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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Block the Vote

The New York Times
Tuesday 30 May 2006

In a country that spends so much time extolling the glories of democracy, it's amazing how many elected officials go out of their way to discourage voting. States are adopting rules that make it hard, and financially perilous, for nonpartisan groups to register new voters. They have adopted new rules for maintaining voter rolls that are likely to throw off many eligible voters, and they are imposing unnecessarily tough ID requirements.

Florida recently reached a new low when it actually bullied the League of Women Voters into stopping its voter registration efforts in the state. The Legislature did this by adopting a law that seems intended to scare away anyone who wants to run a voter registration drive. Since registration drives are particularly important for bringing poor people, minority groups and less educated voters into the process, the law appears to be designed to keep such people from voting.

It imposes fines of $250 for every voter registration form that a group files more than 10 days after it is collected, and $5,000 for every form that is not submitted - even if it is because of events beyond anyone's control, like a hurricane. The Florida League of Women Voters, which is suing to block the new rules, has decided it cannot afford to keep registering new voters in the state as it has done for 67 years. If a volunteer lost just 16 forms in a flood, or handed in a stack of forms a day late, the group's entire annual budget could be put at risk.

In Washington, a new law prevents people from voting if the secretary of state fails to match the information on their registration form with government databases. There are many reasons that names, Social Security numbers and other data may not match, including typing mistakes. The state is supposed to contact people whose data does not match, but the process is too tilted against voters.

Congress is considering a terrible voter ID requirement as part of the immigration reform bill. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, introduced an amendment to require all voters to present a federally mandated photo ID. Even people who have been voting for years would need to get a new ID to vote in 2008. Millions of people without drivers' licenses, including many elderly people and city residents, might fail to do so, and be ineligible to vote. The amendment has been blocked so far, but voting-rights advocates worry that it could reappear.

These three techniques - discouraging registration drives, purging eligible voters and imposing unreasonable ID requirements - keep showing up. Colorado recently imposed criminal penalties on volunteers who slip up in registration drives. Georgia, one of several states to adopt harsh new voter ID laws, had its law struck down by a federal court.

Protecting the integrity of voting is important, but many of these rules seem motivated by a partisan desire to suppress the vote, and particular kinds of voters, rather than to make sure that those who are entitled to vote - and only those who are entitled - do so. The right to vote is fundamental, and Congress and state legislatures should not pass laws that put an unnecessary burden on it. If they do, courts should strike them down.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

America Unplugged

By Peter Zeihan
Nov. 29, 2005

[Blog Note: Stratfor are strategic forecasters, they look into the crystal ball and try to make sense of it so business and governments can make intelligent decisions, this article of 18 months ago offers an interesting analysis when looked at through today’s eyes.]

The presidency of George W. Bush is failing.

Love him or hate him, Bush has had the most dramatic international impact of any U.S. president in a generation. But as Bush's fortunes ebb, his ability to control events in Washington and much further afield are fading as well. Geopolitics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and there is no shortage of players hoping to profit from the political equivalent of U.S. self-flagellation.

American Paralysis

In August, we wrote that the United States was beginning to move "Beyond the War on Terrorism." We argued that the United States had achieved the bulk of what it had set out to do in first containing, and then pursuing and dismantling, al Qaeda.

We put forward that Iraq was a central feature of that plan, and that despite the ongoing horrors there, the broad strategic goals that the United States set out to achieve had indeed been accomplished. Saudi Arabia, Syria and -- to a lesser extent -- Iran were all cooperating with the United States in destroying al Qaeda as a strategic threat.

The organization's offensive abilities degraded, from the ability to pull off a Sept. 11, 2001, attack that reshaped the world, to a series of metro bombings in London that did not even produce a glimmer of consideration within the U.K. government that policy should change. Terrorism, of course, continued to occur around the world, but its ability to dictate U.S. foreign policy had largely evaporated. All that was left was some hardly insignificant cleanup, and the United States could then get around to the serious work of dealing with the real issues: boxing in China and boxing up Russia.

But Iraq has not flowed gently into epilogue, and the final agreements that seemed so tantalizingly close in August remain elusive. In the interim, the American citizenry has grown weary of the conflict – in which the number of American dead has now passed 2100 -- and Bush's popularity has suffered as a result.

But the real inflection point of this presidency was not Iraq; rather, it was Hurricane Katrina. Rightly or wrongly, Bush was perceived not just as unprepared for a major hurricane strike, but also as oblivious to the seriousness of the humanitarian disaster in New Orleans. This perception solidified the opposition of the U.S. left, denied the president any help from the American center and cracked the heretofore unified American right. The result was a president in danger of losing his core supporters, without whom no president can effectively rule. Similar circumstances condemned past statesmen such as Wilson, Truman, Johnson and Nixon into the unenviable company of failed presidents.

Since Katrina, the Bush administration's fortunes have only slid further, with three critical defeats standing out most glaringly. First, its primary congressional ally, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, has been indicted for fundraising improprieties. Second, the administration's efforts to shuttle Harriet Miers into the Supreme Court resulted in a break within the Republican Party. Third, the vice president's chief of staff -- Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- has been indicted for disclosing the status of undercover intelligence officers to the press, a charge that may well be pressed against political mastermind Karl Rove, and perhaps even the vice president himself.

What this amounts to is that the Bush administration has alienated the Republican Party's religious wing and those who value national defense above all else. Between that and the loss of DeLay, the president's star has fallen so far that he can no longer demand meetings with key legislators; he must negotiate for them. His foreign policy agenda is weighed down by the albatross of Iraq, and since congressional Republican leadership is keeping its distance from the president, his legislative agenda has not so much as budged in months.

Even if Bush manages to recover, we are eyeing what will be at least six months of extreme administration weakness. If Bush does not recover, however, stretch that out to until Jan. 20, 2009. A lot can happen in three years.

And, as chance would have it, the United States is not the only power currently facing a crisis of confidence and capabilities.

European Paralysis

The failure of the Dutch and French referendums on the EU constitution during the early summer was more than simply the failure of a vote; it signaled a failure of the very idea of Europe as a supranational entity. Ultimately, the European Union institutions as we know them today are a result of France's efforts to transform the countries of Europe into a platform over which it could rule and from which it could project power. France has always wanted to be able to punch above its weight in the international arena, and Europe was to be its vehicle for achieving that goal.

Yet in May, the French rejected the EU constitution -- and with it, the French vision for Europe.

In large part, the French rejected that vision because they realized it had become unachievable. The other European states were not willing to become French vassals, and once the French realized that they were merely another member in -- and therefore merely another subject of -- European institutions, French nationalism trumped the French desire for French Europeanism. As the union expanded, part of being European came to mean that France does not always get its way. Ultimately, that is something that the French found unacceptable.

And this was hardly the limit of what has gone wrong in Europe recently.

The British enjoy a rebate from the EU budget for the years in which they contribute more to the EU than they receive back (which is every year). The French, who convinced the Germans to back them, are guaranteed a full quarter of all EU agricultural subsidies even though they are among the union's richest members. With the addition of 10 new -- poorer -- states into the EU in 2004, the two standing policies are now in direct financial conflict.

Put another way, for the French to continue to enjoy their gravy train, either the British have to give up their rebate or all those new poor states need to give up some of the EU development funds -- the one part of the EU budget that is actually productive. Family spats over money are always the most vitriolic, and this one has reopened issues about the fundamental nature of the EU as well as discussion over the benefits and problems of enlargements, both past and future.

With the very idea of a European entity with a global reach DOA, the ability of "Europe" to act abroad becomes limited to the capabilities of its constituent powers. And in addition to these powers' lacking Washington's normal reach, they are nearly as politically truncated as the United States.

As France reels from the EU constitution defeat, it now also has to deal with the cultural, political and economic aftermath of three weeks of race riots. The United Kingdom's position on reducing the EU budget has radically reduced its influence within Europe. But more importantly, the Blair government recently lost its first Parliament vote -- typically an early sign that a prime minister is about to attach an "ex-" to his title.

Finally, there is Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel has just wrapped up her first full week on the job. The new chancellor has more of a chance than any other European leader to get a fresh start, by seeking a rapprochement with Europe's smaller states as well as the United States. Yet even if she is wildly successful in her foreign relations, and even if her awkward left-right coalition is not sunk by inter- and intra-party bickering, this will still take a great deal of time. No, Europe is as out of the international picture as the United States is for the moment.

Of Absent Cats and Busy, Busy Mice

The result is an unfettered international system.

