In September, the U.S. government will fire into orbit a two-stage rocket from a Virginia launchpad. Officially, the mission is a scientific one, designed to improve America’s ability to send small satellites into space quickly and cheaply. But the launch will also have a second purpose: to help the elite forces of U.S. Special Operations Command hunt down people considered to be dangerous to the United States and its interests.
For years, special operators have used tiny “tags” to clandestinely mark their prey — and satellites to relay information from those beacons. But there are areas of the world where the satellite coverage is thin, and there aren’t enough cell towers to provide an alternative. That’s why SOCOM is putting eight miniature communications satellites, each about the size of a water jug, on top of the Minotaur rocket that’s getting ready to launch from Wallops Island, Virginia. They’ll sit more than 300 miles above the earth and provide a new way for the beacons to call back to their masters.
The belief that the US government will be using drones to spy on its citizens might not have any basis, as its security forces move towards satellite spying instead.
In September, the US government will fire into orbit a two-stage rocket from a Virginia launchpad. According to official reports, the mission is scientific one, designed to improve America’s ability to send small satellites into space quickly and cheaply.
Satellites. So humans can hunt humans. Great. Since the days when simple spears were used for the same purpose, how have we progressed, morally? What new world-wide compassion programs, what great ethics and understanding revolutions have we had to prevent the misuse of our rockets and our meat cleavers?
It is now well known that the Obama justice department has prosecuted more government leakers under the 1917 Espionage Act than all prior administrations combined – in fact, double the number of all such prior prosecutions. But as last week’s controversy over the DOJ’s pursuit of the phone records of AP reporters illustrated, this obsessive fixation in defense of secrecy also targets, and severely damages, journalists specifically and the newsgathering process in general.
New revelations emerged yesterday in the Washington Post that are perhaps the most extreme yet when it comes to the DOJ’s attacks on press freedoms. It involves the prosecution of State Department adviser Stephen Kim, a naturalized citizen from South Korea who was indicted in 2009 for allegedly telling Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, that US intelligence believed North Korea would respond to additional UN sanctions with more nuclear tests – something Rosen then reported. Kim did not obtain unauthorized access to classified information, nor steal documents, nor sell secrets, nor pass them to an enemy of the US. Instead, the DOJ alleges that he merely communicated this innocuous information to a journalist – something done every day in Washington – and, for that, this arms expert and long-time government employee faces more than a decade in prison for “espionage”.
The focus of the Post’s report yesterday is that the DOJ’s surveillance of Rosen, the reporter, extended far beyond even what they did to AP reporters. The FBI tracked Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department, traced the timing of his calls, and – most amazingly – obtained a search warrant to read two days worth of his emails, as well as all of his emails with Kim. In this case, said the Post, “investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.” It added that “court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist”.
But what makes this revelation particularly disturbing is that the DOJ, in order to get this search warrant, insisted that not only Kim, but also Rosen – the journalist – committed serious crimes. The DOJ specifically argued that by encouraging his source to disclose classified information – something investigative journalists do every day – Rosen himself broke the law. Describing an affidavit from FBI agent Reginald Reyes filed by the DOJ, the Post reports [emphasis added]:
“Reyes wrote that there was evidence Rosen had broken the law, ‘at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator’. That fact distinguishes his case from the probe of the AP, in which the news organization is not the likely target. Using italics for emphasis, Reyes explained how Rosen allegedly used a ‘covert communications plan’ and quoted from an e-mail exchange between Rosen and Kim that seems to describe a secret system for passing along information. . . . However, it remains an open question whether it’s ever illegal, given the First Amendment’s protection of press freedom, for a reporter to solicit information. No reporter, including Rosen, has been prosecuted for doing so.”
Under US law, it is not illegal to publish classified information. That fact, along with the First Amendment’s guarantee of press freedoms, is what has prevented the US government from ever prosecuting journalists for reporting on what the US government does in secret. This newfound theory of the Obama DOJ – that a journalist can be guilty of crimes for “soliciting” the disclosure of classified information – is a means for circumventing those safeguards and criminalizing the act of investigative journalism itself. These latest revelations show that this is not just a theory but one put into practice, as the Obama DOJ submitted court documents accusing a journalist of committing crimes by doing this. …
The Justice Department secretly collected two months of telephone records for reporters and editors at The Associated Press, the news service disclosed Monday in an outraged letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
The records included calls from several AP bureaus and the personal phone lines of several staffers, AP President Gary Pruitt wrote. Pruitt called the subpoenas a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its reporting.
