August 30, 2013

U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary

U.S. spy agencies have built an intelligence-gathering colossus since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but remain unable to provide critical information to the president on a range of national security threats, according to the government’s top-secret budget.

The $52.6 billion “black budget” for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former ­intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny. Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses the money or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.

The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees.

The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations. The Post is withholding some information after consultation with U.S. officials who expressed concerns about the risk to intelligence sources and methods. Sensitive details are so pervasive in the documents that The Post is publishing only summary tables and charts online.

“The United States has made a considerable investment in the Intelligence Community since the terror attacks of 9/11, a time which includes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Arab Spring, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction technology, and asymmetric threats in such areas as cyber-warfare,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. wrote in response to inquiries from The Post.

“Our budgets are classified as they could provide insight for foreign intelligence services to discern our top national priorities, capabilities and sources and methods that allow us to obtain information to counter threats,” he said.

Among the notable revelations in the budget summary:

●Spending by the CIA has surged past that of every other spy agency, with $14.7 billion in requested funding for 2013. The figure vastly exceeds outside estimates and is nearly 50 percent above that of the National Security Agency, which conducts eavesdropping operations and has long been considered the behemoth of the community.

●The CIA and the NSA have begun aggressive new efforts to hack into foreign computer networks to steal information or sabotage enemy systems, embracing what the budget refers to as “offensive cyber operations.”

●Long before Snowden’s leaks, the U.S. intelligence community worried about “anomalous behavior” by employees and contractors with access to classified material. The NSA planned to ward off a “potential insider compromise of sensitive information” by re-investigating at least 4,000 people this year who hold high-level security clearances.

●U.S. intelligence officials take an active interest in friends as well as foes. Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.” The latter is a U.S. ally but has a history of espionage attempts against the United States.

Read the entire article

August 29, 2013

Nearly a quarter of all House lawmakers demand Congress approve military strike on Syria

A letter urging President Obama to “consult and receive authorization from Congress” before taking military action in Syria has been signed by nearly a quarter of all House lawmakers and the list is growing.

Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., is the primary author of the letter, which stipulates that the president is required by the Constitution and the War Powers Act of 1973 to seek congressional authorization. The letter is signed by 78 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

“As the president considers next steps in Syria, I call on him to consult Congress as prescribed by the War Powers Resolution,” Rigell said. “Congress is not a potted plant in this process, and President Obama should call us back into emergency session before authorizing the use of any military force."
Congress is in summer recess until Sept. 9.

“If you deem that military action in Syria is necessary, Congress can reconvene at your request,” the letter states. “We stand ready to come back into session, consider the facts before us, and share the burden of decisions made regarding U.S involvement in the quickly escalating Syrian conflict.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has insisted that Obama consult with Congress and address the American public before involving U.S. forces.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Congress needs to debate whether to intervene.

“The Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress not the President,” Paul said in a statement Wednesday.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said via Twitter that Obama “should present his plan’s cost, objective and timeline to Congress and get authorization.”

The Obama administration has phoned top members of the House and Senate Armed Services panels and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As of Tuesday, Boehner had not held substantial talks about impending military action, his office said.

Rigell contested Obama's decision last year to launch airstrikes against the Libyan government, saying that, too, violated the Constitution because Congress did not give its approval.

At the time, Obama’s legal counsel deemed congressional approval unnecessary because the Constitution allows the President to take limited action to “safeguard the national interest.”


August 28, 2013

Obama and his team contradict past statements on war powers, Syria

As President Barack Obama weighs military action in Syria, it remains unclear whether he will first seek congressional authorization.

It is clear, however, that Obama once thought such authorization was necessary.

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” candidate Obama told The Boston Globe in late 2007. He added that the president can only act unilaterally in “instances of self-defense.”

“It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action,” Obama continued.

President Obama did not seek congressional approval for his military strikes against Libya in 2011. That bombing campaign led to longtime dictator Muammar Gadhafi’s ouster.

Vice President Joe Biden, who voted for the Iraq War, agreed with Obama.

“The president has no constitutional authority to take this country to war… unless we’re attacked or unless there is proof that we are about to be attacked,” Biden said in 2007.

Biden, then a Democratic senator from Delaware, suggested presidential war-making was an impeachable offense.

This was not a new position for Biden. He delivered a speech before the Senate outlining Congress’ powers to declare war back in 1998.

“Given this,” Biden said at the time, “the only logical conclusion is that the framers intended to grant to Congress the power to initiate all hostilities, even limited wars.”

Obama and Biden aren’t the only administration officials whose past comments will be parsed if strikes are ordered on Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested the Syrian government would have to answer for the “moral obscenity” of chemical weapons use, while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said troops are “ready to go” to Syria at the president’s command.

But in 2008, Kerry and Hagel, then U.S. senators, co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “It’s Time to Talk to Syria.”

“Syria’s leaders have always made cold calculations in the name of self-preservation, and history shows that intensive diplomacy can pay off,” Kerry and Hagel wrote.

“The ultimate challenge — moving Syria away from its marriage of convenience with Iran — will certainly not happen overnight,” they continued. “But it’s telling that Iran lobbied Syria not to negotiate with Israel and that Syria decided to proceed regardless.”

The senators urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and President George W. Bush to emulate their fathers’ cooperation during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“While many doubt Syria’s intentions, we have real leverage and some inducements that have more value to Syria than cost to us,” Hagel and Kerry wrote. “There is no guarantee of an agreement, but the potential payoff is huge, and our current policy is failing.”

Kerry and Hagel both voted for the Iraq War, which they subsequently opposed.

“We must move beyond the mindset of perpetual war,” President Obama said in Berlin in June.
Military action against Syria could come as soon as Thursday, according to multiple reports.


August 27, 2013

Nothing stopped VA's fat bonuses, not even dead vets, dirty hospitals

Generous bonuses continued flowing to top officials at the Department of Veterans' Affairs health network last year, despite a string of patient deaths and reports of mismanagement, unsanitary conditions and unprofessional practices.

Documents obtained by the Washington Examiner show six top administrators of the Veterans Health Administration received performance bonuses in excess of $16,000 last year.

In all, the top VA executives and medical professionals received more than $3.3 million in bonuses that are supposed to reward exceptional work. The figure does not include rank-and-file employees or other financial incentives not tied to job performance.

The 2012 bonuses for workers in the Veterans' Benefits Administration, which handles disability and pension claims, were cancelled amid congressional pressure and public outrage over the lingering backlog of unresolved cases.

VHA is also under scrutiny after a series of reports from federal investigators that cited poor sanitation and management practices that contributed to five patient deaths in Pittsburgh and a rash of preventable suicides in Atlanta.

The Government Accountability Office on Friday blasted the agency for routinely awarding bonuses to doctors and other medical professionals who had been disciplined for lapses such as leaving the operating room during surgery and refusing to see patients in the emergency room.