The world has been gradually sliding toward true unipolarity for the past 15 years. France's view of the European Union was one attempt to stem that evolution, as are China and Russia's on-again, off-again attempts to forge an unwieldy coalition of powers that contains states such as Brazil, India or Iran. Ultimately, however, geographic location dictates that all such attempts will fail.

The European Union could never be a political superpower because the British, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Italians, Dutch, Danes, Swedes and Finns really see no point to letting Paris or Berlin dictate their domestic economic or foreign security policies. The idea of a multipolar world is similarly unworkable. Adjacent land powers are only able to ally when both face imminent destruction or one is in a clearly subordinate position -- something that makes us watch Chinese-Russian relations with increasing interest -- while a quick glance at the trade flows of states like Brazil and India clearly show that any political ambitions for setting up an anti-American alliance are limited predominantly to rhetoric. It often does not take a great deal of effort for the United States to use these characteristics to prevent such alliances -- geographic features alone nearly assure an American preponderance of power -- and so, since the end of the Soviet Union, U.S. power has increased step by step relative to other powers.

But what happens when that dominant power finds itself engrossed by internal developments? When this happened to Russia during President Vladimir Putin's first term, Central Europe was swallowed by NATO and the European Union; the United States moved troops into Central Asia; China -- not Russia -- got its fingers into Kazakhstan's energy resources and encouraged a thousand migrant feet to bloom in Siberia; and color revolutions broke Moscow's grip on Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia.

But now the United States -- indeed the entire West -- is in a world of its own.

Eventually the period of inattentiveness will end, even if it takes until the next election, so time is a precious commodity. The question dominating the thoughts of national leaders who often find themselves at loggerheads with Washington is: How do I maximize my position before Washington stops staring at its own navel?

Down in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has always done his best to take advantage of Washington's short attention span, and the next few months will be no exception. For him the mode is the Bolivarian Revolution -- and using his ample oil revenues to extend his political reach by manipulating elections in Bolivia and Honduras, supporting indigenous movements in Ecuador, and likely funding Colombia's new united left wing, the Democratic Alternative Pole. Across the border in Brazil, President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva is far less ambitious, but he is certainly reaping the rewards in terms of public popularity by killing U.S. efforts to create a Western Hemispheric free trade area -- the keystone of Washington's Latin American policy.

In Asia, Pyongyang has got to be wallowing in glee. Anytime the United States is distracted, North Korea tends to be able to foment crises that get concessions from its neighbors. Beijing, while undoubtedly equally happy, will be far more circumspect in its efforts. For China, a U.S. disengagement allows it more time to whip its economy into shape. That means slowing efforts to amend its currency policy; the Yuan peg will remain, and China need not worry overmuch about the United States taking advantage of the social unrest that Beijing's softly-softly economic reforms trigger.

Across the Middle East, where U.S. foreign policy has been most active since the Sept. 11 attacks, the effect will be far more noticeable among enemies and allies alike.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will have no reason to do more than give the occasional polite nod to American requests, allowing him to impose his own version of a final settlement on the Palestinians; it will be one they do not much care for. Pressure on Saudi Arabia and Egypt to amend their political systems will either evaporate or be waved away. Syria has just gotten the diplomatic equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card (and thus has largely gotten away with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and the maintenance of its position of superiority in Lebanon). And if you thought the Iranian nuclear program issue was agonizingly annoying before, just wait.

There is the very deadly possibility that Iraq will go from bad to worse. With American pressure ignorable, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran have little reason to cajole groups to come to the table and every reason to manipulate events to their own likings -- which, in all cases, involves making the American experience miserable. U.S. power can no longer guarantee that the Kurds, Shia and Sunnis will meet, much less hammer out a workable power-sharing accord, leaving Washington -- still -- holding the bag and handing out concessions to prevent the situation from degrading further still. And of course, Iraqi guerrillas are hardly finished.

Although it may be out of the headlines, the United States is still pursuing the al Qaeda leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, which is extremely difficult without the active participation of Pakistani forces -- forces that in the best of circumstances need to have their feet held to the fire to ensure cooperation. Without some robust American arm twisting, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has little incentive to pursue a policy that could well bring his government down around him -- not to mention put a bullet in his head.

The Russian Moment

But by far the country with the most pressing need to act – and coincidentally, the most room to act -- is the one that the United States has been pressing the hardest: Russia.

Unlike U.S. efforts to contain Venezuela or block a rising China, with Russia the United States is playing for keeps. The Soviet Union was one of only three states that have ever directly threatened the United States -- the other two being the British Empire and Mexico. The Soviet Union also came as close as any power ever has to uniting Eurasia into a single integrated, continental power -- the only external development that might be able to end the United States' superpowership. These little factoids are items that policymakers neither forget nor take lightly.

So while U.S. policy toward China is to delay its rise, and U.S. policy toward Venezuela is geared toward containment, U.S. policy toward Russia is a simple as it is final: dissolution. Ergo Russia's string of deep and rapid defeats.

But suddenly, the pressure has evaporated.

We are sure to see much more traditional Russian thinking in efforts to construct a multipolar world: attempts at hiving France and Germany away from the rest of Europe; heavy diplomatic engagement with would-be powers like India, China and Venezuela; a resumption of technical efforts with Iran's nuclear power program; reinsertion of Russian influence into North Korea and Syria. But ultimately all of these strategies represent old thinking. What concrete results does Russia really get from having a "strategic partnership" with India, aside from some arms sales? Political hegemony in places like Syria reduces Russian strategy to the diplomatic equivalent of a monkey wrench. The threat to Russia is far deeper, and so if Russia is to use its breathing room to achieve anything of lasting use, it needs a change of mind-set -- and that is precisely what is under way.

On Nov. 14 two men -- Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Ivanov -- were promoted to deputy prime ministerships. Both are extremely canny politicians and have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to think outside of traditional Russian paradigms. For them, the pre-eminent concern is forestalling further Russian losses and resurging Russian power. Stymieing U.S. initiatives -- the default position for most Russian authorities who have been in positions of power since Soviet days -- is only of high priority when those initiatives actually affect Russia.

Put another way, the new deputy prime ministers think that Russian policy should be a bit more thought-out than simply shouting "nyet" whenever the Americans are up to something. For them issues such as North Korea, Syria, India, Brazil and even Iran are of much lower priority. The real issues are items closer to home: Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and the Baltic’s. It is less about attempting to maintain the long-outdated international balance of the Cold War that Russia's nationalists crave, and more about more traditional Russian concerns of securing the borders by expanding them -- or at minimum expanding Russia's "zones of comfort."

And so it is in these borderlands where Russian efforts will intensify in the months to come. A key tool in the Russian advance will be Gazprom, the state natural gas monopoly, which incidentally boasts one Mr. Medvedev as its chairman of the board. On Nov. 29, Gazprom's deputy CEO announced sharp price increases for a range of former Soviet states, including the Baltic’s, Ukraine and Georgia. In the case of Kiev, such hikes will likely rip the bottom out of the Ukrainian basket.

A number of politicians throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States are in the process of discovering that not only is the Bear not asleep, but the Eagle is too preoccupied to help shield them from its prowling. In some places -- such as Poland and the Baltic’s – where progress away from Russia is an established fact, this will only deepen animosity toward Russia. But in others where the situation is much more tenuous -- most notably Ukraine -- it is leading to efforts at accommodation and will result in a resurgence of Russian influence.

While the economic stick is the order of the day in the western reaches of the former Soviet Union, the southern flank is seeing primarily the military carrot. Central Asian states are many things, but "stable" and "politically inclusive" are certainly not on that list. In a region where Islam is the dominant religion and Afghanistan is but a short walk -- literally -- away, the result has been a government demonizing of militant Islam as a justification for authoritarianism.

Yet efforts to maintain authoritarian control have reduced the options of any opposition forces to one: operating outside the system. Imagine the shock in Central Asian capitals when their policies gave life to the fears buried within their rhetoric. Islam is now a bastion of political -- and sometimes militant -- opposition, and a few sporadic Islamism-inspired attacks have shaken Central Asian political establishments to their core. Suddenly the United States' "revolution" efforts have gone from being perceived as an interesting side note to a deadly threat, and Russia is happy to pick up the pieces of Washington's post-Sept. 11 Central Asia security policies for itself.
U.S. forces have already been ushered out of Uzbekistan, and a U.S. diplomatic and economic presence is really only welcome in Kazakhstan -- and even there only on specific terms.