“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” wrote Pruitt, the news agency’s CEO.
The AP reported that the government has not said why it wanted the records. But it noted that U.S. officials have said they were probing how details of a foiled bomb plot that targeted a U.S.-bound aircraft leaked in May 2012. The news agency said records from five reporters and an editor who worked on a story about the plot were among those collected.
The subpoenas were disclosed to the news agency on Friday, Pruitt wrote. In all, federal agents collected records from more than 20 lines, including personal phones and AP phone numbers in New York; Hartford, Connecticut; and Washington, he wrote.
“We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news,” he told Holder. Pruitt demanded that the department return all records collected and destroy all copies.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington responded that federal investigators seek phone records from news outlets only after making “every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means.” It did not disclose the subject of the probe.
“We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation,” it said. “Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.”
Federal agents have launched several investigations into leaks of classified information in the past few years. Holder announced in June 2012 that he had assigned two U.S. attorneys to lead investigations into the possible leaking of state secrets, and members of Congress have complained about disclosures of electronic warfare campaigns against Iran, U.S. drone attacks w and Obama’s personal involvements cix in “kill lists” of militants in Yemen and Pakistan….X
It is not enough for Syria’s opposition to condemn such behavior or blame it on violence by the government. The opposition forces need to act firmly to stop such abuses.
Nadim Houry, Middle East deputy director
Human Rights Watch has reviewed graphic evidence that appears to show a commander of the Syrian opposition “Independent Omar al-Farouq” brigade mutilating the corpse of a pro-government fighter. The figure in the video cuts the heart and liver out of the body and uses sectarian language to insult Alawites. The same brigade was implicated in April 2013 in the cross-border indiscriminate shelling of the Lebanese Shi’a villages of al-Qasr and Hawsh al-Sayyed.
It is not known whether the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade operates within the command structure of the Free Syrian Army. But the opposition Syrian National Coalition and the Free Syrian Army leadership should take all possible steps to hold those responsible for war crimes accountable and prevent such abuses by anyone under their command. Any party with the power to do so should do all it can to keep weapons from reaching the brigade. Human Rights Watch repeated its call to the United Nations Security Council to refer theSyria situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure accountability for all war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“One important way to stop Syria’s daily horrors, from beheadings to mutilations to executions, is to strip all sides from their sense of impunity,” said Nadim Houry, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “These atrocities are shocking but so is the obstruction of some Security Council members that still do not support an ICC referral for all sides.”
In the video obtained by Human Rights Watch, a man identified by the person filming the incident as Abu Sakkar is filmed cutting the chest of a dead uniformed fighter, and removing the heart and liver from the corpse. The person filming the incident then comments, while “Abu Sakkar” is cutting out the corpse’s liver: “God Bless you, Abu Sakkar, you look like you are drawing [carving] a heart of love on him.” After Abu Sakkar completes the cutting out of the corpse’s heart and liver, he is filmed holding the heart and liver in his hands and speaks into the camera:
I swear to God, soldiers of Bashar, you dogs – we will eat your heart and livers! Takbir! God is Great! Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!
At the end of the video, after that statement, the man called Abu Sakkar is filmed putting the corpse’s heart into his mouth, as if he is taking a bite out of it. Because of the extremely graphic and disturbing nature of the video, Human Rights Watch has decided not to publicly release the footage, although an edited and blurred version is available on the internet.
By comparing frames of the mutilation video to other videos showing what appears to be the same man participating in the shelling thatindiscriminately hit Lebanese Shi’a villages and talking about killed Hezbollah fighters, Human Rights Watch believes the person in the video to be Commander Abu Sakkar. Journalists and other commanders have said that Abu Sakkar is the nom de guerre of a former commander from the mainstream al-Farouq Brigade from the Baba Amr district of Homs, in Syria.
Four international journalists told Human Rights Watch that they met him during or after the battle of Homs in 2011 and 2012. Several other videos posted by the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade also show the man known as Abu Sakkar, wearing the same jacket as in the mutilation video, loading rockets into an improvised rocket launcher before apparently firing them into Lebanon at Shi’a villages in the Bekaa Valley. In yet another video, Abu Sakkar appears with what he claims are the bodies of killed Hezbollah fighters in the town of al-Qusayr. TIME Magazine reported on May 13 that two of its reporters first saw the mutilation video in April in the presence of several of Abu Sakkar’s fighters and supporters, including his brother, who all told them that the video was authentic.
