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Posts tagged ‘Ron Wyden’

Report: NSA Tracks Billions of Cellphones Daily.

The National Security Agency tracks the locations of nearly 5 billion cellphones every day overseas, including those belonging to Americans abroad, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The NSA inadvertently gathers the location records of “tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad” annually, along with the billions of other records it collects by tapping into worldwide mobile network cables, the newspaper said.

Such data means the NSA can track the movements of almost any cellphone around the world and map the relationships of the cellphone user. The Post said a powerful analytic computer program called CO-TRAVELER crunches the data of billions of unsuspecting people, building patterns of relationships between them by where their phones go. That can reveal a previously unknown terrorist suspect, in guilt by cellphone-location association, for instance.

As the NSA doesn’t know which part of the data it might need, the agency keeps up to 27 terabytes, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress‘ print collection, the Post said. A 2012 internal NSA document said the volumes of data from the location program were “outpacing our ability to ingest, process and store” it, the newspaper said.

The program is detailed in documents given to the newspaper by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden. The Post also quotes unidentified NSA officials, saying they spoke with the permission of their agency.

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, declined to comment on the report.

DNI General Counsel, Robert Litt, has said that NSA does not intentionally gather bulk location data on U.S. cellphones inside the U.S. — but NSA Director Keith Alexander testified before Congress his agency ran tests in 2010 and 2011 on “samples” of U.S. cell-site data to see if it was technically possible to plug such data into NSA analysis systems. 

Alexander said that the information was never used for intelligence purposes and that the testing was reported to congressional intelligence committees. He said it was determined to be of little “operational value,” so the NSA did not ask for permission to gather such data.

Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at the time that Alexander could have explained more. 

“The intelligence leadership has decided to leave most of the real story secret,” Wyden said, though he would not elaborate on the extent of the program. 

Wyden and two other Democratic lawmakers have introduced an amendment to the 2014 defense spending bill that would require intelligence agencies to say whether the NSA “or any other element of the intelligence community has ever collected the cell-site location information of a large number of United States persons with no known connection to suspicious activity, or made plans to collect such information.”

Alexander and other NSA officials have explained that when U.S. data is gathered “incidentally” overseas, it is “minimized,” meaning that when an NSA analysts realize they are dealing with a U.S. phone number, they limit what can be done with it and how long that data can be kept.

Rights activists say those measures fall short of protecting U.S. privacy.

“The scale of foreign surveillance has become so vast, the amount of information about Americans `incidentally’ captured may itself be approaching mass surveillance levels,'” said Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program.

“The government should be targeting its surveillance at those suspected of wrongdoing, not assembling massive associational databases that by their very nature record the movements of a huge number of innocent people,” said Catherine Crump, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


NSA Powers Restored after Obama Request to Secret Court.

The power used by the National Security Agency to spy on Americans‘ phone calls and e-mails was actually blocked during the Bush administration but overturned after Barack Obama took office through a secret court order, the Washington Post reports.

The Obama administration won permission in 2011 from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Americans without a warrant and to keep the information it collected for six years, according to interviews and declassified documents obtained by the Post.

The NSA has been intercepting more than 250 million Internet communications a year, 91 percent of which came from U.S. companies like Google and Yahoo.

The spying operation was exposed by Edward Snowden, who has since sought asylum in Russia to avoid prosecution for the leak.

Robert S. Litt, general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed to the newspaper that the Obama administration asked the court to lift the ban so the government could more quickly learn about terrorist plots.

“We wanted to be able to do it,” Litt said, referring to the searching of Americans’ communications without a warrant.

The court ruling also appears to be the basis of cryptic criticism from within Obama’s own party on Capitol Hill that the federal government had found a “back-door search loophole” to spy on Americans.

Chief among those critics were Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, who also tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation prohibiting the searches of Americans’ communications without a court warrant.

“Our founders laid out a roadmap where Americans’ privacy rights are protected before their communications are seized or searched — not after the fact,” Udall said in a statement to the paper.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Audrey Hudson

Appeals Court Rebuffs Obama Decision to Shutter Yucca Mountain.

