Tag : security

Rapes take place also because of a woman's clothes, her behavior and her presence at inappropriate places

Asha Mirje

india rape

A female Indian politician and member of the “women’s commission” sparked fury by saying that gang-rape victims may have invited attacks by the way they dress and behave.

“Rapes take place also because of a woman’s clothes, her behavior and her presence at inappropriate places,” Asha Mirje, who is a member of the state women’s commission, said at a Tuesday meeting, local media reported.

She also questioned whether a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, who died after being gang-raped on a bus in the capital New Delhi, really needed to go out to a movie at 11 p.m.

Thousands of people took to the streets in nationwide protests against rape and sexual assault after the attack, for which four men were sentenced to death last year.

Mirje, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader in western Maharashtra state, also commented on the case of photojournalist who was gang-raped in Mumbai last year, asking, “Why did the victim go to such an isolated spot at 6 p.m.?”

Women, she explained, must be “careful” and must consider whether they are leaving themselves open to assault.

Her comments prompted fury from both politicians and activists, who called for her resignation or removal from her post on the women’s commission.

“Every time such a statement is made by a public figure it justifies rape,” Kavita Krishnan, secretary of lobby group All India Progressive Women’s Association, told Reuters. “It’s unconscionable that people in public posts make such remarks.”

Rupa Kulkarni, leader of domestic workers in the state, told the Hindustan Times that Mirje had ”no moral right to continue on the post as she is biased against women.”

NCP spokesman Nawab Malik said Mirje had apologized for her comments, which did not represent the views of the party.

“As far as the party is concerned she has said sorry and the issued is closed,” he said.

Assaults have tarnished the reputation of the world’s largest democracy, where police said last week that village elders ordered the gang rape of a 20-year-old woman after they found out she was in a relationship with a man from a different community.

A member of the White House review panel on NSA surveillance said he was “absolutely” surprised when he discovered the agency’s lack of evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records had thwarted any terrorist attacks, said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, in an interview with NBC News. “The results were very thin.”

While Stone said the mass collection of telephone call records was a “logical program” from the NSA’s perspective, one question the White House panel was seeking to answer was whether it had actually stopped “any [terror attacks] that might have been really big.”

“We found none,” said Stone.

Under the NSA program, first revealed by ex-contractor Edward Snowden, the agency collects en-masse the records of the time and duration of phone calls made by persons inside (and sometimes outside) the United States.

Stone was one of five members of the White House review panel – and the only one without any intelligence community experience – that this week produced a sweeping report recommending that the NSA’s collection of phone call records be terminated to protect Americans’ privacy rights.

The panel made that recommendation after concluding that the program was “not essential in preventing attacks.”

“That was stunning. That was the ballgame,” said one congressional intelligence official, who asked not to be publicly identified. “It flies in the face of everything that they have tossed at us.”

Despite the panel’s conclusions, Stone strongly  rejected the idea they justified Snowden’s actions in leaking the NSA documents about the phone collection. “Suppose someone decides we need gun control and they go out and kill 15  kids and  then a state enacts gun control?” Stone said, using an analogy he acknowledged was “somewhat inflammatory.” What Snowden did, Stone said, was put the country “at risk.”

“My emphatic view,” he said, “is that a person who has access to classified information — the revelation of which could damage national security — should never take it upon himself to reveal that information.”

Stone added, however, that he would not necessarily reject granting an  amnesty to Snowden in exchange for the return of all his documents, as was recently suggested by a top NSA official. “It’s a hostage situation,” said Stone. Deciding whether to negotiate with him to get all his documents back was a “pragmatic judgment. I see no principled reason not to do that.”

The conclusions of the panel’s reports were at direct odds with public statements by President Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence officials. “Lives have been saved,” Obama told reporters last June, referring to the bulk collection program and another program that intercepts communications overseas. “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information.”

But in one little-noticed footnote in its report, the White House panel said the telephone records collection program – known as Section 215, based on the provision of the U.S. Patriot Act that provided the legal basis for it – had made “only a modest contribution to the nation’s security.” The report said that “there has been no instance in which NSA could say with confidence that the outcome [of a terror investigation] would have been any different” without the program.

