Tag Archives: NSA

Sen. Feinstein, the NSA, and the Left

feinstein photo: Dianne Feinstein photo_feinstein.jpgNYT explores her relationship to the left on intelligence

by Brian Leubitz

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has had of a bit of an on-again/off-again relationship with the Left. But to the NY Times, our senior Senator is a “liberal lioness”, whatever that means. Clearly she has done a lot for progressive causes, from gun control to fighting for reproductive freedom and many other issues. However, the issue that keeps coming up again and again is the balance between individual liberty and the importance of intelligence. And her position on the NSA leaks, PRISM, and the prosecution of Snowden doesn’t help the rift:

She fought so hard to outlaw assault weapons that the National Rifle Association deemed her efforts tantamount to proposing the largest gun ban in American history. Well before the Supreme Court took up same-sex marriage, she sponsored a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. And she urged President George W. Bush, and later President Obama, to shut down the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

But Senator Dianne Feinstein – California Democrat and liberal lioness – has taken on a role that is leaving many of her allies on the left dismayed: as perhaps the most forthright and unapologetic Congressional defender of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.(NYT)

Perhaps some on the Left would have expected something different, but for most, this is exactly what we expected. For better or worse, Sen. Feinstein has placed the needs of intelligence on a pedestal, there is nothing new here.

Google’s Page Clueless When It Comes to Privacy Concerns About Glass

Google CEO Larry Page simply doesn’t get it when it comes to privacy concerns about the Internet giant’s new computerized eyewear, Google Glass.   He made that crystal clear at the annual shareholders’s meeting Thursday.

I made my annual trek to Mountain View  to attend the Internet giant’s shareholder meeting and pose some questions directly to Google’s top executives.  I said Glass is one of the most privacy invasive and Orwellian devices ever made because it allows a user to surreptitiously photograph or video us or our kids.  “It’s a voyeur’s dream come true,” I said, before noting the hypocrisy in unleashing a device that enables massive violations of everyone else’s privacy, but operating under rules that barred cameras and recording devices from the meeting. Take a look at a video from the meeting.

“Obviously, there are cameras everywhere, ” responded Page.  “”People worry about all sorts of things that actually, when we use the product, it is not found to be that big a concern.”

“You don’t collapse in terror that someone might be using Glass in the bathroom just the same as you don’t collapse in terror when someone comes in with a smartphone that might take a picture. It’s not that big a deal. So,  I would encourage you all not to create fear and concern about technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it and they understand the issues.”

Page tried to compare the video cameras on ubiquitous smartphones with Google Glass.  That’s exactly the point.  There is a huge difference.  I don’t collapse in fear that I’ll be videoed in the bathroom by a smartphone camera precisely because it’s obvious that someone is using the camera.  I can politely ask them to stop, or escalate my protests as appropriate if necessary. Indeed, consider this satirical video, “Supercharge”, featuring Page and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt if you don’t understand what I mean. It’s  obvious Schmidt is invading the privacy of the gentleman in the next stall.  Take a look at the video.  You’ll see what I mean.

It doesn’t work that with Glass and that’s what is so creepy. There’s an app that snaps a photo with a wink.  People have no idea that they are being photographed or videoed.  That’s what people are worried about and they want the ability to delete videos and photos from Google’s database when they discover their privacy has been invaded.

Page says we shouldn’t worry about “technological change until it’s actually out there and people are using it.”  He’s wrong.  You need to to think about the impact before the technology is implemented.  That’s what’s entailed in the concept of privacy by design, something that Google just doesn’t seem to get.

And here’s another point to ponder: As Google was holding its annual meeting, The Washington Post was breaking the details of NSA’s overreaching, intrusive snooping on users of some of the biggest Internet companies including Google with its PRISM program.  Can’t you imagine a billion Glass users and a billion winks and the data that would flow to NSA?


Posted by John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project.  Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.

CA-36: Harman’s Magic Act

By a twist of fate, Jane Harman actually appeared at the AIPAC convention over the weekend, bringing full circle the recent controversy over her comments picked up on a wiretap offering help to get AIPAC staffers out of a Justice Department probe in exchange for help getting the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  She vowed to begin a crusade against illegal wiretapping and overreach from the surveillance state.

Harman has described the wiretap as an abuse of government power. But sources have told The Washington Post that she was not being surveilled; the tapped phone belonged to the suspected Israeli agent, who happened to talk to her.