Image: Appeals Court Rebuffs Obama Decision to Shutter Yucca Mountain

A federal court put a gridlocked U.S. Congress, already wrestling with shrinking budgets, back in the debate over Yucca Mountain, the multibillion dollar nuclear waste site abandoned by the Obama administration.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled yesterday in a 2-1 split that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must resume consideration of an Energy Department application for the site, killed by President Barack Obama. The agency has at least $11.1 million for the work, the court said.

“That will not be sufficient to finish processing that application, which means the ball is still in Congress’s court when it comes to deciding the direction of U.S. nuclear waste policy,” Keith Chu, a spokesman for Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “Judges aren’t going to solve this problem.”

While the split decision mandates the NRC resume its safety review, it doesn’t guarantee that the facility, which has cost taxpayers and industry at least $15 billion, will be built. Disagreement over a waste dump at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas, has extended across decades, and the ruling means it will drag on longer.

“The court isn’t saying ‘approve Yucca Mountain,’” Victor Gilinsky, a former NRC member, said in a phone interview. The law requires the Energy Department, which would manage the site, to submit an application and the NRC as the regulator to review it, he said. If the Energy Department ultimately decides the Yucca Mountain site doesn’t meet the nation’s needs, “that’s the end of it,” he said.

Funding Withdrawn

The Obama administration halted design and development work for Yucca Mountain in 2009 and the next year cut funding, saying the site was “not a workable option.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has led opposition in Washington to the facility. The NRC ended its review of the application, citing lack of funds.

The Nuclear Policy Waste Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, requires the NRC to consider the Energy Department’s application for the repository, U.S. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in yesterday’s ruling. The commission “is simply flouting the law” by not acting, he said.

“This case has serious implications for our constitutional structure,” Kavanaugh wrote. “It is no overstatement to say that our system of separation of powers would be significantly altered if we were to allow executive and independent agencies to disregard federal law in the manner asserted in this case by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”

Under Review

It remains unclear what the NRC will do next. The agency’s Office of General Counsel, led by Margaret Doane, is reviewing the ruling.

“We will have no further statement at this time, but will be advising the commission on its options for a path forward,” Doane said in an e-mailed statement.

Congress in the 1980s designated Yucca Mountain as the repository’s site, and lawmakers would have to pass legislation to reverse the decision. Wyden has introduced a bipartisan nuclear-waste storage bill, which would set up a process to pick a site based on garnering a community’s consent. Republicans who control the U.S. House have said Yucca Mountain should be the waste site.

The court’s decision “is a significant milestone for Yucca Mountain and a clear rebuke of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s failure to implement” federal law, Republican Representatives Fred Upton of Michigan and John Shimkus of Illinois, said in a statement. Upton is chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Shimkus leads its panel on environment and the economy.

State Actions

Officials from states where nuclear waste is stored, including South Carolina and Washington, asked the court to force the NRC to act.

“Congress passed laws designating Yucca Mountain as America’s nuclear lock box,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement. “The site work has already been done” and the project should be completed “as quickly as possible,” he said.

Yucca Mountain foes said the court’s action was insignificant because Congress hasn’t appropriated money for the repository.

“There is no money, we’ve cut funding for many years now and there is none in the pipeline,” Reid told reporters at a clean-energy summit in Nevada. “This is just a bump in the road, without being disrespectful to the court, it means nothing.”

Congress will be forced to revisit the waste-site funding, Katherine Fuchs, a nuclear subsidies campaigner for the environmental group Friends of the Earth, said in a statement.

New Laws

“The NRC will quickly spend the remaining funds and then Congress must go back to the drawing board to develop new laws on how highly radioactive spent fuel is managed,” Fuchs said.

About 65,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel are stored at 75 U.S. operating and closed U.S. reactor sites, and 2,000 tons are added each year, a panel formed by Obama to examine waste- storage options said in a January 2012 report.

The Energy Department collects about $750 million annually from the industry to pay for waste disposal. The Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group whose members include Exelon Corp. of Chicago and Southern Co. of Atlanta, has protested having to pay the fee without the establishment of a permanent repository.

The Energy Department has said it will work with Congress to develop a plan for nuclear-waste storage. The agency “will respond appropriately to whatever steps the NRC takes” in response to the court’s decision, department spokeswoman Niketa Kumar said in an e-mailed statement.

