The Obama administration has announced it will keep 19 diplomatic outposts in North Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week due to fears of a possible militant threat. Ramped-up security measures were in place over the weekend at some of the 22 posts shuttered by the concerns. Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said communications had been intercepted that were reminiscent of what was heard before the 9/11 attacks. Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Senator Chambliss credited the National Security Agency’s spy programs with detecting the threat.
Saxby Chambliss: “These programs are controversial. We understand that. They’re very sensitive. But they’re also very important, because they are what lead us to have the — or allow us to have the ability to gather this chatter that I referred to. If we did not have these programs, then we simply wouldn’t be able to listen in on the bad guys. And I will say that it’s the 702 program that has allowed us to pick up on this chatter. That’s the program that allows us to listen overseas, not on domestic soil, but overseas.”
Senator Chambliss should be asked if the latest intercepted communications are “reminiscent of what was heard before the 9/11 attacks,” then how could the “702 program” enacted in 2008 provide a unique ability to detect a similar kind of terrorist threat that was in fact detected in 2001 without it.
The Obama administration has announced it will keep 19 diplomatic posts in North Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to fears of a possible militant threat. On Sunday, Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the decision to close the embassies was based on information collected by the National Security Agency. “If we did not have these programs, we simply would not be able to listen in on the bad guys,” Chambliss said, in a direct reference to increasing debate over widespread spying of all Americans revealed by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian. “Nobody has ever questioned or disputed that the U.S. government, like all governments around the world, ought to be eavesdropping and monitoring the conversations of people who pose an actual threat to the United States in terms of plotting terrorist attacks,” Greenwald says. Pointing to the recent revelations by leaker Edward Snowden that he has reported on, Greenwald explains, “Here we are in the midst of one of the most intense debates and sustained debates that we’ve had in a very long time in this country over the dangers of excess surveillance, and suddenly, an administration that has spent two years claiming that it has decimated al-Qaeda decides that there is this massive threat that involves the closing of embassies and consulates around the world. … The controversy is over the fact that they are sweeping up billions and billions of emails and telephone calls every single day from people around the world and in the United States who have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.”
Lawmakers used the government’s early warning of a terrorist threat to defend the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs on Sunday, saying the threat — which some have described as among the most serious since 9/11 — might not have been detected without the government’s aggressive intelligence-gathering tools.
Sources tell CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton that intelligence officials learned about the threat, in part, as a result of “intercepts” of terrorist chatter that indicate that the operation is in “the final stages” and “it could be big.”
Skeptics of the government’s surveillance authority, however, said there’s no clear indication that the NSA programs under scrutiny contributed any information about the particulars of this plot, which compelled the State Department to issue a travel alert and close 22 embassies and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa on Sunday.
Other news regarding NSA surveillance operations and government secrecy:
New documents obtained by Reuters show that the Drug Enforement Administration is helping the NSA cover up government surveillance. The Special Operations Division of the DEA, otherwise known as SOD, funnels secretly-obatined information to authorities around our nation to initiate criminal investigations of American citizens. And, these aren’t people suspected of terrorist plots; this DEA program targets common criminals and drug dealers. The documents obtained by Reuters indicate that agents are trained to “recreate” the source of the invesigations, to conceal how the information was originally obtained. Agents aren’t just hiding these tactics from the defense attorneys representing alleged criminals, they’re concealing the true source of information from prosecutors and judges as well.According to Reuters, some experts say that this practice violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial, as it prevents those accused of a crime from accurately challenging the validity of the evidence presented against them. Former federal judge Nancy Gertner said, “It is one thing to create special rules for national security. Ordinary crime is different. It sounds like [these DEA agents] are phonying up investigations.”
Government auditors announced this week that they will review how the Pentagon decides if documents should be kept secret, with an eye toward determining whether the Department of Defense engages in “classification inflation.”
That it does seems clear, argue US lawmakers, who add that the challenge will be finding the right balance between transparency and secrecy.
It’s a question that has been at the heart of hearings into the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) leaked by Edward Snowden, and the trial of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is awaiting sentencing for releasing documents that his defense team contends may have been embarrassing to the government but did not threaten US national security.
On July 30, 1778, the Continental Congress created the first whistleblower protection law, stating “that it is the duty of all persons in the service of the United States to give the earliest information to Congress or other proper authority of any misconduct, frauds, or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states.”
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So welcome to post-Constitutional America. Its shape is, ominously enough, beginning to come into view.
Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984 was not intended as an instruction manual, but just days before the Manning verdict, the Obama administration essentially buried its now-ironic-campaign promise to protect whistleblowers, sending it down Washington’s version of the memory hole. Post-9/11, torture famously stopped being torture if an American did it, and its users were not prosecutable by the Justice Department.
Similarly, full-spectrum spying is not considered to violate the Fourth Amendment and does not even require probable cause. Low-level NSA analysts have desktop access to the private emails and phone calls of Americans. The Post Office photographs the envelopes of every one of the 160 billion pieces of mail it handles, collecting the metadata of “to:” and “from:” addresses. An Obama administration Insider Threat Program requires federal employees (including the Peace Corps) to report on the suspicious behavior of coworkers.
Government officials concerned over possible wrongdoing in their departments or agencies who “go through proper channels” are fired or prosecuted. Government whistleblowers are commanded to return to face justice, while law-breakers in the service of the government are allowed to flee justice. CIA officers who destroy evidence of torture go free, while a CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture is locked up.
Secret laws and secret courts can create secret law you can’t know about for “crimes” you don’t even know exist. You can nonetheless be arrested for committing them. Thanks to the PATRIOT Act, citizens, even librarians, can be served by the FBI with a National Security Letter (not requiring a court order) demanding records and other information, and gagging them from revealing to anyone that such information has been demanded or such a letter delivered. Citizens may be held without trial, and denied their Constitutional rights as soon as they are designated “terrorists.” Lawyers and habeas corpus are available only when the government allows.
In the last decade, ten times as many employers turned to FBI criminal databases to screen job applicants. The press is restricted when it comes to covering “open trials.” The war on whistleblowers is metastasizing into a war on the First Amendment. People may now be convicted based on secret testimony by unnamed persons. Military courts and jails can replace civilian ones. Justice can be twisted and tangled into an almost unrecognizable form and then used to send a young man to prison for decades. Claiming its actions lawful while shielding the “legal” opinions cited, often even from Congress, the government can send its drones to assassinate its own citizens.
One by one, the tools and attitudes of the war on terror, of a world in which the “gloves” are eternally off, have come home. The comic strip character Pogo’s classic warning—“We have met the enemy and he is us”—seems ever less like a metaphor. According to the government, increasingly we are now indeed their enemy.