ken Blackwell, if he had any shame at all, would apologize to Ohio and denounce Russell Johnson. Ah, but this is the Ohio governor's race. So Blackwell must thinks that the fastest path to the governor's mansion is to hang with the folks who call other Americans 'Nazis.'

Here's the story from the Beacon Journal by By Doug Oplinger and Dennis J. Willard, Beacon Journal staff writers:

HARTVILLE - About 330 Christian faithful rallied at the Hartville Kitchen to sing praises of America, to remind themselves of the dangers of complacency, and to hear gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell preach on God's call to action.

Against a large U.S.-flag backdrop and flanked by large projection screens, Ohio Restoration Project founder Russell Johnson brought his 10-city Patriot Pastors tour to the Akron-Canton area Tuesday.

A choir and a gospel quartet brought the audience to its feet with praise songs as images of American landmarks, heroes and troops moved across the screens.

Johnson warned that Christians have allowed a ``secular jihad'' to remove prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Bible from public places.

This Johnson is a piece 'a work, eh? But it gets worse. Johnson also tried to claim that Christians who were not fighting against this 'secular jihad' were like bad Christians during the Nazi period who ignored the extermination of the Jews:

[Johnson] likened it to Nazi Germany, where church congregations would sing so that they could not hear the passing of trainloads of crying Jews headed for a nearby concentration camp.

Too many Christians lead ``Neville Chamberlain lives,'' Johnson said, referring to the British prime minister who signed a neutrality pact with Adolf Hitler.

A picture of Hitler and Chamberlain flashed on the screens.

``We're calling God's people to pray, to serve, to shine and to be salt and light,'' he said. gets kind of hard to follow who we're supposed to see as 'the Jews' and who we're supposed to see as the bad 'church congregations' in Johnson's paranoid, Nazi-laced lunacy. But the basic idea is this: Chrisians are the new Jews being exterminated by non-Christians who are the new Nazis (got all that?)

Now, here's where Ken Blackwell, GOP gubernatorial candidate fits into all this savory stuff:

The Restoration Project and a separate organization -- Reformation Ohio, headed by the Rev. Rod Parsley of Canal Winchester -- are strong supporters of Blackwell, who often is the keynote speaker at their events.

On Sunday, a coalition of 31 pastors representing a variety of religious denominations signed a letter asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Johnson and Parsley to determine whether their groups have gone beyond their religious designation and have become political organizations.

Johnson repeatedly praised Blackwell's leadership skills, his support of Issue 1 in 2004 that banned same-sex marriage, and his positions on other issues important to the Ohio Restoration Project such as opposition to abortion and support of free enterprise and school choice.

In attendance were: Republican Ohio Supreme Court Justice Terrence O'Donnell of Cleveland; Medina Republican William Batchelder, who last fall resigned as a 9th District Court of Appeals judge to attempt a return to the state legislature; former U.S. Rep. Bob McEwen, a lobbyist who is planning another run for Congress this year; state Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chesterland, a candidate for attorney general; and Sandra O'Brien, a candidate for state treasurer.

O'Brien, of Ashtabula County, gave the opening prayer; Grendell delivered the closing prayer.

So, apparently in this part of Ohio, to get elected you better come up with a way to get the "secular-people-are-the-new-Nazis" vote. Mhmmm.

But it wasn't all fun and hate. Blackwell took time weave Martin Luther King, Jr.'s memory into this warped political religious election hall putsch:

Blackwell spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to be more than observers. He said Christians must ``define, fortify, help shape, influence the mores'' of the culture.

He said Christians must be on the front line, causing change. They must bring behavior in line with what they say they believe.

Blackwell also criticized the ecumenical group that has challenged the tax status of the Ohio Restoration Project. ``There are political and social forces trying to run God and faith and religion out of the public square,'' he said.

He recalled his father leaving inspirational quotes for him to find. One was from abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who said, ``Those who are whupped easiest are whupped most often.''

Christians should show that they are not going to be whupped, Blackwell said.

Yep. I'm no expert on Martin Luther King, Jr.--but I am sure he never inteded his words to be used in this context.

But what about the obvious point: a GOP candidate for governor is the keynote speaker at an event where pictures of Hitler are flashed on a screen and voters are told they are being hunted by Nazi secular jihadists?

What an ethical guy. But what else can we expect from Blackwell? After all, he was the Secretary of State in Ohio when Bush won the state by a suspicious number of votes--an election were voters waited in line for more than tweleve hours to cast their ballots--a fiasco that made elections in places like Haiti look fair and progressive.