Even if Congress decides to continue with Yucca, the group working on the project at the Energy Department doesn’t exist. A new group would need to be assembled.

“The fact is, they’ve disbanded the team,” said Gilinsky, the former NRC commissioner. “They can’t put this thing back together again.”
© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


Fleitz: The Truth About Senator Wyden and the Snowden Leaks.

In the wake of leaks to the press of extremely sensitive NSA programs by former NSA technician Edward Snowden, some are lionizing Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) for his supposed lonely quest objecting to these programs.

Senator Wyden claims he has long objected to the programs leaked by Snowden as serious threats to the civil liberties of Americans but was unable to say anything publicly about his objections or force changes to end these programs because of Senate Intelligence Committee rules on classified matters.

This is not true.

First, it is important to emphasize that the NSA programs in question which involve collecting and storing cell phone metadata and internet activity by Americans are under strict controls and oversight. There is no evidence these programs have ever been abused and it is unclear whether some controversial new NSA monitoring efforts have ever been used.

The House and Senate intelligence committees carefully oversee programs like those leaked to the news media by Snowden. From my five years on the House Intelligence Committee staff,  I can attest that these types of intelligence  programs are vigorously debated by both intelligence committees. There are many people inside and outside of Congress that have faulted congressional review of these programs not because these reviews have been lacking but because they don’t like the outcome.

Senator Wyden objected to the NSA programs leaked by Snowden, but the majority of House and Senate intelligence committee members disagreed with him. This included liberal Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the liberal Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.).

Wyden unsuccessfully tried to pass amendments to stop these programs in closed Senate Intelligence Committee sessions and his concerns were fully debated. Since the intelligence committees don’t operate on the basis of consensus, some members – usually more radical members like Wyden – do not always get what they want.

Simply put, most Senate Intelligence Committee members – including most Democratic committee members as well as Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – thought Wyden was wrong.

Unable to win over the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Wyden claims there was nothing more he could do about his objections to the NSA programs for classification reasons.

In fact, there are many things a senator on the intelligence committee can do to express his or her concerns in a situation like this. Wyden could have put holds on nominations. He could have filibustered legislation. Wyden could have written to President Obama and demanded a meeting with him.

If these steps failed, Senator Wyden – if he truly believed the NSA programs were a serious threat to the civil liberties of Americans – could have denounced them from the floor of the Senate and explained his concerns. Under the speech and debate clause of the U.S Constitution, Wyden could not be prosecuted or kicked out of the Senate for doing this.

Wyden probably would have been kicked off the intelligence committee if he revealed the NSA programs from the Senate floor, but I believe if he truly felt these programs posed a threat to the American people, he was morally obligated to do this. Being thrown off the intelligence committee would have been a small price to pay for his convictions.

So why didn’t Senator Wyden start this debate himself by going to the floor of the Senate? I see two possible reasons for this.

First, despite his claims to the contrary, Wyden may not have thought these programs were as bad as he is now claiming, certainly not bad enough to be forced off the intelligence committee. He also knew other intelligence committeeDemocrats disagreed with him and would not back him up.

Second, Wyden might have thought the NSA programs were a serious threat but he also did not want to lose the power, access and status of membership on the intelligence committee.
Either way, Wyden is hardly the lonely crusader against NSA abuses that his supporters claim he is.

Senator Ron Wyden did not need Edward Snowden to start a debate over the NSA programs. If Wyden felt the NSA programs were a serious threat to the civil liberties of Americans and he was unable to stop them through other means, he should have started a public debate about them himself by denouncing these programs from the floor of the Senate. Because Wyden did not do this, it is hard to take seriously his claims about this issue and his demands for reforms.

Fred Fleitz served for 25 years in U.S. national security positions with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chief Analyst with, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Fred Fleitz

Lawmakers: Surveillance Reports to Congress ‘Misleading’.

Image: Lawmakers: Surveillance Reports to Congress 'Misleading'

By Sandy Fitzgerald

The Obama administration offered misleading reports about national security programs, lawmakers tasked with overseeing policies are complaining.

Officials have either outright denied collecting information about millions of people, or have in many cases, left the impression that only information on certain cases is collected,The Washington Post reports.

“The national security state has grown so that any administration is now not upfront with Congress,” said New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee. “It’s an imbalance that’s grown in our government, and one that we have to cleanse.”