What is particularly notable about this renewed Russian push is how much room there is for progress. American policy in Russia's near abroad has largely been dependent upon the border states' natural antipathy toward Moscow, and not on building stable institutions or links between these regions and the wider world. This makes vast tracts of territory easily accessible to the Russians, whose infrastructure remains hardwired into the entire border region. Without consistent Western attention, geographic realities can easily reassert. Ukraine -- unlike Romania -- is simply on the wrong side of the Carpathians for it to be otherwise.


Monday, May 22, 2006

An Interview with John Dean

By Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive Magazine
Saturday 20 May 2006

Here is a transcript of an interview with John Dean of Watergate fame.

Dean was Nixon's White House counsel for three years and then testified against him. He is the author, most recently, of "Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush." On March 31, Dean testified in favor of Senator Russ Feingold's censure bill. The interview was conducted on April 28 by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine. You can listen to the interview at

Q: Tell me what your lasting impressions are of Richard Nixon.

Dean: In a way, he's a comic figure. In other ways, he's a tragic figure. I have a memory of a very complex man locked in my synapses.

Q: How long did you work for him?

Dean: A thousand days. When you listen to him on the tapes, he would be one person with his chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, he'd be somebody else with Henry Kissinger, he'd be somebody else with me. He had these different personae. I don't think he ever had great administrative skills for the Presidency. He was slow to interact with his staff. He was very stiff. It was kind of like walking onto a set of an Oval Office when I used to first go into see him. But later on I'd walk in and he'd have his feet on the desk and he'd be talking to me around his shoes.

He was uneasy. In fact, one of the interesting things about Nixon is that we had to prepare something called talking papers for him. Anytime we brought someone in the office to meet the President, because he had a zero gift of gab, you literally had to have a few sentences, buzzwords, thoughts, so he could start a conversation with this person. Alex Butterfield, who ushered more people into the office than anybody else, told me that occasionally if Nixon didn't have this he was literally speechless.

Q: And Butterfield was the guy who surfaced the tapes.

Dean: He's the one who, indeed, corroborated the fact that there were tapes. I had speculated in my testimony that I thought I was taped. It was the only speculation I put in that testimony back in 1973, and thank god I did. Because when they were trying to discredit my testimony, they had a system where they fanned out and interviewed all sorts of people, and so they called Butterfield in, and said, "Dean made this amazing statement that he thought he was recorded. Now isn't that impossible?" And Butterfield said, "No, I think he's right." What made me aware of the fact that I was being taped was Nixon's behavior late in the game when he literally goes to the corner of his hideaway office and starts whispering around the potted palm, "I was foolish to do this" or, "I made a mistake when I did that."

Q: Did you ever speak with Nixon after he resigned?

Dean: Never did. I think it would have been very difficult for him. I'm not the only one who never spoke to him. John Erlichman, his chief domestic adviser, never talked to him. Bob Haldeman and he had sort of parted ways. They did patch up before they both passed away.

Nixon actually was very flattering in one sense in his memoirs about me. When he started dealing with me, he'd written in his diary that I've got this bright young guy. But then he said I was obviously a traitor for breaking rank.

Q: How have you dealt with that accusation?

Dean: It doesn't bother me at all because everybody for whom I had any respect I told what I was going to do before I did it. I said, "Listen, I'm not going to lie for anybody. So plan your life around that." I said I was going to go to the prosecutors after I had told the President he was in deep trouble with the so-called cancer on the Presidency conversation. After that, people knew where I stood, and I actually had the support of some of my colleagues who said, "Do it."

What my plan was, I thought my colleagues would do the right thing, that they would stand up and tell the truth and that would end it, and that Nixon might save himself by coming forward and saying, "Yeah, I made some bad mistakes. Here's what I did." But instead he just escalated the cover-up to the point where he had no choice but to resign or be impeached.

Q: Some people think he could have saved his Presidency by apologizing even at the eleventh hour?

Dean: Americans like to give their President the benefit of the doubt. If you look at the poll numbers, people knew Nixon was deeply involved in Watergate and stayed with him for a long time. It's a natural tendency.

Q: I'm very interested in the comparisons you make between Nixon and Bush.

Dean: Both mean learned about the Presidency from men they greatly respected: Richard Nixon from Dwight Eisenhower, George Bush from his father. When both men became President, you got the very distinct impression that they don't feel that they quite fit in the shoes of the person from whom they learned about the Presidency. Nixon would constantly be going down to Key Biscayne, San Clemente, or Camp David-he just didn't like being in the Oval Office. I saw this same thing with George Bush, who is constantly away. The other striking similarity is that both men talk in the third person about the office of the President. It's like the royal we. You look at other Presidents, like Reagan and Clinton, who clearly filled that office. You almost had to pry Clinton out at the end of his term. And Reagan, despite whatever weaknesses he had intellectually, filled the role of President and played it to the hilt. So Bush has a Nixonian distance from the White House.

And I was stunned at the secrecy of this Administration. I knew that there's no good that can come out of secrecy. So I began looking closely at Bush and finding the striking Nixonian features of this Presidency: It's almost as if we'd left an old playbook in the basement, they found it, dusted it off, and said, "This stuff looks pretty good, we ought to give it a try." As I dug in, and still had some pretty good sources within that Presidency, I found the principal mover and shaker of this Presidency is clearly Dick Cheney, who is not only reviving the Imperial Presidency but expanding it beyond Nixons wildest dreams.

The reason I wrote a book with the title "Worse than Watergate," and I was very cautious in using that title, is because there was a real difference: Nobody died as a result of the so-called abuses of power during Nixon's Presidency. You might make the exception of, say, the secret bombing of Cambodia, but that never got into the Watergate litany per se. You look at Bush's abuses, and Cheney's-to me, it's a Bush/ Cheney Presidency-and today, people are dying as a result of abuse of power. That's much more serious.

Q: Dying in Iraq?

Dean: Dying in Iraq. God knows where they're dying. In secret prisons. To me the fact that a Vice President can go to Capitol Hill and lobby for torture is just unbelievable. Just unbelievable! The fact that a small clique of attorneys in the Department of Justice can write how can we get around the Geneva Conventions so that we can torture during interrogations--I can"t even get their mentally. And when you read their briefs, they didn't get there mentally.

Q: The amazing thing about your book is that it was written before Cheney went up to lobby for torture, before the NSA scandal broke, and before the Valerie Plame thing.

Dean: They just keep walking into my title and adding additional chapters.

Q: Talk a little bit more about Dick Cheney. You call him "co-President" in your book.

Dean: I do. It was evident, even at the beginning, when Cheney was very confident they were going to win at the Supreme Court. I've got some friends who were in there and they were telling me what was happening, and they said Bush doesn't have a clue what's going on. Cheney's setting things up the way he wants. Hes designing a National Security Council that's more powerful than the statutory National Security Council under Condoleezza Rice. And it was, and it is. She was the perfect foil for him because he can roll over her anytime he wants, and he does. Putting her over at State is even better: Keep her out on the road. The Cheney-Rumsfeld connection has really been driving the foreign policy since day one.

Q: Why do you think Bush divested so much of his power to Cheney?

Dean: Bush had expertise in one thing: How to run a Presidential campaign. He understands campaigns and Presidential politics. He has no interest or disposition or I think probably-he's not stupid, but he's not bright, he's not a rocket scientist-he isn't interested in policy.

Cheney is the opposite. He loves this stuff. He's a wonk. He gets into it, and he's had very strong feelings about issues that he's held for a long time.

He has been determined to expand Presidential power. I can't find in history any other Presidency that has made it a matter of policy to expand Presidential powers.

Q: Tell me about the Feingold hearing on censure.

Dean: I've been invited several times over the last decade or more to testify before Congress, and I've always found a polite way not to do it.

Q: Why is that?

Dean: I knew it would make a certain sensation, my first return since the Watergate hearings. I thought it should be an issue that's important. It should be an issue I felt strongly about. So when Senator Feingold invited me to appear on his censure resolution, I thought, this is a very good issue. I appeared not as a partisan. My partisan days are really long behind me.

Q: How do you identify yourself politically?

Dean: I'm registered as an independent. And I vote for as many Democrats as I do Republicans. I'm really a centrist in many ways. I don't fly on either wing. I explained to the Senate committee that there was a lot of baggage connected with censure. But I said how important it was that the Senate do something since Feingold's bill was addressing a blatant violation of law, the violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. When Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, he went to Congress to seek permission after the fact. We have a President who says, "Screw that, I'm just going to do it." It's an in-your-face attitude. And he's rolling over the prerogatives of Congress.

