House leaders gut NSA-curbing USA FREEDOM Act


The Snowden revelations kickstarted a national dialog on surveillance and a Congressional promise to rein in mass spying through a bill called the USA FREEDOM Act. But as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, the cowardly leaders of the House have capitulated to Big Spook, gutting the bill so thoroughly that it might actually make things worse.

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NSA records every cell phone call in the Bahamas


The NSA and US DEA trick contractors working for the Bahamian phone companies into letting them record the full audio of every call placed in the Bahamas, according to newly published Snowden leaks released in an article in The Intercept. The NSA exploits the "lawful interception" system for conducting wiretaps without having to notify phone companies in order to harvest the full run of cellular calls, apparently as an engineering proof-of-concept in order to scale the program up to larger nations. The Bahamas is an ally of the US, identified by the State Department to be a "stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States."

It's not clear whether the DEA conducts "parallel construction" with the NSA intelligence (this is when the DEA overtly takes a warrant to get intelligence it already has through an NSA covert operation). The phone calls are intercepted through two NSA programs: MYSTIC (which conducts analysis) and SOMALGET (which intercepts and stores the calls). These programs are used to capture the full audio of all cellular calls in another unnamed country, and are used to analyze metadata in the Philippines, Mexico and Kenya.

The NSA documents reveal that the intelligence gathered in the Bahamas did not focus on money-launderers and tax-haven banks -- rather, they are mostly used to catch drug traffickers.

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State GOPs: no benefits unless you shut up and obey your boss


Writing in the NYT, Corey Robin highlights the frightening trend in state GOP labor laws to deny unemployment benefits to workers who are fired for breaking the "behavioral norms" demanded by employers, from dating workers from rival companies to posting unhappy work-related remarks to the Internet. Conservative douchebag Ben Stein loves these rules, and wants high schools to help instill them by vigorously punishing "talking back" -- if you're subordinate, you need to learn not to be insubordinate.

For more background, see the Economic Policy Institute's 2013 report, The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012.

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Stross on NSA network sabotage

"The same security holes that the NSA relied on to gain access to your (or Osama bin Laden's) email allowed gangsters to steal passwords and login credentials and credit card numbers. And ultimately these same baked-in security holes allowed Edward Snowden to rampage through their systems. The moral of the story is clear: be cautious about poisoning the banquet you serve your guests, lest you end up accidentally ingesting it." Cory 10

NSA spying means Brazil's $4.5B fighter jets won't be built by Boeing

Brazil's buying $4.5B worth of fighter jets. And rather than buy them from American military-industrial complex go-to Boeing, they're buying them from Sweden's Saab. Why? A contract with Boeing is synonymous with NSA surveillance. Multiply this by every country in the world and you start to get a sense of the cost of letting the NSA run around without any adult supervision. (via Techdirt) Cory 39

Gutting Net Neutrality also guts innovation, fairness and democracy


My latest Guardian column, Internet service providers charging for premium access hold us all to ransom, explains what's at stake now that the FCC is prepared to let ISPs charge services for "premium" access to its subscribers. It's pretty much the worst Internet policy imaginable, an anti-innovation, anti-democratic, anti-justice hand-grenade lobbed by telcos who shout "free market" while they are the beneficiaries of the most extreme industrial government handouts imaginable.

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Appeals court orders Obama administration to disclose the legal theory for assassination of Americans

The Obama administration has lost a high-stakes lawsuit brought against it by the New York Times and the ACLU over its refusal to divulge the legal basis for its extrajudicial assassination program against US citizens. The Obama administration declared that it had the right to assassinate Americans overseas, far from the field of battle, on the basis of a secret legal theory. When it refused to divulge that theory in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Times and the ACLU sued. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has found in the Times's and ACLU's favor.

The Obama administration had insisted that the legal memo in question was protected as a national security secret. However, the court found that because the administration had made statements about the memo, assuring the public that the assassinations were legal, it had waived its right to keep the memo a secret. There's no work on whether the administration will appeal to the Supreme Court.

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White, right-wing terrorist busted...and hardly a peep


Last week, the FBI arrested Robert James Talbot Jr., 38, of Katy, Texas. Talbot was the self-styled head of the American Insurgent Movement, which openly plotted to massacre Moslems at mosques and kill them with automatic weapons, sought to rob armored cars, and recruited followers to sow more mayhem. Talbot is a violent Christian fundamentalist who advertised his intention to murder people wholesale.

Kudos to the FBI for arresting this fellow, but as Death and Taxes point out, where the hell was the national panic that attends every arrest of a jihadi terrorist, no matter how cracked and improbable his plan happened to be? Nowhere to be seen.

Now, if this was a recognition by the press that lone kooks are not an existential threat to the world -- even if they are capable of committing horrible, isolated crimes -- I'd be standing up and cheering. But if Talbot had been a brown-skinned conservative Muslim who'd been arrested after planning to attack Christian churches in America with bombs and machine-guns, I suspect there would have been screaming front-page headlines and round-the-clock intensive CNN coverage for days, not to mention grim, determined reporting on Fox News.

