Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

By Jordan Michael Smith

THE VOTERS WHO put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach from his predecessor.

But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and revitalizing America’s nuclear weapons.

Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.

Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.

Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan: The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.

Glennon’s critique sounds like an outsider’s take, even a radical one. In fact, he is the quintessential insider: He was legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to various congressional committees, as well as to the State Department. “National Security and Double Government” comes favorably blurbed by former members of the Defense Department, State Department, White House, and even the CIA. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist: Rather, he sees the problem as one of “smart, hard-working, public-spirited people acting in good faith who are responding to systemic incentives”—without any meaningful oversight to rein them in.

How exactly has double government taken hold? And what can be done about it? Glennon spoke with Ideas from his office at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. This interview has been condensed and edited.

IDEAS: Where does the term “double government” come from?

GLENNON:It comes from Walter Bagehot’s famous theory, unveiled in the 1860s. Bagehot was the scholar who presided over the birth of the Economist magazine—they still have a column named after him. Bagehot tried to explain in his book “The English Constitution” how the British government worked. He suggested that there are two sets of institutions. There are the “dignified institutions,” the monarchy and the House of Lords, which people erroneously believed ran the government. But he suggested that there was in reality a second set of institutions, which he referred to as the “efficient institutions,” that actually set governmental policy. And those were the House of Commons, the prime minister, and the British cabinet.

IDEAS: What evidence exists for saying America has a double government?

GLENNON:I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against. Why would that president continue those same policies in case after case after case? I initially wrote it based on my own experience and personal knowledge and conversations with dozens of individuals in the military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies of our government, as well as, of course, officeholders on Capitol Hill and in the courts. And the documented evidence in the book is substantial—there are 800 footnotes in the book.

IDEAS: Why would policy makers hand over the national-security keys to unelected officials?

GLENNON: It hasn’t been a conscious decision….Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.

The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”

IDEAS: Isn’t this just another way of saying that big bureaucracies are difficult to change?

GLENNON: It’s much more serious than that. These particular bureaucracies don’t set truck widths or determine railroad freight rates. They make nerve-center security decisions that in a democracy can be irreversible, that can close down the marketplace of ideas, and can result in some very dire consequences.

IDEAS: Couldn’t Obama’s national-security decisions just result from the difference in vantage point between being a campaigner and being the commander-in-chief, responsible for 320 million lives?

GLENNON: There is an element of what you described. There is not only one explanation or one cause for the amazing continuity of American national security policy. But obviously there is something else going on when policy after policy after policy all continue virtually the same way that they were in the George W. Bush administration.

IDEAS: This isn’t how we’re taught to think of the American political system.

GLENNON: I think the American people are deluded, as Bagehot explained about the British population, that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy. They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change. Now, there are many counter-examples in which these branches do affect policy, as Bagehot predicted there would be. But the larger picture is still true—policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.

IDEAS: Do we have any hope of fixing the problem?

GLENNON: The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.

Jordan Michael Smith is a contributing writer at Salon and The Christian Science Monitor.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/10/18/vote-all-you-want-the-secret-government-won-change/jVSkXrENQlu8vNcBfMn9sL/story.html?s_campaign=bdcglobewell_B

Thanks to Pete Cuomo for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

In 2012, a private company working with the LA County Sheriff’s Department flew a civilian plane rigged with multiple high-powered video cameras over the city of Compton, recording “video of everything that happened inside that 10-square-mile municipality,” all without telling residents, according to The Atlantic. Expanding on a previous piece by the Center for Investigative Reporting, The Atlantic says that the project was a test-run of sorts by the company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, eager to show off its tech to the country’s largest sheriff’s department. (Neither article says how long the plane was in the air or exactly how many times it flew and recorded, but the head of the company himself brags that “We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people.”)

They didn’t tell Compton because Compton might not have liked it.