Q: You made a comment that should be famous: When Bush said he was bypassing the FISA requirements, you remarked that it was "the first time a President has actually confessed to an impeachable offense."

Dean:That's exactly what he did. One of the provisions in Nixon's bill of impeachment was his warrantless surveillance of media people, which is now covered directly by the FISA law. Warrantless wiretapping is an impeachable offense. It couldn't be any clearer.

Q: In your book, you also talk about the possibility-I would say the likelihood-that Bush lied this country into war. Can Bush be impeached for that, too?

Dean: When I deconstructed his State of the Union just before the Iraq War and looked at the available information even then, it was clear that the representations he was making as fact were not fact. Is that lying? It certainly is a form of distortion. This is the highest point in a Presidency in his relationship to Congress when he reports for the State of the Union. It is a crime to lie to Congress. The founders thought that misrepresentation to Congress was to be an impeachable offense. And the way Bush did it in the follow up procedures he actually belittled Congress in sending them bogus material. It was really quite stunning when one peels it all apart. And I said, "Is there any question in my mind that this is an impeachable offense?" No.

Q: How do you respond to people who say impeachment is never going to happen?

Dean: There's a political reality about impeachment. It's purely a political process. The interpretation of "high crimes and misdemeanors" can reach a long way, all the way to sex in the Oval Office, which was an absurd use of the impeachment clause. Impeachment is the big cannon. As long as the same party that controls Congress controls the White House it just isn't going to happen. I'm not sure that even if a President murdered his wife, they would impeach him. But those who are focusing on this issue are raising important questions. And one of the reasons I thought a censure resolution was appropriate was because if somebody had censured Nixon or even if a resolution of either house had passed, saying what you're doing is unacceptable to Congress, that shot across the bow might have straightened him up. I wish Feingold's resolution could get more traction. It might provide us all some safety because there's two more years left of this Presidency. And I must say there's a good possibility in November that the House or Senate or both is going to go Democratic, and it's going to be hell for this Presidency for the last two years, and they've earned it. And that's when impeachment could become a true reality. I'd settle for oversight, but impeachment's not out of the question.

Q: I'd think, if things get hotter, and the Democrats get control of the House, that censure might be attractive to Bush, if he's got any sense, so he could put a lid on this cauldron.

Dean: It's not a bad idea because they have supplied a steady diet of material. It's going to be two years of executive privilege fights. The subpoena will change the complexion of the oversight.

Q: In your testimony at the Feingold censure hearing, you said that this is the first time you've actually feared our government. Why is that?

Dean: Now I don't frighten easily, but I find it frightening because Dick Cheney knows no limits. The only person he reports to is George Bush. He works behind closed doors. And I know, from little tidbits I'm picking up from friends who have to be careful not to speak out of school, that there's more probably more covert activity going on, both abroad and maybe here in the United States, than in decades because of this so-called war on terror.

Q: Do you fear for our democratic system?

Dean: I fear for the system. And I fear for our liberties. Only a small group of people fights for our liberties. Once we start on the slippery slope and those people are put in jeopardy, then we're really in trouble.


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Voice of the White House

May 18, 2006

The notorious Lincoln Group, which is an unofficial organ of the Department of Defense and was created solely to plant official lies in both foreign and domestic media outlets, is not the only “non-official” agency used by the Bush Administration for close observation and eventual control of the American public. The United States is crammed full of “think tanks,” “research institutes,” “credit information agencies,” “medical data bases,” and on an on, all euphemisms for gathers of information on the American public, businesses whose secrets can be mined and given, or sold, to other Administration-supporting businesses worthy of government rewards, information on all US/overseas banking and money transfers, diplomatic communications foreign governments and businesses, individuals and organizations that are termed as being “hostile, or potentially hostile, to government entities and/or individuals.”

In the aggregate, these organizations can, and certainly do, supply information on any citizen of the United States and many foreign ones, especially those in foreign governments and business. Although you will never see their names connected with such activities, saving on internet blogs, there certainly exists, and I have had access to, thick rosters of such organizations, their leadership, their abilities to gather specific information in specific areas and contact points inside each and every entity, as well as payment rates for the acquisition of information. None of these companies exist as charities after all.

I should note that nearly all of these organization, without fail, are staffed with former, and sometimes current, individuals with a background in government investigative activities like the FBI, the NSA, the CIA and the many intrusive and secret branched of the Department of Defense’s Domestic Surveillance systems.

Because of this, the government can tap into a huge mine of personal, business and economic data on any American citizen that they wish. Not even minor children are exempt from this universal pool. School and medical records are at their fingertips as are juvenile records, (supposedly sealed by the courts but in fact open at will to these paid spies) school records, work and bank account activities., divorce records, local credit bureau files, your complete medical records, samples of your DNA, anonymous accusations contained in local and federal investigative files (allegations that have never been substantiated) any and all credit information to include travel or purchases of any kind, any and all bank records, both corporate and personal, to include the presence of safe deposit boxes, saving accounts and complete records of all deposits and withdrawals (to include copies of checks) and a legion of other material that most people think is private.

Think again. In Bush’s America, there is no such thing as privacy.

We have seen how telephone system giants, SBC, Verizon and ATT willingly, even eagerly, supplied the NSA (whose former head at the time of this, General Hayden, now wants to run the CIA) any and all telephone records of their subscribers.

Note that it was not necessary for Hayden’s people to obtain warrants for this, as the law requires them to do. When the firestorm began over the wholesale spying by the NSA, that organization’s spokesman said "Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide. However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law." They most certainly do not as should be obvious to anyone not a practicing Republican.

These huge telecommunications firms volunteered to supply this material. In the world of the internet and computers, the giant AOL similarly volunteered to permit government agents entry to their facilities for the sole purpose of spying on their subscribers. Only Google in the computer world and Qwest in the telephone world refused to cooperate in the absence of proper legal permission. This Hayden would not provide because he was working under specific Presidential orders and did not feel the necessity of obeying well-established Federal law.

It might be instructive to many Americans to learn more about this invasive Gestapo/KGB behavior and at the end of this study, we have some interesting news that will hearten the victims and depress the oppressors.

Since the subject of clandestine private and public espionage on American citizens is now of great interest, I am making an in-depth study of how this is done and, most especially, by whom. The cooperation of three large telephone companies and at least two major computer servers has been mentioned before, and will be mentioned in detail again, but now we will look at what are called “Data Miners,” or firms that collect all manner of information on Americans and then give, or in many cases, sell it to government agencies that cannot, by law, collect such information themselves.

In the United States today, the top collector and disseminator of highly personal information to include DNA data, is called ChoicePoint.

This company, as of May 1, 2006, has amassed over 17 billion files on American citizens. This entity was formed in 1997, is based in Alpharetta, Georgia and its stated purpose is to provide what its corporate site states are "Identification and credential verification services".

It obtains and sells to more than 50,000 businesses the personal information of consumers, including their names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, employment information, and credit histories. ChoicePoint employs 4,600 persons at its 52 locations within 26 states. ChoicePoint maintains a database of names, addresses, Social Security numbers, credit reports, and other sensitive information. And its stated intention is to build a database of DNA samples from every person in the United States which ChoicePoint then will link to all the other personal information files Its chief operating officers are: Derek V. Smith, CEO,Douglas C. Curling, President/COO, Steven W. Surbaugh, CFO, J. Michael de Janes, Gen. Counsel and David T. Lee, Exec. VP

ChoicePoint is the most important provider of DNA info to the FBI. Its DNA laboratory aided in the identification of victims of the WTC attacks, and data supplied by ChoicePoint was used in the Beltway Snipers investigation. Choicepoint also assisted the Transportation Security Administration in investigating 112,278 applicants. The US Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children credit the corporation with assisting in the return of ~800 missing children . It also contracts with over 7,500 state and local government agencies, including law enforcement and has complete files on the voting records of all Americans. In 2002, ChoicePoint generated earnings of ~200 million USD on revenue of ~791 million USD. In total, ChoicePoint has received over one billion dollars from its cooperation with U.S. governmental agencies.

Its rise to the position of being the formost possessor and disseminator of billions of files on Americans voting, health, criminal, ownership of property and banking information has not always been without problems.

