In the ongoing spying- bullshit from way-up yonder, and a sigh of relief: In a 32-0 vote, the House Judiciary Committee passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill that requires the government to seek judicial approval before searching the phone data of Americans under most circumstances and builds more transparency and accountability checks into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the NSA.
(Illustration found here).
The bill is rare in today’s hate-spewed political environment in DC — unanimous and across party lines, and, in the right direction. It bans bulk phone collection and creates an oversight panel to make sure the FISA court looks for Orwellian signs of mischief from the NSA. Further, the bill requires a listing of the number of FISA orders addressed by the FISA court.
A new amendment approved on Wednesday allowed Internet and phone companies report to their users on government surveillance orders. Another sunshine development.
However, there’s still a major hurdle — President Obama. A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, and released last Monday, reveals Obama is still the most-secretive president in US history — despite the “hope and change” claims earlier from his administration to the contrary.
No respect here:
Yet the events of the last few weeks illustrate how, despite pledged reforms to surveillance policies, the administration’s professed desire to be more transparent on national security-related issues remains mostly unrealized.
On April 21, Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, published a blog post pointing to a previously unnoticed intelligence directive signed in late March.
The directive, signed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, bars any communication between intelligence community officials and a member of the media without express permission.
The prohibition extends to all “intelligence-related information, including intelligence sources, methods, activities, and judgments,” and makes no distinction between classified and unclassified information.
Shawn Turner, Clapper’s spokesman, told the Guardian that the directive “merely consolidates at a higher level existing policies within the various intelligence agencies.”
Indeed, the policy comes as no surprise in light of revelations last year by the McClatchy newspapers’ Washington bureau of the Insider Threat Program, which requires all federal employees to help prevent unauthorized disclosures of information by monitoring the behavior of their colleagues.
Yet, as Aftergood writes, “There is no particular reason to think that routine interactions between intelligence agency employees and reporters–especially on unclassified matters–pose any kind of threat to national security, or that limiting them will offer any benefit. However, the new policy is likely to be effective in reducing the quality, independence, and critical content of intelligence-related information that is available to the press and the public.”
In a climate where government agencies are hardly forthcoming, it is not surprising that journalists depend on whistleblowers and leakers for sensitive information.
Yet in the past six months, the administration has sentenced another leaker to jail (13 months) under the Espionage Act and has refused to withdraw its subpoena seeking to compel New York Times journalist James Risen to testify about his source in a separate leak case.
On April 25, the DOJ filed a brief urging the Supreme Court not to accept Risen’s appeal and argued against the concept of a reporter’s privilege to protect his or her sources.
The 1972 Supreme Court decision in Branzburg v. Hayes (once described by a Federal Appeals Court judge as “clear as mud”), in the department’s view, “left no doubt that it rejected any first Amendment claim in the criminal context in order to ensure that society’s interest in law enforcement could be vindicated…Nothing has changed since Branzburg that would justify revising the longstanding common-law rule that reporters have no privilege to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources.”
The DOJ referenced its recent revision of department guidelines on issuing subpoenas to the press and legislative efforts to enshrine the reporter’s privilege, but noted the “uniquely federal interest in preventing the unlawful disclosure of classified national-defense information,” Politico reported.
At a conference at The New York Times in March, Sen. Chuck Schumer asserted that Risen would benefit if a proposed federal shield law were to be passed, as it would allow him to have his day before a judge who would evaluate the necessity of his testimony, while the government would have to prove that the leak had caused “future harm.”
But many journalists at the same conference questioned whether a law with an exemption for national security would ever truly benefit them.
In the meantime, Risen’s fate continues to hang in the balance.
Not in the balance, is the future for former NSA assholes, who are just as money-grubbing crazy as members of Congress. Former NSA honcho Keith Alexander is launching his own version of the NSA — turns out he’s a money-grubbing asshole, too. Via Politico:
Less than two months since his retirement from the embattled agency at the center of the Edward Snowden leak storm, the retired four-star general is setting up a Washington-based operation that will try to attract clients based on his four decades of experience in the military and intelligence — and the continued levels of access to senior decision-makers that affords.
“He’s already out pushing hard,” said an industry source recently briefed by Alexander on the new business venture.
“He’s cleared. If something does pop, he can get in the door and get a briefing. That’s part of his stock and trade.”
WTF? ‘Stock and trade.’
Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel notes:
But the part of this story that even I couldn’t have predicted — but makes so much sense it brings tears to my eyes — is that he’s shacking up with Promontory Financial Group, the revolving door regulator to hire that has been caught underestimating its clients’ crimes for big money..
I’m impressed, Lying Keith: You’ve done my very low expectations even one better!
The eye-eagle in the sky might need a pair of reflective sunshades.
(Illustration out front found here).