The panel’s findings echoed that of U.S. Judge Richard Leon, who in a ruling this week found the bulk collection program to be unconstitutional. Leon said that government officials were unable to cite “a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk collection metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.”

Stone declined to comment on the accuracy of public statements by U.S. intelligence officials about the telephone collection program, but said that when they referred to successes they seemed to be mixing the results of domestic metadata collection with the intelligence derived from the separate, and less controversial, NSA program, known as 702, to intercept communications overseas.

The comparison between 702 overseas interceptions and 215 bulk metadata collection was “night and day,” said Stone. “With 702, the record is very impressive. It’s no doubt the nation is safer and spared potential attacks because of 702. There was nothing like that for 215. We asked the question and they [the NSA] gave us the data. They were very straight about it.”

He also said one reason the telephone records program is not effective is because, contrary to the claims of critics, it actually does not collect a record of every American’s phone call. Although the NSA does collect metadata from major telecommunications carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, there are many smaller carriers from which it collects nothing. Asked if the NSA was collecting the records of 75 percent of phone calls, an estimate that has been used in briefings to Congress , Stone said the real number was classified but “not anything close to that” and far lower.

When panel members asked NSA officials why they didn’t expand the program to include smaller carriers, the answer they gave was “money,” Stone said. “They were setting financial priorities,” said Stone, and that was “really revealing” about how useful the bulk collection of telephone calls really was.

An NSA spokeswoman declined to comment on any aspect of the panel’s report, saying the agency was deferring to the White House. Asked Wednesday about the surveillance panel’s conclusions about telephone record collection, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that “the president does still believe and knows that this program is an important piece of the overall efforts that we engage in to combat threats against the lives of American citizens and threats to our overall national security.”


A string of robberies by people “dressed as police” led the people of Detroit to believe there were “fake cops” out robbing people at gunpoint,  it turns out they were “not fake after all,” MyFoxDetroit reports:

A second officer, a 17-year veteran from Saint Clair Shores, has been arrested accused of robbing unsuspecting drivers at gunpoint.

On Saturday, Fox 2 also reported a Detroit police sergeant was arrested at the 12th precinct. A tip sent to Fox 2 helped lead to the arrests. We forwarded a photo from one scene to Detroit Police. They recognized one of their own in the photo.

More information is expected Monday during a press conference scheduled for Monday at 3 p.m.

The first incident took place at a Citgo gas station near French and I-94 on Detroit’s east side last Sunday. The clerk says two white men in a black Ford F-150 with police lights allegedly pistol-whipped customers pumping gas. The men stole cash and cell phones from their victims. A warning went out to be on the lookout for “fake cops” but it turns out those officers were not fake after all. It appears the sergeant in this case was driving his personal vehicle.

There were at least two reports of men posing as police officers and robbing unsuspecting drivers at gunpoint. The men had police badges, bullet proof vests and guns. They looked very official and police considered them armed and dangerous.

A second incident happened near Harper and 3 Mile Drive. A man says he was pulled over by three men in a unmarked Crown Victoria. The man was searched and while he answered questions, his wallet and CDs were stolen.

So, what can you do? Even police say you have permission not to stop if you don’t believe a real police officer is trying to pull you over. Instead, call 911 and ask the dispatcher for assistance. If all else fails, drive to the nearest precinct.I like this advice, that is if the police actually tolerate it (which I find it hard to believe they would).  I wonder how much revenue they could extract if every tax-slave being pulled over drove all the way to the nearest precinct to check-in.

While these cops who robbed people at gunpoint acting in an unofficial capacity have been caught, real police who do the same in their official capacity through traffic-ticket extortion will remain at large.

via informationliberation & activistpost

In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said again and again that the U.S. is at war with “Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.”

So who exactly are those associated forces? It’s a secret.

At a hearing in May, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of Al Qaeda affiliates.

The Pentagon responded – but Levin’s office told ProPublica they aren’t allowed to share it. Kathleen Long, a spokeswoman for Levin, would say only that the department’s “answer included the information requested.”

A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security.”