Every medical professional eligible for extra pay received it, regardless of performance or disciplinary history, the GAO reported, citing bonus records at the four hospitals it reviewed. The doctors were not identified.

"This is an abysmal failure by the VHA and a slap in the face to every veteran waiting to have their claim processed," said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., a former Army surgeon and current member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

"VA's pay and bonus system needs to be linked to actual performance. Until the VA backlog is under control and we're keeping the promises we've made to our veterans by delivering quality health care and benefits in a timely fashion, it is completely inappropriate for officials at the Veterans Health Administration to receive bonuses," Roe said.

Also receiving a top bonus in 2012 was W. Todd Grams, who was VA's chief financial officer until he resigned earlier this year to become chief of staff at the Internal Revenue Service. Grams was paid a $15,930 bonus last fiscal year, according to documents obtained by the Examiner. That is a drop from the $23,010 Grams received in 2011 and $25,000 in 2010.

Six VHA executives each received $16,173, the top amount listed. They are:

• James Tuchschmidt, acting executive director of the Office of Healthcare Transformation.
• Patricia Vandenberg, assistant deputy under secretary for policy and planning.
• Rajiv Jain, assistant deputy undersecretary for patient care services.
• Elizabeth Freeman, director of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California.
• Jeffrey Murawsky, director of the Great Lakes Health Care System based in Illinois.
• Michael Finegan, who resigned in December as head of the multi-state regional VA health network based in Michigan.

One VHA official who did not receive a performance bonus in 2012 was Michael Moreland, a VA regional director who is under fire after an outbreak of Legionnaires disease killed at least five veterans at hospitals he oversaw in Pittsburgh.

In April, Moreland received a $62,895 bonus through the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, which is not included in the performance bonuses issued by the agency.

The award was presented three days after the VA inspector general issued a report blaming unsanitary conditions at the Pittsburgh facilities for the deadly outbreak, which began in 2011.

Moreland's counterpart in Atlanta, Charles Sepich, did receive a performance bonus of $13,028 in 2012. A series of patient suicides in Atlanta-area facilities triggered a pair of VA IG reports issued in April, which found procedures there "did not sufficiently address patient care safety."

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., demanded in a letter sent last week that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki explain why top VHA officials received hefty bonuses in light of the numerous reports from federal investigators that document "management failures," which threaten patient safety.

Miller asked specifically about Moreland and Terry Wolf, director of the Pittsburgh VA health system, and the bonuses they received in spite of the Legionnaires' outbreak.

Wolf got a perfect performance evaluation but no bonus in 2012. She got nearly $13,000 in 2011.
"When evaluating employee performance and determining bonuses, does VA generally consider preventable patient deaths and/or inspector general findings of malfeasance that may have occurred on a particular employee's watch?" Miller asked in his letter to Shinseki.

VA officials have not replied to Miller and did not respond to a request for comment from the Examiner Monday.

In response to the GAO report issued Friday, an agency spokesman defended performance bonuses as necessary.

"VA has used that authority to aid in efforts to recruit and retain highly skilled medical professionals in order to provide Veterans with the best possible health care," the spokesman said in a written statement.


August 26, 2013

Congressman Reveals Obama Policy That Opened Asylum Floodgates

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano that reveals the Obama administration policy of asylum overwhelms the ability to enforce laws. This comes in the wake of a Breitbart News story about the sudden surge of "credible fear" requests at Mexico/U.S. border crossings.

The letter begins by referencing the story that Breitbart News brought to national prominence:

Dear Secretary Napolitano,

I write regarding the recent surge in foreign nationals, largely from Mexico, claiming asylum at U.S. ports of entry. This surge has been overwhelming Border Patrol agents in San Diego, California. Border Patrol agents reported that in one day 200 aliens came through the Otay Mesa, San Diego port of entry while as many as 550 overflowed the processing center there and in nearby San Ysidro claiming a "credible fear" of the drug cartels in Mexico.

Rep. Goodlatte then lays out the concern that another Breitbart News story pointed out—that the asylum process is being exploited by Mexican nationals—and highlights the surge in such claims since 2009:

Such claims have increased from 5,222 in 2009 to 23,408 in just the first three quarters of 2013. According to the most recent data available, DHS is permitting 92% of these claimants to move forward to further proceedings, despite the fact that press reports indicate that up to 91% of these claimants from Mexico are ultimately denied. In addition, most are likely being released into the U.S. pending further proceedings before Immigration Judges as opposed to being detained as required by law.

At the end of the letter, Goodlatte reveals the smoking gun: the change in immigration policy implemented by Obama officials that appears to have created the loophole that has led to the increase in asylum claims.

…this process has been changed by the current Administration via executive fiat. On December 9, 2010, Director Morton issued an ICE policy directive that is contrary to the statute and the regulations. Under this policy directive, any arriving alien who has been found to have a credible fear and can establish identity, that they are not a flight risk, or a danger to the community, should be released by ICE. The memo required ICE field offices to document the parole decisions in a "Record of Determination /Parole Determination worksheet." This is inconsistent with the Congressional mandate in statute that requires detention.

Rep. Goodlatte is saying something very significant here; the Obama administration made a significant shift in 2009 about the way the United States deals with people asking for asylum and changed the burden of proof for detention. Prior to 2009, the policy for those requesting asylum was that they were detained unless. In the Obama era, the default is that those seeking asylum are released on their own recognizance. Just as significant, the Obama ICE did this without approval from congress.

Breitbart News is waiting for the Department of Justice to respond to a request for more details in the rates of no-shows at the immigration trials for Mexican nationals.
Below is the complete text of Rep. Goodlatte's letter:

I write regarding the recent surge in foreign nationals, largely from Mexico, claiming asylum at U.S. ports of entry.  This surge has been overwhelming Border Patrol agents in San Diego, California.  Border Patrol agents reported that in one day 200 aliens came through the Otay Mesa, San Diego port of entry while as many as 550 overflowed the processing center there and in nearby San Ysidro claiming a "credible fear" of the drug cartels in Mexico.

According to testimony prepared by Joseph Langlois, Associate Director of the Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate, at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which was to be provided before the Subcommittee on National Security of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on June 27, 2013:

"USCIS has experienced an unprecedented surge in the credible fear workload, as credible fear requests have increased from 5,369 in fiscal year 2009 to 19,119 referrals through May of Fiscal Year 2013.  If present trends continue, USCIS estimates that we will receive a total of 28,679 credible fear requests in FY 2013, a 434% increase over the last five years."

Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee received disturbing statistics from USCIS indicating that the number of illegal immigrants intercepted at ports-of-entry and along the border claiming asylum is increasing exponentially. Such claims have increased from 5,222 in 2009 to 23,408 in just the first three quarters of 2013. According to the most recent data available, DHS is permitting 92% of these claimants to move forward to further proceedings, despite the fact that press reports indicate that up to 91% of these claimants from Mexico are ultimately denied. In addition, most are likely being released into the U.S. pending further proceedings before Immigration Judges as opposed to being detained as required by law.