Ohio-based PSS sells surveillance equipment (known as wide area surveillance) that uses cameras mounted on the underside of planes to record video, allowing police to pause, rewind, and zoom in on footage that’s been recorded in real-time, like a much creepier DVR. The Sheriffs were “persuaded” by Ross McNutt (the Air Force veteran who owns PSS) to let him fly a plane outfitted with cameras over Compton in response to a chain of horrible crimes terrorizing the city’s residents: a string of necklace-jackings. The plan was to have McNutt’s aircraft hover over areas where reported thefts had taken place, and to look for anything that might help investigators.

“Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter. But at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch,” McNutt told CIR. While the tech sounds futuristic (in a dystopian way), it is thankfully still limited: the cameras are not powerful enough yet to recognize faces. (Nowhere near as fancy/invasive as the license-plate recognition software that the LAPD uses.) McNutt himself predicts that technology will advance within the next few years, so don’t even sweat it.

At no point was any of this revealed to the residents of Compton because the cops knew they wouldn’t much care for having their entire city recorded. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush,” says LA County Sheriff Sgt. Doug Iketani, the project’s supervisor.

http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/04/la_sheriff_secretly_recorded_all_of_compton_from_above.php

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

1984

With news of government spying and surveillance dominating the headlines, sales of Orwell’s classic novel have shot up more than 3,000 percent on Amazon.com. The book currently comes in at No. 5 on the site’s Movers and Shakers list of the biggest sales gainers of the day, and had been as high as No. 4 earlier in the day. Sales of the book began to jump on Monday, when it rose to No. 19.

In “1984,” English author Orwell presents a dystopian future with a totalitarian, tyrannical government where “Big Brother is watching you.”

Separately, a dual edition of “1984” and Orwell’s other classic, “Animal Farm,” comes in at No. 11 on Amazon’s list.

Orwell died in 1950, just a year after “1984” was published.

http://news.msn.com/pop-culture/sales-of-george-orwells-1984-surge-on-amazon

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

brandon-raub-released_s640x427

A former Marine involuntarily detained for psychiatric evaluation for posting strident anti-government messages on Facebook has received an outpouring of support from people who say authorities are trampling on his First Amendment rights.

Brandon J. Raub, 26, has been in custody since FBI, Secret Service agents and police in Virginia’s Chesterfield County questioned him Thursday evening about what they said were ominous posts talking about a coming revolution. In one message earlier this month according to authorities, Raub wrote: “Sharpen my axe; I’m here to sever heads.”

Police – acting under a state law that allows emergency, temporary psychiatric commitments upon the recommendation of a mental health professional – took Raub to the John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell. He was not charged with any crime.

A Virginia-based civil liberties group, The Rutherford Institute, dispatched one of its attorneys to the hospital to represent Raub at a hearing Monday. A judge ordered Raub detained for another month, Rutherford executive director John Whitehead said.

“For government officials to not only arrest Brandon Raub for doing nothing more than exercising his First Amendment rights but to actually force him to undergo psychological evaluations and detain him against his will goes against every constitutional principle this country was founded upon,” Whitehead said.

Raub’s mother, Cathleen Thomas, said by telephone that the government had overstepped its bounds.

“The bottom line is his freedom of speech has been violated,” she said.

Thomas said her son, who served tours as a combat engineer in Iraq and Afghanistan, is “concerned about all the wars we’ve experienced” and believes the U.S. government was complicit in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. One of his Facebook posts, she said, pictured the gaping hole in the Pentagon and asked “where’s the plane?”

Whitehead said he found nothing alarming in Raub’s social media commentaries. “The posts I read that supposedly were of concern were libertarian-type posts I see all the time,” he said.

The big concern, Whitehead said, is whether government officials are monitoring citizens’ private Facebook pages and detaining people with whom they disagree.

Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman in Richmond, said there was no Facebook snooping by her agency.

“We received quite a few complaints about what were perceived as threatening posts,” she said. “Given the circumstances with the things that have gone on in the country with some of these mass shootings, it would be horrible for law enforcement not to pay attention to complaints.”