“Because elements that might be considered ‘associated forces’ can build credibility by being listed as such by the United States, we have classified the list,” said the spokesman, Lt. Col. Jim Gregory. “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations that rely on violent extremist ideology to strengthen their ranks.”

It’s not an abstract question: U.S. drone strikes and other actions frequently target “associated forces,” as has been the case with dozens of strikes against an Al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.

During the May hearing, Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, said he was “not sure there is a list per se.” Describing terrorist groups as “murky” and “shifting,” he said, “it would be difficult for the Congress to get involved in trying to track the designation of which are the affiliate forces” of Al Qaeda.

Sheehan said that by the Pentagon’s standard, “sympathy is not enough…. it has to be an organized group and that group has to be in co-belligerent status with Al Qaeda operating against the United States.”

The White House tied Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and “elements” of Al Shabaab in Somalia to Al Qaeda in a recent report to Congress on military actions. But the report also included a classified annex.

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law who served as a legal counsel during the Bush administration and has written on this question at length, told ProPublica that the Pentagon’s reasoning for keeping the affiliates secret seems weak. “If the organizations are ‘inflated’ enough to be targeted with military force, why cannot they be mentioned publicly?” Goldsmith said. He added that there is “a countervailing very important interest in the public knowing who the government is fighting against in its name.”

The law underpinning the U.S. war against Al Qaeda is known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force, or AUMF, and it was passed one week after the 9/11 attacks. It doesn’t actually include the words “associated forces,” though courts and Congress have endorsed the phrase.

As we explained earlier this year, the emergence of new or more loosely-aligned terrorist groups has legal scholars wondering how effectively the U.S. will be able to “shoehorn” them into the AUMF. During the May hearing, many lawmakers expressed concern about the Pentagon’s capacious reading of the law. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described it as a “carte blanche.”

Obama, in his May speech, said he looked forward “to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.” But he didn’t give a timeframe. On Wednesday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., introduced an amendment that would sunset the law at the end of 2014, to coincide with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. It was voted down the same day, 185 to 236.

The AUMF isn’t the only thing the government relies on to take military action. In speeches and interviews Obama administration officials also bring up the president’s constitutional power to defend the country, even without congressional authorization.

Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have joined an upstart effort to remove the  chain of command from military sexual assault cases, POLITICO has learned.

The tea party favorites give the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Kirsten  Gillibrand, critical conservative cover as she battles the Pentagon and hawks in  both parties on her proposal to create a new prosecution system for major  military crimes.

Paul is scheduled to attend a press conference Tuesday in the  Capitol with Gillibrand and other bill backers, including Sens. Chuck Grassley  and Barbara Boxer, to discuss his new position, which inches the New York  Democrat closer to the 51 votes she hopes is all she’ll need when her proposal  comes up for debate as early as next week.

The issue of military sexual assault came under intense scrutiny this spring  on Capitol Hill when top military commanders from each branch of the service sat  before the Armed Services Committee and swore they’d stamp out sexual assault in  the ranks – but stopped far short of supporting Gillibrand’s idea.

It seemed Gillibrand’s proposal was picking up momentum amid a series of  high-profile incidents involving military officials and sexual misconduct  grabbed headlines, but it failed in a committee vote in June that didn’t break  along traditional party lines.

The Pentagon has kept up a fierce lobbying campaign behind the scenes, but  Gillibrand and her supporters believe the measure can fare better on the full  Senate floor with senators less tied to the military.

Gillibrand already has 32 cosponsors and the addition of Paul and Cruz  provides a powerful political message as she continues to lobby for more votes  in face-to-face meetings on the Senate floor.

“Sen. Paul believes that the vast majority of our service members are  honorable and upstanding individuals,” said Paul spokesman Moira Bagley said in  an email. “In the instance when one is accused of a serious crime, especially  one of harassment or assault, the allegation needs to be taken seriously and  conflicts of interest should not impact whether a crime is prosecuted  properly.”

Paul has been a critic of the Pentagon on other issues, too. The Kentucky  Republican has called for an audit of military spending and he waded into  defense issues in March with a 13-hour filibuster questioning the danger of  drone strikes to U.S. citizens on American soil.