So, for Ken Blackwell--because he thinks you're being persecuted by secular jihadist Nazis.

That's good enough for me.


Feds after Google data

By Howard Mintz
Mercury News

The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.

The move is part of a government effort to revive an Internet child protection law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law was meant to punish online pornography sites that make their content accessible to minors. The government contends it needs the Google data to determine how often pornography shows up in online searches.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.

The Mountain View-based search and advertising giant opposes releasing the information on a variety of grounds, saying it would violate the privacy rights of its users and reveal company trade secrets, according to court documents.

Nicole Wong, an associate general counsel for Google, said the company will fight the government's effort ``vigorously.''

``Google is not a party to this lawsuit, and the demand for the information is overreaching,'' Wong said.

The case worries privacy advocates, given the vast amount of information Google and other search engines know about their users.

``This is exactly the kind of case that privacy advocates have long feared,'' said Ray Everett-Church, a South Bay privacy consultant. ``The idea that these massive databases are being thrown open to anyone with a court document is the worst-case scenario. If they lose this fight, consumers will think twice about letting Google deep into their lives.''

Everett-Church, who has consulted with Internet companies facing subpoenas, said Google could argue that releasing the information causes undue harm to its users' privacy.

``The government can't even claim that it's for national security,'' Everett-Church said. ``They're just using it to get the search engines to do their research for them in a way that compromises the civil liberties of other people.''

The government argues that it needs the information as it prepares to once again defend the constitutionality of the Child Online Protection Act in a federal court in Pennsylvania. The law was struck down in 2004 because it was too broad and could prevent adults from accessing legal porn sites.

However, the Supreme Court invited the government to either come up with a less drastic version of the law or go to trial to prove that the statute does not violate the First Amendment and is the only viable way to combat child porn.

As a result, government lawyers said in court papers they are developing a defense of the 1998 law based on the argument that it is far more effective than software filters in protecting children from porn. To back that claim, the government has subpoenaed search engines to develop a factual record of how often Web users encounter online porn and how Web searches turn up material they say is ``harmful to minors.''

The government indicated that other, unspecified search engines have agreed to release the information, but not Google.

``The production of those materials would be of significant assistance to the government's preparation of its defense of the constitutionality of this important statute,'' government lawyers wrote, noting that Google is the largest search engine.

Google has the largest share of U.S. Web searches with 46 percent, according to November 2005 figures from Nielsen//NetRatings. Yahoo is second with 23 percent, and MSN third with 11 percent.


Torture flights: what No 10 knew and tried to cover up

Leaked memo reveals strategy to deny knowledge of detention centres

Richard Norton-Taylor
Thursday January 19, 2006
The Guardian

The government is secretly trying to stifle attempts by MPs to find out what it knows about CIA "torture flights" and privately admits that people captured by British forces could have been sent illegally to interrogation centres, the Guardian can reveal. A hidden strategy aimed at suppressing a debate about rendition - the US practice of transporting detainees to secret centres where they are at risk of being tortured - is revealed in a briefing paper sent by the Foreign Office to No 10.

The document shows that the government has been aware of secret interrogation centres, despite ministers' denials. It admits that the government has no idea whether individuals seized by British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan have been sent to the secret centres.

Dated December 7 last year, the document is a note from Irfan Siddiq, of the foreign secretary's private office, to Grace Cassy in Tony Blair's office. It was obtained by the New Statesman magazine, whose latest issue is published today.

It was drawn up in response to a Downing Street request for advice "on substance and handling" of the controversy over CIA rendition flights and allegations of Britain's connivance in the practice.

"We should try to avoid getting drawn on detail", Mr Siddiq writes, "and to try to move the debate on, in as front foot a way we can, underlining all the time the strong anti-terrorist rationale for close cooperation with the US, within our legal obligations."

The document advises the government to rely on a statement by Condoleezza Rice last month when the US secretary of state said America did not transport anyone to a country where it believed they would be tortured and that, "where appropriate", Washington would seek assurances.

The document notes: "We would not want to cast doubt on the principle of such government-to-government assurances, not least given our own attempts to secure these from countries to which we wish to deport their nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism: Algeria etc."

The document says that in the most common use of the term - namely, involving real risk of torture - rendition could never be legal. It also says that the US emphasised torture but not "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment", which binds Britain under the European convention on human rights. British courts have adopted a lower threshold of what constitutes torture than the US has.