“I will not quit on this until I am absolutely sure this can never happen to anyone else,” Harman told the AIPAC audience, which warmly applauded her. She said the incident was having “a chilling effect” on members of Congress who “care intensely about the U.S.-Israeli security relationship . . . and have every right to talk to advocacy groups.”

Later, she called herself a “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power”.  Which, coming from Harman, is utterly absurd, a magic act where she transforms herself from a vigorous defender of executive prerogatives on wiretapping to a civil liberties zealot who wants to take down the surveillance state.

Jane Harman is a warrior on behalf of the Constitution and against abuse of power — that’s the same Jane Harman who tried to bully The New York Times out of writing about Bush’s illegal spying program, who succeeded in pressuring them not to publish their story until after Bush was re-elected, who repeatedly proclaimed the program to be “legal and necessary” once it was revealed, who called the whistle-blowers “despicable”, who went on Meet the Press and expressed receptiveness to a criminal investigation of The New York Times for publishing the story, who led the way in supporting the Fourth-Amendment-gutting and safeguard-destroying FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and who demanded that telecoms be retroactively immunized for breaking multiple laws by allowing government spying on their customers without warrants of any kind.

That is who is a self-proclaimed “warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power.”

As Atrios notes, Jane Harman is primarily concerned about wiretapping of People Named Jane Harman.  And her point that this represented a potential abuse of government power, which by the way is

entirely plausible, was the entire point of people like me when we decried an illegal wiretapping program that would be ripe for abuse.  You know, the one Jane Harman defended.

Worse, in the “Fact Sheet” Harman is sending around to supporters in the district, she characterizes herself as, among other things, a longtime critic of warrantless wiretapping in the most fantastical way possible:

• Harman has never supported so-called “warrantless wiretaps” on Americans.  “We must use all lawful tools to detect and disrupt the plans of our enemies; signals intelligence and the work of the NSA are vital to that mission.  But in doing so, it is also vital that we protect the American people’s constitutional rights.”  (Press release of Dec. 21, 2005 — four days after the President declassified the existence of the Terrorist Surveillance Program).  

• Harman introduced the LISTEN Act (H.R. 5371) with House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to add resources to the Justice Department to ensure the issuance of individualized warrants under FISA.  (Press release of May 11, 2006).

• Harman, Senator Obama, and Speaker Pelosi supported amendments to FISA to expand protections to US citizens, and give limited court-reviewed immunity to telecommunications firms that prove they relied in good faith on what they believed was a valid order to produce records.  (Vote date of June 20, 2008).

She must think we’re all idiots.  That vote of June 20, 2008, the amendments to FISA to “expand protections to US citizens,” in addition to providing retroactive immunity for the telecoms for breaking the law, actually granted sweeping new powers to the federal government, including the ability to “conduct mass, untargeted surveillance of all communications coming into and out of the United States, without any individualized review, and without any finding of wrongdoing.”  The fact that this lack of oversight or judicial review could lead to abuses of surveillance power has been confirmed by reports that the NSA overstepped its legal authority to wiretap by intercepting the private emails and phone calls of Americans, problems which grew “out of changes enacted by Congress last July in the law that regulates the government’s wiretapping powers.”  The fact that Barack Obama supported that bill, considering that he was massively criticized by progressives for that FISA vote, doesn’t exactly help the cause.

Harman’s record on wiretapping is well-known and her efforts to wiggle out of it are frankly laughable.  And the rest of her record, as demonstrated by Swing State Project today, shows her to be among the top 20 Democrats voting less liberal than what their districts would support.  That, more than this hypocrisy on civil liberties, is why she’ll draw a primary challenge next year, should she choose to run again.

Goss Harmin’ Harman?

Since I’ve been offering one side of the Jane Harman story as the bits of intrigue trickle out in the media, I thought I’d explore the second option – that Bush-era officials at the CIA are using the Harman story as a warning shot against further investigation of their practices with torture and wiretapping, as well as pushing back against a thorn in the CIA’s side:

But the former intelligence official familiar with the matter noted that (ex-CIA Director Porter) Goss has given only one on-the-record interview on these CIA controversies since leaving the CIA director job. In the December 2007 interview, he said that Congressional leaders, including Representatives Pelosi and Goss himself, Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), and later Rep. Harman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), had been briefed on CIA waterboarding back in 2002 and 2003. “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing,” Goss told the Washington Post. “And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.”