Consumer data broker ChoicePoint, Inc., which last year acknowledged that the personal financial records of more than 163,000 consumers in its database had been compromised, had to pay $10 million in civil penalties and $5 million in consumer redress to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that its security and record-handling procedures violated consumers’ privacy rights and federal laws. The settlement required ChoicePoint to implement new procedures to ensure that it provides consumer reports only to legitimate businesses for lawful purposes, to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program, and to obtain audits by an independent third-party security professional every other year until 2026.

The FTC alleged that ChoicePoint did not have reasonable procedures to screen prospective subscribers, and turned over consumers’ sensitive personal information to subscribers whose applications raised obvious “red flags.” Indeed, the FTC alleged that ChoicePoint approved as customers, individuals who lied about their credentials and used commercial mail drops as business addresses. In addition, ChoicePoint applicants reportedly used fax machines at public commercial locations to send multiple applications for purportedly separate companies.

According to the FTC, ChoicePoint failed to tighten its application approval procedures or monitor subscribers even after receiving subpoenas from law enforcement authorities alerting it to fraudulent activity going back to 2001.

The FTC charged that ChoicePoint violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by furnishing consumer reports – credit histories – to subscribers who did not have a permissible purpose to obtain them, and by failing to maintain reasonable procedures to verify both their identities and how they intended to use the information.

The agency also charged that ChoicePoint violated the FTC Act by making false and misleading statements about its privacy policies. ChoicePoint had publicized privacy principles that address the confidentiality and security of personal information it collects and maintains with statements such as, “ChoicePoint allows access to your consumer reports only by those authorized under the FCRA . . . ” and “Every ChoicePoint customer must successfully complete a rigorous credentialing process. ChoicePoint does not distribute information to the general public and monitors the use of its public record information to ensure appropriate use.”

The stipulated final judgment and order required ChoicePoint to pay $10 million in civil penalties – the largest civil penalty in FTC history – and to provide $5 million for consumer redress. It barred the company from furnishing consumer reports to people who do not have a permissible purpose to receive them and requires the company to establish and maintain reasonable procedures to ensure that consumer reports are provided only to those with a permissible purpose. U.S. government agencies are considered to be ones with a permissible purpose. ChoicePoint is now required to verify the identity of businesses that apply to receive consumer reports, including making site visits to certain business premises and auditing subscribers’ use of consumer reports.

The order requires ChoicePoint to establish, implement, and maintain a comprehensive information security program designed to protect the security, confidentiality, and integrity of the personal information it collects from or about consumers. It also requires ChoicePoint to obtain, every two years for the next 20 years, an audit from a qualified, independent, third-party professional to ensure that its security program meets the standards of the order. ChoicePoint will be subject to standard record-keeping and reporting provisions to allow the FTC to monitor compliance. Finally, the settlement bars future violations of the FCRA and the FTC Act.

And, among other similar problems, ChoicePoint was fired by the Illinois State Police because the company had supplied faked DNA results on Illinois rape cases In January 2000, Pennsylvania terminated its contract with ChoicePoint after alleging that the firm had illegally sold citizens' personal information.

Like Diebold, the voting machine company, ChoicePoint has been, and is, staunchly Republican, and as a case in point, they became heavily involved in Florida politics, being especially aggressive in the 2000 Presidential campaign.

Earlier, in 1998 the state of Florida signed a 4 million dollar contract with Database Technologies (DBT Online), which later was merged into ChoicePoint, for the purposes of providing a central voter file listing those barred from voting.

As of 2002, Florida was the only state that hired a private firm for these purposes.

Prior to contracting with Database Technologies, Florida contracted with a smaller operator for 5,700 dollars per year. The state of Florida contracted with DBT in November 1998, following the controversial Miami mayoral race of 1997. The 1998 contracting process involved no bidding and was worth 2,317,800 dollars.

ChoicePoint has been criticized for knowingly using inaccurate data, and for racial discrimination.

Allegations include listing voters as felons for alleged crimes said to have been committed several years in the future. In addition, people who had been convicted of a felony in a different state and had their rights restored by said state, were not allowed to vote despite the restoration of their rights. (One should note Schlenther v. Florida Department of State [June 1998] which ruled that Florida could not prevent a man convicted of a felony in Connecticut, where his civil rights had not been lost, from exercising his civil rights elsewhere) Furthermore, it is argued that people were listed as felons based on a coincidence of names, despite other data (such as date of birth) which showed that the criminal record did not apply to the voter in question

This firm cooperated with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and Florida Elections Unit Chief Clay Roberts, in a conspiracy of voter fraud, involving the central voter file, during the US Presidential Election of 2000. The allegations charge that 57,700 people (15% of the list), primarily Democrats of African-American and Hispanic descent, were incorrectly listed as felons and thus barred from voting.

ChoicePoint Vice President Martin Fagan has admitted that at least 8,000 names were incorrectly listed in this fashion when the company passed on a list given by the state of Texas, these 8,000 names were removed prior to the election. Fagan has described the error as a "minor glitch". ChoicePoint, as a matter of policy, does not verify the accuracy of its data and argues that it is the user's responsibility to verify accuracy.

There appears to be an antidote to all of this intense governmental spying, and data compilation and storage, on its generally completely innocent citizens. Unfortunately, is would seem that the cure is worse than the disease.

There have been persistant and growing rumors inside the Beltway, mostly in the technical set, that about two and a half years ago, one, or several, young computer experts concocted what is called a Trojan Horse.

The only such thing I knew such a thing about was written up by Homer but it appears that this is a computer program that oblitrates it host when instructed to do so. As I understand this particular virus, again from rumor, it is so disguised that it is not detectable by any known scanning system, including the super-sophisticated ones used by certain very secret agencies like the NSA. When the device is triggered, in all probability by a series of words and/or numbers, a timer built into the system is activated and then on a predetermined day and time, it is activated and completely obliterates the host computer’s harddrive. Any and all data, programs, files, commands and systems in the stricken computer vanish into Never-Never land and cannot be rertreived. Also, backup discs and other systems are subject to destruction if they are reactivated on a computer system that might have undetectable remains of the virus and are subject to total or partial obliteration.

When I heard this, I thought it was some kind of a nut story, so beloved by the dimwitted bloggers but I asked a number of genuine computer experts and all, without exception, advised me that this was an entirely valid scenario; that such a disguised virus could not only be implanted into a computer but would automatically infect any other computer system that had interfaced with the infected one.

Given the lapse of time since this was apparently started, there is, I have been told, no reason why it could not infect every computer system, internet server, and personal computer in the world, ranging from the harmless home computer to the massive NSA and international banking systems. The prognosis? If it happened, systems would crash into oblivion in the order in which they had been infected. Since the world runs on computers, the chaos would be awful to contemplate and it would, two experts told me, take between three to five years to rebuild the systems again.

The costs, in lost records, vanished financial information and saved data would immense; obliterated operating systems, criminal, civil and intelligence records And completely terminal.

My own computer is a laptop that has never been, and never will be, connected to the Internet so everything could crash but my data would still be intact, unless, of course, I connected with an infected Internet.

This is a very possible scenario but one of my sources said he doubted if anyone would launch this on an unsuspecting world for the same reason governments have been reluctant to start atomic wars or spread deadly diseases….this can all return from whence it came and there would be no way to prevent this from happening. Let us hope that the person or persons who started this either died without passing his trigger information on (in which case the virus would remain permanently dormant) or has found Jesus somewhere and decided against it. On the other hand, if the constructors of this monster still are functionig and for some reason develop a sociopathic fury at some massive entity like AOL or the NSA, we could all be in for a return to the computer Stone Age.
[BlogNote: This trojan piece seem unliky to me, especially as described above, and in my opinion if it were true and was activiated I personally would rejoice at the illegally obtained data being destroyed.]


See our Inside the White House archive:

Lawyer disputes claim Powell aide focus of CIA leak probe

New indication focus is on coverup, not leak, No new indications on Rove

by John Byrne

A claim by former National Security director Bobby Ray Inman that a senior Powell aide was a target in the investigation into the outing of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson drew a firestorm of response from individuals close to the case, RAW STORY can report.

A post yesterday by Steve Clemons, editor of the popular foreign relations-focused blog, The Washington Note, noted that the former NSA chief was privately telling associates that Powell's Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage was a focus of the CIA leak investigation.

Late yesterday, Clemons received a barrage of responses from others closer to the case, including a lawyer to one who has testified, Clemons told me. These individuals vehemently disputed claims that Armitage was in legal jeopardy, saying that the erstwhile Powell aide had been nothing but cooperative in his appearances before the grand jury.