Cruz on Tuesday will also go a step beyond an initial committee vote,  pointing to America’s allies to explain his position.

“Several of our strongest allies such as Israel, the United Kingdom, and  Germany have made similar reforms to their military justice systems, and seen  marked improvement,” Cruz said in the statement. He also commended Gillibrand  for her efforts to “modernize” the forces.

Still, advocates believe the new supporters could boost the vote count.

“The senator being fully on board kind of opens up possibilities,” said a  Senate Democratic aide working on defense issues. “It doesn’t split along  partisan ideology lines. It’s about folks who want to take on the status quo….It  can shake up the equation.”

Paul isn’t the first Republican to link up with Gillibrand. Sens. Susan  Collins, Mike Johanns, Lisa Murkowski and Grassley were there at the early  stages. Sens. Ted Cruz and David Vitter both voted for her proposal during the  committee markup last month.

In prepared remarks Gillibrand is scheduled to give at Tuesday’s press  conference, the New York Democrat will highlight the “strong and growing  bipartisan coalition” to remove the command chain from prosecutions involving  military crimes punishable by more than one year of confinement.

“Our carefully crafted common sense proposal written in direct response to  the experiences of those who have gone through a system rife with bias and  conflict of interest is not a Democratic or Republican idea – it is just the  right idea,” Gillibrand will say, according to her remarks.

Democratic leaders have yet to schedule the defense authorization bill, or  any amendments to it, including Gillibrand’s proposal, but senior aides say the  legislation remains a possible contender for floor debate in the final two weeks  before the August recess.

Senior military brass, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin  Dempsey and the service branch heads, oppose Gillibrand’s proposal, arguing that  it would disrupt the Pentagon’s core command structure and its unique judicial  system. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and ranking member  Jim Inhofe have also defended the military against Gillibrand’s bid to remove  the chain of command.

During last month’s committee markup, Levin offered an alternative proposal  to address sexual assault in the military that stripped commanders of the  ability to overturn jury verdicts and a provision making retaliation against  sexual assault victims a crime.

This Tumblr that went up recently called We Are Not Trayvon Martin is an interesting experiment, a way to talk about the role of race and privilege in this case, and how some of us have the privilege—which should be a right!—of being at least safe from would-be vigilantes deciding to murder us for crimes we’re committing only in their heads. A lot of us out here are angry and upset about George Zimmerman being able to chase down and murder an unarmed young man, and get away with it because he was able to convince a jury that the young man—gasp!—had the temerity to fight back. Anti-racists, I think, have long understood that the cops are a real threat to young black men who can be randomly treated like criminals on the thinnest of excuses, but the possibility that any random white (or white-appearing, anyway) person can, if you’re black, just chase you down and detain you arbitrarily or they now have the legal right to take your life? That’s a cold bath of WTF. This tweet captures exactly what is bothering me so much:


I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because as a woman, being followed by creepy dudes who clearly have bad intentions in their cars while I’m out walking and minding my own business is something I’ve experienced probably a dozen times in my life. Unsurprisingly, Rachel Jeantel—who was on the phone with Martin when Zimmerman began to follow him—had the threat of rape pop into her head and made a crack about it to Martin before telling him to run. A lot of scary things go through your head when this happens to you: You worry that if he catches up to you, he’ll overpower you. You worry that you won’t be able to fight him off. You worry about how violent he intends to get with you.

But you know what I never worried about? That if I defended myself, he would have an excuse to shoot me dead and that cops would shrug it off and not bother to contact my family.

I never worried that if he caught up with me, any hitting or kicking to get away would be used as evidence that he was in his rights to murder me.

That’s because I’m a white woman, and if a man chased me down and shot me dead, a few scratches on his face would probably be seen as evidence that he was really determined to hurt or kill me, not that he was acting in “self-defense”.  I have the privilege of people using their basic common sense when it comes to what’s going on when creepy guys start following me. Even sexists have to admit that creepy guys stalking women are up to no good. With that in mind, if anyone ever started to chase me with the intention to restrain me against my will (which is, uh, kidnapping) or do bodily harm to me, I can give into the instinct to protect myself by fighting back without worrying that he now has the “right” to kill me.