I am concerned that credible fear claims are being exploited by illegal immigrants in order to enter and remain in the United States. As you know, after an alien is encountered by the Border Patrol, USCIS conducts a screening interview to determine whether the alien has a fear of returning to their home country. The finding of “credible fear” is the start of the process for certain aliens to raise an asylum claim. After such a finding, the alien is issued a notice to appear in immigration court where they must prove that their fear of return to their home country is based on persecution under a statutorily protected ground and is in fact a legitimate asylum case.  However, once these aliens receive court dates, they often fail to appear for immigration court proceedings and end up disappearing into the United States.

As reported by the press, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sources indicate that addresses provided to authorities by aliens who claim credible fear are often fake. Those who fail to appear in court are ordered removed by an Immigration Judge in absentia. To make matters worse, according to information provided to me by ICE, there are approximately 500,000 aliens who remain in the U.S. despite final orders of removal.

The recent press accounts indicate that aliens are being coached in the asylum process and are being taught to use certain terms to ensure that they are found to have a credible fear as a threshold for an asylum case. The aliens allegedly claim that they have a credible fear of return to Mexico based on drug cartel and gang violence. According to critics, asylum claims from Mexico are highly unusual and often are an orchestrated sham.  Indeed, as mentioned before, reports indicate that as many as 91 percent of asylum claims from Mexico are ultimately denied. Critics allege that the purpose is not to obtain asylum, but rather to game the system by getting a free pass into the U.S. and a court date that they do not plan to show up for.

Not only is the rise in credible fear claims concerning, but I am concerned with the inability of the Administration to follow the current law that pertains to the asylum process.  Pursuant to §235(b)(1)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), arriving aliens are subject to mandatory detention whether they are found to have credible fear or not. An “arriving alien” is a person who was stopped by U.S. officers at a port of entry while attempting to enter the U.S. Under the statute and corresponding regulations at 8 C.F.R §235.3, under limited circumstances “parole” from detention is available for arriving aliens where the applicant can show parole is required to meet a medical emergency or is necessary for a legitimate law enforcement objective.  Additionally, an applicant can be paroled where there are urgent humanitarian reasons or a significant public benefit consistent with §212(d)(5) of the INA. Any such alien should also be detained pending a credible fear interview.

However, this process has been changed by the current Administration via executive fiat. On December 9, 2010, Director Morton issued an ICE policy directive that is contrary to the statute and the regulations. Under this policy directive, any arriving alien who has been found to have a credible fear and can establish identity, that they are not a flight risk, or a danger to the community, should be released by ICE. The memo required ICE field offices to document the parole decisions in a “Record of Determination/Parole Determination worksheet.” This is inconsistent with the Congressional mandate in statute that requires detention.

And not surprisingly, the timing of this memo appears to correlate with the uptick of credible fear claims in recent years. Additionally, while ICE is not detaining these aliens, Fiscal Year 2012 Executive Office of Immigration Review statistics demonstrate that 29% of released aliens failed to appear for their immigration court proceedings.

Once again the Administration has chosen to turn the immigration enforcement switch off in a manner contrary to the intent of Congress, by simply enforcing the immigration laws when, where, and as it is deemed fit. Such actions are the primary reason why our immigration system is broken today. We plan to conduct oversight of this issue and address concerns via the House’s step-by-step approach to reforming our immigration system. Hence, we request a briefing with the relevant Department of Homeland Security components. Thank you for your attention to this matter.


August 23, 2013

Gun lobbyist Larry Pratt: Obamacare will force gun owners to have electroshock therapy

Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt recently predicted that President Barack Obama’s health care reform law would force gun owners to undergo electroshock therapy.

During an episode of the Talk to Solomon Show on Tuesday, Stan Solomon noted that The Fort Myers News-Press had reported last week that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was becoming a popular treatment for bipolar disorder.

“There’s saying, hey, it’s quicker than some drugs and all that type of thing,” Solomon observed. “But so is a bullet.”

“But the fact is, I am telling you, I believe that we’re going to see things get worse before they get better, and you’re going to see people that are going to be — quote — unquote — incorrigible, however they define incorrigible, maybe resisting when people come crashing into your house,” he told Pratt. “Your thoughts? Because we’re becoming very much an able-to-defend-yourself and an unable-to-defend-yourself country.”

“Well, I think part of that is what we’re seeing in Obamacare,” Pratt agreed. “This is going to be what you’re talking about several times over.”

August 22, 2013

Feds Bust Massive Puerto Rico Disability Scam

Federal agents on Wednesday arrested dozens of people in Puerto Rico in what may be one of the biggest disability scam busts ever. 

The Puerto Rico U.S. Attorney's Office says three doctors—Wildo Vargas, Rafael Miguez Balseiro, and Erica Rivera Castro—allegedly charged nearly 70 people between $150 and $500 to claim they were disabled.

"The claimants who defrauded the [Social Security Administration] by feigning medical disabilities, and the physicians who provided false medical justifications for these claimed disabilities, are perpetrating a theft of public funds." said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.

The government says it will go after $1.7 million from Torres Crespo, a former Social Security worker who was allegedly in on the scam.

Lawmakers were outraged and are calling for investigations into the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

"That such fraud could occur in the first place raises serious and troubling questions regarding Social Security's management of the disability program," said Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX).

The number of Americans receiving disability benefits has exploded in the last decade. In 2003, 7.6 million were on disability. In 2012, 10.9 million received a total $136.7 billion in taxpayer-funded benefits—a level of spending nearly twice as large as the food stamp program. When the costs of health care for disability workers are included, federal spending on disability swells to $260 billion.

According to federal agents, Puerto Rico is considered a hotbed for disability fraud. In 2006, 36% of applicants were approved. By December 2010, 69% of Puerto Ricans who applied for disability received it. Over 33% of Puerto Rico residents on disability qualified by claiming they could not work due to "mood disorders."

While the Puerto Rico sting is a step in the right direction, other studies suggest disability fraud is a serious and growing problem. An investigation by National Public Radio (NPR) found that in Hale County, Alabama, for example, one out of every four working-age adults collects a disability check—a figure far out of proportion with nationwide disability rates. Liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof concedes the disability program has created "soul-crushing dependency."

Last week, a study found that more people now receive disability than live in New York City.

According to the White House, "workers on SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] rarely return to the labor force."


August 21, 2013

White House: ‘Difficult to imagine’ authorities demanding destruction of hard drives

The White House distanced itself from Britain’s handling of the leaked NSA documents when representatives said it would be difficult to imagine the US authorities following the example of Whitehall in demanding the destruction of media hard drives.

As a former lord chancellor said the Metropolitan police had no legal right to detain the partner of a Guardian journalist at Heathrow airport under anti-terror laws, the White House suggested it would be inappropriate for US authorities to enter a media organisation’s offices to oversee the destruction of hard drives.