The most recent denials came from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the government does not collect information about millions of Americans. He later apologized, said his statements were “erroneous,” after National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden publicly disclosed such programs two months later.

Clapper explained in a letter to Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California that he was “faced with the challenge of trying to give an unclassified answer about our intelligence collection activities, many of which are classified.”

Clapper said he mistakenly answered questions about more restricted eavesdropping on actual telephone conversations under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities, and did not realize Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon was asking about another section of the Patriot Act.

Wyden, who questioned Clapper in March, told The Post that Clapper’s statements, when taken along with Justice Department reports that the cases were investigated in a manner much like that done in a grand jury investigation, have made it “impossible for the public or Congress to have a genuinely informed debate” about surveillance.

“These statements gave the public a false impression of how these authorities were actually being interpreted,” said Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “The disclosures of the last few weeks have made it clear that a secret body of law authorizing secret surveillance overseen by a largely secret court has infringed on Americans’ civil liberties and privacy rights without offering the public the ability to judge for themselves whether these broad powers are appropriate or necessary.”

Obama administration officials, claim they are being as transparent as they can about sensitive classified programs, noting all House and Senate members were invited to classified briefings in 2010 and 2011 to discuss the programs.

However, the information given during some of those meetings was also confusing, reports The Post. When Justice Department officials appeared at hearings in 2009 and 2011, two top officials told lawmakers \ the government’s authority in national security cases was “roughly analogous” to that available to FBI agents investigating crimes using grand jury subpoenas.

Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon stood by the testimony, saying “the statute itself describes the program in this way.”

Some lawmakers, though, say the testimony offered no indication that all Americans were subject to surveillance. “I don’t know if it was an outright lie, but it was certainly misleading to what was going on,” said Nadler.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Clapper Apologizes for ‘Clearly Erroneous’ Statement to Congress.

Image: Clapper Apologizes for 'Clearly Erroneous' Statement to Congress

By Greg Richter

Under fire for telling Congress his agency did not gather intelligence on millions of Americans, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper apologized for what he called a “clearly erroneous” statement.

Clapper apologized in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The letter was dated June 21, but was released to the public on Tuesday.

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In it, Clapper says he has “thought long and hard” to recreate what was going on in his mind when he responded to a question from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asking whether Clapper’s agency collects “any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.”

“No sir,” Clapper answered at the March 12 hearing. “Not wittingly.”

That was proved to be false when former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden leaked classified information on the PRISM program, which collects electronic communications, including email. Another leak showed that the NSA collects metadata from phone calls showing times and duration of calls as well as the other number involved in the call.

Clapper says his office immediately told Widen about the error, but did not make a public statement at the time because the program was still classified. Following the leaks, Clapper himself partially declassified the programs amid public outrage. He said the action would help Americans understand the programs better.

The programs are part of the Patriot Act and are intended to target phone calls of terrorists who are not American citizens. Any data between American citizens is not supposed to be viewed or used.

In the letter, Clapper talks about his 50 years of public service, during which he has answered thousands of questions in hearings and briefings. When he makes a mistake, he said, “I correct it.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Sen. Merkley Skipped Briefing on NSA Surveillance Program.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who has led criticism of the Obama administration for keeping Congress in the dark about National Security Agency surveillance, last year skipped a briefing where he would have learned about the program.

The meeting was Nov. 27 on Capitol Hill with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; Lisa Monaco, then-National Security Division chief at the Justice Department; Bob Litt, general counsel for the director of national intelligence; and Rajesh De, NSA general counsel, BuzzFeed reports. 

Two other senators, Merkley’s fellow Oregonian Ron Wyden and Colorado’s Mark Udall, attended the briefing. The three Democrats had requested the meeting together.

The purpose of the meeting was to brief the senators on how the government was using Section 702, which is the legal provision that the NSA used to create the PRISM surveillance program that was leaked to journalists last week by technology consultant Edward Snowden.

However, an unidentified source told BuzzFeed that Merkley left the meeting early because of a scheduled appearance on MSNBC‘s “HardballWith Chris Matthews.”

During an appearance last week on MSNBC, Merkley responded to President Barack Obama’s charge that the NSA surveillance program is something that Congress not only discussed, but authorized.