Whitehead said some of the posts in question were made on a closed Facebook page that Raub had recently created so he questioned whether anyone from the public would have complained about them.

“Support Brandon Raub” Facebook pages have drawn significant interest, and other Internet sites had numerous comments from people outraged by the veteran’s detention.

Raub’s supporters characterized the detention as an arrest, complaining he was handcuffed and whisked away in a police cruiser without being served a warrant or read his rights. But authorities say it wasn’t an arrest because Raub doesn’t face criminal charges.

Col. Thierry Dupuis, the county police chief, said Raub was taken into custody upon the recommendation of mental health crisis intervention workers. He said the action was taken under the state’s emergency custody statute, which allows a magistrate to order the civil detention and psychiatric evaluation of a person who is considered potentially dangerous.

He said Raub was handcuffed because he resisted officers’ attempts to take him into custody.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/brandon-j-raub-marine-detained_n_1817484.html

Thanks to Dr. Mike Moore for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

 

There’s one big, but overlooked, development from the election last night: In Montana, a referendum to state that corporations don’t have constitutional rights has unofficially passed by a 75 percent to 25 percent margin. Initiative number 166 stated that “corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings,” and thus is a blow to the Citizen’s United ruling that helped make this presidential election the most expensive one ever.

Montana has been a leader in trying to buck Citizen’s United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that equated money with free speech and allowed corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns through super PACs. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court that limited political spending in state and local elections. That ruling, which came without a hearing as liberal justices wanted, only strengthened Citizen’s United, but now Montana’s voting populace has fired back.

Montana has long had some of the country’s toughest campaign spending laws, which mostly crumbled under the Supreme Court. According to a nice background piece at CNN, the tradition has its roots in Montana’s mining industry, where copper barons used to buy off politicians in the 1800s. Because the sparsely-populated state is fueled by large mining operations, advocates worry that Citizen’s United will allow mining interests to take control of the state’s legislature yet again.

It’s unclear right now what will happen next. While the initiative states that corporations are not human beings and thus don’t have constitutional rights — Citizen’s United was based on an interpretation of the First Amendment — any changes to spending rules in state and local elections are likely to wind up in the Supreme Court again, which may or may not prompt an actual review of Citizen’s United. (Some folks think that the Supreme Court is finally ready to take another look at what has become one of its most controversial rulings in ages, especially now that the election is over.) But one thing is for sure: In Montana, unlimited corporate spending on elections is resoundingly unpopular.

http://motherboard.vice.com/2012/11/7/montana-quietly-passed-a-measure-that-says-corporations-aren-t-humans–2

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

 

Many people find speed cameras frustrating, and some in the region are taking their rage out on the cameras themselves.

But now there’s a new solution: cameras to watch the cameras.

One is already in place, and Prince George’s County Police Maj. Robert V. Liberati hopes to have up to a dozen more before the end of the year.

“It’s not worth going to jail over a $40 ticket or an arson or destruction of property charge,” says Liberati.

Liberati is the Commander of the Automated Enforcement Section, which covers speed and red-light cameras.

Since April, six people have damaged speed cameras.

On April 6, someone pulled a gun out and shot a camera on the 11400 block of Duley Station Road near U.S. 301 in Upper Marlboro, Md.

Two weeks later, a speed camera was flipped over at 500 Harry S. Truman Drive, near Prince George’s Community College. Police believe several people were involved because of the weight of the camera itself.

Then in May, someone walked up to a camera on Brightseat Road near FedEx Field, cut off one of the four legs, and left.

“I guess that makes a statement, but we were able to just attach another leg,” says Liberati.

But when someone burned down a speed camera on Race Track Road near Bowie State College on July 3, Liberati and his colleagues began to rethink their strategy.

“It costs us $30,000 to $100,000 to replace a camera. That’s a significant loss in the program. Plus it also takes a camera off the street that operates and slows people down. So there’s a loss of safety for the community,” says Liberati

The Prince George’s County Police Department decided it needed to catch the vandals, or at least deter them.

