The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Qwest CEO Not Alone in Alleging NSA Started Domestic Phone Record Program 7 Months Before 9/11

Qwest CEO Not Alone in Alleging NSA Started Domestic Phone Record Program 7 Months Before 9/11
By Ryan Singel EmailOctober 12, 2007 | 4:23:55 PMCategories: NSA, Surveillance

Startling statements from former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio's defense documents alleging the National Security Agency began building a massive call records database seven months before 9/11 aren't the only accusations that the controversial program predated the attacks of 9/11.

According to court documents unveiled this week, former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio clearly wanted to argue in court that the NSA retaliated against his company after he turned down a NSA request on February 27, 2001 that he thought was illegal. Nacchio's attorney issued a carefully worded statement in 2006, saying that Nacchio had turned down the NSA's repeated requests for customer call records. The statement says that Nacchio was asked for the records in the fall of 2001, but doesn't say he was "first asked" then.

And in May 2006, a lawsuit filed against Verizon for allegedly turning over call records to the NSA alleged that AT&T began building a spying facility for the NSA just days after President Bush was inaugurated. That lawsuit is one of 50 that were consolidated and moved to a San Francisco federal district court, where the suits sit in limbo waiting for the 9th Circuit Appeals court to decide whether the suits can proceed without endangering national security.

According the allegations in the suit (.pdf):

The project was described in the ATT sales division documents as calling for the construction of a facility to store and retain data gathered by the NSA from its domestic and foreign intelligence operations but was to be in actuality a duplicate ATT Network Operations Center for the use and possession of the NSA that would give the NSA direct, unlimited, unrestricted and unfettered access to all call information and internet and digital traffic on ATTÌs long distance network. [...]

The NSA program was initially conceived at least one year prior to 2001 but had been called off; it was reinstated within 11 days of the entry into office of defendant George W. Bush.

An ATT Solutions logbook reviewed by counsel confirms the Pioneer-Groundbreaker project start date of February 1, 2001.

The allegations in that case come from unnamed AT&T insiders, who have never stepped forward or provided any documentation to the courts. But Carl Mayer, one of the attorneys in the case, stands by the allegations in the lawsuit.

"All we can say is, we told you so," Mayer told THREAT LEVEL.

Mayer says the issue of when the call records program started - a program that unlike the admitted warrantless wiretapping, the administration has never confirmed nor denied - should play a role in the upcoming confirmation hearings of Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey.

Mukasey will have to "come clean on when this program started," Mayer said. "The entire rationale was that it was necessitated by 9/11."

All of the cases pending against the nation's telecoms for allegedly violating the nation's surveillance and privacy laws could be mooted if Congress gives immunity to the companies, as the Administration and the telcos powerful lobbyists are arguing for.

Immunity isn't what Mayer wants.

"The real obligation is upon the Democrats to demand turnover of these documents," ayer said.

But Mayer and Nacchio may not even be the only two arguing that the NSA started a program of collecting Americans' phone records before 9/11.

In a January 2006 Slate article that came out before the USA Today totally blew open the call records story in May 2006, Tim Naftali and THREAT LEVEL pal Shane Harris reported:

A former telecom executive told us that efforts to obtain call details go back to early 2001, predating the 9/11 attacks and the president's now celebrated secret executive order. The source, who asked not to be identified so as not to out his former company, reports that the NSA approached U.S. carriers and asked for their cooperation in a "data-mining" operation, which might eventually cull "millions" of individual calls and emails.

So, the question is was Nacchio the one talking to Harris and Natfali? Or was it an executive from another company?

The evidence remains inconclusive, but one would think that before telecoms get immunity for allegedly helping the government after 9/11 out of patriotism, Congress should see if the companies began helping out prior to 9/11 with their eyes not on the flag, but on the secret dollars that the NSA could add to their bottom lines.

http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2007/10/qwest-ceo-not-a.html

Former CEO Says U.S. Punished Phone Firm

Former CEO Says U.S. Punished Phone Firm
Qwest Feared NSA Plan Was Illegal, Filing Says

By Ellen Nakashima and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 13, 2007; A01

A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal.

Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to court documents unsealed in Denver this week.

Details about the alleged NSA program have been redacted from the documents, but Nacchio's lawyer said last year that the NSA had approached the company about participating in a warrantless surveillance program to gather information about Americans' phone records.

In the court filings disclosed this week, Nacchio suggests that Qwest's refusal to take part in that program led the government to cancel a separate, lucrative contract with the NSA in retribution. He is using the allegation to try to show why his stock sale should not have been considered improper.

Nacchio was convicted for selling shares of Qwest stock in early 2001, just before financial problems caused the company's share price to tumble. He has claimed in court papers that he had been optimistic that Qwest would overcome weak sales because of the expected top-secret contract with the government. Nacchio said he was forbidden to mention the specifics during the trial because of secrecy restrictions, but the judge ruled that the issue was irrelevant to the charges against him.

Nacchio's account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts.

The allegations could affect the debate on Capitol Hill over whether telecoms sued for disclosing customers' phone records and other data to the government after the Sept. 11 attacks should be given legal immunity, even if they did not have court authorization to do so.

Spokesmen for the Justice Department, the NSA, the White House and the director of national intelligence declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal case against Nacchio and the classified nature of the NSA's activities. Federal filings in the appeal have not yet been disclosed.

In May 2006, USA Today reported that the NSA had been secretly collecting the phone-call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by major telecom firms. Qwest, it reported, declined to participate because of fears that the program lacked legal standing.

In a statement released after the story was published, Nacchio attorney Herbert Stern said that in fall 2001, Qwest was approached to give the government access to the private phone records of Qwest customers. At the time, Nacchio was chairman of the president's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.

"Mr. Nacchio made inquiry as to whether a warrant or other legal process had been secured in support of that request," Stern said. "When he learned that no such authority had been granted and that there was a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process, including the Special Court which had been established to handle such matters, Mr. Nacchio concluded that these requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act."

Stern could not be reached for comment yesterday. Another lawyer for Nacchio, Jeffrey Speiser, declined to comment on whether the call-records program was the program discussed at the February 2001 meeting.

In a May 25, 2007, order, U.S. District Judge Edward W. Nottingham wrote that Nacchio has asserted that "Qwest entered into two classified contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, without a competitive bidding process and that in 2000 and 2001, he participated in discussion with high-ranking [redacted] representatives concerning the possibility of awarding additional contracts of a similar nature." He wrote, "Those discussions led him to believe that [redacted] would award Qwest contracts valued at amounts that would more than offset the negative warnings he was receiving about Qwest's financial prospects."

The newly released court documents say that, on Feb. 27, 2001, Nacchio and James Payne, then Qwest's senior vice president of government systems, met with NSA officials at Fort Meade, expecting to discuss "Groundbreaker," a project to outsource the NSA's non-mission-critical systems.

The men came out of the meeting "with optimism about the prospect for 2001 revenue from NSA," according to an April 9, 2007, court filing by Nacchio's lawyers that was disclosed this week.

But the filing also claims that Nacchio "refused" to participate in some unidentified program or activity because it was possibly illegal and that the NSA later "expressed disappointment" about Qwest's decision.

"Nacchio said it was a legal issue and that they could not do something that their general counsel told them not to do. . . . Nacchio projected that he might do it if they could find a way to do it legally," the filing said.

Mike German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the documents show "that there is more to this story about the government's relationship with the telecoms than what the administration has admitted to."

Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said: "It's inappropriate for the government to be awarding a contract conditioned upon an agreement to an illegal program. That truly is what's going on here."

The foundation has sued AT&T, charging that it violated privacy laws by cooperating with the government's warrantless surveillance program.

Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/12/AR2007101202485_pf.html

Paul Krugman - Sliming Graeme Frost

Sliming Graeme Frost
By PAUL KRUGMAN

Two weeks ago, the Democratic response to President Bush’s weekly radio address was delivered by a 12-year-old, Graeme Frost. Graeme, who along with his sister received severe brain injuries in a 2004 car crash and continues to need physical therapy, is a beneficiary of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Mr. Bush has vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have expanded that program to cover millions of children who would otherwise have been uninsured.