House Science Committee: a parliament of Creationists, Climate Deniers (and dunces)


Writing in Scientific American, Ashutosh Jogalekar bemoans the famously terrible state of the House Committee on Science, a farcical body stuffed with climate deniers and young Earth creationists. At a recent hearing, committee member Randy Weber (R–TX) implied that science couldn't really make claims about things that happened tens of thousands or millions of years ago, because it couldn't directly observe them. It's a terrifying position for a legislator who sits in a position of power over national science policy to hold.

Jogalekar claims the committee is turning into a national embarrassment, but as Chris Baker points out, any notion of the committee changing over time is an Evolutionist lie from Satan, because the committee are exactly as God created them at the beginning of time, 6,321 years ago.

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Sen Lamar Alexander: if shills have to tell Congress who's paying them, it will "chill speech"

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is one of many Republican legislators who've objected to a new policy at OSHA that requires experts to disclose when they have been funded by parties with an interest in the outcome of regulatory proceedings. According to Alexander, he and his colleagues are "very concerned about OSHA's attempt to have commenters disclose their financial backers," because "the chilling effect the financial disclosure could have seems counter to the idea of robust inclusion of a diverse set of ideas and views to inform the rule-making." The current proceeding is about whether silica in cement poses a health hazard, and OSHA wants to know if the experts it's hearing from have been paid to have an opinion one way or another. Cory 23

Inside America's illegal "Little Guantánamos"

Prisoners in America's notorious communication management units (called "CMUs" or "Little Guantánamos") are making great strides in their legal action against the US government over the prisons' illegal status, the illegally discriminatory detention of people in CMUs based on their political or religious beliefs, and their inhumane treatment of prisoners.

In this long, excellent piece, Annie P Waldman tells the story of how the CMUs were opened illegally, without the requisite public comment period, and how they've been used as a gulag to punish political and religious prisoners -- more than 70 percent of those imprisoned in CMUs are Muslim -- under inhumane conditions.

Waldman profiles one of the CMU prisoners, Yassin Aref, who has only held his youngest daughter twice since she was five. A Kurdish anti-Saddam Iraqi refugee, he served as an imam after migrating to the USA, and was caught in an FBI terrorism sting in which he agreed to witness a loan involving an paid FBI informant who had told the counterparty (but not Aref) that the money originated with an arms sale. Aref is serving 15 years in the CMU under conditions amounting to

Aref is one of the CMU prisoners who are the named plaintiffs in a surprisingly successful lawsuit against the US government.

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Obama administration will make tiny, nearly meaningless changes to illegal bulk phone spying


The Obama administration will unveil a plan to sunset the bulk collection of US telephone data by American spies. Instead, it will plunder data that the carriers are required to retain for 18 months (America's spies currently warehouse phone data for five years) on the strength of warrants issued by its secret, rubberstamp Foreign Intelligence "court." This won't take place for at least 90 days, and for those 90 days, the administration expects the "court" to renew the spies' power to harvest bulk phone data as it has until now (despite that fact that Obama's appointed independent commission concluded that this program is illegal). Spies will only be able to explore phone data within two "hops" of their persons of interest, rather than the "three hop" rule they claim they've followed until now. Civil liberties groups are very slightly cheered by all this news.

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Zuckerberg phones Obama to complain about NSA spying


The day after a Snowden leak revealed that the NSA builds fake versions of Facebook and uses them to seed malicious software in attacks intended to hijack "millions" of computers, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg telephoned President Obama to complain about the NSA's undermining of the Internet's integrity.

As many have pointed out, it would have been nice to hear Zuckerberg taking the Internet's side before his own stock portfolio was directly affected, but better late than never. Zuckerberg's post on his conversation excoriates the US government for its Internet sabotage campaign, and calls on the USG to "be the champion for the internet, not a threat." Curiously, Zuckerberg calls for "transparency" into the NSA's attacks on the Internet, but stops short of calling for an end to government-sponsored attacks against the net.

In the end, though, Zuckerberg calls on companies to do a better job of securing themselves and their users against intrusive spying. It's not clear how that will work for Facebook, though: its business model is predicated on tricking, cajoling, and siphoning personal data out of its users and warehousing it forever in a neat package that governments are unlikely to ignore. I'm told that 90% of US divorce proceedings today include Facebook data; this is a microcosm of the wider reality when you make it your business to stockpile the evidentiary chain of every human being's actions.

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TSA not sure if DC drivers licenses are valid ID

DC resident Ashley Brandt was surprised to meet a TSA agent at Phoenix airport who didn't think that DC drivers' licenses were valid ID, because DC isn't a state. Cory 42

Whistleblower: NSA secretly continues Merkel surveillance by bugging other German officials


An anonymous NSA leaker revealed to the German magazine Bild am Sonntag that the agency has been spying on senior German government figures. The move is apparently a response to Obama prohibiting the agency from spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel (or other world leaders) without his authorization -- by spying on the people with whom Merkel communicates, the agency is still able to intercept a large fraction of her most sensitive communications without presidential authorization.

Two amazing facts about this story:

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