Judge: CIA, Pentagon May Still Neither Confirm Nor Deny Records Exist on US Citizens Killed by Drones

A federal judge has ruled the CIA and Defense Department (DOD) do not have to confirm or deny whether they have records on the “factual basis for the killing” of either Samir Khan or Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were killed in two separate drone strikes in September and October of 2011.

In the same decision, which contained top secret information and was heavily redacted, Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York also ordered the CIA, DOD and Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to disclose portions of documents with facts about US drone operations already “officially acknowledged.”

These facts include:

(1) US government uses drones for “targeted killings” overseas;

(2) DOD and CIA have an “intelligence interest in the use of drones to carry out targeted killings”;

(3) DOD and CIA have an “operational role in conducting targeted killings”;

(4) information about the legal basis (constitutional, statutory, common law, international law, and treaty law) for engaging in the targeted killings abroad, including specifically the targeted killing of a US national;

(5) US government carried out the “targeted killing” of Anwar al-Awlaki

(6) FBI was investigating Samir Khan’s involvement in jihad

The development was the latest in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in October 2011, which sought documents on the “targeted killings” of Anwar Al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan.

Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed in a drone strike in Yemen on September 30, 2011. Weeks later, Abdulrahman was killed in a drone strike in Yemen on October 14.

In April 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a January 2013 decision by the district court. The government was ordered to release a memo related to the targeted killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki. The memo was released in June. The same appeals court ruling additionally ordered the government to list documents and make a case for why each document should remain secret.

McMahon examined over 100 documents and determined the CIA had to release parts of three documents. The OLC had to release the parts of three documents and one full document. None of the documents the DOD was required to submit for review had to be disclosed.

McMahon allowed the government agencies to invoke attorney-client privilege and the deliberative process privilege for a number of the documents, which advocates for reform of FOIA have referred to as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption.

The CIA and Defense Department were permitted to continue to “stand on its Glomar” with respect to information on the drone strikes, which killed Khan and Abdulrahman. This means neither agency has to acknowledge to the ACLU that it has documents related to any decision to target and kill these individuals. (more…)

Journalist Sues US Government for Records on ‘Kafkaesque Harassment’ by Security Agents During Travel

Laura Poitras, 2010

Laura Poitras is a journalist and documentary filmmaker, who recently won an Academy Award for the documentary on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called Citizenfour. But, between July 2006 and April 2012, Poitras was “subjected to ‘Secondary Security Screening Selection,” detained and questioned at the United States border on every international flight she took” to the US, according to her recently filed lawsuit.

When traveling from the US, when she was outside the US traveling internationally, and even when she was traveling within the US, Poitras was “occasionally subjected to secondary security screening.” More than 50 times she was given this designation, which allowed Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents to subject her to extra scrutiny.

On January 24, 2014, Poitras filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and TSA for “all agency records concerning, naming, or relating to Ms. Poitras.” She also submitted requests to the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

Poitras has, to date, received no records in response to her requests and alleges agencies are wrongfully withholding records [PDF].

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the US border to bypass the rule of law,” Poitras explained in a press release from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy.”

“I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”

One of those individuals, who Poitras may be referring to, is Jacob Appelbaum. He is a journalist, Tor developer, and WikiLeaks volunteer, who has been stopped and harassed at the US border multiple times. (He has also had his personal data connected to services, such as Twitter and Google, targeted as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into WikiLeaks.)

Airport security agents have previously informed Poitras that she had a “criminal record,” even though that is not true. She has been informed her name was in a “national security threat database.” During one stop, she was told she was on the “No Fly List.” Her laptop, camera, mobile phone, and her notebooks have been seized and copied. One time when she attempted to take notes while she was detained by agents, she was threatened with being put in handcuffs. The agents pretended to fear that she might use the pen as a weapon so she could not create a record of their interaction.

Poitras is not the first to challenge this abuse. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have challenged suspicionless laptop searches by DHS through a lawsuit filed in 2010.

Detaining Journalists, Abusing Families, and Humiliating American Muslims

Abuse by US security agents at the border has become increasingly common. In February 2014, the podcast, On the Media, aired an episode called “Secrecy on the Border.” The episode focused on how Homeland Security violates the rights of people and refuses to provide any explanations. (more…)

WikiLeaks Performs Valuable Service By Liberating Key Documents from Lesser-Known But Still Major Trade Deal

WikiLeaks TISA graphic

In the past two days, WikiLeaks has released drafts from a lesser-known trade agreement being negotiated between 52 nations called the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). The publication comes just before the next round of negotiations, which will begin on July 6.

The “Core Text” of TISA, as well as chapters from negotiations on “Electronic Commerce,” “Telecommunications Services,” “Financial Services,” and “Maritime Transport Services,” were published.

WikiLeaks describes the “Core Text” of the agreement that they released from the “largest ‘trade deal’ in history” a “modern journalistic holy grail.” The media organization is not exaggerating.

