S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Surveillance News Digest

Surveillance News Alerts
Today’s Date: Saturday, August 23, 2008

Regular Resources – This week's stories:

Running up the bill a bit -- *CBS News reports this, "Homeland Security Phones Hacked -- Hacker Racks Up $12,000 In Calls To Middle East, Asia," (8/21/08); betmo comments, "ooh- kinda embarrassing . . . feelin' real safe here in the homeland." To quote:

A hacker broke into a Homeland Security Department telephone system over the weekend and racked up about $12,000 in calls to the Middle East and Asia.

The hacker made more than 400 calls on a Federal Emergency Management Agency voicemail system in Emmitsburg, Md., on Saturday and Sunday, according to FEMA spokesman Tom Olshanski.

This type of hacking is very low-tech and "old school," said John Jackson, a St. Louis-based security consultant. It was popular 10 to 15 years ago. . .

"In this case it's sort of embarrassing that it happened to FEMA themselves - FEMA being a child of DHS, with calls going to the Middle East," Johnson said.

We have met the enemy, and it is us? *A link to " police state news," at SurvivalAcres, (8/20/08), includes the comment, "add into the mix- the curfews and the ice raids- and the increased surveillance- sigh." That blog includes a long block-quote and concludes pungently,

Exactly how useful is information like this in real life instead of the make-believe fantasy these fools are spinning?

Let’s see, a so-called terrorist act occurs and they check their records. Yep, their suspect “crossed the border” in 1993. BFD, doesn’t mean diddly squat. Either these guys think we are all very stupid, or they’re all very stupid.

It’s clear that YOU are the terrorist here, just for being an American in one of the worst growing police states on the planet. But hey, you still got your Best Buy stores and LCD T.V.’s, so it can’t be all bad.

Senator Leahy fights back -- HT to ProPublica for this from (8/18/08) USA Today. "Senators seek to delay new rules in terror probes." To quote:

New rules on FBI investigations of U.S. national security cases should be delayed, top Senate Judiciary Committee members said Monday, raising concerns that ethnic or racial groups could be targeted despite no evidence of wrongdoing.

In a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, the senators called for congressional hearings on the rules before they are finalized. They suggested delaying the rules — known as the attorney general guidelines — until FBI Director Robert Mueller appears before the panel Sept. 17.

Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the panel's top Republican, called the guidelines a "laudatory effort to ensure that front-line agents are given clear rules to follow in pursuit of their investigations."

What Leahy's fight is about -- *from Common Dreams: "US May Ease Police Spy Rules" by Spencer S. Hsu and Carrie Johnson. To quote the intro:

The Justice Department has proposed a new domestic spying measure that would make it easier for state and local police to collect intelligence about Americans, share the sensitive data with federal agencies and retain it for at least 10 years.

The proposed changes would revise the federal government’s rules for police intelligence-gathering for the first time since 1993 and would apply to any of the nation’s 18,000 state and local police agencies that receive roughly $1.6 billion each year in federal grants.

Quietly unveiled late last month, the proposal is part of a flurry of domestic intelligence changes issued and planned by the Bush administration in its waning months. They include a recent executive order that guides the reorganization of federal spy agencies and a pending Justice Department overhaul of FBI procedures for gathering intelligence and investigating terrorism cases within U.S. borders.

There is much criticism, however. To quote from the conclusion:

Taken together, critics in Congress and elsewhere say, the moves are intended to lock in policies for Bush’s successor and to enshrine controversial post-Sept. 11 approaches that some say have fed the greatest expansion of executive authority since the Watergate era.

. . . Michael German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposed rule may be misunderstood as permitting police to collect intelligence even when no underlying crime is suspected, such as when a person gives money to a charity that independently gives money to a group later designated a terrorist organization.

. . . Critics say preemptive law enforcement in the absence of a crime can violate the Constitution and due process. They cite the administration’s long-running warrantless-surveillance program, which was set up outside the courts, and the FBI’s acknowledgment that it abused its intelligence-gathering privileges in hundreds of cases by using inadequately documented administrative orders to obtain telephone, e-mail, financial and other personal records of U.S. citizens without warrants.

Former Justice Department official Jamie S. Gorelick said the new FBI guidelines on their own do not raise alarms. But she cited the recent disclosure that undercover Maryland State Police agents spied on death penalty opponents and antiwar groups in 2005 and 2006 to emphasize that the policies would require close oversight.

“If properly implemented, this should assure the public that people are not being investigated by agencies who are not trained in how to protect constitutional rights,” said the former deputy attorney general. “The FBI will need to be vigilant — both in its policies and its practices — to live up to that promise.”

German, an FBI agent for 16 years, said easing established limits on intelligence-gathering would lead to abuses against peaceful political dissenters. In addition to the Maryland case, he pointed to reports in the past six years that undercover New York police officers infiltrated protest groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention; that California state agents eavesdropped on peace, animal rights and labor activists; and that Denver police spied on Amnesty International and others before being discovered.

. . . Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that updating police intelligence rules is a move “in the right direction. However, the vagueness of the provisions giving broad access to criminal intelligence to undefined agencies . . . is very troubling.”

Surveillance news from -- CQ Behind the Lines e-mail newsletter of 8/15/08:
Bugs ‘n bombs: “The cyberattacks in Georgia are re-energizing a debate over whether the laws of war apply in cyberspace. Among the biggest questions: When is a cyberattack an act of war?” The Wall Street Journal leads — as InformationWeek finds the Air Force putting a hold on its pending new cyber command.

Courts and rights: A U.S. appeals court will reconsider its decision to toss out a Canadian engineer’s lawsuit over torture he says he endured after being mistaken for an Islamic extremist, The Vancouver Sun says — while The Philadelphia Inquirer has that same court rejecting consideration of lawsuits brought by 9/11 victims against Saudi Arabia and four of its princes for allegedly helping foster al Qaeda and other Islamist groups. A military judge yesterday barred a U.S. general from further involvement in a Guantanamo war crimes trial, the legal advisor’s second banishment from a case, Reuters reports.

Over there: Chinese leaders warn of a “life and death struggle” against Muslim separatist terror in Xinjiang province, Reuters recounts.

*Hat tip to "betmo," who writes life's journey, for these links.

View my current slide show about the Bush years -- "Millennium" -- at the bottom of this column.

My “creativity and dreaming” post today is at Making Good Mondays.

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