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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Saturday Soother – June 9, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Rakotz Bridge, Kromlauer Park, Germany via @archpics

With the press busy mourning the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, you probably missed a couple of news stories about press freedom.

First, on Thursday night, the DOJ unsealed an indictment of James Wolfe, the long-time Director of Security for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Wolfe, a former Army intelligence analyst, had worked for the committee in a nonpartisan capacity for nearly 30 years. He is accused of one count of false statements to the FBI. The indictment alleges that he lied about his conversation with four journalists, Ali Watkins of the NYT, and three others.

The NYT revealed that Watkins, who had a three-plus year relationship with Wolfe, has had years of her communications subpoenaed. The DOJ obtained her subscriber information, and additional information from her phone.

The subscriber information that can be obtained by the DOJ is invasive. It includes your name, financial and other contact information, and IP and device addresses that allow them to map out all the communications a person uses.

It gives the government all of a journalist’s sources.

And the DOJ also sought and received Ali Watkins’ her email from when she was an undergraduate at Temple. She graduated in 2014. She broke her first national security story as a senior in college, so perhaps her school emails are relevant to the government’s investigation.

But this breach of the reporter/source privilege needs to explained. The government must delineate the boundary of what is, and isn’t acceptable in terms of vacuuming up a reporter’s source information.

It is important that counterintelligence sources and information be kept secret. James Wolfe’s motives are unclear, since he shared information with other reporters that he wasn’t having an affair with.

As of now, we don’t know if there was actual damage to an investigation.

The second item is the report, originally in April, that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intends to list and track  290,000 news outlets, journalists, bloggers, and influencers following select news stories. Their intent is to share those data with federal, state, local and private partners.

Naturally, there was pushback by news organizations, enough for the DHS’s Tyler Houlton to say:

Sure. Only a crank could possibly have an issue with one of the least transparent government agencies, the one with an Orwellian name, tracking and cataloging journalists. This amounts to mass monitoring of the press by the state.

So, two attacks on press freedom by the Trumpets, one by DOJ, and the other by DHS.

Remember, the government now has virtually unlimited processing power, bandwidth, and storage, and with that: Anything that can be monitored will be monitored.

This wasn’t feasible in the past, but now it is. We are at the point when privacy, as we have understood it in America, is over. For most of our country’s first 200 years, the government accepted that reporters would never reveal their sources, and by and large, no prosecutor and no judge would force them to try. It was a sacred protection guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Well, that’s changed. And it isn’t just the hard right bunch currently running the country. They are building on the efforts by Obama’s DOJ to seize journalists’ emails using the Espionage Act, to increase surveillance pressure on journalists and prosecute leakers of classified secrets.

It will take another court case similar to the Pentagon Papers to stem this undermining of press freedom. Good luck with that, given the current and likely future makeup of the Supreme Court.

Trump must respect and obey the First Amendment, in its entirety. The First Amendment is the core of our free society. Most whistle blowers are heroes.

This is how freedom is lost a little at a time, until one day we’ll wake up and find out that we’re no longer free. Technology has made Big Brother possible, but it is Congress that has made it legal.

Only pushback from freedom loving citizens will prevent it.

Wow! We really need a Saturday soothing. So, get off the couch, and brew up a cup of Kiniyota Espresso by Madison, Wisconsin’s JBC Coffee Roasters. It is produced entirely of the heirloom Bourbon variety of Arabica. Then, taste its rich notes of stone fruit and dark chocolate ($17.60/12oz). Now, sit outside, hopefully in a shady spot, and listen to the Viola Concerto in G major by Georg Philipp Telemann. It was probably composed in 1715. It was the first concerto for Viola. Here, it is played by Midwest Young Artists Conservatory:

Someone said that the viola is like the cream in an Oreo cookie; sweet and creamy, while holding the top and the bottom together.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Los Estados Banditos

Today, let’s consider the bombshell dropped by the Wall Street Journal. Apparently the NSA spied on the efforts of the Netanyahu government to purchase win support in Congress when they were considering approval of the Iran Nuclear Deal. A US intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as:

How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?

There’s more. The Hill reported: The NSA helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential US briefings our government gave to the Israelis:

The NSA’s snooping allegedly found Netanyahu and his aides leaked details of the negotiations gained through Israeli spying, coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal and asked those lawmakers who were undecided on the deal how it could get their vote…

So, the WH knew that the NSA was spying on both Netanyahu and certain Congress critters. Some will say that the Executive Branch was spying on Congress. But there are two other ways to look at this.