What followed should serve as a teaching moment.

First, some background. The Frosts and their four children are exactly the kind of people S-chip was intended to help: working Americans who can’t afford private health insurance.

The parents have a combined income of about $45,000, and don’t receive health insurance from employers. When they looked into buying insurance on their own before the accident, they found that it would cost $1,200 a month — a prohibitive sum given their income. After the accident, when their children needed expensive care, they couldn’t get insurance at any price.

Fortunately, they received help from Maryland’s S-chip program. The state has relatively restrictive rules for eligibility: children must come from a family with an income under 200 percent of the poverty line. For families with four children that’s $55,220, so the Frosts clearly qualified.

Graeme Frost, then, is exactly the kind of child the program is intended to help. But that didn’t stop the right from mounting an all-out smear campaign against him and his family.

Soon after the radio address, right-wing bloggers began insisting that the Frosts must be affluent because Graeme and his sister attend private schools (they’re on scholarship), because they have a house in a neighborhood where some houses are now expensive (the Frosts bought their house for $55,000 in 1990 when the neighborhood was rundown and considered dangerous) and because Mr. Frost owns a business (it was dissolved in 1999).

You might be tempted to say that bloggers make unfounded accusations all the time. But we’re not talking about some obscure fringe. The charge was led by Michelle Malkin, who according to Technorati has the most-trafficked right-wing blog on the Internet, and in addition to blogging has a nationally syndicated column, writes for National Review and is a frequent guest on Fox News.

The attack on Graeme’s family was also quickly picked up by Rush Limbaugh, who is so important a player in the right-wing universe that he has had multiple exclusive interviews with Vice President Dick Cheney.

And G.O.P. politicians were eager to join in the smear. The New York Times reported that Republicans in Congress “were gearing up to use Graeme as evidence that Democrats have overexpanded the health program to include families wealthy enough to afford private insurance” but had “backed off” as the case fell apart.

In fact, however, Republicans had already made their first move: an e-mail message from the office of Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, sent to reporters and obtained by the Web site Think Progress, repeated the smears against the Frosts and asked: “Could the Dems really have done that bad of a job vetting this family?”

And the attempt to spin the media worked, to some extent: despite reporting that has thoroughly debunked the smears, a CNN report yesterday suggested that the Democrats had made “a tactical error in holding up Graeme as their poster child,” and closely echoed the language of the e-mail from Mr. McConnell’s office.

All in all, the Graeme Frost case is a perfect illustration of the modern right-wing political machine at work, and in particular its routine reliance on character assassination in place of honest debate. If service members oppose a Republican war, they’re “phony soldiers”; if Michael J. Fox opposes Bush policy on stem cells, he’s faking his Parkinson’s symptoms; if an injured 12-year-old child makes the case for a government health insurance program, he’s a fraud.

Meanwhile, leading conservative politicians, far from trying to distance themselves from these smears, rush to embrace them. And some people in the news media are still willing to be used as patsies.

Politics aside, the Graeme Frost case demonstrates the true depth of the health care crisis: every other advanced country has universal health insurance, but in America, insurance is now out of reach for many hard-working families, even if they have incomes some might call middle-class.

And there’s one more point that should not be forgotten: ultimately, this isn’t about the Frost parents. It’s about Graeme Frost and his sister.

I don’t know about you, but I think American children who need medical care should get it, period. Even if you think adults have made bad choices — a baseless smear in the case of the Frosts, but put that on one side — only a truly vicious political movement would respond by punishing their injured children.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/opinion/12krugman.html?ei=5087&em=&en=ef08ce09cb293c75&ex=1192420800&pagewanted=print

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Does Blackwater Play By Its Own Rules in Iraq?