The White House – which on Monday distanced Washington from the detention of David Miranda – intervened for the second time in 24 hours after the Guardian revealed that senior Whitehall figures had demanded the destruction or surrender of hard drives containing some of the secret files leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor, said that two GCHQ security experts oversaw the destruction of hard drives on 20 July in what he described as a “peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism”.

Rusbridger had told the authorities that the action would not prevent the Guardian reporting on the leaked US documents because Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who first broke the story, had a copy in Brazil, and a further copy was held in the US.

The White House responded with surprise to the report of the destruction. Asked at his daily briefing on Tuesday whether President Obama’s administration would enter a US media company and destroy media hard drives – even to protect national security – the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said: “That’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate.”

The intervention by the White House came after the British government embarked on an aggressive offensive to justify the treatment at Heathrow of the partner of the Guardian journalist Greenwald.
Theresa May, the home secretary, confirmed that she was given advance notice of Miranda’s detention as she praised the police action on the grounds that he possessed sensitive documents that could help terrorists and “lead to a loss of lives”.

But May received a setback when Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the former Labour lord chancellor who was involved in introducing the anti-terror legislation used to detain Miranda, said the police had no right to detain him under the Terrorism Act 2000. Miranda was held for nine hours at Heathrow on Sunday under schedule 7 of the act, which allows police to detain people at ports and airports even if they are not acting suspiciously.

Falconer, who helped introduce the act in the Lords before he became lord chancellor in 2003, told the Guardian: “I am very clear that this does not apply, either on its terms or in its spirit, to Mr Miranda.”

The former close ally of Tony Blair said that schedule 7 of the act allows police to detain someone even when they have no grounds for suspicion. Falconer added: “What schedule 7 allows an examining officer to do is to question somebody in order to determine whether he is somebody who is preparing, instigating or commissioning terrorism. Plainly Mr Miranda is not such a person.”

The former Conservative prisons minister Crispin Blunt told Channel 4 News: “Using terrorism powers for something that doesn’t appear to be a terrorism issue brings the whole remit of the laws passed by parliament to address terrorism into disrepute.” But May praised the police action as she and Downing Street acknowledged they were given advance notice of the detention. May told the BBC: “I was briefed in advance that there was a possibility of a port stop of the sort that took place. But we live in a country where those decisions as to whether or not to stop somebody or arrest somebody are not for me as home secretary. They are for the police to take. That’s absolutely right that they have their operational independence. Long may that continue.”

The home secretary, whose officials had initially declined to comment on the issue on the grounds that it was an operational matter, said it was right for the police to act because of the sensitive nature of documents in Miranda’s possession. May added: “I think it is right, given that it is the first duty of the government to protect the public, that if the police believe somebody has in their possession highly sensitive stolen information which could help terrorists which could lead to a loss of lives then it is right that the police act. That is what the law enables them to do. But of course the law also has safeguards within it and we have an independent reviewer who, as David Anderson has already said, he will be looking into this case to ensure it was conducted properly.”

Downing Street confirmed that the PM was also informed. “We were kept abreast in the usual way,” a No 10 source said. “We do not direct police investigations.”

The double confirmation, which followed a statement from the White House on Monday that it was given a “heads up” about the detention, marked an abrupt change of tactics by the government. Officials had declined to answer questions about the affair on the grounds that it was an operational police matter.

The government switched its response from it being an operational police matter after the Guardian disclosed GCHQ’s role in overseeing the destruction of the hard disks in a basement of the newspaper’s London office. A few hours before the White House statement, Rusbridger said it would be impossible to imagine a similar demand to destroy hard drives in the US.

He told the BBC News channel: “The British government has moved against the Guardian in a way that would be simply undoable in America. America has the first amendment and it has no prior restraint … The British government explicitly threatened prior restraint against the Guardian – ie that they would go to the courts to injunct us and to cede the material which would have the effect of preventing us from writing about it.”

Rusbridger added in an interview with The World at One on BBC Radio 4: “It was quite explicit. We had to destroy it or give it back to them.”

Rusbridger launched a strong defence of the Guardian’s decision to comply with the request to destroy the hard drives after Index on Censorship described the action as “very disturbing”. He told Channel 4 News: “Rather than return the material to the government I said we would destroy it in the knowledge that we already had copies in Brazil and in America. It seemed to be our duty to this material and to the public is to go on reporting. If we had waited for the courts to come in, judges would have been in control of that information.”

Former shadow home secretary David Davis said No 10′s confirmation that David Cameron was given notice of the detention of Miranda meant that ministers had, in effect, approved of his treatment. Davis told The World at One: “They didn’t direct it, nobody is suggesting they directed it. But they approved it by implication. If the home secretary is told this is going to happen and she doesn’t intervene then she is approving it.”

May told the BBC: “No. We have a very clear divide in this country – and I think that is absolutely right – between the operational independence of the police and the policy work of politicians. I, as home secretary, do not tell the police who they should or should not stop at ports or who they should or should not arrest … I am pleased we live in a country where there is that separation.”

Miranda was stopped at Heathrow en route to Rio de Janeiro, where he lives with Greenwald, who has written a series of stories for the Guardian revealing mass surveillance programmes by the NSA. He was returning to their home from Berlin when he was stopped, allowing officials to take away his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles.

During his trip to Berlin, Miranda met Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has been working with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s flights. Miranda is not a Guardian employee but often assists Greenwald in his work.


August 20, 2013

Tea Party Groups to Run Ads Against GOP Lawmakers Skeptical of Defunding Obamacare

Three prominent conservative groups will make significant advertisement buys in August to pressure Republican senators and House Members in their states and districts to defund Obamacare.

Leaders of the Tea Party Patriots and ForAmerica will also go on an "Exempt America" tour across six states that will also target House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in addition to buying ads against twelve Republican senators who have opposed the defunding of Obamacare or are on the fence. Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin and ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell will reportedly travel to Kentucky, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia, in addition to Boehner's district in Ohio.

Meanwhile, Heritage Action will purchase $550,000 worth of ads that will target 100 House Republicans to defund Obamacare. Their message will be simple: All Americans should be exempt from Obamacare—and if you fund it, you own it.

According to the Washington Post, ForAmerica and Tea Party Patriots will directly target Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (TX) and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Richard Burr (R-NC). These senators have indicated they oppose efforts to defund Obamacare, with Burr even calling the movement the “dumbest idea I’ve ever heard."

ForAmerica has already targeted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), comparing him to a chicken for refusing to commit to fully defunding Obamacare in an advertisement. The group will run a similar ad against Graham, which can be been below:

ForAmerica and Tea Party Patriots will also take aim at Republicans who are on the fence—like Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Tim Scott (R-SC), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Pat Roberts (R-KS), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).

Senators like Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) have led the effort to defund Obamacare. They have said the House should pass a bill to fund the government except for the Affordable Care Act and then convince Americans that President Barack Obama and Democrats would rather shut down the government than extend the exemptions and carve outs they gave to corporations and special interests to all Americans. Congress must pass a resolution to fund the government by September 30.