The note includes questions and answers on a number of issues. "Would cooperating with a US rendition operation be illegal?", it asks, and gives the response: "Where we have no knowledge of illegality, but allegations are brought to our attention, we ought to make reasonable enquiries". It asks: "How do we know whether those our armed forces have helped to capture in Iraq or Afghanistan have subsequently been sent to interrogation centres?" The reply given is: "Cabinet Office is researching this with MoD [Ministry of Defence]. But we understand the basic answer is that we have no mechanism for establishing this, though we would not ourselves question such detainees while they were in such facilities".

Ministers have persistently taken the line, in answers to MPs' questions, that they were unaware of CIA rendition flights passing through Britain or of secret interrogation centres.

On December 7 - the date of the leaked document - Charles Kennedy, then Liberal Democrat leader, asked Mr Blair when he was first made aware of the American rendition flights, and when he approved them. Mr Blair replied: "In respect of airports, I do not know what the right hon gentleman is referring to."

On December 22, asked at his monthly press conference about the US practice of rendition, the prime minister told journalists: "It is not something that I have ever actually come across until this whole thing has blown up, and I don't know anything about it." He said he had never heard of secret interrogation camps in Europe. But Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, recently disclosed that Whitehall inquiries had shown Britain had received rendition requests from the Clinton administration.

In 1998, Mr Straw, then home secretary, agreed to one request, but turned down another because the individual concerned was to be transported to Egypt. He agreed that Mohammed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, suspected of involvement in the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, could be transported to the US for trial via Stansted, according to the briefing paper. Owhali was subsequently given a life sentence.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, which has demanded an inquiry into allegations of British collusion in rendition flights, said she was "deeply disappointed" by the memo. "The government seems more concerned about spinning than investigating our concerns," she said. She has written to Mr Straw saying the government must now give its full support to the inquiry conducted, at Liberty's behest, by the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Michael Todd.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Blair had fully endorsed Ms Rice's statement, yet the prime minister had clear advice that it might have been deliberately worded to allow for cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. "I am submitting an urgent question to the speaker and expect the foreign secretary to come to parliament to explain the government's position," he said. "Evasion can no longer be sustained: there is now overwhelming evidence to support a full public inquiry into rendition."

Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester and chairman of the parliamentary group on rendition, said last night: "All the experts who have looked at Rice's assurances have concluded that they are so carefully worded as to be virtually worthless. Relying on them, as the government appears to be doing, speaks volumes". He said his committee would pursue the issue.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


White House Prescription For Medicare Woes: Another PR Campaign

The Bush administration’s implementation of its new Medicare prescription drug benefit wasn’t quite a “seamless transition” as Medicare administrator Mark McClellan promised. The Miami Herald has called the implementation of the new program an “unmitigated disaster.”

But instead of mitigating the disaster, the Bush administration has launched a PR campaign:

President Bush’s top health advisers will fan out across the country this week to quell rising discontent with a new Medicare prescription drug benefit that has tens of thousands of elderly and disabled Americans, their pharmacists, and governors struggling to resolve myriad start-up problems.

Several hundred thousand” people enrolled in the new plans were unable to fill essential prescriptions and many states declared public health emergencies. Twenty states have stepped up to the plate to “help low-income people by paying drug claims that should have been paid by the federal Medicare program.”

McClellan, who has found plenty of cash for his propaganda campaigns, now refuses to reimburse these 20 states that picked up the administration’s slack:

People are in Medicare drug plans, and it’s the Medicare plans that are supposed to pay for the medications.

More at firedoglake and Eschaton.


McClellan On Extraordinary Rendition To Syria: “That’s A New One”

At today’s press conference Scott McClellan claimed he has never heard reports that the United States sent detainees to Syria, where they were tortured:

QUESTION: There are allegations that we sent people to Syria to be tortured…


QUESTION: Yes. You’ve never heard of any allegations like that?

MCCLELLAN: No, I’ve never heard that one. That’s a new one.

QUESTION: Syria? You haven’t heard that?

MCCLELLAN: That’s a new one.

QUESTION: Well, I can assure you it’s been well publicized. My question is…

MCCLELLAN: By what, bloggers?

Actually it was reported on page A1 of the Washington Post more than two years ago:

A Canadian citizen who was detained last year at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as a suspected terrorist said Tuesday he was secretly deported to Syria and endured 10 months of torture in a Syrian prison.