Edward Alden, who used to be a reporter for the newsletter Inside US Trade, wrote in a post for the Council on Foreign Relations that WikiLeaks’ sources are “impressive.” Alden recalled how he worked in the “pre-digital age” to “encourage leaks of trade negotiating positions. “But, with the exception of the Clinton administration’s proposal for the NAFTA labor and environmental side agreements in 1993, we rarely got our hands on the texts themselves.”

In a time when corporations are being aided by governments, which are negotiating sweeping trade deals like TISA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with complete secrecy, WikiLeaks has ensured that governments do not finish negotiations without the public having some idea about this conspiracy unfolded behind closed doors.

Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke previously described TISA as an agreement that “would encompass all service sectors and modes of supply and impose a high standard for liberalization.” By liberalization, Punke means deregulation.

Quite aggressively TISA seeks to establishes rules that would tie the hands of TISA governments, preventing them from being able to craft their own regulations to protect people from exploitation by businesses or corporations. And, the very rules, which have been adopted since the 2008 economic crisis, to protect against future financial meltdowns would likely come under attack as a result of this trade deal.

Ben Beachy of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch put together an analysis [PDF] of the “Financial Services” chapter and found sweeping rules for “market access,” which “would expose governments to legal challenges before extrajudicial tribunals for banning risky financial services or products, such as the complex derivatives that fueled the financial crisis. The same rule threatens proposals to limit the size of banks so that they do not become ‘too big to fail.'”

Yet another rule opening up the world to financial risk would challenge policies, which prevent banks from being able to “hold consumers’ deposits from engaging in hedge-fund-style trading of high-risk securities.” It would be prohibited to restrict “financial inflows—used to prevent rapid currency appreciation, asset bubbles and other macroeconomic problems—and financial outflows, used to prevent suddent capital flight in times of crisis.”

“Despite increasing concerns about data privacy, sparked by revelations of the US National Security Agency’s dragnet spying, TISA would require that financial firms be permitted to transfer consumers’ personal financial data overseas, where it could be exposed to unwanted surveillance,” Beachy warns.

In some instances, TISA countries may have to roll back regulations if they were inhibiting the business of a foreign firm. (more…)

The Saudi Cables: Revelations from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Sudan & Egypt

wlogo-smWikiLeaks announced it would publish half a million cables and other documents from Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry last week. It released nearly 70,000 files, which the organization’s publisher Julian Assange said would “lift the lid on an increasingly erratic and secretive dictatorship.”

The files, in Arabic, have mostly received a minimal amount attention in the United States press. However, multiple independent journalists around the world have been translating the documents to uncover revelations.

Ali Hadi Al-Musawi, who blogs at 1001 Iraqi Thoughts, sifted through the files for important documents on Saudi Arabia’s influence in Iraq.

“A quick scan of the available documents that relate to Iraq reveal three consistent approaches adopted by the Kingdom in an effort to extend its influence in the country,” Al-Musawi wrote. “Financial and political support for Sunni Arab tribes, politicians, and Kurdish actors that are willing to undermine the central government in Baghdad; close communication with Baath Party officers, financial support, and political asylum for families of high-ranking former officials; and regional diplomatic efforts aimed at undermining the sovereign legitimacy of the Iraqi state.”

Significantly, Al-Musawi called attention to a “three-stage plan” proposed by Saudi Arabia to “co-opt” Sunni Arab tribes and Iraqi politicians.

“The stated goal is to undermine the government of Prime Minister al-Maliki and nurture assets that are sympathetic to Saudi Arabia’s policies in Iraq,” Al-Musawi reported. “The cable recommends close coordination between the Kingdom’s foreign ministry and intelligence agency, and suggests inviting co-opted Iraqis on a regular basis to the Kingdom in order to ‘strengthen relations and exchange views and information.'”

A group of anonymous individuals in Yemen are examining the documents for revelations about Saudi Arabia and their country. The group uncovered a cable that shows the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs order the “transfer of $100,000″ to the Saudi mission to the United Nations for a “campaign” to win a seat on the Human Rights Council.

One memo marked “highly confidential and urgent” from Minister of Foreign Affairs Saud al-Faisal and addressed to the Crown Prince suggests the war being waged in Yemen may have something to do with an oil pipeline to the Yemen coast. It referred to a special Saudi commission’s effort to find a naval port for the Kingdom in the Arabian sea through Oman or Yemen. The commission was “made up of senior level members from the Ministries of Interior, defense, foreign affairs, finance, oil and mineral resources, transportation, economy and planning, as well as the presidency of the General Intelligence.” (more…)

Documents Raise Concerns About Extent of CIA Spying Inside the United States

The American Civil Liberties Union published a batch of documents obtained from the CIA on how it complies with and understands Executive Order 12333, an executive order issued by President Ronald Reagan which mandates the powers and responsibilities of US intelligence agencies. The documents strongly suggest that the agency engages in an extensive amount of domestic spying operations that are largely kept secret from the American people.

Of the 49 documents released, many of them are policy briefings on what the CIA can and cannot collect on US persons when conducting spying operations. They largely have to do with the rules that the agency is expected to follow and how the agency goes about complying with them. However, many of the documents are highly censored.