I’ve seen a lot of conservatives arguing that Martin should have just surrendered if he didn’t want to die. Surrendered, i.e. allowed someone to arbitrarily just hold him there under threat of violence if he tries to leave (which, again, is kidnapping) because, well, he wanted to. That any random white or white-appearing dude has the apparent right to just randomly tell a young black man that he is no longer allowed to move freely, on pain of death. This is bananas. They wouldn’t say that for a white woman, and they sure as hell wouldn’t say that for a white guy.

I don’t know what else to say about this. I just wish that more people could perform the basic act of putting themselves in Trayvon’s shoes and realizing that Zimmerman just got away with, functionally, offering him the choice between surrender to a crazy man with unclear but definitely dark intentions or death. In the year 2013, in America. And somehow we’ve decided that’s legal.

By Amanda Marcotte at RawStory

Using the successful formula established by groups like Mothers Against Drunk  Driving, mothers groups are revving up messaging, lobbying and events to keep  the issue of gun control in the national spotlight.

And they’ve got a secret weapon — bringing their cute kids along to lobby  members of Congress.

“When you go to Capitol Hill and walk the marble halls, there  are very few children around,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director  and CEO of MomsRising, which boasts more than 1.2 million members. “When we do  come through with children, people do stop and listen and I think that’s  important because kids are seldom there.”

Next week, members of MomsRising will go to Capitol Hill with their children  dressed in cow costumes to deliver small cow toys to Senators with the message  that they should not be “cowed” by the gun lobby and to get “moo-ving” on gun  policy. Last February, they roamed the halls of the Hill with a children’s  choir. For the July 4th holiday, another group called Moms Demand Action for Gun  Sense in America is marching in parades across the country.

“We have found that most politicians do listen when moms and children speak,  and that they do take time out to hear the stories and to look at the messages,”  Rowe-Finkbeiner said.

But it’s not just cute kids in cow costumes. These mothers groups are  planning to have some serious political influence on the 2014 midterm elections,  creating PACs, registering themselves as 501(c)4 organizations and running ads  on the local level.

“We’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the 2014 midterms, moms are  so engaged in this they’re just not going away,” said Shannon Watts, founder of  Moms Demand Action, a group formed after December’s Newtown, Conn. shootings  that killed 20 first graders and six adults.

Moms Demand Action has teamed up with Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against  Illegal Guns Action Fund, placing an ad on the homepage of Thursday’s USA Today  website, calling for signatures to a petition to “declare your independence from  gun violence.” More than 85,000 people have signed the petition as of  Thursday.

“We believe that by 2014 it will be impossible to avoid our presence,” Watts  said, adding that their six-month-old group has more than 100,000 members across  the country. “If you aren’t willing to speak with us or aren’t willing to hear  from us, I think it will really impact their chances at election or  re-election.”

And it’s not just politicians they’re after. Corporations will soon be seeing  elevated campaigns against them for their gun-friendly policies. Watts said Moms  Demand Action will be launching a social media and lobbying campaign against  Starbucks. The company has no policy against customers who enter their stores  with concealed weapons in states that allow concealed carry permits, but on the  other hand started prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of their stores last  month.

While Watts said they are not planning to promote a boycott of Starbucks, her  group has sent tens of thousands of letters to the company and are embarking on  a social media campaign asking moms to take a photo of themselves with a  non-Starbucks coffee and the tag “I want my coffee with gun sense.”

Whether all these efforts will be fruitful against the big money of the gun  lobby is yet to be seen. The families of the Sandy Hook school shooting became a  lobbying force on Capitol Hill ahead of the April gun  control vote — but the bipartisan measure still failed.

But, these mothers say they will never give up. And echoing a sentiment of  the Sandy Hook families, they say they know it will likely be a slow  process.

“It has taken us decades to get here, it’s not going to be done overnight,”  Watts said. “We are not ever going to stand down until there is real, permanent  change.”

After the initial surge of web traffic to alternative news websites following The Guardian breaking the NSA spying story, traffic has slowed considerably despite the continued interest in the NSA story as well as other alternative headlines.