The laws of war prohibit any mutilation of dead bodies. As set out by the International Committee of the Red Cross’s study of customary international humanitarian law, this rule requires that “each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled.” Under the Rome Statute of the ICC, “outrage upon personal dignity” is a war crime, which includes humiliating, degrading, or otherwise violating the dignity of a dead body. …
Into brains of newborn mice, researchers implanted human “progenitor cells.” These mature into a type of brain cell called astrocytes… They grew into human astrocytes, crowding out mouse astrocytes. The mouse brains became chimeras of human and mouse, with the workhorse mouse brain cells – neurons – nurtured by billions of human astrocytes.
Neuroscience is only beginning to discover what astrocytes do in brains. One job that is known is that they help neurons build connections (synapses) with other neurons. (Firing neurotransmitter molecules across synapses is how neurons communicate.) Human astrocytes are larger and more complex than those of other mammals. Humans’ unique brain capabilities may depend on this complexity.
Human astrocytes certainly inspired the mice. Their neurons did indeed build stronger synapses. (Perhaps this was because human astrocytes signal three times faster than mouse astrocytes do.) Mouse learning sharpened, too. On the first try, for instance, altered mice perceived the connection between a noise and an electric shock (a standard learning test in mouse research). Normal mice need a few repetitions to get the idea. Memories of the doctored mice were better too: they remembered mazes, object locations, and the shock lessons longer.
Astrocytes (red) embedded among neurons (green)
The reciprocal pulsing of billions of human and mouse brain cells inside a mouse skull is a little creepy. Imagine one of these hybrid mice exploring your living room. Would you feel like a Stone Age tribesman observing a toy robot? Does the thing think?
Neuroscience has no idea – none – of how a mind rises like a genie from the fleshy human brain. It supposes, however, that the magic trick’s spoiler will turn out to reside in physics and chemistry of brain cells. That is the discipline’s fundamental assumption. Nowhere else can the mystery be hiding.
But we have no idea what’s happening as billions of human astrocytes animate rodent awareness inside the tiny skulls. And “awareness” is one quality of “mind.” Do billions of human cells have no effect on mouse awareness? …
They know. They understand what has been done to them. If you look closely they are trying to give you the middle mouse finger each time you prepare to administer a shock. They hate you for trapping them in a short lived mouse and they hate the rest of humanity for letting you get away with this experiment.
The Internet shutdown in the war-torn nation of Syria has entered its second day. Government media reports there are blaming a “fault in fiber optic cables,” according to a report from Al-Jazeera, the Dubai-based news organization that covers the Middle East.
The reports from SANA, the official Syrian government news agency, are also confirming reports I picked up last night via Twitter that domestic phone service within Syria is also down.
SANA’s explanation doesn’t pass the smell test, mainly because it would require the simultaneous failure of four separate fiber optic cables that bring bandwidth into the country. And there would the additional reports of service problems in countries that share the same cables. According to Google’s Transparency report, there are no such failures in Turkey, or Lebanon, or Cyprus, or Jordan.
Renesys, the U.S.-based research firm that tracks the health of Internet infrastructure around the world, shared via Twitter a map showing the routes of three undersea cables that service Syria. …
As we on the outside of all this speculate on reasons why the government would shut off Internet access, I have a few ideas. One thing I noticed as I drilled down into Google’s Transparency report for Syria was what to my eye appears to be an unusual rise in traffic from Syria to YouTube relatively early in the day. See the image below and look at the spike that occurs on May 7.
I’m just speculating here, but there have been reports of a significant massacre of at least 62 civilians by a pro-Assad paramilitary force in the coastal city of Banias on May 3 and May 4. I’ve noticed that there are several very grisly videos circulating on YouTube concerning this. (I’ve seen one that nearly made me sick, so I won’t show them to you…)
Perhaps the YouTube-related spike I noticed might coincide with increased interest inside Syria in these YouTube videos, and that the Assad government may find them enough of a threat that it would rather shut down the Internet while trying to find a way to block them or maybe try to scrub them.
There would also be a side benefit for the government side in disrupting communications capabilities of the rebel fighters, in order to keep them on the back foot. Meanwhile, any new offensives that the pro-Assad camp might have been planning can go on, and no one on the other side can share any new videos or other information about them with the outside world.
it bears repeating that the civil war in Syria has gone on for two years, and that somewhere between 70,000 and 75,000 people have died in it, most of them civilians.