According to Clemons' latest, Armitage testified three times before the grand jury. Those familiar with his testimony say he was "a complete straight-shooter" and "honest about his role and mistakes."

"That said," he adds, "I have learned from several other sources that Richard Armitage was neck deep in the Valerie Plame story. According to several insiders, as soon as Armitage realized mistakes he had made, he marched into Colin Powell and laid out 'everything' in full detail."

Clemons' reporting on the CIA leak investigation has been relatively solid, though one allegation that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was expanding his offices didn't play out. Clemons quickly corrected the claim.

Perhaps the most interesting element to Clemons' post Friday is a claim by one individual close to the case -- which jibes with the legal action in the investigation to date -- that the focus of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's inquiry has shifted away from the actual outing towards those who were dishonest in their testimony and interviews. This, of course, would raise the stakes for senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, who seems to have lied to FBI investigators about his role in Plame's outing.

"Another person with deep knowledge about this investigation called to say that Fitzgerald seems to have abandoned any interest in securing indictments regarding the "outing" of Plame and has invested his efforts in challenging the "white collar cover-ups" involved," Clemons writes. "According to this source, the information provided by Richard Armitage is -- more than any other information -- what has put Karl Rove at major risk of indictment."

Speaking to RAW STORY, however, Clemons said he'd heard nothing new on Rove. There are no indications that Rove will be hear of a change in his legal status today.



Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Will the Major Media Finally Cover the Electronic Election Fraud Issue?

By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
The Free Press
Monday 15 May 2006

That the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 were stolen has become an article of faith for millions of mainstream Americans.

But there has been barely a whiff of coverage in the major media about any problems with the electronic voting machines that made those thefts possible - until now.

A recent OpEdNews/Zogby People's poll of Pennsylvania residents, found that "39% said that the 2004 election was stolen. 54% said it was legitimate. But let's look at the demographics on this question. Of the people who watch Fox news as their primary source of TV news, one half of one percent believe it was stolen and 99% believe it was legitimate. Among people who watched ANY other news source but FOX, more felt the election was stolen than legitimate. The numbers varied dramatically."

Here, from that poll, are the stations listed as first choice by respondents and the percentage of respondents who thought the election was stolen: CNN 70%; MSNBC 65%; CBS 64%; ABC 56%; Other 56%; NBC 49%; FOX 0.5%.

With 99% of Fox viewers believing that the election was "legitimate," only the constant propaganda of Rupert Murdoch's disinformation campaign stands in the way of a majority of Americans coming to grips with the reality of two consecutive stolen elections.

That the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post finally ran coverage of problems with electronic voting machines this week is itself big news. It says the scandals surrounding computer fraud and financial illegalities at Diebold and other electronic voting machine companies have become simply too big and blatant for even the bought, docile mainstream media (MSM) to ignore.

The gaping holes in the security of electronic voting machines are pretty old news. Bev Harris's has been issuing definitive research since Florida 2000. warned of the impending electronic theft of Ohio 2004 with Diebold machines eight months before it happened.

After that election, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) issued a report confirming that security flaws could allow a single hacker with a wi-fi to shift the vote counts at entire precincts just by driving by. Then the Government Accountability Office reported that security flaws were vast and unacceptable throughout the national network of electronic machines.

Despite overwhelming evidence that George W. Bush has occupied the White House due to the fraudulent manipulations of the GOP Secretaries of State in Florida and Ohio, none of this has seeped into "journals of record" like the Times and Post.

Until this week. The Times was sparked out of its stupor on May 11, after officials in California and Pennsylvania warned that Diebold touch-screen machines, slated to be used in upcoming primaries, were hopelessly compromised. Michael Shamos, a professor of computer science and Pittsburgh's high-tech Carnegie-Mellon University, called it "the most severe security flaw ever discovered in a voting system."

Douglas W. Jones, a computer science professor at the University of Iowa, says "this is a barn door being wide open, while people were arguing over the lock on the front door."

The Times refers to the uproar as "the latest concern about touch-screen machines" while having completely ignored dozens of complaints in Ohio 2004 that voters who selected John Kerry's name saw George W. Bush's light up, or saw the light on Kerry's repeatedly go out before they could complete the voting process.

The Wall Street Journal ran the following kicker: "Some former backers of technology seek return to paper ballots, citing glitches,fraud fears."

The WSJ could have ran that story last year after the bipartisan commission on federal election reform co-chaired by President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker noted in no uncertain terms that: "Software can be modified maliciously before being installed into individual voting machines. There is no reason to trust insiders in the election industry any more than in other industries."

Indeed. There's every reason because of the unprecedented power and money involved in U.S. politics to trust them less than anybody else.

In its March 2006 primary, it took a week to tally Chicago's votes because of technical problems in Sequoia Voting Systems equipment. In Maryland, electronic voting scandals prompted a unanimous vote by the State House of Delegate demanding that touch-screen machines be scrapped. The Maryland Senate effectively killed that bill, which is certain to come back.

Citizen law suits are being filed in Arizona, California, New York and New Mexico by the nonprofit Voter Action organization.

The new concerns about Diebold's equipment were discovered by Harri Hursti, a Finnish computer expert who was working at the request of Black Box Voting Inc. The new report forced Diebold to warn of a "theoretical security vulnerability" that "could potentially allow unauthorized software to be loaded onto the system."

In other words, one of the prime manufacturers of the machines on which America casts its votes has admitted those machines can be hacked.

But as the Times has finally reported, the company, in one of the new century's most truly laughable letters, has claimed that "the probability for exploiting this vulnerability to install unauthorized software that could affect an election is considered low."

A company spokesman has admitted the flaw was actually built into the system to allow election officials to upgrade their software.

But Diebold is apparently confident that those officials would never, ever cheat. "For there to be a problem here, you're basically assuming a premise where you have some evil and nefarious election officials who would sneak in and introduce a piece of software," says Diebold's David Bear. "I don't believe these evil elections people exist."

The Times has thus far chosen not to report on the staggering history that frames such statements. As reported in 2003, Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell promised in a GOP fundraising letter to "deliver Ohio's electoral votes to George W. Bush." The election chief in Florida 2000 was Katherine Harris.

In Ohio 2004 it was J. Kenneth Blackwell. Both controlled access to their state's electronic voting machines, and are widely believed to have exploited their now obvious flaws. Both served simultaneously as Secretary of State and as state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. As of today, the electronic access cards for Ohio's electronic voting machines have been ordered into Blackwell's personal office, despite the fact that he is the GOP nominee for governor in the upcoming November election.

Recently passed House Bill 3 in Ohio does not mandate post-election audits of electronic voting machines, nor does the Help American Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. The rush to electronic voting machines was fueled by the passing of the HAVA Act, which authorized more than $3 billion in federal funds to purchase new voting equipment.

HAVA's principal architect was Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), whose financial ties to Diebold, through disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, have yet to be fully exposed.

Blackwell personally negotiated a no-bid contract for Diebold touchscreen Direct Recording Electronic machines (DREs) while holding stock in the company. Under HB3 Blackwell will decide whether the machine will be audited or not in an election where he is running for governor.

"We're prepared for those types of problems," said Deborah Hench, the registrar of voters in San Joaquin County, California, according to The Times. "There are always activists that are anti-electronic voting, and they're constantly trying to put pressure on us to change our system."

Aviel Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, did the first in-depth analysis of the security flaws in the source code for Diebold touch-screen machines in 2003. After studying the latest problem, The Times reported Rubin said: "I almost had a heart attack. The implications of this are pretty astounding."

More coverage from the mainstream corporate media may surface as the machines malfunction in the 22 primary elections scheduled in May and June. The next major e-vote meltdown should occur during the May 16 primaries in Kentucky, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

There's still time to move to and-counted paper ballots for the November 2006 election. And if current trends continue, some of the mainstream media may actually start reporting on the issue.

Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis are co-authors of How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election & Is Rigging 2008, available at They are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of What Happened in Ohio? forthcoming from The New Press.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Myths and falsehoods on the
NSA domestic call-tracking program

Summary: Media Matters documents the misleading or false claims advanced by media figures and Bush administration supporters in the wake of news that the National Security Agency had since 2001 been secretly collecting records of phone calls made by millions of Americans.

Friday May 12, 2006

On May 11, USA Today reported that the National Security Agency (NSA) had since 2001 been secretly collecting records of phone calls made by millions of Americans. The article reported that the NSA, in cooperation with three major phone companies, "reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans -- most of whom aren't suspected of any crime" and uses the data "to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity."