August 19, 2013

NSA violations up pressure on Obama to accept intel reforms

News that the National Security Agency has overstepped its legal authority thousands of times in recent years is ratcheting up pressure on President Obama to accept reforms to the surveillance programs.

Last Friday, Obama tried to quell the growing uproar over NSA spying by laying out a series of steps to increase transparency and toughen privacy protections. He insisted the programs are critical to national security, but he acknowledged that certain changes might be necessary to restore the public's confidence.
The news also raises the stakes for the White House's decision about whom to appoint to an NSA review board. Obama promised the review group would be made up of independent experts. If he chooses only longtime intelligence officials, he is likely to spark further outrage from privacy advocates.

On Thursday, The Washington Post published an internal NSA audit, leaked by Edward Snowden, showing that the agency obtained private communications thousands of times in recent years without proper authorization.

The incidents were mostly unintended and typically involved unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign targets in the United States, the paper said.

They were often the result of typographical errors, but the more serious violations included unauthorized access to intercepted communications and use of automated systems that did not have privacy safeguards built into them.

In one incident, the NSA intercepted a "large number" of calls from Washington because of a programming error that confused the capital’s 202 area code for 20, the international code for Egypt.
According to The Post, the NSA did not always reveal the violations to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which is supposed to oversee the secret surveillance and enforce legal protections.

"NSA's foreign intelligence collection activities are continually audited and overseen internally and externally," an NSA spokesman said in a statement. "When we make a mistake in carrying out our foreign intelligence mission, we report the issue internally and to federal overseers and aggressively get to the bottom of it."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest insisted: “This administration is committed to ensuring that privacy protections are carefully adhered to, and to continually reviewing ways to effectively enhance privacy procedures.”

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he will hold another hearing to examine the surveillance programs. He also questioned whether intelligence officials have been fully honest with Congress.

"The American people rely on the intelligence community to provide forthright and complete information so that Congress and the courts can properly conduct oversight. I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA," Leahy said in a statement.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who has defended aspects of the surveillance and voted against curbing the phone data collection program last month, called the latest report "extremely disturbing."

"Congress must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure that all incidents of non-compliance are reported to the oversight committees and the FISA court in a timely and comprehensive manner, and that appropriate steps are taken to ensure violations are not repeated,” she said in the statement.

In a joint statement, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), fierce critics of the surveillance programs and members of the Intelligence Committee, said the latest revelation is "just the tip of a larger iceberg."

They argued that the public should know more about violations of secret court orders and that the FISA court should be given new powers to oversee the NSA. They reiterated their support for establishing a public advocate who would push for privacy rights before the FISA court, a proposal backed by President Obama.
Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a vocal defender of the NSA, endorsed tougher oversight of the agency.

"The [intelligence] committee can and should do more to independently verify that NSA’s operations are appropriate, and its reports of compliance incidents are accurate," she said.

Feinstein told The Washington Post that she had not seen a copy of the audit until the paper showed it to her. But in a statement, her office clarified that she has received "FISA compliance information in a more official format." It is unclear whether she had been fully briefed on all of the information in the leaked audit.

Feinstein emphasized that most of the incidents were unintentional and said she is unaware of any occasion on which the NSA has "abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) offered a full-throated defense of the surveillance programs.

He claimed the documents show there was "no intentional and willful violation of the law," and he emphasized that Congress and the courts have already put "in place auditing, reporting, and compliance requirements."

"Human and technical errors, like all of the errors reported in this story, are unfortunately inevitable in any organization and especially in a highly technical and complicated system like NSA," Rogers said.

But Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said in an interview that the documents show systemic compliance problems at the NSA.

"It's more evidence that secret oversight and secret courts and secret laws don't work," she said.
She predicted that there would be "bicameral, bipartisan support for aggressively rewriting the disclosure requirements."

Richardson said it would be easier for Congress to enhance oversight of the NSA than to dramatically curb its surveillance powers.

"These are the sorts of changes that Congress likes to do because they're not actually making policy decisions," she said.


August 16, 2013

NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times per year, audit finds

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.

In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.

[FISA judge: Ability to police U.S. spying program is limited]

The Obama administration has provided almost no public information about the NSA’s compliance record. In June, after promising to explain the NSA’s record in “as transparent a way as we possibly can,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole described extensive safeguards and oversight that keep the agency in check. “Every now and then, there may be a mistake,” Cole said in congressional testimony.

The NSA audit obtained by The Post, dated May 2012, counted 2,776 incidents in the preceding 12 months of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications. Most were unintended. Many involved failures of due diligence or violations of standard operating procedure. The most serious incidents included a violation of a court order and unauthorized use of data about more than 3,000 Americans and green-card holders.

In a statement in response to questions for this article, the NSA said it attempts to identify problems “at the earliest possible moment, implement mitigation measures wherever possible, and drive the numbers down.” The government was made aware of The Post’s intention to publish the documents that accompany this article online.

“We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” a senior NSA official said in an interview, speaking with White House permission on the condition of anonymity.

“You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” he said. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.”

There is no reliable way to calculate from the number of recorded compliance issues how many Americans have had their communications improperly collected, stored or distributed by the NSA.
The causes and severity of NSA infractions vary widely. One in 10 incidents is attributed to a typographical error in which an analyst enters an incorrect query and retrieves data about U.S phone calls or e-mails.

But the more serious lapses include unauthorized access to intercepted communications, the distribution of protected content and the use of automated systems without built-in safeguards to prevent unlawful surveillance.

The May 2012 audit, intended for the agency’s top leaders, counts only incidents at the NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters and other ­facilities in the Washington area. Three government officials, speak­ing on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said the number would be substantially higher if it included other NSA operating units and regional collection centers.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who did not receive a copy of the 2012 audit until The Post asked her staff about it, said in a statement late Thursday that the committee “can and should do more to independently verify that NSA’s operations are appropriate, and its reports of compliance incidents are accurate.”

Despite the quadrupling of the NSA’s oversight staff after a series of significant violations in 2009, the rate of infractions increased throughout 2011 and early 2012. An NSA spokesman declined to disclose whether the trend has continued since last year.

One major problem is largely unpreventable, the audit says, because current operations rely on technology that cannot quickly determine whether a foreign mobile phone has entered the United States.

In what appears to be one of the most serious violations, the NSA diverted large volumes of international data passing through fiber-optic cables in the United States into a repository where the material could be stored temporarily for processing and selection.

The operation to obtain what the agency called “multiple communications transactions” collected and commingled U.S. and foreign e-mails, according to an article in SSO News, a top-secret internal newsletter of the NSA’s Special Source Operations unit. NSA lawyers told the court that the agency could not practicably filter out the communications of Americans.