It’s also been reported by the New York Times, the Associated Press, New Yorker Magazine and just about every other major news source in the country.

McClellan himself was asked about in on 2/28/05:

Q Has the President ever issued an order against torture of prisoners? And do we still send prisoners to Syria to be tortured?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has stated publicly that we do not condone torture and that he would never authorize the use of torture. He has made that –

Q But has he issued an order?

MR. McCLELLAN: — statement very publicly, and he’s made it clear to everybody in the government that we do not torture.

Q Well, why do we still hear these stories then?

MR. McCLELLAN: If there are allegations of wrongdoing, then the President expects those allegations to be fully investigated and if there is actual wrongdoing that occurs, then people need to be held to account. The President has made that very clear.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.


U.S. has deliberate policy of torture, rights group says

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration has a deliberate strategy of abusing terror suspects during interrogations, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday in its annual report on the treatment of people in more than 70 countries.

The human rights group based its conclusions mostly on statements by senior administration officials in the past year, and said President Bush's reassurances that the United States does not torture suspects were deceptive and rang hollow.

"In 2005 it became disturbingly clear that the abuse of detainees had become a deliberate, central part of the Bush administration's strategy of interrogating terrorist suspects," the report said.

On a trip to Europe last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told foreign leaders that cruel and degrading interrogation methods were forbidden for all U.S. personnel at home and abroad. She provided little detail, however, about which practices were banned and other specifics.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday he had only seen news accounts of the report, but he rejected its conclusions.

"It appears to be based more on a political agenda than facts," he said. "The United States does more than any country in the world to advance freedom and promote human rights. ...The focus should be more on those who are violating human rights and denying people their human rights."

In a separate report the organization strongly criticized three insurgent groups in Iraq -- al Qaeda, Ansar al-Sunna and the Islamic Army -- for targeting civilians with car bombs and using suicide bombers in mosques, markets, bus stations.

However, the group said the abuses "took place in the context of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the ensuing military occupation that resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths and sparked the emergence of insurgent groups."

Report criticizes Gonzales

Human Rights Watch has criticized the Bush administration's war against terrorism before, registering concern that abuses in the name of fighting terrorism were unjustified and counterproductive. In other reports the group has protested that the Bush administration's promotion of democracy was applied narrowly and missed allies, like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, that were due criticism.

The latest report taking aim at the Bush administration said that the president's repeated assurances that U.S. interrogators do not torture prisoners studiously avoid mentioning that international law prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners.

The report said that, in January 2005, Alberto Gonzales -- while still the nominee to become attorney general -- claimed in Senate testimony the power to use cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as long as the prisoner was a non-American held outside the United States.

"Other governments obviously subject detainees to such treatment or worse, but they do so clandestinely," the report said. "The Bush administration is the only government in the world known to claim this power openly, as a matter of official policy, and to pretend that it is lawful."

Last fall Gonzales submitted documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying "it is the policy of the administration to abide by" the relevant portion of the torture treaty overseas, "even if such compliance is not legally required."

In December Bush bowed to congressional and international pressure and signed legislation sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, to forbid harsh treatment of detainees. He did so after initially threatening to veto such legislation, and after Vice President Dick Cheney unsuccessfully lobbied legislators to kill the measure or at least exempt the Central Intelligence Agency.

Report alleges a conscious policy choice

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in an interview that he was concerned that, in a statement Bush issued when signing the bill, the president suggested he retains "commander in chief authority" to order abusive interrogations.

The report said that CIA Director Porter Goss last March justified an age-old torture technique called water-boarding, in which the victim believes he is about to drown. Last August, in Senate testimony, Timothy Flanigan, a former deputy White House counsel, would not rule out mock executions, the report said.

Evidence shows that abusive interrogation was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials and cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, the report said.

The report claimed abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at detention centers elsewhere in Iraq and in Afghanistan and the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The report said Britain was threatening to send suspects to countries likely to torture them. Both the United States and Britain are claiming the practice -- known as rendition -- can be justified, if the receiving country promises not to abuse the suspects. (See how rendition differs from extradition)

Canada, meanwhile, was criticized as trying to dilute a newly drafted U.N. treaty to outlaw the practice of countries' detaining people secretly and without acknowledgment.

Many countries -- including Uzbekistan, Russia and China -- use the "war on terrorism" to attack political opponents as Islamic terrorists, the report said.

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