The public disclosure of the domestic call tracking program provoked bipartisan criticism and calls for a full congressional investigation. Further, it revived the contentious debate over the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping on U.S. residents' international communications. As The New York Times revealed last year, the president authorized the agency to conduct such surveillance shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, in apparent violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires court approval in order to conduct domestic electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes.

As with the exposure of the warrantless surveillance program in December 2005, media figures and Bush supporters have advanced numerous misleading or false claims in the wake of the news, as Media Matters for America documents below.

#1: The NSA has access only to Americans' phone numbers and call records -- not names, addresses or other identifying information

In reporting on the NSA call-tracking program, some media figures have emphasized that the phone companies are not providing callers' names and addresses to the agency -- only their phone numbers and records of their various calls. Examples include:

CNN national security correspondent David Ensor: The phone companies provide the NSA "the phone numbers they call -- not the names, not the addresses of the people they called." [CNN International's Your World Today, 5/11/06]

NBC senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers: "The data provided by AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South reportedly includes phone calls made and received but not customers' names and addresses." [NBC's Today, 5/11/06]

ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross: "Officials say the phone records, with no names attached, are fed into NSA computers, programmed to track patterns between the U.S. and places where suspected terrorists might be, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan." [ABC's World News Tonight, 5/11/06]

Fox News host John Gibson: "The NSA is compiling phone calling patterns in an effort to track terrorists here in this country. No addresses or names are reportedly part of that information being collected." [Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, 5/11/06]

Fox News correspondent Carl Cameron: "The data records that the NSA is obtaining do not contain customer names, addresses, or anything about the actual call content." [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 5/11/06]

Fox News correspondent Jim Angle: "But others of both parties said this is far different and far less intrusive than actually listening to suspected terrorist communications. In this case, the NSA is reportedly collecting nothing more than phone call records, without any names or addresses." [Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, 5/11/06]

But the original May 11 USA Today article on the program made clear that phone customers' names, addresses, and "other personal information" can "easily" be obtained by cross-referencing their phone numbers with other databases, as Media Matters for America noted. A May 12 Washington Post article further reported that "the government has many means of identifying account owners, including access to commercial databases from ChoicePoint and LexisNexis."

Similarly, some reporters have failed to challenge Republican lawmakers' assertions that the data collected by the NSA is limited to phone numbers. For instance, in a May 12 article, Associated Press staff writer Katherine Shrader uncritically reported Sen. Wayne Allard's (R-CO) claim that "telephone customers' names, addresses and other personal information have not been handed over to NSA as part of this program."

#2: The NSA is only tracking phone calls, not listening to them

In describing the specifics of the NSA call-tracking program, certain media figures have claimed that the NSA only captures call records and does not use the data for surveillance. On the May 11 edition of CNN's Live From..., CNN congressional correspondent Ed Henry reported, "The government appears to be ... collecting these records but not actually eavesdropping, not listening in on the calls, an important distinction." On the May 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity claimed, "All we're looking at are patterns ... we're not looking at the content, we're not listening to people's calls."

But in affirmatively claiming that the NSA is not using the data for surveillance, Henry and Hannity are in effect asserting that the NSA's call-tracking program operates independent of the NSA's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program. They offer no support for this claim. Indeed, a May 12 Washington Post article reported that the two programs are directly linked, as the data provided to the NSA by the major phone companies assists the agency in selecting targets for warrantless surveillance.

From the May 12 Post article:

Government access to call records is related to the previously disclosed eavesdropping program, sources said, because it helps the NSA choose its targets for listening. The mathematical techniques known as 'link analysis' and 'pattern analysis,' they said, give grounds for suspicion that can result in further investing

Despite this report, the Post and ABC News conducted a poll on the call-tracking program that asserted that the NSA is not "listening to or recording the conversations," as Media Matters noted. Sixty-three percent of respondents found the program, as misleadingly described, acceptable.

#3: The Clinton administration implemented a more intrusive surveillance program

Shortly after the disclosure of the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program in December 2005, conservative media figures attempted to draw a parallel between the Clinton administration's use of a surveillance program known as Echelon and the warrantless domestic eavesdropping authorized by the Bush administration. In the wake of this new revelation, media have equated the NSA call-tracking operation and Echelon. For instance, a May 12 New York Post editorial claimed that "the program has clear antecedents in a widely rumored surveillance program called Echelon, which was hotly debated across the Internet back in 1999 -- nearly two years before President Bush took office." On the May 12 edition Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said, "This has been happening since 2000. This isn't one man's policy. The foundation was already laid for this six years ago."

But as Media Matters noted in response to the earlier comparisons, in contrast with the Bush administration's surveillance program, the eavesdropping of U.S. residents conducted under Echelon was carried out in compliance with FISA, according to then-CIA Director George J. Tenet. In his April 12, 2002, testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Tenet denied that Echelon was used to spy on U.S residents without a warrant. He said, "We do not target their conversations for collection in the United States unless a FISA warrant has been obtained from the FISA court by the Justice Department." Then-National Security Agency director Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden -- currently Bush's nominee for CIA director -- also appeared before the committee and testified, "If [an] American person is in the United States of America, I must have a court order before I initiate any collection [of communications] against him or her."

By contrast, since the disclosure of their warrantless domestic surveillance program, Bush has asserted -- and administration officials such as Hayden have repeated -- that he possesses the authority to eavesdrop on U.S. residents' communications without FISA approval.

Conservative media figures such as Hannity and syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin have gone a step further, however, and claimed that Echelon was more intrusive than the Bush administration's current surveillance activities. On the May 11 Hannity & Colmes, Hannity said, "Under the Echelon program there is the ability to monitor, as I said, the substance and content. ... So it seems odd to me that we have a far more intrusive program that liberals support, and now they're all up in arms about a far less intrusive program [the NSA call-tracking program]." In a May 12 column, Malkin wrote, "The paper [USA Today] admits the kind of data collection involved is not new. The Clinton administration's Echelon program was far more intrusive."

As with Hannity's claim that the NSA is not using the phone records data to intercept communications of Americans, these assertions rest on the assumption that the data collection program operates independently of the NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program. But as noted above, the Post has reported that the two are directly linked.

#4: Only Democrats are criticizing the NSA program

In reporting on the NSA data collection program, various media figures have cast the controversy as a purely partisan dispute by suggesting that only Democrats have criticized the program.

In fact, a number of prominent Republican congressmen -- current and former -- have also denounced the program or at least voiced skepticism. As Media Matters noted, Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-SC), and House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) all raised questions and criticism of the program following its disclosure. According to a May 12 USA Today article, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) "questioned why the phone companies would cooperate with the NSA." According to Grassley: "Why are the telephone companies not protecting their customers? ... They have a social responsibility to people who do business with them to protect our privacy as long as there isn't some suspicion that we're a terrorist or a criminal or something."

On the May 11 edition of Hannity & Colmes, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) said:

GINGRICH: I'm not going to defend the indefensible. ... I'm prepared to defend a very aggressive anti-terrorist campaign, and I'm prepared to defend the idea that the government ought to know who's making the calls, as long as that information is only used against terrorists, and as long as the Congress knows that it's under way. But I don't think the way they've handled this can be defended by reasonable people. It is sloppy.

On the May 11 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, host and former Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-FL) said: "Memo to the president and congressional leaders who signed up on this lousy program: We don't trust you anymore."

And yet, on the May 11 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson, homeland defense correspondent Catherine Herridge reported: "The NSA issue dominated the session of the Senate Judiciary Committee today with senior Democrats on this committee saying the new revelation will impact Hayden's confirmation." On the May 11 edition of Special Report, Fox News chief White House correspondent Carl Cameron --during a "hard news" segment -- attacked Democrats for "complaining about the NSA programs without really knowing what they are" and echoed Republicans in saying that "is precisely why so many Republicans say Democrats just aren't serious about security."

#5: "Experts agree" this type of data collection is "legal"

A variety of media figures have stated unequivocally that the NSA data collection program is "legal," or that "experts agree" the program is legal. There are, however, a number of experts who have said that the administration might be acting illegally. The New York Times reported on May 12: "Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies [CNSS], said, 'If they don't get a court order, it's a crime.' She said that while the F.B.I. might be able to get access to phone collection databases by using an administrative subpoena, her reading of federal law was that the N.S.A. would be banned from doing so without court approval. Depending on how it was conducted, it may have also have been a crime."

The CNSS also issued a statement featured on its website, stating, "On May 11, 2006, USA Today reported that the NSA has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans. The President held a news briefing in which he carefully failed to deny that the program exists. Such surveillance, if not authorized by the FISA court, is illegal."