Who was the lone lawmaker the article identified as objecting to the program?

Jane Harman.

“Harman, who replaced Pelosi as the [House intelligence] committee’s top Democrat in January 2003, disclosed Friday that she filed a classified letter to the CIA in February of that year as an official protest about the interrogation program,” the Post reported. “Harman said she had been prevented from publicly discussing the letter or the CIA’s program because of strict rules of secrecy. ‘When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath — one of secrecy,’ she said. ‘I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.'”

There is compelling evidence that Goss approved continuing the wiretap on the Israeli agent after seeing Harman’s involvement, and in fact tried to get a wiretap up on Harman herself.  The internecine battles between Goss and Harman go back a ways, so it’s not impossible.  We learned yesterday that the wiretap in question did not come from the NSA, and so CIA may have had some direct control over it, although the proper chain of command would have been the FBI.  Why was Goss so involved in this?

Of course, none of this changes the fact that Harman did, as has been confirmed by multiple sources, approach the Washington editor of the New York Times in 2004, before the Bush-Kerry election, to try and get them to spike the warrantless wiretapping story.  Nor does it change the fact that Harman, a full-throated supporter of wiretapping, now has become a civil liberties champion when denouncing the surveillance of her.  This must be why she’s hired Lanny Davis to do spin control (and surely he can do a better job than her disastrous efforts so far).

Finally, Jon Stewart skewers this story as only he could (on the flip).

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Your Government Not at Work – Jane Harman Scandal
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CA-36: Reads Like A Really Bad Spy Movie

I’m sitting here in Jane Harman’s Congressional district right now.  I could probably go out on the street and informally poll a dozen people about AIPAC, and I’m pretty certain nobody would know what I’m talking about.  But inside the Beltway, AIPAC is sacrosanct and Israel practically the 51st state.  So this blockbuster story is a perfect depiction of, as Attaturk says, the way Washington works.  He simplifies it so I don’t have to:

1. Congressman Jane Harman (D – CA) told a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby.

2. This was known because of an NSA Wiretap.

3. The suspected Israeli agent then promised to lobby Nancy Pelosi to make Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections (she wasn’t).

4. There were some reports of this influence peddling in 2006, but it was dropped for a “lack of evidence” by Alberto R. Gonzales, who intervened to stop the investigation.

5. Gonzales intervened because he wanted Harman to defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times.

6. And she promptly went out and defended it.

This looks just terrible for Jane Harman.  There’s a trail of reporting on this going back to 2006, but the new material concerns Abu Gonzales stepping in to squash the investigation so Harman could parrot the Bush Administration line on warrantless wiretapping.  And there’s an even larger trail of reporting on Harman’s fronting for Bush.  The point is that the pieces all fit together.

Indeed, as I’ve noted many times, Jane Harman, in the wake of the NSA scandal, became probably the most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as “the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee” to repeatedly praise the NSA program as “essential to U.S. national security” and “both necessary and legal.”  She even went on Meet the Press to defend the program along with GOP Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and she even strongly suggested that the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she “deplored the leak,” that “it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers,” and that the whistleblowers were “despicable.”  And Eric Lichtblau himself described how Harman, in 2004, attempted very aggressively to convince him not to write about the NSA program.

It’s a classic espionage story, right down to the part where Harman hangs up the phone with the Israeli agent after saying “This conversation doesn’t exist.”  For her part, Harman is denying the story, but Stein has several sources who read the transcripts from the NSA wiretaps (apparently gathered legally, but who the hell knows).  And he’s right, at the end, about the utter futility of this exercise, on all counts:

Ironically, however, nothing much was gained by it.

The Justice Department did not back away from charging Rosen and fellow AIPAC official Keith Weissman with espionage (for allegedly giving classified Pentagon documents to Israeli officials).

Gonzales was engulfed by the NSA warrantless wiretapping scandal. (and the US Attorneys probe -ed.)

And Jane Harman was relegated to chairing a House Homeland Security subcommittee.

Josh Marshall asks a lot of the key questions, including whether Harman was being blackmailed by the Bush Administration to be their front person on wiretapping, having been wiretapped herself.  And Ron Kampeas has a somewhat different take, suggesting that this is only coming out because the case against AIPAC officials Rosen and Weissman is faltering.  There’s one way to know for sure: a full-blown investigation, which Harman ought to welcome to clear her name.