The CIA claims much of the information in the documents involves “classified secret matters or national defense or foreign policy.” It also believes that the National Security Act partly exempts the agency from the Freedom of Information Act, which is why many of the documents have huge chunks of information missing.

What can be gleaned from the documents is that the agency has a secret definition of “monitoring” as it relates to surveillance of US persons that the public is not allowed to know:

Secret definition of monitoring - CIA

The definition of “electronic surveillance” in regards to US persons is partially censored too, however, the CIA will let the public know that “electronic surveillance” involves the “acquisition of a non-public communication by electronic means without the consent of any party to the communication or, in the case of a non-electronic communication, without the consent of a person who is visibly present at the place of communication.”

Part of the definition for “unconsented physical searches,” which requires Attorney General approval, is censored.

Details from a “memorandum of understanding” [PDF] between the FBI and CIA provides a glimpse at how the two agencies coordinate spying activities:

FBI-CIA Coordination

Another document, “CIA and EO 12333: Overview for the ICIG Boston Review Forum” [PDF], dated June 2013, outlines detailed talking points, which includes some details on the loopholes the agency might be able to use to obtain information on US citizens.

The CIA is allowed to “provide specialized equipment and technical knowledge to assist another department or agency in the conduct by that department or agency of lawful and authorized electronic surveillance in the United States.” (more…)

WikiLeaks Releases Section of Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement That Would Affect Health Care

WikiLeaks TPP Healthcare Annex GraphicWikiLeaks has released a draft of an annex of a secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which would likely enable pharmaceutical companies to fight the ability of participating governments to control the rise of drug prices. It would empower companies to mount challenges to Medicare in the United States.

For a number of years, the US and eleven other countries—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam—have been negotiating proposals for the TPP. Drafts previously released by WikiLeaks have shown that the US has been the most extreme negotiator in the process.

“This leak reveals that the Obama administration, acting at the behest of pharmaceutical companies, has subjected Medicare to a series of procedural rules, negotiated in secret, that would limit Congress’ ability to enact policy reforms that would reduce prescription drug costs for Americans – and might even open to challenge aspects of our health care system today,” according to Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program.

Public Citizen is a watchdog group that has been at the forefront of challenging the TPP in the US.

The annex, which is dated December 17, 2014, expressly names the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as being covered by the trade agreement.

The watchdog group contends that the language could affect the ability of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to pursue pharmaceutical reform and “negotiate the price of prescription drugs on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.”

“Vital to this reform would be the establishment of a national formulary, which would provide the government with substantial leverage to obtain discounts,” Public Citizen suggests. Yet, if the TPP is adopted, this “formulary” would be subject to the agreement’s requirements, which would “pose significant administrative costs, enshrine greater pharmaceutical company influence in government reimbursement decision-making and reduce the capability of the government to negotiate lower prices.”

The Senate already approved “fast track” legislation that would give President Obama “trade promotion authority” to send the TPP to Congress for a vote. The House of Representatives will vote on “fast track” this week (as early as June 11).

The Obama administration has been highly secretive, requiring senators and their staffers to have security clearances to read the drafted TPP.

Senator Barbara Boxer was confronted by a guard who told her she could not “take notes” on the trade agreement. The guard insisted the notes would be kept in a file, which made Boxer even more outraged. (What would stop the Obama administration from using such notes to maneuver around the objections of members of Congress?) (more…)

Spy Planes: FBI Flew Over 100 Secret Missions Over 30 Cities in Recent Months

The Associated Press reported new details on secret surveillance flights being conducted by the FBI, including how the agency registers aircrafts with fake companies to conceal their role.

A recent review conducted by the AP found that over a “recent 30-day period” the FBI flew over 100 flights over 30 cities in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Most of the missions were with Cessna 182T Skylane aircrafts. They were flown over Boston, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and parts of Southern California.

The planes carried video surveillance equipment as well as Stingray surveillance equipment or cell-site simulator gear, which creates a dragnet and enables the FBI to trick cellphones in a given area into providing identification information to agents.

Unlike the agency’s drone fleet, piloted aircraft is not subject to the Justice Department’s policy barring drones from being used to monitor “First Amendment activities,” which may partly explain why the secret flights have been spotted over cities where communities have protested killings by police.

Sam Richards, an independent journalist, first reported that the FBI was flying secret missions over cities with aircraft registered to fake companies.

“The aircraft have been registered to corporations that do not exist, and the purpose of the aerial operations is not known at this time. The flight patterns of the aircraft indicate they are most likely conducting surveillance, much like the controversial aircraft caught flying circles over the city of Baltimore which has seen many protests recently,” Richards reported on May 25.

Richards searched “aircraft registration” in Bristow, Virginia, and found many “three-letter acronym companies.” A few of the aircrafts listed were “registered explicitly to the Department of Justice.” He decided the companies had to be fake when his searches for information on the Internet were “fruitless.” He also noticed that the flight patterns—repeated circles around a city—indicated these planes were likely involved in surveillance missions. (more…)