Story continues below video.

Merkley said he “had no idea about” PRISM.

“I don’t know how many people knew about it in Congress, but I suspect a very small number on the intelligence committees,” the first-term senator said. “And so when the president says all — I think he said all members of Congress, or full disclosure to all your members — I think very small number of senators and congressmen have full details on these programs.”

“I certainly never heard of it,” he said in a separate appearance on the same network. “I doubt that more than the intelligence committee would have known about that.”

Merkley’s office admitted that he had missed the meeting, but said he is still disturbed by the activities of the NSA.

“Sen. Merkley is deeply concerned about the privacy of American citizens and the scope of government data collection, and has sought out various information in that regard,” a Merkley spokesman said. “In this case, Sen. Merkley thought the meeting would be on an area that he had already been briefed on, and when conflicts arose he missed the meeting.”

Another aide told BuzzFeed that “there was no reason for the senator to believe this was going to be a meeting about this new wide-ranging surveillance program.”

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Courtney Coren

Democratic Lawmakers Bail on Obama Over Surveillance Program.

By Audrey Hudson

President Barack Obama is losing support among numerous Democratic lawmakers with each new controversy engulfing the scandal-weary White House.

The disclosures this week that the Obama administration has seemingly morphed into a surveillance state by sifting through millions of Americans’ phone and Internet records has angered left-of-center Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado who are in open disagreement with the president.

“We disagree with the statement that the broad Patriot Act collection strikes the ‘right balance’ between protecting American security and protecting Americans’ privacy. In our view it does not,” the senators said.

Liberal icon and former presidential contender Al Gore also lashed out in a tweet that the secret blanket surveillance was “obscenely outrageous.”

Now Democratic Party stalwarts on the House Judiciary Committee are demanding congressional hearings on the use of Verizon phone records to track calls made in the United States.

The lawmakers include Democratic Reps. John Conyers of Michigan, Jerry Nadler of New York and Bobby Scott of Virginia, who took exception to the president’s claim that Congress has been briefed on the surveillance.

“We strongly disagree with those who would assert that because this type of program appears to be long standing and members of Congress may have been briefed, that it is acceptable to us or the Congress,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “A classified briefing which does not permit any public discussion does not imply approval or acceptance.”

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois told Politicothat he is troubled by the practice.

“To say that every American’s records of phone conversations are now open to government scrutiny really goes to beyond that standard,” Durbin said.

The Guardian reports that Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia suggested Attorney General Eric Holder should resign, and Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon called the surveillance practice an “outrageous breach of Americans’ privacy.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched a campaign among its followers to pressure the president to cancel the program.

“The unconstitutional spying on Americans revealed by the Verizon court order is completely unacceptable,” said a petition already signed by 29,000 members.

The New York Times condemned
 the administration in a hard-hitting editorial saying it has lost all credibility, but later fine-tuned the language to limit the credibility issue to the surveillance scandal.

The controversy follows on the heels of an avalanche of congressional hearings on the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups and wasteful spending that drew heated criticism from Democrats, as well as two separate surveillance stings of the Associated Press and a Fox News reporter.

Rep. Charles Rangel of New York told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the president should have the opportunity to right the wrongs, but that doesn’t mean Democrats will blindly march in lockstep with the president.

“You just can’t raise the flag and expect us just to salute it every time without any reason, and the same thing applies to the IRS,” Rangel sa

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Under Obama FBI Now Captures Every Phone Call Made In the United States.

Obama demanded that all forms of digital communications allow the US government backdoor access to intercept them

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.


CLEMENTE: “No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

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.”

“All of that stuff” – meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant – “is being captured as we speak”.

On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN, this time with host Carol Costello, and she asked him about those remarks. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that “all digital communications in the past” are recorded and stored:

Let’s repeat that last part: “no digital communication is secure”, by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications – meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like – are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.

There have been some previous indications that this is true. Former AT&T engineer Mark Klein revealedthat AT&T and other telecoms had built a special network that allowed the National Security Agency full and unfettered access to data about the telephone calls and the content of email communications for all of their customers. Specifically, Klein explained “that the NSA set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T” and that “contrary to the government’s depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists . . . much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic.” But his amazing revelations were mostly ignored and, when Congress retroactively immunized the nation’s telecom giants for their participation in the illegal Bush spying programs, Klein’s claims (by design) were prevented from being adjudicated in court.