“The roads are choked, there are lots of drivers on them. I think traffic itself is the cause of frustration (towards speed cameras). But, we have a duty to make the roads safe, even if takes a couple extra minutes to get to your destination. Unfortunately, that’s the Washington area, the place we live in,” says Liberati.

Speed cameras themselves can’t be used for security because under Maryland law speed cameras can only take pictures of speeding, says Liberati.

“We’ve taken the additional step of marking our cameras to let people know that there is surveillance.”

Liberati says the cameras aren’t a case of Big Brother nor a cash grab, police are simply trying to keep the public safe from reckless drivers.

http://www.wtop.com/41/3034979/New-cameras-to-watch-cameras-that-watch-you

Sections of the Ottawa airport are now wired with microphones that can eavesdrop on travellers’ conversations.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is nearing completion of a $500,000 upgrade of old video cameras used to monitor its new “customs controlled areas,” including the primary inspection area for arriving international passengers.

As part of the work, the agency is introducing audio-monitoring equipment as well.

“It is important to note that even though audio technology is installed, no audio is recorded at this time. It will become functional at a later date,” CBSA spokesman Chris Kealey said in a written statement.

But whenever that occurs, the technology, “will record conversations,” the agency said in a separate statement in response to Citizen questions.

Meanwhile, as many as 88 of the new high-definition video cameras are to be ready this summer.

Once the Ottawa equipment is activated, signs will be posted referring passersby to a “privacy notice” that will be posted on the CBSA website, and to a separate help line explaining how the recordings will be used, stored, disclosed and retained.

Already, though, the union representing about 45 CBSA employees at the Ottawa airport is concerned personal workplace conversations and remarks could be captured and become part of employees’ official record, Jean-Pierre Fortin, national president of the Custom and Immigration Union, said Friday. He added that the union only learned of the audio-recording development this week, after the Citizen began making inquiries.

The CBSA statement said that audio-video monitoring and recording is already in place at other unidentified CBSA sites at airports and border points of entry as part of an effort to enhance “border integrity, infrastructure and asset security and health and safety.”

That recording equipment may also be linked to a federal initiative to help CBSA combat organized crime and internal smuggling conspiracies at big Canadian airports.

A 2008 RCMP report said at least 58 crime groups were believed active at major airports, typically by corrupting airport employees or placing criminal associates in airport jobs to move narcotics and other contraband to and from planes.

The Customs Act was amended in 2009 to allow for the creation of “customs controlled areas” within airports, starting with those in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, followed by Ottawa and other international Canadian aerodromes.

A crucial aspect of the change are proposed regulations giving border services officers expanded powers to question, examine and search airport workers and travellers, both domestic and international, within the designated areas.

The controlled areas at Macdonald-Cartier International include the areas surrounding aircraft that have arrived in or are about to leave Canada; the primary inspection area where all travellers must report to a border services officer; the secondary inspection area where border services officers conduct further examinations of travellers and goods; as well as certain holding and departure areas at the airport.

The Treasury Board requires government departments to conduct a “privacy impact assessment” before establishing any new or substantially modified program or activity involving personal information. The assessment is then reviewed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

The office this week said it is reviewing a CBSA privacy assessment for the customs controlled areas.

But, “we have not received a privacy impact assessment regarding audio-video monitoring at the Ottawa airport,” said spokeswoman Valerie Lawton. “If the CBSA were to introduce audio-video monitoring, our office would expect a full privacy impact Assessment, which we would review and make (non-binding) recommendations as necessary to protect privacy.”

An official with the Ottawa International Airport Authority had no comment on the CBSA installations, saying the two organizations are distinct and separate.

Read more here from Kebmodee:  http://kebmodee.blogspot.com/2012/06/ottawa-airport-wired-with-microphones.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Kebmodee+%28kebmodee%29