Big Brother is watching everything that you do on the Internet and listening to everything that you say on your phone. Every single day in America, the U.S. government intercepts and stores nearly 2 billion emails, phone calls and other forms of electronic communication. Former NSA employees have come forward and have described exactly what is taking place, and this surveillance activity has been reported on by prominent news organizations such as the Washington Post, Fox News and CNN, but nobody really seems to get too upset about it.Either most Americans are not aware of what is really going on or they have just accepted it as part of modern life. But where will this end? Do we really want to live in a dystopian “Big Brother society” where the government literally reads every single thing that we write and listens to every single thing that we say? Is that what the future of America is going to look like? If so, what do you think our founding fathers would have said about that?
Many Americans may not realize this, but nothing that you do on your cell phone or on the Internet will ever be private again. According to the Washington Post, the NSA intercepts and stores an astounding amount of information every single day… Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases.
But even the Washington Post may not have been aware of the full scope of the surveillance. In fact, National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney claims that the NSA has collected “20 trillion transactions” involving U.S. citizens… In fact, I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens.
And NSA whistleblowers have also told us that the agency “has the capability to do individualized searches, similar to Google, for particular electronic communications in real time through such criteria as target addresses, locations, countries and phone numbers, as well as watch-listed names, keywords, and phrases in email.”
So the NSA must have tremendous data storage needs. That must be why they are building such a mammoth data storage center out in Utah. According to Fox News, it will have the capability of storing 5 zettabytes of data… The NSA says the Utah Data Center is a facility for the intelligence community that will have a major focus on cyber security. The agency will neither confirm nor deny specifics. Some published reports suggest it could hold 5 zettabytes of data. Just one zettabyte is the equivalent of about 62 billion stacked iPhones 5′s– that stretches past the moon. Are you outraged by all of this?
People are too stupid to realize how Total Information Awareness could be abused. If you witness a murder, for example, you will tell someone. For the sake of argument, say the murder was done by an organized crime group related to a big drug deal. You may not use email or the phone to talk about this, but the person you tell in person will. Now suppose the organized crime group gets access to the database. They search, find you are a witness, possibly even before you contact the police, and they bump you off. This doesn’t even require a government conspiracy, just bad security. It gets much worse from there.
The real capabilities and behavior of the US surveillance state are almost entirely unknown to the American public because, like most things of significance done by the US government, it operates behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy. But a seemingly spontaneous admission this week by a former FBI counterterrorism agent provides a rather startling acknowledgment of just how vast and invasive these surveillance activities are.
Over the past couple days, cable news tabloid shows such as CNN’s Out Front with Erin Burnett have been excitingly focused on the possible involvement in the Boston Marathon attack of Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. As part of their relentless stream of leaks uncritically disseminated by our Adversarial Press Corps, anonymous government officials are claiming that they are now focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way.
On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:
BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It’s not a voice mail. It’s just a conversation. There’s no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?
CLEMENTE: “No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.
BURNETT: “So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.
CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”
NSA director Keith Alexander, shown here in a file photo, who’s also the commander of the U.S. Cyber Command.
Justice Department agreed to issue “2511 letters” immunizing AT&T and other companies participating in a cybersecurity program from criminal prosecution under the Wiretap Act, according to new documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Senior Obama administration officials have secretly authorized the interception of communications carried on portions of networks operated by AT&T and other Internet service providers, a practice that might otherwise be illegal under federal wiretapping laws.
The secret legal authorization from the Justice Department originally applied to a cybersecurity pilot project in which the military monitored defense contractors’ Internet links. Since then, however, the program has been expanded by President Obama to cover all critical infrastructure sectors including energy, healthcare, and finance starting June 12.
“The Justice Department is helping private companies evade federal wiretap laws,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which obtained over 1,000 pages of internal government documents and provided them to CNET this week. “Alarm bells should be going off.”
Those documents show the National Security Agency and the Defense Department were deeply involved in pressing for the secret legal authorization, with NSA director Keith Alexander participating in some of the discussions personally. Despite initial reservations, including from industry participants, Justice Department attorneys eventually signed off on the project.
The Justice Department agreed to grant legal immunity to the participating network providers in the form of what participants in the confidential discussions refer to as “2511 letters,” a reference to the Wiretap Act codified at 18 USC 2511 in the federal statute books.
The Wiretap Act limits the ability of Internet providers to eavesdrop on network traffic except when monitoring is a “necessary incident” to providing the service or it takes place with a user’s “lawful consent.” An industry representative told CNET the 2511 letters provided legal immunity to the providers by agreeing not to prosecute for criminal violations of the Wiretap Act. It’s not clear how many 2511 letters were issued by the Justice Department.