That every single telephone call is recorded and stored would also explain this extraordinary revelation by the Washington Post in 2010:

Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.

It would also help explain the revelations of former NSA official William Binney, who resigned from the agency in protest over its systemic spying on the domestic communications of US citizens, that the US government has “assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about US citizens with other US citizens” (which counts only communications transactions and not financial and other transactions), and that “the data that’s being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want.”

Despite the extreme secrecy behind which these surveillance programs operate, there have beenperiodic reports of serious abuse. Two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, have beenwarning for years that Americans would be “stunned” to learn what the US government is doing in terms of secret surveillance.

Strangely, back in 2002 – when hysteria over the 9/11 attacks (and thus acquiescence to government power) was at its peak – the Pentagon’s attempt to implement what it called the “Total Information Awareness” program (TIA) sparked so much public controversy that it had to be official scrapped. But it has been incrementally re-instituted – without the creepy (though honest) name and all-seeing-eye logo – with little controversy or even notice.

Back in 2010, worldwide controversy erupted when the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banned the use of Blackberries because some communications were inaccessible to government intelligence agencies, and that could not be tolerated. The Obama administrationcondemned this move on the ground that it threatened core freedoms, only to turn around six weeks later and demand that all forms of digital communications allow the US government backdoor access to intercept them. Put another way, the US government embraced exactly the same rationale invoked by the UAE and Saudi agencies: that no communications can be off limits. Indeed, the UAE, when responding to condemnations from the Obama administration, noted that it was simply doing exactly that which the US government does:

“‘In fact, the UAE is exercising its sovereign right and is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance – and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight – that Blackberry grants the US and other governments and nothing more,’ [UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al] Otaiba said. ‘Importantly, the UAE requires the same compliance as the US for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement.’”

That no human communications can be allowed to take place without the scrutinizing eye of the US government is indeed the animating principle of the US Surveillance State. Still, this revelation, made in passing on CNN, that every single telephone call made by and among Americans is recorded and stored is something which most people undoubtedly do not know, even if the small group of people who focus on surveillance issues believed it to be true (clearly, both Burnett and Costello were shocked to hear this).

Some new polling suggests that Americans, even after the Boston attack, are growing increasingly concerned about erosions of civil liberties in the name of Terrorism. Even those people who claim it does not matter instinctively understand the value of personal privacy: they put locks on their bedroom doors and vigilantly safeguard their email passwords. That’s why the US government so desperately maintains a wall of secrecy around their surveillance capabilities: because they fear that people will find their behavior unacceptably intrusive and threatening, as they did even back in 2002 when John Poindexter’s TIA was unveiled.

Mass surveillance is the hallmark of a tyrannical political culture. But whatever one’s views on that, the more that is known about what the US government and its surveillance agencies are doing, the better. This admission by this former FBI agent on CNN gives a very good sense for just how limitless these activities are. source – Guardian UK

by NTEB News Desk

Democrats Fear Uninsured Won’t Sign Up for Obamacare.

Healthcare reform should be the signature Democratic achievement of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

But with “Obamacare” five months from show time, Democrats are worried about whether enough Americans will sign up to make the sweeping healthcare overhaul a success – and what failure might mean for Congress heading into the 2016 presidential race.

Some of the law’s main advocates fear that not enough of America’s 49 million uninsured will know about health coverage offered in their own states. Even if they do, new insurance plans may not be attractive to young, healthy consumers needed to offset an expected influx of older and sicker patients.

Only a handful of states are beginning campaigns to promote the online health insurance marketplaces created by the law. Known as exchanges, the markets will offer private coverage at federally subsidized rates to individuals and families with low-to-moderate incomes, with enrollment set to begin Oct. 1.

The federal government has kept quiet about its promotion plans, which are expected to begin in earnest over the summer.

While Obama and his administration say they are working nonstop on reform, analysts believe a poor performance could make the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a big enough campaign issue in 2014 to jeopardize Democratic control of the Senate – particularly if insurance costs rise sharply.