This dramatic drop in traffic may be due to broad censorship by the Department of Defense on “millions of computers”. What began as a rumor that the military brass was ordering soldiers not to view news about the whistleblower revelations that the NSA is spying on all Americans has swelled into a confirmed military-wide censorship campaign using a high-tech computer filtering system.

military blackout
The US News and World Report is reporting that the DoD is blocking access to all articles related to the NSA scandal from all DoD computers. The filter reportedly effects millions of computers and potentially thousands of alternative news websites.

According to U.S. News: “The Department of Defense is blocking online access to news reports about classified National Security Agency documents made public by Edward Snowden. The blackout affects all of the department’s computers and is part of a department-wide directive.”

“Any website that runs information that the Department of Defense still considers classified” is affected, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart told U.S. News in a phone interview.

According to Pickart, news websites that re-report information first published by The Guardian or other primary sources are also affected. ”If that particular website runs an article that our filters determine has classified information… the particular content on that website will remain inaccessible,” he said. Pickart said the blackout affects “millions” of computers on “all Department of Defense networks and systems.”

This is perhaps one of the most shocking displays of blatant censorship in the history of the United States. The idea that classified information should still be treated as “off limits” to regular military personnel after its broad release to the public makes no sense.

Unless, of course, they don’t want soldiers learning the truth about what their government is doing for fear that they may recognize who the true enemies of the Constitution are.

Or this may simply be a beta test of the government’s technical capability to filter Internet traffic away from certain news stories and the websites that carry them.

In either case, this should be a huge story in itself.  Draconian Internet censorship has finally arrived in a big way.

via Activitst Post

Where oversight and accountability have failed, Snowden’s leaks have opened up a vital public debate on our rights and privacy

Let’s be absolutely clear about the news that the NSA collects massive amounts of information on US citizens – from emails, to telephone calls, to videos, under the Prism program and other Fisa court orders: this story has nothing to do with Edward Snowden. As interesting as his flight to Hong Kong might be, the pole-dancing girlfriend, and interviews from undisclosed locations, his fate is just a sideshow to the essential issues of national security versus constitutional guarantees of privacy, which his disclosures have surfaced in sharp relief.

Snowden will be hunted relentlessly and, when finally found, with glee, brought back to the US in handcuffs and severely punished. (If Private Bradley Manning‘s obscene conditions while incarcerated are any indication, it won’t be pleasant for Snowden either, even while awaiting trial.) Snowden has already been the object of scorn and derision from the Washington establishment and mainstream media, but, once again, the focus is misplaced on the transiently shiny object. The relevant issue should be: what exactly is the US government doing in the people’s name to “keep us safe” from terrorists?

Prism and other NSA data-mining programs might indeed be very effective in hunting and capturing actual terrorists, but we don’t have enough information as a society to make that decision. Despite laudable efforts led by Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall to bring this to the public’s attention that were continually thwarted by the administration because everything about this program was deemed “too secret”, Congress could not even exercise its oversight responsibilities. The intelligence community and their friends on the Hill do not have a right to interpret our rights absent such a discussion.

NSA Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah

The shock and surprise that Snowden exposed these secrets is hard to understand when over 1.4 million Americans hold “top secret” security clearances. When that many have access to sensitive information, is it really so difficult to envision a leak?

We are now dealing with a vast intelligence-industrial complex that is largely unaccountable to its citizens. This alarming, unchecked growth of the intelligence sector and the increasingly heavy reliance on subcontractors to carry out core intelligence tasks – now estimated to account for approximately 60% of the intelligence budget – have intensified since the 9/11 attacks and what was, arguably, our regrettable over-reaction to them.

The roots of this trend go back at least as far as the Reagan era, when the political right became obsessed with limiting government and denigrating those who worked for the public sector. It began a wave of privatization – because everything was held to be more “cost-efficient” when done by the private sector – and that only deepened with the political polarization following the election of 2000. As it turns out, the promises of cheaper, more efficient services were hollow, but inertia carried the day.