• The NSA was spying on an ally, which we have done in the past (Merkel, Hollande).
• And that spying revealed that members of Congress were apparently working with Israel.

Either way, some in DC will be outraged. In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA) has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story. That is hilarious, since that spying is authorized by NSA procedures, procedures that Rep. Nunes has said are more than adequate to protect the privacy of US persons. You know, in his role as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. From Emptywheel:

If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal [the] FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored…tap placed on Bibi…

However, you could also return to the basic question from last fall: Why are members of Congress working to help a foreign government derail a major foreign-policy initiative of the US? And be outraged yourself.

This is the reason that allowing lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it inevitably collects details about the legislative process. That can also disclose an untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments to members of Congress. Finding that is within the purview of the Executive branch’s mandate.

Maybe more privacy protections, including for Members of Congress, are needed. But wiretapping the communications with foreign leaders is solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, even if it incidentally collects information about members of Congress. Congress itself has deemed these actions may sometimes be important to protect the US.

And didn’t Congress approve all of this spying to catch terrorists? Or, was it just to get intelligence to assist our drone attacks. Or, to assist in the war on drugs, so that we can play catch-and-release a few more times with El Chapo. The problem is, when you build an intelligence gathering system this big and this technologically capable, it will inevitably intrude into domestic politics. Or vacuum up not-so-innocent information that is incidental to its intended target.

As for surveillance of members of Congress, surely everyone in Congress knows how that game works, THEY VOTED TO IMPLEMENT IT!

There’s a substantive difference between direct surveillance of members of Congress, and surveillance of a foreign ambassador’s reporting back to his government about communications with those Members.

If Nunes, et. al were simply trying to hang on to the remnants of our Constitution like the rest of us poor schlub voters, maybe the poutrage would be understandable.

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Monday Wake Up Call – October 26, 2015

From the NYT:

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said on Friday that the additional scrutiny and criticism of police officers in the wake of highly publicized episodes of police brutality may have led to an increase in violent crime in some cities as officers have become less aggressive.

Comey is lending his support to a meme called the “Ferguson Effect”. As the “Ferguson Effect” theory goes, police have slowed down enforcement due to public scrutiny, which has led to more crime, including homicides. In the absence of tough policing, chaos reigns.

Ever since Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, MO last year, people across the country have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and the mistreatment of black men and women. At the same time, police officers and pundits began arguing that demonstrators are jeopardizing community safety, pointing to rising violent crime rates.

This theory for the uptick in violence in some cities is partly based on a cherry-picking of violent crime data, since some increases actually occurred BEFORE the Ferguson demonstrations, and in general, the data are unclear. We know that far more people are being killed in America’s cities this year than in many years. And to be clear, the increases are largely among people of color, and it’s not cops that are doing the killing.

Most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase. These are cities with little in common except being in America—places like Chicago, Tampa, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland, and Dallas.

So something big is happening, but what? Comey thinks he knows, and in Chicago, he floated the same idea as Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently floated, that cops are not doing their job because people have started taking videos of police interactions with their smart phones.

Here is snippet of what Comey said:

I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, ‘we feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.’…I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.

If Comey’s impression both of the Ferguson Effect, and the role of cameras is correct, cops have stopped doing the job we pay them to do because they’re under amateur surveillance.

If Comey’s right, what he’s describing is the chilling effect of surveillance, the way in which people change their behavior because they know they will be seen on camera. That the Director of the FBI is making this claim is more striking, since the surveillance cops are undergoing is targeted, and by the public. It is not the total government surveillance (such as the use of small planes and stingrays to surveil the Baltimore and Ferguson protests), which both the FBI and NSA use in inner cities.

Comey can’t have it both ways. Since he said in Chicago that surveillance has a “chilling effect”, that it makes cops feel under siege, maybe he should consider the implications of what he is saying about surveillance by his own agency and the NSA of all Americans.

If the targeted surveillance of cops is a problem, isn’t the far less targeted surveillance conducted on Americans a much larger problem?

And why can’t Americans hold two diametrically opposed ideas in their minds at the same time? We love the police, and want them safe. But, the real problems in US law enforcement have to be addressed.

And why does Comey imply that we need to accept a trade-off between a brutal police state and weakened policing? Why can’t we have civilized police who focus on getting the real bad guys, instead of choking a man to death for selling loose cigarettes?

So, wake up Mr. Comey! Show us data that support your feelings, or get in line with the data we have. To help you wake up, here is Humble Pie doing “30 days in the Hole”, from their 1972 album, “Smokin’”. The song was featured in “Grand Theft Auto V”:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can view the video here.

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