“There is reason to be very concerned about what’s going to happen with young people. If their (insurance) premiums shoot up, I can tell you, that is going to wash into the United States Senate in a hurry,” said Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

Some Democrats are frustrated about the lack of details surrounding administration plans to promote the exchanges.

Senator Max Baucus, a chief architect of the reform law, said federal outreach efforts deserve a failing grade so far and could be heading for a “huge train wreck.” He criticized Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for the scant information her department has provided.

“Why in late April can’t they show us any of what they’ve got planned? The rollout plan should already be in existence,” an exasperated Democratic Senate aide said separately.

The law is expected to cover 15 million Americans next year through the exchanges and an expansion of Medicaid. The overall number is forecast to jump to 38 million by 2022.

Reform is facing challenges on several fronts. Big insurers appear wary of participating, raising questions about how competitive the exchanges will be. Businesses are mounting a new legal effort to stop the use of federal subsidies in exchanges run by Washington. And most states have balked at the exchanges and the Medicaid expansion.

Meanwhile, the enrollment effort is under threat from months of delay, a congressional Republican embargo on new funding and worries about how affordable the new plans will be, according to analysts, lawmakers, congressional aides and former officials.

“I don’t see how what they’re planning to do is going to be adequate. The resources are too limited, the (law’s) penalties are too weak and elite opposition in much of the country will undermine” enrollment, said Paul Starr, a Princeton professor and former health adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Add to that the challenge of reaching a public that is highly skeptical and often misinformed about the most complex social legislation since Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Americans know little or nothing about exchanges, while 40 percent erroneously think reforms create a government panel to make end-of-life decisions for people on Medicare.

An April survey of 1,003 people by HealthPocket, an online company that helps consumers find insurance, also found that the law’s penalty for not buying coverage would not induce most 25-to-34-year-olds or 18-to-24-year-olds to purchase it.

Obama this week defended the pace of implementation, telling reporters that the government was working hard to “make sure that we’re hitting all the deadlines and the benchmarks” even with the challenge of building the new online exchanges.

“That’s still a big, complicated piece of business,” Obama said, adding the task was made harder by a dedicated Republican opposition still determined to block the law’s implementation.

“Even if we do everything perfectly, there’ll still be, you know, glitches and bumps,” he said.

The administration is building exchanges in 33 states that are unwilling or unable to do so on their own, and has limited funds for marketing. The remaining 17 states are building their own and have received sizable budgets for outreach.

Among states taking the lead, Vermont has launched radio advertising to raise public awareness. Colorado begins its public outreach this month, while California, Maryland and the District of Columbia will hold off until later in the year.

For the federal exchanges, HHS has a contract worth at least $8 million with public relations firm Weber Shandwick and $54 million to train and pay “navigators,” or counselors who will help consumers choose a health plan. It also has a $28 million contract with General Dynamics to set up a call center and will make its website consumer-oriented.

The administration is seeking help from major U.S. insurance providers to market aggressively to consumers on the federally run exchanges and help convince healthy citizens between 26 to 45 to pay for insurance instead of a first-year penalty amounting to $95 per person or 1 percent of household income.

But reform advocates worry that the HHS budget is too small and the spigot for new funding from Congress is shut off by partisan politics. The “navigator” program allocates just $600,000 each for 13 states including Delaware, Iowa, Kansas and New Hampshire.

“There’s a limited amount of money that should be increased. But that’s subject to appropriations and Congress is not likely to appropriate additional money,” said Ron Pollack of the advocacy group Families USA. “It’s going to require a very robust effort in the private sector.”

Analysts say reform could be as big an issue in next year’s congressional midterm elections as it was in 2010, when dislike for the law among senior citizens helped install a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. This time, failed implementation could end Democratic hopes of recapturing the House and leave enough Senate Democrats vulnerable to give Republicans an edge in that chamber.

“We have to see how bad it is. This issue blowing up on Democrats would make the Republicans’ job a lot easier,” said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

But Democrats believe implementation will also provide favorable coverage of deserving individuals and families finally being able to secure adequate and affordable health coverage after a long sojourn through the current marketplace.

There has been encouraging news for consumers. Vermont says 2014 premium rates will save money for residents. A family of four with an annual income of $75,000 would pay less than $600 per month for coverage with a federal subsidy, versus $900 for the cheapest small group plan available today.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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