In October 2011, months after the program got underway, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruled that the collection effort was unconstitutional. The court said that the methods used were “deficient on statutory and constitutional grounds,” according to a top-secret summary of the opinion, and it ordered the NSA to comply with standard privacy protections or stop the program.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has acknowledged that the court found the NSA in breach of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but the Obama administration has fought a Freedom of Information lawsuit that seeks the opinion.
Generally, the NSA reveals nothing in public about its errors and infractions. The unclassified versions of the administration’s semiannual reports to Congress feature blacked-out pages under the headline “Statistical Data Relating to Compliance Incidents.”

Members of Congress may read the unredacted documents, but only in a special secure room, and they are not allowed to take notes. Fewer than 10 percent of lawmakers employ a staff member who has the security clearance to read the reports and provide advice about their meaning and significance.

The limited portions of the reports that can be read by the public acknowledge “a small number of compliance incidents.”

Under NSA auditing guidelines, the incident count does not usually disclose the number of Americans affected.

“What you really want to know, I would think, is how many innocent U.S. person communications are, one, collected at all, and two, subject to scrutiny,” said Julian Sanchez, a research scholar and close student of the NSA at the Cato Institute.

The documents provided by Snowden offer only glimpses of those questions. Some reports make clear that an unauthorized search produced no records. But a single “incident” in February 2012 involved the unlawful retention of 3,032 files that the surveillance court had ordered the NSA to destroy, according to the May 2012 audit. Each file contained an undisclosed number of telephone call records.

One of the documents sheds new light on a statement by NSA Director Keith B. Alexander last year that “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens.”

Some Obama administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have defended Alexander with assertions that the agency’s internal definition of “data” does not cover “metadata” such as the trillions of American call records that the NSA is now known to have collected and stored since 2006. Those records include the telephone numbers of the parties and the times and durations of conversations, among other details, but not their content or the names of callers.

The NSA’s authoritative def­inition of data includes those call records. “Signals Intelligence Management Directive 421,” which is quoted in secret oversight and auditing guidelines, states that “raw SIGINT data . . . includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and/or unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice, and some forms of computer-generated data, such as call event records and other Digital Network Intelligence (DNI) metadata as well as DNI message text.”

In the case of the collection effort that confused calls placed from Washington with those placed from Egypt, it is unclear what the NSA meant by a “large number” of intercepted calls. A spokesman declined to discuss the matter.

The NSA has different reporting requirements for each branch of government and each of its legal authorities. The “202” collection was deemed irrelevant to any of them. “The issue pertained to Metadata ONLY so there were no defects to report,” according to the author of the secret memo from March 2013.

The large number of database query incidents, which involve previously collected communications, confirms long-standing suspicions that the NSA’s vast data banks — with code names such as MARINA, PINWALE and XKEYSCORE — house a considerable volume of information about Americans. Ordinarily the identities of people in the United States are masked, but intelligence “customers” may request unmasking, either one case at a time or in standing orders.

In dozens of cases, NSA personnel made careless use of the agency’s extraordinary powers, according to individual auditing reports. One team of analysts in Hawaii, for example, asked a system called DISHFIRE to find any communications that mentioned both the Swedish manufacturer Ericsson and “radio” or “radar” — a query that could just as easily have collected on people in the United States as on their Pakistani military target.

The NSA uses the term “incidental” when it sweeps up the records of an American while targeting a foreigner or a U.S. person who is believed to be involved in terrorism. Official guidelines for NSA personnel say that kind of incident, pervasive under current practices, “does not constitute a . . . violation” and “does not have to be reported” to the NSA inspector general for inclusion in quarterly reports to Congress. Once added to its databases, absent other restrictions, the communications of Americans may be searched freely.

In one required tutorial, NSA collectors and analysts are taught to fill out oversight forms without giving “extraneous information” to “our FAA overseers.” FAA is a reference to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which granted broad new authorities to the NSA in exchange for regular audits from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and periodic reports to Congress and the surveillance court.

Using real-world examples, the “Target Analyst Rationale Instructions” explain how NSA employees should strip out details and substitute generic descriptions of the evidence and analysis behind their targeting choices.

“I realize you can read those words a certain way,” said the high-ranking NSA official who spoke with White House authority, but the instructions were not intended to withhold information from auditors. “Think of a book of individual recipes,” he said. Each target “has a short, concise description,” but that is “not a substitute for the full recipe that follows, which our overseers also have access to.”

August 15, 2013

Court rebukes Obama administration for failing to act on license application

According to one federal judge, the president is not allowed to do whatever he wants.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot delay its decision on whether or not to license a nuclear waste storage facility project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The Department of Energy submitted an application to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain to the NRC in June 2008.  The NRC is statutorily required to issue a decision on the license within three years, but has not done so over five years later.
Instead the NRC has “simply shut down its review and consideration” of the Energy Department’s pending license, according to the decision, amid the Obama administration’s hopes to abandon the project entirely, but the federal court sharply rebuked the President for instructing his administration not to follow the law.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote that “the President must follow statutory mandates so long as there is appropriated money available and the President has no constitutional objection to the statute…[b]ut the President may not decline to follow a statutory mandate or prohibition simply because of policy objections.”

The stinging condemnation may speak to other laws the current administration has failed to act upon in light of accusation that only laws — or parts of laws — the president finds politically palatable have been implemented. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said this Sunday that the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate delay is just a means to prevent Democrats from being attacked over the health care law in the 2014 elections.

The Cato Institute’s director of health policy studies Michael Cannon told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the Yucca Mountain ruling affirms that the administration’s unilateral actions to delay may not be in good faith.

“The ruling affirms that President Obama does not have the authority to waive or delay parts of Obamacare like the employer mandate just because it’s convenient,” Cannon told TheDCNF.

Whether the ruling’s reproach will be applied to other Obama administration initiatives remains to be seen, but its effect on the Department of Energy’s license for the nuclear waste facility in question is still unknown.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters that “with no disrespect to the court, this decision means nothing. Yucca Mountain is an afterthought.”

The Obama administration has argued that the NRC has insufficient funds to complete the review. $11.1 million remains of congressionally-approved funds for the Commission to complete its work, leading Kavanaugh to order that while the money remains, the NRC is legally required to do its duty and review the Energy Department’s application.

He added, however, that “if Congress determines in the wake of our decision that it will never fund the commission’s licensing process to completion, we would certainly hope that Congress would step in before the current $11.1 million in expended, so as to avoid wasting taxpayer money.”

Read more:

August 14, 2013

White House insists NSA surveillance review will be independent

The White House has moved to dampen controversy over the role of the director of national intelligence James Clapper in a panel reviewing NSA surveillance, insisting that he would neither lead it nor choose the members.

Statements by Barack Obama and Clapper on Monday night were widely interpreted as the director of national intelligence being placed in charge of the inquiry, which the president had announced on Friday would be “independent”.

The apparent involvement of Clapper, who has admitted lying to Congress over NSA surveillance of US citizens, provoked a backlash, with critics accusing the president of putting a fox in charge of the hen house.

But the White House national security council insisted on Tuesday that Clapper’s role would be more limited.

