Spy-lover Turnaround

March 12, 2014

eyeClear and windy this Wednesday morning on California’s north coast — all seems quiet.
Appearances, though — the ground is settled here, but a 5.1 earthquake was reported yesterday afternoon off the Oregon coast, about 250 miles from Coos Bay, and way out in the Pacific from my vantage point. Still, the shaker is near one of those red-line fault thingys, and let’s just hope there’s no geological conspiracy underway.

Ugly intrigue is best left to DC assholes.

(Illustration: M.C. Escher’s ‘Eye‘ found here).

Our own Dianne Feinstein has finally got her panties in a bind over government surveillance — she’s chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — and up until yesterday was a proud cheerleader for the NSA/CIA/FBI, etc. Until the eye turned on her.
Feinstein jumped the boys in an impassioned Senate floor speech after the CIA was caught spying on Senate staffers.
This morning, Wired explains the turn around:

“The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance,” Feinstein said during her speech.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), head of the Judiciary Committee, immediately followed up with, “I cannot think of any speech by any member by either party as important as the one the senator from California just gave.”
He called it “likely criminal conduct” on the intelligence agency’s part.
And, like Feinstein, he suggested it was a breach of the separation of powers doctrine.
Feinstein’s statements criticizing the CIA have particular significance because she is perhaps the biggest senatorial cheerleader for domestic surveillance, including the telephone snooping program in which metadata from calls to, from and within the United States is forwarded in bulk to the National Security Agency without probable cause warrants.
A federal judge declared such snooping unlawful last year but stayed the decision pending appeal. The case is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

For Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the ACLU, Feinstein appears to be talking out of both sides of her mouth now that the tables appear to have turned.
“The particular irony is that one of the NSA’s staunchest defenders appears now to recognize the cost of unlawful surveillance.,” Abdo says.
Mark Jaycox, a staff attorney with the Electric Frontier Foundation, agrees.
He also said the allegations by Feinstein “should serve as a catalyst for the senator to be concerned with the NSA’s spying on innocent Americans.”

And then some CIA e-mails disclosed the agency was scared shitless of the Congressional review on its torture program and tried to change the course of the discourse — via Politico:

Several former CIA officials said they believe the heavily-redacted e-mails, which are marked as “unclassified/AIUO,” meaning for “administrative, internal use only” and released to POLITICO under the Freedom of Information Act, refer to that review.
The e-mails (posted here) show worries about the political atmosphere surrounding the review, concerns over the backgrounds of CIA personnel assigned conducting it and suggest the scope of the project was reined in.

“SRT [Senior Review Team] did as good a job as it could given the very rough political environment,” one CIA e-mail says.
“The only thing I would have changed that could cause us problems in the future is that when [redacted] and I arrived there were too many folks who had been involved in the program working in the Task Force.
For obvious reasons, I believe that no CTC [Counter Terrorism Center] employees who had been involved in the program should have been assigned to SRT.”

The same March 2010 e-mail suggests that, at least at the outset, the internal review was supposed to be a broad examination of the agency’s interrogation activities.

“These objectives changed (not due to capriciousness of Task Force or 7th Floor mgmt.) but because the environment changed, e.g. AG Holder’s decision to review the facts to determine if any U.S. laws were broken,” wrote the unidentified CIA staffer, referring to Attorney General Eric Holder.
“No one had reviewed systematically, the Interrogation Program prior to SRT’s founding.”

In a separate e-mail sent a couple of weeks earlier, a CIA staffer wrote of a “possible course correction” directed by agency lawyers.

“OGC [Office of General Counsel] is now concerned that we’re moving too fast, according to [redacted.]
We’ll meet in the morning to discuss ways of slowing — at least for a few days — the pace of programmatic research,” the CIA official wrote. [emphasis in original]

CIA director John Brennan, one of the great shit-heads/assholes on the planet, retorted (via the Guardian):

“We are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report,” said Brennan at a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“As far the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers are concerned, nothing could be further from the truth.
“We wouldn’t do that; that’s beyond the scope of reason.”

However, shit does stick — more from the Guardian story:

Observers noted that Feinstein did not allege “hacking’” but detailed an alleged unauthorised search of a computer system provided to Senate staff by intelligence officers. Beyond Brennan’s general remarks, the CIA did not offer a detailed rebuttal of Feinstein’s allegations.
“Brennan is up to his eyeballs in trouble,” said Amy Zegart, co-director of the Center for International Security and Co-operation at Stanford University.
“It’s one thing to stonewall congressional intelligence staffers, quite another to be charged with spying on them for doing their jobs.
“For years, Feinstein has had the CIA’s back.
“Now she’s out for blood.
“How the CIA managed to turn one of its staunchest defenders into one of its fiercest critics is just mind boggling.”

And Brennan dared President Obama to fire him: “If I did something wrong, I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”

Asshole!

Marcy Wheeler has her insightful/informative take on this bullshit, but cautions:

Again, I don’t blame Feinstein for precipitating this fight.
We were all already in it, and she has only now come around to it.
I just hope she and her colleagues realize how well prepared Brennan is to fight it in time to wage an adequate battle.

We as regular, rank-and-file, guys-on-the-street are screwed — the US government is an island of its own, and can do pretty-much what it wants without too much interference from anybody, even Congress. Even little Eddie Snowden sees the bullshit:

“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern,” said Snowden in a statement to NBC News.
“But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

Fair play they say.

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