Today, the intelligence sector is so immense that no one person can manage, or even comprehend, its reach. When an operation in the field goes south, who would we prefer to try and correct the damage: a government employee whose loyalty belongs to his country (despite a modest salary), or the subcontractor who wants to ensure that his much fatter paycheck keeps coming?

Early polls of Americans about their privacy concerns that the government might be collecting metadata from phone calls and emails indicates that there is little alarm; there appears to be, in fact, an acceptance of or resignation to these practices. To date, there is no proof that the government has used this information to pursue and harass US citizens based on their political views. There are no J Edgar Hoover-like “enemy lists” … yet. But it is not so difficult to envision a scenario where any of us has a link, via a friend of a friend, to someone on the terrorist watchlist. What then? You may have no idea who this person is, but a supercomputer in Fort Meade (or, soon, at the Utah Data Center near Salt Lake City) will have made this connection. And then you could have some explaining to do to an over-zealous prosecutor.

On this spying business, officials from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to self-important senators are, in effect, telling Americans not to worry: it’s not that big a deal, and “trust us” because they’re keeping US citizens safe. This position must be turned on its head and opened up to a genuine discussion about the necessary, dynamic tension between security and privacy. As it now stands, these programs are ripe for abuse unless we establish ground rules and barriers between authentic national security interests and potential political chicanery.

The irony of former Vice-President Dick Cheney wringing his hands over the release of classified information is hard to watch. Cheney calls Snowden a traitor. Snowden may not be a hero, but the fact is that we owe him a debt of gratitude for finally bringing this question into the public square for the robust discussion it deserves.

The FBI has admitted it sometimes uses aerial surveillance drones over US soil, and suggested further political debate and legislation to govern their domestic use may be necessary.

Speaking in a hearing mainly about telephone data collection, the bureau’s director, Robert Mueller, said it used drones to aid its investigations in a “very, very minimal way, very seldom”.

However, the potential for growing drone use either in the US, or involving US citizens abroad, is an increasingly charged issue in Congress, and the FBI acknowledged there may need to be legal restrictions placed on their use to protect privacy.

“It is still in nascent stages but it is worthy of debate and legislation down the road,” said Mueller, in response to questions from Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono.

Hirono said: “I think this is a burgeoning concern for many of us.”

Dianne Feinstein, who is also chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said the issue of drones worried her far more than telephone and internet surveillance, which she believes are subject to sufficient legal oversight.

“Our footprint is very small,” Mueller told the Senate judiciary committee. “We have very few and have limited use.”

He said the FBI was in “the initial stages” of developing privacy guidelines to balance security threats with civil liberty concerns.

It is known that drones are used by border control officials and have been used by some local law enforcement authorities and Department of Homeland Security in criminal cases.

Mueller said he wasn’t sure if there were official agreements with these other agencies.

“To the extent that it relates to the air space there would be some communication back and forth [between agencies],” Mueller said.

A Senate intelligence committee member, Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, later questioned whether such use of drones was constitutional. “Unmanned aerial systems have the potential to more efficiently and effectively perform law enforcement duties, but the American people expect the FBI and other government agencies to first and foremost protect their constitutional rights,” Udall said in a prepared statement.

“I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the ‘initial stages’ of developing guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy rights. I look forward to learning more about this program and will do everything in my power to hold the FBI  accountable and ensure its actions respect the US constitution.”

Another senator, Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, also expressed concern. Asked whether the FBI drones were known about before the Mueller hearing, Grassley told CNN “absolutely not.” Grassley added the FBI was asked last year whether agents were using drones but the bureau never got back with an answer.

At the same hearing, Mueller urged Congress to move carefully before making any changes that might restrict the National Security Agency programs for mass collection of people’s phone records and information from the internet.

“If we are to prevent terrorist attacks, we have to know and be in their communications,” said Mueller. “Having the ability to identify a person in the United States, one telephone number with a telephone that the intelligence community is on in Yemen or Somalia or Pakistan … may prevent that one attack, that Boston or that 9/11.”

The FBI director argued for the continued use of the NSA programs. “Are you going to take the dots off the table, make it unavailable to you when you’re trying to prevent the next terrorist attack? That’s a question for Congress,” said Mueller.

via Guardian UK