Does Blackwater Play By Its Own Rules in Iraq?
An arrogant attitude only adds fuel to the criticism.
By Rod Nordland and Mark Hosenball
Newsweek

Oct. 15, 2007 issue - The colonel was furious. "Can you believe it? They actually drew their weapons on U.S. soldiers." He was describing a 2006 car accident, in which an SUV full of Blackwater operatives had crashed into a U.S. Army Humvee on a street in Baghdad's Green Zone. The colonel, who was involved in a follow-up investigation and spoke on the condition he not be named, said the Blackwater guards disarmed the U.S. Army soldiers and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint until they could disentangle the SUV. His account was confirmed by the head of another private security company. Asked to address this and other allegations in this story, Blackwater spokesperson Anne Tyrrell said, "This type of gossip has led to many soap operas in the press."

Whatever else Blackwater is or isn't guilty of—a topic of intense interest in Washington—it has a well-earned reputation in Iraq for arrogance and high-handedness. Iraqis naturally have the most serious complaints; dozens have been killed by Blackwater operatives since the beginning of the war. But many American civilian and military officials in Iraq also have little sympathy for the private security company and its highly paid employees. With an uproar growing in Congress over Blackwater's alleged excesses, the North Carolina-based company is finding few supporters.

Responsible for guarding top U.S. officials in Iraq, Blackwater operatives are often accused of playing by their own rules. Unlike nearly everyone else who enters the Green Zone, said an American soldier who guards a gate, Blackwater gunmen refuse to stop and clear their weapons of live ammunition once inside. One military contractor, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution in his industry, recounted the story of a Blackwater operative who answered a Marine officer's order to put his pistol on safety when entering a base post office by saying, "This is my safety," and wiggling his trigger finger in the air. "Their attitude was, 'We're f---ing security; we don't have to answer to anybody'."

Congress disagrees. Until now, private security contractors working for the State Department, as Blackwater does, have effectively not been covered by either U.S. or Iraqi law, or military regulations. A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House last week would close that loophole. But the law would also require the FBI to establish a large-scale presence in Iraq in order to investigate accusations against private contractors. Law-enforcement officials worry that this would draw valuable resources away from FBI efforts to combat terrorism in the United States. Also, whenever FBI agents venture into Iraq now they are guarded by ... Blackwater operatives. The bureau has sent a team to Baghdad to investigate the Sept. 16 shooting in Nasoor Square, in which Blackwater guards are accused of killing as many as 17 Iraqi civilians. In order to avoid "even the appearance of any conflict [of interest]," according to an FBI spokesman, the agents will be defended by U.S. government personnel.

It is not an idle concern. Blackwater's staunchest defenders tend to be found among those whom they guard. U.S. officials prefer Blackwater and other private security bodyguards because they regard them as more highly trained than military guards, who are often reservists from MP units. A U.S. Embassy staffer, who did not have permission to speak on the record, said, "It's a few bad eggs that seem to be spoiling the bunch." Late last week the State Department announced that it would increase oversight of Blackwater in particular, installing cameras in its vehicles and having a Diplomatic Security Service officer ride along on every convoy. But another State Department official, also speaking anonymously, says that DSS agents in Baghdad have not been eager to rein in the contractors in the past: "These guys tend to close ranks. It's like the blue wall."

Testifying before Congress last week, 38-year-old Blackwater chief Erik Prince vigorously defended his company's "dedicated security professionals" who "risk their lives to protect Americans in harm's way overseas." Prince probably had no reason to be as smug as he seemed to many observers. In deflecting questions about a drunken Blackwater operative who allegedly shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi in the Green Zone on Christmas Eve last year, Prince said that the employee, later identified as Andrew Moonen, had been fined and fired. But on Friday House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman released a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounting evidence that Moonen was able to return to Iraq and worked there for another company. Moonen's attorney, Stewart Riley, told NEWSWEEK his client denies wrongdoing and is not facing criminal charges. Blackwater is no doubt in for further fire fights.

With Larry Kaplow in Baghdad and Michael Hastings in Washington

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21163806/site/newsweek/page/0/