A May 12 USA Today article quoted Georgetown University law professor David Cole saying: "This may well be another example where the Bush administration, in secret, decided to bypass the courts and contravene federal law."

In addition, Newsday reported on May 12:

However, James Dempsey of the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology said several laws appear to apply to the described program.

Real-time collection of data would require the NSA to get a warrant either from a criminal court or from the special court created by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, he said.

And if the NSA is collecting historical records, the telecommunications companies face the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and another law that prohibits sharing information without a subpoena or court order, he said.

Nevertheless, on the May 11 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported: "Some experts agree that the program, if conducted properly, is legal. But some warn there is also great potential for abuse."

Myers failed to note that there are experts who have gone beyond warning of the potential for abuse to challenge the reported program's legality.

Similarly, ABC News chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross reported on the May 11 broadcast of World News Tonight: "In fact, many experts we talked to today said the program is legal, they believe, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that phone customers have no expectation of privacy for the phone numbers they dial. What worries some, of course, Elizabeth, is what the government does next if they detect what they think is a suspicious pattern."

But, while the Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Maryland (1979) that the use of "pen registers" -- devices that record only the numbers dialed and received at a specific phone -- is not a violation of Fourth Amendment rights, some legal experts have noted that the NSA's phone data collection program might violate federal statutory law. As George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr explained in a May 11 entry on his weblog:

"To summarize, my very preliminary sense is that there are no Fourth Amendment issues here but a number of statutory problems under statutes such as FISA and the pen register statute. Of course, all of the statutory questions are subject to the possible argument that Article II trumps those statutes. As I have mentioned before, I don't see the support for the strong Article II argument in existing caselaw, but there is a good chance that the Administration's legal argument in support of the new law will rely on it."

On the May 11 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Roger Cressey, NBC counterterrorism analyst and former counterterrorism advisor to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, claimed that "assembling the database in and of itself is not illegal." Fox News host Bill O'Reilly claimed on the May 11 edition of The O'Reilly Factor that "there's nobody who believes that the Bush administration is going to lose any of this stuff in a court of law."

#6: NSA program could have prevented 9-11 attacks

A number of media figures have suggested that the NSA data collection program could have prevented the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had it been in place before then. This same claim was advanced by the Bush administration to defend the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program when its existence was publicy disclosed in December 2005, as Media Matters noted. This argument, however, is completely unsubstantiated. As Media Matters noted when Hayden advanced this claim in January, the 9-11 Commission and congressional investigators determined that it was primarily bureaucratic problems -- rather than a lack of information -- that were responsible for the security breakdown. The Washington Post reported on January 24:

Hayden echoed a claim earlier this month by Vice President [Dick] Cheney that, if the NSA program had been in place prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, "it is my professional judgment that we would have detected some of the 9/11 al Qaeda operatives in the United States."

Like Cheney, however, Hayden did not mention that the NSA, CIA and FBI had significant information about two of the leading hijackers as early as January 2000 but failed to keep track of them or capitalize on the information, according to the Sept. 11 commission and others. He also did not mention NSA intercepts warning of the attacks the day before, but not translated until Sept. 12, 2001.

But Matthews, on the May 11 edition of Hardball, said to Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO):

MATTHEWS: Well, here's where the tire hits the road, Senator. Suppose our authorities had broken up 9-11 the day before, because they noticed telephone traffic which suggested 19 people were about to grab four planes and take them in to buildings. Would that have justified the program if that had happened?

On the May 11 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported:

ANGLE: For instance, if this had been in place before 9-11, and the U.S. had the phone number used by Al Qaeda planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, it could have searched the database to locate which numbers he was calling in the U.S., which might have led to the hijackers before they boarded their planes.

Angle's suggestion that the program could have provided the NSA with alleged 9-11 mastermind Khalid Shaik Mohammed's phone number, thus leading authorities to discover the 9-11 plot, ignored the fact that the NSA was monitoring Mohammed's phone calls the day before the attacks and captured a conversation between him and lead hijacker Mohammed Atta. But, as Knight Ridder reported on June 7, 2002:

A secretive U.S. eavesdropping agency monitored telephone conversations before Sept. 11 between the suspected commander of the terror attacks and the alleged chief hijacker, but did not share the information with other intelligence agencies, U.S. officials said Thursday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the conversations between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Mohammed Atta were intercepted by the National Security Agency, or NSA, an intelligence agency that monitors and decodes foreign communications.

The NSA failed to share the intercepts with the CIA or other U.S. intelligence agencies, the officials told Knight Ridder. It also failed to promptly translate some intercepted Arabic-language conversations, a senior intelligence official said.

#7: Veracity of USA Today report is in question

Some in the media have suggested that the original USA Today report on the NSA's call-tracking program may be unfounded. For instance, on the May 11 edition of Special Report, host and Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume cited the USA Today story and added, "Whether that was actually true or not, it was enough to set off another uproar on Capitol Hill over allegations of domestic spying." Similarly, Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano declared on the May 11 edition of Fox News' The Big Story that we need to know the "facts" about the NSA program. He then said of the USA Today article, "The newspaper is just the newspaper reporter's opinions."

In fact, while the Bush administration has not confirmed or denied the substance of the USA Today report, several members of Congress have confirmed the existence of the program.

According to a May 11 Bloomberg News Service article, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disclosed that he had been briefed about the program.

Further, on the May 11 edition of PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) said, "I'm a member of the subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee that's been thoroughly briefed on this program and other programs."


NSA Creating Massive Phone-Call Database

There's other NSA news today:

USA Today is reporting that the NSA is collecting a massive traffic-analysis database on Americans' phone calls. This looks like yet another piece of Echelon technology turned against Americans.

The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged. Last year, Bush said he had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and international e-mails of people suspected of having links to terrorists when one party to the communication is in the USA. Warrants have also not been used in the NSA's efforts to create a national call database.

The government is collecting "external" data on domestic phone calls but is not intercepting "internals," a term for the actual content of the communication, according to a U.S. intelligence official familiar with the program. This kind of data collection from phone companies is not uncommon; it's been done before, though never on this large a scale, the official said. The data are used for "social network analysis," the official said, meaning to study how terrorist networks contact each other and how they are tied together.

Note that this database does not just contain phone calls that either originate or terminate outside the U.S. This database is mostly domestic calls: calls we all make everyday.

AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth are all providing this information to the NSA.

Only Quest has refused.

According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.

Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.

The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.

The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

We should also assume that the cellphone companies received the same pressure, and probably caved.

This is important to every American, not just those with something to hide.

Matthew Yglesias explains why:

It's important to link this up to the broader chain. One thing the Bush administration says it can do with this meta-data is to start tapping your calls and listening in, without getting a warrant from anyone. Having listened in on your calls, the administration asserts that if it doesn't like what it hears, it has the authority to detain you indefinitely without trial or charges, torture you until you confess or implicate others, extradite you to a Third World country to be tortured, ship you to a secret prison facility in Eastern Europe, or all of the above. If, having kidnapped and tortured you, the administration determines you were innocent after all, you'll be dumped without papers somewhere in Albania left to fend for yourself.

Judicial oversight is a security system, and unchecked military and police power is a security threat.

Another analysis here.

EDITED TO ADD (5/11): Orin Kerr on the legality of the program. Updated here.

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Computer Problems at the NSA


Computers are integral to everything NSA does, yet it is not uncommon for the agency's unstable computer system to freeze for hours, unlike the previous system, which had a backup mechanism that enabled analysts to continue their work, said Matthew Aid, a former NSA analyst and congressional intelligence staff member.

When the agency's communications lines become overloaded, the Groundbreaker system has been known to deliver garbled intelligence reports, Aid said. Some analysts and managers have said their productivity is half of what it used to be because the new system requires them to perform many more steps to accomplish what a few keystrokes used to, he said. They also report being locked out of their computers without warning.

Similarly, agency linguists say the number of conversation segments they can translate in a day has dropped significantly under Groundbreaker, according to another former NSA employee.

Under Groundbreaker, employees get new computers every three years on a rotating schedule, so some analysts always have computers as much as three years older than their colleagues', often with incompatible software, the former employee said.

As a result of compatibility problems, e-mail attachments can get lost in the system. An internal incident report, obtained by The Sun, states that when an employee inquired about what had happened to missing attachments, the Eagle Alliance administrator said only that "they must have fallen out."