“The panel members are being selected by the White House, in consultation with the intelligence community,” national security council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

The DNI had to be involved for administrative reasons, because the panel would need security clearance and access to classified material, she added.

After the White House and the Pentagon released their statements saying Clapper had been asked by Obama to “establish” the panel and report its findings, media outlets reported this to mean Clapper heading the panel and choosing the members.

Republican congressman Justin Amash, who led a revolt that narrowly failed in its effort to cut NSA funding, tweeted: “Pres Obama believes man who lied to public in congressional hearing about NSA should lead NSA review process meant to build public trust”.

Clapper apologised last month for misleading a Senate hearing by denying that the NSA collects information about millions of Americans.

In response to leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Obama announced at a press conference on Friday that an independent panel of outsiders would be set up to investigate concerns about the scale of NSA surveillance.

The president appeared to backtrack on Monday evening when he said he was directing Clapper “to establish a review group on intelligence and communications technologies” that would brief and later report to the president through Clapper by December.

Clapper, in a separate statement, echoed this but described the investigatory body as “the director of national intelligence review group on intelligence and communications technology”.

Timothy Lee, writing in the Washington Post, said: “The announcement doesn’t inspire confidence that the president is interested in truly independent scrutiny of the nation’s surveillance programs. The panel will be chosen by, and report to, director of national intelligence James Clapper.”

But on Tuesday the White House repeated Obama’s promise that the panel would be independent and contain outsiders. It described media reports of Monday’s statements by Obama and Clapper as inaccurate. “I can confirm we are not backtracking on what the president announced,” said Hayden.
She added that the panel members would be appointed soon.

“The panel will not report to the DNI. As the DNI’s statement yesterday made clear, the review group will brief its interim findings to the president within 60 days of its establishment, and provide a final report with recommendations no later than December 15 2013.”

She added: “As we announced on Friday, the review group will be made up of independent, outside experts. The DNI’s role is one of facilitation, and the group is not under the direction of or led by the DNI.

“The members require security clearances and access to classified information so they need to be administratively connected to the government, and the DNI’s office is the right place to provide that. The review process and findings will be the group’s.”

One of the US senators who has led the challenge to NSA domestic surveillance, Ron Wyden, said he hoped that the creation of what he described as an independent board would be one part of ensuring that the security and civil liberties of American are protected.

In an email to the Guardian, Wyden, a Democrat, said: “That board must be able to take an unbiased look at intelligence gathering and surveillance practices, so that the Congress and the public can be confident that an honest and straightforward review is taking place.”

He added: “It is my hope that DNI Clapper will take just such an approach to establishing this review panel, because anything less will do little to improve the confidence the public has in the intelligence community.”

Wyden was the senator to whom Clapper admitted giving an “erroneous” answer at a Senate hearing about the extent of domestic surveillance.

Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, who specialises in national security and transparency, said: “We hope Clapper constructs a panel with a diversity of views and expertise. He needs to look outside the immediate intelligence community that has been creating and operating these programs over the years.

She added: “It was disappointing to see that the DNI’s press release didn’t even mention privacy or the constitution.”


August 13, 2013

Justin Amash: 2011 Tea Party congress did not receive NSA documents

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said that incoming 2011 freshmen congressmen - those elected during the 2010 Tea Party wave - were not provided classified documents detailing the bulk metadata collection programs authorized by the Patriot Act prior to the law's reauthorization.

"I can now confirm that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence did NOT, in fact, make the 2011 document available to Representatives in Congress, meaning that the large class of Representatives elected in 2010 did not receive either of the now declassified documents detailing these programs," Amash wrote on Facebook.

Amash was referring to the 2009 and 2011 documents that proponents of the National Security Agency's data collection program said all members of Congress were provided.

The 2011 document, which was supposed to be provided prior to the Patriot Act reauthorization, made specific that it "will" be provided to senators and cleared staff, but only said that it "may be" made available to House members. This difference in wording, which would most likely be overlooked, piqued Amash's interest.

When former Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chaired the House Intelligence Committee, he made the 2009 document available to all members prior to the 2010 Patriot Act reauthorization. Of course, those elected in 2010 did not have access to those documents because they were private citizens at the time.

When Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., took over the intelligence committee in 2010, he hosted classified briefings on the program, but did not release the document. Susan Phalen, a spokeswoman for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, expanded on the briefings in an e-mail to the Washington Examiner:

"The House Intelligence Committee makes it a top priority to inform Members about the intelligence issues on which Members must vote. This process is always conducted consistent with the committee's legal obligation to carefully protect the sensitive intelligence sources and methods our intelligence agencies use to do their important work.

"Prior to voting on the PATRIOT Act reauthorization and the FAA reauthorization, Chairman Rogers hosted classified briefings to which all members were invited to have their questions about these authorities answered. Additionally, over the past two months, Chairman Rogers has hosted four classified briefings, with officials from the NSA and other agencies, on the Section 215 and Section 702 programs and has invited all Republican members to attend and receive additional classified briefings on the use of these tools from committee staff.

"The committee has provided many opportunities for members to have their questions answered by both the HPSCI and the NSA. And Chairman Rogers has encouraged members to attend those classified briefings to better understand how the authorities are used to protect the country."

Recall that the 2011 Patriot Act reauthorization was a tough vote for the administration. The Feb. 8, 2011, vote under special rules requiring a super-majority failed by seven votes. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, then brought the reauthorization up for a regular vote (which requires a simple majority) in May 2011 and it passed.


August 12, 2013

McAuliffe lobbied Obama aide in charge of Solyndra

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia and former owner of an electric car company now under federal investigation, once paid a visit with three other advisers to the same White House “green energy” official who helped secure more than $500 million in guaranteed loans for Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer backed by a prominent Barack Obama fundraiser.

White House visitor records reviewed by indicate that McAuliffe met with Greg Nelson, the former associate director for energy, environment and technology, at the White House on Oct. 13, 2010.

While the substance of the meeting is unknown, the individuals involved make it all but certain that the subject was GreenTech Automotive, a green energy car company founded by McAuliffe in 2009.

At the time, McAuliffe was energetically seeking assistance for a “green” car company that was funded by a bizarre scheme involving visas for Chinese investors and appears not to have produced any automobiles. The Obama Energy Department was also eager to provide taxpayer assistance to alternative energy gambles, such as the cylindrical-row solar panels for which Fremont, California-based Solyndra failed to find a market.

With McAuliffe and Nelson at the meeting were GreenTech finance director Gary Yi Tang, immigration attorney Stephen Yale-Loehr and economist Michael K. Evans.

Yale-Loehr worked for Gulf Coasts Funds Management, a firm run by Hillary Clinton’s brother that helps foreign nationals obtain EB-5 visas in exchange for investing $500,000 to $1 million in American companies. Virginia lawmakers and others have dubbed the EB-5 program a “visas-for-sale” scheme. (Related: Virginia lawmakers pressure McAuliffe over GreenTech scandal)

GreenTech is Gulf Coast Funds’ sole client and the recipient of millions of dollars from Chinese investors seeking visas. The FBI has been investigating whether the EB-5 program represents a threat to national security since at least March of this year.