In 2011, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn publicly disclosed the existence of the original project, called the DIB Cyber Pilot, which used login banners to inform network users that monitoring was taking place. In May 2012, the pilot was turned into an ongoing program — broader but still voluntary — by the name of Joint Cybersecurity Services Pilot, with the Department of Homeland Security becoming involved for the first time. It was renamed again to Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program in January, and is currently being expanded to all types of companies operating critical infrastructure.
The NSA and DOJ declined to comment. Homeland Security spokesman Sy Lee sent CNET a statement saying:
DHS is committed to supporting the public’s privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties. Accordingly, the department has implemented strong privacy and civil rights and civil liberties standards into all its cybersecurity programs and initiatives from the outset, including the Enhanced Cybersecurity Services program. In order to protect privacy while safeguarding and securing cyberspace, DHS institutes layered privacy responsibilities throughout the department, embeds fair practice principles into cybersecurity programs and privacy compliance efforts, and fosters collaboration with cybersecurity partners.
Paul Rosenzweig, a former Homeland Security official and founder of Red Branch Consulting, compared the NSA and DOD asking the Justice Department for 2511 letters to the CIA asking the Justice Department for the so-called torture memos a decade ago. (They were written by Justice Department official John Yoo, who reached the controversial conclusion that waterboarding was not torture.) …
As a journalist, Anna Politkovskaya’s fearless coverage of the conflict and human rights situation in Chechnya earned her international recognition. It also brought harassment and intimidation from authorities. She was detained, threatened and poisoned because of her work. In October 2006, she was shot dead at her home in Moscow.
“The people on trial are connected to the murder, but it’s not clear how connected they are, or what their role is,” one source said. “It’s a very difficult, complicated case.” Staff at the paper were “pessimistic” that the mastermind would be caught, he said, adding that the defendants could be acquitted on appeal.
“The idea is to show that the guilty have been punished. In reality those behind the murder haven’t been apprehended,” says Natalia Estemirova, from the human rights organisation Memorial in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital. “The trial has been a farce. There has been no serious attempt to properly investigate.” …
“It is generally accepted that we Russians do not like ourselves much.” So wrote the late Politkovskaya (1958–2006) (Putin’s Russia, 2006, etc.), who paid with her life for her daring critiques of post-Soviet society.
This spirited collection, originally published by the journal Novaya Gazeta in 2007, opens with a self-interview taken from the journalist’s laptop after her death. In it, she accuses most of her journalistic colleagues in Russia with being koverny, or clowns, “whose job it is to keep the public entertained and, if they do have to write about anything serious, then merely to tell everyone how wonderful the Pyramid of Power is in all its manifestations.” The big-shoe phenomenon spreads far beyond Russia, of course, and Politkovskaya is not alone when she asks what the fate of those who refuse to play in the Big Top is—“They become pariahs,” she answers, though in her case it was worse still. Much of the collection concerns Russia’s war in Chechnya, which has quieted down since, but, only a few years ago, was raging—no thanks to orchestrated atrocities on the part of the Russian Army that Politkovskaya covered and uncovered. One was the so-called Shatoy Tragedy, in which Russian soldiers under the command of the Central Intelligence Directorate killed six Chechen civilians and burned their bodies.
It is the time for journalists to seriously consider if fighting for human rights is worth one’s life. Included in this are bloggers like myself who range from amateur to professional journalists. Based on my belief that I have the right and duty as an American citizen to monitor and complain about my government, I have not been shy about speaking my mind. My posts over the years have been skeptical and critical of my government, and at times paranoid. I have done, I estimate, more than my fair share of my civic duty for my couch surfing now Facebooking American country-folk.
Do I now retire from defending human rights? Would I really die to save others, people I don’t know, from abuses such as torture and false imprisonment if it put people I do know and love in danger? If it was just myself, my own life on the line, that’s a different question, but there are no guarantees. The world is changing. It is a time for soul-searching.
And you, readers of this blog, I don’t know the vast majority of you. Perhaps the weird crime news, funny animals and biology/technology stories are enough to keep this site interesting without using the soapbox to defend democracy and the US Constitution. When I hear a lie, why not, like everyone else, just complain to a few close friends and let it go at that? What drives me to publish and help the more easily fooled see possible deceptions? A sense of duty, compassion and fear of rising tyranny, I suppose. I could blame my 7th grade Civics teacher who said the country will fail if we don’t each do our part. If not me, who? Thus I have researched and written.
But how far will I take it?
I’m not saying this influences my decision, but I do have a question for you:
If this blog had no political/conspiracy information, would you be more or less likely to read it?