Evans is also an EB-5 expert and one of the co-owners of Evans, Carroll & Associates, an EB-5 consulting firm. He also wrote a report on the economic impact of GreenTech’s manufacturing plant in Tunica, Miss. (Related: McAuliffe’s GreenTech company skirted state process for acquiring land, failed to produce a single car)

In the heady days of 2010, when McAuliffe took his meeting with Nelson, the Energy Department was rapidly awarding assistance, mostly in the form of taxpayer-guaranteed loans, to companies that subsequently ran into trouble or failed outright. Among the little-remembered beneficiaries: LightSquared, Ener1, Abound Solar, A123 Systems, SoloPower, SunPower, Solar Power Project, Beacon Power and even a Tennessee-based truck terminal.

But Solyndra — a company funded by influential Obama donor George Kaiser that received a 2010 presidential visit during which Obama announced, “companies like Solyndra are leading the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future” — drew the most attention.

Nelson achieved brief notoriety when his name and email trail figured prominently in the investigation of the massive loss of public funds on the private company. He had been intimately involved in Solyndra’s lobbying activities, pushing the Energy Department to approve the company’s loan request, which was put on hold by the Bush Administration but rapidly approved by Obama in 2009.

“Any word on O.M.B.?” Nelson asked an Energy loan official in an early 2009 message. “I have the [office of the vice president] and [the White House] breathing down my neck on this.”

Nelson also spoke to the ill-fated company directly. “It looks like a great product,” he wrote Solyndra’s CEO in March 2009, calling the plans “inspiring.”

Less than two weeks later, the Energy Department publicly announced $535 million in loan guarantees for Solyndra.

Solyndra went belly-up two and a half years later, leaving American taxpayers holding the bag.
Unlike Solyndra, GreenTech never received green energy loans from the Energy Department, and there is no evidence that Nelson or the White House ever lobbied the department to provide these loans.

But the meeting does indicate that some White House officials knew about McAuliffe’s scheme to fund GreenTech through EB-5 visas some years before the program became a concern to the FBI and other investigative agencies.

McAuliffe at the time was seeking help from Homeland Security officials, including Secretary Janet Napolitano and Citizenship and Immigration Services head Alejandro Mayorkas, in order to expedite the visa applications of GreenTech investors that were delayed or denied due to national security concerns.

A few months after the meeting with Nelson, McAuliffe wrote a letter to Napolitano advising that she “expedite adjudications of all EB-5 petitions for [GreenTech Automotive] investors.” The Daily Caller News Foundation reported that McAuliffe later met face-to-face with Mayorkas and convinced him to push the applications through.

Virginia Republican state Sen. Tom Garrett previously told TheDCNF he did not understand how McAuliffe, “a private citizen,” was able to schedule a meeting with the head of a major Homeland Security component.

Mayorkas, who was recently tapped by President Obama to run Homeland Security after Napolitano’s retirement, is now under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general for approving a GreenTech visa petition that may have endangered U.S. national security.

The Washington Post reported last week that the SEC is also investigating GreenTech Automotive over its use of the EB-5 visa program.

Although he resigned from GreenTech earlier this year, the firm’s troubles continue to dog McAuliffe and his campaign remain. Virginia Republican lawmakers continue to call on McAuliffe to answer questions regarding potential wrongdoing he may have engaged in while in charge of the company.


August 9, 2013

Obamacare installs new scrutiny, fines for charitable hospitals that treat uninsured people

Charitable hospitals that treat uninsured Americans will be subjected to new levels of scrutiny of their nonprofit status and could face sizable new fines under Obamacare.

A new provision in Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code, which takes effect under Obamacare, sets new standards of review and installs new financial penalties for tax-exempt charitable hospitals, which devote a minimum amount of their expenses to treat uninsured poor people. Approximately 60 percent of American hospitals are currently nonprofit.

Charity for the uninsured is one of the factors that could discourage enrollment in Obamacare, which requires all Americans to purchase heath insurance or else face new taxes themselves from the IRS.
“It requires tax-exempt hospitals to do a community needs survey and file additional paperwork with the IRS every three years. This is to prove that the charitable hospital is still needed in their geographical area — ‘needed’ as defined by Obamacare and overseen by IRS bureaucrats,” said John Kartch, spokesman for Americans for Tax Reform.

“Failure to comply, or to prove this continuing need, could result in the loss of the hospital’s tax-exempt status. The hospital would then become a for-profit venture, paying income tax — hence the positive revenue score” for the federal government, Kartch said. “Obamacare advocates turned over every rock to find as much tax money as possible.”

Additionally, the rise in the number of insured Americans under Obamacare will make it more difficult for tax-exempt hospitals to continue meeting required thresholds for treating the uninsured, driving more hospitals into the for-profit category and yielding more taxable money for the federal government.

“The requirements generally apply to any section 501(c)(3) organization that operates at least one hospital facility,” according to a “Technical Explanation” report of new Obamacare provisions prepared by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) on March 21, 2010, the day Obamacare passed.

Obamacare’s new requirements could slam hospitals with massive $50,000 fines if they fail to meet bureaucrats’ standards.

“The hospital must disclose in its annual information report to the IRS (i.e., Form 990 and related schedules) how it is addressing the needs identified in the assessment and, if all identified needs are not addressed, the reasons why (e.g., lack of financial or human resources). Each hospital facility is required to make the assessment widely available. Failure to complete a community health needs assessment in any applicable three-year period results in a penalty on the organization of up to $50,000,” according to the JCT report.

The government is particularly interested in how and why hospitals will be providing discounted or free care to poor patients, requiring each of them to “adopt, implement, and widely publicize a written financial assistance policy” and explain the methods they use to screen applicants for assistance and how they calculate patients’ bills.

A delegate working under the Department of Health and Human Services must review the innumerable reports charitable hospitals file every three years, along with copies of their audited financial statements.

After sifting through this massive amount of information, the delegate and HHS secretary must attempt to identify trends in the hospitals’ spending and send in a comprehensive report of their findings to Congress by 2015, according to the JCT report.

Healthcare experts warn that the Obamacare’s new requirements make it almost impossible for charitable hospitals to navigate treacherous new waters.

“Nonprofit hospitals should be advised that the new PPACA requirements will play a significant role in how they operate and report, specifically when it comes to billing and collections for services provided to the uninsured. The new law leaves many gray areas and hospitals themselves will have to establish eligibility criteria for financial assistance. Following the new procedures as best they can will ensure the best chance of maintaining their tax exempt status,” wrote D. Douglas Metcalf, partner at the law firm Lewis and Roca, in a 2013 op-ed entitled “Will nonprofit hospitals disappear under Obamacare?”

The White House did not return a request for comment.